February 23, 2011

Billie's Journal - A brief chat

[The following is a departure from the normal style of posts for Billie's Journal as it was played out via email between the players of Billie, Zero and Finlay and is presented here more or less at it happened.]

The Mitsuhama van pulls up to a halt outside the Kimano Palace hotel and Finlay announces that he's going to go for a walk to try and get some cell phone reception and check his messages. About half an hour later, phone still in his hand, he strides along the corridor leading to both Billie's and Zero's rooms. Knocking loudly on Zero's door as he walks past, he stops outside Billie's room and raps his knuckles on the hollow wooden door.

Zero perks up at the knock on her door and sticks her head out, spotting Finlay in front of Billie's room. She slides up to Finlay and pulls at his sleeve. "You know, this newfangled phone technology thing doesn't actually require you to walk over to the recipient of your message." She grins, pointing at the phone in his hand. "What's up?"

Finlay looks down at the phone and then nods towards Billie's door. "Trouble. I'll tell you once Billie opens the damn door." With that, he impatiently knocks on the door again.

Billie cracks the door, still on the chain. When she sees Finlay and Zero and the look in the ork’s face, she simply nods and closes the door again. It opens a moment later as she nods them into the room. She does a quick check up and down the corridor, then closes the door and holsters the silenced Kimber.

“Wassup, pardners?”

Finlay marches into the room, places his cell phone on the chest of drawers and presses a couple of buttons. "Sit down," he commands, gesturing from Billie to the chair.

The voice of Martha, tinny and distorted, but still recognisable, squeaks out of Finlay's phone speaker, passing on the message that Yakuza 'kyodai' have been asking around about an elf cowgirl street sam and two of her associates, an ork and another elf. Descriptions have been given, fairly accurate descriptions, particularly for Billie.

"It's been a few months since we rolled the green ronin and hit their meat manor and the repercussions of that died pretty fast, so why are the Yak after us now? Particularly you, Billie. They never really saw you. Is there something you need to tell us about?"

“Well, shee-it”, drawls Billie in full cowgirl mode. She ignores Finlay’s glare and order to sit and fishes in her gear, pulling out a bottle of Jack Daniels.

“Why don’t you two sit down and I’ll tell you what I know. Drink?”

She cracks the bottle and takes a shot directly from it, before offering it to her team mates. Then she perches on the dresser across from them and fills them in.

“Well I been watching the Green Ronin for a while now. I ain’t made no secret of it, but as no-one asks I didn’t feel the need to tell. And I been discreet about it too. How discreet? Well about the limits of a Barrett scope discreet.”

She pauses to let that thought sink in, then continues.

“Well about a week ago, I notice that the hombre has picked up a tail. Couldn’t tell from the distance I was at if they was feds or yaks, but that kinda ruled out the possibility of putting a 50-cal round in GR’s crotch, so I left well alone.”

“Then just the other day, I’m heading back from a meet with Danny. Y’know the reporter dude. Well, I spot a nondescript car following after me. Before I can make to lose it, some numbnut jumps a red, right into the side of the car. Kaboom. Intrigued I pull around for a look. Maybe not the smartest move, but I don’t like being followed. A couple of japs get out of the car. One of them is arguing with Mr Numbnuts, but the other is paying attention to me. As I drive past he pulls out his phone and takes a snap of me. I drive past and take another turn, planning to come back for the camera or the jap’s hand and the camera, but then I hear the cavalry coming so I hightail it outta there and find a quiet spot to watch.”

“Well eventually another car comes to pick up the japs and I start following them. Well blow me down if another ‘nondescript’ van don’t pull out behind me and start following me. I manage to shake him off after a bit, then I get a call that I’m assuming came from the feds telling me to lay off the japs. Then we nearly get ourselves blown up and come out here to this shithole that as far as I care, can get taken out by whatever the eagle lady said the other Martha was planning. I figure that being outta town oughta be enough to let things cool down, but if Martha is on the level then it seems it ain’t so.”

“In any case, I ain’t spoke to Martha in a while. You the one been hassling her all the time about that money she owes you.” She jabs an accusing finger at Finlay for effect, then spoils it by taking another shot from the bottle.

“So either they’re hitting up all the fixers looking for a lead or they’re getting their info from somewhere else. That means either the feds got a leak or we do. Now, I’d put my money on the feds. They got more leaks than the Alaskan pipeline, but if it ain’t them and it sure ain’t me, and I’m guessing it ain’t either of you two, that leaves either the padre or the new girl. The padre might be a drunk but I don’t figure him for a double-crosser, so that just leaves the new girl.”

“So pardners, what we gonna do about it.”

