Chapter 1.2: Perceptions

Sunday, February 8, 2065

The Old Mint of San Francisco, located at 5th and Mission, is one of the oldest buildings in the city. “The Granite Lady”, as it had been called in another life, was one of handful of structures in the city to survive the 1906 earthquake and would soon be one of the elite few to mark a bicentennial. In a city defined by dizzying booms, crushing busts, and cataclysmic change, the Old Mint had accomplished a feat that almost unheard of for a resident of San Francisco: remain.

That isn’t to say the Old Mint itself was completely resistant to change. For a building that resembled a block of stone with some Greek architecture slapped onto the front, the Old Mint had been surprising flexible for the city. When its life as a mint ended at the close of the 20th century, it flipped back and forth between a history museum and a venue for special events, usually depending on what the city’s wealthy desired at the time. Finally, in 2052 in what might have been a last gasp of legacy building, the city’s old internet money set up a financially secure trust to permanently establish a Museum at the Mint for the exhibition of Bay Area and California history.

San Franciscans immediately truncated the name to MaM.

The continuing annual February heat wave had brought out locals and tourists alike to the steps of the MaM. Some walked up for an afternoon in the galleries while others simply lounged in the warm sun enjoying iced coffees and frozen treats. Street performers entertained the crowds and vendors hawked their wares to whomever happened to glance their way. Virginia took the whole scene in as she waited for Morgan. However, it wasn’t Morgan who approached her but instead by an older woman dressed formally and wearing a very severe expression on her face. She was wearing the kind of dress Virginia might have expected her mother to wear on an afternoon out, which only served to unnerve her.

“Virginia?” the woman asked.

Virginia’s eyes widened. How could this woman possibly know her name? Was she a friend of her mother’s!?

“I’m sorry, ma’am, do I know you?”

“Yes, you do.”

Virginia looked at the woman, agape. She certainly didn’t recognize her, but that didn’t mean the woman was wrong. As an old Southern family of wealth and influence, the Burgesses had a network extended far and wide. The number of faces Virginia had been introduced to her at her debutante ball alone had been staggering.

“Virginia, my dear. This is Morgan.”

It took Virginia a moment to process what the woman had just said. She looked the woman up and down.

“My goodness,” was all she could manage.

Without thinking, Virginia reached forward to touch the woman’s coat. Her fingers went right through the fabtic and she felt them touch a simple cotton shirt beneath. The action also produced a shimmer of light around her hand. She yanked her hand back and looked around; no one seemed to have noticed.

“That is very impressive. Is this an indicator of the magic your people are able to perform?” Virginia asked as she held her hand.

“We can do a great deal. Many can do more than I can.”

Virginia took in the whole illusion before her. Of course, impressive as it was, Virgina wondered why Morgan had felt the need to disguise herself for a simple museum visit.

“… and what exactly is it that you want to see at the museum?”

“I was just interested in getting to know you and the museum seemed like a good place.”

Virginia raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. She certainly got the impression Morgan was interested in her, but certainly not in any kind of romantic sense. She also could tell that Morgan’s answer was an evasion to the question. So, if only out of curiosity, Virginia walked beside Morgan up the steps to the museum entrance. Banners draped from the Doric facade advertised the exhibitions currently in residence at the museum. There was a gallery of paintings produced in the city during the long economic depression of the 2020s, a history of craft beer advertisements, and a collection of modern art from indigenous, first nation artists. These three very Californian exhibits made the fourth, “Nazi Memories from Beneath Paris”, stick out like a sore swastika.

Morgan and Virginia meandered about the museum and passed through each of the galleries. While Virginia studied the exhibits, Morgan made mental notes of the floor layout and exits. Finally, they reached the Nazi exhibit. Morgan walked slowly along a collection of items contained in long, clear case against a wall. There were pamphlets, books, and small pieces of Third Reich propaganda written in French. Then, finally, Morgan’s eyes fell upon a large tome that seemed completely out of place. The first thing she saw was that it was much larger than any of the books stored in the case; a thick, leatherbound beast of a thing. The tome’s cover looked faded and cracked, though there were very few would have been able to read what was on the cover even if it were in mint condition. Across the leather face were the runes of a script which Morgan recognized from other mystic items she had seen. Some of the script looked familiar, but she couldn’t make out enough to have a hope of reading the cover.

Julia had been right, after all. Resting in this case was what at least looked to be the largest and oldest mystic book Morgan had ever seen.

Morgan had to be sure, though. She had to be thorough in a way Julia hadn’t. It was entirely possible that the book was some elaborate forgery. Morgan had heard of a number of foolish mystics that had paid large sums of money for incredible magic items on auction sites only to find out they were well-made forgeries. It was amazing how well old cook books could be made to masquerade as old tomes.

Morgan took a deep breath and opened her senses to perceive the astral plane. Normally this would be a trivial task, but Morgan also wasn’t normally in a room full of artifacts related to one of the most cruel and genocidal regimes the world had ever known. The items in this room would undoubtedly be echoing all of the pain, fear, torment, and hatred of the Nazis and their victims. As soon as Morgan opened her senses to the astral plane, all of that hit her like a ton of bricks. A cacophony of every possible evil and fear practically overwhelmed her. With great physical strain, she forced herself to remain focused.

The book was very different from anything else in the room. It shone with a calm yet vibrant aura of many colors. Morgan recognized some of the hues to be representative of magical elements, though there were others that were new to her. Morgan fought her urge to pull back from perceiving the plane just so that she could continue to study it.

A strange whimpering noise caught Virginia’s attention and pulled her away from looking at a collection of French Resistance firearms. She turned to see Morgan, still in disguise as an older woman, quivering with fists tightened at her sides. She was letting out a soft, but noticeable sound of someone straining to keep it together. Virginia glanced around and saw that people were beginning to notice. She quickly rushed to Morgan’s side and maneuvered herself in front of her.

“Um, Miss Morgan?”

Morgan blinked in surprise. The sudden appearance of Virginia in her field of view was enough of a shock that it forced her senses back from the astral plane. Morgan reactively looked around and was greeted with the stares of the concerned and the perturbed. She let out a long breath and apologized softly.

“I’m sorry.”

“Are you feeling well? We can leave if the museum is proving too tiring.”

“Sorry, there’s just a lot of negative energy in this room,” she said, matter-of-factly.

“Negative energy? Of what sort?”

It took Morgan a moment to remember that Virginia was still very new to all of this. Her question was akin to a child asking ‘what noise?’ in a room full of screaming animatronic cartoon characters.

“Have you ever perceived before?” asked Morgan in a lower, quieter voice.

“Perceived? Perceived what? With my eyes…?”

Morgan looked around again. “This is not the best place for it. In fact, this is definitely not the best place for it. Let’s retreat to the outdoor cafe.”

Virginia escorted Morgan out of the museum proper to its cafe, which was situated just in front of the museum’s south wing. They each ordered tea and had a seat at a small table. Morgan took a few, calming sips from the tea and attempted to calm herself as much as one could after being assaulted by the echoes of warfare and genocide.

“So, Virgnia,” she finally began, setting down the cup of tea on the metal table. “Tell me more about yourself.”

Virginia found it hard to think of the woman in front of her as Morgan. It was even harder to take the question as anything but one of evaluation.

“I’m at Stanford to study business. My parents have been involved in many business endeavors over the generations and hope that I take up the legacy. However, my… other interests… are unsavory to them, so I have been endeavoring to investigate them on my own.”

“Other interests? You mean, magic?”

Virginia nodded. “My family has been very much against that which they feel is changing humanity. Cybernetics, augmentation, and magic. They feel these is things are uncouth.”

Morgan tilted her head. “But how do you, Virginia, find them?”

“I find them interesting. I find myself drawn into magic whether I care to or not considering certain… well, how I seem to be…”

Virginia stumbled on the words. She had never really given voice to these opinions before. It wasn’t as if she had had someone to speak with about any of these matters before, let alone so plainly and in public.

“… I seem to be drawn toward this world whether I wish to be or not.”

Morgan nodded. It was a sentiment she had heard before. Like it had been at other times in its history, San Francisco was once again a haven for the ostracized, the dispossessed, and those simply seeking their true selves. Virginia was another in a long line of lost souls who had come to the city after hearing its siren song of sanctuary.

“You asked me what I was doing earlier,” Morgan finally said. “Take a deep breath. Relax.”

Virginia closed her eyes and obediently took the breath.

“Try to take in the world around you, but not with your eyes.”

These instructions reminded Virginia of the technique she had learned in a private krav maga session, where she could extend her perception of the world out from her and feel movement all around her. She used this as a basis to start from but, this time, kept pushing. At first, she heard the chatter around her, the clinking of ceramic mugs on metal tables, and the sound of cars rolling by. The longer she persisted though, the more she became aware of other sounds like the wind rustling nearby trees. Finally, other sensations that she lacked any real vocabulary for began to arise. Virginia slowly opened her eyes and realized that she could now see Morgan was illuminated by an aura of white light. It wasn’t especially bright, but it shimmered and sparkled around her. She also felt like she could see Morgan beneath the visage of the severe Southern woman she had been assuming. It was so bizarre that it started Virignia out of the trance.

“I think I just saw something around you. Just now.”

Morgan smiled. “You saw my aura?”

“Your aura? Surely that is something the hippies believe in.”

“Well, welcome to the hippies.”

Not sure how to respond, Virginia simply took a long drink from her tea. Morgan decided to continue probing Virginia now that it was quite evident that Virginia possessed the Gift and at least some talent with it.

“So, if you don’t go into business, what do you see yourself doing with your life?”

Virginia set her teacup down, but did not lift her eyes from it.

“My family has certain expectations that they will be sure come to pass. The Burgesses would not be where they are now if they were prone to letting their sheep go astray.”

“Are you not in control of your own life?”

“No.”

The curtness of the answer surprised Morgan. Virginia had seemed to be fond of using longer forms of speech and taking her time to get to the point. This, it seemed, was a cold, hard truth that couldn’t be dressed up by any amount of colorful metaphor or graceful turn of phrase.

“What if you could be something more?”

