March 28, 2010

Billie's Journal

Germany day two

Having travelled all day yesterday, we were all beat and hit the sack early. This morning we rose to sounds of people rattling about in the kitchen area. A couple of locals were preparing a breakfast of cold meats, cheese and dark bread along with some half decent coffee.

A young French couple, about the only other guests at the hostel, tried to make small-talk with us but their English was poor and for some reason Zero wouldn't speak to them in French. Something about them coming from Paris.

Helga, or is it Olga, the bird with the big chest turned up just as our gear arrived in 5 large crates. Chad and Finlay did their best to impress her by carrying them into our rooms, although with little apparent success. Olga gave us some hiking maps and we studied them together, planning out a hike that would take us around the castle.

Once she finally left, we took a look in the crates. One was marked in English to be opened first. Sitting on top of the other gear were a white noise generator and a bug scanner. A quick check indicated multiple bugs and after a bit of surreptitious searching we discovered a couple of concealed mics and cameras.

After a whispered discussion Zero announced she was going to go and 'get changed to go hiking'. Hoping that would keep our watchers distracted for a while, we made a very brief inventory of the crates. In addition to some hiking, climbing and camping gear, including snowshoes of all things, the crates also included night camo outfits and two sets of gun cases. While we unloaded the more mundane items I was able to stash one of each of the cases in two of our backpacks to take with us on our hike later that day.

The hike was pleasant, with the tree all the colours of fall. The sky was clear and although cool, the weather was just right for hiking. Still we had a job to do and kept a close eye on the castle.

Two-men patrols walked the battlements about once an hour. The cable-car ran a couple of trips in the morning and again later in the day as we were returning to the hostel but was not used at all during the day. We spotted no vehicles going into or coming out of the castle, but at one point the high-pitched whine of rotors drew our attention to a small rotordrone flying over the castle. This one did not get shot down so it's pretty safe to assume that it came from the castle.

We opened the gun cases. The smaller one contained an Ares Predator. It was fitted with an external smartlink that interfaced smoothly with mine, and also a silencer. Not my gun of choice, but at least it's not some German crap. The larger case contained a stripped down SMG. It's an H&K277S, the silenced version like the ones used by the Swiss hit team that attacked us in Scotland. German crap, but at least it is also sound suppressed.

My pleasant mood was spoiled by the padre and Zero complaining about sore feet and in Zero's case about being outside in general. Chad is just impressed by the amount of green. We eat a hearty meal at one of the few tourist restaurants in the village. Zero is listening in to the locals and mentions that they never say anything bad about the baron and never seem to talk about politics. Super-happy or scared of being overheard. Based on what we found at the hostel, I'd go with the latter.

Germany day three

Olga seems upset with Finlay this morning but he tells us that she is going to arrange for us to visit the castle tomorrow. We take a walk to the next village and visit some old church. The priest there talks almost as much as the padre, but seems to be a nice enough guy. However, he pretty much just sticks to the history of the church and won't be drawn on any other subjects.

Returning to the hostel in the afternoon, the padre claims he needs to rest. In fact he goes on an astral recon of the castle and main keep and comes back with some more details on the layout but no indication of the location of the book.

At the moment our options are pretty limited. None of us are expert climbers so event though we have plenty of gear, climbing the cliff to the castle is out of the question. The cable car is a possibility but we will wait to see how the visit goes tomorrow before deciding on that option. The current favorite, is for the padre to use his invisibility spell to sneak in, possibly along with one of more of us, and steal the book. It's a long walk up to the castle but it's the best option we have for now.

Germany day four

Up bright and early to visit the castle but it's a bit of a disappointment. First, the ride up in the cable car confirms our suspicions that the controls are only up in the castle. Not an option then, although we could still possilby use the cable as a rope slide if we can rig a braking mechanism at the bottom. This will mean that some of us will need to take control of the cable car station in the village.

