May 4, 2018 at 8:27 am #8362May 4, 2018 at 8:30 am #8365
[Friday July 16, 2077; Oakfarm Estate (Argent’s House), North Bellevue, Seattle]
Silk smiled at her two friends, whilst making sure she stood upwind of Al…he was a little ripe in the summer heat and it looked like he was wearing the same clothes, unwashed, since the last time she had seen him. With a small sense of regret she shut the terrace doors on the balmy summer evening air to ensure a greater degree of privacy and set the countermeasures to further increase their security.
“Thank you both for coming, especially you Alyce as I know you’ve not long been back from your travels. Hopefully what I’ve got in mind for the next couple of months will be far less arduous. I’d like to tell you a little bit about my plans for the rest of the year, and if you’re willing enlist you both to help out where and when you can. I’m not talking about corporate espionage or anything like that now, although no doubt there will be room for the odd run whilst this is going on, but about a project I have…” she paused here gathering her thoughts…this was the first time she had spoken about this to anyone and it was a measure of the extreme trust she had in these two sitting with her that it was them rather than Aria that she had approached first.
“As you know I’m part of the Choir, and that after the beginning of the year our numbers are badly reduced…” she held up her hands placatingly at Al’s expression of horror “don’t worry, I’m not trying to recruit you! I don’t blame your scepticism about our craft or the meddling that we undertake in its name. After all we had the briefest of warnings before all hell broke loose and you wouldn’t be alone in wondering what’s the point of being a seer if you can’t see what’s coming?! But I believe and I need to do this…” she took a sip of the chilled water in her glass
“I wish to gather a few others, and there are a few, who see the Pattern in a similar way to myself. They aren’t all seers by any means, from what I can tell Pattern magic is an expression of the Threads that used to be central to fourth world magic beliefs. I want to piece together some of that lore and make it relevant in the sixth. I don’t know yet how some of the Others will take this but it is something I think is important. After what happened to mum I want to have a legacy to pass on, and in this business that we are in I’m not sure that can be a child of my own, so I need something else. And I need a place to gather it all together… and that is where you two come in…”
With a deft flick of the AR controls she projected an holo image in to the centre of the room. AR might have been cleaner but she knew Al’s aversion to simsense would have made the experience more uncomfortable than it needed to be. The gently rotating image was of a pristine tower set on an island in a lake, the peaks of the Cascade mountains in the background
“This is the Stillwater tower as it was just before twenty seventy, pre the first crash it was an eco-resort for stressed execs wanting to escape the hustle of Redmond” and then the image changed again… it became a clawing skeletal shape scratching at the underbelly of Seattle cloud cover “and this is it now after the Metroplex Guard launched an air strike on ‘dangerous terrorist elements’ operating within the ‘plex to destabilise the government…” she paused “I lost a lot of friends that day…it was also the day that mum died…
I’ve asked myself if a central base of operations is a good idea, particularly in light of what has happened recently, but there is a good vibe at Stillwater, despite events, and our gifts work well there. If I am going to teach anybody then I’ll need any edge I can get. So I need it to look abandoned, probably even more dangerous than it does now, whilst having a stable interior with concealed entrances, matrix feeds and no doubt a dozen other things I haven’t thought of yet. So, do you think you can help?”
Alyce’s face contorts just a bit when Silk talks about children as a legacy. She, too, had wanted a child of her body to leave as a legacy for generations to come, but that now seems to be a far off and near impossible pipe dream. She is currently intimate with only one partner and Grace is, of course, not the correct sex to give her children. Alyce does have two adopted daughters now, several godchildren, and numerous children that she has kept alive through her skill and the miracle of modern medicine. The rest of her legacy is the people whose lives she has saved so that they could have children as well as the numerous orphanages and medical clinics her money helps supports. There are actually more than a few people with the first or middle name of Alyce as a result of something she has done. In a deep retrospect, there are many people who will never forget her and isn’t that a nice legacy to leave behind? Still, she knows that there is a very good chance that she will outlive the man she loves and she would dearly love to keep a piece of him with her in the form of a child. The tears shed over that loss have been significant.
All of those thoughts take place in a small corner of Alyce’s wonderfully mutated brain, allowing her to pay attention to what Silk is saying. When her friend is done, Alyce nods and asks her first questions. “So, are you asking me to set up a concealed Host and Foundation here for you? Or just a clever matrix presence that would allow someone to monitor security and matrix feeds? How far is this place outside of the Seattle ‘plex? I suppose we should talk about financing and what sort of autonomy we would have here, such as who would we answer to and got to for decisions?”
It all sounded like great fun to Al, if also a lot of work. But he figured he could make his own hours and no boss to tell him not to drink on the job. Not wanting to interrupt Silky’s answers to Alyce’s questions, he simply gave the horned hottie a leer and a wink, raising his beer in a clear acceptance of the job.
[Friday July 16, 2077; Oakfarm Estate (Argent’s House), North Bellevue, Seattle]
Silk widened the view on the holo projection so that it showed the tower in context with the Redmond, Salish border “The tower is actually just outside the ‘plex, over the other side of the two oh three. Close enough to the urban blight that the Salish weren’t interested in it, at least until the inhabitants started to clean up the area effectively. Self-interest is the likeliest explanation for why a flight of Metroplex Guard planes was able to cross the border and bomb it without causing a major diplomatic stink. Since then I understand they are keeping an eye on the place but haven’t made any moves to do anything with it, I am working on a few people to make sure things stay that way.
As to what I want in terms of matrix coverage, there’s no need to have our own host, we’ve got the Threads host here in Seattle that will serve but we need a way to access the grids without it flagging up as a matrix connection to the wider world. I was thinking about a tight beam satellite array as running a hardline out would probably be prohibitively difficult. Any security feeds in and around the tower probably ought to be hardwired though so that nobody can piggyback a wireless signal. For finances, you’ll be coming back to me. Argent’s business has been lucrative and I’ve set aside nuyen for this budget, about six mil at the moment, but that could be added to if needed… And I’m keen that you make decisions as you see fit without having to refer back to anyone all the time, it’s why I’m asking you two first before I approach the Mechanicals or someone else similar. You should both understand what will need to be done to hide all this from sight in a way that people on the fringes of the shadows cannot…
I need accommodation for about thirty, a couple of ritual chambers, a concealed method of getting to and from the tower, hooking the power generation back up, water purification…the tower had nearly thirty levels, some below ground, so it should be possible to hide somewhere in that lot…”
“Sounds like a party. So all onna q-t. Fine. But job like that’s gon’ take hands, hardware, an’ materials. The stuff yer plannin’ on spendin’ that six mill on. Trick is, puttin’ out the eyes o’ yer workers went out with the czars. Ya got a workforce an’ suppliers ya can count on ta stay mum? Or is rustlin’ that up my job?” Al asked.
Alyce nods and considers what Silk has told them and what Al has said. “I can think of ways to do some of this, but other things are beyond my abilities. However, I do have an idea that might work, but it will certainly increase the footprint of who is in the know for your secret project. I have worked in the past with a mage who has the ability to shape dirt and stone and such an ability would greatly facilitate some of your ideas and mine. Do you have a contact that you trust that can help with something like this? If not, I could put out feelers in the world of archaeology to find someone.”
“Shee-it, toots, ya ain’t talkin’ ’bout that crazy broad thinks she’s an immortal vampire from another fuckin’ dimension or alien planet or some shit? She’s all right, I ain’t disparagin’ her. Reckon I’m hip ta this new fangled idear about bat-shit crazy people still bein’ people an’ all, but do we really wanna trust a project like this ta the certifiably insane?”
Alyce laughs. “No fair calling all my friends insane. And yes, I was thinking of what she can do, but I am not sure that she is available. I was more or less thinking of looking around to find someone else with similar spells and hoping that Silk might already know someone that would fit well with us here. If not, either you or I could ask around.”
“Heh heh. You could ask around. Reckon I’ll steer clear o’ devilry when I can. Anyhoo, folks with that sorta talent have an annoyin’ tendency ta already be gainfully employed. But world’s made of all sorts, so maybe you can find someone fits the bill.”
He shifted his attention back to Silk. “But I get ahead o’ myself. No use makin’ plans an’ talkin’ ’bout needs based on a holo. When can we git on site?”