Virginia looked up. “It would require quite some doing to extract myself from that which has already been planned for me.”

“Of course, you could play the front of being the honorable business woman and have other interests on the side. There are so many wonders in this world to experience.”

“This is true. There are also many demons that lurk around its edges.”

“If you really want to see one of those, you can walk into that room of Nazi exhibits and perceive them as you did me. It’s not pleasant.”

Those weren’t the sort of demons Virginia meant. Hers were far more mundane but no less dangerous. The demons of politics, purse strings, and familial obligation could be just as terrifying to a young heiress.

“I am here completely at the mercy of my family. If they were to discover that I was not acting according to their wishes, they would summon me home summarily. My apartment and tuition is paid for by their kindness. There is also a man that they claim is in the area to act in my interests, but I know he is more than he seems.”

“The golden handcuffs. Still a prisoner, but in a way you can complain about.”

Virginia didn’t answer. She found herself distracted by a street performer, painted completely in silver, performing robotic gestures on the sidewalk behind Morgan. Morgan, meanwhile, was fascinated that a woman she had seen kill four muggers could now be so reserved. Virgini; clearly possessed power and ability; it was just a matter of the will.

“Tell me, Virginia Ann. Do you consider yourself a law-abiding citizen?”
——————————————————————————————

In his clinic, Maxwell shut the door behind his most recent patient and let out a very long, exasperated groan. He had had to lance boils. So. Many. Boils. He tried to shake the memory from his mind and pulled out his phone to message Wisp. Maxwell really wanted to hear that she had been able to collect some cheek samples from her mystic friends. Unfortunately, that was not the message he received several minutes later.

Still working on it.

Maxwell sighed, but told himself it would be unwise to push. He decided it would be best to simply respond with an affirmative.

Ok.

Then

Let me know.

Then

Thanks.

He was wondering if he should fire off a fourth message to at least drive home how important this was but yet how much he appreciated her assistance but he really needed those samples when he suddenly heard a knock at his door. Maxwell put his phone back into the pocket of his pink labcoat and slid open the door’s eye shutter. He found himself looking at a short, thin hispanic man.

“Do you have an appointment?” asked Maxwell.

“No, but I’m not feeling well.”

“Yes, that would be why most people come to a clinic. Can I get your name?”

“Jose,” the man responded.

“Well, let’s see. I’ve got a patient coming in 10 minutes. Can you come back in 30?”

“Sure, I can do that.”

Maxwell closed the shutter and pulled out his phone again to check his appointment schedule.
——————————————————————————————

“Tell me, Virginia Ann. Do you consider yourself a law-abiding citizen?”

The question caught Virginia off-guard. Until a few weeks ago, she would have given an unequivocal ‘yes’ and even taken offense at being asked the question. However, killing four people, even in self-defense, and injuring an innocent bystander, even by accident, does a lot to shake unequivocal answers.

“Well, one who has a certain place in society as my family does… I certainly try to. But the events of the evening we first met are certainly hard to ignore.”

“So you didn’t report it to the police? Interesting.”

Morgan sipped her tea. Of course, that was what she expected. The day someone with power and status walked into a police station to confess to something they could get away with would be the day Morgan died of shock.

Morgan suddenly felt her phone vibrate. She quickly glanced down at the device and saw a message from Maxwell.

How is the sample collection going?

Morgan sighed and quickly typed that she was working on it, despite the fact that she most certainly wasn’t, and subtly slipped the phone back into the pockets of the pants she was wearing beneath the illusion.

“If you could be something more than what your family lets you be, would you take it? Or would you just live up to all their expectations and none of your own hopes and dreams?”

Virginia was suspicious of where this conversation was going. Suspicious and anxious.

“… perhaps.”

Then, after some thought: “It would depend on what those dreams are and if they are even passable acceptable. It would not behoove me throw away what I have for a pipe dream.”

Morgan took another sip of her tea. By this point, she had felt her phone vibrate several times, but had chosen to ignore it. She could deal with Maxwell later. Virginia seemed to be a woman on the edge, but the fear of falling was holding her back from jumping to the next branch. Morgan felt Virginia just needed a reason.

“One thing we can work on is subtlety. Magic need not be all flashy lights and explosions. It can help you in the business world. Find out more information about your partners and clients.”

“That is my hope, yes.”

Morgan leaned forward and lowered her voice. “Alright Virginia, I’ll be straight with you. I didn’t come here just to take in the exhibits. There’s an item here of great significance which I was hoping to get my hands on.”

“One of those books you were so enamored with in the Nazi gallery?”

“Yes. That book is the biggest magical book I, or anyone I know, has ever seen. The Gathering needs it. It could so do much to boost our understanding of our own powers and maybe even ourselves. What do you think of that?”

Virginia didn’t answer immediately. What Morgan was suggesting sounded like theft, pure and simple. If she were caught, that would be the end of everything. However, this book seemed like the very thing Virginia herself was looking for. And perhaps she herself could learn some of Morgan’s tricks and spells which allowed her to present herself as someone she wasn’t. It was a risk… but perhaps it was a risk worth taking.

“I think that I would be interested in assisting you. If I can learn some things about myself.”

“I can certainly teach you,” Morgan said with a grin before standing up from her seat. “Let’s take another walk through the museum and see what kind of guards and cameras are present.”

“Ok…”

Virginia told herself there was nothing inherently illegal in counting cameras and security guards.

The pair proceeded back through the museum. Virginia studied each room as they did so, noting the positions of the cameras and watching the security guards. It was clear they were nothing more than ill-trained private forces who were bored and distracted at their jobs. She doubted any of them had fired their sidearms more than a few times in their entire lives. The museum likely didn’t want to spend extra money on better trained personnel and instead opted to rely on its other security measures like alarms and locks.

It was early evening when they finished. Virginia and Morgan hugged and exchanged contact info. Morgan told Virginia she would contact her as the project progressed. Virginia simply nodded, then left. She was excited with anticipation and fear. She wondered if she was making the biggest mistake of her life.

The street performer who looked to be painted all in silver was now assuming a very still pose. He watched the two women part ways. When they were gone, he dropped the pose and walked away from the museum.
——————————————————————————————

A knock came on Maxwell’s door ten minutes after he dismissed Jose. He opened the shutter again and saw a white woman in her early 60s.

“Ah, Ms. Jennings! Come in,” he said before closing the shutter and unlocking the door.

“Thank you for taking me,” said Ms. Jennings as she entered the clinic. “I think I ate something really bad yesterday. I just have these awful cramps.”

Maxwell frowned. “Unfortunately, there’s not much I can do for cramps. I can give you basic painkillers, but that’s about it.”

“Oh, that would be lovely, thank you.”

Maxwell went to a storage cabinet and returned with a few tablets of ibuprofen. Effective, legal, and most importantly, dirt cheap.

“If it doesn’t go away in the next 48 hours, give me a call,” he said as he placed them in her outstretched hand.

Ms. Jennings accepted the pills but, before pulling her hand away, proceeded to give Maxwell a very intense stare.

“Do you need to take a blood sample from me?”

“No, not for cramps,” Maxwell replied. It would also hardly help his research. He had gotten a sample from Ms. Jennings the first time he had seen her for a chlamydia infection.

Ms. Jennings kept staring at him.

“Is there anything else I can do?” Maxwell asked, finally pulling his hand back.

Seriously, what is it with my patients flirting with me lately?

“No, I think I’ve got what I need,” Ms. Jennings said, suddenly brightening. “Bye!”

Ms. Jennings promptly left. Maxwell shook his head and marked the appointment off his calendar. On the positive side, that had taken far less time than he was expecting, so he get some minor research tasks taken care of before his next patient. Unfortunately, five minutes later, there was another knock at the door.

When Maxwell looked to see who it was, he found Ms. Jennings on the other side of the door again.

“I said if they don’t go away in 48 hours, give me a call. Wait 48 hours,” he repeated.

“What if what doesn’t go away in 48 hours?” asked Ms. Jennings, clearly perplexed.

“Your cramps.”

“What cramps? I never said I have cramps. I have a yeast infection!”

Maxwell balked. “Yeast infection? You were just in here complaining of cramps!”

“No, I just got here,” Ms. Jennings protested.

Maxwell rubbed his temples and, after some thought, let Ms. Jennings back in. He walked her over to his monitor and brought up the footage from a security camera he had watching this very room and rewound it to Ms. Jennings’ first visit. The woman’s eyes went wide as she watched herself enter the clinic.

“That’s not me!”

“What do you mean it isn’t you?”

“I wasn’t here!”

“You were clearly here!” Maxwell exclaimed, pointing at the video.

“That’s not me! I wasn’t here! I don’t have any cramps and I don’t have whatever pills you just gave that woman!”

Ms. Jennings proceeded to empty out her purse, despite Maxwell having never actually asked her to do it. Belongings clattered onto a table and, while there were a number of pill packets, none of them contained the generic ibuprofin that Maxwell had in stock.

“Then who is this?” Maxwell asked.

“I don’t know?”

“Do you have a twin sister!?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Do you have an evil doppelganger?”

Ms. Jennings had to think about that. “No… not that I know of.”

Maxwell looked at Ms. Jennings, then the security footage, then back to Ms. Jennings. With a sigh, he dismissed the matter and asked about the yeast infection Ms. Jennings said she came in for. After a cursory examination and, ironically enough, taking some bloodwork, Maxwell gave her some antibiotics and quickly sent her on her way. Ms. Jennings gave the monitor one last suspicious look before leaving.

Maxwell immediately sequenced the sample and placed it in the fridge. As he waited for the data to come back so he could compare it to the first instance he had of Ms. Jennings’ genome, he realized that the drop-in named Jose never came back.

Probably for the best.

He did, however, receive a call from Wisp.

“Hey, did you get the samples?” he asked before Wisp had a chance to speak. “Remember, just one per ziploc bag, or else they get mixed up and there’s nothing I can do with them.”

Morgan didn’t respond immediately. “… I have a question for you,” she finally said. “Which may help me get you the samples.”

“OK.”

“How much do you know about maglocks?”

