Hell on Pancakes (A Deadlands: Hell on Earth Campaign)

Trinity Troubles
Ghostrock, Nukes, Useful NPC's, Clean Sweep

Dick’s Journal, March 26th, 2094

Hello Ana. It seems I managed to stumble into a bigger mess than normal. Our journey to Seattle has diverged into a conflict with the American combine. And I could not be happier for the opportunity. In the years at the beginning of the hell we currently know, I couldn’t get to you. I had no power to fight the monsters in my way then, no gear, just a mean streak and enough brains to hide from everything bigger than me. Maybe I deserve to never see you and our girl for that cowardliness.

Getting ahead of myself, I’m sorry. We left Junkyard early two days back and hit the road. Within a day we had made a lot of progress, even managing to pick up a new passenger on the way. Not much messed with us on the road, for which I am grateful. The trip only got exciting when we were crossing a highway and spotted some fool getting chased down by Black Hats. It took some debate, but my posse decided to help the man.
We set up an ambush in a truck stop on the road and two things happened. One, Richard, AKA “Fucking Squirrel-man,” woke up a desert alligator. And two, we absolutely fucked up the combine patrol. Squirrel man opened on the combine with a grenade from this monstrosity of a gun. Anyone who walked away from the explosion got finished off by Cassidy and her rifle. Again, damn good shot.

Our new guy, a weird fella named Ben, checked on the man who had been chased. His name was Greer, a Mayor of the nearby town of River springs. Before we could address him, that gator I mentioned came out of the truck stop’s gas station to see what the noise was about. We dealt with it quickly, or I should say Essence dealt with it quickly with that hand cannon of hers. That lady scares me more than most horrors.
Greer was grateful for the assistance and offered us a meal for the night. We gave him a lift to River springs and immediately noticed something was wrong. The townsfolk were nowhere to be seen and Black Hats were wandering everywhere. We regrouped before we moved anywhere near the town and spent the night planning. Of course, we were going to help Greer. None of us could stand to see a town taken over like that, more so when Greer said his kid was down there.
That’s not all Greer told us. Ben and Cass smelled something fishy about why so much combine was here and cajoled him into telling us what they were after. Turns out Greer was a northern alliance soldier and was a bomber pilot at that. The North had planted some back-up ghost rock nukes in a bunker not too far away from town. Greer was the only ones who could get in and the combine were after Greer’s entry card.

So, we made a plan, did some drills and headed back out at nightfall. River Springs was situated at the foot of a mountain, and we planned on repelling down the face of the hill. Words can not describe how much I was scared to do this. Was never feared of heights but try not thinking about falling being 800 yards off the ground. And I somehow managed not to fuck up and made it down. The northern Yankee however tumbled and rolled down the mountain in a spectacular fashion. By some grace of Satan, we didn’t attract any noise.

With a light foot we managed to make it to Greer’s house, where his key was at and where his daughter was supposed to be. I got stuck with making sure he didn’t get spotted by the Black Hats at his house and snuck him in. God, I was wanted to lay into the fuckers. We didn’t get spotted. There was only three of them and with the power I’ve rekindled inside me, I swear I could have taken them. But no, mission first.

Greer and I went over to his former squad mate’s trailer to make sure the traitor hadn’t spilled any more valuable information about the nukes. We made it to his trailer without a hitch, the rest of the posse staying below ground. I was so happy to put a bullet in that snake, felt like a release. We found someone else inside the trailer, some kid who I barely remember. Told us that the militia of the town were still kicking and ready to fight. A golden opportunity to get back at their captors.

The posse reconvened on the trailer just before we could see another example of the brains of the Combine. Some Black Hats were chasing some poor fool in the street, shooting at him and making him dance. You bet your ass we saved him. Essence and Cass put the truck full of Hats down before they knew what hit them. The man we saved was mighty grateful and showed us where the militia was planning their comeback. We hid the car that the bushwhacked BH’s were driving and snuck into the bar the militia was hiding in. Almost got ventilated trying to talk to them, but Greer diffused the situation. We got to planning immediately.

