Part 88: The End (Ending Showcase 3, Part 2)Part 88 - The End (Ending Showcase 3, Part 2)
Phew, been pretty crazy out there lately. Kinda weird to be back in this lab again, don't exactly have the best memories of this place.
...Why is Dante here, you ask? Because if not for the crew limit we would've brought him with us to Harfeld and unlike the rest of those traitors, he would've remained on our side to the end and subsequently appeared here as well. You can't reward that kind of loyalty with dragonfire, so he's here now as by all rights he should've always been and if you have a problem with that, that's your problem.
Here's that terminal, let's see now...
Victory report sounds nice and positive, could use some of that.
Seems the Doc's been archiving what's gone down in the past year. Let's start from the top.
FEUERSCHWINGE RETURNS, ATTACKS BERLIN
The Great Dragon Feuerschwinge, believed dead since 2012, returned tonight to launch a surprise attack on the city of Berlin.
"It was awful," said Jeni Acker, a survivor of the attack. "She swooped down on us, crashing through buildings and vomiting flames. I thought that I was sure to die, but a strange-looking elf used his magic to save me."
"I never even learned his name," she continued. "He shielded me from harm, and then he was consumed by the flames. His companion, a pale elvish woman, went mad... I don't remember anything after that."
Similar sentiments have been pouring in from victims all over the city. Tens of thousands have been confirmed dead; many times that have been wounded. All across Berlin, fires rage of a magnitude that has not been seen since the Second World War.
The dragon's attack was brought to an end two hours after it began by a wing of Saeder-Krupp attack craft. The fighters were armed with experimental Gauss cannons, and to quote a Saeder-Krupp spokesman, they "tore through her armor like tinfoil."
"A lot has changed since 2012," the spokesman continued. "Conventional weapons technology is more than capable of bringing down a dragon these days - even one as fearsome as the Firewing. "That said, the fight was not one-sided. We lost several craft in our pursuit of Feuerschwinge, at a cost of several hundred million nuyen."
Despite Saeder-Krupp's victory over the dragon, today remains a day of mourning across Germany. The Free City of Berlin lies in ruins, set to the torch by a monster that the world thought dead.
A strange-looking elf and his pale companion, huh. Almost hard to believe, that smug bastard seemed like he was going to live to give headaches to hapless shadowrunners for all eternity.
MYSTERY ILLNESS REACHES PANDEMIC STATUS
The World Health Organization has just released a statement about a new "mystery illness" that is sweeping the globe like wildfire. This virus has been given the temporary designation of "CSMDS," short for "Cross-Species Muscular Decay Syndrome."
The virus is both extremely infectious and asymptomatic in metahumans. As such, it was able to spread across much of the globe without being detected. It is, however, highly dangerous to draconic life forms; along with the WHO's press release, Saeder-Krupp has revealed that the Great Dragon Lofwyr is currently battling the disease.
The WHO has traced the point of origin of CSMDS to Berlin. "The disaster conditions that still plague the city months after Feuerschwinge's second rampage might have contributed to the rapid spread of CSMDS," a WHO spokesperson told us.
Much of the city still lacks basic sanitation services, and clean water is difficult to come by. Disaster areas such as Berlin have repeatedly shown themselves to be ideal breeding grounds for disease."
The WHO has urged the international community to exercise continued vigilance in battling the disease. "All appropriate precautions must be observed when dealing with CSMDS," the press release reads. "While CSMDS does not appear to be dangerous to metahumans, it does incorporate both magical and radiological elements, and this alone is reason enough to treat it as a potential threat."
You really would've thought that Lofwyr had known about Vauclair's project and tried to stop it. Seems in the end even dragons weren't as infallible and all-knowing as they always acted.
WYRM FLU: RESEARCHERS "CLOSE" TO FINDING CURE
The global pandemic of CSMDS, colloquially known as the "Wyrm Flu," enters its third month today. In that time, the overwhelming majority of the world's population has been infected with the disease, and nearly three quarters of the world's dragon population have succumbed to the illness.