“I know that they’re magnetic and that they lock.”

“… but do you know how to bypass one?”

Maxwell raised an eyebrow, despite the fact he wasn’t speaking face-to-face with anyone.

“Why do you need to bypass a maglock?”

“If you can find me someone with the skills that can get me past them, then I might be able to get your samples sooner rather than later.”

“I’d prefer if you could get samples from someone you know. I don’t think you should be stealing them.”

“I’m not stealing them. I just need to get past a maglock before I can get to collecting your samples.”

Maxwell frowned. This sounded decidedly like a stalling tactic or, worse, holding what he needed for ransom. There wasn’t much he could do about it though. Wisp was his only connection to the Gathering and his only way out of this basement clinic.

“Ok… what kind of security are we dealing with?”

“Nothing serious. Simply a building that has an item I’d like to acquire.”

“So you want me or someone I know to help you steal stuff.”

“And I have connections in the magical world who can get you the samples you need.”

Yup. He was most certainly being taken for a ride. Unfortunately, Maxwell was in no position to be making demands and Wisp knew it.

“… alright. What kind of building? What kind of security? Is this a private residence or a public building?”

“We can talk at your clinic. I’ll be right there.”
——————————————————————————————

About twenty minutes later, there was a knock at Maxwell’s door. As always, he checked the shutter to see who it was and found himself looking at a severe-looking middle-aged woman wearing clothes that required far more money than most people he knew even had.

“Sorry, I’m not taking patients tonight. You’ll have to come back later.”

The woman raised an eyebrow. “I think you are.”

“No, no I’m not. Come back in the morning.”

Now the woman smiled. “You are if you want those samples.”

“I don’t need samples,” Maxwell replied with growing exasperation. “I have enough samples of people’s diseases. Listen lady, I’m tired. Just come back in the morning.”

The woman said nothing and instead raised her hand into the view of the shutter. She was holding a plastic baggie full of something Maxwell had trouble seeing because its contents were just out of the shutter’s field of view. If Maxwell had to guess, it was probably drugs. When you thought about it, dressing like one of San Francisco’s well-to-do citizens was a great cover. The police wouldn’t dare harass someone like her on the streets.

“I don’t need drugs. I have lots of drugs.”

The woman gave an exasperated sigh of her own. “Maxwell. This is Wisp.”

Maxwell practically slammed his face into the door to try and give the woman who claimed to be Morgan, but who was clearly not Morgan, a much closer look.

“No, you’re not. You’re some random Southern lady. I’m not stupid.”

Morgan, who was of course still under the guise of her approximation of Virginia’s mother, looked on either side. When she saw no one in the corridor, she allowed the glamour to drop. It melted away in a shimmering light from her head down to her toes, as if someone had poured iridescence over her head.

“… holy shit,” Maxwell said, his mouth agape. “What the fuck was that? Ok, magic’s weird, magic is definitely weird. First the woman with the evil clone and now this. Alright, I’ll let you in…”

A series of buzzes and clanks later found the Morgan back in Maxwell’s for the second time in as many days.

“Woman with the evil clone?” she asked.

“Oh my god, my day has been weird. A woman came in with stomach cramps, I gave her some pain killers, told her everything would be fine. She leaves and 10 minutes later she comes back with a yeast infection and, when I confronted her about her previous visit, she didn’t know she had already been here. So, either she was on a lot of drugs or had no idea who her double was.”

Morgan gave that some thought. While Maxwell was clueless about a lot of things, she’d be surprised if he couldn’t tell if someone was tripping balls. He seemed genuinely distressed which, given the sanguine stockpile he was sitting on, made her uneasy. She needed more information.

“Can I get some tea?”

“Uh… ok. Yeah, yeah, just give me a minute.”

Maxwell retreated into a small room attached to the clinic, returning a few minutes later with the cup of tea. Morgan accepted it, took a deep breath, and centered herself over the tea. When she felt her Essence return to her, she opened her eyes and looked at Maxwell.

“Think about this woman carefully.”

“OK…”

Morgan stared into Maxwell’s eyes and, with a few mutters, cast Mind Probe.

“I really wish people would stop doing that to me,” Maxwell said, remembering when the first Ms. Jennings had given him a very similar stare.

Of course, because Maxwell was now thinking of this, Morgan now saw the same thing. Her mind now received the memory of an older woman giving her a very direct stare and muttering something under her breath. She couldn’t make it out because Maxwell hadn’t been able to, but Morgan could tell plain as day that the woman had been casting some kind of spell on Maxwell.

Another mystic had come into Maxwell’s clinic and cast a spell on him. Not good.

“Look, you’re really just too young for me. I’m sorry,” Maxwell protested.

Morgan ended the spell and rolled her eyes.

“Do you have any information about the first woman?”

“Ms. Jennings? She comes by enough.”

“No, the first one.”

“The first woman?”

“The one masquerading as her,” Morgan said, impatience creeping into her voice. This had all the trappings of a horrible comedy gag.

“Wait, which one? Stomach cramps or yeast? I have the security footage if you want to see it.”

“… yes. Everything.”

Maxwell went to his personal terminal and once again accessed the security footage of the first Ms. Jennings.

“Earlier,” said Morgan.

Maxwell scrobbled the footage back to earlier in the day. It landed on the previous patient who had needed boils lanced. Morgan wished he hadn’t gone that much earlier, but she forced herself to wait through it. She saw the patient leave, saw Maxwell putter around, saw Maxwell answer the door, then saw Maxwell open the door again and let the first Ms. Jennings in.

“Wait. Who was that? The first time you answered the door. Who was that?”

“Just some drop-in. I had a full day, so I couldn’t take him.”

“What did he look like?”

“I think he was hispanic? He said his name was Jose.”

Morgan’s eyes closed and she let out a breath she didn’t realize she had been holding.

Please please please please let it be him and not some other mystic snooping around here…

“Give me a moment,” said Morgan as she pulled out her phone. She took a few steps away from Maxwell while she waited for Jose to answer.

“Oh, hi Morgan. What’s up?” Jose asked when he picked up the call. There was a hopeful tone in his voice. He probably thought she was calling to report on her museum visit.

“Hi. Tell me, did you pay the good doctor a visit?”

Maxwell’s eyes snapped wide. “Wait, who are you talking to?”

Morgan didn’t say anything but simply waited for Jose to respond. There was a bit of a silence before his voice came back and, now, much more subdued.

“… are you in his office?”

“Did you pay him a visit?” Morgan repeated.

“… yes.”

“Under the glamour of an older woman?”

“… yes.”

“Understood. Thanks for letting me know,” Morgan responded.

She hung up and placed the phone back in her pocket. Maxwell simply stared at her waiting for an explanation.

“What the hell was that about?” he asked.

Then, he thought better of it. Before Morgan could respond, he grabbed the cup of tea from her and went back into the attached room. He came back without the tea cup but with a bottle of scotch. He dropped into the one chair in the room and took a very long drink from the bottle. Morgan decided that it was best she didn’t say anything and simply savored this rare bit of silence from Maxwell.

“So, what is this about locks?” Maxwell finally asked.

“There’s an old book at the Museum at the Mint that’s very interesting. I’d like an opportunity to look at it in private.”

“So you’re trying to Indiana Jones it?”

“Yes,” Morgan said.

“But it’s already in a museum.”

Morgan gave Maxwell an impatient look. “I just need to unlock the casing it’s in.”

“And if I help you, you’d be willing to introduce me to some people?”

“Yes.”

“Well… I can’t help you the locks. But I can introduce you to a friend of mine who can. I’ll call him and, if he agrees, I’ll have him contact you.”

Morgan didn’t like the idea of bringing in someone else. Worse, the person likely wasn’t a mystic. Still, she needed help with the security system she wanted to do get this run done without raising suspicion or the attention of law enforcement.

“Alright. I want to meet him first, though.”

“Sure. Nick’s a good guy. You’ll like him.”

“His name is Nick?”

“Yeah, Nick Vincenzo.

Advertisements

Chapter 1.1: Gathering

Saturday, February 7, 2065

By the time Maxwell Simon awoke, the sun had been hanging in the sky over the Richmond district for a couple hours. The man rolled out of his small bed and stumbled into the attached bathroom. His own face, a faded echo of achievement under a five-o-clock shadow, stared back at him through a groggy haze. His memories wandered to last night and the train of patients who had come through his makeshift clinic. The people who fell under Maxwell’s care were those that couldn’t afford, for whatever reason, to seek care in an established hospital. For those that existed on the edge of San Francisco’s consciousness, there was Maxwell Simon’s “above-board below-ground” clinic, as he liked to call it.

Maxwell walked back out of the bathroom, through his cramped bedroom, and into the large main room of his garden unit apartment. There was a bed, a fridge, a freezer, and a collection of modest diagnostic and analytical equipment he had managed to scrounge together third-hand via Nubay. He looked around the clinic and, quite suddenly, his impatience with his own life bubbled to the surface. Kicked out of Stanford Med School for the illicit use of skillwires on exams, Maxwell had found his academic pursuits cut abruptly and unceremoniously short. However, the future that could have been still called to him, even in the depths of this dank and cold basement clinic. Maxwell had grand plans, that was for certain, but he had made very little actual progress towards them.

He opened the freezer and looked across the rows upon rows of Eppendorf tubes filled with blood. All of the samples had been taken, with permission of course, from the patients he had seen in his years as a street doctor. So many samples, but none from the subjects he really wanted. None from any confirmed, positive controls that could lead him toward the answer to a question he had been asking for years: the biological source of magic.

Maxwell closed the doors and looked over at the screen on the far wall. Through sheer luck, he had managed to make a valuable connection in the past few weeks. While he couldn’t be certain anything would come of it, it was the best lead he had had in, well… ever. That woman might very well be his ticket out of this mildewed subterranean shithole and back to the ivory tower to which he knew he rightfully belonged. Maxwell rummaged through a pile of scrap paper filled with hastily scribbled notes and finally found the contact information for a woman he knew only as “Wisp”.