On the way in Cassidy saw a possible sniper in the church in town and was worried about it ever since. I offered to help her take them out and make sure we didn’t make much noise doing it. While we handled the sniper and taking out guards, the rest of our little army would be getting ready to storm the school. The militia told us that all the families were being held in the cafeteria. With Ace, Essence and Ben on the assault team, the militia weren’t going to have much trouble taking out any spotters quickly.
Within an hour, we were committed. Hex took a few militia guys to make some mines on the streets that a cavalry would come through while Cass, Squirrel man and I went for the school. And before you ask, I have no idea why squirrel man was there either. Made it to the church no problem and decided it was time to show off. In the six or so years I worked for Tang the old man had shown me ways to do fantastic things. And I do mean that literally. I’d gotten rusty in the years of neglect, but I tried my hand at doing something I’d see Tang do multiple times.

While Richard and Cass fretted over how to get up to the sniper nest, I prepared my mind to fly. Tang had perfected the power to jump over moving cars and leap between buildings. This wasn’t a big church and where I needed to go wasn’t blocked. Before anyone could ask why I was closing my eyes, I lept up from the ground straight up to the bell tower. Without meaning to I flipped and hopped straight up, making a minimal amount of noise that I’d curse myself for doing later.

The sniper was ready. She must have heard me coming up and got out her pistol of northern make. Luckily for me, Tang taught me other things than jumping. A pop went off and the woman smiled a split second before her bullet got flicked back at her. I must have put a bit more muscle grease into the throw too because when the bullet went into her arm, it exploded in a mess of blood. She fainted and got blood all over my boots. Cass and Richard made it up the ladder to the next with little difficulty, scoring me some grenade they had gotten from a trap.

Cass was charged with taking care of the Black hats on the school’s roof and did so with gusto. Was fun watching her work, especially knowing we were covered. Another group of militia guys were pretending to be the black hat squad we bushwhacked earlier, making a lot of noise. All the scum on that roof were dead at no cost. Ben was leading the charge to the school and I wanted to be there when that guy started fighting. The snipers down, headed down to join them, sprinting their hiding spot.
I could have stayed at the tower waited with the group. But I was curious about our new passenger. The man doesn’t look young, and barks orders like he’s done it before. When we were at the truck stop, he said he’d never been to Junkyard. Not uncommon, but almost everyone who’s survived this long has made it to Junkyard at least once. Either he’s a country bumpkin like the rest of us, barring Hex, or he’s an out of towner. Its not like I have a right to talk, being a convicted murderer and all. I just like scoping out my competition.
From the way he was leading from the back row he might be from the north. He got us to the side of school and everyone stacked up to storm the door. I had the first look into the caff and made a shot for a clueless scumbag. I clipped him, but Essence corrected my fuck-up and blew him away. In fact, Essence blew away a lot of bad guys that night. There were at least six bad guys guarding the hostages. All sex was cleared out without so much as a noise from her hand cannon. Didn’t even make a show of it. Again, words cannot describe how much this woman scares me.

I checked on the hostages and was met with fearful looks. Under the table there was a mound of explosive hooked up to their legs. Before I could call for Hex, someone had walked into the caff, waving around a detonator. Bald, Russian, and fucking ugly. Didn’t care and didn’t get a chance to make demands. Before he could even speak Ben just appeared next to him and chopped off the arm with the detonator on it. The man was fast, very fast. He was also again, showing his lack of common knowledge.

He tried to interrogate the Russian guy. The man was bleeding out and obviously scared. Ben started asking him the usual subjects, trying to find where the rest of the combine force went. And not even two questions in and the Russian guy’s head popped. None of us attempted to inform the guy, so Ben is busy clearing brains and blood off his kit.

God that is weird. Watching a woman destroy a group of men, slicing arms off, heads exploding. I’m not squeamish, not even close. But I still remember spending the day shucking and cutting corn to make army quotas. I remember teaching River how to ride a bike. It all feels like yesterday. You know, the day before I killed that man. Pretty sure I say this every week, course I have no one else to apologize to. I’m sorry. I won’t stop being sorry. We could be going through this hell as a family, or at least dead together. Its fuck all, but I always end up crying a bit inside trying to think of where you and died. Where you’re both dealing with this hell.

We’re getting ready to head to the bunker. Love you baby and the other one too.