Zero hung back for a while, as Finlay and Billie were having their little stare-down. She was leaning against the wall, but when she hears Martha give a rather accurate description of herself over the phone she slides down the wall to sit on the floor, her face looking a shade paler than usual. She just stares at Billie while the latter explains things to Finlay, expression completely blank.

After a moment of silence, she coughs a little to test her voice and speaks up. "So let's see where we are now." She swallows. "Danny's been compromised. I hope you told him you were being followed." She gives a little nod at Billie. "Martha is probably reasonably safe. She has her ear to the ground is all. She's told us this sort of thing before." A little jab with her head in Finlay's direction. "Of course we can't trust any of the two newbies, but to be honest I don't think the German girl has anything to do with it. We did lead Cleo to the Ronin, and she is from a corp, so she might still be planted here."

Zero sighs and rests her head in her hands. "We really can't use this kind of drek right now. If the yak are after us, laying low for a few weeks will not be enough. These guys didn't get their power from sucking cafpow, you know what I mean? We'd have to burn our bridges. Again. Get off the grid." She thinks about it for a while, looking at the two other people in the room.

"If we wanted to take out the Ronin, which I'm all for, we should have done it a while ago. The clock is ticking, he's probably compromised enough already. If we take him out now it'll look suspicious. And then we'd have to take out the entire yak." She smiles weakly. "I don't think that's really an option though."

Zero groans and gets up, paces around for a bit, and suddenly stops. She throws her arms up and swears loudly, in French. Then, she turns to one of the night stands in Billie's room and kicks it, still swearing and muttering in French. "I can so do without this right now!" She turns back to the other two, face flushed. "I can't fix this. Unless we find three dead bodies, a stable matrix connection, a catchy song, and a whole lot of make-up, we're doomed."

Billie takes another shot from the bottle of Jack.

“I’m real sorry to have dragged you all into this. And I sure appreciate all you done to help get those girls free from the yaks. But while I ain’t too keen on taking on the whole fraggin posse on my lonesome, I ain’t just gonna walk away from all those other women they still got wired up.”

There is something fierce in her demeanor. Stubbornness they had not seen before or perhaps had sensed in her but had never seen as strong as this. She snaps out of quickly, spitting on the hotel room’s grotty carpet.

“And don’t you worry about Danny, darling. I warned him right away and gave him a message to pass onto the feds about using me and him as bait. Might not have been the most diplomatic of messages but I’m sure he didn’t pass it on exactly as I put it.”

“You’re right about our IDs though. These new ones are worth shit now. Sheet, thirty large down the drain. Well, I’m sure we can find a few bodies to attach them to back in Seattle, even if we have to shoot them first. But that can wait. Right now we gotta be dealing with these injuns. We can worry about the yaks when we get back to town. Although I guess I could have a quick chat with Danny to see if he knows what the feds are up to. What do you two reckon?”

Finlay absent-mindedly runs a finger over the hilt of Nuada and speaks in a low, calm voice. "I reckon we should turn you over to the yak in exchange for immunity." Finlay pauses to let that statement sink in, before nodding towards Zero. "We," he gestures in a circle with his offhand, "all of us, agreed to help you on your private crusade because we trusted you and wanted to help you save those young girls." Finlay pauses again. "To save yourself" Disappointed, he shakes his head slightly, closing his eyes for a brief second. "All the while you're running around like a school girl who's watched all the episodes of 'Shadowrunners' and thinks she's a professional."

Zero sits back down and crosses her arms, pressing her lips together in thought as she observes Finlay and Billie.

Billie’s face twists in rage. She spits her words out, practically screaming at Finlay, “You fucker! Ah shoulda known you were just like all those other men. You think I’m just something to use and throw aside when you’re done.”

She snaps to her feet, hot tears burning her cheeks. She looks down at the spear in his belt then sticks her chin out, teeth gritted, neck exposed and eyes closed.

“Okay big man”, she hisses. “If yer gonna do me, then do it. Just be quick about it. Coz if you think you can hand me over to those fuckers while I’m still breathing, you better think again.”

Her whole body is visibly shaking with anger. Her slim hands are balled into fists and her right one twists slowly at the wrist, turning a full 360 degrees while she growls under her breath at Finlay.

Zero stands up with a sigh and stalks towards Billie. In one swift movement, her hand hits Billie's cheek with a loud slap. Zero raises her eyebrows and leans into Billie so they're eye to visor. "Nobody is using you. We are worried. You are not being yourself." She softens her voice a little, taking Billie's hand in both of her own and rubbing the back of it with her thumb. "Finlay just wanted to point out the gravity of the situation, I think. He's still a bit of a drill sarge..." She steps away again and tilts her head up, pointing her chin at Billie. "But if you get me into trouble, friend, I warn you now. I am done running away."

