Hell on Pancakes (A Deadlands: Hell on Earth Campaign

Echo and Melinda Sittin' in a Tree

Hey, Melinda.

So… yeah. I’m afraid that I’ve really gotta be leavin’ in the mornin’. I mean, I delayed ‘cause o’ the high school an’ ta see if you an’ Doc Edna was able to get together, but I meant to leave this mornin’. So I purty much delayed as much as I can, makin’ the whole team wait ‘round fer me fer a whole ’nother day while I finished up a couple extra things. Uh, there’s a few things I wanna get off my chest though, while we still can talk freely an’ all.

Uh, first and most obviously… I done really enjoyed our time here together. I like ya a lot. Yer lovely, an’ smart as shit, an’ ya know yer guns, and just… fuck. Yeah, I like ya a lot. I’d like fer things ta continue.

That said, I also know I ain’t always the easiest ta deal with. I’m gettin’ on in years a lil bit, and am kinda set in my ways some. I spend a lotta time wanderin’ ‘round the countryside gettin’ upto all sortsa crazy dangerous shit. Peaceful life o’ hangin’ out in town just ain’t in the cards fer me, I’m afraid. My life’s crazy an’ unpredictable and one o’ these days odds are decent I’m gonna eventually get myself eated by a monster or somethin’, and… well, that’s kinda the way it is. Which no, please don’t romanticise that shit, because I ain’t no hero, I’m just some dude with a helluva lotta flaws. It’s a serious concern if yer really thinkin’ ‘bout makin’ a go o’ this here relationship thing.

Lessee. In the process o’ tryin’ to help folk, I’m also prob’ly gonna make a lotta enemies, if I ain’t already. I mean shit, some kinda bull monster sent by the Reckoners already tried ta kill me. Rick done got kidnapped by bad-guys. It’s possible that by bein’ close ta me that you’d be in danger. Now, I know yer purty badass and a hell of a woman, so I won’t be super worried ‘bout ya… but I believe real strongly into goin’ into things with eyes wide open. So if ya were wantin’ to continue with a relationship kinda thing… there’s that danger ta be keepin’ in mind.

Uh, I prob’ly ain’t gonna lose weight. I stress-eat. And with all the shit we do, well… I eat a lot. So don’t hold yer breath figurin’ I’m likely to change there.

And then, uh, I prob’ly been pretty mellow the last few days, ‘cause of uh… reasons. blush But uh… but uh, yeah. Without getting into too much right now, I been through a lotta shit, both on Banshee and then after. I have a lotta nightmares. I wake up screamin’ sometimes. I ain’t always properly aware sometimes when I wake up. Pokin’ a veteran awake ain’t a smart way to do it, fer example. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I got a good amount of self-control I think, but… well, yeah. I gots issues. Maybe you don’t fancy the idea o’ dealin’ with them issues.

Like I said, I like ya a lot. But I mean, intellectually and shit, I know there’s lotsa things that could be deal-breakers, or that you might not wanna deal with, or… whatever. Relationships need more than just sex ta survive. More than really, really, REALLY good sex. No matter how good the sex, yeah. There’s lotsa reasons you might not wanna continue. So you know, if you decide to break it off or whatever, I don’t expect you to pay back the ten grand to Doc Edna. I’m still gonna keep my deal with her ‘bout all that, ’cause I really do believe ya show a lotta potential, and I wanna see you able to reach it. Neither will I expect ya to give back the duster or the goggles or anything if we break up. I /do/ expect you to keep the special treatments they require secret, or else it ain’t no security measure. I also expect you to either keep them things, or give ‘em back to me. No sellin’ or givin’ them to nobody, or nothin’ like that, even if we break up or whatever. If ya can’t agree to that, now’s the time to say somethin’.

So, anyway, yeah. To kinda sum-up. I’m really likin’ how things are goin’. You know what to expect if ya do decide ya can’t put up with the… whole fuckin’ myriad of shit that bein’ together might entail. Uhm… yeah. I just, like, wanted to let you know that I’d understand and shit. A relationship prob’ly won’t be easy, but fer my part at least I’d like ta pursue one.

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Junkers and Junking

AFTER Echo checks to make sure Doc Edna definitely isn’t tainted…

Hey. Glad you could see us, Doc Edna. ‘preciate yer time. So, I wanted ta introduce ya to Melinda Meyers. Melinda, Doc Edna. Uh, so I’ll try an’ cut to the chase here, and then you guys can work out the details to suit ya, if that’s cool.

So, Melinda wants ta be a Junker that makes prosthetics. Everybody knows that yer the best cyberware Junker in Junkyard, Doc Edna. So, I’d like ta set up Melinda with an apprenticeship under ya, if you got the time an’ energy. Wait please, ‘fore ya answer, lemme explain the kinda thing I’m thinkin’, ‘cause I know yer prob’ly always gettin’ people who wanna be trained by ya.

I wanna say, I really believe in Melinda. She needs trainin’, but she’s passionate about helpin’ people, and she really cares ‘bout the spirits, so I really think she’ll be an ideal candidate. Motivated, and by the right reasons, I think you’ll prob’ly agree is real important in someone who wants ta be a cyber-doc. If ya find in a month or two that she ain’t workin’ out, like huge personality diff’rences or somethin’, we can always call it off… we can work out a probationary period where either side can cancel out the deal, I’m sure, ‘case there’s personality differences or something weird like that… but I really don’t think you’ll find Melinda’s lackin’ as far as smarts or interest or anything like that goes.

So, yer prob’ly wonderin’ what it is you get besides an eager apprentice who’ll generally make yer job easier since she can do lotsa shit fer you? First, straight-up money. I’m thinkin’ like ten grand. I’ll front it myself, so you’ve got that, to be returned if the deal is cancelled. ‘sides that? Once the probationary period you guys work out is done, I’ll give ya a choice: I kin either design ya two things, or I can build ya one thing. Couple o’ rules, like I ain’t makin’ no crazy fuckin’ guns built into cyber arms, or other weapons. I don’t do Junker weapons, and I try an’ avoid Junkerin’ up anything that kills people in general. It can’t be too stupid complicated like a hover-bus, or for some evil piece o’ shit… I mean, common sense here an’ I reserve the right to veto anything that seems wonky. But it’ll be o’ my highest quality and the profit after ya gimme all the parts I need to build it is all fer you.

So lessee… you get yerself a super eager and smart apprentice to make yer life easier. You get ten grand. And you’ll get either some sweet-ass designs or a sweet-ass thing I’ll make that you know will be awesome quality, which you can either keep or sell for probably a shitload o’ widgets.

Oh, stipulation. I talked it over with Melinda, and she really likes workin’ at the hospital, too. So I want ya to give her at least an hour a day where she kin do stuff at the hospital. She also gots a Aunt she gots to take care of, so you should know that in advance incase the Aunt needs her to stay home on some day to take care of her, or whatever. A personal stipulation of mine is that I want you to train Melinda hard. Reason I come to you ’bout this is that everybody knows yer the best at what ya do, and I want Melinda to become just as good as you. No mediocre-ness for someone of her potential.

Uh, so yeah, that’s my spiel, I think. Outlined what I’m willin’ ta give you if you’ll accept her, threw in my stipulations… I’m sure the two o’ you should be the ones to work out all the details and shit. Yer reasonable human beings, I’m sure you can work it out. Keep me updated, lemme know how it goes. I’ve set it up with the bank to stick the money in an escrow account, so once you guys work out the details to both yer satisfaction, Melinda can do some paperwork to transfer the money to you, Doc, so you can start as soon as yer both ready. I’ll be in town intermitently to check up on how things are goin’ and shit.

Actually, Doc, there is something else I wanna talk ‘bout some time soon. Right now it’s just an idea floatin’ ‘round in my head, but I wanted to tell you ’bout it so’s you can noodle on it too, and hopefully we kin get together after a while. Basically the idea is… there’s a lotta Junkers. Some of ‘em are good, and some are shit, and most are middlin’. And anybody who ain’t really a Junker… don’t got many ways of figurin’ out which is which. So I thought ‘bout settin’ up some kinda certification program or somethin’. Maybe for Junkers, maybe fer items themselves. That way people would know that they’re buyin’ a high quality item, or they know they’re buyin’ from a respected legitimate source, or whatever. People, I think, will trust Junkers more if they got some kinda way to be reasonably sure o’ what they’re gettin’, instead of just havin’ to trust the word of the dude sellin’ them things. Kinda like one o’ them old-school Better Business Bureaus or somethin’, ‘cept fer Junker stuff. So I figger we get together the best Junkers ’round, to set up a review board kinda thing, so obviously you’d be on that. It wouldn’t be any kind of official city thing or nothin’, a purely private enterprise. Junkers are best qualified to certify other Junkers, I figger. But… yeah. That’s what I been kinda thinkin’ ‘bout. Think on it, and next time I’m in town fer a couple o’ days I’ll try an’ get with you and we can talk s’more ’bout it, compare notes, all that kinda thing.

So yeah, I’ll leave you two lovely ladies to yer talk, and wish ya both the best o’ luck hashin’ it out. Lemme know how things go.

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Report for Ike

The following audio recording is left for Ike:

“Hey, yeah, this thing on? Hmm. The lil flashin’ red light is on, so… I guess? ‘kay. Uh, so Ike. Yeah, man, it’s Echo. Just updatin’ you on shit. I was gonna write you a report, but fuck if that wouldn’t take forever tryin’ ta type that shit out on my palmcorder. So audio recordin’ instead. I ain’t much fer speechifyin’ so I’ll keep it purty short if’n I kin.

“Lessee.

“So, New Provo. That place were fucked-up. ‘parently their leadership had gotten hold o’ some evil fuckin’ book o’ fuckin’ evil, with a spider kinda theme to it. It somehow gave ‘em control o’ monster trap-door spiders, and the cult had taken over most o’ the city leadership, and replaced them with some kinda spider-monsters what could wear human skin. That Librarian guy, Raph, mighta got more details, but that’s purty much the jist of it. Anyway, we destroyed that fuckin’ book, and we’re purty sure all the spider monsters is dead. I fixed up their shit so that they should be defensible after I wiped out a lotta their defenses durin’ the battle with the spider monsters. We gave their new leadership one o’ them palmcorder things like y’asked, told ‘em they’d wanna send a representative ta the meetin’ thing. You should be able to talk to ‘em now if y’need, a’course. Here’s the serial number thingy o’ that palmcorder we gave ’em.

“Then there’s the shit with Cedar City and Enoch. Long story short, there was a container of FEV that was leakin’ into their water supply. Each town thought the other was poisonin’ ‘em. Some stupid fucks thought this one family whose place held the FEV container was actually vampires, despite all evidence to the contrary. We sorted that shit out in time for some dumb shits to make a coup attempt in Enoch to try and become the new sheriff there, but we fucked-up them plans, and now the survivors of that coup attempt are bein’ put ta work as labor. People o’ Cedar City done left, so that settlement’s empty now, and they all joined up in Enoch ‘cause it’s more secure-able. They had a buncha scrap when I was there, so they’d prob’ly be good to trade with Junkyard. Again, told ‘em ’bout representation and shit, and here’s the serial number thingy o’ the palmcorder they done got too.

