“I stood at the bottom of a ravine so deep the top was lost in clouds. Ahead a thousand battles, dead enemies, dead friends, a slow death. Death by inches until someone gets lucky with a bullet, by then I’ll want it.
Behind me, a hand on my shoulder, a creature of pure rage and hatred. It’s thirst for destruction would draw it on down the ravine forever. It sees the killing fields of the future and salivates, excited in every grotesque way.
It will keep me safe if i say it can eat the death. It will make a mountain of bodies from which I shall see all comers and strike with impunity.
This is the path I’ve always walked, tallest by being the only one left standing."
Charlie opens her eye’s on the interior of a VTOL. Silk is out and snoring a little on the only cot in their confined section of the transport.
She rolls onto her back to stare at the ceiling as the VTOL shifts to decent mode for a landing.
‘Time to find my folks’
The sign said everything that needed saying. The crossroads of a dozen shipping routes, located centrally between four of the major settlements in the Barrens, home to a stable economy of whatever. Lots of junk, a few gems, lots of old hookers, a few young stars, lots of locals, a few tourists out to see the ‘the way these people live’ lots of guns, a few who knew how to use them.
Silk stuck out as usual, but with Charlie walking with him the pickpockets kept a reasonable distance. Not that they really needed to worry, Had only been a few decades since Charlie had been one of them, and she wasn’t going to shed tears or break fingers over Silk losing a few hundred cred. Honestly, she liked it when he lost money; the thing he cared about most on the world and it constantly slipped away bit by bit.
Sure she’d help him get more, if heads needed knocking he could count on her help, just as she counted on his for chatting people up and learning useful things. For example…
“This is the place.” He said, stopping in front of a bus and trainer, held together with scrap metal and adorned with a sign declaring proudly ’Waldo’s Wonders! Best quality tech salvage in the world!’
“Looks like a shit hole.” Said Charlie past her smoke.
“According to my girls this place has sold a number of old Aztech devices in the past few years, any of which could be from a cloning and training facility. If this guy doesn’t know where the base is, he may know who does.”
“Ya’know, I have a hard time believing you know any Sprawl hookers who wouldn’t lie for money.”
“Let’s just check it out, ok?”
Charlie smiled a little, sassing Silk never got old.
The place was cleaner and bigger then one might expect, with gold sunlight piercing through holes in the cieling illuminating the dust in the air. Most interior features had been removed in place of boxes full of old parts stacked to the ceiling, a couple functional devices that looked way to expensive to be in the Barrens. Still, the place was cramped, clearly having had too much jammed in, the isles were narrow and one had to enter a fair ways to see the counter where a very old looking ork sat tinkering with some mechanical device.
He looked up and smiled over a pair of glasses “Welcome to Waldo’s Wonders! What can i get for you fine folk?”
Charlie got the impression he usually made a sales pitch at this point, but since they were hardly stereotypical customers he probably wasn’t sure what to offer them.
Silk approached the counter and made with his usual dancing around the subject “Oh, you know, just here to look around, I’ve heard this place is-”
Charlie interrupted him, impatient as usual “We’re looking for anything from the old Aztech facility that operates around here. We heard you might have something.”
“Why do I even bother?” Muttered Silk.
The ork looked at her for a moment, almost too long, before saying “You’ll want to talk to Waldo, the owner, he’s out back with the new scrap. Probably under it.” and he let out a laugh.
Silk stayed paused as Charlie went out back “So you just work here, is that right?”
“Yup.” replied the man “Been here for a couple years now, working on the salvage.”
“Is that right? I thought this place was just some upstart trading post, but you say it’s been open-”
The man cut in “Waldo’s is one of the oldest businesses in the area, open for three generations and- oh. Crap.”
Silk smiled and went for his pistol, but the ork hit a button and flash-pack went off.
Charlie went out the back to where a crashed VTOL and a couple trucks sat in states of disrepair, clearly in the process of being stripped for parts. She was about to look through them when a text from silk and the sound of a door slamming coincided to tell her Waldo was the man inside, and now he was getting away.
She turned and bolted through the yard, following the ARO silk dropped onto her HUD. He was fast, but she caught sight of him as she ran up one of the wrecks and over another shops roof, almost falling through at the thin metal creaked and gave.
Hitting the street at a run she dashed around corners, pushing through the crowd as Waldo ran though stalls and buildings. As he turned through an ancient apartment Charlie veered around to cut him off, dog-running through a window and landing before the old Ork, in the midst of a couple gangers.
“Get her!” Yelled Waldo as their eyes met. One of the gangers came at her with a strong right hook, but she spun and struck his flesh and bone with hardened titanium, the resulting crunch was audible.
The other ganers stepped back as Charlie grabbed Waldo by the throat “Now, about my questions.”
Waldo landed heavily on the floor of his shop. He’d put up resistance at first but stopped quickly enough once he realized where they were going. Silk had locked the place down when she arrived, shutters in place and the front door barricaded. Quick thinking.
Charlie stood over the Ork and lit a cigarette. “The Aztech lab. Talk.”
Waldo nodded, looking annoyed but resigned to the situation, it was clear he’d been shaken down before, they all knew how this worked.
“Fine, but I’m telling my story from down here.” Waldo stood and walked to one of the mounds of stuff, so densely packed that it’s center was obscured and began moving boxes and crates.
“When I was just a boy my father, the second Waldo, owned this place and ran it well. He had a keen mind for business and was kind to those who needed aid, using his talents as a cyberdoc to help out around town.