"We [metahumans] dodged a bullet this time," said Albrecht Haushofer, senior vice president of AG Chemie Europa. "The dragons weren't so lucky. We're close to finding a cure, but I'm not sure that we're close enough to save them."
"In a way, this is good for us," Haushofer continued. "It is, of course, tragic that so many dragons are dying so horribly of this disease. But this is the first opportunity we've had to watch a slate-wiper virus at work against an intelligent population. We can learn a lot by studying CSMDS, and hopefully that knowledge will help us to avoid suffering a similar fate."
Dr. Kristine Martin, director of research at Universal Omnitech, took a more cautious view of the CSMDS pandemic.
"This disease - or a mutant strain of it - could still do to us what it's doing to the dragons. That's why it's imperative that we find a cure quickly. Thankfully, we're getting close to doing just that. While standard zeta-interferon treatments have proven ineffective, we have been working around the clock to gengineer a variant of Z-interferon that can combat the disease."
We asked Dr. Martin when Universal Omnitech's cure was expected to be ready for deployment.
"I can't give you a definite time line, but I can say that we'll be ready to move into human trials soon."
"I'll keep you posted," she added.
Was a lot less luck involved in this "tragedy" than they think, of course.
DRAGONS EXTINCT! WYRM FLU CLAIMS LIFE OF LAST KNOWN DRAGON
The Great Dragon Hestaby, the last known dragon on Earth, has died.
Hestaby was best known for her 2053 intervention in Tir Tairngire's assault on California Free State. After interceding in the conflict, she claimed the Shasta Dam - and a 40-mile area surrounding it - as her lair. She is remembered as one of the most popular Great Dragons, second only to the late Dunkelzahn in public opinion. She was also a champion of metahuman rights causes, and aid organizations around the world declared today a day of mourning.
"Hestaby was one of the most magnificent creatures ever to have lived," UCAS President Thomas Steele said in a prepared statement. "It is fitting that the Great Dragons of the world should be memorialized in her image."
If only they had all opted to use their powers for something else than selfish gain at metahumanity's expense. Imagine how much easier everything would've been.
LIVING IN A POST-DRAGON WORLD: S-K POWER STRUGGLE CONCLUDES, PROSPERITY INCREASES
The most hotly contested position to be vacated in the Wyrm Flu outbreak has finally been filled. Wilhelmina Graff-Benoit, the former Saeder-Krupp CEO who was deposed in the Great Dragon Lofwyr's hostile takeover of 2036, has reclaimed her former position at the head of the corporate giant.
"In the wake of tragedy, we will stand strong," Graff-Benoit said. "The dragons may have succumbed to CSMDS, but we - the survivors - will not succumb to despair. I will pick up the torch that Lofwyr dropped, and with it, I will carry Saeder-Krupp forward to new heights."
"This is a great day, both for me personally and for S-K as a corporate entity," she concluded. "At long last, I have finally come home."
Meanwhile, nearly three months after the death of the last dragon, global prosperity continues to rise.
"The markets have stabilized, and the power vacuums have been filled. And while the vast majority of draconic wealth has been absorbed into the coffers of various megacorps, enough has filtered back into the market to revitalize the global economy," said William Jeffers of the Brinkmann Institute.
"At the risk of sounding insensitive, the feeling of most of the big money movers seems to be 'good riddance.' The Great Dragons were huge drains on the economies of every country they settled in," Jeffers continued.
"The death of an intelligent species is, of course, a terrible thing. I myself was a fan of 'Wyrm Talk,'" he adds. "But from an economist's perspective? All things being equal, the extinction of the Great Dragons was a huge stroke of luck."
"So while we're all still reeling from what happened, we're also getting richer," he concludes. "For the first time in decades, things are really looking up for us - for metahumanity - as a whole. And that is a good, good thing."
Yeah. The greatest good of all. Anyway, time to get a move on, shouldn't keep the great liberator of mankind waiting.
All the nearby doors are now open. Checking the lab to the north first, we don't find the man himself but rather who looks to be one of his researchers.
Please leave me alone. I'm busy.