Alyce nods at Al’s question and looks over at Silk. “Good point. I would still like to proceed with looking into a mage with some shaping spells, but I am very interested in getting on-site to see what we have to work with.”
[Friday July 16, 2077; Oakfarm Estate (Argent’s House), North Bellevue, Seattle]
Silk smiled at Al “I’m sure by most standards that anyone in our business could probably be considered to be mildly unbalanced, if not outright insane. I can probably find one or two people with shaping spells who might be willing to help but I’d be reluctant to rely too heavily on magic. I intend to talk to Oyl and see if there were some of the Mechanicals who would be willing to assist you Al, but I wanted you to see if you would lead. They value loyalty and discretion and there isn’t anything obvious to tie them to Stillwater, other than an indirect connection with some of Prospero’s lot. I’m concerned with getting raw materials to the site undetected so hopefully there is enough to scavenge from the existing structure…they excel at repurposing stuff, provided they are willing to help.
As to getting out to the site, we can go whenever you like. We have to cross Redmond and skirt the long way round Glow City so it’s probably better to try and cross around dawn when the worst of the predators are finally calling it a night. I’m sure you’ve got some sort of vehicle perfect for the task” she said with a knowing smile…
Alyce nods. “One or two shapers is probably enough. I can understand the reluctance to rely too much on magic, but it would certainly help us dig tunnels, as long as we have some engineers to assist them. That is why I was thinking of archaeologists, because they are probably engineers as well. At least, I know Sian is, so maybe others are as well.”
“And what about someone else to help us? The Mechanica is a group of people in London that share much of the same traits as the Mechanicals here. I am on very good terms with them and might be able to get some to come over to help us out. That way, there would be a very personal connection to them with the added plus that they would be returning to London when finished. Will that help us any?”
[Friday July 16, 2077; Oakfarm Estate, North Bellevue, Seattle]
“The whole of the north bank of the lake is riddled with tunnels and underground spaces that were originally part of the service areas of the tower, can’t have the tourists being bothered by mundane things like where their food comes from after all! They even called it Hobbiton! I know a lot of it was damaged in the air strikes so I don’t know how stable it will be down there now but that might offer a discrete way in.
The Mechanica might be a good idea, the Mechanicals in Seattle are an offshoot, that’s why their ethos’ are so similar. If we could get one or two supervisors to work with Al then we might be able to form a workforce from drones rather than people, much easier to erase a memory that way and cut down on potential leaks. What do you think Al, would you be willing to use a robot workforce? With a good rigger I’m told they are superior to a metahuman one if you are prepared to ignore the political ramifications…?”
“Ol’ Al ain’t got not problem with drones. Damned sight better’n than all this Satanism y’all’re so infatuated with. An’ fewer people ta kill once we’s done.”
Alyce nods. “Ha ha, Al, very funny. I know for a fact that the last thing you would do is kill the workers after they finish.” She pauses to think. “I am good with the idea of using drones and I am more comfortable around drones than with magic. Still, as long as we are just spit balling here, I would recommend a shaper mage with some engineering skill to help out. I will contact the Mechanica in London and see if they would be willing to send someone over that has engineering, scrounging, and rigger skills.
[Early, Saturday July 17, 2077; Stillwater, just outside the Seattle Metroplex border]
Silk had guided them across Redmond, staying well north of Glow City, crossed the debris choked Snoqualmie River and at last to the 203 that formed the final border of the Metroplex. With the floodplain on their right and the border fence on their left they swung past what had once been the town of Novelty and followed the 203 east until she finally pointed out the exit that would take them towards Stillwater.
“Don’t worry about border checks, they are fairly sporadic this far from a major route and I’ve got the right clearances if we should run across a ranger unit. There’s a sensor blind spot at our crossing point so we shouldn’t attract any unwanted attention.”
The mountains still weren’t visible because of the density of the trees and it was a surprise when the terrain finally opened out at the shores of the lake providing a glimpse of them to the east. The view was dominated instead by the skeletal tower that rose from the island at the head of the lake, the fingers clawing at the early morning mist that rose off the lake. The birds and insects were strangely muted and their whirring song was a subtle and sad accompaniment to the scene. Despite the proximity to Redmond, in particular the Snoqualmie river, the air was surprisingly fresh although it still held on to the ever present dampness.
The bridge that had once connected it to the mainland was long shattered and Al and Robyn briefly wondered if Silk was intending them to take a swim.
“Al, swing round there to the north side of the lake. That’s where the service tunnels emerged in what was once Hobbiton.”
And so they had picked their way through the trees and set about searching for the back way in…
#05June 27, 2018 at 12:34 pm #9178
They came upon one of the entrances sooner than Silk had anticipated and once more she was reminded of the effect of Al’s influence on the Pattern…clearly it had decided it was in his favour for things to arrive earlier than they should have…of course if it was limited to things that would be beneficial the effect would be more benign, but in Silk’s experience it was more likely to be extremes of probability rather than helpful ones. Pushing those thoughts aside she stood on the rim of the sunken courtyard looking down on what had once been a pleasant little sun trap but was now shrouded in extraordinarily rapid greenery. She knew that Stillwater had been experimenting with regrowth magics and it would seem that the manipulation to the gaiasphere had been longer lasting than the metahuman presence.
She stepped lightly on to a creeper shrouded tree branch and skipped down to the trunk before somersaulting down in to the floor of the courtyard some three meters below. Pushing some more bushes aside, relishing the fragrant scent of its bruised flowers, she found what she’d been looking for – the steps to the upper ground level
“Come round to this side, there are some steps down, although they are pretty overgrown, should be easier than jumping… now, the entrance to the service tunnels should be off this way somewhere…”
No somersault for Al, he picked his way down the overgrown steps to the sunken courtyard. Once down, they could see various passageways extending off the space in a radial formation. Some were mostly blocked by debris, others screened only by foliage. Wherever they led, it was hard to imagine such ready shelter going unused by some sort of life or another. And yet as Al inspected the ground around the openings he found little sign of regular passage. Maybe the place still smelled of men. Or maybe something…or someone…was discouraging squatters….
The schematics told Al what the layout within was like, and he insisted on a walk-through of the Hobbiton complex before going on to the Tower proper. The presence of the two women made him cautious – the voodoo gods were fickle, and while they doggedly kept Al breathing, their favors did not always extend to his companions. Leading the way with his low-light flashlight, they went through the large warren of underground meeting rooms, living facilities, and assorted physical plant features. There were a couple of cave-ins that appeared impassable, but Al proved himself capable of squeezing through spaces the larger women could not, and some that had seemed too small for even his gaunt frame. He always returned within a couple of minutes, covered in dirt and bat guano and announcing the all-clear.
Besides threats or inhabitants of any sort, he was also checking out the infrastructure. The wiring was still there, including largely unhoused bundles of fiber optic cable and copper electrical wire. That it was unmolested after all these years surprised him even more than the absence of large animals. There was a lot of incidental damage, and the generator he found was shot, so getting power back up in Hobbiton would be a job.
Back out in the courtyard, he shared his thoughts with Alyce and Silky. “Well, not sure what y’all were thinkin’ about sleepin’ arrangements. Maybe you was thinkin’ on commutin’ back into the ‘plex at nights. Maybe not. Your call. Ol’ Al, though, gon’ be workin’ on a place best ta also be livin’ in it. Git a feel for it at all hours, feel the flow of it, but my heart into as well as my head an’ hands.”
None of what Al said was strictly true. He had never had such views of construction work he’d done in the past, but it sounded like the thing to say now, so he decided it was true of himself. And congratulated on his enlightened and almost hippie-like approach to the construction of metahuman habitats.
“So I camp tonight, an’ first job tomorrow is makin’ some livable space. Or spaces. How many rooms ya reckon I oughtta start with?”
[Friday July 16, 2077; an oil rig, somewhere in the North Atlantic]
The beast was dead and for a change there was no fire anywhere – which was good, seeing as every surface around him seemed to gleam with congealed yet highly volatile carbo-hydrates brought up from the deep. Not being able to use guns, tasers or any other weapon that might have prompted sparks on a hit of metal on metal, Isaint had spent a very exhausting half hour of pummeling the Grendel to death. From the original crew only six remained, but the Norwegians would certainly send replacements soon.
