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.