April 25, 2010

Billie's Journal

Seattle, day one

It actually feels good to be back in Seattle, despite the first Autumn rain. I hope our next runs are local as I aint too keen to go back to Europe or other parts foreign.

Aurora, Sharif's decker friend has been doing some digging while we were in Germany and has finally turned up something. I follow her e-mailed directions to a hidden datastore. It's just a couple of low-res images of old newspaper clippings but they are about a car accident in Salish territory. A drunk driver crossed the centre line an hit a car coming in the other direction. Although the driver was able to avoid a head on collision, one of the passengers, a young girl was badly hurt and taken to the Seattle General hospital for treatment. I blink back tears as I realise that the girl might be me and that my family might still be alive.

However, the bad news is that Aurora could find no trace of a girl being admitted to the hospital around the time of the accident. That squares with my memory. I don't think I ever did make it there. Even worse, Aurora mentions that there was some code buried deep in the hospital system that was monitoring for queries on my name. She managed to avoid it and found out a couple of other names that it was looking for, all females. She is prepared to trigger it and see where it leads, but that will cost serious nuyen.

I message her to hold off on following up. Maybe I should ask Zero about it, but I don't want to get the team involved. Not yet.

Seattle, day two

Zero is out at her apartment coding, so I decide to try talking to Sharif's pal Lee Chen again. I take the Harley down to Chinatown and head over to the Golden Pagoda to eat. Lee spots me and comes over to serve me. I ask if we can meet up when he gets off and he nods assent. I pick at the spicy duck and leave quickly, heading over to the Blue Lagoon to wait for him there.

When he arrives, he tells me that he can put me in contact with the someone from the eighty-eights, the local triad, but warns me that they are serious dudes and I should be very careful about dealing with them.

But what if they were the guys that kidnapped me in the first place? Asking them if they know of a kidnapping and prostitution ring might not be the smartest of moves. I tell Lee to hold off for now, while I consider other options. Maybe I need to talk to Sharif's other contact, Billy Bear, before getting involved with the triads.

I return to the flat feeling pretty down. The padre is there, but seems to have something on his mind. I offer him a whiskey and he accepts distractedly. We sit silently at either end of the sofa, watching an old flatscreen western, while nursing our drinks and thoughts.

He leaves shortly after, just as Zero gets back home. She tells me that she and Finlay went for dinner at a local mob restaurant where the padre had a meeting with the local capo. Seems he was made an offer he can't refuse. No wonder he was so quiet.

Seattle, day three

Zero wakes me shortly before noon. She has had a call from Finlay and we have a meet at the Ihop for lunch, like right now. I take a quick shower and get dressed, tucking one of the Kimber pistols into my belt as we head out the door.

The contact is a lady who call herself Sandie. She seems to be a bit put out by my cowboy outfit, but hell, I see a lot weirder outfits on the street every day. And she is hardly the one to be giving other people funny looks. While she looks to be a good looking gal herself, when she smiles I see her teeth are metal. I raise an eyebrow at that but catch Finlay shaking his head vigorously, so don't say anything about them.

Turns out she is just a middleman. Job is a B&E with some computer work. We tell her we can handle it and she says the meet proper will happen tonight at a party in the Puyallup Barrens. We all give her a look, and she tells us not to worry. She claims the location is safe and that in any case, she will be driving us there herself.

Then Gabriel curses and says he can't go tonight and that Finlay won't be able to go either. It's full moon night and the boys need to play poker for their little magic club. Sandie says that the deal is off then, but I say that Zero and I can handle the meet ourselves. She thinks about that for a while, then asks where she can pick us up.

The rest of the afternoon is spent getting ready for the party. Zero digs a couple of light pistols out of the stash at her apartment along with a couple of purses big enough to conceal them. Then, while the boys deal out cards, we head out to meet Sandie.

She picks us up a couple of blocks away, you can't be too careful in this game, and drives us out into the barrens. I am feeling all too vulnerable in the figure hugging, silky top and short skirt that Zero picked out for me to wear. I fuss at the skirt until she puts her hand on mine and tells me to relax and that I look great. I smile back but feel anything but calm.

