Book Of Gifts


Image beetle%20book%2025.jpg
Description According to the dust-jacket, this heartwarming book is about the results of giving the perfect gift. A quick flip through reveals that each page has its own story, so it's probably intended as a coffee table book.
Type Offhand
Use See notes
Effects +2 Etheric Power
+2 Etheric Defense


When using this item you get the message:


You flip to a random story, feeling the breeze on your face and a whiff of that new book smell:

And then one of:

Nobody's surpised when someone has trouble with the graduate level Drone Programming classes. There's a market for old tests, last year's notes, anything that might help passed down from one year to the next.

One student stood head and shoulders above, though, buying notes from dusty corners of fraternity houses noone had looked at for decades because last year's notes couldn't teach her anything. She wasn't poor, although she seemed to be trying to get there, burning through her scholarship money and even her parent's credits until her room was filled with ancient notes.

The crown jewel of her collection was an old lab notebook with handwritten code cramped around roughly drawn circuit diagrams. She practiced them, day after day, trying to recreate the code in an old hound drone her parents had bought for her to practice on.

No one thought to question her genius until she disappeared, the only trace of her the blood dripping from the crack on the front of her drone's face.

Marcus's parents wanted him to go to school and follow them in working at Midgard, but he had other plans: he was going to show everyone he was the best damn Shotgun Saint player on the planet. He wouldn't just shame his rivals, he'd score media deals and live out his life on Shotgun Saint.

So, when his parents wanted him to get a Midgard neural net, he bought something else and switched them out. Real neural fiber, wound with metal, and a biotech gland to help it all run even faster. He didn't understand the math or how the gang members had gotten it, but he needed it and he needed his parents to pay for the installation.

Once it was installed and his brain had healed, but before his parents realized his deceit, he sat down to play a round of Shotgun Saint. At the first blast he jumped from his seat and started crying. It wasn't just the sensativity.

And it wasn't quite that he realized killing was wrong. He'd always known that, but now, the difference between killing someone and killing an avatar… seemed so vague.

Over the next few days, despite being able to dodge every shot that came his way, he played less and less. Instead, he pulled out old toys from forgotten corners of his closet and tracked down videos of cheerful songs he'd never liked.

It wasn't until his parents started asking where the substitute implant came from that they found out who the neural fibers had been and why she'd never see her sixth birthday.

He had been an adorable baby and grew into a strikingly handsome man. He chalked it up to good diet and exercize, certainly none of it cybernetics. He was natural and natural was beautiful.

But one day, he took a joyride outside the city and a Renegade missile hit his car, flipping it over and sending it bouncing off the road. He was ransomed back to his family, but the fire scarred his hand. Still natural, but not as beautiful as he always pictured himself.

So, he snuck out into the night to a black market cyberclinic to get everything done off the record. They were happy for the business, cutting his scarred hand off like nothing and replacing it with a "good-as-new" cyberhand.

He was back out in the clubs the next day, bragging about how he fought off the Renegades, but showed mercy when they begged for it. And when the conversation got around to his favorite subject, he bragged that he was natural and natural was beautiful.

Which is when his new hand raised itself to his face and dug in, tearing away muscle and flesh like an old rag, showing them his nature if not his beauty.

He went to get cybereyes with a single goal in mind: being able to see people's faces. He couldn't read the blur above their necks and that lead him to all sorts of heartache.

But, as much as he hoped that he'd do better at meetings or win a game of poker for once, what he really wanted was to understand what Joy in accounting or even the women at bars thought about him. So, he went under the knife, coming back with eyes that could see far more clearly than the failing ones he was born with.

When he saw Joy clearly for the first time, he saw she was more beautiful than he'd expected, but the icy rage in her eyes pierced him. Even her voice, once his favorite part of the day, seemed bitter and sharp.

And, at the bar, he could see every glare and every sneer. A hand that had once brushed hair coyly aside was now clutching a self-defense pistol. He backed away and her face fell; disappointed, her finger twitched against the trigger before she forced it to relax.

He sat night after night in the darkness of his apartment, considering how wrong he'd been… how much hatred he'd built up while he couldn't see it. After Joy "accidentally" pushed a chair down the stairs after him, he went home for the day and tore out his cyberware.

The next day, Joy greeted him more warmly than ever, her cheer only dampened by her accident the day before. But he'd never know what that beautiful face was doing in the darkness.