“Uh… lessee. Page, Utah. That place got destroyed by a Servitor that apparently went around on an indestructible motorcycle and he had infinite grenades and shotgun shells. How’s that fer freaky powers? War, I’m guessin’. Uh… yeah, he murdered the whole town. He didn’t actually set off all the explosives he set up everywhere, and I’m purty sure we disabled them bombs and shit, but uh… yeah. That whole town’s dead. We did ruin that Servitor’s day though. If it helps any or it’s useful? His name was Leonard Biggs. He was conscripted into the US Army. Cited for violence and temper. Sent to prison for blowing up his lieutenant. Sent to prison in Indian Springs, Nevada. Had just been released in Vegas when the bombs fell. Got into a barfight while on parole, in Vegas, and beat up and stabbed a guy with the dude’s own arm. Unmarried, no kids. Apparently had something to do with a mutant massacre on a buncha norms somewhere ‘round Vegas. Carried three bronzed baby shoes. Maybe he had a mutie kid with three feet that was killed by norms, or something? No idea. We didn’t exactly talk to ’im.

“And uh, yeah. That should catch ya up so far. So we’re gonna go wanderin’ ’round more purty soon. I did wanna know if you wanted us to give out these special palmcorders to any other random settlements we find, or just the ones on yer list. Lemme know ’bout that.”

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Dr. Ottomata's Debut

http://www.zbrushcentral.com/attachment.php?attachmentid=365610

Well, hey there again, Doc. Como estas? Yeah, sit down, ya look wored the fuck out. Nah, don’t worry ‘bout the wait. You was busy, an’ it was ta help people; I don’t mind a little waitin’ fer that kinda shit.

Anyway, so yeah. Let’s see. I had a good day at the bettin’ booths the other day, an’ figgered you could use s’more money. Figger I can give the hospital ‘bout fifty grand, and still have plenty ta give some to the high school too, an’ hopefully that’ll set both you guys up fer a while.

How’s them upper floors doin’ by the way? Any signs of any monsters left ‘round? Sweet, glad ta hear it’s been purty quiet. Last fuckin’ thing ya guys need is ta hafta worry ‘bout monsters drivin’ people nuts while y’all are tryin’ ta save lives. If any place has gotta be safe, it’s def’nitely the hospital. I’ll pass on yer thanks ta the others.

Oh, yeah. I know yer busy, an’ I wasn’t just comin’ ta chat you up or nothin’, but I think this’ll be worth a few more minutes o’ yer time if ya kin spare it. Oh, sure, I can wait an hour or so. I gots some snacks, I’ll be cool fer a bit if you don’t mind me hangin’ out in here.

Hey, welcome back there, Doc. Shit, you gettin’ enough sleep? Yeah, underfunded and understaffed. Well, hopefully I can help with both them problems. There’s the money we talked ‘bout before. We’ll hit up the bank and get you that fifty grand. But hopefully I can help with the understaffed thing, too.

See, I had an idea. A real human doctor’s like a million times better, granted, but… you guys need a lotta fuckin’ help. So, I figger the next best thing is a robot. No, nothin’ like an AI. It’s just a tool. You tell it what to do, it does it. Spent a long fuckin’ time writing up it’s programming, lemme tell ya.

This here is Dr. Ottomata. See what I did there? Automata. Heh. So yeah, let’s see here. I set it up so’s it can do anything from triage to neurosurgery, long as it’s not too stupidly specialized. It’s got whole textbooks of medical knowledge in its cyber-brain thing. I even programmed in the ability to emulate human sympathies and sayin’ reassurin’ shit. It can answer most questions related to its diagnoses and treatments, and whenever it can’t it’ll say ta talk to one of the real docs. I mean, yeah I did think about makin’ it a proper AI, so’s it could learn to relate to folks an’ have real empathy, and answer all questions, and all that kinda shit. But there’s enough humans with proper upbringings that something like workin’ in an ER fucks up, I figgered better to leave it a tool than a person and throw them into that kinda situation.

So, let’s see… like I was sayin’, it can answer most questions, communicate with the nurses for what it needs, all that kinda thing. To make sure that it’s doin’ the right thing during treatment and surgery an’ shit, and so’s you can check in on it whenever you want, I set it up so’s it can transmit to anywhere within about a hundred yards. So you can set up a TV with a digital receiver in whatever rooms you think is appropriate and watch it work.

As an extra bonus, I also included a fuckload of sensors in it. It’s got standard vision and hearing, a’course. It’s got super-sensitive touch sensors, which I figger will be useful for surgery and shit. Also lets it take blood pressure and pulse without needin’ extra instruments. It’s got a full set o’ chemical sensors, so if yer laboratory’s overwhelmed at the moment, it can do basic shit like cell counts, blood typing, or whatever. Not a full laboratory replacement at all, but hopefully it’ll help a little. I also built-in sensors so it can do MRIs by itself, and it can do X-Rays, and it can even do sonograms for some additional non-invasive medical testin’. Sensors are all real high quality, too.

Only catch is that if you got it usin’ all its sensors at once, the G-Ray drain skyrockets. I mean, its tech-spirit is super fuckin’ comfy in there, don’t get me wrong. Most o’ the time it’ll only use ‘bout one G-ray an hour and work at full capacity. But if you start flipping all the sensors on, it’ll go up to 14 G-rays an hour. I figgered that’d be alright, though, ‘cause why would you have it performin’ an MRI and an X-Ray and a sonogram and testin’ for heavy metals and all the other shit it can do all at once? I mean sure, it could handle that, but it’d be impractical.

Let’s see… so yeah, full proper medical knowledge, surgical knowledge, capable of interacting with patients and answering questions even if it’s not the best at it… transmitting to monitors… various improved sensors… I think that’s the basic rundown. Spirit’s comfy enough that it shouldn’t risk anything real bad goin’ wrong; worst case she should just shut down for a bit if the spirit loses its grip.

I made you a print-out here, with the full extent of Dr. Ottomata’s functions. An’ if nothing else, you can just straight-up ask her if she can do something, and she’ll answer. Pays ta be specific though. Like I said, no AI, so its common sense is limited to what I thought to program in. It’s a tool to get you through tough shifts and help take some of the strain off yer people, like I said, not a proper replacement for a doctor.

But, yeah. I’m hopin’ it’ll work out. We’ll call this a beta test. I’m purty sure that I done thought this all through, but there could be problems that I ain’t thought of. If it works out, maybe I can make you a couple more. Couple o’ precautions though.

One: Make sure you don’t let no other Junkers open her up and fuck with her programming. Or anything else, for that matter. If there’s a problem with her, you talk to me, and ONLY to me about it. I’m sure some other jackass will say it ain’t no problem, that he can do it, but fuck that. I worked my ass off to make her, nobody else will know her like I do, and if they do ANYTHING it might destabilize the whole fuckin’ thing. So in the worst case, if there’s a problem with her, turn her off and stick her in a closet until I’m back in town.

Second thing: I made Melinda Meyers some goggles. Have her give Dr. Ottomata a proper look-over with the goggles every day, at least once. It’ll only take a few minutes. No, she’s not allowed to fuck with the robot either. But if something weird happens, like… I don’t know. A nature spirit shows up in Junkyard and happens to pick Dr. Ottomata to attack, or… some fuckin’ Luddite with anti-tech-spirit powers shows up… or something unlikely like that… then we’ll know that Dr. Ottomata ain’t stable no mores. And if she ain’t super stable, then you’ll hafta take her offline ’til I can fix ’er.

So, yeah, I think that’s the end o’ my speech. Told you what she can do, cautioned you against the two things that are the most likely to go wrong. She’s got a dog-brain, remember. She’s got a ten g-ray battery pack, but you’ll wanna recharge her intermittently, especially if she’s using her sensors. She’ll warn you once her power gets low, but she should be light enough that someone halfway strong can fireman-carry her to an outlet and plug her in.

Hopefully she’ll work out as-is, and if not then we’ll revise the shit and make a version two. It’s an experiment, and does come with a few risks. Shit, I’m not even sure people will put up with a robot treating them, after the apocalypse and all. I’d definitely stress to yer staff that they ain’t gonna be replaced with robots or nothing though. It takes an insane amount o’ work ta make just one o’ these things, so I certainly ain’t makin’ an army of them to take everybody’s job or nothin’. Hopefully, though, yer staff and patients will both give her a chance to prove herself, and hopefully over time she’ll earn trust. Just like any doctor, I s’pose. Goal’s fer her ta be a useful tool, though, nothin’ like a replacement for a real person. Just ta save the real docs time they need to be spendin’ on more important shit, y’know what I mean?

So yeah, here’s a radio signal you can prob’ly reach me at if I’m anywhere near Junkyard. Got any questions, lemme know. If I ain’t in range… well, worst case power her off and stick her in a closet. And… aww shit. Maybe I better repeat this in Spanish, just ta be sure? Alright.

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Called to the Principal's Office

Echo and Librarian Metzer Talk.

Oh, sweet. Thanks fer meetin’ me, there, Principal Met- oh, okay. Librarian Metzer, then. So, shit, yeah. Looks like yer purty busy ‘round here, so I’mma cut to the chase if it’s cool with you? Cool.

I wanna give the high school ’bout fifty grand or so.

No, I ain’t here to ask you to name a wing after me or anything all ego-maniacal like that. I couldn’t give a shit if nobody ever knowed I gave ya this money. People need help, I got extra money, so obviously I gives it to ‘em. And no, I don’t want ya ta give lenience to my kids or nothin’.

I do got a lil bit of an agenda though. Seems like there’s a lotta misconceptions people even here in Junkyard got ‘bout Junkers. Yer school’s here to educate people, right? So, I want people to learn about Junkerin’.

Fuck, dude, calm the hell down for a second, would you? No, I sure as shit ain’t suggestin’ we start teachin’ teenagers how to make shit that might accidentally fuckin’ explode. God damn, man. I know I got this accent and it prob’ly makes me sound dumb, but… fuck.

No, I wanna educate people ’BOUT Junkers, not train ’em to be Junkers. Not in high school. Shit, man.

So here’s how I’m envisionin’ it. It could be like an elective course or somethin’, for the kids who are interested. Prob’ly require a certain level of math and a basic grounding in science. You teach folk ‘bout a little of the theory. Purely theoretical shit. How there’s spirits, the transmogrification of things into the parts you need via the spirits, that kinda thing. I want the kids to learn about all the cool shit Junkers can do, but I also want them to know the challenges Junkers face, and all the dangerous shit that can go wrong if you don’t do a bang-up job. It’s important, I think, fer you to temper their enthusiasm with caution. ‘cause as we know, if you don’t do a real good job, that shit might blow up, or yank you out to the Huntin’ grounds, or who the fuck knows what else. So yeah, teach ‘em ’bout the cool shit, but also the problems. Then they’ll have a proper idea about how it all works, and the good sides, and the down sides, ‘case they wanna go and become actual Junkers themselves. Oh, ’specially tell ’em ’bout the dangers o’ dealin’ with gun spirits. That’ll fuck a dude right up, no matter how good his intentions are.