The room on the other side of the hall. Now please, leave me alone and let me get back to work.
Alright, sorry to have bothered you.
[She nods and returns her attention to her workstation.]
Ah, here we are, the true Dragonslayer himself. Tough old boot, still somehow standing despite his terminal illness.
[He nods at you.]
Thank you for coming.
Hello again, Doctor.
Strange things have been happening out there, Vauclair. Do you have an explanation?
An explanation? No. But I do have thoughts on the matter. Many terrible things have happened over the past few months, and I do not believe them to be coincidences. These events are connected somehow - I'm sure of it.
Had we made the clearly well-thought-out decision of freeing APEX before joining Vauclair, we'd get a glimpse at the exciting new challenges it would've brought to our life in the past year:
That's news to me. I've been living off the grid for a while - no Matrix access, and I don't hear much news.
[Vauclair raises an eyebrow.]
You know what I'm talking about. There's an AI that wants me dead for helping you.
[He nods, chuckling darkly.] APEX. It's a testament to your fortitude that you've survived this long. That thing - that *monster* - does not forget. It has made several attempts on my own life as well. Thankfully, I am rather well protected down here. Living in a contained environment has its advantages.
You've had it easy, Doc. I've had more drones out for my blood than I can count, and I can't set foot in a city without building defense turrets training on me.
[Vauclair takes a drag on his cigarette.]
Sounds like you've made a hard life for yourself. My condolences.
Consider yourself lucky to be talking to me. I barely made it here in one piece.
Calm yourself. You are safe here with me.
[He flicks the ash from the tip of his cigarette.]
Short of employing a tactical nuclear weapon, APEX cannot touch us down here... and that is unlikely, to say the least.
That's something, at least. But from what you just said, I'm guessing that we have other problems to contend with.
It seems that we may. Many terrible things have happened over the past few months, Rosa... and I do not believe them to be coincidences. These events are all connected somehow - I'm sure of it.
Your message said that you needed me here. I'm here. Now tell me what you want.
Isn't it obvious? I want your *help,* Rosa. I'm still alive, but only barely... I don't have the strength to do much myself any more, and Audran cannot handle this task on his own.
What task? Tell me what you need.
We need to save the world *again*? Even most actual heroes only need to deal with a global threat once before they retire, and we've never been one to begin with. We aren't a charity either, especially as it turned out that even wiping out a dominant species doesn't actually land a sack of nuyen on your lap.
If you want my help, it's going to cost you.
The world is crumbling around you, and all that you care about is money.
[He lets loose a heavy sigh.]
Very well, you will be paid. How much do you want? A hundred thousand nuyen? Two hundred? What is the world worth to you?
We've found it to be worth increasingly less as time has passed to be honest, seemed like there was a lot more to the whole thing once upon a time. Buuuut since you're asking...
Make it two-fifty, and you've got a deal.
[Vauclair shakes his head in exasperation. He looks very, very tired.]
Very well. Fine. Money holds no value for me anymore... and it won't for you, either, unless we can find a way to stop what is happening.
So, you are mine now. Bought and paid for. Yes? You're ready to get to work?
For that kind of money, I'm all yours, Doc.
The first thing you'll need to do is get up to speed. I have terminals... information terminals throughout the lab.
[He taps at his console with a frail hand.]
There, I've unlocked them for you.
And you want me to...?
Read them. Familiarize yourself with what we're up against. Then come back to me, so that we might discuss.
I'm on it.
More reading, huh. Alright, come on then boy, let's put our eyeballs to work.
Here's the first one.
So what's been going down in the Windy City lately?
NEW STRAIN OF VITAS DISCOVERED; UCAS DECLARES CHICAGO CONTAINMENT ZONE
August 23, 2055
The UCAS Federal Government declared a quarantine area between Lake Michigan and the Des Plaines River today. The quarantined area, dubbed the "Chicago Containment Zone," is meant to contain a new strain of VITAS.
