The team piles into their waiting luxury vehicle and Tanakta peels off away from Akis' outer shell. The skimmer's broadcast energy readouts flash worrisome warnings as Tanakta takes it out towards Rectenna Array 11 and skirts the outer range, but it's a smooth ride and you checked the vehicle's specs before you rented it. Eventually the long, even fields of solar collectors stretch out below you and the great rectenna itself looms above you on the tall mesa. Tanakta crests the skimmer up over the mesa's ridge and angles it for the cluster of small habs and satellite buildings that form the settlement. Here and there small teams of techs ride small drones out to problem sites. They're doing the lion's share of the outside work now, at night, while the blazing sun saves up its firey heat for the next day. A Kansat skimmer easily matches pace above and behind your stately vehicle, waiting to see where your flight path will take you.
Punkey wrote:Robin shakes her head and looks at Davis wryly. "Pitting different power groups against each other, extracting individuals, sweeping houses for security - we're light-years away from Earth and its Afghani politics all over again!"
"Smile and wave, everyone," Davis says. "Angel, set us down right in front of the Quises' hab. Hugh, Arketta and Robin sweep and clear their hab, and we go in after you. Any other ideas?"
Angel begins easing the skimmer down toward the landing, following the ancient advice of "Fly Casual".
Zaef looks up at the night sky for a bit before going back to silently critiquing Angel's driving, muttering "Now I remember why I didn't like it here."
"Wanna swap? You can drive, I'll bang the starlets."
"We're commandering your hab on orders from Samal Lali Luleelo. Stand aside, Mr. and Mrs. Quis." Swao barks. The three Turai barge into the hab without waiting for a response, but the two veteran solar techs' eyes snap to one another, and then at the two female Turai with Swao. They do not put up any fight at all during the sweep of the hab for physical threats or electronic surveillance. Speaking of which, although the search doesn't turn up any closet ninjas, Hugh does discover a Cortex audiotransmitter in the somewhat cluttered bedchamber and a simpler location tracker in every pair of work boots the Quises own. Robin goes one farther; she's not quite as inured to Imperial technology as the rest of the team, so she's questioning everything she sees. As a result, she finds two different Cortex account interceptors - like packet sniffers - secreted around the hab. From their reactions, Ody and Arlana only knew about the audio transmitter.
A few minutes later, the audio and Cortex bugs are no more and Swao pronounces the hab clear for Haralin and his escorts. The boot-trackers you leave intact - they're not a threat right now and they could prove useful later. Pretty soon the entire entourage is inside and you discover that the Quis' abode is not suited for raucous parties like this. The quarters are meager, and with this many people the space is stretched to its limits.
"Wanna swap? You can drive, I'll bang the starlets."
Zaef grins. "Tell you what-We'll swap, and I'll drive you to a clinic after you're done."
Arketta sheds her helmet with a hiss of broken environmental seals. She lets it fall to the hard floor and the three Hedians embrace.
"They told us-"
"I thought I'd never-"
"When we heard-"
"It's going to be all right," Arketta finally quells their parental blathering. Before she can explain, Arlana turns to Davis, her eyes bright and glittering.
"We don't have much to bring with us," she says. "When do we leave?" Arketta's parents have been patient and careful. They know they were under surveillance, they know that their extraction will no doubt be a delicate matter, but they've gotten that taste now. The feeling of immediacy, that their daughter is here now and they're finally beginning that journey out of the Imperium takes hold and won't let go and everyone there can see that Arlana and Ody are done waiting.
"In a few days time," Davis says. "I'm sure you know that the hardest thing to do in hostile territory isn't to get in, it's to get out, Arlana. We've got to create the opening we need to safely extract all of us."
Ody and Arlana deflate a little. "We can... we can wait a little longer, I suppose. What is the plan, then? You said you would have more instructions once we all met?" Ody asks.
"Oh, I have no intention of having you wait around," Davis says. He then relates the plan to Ody and Arlana. "...and then we find our way off-world in the confusion. The rebels will send their men in while we escape. They needed a distraction, we needed a distraction, so we're working with them on this. This other mission is very important, and a lot of good will come out of it, but we're here to get you out first. We could still use your help, though. What I was hoping was that we could get some of your insight into how the rectenna and mariposas work, Ody. Arlana, if we need you to help, we have a spare set of armor and weapons for you, if that's all right."