Oh, nah, I couldn’t teach it I’m afraid. I’ve got like a zillion fuckin’ projects I’m workin’ on. But Junkyard’s full of Junkers, I’m sure you guys can find one with a knack fer teachin’ willin’ ta do it. Prob’ly only hafta teach a couple hours a day I’m guessin’, though I’ll leave the schedulin’ shit up to you a’course. I’m told Librarians are good at findin’ shit. If ya can’t find nobody, I’ll do some askin’ ’round, see if I can find a good candidate.

So… yeah. Sound good? Come on down to the bank with me, then, an’ we’ll get them widgets transferred over.

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The Death of a Man
the Birth of a Symbol

Zye Venn,
The long Return to Banshee (17)
Sunday, 07th of February 2094

The stench of blood. The biting reek of spilled guts. A slight singe of burning electronics. Gunpowder. The smoke of explosives. Wide spatter-patterns of crimson on every wall.
Headbanger chips had taken out most, the rest had ripped each other or themselves into bloody chunks. This whole room reminded me of the village near Sand Lodge.
XJ-332. The one the Puppeteers had ripped through.
Masters of the ‘Meat Puppet’ power, they’d developed a really strange secondary power. They captured a single Anouk, joined up as a squad, created a Psychic Link, then used Meat Puppet to send the poor sap into his village. Every other warrior he touched would become a conduit to one of the squad’s Sykers who’d ‘infect’ the touched with Psychic Link and Meat Puppet. They’d spread until they had a full twenty warriors under control, then start slaughtering everyone concluding in them disembowelling themselves. In the beginning they’d let the women and children run away in panic. As the war dragged on and Warfield kept reprimanding them… with a team as linked as they were it took only a single one to go over the top. Once. Then again. And then it was too late. What were ten more Anouk children? Twenty? Thirty and a blood-stained commendation from the general himself?
That thing up ahead, in the darkness… it didn’t even need that. In a way it might be more innocent. It just did what it did because that was it’s nature. Unless of course the things Shio-zu Sensei had told me once during a J-SEP training session had grasped a deeper understanding of how the cosmos worked.
‘Aku no tamashī ga jigoku ni akuma narimasu…’ The evil of the soul is going to become the demon in hell. If the akuma… the manitous had once been men, committing sin and returned in their demonic form to the world… well then that thing that was standing in the middle of the room, eyes glowing green after taking full control of the Grandmaster was even more guilty than me. Either way it had to be dealt with.

I cursed a bit, looking over the carnage. Edwards was resurrecting (hopefully) the leaders of the Iron Alliance, and I didn’t have the power of peace of mind – although I felt I might be ready to learn. I’d made my peace with a lot of the demons that kept hounding me. Well, maybe some other time. We’d have to go with Biletnikoffs’ Plan B for this.
Simon turned, the green sheen in his eyes accentuating the mad smile on his face.
‘Ahhh, more playthings. I’ve hidden too long in this mortal shell. I’d forgotten how good it is to exercise my full power.’ In front of our eyes the demon rose, and then rose above the size the man had been – it was a disturbing sight as he stretched the very form of Simon into something bigger. Nastier. Deadlier. It was still Simons’ body, but it looked as if something under his skin had stretched out. Stretched its horns, its snout, its hooves. Nasty. Then his features contorted, painfully, and for a couple of seconds the pain-filled face of the Grandmaster reasserted itself, hands flailing at each other.
’I’ve been played for a fool!’ he gasped. ‘I can see now the monster’s been hiding in my body and ravaging the innocent!’ Even in the grip of a demon, Simon was still about as slow as molasses in January. ‘Now it wants to make a mockery of everything I’ve stood for! My anger’s let the beast into my soul, but I can do one thing! I will hold it here with me. When it dies, it dies for good! End this, once and for all!’ I would’ve sadly shaken my head at the presumption and general unawareness of the man, but my blood was starting to pump with adrenaline as the demons’ face reasserted itself.
It stared, puzzled for a moment, then howled in rage as it realized that Simon had it in a hold. Back to Jigoku with you. At least Simon had offered us that.
Raphael started to pipe up, shouting in an old British accent about honour and Camelot and a knight’s duty. He’d obviously lost it when Simon had changed into Baphomet. It didn’t however stop him from shooting at the beast but in the darkness that swirled around it it didn’t look like it was hit.
I jumped for the only piece of cover available – the remnants of a heavily cybered Blackhat – and focussed an energy blast from my forehead directly at the beast. At the last second it dropped its head, the beam of energy hitting the horn instead of Simons’ forehead. Then I felt something I hadn’t felt since Banshee. The Skinnies had gotten fantastically good at controlling humans against their will. Taking them over, making them do their dirty work. It’d been a while since I’d had to protect platoons full of marines from the probing of an alien mind, intent to take them over.
I felt it now.
Baphomet was making a grab for Athena, but it was too weak. He’d been playing with hapless civilians in Boise and then with idiotic Blackhats here, not willstrong enough to resist the temptation of the Combine – it had been like a turkeyshoot. Athena might not be focussed, but she was willstrong. Tough luck there, Akuma. It grunted in frustration, then charged for us in long, bounding steps. No. the path it was taking would take it to the exit. It was fast, too.
Athena – blissfully unaware of the fight for her soul – shot a grenade at the beast, but there was no appreciable effect. And the horn my energybeam had cut off (also to no appreciable effect) had regrown in the time it took the demon to start its charge. This was going to be Modeen all over again. Son of a bitch.
Embezzler tried to fill Baphomet with lead, but the presence of the thing actually seemed to distort space. The shots went somewhere into the swirling darkness. All the while, Raphael was shouting again in his old British drone, challenging the thing to a duel or to stop in the name of Arthus of Camelot or something along those lines. The demon must’ve been as confused as I was, because it actually stopped and stared for a second. Enough time to send another beam of concentrated energy from my forehead, this one boring itself into the chest of the thing, leaving a burned hole. Not enough damage.
Rick was now wreathed in his glowing shield and started running at the thing. You had to admire his guts, but smart was just not something that boy did. Had Rick been an infantrymen on Banshee, he would’ve survived about a week while his squad was able to cover him – and the first time they’d not be able to, he’d gotten a new, permanent haircut by a Chakatl. He was lucky that Baphomet didn’t have one of those sharp Tannis axes.

What it did have was the ability to control its enemies. It grabbed Ricks’ mind and as his eyes started glowing green, he came to a tumbling stop and turned off his shield again. Then he turned around his energy spear and shot himself in the chest. The good thing was that he was a terrible shot.
Embezzler charged at Rick, wrestling him to the ground and locking his cyborg hand over the spears’ trigger – the two of them ended up in a clump of limbs within seconds. Meanwhile Sandriel charged at the Demon, Evanor swinging in a wide arc and ripping through the biceps of the strange amalgamation. Athenas’ bulk charged at the thing, the power-armour lending her steps a feathered, unstoppable gait and by the time she barrelled into the demon, she’d gotten her Ripper knife out and gashed a jagged rip into its other arm. And with just that, the demon took a deep breath and like with the horn before, the wounds simply faded. The laws of physics would weep had they had the ability to.
Sandriel and the demon were caught in a deadly dance as it tried to grab Simons’ sword from her hand. Ha. It had just made its last mistake. It had massive, sharp claws and its wounds closed at the drop of a hat – it didn’t need the sword to even the odds. It needed the sword so it would not end up being cut by it – again. I hoped Sandriel would pick up on the fact. Embezzler was now trying to slap Rick, shouting ‘Snap out of it!’ but the two were still locked in a struggle of limbs and his hand landed in the mess of a dead blackhats’ blown head instead. Rick was a pacifist and a healer (Junker healer, but still) and was about the worst and best choice for Baphomet to have taken over – worst for him, best for us. True, we wouldn’t have his mystic healing abilities at beck and call while the demon had him in his grasp, but he’d be right as rain as soon as we’d murdered that demon. Then he’d still be able to look after anyone injured and during the fight he wouldn’t hurt anybody – and the demon wouldn’t target him, having him under its control anyway.
I saw Raphael trying to grab onto Sandriels back – He’d really taken this whole demon business bad. Then I felt Baphomet make a grab for Sandriels’ mind. If it did that, it would be able to have her hand him Simons’ sword and then our duck would be cooked, as they said. I hadn’t been able to do much to the thing in this past fight, but this I could do. Just as I had countless times with the Skinnies, I locked in on the source of the demons’ power, then stifled its attempts of grabbing Sandriels’ mind. It lost a step, looking baffled again and Sandriels’ left hand came thrusting forward, stabbing the demon in the guts with Simons’ blade. She pulled back the sword and as the thing bent over in pain, she made an almost funny little flourish that ended with the sword stuck right between Baphomets’ eyes, the tip sparkling from between the horns on the back of its head.
DID YOU SEE THAT?!’ she screamed, as the demon slowly collapsed and the strange contorted visage went back to being the Grandmasters’ countenance. ‘THAT WAS A PERFECT NUMBER 41 FLOURISH!’ she continued, shouting and whooping as we gathered around the fallen Grandmaster. He pushed out a last breath, a ‘Thank you’ carried on the last wings of his lungs.
Then he lay still, looking pristine in death, no blemish upon him. As Rick was hugging the living hell out of Embezzler, thanking him profusely, I closed the Grandmasters’ eyes and started gathering up some pieces of metal and a couple shirts, fashioning a gurney. Plan B would still need to be put into effect.
When Sandriel had calmed down, she took one rung of the stretcher, Raphael moving to her side to take the other one and Athena taking the other side by herself. She made an impressive figure, walking the back in her power armour. In silence we made our way through the tunnels – three hours of marching after Buck Masters in which no one uttered a word. But the wheels were turning, and apparently they’d turned quite well for Embezzler.
As we emerged into the sun we made our way into the emergency-tent city that had been put up and we continued to carry Simons body in an honour-guard fashion to the steps of the Town Hall, where Embezzler went up a couple of stairs and then turned, a solemn expression on his face. Biletnikoff was fidgeting like a madman, but soon Embezzler speech put him at ease. The man had a way with words, I had to give him that. He spun an epic tale about the ultimate sacrifice that Simon had offered, in order to keep the Combine from having victory here today, disrupting the efforts of all people in the Wastes to work together against a threat that was bent on destroying them. He painted a tragic picture of Simon, taking on hidden Combine Drones and Automatons and Cyborgs in the bowels of Junkyard, ready to strike at the unsuspecting citizens and giving his life to protect the people of the Wastes. It was a powerful message with a spin that made the Templars look good, painting the Combine as soulless cutthroats and evildoers, much closer than the citizens had expected and the noble thought of the Iron Alliance (even though the name of it was still a secret) was a cause that was not only worthy – but unmitigated necessity.