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The Iron Money Shredder
A calm before the storm

Iron Shenanigans
Hi there Ana,
You remember that expression, its been a week if its been a day? Well, we were in Junkyard for maybe two days and it felt like a damn week. I’d love to give you the cliff notes of the mess that happened here in Junkyard, but I think all of it bears mentioning.
After getting in a nap and hydrating, we got ready for the mess that is Junkyard. The line was as is it always was, long as sin. We made we made good time getting in there, but still had to wait 4 hours to get in. Reminds me of better times. Getting stuck in traffic and being bumper to bumper with people that didn’t totally want to kill you. Toll booths, shitty radio, all the stupid shit that annoyed me to death all those years ago but now just means I’m relatively safe. The shitty radio especially. I think I’ve told you before, but Ace, the Rimestone cowboy considers himself a guitar player. Even sold an album before the boom. I’m curious how the hell he managed to sell even one album. I passed the time thinking about River and pecking Ace with rocks. I’m getting good at that.

After a invigorating car check from the Militia, we got straight to some important business. Hex was going to go to the junk repository and naturally the rest of us went with him. Though only I had something of value to trade in. Remember that crate of pristine cyber-eyes I got way back at the Dugway cache? Finally cashed them in. Walked out of that place with $9000 in widgets. Even in a money toilet like Junkyard, that’s nothing to scoff at.
With most of the day gone and money in our pockets, it was play time. We settled at the Yard Arms Motel and got acquainted with some very appreciated luxuries like running hot water. God damn, I miss hot water every day. Tried washing my clothes too, but the dang party animals next door wanted to go out and I said, “Why not.” I settled for wearing wet pants and shoes and nothing else while everyone else got their presentable clothes on. Hey, at least I stood out. I never stopped that training regiment Tang taught me so damn if I didn’t want to show off 6 years of work (and intermittent starvation).

Anyway, we hit up an info kiosk and started picking bars. The Junker bar, Tech Noir, caught my eye. The way people described it, it was an internet bar with lots of coffee for the Junkers doing their internet searches. They serve food and alcohol too, so I picked there. The place also reminded me of those net cafes that started popping up in town before the boom. Now you know I’ve never cared much for computers; damn things elude me almost completely to this day. But I heard about its neon lights and computers and immediately thought about our daughters’ room. She loved purples and greens and remember how we always had to keep her away from our coffee at breakfast? When the gang and I got there I was awashed with these memories and almost cried while I was ordering food. No one saw and dammit, nobody had better admit they saw.

Food ordered, and a bit alcohol burning my insides, we started dancing. I didn’t do too bad, though the “dirty techno” music playing sure threw me off a bit. The whole scene was so damn surreal. Ace and Hex, two men who I’d known for all a week and Cassidy who I’d known for a night were having fun. We weren’t watching our back or scrounging for food. Good old-fashioned fun.

Not only that but the way that Cassidy moved reminded me of you the first time you danced. And no, I didn’t make a move on her. I made the mistake of cheating on you years ago and I’ve regretted it ever since. And I don’t think I’ll ever try again.
Before feelings could arise and I could get weird with a stranger, I got another drink and headed up to the computer lounge. Again, fucking surreal to see so many working electronics that weren’t being possessed by some freaky fuck. A bunch of people were gathering around yelling and hollering about kills and went to go see why.
Apparently folk that could afford computers in this town were playing this game. Counter Strike, they called it. I couldn’t make heads or tails of what I was seeing for a while, but something made me want to try my hand at these devil machines. First round up and I got paired with a can that could connect his brain directly to the machine. But that surprise didn’t last long. I got in a lot of lucky hits and tried using the same logic I normally do when I was stalking road gangs. I came out on top, my kill-death ratio or whatever the hell they called it was 10-3. Damn good enough to be put on top of the guest list and get free drinks for a whole week.

The rest of the guys didn’t take kindly to my winning streak. So Hex and Ace joined me at the Counter Strike corner and we played a game of our own. Hex had way more time with games and computers in general so naturally I kept losing to him, and lucky enough for me Ace was out of his depth using one gun instead of two. Managed to whip both their asses, my record a 5-4. The night gets blurry after that. Everyone in the bar was shaking my hand and swearing my name all with booze in hand.