Virally Induced Toxic Allergy Syndrome, or VITAS, is both extremely infectious and highly lethal; two previous outbreaks of the disease (Strain I in 2010 and Strain II in the early 2020s) killed billions, reducing the world's population by over a quarter.
Given the global pandemic of Wyrm Flu and the recent extinction of the dragons, the announcement of a new strain of VITAS has caused considerable panic throughout the UCAS. But local news sources from towns surrounding Chicago have offered conflicting reports about the CZ, and about what it is meant to contain.
According to these dissenting voices, the true danger from Chicago comes - improbably - in the form of a swarm of giant, man-eating cockroaches.
Assuming that these reports are not a hoax, the creatures have cut a bloody swath across every town they've appeared in, and the flow of insects out of Chicago shows no sign of slowing down. We've reached out to our contacts within the UCAS government for comment on these allegations, but as of the time of this report, they have not returned our calls.
Bug problems, apparently. Glad we're far away from that mess at least, cockroach-sized cockroaches are unpleasant enough.
CZ LABELED FAILURE; UCAS GOVERNMENT CALLS FOR CORPORATE HELP
August 30, 2055
This morning, a mere seven days after its construction, the UCAS Federal Government has officially abandoned the Chicago Containment Zone.
Admitting that the CZ "has not performed up to expectations," President Thomas Steele has appealed for assistance from corporate interests to stem the tide of monstrous insects flowing out of Chicago.
We might condemn the idea of throwing a whole city to the dogs, or dog-sized insects in this case, if not for... you know. That one thing we did.
ARES WHISTLE-BLOWER LEAKS CHICAGO BOMB PLANS
August 31, 2055
A whistle-blower from Ares Macrotechnology has leaked information that the corporation is planning to bomb Chicago. Metahuman casualties have been deemed "acceptable losses" by the company's think tanks, and the government has allegedly signed off on the plan.
In light of these allegations, protesters and supporters of the plan have clashed in bloody violence across the UCAS.
Spokesmen from the UCAS government and Ares Macrotechnology have derided these allegations as "patently false," and have urged UCAS citizens to remain calm as they work together to engineer a solution to the Chicago Crisis.
>> Brijagandah Foster
From personal experience, it's a lot harder for anyone to tell on your plans to level a city if the potential leakers force you to kill them all first. And so, in the end?
NUCLEAR DEVASTATION IN CHICAGO
September 10, 2055
A massive nuclear strike, launched early this morning, has wiped the city of Chicago off the map. Nothing moves in the wreckage. A city of over four million people has been reduced to ash.
An Ares spokesman has announced that, while regrettable, this morning's actions were necessary; the Chicago hive posed an inestimable threat to the safety and security of the UCAS as a whole, and with the failure of the CZ, a nuclear strike was deemed to be the most viable remaining option.
Meanwhile, reports of insect spirit activity in surrounding municipalities continue to flow in. There are rumors of small hives forming in Aurora, Arlington Heights, and Merrillville, and isolated reports of insect spirit activity have been reported as far north as Milwaukee.
Scientists remain baffled as to why insect spirit activity has experienced such exponential growth in such a short period of time. Researchers have advanced theories involving everything from climate change to last year's Wyrm Flu outbreak, but there is no clear consensus as of the writing of this article.
Guess it's real windy in there now, huh. How could've Panacea have affected bug spirit activity on the other side of the ocean though? Let's go check another terminal.
Ah, international crises, there's one thing humanity was already an ace at long before dragons appeared and started meddling in everybody's affairs. This first one seems to pertain to elves though.
ELVISH NATIONS CUT CONTACT WITH OUTSIDE WORLD
Early this morning, the elvish nations of Tir Tairngire and Tír na nÓg "went dark," sealing their borders and severing all communications with their neighboring states. In wake of this development, California Free State and the UCAS have begun to strengthen their own borders with Tir Tairngire.
"It looks to me like they're hunkering down," military analyst Sara Álvarez told us, "preparing themselves for a defensive war. This is unusual for a couple of reasons. One, there have been no recent indications of hostilities between the Tir nations and their immediate neighbors. And two, the Tir nations are located on different continents from one another."