As Ike went to give a speech as well, Biletnikoff took us to the side and we brought the Grandmasters’ body to a place where he could hold deathwatch over him. As we met up with Edwards we were given to understand that his sarcophagus thingy had actually worked – Him, Tom and Blossom had done as I’d asked and taken the bodies to the roof where they instructed the Ultralights to bring them to the spiritbus, after which they’d hauled ass to get there themselves and Edwards had performed his arcane techspirit thing and burned GhostRock by the pound – but all of them had made a complete recovery.
Throckmorton had won nothing today – he’d lost his sleeper cell in Junkyard, he’d lost his Raptors in the attack on Sky Raider I, he’d lost his shot at disrupting the Iron Alliance (actually convincing the factions of its necessity), and the only thing he had managed to do was kill Simon – and we’d used the opportunity to spin the story to the Iron Alliances’ favour while getting rid of the Baphomet problem. Luck favours the prepared, but this time it had favoured the skilled and quick-of-thinking. We’d proven a hard and fast Elite Squad, capable of taking out nasty threats as they’d popped up and had managed to beat Throckmortons’ nose bloody.
At that night we met at Edwards’ for a chance at winding down and going over our victory. Even Embezzler and Raphael were invited, though they’d joined the whole fun late and very late. In the distance we could hear the rumbling of the Rattlers as we each had a burger and busied ourselves with various tasks of cleaning or relaxing. This had been a good days work.

Monday morning I got up after having a shower and a good clean and some stretches in my new apartment, then went to find Edwards. The massive man was right chipper this morning. Apparently the leaders of the various factions had thanked him profusely for dragging them back from wherever they’d spent their time dead and he’d gotten quite into their good graces. I was just glad it had worked, and even though we’d missed Echo and Tom at the fight, I was glad to have asked them to look after the representatives – the Iron Alliance was stronger because of it.
‘So, Edwards.’ I started.
‘Hmm?’
‘You know your way around Junkyard.’
‘Sure do.’
‘Do you know someone with a forge that I could rent? Proper tools?’
‘What, like a toolforge?’
‘In a pinch. Something where I could forge a sword.’ He answered in a shot.
‘Sure do. I work at Sven’s whenever I’m in town and he has everything you’d need. Want me to introduce you?’ I was taken aback a bit.
’That’d be great, yea.’ He started bustling me down the ramp and over to the market, almost dragging me along to a storefront.
‘Hey Sven! Sveeen!’

It didn’t take me long to hammer out a deal with the friendly owner of the place. I’d get the forge for two or three days and help him in his workshop for a likewise time. Sounded like a fair deal to me. I fasted the following two days as I melted down the blade that I’d gotten for graduating J-SEP and applied the various techniques that I’d learned from the manuals from Sacramento and the little tricks that Edwards had shared with me while we were driving through the Wastes.
By burning GhostRock under the steel as it melted (and wearing a good gasmask and thick rubber gloves while doing so), the mysterious properties of the coal would be absorbed into the steel.
It was as much of a symbol as a practical action. Ghoststeel was more sturdy and light, compared to the ‘normal’ Tamahagane the blade had been forged from, but I could’ve bought some new steel and forged that above the burning soul coal. But this was the sword I’d been given as I graduated Japanese Syker Education Program, so it was at least as much a symbol of my breaking with my past military life. None of these people still lived, nobody on Faraway was in range – I felt quite justified in my setting myself a new goal: Working on battling the two greatest threats the Wasted West was facing and then going on to save the world. And maybe Faraway, while I was at it.
Twelve years had taught me a thing or two about the Wastes. And I was going to do whatever I could about the sad state of affairs. I’d been idle too long and while my goals were akin to the opium dreams of madmen, it was a goal worth striving for. And even if I’d never reach the final step, every foot in front of the other was necessary and would help a lot of people. Less about the goal, more about the journey as they say.
Paradoxically I felt more connected to my Great-grandfather (a swordsmith who’d – at least according to my grandmother – played Go against akuma and spirits) at that moment, as the green sparks were glowing behind the glass of my gasmask.

View
Combinated Summit Assault
broken ceilings and broken bodies

Zye Venn,
The long Return to Banshee (16)
Sunday, 07th of February 2094

Our first patrol had encountered another body on the very start of their shift yesterday evening, but other than killing an old janitor who was likely to have keeled over in his boots in the next couple of years, Baphomet had stayed suspiciously quiet.
It was now Sunday noon, a great day to bring that Iron Alliance into being. I was very much expecting Simon to have changed his tone since yesterday. Otherwise I’d probably shoot him and hope his replacement was going to be more reasonable. I was still pretty annoyed with how things had turned out yesterday but also hopeful that our speeches had swayed the pig-headed grandmaster. Today’s summit was as heavily defended as yesterday – almost three dozen guards in the town hall alone.
I waved towards the observatory, where Tom was talking with Blossom, Edwards was sitting with a bowl of something edible and Rick and Embezzler were talking quietly in the corner. I joined Sandriel in the conference room and it seemed like they were about to start their deliberations.
After Ike had hit the gavel twice, Simon stood up and began with an actual apology about maybe having been too demanding – I was very surprised he’d even think about admitting something along those lines. Maybe we had gotten through to him. The gold cross on his chest bounced, as he started gesticulating and after a while he got to the point that he would like to hear about the Iron Alliance in greater detail and put aside his preconceptions for a while.
So Ike went to explain his vision to the people present – everyone from yesterday barring Doc Schwartz and most of the support staff. I had seen enough politics played on Banshee that I knew that most of those confidants would probably be sitting together right now, getting to the more sensible and practical problems and opportunities of the Iron Alliance – the ‘right hand’ kind of people usually had a way better grasp of their organization than the actual leaders.
And while the figureheads were swinging big speeches, I bet those guys were discussing logistics, armouries, assets, food… the whole nine yards of what would actually be necessary to get this thing into gear.

Ike had been at it for almost an hour, interrupted from time to time by questions from the other leaders, and I was quite content that now some progress would be made, despite Simon’s first impression on the group. That’s when Sandriel got up from the bench and looked out of the window, ponderously. When she didn’t return, I joined her only to see a great crowd gathered in front of the town hall. They were holding protest signs and seemed to be…. well a union. I knew Junkyard was big, but big enough for a union?
The mob was getting excited and the Militia getting more anxious. This seemed too perfectly timed to be true. My hand wandered to the grip of my weapon, just as a molotov cocktail exploded against the front of the building. I cursed inwardly. Too perfect. There was shouting outside, then Rick shouted in my ear. ‘Combine!’
I grabbed Sandriel and dragged her towards the table, making a flicking motion with my other hand. She nodded. I wholeheartedly ignored the angry look on Librarian Mary’s face, since I’d just interrupted her sermon.
‘The Combine is attacking.’ I told the flabbergasted representatives, as the table came crashing down. ‘Take cover!’ As the table hit the ground, I brought the chin of my battlehelmet down quickly onto my chestplate, checking the seat and the seal – all tight. Then the explosion of an M-67 Frag went off outside the conference room. I raised my rifle.
Suddenly the ceiling above us broke and while I was in the process of adjusting my aim upwards, tear-gas cannisters dropped down the newly made hole. I was looking for a target as the room filled with thick, grey fog and the delegates began to shout, cough and moan. That’s when the remaining light from the upper floor was expunged by a massive shape falling down, just a metre in front of me – and I let go of my rifle and charged ionized energy into my palms, my only chance at somehow taking on the threat that was clashing into the floor an armslength in front of me, like Hephaestus’ Hammer itself.
Heavy Drones had been few on Banshee, but they were more than recognizable – their massive shapes burned themselves into your memory the first time you saw it. This was a full-on combat drone with a power-ram still swinging out – that’s how they’d hopped down the damn ceiling. It was clad in full-on Dreadnought Armour, an M-120A2 replacing one arm and a chain sword in the other.
Fuck Throckmorten! It must’ve cost him months upon months to smuggle that thing into Junkyard, probably a piece at a time. What was left of the Harrowed was little more than a head, wired tightly into the massive body and even that had had its eyes replaced.
I was never forced to fight such a thing since the few I’d seen were on our side on Banshee, unlike the Sykers in the Last War down here who’d have had to go up against such a monstrosity – but then again the enemy combatants ‘just’ had had a couple other Sykers, not full fledged Skinnies. I doubted the war experiences of any Sykers that long ago had been pleasant. At least the Earthsykers had one edge over us – the war on earth had taken three years, and only over the last year had it become really viscous with all countries charging into the fray. Until A-Bomb Andy’s takeover in January 2081 the war had mostly been fought in third world countries and everyone was more or less scheming and scrapping. The Faraway War – at least as much as I’d seen of it – had gone on for over seven years, and I had no idea whether or not it had actually stopped after the Legion had been recalled with the last ship available. The Unity.
No. I didn’t think any of my bald brethren, whether they had fought humans or Anouks was any better or worse off than their brothers and sisters, even though they often seemed to see each other apart. Ah well. Soldering was a competitive field at times. I, however had now some tricks up my sleeve that had lain dormant during my time on Banshee – and with a burst of Chi I stretched out my palms towards the thing in front of me, concentrating my control over the electric charges into an iron-hard radioactive grip. Sweat beaded under my helmet and I pushed further – this thing was not only military hardened, it had some additional EMP-protection. I felt the blood trickling from my nose and the tingling on my skin – almost the same tingle one felt crossing a Ghoststorm. This was the hard part. Forcing an unearthly calm in the midst of combat, stopping all subatomic movement, switching all the electrons to a metaphorical ‘off’.
It groaned once in a voice that was not entirely on the physical realm, then it sunk slowly and inexorably. The light in its artificial targeting system went out and the one eye that it still had slowly closed as the Harrowed fell into whatever passed for sleep with them.

But I had no time to saviour this small triumph. I heard the ‘bing’ of an elevator and what was way more problematic – there was a damn Automaton that had dropped from the ceiling together with the Drone, right into the middle of the room. I could hear grenades and a chaingun going off in the hallway – hallmarks of another damn Automaton. Throckmorton REALLY must be scared of this Iron Alliance. Six Raptors, far beyond the Denver zone and even Junkyard – most of which had been shot down in the fight with Sky Raider I. 30 Automatons with those. And probably a massive sleeper cell of blackhats, Automatons and even a Drone, that must’ve taken years to set up right here, right under Ikes’ nose. He didn’t fuck around, that was for sure.
I hunkered down behind the massive Dreadnought Armour of the Drone as the Automaton in the conference room started peppering the air around me with bullets – I could hear the shrill shout of Sister Entropy and the surprised guffaw of Librarian Mary. Neither of them had had any armour. I doubted they’d survived the barrage. Shit.
I fired a burst in the direction of the muzzleflashes to soften the Automaton up and wondered why it wasn’t lobbing grenades – but then I saw a small tear-gas container fly over me and hit the door behind me. They wanted someone in here alive at least. Ike?
I tried to keep my head clear, suppress the shots, the shouts, the screams, the bullets and explosions. Shapes were moving in the cloud, someone was taking cover behind the heavy iron workbench that had been re-purposed as a table for the refreshments. I caught the glitter of CD-Shards, as Dr. Rex burst through the doors in the north, panicky trying to get away from the Automaton – only to run right into the arms of the other one. Simon was whipping out his sword and charging at the Automaton, his blade raised high, when out of the corner of my eyes I saw Brother Zap put his hands together in prayer – then throw them out towards the Automaton.

