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.