"Of course," both Quises say simultaneously. Arlana smirks at the synchronicity while Ody barks a single laugh. After a pause, Arlana actually takes in the group's getups and asks, "How are we to act in concert with..." she waves her hands at the rich clothing and gleaming weaponry.
"And they're going to know you destroyed those transmitters," Ody adds.
"We are commandering your hab to house the traitor Zaef Utari and his Turai guards," Davis says with a grin. "Best to put the traitor with those who are probably already compromised. Haralin Arakuna and his staff will be staying in temporary housing behind your hab. With the listening devices, it wouldn't do to have a Dropchief's business being spied on, by the Imperium or the rebels. As for the rest of it, you two just keep going about business as usual when we're not working together. Well, business as usual with all of our covers getting in your way."
Ody nods sagely. "Oh, it's no burden at all, my lord," he snorts.
Davis smiles. "Excellent. Well, we've got a tent to set up and a perimeter to secure, so we'll get out of your way and let you catch up with Arketta. Luis will stay inside, if anything else comes up." He slowly walks towards the door in his ridiculous outfit.
Davis bojangles his way out of the hab along with the rest of the team, and they set about constructing the gaudy but comfortable collapsible tent Haralin brought. All the while, the Kansat skimmer keeps vigil over the cluster of habs. Its impellers gently stir dust and small rocks while the team works on the red and gold pompous carnival tent. Luis and Arketta are left inside with Ody and Arlana.
"Thank you for watching over our girl," Ody says to Luis.
"The pleasure is ours," Arlana adds, "We... well, I guess we haven't really heard much of anything true about the war, or the Homeworld, or Arketta. Please, tell us what's really going on. Come in, come and sit." They lead the way to a small back alcove with a Cortex holosystem and some multisofas, soft with age and use. Arketta and Luis (and maybe right now the only chance he's got to be Luis and not Zakest) sit down on the furniture, giving the old couches a moment to adjust. Arketta starts... well, pretty much at the beginning. Arlana laughs at how Luis and Arketta met - when Arketta tried to kill Luis with his own syringe of sedative. Arketta's face grows a little darker when she recounts her time in holding at Mesas Negras, but before too long she's babbling like a 6-year old about beaches and movies about talking animals, and all the people, even compared to Hedion, every one of them more different than the last.
The one-sided garden hose of words eventually slows to a trickle, and Ody interjects, "Well, it's a relief to hear it from you. I guess you know what kind of lies the ravilars spread. I hate to leave your aunt, but I doubt she would understand all this." Ody adds for Luis' benefit, "Her Aunt Tunia is Kansat... has been for, wow, 20 years now. What of your family, Luis?"
Luis mostly just chips in with descriptions and lets Arketta do most of the talking, but he sits up at Ody's question. "My Dad's in materials engineer, mom's a...well, she'd be called a medicae, but she deals with trauma cases," he says. "Both of those careers are a little different than they might be with Imperium technologies, but especially mom's. Kaukas do automatically a lot of the stuff Earth's medicae have to do to stabilize and treat a patient, so your medical proffession has a bit of a different mindset."
"Hah, I bet," Ody muses. "Although not every medicae has access to them, even here." Before the talk gets too sidetracked, Arlana leans forward.
"Are you two serious?"
-"Mother!" Arketta hisses in embarrassment. "Sorry, Luis, I didn't know that she'd-"
Arlana keeps going. "Think about this from our perspective. We're about leave our entire culture behind. It makes it easier if we're going to have people like you around to help us."
Luis takes a breath at the question, then takes Arketta's hand. "I can say officially that we're taking the best possible care of the families of any of the people that have sought the shelter of Earth. However, this is more personal to me than just taking care of our people. I love Arketta, and just saying that inadequatly describes how I feel. She's the strongest, most beautiful woman I have ever had the pleasure to know, and the most important thing in this galaxy to me. I will do whatever I can to get done what she wants, and right now that is seeing you two safely to Earth and taken care of."
Arketta squeezes Luis' hand in return. "Yes, I am serious about Luis. I love him too. He is my Spock and I am his Kirk..." she trails off, forgetting that her parents aren't going to understand her reference, and then realizing it wasn't a very good reference. "Nevermind that. We have both found our purpose out here. Mother, father, what the Homeworlders are doing is right. I intend to see it through, but I know that it will get - has gotten - messy. You're just not safe here. So..." Arketta waves her free hand around, indicating all the hubbub outside.
