How did it come to this?

How did it come to this?

Date: 6th October, 2177

Weather: Rainy

Mood: Inconsolable. One day I will be powerful enough to come out from under these shadows, and destroy the people who have made me beg and cower. When that day comes the list of people I have to shoot will be long and detailed, and I am going to need a lot of ammunition. I am stocking up.

Outfit: I guess every cloud has a silver lining, and today I’m wearing this beautiful silk gown that the Dubious Mr. Smith gave me. It’s this beautiful pale shell colour with simple geometric patterns crushed into the fabric, I think it may have cost him more money than I have ever seen or owned, but he just tossed it to me so I wouldn’t drip on the carpet. I guess before I kill him I should thank him for the gift…

There’s something oddly calming about reading the Falcon’s war diaries. It’s not just the detailed and intelligent tactics she uses, or her clear thinking under pressure; unlike the other Dialectical Ephemeralists, who spend a lot of time talking about irrelevant philosophical and political stuff that no modern girl cares about, the Falcon burns with this white-hot and pure anger that reaches straight into the heart of any girl who has had to fight her way up. Like me. I don’t know what happened to the Falcon, though I guess like most heavily-armed chicks she died in a messy puddle, but somehow her writing reaches out to me across two oceans and some untold distance in time, and I feel like she’s sitting next to me in this bath, whispering sweet nothings in my ear. Now when I’m exhausted from the crab-bucket politics of this petty world, I find it strangely relaxing to read one of her war diaries, as if she had come alive from the chip and straight into my head to tell me it’s all gonna be okay, just like her I can rampage across a continent getting even with anyone who pushed me down, and being cool while I do it.

For example, after today’s chaos, being pushed around like a pawn in a game of Battleship (whatever that is), I needed a really long bath to let all this exhaustion seep out of me, but it’s no longer enough – I’m wired on my anger at the way I’m being pushed around by these great powers. So I open my little reading screen and pick up one of her war diaries, and like magic she has this to say about the powers she was up against over there in the Andes:

They are what we once dreamed of as gods, mythical agents of destiny, as inescapable as Death, that poor old peasant labourer, bent over his scythe, no longer is. Poor Death, no match for the mighty altered carbon technologies of data storage and retrieval arrayed against him. Once we lived in terror of his arrival. Now we flirt outrageously with his sombre dignity, and beings like these won’t even let him in the tradesman’s entrance.

Did she know I was here in this bath, close to tears because of the sheer stupid challenge of bouncing around between these people who can crush me with a word? How is it that every time I read something the Falcon has written, I feel she is speaking directly to me? I guess that’s why she’s a revolutionary hero, and I’m a battered girl in the bathtub of a repair shop in New Horizon.

That’s going to change one day, dear diary, and the events of today and going to be replayed in excruciating, painful detail on the flesh of every person who was part of them.

So today our epic fail continued. Ghost came up from his hack long enough to tell us he’d been followed by a Goliath security system and a Goliath SWAT team was inbound, then dived back into the Husk to try to lay a false trail that would give the impression we had been used as a relay for some other hacker, and were just victims of an unfortunate hack. With Goliath inbound Pops had to make himself scarce because his short temper had, as usual, pissed off some dude somewhere who can do stuff, plus we had this whole array of highly illegal weaponry that we needed to get out stat, so me and Coyote ran upstairs to pack it all into the AV while Pops set fire to all the remnants of Lima’s search that we had painstakingly laid out in one of our container rooms. Good thing we took photos. I dragged Rice with us, and my armour, and me and Coyote started packing all our illegal guns, explosives, drugs and ammunition into the van. Ragut was trying to push this enormous crate in front of the doors to ensure we could get out, while his wife was waiting outside on an AV bike, ready to go. I told Tail to shut off all power to the door and ordered Ragut to leave – why waste time on that stuff? He left in a hurry and for once Tail did his job. Then I realized things would go a lot faster if Rice helped Ghost, so I turned on his cyberdeck and let him loose with the warning that I’d blow his brains out if he betrayed us (and Goliath would probably do it first).

Of course Ghost couldn’t tell us till later, but he was in a massive Husk dive on our behalf, trying to make up for his mistake. Rice tried to help him but got promptly fried by ICE, and went unconscious on me, so I threw him in the van with the other contraband.  First Ghost laid a track to Rice’s hideout, trying to make it look like someone had used us as a relay. Unfortunately the Goliath ICE was on his tail fast, so he had to go further afield, and he decided to hit a convenience store associated with Arasaka. He got in but there was nothing there, so from there he went deeper, towards some servers. Here he alerted Arasaka ICE (he’s a real light-footed guy, our hacker), but by now Goliath had got in and so the two ICE programs started fighting each other. Ghost slipped out and broadcast the news that Goliath and Arasaka were going to war digitally, using the same bulletin board where he previously posted up his own address (why he did that I don’t know). Then he disconnected.

While all that was going on me and Coyote finished packing the van. He jumped in the van and off it went, out the door and into space before Goliath arrived, leaving me up top. Then Pops came up, covered in soot from setting fire to the Lima-relics, and moments later the building sprinkler system started spraying water all over us. I saw a chance here and called Goliath fire services, confirmed we had a valid contract with them (Ragut is a sensible man) and got them to send a unit. While I was doing this Pops revealed that he had not put his highly illegal new assault rifle in the van, and definitely could not be around when Goliath arrived.