Billie’s head snaps to the side then back, her eyes now open. She stares down at the petite French woman, her red-rimmed eyes wide with shock, anger and frustration. As Zero rubs her hand, her real one part of her brain notes, she slowly stops shaking and her shoulders slump resignedly.

Barely audibly she whispers “Sorry.”

Then she slumps back against the dresser, her free hand reaching for the bottle of whiskey. She looks at it for a moment then casually drops it in the wastebasket.

With a half laugh, half sigh she says, “Not being myself you say. What, you actually want the crazy cowboy girl back. Hell, I was just starting to think I could maybe put her behind me. But then I suppose she’s more who I am these days than Wilhelmina is.”

Wiping her eyes, she points at Finlay with her off-hand, some anger still in her voice. “Okay, mister fraggin professional. Since you’re so fragging smart, what do you suggest?”

Finlay carefully lifts the whiskey bottle from the trash can and pours it into the wash stand in the corner as he talks. "I'm not claiming to have all the answers lass, and even if I did, you're not off the hook that easy. We can either confront the yak, or ride out the worst of it in obscurity."

"Now, they've clearly put two and two together and come up with four. We all pissed off one of their soldiers and we all raided one of their mansions but I'm a non-descript ork and Zero's a piece of ass, you can hire our sort for a dime down in the Barrens." He turns to look at Zero and winks, "No offence girl." Turning back to Billie, Finlay speaks firmly, looking straight in Billie's eyes. "It's you they're after now, you're making waves in their entire fucking water garden, you and your journo pal."

Breaking away from her eye line after a second's pause Finlay runs a critical eye over Billie, taking in the details of her face and body shape, trying to determine ways that her most distinctive features can be hidden.

"First, you need to blend in. Either we make everyone else a skinny elven cowgirl or you've got a lot of changing to do. I'm not sure which o' those is harder."

Zero hums in thought, biting her thumb. "Actually..." She eyes Billie. "It might be a possibility. Depending on whether Billie was serious about leaving the cowboy thing behind." She sits up and looks at Billie, questioningly.

Arms crossed tight across her chest, Billie glares at Zero and Finlay. Finally, she lets out a sigh and rifles in her pockets for her cigarettes. She strikes a match on the NO SMOKING sign and takes a long draw, then lets the smoke out with a catlike hiss.

“Ah guess…” she begins. Then she frowns and starts again. “I guess it was a rather obvious disguise.”

The sudden change in her accent from Texan drawl to a soft Seattle lilt is as sudden as the change in her demeanor. Her shoulders relax and her whole body seems to shift from butch cowgirl to that of a demure, insecure, young woman. She gives the two runners an almost embarrassed smile.

“It’s just that…well…I mean when Sharif pulled me out of that place. I was…well if you think I’m messed up now, I was a lot worse then. I could barely function, could hardly talk and had no memory. I spent all day watching old cowboy movies on the trid. I still don’t know if it was what they did to me or getting all the crap taken out of my head. So I guess Sharif kinda indulged me a little. But then, you have to realize, the cowgirl thing. Well, it was all I could remember at the time.”

She takes another drag on the cigarette to calm herself, to get her thoughts in order, before continuing. “Billie. Well, Billie let me function. Deal with all the bad things. She’s tough as nails and doesn’t take shit from anyone. She’s John Wayne, Butch Cassidy, Clint Eastwood and Rooster Coburn all rolled into one. Well, I think you know what she’s like.”

“But now that I remember more about what happened to me, y’know thanks to that spirit quest or whatever it was that happened to us in Scotland. Well…that whole cowgirl thing just doesn’t fit as comfortably anymore. She’s still there. And I’m sure I’ll still need her for some of the things she can do. Like, y’know shooting people. But maybe this is a good thing. Time for me to move on. Get better.”

She gives a questioning, doe-eyed look to Finlay and then turns to Zero.

“Zero, will you help me? I know I already asked a lot from you all, but I don’t really know anything about fashion, or makeup, or anything really.” As if for emphasis, she tugs at the checked shirt she is currently wearing.

Zero shakes her head with a smile. "Of course." She straightens up and stretches. "But you know, you don't have to leave Billie behind completely. You're still the same person. Perhaps you change over time, and you don't have to hold on to strange defences anymore, but these years were not just a lie to get away from reality."

She walks over to Billie and her smile widens. "And I know just what you need. A viral video. And a total makeover." Zero holds up her hands with her thumb and index finger touching, so they form a square, and looks through it to Billie. "We'll make you a star." She giggles.

