Scotland, day three (continued)
We decide to pay Amelia another visit at the University and catch up with her as she leaves her last class. When confronted with Zero's story she finally admits that she does know Quicksilver and is concerned about his disappearance. She fills us in on what she knows but it's not a lot more than we already knew.
Apparently Quicksilver was quite the ladies' man and Amelia believes that he was going to see his lover. And while she claims that her relationship with the man was purely platonic, I'm not so sure.
So it looks like it's back to Hamish's bar again. Maybe the elf girl is the lover in question and can tell us where he is. I don't get my hopes up and am not looking forward to running into Duncan again.
Finlay suggests stopping for indian food before going to the bar. That suits me just fine. I have eaten well in Salish territory and hope they have buffalo steaks here too. Well, it turns out these scottish injuns like to put a lot of spices in their food, a little fact that Finlay forgot to mention when he suggested the place.
As a result, I'm feeling a little queasy when we get to Hamish's but at least Duncan isn't already there. The elf girl turns up shortly after we settle in and Zero heads off to chat with her. Or should I say chat her up. Half the bar is ogling the pair of them as a smouldering Zero lays on the charm. Unfortunately it's about this time that the octopus makes his entrance and plants a wet kiss on my cheek before I can react.
I try to keep him talking rather than pawing. He wants to take me clubbing and hints he can get some drugs so we can have a 'real good time'. Yuck. I try to ask him about getting other items, hoping he at least knows a real fixer, but he doesn't get the hint and thinks I'm asking about more 'exotic' clubs. The thought of it turns my stomach, which does not agree with the indian food. For a moment I think I am going to sick up and then the room starts spinning.
KILL KILL KILL
I fight back an overwhelming urge to pop my handblade and jam it up under Duncan's ribs. My cyberarm is twitching and I feel the nails of my left hand digging into my palm as I fight for control. Cold sweat drips down my neck and I catch a glimpse of my pale, frightended face in the mirror behind the bar.
"Are you alright there girly," asks a concerned Hamish.
I mutter, "Think I ate something that didn't agree with me" as I pull myself away from Duncan and stumble towards the ladies. I splash cold water on my face and take deep ragged breaths to try and calm my thudding heart. What the hell is going on. Why did I react like that. Maybe I really am crazy and belong in an institution.
Zero slips into the ladies a few moments later to find me clutching a sink and staring at my shivering reflection. "Billie, cherie, are you well?"
KILL KILL KILL
NO! A red mist clears from my vision. Zero is backed up against the door, her eyes wide, her red lips a perfect 0. My right arm is high, elbow drawn back, fist at eye level, hand blade glittering in the flourescent lights. Time draws out as I exert all my willpower to lower it and retract the blade.
Spent, I collapse to the floor weeping. I see Zero frantically signalling to the rest of the team. Then the padre is helping me up as I cling to his arm to keep from falling apart. He takes me back to the hotel and helps me into bed. I sleep.
Scotland, day four
I wake early to Finlay pounding on my door.
"Get ready, we got a meet in an hour. Seems your boyfriend did know a few people after all." I glare after him with puffy eyes as he moves down the corridor waking the rest of the team. Zero turns up just as we finish breakfast, all smiles and tousled hair.
We drive the rental car to a bad part of town and we walk through a muddy unkempt park to the rusted remains of a children's play area. A broad troll with an even broader accent take a wad of cash from Finlay and counts it out slowly. Then he pulls out two large duffel bags and hands them over.
Back in car, we check through the gear. There are three large armor jackets, too big for me or Zero but they should fit the guys, and two long coats. There are also some guns: an smg and a few pistols. One of the pistols is nice 375 magnum revolver, which I take and tuck into my belt.
I am feeling somewhat better now that I am packing, when Finlay gets a call. My stomach sinks as he puts it on speaker. It's our Johnson, Alistair McCameron.
"Please come over to my apartment right away. My access to the company matrix has been blocked and I think I'm being watched. Please, hurry!"
Finlay steps on it, pushing the local speed limits. He pulls up around the corner from the apartment as I finish pulling on one of the long coats. "I'll take a look", I say as I climb out and squash my hat on against the rain.
"Be discreet," he hisses after me.
The street is quiet and I can see nothing out of the ordinary. Taking shelter in a nearby bus stop, I call the team.
"Looks quiet. Don't seem to be anyone watching the place."
"Stay put and cover us" replies Finlay. "Me and Father O'Reilly are gonna take a look."
They hurry through the rain and huddle at the door for a minute. Then suddenly, Finlay steps back, kicks in the door and they disappear inside.
