Denver in Shadows
The Family Man
After sending the encrypted message to his crew as a Denver omelet recipe, with a slight chuckle, Tua scrolled down the message list to an e-mail from Burr and read it for the third time.
>> To: Ian Holloway, 1st Sgt, UCAS MC, Retired
>>From: Michael Burr, Denver FRFZ Regional Metamagic Section Chief, Draco Foundation
>>SUBJ: Sarah Collings-Holloway
Meet me at the Draco Foundation, Denver Front Range Free Zone Regional offices at 8:30PM tonight. This is concerning your inquiry into the disappearance of Sarah Collings-Holloway. Tell security who you are and they will direct you.
He closed the AR window for his commlink, and looked out of the window of his Toyota pickup. Sighing heavily, he glanced down at his shaking hands …clenching and unclenching his fists – Tua’s thoughts drifted to Sarah.
Zoe’s mother had been a strong stabilizing force in their life until her disappearance three years ago. Tua’s love for her had been absolute and unshakable. They’d had the kind of relationship and romance that budded slowly and was carefully tended; built on a strong foundation of shared values and a mutual respect and admiration for each other. They’d met when he was in the Marine Corps. She was a contractor working as a logistics analyst with Ares’ General Dynamics Division within the UCAS Marine Corps’ supply chain headquarters in Quantico, VA. After two years of courting and dancing around each other, they both had decided it was time to move forward. Tua had been sent TDY to D.C., and taking the chance while he had it, had met up with Sarah. Within a few short months, they had gotten engaged, and then married in a small ceremony at a chapel on base. Save for a deployment to Amazonia and Europe, the ensuing years had been pure bliss. Sarah had gotten pregnant within a couple years, and had a baby girl, Zoe, nine months later. More children had been in the plans, but due to complications with the first pregnancy, not in the cards. None-the-less life had been good.
Then tragically one night in January, Sarah had lost control of her car on an icy road near the Arsenal Wildlife Refuge on the way home and careened over a guardrail and into a gorge. All signs of the cause of the accident had pointed to bad driving conditions, and nothing was really amiss about the accident, except one… small… detail. Her body was never recovered. Due to the amount of blood and the condition of the car, the coroner stated that it would have been impossible for her to live from the accident; and with the proximity of wildlife, and para-critters, the disappearance of the body wasn’t deemed suspicious.
Failing to give up so easily, Tua had put his daughter on a plane to live with Sarah’s parents in Philadelphia, and then gone out looking for some sign of her. Inspection of the scene where the car had eventually landed had yielded nothing; snowfall had erased any hope of finding a trail. Searching in an ever widening circle for weeks had also yielded nothing. She had simply vanished…
After Sarah’s disappearance the anger and that he felt at the world, at God, and at himself caused a nervous breakdown. His tour of duty had come to an end then. He’d had the option to re-up, but with the crushing loss of the woman he loved more than anything, he had lost the will to continue on. This heart-break led to drinking – numbing the pain by climbing into a bottle and staying there.
Shortly thereafter, Tua had received a call from a former squad-mate, named Cleveland, asking him if he minded doing a little body guarding with him. The money was top notch, but the clients were less than reputable. On his first contract, he’d realized that not only were the clients shady, but he was body guarding a hacker who was committing crimes that could get them killed. But being the professional that he was, the clients appreciated his talents and discretion. In that first three week period he’d made more than in six months of working in Spec Ops and he hadn’t had to travel to some armpit jungle in Amazonia to do it.
The cyberware and bioware enhancements that the UCAS Marine Corps Special Operations Command (SOC) had fitted him with was fairly standard for the Spec Ops community; that is except for the high grade synapse and nervous accelerators along his spine and throughout his central nervous system. UCAS-MC SOC had added the bioware when Tua had tested and met the qualifications for SEAL training. This never panned out, of course, because of Sarah’s accident. The enhancements, though, made him prime material for his new chosen profession however. The only reason the military had let him keep all the ‘ware was because Ares FireWatch® had been in the process of recruiting him, and had paid off the military to save themselves the trouble of installing all new cyber and bioware. What Ares FireWatch hadn’t counted on was Cleveland’s offer, and Tua’s subsequent disappearance.