The lights in its eyes went out and its head sank – he’d EMP’d the Automaton. A cold spike ran down my spine. He’d EMP’d the Automaton. I could hear the beeping. Ever so slightly, waiting for power to return. If it didn’t… well the thing would go off in about three seconds. Fuck.
Behind me the doors were thrown open and I made a half turn and dropped deeper into a crouch – with the opening of the door a lot of the tear-gas was being sucked into the corridor outside, diffusing into the clear air – and showing very openly two blackhats, their guns held in front. Just before they started spraying on full auto.
Thankfully I was still in the thick of the opaque gas and only a single bullet glanced off the armour of my arm. I could hear Sandriel grunting, but she had been running towards the Automaton and probably not even realized where the bullets came from. Damn. Caught between a quintet of blackhats and an Automaton. What lovely odds. I needed a better angle at these bozos. I could just about make out the corner of the Elevator. The metal and the corner would provide a bit of cover. And I’d have the blackhats from behind.
Thankfully everything was filled with smoke. This was a… very weird and difficult thing to do. In the span of half a second I felt deep into my body. My Syker training had taught me how to know my body down to the very last cell – and in the past twelve years I’d gotten to know it even further down, right to the very atoms. Even the strings at the Quantum level. It was down into those very basic depths that I now channelled my Chi, creating a thread of pure, shortlived radioactive energy over to the corner of the elevator. Then I discharged all the energy at the very core of my being, following the energy-stream like lightning followed ionized particles and then started pulling myself together – literally. It’s a damn advanced trick but gives you frightening tactical options. Overall it couldn’t have been more than a second or one and a half until I’d reassembled myself behind the blackhats. I doubted they’d even noticed my passing, with the thick gas filling most of the conference room. Well they were in for a much deserved surprise.

As the Automaton went off, I grabbed a grenade from my harness, lobbing it right where it would kill the two jokers that had run into the room, guns blazing, but no one inside. If anyone was even still alive inside after that Automaton went off. One of Throckmortons goons stared in utter puzzlement at the grenade that came rolling from where he’d thought they’d just emerged, then thousands of small metal fragments ripped through the collective bangheads. A second explosion heralded the death of the other Automaton and by the sound of falling masonry
I judged that there was now very little floor or walls left on this level.

For a couple of seconds there was total silence – I was straining my ears, but there was no more sounds of combat – only a couple of staggering feet, then the shouting voice of Ike.
DAMN…. … … what the FUCK!?’ I nodded. Well put that man. I could see why he was the leader of Junkyard.

I exited the Elevator – I doubted this thing would move again. Now that the gas was clearing I could see the observation room, Tom and Echo just now removing the last piece of debris that had trapped them all inside the windowed room. Rick was in the middle of the hallway, one of the belt medkits ripped open and the insides strewn all around in an attempt to stitch up Embezzler. I looked the other way and saw the bodies of three representatives – two riddled with bullets, one heavily burned in an explosion.
EDWARDS! TOM!’ I shouted, drawing their attention. ’LET’S GIVE THAT INFERNAL MACHINE OF YOURS A TEST DRIVE! THERE’S THREE PEOPLE IN THERE THAT NEED RESSURECTING! ULTRALIGHTS ARE ON THE ROOF, GET THEM TO YOUR BOX AS QUICK AS YOU CAN!’
A last effort of theirs broke open the skewed door and the two of them nodded to me, indicating they’d understood. I myself jumped down the massive hole that had opened up in the floor – there was still the dusty body of the drone.
While I could hear Rick cursing and sewing, Echo, Tom and Blossom grunting and pulling and the pitter-patter of feet on the ground floor I was now on, I got closer to the Drone. As I knew fucking Throckmorton, this thing would be booby trapped. Over the next ten minutes, I carefully opened up the armour and made my way deeper into its guts, then disconnected the explosive device and took out the detonator. Then I disconnected the cables from its head to make sure it wouldn’t be able to do anything once the electrons started flowing again.
In the direction of the basement I could hear an explosion, but I didn’t even flinch – I was disarming a bomb and a cyborg, nothing was allowed to distract me from it. The consequences would not be…. beautiful otherwise. But finally the last cables from the brain came off and the cyborg was disarmed.

That’d been… intense. Very intense. But it was also proof that we were scaring the shit out of the Combine, and if Edwards’ machine would do what it promised, his hit would’ve been way less effective than he’d intended.
As firealarms started blearing and emergency response crews pouring into the Town Hall, Sandriel came back, informing us that Simon had run off into the basement.
‘We can’t go into Down Below!’ Ike piped up. ’I’ve sent a hundred men down there once and barely any made it back!’
‘We have to go after the Grand Master.’ Sandriel said with finality.
‘Quite.’ Biletnikoff added, who’d just returned with a wrapped package. ‘This has served Simon for years. Perhaps it can better serve him this time in another’s hand. Trust it when all else seems lost; after all, it has tasted the blood of a demon.’ he said as he handed over Simon’s Sword to Sandriel. Had the Grandmaster let it fall during the Automaton explosion? I distinctly remembered him charging the machine with the sword… I wasn’t getting an answer, as Ike almost immediately came along again, a scruffy kind of man on his heels.
‘This is Buck Masters. He knows the Underground better than any living man and can lead you down there – if you’re hellbent on doing this. The Underground is not safe.’
‘We will go.’ Sandriel proclaimed.
‘I might be able to help us out…’ Raphael said and I eyed him suspiciously. Then he went on to describe a room in the Down Under. Had he been there? Was he with the Black Hats?
I stroked my chin. Very suspicious. He’d obviously seen the Black Hats’ hideout before. But Masters knew where the place he was describing was.
As we did a final check on weapons and nightvision, a familiar Power Armour was approaching. Tom and Echo had alerted Athena and she’d gone full armour to help us bring Simon back. We nodded, then started marching after Masters.

The tunnels went on forever, winding its way deeper and deeper under Junkyard – this was like a second Salt Lake City under the main town, untouched by the radiation. It was fascinating to watch the various tunnel-building styles as the light that Rick had conjured was brushing past the metal walls. For hour upon hour we marched in the darkness, only illuminated by Ricks’ small globe. Finally the signs showed that we were in the right area.
’I’m not going another step.’ Masters proclaimed.
‘No matter.’ Raphael said, blanching a little. ’We’re here.’
Before us, as we marched into the room and the darkness slowly lifted, more and more shapes of broken and bloody corpses were laying. We were entering a slaughter house.

View
Nipping the Iron Alliance
in the discussion.

Zye Venn,
The long Return to Banshee (15)
Saturday, 06th of February 2094

It was a pretty beautiful Saturday noon – cold, sure, but the rays of the sun had gained power again, temperatures were slowly rising – spring was coming. It was noon and we were in the Junkyard Town Hall, the place where the Iron Alliance Summit was about to take place. A couple of our newer additions had been put in the gallery whilst Tom, Sandriel and myself were sitting in the actual conference room – the tall Templar had stuck to Simon like gum. He’d even given the Grandmaster his golden cross to wear.
Outside the whole town hall and about two blocks all around were crawling with Junkyard Milita – small wonder, since the Leadership of the major positive factions in the whole Wasted West were present. Besides Ike, the Tyrant of Junkyard, his right-hand man Doc Schwartz was seated. Next to them was the leader of the Sky-Pirates, Major Dwight Price in his blue barret. Also present were the two Doomsayers we hadn’t managed to catch up to – Brother Zap and Sister Entropy. Both of them were sporting their purple ropes and at least the sister seemed to be a tad misshapen under her robes – the cost of Ghostradiation. The Chamber had sent a certain Dr. Rex, all decked out in more scrap metal and pieces of home-appliances than a disposal truck. He also had a tall staff propped against his shoulder, CD-shards dangling from the fashioned headpiece. That dragon thing that Edwards had cobbled together would’ve liked that I imagined. Next to the Junker was a small-ish woman in brown robes, who was presented as Librarian Mary – she wasn’t one of the two Veteran Librarians we had picked up in Sacramento though. Delilah and Gordon would’ve had more room in the back of their car, but we had not seen this Mary around the campfire at night or anything, so I was a bit confused where she’d come from. But Biletnikoff recognized her as soon as we entered the room and Delilah and Gordon greeted her before retreating to the wall, so I was hoping she was kosher. The last two were of course Frederick Biletnikoff and Simon Mercer, our latest contribution to this Iron Alliance pot.
This room was a representation of the major Forces in the American West on this side of the Mississippi. We’d have to see whether they’d be enough. Along the walls inside and out sat a couple of additional members of the various factions – bodyguards, confidantes, close friends – but everyone here was sure to be very high up their respective organization’s food chain. It took a bit for everyone to settle in, but finally Ike called for order and began the meeting. He introduced the people all around, then got to the meat of the issue – the Combine and the threat Throckmorton represented to any survivors in the Wastes. It was probably the first time he officially mentioned the name ‘Iron Alliance’ as his proposed pact for anyone who wanted to oppose Throckmortons ambitions.
This theme was picked up quickly – Major Price was basically an ally of Ikes’ for years anyhow and he was passionate about taking the skies back for humans and developing something to hurt the Raptors – the only contest they had to their air-superiority. Although factually it was probably more the other way around. The Sky Pirates were the only thing that had so far kept the Raptors from just taking over Junkyard and the Wastes.
The Chamber had apparently suffered from Throckmorton in the past and they agreed that there was a need to stop the Combine – I sensed there was another big reason that they kept to themselves, but Rex didn’t bring up any other facts. I shrugged. Each to their own I guessed. Maybe they just had problems with the Automatons.
Mary the Librarian had prepared a spreadsheet, data, statistics… but what we could take away from it was that the Combine wasn’t a good thing for the West and that the Sacramento Library was all in favour of stopping his nonsense. Although suspiciously it never came up what exactly the Sacramento Library wanted to add to the cause.
Sister Entropy seemed to be the one who did the talking – judging from the fidgeting of Brother Zed that was probably a good idea. She was in complete agreement with the rest and told us that Joan was especially interested in joining the Iron Alliance. Thinking of the Silas Rasmussen threat I could see that they’d need about any ally they would be able to get their hands on.
Last up was Simon and by then we’d all settled into a content rhythm into which the Grandmaster could now drone in – then it would probably get to the main deal of hammering out the shape of this new Alliance. He stood up slowly, then the familiar sermon started. Throckmorton was a threat, probably the greatest since the Last War and the decline of humanity was weighing heavy on him. With this mention of decline, his focus shifted – away from the Combine and towards warmongers, predators and road-gangers. ‘These threats differ from Throckmorton’s Combine only in their scale. Does it make sense to slay the serpent in its nest, yet ignore the viper’s eggs?’ I was stunned for a second, then angry.
‘What do you mean?’ Ike asked into the silence, a puzzled expression on his face.
‘Your policy of turning a blind eye to the roadgangers’ activities – even going so far as to protect them – is completely unacceptable! The Templars cannot and will not stand with people who refuse to aid those that would fight! Had these people the resources that Throckmorton commands, none of them would be any better!’ Ike held up his hands soothingly.
‘The Roadgangs are a shield and a filter. And they are good fighters, even though they’re crude. We’re going to need them in the coming battle!’ Simon just looked at the Tyrant of Junkyard, emotionless. Then he quoted Nietzsche’s ‘Jenseits von Gut und Böse’.
‘Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.’ He was almost correct even. Directly from the book it’d be ‘Whoever fights monsters should see to it, that he does not become a monster. And when you look into the abyss for long, the abyss also looks into you.’ – a few fine but important differences. But splitting hairs or not, at that moment my anger with the man just flared. He was imposing his twisted code of conduct on this Alliance and threatening it coming to pass out of his own, idiotic reasons. I brought down my armoured glove onto the desk and started shouting ‘Now look here Simon!’ but he had already turned and took great strides to leave the room.

