Part 21: Ghosts of the PastPart 21 - Ghosts of the Past
We have escaped the sticky clutches of the Non-Canon Zone, and find ourselves in the only slightly less depressing Crew Background Zone. Today will be dedicated entirely to gum-flapping, and we'll start our wading through this dialogue-filled darkness from our team mascot Blitz.
Heyya, chief. What's up?
Just checking in on you. The money problems you mentioned aside, you doing okay?
Not too bad, chief... not bad at all. It's downright cozy in here. This probably goes without saying, but it's also nice to have my skills appreciated by someone who *isn't* a drug-addled psychopath. Gang life was gettin' old.
Why are you so strapped for cash anyway? With all the work we've been doing, you should be rolling in nuyen.
Takes some heavy bribes, getting a barber to swallow all pride in their work and give someone a look like that.
How expensive are we talking, here? Even if you had a raging cram habit, I'd think that you'd have at least *some* money left...
Um. Expensive. ...Truth be told, I'm in debt.
In debt? To who?
[He hesitates before responding. When he does, his voice carries an edge of annoyance.]
No offense, but this is getting a little too personal, chief. My debts are none of your business.
If some bookie sends his thugs here looking for you, it's going to *become* my business. So talk. Now.
[Blitz shakes his head in exasperation.]
All right. Fine. First off, you don't need to worry about anyone coming after me. My debts are to a bunch of old contacts. If I don't pay 'em, I'm gonna lose 'em, and in this line of work it isn't smart to burn bridges. Second? Before you ask, those debts are for services rendered. I was in a tight spot, I needed some help, and I threw around a lot of IOUs to get it.
Oh man, this is going to be either real good or the absolute worst thing ever. Either way it'd be a sin to miss it.
So it's up to you, chief. You really wanna go down this road? Or shall we keep this relationship professional?
You're clearly preoccupied with this. In our line of work, "preoccupied" can get you killed. So spit it out and we'll deal with it.
That's a little hard to imagine. Wait, are we sure this "Emilie" wasn't just a body pillow with a picture of Blitz on it?
I was crazy about her, chief. To this day, she's the only person I've ever met who could out-deck me. And the real kicker is that she wasn't even a decker by trade. There was nothing she wasn't good at. I like to dabble in rigging, but Emilie... that girl could pick up anything that she set her mind to.
Sounds like a hell of a girl.
She was. She just... she made things *right.* No matter how stupid I was, no matter what I got myself into, she made it right.
Ensuring Blitz never gets into trouble, one of the lesser-known labours of Hercules. The man wasn't keen on getting his failures on record.
And then I lost her. I didn't know what was happening... it came out of nowhere. One day, she was just... *gone.* Along with most of my decking gear.
Naturally, I freaked. We'd had our share of arguments, but we'd never had a huge blowout or anything. I couldn't think of anything that'd drive her to do a thing like *that.* Mostly, I felt hurt. So I searched for her, in the real world and in the Matrix. And when that turned up nothing, I started tapping my contacts. And that was when I started racking up debt.
And so... did you find her?
No. She's gone, Rosa. Without a trace. I looked high, I looked low. I poked into everything I could think of. And my contacts did the same.
[He shakes his head.]
She's gone, chief. At this point, I've accepted that. But I still have to repay those debts.
Maybe not the healthiest reaction, but it sounds like he learned his lesson and already got it all settled, so good on him. But... where's the entertainment value of having someone just doing the smart thing before we even get the chance to intervene?
I'm surprised that you've given up so easily. There must be *someplace* you haven't looked.
[He blinks.] I dunno, Rosa... I really *did* look everywhere, and at great personal cost...
If she means that much to you, you owe it to yourself to try.
Thanks for the talk, chief. I'll let you know how it goes.
You do that, Blitz. Good luck.
Having set Blitz on a path of highly probable failure and humiliation, mayhaps it's time to see if we can finally get something out of Eiger now that we've been on a couple of missions together.
Our fearless leader returns. What do you need?
I'd like to hear about your time in the KSK.
[She shakes her head.] No. I'm not in the habit of sharing war stories, Rosa. Not with people who've never served.
What, you think that I wouldn't understand?