Secondly, there are cameras all over the fraggin place. We also only get a brief tour along the battlements and the main courtyard. The baron guy has an interesting collection of limos, plus a couple of riot control vehicles armed with heavy machine guns. Maybe we can steal one of those to make our escape.

After the visit, we take a walk in the woods to discuss options. Zero brings her deck and we find a quiet spot where she can set up her satlink and hack in. Good news is that we are still only flagged as tourists. She sets up a program to loop the cameras after midnight tonight. This will give us time to check out the rest of the gear in the crates and hopefully get in and out without raising an alarm.

We agree to the following plan of action. Gabriel and Finlay will attempt to sneak in under the padre's invisibility spell while Chad and I secure the cable car station in the village and set up a braking rope. Zero will then deck in to provide matrix support to the boys who will use the cable slide to exit the castle once they have the book. Then Zero will hotwire one of the locals vehicles and we all get the hell out of dodge. I just hope it works.

March 21, 2010

Billie's Journal

Seattle, September

I have neglected my journal since getting back to Seattle. My last entry was nearly three months ago, just before we left Scotland. Things have been strangely quiet yet busy since we got back.

Finlay, Chad and Gabriel have been busy setting up a magical group. Mainly they seem to be arguing over what the group should be called. Finlay wants them to choose the 'Black Watch' while Gabriel is in two minds between 'The Templars' and 'The Crusaders'. Chad's suggestions are either hokey kung fu terms he's picked up from the trid or something related to bananas.

Zero has locked herself away in her apartment writing programs for her deck. She has been working on new designs for a while, but her run in with black ice in the Edinburgh police grid seems to have given her the incentive to finally start coding.

I find myself at a bit of a loose end, moping about our shared digs thinking about my past. Finally after a couple of weeks of putting things off, I call the number I have for getting in contact with Sheriff and leave a short message: "I remember."

He gets back to me a couple of days later. His voice is cuatious but he agrees to meet and gives me a time and address. I ride over on the Harley. It's been sitting in the garage for a couple of months, but grumbles into life on the first turn of the ignition. The address takes me to a small apartment block just outside the Barrens. It's salariman central but quiet and relatively safe.

Sheriff answers the door with a hesitant smile. He stands almost a head shorter than me but has a much broader build. Of Indian descent, and that's Indian Indian not Native American, his skin is chocolate brown and his eyes dark. There are few more lines around his eyes than I remember and his slicked back black hair is showing the first streaks of grey at the temples. He invites me in and asks me how I am doing.

Facing him, I can barely speak and can only throw my arms around him in a fierce hug. Tears stream freely down my face as I mumble my thanks for rescuing me over and over. He takes me in a gentle embrace and holds me until I pull myself somewhat together, then sits me down at the kitchen table. His apartment is small and clean, just a small sitting room, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. Big enough for just one person.

He offers me tea. I know he doesn't drink but ask if he has anything stronger. He smiles again, a genuine one this time, and pulls out a half-liter bottle of Jack Daniels saying that he picked up a bottle for me just in case.

The whiskey steadies my nerves and I tell him what I remember from the ordeal: the skimpy cowboy outfit, being forced to whip the other girl, him coming to my rescue, getting shot in the arm and finally overhearing him telling the doctors to fix me up.

He seems a little embarrased about the last part and perhaps also a little guilty about not telling me what actually happened. He explains that I was pretty messed up afterwards and that the only thing that seemed to be keeping me straight was the whole cowboy angle. He nods at my hat, sitting on the table between us and it's my turn to blush.

I tell him about my other, earlier memories of being on a ranch in Salish territory, about my family and remembering my first name: Wilhemlina. I also recount the car crash that led to me being sold into sex-slave business. I ask him if any of this information might help me find out who I really am.

He says that they looked hard for who I was at the time, even running my prints through the federal database but nothing came up and that was over four years ago. He offers to contact the decker, a woman called Aurora, to see if the extra info I provided will loosen up a few secrets, but tells me not to get my hopes up. Somewhat embarrased, he asks if I can pay for the data search. Seems his relation with Aurora is strictly business.