Finlay shakes his head and let's out a slight sigh. "Yes, raise her profile, that's just what we need."

Billie’s eyes go momentarily wide, then narrow into a frown directed at Zero. Her voice deepens but she manages to keep the Texan drawl out of it. “No star profile, no girlie stuff and nothing too revealing, okay.”

The hint of a grin tugs at her mouth, as she tries to remain serious. She points at Finlay, “And no making fun of me in whatever get up Zero picks out for me or the hat goes back on! Deal?”

Zero smirks mysteriously and almost flutters over to Finlay. She starts whispering something in his ear, looking back at Billie with the same smirk from time to time. Then, she hums something softly to illustrate a point, counting something down on her fingers. She nods excitedly at Finlay and her grin widens, as she wraps up her explanation with "And it'll be faaa-bulous!"

Finlay looks slightly wide eyed at Zero. "Really, crotchless? You think that people will buy that?"

Zero's grin widens. "Well, I would, wouldn't you?" She casts another glance at Billie. "Definitely, right?"

Finlay glances across to Billie. "Yeah, probably. But you know me, I'm a soldier at heart."

Billie’s cheeks slowly redden as Zero and Finlay whisper and point. Her arms move from her hips to across her breasts as her blush deepens.

She tries to channel the cowgirl, but her voice comes out almost shrill, “Enough! This brief chat is over.”

She points to the door with her cyberarm, while her real one stays firmly pressed across her breasts. “Out! Now! Or someone is gonna get shot in the face.”

Somehow, the threat doesn’t work without the fake Texan drawl. But despite her obvious discomfort, she seems serious now.

February 21, 2011

Billie's Journal - Bye bye Billie

Kimano, Tsimshian, 23 December 2050

Today is my first day trying not to be Billie. But after five odd years of practising a deep Texan drawl, she's proving hard to shake. And I'm sure that I will still have to rely on her when things get nasty. Feels strange talking about her like that. After all she is who I am, who I was, for most of what I can remember of my life.

After our little jaunt into Haida town last night we are all up a little late. Cleo seems the worst for wear, her hair lank and bags around her eyes. We find a cheap diner, that only serves us because the padre, I mean Father O'Reilly is with us. Then we retire back to the hotel to do some legwork. Well mainly for Zero to do some matrix snooping. Finlay is feeling cooped up so takes of for a walk, Cleo locks herself in her room and Gabriel proceeds to down a half bottle of the local hooch. Zero has routed the room's terminal up to the matrix via an IP randomizer so I do a little snooping myself.

Let's just say that my computer skills ain't on par with my pistol skills. I turn up a few dead ends which I text through to Zero. Then my phone crashes. Piece of jap shit that it is. Typical as we're pretending to be employees of some jap corp.

I decide to get some air and take a walk. Maybe I can pick up a new outfit that's a bit less cowgirl. Well I get as far as the first store. The cashier is an uppity indian slapper that won't even serve me till I flash the fake ID and even then she ain't too friendly. I slink back to the hotel in a foul mood.

One thing I noticed when I was out. There ain't no metas here at all. I guess it's been bugging me the last couple of days but only hit home just now. I try to get some figures, but that sorta information ain't public record. I'll get Zero to look it up when she finishes up whatever she's up to in the matrix.

Around dark, Finlay gets back. His mood ain't much better than mine, but at least Zero finally has some good news, even though she bitches about having to owe a couple of favours to some of her decker chummers.

Apparently some dude name of Daniel Shimihand used to run the HNF before the purges. It was assumed this dude was killed but seems like he may still be running around and that he's behind the HNAL. Also seems that the HNAL might have links to TerraFirst, the ecoterrorists out of California. Well there's a link. However, more creepy are some conspiracy theories that the HNF is just a government front to sweep up any unsavoury elements. Now that is just fraggin' nasty.

Now that Zero's done her bit, it's time for the rest of us to pay a visit to the Randy Sasquatch. We rouse Cleo out of bed, although the girl is looking even worse than earlier and has an attitude to match. She finally casts her masking spell on us so we look like injuns and we head back into Haida town.

It's pretty clear we picked up a tail as soon as we crossed into this part of town. And the closer we get to the Randy Sasquatch the worst the place gets. I ain't seen places this bad since I was last in Redmond. The bar is a dump, but the neon sign outside still works. Guess noone wants to mess with the local HNF HQ.