Firehouse 118

Sandie pulls up outside an old Firehouse that looks long abandoned except for the light show and pumping music coming from inside. She says she will be waiting nearby and that the Johnson will make contact with us. Just mingle and enjoy yourselves till then she laughs. I'm supposed to mingle and enjoy it? Not darn likely.

Two doormen check our guns at the entrance, putting them away next to much more serious ordnance. We head to the bar for drinks, pushing through a crowd of a hundred or so partygoers, most of whom I realise are elves. I order a whisky and some guy next to me says, "That's a serious drink for a pretty lady." I give him a look that could kill and he backs off. Oops, not mingling.

Zero is up dancing, and she is good at it too. While I watch her, a slim elf with short corporate style hair and a datajack comes over to me and introduces himself as Alistair. He says he hasn't seen me here before and asks me how I knew about it. I say a friend of mine Sandie told me about it and I thought it might be fun. He asks me what I do. I shrug and mumble a reply about working out in Salish territory, then ask him what he does. Is he the Johnson?

He tells me he works in computers. I feign interest but most of what he says goes over my head. I tell him I don't really know that much about computers and he offers to introduce me to some of his friends who do some sort of computer training.

Fortunately, just then Zero rescues me. Alistair initially thinks she is Sandie, but she quickly drags me off to the bathroom rather than explaining who she is. In the bathroom, she reapplies my lipstick and tells me to go get him. I protest that I am not interested, but she hussles me back out.

I rejoin Alistair and he introduces me to his friends. He explains that as well as his computer job, he is also working on some project to make the barrens a better place to live, like this club. I don't really get what he is going on about but here I am mingling.

I keep an eye out for Zero and a while later spot her talking to another man. Just as he turns away from her, there is a ruckus at the entrance. The two bouncers are struggling with a scar-faced elf. A troll hustles past with an LMG on a gyro mount. Zero comes over and I tell Alistair that we need to go. He gives me his number so I can contact him about the computer course. Yeah, right.

As we slip past the argument at the door, we get a call from the boys that they have finished their poker game and are on the way over. I tell them not to bother and that it's an elf-only party anyway. We get back into the car with Sandie and she passes an envelope to Zero.

April 22, 2010

Kick Ass

Kick Ass did kick some ass. I was a little worried that it might be a little corny or cheesy, but it was well done. Funny and sad at moments, with plenty of action and lots of bad language.

All the acting was great, particularly Nick Cage's Big Daddy. Some great music as well (was that banana splits?) and what, according to my friend was a tribute to Call of Duty. All you FPS players will recognise the sequence immediately.

I have to admit that although I am a comics fan, I had not read the books, so wasn't expecting anything and maybe that helped. And I certainly don't want to give anything away either, so I won't tell you how it turned out. But I will recommend that you do go and see it. Just not in the UGC Antwerp, which is really looking a bit run down these days, but still charges you silly prices to get in, buy a snack, and go for a pee.

April 10, 2010

Billie's Journal

Germany, day four cont'd

Our plan doesn't even survive till dinner, never mind until contact with the enemy. On our way back to town, Gabriel trips over a tree root and smashes his knee. He manages to heal the worst of it but he won't be walking for a while.

Then after dinner, Chad starts complaining about his stomach, just before vomiting the local pork specialty all over the room. We discuss putting off the run for a night but the camera loops are already in place and Zero is worried they will be discovered if we wait too long. What a pile of drek.

Only option left looks to be me and Finlay climbing up to the castle while Zero covers us in the matrix. Zero seems nervous about the plan, but I don't see another option. So at midnight, we suit up in the camo gear and, loaded down with guns and climbing gear, take a long hike around to the north side of the castle.

Finlay has some climbing experience so he takes the lead. The climb is long but fortunately not too difficult. I just don't look down, which means I spend a lot of time looking at Finlay's ass. We make it to the top and Zero does her thing, announcing moments later that the cameras on the wall are looped. We hussle to the wall and once Zero has dealt with more cameras there, I fire the grapple gun and we climb quickly up.