I twirl my new ebony datastick before his eyes and tell him cash is currently not a problem. He tells me he'll get back in a couple of days and I give him a friendly peck on the cheek as I leave.

While I am waiting to hear back from Sherrif I stop by Zero's place. She looks like she could use a break, so I ask if she could help me shop for some new clothes. Her eyes light up and she squeals with glee at the prospect. I suddenly feel nervous about asking.

However, the trip turns out be just what the doctor ordered. Zero has a good eye for fashion, steering me away from jeans and checked shirts and towards skirts, blouses and fitted tops. I end up with a complete new wardrobe, from sweats to evening dress, as well as some new lingerie that makes me blush even to think about wearing.

Unfortunately my happy bubble is burst a couple of days later when I meet up with Sherrif again. He tell me that Aurora has been unable to find anything, and that if there had been anything to find, she would have found it. She told him it looks like someone did a real number on my datatrail. He tells me she will keep looking but even he doesn't sound hopeful.

I ask if there is anything he can tell me about the run that might help me. While he can't or won't tell me what his team was doing there, he does give me the names of a couple of his contacts in Chinatown: Billy Bear and Knee Chen. Billy is linked to the Seoulpa ring; Knee is a dwarf waiter at the Golden Pagoda restaurant, one of the biggest tourist places in Chinatown and a suspected triad money laundering operation.

Sherrif warns me about getting involved with the triads and specifically asks me not to get his chummer Knee into any trouble. I thank him for the info and contacts, but the lack of progress is both depressing and frustrating.

Returning to the apartment, I find the boys drinking and playing cards. They claim it is a ritual related to their magical group, which still doesn't have a name, but it sounds more like an excuse to get drunk. And hell, right now I could use a drink.

Zero joins in too. None of us have played poker seriously before, so I can't tell if we were even playing it right. As the night goes on and we get slowly hammered, one of the boys suggests that we up the ante and play strip poker. I try to make my excuses but one look from Zero's puppy eyes and I say what the hell.

Pretty soon we are all down to our underwear, except Finlay who still has his kilt on. Fortunately, I am wearing some of the nicer lingerie that Zero picked out for me and not some of my old faded sports bras and panties.

Not that I need to worry about the boys ogling me, as they are all more interested in Zero's chest. It's not that she has huge breasts, she is a 34D, it's just that she is so petite that they are definitely one of her biggest assets. And they do make my modest 32B bosom look rather flat by comparison.

I lose my bra in the next round and then Finlay loses his kilt and yes it's true about what a Scot wears under his kilt: nothing. Fortunately, I am drunk enough that I am feeling no pain or embarassment sitting around half naked with my runner team.

Chad loses his boxers next and Zero finally loses her bra to a cheer from the menfolk. Then I lose my panties, but by now I am beyond caring. Gabriel wins the last round leaving Zero naked rather than himself. Maybe that's for the best. The padre is a nice guy, but is neither the youngest nor the fittest of the team.

With the game finally over, I scoop up my clothes and with what little dignity I can still muster, I make a rather wobbly retreat to the girl's bedroom. Zero follows shorty after leaving the boys to drink late into the night.

With the ritual complete the boys' attention turns to other matters. Finlay contacts Maselhof for some special ammunition and I manage to get some APDS and Explosive rounds for my rifle and pistol added to the order. We have also been in regular contact with Martha for work but things are a bit quiet on that front at the moment. With little else to do, I decide to follow-up on Sherrif's leads.

I spend a few nights getting my bearings around Chinatown, eating at a few restaurants before settling for the Golden Pagoda. I get lucky and my waiter is the dwarf Lee Chen, not Knee, a young chinese dwarf with a carefully trimmed fu manchu beard. While ordering, he recommends the beef fried noodles and the chinese beer, I mention that I am a friend of Sheriff and ask when we can talk.