The night thankfully got blurry after that. No one woke up next to me in the morning, but damn did my head hurt like hell. Before I started my day, I got up and got a bit of money. I knew for a fact Hex was going into town to deal with the bullshit of Junkyard so I made him an offer. I pay for the fees, we get a shop for him to make us stuff. Honestly, I need the man to make some shit that’ll make tangling with the combine a breeze. Those fuckers scare me something fierce. He agreed, saying that he’d need to get to work on his “Familiar” to make repair easier. Win-win for everyone.

Hex took off and I went right back to friggin sleep, waking later in the morning. Not ten seconds after leaving the damn room, Ace comes out of nowhere to start talking my ear off about the damn librarian we were supposed to meet. Before he could even start talking I jumped the railing and headed for the street meat vendor across the street. Ace took after me like man posed. He might have been. I made it to the vendor and ordered my food and coffee, god damn I love having money. Ace tried to interrupt my meal and I made him pay for it. Pebble meet throat. He calmed down after that and the rest of the gang joined me for brunch after that.

Anyone that could afford breakfast ate and those who couldn’t I payed for. No one could say I’m not fucking nice. Spotted Cassidy stealing Ace’s food and noted to get that lady beer before we leave. It was then we learned of the new digs. Hex got us a new garage. Perfect for repairs and uncomfortable, if not safe sleeping arrangements.

Before we could go shopping we checked in the with the librarian. This was the lady we had saved from the wormlings when I met Ace, Essence, and Hex. She’d made trails to Junkyard and apparently had more scars from the Wormlings than we realized. We went to her room at the yard arms and was greeted by her shotgun toting bodyguard. The lady herself, Rebecca, was lying in bed with an oozing leg wound. She explained it was something downright magical, but that’s not the important part. She offered us a job. Deliver a crate full of books of the occult to the Library in Sacramento. Damn I wish I could get a look at those things. Of course we took the job. I was nearly out of money and Junkyard’s a fucking dollar hose.

The reward for delivering the books was $1000. Not even enough to cover our travel cost, much less how much it’d be just to get out of town. But there’s a lot of road between Junkyard and Sacramento. A lot of opportunity for salvage. Plus they were offering us a friendship with the Library. Lots of books and more importantly, access to their super computer. I asked her if it could help find someone and she gave a vague enough answer to satisfy me.

Rebecca made a point to say that the crate with all the books was locked tight. Even she didn’t know what the hell they were, only that they were occult, meaning every magical. Maybe there’s a spell for tracking people from memory, or even better something that can blow people up. This isn’t the first time I’ve had a strong itch to do something I wasn’t supposed to. Its been on my mind since I killed my first man. And its been growing stronger since I got off Dempsey land. Not going to pay it much mind until blood starts flying.
Anyway, we split up to do some shopping. Everyone ran off to the ends of the earth while I headed for a watering hole. I tasked myself with getting our food and water situated before we left. Went down to the watering hole chatted up the guy there. Forgot his name, but the fucker charged me an arm and a leg for the water we needed. Payed the man and bought some milrats on the way to our new digs.
Again, Junkyard’s a surreal place to be after seeing what we have for the last decade. I vaguely remember the town I was staying in one year. The place was a little spot of land that had wiped out by giant lizards. There wasn’t enough security, and even if there was, there wasn’t much firepower to defend it. And there I was, walking through a city lit only by sodium lights waiting for a package of food to be delivered. This place was still a hell hole of gangers, capitalists and other assorted evils. But at least there was a shit ton of hard asses with guns to keep everyone in line.
I had plenty of time to kill before I had to meet the gang at the garage, so I went to my favorite place in JY, Igor’s brothel.

And no, its not what you think. I met someone a few years back. She was a Law Dog who’d been fighting crime a long time before the apocalypse. We met at a watering hole at a town that’s most likely a ruin by now. It had been years since I last saw her before, but that lady was the one who arrested me. Lucky enough for me she wasn’t as much as a hard ass after 5 years of hell. She was pretty, and I won’t lie to you and say that the alcohol made me decide to share a bed with her that night. I regret it, always will. But that’s the uninteresting part of her story. Some years later I had come through Junkyard and got propositioned by a woman wearing what she clearly thought was perfume.