Arthur Detour lied destroyed on the platform below. On a conscious level, Isaint knew that it was just a machine and that the tactical advantage of sending it into melee had been worth the sacrifice. But deep down it felt as if he had condemned a trusted friend to death. At least the Triox Ubermensch console had not been damaged. With halting, weary steps, Isaint managed to reach the Dustoff drone with it’s waiting Valkyrie Module. The armor was shredded anyway and the autodoc had no problem cutting away its remains.
While the snake fingers began to mend his flesh, Isaint had time to think about the madness he had just gone through. Working without a team for a while had been a conscious decision on his part, but right now he could have really used his friends support – and likely prevented a lot of dead oil workers.
‚Ah, what the hell. Job’s done, can no-one fault me to check up on how the other’s are doing.‘ Trusting on the fact that it was usually Al who stood at the center of whatever was going on, he send a short message to his short friend: <<Hi Al, how are you doing? Just finished a Job that made me fly into the middle of nowhere. Anything interesting at your end happening?>>
[Early, Saturday July 17, 2077; Stillwater, just outside the Seattle Metroplex border]
Alyce’s sensors had watched Al descend the overgrown steps and had followed him, her footing sure and graceful. After all, she could “see” every step and only needed to avoid the vines and other overgrowth that threatened to grab her legs and send her plummeting down in an ungainly and embarrassing heap. Decades of practice in moving through terrain very similar to this have prepared her and she arrives at the bottom of the steps. She waited with Silk as Al did some initial exploration and nods at his words. “We camp tonight. I will set up a place for me to get communications rolling. I have already heard from the Mechanica and they are happy to be able to assist us. I am arranging transport, but it may take a couple of days before they are on the ground here.”
She sets her pack on the ground and opens it, reaching in to remove three bottles of amber liquid. “Not very cold, but I had to choose between ice or cigarettes and made the obvious choice.” She hands a slightly chilled bottle to each of her companions and offers a toast. “To our endeavors and our friendship.” She puts the bottle to her lips, savoring the taste. “Too bad we could not get Rick and ISaint in on this.”
“Well, hold that thought a tick,” Al said as he looked at his commlink. “Looks like workaholic Isaint’s bored.”
<<Yo kemo sabe, back here in Seattle with the girls. Silky’s got us out ta some hippy-dippy Fortress o’ Solitude over the river from Redmond in Salish lands, wants us ta help rebuild some sorta commune. Seems the flyboys with the Metroplex Guard saw fit ta bomb its last incarnation ta smithereens, so hopefully she’ll keep a lower profile this time. So if long days o’ backbreakin’ labor on little or food in a dangerously toxic an’ irradiated enviroment strikes yer fancy, yer welcome ta come aboard.>>
“There. Heh heh. May have laid ‘er on a mite thick, but none o’ that’ll stop him.”
[Friday July 16, 2077; an oil rig, somewhere in the North Atlantic]
Isaint smiled as he read the reply – only to vince immediately afterwards as the autodoc began to sew the cut on his arm.
<<Sounds like fun. I’ll see to it that I get back to Oslo for the red eye flight to Seattle. Send me a few photos from this dig, so I have something to think about on the flight.>>
With all his things packed, there was no reason to stay any longer than necessary on this cursed rig. The Dustoff began to spin up it’s turbines while the pilot plotted a course across the open sea. Once he reached Oslo, the drone would charge and find its way back to his cottage in the North of London. But for now, Isaint allowed himself the luxury of a nap – afterall, it had taken him long enough to regain that simple pleasure…
Al had, in fact, recorded everything since their approach to the site on his eyes for later review and reference when planning repairs or additions. So now he simply downloaded the whole thing to his Fairlight and sent it to the ork. Sure, it was a couple of hours long, but his friend could easily scan through quickly. And if he noticed how much Al’s eyes drifted to the two ladies asses, well, he wouldn’t likely be very surprised.
<<See ya soon, then>> he added to the upload.
“Well, ladies, looks like three’s about ta become four. Silky, looks like Alyce’s is gon’ stay on site. I need ta set up quarter fer you tomorrow as well?”
[Friday July 16, 2077; in transit from Oslo to New York]
Isaint enjoyed the amenities of first class flight while browsing the content of Al’s file. ‚You didn’t lie Al, there’s some serious work ahead of you. Or us, since I kinda volunteered. Oh well, at least I’ll have a place to visit when I come to Seattle afterwards.‘ Isaint thought to himself. Still, there was some essential gear to organize: 3 Sparring drones and 15 Kanmuchi drones would probably be enough for the moment. Shopping around for some Autosofts was easily done over the Matrix.
At the end of his connecting flight to Seattle he had spent an easy 50k on mostly legal stuff. Everything else he would have to acquire directly.
<<I’m arriving at Gate 23, if anyone could come to pick me up it would be greatly appreciated>>
It was not a short drive – nor, given the need for a modicum of care with the border, a direct one – from their current position at the forested base of the Cascades to Sea-Tac International Airport. Al had just enough time to get a warm camp set up for the ladies before taking off.
That he went alone was simple math. They couldn’t all four fit into the cab of his truck. He refused to let either of the girls stay in the woods alone, despite their scoffing at his sexist mollycoddling. And no one drove his truck but him.
So there he was at Gate 23. His favorite number. He was sitting in a grossly overpriced cafe across from the arrival gate. He wasn’t bothering to watch for his friend – heaven only knew what he’d look like, after all. But Al, he always looked the same – a rock in a whirlpool world – and the sharp-eyed ork would spot him easily enough.
Alyce sets her pack down and pulls out some food to be prepared, digging out enough for four instead of three. She gets a small fire going and looks up at Silk as she works. “It’s almost like having the whole gang back together. Now, I only brought out enough food for a couple of days, so we need to discuss the resupply efforts for the camp. Eating any of the awakened flora or fauna out here might cause problems, so please tell me that you have a plan to keep us in food, cigarettes, and beer. The requirements will go up a lot when we get the Mechanica guys over here, but that will not be for a couple of days or so. Have you considered using drones for resupply? It would reduce the number of vehicles coming and going and the drones can head off from the resupply points in different directions before coming in, which may help confuse people as to where they are headed.”
[Saturday July 17, 2077; Gate 23, Sea-Tac International Airport, Seattle]
One thing Isaint liked about Al was his reliabilty – that and the fact that he wouldn’t raise an eyebrow at having a breakfast beer at 10 in the morning. So Isaint went up to Al, put a brown bottle in front of him and himself and took a seat: „Hi Al, you are looking good. Spending time with Robyn seems to do you good.“
Isaint had – to pass for the person on his third best SIN taken the guise of Polynesian-European mongrel with black hair, tan skin and blue eyes. Without need for a bottle opener, Isaint opened his own with just thumb and forefinger. After the plop and a satisfying gulp he added: „I hope you brought your Gaz, because I already have some gear waiting for us at the shipping lane.“
Al upended the beer bottle and pointedly ignored Isaint’s first conversational foray. They’d become good enough friends that he was neither offended nor annoyed at the attempt to bring up the subject. But it was a discussion Al didn’t even like having with himself. And it was clear what the ork thought he should do.
So….”What, ya think a tusker like you rates a stretch limo? Course I brought the Gaz. Dirty an’ ready ta work. Jist like me.” He raised his bottle for a toast. “Ta buildin’ Silky a new hippie empire….”
[Saturday July 17, 2077; Gate 23, Sea-Tac International Airport, Seattle]
Isaint grinned: „Listen pal, if anyone here has ridden in strech limos for a living than that’s me. It’s only since Oxford that I seem to have started travelling with everything else from suborbital to submarine. But never mind that. We’ve got a project and at least for now I like the fact that it doesn’t include kicking people around.“
There was a cheerfulness in his voice that Al hadn’t heard since the evening of home made cooking at Robyn’s place in Below. Shortly before they got into the throwdown with the Nightmare.
When all was said and done, Isaint accompanied Al to the Gaz and from their steered them towards the freight section of the airport. Three heavy boxes that looked like coffins and another even heavier crate filled the availlable loading capacity of the Gaz to the brim.