The battlements are clear but the stairs down are in the nearest turret. Which is not only locked with some ancient lock but is also occupied by a couple of guards. We try another door and fortunately this one opens. Zero is beginning to have problems with the local node's security but manages to take out the cameras between us and the keep's main entrance.

Finlay runs one of the maglock passkeys through the lock on the door and swings it open. Zero has already dealt with the cameras inside, but there is also a human guard. We enter quickly. Finlay's magically enhanced reactions are faster even than my cybernetic ones and he gets off the first shot from a narcojet pistol that was amongst the gear. I follow up with a second dart from the narcojet rifle that was in another of the creates and the guard slumps facedown on the desk. I arrange his body to hopefully make it look like he is taking a snooze on the job.

We sneak to the elevator without trouble, but Zero is not so lucky. She is cursing in french over our headsets while fending off attacks from multiple intrusion countermeasures. Her soft french accent is sharp as she tussles with trace and blaster IC at the same time. While we wait nervously at the elevator door, she manages to disable the trace program but the blaster IC is damaging her construct. She manages to avoid it by cloaking and even makes it into the host CPU but is unable to take the system down and eventually has to jack out.

With our decker cover gone, we have to move and fast. I switch from the narcojet rifle to the silenced Predator while Finlay forces the doors of the lift open. I double tap the lift camera and then Finlay boosts me up through the service hatch. We zap the controls with a tazer and climb up the service ladder to the third floor where Gabriel had found what he thought was a library on his astral tour.

Things are looking up as the book is sitting in plain view on a pedestal in the middle of the room. Well, at least until I take a closer look. It's a fake. We search the other rooms quickly. First room is a storage cupboard. I notice some flammable cleaning fluids, but we move quickly on. Next room is locked, another old fashioned lock too. I pull out a hairpin and jimmy it open. There is another door inside and as we approach it, a phone rings inside.

A deep voice, answers in sleepy German. We stop at the door as heavy footsteps approach the door - and then lock it. Finlay curses. Then after focusing his mojo, he kicks the door right off its hinges. We move in. An old troll looks at us in amazement. I hiss at him, demanding the book. He mumbles something in German as his eyes flick to the bedside table where I see a large book. Finlay sedates him with a smack around the head and a couple of shots from the narcojet pistol.

Then dumping the case we were given to deliver, Finlay stashes the book in his backpack and we move out. I make a stop at the storage cupboard, pouring the cleaning fluid into a bucket of rags and tossing in one of the ex-explosive clips before dropping in a lit cigarette. As the flame takes, I run back to the lift where Finlay is heading up instead of down. I ask what he's up to and he winks back at me and whispers, 'Helicopter.' I didn't know he could fly a copter.

As we get to the next floor and Finlay reaches for the door, it is forced open and two gun barrels appear. Quick to react, Finlay tosses a flashpak through the opening and leaps through. Curses in German are followed by cries of pain as Finlay extends his folding staff and lays into the dazzled guards. 'Go right' he subvocalizes as I leap through - just as one of the blinded guards opens up wildy with his assault rifle. Fortunately he is more worried about hitting his buddies and the burst goes high.

Finlay's staff smashes repeatedly into the guards on the left hand side of the hallway and I hear grunts and thuds as bodies fall. I move in close to the guard in front of me so he can't bring his rifle to bear and shoot the one to my left in the head. Mister trigger-happy opens up again and I feel bullets whiz past my head while his buddy, my shield, screams at him in German.

Finlay moves across the hall with lighting speed and smashes his staff into trigger-happy's face with bonesnapping force. That leaves my shield as the only one still standing, so I step back and shoot him point blank in the back of his head, killing him instantly.

