Part 76: Siege PreparationsPart 76 - Siege Preparations
APEX has been shut down and our way to Harfeld is clear, but new revelations indicate that in this fairy tale the innocent princess we set off to rescue from the clutches of the evil dragon just might be a malicious warlock in disguise, and whatever he's concocting in that castle basement of his is not sounding like a love potion.
Now while it's true that we have no time to waste, time spent checking up on our fellow Kreuzbasarians can hardly be considered wasted. Most aren't feeling chatty today, but Aleksi Laine is one of the exceptions.
Doing a little remodeling?
Thought the place was a bit too airy. My old bones kept feeling a draft.
[Laine grins a tusky grin.]
We're shoring up the fortifications, such as they are. Lots of damage during the attack. Plus, they exposed some holes in our defenses we really ought to plug up. Just in case.
We appreciate your help, Aleksi.
It's the least I can do. I wasn't much help during the attack. Truth be told, I owe my life to Samuel, his people, and to the Kreuzbasar. This is my way of saying thanks. You just holler if there's anything else I can help with.
What's the mood around here?
It varies from group to group, and person to person. Some of the younger ones, who weren't injured in the attack, they want to rally and take the fight to whoever deserves it. But there are plenty of others with the sense to wonder if the Kreuzbasar is a safe place to live anymore. I admit, I've given that question some thought myself in recent days.
No surprise, all it takes is one break-in to thoroughly shake the previous feeling of safety you felt in your home. And we're hardly surrounded by the safest neighborhood to begin with, even if we were to stop this particular threat.
It's a tough call.
Very. I've called this place home since I retired from the service. It was a sanctuary for me, for many years. Not sure if it can be again. If I'm here tomorrow, I'll keep doing what I can to help. And if I'm gone, well, you'll know why.
You were a soldier once. What changed you?
You mean, why'd I lose my taste for war? Besides losing both legs and a lung? Well, I'll tell you, if only so it might teach you something about this world we live in.
If you know about the first Euro War, then you likely know how it ended. The Nightwraiths. I didn't just lose my legs in a bombing. I lost them in THE bombing. Whoever was behind those bombers, they weren't aiming for us or the Russians. They were aiming to end the war. They bombed everybody, on both sides.
The first Euro War was a war between Russia and much of Europe which started in 2030 after a Russian offensive into Poland and Finland, and ended in 2033 after a dramatic intervention by an unconfirmed third party (commonly speculated to be the United Kingdom or a powerful corp) greatly damaging both sides' military capabilities with measures such as Nightwraith bombers and computer viruses.
Spent months recovering, with nothing to do but think on the futility of it all. So many men had died under my command to hold that border, and for what? One day, a man in a little room orders a handful of planes to deliver their payloads. He watches feeds of bombs dropping and numbers falling. It's surgical. Sterile. Cold.
And all that the wars ever achieve is to rob a child of a father or mother, or parents of a son or daughter. That's why the "Arctic Fox" died out there in the snow.
Thanks. I'll leave you to your work.
Suppose that for all the shit we've had to go through, we can consider ourselves lucky that an actual war does not count amongst them. Although Blitz is still around so even that might only be a matter of time.
Kim is the only other resident with something new to say.
There's a lot of work to be done.
And everyone is helping. Everyone is doing something.
Do you want to help?
I want to be strong. Strong people help. But I don't know what to do. I'm not good at anything.
End of the day helping is just a matter of finding something you can provide that somebody else needs.
There are kids who need looking after...
[Kim glances across the way, where two of the Kreuzbasar's littlest ones peek out of an upper story window.]
Some of them lost their parents. I never knew mine.
[She looks up at you, with eyes too young for everything she's been through.]
Do you think they'd want to talk with me? The way Monika would.
I think they could all use a big sister.
What about your sims?
They'll be waiting for me, I guess. They're not real, you know. I'm not sure how I feel about them anymore.
Maybe you don't need them now. What do you think?
I dunno. I get anxious, and it's just so easy to go inside. But I don't want to anymore. That's what's different.
Alternatively, a different kind of encouragement:
You're not built for this world. It's safer in your sims.
Yeah... If only we could all go inside, we could be safe together.
Well, I've got things of my own to see to.
Nobody else in town is in mood for small talk, and we don't have any real need for last-minute shopping either, so it seems about time to meet up with the team and figure out our direction from here.
Seems everyone's gathered already, though it still feels weird not having Paul here.
With APEX down, we have our opening. The estate's automated defenses will be offline. Attacking the holdfast should be doable now. Still risky, but doable.
[Blitz stops what he's doing and shakes his head.]
Yeah, we'll have an opening, sure. But to do what? I mean... with everything we just learned, what's our new plan?