My hand dropped to the grip of my pistol and I charged after the retreating man, Tom hot on my heals – although his grip falling to his swords’ pommel was for my benefit, not the Grandmasters. For such a sick man he made long and strong strides and I did not want to start running away from the summit – everyone watching couldn’t get the slightest idea of something wrong at the deliberations, otherwise this would all be for naught. I took it a little easier, just to give Simon a headstart, a couple seconds to rest and a minute to think on what he was doing. A quick stop, then I continued towards where I knew he was bound for – the Hotel.
At the Hilton Athena and Biletnikoff had also caught up and the old Librarian went into the grandmasters’ room, always the mother hen. After a couple of minutes he came out again, a worried expression on his face.
’He’s very exhausted. But he has agreed to see you….’ I nodded towards the fidgeting Tom. He was itching to see if Simon was all right, and my rage was just all the more vicious when it cooled down. I didn’t hear all what Tom had to say to Ike – he was pacing back and forth, so I only got half the speech that Tom was giving. ‘In principal… agree… Criminal Scum…. access. These people are.. food and drink here…. always a Templar here, a man…. convince them it might be better to… help and become a force for good themselves! We could destroy our enemies by making them become better people!’ I didn’t quite get Simons answer, but Tom emerged from the room and Biletnikoff asked if I’d go next. So I went inside and came to a stop in front of the man sitting on his sofa, having some coffee and pondering Tom’s words. Looking frail and bent and exhausted, now that he was out of the limelight and didn’t put on a show.
I bent at the knees until my eyes were level with the Grandmasters – mine barely slits while his went searching about my face. There was the muffled drone of the streets to be heard from the windows and the nervous steps from Tom behind the door. I raised my voice just a decibel above them, a silent and cold monologue. ‘Denis and Frankie died for this dream, Simon.’
At least I was sure he hadn’t been taken over by the demon, because even though he tried to hide it behind years of being the Grandmaster, those words hit him deep. Nothing more than a flinch of the eyeslids, a short flick of the eyes but enough to be certain that their deaths had affected him. Good. Maybe not all was lost and he was just a pig-headed guy with a sword and mad virtues he clung to because he hadn’t taken the end of the world well.
‘They and every Templar you got to follow your distorted vision, believed in a greater dream – in the possibility of making things right for mankind, in the hope of beating the evil – not only of Throckmorton but the greater evil of Fear and the Reckoners. You’d better take a good, hard look at yourself and the situation, because as much of a tosspot Ike might seem, his proposal, as slim as it is, is the best hope – not for his Junkyard, not for your Templars but for the whole Wastes – to get a victory over three very real enemies. Throckmorton, Silas Rassmussen and the Reckoners. This is not a fight for land or politics or believe. This is a goddamn fight to the death, for the very survival of the damned human race!’ I let the stakes sink in for a second, then mercilessly went on. ‘Get your head out of the clouds and look the damn facts in the eye. We might not be able to overcome these odds – even together. But splintered to squabbling factions we’ve got less than a snowballs chance in hell!’ I threw down a sky blue hat, I’d gotten from a little market stand on the way, after my initial anger had cooled down enough for devious reason to take over again and left the room with that reminder that there were others who’d suffered and others that’d died, just so he could be here to unite mankind against a greater enemy.
Because of my imitating his exit during the summit, I only heard the first couple words that Athena had to say to the Grandmaster.
’I’d like to make a few points. One – Obviously our small group of Companions have done well in the Wastes, defeating all kinds of Abominations due to our varied set of skills. Take that on a larger scale and you see that…’

With the benefit of knowing Biletnikoffs pieced-together backstory of Simon, I started to see how the hell he ever rose to the heights he was sitting on. He’d obviously gone insane after he had realised that his family had been killed by the bombs. He’d then completely blanked after that shot to the head and wandering the desert. He’d grasped onto the first thing that made any sort of sense to him – the lodge in his old Boise district. How he’d construed that into a crackpot religion of Martyrs, Templars, sword-swinging god-warriors or whatever he saw his order as was a mystery. And then – for some reason I couldn’t yet fathom – his order had taken off. There were now around 300 Templars in the Wastes, all of them picking only fights that they knew they had a high chance of winning. I guess that was a good way of spreading a legend. The legend of the hidden observers who’d help you if they deemed you worthy, deemed you had sufficient grit to stand up for yourself. Self-fulfilling miracles. Any bum or overflowing merchant could be a Templar in disguise. In its way it was ingenious, even though it most certainly wasn’t planned out – it was Mercers’ twisted set of ideals that had set this up. But it worked like the tale of father Christmas. Be good all year, you never know who’s listening, watching…. And if you are really, really good, in time of peril, that drunk that showed up a couple days ago might actually cast aside his disguise and help you out of your pinch.
The fact that this of course didn’t work in 99% of cases couldn’t go up against the hope. The hope of deliverance. This myth of hope had made people put a mystical Simon Mercer onto a high pedestal. Higher than he’d ever thought. He’d been an accountant before all this. He’d made hands-on experience with the new world after the bomb and clung to that. Running around with his sword in his hand gave him something to do, a way of not thinking about what he’d lost in the bombings. He might be a leader for a select group of people with the same mindset, but he was not a politician. Not a General. I was of the opinion that he wasn’t able of dealing with the responsibility that had been thrust upon his shoulder. And now he was cracking under it. He was reverting to his sword-swinging ways, looking at the one enemy in front of him instead of the big picture. The Templars infuriated and annoyed me. The soldier in me was very much against their doctrines and actions. But I did see the bigger picture. My view included threats and problems that even Ike’s Iron Alliance wasn’t addressing, not to speak of of Simons’ tunnelview. I had seen Rasmussens’ horde, had battled his Doomsayers and recently even a Doombringer – and I knew that he was a threat on almost the same scale as Throckmorton. On the other hand if we could manage to get Doomsayers to leave Silas and join with Joan – even though I hadn’t had agreeable meetings with her people in the past – they’d be a potent weapon against the Combine. And looming over both these threats, making them seem insignificant were the machinist of mankind’s fall. I’d been learning a lot form old books, from talking to the new members of my team, from taking a peek at those books that Biletnikoff and Tom were studying – and from my twelve years wandering after I’d put down my shuttle in an emergency landing. Throckmorton and Silas seemed petty in comparison.
All of this was academic anyhow. If Simon didn’t heed our words (and I bet Biletnikoff would have a couple as well), this whole Iron Alliance was doomed to fail before it started. We could only hope that Simon would get off his high horse and some sense together.

So I lost myself in Junkyard. I needed a high-power portable computer and some software to take the little project I’d been working on to the next step and if not Junkyard, where else was I going to find highgrade electronics? I quickly found that vendors were falling over each other, trying to get rid of their electronics – apparently the Caravan had come into Junkyard after passing an old science centre, an electronics mega-mart and the remnants of a tech-convention that had been held somewhere in Minnesota.
It didn’t take too long before I was pointed to the Tech Noir. This wasn’t the type of place where you got accepted into just because you opened the door and sat down for a drink – I had to pit every bit of knowledge I’d learned about computers from before and after the war into my talks with the patrons to get accepted and to get two pointers – One was the name of a computer geek who scrounged, build, restored and programmed high-end computers that were even legendary amongst the Junkers, and the other was a location that might hold the kind of machine I was really looking for. I thanked the guys and made my way to meet this hardware-wiz.
Knocking on his door produced no result, so I used my palmcorder to send a text-message to the number the people in the Tech Noir had given me along his name. The door opened by itself and a small corridor between husks upon husks of computers – casings, cables, power supplies and monitors filled the walls and floor, stacked up to the ceiling. A single, scrawny figure was sitting at the end of the corridor, lit screens illuminating a pad on the ground with boards and connectors strewn all around.
He wasn’t interested in my introduction, but he was very interested in the problem I posed to him – and after a while of tinkering and picking pieces and copying operating systems and software, he presented me with a sleek but sturdy laptop and some peripherals.
’You’re lucky that prices are what they are at the moment. Normally I’d charge you five or six thousand widgets for that.’ I thanked the man and paper currency exchanged hands. By the time I’d reached his door I suspected he’d already forgotten about my presence in his shop.

Since it was late I returned to the Hilton, where the team decided we’d try and keep problems during the night to a minimum. So we split up into two three-man shifts and went on patrol while the other half slept.
Maybe we’d be able to prevent Baphomet from taking another victim, but I doubted it. Obviously the murder last night had been within days of the one in Boise – Baphomet was getting stronger or bolder or maybe it was just Simon weakening. I doubted we’d be able to do anything yet though – not until the first couple days of the summit had passed and we’d have a spare minute to drive that thing out of the Grandmaster.