He tells me that his shift finishes in a couple of hours and that he usually has a couple at the Blue Lagoon across the street before heading home. I take my meal slow, the noodles are good, the beer not, then saunter over to the bar which turns out to have some rather good japanese whiskey.

Lee turns up an hour or so later. I explain my situation without going into too many details. His face pales but he takes me seriously and says he can put me in touch with some people who might be able to help me. He asks for a few hundred cash up front to grease palms. I transfer a couple of thousand to his stick. That gets his attention.

I return to the apartment to find that the fixer Albrecht has been in touch with Finlay about another job. He has scheduled a meet in Club Penumbra for tomorrow night. Time to get out the glad rags.

Club Penumbra
I feel half naked in my little black dress, but Zero claims I look great. She helps me with makeup, I rarely wear any, and even I have to admit that I look good.

The passes provided by Albrect get us in with little problems. I do need to wear a cyberlock on my hand blade and a watcher spirit is assigned to keep an eye on the padre, Finlay and Chad. Albrecht is friendly but all mysterious. He needs a package acquired, i.e. stolen, and another delivered in its place but won't give more details till we agree we are in. After a brief chat amongst ourselves, we agree to go for it. Then Albrecht tells us we are going to Germany. Great, guess that means I get to shoot germans with some crap german guns. I should have listened to Sheriff when he told me I shouldn't focus too much on my 'cowboy' guns.

What's worse is it seems that Germany and most of Europe has devolved back into some sort of medieval feudal state and the item we need to acquire is being kept in a frigging castle owned by the local chief who goes by the name of Baron von Munchausen or something like that anyway. Why did I say yes to this gig? At least the pay is decent and it'll take my mind off my other business for a while.

Germany, day one
With our cover IDs, we take the sub-orbital to Berlin, the only part of the country still vaguely controlled by the German government. Although reading between the lines that means by Saeder-Krupp. We then take a high speed train to Munchen and from there, it's onto a local train that seems to have to stop every three goddamn villages for a border control by the local Baron's militia. By the time we get to Munchausen, I'm about ready to shoot someone in the face. Too bad I ain't got a piece on me.

Arriving at the one-horse town of Munchausen, we are met by the local tourist representative. Tall, blond and blue eyed with a chest as big as Zero's and a low cut dress that shows it off well, she is an instant hit with the boys. Somehow she latches onto the padre, so Finlay takes Zero's arm instead and I just glare "don't even thing about it" at Chad.

Helga escorts us the few minutes walk to the youth hostel and helps us check in. It's all pretty automatic. Apart from the castle, which is a short distance out of town, about the only other amenities in this shithole of a town is one poxy restaurant. At least the menu looks okay, if a little heavy on the pork.

We take a walk to stretch our legs and get our bearings. Near to the foot of the road leading up to the castle, our attention is drawn to a small drone flying overhead. The distintive whoosh of a rocket launch is as surprising as the sudden explosion of the drone. A farmer in a nearby field wearing traditional leather pants looks up and shrugs. In broken English he explains that the Baron does not get on well with his neighbor, who sends spy-drones over on a regular basis only for the Baron to blow them out of the sky. Great, we've officially entered the dark ages.

March 14, 2010

Billie's Journal

Scotland, day twelve continued

While the padre fights to save Chad's life with his magic, I patch up the rest of us as best I can without a medkit. I cut up one of Zero's silk tops and my secretary blouse for bandages so at least we won't bleed out. My wounds hurt like hell and my vision is bloodshot but I'm not dead. Neither is Chad according to the padre although he is still unconscious and the padre is too exhausted from saving him to be able to heal anyone else.

Having finally got the satellite link working, Zero is unable to contact the McDonald's castle. Mainly because we don't actually have a number to call. Instead she calls Amelia and advises her to lie low for a bit. She then works her own brand of magic on the landrover and, amazingly, gets it going again.

We load Chad and the hit-team's gear in the back and head on to Pitlochrie. The padre sleeps while Zero and I take turns keeping Finlay company and awake as he drives us through the dark. We arrive early morning in Pitlochrie and pull off the road near the McDonald's estate for a short rest.