His friend had traded in a ship she couldn't afford, getting a fine deal on a more reasonable replacement. So he headed to the same shipyard, asking around for something that he could afford… and live in, a necessity since his wife left him.

As she'd promised, he got a great deal, setting out on a maiden voyage as soon as things were ready. When the storm blew in, he was a little worried, but the ship proved itself solid beyond all reason. It seemed like nothing could shake it. He shouted into the teeth of the storm, happy for the first time in years.

But in the depths of the storm, when the lightning cast jagged shadows and the wind's roar was the only sound, he realized it: he could turn the ship into the wind and end up anywhere. He turned, dodging the jagged hulls of dozens of other ships, his shining new vessel cutting back through the wind towards the mistake that cost him his wife.

It was only when he went over the edge, seeing her smiling face in the storm, that he realized all those sunken ships were his own.

She loved taking pictures. In a way, she loved them more than anything else. It was how they captured a moment, preserving it with clarity that put human memory to shame.

That's why, when her father offered a graduation present, she went straight to the comm kiosk and asked for the one with the best camera and the biggest storage. The woman at the kiosk knew just what she wanted, offering an older comm that put the newest to shame.

She snapped a picture of the kiosk, capturing the worker's bemused smile, and walked home. The world seemed to sing, presenting itself beautifully through her comm. Flowers, trees, crawling bugs, stray cats, her friend Kath, cute elderly couples, old street signs, everything was perfect.

She finally got home after hours of pictures to take a few of her favorite subject: the family's cat Schwartz. And it was a good thing too, because Schwartz ran away that night. She never saw him again.

Worse was that Kath didn't show up at the mall the next day to comisserate with or at least snap some pictures with. And on the way home, barren flowerbeds, unshaded sidewalks, no sign of life… no cats, no friends, no friendly old couples. Entire streets she remembered were gone, the fascinating hour walk speeding by in a boring minute.She looked down at the comm and tried to remember if she'd seen the kiosk or its attendant that day. But there was only one thing she could do.

She needed to take a picture of her brother.

At the end of the Orbital Wars, everything seemed quiet and grey for him. His son Thomas had died fighting for the corporations and his wife had withdrawn, unwilling to even admit the war was over… because that would admitting their son was gone.

So it took him years to finally get a comm, long after his coworkers gave him strange looks. But who did he have to talk to?

He explained this all to the woman behind the counter at the comm kiosk, unburdening himself like he hadn't since the wars began. She smiled sadly, "I have just the thing, don't you worry," and offered him a comm. It was more than he could afford, but he was far too embarrassed for laying his problems at the feet of a stranger to argue.

Finally having relented to his coworkers' will, he announced his new comm. Well, they said it was actually an old comm, but they were still proud of him. They showed him how to enter their numbers, but he found one there already: Thomas.

It was a nice touch from that young lady at the kiosk, really, enough to bring a fresh tear to his eye… hastily wiped away before his coworkers could see, of course.

Weeks passed, using the phone only rarely, but feeling better for being connected. Until one night he stared at the phone, wishing Tommy were there, and tapped the link.

The comm gave him a sound like wind through the trees, so loud he could only faintly hear the voice. "Father, I'm coming home. We'll be together again, I promise."

He couldn't tell his wife, so confinded in his closest coworker. They told him to sleep it off and come out drinking tomorrow so they could talk more.

But he didn't come to work the next day and when they visited his house, his wife said he was just resting. That went on for a week before they decided to stage an intervention.

They pushed past his wife, sending her tumbling to the ground, and called out his name. He didn't respond, so they burst into the bedroom, finding the fly-covered ruins of his body lying on blood-soaked sheets.

"A heart attack," they all agreed, even those who had seen the holes of automatic fire torn through his body.

She wasn't a believer in supersition. Perhaps it was the drink that drove her to buy a fortune from the Net. She was too young for a Job Fortune and not nearly morbid enough for a Death Fortune, but definitely drunk enough for a Love Fortune.

The list of names was supposed to be the list of people she'd fall in love with. If she didn't recognize Ivan from camp and Arthur from senior year, she'd probably have ignored Gabby. It was the last name on the list, her partner until the end. But she didn't know a Gabby or, really, any girl she'd say she loved. The date next to it was years in the future, though, so she slowly forgot about it.