———————————————

Morgan Croft groaned as she realized the incessant beeping noise that had woken her was coming from her phone, which was lying nearby on her bedstand. She grabbed the device and brought it close. Once her eyes finally focused on the screen, she saw the image of a rather tired and worn-out looking man. He looked familiar, but her sleep-addled mind was having difficulty placing him. Beneath the face appeared the name “Dr. Simon Maxwell” and the slogan “For When You Can’t Afford The Best”. Suddenly, the memories of two rather anxious nights in the last few months came flooding back and her eyes widened. Wincing at the thought of having to deal with him this early in the day, she clicked the audio-only answer option. She was well aware of how bad her bed-head could be.

“… hello?”

“Miss Wisp, I’ve been trying to get a hold of ya. Is… this Miss Wisp?”

“Yeah…”

“Oh, did I wake you up? I’m sorry. I thought normal people were up by ten-o’–”

“It’s 10 AM!”

“Yeah, it’s 10 AM! I don’t understand, what’s the problem here?”

A number of problems came to Morgan, but the street doctor didn’t give her a chance to list them.

“So, I wanted to talk to you about a project I’ve been working on. I’ve… been trying to do some experiments, but… but I need a better control. I was hoping you could help me out here. I’ve been trying to figure out… well, I know you know some magic, and—”

Morgan hung up as quickly has her thumb could fly to the ‘end call’ button. She brought up an encryption application on her phone and, after selecting a channel option that was appropriate in both its security and price, she called the street doctor back.

“Alright, this is a secure line,” Morgan said as soon as the call was picked up.

“What? Uh, why would we need a secure line?” stammered Dr. Simon.

“… is this worth my time?”

“I’m just… look. I appreciate your time,” he finally managed to get out. “And that you’ve been sending me patients. But let’s face it: most of the clients you’ve been sending me, they… uh… they are not really great about paying their bills. So, I was hoping that you could help me out on a project instead. I’ve been trying to figure out with the emergence of magic. Would you mind if I ran some tests on you? I’d just like to find out what’s medically going on here.”

“… what sort of tests?” asked Morgan with a great deal of hesitation.

“Oh, just basic stuff. Some blood work. I mean, I have a whole bunch of controls samples that I’ve been saving, that I’ve been trying to understand. And… and you know, you do a… magic… and I just want to see what pops up.”

It was probably for the best that Morgan was calling only on audio as her face was caught between something resembling horror and amusement.

“Pops up in your blood work,” he continued, possibly realizing how that came out. “I’m trying to understand what’s going on. This is weird. I mean… don’t you want to understand where this shit comes from? I mean, there’s gotta be something.”

“What sort of ‘thing’ are you looking for?” was all Morgan could muster as a response. “And why?”

“If I knew what I was looking for then this would be a hell of a lot easier.” There was a note of impatience in Dr. Simon’s voice.

“But the point here being magic is doing incredible things,” he continued. “And I don’t want to sit and live in a dank apartment. In the Richmond. Forever. Sooooo, you know… let’s do something interesting. Let’s figure out what’s going on. And let’s face it, it’s not like the mages are going to be going to the big research groups. Let’s figure out how this stuff works. You can use magic to do some very interesting things. You can use magic for a lot of novel therapies.”

“It already is,” Morgan interrupted.

“Well, yes, but not officially. And we don’t know where this is coming from a biological standpoint. Is this genetic? Is it the result of an exposure? We don’t understand where this is coming from.”

“I’m all for Awakening more people. But some people just have the Gift and some don’t,” replied Morgan simply.

“Well that… that sounds very racist.”

Morgan just stared blankly at the phone in response.

“Are you saying we can’t share the Gift?” asked Maxwell when he heard no response.

“I’m saying some people have potential and some do not.”

“Again, that sounds horrible.”

And again, Morgan had no response. Well she did, but she had a feeling it would do little to deter the street doctor from what he really wanted.

“Well, let’s see…” continued Maxwell when Morgan said nothing, “would you be willing to come down? Or do you know someone who maybe was willing? I-I’m just curious to figure out what’s going on here.”

Morgan looked up at her ceiling and pondered what to do with this ten-in-the-morning problem. She was highly suspicious of what Maxwell was proposing, even if he didn’t have any malicious intent. However, she did owe him. His medical expertise had helped her and those she knew. Many in the augmentation and Mystic communities of San Francisco couldn’t afford proper medical car from licensed professionals. For those, street docs like Maxwell were a godsend. Maxwell had helped her personally and a number of the patients she had sent to him since. Hell, just last month he had helped her keep one potential Mystic from committing manslaughter.

“Alright, we can talk. Meet me at… the Castro Starbucks in two hours.” Sure, it was dumpy, but it was also affordable and she had a feeling she’d be needing some coffee to deal with what today had in store.

“Sure! See you there,” the doctor was able to reply before Morgan hung up.

———————————————

The sun was high in the sky over the Castro district of San Francisco when Virginia Ann Burgess stepped out of the Muni station. It was a surprisingly warm and cloudless day after several months of cold and wet weather. Those who had been around the Bay Area for at least a few years would have told her that the February Heat Wave was a reliable annual event, but it was still a welcome surprise every year. Still, as one quickly learned after a few trips up to the city, Virginia had chosen to dress in light layers before she had left her Palo Alto apartment and taken the train up.

She walked past a number of small cafes, bookstores, and magic shops that lined the main drag and onto one of the streets off the main drag. and stopped in front of one of the many old Victorian houses of the neighborhood. Like that of the its worn-down sisters, the pink paint was faded and peeling. Virginia looked up at a neon sign in the window, turned off in the daylight, that advertised the fortune-telling services offered within by a Madame Mystiferia.

Virginia ascended the front stoop and knocked on the door. First there was silence, but finally the sound of some shuffling footsteps revealed that, yes, someone was home. With a creak, the door opened to reveal a smaller, older woman with bedraggled hair that was skewed to one side.

“What is it?” she asked, annoyed.

However, before Virgnia could answer, the woman’s eyes widened in recognition.

“Oh! Oh, one second!” she exclaimed before slamming the door in Virginia’s face.

When the woman opened the door some moments later, her hair was a bit more under control and she was now covered in a collection of shawls and fabrics adorned with jangly ornaments which didn’t shine as much in the sunlight as one would expect.

“Come in, darling, come in!” she beckoned in a much higher and booming voice, sweeping her hand dramatically toward the interior. “I’m so glad you returned!”

Virginia simply stepped into the hallway with a polite, Southern return greeting. Madame Mysterferia directed Virginia to a small parlor room off the main hall. When Virginia entered, she found that, unlike the first time she had visited, the curtains had not yet been closed. With a squeak, Mystiferia raced into the room from behind Virgnia and tried to block out the light as quickly as she could. Before the room became shrouded in darkness, Virginia had noticed a great clutter on the room’s periphery, including a bookshelf containing faded, ink-and-paper books on finding one’s sexual self and how to adopt accents.

The fortune teller sat at a table in the center of the room and lit a pair of candles on either side. She beckoned Virginia to take the seat across from her.

“So, shall I gaze into the crystal ball for you today?” she asked in her dramatic voice. She waved a hand over the table’s center, upon which sat a crystal ball on a velvet pillow. “Or maybe… another reading from the Tarot deck?”

“Well, I was hoping to find more information about that which we spoke last time.”

“Ah…” breathed Madame Mystiferia. “… and what did we speak about last time? The visions, sometimes they are so cloudy, the memories are hazy at best!” She held the back of her hand against her forehead with a dramatic pained expression, as if dealing with some constant ethereal headache.

“Information about the organization of people that seem to refer to themselves as The Gathering,” replied Virginia.

“Oh, did you? Oh yes, yes. How was that for you, my dear? Did you find your way?”

“The people you sent me to were lovely folk, to be sure. But they were not what I was hoping them to be.”

That, of course, was putting it lightly. The first time Virginia had visited Madame Mystiferia, the fortune teller had supplied her with an address for what turned out to be the meeting of a local Wiccan coven. While they had, in fact, been lovely people, Virginia had found them more concerned with putting on a bake sale and communing with poorly defined goddess than actually engaging with real magic. There was a lot of talk, but Virginia would have been surprised if any of them had ever seen magic outside of a net video.

While they had been lovely people, Virginia had found them more concerned with putting on a bake sale than actually engaging with magic. There was a lot of talk, but Virginia would have been surprised if any of them had ever seen magic outside of a net video.

“I was hoping that you had better information on which I could go on,” Virginia continued.

“Really…”

Madame Mystiferia leaned forward and studied Virginia with a stronger focus. Virginia could swear that Mystiferia had lost her put-on accent for that one word.

“Perhaps in your cards you will find something about a bit more precise,” suggested Virginia, more out of a wish to stop the woman’s stare than anything else.

“… perhaps. Let’s see…”

Madame Mystiferia pulled from the side of the table a purple satin bag embroidered with a stylized yellow eye. From the bag she removed a deck of Tarot cards, worn from years of use. One could see the black and grey backing was faded even in the flickering candlelight. Mystiferia shuffled the cards several times before offering the deck to Virginia to cut. She performed the reading as she had the last time, the cards telling of a past and present with details sufficiently vague that they were neither exactly true nor demonstrably false. However, when the reading arrived at Virginia’s future, Mystiferia’s hand hovered over the deck. It wasn’t a dramatic flourish like all her other card pulls. Mystiferia instead closed her eyes and slowly removed the top card and placed it face-up on the table.

XIV. Temperance. The card depicted a man dressed in slacks and a purple vast, but whose face was hidden from view, running into a portal of sand on the left. On the right was the a similarly clothed man running out of a similar portal, though his clothes were damaged with splotches of blood. The right man’s face was also hidden from view.

“You will be served well by maintaining some balance. Be patient. Moderation will serve you well.”

Mystiferia pulled the cards from the table and shuffled them back into the deck. She looked at Virgnia with a peculiar focus, looking directly into her eyes.

“You would do well not to over-react in the future. It might be… costly.”

Her words hung in the air before Mystiferia finally spoke again.