It was her, Harriet Barely. Except she was dead and not looking too great. We got to talking again and apparently, she took a bullet soon after we parted. A little demon crawled in her noggin and thought she was tough enough to be worth the effort. But Harriet has a sick sense of humor. She spent the days ever since as a hooker in Igor’s just to fuck with her demon.

I went to Igor’s, asked for her, and paid her fee. Spent the hours talking, filling her in with all the stuff I’ve told you so far on. Harriet knows how I felt about our one dance. So this is what I pay $200 for; talking for hours on end about the hell we find ourselves in. It was fun while it lasted, and Harriet decided I needed something a bit bigger than a knife for my next outing and gave me a gift. A ranger helmet from another lawman that took a bullet for her. And the battle axe of the black templar who killed him. I thanked her pointedly and said goodbye.
Met up with Cass, Ace and Richard at a gun store. Not too concerned with the name, but everyone was looking to upgrade. Though new to using a shotgun, I gota say, the pump action was straining on my ears. I was hoping the guy could hook me up with a silencer. And to my surprise he did and then some.

Showed the Russian guy what I had to spend, and he showed me one of his better finds. A pristine AA12 with 2 fresh drum magazines. I was never much of a gun guy, you know that, I always tried to keep River away from the things. But damn if I didn’t start drooling when I saw that weapon. I couldn’t trade in my pump-action fast enough.

We reconvened at Hex’s new garage picked our rides for the escort and got ready for the morning. Honestly, I was eager to just get out of the city. In the city for a day got rich and spent it all just by breathing. That and something in me, something in my blood wanted to get out and look for violence. I needed it and I couldn’t wait to test the skills I’ve been sitting on.

We left that morning, ready for the road and all its dangers.

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A Quest Recieved, a Quest taken
Helstromme grabs us by the balls and we fire a laser

Fire the laser
Been a while since I’ve wrote you Ana. Been busy, you understand. Busy with what though? Well, a lot. We took Hellstrome’s offer. Kinda sort of. Was about to get eviscerated by a giant spike robot, got on a train to hell, talked to a mysterious missing super brainer, and got a free ride to a undisclosed base in Texas. Pretty sure I told you about this stuff, but what happened after all that was a bunch of bullshit.

We got to the town that Hellstrome told us to go and the scientist that he wanted had already kidnapped by raiders. We followed them to Dempsey Land, yeah, Hellstrome took us that fucking far to Texas for this crap, and walked across a thin ass bridge to get in. We thought the fuckers were dug in, but it turns out they got trapped. Something there had warped the park into something out of a old Goosebump novel and was killing everyone who walked in. Everything was fucked up and we had to wade through the place to find the brainer we needed.

First place we looked was a weird ass forest with a stage in it. Before we could even see what the stage was about some thin ass wires tried to tangle us up. That turned out to be some poor raider that had ran in front of us that had been killed and strung up like doll. Clipped the fucker with a shotgun it just ate the shot. Hex made a smart move and shot all the wires holding the doll up and made it flop on stage. Friggin dumb monsters.

Speaking of monsters, you can thank me for taking River away from that damn fare all those years back. Remember when you tried taking us there and River got spooked because of the clowns? Well she was right to. Clowns kept fucking with us every step of the way. Creepy things that were twice my height and twice as creepy. Died to shot gun shells to the face all the same.

Speaking of that little girl, we got to see one of those arcades she was always sneaking off to. Honestly can say I get the appeal now, but I’ll tell you about that later. Ace tried working one of the machines, something that clawed at some prizes in a glass cage. Picked up a egg that had a severed face in it. I’d say that I tried my hand at it, but nah. Took my shotgun to it and got jack shit.

Something got us to go to the roller coaster thing. The brainer girl Hellstrome needed was on top of the ride and holy shit getting up there was fun. We found a way up and got jumped by clowns. Yeah, that sounds like bullshit, but these fuckers were climbing up the ride like friggin spiders. We shot ‘em, didn’t die, got to the damn scientist and the ride started rolling down the track!