View
Homecoming
and bloody death

Zye Venn,
The long Return to Banshee (14)
Saturday, 06th of February 2094

Junkyard. Decrepit and stuck-together as it is, it is very much the biggest spot of civilisation since the bombs fell, at least in the American West. We had finally made it, the reluctant Simon Mercer in tow and in one piece. I managed to scrounge the much beaten and very well travelled flag from my pack and stuck it onto the police car. On seeing the hill and the J, the guards on the checkpoint got into a bit of a tizzy and once they got a look of Simon, the lot of them got really running. It didn’t take more than a couple of minutes until they’d arranged for a Humvee in front and one in the back to escort us into Junkyard proper.
The wall loomed up in front of us, a cursing tunnel of cars opening by force of the Junkyard militia in order to let us get straight through to the checkpoint and the dual-gates. It was a good thing we had an armed escort, some of the vehicles that had been standing in line (supposedly for quite some time, judging from the length) got really creative in their insults as we passed by. There was the quick once-over whether we were cyborgs or not – this would’ve come in handy on the Sky Pirate vessel in hindsight. They held Embezzler for a tad longer, checking his cyber arm but thankfully didn’t find the desiccated corpse-arm he had insisted on keeping from the Infiltrator unit (and stowed under the seat in the camper). True, it had the Infiltrator package, meaning the skin was pretty well preserved (and the subdermal blood-replacement vessels and heating elements and all that jazz in place), but the bones and most of the flesh, inside were those of a dead man. Be that as it may, the inner gates opened and we headed towards the Town Hall, a place we’d visited twice now. More in the case of some.
As we pulled up, Ike came hurrying down the steps, flanked by a couple of guards.
‘Welcome to Junkyard!’ he said, just a little out of breath, walking to the open side of the van and Simon Mercer. ‘My name is Ike Taylor and I really hope you’re who I think you are!’ Shaking hands with Biletnikoff and Simon he gave us a nod, then spoke up again towards Simon.
‘When the skypship returned without you on board, we had given you up for lost. The combine doesn’t return its captives – or at least not without some infernal piece of machinery stuck in their heads. After a day with no word, we assumed the worst. I even sent out couriers, looking for your second, Simon. Jo, I think her name is, right?’ Well Ike certainly hadn’t taken a lot of pause at that. We’d taken a night and a couple hours after the attack to get back to Junkyard. Some new development? Ike being thorough? Something…
‘Anyway, when word came from the checkpoint that you’d made it through, I can’t tell you how relieved we all were. Simon, you’ve become a living symbol of hope to a lot of folks these last few years. That’s why I feel your support of the pact is so important. It will help rally the average person behind us. God knows, we need all the support we can get.’
Simon didn’t quite buy it. Neither did I. True, Ikes Iron Alliance was likely necessary for the continuation of the human race – the problem was that it was Ikes show and I had a dislike for the man. Reminded me too much of Warfield, I guess. He had that greedy look about him. He’d make the ‘important sacrifices’ in order to come out on top, weakening his opponents, not just his enemies.
And my squad would be in the middle of it, I had that feeling. Our team was probably more capable than anyone here, the only thing we were lacking was numbers. But creating another split in humanity by waving Athena about like a banner to rally people around the old NorthAM flag didn’t seem like a good idea either. United, humanity must stand or go forever into the dark. And I personally thought that whole NorthAM 2.0 idea of Atheans’ was about as sensible as porridge. Of all the countries of the world to resurrect, rebuilding the one that had brought forth people like A-Bomb Andy and OK Warfield didn’t seem all that smart. Maybe I’d have to start investigating into Ikes backgrounds and dealings, see to it that the man would go straight and narrow when the time would be upon us.
‘I understand you’ve been travelling all night. I’ll not keep you standing out here any longer. I expect you’d all like to get a bit of food in you, clean up and take a rest before we try to get underway. Tomorrrow afternoon, you’ll have the opportunity to meet the other members when we have our first sit-down. But I think you folks deserve a solid day of rest. We’ve arranged rooms for you in the Junkyard Hilton a few blocks from here. I’ll have the drivers take you there now.’
The Militia mounted their vehicles again. ‘Tomorrow?’ I asked. ‘What about the chamber?’ I added, in a low whisper.
’They’ve arrived two days ago.’ Ike said, equally silent. ‘Apartments?’ I continued. ‘Not ready yet, but the Hilton is an excellent place. After this week we should have them ready.’ I nodded. ‘This has been going way beyond the original agreement we’ve discussed.’ my eyes narrowed as I stared at Ike. ‘We can debrief you after this summit, Ike.’ With that I left the man pondering and joined the convoy taking us to the Hilton. A fancy place, especially considering the state the whole world was in. I bet there were no expenses spared to make Simon feel welcome. We took up our fancy rooms, fluffy towels and fresh sheets all included. Most of the soap, towels, menus and items still had the old ‘Salt Lake City Hilton’ stamps on it. Time to find Edwards and our vehicles.

We marched out of the hotel, leaving Simon and his personal chronicler under the protection of several squads of Junkyard Militia. We found the spirit box after some back-and-forth on the commlinks – Edwards was waiting with burgers, happy as a cat and apparently glad to see us – he even gave each of us a burger or two. Some old friend of his walked by and they exchanged some pleasantries, then we retired to the Spiritmachine in order to catch him up on what had happened ever since he left us in the middle of nowhere to be picked up by an airship – an airship that had made it, bruised but not beaten.
‘Yeh. When y’all didn’t come back I wus gettin’ really worried.’
Apparently worried enough to build a Junkerdevice that used technological spirits to drag the souls of a dying or dead posse-member back into the ruined tatters of their body before stitching them back up again. Everyone’s eyes were on Edwards, but I went a step further and looked at him with the third eye – but no apparent Junker Taint was discernible from his aura – maybe he’d just gone completely bonkers the old way. Dragging someone back after all brain-functions had ceased opened up a whole barrel of metaphysical questions that nobody really had any answers to. He brought us to his Garage and I put the spirits in that thing under a microscopic mystical stare before helping Edwards drag the box back to the bus. The spirit inhabiting the sarcophagus looked a bit cramped, but otherwise normal. Manitous – even though they came in many and varied forms – always had a predatory look, spikes, maws, claws… murderous intent in their eyes. Tech spirits – depending on the type (weapon spirits looked quite predatory) tended to a more edged, technological look with more placid eyes. This one looked like it used to be a hospital in another lif…incarnation.
I was hoping that Edwards wasn’t going down a really nasty path, but it seemed all right… I’d have to see. And hope. So we started shoving the thing from the Syker gone Junker’s garage to the spirit bus, since the trailer sized machine wouldn’t fit all the way here to pick up the Frankenstein Coffin. On our way back we ran into Edwards’ friend from before again (about this time I stopped believing this to be a coincidence) and my once and again comrade-in-arms made quick introductions.
Apparently Edwards, Tom and Athena had met this drifter something between two and three weeks ago on the road, fought a couple of wormlings, a couple of walking dead and then split ways.
But the man was nosy and Edwards was nothing if not a sociable red neck, so as we wheeled the sarcophagus back to the bus, Edwards gave him a couple of highlights about what fully-packed weeks we’d had behind us. As the hoverbus loomed up, Raphael’s (yes. Just like the Painter. Or probably more like the Turtle.) chin dropped open – it was an impressive sight, even though I’d pretty much considered it normal by now – despite only having been riding it for such a short time.
They broached the subject of Edwards being in the process of trying to sell the old bus they’d been riding on. He’d been back about half a day before us, so I had to wonder a bit when he’d made that decision, but a couple days later he sold the bus into new hands, so I guessed he did well there at least.

Then we dispersed for the afternoon. We’d take a nights’ rest at the Hilton and then probably get involved in Ikes’ little meeting, but for now we had some time to spend in the busiest place of the Wastes. Since I’d been mooching the communal bike on basically every recon we’d gone on lately, I thought it was time to get my own. I had Edwards recommend a couple of good garages, then spent the rest of the day examining three hoverbikes in two of these workshops, testing and checking until I was satisfied with a Krupp H-31 the first dealer broke out from his special lot after I’d raised too many points about the other two bikes he was selling. This one was a little scratched, a little dented, but there was not a thing wrong with the engine or the ducted turbo-fans and I was very satisfied that the beige machine was the one for me.
After a bit of bartering and the exchange of some goods and Widgets, I went to bring him the two out-of-the-box M-21’s that I’d liberated from the Creepin’ Gulch and the trader agreed that he’d have them installed first thing Monday and two removable baskets for equipment right with them. As he lovingly caressed the barrel of the gun that had been part of the goods I’d traded, I knew we’d both made a very satisfying deal.

A while after the sun had fallen, I went to where Athena had indicated she was going – the Afterburner. I figured it was my best bet to see Captain Phelps.
Sure enough – while Athena had the attention of almost all the patrons, recounting tales of Doombringers, Apfelrobots and giant Robotic Centipedes – in a quiet, secluded corner the captain of the Sky-Pirates was having a solemn drink for himself. I went over to the counter, got an empty glass and another one with water and ice, then made my way over. I stopped about three paces in front of him, snapping a salute with my free hand. He smiled a weary smile, then indicated the seat opposite of him. I put down the glasses and poured the captain some of the old brandy I’d found somewhere out in the ruins of a home, then put the glass and bottle on his side of the table.
‘Heard you guys came through.’ Phelps said. ’Didn’t think you would. The Raptors peeled off us and started frantically searching for you. Time enough for us to escape – well after that boy destroyed the Automatons in a massive chain-reaction.’ I inclined my head, sadly. ‘The combine got another one over us there. That other Templar? Infiltrator cyborg. Tried to get the Grandmaster killed by getting him off the ship and finish him away from any protection. How many men didn’t make it?’
He sighed. ‘Eight. They got some of our pilots on the ultralights, some of my men got murdered by the Automatons. While we were away they found the body of Trent Gillip stuffed away in a closet at home base. I’m guessing that’s how that infiltrator made it on board.’ We fell silent and gave the dead a minute. Music was playing and Athena was talking, and people were drinking or listening – life was going on, but for a couple of minutes we thought of the dead. It wasn’t the first time for either of us, mourning the losses of comrades or subordinates, I could tell. Phelps was solemn, but composed and the fact that I was sharing in his pain was helping him a bit, I could see. I wasn’t a very empathic person, but we shared an officers burden and I understood how he felt. General Overkill the damn bastard had not once lost a step or a silent second for those he’d thrown into his meatgrinder, but this former Confederate Sky-Captain had respect for his men.
I didn’t elaborate further on the whole business and why we had abandoned ship and left him to the Automatons – He already knew it was duty and the mission, otherwise there’d be accusation in his eyes. So we sat in silence for a while, until Athena had finished her tale and the Sky-Pirates started to file back into the booths and the chairs. I toasted once more to Captain Phelps, then declined the bottle he wanted to give back to me and saluted once more before leaving the pilots to their drinks and got myself back to the Hilton for some much needed rest.

Of course it didn’t last. While I did not hear the scream and the subsequent crime scene, I very much did hear the pounding on my door at 3 in the morning.
My IW-91 was in my hand before I even realized, instinctively pointed at the door. ‘Go Away!’ I shouted, thinking of the many nasty and painful things I’d be doing to the person behind the wood in about ten seconds time. Torture could be an art, and I’d been a painter on more occasions than one.
‘Get your ass up, man!’ Edwards shouted, and for that alone I’d visit the wrath of Titans upon him.
‘Sergeant, I’m going to shoot you right through the fucking door!’ My triggerfinger went from the side of the triggerguard to the actual trigger, adjusting aim for where Echos head would be, judging from his voice and right-handedness.
‘You want to be awake for this, man!’
‘Ah Jesus!’ I cursed, in the popular English colloquialism. ‘Gimme ten minutes.’ If this wasn’t going to be phenomenally important, I’d have him scrub the vacuum toilets for the next twenty months.
Wait… I wasn’t on a spacestation anymore…
‘All right, you’ve got 10 minutes, then I’m kicking down your door!’
>Try it, ‘maan’< I thought, then opened the door ten minutes later. ‘This better be fucking important.’ I told him, the IW-91 casually pointed at his knee.
‘Guess what kind of murder we got?’ he smiled. Fuck those murders. This was simply confirmation that Baphomet was actually in Simon, had come her piggybacking on the Grandmaster and we’d have to take care of it in a quiet manner. A couple more dead in the name of the morale of the whole Wasted West? I’d condemned a whole company to a brutal and bloody death because it was the only way to keep a trio of Skinnies from finding out about where we were setting up a shuttle evac for a good dozen settlements in their path. A few deaths in Junkyard – a place where you had to run a gauntlet of roadgangs just to get there – to keep the Demon from knowing we were on to it and its end was nigh, while we’d crush its plans to make Simon out to be a bad guy? It didn’t even scare me anymore that that didn’t tug a single emotion.