“There’s a meeting in the Mission,” she continued, though in a voice that seemed far less affected. Now Virginia was sure; the accent was gone and had been replaced by the lower voice which had greeted Virginia first at the door. Before Virginia could respond, Mystiferia quickly scribbled the address onto a scrap of paper and handed it to her.

“But again… patience.”

When Virginia said nothing, Mystiferia spoke once more in her high, dramatic voice. “Is the anything else I can do for you today?”

“No, that will be fine.”

“That will be ten dollars,” Mystiferia quickly said.

That seemed rather cheap to Virgnia, but she wasn’t going to complain. It would be easy to pay that with the cash she had on hand, which would keep it off the credit card her parents maintained for her.

After accepting the money, Madame Mystiferia showed Virginia to the door and wished her a pleasant day. Virginia found herself standing once again in the unseasonably warm February sun, now with an address in her hand. Her mind was still back in the parlor though. The way Mystiferia had changed demeanor near the end of the reading had been strange and her emphasis on ‘not over-reacting’ gave her a particular chill.

It brought back memories of a month ago when, after heading home from the disappointing Wiccan meeting, she had been accosted by several muggers. Virgnia was not without ability or firepower, both conventional and magical, and had easily dispatched her assailants. However, she had also accidentally injured an innocent bystander quite severely. Had it not been for the fortuitous intervention of a woman named Wisp, who took the bystander to a street doctor she claimed to know, Virgnia would have been in a great deal of trouble from both the law and, worse, her parents. Since that night, she hadn’t seen nor heard from Wisp again, though she couldn’t shake the feeling that Wisp was someone she needed to meet again.

Virginia looked at the paper, then around for anyone that might be watching her, before descending the stairs and walking back toward Casto St. She realized she was quite hungry and remembered there were a fair number of restaurants on Castro Street. Unfortunately, her reverie had distracted her from noticing a large man watching her from a black car across the street.

———————————————

The Castro was busier than it had been the recently thanks to the pleasant weather. Tourists and locals alike strolled leisurely down the wide sidewalks, stepping over the worn and faded memorial plaques of icons from the queer era of the district’s history. Morgan emerged from a crowd that was crossing the intersection at 18th and walked over to the Starbucks. She glanced into the shop and spotted Maxwell at the counter through the smudged and scratched glass.

Maxwell studied the value menu, speaking to the virtual intelligence cashier without looking at it.

“Can I get a number 7?”

The VI unit gave him a hollow, happy stare as it repeated the order aloud in a tinny voice.

“One half-caff, some saff. Name?”

“Actually, can I get a shot of vanilla instead of a shot of the hazelnut?”

“Of course. … Name?”

“Maxwell.”

Maxwell passed his phone over a small receiver on the counter. When the VI unit gave an affirmative tone, Maxwell nodded and walked over to the other end of the counter where a human barista was making the drinks.

Morgan stepped into the Starbucks and proceeded to the counter just in time to hear the barista call out an order for an “Axel” and see Maxwell, with a grimace, accepted the drink. Morgan placed her own order, paid, and accepted the drink when her name was called. The drink was correct. She took a sip, ignored the burnt taste, and walked over to the table where Maxwell was now muttering about something under his breath and glaring at his cup.

“Is this seat taken?” she asked.

Maxwell looked up then quickly motioned to the seat across from him.

“No no sit down. How’s it going? Looks like you’ve been healing up very well.”

“I’m fine, thanks,” Morgan responded. She wasn’t sure what he was expecting. It had been several months since they had met in the aftermath of a violent police crackdown of an augment protest. Maxwell had tended to Morgan, which was really the only reason she was even meeting him.

“Glad to see there wasn’t much scarring. Well, as I was trying to tell you over the phone,” he briskly continued before Morgan could speak again, “all I’m asking is that you just give me an example of what you can do. I just want to do a little bloodwork, compare before and after…”

As Maxwell continued to talk, Morgan locked her eyes onto his. She began muttering under her breath, casting one of her more useful spells: Mind Probe. However, it was still a bit early for Morgan and she hadn’t had nearly enough coffee to fully wake up. The spell failed to penetrate past Maxwell’s surface thoughts. She didn’t detect any deception or even greed. It was mostly all just ambition and curiousity. But if he wasn’t collecting bloodwork for some nefarious purpose… was he really just that ignorant? Or simply stupid?

“… and so I can compare it to bloodwork for other people in the clinic,” finished Maxwell, who was by put off by Morgan’s intense stare. Morgan was far too young for him. Besides, this was neither the time nor the place for flirting. They had come here to discuss business.

Morgan broke the stare and took another sip of her coffee.

“What are you doing with these blood samples you’re collecting?”

“Most of the time a patient comes in sick and I’m just checking for signs of infections. I keep the samples around for later use, including research. I mean, once you have a sample, you don’t throw it away.”

Morgan almost laughed. So he really was just completely ignorant. Maxwell didn’t have any idea what he was sitting on top of. Morgan decided she needed to see this for herself so she could gauge the threat his sample collection presented.

“I get off work at 5, but I have to be somewhere at 7. I do have some time, though. I can stop by your clinic to discuss this further.”

“Sure,” Maxwell said, his eyes lighting up. “My clinic isn’t too far away. Well, I mean, you know where it is.”

“I do,” Morgan replied, her voice tinted with regret. After her Maxwell had treated her, Morgan had sent him a number of patients that either needed or simply wished to avoid conventional hospitals. She now found herself desperately hoping that those with the Gift had not been so stupid as to give him a blood sample.

“Excellent! Sounds good. I’ll see you later tonight then,” Maxwell said with a smile. He quickly got up and left, walking quickly out of the Starbucks and back out onto the street.

Morgan took another sip of her coffee and closed her eyes. She took a few minutes to center herself and regain some of the Essence she had spent probing Maxwell’s mind. When she felt herself replenished, she stood and left, taking Castro street down to where she worked. She stood at the intersection waiting for the signal when her eyes were pulled to a young woman walking down the sidewalk across the street. The coiffed hair and boutique coiture were what had initially caught her eye. Not many of the people she trafficked with dressed like that. It took a moment more to place the face.

Virginia Ann.

Morgan had been wondering if she would see her again. The first, and only time they had met, had been after a meeting of a local Wiccan coven. While Morgan herself wasn’t a Wiccan, she and other members of the Gathering would sometimes attend to keep an eye out for new recruits. Lost souls with the Gift would sometimes stumble into Wicca and other groups associated with popular and flawed conceptions of magic. Morgan had identified Virginia as one such person. However, they didn’t actually meet until Morgan was walking home and found Virginia standing over the bodies of four dead muggers and realizing she had accidentally shot an innocent bystander. Thanks to Maxwell, who Morgan was now realizing she actually owed several favors to, the bystander had survived and a potential recruit had been kept away from local law enforcement.

It was now time for the follow-up. Morgan quickly crossed the street and followed Virginia, walking up beside her casually.

Motion at her side caused Virginia to glance over. To her surprise, she found herself looking at the very woman she had been hoping to encounter again.

“How are you doing?” Morgan asked as casually as if the last time they had spoken had been at a bar. “… keeping out of trouble?”

The events of the night Virginia had met the woman she knew only as ‘Wisp’ flashed in her memory. The bake sale coven, the muggers dead at her feet, and the man she had never meant to injure. Her pistols, which she carried concealed beneath her coat, suddenly felt quite heavy. She couldn’t help but also remember Madame Mystiferia’s cautionary words and the image of the Temperance card.

“I do… I do try,” she said with surprise. “… and what brings you to the Castro on this fine afternoon, Ms. Wisp?”

“Morgan, please,” responded Morgan. Wisp was a name she used in situations where she didn’t want her real name thrown around; what Runners might refer to as a callsign. “And I work here.”

“Oh, really? Where?”

“Over at the shop around the corner,” Morgan pointed ahead of them. “The Crystal Coven.”

“Ah.”

“And what are you doing here?”

“I was just taking care of some business.”

Virginia felt the piece of paper with the address in her pocket. Morgan had said that she worked here, in the Castro. The Magic District of the city. And this ‘Crystal Coven’ sounded like quite the magical vendor.

“I was just visiting someone who was giving me some information and this address,” Virginia said, pulling the slip of paper from her pocket and showing it to Morgan. “Is this something that seems familiar to you? As a place I might be interested in?”

Morgan looked at the paper and instantly recognized the address.

It was fake, of course. There was no building at this address. The only thing anyone might find at there other than pavement would be a member of the Gathering keeping an eye out for anyone who stopped there on meeting nights. Picking up new recruits there meant that the addresses of the moving Gathering meetings would be kept away from the general public. When you were dealing with a suspicious government and a police department known for harassment, it would hardly do to post your meeting details on fliers.

Morgan handed the paper back to Virginia and looked her in the eye. Perhaps it would be best to give her a shortcut, especially since the last time and only time she had known Virginia to be on her own in the city at night, it had ended in bloodshed. As she handed the paper back to Virginia, she silently cast one of her other favorite spells, Alter Memory, to place the actual address of the meeting in the young woman’s mind.

Virginia blinked as she realized something, though she couldn’t describe what, had happened. She suddenly simply felt something had changed. When Virginia looked down at the paper, she realized it was the address on the paper. At least, that is what she now believed. See, memory is a tricky thing and it becomes even more tricky once magic gets involved. Memory is a reference for our perception of the world and Morgan had just altered Virgnia’s. However, Morgan faltered on the execution an, Virginia wasn’t supposed to have noticed. Virginia did and, now when she looked at the address, her memory told her it had changed when, in reality, it was her past idea of the address.

Regardless, Virginia became excited at this clear evidence of magic that she believed to be staring her in the face. Finally she had a real lead to what she hoped would be the Gathering.

“Is this the place that you will be at this evening?”

“Yeah, I’ll be there,” Morgan replied with a satisfied nod, ignorant that Virginia’s idea of ‘the place’ was different than what she intended. “Please join us.”

“I do hope to be there.”

Morgan simply smiled and took her leave as they approached the next intersection to go back to work. Virginia watched her walk away before looking around. She supposed she could relax in a coffee shop while she waited for night to come. San Francisco certainly had no shortage of them.