"We're in" reports Finlay moments later. "Shit! Not good. Cameron is dead and it looks like it was magic. We're gonna see if we can find anything."
As he cuts off, I hear sirens wailing faintly in the distance.
"Cavalry coming. Get out now."
We rendezvous back at the car and take a circuitous route back to the hotel in case we are being followed. Our Johnson is dead, the job a bust. Or at least that's how it looks to me until Zero announces that in addition to getting a piece of tail, she also got some information.
Seems that the elf girl, Finquella, was dumped by Quicksilver for a druid by the name of Fiona. This druid lives on an island off the west coast called Skye.
"Yeah, but with our J dead, shouldn't we just cut our losses and head back to Seattle?" I ask.
"That's one option" replies Finlay. "But if this Quicksilver really is such a wiz programmer, saving his ass could net us a nice payoff. And besides, we're gonna be stuck here for a while until we can find a way home. We might as well talk to this druid."
"Damned heretics" mutters the padre.
Getting to Skye means leaving the Scotsprawl and that means no roads. So Finlay trades in our rental for a Landrover while I pick up some camping gear. According to Finlay, the highlands of Scotland are a bit wild these days. Father O'Reilly adds that the 'heretical' druids have reintroduced wolves and grizzlies and that there are even paranimals like piasmas and selkies. Makes me glad I've got a gun.
We leave directly, but it still takes more than a day to cross the country to Skye. The roads are all overgrown, little more than muddy trails and with almost no traffic. The only other vehicles we see are a police patrol made up of four combat bikes and two armored landrovers, one sporting a MMG on a pintle mount. Fortunately, they seem to be in a hurry and don't pull us over.
I feel strangely calm out here in the countryside. Not so Zero, who gets freaked out by patchy matrix access. Chad just spends most of the journey staring out the window in wide-eyed astonishment.
Scotland, day six
We take a ferry to Skye, leaving our landrover in the car park on the mainland. Apparently the druids don't let cars onto the island. While managing to insult both Zero and Finlay, elves, orks and americans, a rather rude barman in the small port village informs us that there is a bus to the castle every two hours to see the druidic ceremony.
We take the bus along with a bunch of other tourists up to the castle. After standing in the rain for half an hour, a procession of druids comes slowly down from the castle towards a small circle of standing stones. A rather damp Finlay grumbles "Fuck this" and strides up to meet them.
There follows a short whispered discussion which at times looks like it might turn nasty, then Finlay stomps back to join us. The druids go through the ceremony, which the padre says is a sham, although he does warn us that they are all magically active. Then they plod back up the hill and into the castle. The bus takes the rest of the tourists back to the village leaving us standing in the rain.
Just as Finlay is getting ready to lay siege to the place, several druids appear and walk more purposefully to meet us. Among them is a pretty young woman.
"I am Fiona MacCallan. What is it you want with me."
Finlay explains as the woman listens to our tale.
"Quicksilver was here, but he is here no longer. He did leave something with us. But if you wish to have it you must prove yourselves to us. While you could do it" she says to Finlay, she then turns and points to the padre. "He would be more suited to the challenge."
"Dear Lord" intones father O'Reilly. "If it will deliver me from this highland mist, then I will gladly do it."
"Then return tonight before midnight and we will see if you are worthy."
We take the next bus back to the village, find a place to stay and some stew and whisky to warm us, then walk back to the castle in the dark.
Five druids are gathered at the stones, including Fiona. She asks the padre to take off his shirt and then uses her fingers to paint mystical symbols on his arms and chest. I have seen similar symbols used by indian medicine men.
The druids begin chanting and lightning lights up the sky. Father O'Reilly stands in the rain. Initially he seems fine, but slowly a pressure seems to build around him. He gasps but stands firm. The symbols begin to glow, soon so bright I cannot look at him directly even with the flare compensation in my eyes. He seems to be in pain and I would swear I can smell burning flesh. I make to step forward, but Finlay lays a big hand on my shoulder.
The ceremony comes to a crescendo and suddenly all is dark. My eyes adjust fast and I breath a sigh of relief as I see the druids helping father O'Reilly to his feet. Now, finally they invite us into the castle to dry off.
Fiona explains that Quicksilver was very interested in magic, especially theories and rituals about reincarnation. More interestingly she gives the padre a box. Inside is some sort of computer chip, but one unlike anything I have ever seen. Fiona says that it supposedly contains Quicksilver's emotions. I don't understand what she means by that but Zero's eyes go wide.