No, it isn't that. You've been under fire before... you'd get it. But I don't share war stories with civilians. You may be a shadowrunner, but you were never a soldier.
It doesn't have to be a war story. I just want a better idea of who I'm running with.
We're like three chapters into everyone else's background stories already, you've seriously gotta pick up the pace here.
As we always do in the end. All it takes is persistence beyond all acceptable norms.
I owe *everything* to my time in the KSK. From my street name on down. So. You tell me what you want to know, and we'll see where this goes.
Then first tell me how you got your street name.
Dangerous indeed, the so-called "Murder wall" has claimed the lives of over 60 people trying to ascend it over the decades, with the most infamous incident having taken place in 1936 when an ill-fated expedition led to the deaths of five men.
I think that he was trying to proposition me, in his clumsy way. Poking me in front of the other recruits to try to provoke a reaction.
Anyway, he got one. I broke three of his ribs, and the name stuck.
Served him right.
[She regards you with a critical eye.] You might actually mean that. But then, you may just be trying to get on my good side.
Oh give it a rest already will ya
Anyone whod use a line that bad deserves to get smacked around a little.
[She nods.] For once, were in complete agreement. But there was more to it than that. As soon as that idiot made his little joke, it was a foregone conclusion that I was getting saddled with the nickname "Eiger." My only choice in the matter was whether it happened under his terms, or under mine.
Thanks to what I did, my new name meant the troll who doesnt take shit from anyone instead. It's a name I'm *proud* to go by. And I've hung onto it ever since.
[Eiger pauses for a moment, then looks you in the eye.]
A word of advice to you, Rosa. If anyone ever puts you in the position that he put me in - if he demeans you in front of your unit, *whatever* his intent - the appropriate response is to put that person down. Hard. Out in the field, nothing will kill you faster than losing the respect of your team.
By that logic, I shouldve broken your ribs after Monika died.
In your place? I would have.
[She looks you up and down, appraising you.]
Not that youdve succeeded if you tried. But in terms of saving face, it wouldve done wonders. In all seriousness, Rosa... Im sorry that I put you in that position. I shouldnt have, and I acknowledge that. Now, you need anything else? Or can I get back to prepping for our next run?
Glad we're finally starting to get along, but you're not getting away just yet.
Tell me about your team.
[She nods.] Fair enough. I guess that you've earned it.
Our mission was extraterritorial... technically illegal. But important enough to justify the risk. We'd been sent across the border, into Poland. The Russian mafia had set up a cottage industry in human trafficking all along the Oder-Neisse line, and it was our job to disrupt it.
That sounds more like a police action than a military operation. Wouldn't the GSG usually handle that kind of thing?
Security etiquette choice here. The real world GSG 9 is a tactical police unit specializing in anti-terrorism and hostage/extortion situations, established after the tragic result of the 1972 Munich Olympics attack.
Typically, yes. But in recent years, the Russian mob has become more and more heavily militarized. The brass decided that they posed enough danger to the region to qualify as a terrorist threat, and that brought them under our purview. Anyway, we were a good team. Experienced. We went through a lot together, and we chalked up a lot of kills. In our own way, I'd like to think that we did some good.
Who was in command?
But he went down with the rest of the team. Everyone but me.
[She shakes her head.] No. No, that's one story that I won't be telling. They died. That's all that you need to know.
Ah well, guess we'll never find out.
Alright. Thanks, Eiger.
[She turns back to the disassembled components of her rifle.]
Sure thing, fearless leader. Good talk.
Moving on... maybe Glory is willing to continue her story from before, though I wouldn't bet on it being a particularly uplifting tale.
Rosa. A pleasure, as always. Need anything from me?
How're you doing, Glory?
Golden as always. No problems here.
If I didn't know any better, I'd think you were warming up to me.
[She studies your face for a moment before responding.]
I suppose that you might say that. I don't talk to many people, Rosa. It just doesn't seem to be worth the effort.
When you think about it, our group is comprised of some pretty cold people. We primarily care about getting paid, Blitz only cares about himself, Eiger only cares about the mission, and Glory is physically incapable of caring. Dietrich is the only one who might qualify as a good person, though even that's by criminal standards. Shadowrunning sure ain't a job for saints.