———————————————

As the light of the setting sun gave the western side of San Francisco pleasant tones of orange and gold, Morgan walked down concrete steps into the basement corridor of an apartment building. It was already cold and damp, which didn’t help the very clear smell of mold. Morgan ignored it and knocked on a door to her right about halfway down. A small shutter on the door snapped open and two familiar eyes quickly looked her over before it shut again. Several electronic locks whirred and hummed, punctuated dramatically with the sound of a large metal deadbolt slamming open. No sooner than the door swung open than Morgan was greeted with Maxwell’s insistent voice.

“I’ve got a bunch of control samples,” he said, pointing to a freezer in the corner of the small room and continuing their conversation from earlier as if no time had passed.

Morgan’s mind raced to catch up and, finally realizing what he was talking about, walked over to the freezer and opened the door. She saw several white styrofoam boxes with small plastic vials filled with blood. Each vial was labeled with a string of numbers. She felt a chill and quickly shut the door.

“So, would you be willing to give me an example of your skill?” Maxwell asked. “And would you be willing to give me a blood sample first… you know, so I can compare before with after? Also, if you know of any others that would be willing, that’d be great because I need an n of more than one.”

Morgan looked back at the door to the makeshift basement clinic. From this side, she noted two different electronic locks and one very sturdy deadbolt. That gave her some relief, though she would feel better if the doctor also employed some means of magical protection.

“How can you be sure the data from these samples can’t get out?”

Maxwell gave her an impatient look. “Well, it’s useless without the encryption key, which is only stored in here,” he said, pointing to his head. “Skillwires. I mean, I would like to publish what I find, of course, but everyone’s samples are anonymous. Publishing their names would be unethical. And, as I said, it’s entirely voluntarily. Now, it would be really great if we could find something her—”

“Do you know why there are no papers out on this subject?” interrupted Morgan. “Why, after decades, everyone is still in the dark as to why some have the Gift and others do not?”

“I’m… I assume because no one has cooperated with any magicians.”

Morgan’s eye twitched at the term ‘magician’, but she fought back the urge to correct Maxwell. Instead, she simply took a deep breath and remembered what she had determined from her meeting with him earlier this morning. He didn’t seem to have any ill intent. He was just completely clueless.

“I believe your heart is in the right place,” she said with a forced calm. “But what you’re doing is incredibly dangerous.”

“How is a blood sample dangerous?”

Well, nothing like a demonstration to drive the point home.

“Do you have a sample of your own blood here?”

“No… but I can take a sample”

“Take a sample and give it to me. And I’ll show you why you need to be careful.”

“Ok…”

Maxwell sat down and, with some help from Morgan, drew a 5 milliliter sample of his own blood. He handed the vial to Morgan.

“Do you have a bathroom I can use?” Morgan asked.

“Why do you need a restroom?”

“It will become apparent in a moment. The purpose of this is for us to be separated.”

“This is a little weird…”

“Yes, it is,” Morgan responded flatly.

“Look, I’ve been completely open about what I want here,” Maxwell responded in protest. “So why don’t you do… whatever it is you’re going to do… in front of me?”

Morgan shrugged. “Very well. The effect will be the same.”

She turned with her back to Maxwell, but held the vial up so he could still see. Morgan touched the vial gently and cast the spell, Fashion. Maxwell watched in curiosity, only seeing Morgan mumble under her breath. He then looked down when he felt something tugging upward on his arms and gaped in amazement as he saw the sleeves of his coat elongating and wrapping themselves around him. It was also changing color from a stained, dirty white to a very bright pink. When it finally stopped, Maxwell found himself wrapped tightly in a pink straight-jacket. He looked back up at Morgan, who was now facing him again and holding up the blood sample between them.

“How the hell did you do that!?” exclaimed Maxwell.

“Did I make my point clear?”

“No! I have no idea what the fuck you’ve done! What does this have to do with blood!?”

Morgan’s expression faltered. So maybe this demonstration relied on some existing knowledge of magic.

“With this, I can do this to you anywhere at any time. Normally, I would have to touch you.”

Maxwell looked at Morgan, then the blood sample, then the coat. He looked back up with wide eyes as realization dawned on him.

“From anywhere… at any time?”

Morgan simply nodded as she cast the spell again on the sample. The straight-jacket returned back to a simple lab coat, though curiously the color remained a bright pink. Morgan grimaced at the mistake, but felt she didn’t have the energy to correct it. Even simple spells like this left her a bit drained after repeated uses.

“So, you normally have to touch me?” Maxwell asked, trying to rub the pink color off the coat.

“Most spells, you have to see the person or touch them.”

“But with the blood, you can do that anywhere.”

“Yes. The magic can be channeled through it. The blood retains a connection to the original owner.”

“… oh. I can see why that would be a problem for you.”

“Do you understand now the danger in what you’re doing?” asked Morgan with relief. “Your motivation is admirable, but there are some very bad people in this world.”

Maxwell thought on that for a moment. When he spoke again, it was more to himself as he worked through his ideas.

“I can just destroy all of the samples immediately after they’ve been analyzed.” After another moment of thought, his gaze was caught by his coat. “Also, can you change me back? Pink is not in this season.”

Morgan raised an eyebrow. Pink actually was in this season; she thought she the color change actually worked for him.

“… you look tired,” Maxwell suddenly said after staring at her. “Are you feeling ok? Do you need some juice? I have some orange juice.”

“Sure.”

Juice actually would be nice. Something with some sugar and nutrients she could center over to replenish her strength. However, when Maxwell opened the sample fridge to retrieve a bottle of orange juice, Morgan found herself not as enthused with the idea.

“I have cookies, too,” he said as he handed her the bottle.

“That’s ok,” Morgan said as she opened the bottle.

“I also have those candy suckers. Kids love those.”

Morgan said nothing as she sipped from the drink. She blocked out Maxwell, his lab, and the world around her as she centered herself. After a few moments, she felt her Essence and strength return to her. Those moments were all she got though, as the silence apparently unnerved Maxwell.

“I understand your concern about me hanging onto your blood. If it makes you feel better, I can’t cast magic so I can’t exploit this… connection. Also, no one will know it’s yours… but I can also dispose of it if you want.”

Morgan gave a tired sigh. “What I’m getting at… is that I need you to destroy the rest of your samples.”

“I can’t do that. These are patient samples and they’ve given me permission. I need them in case someone comes back with an issue that needs to be treated. There’s nothing here that’s below board.”

Except that you’re running an unlicensed clinic underground, Morgan thought. However, she didn’t say it. Besides, the fact that Maxwell was operating an illegal clinic gave her no leverage. The last thing she wanted to do was involve law enforcement and Maxwell likely knew it. After all, she and many other depended on such clinics.

“… what happens if you go to a blood bank?” asked Maxwell, suddenly.

“Most people who are aware of their Gift do not do blood banks.”

“But you could— what about the normal people who donate blood? You’re telling me that any mage can just go to a blood bank and do something to all of it at once?”

“Not all at once,” Morgan responded, though her voice betrayed her uncertainty. “I mean, it’s very difficult to cast a spell on more than one sample at a time.”

“But the samples are pooled together. You could literally hit multiple people at once.”

Morgan realized she didn’t have an answer to that. There was so frustratingly little that she and the rest of the Gathering actually knew about the rules of magic. It was easy to think amongst themselves that they had a deeper knowledge than the rest of humanity, but just a few questions from Maxwell had brought her to the limits of her understanding.

“Do you have any other ways of getting what you need other than blood and tissue samples?” asked Morgan to change the topic.

“I could do urine samples… or I could do a DNA test with hair or cheek. Blood is more useful though. It is a much more information-dense type of sample.”

“… let’s try the cheek swab. I don’t know if that’s dangerous.”

Maxwell lit up with an optimistic energy and quickly retrieved a q-tip.

“Open wide,” he said as he moved the tip toward Morgan’s mouth.

“No. I meant your cheek.”

“Why? I already have my DNA sequence.”

Morgan gave him a quizzical look. “No, I want to test to see if a cheek swab is safe first.”

“The cheek swab is fine,” replied Maxwell with a patronizing wave of the hand. “They don’t hurt. I’m just going to take this q-tip and run it alongside the inside of your cheek to get some cel—”

“I meant, I want to see if it’s safe magically or if it works the same as blood. I’ve never tried it before.”

“… oh.”

Maxwell glanced down at his bright pink labcoat, sighed, and ran the q-tip along the inside of his own cheek. He handed the swab to Morgan, who immediately attempted to cast Fashion on Maxwell again through the sample.

Nothing.

Of course, the tricky thing with this sort of test is that it all Morgan could really know is that the spell failed. It told her nothing with regard to the ability of a cheek swab’s retention of the same arcane connection to the owner that blood did because there were a number of reasons the spell could fail. After all, Morgan’s attempt to return Maxwell’s coat to its original white color had failed.

However, these thoughts did not occur to Morgan. She assumed she had cast the spell correctly. So, relieved in her possibly correct but also possibly incorrect belief that a cheek swab retained no useful arcane connection, Morgan allowed Maxwell to take a cheek swab from her. As Maxwell proceeded to run it through his desktop sequencer, Morgan glanced at her net device and realized she had stayed later than she had intended.

“I assume you’ve undergone some biohacks?” asked Maxwell, keeping his eyes on the desktop sequencer’s monitor.

“Just a little bit.”

“That’s another confounding variable. I also don’t have enough samples from people who I know can use magic to really work out good controls. I just don’t have enough statistical power to really pull out something small or a number of contributing factors. If you knew others that would be willing to help me out, I mean… it’s probably better if you ask than if I ask because, let’s face it, I sound like a blithering fool most of the time.”

Morgan cocked an eyebrow. Maxwell was more self-aware than he let on.

“I accept this, it’s my lot in life,” he continued. “But… do you know anyone who might be interested in helping out?”

“Perhaps, if we can do something to better secure these samples.”

“I’m open to suggestions.”

Morgan glanced at the time again. She needed time to think of an answer to Maxwell’s request. “Well, I have an event to go to…”

“Oh, sure. This will keep me occupied for at least the weekend anyway. But here, take this!”