On the way, Isaint tried to explain his plan to Al: „… so basically, I got this really expensive RCC. With that I can command 18 drones at once with only one set of autosofts. But the kicker is: I can have three anthrodrones and give each of those five little Kanmuchi spies. Through the swarm program the combined computing power gives every one of those Anthrodrones the thinking power of a high-end military pilot program. Those three bots can now work with the precision and skill of any meta-human worker. Less sweat an toil for us and no trouble with any blabbermouth workers.“
Alyce has the stove warming the food, she is only waiting for the imminent arrival of her friends before adding the last ingredients and finishing up the meal. While waiting, she walks about a bit, testing out her ability to reach the matrix from here. She has already requested that the Mechanica reps bring some additional antennae and a small satellite dish with them and that should do for now. As the complex is improved, she is thinking of hardwire links the base to an external site that can relay to the satellites and gain access to the ‘trix without giving away the primary location. It might be even better if she could set up two or three remote sites, but she will bring that up to Silk later and see what she likes.
The more Al listened to Isaint the more he liked the idea. Lots of pros, and since the ork had already foot the bill, not really many cons. “Sound like a win-win ta ol’ Al, kemo sabe. Course, we’d still have ta worry ’bout, what’d ya say, blabbermouth workers, cuz Alyce, she’s already busy importin’ a bunch o’ goth hippie types she knows from the Lambeth Containment Zone ta help us out. Not sure what she’s usin’ fer a carrot. But hey, many hands make light work, right? Long as they do what they’s told – ol’ Al ain’t real innerested in being one o’ too many cooks spoilin’ the damned stew, if’n ya take my meanin’.”
They had been moving deeper into Salish lands as Al spoke, and he had been driving dark for the past few miles – there was no other traffic, and he had his fancy eyes to let him see where he was going. Abruptly he turned onto a nearly concealed dirt track.
“Anyhoo, y’all can work out the division o’ labor yerselves, cuz here we are.”
Isaint stepped out of the car, stretching and looked around. Al hadn’t overstated the state of the buildings and although he had looked closely at the footage seeing the devastation in real life had a whole other quality to it.
Following Al down into the tunnels he discreetly enacted his little bit of magic that allowed him to instantly know the precise layout of the whole place and transscribing it into a map before he forgot it again with the cancellation of the spell.
„Interesting. Did you know that there are secluded chambers beneath the rubble? Some seem even to have intact magic wards. I wonder what we’ll find during the excavation. Besides nests of devil rats…“
Isaint knew from the map and from the footage that they were close to the base camp now – and because he could smell cooking.
Ducking beneath a sharp looking piece of rebar, he rounded the corner to find Robyn. Without hesitation he walked over to her and gave her a hug: „Good to see you again. It’s especially nice to meet without imminent mortal danger around. Any breakfast left for a weary traveller?“
The drones Alyce had left behind when they had arrived were able to let her know when Al and ISaint were approaching. She stands up as the men round the last corner and returns her friend’s embrace. “Yes, it is good to see you, but I would be careful in saying there is no danger. Now that you have joined us, I am sure that our propensity for attracting trouble will evidence itself. However, it is good to not have to worry about that right now. So, how have you been?”
“Ah, you know me too well. What I’ve been up to? Monster hunting for the most part. Earning money legitimately. Going on a vision quest to regain the ability to sleep again, getting rid of the Nightmare taint, you know, the usual.“ Isaint grinned.
„And I can’t tell you how much I missed being able to take a nap. The Dragon Slayer tasked me to defeat eleven monsters preying on humanity and I’m happy to say that I’ve taken out a dozen instead.
And you two? What did you do after this whole EVO affair went sideways?“
Alyce laughs as she bends over to scoop some of her stew onto plates for the other three then herself. She motions to a pot sitting at the edge of the camp stove and ISaint can smell coffee. “The cups are just over there so help yourself to the coffee. I hope the stew is good enough for you. As to what we were doing, we, too, were asked to slay monsters preying on humanity. In our case it was vampires. We rescued a number of children who were being used as food sources. Somewhat less importantly, we liberated an artifact that the vampires were keeping and turned it over to some Pattern watchers. Maybe you can regale up with your tales of monster slaying while we eat?”
“I don’t think we have enough here to last through all the tales, but I’ll give you the first one.“ Isaint took another bite, followed by a sipp before continuing:
„As you know, I’m originally from Germany, born in Munich. Since I gave up my legal identity I’ve kept my distance, so everyone can continue to pretend I’m dead. My Patron gave me a hint that I should risk a visit anyway. I met my older sister. We had the usual talk with the usual tears, accusations, apologies, etc. I made her promise not to tell anyone else that I am around, so as not to upset my parents. She does and mentions that in our neighborhood some people have vanished. I promise to take a look. Turns out people haven’t just vanished but actually abducted, taken from the street in a black van. Found a few street people willing to talk to me. Got a description and a hint were to look for the car.
Found it next to an old quarry lake, south of Munich. Windows had been taped shut and blacked out totally. So naturally I took a look into the astral and found signs of infected aura.
Taking that look saved my life because I noticed the veiled ghoul just in time.
Strong mage and some unbelievable tricks that make me think that the infected have started to evolve. In any case, that fellow nearly took off my ear with his teeth and fried my good comlink with his ball lightning. I repaid the favor by shooting my tazer right into his filmy white eyes. I’ll spare you the details, but as it turned out, the thing was regenerating like a vampire. Got some good data on that. In any case, I put a stop to it by smashing his head to pulp in the car door.
Two old men I found alive in his underground larder, as well as his pregnant ghoul wife…“
Isaint paused. „I can tell you, that was not a fun evening. Long story short, I chickened out, called the police and let them handle the rest.“
Alyce listens to the story and shakes her head. “Not sure which of us was involved in the scarier event. I will say that we both missed you and mentioned several times how much better the adventure would have gone if you had been there. We did learn that a mini-vac could be useful indeed when fighting vampires and the credit for that idea goes to Al. Funny how things work out sometimes.”
[Saturday July 17, 2077; Stillwater, just outside the Seattle Metroplex border]
Silk laughed at the tales of her companions “Has anyone ever mentioned that your lives might be too adventurous? You even managed to get in trouble in Hawaii when you were all on holiday! Clearly you can’t escape the Pattern even if you can wrap it around your little fingers!”
She settled in to her breakfast and to listen to the stories with a muttered “this is good” to compliment Alyce’s culinary efforts. Finally she piped up with
“Al, I’ve been thinking about your question of sleeping accommodation… I definitely want quarters here that are comfortable enough for an extended stay. If we end up with regular journeys going on we will draw unnecessary attention to what we are doing here. Once we are established we can get drone deliveries for essentials and pick them up from different locations to avoid any noticeable patterns. The rooms need to be buried in the heart of the tower to avoid light spillage but the main atrium should offer enough natural light that we don’t feel like we are living inside a tin can… I don’t know about you but I don’t know how Stillwater swapped this for that submarine, even with the AR bells and whistles? So as I said before, about thirty for now, if by some miracle this grows beyond that then we can always think again…I doubt this place will support much more than that with the condition that it needs to be invisible from the outside world.
This was once a magical place, it’s sad to see it in this state, hopefully you can work your own brand of magic to make it hospitable again whilst preserving the illusion of decay…”
#07September 12, 2018 at 12:44 pm #9684
To the Hawaii commentary, Isaint replied: „You call it fate, I’d call it responsible behavior. It was at every junction our conscious choice to get involved and look out for our fellow men and women. It’s what good people do.“
Although Al had been asked, Isaint interjected: „As long as you can keep digging down, you won’t run out of space.“
Isaint had taken the words from Al’s mouth. “Yup, they’s always down. Course ya gotta git rid of all the earth ya move, but that’s details. Trick is, deeper ya go, the more you’ve invested in it, an’ the more ya invest, the more ya wanna use it. An’ the more ya use it, the more ya risk becomin’ like them freaks livin’ under London. If’n yer lookin’ at a long-term community, yer answer don’t lie in structural engineerin’ lets ya hide better, it lies in social engineerin’ lets ya live free an’ inna open.”
[Saturday July 17, 2077; Stillwater, just outside the Seattle Metroplex border]
“There’s plenty of down here already, there are at least three levels of basement under the tower and Hobbiton is on two underground levels. There was a tunnel across the lake bed but I don’t know if that survived the attack. I’m not really interested in living like moles down here and this place is precarious enough without undermining it further. I take your point about the social engineering aspect, maybe once we’re at the point where it is increasingly difficult to hide our presence that might be something we explore but for now I would much prefer it if we stayed completely off the grid here.