It's like Arlana and Ody didn't even hear anything past the 'love' part. "We're so happy for you!" Arlana beams. It's awkward, especially for Luis, who had just gotten over that hurdle with himself and was now sharing with near-strangers. The next few eternities are filled with the timeless banter of proud parents. Luis feels like the center of attention and a third wheel all at the same time. Mercifully, Ody breaks off with him to get drinks and they sit down to talk about the rectenna array. Luis appreciates the shop talk; not only is it relevant to the mission, it's 1) not putting him under the spotlight and 2) it's not putting up Haralin's silly tent.
Haralin's tent goes up with some effort. The telescoping struts form a caricature of an igloo-shaped house, and the gold pennants streaming from ostentatious standards flap and whip in the stiff breeze coming up the mesa. Off in the fields, the hum of the night shift's pack-drones echo off the stands of solar cells. The Kansat skimmer gets a good scan of Tanakta during the tent prep, and then a scan of Haralin as the tent covering is finally attached. Whatever the scans produce must satisfy the locals, because the skimmer finally moves off and stops buffeting the team's handiwork with its impeller wake. The few locals who aren't heading out for their shift or staying indoors give the newcomers a wide berth. Overtones of suspicion, concern, and fear emanate from the other techs. It's clear they don't appreciate the arrival of more Imperial authority, especially since it looks like said authority would be a semi-permanent fixture.
The Hedion night grows colder, a comfortable kind of chill that soothes the day's heat away. Swao sets watches for the night and the team beds down - or at least gives that impression.
"Dropchief Arakuna, it is my pleasure and honor to invite you to my estate tomorrow evening at eighteen o'clock for an informal gathering. My sister, Tora, is currently staying here as well and she insisted that you be there. It sounds like you two will have countless tales to trade." Kesh pauses just for a moment, the hospitality in his eyes fading slightly. "I would also like the opportunity to speak with you about your planned modifications to Rectenna Array 11. In person and in private, of course." The gleam of graciousness returns and Reno smiles as he completes the message. "I look forward to meeting you in person tomorrow."
Later that night
Samal Swao - although this late at night it's easy to let the cover melt away and fall back into thinking Hugh Verrill - is walking slowly around the tent and hab when his vox alerts him with a gentle green glyph. The private channel he'd given to Segal Iyuzo has a new message. It's text only, sent asynchronously from a timer. It'd be very easy to believe that maybe it wasn't Segal at all. It seemed far too cautious compared to the man's demeanor in Khalkiota. Still, Segal was the only person with that channel and seemed to understand the bind in which Swao tried to portray himself. Perhaps he was playing a role much like the team was.
*I have come to a decision about the leverage we spoke of. I've arranged for a message courier to meet you tomorrow. The courier is flexible as to time - reply back on this channel when you know when you can get to the location.* Attached are coordinates for a quiet plaza in the upper-middle arcology.
"Nobles. I swear, they'd build a ship with crashers made out of exotic animals and an open bar in every room, and they'd leave out the impellers because they don't have the space.'
Zaef shakes his head at the ludicrous and tasteless display that is the assembled tent.
"Nobles. I swear, they'd build a ship with crashers made out of exotic animals and an open bar in every room, and they'd leave out the impellers because they don't have the space.'
Robin passes her hand through a hologram of a campfire, which hovers about 2 feet off of the floor in one corner. How it manages to generate a low heat without actually being a fire is puzzling.
"On Earth... on Narsai, this is common with the obnoxiously wealthy. Its called glamping, as in glamour + camping. I guess the richer you get, the less you want to interact with reality in any form."
Davis comes up with an Imperial microinjector pen. "Ah-ha!" He shoves the pen against his arm and triggers the injectors. His world immediately slows down and stops making that annoying buzzing sound. "Antidote for stims," he says, and slumps into a chair. He tosses the pen and three plastic-wrapped stim patches into his luggage. "Ahh, that's much better. I feel normal now. I don't know how those Nobles function with all those drugs running through them."
"Fair enough," Davis says. He shakes his head. "The high's interesting, but the buzz afterwards sucks. I don't think I'll be using the patches."
"I'd hang on to them if I were you. You never know when you might need the boost. 'Specially if you're planning on meeting the Steward."
"I suppose I'll hold onto one for the cover, but toss the rest," Davis says, and wanders over to his bed. "Never been a fan of drugs. Narsai's version usually come with some nasty side-effects."
Zaef gives Davis a confused look. "I...wouldn't assume that these don't. Dealers like to tamper with ingredients to keep you coming back for more. And any drug can can have nasty side-effects if you use a large enough dosage."