Great. Dementia? Maybe. I put Pops on my AV bike and told him to get gone, I’ll handle it. I made sure my bike helmet was programmed to the girliest, floralist style I have before I gave it to him (Pops always insists on wearing a helmet, the old grump!) Off he went, leaving me and Ghost, who had just emerged soaking wet from down below. My plan was to do the innocent truthful thing, which would probably not work since Ghost will likely mess it up[1], but we don’t have much choice here and I am not abandoning our hideout to Goliath. Sometimes a girl has to draw a line, and the loss of my full wardrobe is where I put that line.

After a few minutes we heard the first thrum of AVs. At this point Ghost decided to jump in the whaler and strip off, though why I’m not sure. I went outside to meet the AVs, and of course it wasn’t the fire unit but a whole team of heavily armed SWAT dudes (quelle surprise, as the yanks would say). They had 3 miniguns on me instantly and I was down on my belly like a civilian protester in no time, waiting to be cuffed. Shock. Once the armoured dudes were down and onto me I managed to point out that they weren’t the fire brigade, but they weren’t listening. They soon found Ghost and dragged him out too (naked, for some reason). Then the fire brigade turned up, sowing confusion through the ranks. Everything would have worked out here, with the Goliath guys deciding it was a false alarm and just a genuine fire, except that one of them recognized me.

“Is that … the DRUID?” he asked, and two of his mates poo-pooed him but another checked me out and realized it was me.

Typical. Some thuggish trooper in the Indo zone with a rep less than mine uses it to get laid for free in every bar from here to Sao Paulo. My rep gets me entangled with Goliath. I swear, one day …

Quite reasonably, this idiot cop said “What’s the Dedicated Retribution Unit doing working as a mechanic in a repair shop down here?” They dragged us in. Waited a few minutes to call in a secure prison AV, then threw me and Ghost in the back and headed off for downtown Goliath.

We all know what waits for me in Goliath Security. Either they hand me over to Arasaka and cash in my contract (15k now!) or, more likely, they take one look at my history of cyberpsychosis and send me to one of their shadow cyberpsychosis treatment units, where I will be remade into a full body replacement, to spend the rest of my life on the verge of cyberpsychosis while I stomp around in a clumsy mecha body that’s straight out of some Oil Age Japanese nightmare.

At this point I started thinking of ways to go down hard, but also wondering if I could still talk my way out of this. But it turned out not to matter, because we were stopped en route. The back of the van opens and these dudes in suits check us out. Some forms are swapped, hands are shaken, dudish words exchanged, and then we are uncuffed and put in the back of this big expensive AV. And off we go, no words of explanation proferred. Me and Ghost are just going along with it, because what else can you do when the powers above decide that your time has come? They took us to some kind of super-expensive hotel, and then there was a long, long elevator ride, and then we were let out into this exquisite hotel suite. There were a couple of guys waiting for us here, some man who introduced himself as Mr. Smith, and then a hacker and some super-slick corporate executive. I know when my number’s up, but I’m not going down in a set of wet coveralls: when Mr. Smith asked if I wanted anything that’s when I said I wanted dry clothes and got this splendid robe. Ghost of course just flopped down and got oily water all over their amazing couch. Men!

Conversation with the Dubious Mr. Smith was short and irritable. Basically it turns out Alt wanted us out from that Goliath trap, and these guys were the only ones who could organize it in short order. But they want something in return of course, and that something is a tough challenge. Apparently some guy called Elvis was the true head of the Church of Exalta, and he was last seen in the Crash Zone with a thing called ANITA. ANITA is a computer of some kind that is powerful enough to host a shard of the lost Exalta, which makes it an enormously valuable find. Unfortunately the Crash Zone is an irradiated hell hole, and they don’t want to send their guys there on such a fickle lead. Enter Expendable Drew, stage left. They liberated me from cyberpsychosis so that I can go die of radiation poisoning.

Sounds like a deal. I checked some specifics, thanked them, and hit the street. A car took us back to Rastafari, where Pops and Coyote were waiting for us. It turns out that they had been following the Goliath AVs, and Pops was considering a straight-out raid, kill the drivers and steal the girl type stuff, but Coyote convinced him to back down and put in a call to Alt. She agreed to liberate us but wanted to do it at arm’s length, hence the involvement of the Dubious Mr. Smith.

Over beers, while we were cooling down and Ghost was telling us about his hack, he also revealed that Alt had contacted him while we were in the Goliath prison van, but he told her to call him back later.

That’s when I decided to take my bath and read some Falcon. Sometimes you have to know when to withdraw and nurse your wounds.

Dialectical ephemeralism, you can take it or leave it, it’s nonsense. The Falcon though, she speaks to me. We’re separated by time and space, and she doesn’t know mandarin or Russian, but it doesn’t matter, we speak the same language: the language of angry outsiders. These people are going to pay.

The Falcon is right about many things, but sometimes she is too fatalistic. She once wrote:

The enemy you cannot kill. You can only drive it back damaged into the depths and teach your children to watch the waves for its return.

But about this she is wrong: she never met the DRUID. When the time is right, I’m going to let Death back in through the tradesman’s door, and me and Death, we’re going to get real close, we’re going to go on a little dance through the mansions of the rich and famous, righting wrongs and repaying old debts. Then these people will know why I’m called the DRUID: Dedicated Retribution Unit (Involuntarily Demobilized).

They should have demobilized me properly when they had the chance.

fn1: Sure it’ll be Ghost who messes it up, not Drew who has Persuasion and fast talk 2, Empathy 3…