[She shrugs.] We enter the estate, locate Vauclair, and shut him down. Same plan, different target.
It's possible that APEX fabricated that comm feed. Vauclair might still be innocent.
I doubt it. My gut tells me that what we saw was real, and second-guessing ourselves isn't going to get us anywhere.
[Glory pauses, considering, then nods.]
After what APEX showed us, I don't even know what we're trying to stop anymore. All that I see is a lot of dead bodies, with no explanation why.
It doesn't *matter* why Vauclair killed Monika, and Paul, and all of those other people in the Kreuzbasar. All that matters is that he did. I'm going to bury him for that. You're welcome to help.
I, for one, want answers. Amsel said that there was a lot of money flowing into the Harfeld estate. And he found evidence that a bioweapon was being stockpiled there. Whatever Vauclair is doing, he had APEX kill his own brother to hide it. I intend to find out what that is.
That last part definitely stands out here, everything we saw on those DVDs indicates that whatever else was going on with the Vauclair brothers, they genuinely did care for one another. Could whatever Adrian has been planning really be so important that he'd take his younger brother's life to keep it under wraps? Or was it simply a case of APEX treating Herman as just another faceless threat to the operation?
Eiger might only care about the results and not the circumstances, but we've been through too much to never find out what all of it was really for.
I'm with Glory. I want answers, and we're going to go get them.
All right, fearless leader. You go looking for your answers... I won't get in your way. And when the time comes to put a bullet in Vauclair's brain, I'll be there to make it happen.
This is your show, chief. Whatever you choose to do, I'll come along for the ride.
We're going to find out what's happening at that holdfast. And then we're going to stop it.
You lead, and I'll follow, boss.
[Eiger glances at you and cocks her head.] Looks like the teams good to go. Whats our next move?
Well, it's like you said, the target might've changed but the plan remains the same. Which is to say, just like before we don't really have one beyond "go to Harfeld with a lot of guns and wing it from there".
Now that weve got the keys to the castle, I say that we use them.
[Blitz offers you a halfhearted smirk.]
I've always wanted a castle.
[Eiger raises a hand.] Word of caution, Rosa. Our objective may be simple, but taking the same approach that we took last time would be a mistake.
Why? Going in through the museum worked just fine last time. If anything, it should be even less well defended now that we've taken care of APEX.
And if the alarm's down, there's a certain vase in there we still have unfinished business with.
As could be expected. And facing 20 HP museum guards would make for a bit of anti-climactic finale anyway.
They know that were coming.
[Eiger slings her rifle over her shoulder.]
That just means that we'll be fighting in a target-rich environment.
[Dietrich cracks his knuckles.]
Works for me.
Well want to get into the lab area as quickly as possible, so I'd suggest bypassing the main floor of the estate entirely. We can enter via the servants' entrance that you escaped through last time. Unfortunately, theyve blocked off the route we used between the stables and the tree line. That means were going to have to fight our way there.
Lets assume that we make it across the grounds alive. What about Vauclair?
I'm okay with assuming that we live. In fact, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that us surviving should always be a part of the plan.
The lab that Vauclair was talking about wasn't on the ground floor. So it's either in the basement or a sublevel. We go down. And we scour every level until we find it.
That might take a while - that facility could be *massive.* There was clearly a lot more to it than we saw. We've got no way of knowin' how far underground the complex extends.
We go in prepared for an extended search, then.
[Eiger looks down, checking her gear.]
Ammo won't be a problem.
Please stop winking at the fourth wall, Eiger, this really isn't the time.
Okay, people, its go time. If anyone has any reservations about this, nows the time to say it.
Theres nothing to say. Well do what we have to do.
Okay, thats it. Finish gearing up and head to the tunnel at the back of the safehouse. I'll meet you where we stashed the van.
And Glory means it too, under ordinary circumstances nobody has any dialogue before the beginning of the final mission.
However if you're not in the habit of reading the Extras section, you might've missed that if Eiger had been on the APEX run, we could've learned from the AI that Hoffmann, the rookie who got Eiger's team killed, was himself killed by her afterwards:
I'll hear her out. Go ahead and give us your proof.
[She shrugs.] If that's what you want, ace. Five years ago, Eiger confided in me. She told me why she left the KSK, and why she can never go back.
The rookie on her squad was a disaster. He got her team killed. She told me what she did to the kid afterward. How she wrapped her hands around his throat and *squeezed* until his eyes popped out of his sku--
[Eiger's face has gone white as a sheet.]
Stop talking, right now.
Now obviously she wasn't present so we never officially saw this exchange, but we're not in the habit of missing important dialogue in this LP so from here we're simply going to say that the conversation happened and continue accordingly.