Ace, Essence, the Doc and I rolled down a massive train track and went through a big ass loop before Hex ninja’d his way to the controls and turned the damn nightmare off. It was only after we got the Doc off and safe that the real fun began. We passed by a little lake they had in the park and a friggin robot man came out of the water. Honestly it was more like a head in a jar with giant ass spider legs. We filled him full of lead and Hex delt the final blow. Before we left though I did a bit of fiddling with a bunch of wires in some of the buildings and started a fire. Gotta remember to tell River I’ve finally killed all the clowns.

Dunno if she’s even remembers that day. Hell, would she even remember me? Last time we ever saw each other, I was behind a bulletproof glass window. My daddy never went to jail, but if he did when I was 12, I wouldn’t think much of him. She has that right. Hell, you do too. What I did all those years ago, both of you have the right to never forgive me. Killed a man dead and orphaned his boy. That’s something even fake ass gods can’t just glance over. I know I’m a mean cuss. Being mean is how I’ve survived this long. But now, I don’t know. I’m rambling into this paper, but the truth is, I don’t know if you’re alive, I don’t know if our little girl is alive. All I know is that even if you are, I don’t deserve to see you. I know that. But I’m working my ass off to do enough good to see you both again, whether you’re alive or dead.

Anyway, a day or so later we got the doc where she needed to go and Hellstrome put us back in Utah. We made trails towards Junkyard and met some new people along the way. Met them at a crossroads where some traders were having some car trouble. The folk had been hired to escort them and figured they could use help. They’re an odd bunch like us. A pair of brothers with a price on their heads. A tired looking gunslinging gal and a crazy old dude obsessed with squirrels.

We all got into our rides and went to the next town over with a NAPA we could scav for part we needed. Rolled up to a ghost town and found the new worlds favorite punching bag, the undead. Deaders were dug in and almost had us in an ambush. That went bad for them real fast. Almost went worse for us cause some of these fuckers were just odd. Wearing armor, using automatic weapons, and one of them even had a grenade.

The guy with the grenade got it the worst I think. Remember a few years back when I spent a year with a Chinese fella? Finally tried to put some of that training to the test. The deader had thrown the grenade and I managed to catch it. Dumb move but let me explain. I wanted to chuck it back with of those Chinese tricks I learned, but just couldn’t work up the power. So, I did chuck it back, except it didn’t just take out the deader. My car, the crazy guy’s bike, and the brother’s car all got pelted with a mess of metal bits from the grenade. Pretty much totaled my ride and completely wrecked the crazy fella’s bike. The zombie was dead, so it was worth it. We cleaned house and managed not to die.

But that was before some kid in a smart car drove into town, crashing into the NAPA, followed by a big ass scary robot. Whatever cool shit he was going to do got put down quick when Hex pulled out a grenade launcher to fuck it up. Two shells later and the robot was in pieces. Setting most of the neighborhood along with it. I got a fire extinguisher and put out most of the fire. Meanwhile, our nurse decided she wanted some MacDonald’s and wandered into the nearby restaurant. Was immediately accosted by undead and proceeded to kill while everyone floundered to help. That woman has a mean ass gun.

Everyone except the crazy man went in to the NAPA for the part while me and the crazy guy, another guy named Richard Solando. We were checking the body of the kid that had rolled up and pilfering his burned belonging’s. I turned up with jack shit, Richard on the other hand found the kid’s bracelet and started touching buttons. This geezer needs “Ace Course” in not touching shit. The bracelet started flashing and I immediately bolted. I didn’t care what the fuck it was, thirteen years of dodging explosives says blinking is bad. Every exited the store and trailed behind me, hauling ass down the street and into cover.

For once my paranoia saved me. Another big ass robot came out of thin air the moment we got to cover. I had crawled into Hex’s truck to get the grenade launcher but quickly found out that we were out of explosives. So I did what every person should do when confronted with a giant robot. I stayed put and prayed to Satan that it didn’t pay attention to me. Pretty sure it our new Gunslinger, Cassidy, shot its own friggin grenade launcher. I like her.

