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.