"Short of a global conflict, I can't see what could threaten both Tír na nÓg *and* Tir Tairngire," Álvarez continued. "Maybe the Council of Princes knows something that the rest of us don't. But whatever they're thinking, it's making a lot of people nervous."
As of the writing of this article, no official statements from Tir Tairngire's Council of Princes or the Tuatha Dé Danaan of Tír na nÓg have been released.
If they know about something big, then how about sharing it with the rest of the class instead of just slamming all their doors shut? Is being needlessly cryptic and unforthcoming an elven genetic trait or something?
...Yes, John, I'm here.
What's happening out there?
It's a real mess out here, John - an absolutely tragic situation. Just to refresh the viewers at home, the permanent mana storm that surrounded the city of Sydney--
That was a benign mana storm, right? For most people, it was basically harmless.
It's probably good that you're keeping your distance, Taylor... we're hearing some frightening things about this rift. I'm looking at a statement from renowned hermetic theorist Elizabeth Alder, which I'm going to read to you now...
[He squints up at his teleprompter.]
"This newly formed rift..." - again, these are the words of Dr. Alder - "...has essentially dragged Sydney off of our plane of experience and into another." She goes on to say that "the city and all of its people might still be out there, somewhere, but they're no longer on this Earth. Not as we know it."
Sounds scary, Taylor.
It certainly is, but that hasn't stopped some daring individuals here from doing what they can to try to help...
[She turns to face the ork, thrusting her microphone toward his face. He takes a reflexive half-step backward.]
Sir, could you tell us your name, and what you're doing here in Pyrmont today?
How have you tried to help the city of Sydney? What have you been doing so far?
[Liam shuffles uncomfortably.]
Well, we've got aid stations set up for anyone who comes back through the rift... if anyone comes back through. They've got food, water, blankets... that kind of thing. I also sent in a few drones, but I lost contact with 'em as soon as they went in.
I see. And have you done anything else?
We... ah... we sent some volunteers. Brave chaps, you know - they walked into the rift itself, carrying food an' water and towing rope lines. My own cousin went in there.
[He does his best to force a smile.]
Haven't seen any of 'em come back yet, but there's still hope.
Chilling news, Taylor. We'll all be rooting for those brave volunteers back here at home.
Stay tuned for more news about the Sydney rift as it comes in, and for more on-location reporting from our own Taylor Nguyen--
A "swirling ball of vibrant colors"? Is Oz evolving into Ozma? Whatever the case, it's clearly a bad time to be a major city right now. Not sure what we're supposed to do about something like that though, Vauclair better not expect us to march into any magical death rift.
The third and final terminal is in the northern lab with the researcher we met earlier.
Get the hunch that there won't be a lot of positive news on this one either.
GLOBAL BACKGROUND COUNT RISING
July 10, 2055
Dr. Jake Hansen is one of the world's foremost experts in mana dynamics. He's taken a break from his own research to travel to my lab. Since he's arrived, he's spent the better part of a day poring over reams of data that my team collected. Straightening, he looks me in the eye, and his normally jovial expression has turned grim. "We're in trouble, Liz," he says.
Dr. Hansen's proclamation confirms what I already know. Still, I wince. I was hoping he'd find something to prove me wrong.
To explain why we're in trouble, I'll first have to introduce a piece of metamagical terminology to you: "background count." In hermetic theory circles, the term "background count" refers to the intensity of magical saturation in a location. A rating of 0 is neutral, and as the amount of concentrated mana in a location increases, the scale goes up.
Outside of freak mana storms, the highest background counts ever recorded have come from places like Hiroshima and Auschwitz, which have been holding steady at a rating of 5 for as long as they've been measured.
The conventional wisdom has always been that extraordinary circumstances create strong background counts. Incidents of great physical or emotional turmoil, be they positive or negative, can warp the magical environment of a place and cause its background count to rise.
But in recent months, my lab has recorded a disturbing trend: a steady, *global* increase in the world's background count. This has been observed in every location that we've measured, from Germany to the Antarctic. Locations that used to be neutral now carry a measurable background count of 1.2. And those high-count locations, like Hiroshima and Auschwitz? They've exploded into full-fledged mana storms.