If that's true, why are you still talking to me?
I suppose because you've shown an interest, and because you haven't let me push you away.
[She locks eyes with you. Her expression is blank.]
I don't want to mislead you, Rosa. I still don't feel anything... not warmth, or friendship, or even trust. But I can appreciate the effort you're making. It's something new. And it's worthy of exploring.
Then... You said that things went bad when you turned fourteen. I'd like to keep talking about that.
[She stares at you, her face expressionless.]
No. I'd rather not.
Because I don't see a reason to. The memories are unpleasant, and dredging them up doesn't serve any real purpose.
Perfectly understandable, but we both know that's not gonna do it with us in charge.
You're wrong about that. The last time we talked, it had an impact on you. That's reason enough to continue.
All right. Here's the deal, Rosa. I'm going to talk. You listen. When I'm done, I'm done. No complaints, and no arguments. And we'll see what happens. Deal?
Make sure to sit comfortably as this'll take a little while.
Judging from what I saw in your aura, your Awakening must have been an incredible thing.
It was actually fairly standard. The real power didn't come until later. But we'll get to that.
[There is another long pause, and Glory becomes more animated.]
Anyway. I turned fourteen. I Awakened. I don't even remember how my parents found out about it any more... I think that my dad caught me playing with a tiny city spirit that I coaxed out of a pile of garbage, something like that. With everything that happened afterward, those days are kind of a blur.
Eesh, rotten fathers seem to be a running theme with this group...
All the while my mother was screaming and flailing at him. She took a couple of licks with the hammer, too.
What about the neighbors? Didn't anyone call the Polizei or ProSecuritas?
Oh, sure, they did. Our neighbors were perfectly decent people. Even if they couldn't admit it to themselves, they knew what my father was up to. When they heard a woman and a little girl screaming bloody murder, they were the first to pick up the comm.
Unfortunately, police response times can leave a little something to be desired. I assume that they showed up eventually, but I'll never know; I was out of there well before anyone showed up to intervene. But we'll get to that in a second.
The old bastard spat on me - his bleeding, crying daughter. He spat on me, and told me that I was "des Teufels Hure," the Devil's whore. Then he kicked me out of the house.
If we're all speaking German already, do you really need to specify... What, not the best time? Alright, alright.
You were a human girl, presumably with an ID. Why didn't you go to a hospital?
Oh, I did, but not in Stuttgart. If I went to a local hospital with the kind of injuries that Dad gave me, there'd be questions, and I couldn't afford to stay in town any longer than I had to. Even if my dad wound up getting arrested for beating me, the rest of the local Kreuzritters would have found me, and I'd have wound up skinned alive and thrown into the Neckar.
My ride dropped me off at the university hospital, and they patched me up pretty good. Had some questions for me about how I got so beaten up, but I lied and told them that I'd been mugged, which played nicely into my complete lack of cash, credit, and identification.
[Glory pauses for a moment and looks down at the floor, then fixes her eyes on you. She is visibly tense.]
We're gonna fast forward through the next few years. I was a kid on the street. I got by as best I could, doing whatever I had to do. The rest we can leave up to your imagination. Good?
[Glory's clenched jaw relaxes somewhat, and the tension drains out of her shoulders.]
A remarkable feat when your shoulders are made of metal.
So it just sort of went like that, until a few days after my seventeenth birthday. Then I met Marta, and everything changed.
There was a genuine attraction between Marta and me, I think. But I also think that a lot of my affection for her came from the fact that she was the first person in years to give a damn about me. She cared, and I loved her for that.
[Glory pauses. She looks flustered, her composure cracked.]
Keep going, Glory.
One of those lines where the difference between encouraging and disturbing depends entirely on the tone you imagine it in.
It turns out that a lot of the street kids I'd known over the years had moved there. The way that they'd disappeared, I'd assumed that they'd been kidnapped or killed, or had gone back to their parents. But there they were. I remember being kind of angry about it, like, "how did everybody get the memo about this but me?"
