February 13, 2010

Billie's Journal

Scotland, day eleven

Chad was hitting the booze hard last night while we discussed what to do with the deck and looks rough this morning. We finally agreed with Amelia that she should hold onto the deck for now, although the rest of the team seem disappointed, especially Zero.

Amelia has agreed to stay here at Loch Ness and will try to make contact with the spirit of the glen. She gives us the number to her satellite phone and asks us to keep her up-to-date as events unfold.

We give her some of our hiking gear, then pack the rest into the Landrover and start off on our journey to Glencoe. The road is pretty bad in places and we have to stop a couple of times to let Chad throw up when the bumpy ride gets too much for his hangover.

We arrive in Glencoe late in the evening. The village on our maps is nothing more than a ruin, leaving only the fenced off fort as a destination. I try the intercom at the gate, but some flunky brushes me off. Finlay has better luck. He can go in alone. The rest of us have to wait outside. After a good half hour, we are invited in. I never learnt to drive a car, or at least don't remember and none of the others have a licence either, so we have to let the dogbrain drive us up the hill to the parking.

We stash our guns in the car and enter to a positively frosty welcome. Over a meal of leftovers, Finlay explains that they only let us stay when he mentioned the organic chips. It seems like the fort is run by Ian MacDonald's brother, the father of two of the boys killed in the attack that also took the lives of Morag MacDonald and possibly also Quicksilver. However, it seems that this guy doesn't know Quicksilver and is unaware of any relationship between him and Morag. Great another dead end. Or perhaps not, as it seems that Finlay did finally manage to get us a meet with Ian MacDonald.

The fort is austere and authentically furnished at least as far as I can tell. It could all be Ikea for all I know. The walls though are the real thing, thick stone that Father O'Reilly says have a real presence in the astral unlike the drywall in mordern buildings. We are shown to a couple of rooms. I settle in with Zero and then around midnight when everything is quiet I sneak out to take a look around. Unfortunately one of the clansmen is stationed out in the hallway. Pulling the threadbare nightdress tighter around me. I let him show me to the bathroom. So much for sneaking around for a look.

On the way back, I spot movement out the corner of my eye on the floor below. I stop to look but see nothing. The guard hussles me along. I tell him I thought I saw a woman moving about but he just shrugs and says it was probably the cook. As we get to the bedroom door I hear a voice and look around. Nothing, but the hairs on the back of my neck are standing on end.

The guard more or less orders me back to bed, but I see movement again and point it out to him. He gets angry and grabs my arm, telling me that I am in trouble now and he is taking me to see the chief. I can't break his grip so am forced to follow him down the stairs.

At the bottom, a ghostly figure appears before me. I recoil in surprise and she is gone. It was like looking into a mirror. The guard pulls me on and then she is there again. This time I reach out and we touch fingers.

A shock runs through me and then I am stumbling forward. The guard has let me go and is standing with his gun drawn, muttering in a strange language which Finlay later tells me was Gaelic. Finlay and Zero are looking at me with concern and asking if I am okay. Zero explains that she was waiting for me to come back from my scouting expedition when she heard a shout. When she came out of the room she saw me floating about half a meter off the ground but I looked different, more like Morag than myself. She said I was talking about the night I was killed, no the night Morag was killed. Something about Quicksilver being shot and his eyes watching over her always.

Well the whole fort is up by now. Several of the staff saw me floating off the ground in addition to the guard. Father O'Reilly checks me out with his magic eyes and says I seem to be okay. I feel a little lightheaded and Zero helps me back to bed.

Scotland, day twelve

Next morning things are possibly even more tense, but the ghost seems to have convinced the MacDonalds that we are on the level. Father O'Reilly explains that something is keeping Morag's spirit from moving on. To Heaven, I guess.

We convince the chief to let us take a look in her room, even though he claims the police already searched it. However, after about thirty minutes, I discover a small gap between the family crest on her four poster bed and the headboard. I manage to tease the hidden object out with my fingertips but not before one of the MacDonalds spots me. It's another one of the organic chips.

Zero comes up with a line about it being some old, obsolete tech which the MacDonalds seem to buy. They actually seem more disappointed that this is not what is keeping Morag from moving on, even if we suspect that it really is. So we agree to stay another night and see if Father O'Reilly can put her spirit to rest.