And this brings me back to the trouble that we're all in - though that term might be underselling it a bit. "Deep shit" is probably closer to the mark.
The higher the world's background count rises, the less predictably magic will behave. The spells and rituals that we all rely on are already beginning to fail us. If we do nothing, it is conceivable - maybe even probable - that magic will become too dangerous to use within our lifetime. And if we can no longer use magic, it will in turn become impossible for us to solve the problem.
Back in my lab, Dr. Hansen is still staring. "You need to get the word out about this, Liz," he tells me. "I'll back you. The community needs to know."
He's right, of course. We, as a community, need to pool our resources to find a way to reverse this trend. And we need to do it quickly. If we do nothing, we might soon find ourselves outpaced by a rapidly changing magical environment, unable to adapt to the world as it changes around us.
"In trouble," indeed.
>>Dr. Elizabeth Alder
But what are we supposed to do without our magic, it's all we have! Without it we're just a... a... person! This is harrowing news.
Surprisingly, this increase in violence has been steady across the board. It doesn't matter where you go - the murder rates there are climbing. Even historically low-crime countries such as Monaco and Liechtenstein have been impacted by this. The pandemic of violence respects no borders.
Now, the report doesn't speculate as to why the world has become more violent in the past year, but on popular Matrix sites, conspiracy theories are running wild.
Another poster who chose to remain anonymous said that magic was the culprit. "Every time something crazy happens to the world, magic is to blame."
Whatever the cause, the trend doesn't appear to be slowing down. Just this morning, a mass shooting in the CAS state of Arkansas left twenty-two dead and another fifteen wounded. We'll have more on that story when we come back.
Where is all this bloodlust stemming from all of a sudden? This was supposed to be a brighter world, dammit.
One last entry to go.
PARAZOOLOGICAL THREATS: THE RISING TIDE
October 10, 2055
I'm standing in the laboratory of Dr. Jacob Okinyi, head zoologist at the Institute of Primate Research in Karen, Kenya. Strapped to a reinforced examination table is a creature unlike anything I've ever seen. The thing is approximately the size and shape of a gibbon, but it has six mouths arranged in a ring around a pale, grub-like head. It's disgusting.
Dr. Okinyi sees my reaction, and he laughs. "What you see now is nothing," he tells me. "When it was alive, it killed six men - ripped the faces and genitals off of two, and bathed the other four in some sort of caustic fluid. And all the while, it was laughing."
"Laughing?" I ask. "Like, hyena-laughing?"
"No. It was laughing like a man."
He must see my brow furrow, because he continues on.
"This was not a simple animal, Dr. Alder. It acted with *purpose* when it killed those men, and the only surviving witness tells me that it grew fat on their screams. Sure enough, the creature's belly does look distended. I know that the thing is dead, but that doesn't stop me from edging away."
Dr. Okinyi goes on to tell me that many similar creatures had been captured throughout the jungles of Nairobi - monkey-like things with bizarre mutations and vicious temperaments. But each has been different enough from the others to defy classification; this one had a cluster of eyes and an extra set of legs, while that one had a coat of quills and the rasping mouth of a lamprey.
"The emergence of magic some forty years ago put a new wrinkle into biological field work," Dr. Okinyi tells me. "New species are being discovered all the time. But this... this is something different. These creatures that have been popping up recently fall outside of any meaningful system of classification. And what's more, I have conducted enough autopsies on them to know that they do not belong here."
I press him for clarification on that point. "What I mean to tell you is that their internal anatomy is all wrong. It doesn't even make sense," he explains. "These creatures could not exist were it not for magic. And six months ago, I would have told you that they could not exist at all."
The story is the same across the globe. Strange creatures of myriad shapes and descriptions appearing out of nowhere, acting with intelligence and malice. Killing for the pleasure of it.