Before Morgan could protest, Maxwell shoved a bag with a bunch of q-tips and smaller ziploc bags into her hand.

“If anyone you know might be interested, just take a swab for me! Just make sure there’s no more than one sample per stick and only one stick per bag. Need to keep the samples separate! Again, if anyone would be willing to help, it would be great. It would be interesting to see where magic is coming from. Don’t you wonder where this is coming from?”

Morgan inched toward the door.

“Don’t let anyone in here you don’t recognize.”

“No one else knows this is going on.”

“Good.” Then, a thought. “Why did you let me know?”

“Well, I needed someone to start with. And I knew from our first meeting that maybe you had… you know, the Gift. I think that’s what you call it?”

“… ah.”

“Oh, don’t forget!”

Maxwell reached into a jar and pulled out a small red sucker.

“Here’s your lollipop”, he said with a grin as he opened the door for her.

Morgan found herself giving Maxwell a smile as she stepped out of the clinic. As she walked back out of the apartment complex, she heard the door shut behind her and the locks whir and slam into place. When she emerged into the open air, she saw night had already fallen. Morgan quickly walked to where her motorcycle was parked and stuffed the bag Maxwell had given her into the storage beneath the seat. She put the sucker in her mouth, got on the bike, and sped off into the night.

She had a meeting to get to.

———————————————

Under the yellow light of lampposts, Virginia found herself standing between two houses. She looked at one, then the other, then at the slip of paper in her hand which she, incorrectly, believed Morgan had changed to direct her to a meeting of the Gathering. Instead, she found herself searching for an address that appeared to not exist. The address was for a house that should have been exactly between the two houses she was currently facing. However, considering that there was nary an inch of space between them, Virginia found herself quite confused.

She was reminded of the old Harry Potter stories she had read in secret at night long after her parents had gone to bed. Harry had gotten to the Hogwarts Express by going through a wall to reach a platform between two others. Perhaps that was what she was supposed to do here. She was considering how exactly to attempt that when she heard footsteps approach from behind. Virginia turned to see a black man of average height with a flattop hairdo holding a cigarette.

“Who told you to come here?” he asked flatly.

“The fortune teller up on 18th,” she responded, though that wasn’t entirely correct. Before she could amend the statement to clarify that Morgan had been the one who really directed here, the man spoke again.

“Follow me,” he said before taking a drag from his cigarette and turning to walk away.

Virginia followed the man down several blocks and into a small alley that would have looked extremely suspect even during midday, let alone at night. One of her hands slipped underneath her coat and felt the pearl handles of the family heirloom pistols she had been given by her father. Their touch comforted her. Getting control of her fears, she instead forced her senses outward, using a technique she had learned from her krav maga instructor. She felt movement and changes around her far more acutely, so much so that it would be quite difficult to surprise her. At the very least, she would be ready to defend herself.

The man stopped halfway down the alleyway in front of a plain metal door. He gave the door a rhythmically disjointed series of knocks then simply stood there. After a few moments, the door swung open. The man took another drag from his cigarette and motioned for Virginia to enter.

Virginia peered around the corner of the entry. Before her was a simple concrete staircase, lit by poor flickering fluorescents, which led down to another metal door. Virginia took a breath and stepped through the door. After she had descended several steps, the door behind her closed shut. Her senses still extended, she felt it close long before she heard it.

Now there was no going back.

Virginia marshaled her courage and continued down the steps that smelled of urine and mold. When she reached the door, she was able to easily push it open. She found herself looking into a large room with little in the way of decoration or furniture. It was dimly lit, but there were pulsing colored lights coming from one corner along with the low thumping of poorly mixed club music. People were milling about and chatting throughout the room in small groups. Others were lined along the walls, simply watching everyone else.

Virginia stepped inside and allowed the door to close behind her. She pulled her senses back in and glanced around to see if anyone had taken notice of her. A few people briefly looked toward her, but then immediately forgot about her as they turned back to their conversations. Virginia stuck close to the wall as she surveyed the room. Her heart leapt when she realized that the lights coming from one corner of the room weren’t from a strobe light, but instead from the hands of the people dancing. Their hands flashed and pulsed with a variety of colors as they moved. Virginia realized she was witnessing other Mystics practicing magic right in front of her… in full view of everyone in the room.

This is it, she thought.

“Virginia, you made it.”

Virginia turned to see Morgan, who had just arrived herself, smiling at her.

“Yes, I did,” replied Virginia. “Thank you so much for correcting my information to take me to the correct place.”

Morgan smiled wider, pleased with herself for thinking she had sent Virginia directly to this building. Virginia returned the smile, pleased with herself that she had seen what she thought Morgan had done to the paper and correctly arrived at the ushering location.

“This is your first time, right?” asked Morgan.

“Yes, it is.”

“Well, welcome. Let me introduce you to everyone.”

Morgan walked Virginia around the room, introducing her to the various small groups. Morgan seemed to know just about everyone there and, more importantly, Virginia could tell that practically everyone showed respect to Morgan. It was clear as day how the other members of the Gathering stopped their conversations as soon as Morgan approached and the way they looked at her with undivided attention. These things came naturally to Virginia; her Southern debutante education had seen to that. Morgan, it seemed, was one of the people to know.

Morgan introduced Virginia to a number of people. Some of the introductions lasted only a few minutes while others resulted in longer conversations. If Virginia thought she had already seen the range of people that San Francisco had to offer, her first hour in the Gathering demonstrated otherwise. There were people with dramatic cosmetic genetic augmentations, there were others in exaggerated dress, and still others who had clearly centered their identity in their Gathering membership as Virginia had serious doubts their parents had given them names like Mephistophiles, Merlin, and Dumbledore. She noticed that the latter group were the briefest introductions.

After about an hour, Morgan looked up to the entryway to see a familiar face appear; that of Jose Marquez. Jose, a Hispanic trans man, was the leader of the Gathering and sometimes, depending on the season, month, and alignment of the planets… Morgan’s lover.

Jose was currently not Morgan’s lover.

This didn’t bother Morgan. On the contrary, she enjoyed the dynamic flux of their relationship. What did bother her though was the expression on Jose’s face. Something was up and, given how late he was to tonight’s meeting, it was something quite important. As he passed by, Morgan cocked an eyebrow. Jose simply nodded and pointed toward the back. Without a word, Morgan took her leave of Virginia and the group they had been talking to and followed Jose into a second, smaller room.

This room was even more bare than the larger meeting room. There was dim lighting… and that was about it. After Morgan had entered the room, Jose closed the door and locked it behind them.

“How do you feel about a run?” he asked her, excitement bubbling just beneath the surface of his voice.

Morgan cocked an eyebrow again. “What do you have in mind?”

“Apparently the Museum at the Mint just got a very interesting book.”

“What sort of book?” Morgan asked, leaning closer with piqued interest.

“Well, this info comes from Julia… but she says that she saw a large book in an exhibit there. It had a number of known magical runes on it and looked very, very old. Unfortunately, it was locked within a case and Julia didn’t feel comfortable about investigating further. If it’s even remotely like what she described though, it could be very valuable. It could teach us a lot and it’s going to waste in there.”

Morgan mulled it over in her mind. Julia had a reputation for being loyal, but far from thorough. The lack of information wasn’t surprising. She imagined that Julia had simply glimpsed the thing and her first thought had been to run to Jose with the news. To Morgan, Julia had seemed more motivated by climbing the social ladder of the Gathering than increasing their magical knowledge… and possibly climbing into Jose’s pants. Still, she didn’t have any reason to outright doubt Julia or her information.

“I’ll check it out.”

“I wish I had more info for you.”

“Do we know how long it will be there?”

“Two weeks. It just arrived into town. It’s apparently part of an exhibit containing a lot of old books and artifacts from a recently unearthed Nazi trove beneath Paris.”

“I’ll check it out.”

At this point, Morgan paused. While she had Jose here, she might as well bring up her meetings with Maxwell.

“We may have another problem.”

“Oh?”

“I met a doctor who is collecting blood samples.”

“Of Mystics?”

“Trying to.”

“Trying to? What as he collected so far?”

“I don’t know for sure.”

“Well, he’s a doctor, they do collect blood samples. Wait, is this a doctor or… one of the street docs?”

The difference was critical. Morgan handed Maxwell’s card to Jose, which made it quite clear.

“He calls himself ‘The Doc’!? That’s not helpful at all.”

“Nope.”

“That’s like if a lawyer went around calling himself The Lawyer. Who calls themselves The Doc!? That’s a stupid name,” Jose exclaimed as he threw the card behind him.

“The point is that he’s interested in us. He’s collected several hundred blood samples, some of which may or may not be people we know or care about.”

“Why is he doing this?”

“He’s interested in trying to figure out the source of magic. If it’s part of our DNA or something like that.”

“… oh.”

Jose’s interest was clearly piqued and Morgan sympathized. Maxwell was trying to answer a question that burned in the back of every Mystic’s mind.

Why us?

“… but yes. Blood is very dangerous way to be doing that,” Jose continued.

“I tried to convince him of that. I performed some magic in front of him using a sample of his own blood.”

“Did he already know you’re a Mystic?”

“He had some idea.”

“What did you do?”

“I just changed his clothing.”

At this moment, across town, Maxwell was busy putting his pink labcoat in for a second wash at the local laundromat.

“Pink straight-jacket,” Morgan clarified with a grin.

“Nice. So what do you think the risk is? I mean, he calls himself ‘The Doc’. He can’t be terribly competent. Do you trust him?”

“I trust that he knows how to heal people. He’s medically trained… mostly. I’ve seen him help a couple of people, including me. And his motives seem to at least be honorable as far as I can tell.”

“They usually are, but good intentions aren’t everything.”

Morgan nodded. “I am extremely uncomfortable with him sitting on top of several hundred blood samples in a marginally secured building. But I don’t want to hurt him or cause him to distrust us. He’s useful.”