And it was years later when she finally met Gabby. It was a whirlwind romance, dampened but also strengthened by her parents' funerals. She told Gabby about the Love Fortune when she was drunk again one night, hunting the site down and getting their Job Fortunes, learning about the jobs they'd be holding down in a few months. Gabby didn't really believe until she got that job at that gallery on that day.

It was Gabby who was drunk this time, celebrating her new job, that bought the Death Fortune. She saw her name and that date, doing her best to laugh it off, drinking until she forgot the fortune and everything else.

A jewelry store sat mostly abandoned at the edge of downtown, waiting for its last few customers before finally closing its doors.

On the way home from work, a man found the perfect ring for his anniversary. On her way home, his wife stopped at the same store and purchased a ring for him.

Their anniversary was joyous, perfect, with wine and homemade desserts and sweet nothings. They laced their hands together. The rings clinked, then held fast.

Neither could bear to take off their ring, so they waited, walking and eating and living as one until their flesh grew over the rings.

Their love was so great it couldn't bother them, continuing on their path as their flesh continued to surround and absorb each other.

It's said that the police officer who discovered the pulsating cyst covering their bed shot himself, but that the coroner cut it open to find four rings.

Every author has their peccadilloes, some drink like fish and others only write on their comms. But one took it to such an extreme he'd only write with a pen, scribbling on paper like a monkey.

And he was, of course, very particular about his pens. Only a few stores still sell antiques like that, so his book tours tended to take strange turns near those stores.

One day, waiting for an oceanic flight, he was lucky to find such a store in the airport itself. And he found the best pen he'd ever seen. He offered to buy them out of stock, but they only had the one. Instead the shop's worker, quite a fan as it turns out, gave it to him as a gift. The first thing that pen wrote was a signature of thanks for the fan.

On the flight, he wrote and wrote, every memory, every story, taking perfect shape on the page. The sheer pleasure of creation paralyzed him in his seat, time seeming to stand still as his masterpiece took shape.

The flight attendants found him once they reached the destination, surrounded by papers… the words even stretching onto the seat and carved into his window.

They asked for his name, but he couldn't tell them that, nor even why he was clutching onto the pen or what he had written. The writing told them these things, everything but his name, as it drove those who look on it to joy and tears.

She was looking for something that shouldn't be in any store, a gift of raw inspiration. But when she saw the hammer and chisel, she felt that stir and spent all she had to buy it.

Without a credit left to her name, she wasn't worried. She knew she had all she needed as she made her way outside the store.

She chiseled into the ground, carving up a home for herself, chiseling out friends, and striking off chips to dine on. Everything was perfect and she had everything she'd ever need. Even if she might die, she'd already carved a new self, so perfect no one would know the difference.

Everyone visits the corner store now and again to relieve some ache or runny nose. But no corner store should have had the pills she needed.

She took one and felt well. Not just better, but actually well. Her headache? Gone in a flash, which was pleasant enough. But that strange rash she hadn't bothered to tell anyone about? That was gone too. As were dozens of tiny scars and even odd blemishes.

She sang the praises of that shiny little pill to her friends and coworkers. None of them could find it and most of them thought her mad.

But her brother knew their true value and one brother was all it took to shoot her in the gut… and then stand there as she crawled to where she'd hidden the pills. He pulled them from her hand and left her to bleed out there on the floor, the pills growing ever further away as he searched for a buyer.

She was having trouble finding a gift, so she approached the problem the way any good student would: bought herself a book on the topic.

Why it had a beetle on it, she wasn't able to tell, but it described all different sorts of people and the best gifts to get them. She flipped through it every birthday and graduation, every Christmas and Channukah, even the occasional Halloween or Metroplex Day. And she'd find the best gifts, exactly what people wanted.

One day, a friend had an allergic reaction in the shower and died before an ambulance could get to them. It was senseless and sudden. She didn't even want to go to the wake and, honestly, had no idea what happened at one.

But she was expected and so flipped through the book to see if there was anyone she was supposed to give a gift to. And she found a description of the soap she'd bought her friend, describing how it would clean her skin but cause a deadly allergic reaction.

As she flipped more and more, she found hundreds of gifts she'd given out and the fates they'd brought on the receivers. It wasn't until she found the suggestion to buy herself a book on gifts that she stopped, staring at her own fate.


Halloween 2017: Halloween Fundraisers


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