When comparing the results of my own magical research to Dr. Okinyi's observations, an unsettling picture begins to emerge. As I reported in the last edition of SMQ, the magical background count of the world is rising. And the more mana that saturates our environment, the more of these strange creatures we see.
These things - whatever they are - are multiplying. And they're getting bigger.
If we as a community fail to find a solution to this problem, we'll have much bigger things to worry about than our ability to practice magic. The ecosystem of our planet is changing around us. The one-way flow of mana into our world is making the Earth less and less suitable for human habitation, and more and more suitable for the horrors that are invading our world.
The clock is ticking, people. We are running out of time.
>>Dr. Elizabeth Alder
Creepy. And what was that one bit, "Grew fat on their screams"? Where did we hear... Oh.
...Think we're starting to get the picture now. And the worst part is that no matter how many different angles we try to look at that picture from, there's always something inescapably familiar about it. It's like a mirrored surface inexorably returning your gaze, no matter how hard you try to outmaneuver your own reflection.
Alright. So things are in pretty bad shape out there. What are we supposed to do about it now?
Have you gone over my research? Do you understand what we're up against?
I've read all of the information on your terminals.
If we hadn't, we could actually lie about this and have him summarize it for us. Not much point to it though.
[He leans forward, intensity burning in his eyes.]
We could give a smart answer here:
(Intelligence 5) I can't say for sure what's going on here, but I have some ideas.
I was hoping that you would. Outline your thoughts, if you will. I'd like to see how close they come to mine.
Mana is bleeding into our world at an accelerated rate. All of these other catastrophes - the insanity, the insect spirits, the paranatural disasters, and the strange creatures - they all tie into that.
Yes. I have come to the same conclusion.
...but while it's pretty unlike us, let's not take the skill check this time and instead just go ahead and say what we're all really thinking here.
I think it's pretty obvious, right? We did what we did, and a year later, everything is going to shit.
[He turns to study his terminal, frowning.]
Get your head in the game, Rosa, and drop the notion that what's happening is all about you.
Doc, what we did a year ago involved a little more than just mowing our own lawn. But fine, let's see where he's going to take this then.
All right then, go ahead. Tell me what *you* think is happening.
Very well, Rosa. I will. We are looking at a natural - or, if you prefer, *paranatural* - catastrophe. Something has thrown off the balance between magic and reality. The magical background count of the world is rising, and as the Earth becomes more and more mana-rich, we're seeing increasingly devastating results.
In order to solve the problem, we need to find a way to plug the leak. But we have a more immediate concern: the creatures that are invading our world are growing larger and more dangerous at an exponential rate.
Our first priority must be finding a way to combat these things. *Then* we tackle the long-term challenge of staunching the tide of mana that is flowing into the world.
You gotta give this guy credit, his commitment to fighting for metahumanity truly is the real deal. One foot in the grave and a lifetime of struggle behind him, and yet even now he's prepared to take battle stations in the face of an unknowable threat whose scale we can barely begin to understand. Have to admire that level of dedication.
These things are magical in nature. Seems to me that we need to find a magical solution.
Magic might work in the short term, but as the global background count rises, it will become less and less reliable as a solution. We need a weapon that won't fail us before the job is done.
Unfortunately, conventional weapons haven't done much to hurt these creatures. Even the small ones have shown an extraordinary resilience to physical damage, and bigger ones that have been popping up are nigh unkillable.
[He lights another cigarette, musing.]
Maybe a biological control could work? Perhaps a natural enemy could be found to fight these things... or, at the very least, to buy us some time.
Anything capable of killing one of these things would also be dangerous to us, wouldn't it?
Yes, there is that.
[He stubs out his cigarette and grabs another with a shaking hand. Lighting it, he eagerly sucks in the smoke.]
What we need is something powerful enough to keep these things at bay, but intelligent enough to be capable of reason.
...You mean, like a dragon?
Told you so, Doc. Who's a narcissist now?
Maybe not the time, but couldn't help it.
Killing the dragons... it must have thrown the world out of balance somehow. But how... how was I to know? There were no signs, no indications... there was *nothing!* What I did was *right!*
It looked that way to me, too, Doctor.