Alyce nods. “Got it. Minimal matrix footprint. Would you be interested in me designing a host supported in a different location and ostensibly for a different purpose, but feeding to this one via some very carefully concealed matrix portals? It is very difficult to completely conceal a matrix presence, but I think it can be done through some careful subterfuge and misdirection. I have a good host for my book shop that I could use for this purpose. It is already established and well known and traffic in and out of it is expected and common. I could just work to improve that host and set up a hidden link to this site. The matrix presence here would be very minimal if we do it right and if the follow-on crew follows basic guidelines for trix security.”
Isaint cracked his knuckles: „Sounds like a plan. Now before I set up the drones for work: Is there anything I should know about this place? I’d start with cleaning a central chamber and finding some hole we can dump all the debris into. That’s where I set up the recharging station and the RCC. From there we clean up rooms one by one: A sanitary facility and a kitchen. I’ll need Al‘ for the necessary electricity and water work.
Following that, I think I’ll clear up that big room below us for a Workshop. We’ll need some 3D printers if we don’t want to haul every last piece of inventory from outside. Besides, recycling the available material will save us money and time in the long run.“
[Monday August 23, 2077; Northeast North Fork Road, Salish-Shidhe Council]
Al was doing ninety-eight down Northeast North Fork Road when the red-and-blues flashed in his rearview. Damned Redhair Pete. Should never have been so familiar with the guy.
Al slowed to stopping speed. He’d always thought the road had about the dumbest name he’d ever heard. But it was straight and in good repair and his cargo didn’t like potholes. And then it was also Pete’s favorite speed trap. Not that Pete would bust him. He was just stopping Al to shoot the shit. But if Pete had that green cadet with him…that kid just was snoopy as all get-out.
Not that Al was carrying anything illegal. But it’d be pretty hard to explain what he was doing with a truck bed full of Navy-surplus gallium indium phosphide photovoltaic cells. Not when the cabin he’d bought on the west bank of Joy Lake already had perfectly good solar panels which, being on the roof rather than underwater, had cost about a twentieth of the ones now in his truck. So if they found them there’d be chat. And questions. And questions were exactly what Silky didn’t want.
Parking and watching Pete and, yup, the kid, get out and approach his truck, Al thought about his little place on the lake. It was nice, and hadn’t been cheap – waterfront, all the amenities, and of course the bribes for the land ownership permits for a paleface (or, to be fair, resident alien). And he’d used his own money. Hadn’t told anyone about it. Ostensibly, he needed it for the job. Lake Joy was only a couple of klicks east of Stillwater. And Al would be bringing all sorts of relatively exotic stuff to power Silky’s new Fortress of Solitude. So he needed a cover. Everything was part of his energy-independence project for his new place, or so the story went. And since the local Rangers only caught him with a fraction of the total volume he was smuggling in, the story held.
Of course, for that he might have got money from Silky’s seemingly bottomless pockets (although behind those pockets there was definitely a bottom). But it had only taken a few nights camping in that ruin with the others for Al to start hankering for some privacy. Little place to slip off to for some breathing space. There was a time for folk, and a time for none. And for that to satisfy Al, it helped a lot if no one even knew about it. Not that he was missed – he was gone half the time anyway on his supply runs.
Redhair Pete walked up on the driver’s side easy as you please, all smiles. The rookie used his training, staying as much as possible in Al’s right-hand blind spot, hand on his weapon. Al imagined the kid was annoyed that Pete hadn’t followed procedure and put his spots on Al’s mirrors.
The window was down by the time Pete came up. “Al, why you sitting there like a con? You know this is social.”
Al smiled and glanced at the door so that Pete would step back and make room for him to get out. He lit two cigarettes and handed one to the more seasoned Ranger. “Heh heh. Jist din’t wanna fall victim ta no itchy trigger fingers. This one old enough ta have a name yet?” He felt the rookie bristle behind him. If he annoyed the guy enough he might keep his nosey paws away from the tarp covering the back.
“He’s a good kid, Al. I used to ride with his father. Come over here and say hello, boy. Al, meet Ranger Greenfeather Flying Horse.” Al smiled and boxed the kid into a corner by extending his hand. He knew the kid had been trained not to shake hands, but that Pete would kick his ass if he didn’t. With a nervous glance at his training officer, the young man took Al’s burn-melted hand.
In Al’s experience, the more made-up a tribal’s name was, the more arrogant they probably were. He guessed the kid’s birth certificate read closer to Tom Smith or Bob Johnson.
Pete started talking about the girl they’d seen on the stage the other night at Juicy Lucy’s down in Snoqualmie, and Al acted like he was interested while Flying Horse stayed in character and started poking under the tarp. Fortunately, when Al had picked up this load from the Cascade Ork outpost on the other side of Cherry Lake, he’d had them put a layer of salvaged drywall over it. So that was all the kid saw before Pete told him to go fetch some coffee from the cruiser.
Talk turned to the latest stage of Al’s cabin renovation. Pete was a real DIY aspirant, and Al was never short of helpful tips. An hour later Al was at the cabin – he knew the Rangers’ cruisers had drones they tasked to vehicles they wanted to keep an eye on following contact, and he’d bet the kid had set one on him. So he had some beers until he was past the little drone’s operating window, then got back in his truck and made the short hop back to Stillwater, driving dark.
Hobbiton was dead up top. No good to have a bunch of work lights up at night. But he knew down below the place would be humming. Isaint’s little drone platoon worked day and night, and Alyce’s blackclad steampunks were all nightowls, since half of them wished they were vampires.
The sentry made a gesture, asking if Al wanted some people to come up to help him unload, but there was no point until morning. Al had been powering the place for the past month with a pyramid scheme playing sodium-ion storage batteries off against the newer zinc-air models in a way that sort of defied the laws of thermodynamics, except that he still had to cheat a bit with judicious use of an oil-powered generator. Because dragons and fairies and all that, you still couldn’t get energy from nothing. But this was the second-to-last load before he was ready to bring his new toy online – a huge solar array under the lake’s surface. Invisible from the air, or even the shore, and as iffy and unpredictable as all solar power. But it would be all the extra kick he needed to keep his battery Ponzi scheme going indefinitely – at least in the summer. Maybe by winter he’d figure a way to pirate juice off of the Gaeatronics geothermal plant near Wenatchee without getting caught. So far, Alyce had only been able to guarantee a ninety-three percent chance of non-detection, and that was a fool’s game in the long run. Still, one way or another they’d need more power if they kept growing.
On his way down into the living complex he surveyed the cuts in the walls and floor the drones had made for the additional wiring he had planned. He had to hand it to Isaint, their precision was better than Al would have thought. Still, no amount of reassurances from the ork would dissuade Al from laying the cables himself.
He grabbed a beer and started looking for a card game.
Isaint yawned. For the first time in about half a year he felt the lack of sleep. Using up his meditation surplus had been easier than expected. Despite the high level of independence the drones brought with them, he had to stay on top of them constantly. It wasn’t hard – after all his spacial awareness gave him very exact knowledge of the thickness of each wall, down to the little cable ducts. But there were so many of the damn things to take care off. The recharging cycle was barely long enough for him to tend to himself with hygiene and food.
Still, it felt good, real good. By now nearly all rooms on the two levels had been cleared and made habitable. Air quality was still a problem though. Climate control needed lots of power to pump air in and out – especially since the dust tended to clog up the filters every few days. It had become worse enough that he had had his drones spending a full day just cleaning and vacuuming the place. At least the dust was good enough quality to be used as filler in the laser sinter/3D Printer – another power hungry appliance that competed with the pumps and the drones. The constructed bricks used Lego principles to bond with each other without the need for much cement.
Now that the first rush was over, Isaint had begun to sleep again for almost seven hours every day – which admittedly freed up power for the pumps, increasing the quality of life down here immensely.
Isaint remarked as much to his friends during the next dinner – how too much work makes everyone miserable, not just yourself…
[Thursday September 30, 2077; Stillwater, just outside the Seattle Metroplex border]
Just over two months’ work and it looked like they had achieved six…given that this had all happened on the quiet it was a significant achievement that many corp construction companies would have been racking up massive bonuses to achieve. Silk could have done with some of their capital and she had regretfully been considering scaling back some of Al’s ambitions until her benefactor had injected an unlooked for cash boost. She had been reluctant to ask for help from anyone, this was her project after all, but she was grateful for it none the less, although all too aware of the potential strings behind the donation.