The padre is feeling better and manages to heal the worst of our injuries but can do no more for Chad, who needs to be hospitalized and soon. So, at ten in the morning, we drive up to the estate entrance and Finlay announces our arrival. The gates swing open and we drive slowly up the long driveway, our car giving out just as we reach the welcoming committee.

There are at least a half dozen heavily armed and armored scots waiting for us. They are courteous but clear that we should leave our weapons in the car. Then after ensuring that they will get help for Chad, we are led in to the house.

Ian MacDonald is waiting in the sitting room by an open fire. He looks to be mid-forties with a grey moustache and salt and pepper hair. He is a big man and obviously still fit, but his face is hard as granite.

He gestures for us to sit in overstuffed chairs and sofas next to the fire. I sink slowly into one with a hiss of pain.

He asks what happened to us and we tell him about the ambush. I add that I think the same hitmen may have been behind the attack on the castle and when he asks why I show him the toxicology reports Zero lifted from the police database.

He passes the information to one of his lackeys with an angry comment about someone not doing their job properly. I don't catch it as the pain is making it hard to stay focused on the conversation. Finally, Zero convinces him that Quicksilver's ghost may be trapped in his system and he dismisses us.

Back outside one of the staff tells us that the landrover isn't going to get us very far. The pool of oil under it backs him up. We shift our gear to a minibus and they give us a lift to village's only hotel. It's small, quiet and old but well-maintained. I soak in the bath until the local doctor arrives to patch me up properly. He give me some antibiotics and painkillers and I go to bed even though it's still early afternoon.

Scotland, day thirteen

I spend most of the day in bed, recovering from my wounds. The doctor comes by to check on me and I chew on painkillers and antibiotics, washed down with single malt.

Zero drops by to check on me. She tells me that she has been back into the datastore where she first saw Quicksilver's ghost. This time she was there with two Transys deckers and they all saw the ghost asking to be taken to Amelia.

She also has an idea on how to do that. She believes that if Amelia hooks up the biodeck to the matrix, that she can lead the ghost into it. She is planning to try it tomorrow, if she can get McDonald to agree to let her into the system again.

Scotland, day fourteen

Feeling a bit better today, but that could just be the drugs and the booze.

Zero went back into the matrix and managed to lead the ghost out and into the deck. She then flatlined for a moment and when she logged out, she told us that the ghost was growing up in the deck. It told her some stuff about birth and heaven, apparently to do with star signs. Amelia said she would look into it and calls us later that evening with good news. She has found the fourth chip.

Zero tells her not to try to do anything with it but to wait for her. Finlay persuades the hotel owner to lend us his car and we head out for Edinburgh.

Scotland, day fifteen

We seem to spend all our time in the damn car these days. We drive trhough the night to Edinburgh, and after a short rest meet up with Amelia in an upscale bar. We all look like hell, but no-one bothers us. Zero puts the last chip in place and decks in. This time she meets an adult Quicksilver. Seems he didn't know that he was dead. Apparently he now wants us to take us to Morag. Hell, might as well see this through to the end, so it's back in the car.

Amelia comes along and spells Finlay for the driving which is good because it takes us the rest of the day and all night.

Scotland, day sixteen

James McDonald is not too happy to see us again. He keeps us waiting, I guess while he checks with Ian, before letting us in. He is wary of us trying to 'exorcise' Morag and only relents after a tense video conference with his brother in which we have to more or less come clean about everything that's been going on. And especially where we have been the last two days.

We unload our gear into our rooms, guns included and rest until shortly before midnight. Zero sets up in Morag's bedroom and decks in. Just as her system flatlines, Finlay lets out a curse and all hell breaks loose.

The whole castle shakes as high explosives rip open the main doors. Sounds of heavy fighting break out below and I run up to our room for the gun bags. On my way back I spot one of the McDonalds with a shotgun and an ancient Webley Bear rifle which I persuade him to lend to me.

