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.
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.