Now that there were the basics of habitation units on site it was time to begin the delicate process of recruitment for her budding order. She’d returned to Stillwater that morning to see for herself the progress and then had ensconced herself in the old main Sleeper’s chamber deep on the lower levels of the tower with a gentle request not to be disturbed. The ritual circle would have baffled most magical scholars but to her augmented reality enhanced sight it was the perfect alignment of tech, magic and most importantly the Pattern that encompassed both. Composing herself in the upper quadrant of interlocking forms she began to delve the Pattern for the threads that would lead her to the ones she sought…
—————-January 29, 2019 at 12:31 pm #15473
[Friday October 01, 2077; Stillwater, just outside the Seattle Metroplex border]
Silk stretched the kinks out of her back as she closed down the ritual and scrubbed as many of the matrix tells as she could. Gossamer would help to take care of the rest later. Leaving the chamber she headed up from the bowels of the tower, past the thrumming geothermal plant and up to the old below lake restaurant. More than eight hours has passed while she was under and she needed to relieve herself quite badly but once the basic bodily functions were taken care of she followed her nose to where Alyce had a small kitchen up and running. The fare was basic but delicious and was at least as responsible for their successes so far as Al’s infrastructure upgrades and Isaint’s security measures.
It was the end of meal time and Silk was glad to find her three friends had stayed behind to savour the moment of peace before heading back to the coal face. The rest, of sorts, over the last two months had done them all good. The stresses of running the shadows took a toll and it wasn’t until they’d had a chance to unwind and really let their cortisol levels return to near metahuman norms that they’d reap the benefits of rest. Something that Hawaii, nice as that had been, couldn’t have achieved. Silk knew that in the months, and hopefully years, ahead they would all need to be on their best form to combat the visions that she and the Choir had endured. But too much rest wasn’t good either and Silk had a slightly different task in mind for them now that would get them out of here for a while and at least skirting the edges of the shadows once more.
“Alyce, Isaint, Al, I’m glad you’re here. Can I join you for a bit? I’ve got a proposition… I’ve spent the last few hours trawling the Pattern for the threads that will make up the basis of the new initiatory group I’m trying to form here. I’ve got a couple of solid hits and one or two less so. If you’re willing I’d like your help in reeling in the fish. With the two in particular that I have in mind it needs a personal touch rather than just a matrix contact, and Alyce at least knows one of them. I don’t mind who you want to catch up with first and I’m sorry but I won’t be able to come with you on this one so I would also appreciate it if you’d be willing to babysit my protégé along the way? Not that she’d thank me for saying that…don’t worry she won’t slow you down too much, I’ve been fairly brutal in my training and life has taught her far more than that. I’ll introduce Lace in a bit, she’s on her way over here to see what’s going on, but for now your two marks…
Soraya Haddad I am sure Alyce has crossed paths with in the past. She’s a fellow arcano-archaeologist, err treasure hunter, loosely affiliated with the Draco Foundation at the moment. Everything that I’ve studied about her suggests that she either already does or at least has the potential to See the Pattern as we do. She’s not a shadowrunner but she’s definitely seen some of the shadier sides of the profession, and I’m not after a stable of runners anyway… I may dabble in being a fixer for you guys but that’s not something I want to be in the long term. The latest I’ve got on her location is the underwater catacombs that have appeared around LA. You’ve been waiting for a chance at Hollywood haven’t you Al?
Renaissance is a freelance security consultant working the Grand Tour and for the occasional media starlet. I don’t know if you bumped in to him over the pond Isaint, he certainly shares some of your skillset? I believe he’s in Morocco at the moment on a job so you’ll be need to cautious in your approach or he is likely to see you as a threat to his principal.
So, what do you think? Would you be happy to go on a recruitment drive for me? I don’t want anyone press ganged in to this, that would defeat my purpose. I’ll give you a message to take to them, as I said, I believe this needs to be a personal contact and in some ways proof of what I can offer them…”
Isaint looked up from the chair he had made himself comfortable in. For some inexplicable reason he had begun to feel his back more and more – aging twice as fast as the normal meta human, no matter how much he trained, he’d likely reach a point in the next years where his Peak physical condition couldn’t be held anymore. At least not without some potent magic.
The thought of Recruiting made him smile:
„Renaissance. Yeah that name rings a bell. Took good care of Sheik Al Shamar against those Russian mercs. The Shield forum buzzed about that for weeks. I’ll try to get in contact with him and set up a cordial meeting on neutral ground. Do you know who he is currently protecting?“
Al blew smokes rings as he listened, then shrugged. He was getting stir crazy anyway. Sure, he’d taken a few ‘vacations’ in the months since arriving here back in July, usually under the pretense of sourcing materials. But much as he liked tinkering, he liked moving more. Plus if Isaint was along, he wouldn’t really have to think about anything.
“When do we leave?”
[Friday October 01, 2077; Stillwater, just outside the Seattle Metroplex border]
“As soon as you like,” Silk smiled “I know you’ve been chafing a bit being here for so long. And you’ll _love_ Renaissance…transhuman through and through, raptor legs and eyes in the back of his head, the works. He’s currently protecting a SIM star who’s taken it in to her head to embed herself with an Ares desert wars unit on mission in the Sahara. I don’t know if he’ll be back in civilisation any time soon but if you fancy a trip to an artificial war zone then it’ll certainly be a break from the norm. You’ll certainly want to dress for sandier climbes!”
[Friday October 01, 2077; Stillwater, just outside the Seattle Metroplex border]
“Lace is here. If you’ll take her under your wing for a little while I’d appreciate it…of course don’t let on that’s what you’re doing, she’s astute enough to know it but young enough not to want her face rubbed in it. I think you’ve met her before Al, she’s been in and out of the Mechanicals compound over the last few years, keeping an eye on them and Prospero’s lot too. She’s a _Voice_, a social chameleon, but has some combat training under her belt too. Mostly she knows to stay out of the way if any shooting starts so I’ve no real worries in that regards. She’ll do as you tell her, most of the time…she’s a good kid…”
The irony of the fact that Silk was calling Lace a kid, when she wasn’t all that much older herself, didn’t escape her. But age wasn’t just measured in years in this particular game…
“I’ll let you decide who should make the approach to your targets, Lace speaks for me, but your experience and reputations probably speak louder. Thank you for agreeing to do this for me, what we are building here will be worth it but without the people inside then all the fancy tech is dead weight.”
Isaint nodded: „Alright, let’s do this – although I have to say: You do have a lot of different fabrics in your pattern.“ He got up, stretched and began to collect a few things for the trip. As usual most of his gear would have to stay at home, but he was much less reliant on it than he had been a few years ago. Of course he didn’t intend to go there naked, so his good suit as well as the fully licensed handgun would accompany him – albeit not on the flight itself.
„I’ve got a contact with the Italian embassy in Cairo that can bring us in without bothering with customs, but we’ll need a clean SIN for everyone – and ideally a local dealer connection that can get us some gear once we are there. If we go near the Desert Wars I want to be dressed for the occasion.“
Already, Isaint was booking a flight and sending a message to Antonio Brozi: <<Ciao Antonio, long time no see – I have to cash one of the favors you promised me: Diplomatic visa for three people to enter and four to leave with bodyguard exemptions.>>
Alyce stretches in her chair. She has been up for a while, after all, preparing meals for this place does not happen by itself. Fortunately, the assistant she had hired has shown great promise and might relish the challenge of working on her own. She smile as Silk mentions who she is trying to recruit. “I actually know Soraya quite well. She was a consultant for some of the expeditions I have led or been part of. I would not consider her a close friend, but we do have a working relationship.”
She looks about at the others. “Do we want to tackle these as a group? An alternative is for me to approach Soraya while the two of you head to Morocco.”
[Friday October 01, 2077; Stillwater, just outside the Seattle Metroplex border]
“The Pattern is infinite, more or less” Silk smiled, “But it was Lace’s idea that each of my new order should take on the name of a different cloth. It imposes a limit I guess but I’m not after a cast of thousands so I don’t think we’ll run out. I think Soraya will be Cotton, assuming she agrees, and Renaissance Linen…it needs to reflect their characters too, as far as it goes.”