At the end of the hall, a security door is sealed with an electronic lock. Our maglock passkey works it's magic and the door pops open. Three security guards are monitoring screens. They all go for their guns, but we are faster. Finlay unloads into them killing the closest instantly and clipping the second before the SMG's recoil pulls his aim off. I follow up with a snap shot that kills the second guard. My second shot clips the third in the shoulder. He falls to ground and throws away his gun holding up his hands in surrender, so I zap him with the tazer.

Finlay goes through to the room with the copter to get it started. I go back to the lift shaft to make sure no-one tries to get to us. Zero comes back online, announcing that she has managed to hotwire a car and that she and our two invalids are on their way to the rendezvous point. It's at this point that Finlay admits that he doesn't actually know how to fly the copter and asks Zero if she can lead him through the startup process for it's dogbrain. Zero curses again in French and I add a couple of choice phrases about Finlay's mother in Salish.

While Finlay and Zero try to work out how to get the copter started, I cover the lift shaft. I can hear the guards muttering in German. They sound like they are up to something so I drop a concussion grenade down the shaft. That keeps them quiet for a minute but they are soon back. I drop a flashpack down next followed by a burst from the SMG. Finlay and Zero are making little progress, so after dropping my last flashpack and emptying a full clip of ex-explosive down the shaft I go to see if I can help.

Dear Lord this thing has a lot of buttons and switches. Just as I am beginning to think we are totally screwed, I stumble across the flight manual stashed under the pilot's seat. Not only is it in English, but it practically falls open at the section on activating the autopilot. With some help from Zero, I manage to program in the coordinates of the rendezvous and with a prayer hit the activate icon. The copter lumbers into the air. I am too scared to touch anything, reliant totally on its ability to fly itself. Finlay shouts down to the guards in the courtyard in bad german about us having the baron onboard. It seems to work as they don't try to shoot us down.

Ten minutes later, the copter makes a smooth landing in the car park at the scenic viewpoint we had picked to meet up. Zero flashes an angry glare at Finlay, although I think she is actually more angry at herself for having to jack out. Gabriel is still limping and Chad is green but has at least stopped being sick.

I order the copter to fly south towards Geneva. It might buy us some time as we pile into the stolen van and head north. After a couple of hours driving, we pull over into the trees. I scout ahead to check out the border crossing. It don't look good. Searchlights are playing across the road, highlighting barbed wire, tire spikes, and a bunker with a couple of large barreled guns sticking out of it. No way we are getting through there in one piece. I creep back to the van and explain the situation to the team. Zero downloads the coordinates for the first town across the border into her headware and taking what gear we can, we head into the woods.

It takes most of the night to make it across the border. Gabriel and Chad hold us up and then Zero takes a tumble too, losing her glasses in the process. It takes best part of an hour moving carefully around to avoid stepping on them, before Finlay finally spots them. Zero takes them with a pout and a wince. Seems she has twisted her ankle in the fall so that slow us down even more. Then Finlay catches whiff of a strange scent and before we can react a huge piasma lumbes out of the woods. It's like a grizzly except twice as big and magically active. We keep calm and edge slowly out of it's way and it moves on into the night.

Germany, day five
As dawn breaks we can hear the town stirring close by. We switch from camo gear to civilian clothing and dump all the weapons and other milspec gear. We slip into town as it is waking up and head to the train station there. Unfortunately one of the local goons takes an interest on us as we are waiting for the first train out.

From what I can make out, he is giving us a hard time about not having some stamp for crossing the border. Finlay tries bluffing him and Zero flashes her best smile, but nothing seems to be working until I suggest that we just pay the fine and he stamps our passes. With a big smile his English suddenly improves and after some negotiation and a trip to the nearest cash machine, we get our stamps.

The rest of the journey is fortunately uneventful and we pass most of the journey on the high-speed train back to Berlin snoozing. Back at the airport, we clear customs smoothly and while waiting for the suborbital to board, I spot an item on CNN about a copter being shot down while attempting to cross the Swiss border.

We arrive in Washington the same evening thanks to the time change. Albrecht is waiting for us at the airport and takes possession of the book in exchange for travel papers back to Seattle and our payment. A smooth run, where no-one got shot. Well, except for a few Bavarian injuns.