He was always collecting for this place of course, as had his father before him. Three generation worth of collection, I guess sooner or later we were bound to find something dangerous."
Silk spoke up “That’s great and all, but what does this have to do with Aztech?”
Waldo put down a box and turned “Tell you what, why don’t we let strong arm here move boxes and I’ll get to the good part?”
Charlie shrugged and began digging through the pile.
Waldo sat behind his counter and sipped some coffee before going on “It was late in the evening, hot summer night, much like this one actually, when a troupe of thieves came in. They weren’t here to steal form us, they mostly picked the pockets of tourists and travelers who looked like they wouldn’t pull a gun.”
As Charlie moved another box an old blue blanket came into view, draped over some single item as tall as a troll and almost as wide. She kept digging.
“One of theirs was had some old ’ware, decked to the nines with augs, but all of it second hand, gave the poor kid nasty growing pains as the non-organic grew slower then the organic.”
Charlie remembered what that had been like for her, hurt a lot, guessed it was the same for most kids. What was under that blanket?
“My old man was putting this kid right, gave her drugs to help with the pain and ease the growing, then one of the other kids dragged her over to a pile of old tech and showed her something.
Charlie quickened her pace, whatever was under that blanket, she had to see it. What was it? Why was her heart pounding?
“Kid lost it, started scream, hitting everything, her friends, other costumers, even my father. Nothing would calm her down, she just fought, flailing like an animal, like some beast-”
Charlie knocked aside the last boxes and gripped the cloth, her heart pounding and her head spinning as she pulled it down to reveal a missive clear cylinder, big enough for a person for fit inside with a hole in one side. At the top was a designation. Charlie.
“Like a monster.”
A dull pain in her head brought her back to reality to find Waldo on the floor, her cyberarm pinning him down by the throat. The second blow to the head got her up and she whirled swinging hard at her attacker and barely pulling the punch as sight and smell confirmed it was Silk who’d hit her, apparently with a hammer.
He swung again but Charlie caught him attack with her off hand and almost gently planted her palm into his chest so he stumbled back a step, leaving her with the hammer.
For a moment they stood in silence, then Waldo began laughing through the blood in his lungs.
“Still, uhg, still a monster I see. Hehe, guess that’ll have to do.”
Charlie turned to him, avoiding the massive tube that had once been her home, her cell, and the womb where she’d been grown.
Waldo continued, dragging himself into a sitting position “I’ve spent most of my life, and every night, dreaming of revenge. At first I wanted to be a Shadowrunner, hunt you down and kill you. But, OWhhggrr, but duty called and this place needed me. Still, I held out hope that one day I’d get to avenge my father. Now here we are, you and me, and I’m dying just like he did. Hardly seems fair.”
Charlie watched wordlessly. Her mind was a jumbled haze of memories and emotions, she honestly wasn’t sure what she could say to this man, or what she should do. Should she put him out of his misery? would that make her the monster he claimed? Was she already?
“You came to my store looking for, uurg, answers. Give me one and I’ll tell you what you want to know. Deal?”
Charlie was frozen for a moment until Silk started to speak, then she nodded.
Waldo looked her in the eye, the sum of a life well lived clear in his pained face “Why did you spare me? Everyone else died, even your ganger friends, but not me. You looked me in the eye, my fathers blood in your teeth and let me be. I want to know why.”
Charlie answered without knowing her own words “I don’t hurt kids. Children aren’t responsible for their actions the way the rest of us are, you lived because of that.”
Waldo laughed again, this time his every grimace carried with it a tone of mirth, as if he knew something terrible that only he found funny.
“My old man bought the tank off a trader with the BCEP, Black Caravan Explorers Company, dissolved a few years ago but their might be a few who remember out in Iron-town. Now, if their will be nothing else.”
Charlie and silk turned to leave, but after barely more then a step, Charlie turned “Thanks.”
Waldo glared at her with that knowing smile “I hope you find what your looking for kid, and I hope it destroys you.”
Silk pulled a face as he tried to eat the soup they’d bought. It was mostly old meat and whatever green they had saying around, tasted like ass and paste but nutritious enough and the only thing for sale.
Charlie had barely spoken since they’d left Waldo bleeding out on the floor. Silk had asked a few questions but she’d ignored him until now “What’s our next move? We going to check out the Irontown? I might know someone who works their. Maybe they can help.”
“Great!” Said Silk, sounding a little to happy “I’ll give her a call and we can-”
His sudden silence caught Charlies instincts and she looked up to see a confused look in his face and his eye’s set over her shoulder.
Time slowed as she turned, noting everything. People scared, moving out of the way, the smell of blood and metal, and the uniforms of the gangers she’d fought earlier.
She hadn’t recognized them then, but these where the Hounds, what passed for local security. They weren’t big on prisoners.
Charlie dove sideways out of her seat as bullets tore through the table where she’d been. Silk jumped the other way and pulled out a pistol to return fire. Charlie pulled her Lever-action off her back and returned fire, at last getting a good head-count. Twenty-seven. Not good.
She rolled and ran for better cover, bullets everywhere, a few finding their mark. Her pain editor kept her focused, but a glance told her she’d be bruised. She was trapped and Silk was pinned. Then something touched her shoulder. It was a dark clawed hand, that of a monster that didn’t frighten her. It told her of victory that it could bring. It told of a river of blood leading to true safety and peace, and as it took over her limbs, her mind, her strength and drove her into the enemy with unstoppable force, the monster sang.