“Ixnay on the olosay, toots,” Al said. “Ya got any idear the sorts o’ freaks an’ psychos ol’ Al had ta put up with while you was gallavantin’ about south o’ the border this spring? Y’all don’t come, only the voodoo gods know what manner o’ reprobate’ll come outta the woodwork ta fill yer spot. No no no – after a coupla jobs with pansexual fairy boys, semi-suicidal killer keebs, an’ dracs what think they’s aliens, reckon I’ll stick with you an’ Ork-of-a-Thousand-Faces here, thank ye very much.”
Alyce can’t help but laugh at Al’s colorful descriptions. “I can guess Sian might be the alien, but I have no idea who the others are that you mention, but I would love to hear about your adventures. Perhaps you can tell me the tales over dinner some night. Alright, no soloing on this. I would miss the two of you, anyway.”
She looks over at Isaint as he speaks. “It sounds like Morocco is first. I suppose that you have a way to get from Cairo to Morocco, too? If not, I may have an idea, if you do not mind riding on a cargo ship.”
Isaint grinned: „You know me well enough. The Desert Wars are still going strong and stretch along the whole Sahara. Trucks full of military hardware cross along it every day. It’s the easiest way to move contraband and shake tails while also staying not drawing attention. The main reason though is the suborbital in Cairo. So once we are there and back again, it’s only four Hours before we are back to Seattle.“
To Al he said: „Sounds like you had a lot of fun between our last outings. Some of these days, you’ll have to introduce me to those chummers.
Alyce chuckles. “Not sure that riding in the back of a truck across the desert is better than sitting in the hold of a smelly cargo ship, but I will leave the arrangements up to you. It is bound to be uncomfortable either way, but I suppose the truck does give us the latitude to go somewhere if we need to. I am for it.”
“Trucks’re cool. Literally. They got air-conditionin’. Once we git close, though, my call’d be camels. You can dress yer motorized vehicle up in all the ‘hands-off’ an’ ‘non-combatant’ AROs ya want, them Desert Wars assholes an’ they ubiquitous drone screens got itchy trigger fingers. Camels, though, only the natives use ’em. Meaner’n spit, though, some of ’em. Reckon I’ll go throw some stuff in a bag.”
Alyce laughs and claps her hands. “Camels? I love camels. Great, bothersome beasts, but they can get you from here to there. So I am assuming that my idea of splitting up is a no and that we are going to Morocco first. When are we leaving?”
Isaint nodded: „Although I have no idea how you can love an animal that seems to consist of skin made old footmatts filled with equal measures of spikey rocks, spit and spite, we can take the 4:30 Suborbital…
No, wait a second. I’ve had this all completely backwards. I totally forgot that we all are co-owners of the Snakehandler. Much cheaper, faster and easier to get where we want to go and we only have to file exactly one flight plan.
Sorry to dash the more romantic aspects of doing a trip through the endless dessert. I think I’m getting old…“
“Heh heh. You an’ me both, amigo. Here I thought ya had some reason ya din’t wanna use her. She’ll be a damn sight slower’n the suborbital, but I can park her off the coast wherever ya like, so we skip a whole helluva lot o’ the overland bit. An’ you can bring all the toys ya want.”
—————-January 29, 2019 at 12:32 pm #15474
[Sunday October 03, 2077; Deserts of Morocco]
The journey to Morocco had been gratifyingly uneventful given the number of borders (and border guards) that would otherwise have to be navigated past. Of course good quality Diplomatic visas would have achieved a similar smooth transit and avoid things that might otherwise have been problematic but either routes were a sure sign that the team had hit the big time to be traveling comfortably, in obscurity and without the entanglements that dogged so many other quasi-illegal border crossings and other shadowy forms of travel. It certainly beat the various routes most Coyotes would have taken.
Now though there was potentially a different set of complications. The Sahara was a damn big place and the corps have turned it in to their own private war zone in the name of entertainment and corporate one-upmanship. Mercenary units and corporate forces moved back and forth with the associated flunkies, attendants, hangers on, black market entrepreneurs, the works. Of course asking the right questions would probably work as well as anything else, after all Renaissance was likely to stand out (no pun intended) wherever he was. It was an interesting angle for a bodyguard to take, making oneself so conspicuous that you drew attention, but his rep suggested that it worked…
Isaint sat down with a tablet with a pot of freshly brewed peppermint tea and a large bowl of candis sugar. The locals tended to dring their tea with such a shitload of sugar that Isaint felt his teeth ache just from looking. The sun was beating down, but the small cafe had a wide baldachin, granting the four runners much needed respite from the sun. Sweat was trickling down from Isaint’s hair, who cursed himself for growing an especially large and bushy beard, while shaving his head nearly bald. It made it easier to fit in the mainly Muslim Background, but it was also hot like hell. The smell of diesel fumes, ozon and garbage fires lay heavy over the city and more than once he had had to drag Robin away from a gaggle of street kids before she could give them any money – staying inconspicious while being followed by a small caravan made of minors wasn’t exactly the best way to go about covert business.
He poured tea for the team – including Al, although he had also brought his friend a can of the locally available brew, a Spanish Import, he wasn’t familiar with, before he started talking: „Alright, now that we are here, I suggest we go about it the usual way: We find a local weapon trader and gear up. While we are at it, we inquire about Renaissance and his charge. If that doesn’t help, we inquire about a specialist that could help us out.“ He took a gulp of the hot tea and smiled: „Everything else seems quite chilly after you drink that…“
Al downed the beer while it was cold, chugging it in seconds. Because he wanted to enjoy the tea. It had been a long time.
He didn’t look quite the same as his friends were used to.
He still wore his jacket, wifebeater, fatigue trousers and Docs. Because function topped culture for most Tuareg these days. But his head was covered by their traditional tagelmust, a bulky headwrap like a turban, the trailing folds of which wrapped around the lower part of the face to form the alasho, the veil worn by men to keep out demons. Both were the traditional indigo, and Al had applied some to his face as well to simulate the way the dye used in the cloth colored Tuaregs’ faces over time. As per custom, he had the alasho lowered to eat and drink, but he’d been wearing it over his face at other times since their arrival. He congratulated himself for the hundredth time on the trick that had let him move incognito in Muslim-only regions. First step had been forging close ties with a few of the more hostie Tuareg tribes in Algeria and Western Egypt. It would be dangerous to pass himself off as one of them without their blessing, or at least solid references to his friends at the head of certain tribes. That done, the rest was easy. Since, unlike other Muslim ethnicities, their men went veiled (and their women unveiled, which Al though infinitely more sensible), no one would ever see his face. His Arabic was passable, but not native. But he passed easily as a Tuareg speaking Arabic as a second language. And neither was any non-Tuareg fluent enough in Tamasheq to know that Al spoke that with an accent as well. Toss in familiarity with local customs and the ability to toss hadith around as occasion demanded, and Al had spent a lot of time making bank in infidel no-go zones.
Now, with the Snakehandler safely moored at a private offshore port near Rabat, he was enjoying being back. The climate beat the hell out of rainy Seattle and humid Southeast Asia. Once they got a line on where this Renaissance freak was, they could decide whether it would be more efficient to cover some distance by flying to another port, or if it would be better to go straight overland. In any case, like Isaint said, they needed someone local to tap into the merc grapevine – no use blundering into a Desert Wars hot spot or traipsing through the Tripoli Hot Zone with no leads.
“Reckon I know a guy. Hmidouche Farhat. Sells weapons, and, more importantly, info, out of a rovin’ Bedouin market. I asked around – and checked they matrix feed – an’ they’s currently outside a Berber village inna hills jist thirty klicks east o’ here.”
Isaint grinned at that: „Sounds about right. It doesn’t feel safe for me to only carry a taser in a place like that.“
That was of course not entirely true, since he also had the cestus in his armored case. Still, a bit more range would certainly do them well.
[Sunday October 03, 2077; Near Rabat, Morocco]
Lace was relishing the chance to be away from Seattle and in the company of shadowrunners who didn’t mind sharing the odd war story. Silk had always been close lipped about that part of her life and the change of pace from the Seattle hoi-paloi was an even greater study in contrasts. Of course Robyn could easily have been one of the social elite, was one of them in fact, but Al and Isaint…well both were indescribably different from her normal circles of friends and contacts. She did her best not to behave like an excited school girl – these were serious people after all, but her enthusiasm was infectious.