Can't blame 'em really, porcupines are a lot less cute when they're over a meter long and shoot murderspikes at you. Though to be fair that's pretty much the standard model as far as fantasy settings are concerned. RPGs have really done a number on the public image of porcupines. Isn't that kinda sad?
Anyway, park or not, it was plenty big enough for us to hide in. It was also safe and pretty, and the farm was well-stocked with food. Most importantly, Feuerstelle gave us a sense of community and stability that we'd never had on the street, and we loved Harrow for that. He became like a surrogate father to us.
[Glory pauses again, and you recognize the distinctive flush in her cheeks. She seems to have come out of her reverie once again.]
That's enough for now. I need to process all of this, and I don't want to continue forward until I've had the chance to do that.
Well that was about as depressing as expected. It's bound to get better from there though, right...?
Hopefully Dietrich can lighten up the mood a bit.
[Dietrich greets you with his familiar wry smile.]
Rosa. What's new?
I'm curious, Dietrich. Why did you switch from fronting a band to running the shadows?
Honestly? Workin' the stage was gettin' *boring,* boss. Spittin' and screamin' at the world was fine 'n' good when I was a kid, but it just didn't do it for me anymore. The Dragonslayer wanted me to fight a *real* enemy. So I left the band behind, and I turned to the shadows.
I dunno. Guess I figured that'd be the best way to find one.
Considering current events, I'd say that you're not wrong about that.
How long have you been looking for a "real enemy"?
[He shrugs.] Not too long. Ever since I took down the last one.
The last one?
'Course. I might be able to sit around feelin' pleased with myself if I followed the Creator, or the Moon Maiden. But the Dragonslayer ain't that kind of idol.
If you were to summarize each character in one image, this one's a pretty good candidate for Dietrich.
Who was this "last one"?
Gang boss. A great big orkish bastard called "The Wildschwein." Led the local chapter of the Horde. I'd had my sights set on him and his for a while. They'd hurt a lot of people, and I figured they'd pose a challenge. I wasn't wrong about that, but I took 'im out in the end.
Hell of an escalation, going from a gang boss to the Firewing. Gonna have a hard time finding many bigger targets from here.
Dietrich... when does this pattern end?
But that's the way the Dragonslayer wants it. And who am I to refuse Him?
[Abruptly, he turns away.]
That's enough talk for today, boss. Besides, you've got other things to do, I'm sure.
Yeah. Thanks, Dietrich.
We've saved his nephew, but it doesn't look like Dietrich's personal issues are all quite solved just yet.
Now then, Paul called and told us he had new information to share, so let's see what our fixer has unearthed.
Rosa. Welcome back. I have news for you.
Wait a second. Why would the dragon have investors? That doesn't make sense.
It's doubtful that the Firewing's pawns even know where their money is going. This is typical of draconic plots; uncover a stream of money flowing behind the scenes, and there's a fair chance that you'll find a dragon at the receiving end of it. To a dragon, conspiracy is second nature.
But Feuerschwinge was different. She didn't scheme, or plot. She *acted.*
I will continue digging into this while you and the team tackle your next run. With luck, I will have more information to share upon your return.
Sounds good, Paul.
One last thing, Rosa. Maliit was able to restore the readable surface of one of Green Winters' DVDs. If you'd like to take a look, you will find it sitting beside the player.
I'll check it out.
Very good. Maliit is still working on the other DVDs from the bundle... many of them are extensively damaged, and getting anything off of them is proving to be quite a chore. She told me that she'll be in touch if and when she makes any headway.
Wanna bet the most important revelations are going to be on the most damaged disc that'll take the longest to fix?
Alright, let's see what we've got this time. As before we have a list of tracks to go down, so we'll start from Track 1.
All right. As I said in my last recording, I've been having trouble finding hard facts on Feuerschwinge, so I thought I'd open things up a bit. Let's see what the rumor mill has to say.
[The screen jumps, and Winters reappears in a different location. He is now clutching a mug of soykaf in both hands, and there are bags under his eyes.]
Well. That was... enlightening. Assuming that any of it was true, that is. So, for the past five hours I've been poking around some of the crazier fringe theories related to dragons and the SOX.