In the meantime, Zero decks into the Edinburgh police system after first creating a false trail to the Campbell's network. She finds some autopsy files on the dead attackers but nothing else. I take a look through the files. There is something strange in the toxicology report, but it's beyond my limited medical knowledge. It gives me a bad feeling. Something to follow up but first we need to talk to the ghost.

Sure enough about midnight that night, the ghost turns up. I touch it and then it's gone. And apparently so was I, at least for a short while. Father O'Reilly says that he was able to find out a little more from her but not a lot. She confirmed that she was here with Quicksilver but also claimed that the killers were here for him and not her. The plot thickens.

Scotland, day twelve

After a decent breakfast, we leave for Pitlochrie. The chief has been in contact with Ian MacDonald and he is expecting us there. The morning starts foggy and doesnt really clear up that much by midday. Then through a break in the mist, we spot trouble. A military helicopter is heading in our direction and it looks armed for bear. I shout a warning to Finlay and he floors the gas heading down the valley towards the treeline.

The first burst of gunfire misses. I take Finlay's SMG and return fire, but I am not familiar with the weapon and the bumpy road doesnt help my aim. Finlay manages to avoid a second attack but on the third pass, the pilot's aim is true.

Bullets rip through the unarmored body of the car. I wince as one clips me and hear others cry out as well. We are nearly to the trees and I think we are going to make it okay when the next burst rips into the side and I hear Zero cry in pain. Finlay manages to keep the car under control and we pile out grabbing what gear we can.

We run further into the woods as more bullets tear into the ground around the abandoned car. Taking cover, Father O'Reilly says a prayer to close his wounds while I try to bandage a bleeding Zero. She pushes me away telling me she will live and that she needs a minute to set up her satellite connection to call for help.

A burst of gunfire from Finlay signals that we dont have time. Several figures are moving through the woods with military precision and if the returning fire is to be believed, they are armed with military hardware too. I drop behind a tree and risk a look. These guys are wearing combat armor and are all sporting automatic weapons. I snap off a shot from my revolver and am rewarded with a yelp of pain and a burst of gunfire.

While Finlay lays down suppressing fire, Chad closes on the hostiles. He almost makes it when suddenly another gunman appears and cuts him down with a burst from his assault rifle. Finlay returns fire and catches the gunman square in the chest, dropping him. The others take cover and open up. I feel a bullet tug at the long coat, but it doesn't penetrate.

Then I hear Father O'Reilly curse. Not a good sign from a man of the cloth. Pain builds in my head then snaps off as if cut. I wipe blood from my nose. Seems like the bad guys have a mage. Not good. I snap off a couple of shots at one of the gunmen. While both hit, it doesn't look like they did much damage as he immediately returns fire sending me ducking for cover.

The enemy mage steps out of cover, a ball of energy flickering into being in his hands which explodes in a shockwave towards us. I feel it wash over me and hear O'Reilly grunt as he blocks the spell from harming us. Finlay snaps off a burst at the mage, the padre slams a spell into him and I finish him off with a shot that punches through his shield and forehead. Two down.

Unfortunately the other gunmen are still out there and when I try for another shot, one of them catches me with a burst. I feel a burning pain in my side and drop back. Zero is still trying to get her satellite link up, but she suddenly stops what she is doing, pulls out her pistol and fires a shot off to the side. Her shot is true, catching one of the gunmen who was trying to flank us clean between the eyes.

Finlay catches one of the others with a burst and the last tries to withdraw. I reload and catch him with a shot which slows him down long enough for the padre to hit him with a stun bolt that takes him out.

As the helicopter circles above, we quickly check and strip the bodies while the padre does what he can for Chad.

February 6, 2010

Billie's Journal

Scotland, day seven and eight

The druids 'kindly' let us camp out in the rain near their fort. We spend a damp night in our tents and wake to an equally miserable day. It's windy, rainy and grey, just like it has been every day since we got here.

We break camp and take the first bus back to the village. Fiona mentioned that Quicksilver was planning to follow the ley lines toward Loch Ness, some lake that supposedly has a monster living in it. Hell yeah, since magic came back anything's possible these days.

We pick up food, gas and whiskey before taking the ferry back to the mainland. The landrover is still there and even still in one piece. It takes us pretty much the rest of the day to get from Skye across country to Loch Ness. There's not much there; just a handful of houses and an inn. The innkeeper sets us up in a couple of rooms, boys in one and girls in the other and we rest up till morning.