Jobs kept coming though… and the type of jobs that he was getting hired for became darker and more sinister in nature. With this, the drinking and thoughts of Sarah returned with a vengeance.
The dark path he was on led to a return of his alcoholism and… eventually… an attempt to take his own life. But just before he had followed through with it, he had received a call from Zoe, now ten years old. Tears filled his eyes as he listened to her voicemail and a powerful sense of duty to protect her, and be there for her, filled every fiber of his being. Zoe had called to tell him that Nana had passed away in her sleep and that she needed to come back to live with him in Denver… and he grasped at it.
Zoe flew into Stapleton Airport that next day…
Tua started the truck, and headed to the pharmacy to pick up the Children’s DM III cough medicine and a box of Fruit Rocks cereal. Thinking back on it; It had been six months since he had seen the post in the Draco Foundation public matrix host regarding the search for missing persons. He’d filled out all the proper forms and inquiries, and even gone in for psychological evaluations and interviews. After that, he’d not heard anything from the Foundation… until today.
Situating Zoe was easier than he was expecting, she was asleep on the couch when he got home. Judging by the mess of chips and an empty hotdog package on the coffee table, she’d at least eaten. He quietly picked up the wrappers and napkins and hit the button to call the cleaning bots. He placed the quilt from the back of the couch gently over Zoe, and sighed with an air of pride when he looked at her. The trideo had gone into standby mode when its sensors had detected that the only person watching was asleep. Zoe had been watching a re-run of her favorite show: “Doki Doki Precure Super Saiyan Mega Attack Go!” As the cleaning bots quietly and efficiently swept up crumbs, Tua walked back to his bedroom and laid down on his bed. He checked his watch: 18:34:27… plenty of time.
The Denver Data Haven was a busy place. Personas from all over the world frequented it in search of secrets – secrets hidden among all the trillions and trillions of garbled bits and bytes of data that floated around out in cyberspace. Unlike those elite and uppity Jack-Pointers, the Denver Data Haven didn’t require an invitation. Once in, Tua entered the commands to conduct an agent-assisted search for “Michael Burr+Draco Foundation+Metamagic+reaseach,” paid the agent fee, and then let it run. An enormous amount of information came up regarding Michael Burr and his activities. Several articles came up spouting arcana at a level that was immediately over his head. But… a recurring theme in the articles that the agent picked up was regarding a joint University of Colorado/University of Washington/Draco Foundation study on a phenomenon called a ‘mana eclipse-induced lay line interstitial holes’. The word ‘Meta-planes’ also appeared often.
“I’m going to have to ask Halo about this…,” Tua said to himself. He copied the articles onto his commlink, then got up and went to the kitchen.
“Jeeves! I would like a chef salad, with croutons, ranch dressing, extra chicken… grilled this time, and a Goose Bay Vodka with cranberry … and a mineral water” he added at the end. “Of course sir!” The metallic but distinctly British-accented Home System Agent Software® by Horizons piped. “Would you like to take it in the Den? It looks like Zoe is waking up… Should I make her a salad as well?”
“Yeah, go ahead. Add a serving of vita-pro into the dressing for her would you?” Tua asked.
“Yes sir,” said Jeeves
A soft whir started emanating from the refrigerator, and after a moment a glass slid out of the fridge into the cup holder with Tua’s vodka and cranberry. The system agent software constantly learned how he liked to take his meals, what he liked to eat, and even the desired temperature of drinks depending on interior and exterior ambient temperatures; as well as his mood as sensed from his current bio-thermal condition when moving around the house. A minute later two chef salads slide out of the Elegance ® by Horizons meal preparation system… Hot chicken, cold lettuce; just the way he liked it.
“Hey Dad,” Zoe groaned as she entered the kitchen. “I’m sick….” she said, coughing roughly. She then slowly padded towards him. “Hey baby-girl,” he said, and gently put his arms around her. With the corded muscle augmentation and toners the military had installed, he always had to consciously be careful when holding and touching others. He was strong enough to lift a motorcycle over his head, and so had to constantly be aware of the exertion of force he was applying.