So, when Adrian helped the Luftwaffe shoot Feuerschwinge down, she crashed into the SOX. That much is well-known. What isn't as well-known are all of the modern day myths that've arisen about her since. And tonight, I've heard an earful.
Aljernon mentioned these guys too. All these evil cultists need to find some better damn hobbies.
Another thing that my little Ghost Rat told me: the popular rumor in the SOX is that Feuerschwinge's astral form was... I guess you'd say "mutated" by all of that background radiation. Some of the glowpunks out there say that she's shed her body like an old coat. Others say that she's trapped, doomed to languish as an intangible, radioactive ghost.
I've seen my share of RPG final bosses in my time, and something like that definitely fits the bill.
I don't know how much credence to give any of this. After all, I don't have any proof that my Ghost Rat is even a Ghost Rat. She might be... but then, she could also be a run-of-the-mill glowpunk. Or maybe she's just yankin' my chain, and she's never been into the SOX at all. Who knows?
I'm gonna go out on a limb and say "no," but you never can tell.
[Winters leans forward and presses something off-screen. The display goes black. A few seconds later, the main menu returns.]
Track 2 is next.
[Winters grabs a thick, leather-bound tome from a shelf behind him, licks a finger, and begins to leaf through it.]
All right, so let's run down the list of major dragons that *could* be helping her.
So he's definitely got the means... but I can't see how he'd have the motive. He actively prevented the Firewing's rescue back in 2012, after all. Same thing is true for Nebelherr, so let's scratch the both of them off the list.
[He flips a page, frowning.]
We've got Aden, the Great Sirrush... he's operating out of Turkey. By all accounts, he's not a fan of Lofwyr... they're actively competing for territory in the Middle East. So I suppose that could be considered motive... reviving the Firewing might cause problems for the Golden Wyrm. But would he risk a war with Saeder-Krupp by straying onto Lofwyr's territory? Again, I don't think it's likely.
Aden is best known for burning down the city of Tehran back in the day. A sirrush is a rare type of Eastern dragon (the long Asian kind) that's physically a little different from the normal kind, most notably lacking the cool moustache.
Celedyr is kind of a nerd, his main interest lies in the Matrix and he's a big fan of linguistics. The BTL killer thing is a reference to the Shadowrun tie-in novel Streets of Blood.
[He pauses. Shakes his head. Then he slams the tome shut.]
...No. This is a waste of time. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am: the Firewing is acting alone. Dragons don't cooperate unless they absolutely have to. After all... why bother making nice with your equals when you've got an entire planet full of pawns at your disposal? They don't need to work together. They have us to exploit.
[Winters leans forward and presses something off-screen. The display goes black. A few seconds later, the main menu returns.]
Ah goddamnit, Chris Metzen must've beaten us to this disc.
Mostly just Winters' usual rambling about finding his brother, from the looks of it. How's Track 5?
No luck. Maybe there's some kinda super secret hidden message here, but hell if I can see it. One more to go.
Well well, if isn't our elusive quarry. Clearly younger than last time, so this must've been some years before the time he claimed to have found proof of the Firewing being alive.
I don't know where you are... out having fun, no doubt. Maybe flirting with one of those unattainable beauties that you're always chasing.
[He tries on a smile, but it quickly disappears. He takes a drag on his cigarette.]
That's good. I want you to live a pleasant, normal life. After all, one of us should.
Carrying heavy mental baggage is in vogue today.
The doctors would call this PTSD, I'm sure. They'd have me in therapy... maybe dose me up on SSRIs, like they do to our veteran soldiers.
[He chuckles, then takes another drag.]
Quite a story for the tabloids... the great dragonslayer, Adrian Vauclair, mentally incapable of wrestling with his own demons.
[He shakes his head.]
No. No therapy for me, and certainly no medication. I have a reputation to live up to... however poorly deserved it is, and however little I want it.
[The display goes black, and the background whine fades away. A moment later, you find yourself deposited back at the menu screen.]
Well, we know he got his shut-eye eventually, but that brings us no closer to finding the man.
That's all the chatting that's to be done here, so let's head out. Some fresh(?) air will do us good, plus we have a quite a bit of ¥¥¥ just aching to be set free in exchange for something cool and shiny.