Scotland, day nine

The innkeeper is a grouchy old geezer, but with this weather who can blame him. He doesn't remember seeing Quicksilver around or at least that's what he claims. He points out the ruins of an old fort further down the lake. He says tourists used to go there to see Nessie, that's what they call the monster in the lake. Apparently the tourists stopped coming when they had some trouble with some paranormal aquatic horse creature that liked to drown and eat its victims. I can understand why the tourist trade dried up.

The druidic ritual obviously took more out Father O'Reilly than he let on and he says he needs to rest up to restore his magic. So we head out without him. Finlay insists on taking the landrover and to my surprise he gets us most of the way to the fort before the trail becomes too difficult. We walk the rest of the way. It's cool and damp but the hike keeps us warm.

The fort is little more than a pile of stones and as we approach a deep voice demands to know what we are doing there. At first there is nothing to see, but then the stones of the fort start to move forming into a vaguely human torso, head and arms at least 30 feet tall.

Alarm gives way to astonishment at this massive spirit and we ask it about Quicksilver. We quickly establish that it knows him, however it claims not to have seen him for a couple of months. When we ask it if he left anything here, it gets a bit coy but finally admits that it does have something of his. But if we want it, we have to give the creature something in return.

I don't quite get what the stone creature is talking about, but it seems like we need to undergo some sort of magic test like the one the druids performed on the padre. It say that it will gain insight into us and that perhaps we will also learn something more about ourselves too. As I don't really know anything about myself, I jump at the chance.

We all lie down on the wet grass and the creature hovers a massive stone hand above us. There is a swirling and then I open my eyes again...

I am still lying on the grass but the sky is blue and the sun warm. I hear a women's voice calling my name except she is calling me Wilhelmina, not Billie. Is that my real name?

I stand and discover I am a young girl again, fourteen, awkward, too tall and skinny and all raging hormones. And two real flesh arms. I pinch my right arm just to be sure. The lady is calling my name again. She is human, around thirty or so. Her hair is sunbleached and her skin a healthy tan. She has my eyes.

"Hurry up" she scolds. "Your dinner is getting cold and we need to leave soon."

I enter the rustic ranch house that feels like home and sit at a familiar place at the table. A man, fit and maybe in his forties, with short cropped hair joins us along with a boy, older than me, that is obviously his son. The boy ruffles my hair as I sit down. I jab at his ribs. He grunts and the lady tells me to stop fighting with my brother. I have a brother? Or is this all a dream?

I push food around my plate. The lady tuts at me and tells me to go and get changed as we need to leave soon...

Out front is a black Ford Americar. My heart goes cold when I see it. Something bad is going to happen. I ask if we really need to go to Seattle but the scene suddenly shifts and we are already in the car...

The boy call out a warning. Something hits us from behind and we are falling. Pain engulfs me...

I hear voices but cannot see who is speaking. A man's voice says, "She's pretty banged up but I'll take her. Here's your money..."

I am whipping another girl. She is strapped naked to the wall. I am wearing little more: just cowboy boots, a very short fringed skirt and a waistcoat that barely covers my breasts. The floor is covered in plastic and the plastic is covered in blood.

"Why did you stop?" asks a man. His face is flushed and he is obviously aroused. "Keep whipping her. You are supposed to do what I tell you."

I raise the whip and he leers more. Anger burns through me and I lash out at him. The whip cuts his face but he just smiles and works a control in his hands. Pain arcs through me.

"You bitch. You'll pay for that. Now do what I tell you."

My body jerks out of my control as I raise the whip and strike the girl again and again. Tears burn my cheeks as I watch helplessly while I flay the skin from her back. In the distance I hear thunder...

The man looks up startled as a door behind me is kicked open and a dark-skinned man wearing a facemask and black combat clothing enters.

"You sick bastard" says the newcomer and there is a roar of gunfire that leaves me half deaf. A row of red flowers blossom across the chest of my tormentor and he jerks back with a look of shock fixed on his dead face.

My arms twitch as I get control of my body back. "Please help us." I croak grabbing at the black clothed figure.

"Sharif, we need to go. Now!" comes a female voice from beyond the door.

With a glance at the other girl, he shrugs. "Come on then, but leave her. She's a goner."