We push through the door into a wall of noise, sweat and stale beer. The locals give us an unfriendly look and we retreat to a table in a dark corner. We nurse a couple of watered soybeers before Finlay spots our mark. A mohawked indian standing at the bar. Shit, didn't see him come in, so either there's a back way or he was already here. We keep an eye on the fella. He seems well known, talking with the barman and a few of the other patrons. Then some brave comes around with a pitcher, half filled with notes. Not wanting to cause trouble we toss in a few bills each. He makes some light conversation, but as we are a Scot, an Irishman and a woman, we keep it down. Finlay spins a yarn about looking for work and the guy seems to buy it.

But when he moves on, we realise that mohawk is gone. He sure didn't come past us, so he must of slipped out the back. We finish up our drinks and leave. Circling around towards the back of the bar, we spot another couple of youths watching us. Finlay slips back as we turn down an alley and grabs one of the little fraggers as he comes around after us. He's a feisty little shit, trying to bite the ork but he ain't got no chance against Finlay's grip.

Still he won't give anything up, so Finlay finally lets him go with a kick up the backside. We make it to the back of the bar without any further trouble, but the delay means our mohawked friend is long gone. Gabriel summons a couple of little cherubs to go look for him while we mosy on back to the hotel.

We shake our tail as we get into the nicer part of town, although that's not saying much. We arrive back at the hotel just as Gabriel's little watchers turn back up to announce they found Nightingale. We make plans. Under an invisibility spell from Gabriel, I lift the commlink from the lazy-ass, porn-watching kid at the desk. Zero does some stuff with it to make it into a spycam and then, still invisible, I head back to where the watcher's say they found Nightingale.

An old lock stops me at the front and my lockpick snaps when I try to open it. I make my way around back. There's a fire escape but it's been welded up, I guess to prevent people like me coming in the back. I take a run up and manage to catch the bottom of it but some fragger's wrapped barbed wire around it and you can bet it's my real hand that finds that. I grit my teeth and get a hold with the cyber arm and pull myself up. I find the mark's appartment and set up the kid's phone so that the camera has a good view of the room without being too obvious itself.

Sharon patches up my hand when I get back. It's late and I'm tired. I go to bed hoping that tomorrow is a better day.

Kimano, Tsimshian, 24 December 2050
It's Christmas eve but even the snow here is grey and miserable. However, we finally get some luck on the stakeout. The little phone is streaming images at one frame every tens seconds or so and eventually captures our mark on the phone. Finlay thinks he's saying Nightingale at one point but all I see is an open mouth. Zero takes a peek into the local phone records and find out where the call went. Game on.

We suit up and head out to what looks like it used to be the commercial district. Except most of the building are run down and boarded up. Our target is a warehouse that seems like it's been long abandoned, except that the lock on the front looks pretty new. A fire door around back is less well protected and with a bit of effort I manage to pop it open. Inside looks like some church or conference room with rows of seats and a pulpit of sorts at the front. There are two rooms at the back. Finlay and Gabriel take one, Zero and I take the other. It's an office and dusty too, like it ain't been used in a while.

I hear a faint humming and spot some cables going into the back of a cabinet. Without thinking I open the door. Some old terminal with a screen and keyboard. Behind me, Zero hisses to close the door. I do as she says just as my brain makes the link that these dudes are working with TerraFirst and that TerraFirst like to blow things up. I maybe manage a step back before the cabinet explodes and that probably saves my life. The blast lifts me off my feet and punches me through the drywall into the hall beyond. Deafened and hurting, I'm trying to get back to my feet but the padre is there easing me back down. The pain hits and I'm twitching on the ground as he pumps mana into me to patch me up. And then the pain is gone. I stagger to my feet as he goes to work on Zero. She looks hurt, but not too badly. Finlay and I take watch for the long seconds it takes for his magic to work then we are out of there.

We make it halfway to the next building when Finlay twitches suddenly. Then I hear the crack of a high velocity round. Frag, sniper. Even injured, Finlay is moving even before my boosted reflexes kick in. He sprints across the open ground and dives behind the next building. My reflexes take over and I follow after him almost without thinking. Frag, I don't even know where the gunman is. I spin as I get into cover, looking behind for the others. Gabriel is nowhere to be seen and Zero is running towards us, bullets picking at her heels. She makes it into cover just as another rifle shot takes out the corner of the building next to her head.

Before we can go looking for the shooters, we hear sirens and hotfoot it out of there. Back at the hotel, Zero digs out the damaged disks we recovered from the terminal and goes to work on them. I grab some sleep. Being blown up tends to take it out of a person.

I wake to hear a voice I don't recognise talking about 'red mask' and biosuits. Zero plays it back again. Well looks like we got us a destination now. She also tells us that her matrix buddies found our Martha and that she's a dog shaman working for TerraFirst's 'northern cell'. Hell and here I thought dog shaman's were supposed to look out for people. Shows how much I know about magic.