I pass out the rest of the weapons just as the first shots echo up the stairwell. The padre turns Finlay invisible and he heads down the stairs to scout.

I keep a bead on the stairs and am awarded by two gunmen coming into view. The big gun has a fell of a kick but I manage to clip one and the scot hits the other with the shotgun. The padre launches a volley of magical beams at them and they return fire at him. Guess they don't like mages either. My second shot takes out the one I winged and the scot deals with the other, but more are coming.

There are still sounds of fighting below and then we hear Finlay cry out. The padre curses something about magically active mages being the only ones that could have spotted Finlay and slumps into a trance.

Distracted, I let the next gunmen get the drop on us. These ones play it smart laying down covering fire. I hear a grunt from the clansman as he tries to get off a shot, while I maneuver for position. The gunman spots me as I draw a bead on him but my shot hits him squarely in the chest and knocks him back, dead.

Unfortunately I now spot the mage behind him. He gestures at me as I frantically work the rifle's bolt action, gritting my teeth against the incoming spell. Nothing happens and the mage looks surprised as it washes over me with no effect. His expression stays like that as the big gun takes off the back of his head.

That makes me public enemy number one. Bullets chew into the old oak bannister, my armor and least one of my plastic-reinforced bones. No serious damage but it still hurts like hell. I snap off a round in return and am rewarded with a cry of pain.

They are focusing on me now and the bannister is disintegrating under their fire. I roll away as it collapses but feel more bullets hitting me and can taste blood in my mouth. I fire off a last shot but it goes wide, then drop prone to reload. Over the sounds of fighting I swear that I can hear more choppers coming. I just hope it's the fraggin' cavalry.

The clansman gets off another good shot taking one of them down but his victory cry is cut short when a burst catches him in the throat and practically rips off his head.

I crawl towards the padre shouting for him to wake up just as the head and shoulders of a troll appear on the stairs. I curse in salish, something about his mother. It's enough to get his attention. The bannister protects me but only just. I get off a shot, but while it rips a chunk out of his side, he seems barely to notice it. Great a troll on combat drugs.

The padre's eyes open and he struggles to focus his magics on the troll. Guess the troll figures him for the bigger problem so it's next bursts go in his direction. With much cursing and swearing the padre rolls and tumbles across the landing, miraculously unscathed.

I decide I have had enough of this shit and my next shot strikes true. It rips through bone, muscles and arteries in the troll's gun arm and he tumbles slowly back down the stairs spraying blood around him.

From below I can hear more fighting, but it's a scottish accent shouting the orders. I slump back, cradling the big gun in my arms. The shooting stops and armored clansmen appear on the stairs. Ian McDonald is in their midst, giving orders.

Then a funny thing happens. Now remember I was shot up pretty bad, but the others recount it pretty much as I remember. From out of the walls of the castle come a whole tribe of ghosts. Men and women, old and young. Last to join them are Quicksilver and Morag. So Zero did it. Then the oldest and gnarliest of the ghosts steps forward and locks his eyes on Ian McDonald. There is a pause and then the ghost turns away. A light appears above us and the ghosts stream into it, with Quicksilver, Morag and the old wizened scot last to leave. Then it fades to black.

Scotland, day eighty

It takes me over a month to recover. Ian McDonald puts us up in the private wing of a hospital and spares no expense on treatment. Finlay was badly hurt, part of one arm totally flayed open. They replaced it with a biotech one. I heard that stuff was bad for adepts, but he's not talking about it.

Bringing Morag and Quicksilver together in the deck also took it's toll on Zero, but the new cyberware they gave her seems to be keeping her happy. The padre came through it all unscathed and even Chad is back on his feet and asking for bananas.

We are flying back to Seattle tomorrow. Ian McDonald has arranged flights on his corp's own semi-ballistic plane. I won't be sorry to leave and have a few question to ask Sherrif when I get back...