[Eiger eyes you warily. Her expression is guarded.]
Rosa. You need something?
I think that we should talk about what APEX said.
[She nods grimly.] Yeah. I figured as much. Well. What do you want me to say? That I lied to you? That I killed a member of my own team? Yeah. I did both of those things. But I don't regret any of it.
I'm your team leader, Eiger. If something led you to kill one of your teammates, I need to know about that.
Yeah. All right, Rosa. I guess the cat's out of the bag anyway.
[She nods.] Fucking Hoffmann.
We managed to slip away and evade capture. It was no easy feat, Rosa, but we did it. All the while, Hoffmann was apologizing for what he'd done. He knew how badly he'd screwed up. For my part, I saw red every time I looked at him, but he was a member of the team and it was my responsibility to get him back across the border.
I limped that fifty miles with a through-and-through in my left calf and two rounds buried in my right shoulder while Hoffmann carried most of the gear. We'd almost reached the Oder-Neisse Line when we were spotted. Not by border authorities, but by a farmer. He saw us, and we saw him. We all froze.
I knew that we'd be screwed if he reported us. But I'm pretty good at sizing people up, and I could tell that he wasn't a threat. He reminded me a bit of my dad, actually, a kind old troll with leathery skin and a long, white beard. There wasn't a mean bone in his body... I was sure of it.
I remember standing there, watching the light go out of this sweet old man's eyes while the blood poured from the neat, round hole in his forehead. And I remember Hoffmann saying something about "protecting the team." "We couldn't take the chance that he was lying," he said.
Your sudden departure from the military makes a lot more sense now.
[Eiger nods again, her face expressionless.]
I couldn't go back. Not after I did what I did. But I don't regret it, Rosa. Not for a second.
In your place, I might've done the same thing.
[She nods.] Yeah. I think that any of us would've. After everything that he did, he deserved to die.
Could well be, though overall this whole thing sounds like one big mess of people making calls they probably weren't in the right place and mindset to be making.
I don't know if I'd go that far. He was green, like you said. And he never should've been in the position to make those mistakes in the first place. I can't fault you for killing him, but I can't lay the blame entirely on him, either.
I didn't want this to get complicated. Hoffmann was an idiot, and a murderer. But he was also inexperienced and in over his head. He couldn't help that.
I still feel that killing him was the right thing to do, though. And even if it weren't, I'd've done it anyway. What does that say about me?
It says that you belong out here, in the shadows. Believe it or not, Eiger, you're right where you should be.
[She slowly nods.] You're right. I am. On some level, I think that I've known that for a long time now. You're a good woman, Rosa, one that I'm proud to run with.
And speaking of which, we should probably get back to it.
You're right, Eiger. Thanks for the talk.
[The corner of her mouth curls into a smile.]
Alternative end to the conversation had we angered her by not doing her personal mission and ordering her not to go on her own either:
I'm still out at the end of this thing... your decision to let Schattennest fall to the syndicates doesn't sit well with me. Not at all.
We don't see eye to eye, and we probably never will. But thanks for the talk, all the same.
There's nothing more to see or hear, and no reason to put off what we need to do.
This is a major operation and having a decker with us would definitely be nice, but it just wouldn't feel right to go back with anyone but the people who were there the first time.
It's been a long journey in many ways, but still one that is going to end right where it began. One last run and then we'll have reached the conclusion of this story, though for whom it'll be a happy one remains to be seen.
Not much to show off with such a brief update, one can encourage Kim to help the parents instead of the kids or agree with Eiger that only the outcome of the mission matters and such, but these don't make any practical difference or involve much dialogue of note.
But at least we still have the Becks.
[The Becks stand talking with each other in hushed tones. They would appear to be conspiring together, if not for their advanced age and friendly faces. They greet you with warm smiles as per their usual, even after everything that has happened.]
Well then, have we recovered from the earlier troubles?
I actually wanted to ask how you're doing.
Well... I... I mean, we... We were just...
[The normally straightforward Kristian finds himself momentarily fumbling for words.]
What my husband is attempting to say is that we're fine, but we're trying to decide what to do next.
[Kristian nods along with her, as if being convinced of something in this very moment.]
Yes. The truth is, we were discussing whether we should stay or go. Things are changing...
But we also love it here. It is not an easy decision to make, especially at our age.
I understand. And I think you should do what's best for the both of you.
If only we knew what was best. There is much uncertainty beyond the Kreuzbasar, and even more beyond the walls of Berlin. If you don't mind us asking, what is this place to you?
[Kristian and Karin look at each other, sharing a thought in the way old couples do.]
Thank you, Rosa. Once again, you have helped more than you can know.
Thank you for everything, and be careful out there.