“I agree… and while I have a hard time believing that any Mystics we know gave him blood, that doesn’t mean someone wasn’t stupid enough to do it. So, you know him. If we destroyed the samples, do you think he would suspect you?”

“Maybe.”

Silence passed between them as Jose thought about what Morgan had told him. He was clearly troubled by the idea, but there was no easy solution.

“I think we can wait while we decide how to proceed without endangering a useful relationship. In the mean time, I rather we focus on getting this book because the clock is definitely ticking on that one.”

“Understood,” Morgan said with a nod. She was eager to see this book for herself. If anything, the idea of going on a run and getting her hands on such a potentially valuable magical item excited her far more than another dealing with Maxwell.

“Do you have anyone in mind that can help you out?”

“I’d like to investigate it quietly first to see what sort of precautions we’ll need to take.”

“OK. It may be useful to have this doctor with you. Even museum staff are armed.”

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”

Jose nodded. “Well, let me know how it goes.”

Their business concluded, Morgan and Jose walked back into the main meeting room. Jose brought the meeting of the Gathering to order and handed things off to another member who was in charge of initiating the new recruits. This happened at the beginning of every meeting. Members were instructed to not hand over blood samples or other deeply personal items that could be exploited for an arcane connection, warned to be wary of law enforcement, and cautioned to be careful to whom they came out as Gifted. The proceedings had the curious mixture of pride and paranoia that underground cultures tend to possess and isn’t unwarranted.

After the official business, members continued to share with each other new spell ideas they had or tidbits of information they had come across. Much of it could be found on the net and most of it was spurious at best. There was very little in the way of formal magical instruction or even a basic primer. Many members of the Gathering had self-taught themselves as best they could. It made Morgan hope that this book Jose had learned of might be the kind of primer they had been waiting for.

The meeting was adjourned just after midnight. By this point, Virginia had struck up a rapport with three other members who were themselves fairly new to the Gathering. It helped that they were college students at UCSF and Berkeley, which gave them a common ground to start from. One of the them, a young woman named Veeta, turned to Virginia.

“We were planning to head over to the Stardust club in the Castro after the meeting. Want to join us?”

“Yes, that would be lovely! Thank you so much.”

The group was on their way out when Morgan fell into step alongside Virginia.

“How you doing?” she asked casually.

“Quite excellent, thank you so much for your kind welcome. I do appreciate you introducing me to your friends.”

Morgan nodded and quickly changed topics. “There’s a museum exhibit in town. I’m thinking of checking it out tomorrow. Would you be up for joining me?”

Virginia was surprised at the offer. She had only really gotten to actually know Morgan just today. However, she did wish to get to know Morgan further… and she had not really gotten to explore some of the city’s cultural exhibits since she had started at Stanford.

“Oh, yes, I do love museums. I miss some of the larger ones back east. I would be very happy to explore the ones here in the city.”

“Cool. Meet meet me at the MaM at, say, 2 PM?”

“The MaM?”

“Museum at the Mint.”

“Ah, yes, of course.”

Virginia had come to realize the residents of San Francisco had a bizarre fondness for acronyms, portmanteaus, and other truncated phrases.

Morgan fell into the group easily and Virginia once again noticed how eager the other members of the Gathering were to socialize with Morgan. She smiled to herself at her great fortune of running into Morgan again earlier that day. Perhaps that fortune teller did have some insight into the whims of fate after all.

Meanwhile, across town, Maxwell had finished yelling at a washing machine for taking 6 dollars from him with no service in return. With a great sigh of defeat, he returned to his apartment. At the very least, he had a promising bit of data to look forward to analyzing tomorrow. Things were most definitely looking up.

General Timeline 2015-2065

This is a rough timeline of the events that led up to the current year of 2065. This is kept very general because I’m hoping that the history of this world will become more defined through play. However, some basic developments need to be specified to give our players some foundation to start from. This will also ground the reader, as the characters are not going to be giving history lessons to bring you up to speed on what is already common knowledge for them.

2015: Things were as they were in our world. Smartphones put the internet into the pockets of many. Molecular biology was rapidly transforming our understanding of nature and of ourselves. San Francisco was in the height of digital gold rush. American society was watching the Donald Trump presidential run with equal parts horror and glee.

2020s: Experiments in human genetic engineering become more widespread. The nations of the world work to limit it based on their own social mores. The United States continues severe restrictions, though it does codify allowances for cases of chronic disability and terminal condition. Society begins to seriously debate what should even be considered a ‘chronic disability’.

2030s: Cybernetics, synthetic augmentations to the body which interface with the human brain and nervous system, are invented and developed. Initially, a cocktail of drugs is required to prevent implant rejection. Postnatal genetic therapy, already an active area of research, is further driven by companies who want to get in on the cybernetic rejection treatment market and around the patented drugs. ‘Cybernetic rejection’ is ruled to be a ‘chronic disability’ by the American Supreme Court, thus allowing such research in the United States.

2040s: General postnatal genetic therapy becomes a reality. It is now possible to target specific areas of the human body to change in specific ways and see full expression in a matter of weeks.

April 7, 2047: A spectacular supernatural display takes place in the skies above San Francisco and is captured on thousands of recording devices which then upload everything to the internet. Feats which could only be described as ‘magic’ are seen by billions of people across the world. After this day, reports and videos of other bizarre phenomena become increasingly common. Some people begin to develop the ability to use magic.

2050s: Postnatal genetic therapy, now simply ‘genetic therapy’, joins cybernetics as a mature, common treatment. Many nations’ laws from the 2020s, including those of the United States, do not apply as they were found specific to prenatal therapy. Faced with an ever-growing market for an increasing gamut of genetic therapies, the United States forgoes regulation of specific therapies and instead bans all recipients of genetic modifications from procreation, due to the inability of current technology to prevent modifications from being passed on to one’s offspring. This is enforced by requiring all genetic modifications, save a specific class of medical treatments, to include a permanent sterilization component. This law, dubbed the Human Genome Preservation Act, is met with immediate controversy and questions of constitutionality. Meanwhile, societies across the globe are coming to terms with the idea that magic is a readily observable phenomenon. Science races to understand this new realm of physics which had thus far somehow eluded all rational observations of the universe. More and more magic-capable people appear as the decade progresses. Such people now refer to themselves as ‘Mystics’ within the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

2060s: A new culture war has reached the boiling point in the United States and much of the world. Largely older generations feel that the very definition of humanity is slipping away every day and people are changing themselves in uncontrolled and unregulated ways. On the other end of the spectrum, many younger people believe that one should be in control of their own body and genome. In the middle is a wide variety of opinions on regulation. The debate is given further fuel when the Supreme Court upholds the Human Genome Preservation Act in a 5-4 decision based on the interstate commerce clause and that the state does have an interest in securing the right of all to a ‘clean slate’ genome. The phrase becomes incendiary in the debate, with ‘clean’ and ‘pure’ now taken as either a point of pride or a slur.

2065: The Present. Debate on the regulation and rights of cybernetic and genetic augmentation recipients continues. There is also a growing population of young adult Mystics who came into magic powers during adolescence that now find themselves looking for guidance, community, and a place in the world. With magic still poorly understood by science, there is increasing pressure for Mystics in the various countries to be registered by their governments.

Introduction

One of the defining traits of humanity is our relationship with tools. Be it a knife, a bow, a pen, a book, or a computer, humans have possessed an ability unparalleled by any other species on the planet to invent and use a wide array of tools. After minimal use, they become extensions of ourselves, expanding our capabilities beyond our five senses and four limbs. With the advent of the silicon age, some began to speculate that it was only a matter of time before the line that divided human and machine would become blurred, if not completely nonexistent. This hypothetical event, referred to by futurists as The Singularity, was the anticipated day in which the definition of what it meant to be human would be forever changed. Ironically, the futurists of the early 21st century were far too limited in their imaginations of how humanity would transform over the next 50 years.

While humanity had experimented with replacing lost limbs and organs with artificial ones for decades, the real merging of human and machine began in the 2030s with the advent of prosthetics and cybernetic enhancements capable of interfacing directly with the brain. However, the body would not be so easily tamed and a cocktail of drugs were required to prevent rejection of these synthetic additions. This last act of rebellion by the flesh drove unprecedented progress in the areas of genetic therapy and, by the early 2040s, humanity was augmenting itself at the nucleotide as well as silicon level. The body would be made not just to accept the synthetic, but to sprout fur, see in the dark, and even breathe underwater. The Singularity had arrived, but the homo sapien identity crisis it brought with it was only just beginning.

On April 7th, 2047, fantastic supernatural events took place in the skies above San Francisco. Flying figures which could throw bolts of lightning, fiery explosions with no obvious fuel source, and at least one honest-to-goodness dragon were seen by everyone in the city. They were also captured on thousands of recording devices and instantly shared across the entire internet. From that day forward, undeniable reports and videos of the bizarre phenomenon that came to be known, for lack of a better word, as ‘magic became increasingly common. Soon, people were coming forward who could perform modest demonstrations of magic. Humanity was undergoing yet another change, but this one defied all explanation. Further complicating matters, ancient items of power and decaying scraps of parchment with bits of arcane knowledge began to surface and caused many to wonder how such old things could be related to such a new development. Rumors began to swirl in the new magical communities of so-called ‘Mystics’ that somewhere in the world was a hidden and ancient enclave of magic-capable people sitting atop a storehouse of magical knowledge and power.

The year is now 2065. Humanity, forever looking for its place in the universe and the nature of its existence, is no closer to answering that question. In an age when a person may pass someone with listening to music with cat ears, another using their chrome skin for performance art, and a third conjuring fire out of their hand to light an artisanal cigarette, constructing one single definition of ‘human’ has only become more difficult. Every day seems to bring with it some new amazing complication. Governments have passed desperate laws seeking to gain control the situation, including acts limiting the reproduction of the genetically modified, corporations continue to develop new and amazing ways for humanity to change and augment itself, and the powers that be are continually scrambling to maintain their advantages in a game where the rules appear to be changing every day.

And meanwhile, people everywhere are trying to define in their own minds what it really means to be human, when perhaps that definition is only fated to change and expand until it collapses under its own existential weight.