And then there was the glorious heat that made everything seem so much better! She would be reluctant to return to Seattle when this was all over, although perhaps they’d be making a stop off in LA first which would at least make the transition home a little easier to take.
The first few hours on the ground she might have passed for a white tourist but she was a natural student of people and cultures and it didn’t take long for her to fit in to the general hubbub as if she’d lived it her whole life. With her skin slightly darkened, the right garments purchased and her Gift allowing her to pick up the local dialect and the vocal intonation to pass herself as a regular visitor, if not a local, she was set for their adventures…
Having brought the Snakehandler, Al hadn’t seen any need to dispense with his usual complement of low-tech weaponry. His hunting rifle and three-generations-old shotgun fit in perfectly with his Tuareg guise anyway, and were better suited to the environment than most sexier firearms.
But right now they didn’t need to shoot anyone, but cover the distance between them and Bhalil, a Berber village in the foothills of the northernmost of the Atlas Mountains. Reliable motorized transport could be bought, but splashing a lot of cash would be an open invitation to bandits. Hiring a vehicle was easy, but not without a driver.
Face covered, Al haggled with four different men before he found a face he liked and a machine he found acceptable, a ten year-old Tata van that had been lovingly maintained. The driver’s name was Ezzine and Al chattered amiably with him in Maghreb Arabic in the front seat for most of the hour-long drive. The route was off the main roads and the dust might have been intolerable, even inside the conveyance, but Ezzine had done a good job on the filters. They wove through knife-cut canyons and along cliff faces – the terrain was incredibly rough, though just a taste of the mountain fastnesses brooding over them to the south and east.
At last they emerged from a long ravine to the sight of Bhalil, the City of Bridges, as some called it, or the City of Caves, as it was dubbed by others. The town at the foot of the hillside was a scattering of eclectically colored houses – an Easter egg array of pastels – nestled into the slope, bridges connecting the varying elevations across irregular crevasses and drainage ditches. Above them, the Old Town was literally built into ancient caves that wended their way into the mountainside.
Al broke into Ezzine’s monolog about his second cousin’s efforts to acquire a reliable trid connection and directed the moustachioed driver around to the north side of the town, where a seemingly random collection of large tents sat in a fallow wheat field. Boys coaxed coteries of bearded goats nowhere in particular, while a pair of young women milked a kneeling camel. “That’s close enough, kemo sabe. Reckon we’ll walk from here.” The van stopped. Al turned to his companions and said, “Nah, he don’t speakee a word of English. But it’s like sayin’ ‘whoa’ to a horse. Jist gotta git the tone right. C’mon, I’ll introduce ya ta Hmidouche. An’ yes, he can be one sometimes.”
Robyn enjoyed the flight over, spending time with Lace and getting as many details as she could about the young woman’s life.
When the Snakehandler landed in Morocco, she congratulated Al on another successful trans-oceanic passage. The smile on her face wavered and almost disappeared when the door was opened and the first blast of air hit her face. Sucking in hot air and bits of sand, she briefly turns her head sideways and puts a scarf against her mouth and laughs. “I had just about forgotten why I do not visit here much.” She has no real means of disguising herself as a local due to her skin color and the fact that many of the local women do not cover themselves as some other countries stipulate. She will need to remain a tourist and sets about behaving like one until Isaint pulls her away from a group of children.
The tattoo on her face draws some attention and she is acutely aware of the pointed fingers and hushed words aimed at her. Her skull-headed walking stick also draws a bit of attention. Her knowledge of Arabic is rudimentary at best, so she does not try to use it to communicate with the locals, preferring that they are not aware she can understand some of what they are saying.
Isaint had set silent and listened. His innate talent to learn new languages made rapid Progress to understand the basics of the conversation and to answer the greetings well enough. Still, those were Al’s contacts and he retreated to his role as bodyguard: Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut. The tents looked very much like the kind of place where unwary customers were turned into product. Especially if they came with money and a lack of weapons. Unintentionally, the cestus on his arm began to smolder and it took an effort of will to turn off that part of the focus. The walk through the mercyless sun felt like an eternity and the wide open ground made him wish to have rifle at hand.
<<Stay sharp everybody. Robyn, I planted a Matrix tap in the car – just in case our esteemed driver intends on leaving us behind out here. So do me a favor and keep an eye on the car’s status and intervene if necessary.>>
Robyn nods to Isaint and tries to play the touristy bit up a bit as they walk towards the strange cave and bridge town. She silently wishes for a place to bathe as the sand is already getting everywhere and into every crevice.
The quartet got a few unabashed stares from the women and children, but apparently they weren’t that remarkable, as everyone soon returned to their chores. As they approached the group of large tents, it became apparent that many were open-faced, with large numbers of people milling about. They entered the temporary market, passing stalls featuring dates, bedouin handcrafts, argan seeds, and camel milk. A fair number of the shoppers were European, and a lot of money was changing hands.
Winding their way further through the market, the top of a larger tent hove into view ahead. No sooner had they marked it than they were met by a trio of heavily bearded Maghrebis. Their assault rifles were slung and they greeted Al first in Shilha, but he shook his head and spoke back in Maghrebi Arabic. They were happy enough with that, smiled at everyone, and motioned for the group to follow them. Eyes lingered on Robyn and Lace, though they tried to be discreet.
As they approached the large tent at the rear of the market, the quiet hum of high-end portable generators filtered through the sound of the crowd. Quite a few generators. Several ancient women were clustered on the ground outside the tent door, chattering and cracking nuts with their teeth before tossing them into baskets. Led through the dark opening, Al and his friends walked head on into a wall of cool that instantly dispelled all memory of the oppressive North African heat outside. Likewise shielded from the afternoon sun’s all-encompassing glare, the interior was not in fact dark at all. A large open area greeted them, covered in brilliant Persian carpets. Piles of gaudy silk and satin cushions dotted the wide space, some hosting conversations between small groups of men. Banquette seating lined the walls to the right and left, and these more formal furnishings were where groups of women were seated. Some distance off, the back of the tent opened onto what appeared to be a huge greenhouse, an endless plastic sheet screening an explosion of green. The verdant shapes behind the translucent plastic seemed to writhe and dance, but that was probably the screen fluttering in the strong currents of cooled air.
Seated on the amid the largest mound of cushions was a man who stood as they were led forward. Their three escorts melted away and the four stood before a man of medium height and average build but altogether extraordinary features – sharply angled eyes and long, wickedly hooked nose in a weathered face with a marked greenish pallor, with tiny, almost needle-like fangs rising over his upper lip from his lower jaw. The mouth was framed by a neat moustache and goatee, and his silky black hair reached his waist. Only a slight slouch in his posture – one he appeared at quiet pains to defy – betrayed his significant age.
He greeted Al in Arabic as if he had seen him yesterday. “Al Guthrie. Inshallah.” A polite nod.
Al uncovered his face and answered in Arabic. “Hmidouche Fartan. Inshallah.”
“You had such beautiful dark brown eyes, my old friend. Like long-empty wells.”
“They’s still brown.”
“Ah, but they are not your eyes.”
Al nodded in acknowledgement, and the hobgoblin gestured for all to be seated. A clap of his hands and four startlingly beautiful women in low-cut, gold-scaled bodices and tauntingly translucent pantaloons appeared with an elaborate tea service. “Admittedly cliched, but an old man must be allowed his indulgences.”
Al chuckled and accepted the tea. “What’s in your greenhouse?”
“Ah hah! My fortune Al. My fortune. Awakened argan bushes. Smaller, portable, and nuts whose oil promises cosmetic qualities that the women of this world will trample on one another’s backs to obtain a thimbleful. I have a buyer from Shiawase, and soon the charms of the dryad will be available to all – for a price…Of course, there are certain secrets to their cultivation that ensure my monopoly. But speaking of business and beauty, these with you…Companions or…merchandise?”
Al shook his head. “What is this, some kind of test? ‘Only a vile and dishonorable man humiliates and degrades women.'”
The green-skinned Maghrebi shook with laughter. “Yes, you are certainly Al Guthrie – the chivalry of a Crusader yet quoting the Prophet – peace be upon him – with the self-righteous confidence of an imam. Well then, if not for sale, who are they to bring such beauty to this harsh land?”
“Remember yer manners, speak some English, ask ’em yerself,” Al said, himself switching to his mother tongue. “Though I suspect they tracked on our conversation well enough.”
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