“Here… let me see.” Tua reached up and put a hand to her forehead. She felt hot. “Jeeves? What is Zoe current temperature?”
“103.9 Fahrenheit sir.”
“Jeeves, please make an appointment with …” he paused. Tua realized that Zoe didn’t have a pediatrician anymore. Not since he’d sent Zoe to Philly and started living under an assumed name.
“Sir?” Jeeves questioned… “Never mind,” Tua replied. Pulling out his AR goggles, he pulled up the commcode for Nomad.
Nomad was a fixer; someone that could get him work, find things, sell things, and lastly but most importantly, get a hold of people for Tua when he needed them. She wasn’t particularly well connected, but recently Tua had been a solid source of information for her and so she’d been warming to him.
“Evening Tua,” Nomad said. “How’s it going?” “It’s going well. Listen… I need a doctor. Someone discreet… someone you would trust with your grandmother; someone that takes cash,” Tua said. “I would prefer someone that can handle diseases, pathology and the like.”
“Alright, I think I know a guy; a real idealist type. He talks a lot about trying to help all the squatters down in the warrens that are getting geeked pro bono ya know! Warms the cold recesses of my heart… it really does,” she said sarcastically. “His name is Doctor Li. As a little payback for all your help lately, I’ll arrange a meet… no charge. I’ll call you back in just a bit,” Nomad said, and the call ended.
“Why don’t you go back to the living room, and try to eat that salad. I’m going to get you something for your fever,” Tua soothed. Zoe grabbed the plate of salad and a fork and headed back to the trideo. Taking a couple sips of his vodka, Tua strolled into the living room after Zoe with his salad, and started watching the trideo. A few minutes later Nomad called back with the location of a clinic not too far from Tua’s house, as well as a commcode for the good doctor.
At 8:00PM, after getting Zoe settled, and placing his Colt America L36 in a concealable holster, Tua headed for the Draco Foundation offices in The Hub. For the next twenty minutes, Tua’s thoughts were solidly on Sarah. Since the calls hadn’t gone through to Halo, tua figured she must have had her hands full with something, he figured they’d possibly been on that job for Finn. When he arrived at the large glass and steel skyscraper that housed the regional Draco Foundation offices, he made his way to the front entrance. When he informed security who he was and what he was doing there, they instructed him to proceed to the 38th floor. The elevator doors opened to reveal the place was decorated in a mish mash of folk art from at least a hundred different cultures; everything from Meso-American to Cossack to African Igbo. “Good evening Mr. Holloway, I’m Rachel.” An attractive redhead approached Tua extending her hand; Tua took it. “Good evening, I’m Ian,” Tua said. “It’s very nice to meet you Ian,” she smiled. “We’re pretty excited with the latest developments your case,” she intoned. “Doctor Burr is expecting you. Please come this way.” She turned around and headed down the hall. She was dressed in a slate grey business suit and high heels that made her closer to six feet than Tua was. She passed through a security door using a key card, then cut down a hallway into a room that only could have been a magician’s wet dream. Foci and fetishes covered the walls. Large chucks of orichalcum litter a table over near the wall, and sitting in a bar height stool at one of the tables was an ork with graying hair; and he looked to be deep in concentration. Sweat beading his brow, he was muttering something and gesturing in the air in what appeared to be random patterns. On the table in front of him was a piece of a shirt that had belonged to Sarah. Within a few moments, with a sound that could only be described as a mixture of air and fabric ripping, a bright light began to flash over the piece of cloth. Then in a quick movement, the ork quickly clasped his hands together, and with a flash that set Tua’s flare compensating cyber eyes into action, the piece of cloth was gone.
The ork opened his eyes, and padding his forehead with a handkerchief, he looked up at Tua. “You must be Ian Holloway. I’m Michael Burr,” the ork said extending his hand.
“I’m sure you’re wondering why we called you here, and the short of it is this: After looking at all of the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of your wife, and the flows of mana around the Arsenal Wildlife Refuge at the time of the accident; we thought it highly unlikely that it was as simple as a paracritter making off with your wife’s body… Have you ever heard of the meta-planes?….