Like there were maybe a *few* signs, but... Urgh, can't we just blame this on that damn Absinthe and her unnecessarily vague prophecizing, you just know she could've spelled that crap out properly if she'd wanted to!
...But it wasn't right, was it?
[He stares down at his trembling hands.]
I acted without considering all of the variables... didn't even consider that such variables could exist! I was *blind!*
Maybe. But you can still turn this around.
Not like the reasons behind this change anything, do they? We were going to figure this stuff out, right? At least slow it down or... something.
[He shakes his head sadly.] Nothing can make this right. Nothing at all. There is no "fixing" this. I can only atone for it. And so I shall.
Whoa whoa whoa, hold on, we still need you here! And what about our money? What about the cities we need for spending that money in?!
No, I won't. Don't do it, Vauclair... you saved the world once. You can do it again!
"Saved the world." Funny.
[He smiles weakly at you, but there are tears pouring from his eyes.]
I didn't save the world, Rosa. I damned it.
Ah shit, not again! Goddamnit Doc, now you've really gone and done it.
Alright alright, anything on this console he was looking at, a clue or a design for some secret prototype or something? Anything?
Who are we kidding, of course not. There isn't anything now, is there?
Actually no, let's just stop this and really face the facts: that it's already too late and there was never going to be anything, Vauclair or no Vauclair. No secret weapon, no hero to rise up and save the day. No power of friendship to bring light in the darkest hour or whatever bullshit. Hell in our case no friends at all, because we fucking killed them too.
So what does any of it matter now? Might as well go visit the place where it all went wrong. Maybe it'll feel meaningful somehow.
Just to make sure... you wouldn't happen to have any good ideas, portraitless researcher lady?
Sounds about right.
[Tears stream down her cheeks.]
We're dead. All of us.
Yeah. We are.
Sorry, friends. You were right, it wasn't worth it after all. You should never gamble with what you can't afford to lose, but we still chose to throw the entire world into the pile in the hopes of hitting it big. It really did seem like such a surefire bet back then too. And what do we have left now, huh? Misery and dust, a chance to find out what the death wails of entire cities sound like. And of course Dante, our loyal idiot of a beautiful boy. We've still got him as well.
And down here where it all started it's now just us, our dog, some desperate bastards whose efforts can never come to anything. And of course...
...This fucking guy.
[He nods.] Rosa. That gunshot I heard... was that the Doc?
Yeah. It was.
We could refuse, or if we'd held on to the beer we gave to the guard in Gesundbrunnen or the bottle we snatched from the AG Chemie executive's office, we could've brought our own drink instead. But this'll have to do.
[Take a drink.] Here's to Vauclair.
I've gotta hand it to the old man: he really did it. He changed the world.
Yeah, he did. Not for the better, but he changed things, all right.
[He shrugs his massive shoulders.]
Better. Worse. Who the fuck cares? The world was going to hell anyway. The Doc sped things up a little, is all. Made life more interesting for you and me. We probably wouldn't have lived long enough to see the end if he hadn't.
Is that what this was about for you? You *wanted* something like this to happen?
[He closes his eyes and takes another long drink.]
I'm looking forward to watching it die.
You're one sick bastard, Audran.
Sure I am. But then again, so are you. You sat back and watched as the Doc released his wonder bug. This is as much on you as it is on me. The only difference between us is that I've accepted what's coming, and you haven't.
If you wanted to go that route, I guess I couldn't fault you for it. Things are gonna get ugly over the next few years.
That's a downright generous offer. But... we still have Dante to care for, he hasn't done anything bad and doesn't deserve to lose yet another parent. This isn't the final sunset just yet, and when that time does eventually arrive, it'd be nice if we could go watch it together with him.
Just the two of us, one fire-spewing idiot animal who couldn't stop shitting all over its own home, and her lovely hellhound companion.
Give me the bottle. I'm not running from this - I'll see it through to the end, just like you will.
I'll drink to that.
(Here is the gun version)
This has been Shadowrun: Dragonfall. Thanks for reading.