We drove back to the caravan, the posse giving me no end of grief. The caravan leaders were grateful and not only payed us but fed us as well. Got to know our new additions and I have to say, I only like 2 of them. Cassidy is a tough gall with two big ass revolvers. Not a law dog, but she certainly sounds like she’d make a good one. Does right by people so long she gets out on top. That’s what I can read off her anyway. Said maybe two words to each other talking about those vaper things you and River wanted me to start using. We never did finish that conversation, did we? Well, I caved. Asked Cassidy for a cigarette and she handed me a damn vape pen. It hit like a cigarette and I was grateful. Might have to keep an eye out for these things. I’m going to start searching for a charger for it. I haven’t smoked for quite a while since the End, but I’m going start using it when the need arises.

The crazy man, I could care less for. Minute one of meeting him and he’s going on about squirrel spies and shit. Bit of spaz, but he can talk I’ll give ‘em that. What little usable info I could get off him told me about cults, government agencies cleaning house and keeping secrets. Out of my radar but damn interesting. Richard and Ace get along well. Two morons who talk too much for their own good getting along, how about that? A match made in hell.

The brothers were probably most interesting of the bunch. One Heart Attack Jack and his brother Ray. They’re some Christian boys that were apparently wanted by some sudeo-Christian cult. Already earning cool point. Plus, their car was a kick-ass piece of art. They were sports about me nearly fragging their car, plus they know how to shoot. Win-win for us.

Got bored that night and started practicing the mental training that Chinese feller taught me. Think his name was Tang. I don’t its been too long. But I tried doing something we had done in our time together. Picking up a pebble, picking a target, and skipping the pebble over land. It was something to just focus my mind on, away from the regular over the top bull we had found ourselves in. I practiced for the first time in years and picked it right up.
Picked a good time for it, because shit got real. Really fast. While I was reconnecting myself with my training, Hex and Richard started chatting. And in no time figured something out. We were being followed, had been for hours.

Hex and Richard suddenly got up and started telling people to get a move on. I tried helping and so did the rest of the gang, yelling and hollering at people to move.

That of which was going to be a tall order for my almost completely wrecked car. Hex did something though that surprised the hell out of me. Before I got in, he started talking to my car. Thought he was going bonkers at first but the way he was addressing it got me thinking. Maybe he was talking to something I couldn’t see? I let him have a moment with the car and then the damnest thing happened. Came back to life from the mess that it was in and started driving itself. Hex told me that he’s hast to be in the car with me for it to work, but damn did it drive when we got on the road.

All through the ride Hex was on his Palmcorder. Thinking it about it now, he was kind of pondering over every image that came on that screen, like he was looking a puzzle. In between the messages on his machine, he’d start talkin about the people after us. I honestly could make out a bit of it. As I understood it, bad people, fresh equipment, big guns, wants us dead.

And then a laser lit up the fucking sky.

Suddenly, everything in the dark desert was set alight all at once. By the time I was coherent enough to look in the rear-view mirror, whatever that had been following us was vaporized. As in, in pieces. Hex explained to me that we have a new friend, well he has a new friend, ComSat. A satellite in orbit somehow got smart like a person and was trying to help select folk he could trust, and they trusted our Junker friend.

Hex offered to ask ComSat to help find River. I wanted to say yes. Good Lucifer, I wanted to say yes. But I can read a room Ana, or at least I think I can. Communicating with Comsat was going to be like talking to a doctor that only took Mondays. Limited window and a lot of waiting. These Palmcorder only have so much charge. That on top of the fact that our name might come up with some reason not to trust us. With the machine being up there for so long, it must 1. Have access to the internet. 2. Be bored as hell. If they got my name they’d have peeped at every record of me, including the news report of when I killed Frank. I didn’t want to chance losing a friend. Especially one that can shoot fucking lasers from the sky. I told Hex to put a pin on that idea.

We followed the caravan to that weird zone of Junkyard, you know the space of land where they don’t give a fuck. A guard there had been told to look out for us by that library lady from the motel. It was the dead of night so Junkyard was closed tight. We set camp and would deal with it in the morning.

Which is what I’m going to be doing with this letter. Getting ready for our next trip, and what got on when we got into Junkyard is its own can of worms. I’m going to need sleep and coffee to explain that mess. Promise to get to you before we leave.
I love you Ana.
-Dick

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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.

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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.

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