As we came down there, the whole gang was assembled – Biletnikoff, Athena, Sandriel, Tom, Rick, Embezzler, Edwards… even that guy Edwards had met on the road once. I sat in the back, my hand on the grip of the revolver, my leg with the tac-holster pointing towards this ‘Raphael’.
Everyone else was pointing weapons at Biletnikoff as Edwards opened his third eye and checked the man. He found nothing, of course. I hadn’t either.
‘Well that wasn’t what I expected. All righty. Sorry, had to check, man.’
‘Seriously?’ I spat at Edwards. ‘You woke me for this? I already checked our esteemed Librarian over in Boise. I told you. You could’ve left me to my sleep!’
‘Well a horrible murder just happened! In the back of the hotel, looking like the one in Boise!’
‘So now we know it sits in Simon.’ Tom said, the impact of this knowledge making him flinch. Well great.
‘So, Biletnikoff. Did you manage to contact your Librarians about getting rid of the thing?’ I said, my knee inching a bit higher so my knee was pointing at Raphael’s chest. ‘And what is he doing here?’ pointing at the stranger in our midst.
‘Well… I can get all the data you need from the Library, without even going there!’ the drifter proclaimed, and I was sure it made sense in his head.
‘Edwards?’ I said, turning my head without moving my eyes.
‘Biletnikoff said it’s ok that he’s here.’ I mulled that over.
‘So this is one of your librarian contacts you got to look into the problem?’ I asked the chronicler.
‘Yes. As a matter of fact…’
‘He has a weeeeird aura!’ Echo piped up. ‘You should take a look at it some time.’ My finger tightened onto the sweet spot of my revolvers’ triggerpull.
’That’s nice Edwards. Not now. Biletnikoff, you had a whole afternoon to talk to your contacts, so have you gotten the info on containing or removing that thing?’
‘Well..’ He started. That didn’t bode well. ‘Unfortunately it appears we have to perform an exorcism. And none of us are blessed.’ The room was silent for a couple seconds.
‘Do those even exist anymore?’ Tom asked. I tilted my head.
‘Ok, so where do we get someone who can perform an exorcism?’
‘From all my research there’s basically two ways of doing it. One is the exorcism which may not work and requires a priest. The other thing is a Syker – they might be able to drive out the Demon. But that’d require Simons’ permission and right now we really need to get past the first couple days of the summit before we strain his health further. I think his mental defenses are constantly battered by the Demon and adding strain to that could be the drop that bursts the dam.’ I sighed.
‘So you want to do the same as before. Trust the Grandmaster is strong enough to keep it at bay and conduct the summit, then get it out in a peaceful moment?’
‘Exactly…’ he said, trying a smile.
‘Well at least Edwards is capable of this sort of extraction.’
‘Yep!’ Tom piped in. ‘He did it to me once. And Kashren.’ I nodded.
‘Would you be willing to try, Edwards?’ I asked the burly man.
‘Sure. Although what about making a spirit trap?’ Oh good. Junker tech.
’It’d probably kill him.’ Rick said. Edwards stared at him. In matters Junker-spirit-y and medically it was probably safe to defer to Rick (Even though his idea of surgery seemed to be using G-rays to blast people until they got better or a mutated blob. A healthy blob, but still… ), but I had a suspicion that Edwards was better with the whole tech-spirit-aspect of this… thing. They were bound to come to blows at some point.
So we agreed to do nothing for now, but Tom would take over being bodyguard for the Grandmaster, observing up close. Since it seemed that the Demon was only active when Simon was asleep and not actively fighting it, he’d be able to play his part in the summit and we’d have to try minimizing the damage that the Demon did in the night.
I went back to bed. Sounded like I was not going to get a lot of sleep in the next couple days.

View
Back in Junkyard
A time of doubts, horror and speeches!

Finally, the walls of Junkyard greeted us. We walked through the checkpoints almost undisturbed as soon as the militia realized that we were not part of the usual hooligans trying to enter this oasis of steel and gunpowder but city officials escorting the Templar Grandmaster. Ike Taylor personally welcomed us, well Simon foremost, into his domain, he even held a speech emphasising the importance of Templar involvement, and it was a good speech I am sure Simon was as moved by it as I was.

Simon retired at this point and we received a long overdue reward for all the trouble this quest has held in store for us.

A free week at the Junkyard Hilton and probably more work that he would reveal to us soon.

I might have sworn an oath of poverty but even I felt slightly underwhelmed by this. I take solace in the fact that taking out Modeen and finding Ritters sword, the sword that still remained in Sandriels hands due to strange occurances, weren’t optional errands but missions that simply needed doing, strands of destiny woven to tightly around our posse to break. Not that that excuses Simons behaviour and outright blackmail but now that I understand him and the cross he is bearing better I can hardly remain too angry with him.

Anyway we departed after Ike informed us that the last party, the Chambers of something or other, had already arrived for the summit. So instead of another journey out into the wastes to retrieve a bunch of Junkers we instead had some free time which we used to catch up with our family and friends as well as to sell off whatever loot we had brought with us from our journey.
Blossom and I retired early to our room at the Hilton and I managed to wave of the two whores that tried to welcome me with their big smiles and rather revealing clothing, these two usually kept me company during my stays here. Not knowing what Blossom would think of this kind of behaviour I thought this a prudent course of action although I would have to visit them later to explain my behaviour and assure them that they hadn’t displeased me, also I would probably continue to tip them even if they didn’t “work” for me as it were. It never hurts to have friends in unlikely places and these two, even though I didn’t even know their names had shown me kindness and brought me pleasure when I had dire need of it.

So tired from our journey, Blossom and I went to bed only to be awoken suddenly by loud chattering from my combead. A grizzly murder had taken place right outside the Hilton whipping the Junkyard Militia into a frenzy with more soldiers, guns, vehicles and still more guns amassing all over the city. My friends had apparently gotten to the crime scene before anyone else and they had taken pictures. The body belonged to a man with a sawblade for a hand, a fact that chilled me to the bones, it hadn’t taken Buzzsaw had it? Thankfully it turned out to be a different gladiator and I sighed in relieve upon learning that my former opponent wasn’t among its victims. Besides that the claw marks on the body resembled the ones we had seen on the victim in Boise, there was our symbol, the Templars symbol scrawled next to the body in blood and a trail leading to a nearby sewer entrance. All this confirmed my fears, the horror had followed us to Junkyard.

We all met up in a hotel room and Echo woke a now very angry Zye and then we called Biletnikoff to douse our suspicions about him, after all we had little prove that he wasn’t the Horrors Host. And that man has a way of making people suspicious of him, he told us he was out and about (instead of in his assigned room reading or sleeping or meeting with librarians or anything but wandering around the town looking for trouble) and while he started to explain I drew my weapon. I told him to sit down and my friends to draw their weapons as well. He thankfully complied and then Echo, holding his impressive machine gun, worked his mojo. His forehead started glowing for maybe a minute as he looked intently at Biletnikoff before telling us that he wasn’t in fact possessed.
I concluded that this pretty much proved that Simon must be Baphomet’s current host but my companions managed to sow doubt when Echo sent his mechanical wonder, Puff the tiny dragon, to check out the sleeping Simon only to reveal that he too didn’t show any signs of possession. Likewise Raphael, one of Biletnikoff’s colleagues and former member of our group, proposed to use one of his abilities to find the demon himself. Alas it would not or could not work.

Lost for workable ideas beyond “Let’s kill Simon and claim he died fighting the Horror” Biletnikoff told us that we had been assigned to stand guard in and around the conference room to prevent anyone, especially a possessed Simon from interfering with the proceedings. I told him that beyond that I would be Simon’s personal bodyguard from now on and took him not denying me as approval on his part.

We dispersed quickly after that to catch at least a few hours rest and soon found ourselves arrayed around the grand master. I had left Blossom back at the Hilton with about 600 $ in widgets and a stern warning to return to the hotel before sundown each day, I hoped that would afford her enough protection. Now I called out to Simon before we entered the town hall for the long awaited meeting. I told him that I had a present for him, the cross of Holmes, to guard and guide him in the hours to come and he put it on and thanked me for it. I prayed to the saints that it would help him but even if not it would still allow Raphael to track him for as long as he wore it around his neck.

The conference room was filled with representatives from all the lands not yet controlled by Throckmorton and soon Ike stood up cleared his throat and a meeting, that I was sure would go down in history as the point in time at which the forces of good took their heads out of their collective asses, stopped licking their wounds and nursing their bruised egos and started working together to ensure the survival of the human race, started. One after another they all stood up and talked about their worries, the threat of the Combine and how they think that an alliance would do wonders for them until they reached Simon and boy howdy did he almost fuck it up.
The grandmaster of my order stood up, blazing with righteous fury and just anger and declared, and I am paraphrasing here, that yes of course the Combine where the single greatest threat to humanity but how Junkyard is arming these batshit bannanas bandits outside their doors, well that shit ain’t right and now let me walk off to my corner to cry like a babby rattler who’s mum just got turned into a 100 tons of burger meat.

As I said I am paraphrasing a little.

So Simon stormed out, with Biletnikoff, Zye, Athena and me hot on his tail while Ike called for a break. And we did not hold back, I was first, I spoke of how as a Templar I understood his position but that this would give us opportunity to turn the gangs into a force for good, then came Zye, he asked Simon if that is what all the Templars died for and if he’d be willing to sacrifice all of humanity together with this alliance and then Athena tried to make him reconsider the scope of what his participation here meant. That combined with Biletnikoff’s quieter council turned his mood and he actually apologized to us. He told us that he would think it through but that he was tired now and needed to rest. Baphomet you sly bastard, draining him of his energy right before our eyes, delaying these talks by another day.

Well there was nothing we could do anymore besides watch over Simon. I think Raphael or Echo said we should take watch in 2 person teams but I brought up that that would only fit the demons previously established m.o. Wait for 2 people to be alone, take over one of them and then slay the other one. So Teams of 3 it was then with Echo, Raphael and I taking first watch.

I spoke a prayer to Saint Eliot Ness as Simon went to bed, to give him strength and to help him resist the demons temptation and then our watch began but it wasn’t long before Puff the Dragon cried out and guided our eyes to a closet. Blood was leaking from it and I instantly knew that the demon had made his first move right under our noses.

But watch out Horror, watch out Baphomet or however you call yourself, by all your victims’ known and unknown, may it take Simons life or not, before this is finished I would see you fall.51um_EJnbdL._SX258_BO1_204_203_200_.jpg

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