"No!" I cry, pulling at the girl's restraints. "She's still alive." I strip off my waistcoat and wrap it as carefully as I can around her bleeding back. She moans weakly and I glare at Sharif. "See!"

Sharif picks up the girl and with me clinging to his arm we flee from the room along dark corridors. We seem to run for hours and my lungs are burning. Then as we turn yet another corner there is a guard. Flames erupt from his gun. Sherrif twists, his armor protecting him and the unconscious girl. I try to throw myself aside but bullets rip into my right arm spinning me around...

I am in a hospital bed. I can't see but can feel tubes going into my skin. I can't feel my right arm. I hear Sharif's voice saying, "What you've taken out is more than enough to cover what you need to do to fix her up. So do it."

He comes to visit me every day as they rebuild me. New arm, eyes plus a few extras like the smartlink and the blade. "Just in case you ever need them" he says with a wink...

The pistol is beautiful, a Cavalier Deputy with internal smartlink II and a pearl handle. I kiss Sharif, my Sheriff on the cheek...

Cold rain splashes on my face. I jerk upright. Tears burn my eyes. I remember. My god, I remember who I am. Not all, but I know it was real.

The others are also sitting up too. Chad is patting at his chest and arms as if he was on fire. Zero is also crying, mumbling something about killing her boyfriend. Only Finlay seems unaffected by the experience. He moves to help Zero to her feet then comes towards me. I still hurt too much so I pop my blade and warn him off. He backs off and I retract the blade, tears still streaming down my cheeks.

I turn to the spirit. "Is it true?" I demand.

I feel a great compassion wash over me that soothes my soul a little. "It may be what was or what is yet to come, or a chance to set right a wrong. It is always different. But you have given of yourselves and now I give this to you. My friend left it here in my safekeeping but I feel you are the right ones to have it now."

It holds out a hand made of granite blocks. In it is a tiny package, wrapped carefully in bubble wrap. I take it carefully and open it. It is a second chip, similar to the one Fiona gave us.

We return to the inn in silence. Zero calls Amelia and the woman admits she has Quicksilver's cyberdeck. She will bring it to the inn tomorrow. A few whiskeys help me to sleep.

Scotland, day ten

We all rise late, rested but drained. I soak for a long time in the bath and scrub myself clean of the previous day's memories. But I hold on to them dearly. My cowboy clothes feel uncomfortable as I dress now that I know something of my past. But still, this is who I am now.

Finlay, worried that someone might be out looking for us, spent the night in the landrover. The innkeeper finds him still there, fast asleep while collecting fresh eggs for breakfast. Real eggs and real bacon and hot coffee. Food and caffeine make me feel better, if still a little fragile. I apologise to Finlay for drawing my blade on him. He's one of the good guys.

That evening, Finlay, Chad and myself spend several hours hiding in the gorse around the village until finally, late in the evening, a lone car approaches. We wait several minutes to see if she has been followed then join Amelia, Father O'Reilly and Zero back at the inn.

Amelia has Quicksilver's deck. It looks pretty flash and when Zero opens it, all the circuitry inside is the same as the strange chips. We retire to the room I share with Zero and after connecting her deck to Quicksilver's and inserting the two chips that we have, she jacks in. At first everything is smooth, but then she starts twitching and blood runs from her nose. Finlay is ready to pull her jack, dumping her out of the system but she relaxes and then after a few moments sits up, unjacking herself.

She says that she saw Quicksilver again, then that she felt like she was Quicksilver. She remembers shooting someone, possibly her dead boyfriend again and then running. She saw a woman called Mary Macdonald getting killed. She claims to love her or that Quicksilver loved her. Amelia recognises the name, claiming to have seen something about her in the newscasts.

Somewhat recovered, Zero scans the matrix and finds an obituary for the Macdonald woman. The newsfeeds claim that is was the result of a long-standing clan feud with the Campbells. They also mention an Ian MacDonald, a clan elder and senior director of Transys, the company that Quicksilver was working for.

Looks like Glencoe is our next destination, even though Finlay and Chad are keen to just sell off the deck even missing a couple of chips and go back home. Zero wants to hang onto the deck but finally we persuade her to give it back to Amelia for safekeeping. I need to see this through. The spirit of the glen gave me back some of my lost memories. I feel I owe it to Quicksilver to at least find out what happened to him.