"All the more reason to get rid of them." Davis tosses two of the patches to Zaef. "Toss those for me, would you, Zaef?"
Zaef catches them and looks at them for a second before tossing them back to Davis in disgust. "Fuck no! I'm not your fucking errand boy."
Davis is surprised at Zaef's reaction, and bends over to pick up the patches. "Fine, I'll throw them out in the morning." He puts them on the smart-fabric-made nightstand next to the bed. "Sorry, didn't mean to imply that, Zaef."
Zaef tries taking deep breaths to help calm himself down. "Look, Davis, you're perfectly capable of doing most things yourself. You don't need me to handle the garbage for you, and I don't need you to spoon-feed my meals to me. Please don't disrespect me by giving me something you can do yourself for no real reason."
Davis puts his hands up in a "don't shoot me" posture. "It was just...never mind. Sorry, Zaef. I apologize." He stands up and extends his hand to shake. "Are we good?"
"It's fine, so long as you understand. You get some shut-eye, I'll stay up a bit longer."
"Yeah, I understand." Davis smiles. "You did a great job today, Zaef. Everyone did."
Zaef sounds slightly amused. "Bed, Davis. Sleep helps."
Davis shakes his head again. "Yeah, maybe." He grins. "Night, Zaef, Luis. Great job out there today."
Tanakta escorts Haralin into the skimmer and then the bodyguard takes the driver's position. After a few minutes spent scanning for bugs (and finding none, noone got past Robin, Arketta, or Hugh on watch), the skimmer lifts off with a low whine, scattering dust in its impeller wake. The sudden activity does draw the Kansatai's attention, and a brief vox sends a single Kansat officer out of the small barracks and towards one of the parked skimmers, presumably to eventually catch and escort the luxury vehicle like yesterday. Eventually being the key word; Haralin and Tanakta are airborne already, and the Kansatai looks like he wasn't quite mentally ready for pre-dawn flight patrols.
"Master's taint, this is way too early for that dropchief to be up," the skimmer pilot grumbles into his vox.
His comrades, the tired-looking pair walking the rounds, grunt by way of reply. "The extra shift sucks, but we'll catch some rest as soon as that group heads out and we replace the transmitters," one replies.
"Assuming they do head out," the other foot-officer says. "What if they stick around?"
"The man's a noble Expansion agent," the first responds. "The spotters didn't see them come back with any provisions, and there ain't nothing 'round here to sate that kind of appetite. I mean, look at that stupid tent..."
"Which reminds me," the pilot startles. "We gotta check his tent too, when we restock the hab bugs. Man, I need some caf right now."
"You think they're in cahoots? They're actually terrorists?"
"Not our place to guess," comes the reply. "We just report what we see and let the Throne make the call."
The Kansat skimmer catches up with Tanakta well after he's pointed out the backup gravsled's hiding place to Haralin. The long, sturdy vehicle sits well-covered by a shallow, scrub-covered gulch on the far side of the mesa. They're over the solar fields now, looking down at the darkened rows of energy collectors. The natural terrain of the mesa was, like most, fairly flat, but the two Homeworlders pick out a few nice hidey-holes and approaches that the team could use to move around and remain, with luck, mostly hidden, at least from the ground. Aerial surveillance would ruin such movements, but that was the price of having such a large expanse of land open to the sun. There was no overhead cover.
Tanakta leads the Kansat skimmer around the mesa, putting on a good show of scouting for a place for the proposed Arena expansion, then meanders back to the settlement and lands. The trailing skimmer beelines gratefully for the barracks' small landing field and the officer soon disappears back inside. The settlement is bustling with the morning shift now; techs in their jing-sa and climate suits head out in pairs and threes on their scheduled maintenance. The general store has a good-sized crowd buying up daily provisions. Once the sun crests the mesa, the rectenna comes to groaning life, realigning on schedule with the mariposa satellite looming high above.
It's time to pack up, get fed, and head out. Samal Swao sends a quick vox back to Segal Iyuzo; he would be able to meet the mysterious courier while Zakest was at his cybereye consultation. Tanakta and Haralin would be window-shopping nearby, which would provide ample excuse for the Dropchief's Turai to be in the area. Arketta would stay with Zakest, which only left Haaj and Swao to guard Zaef. Therefore, Zaef would come with the Turai on their errand while Haralin and Tanakta acted as floating backup in case either party ran into trouble.
Tanakta glances down the dark canyons between the arcology's many wards. The alleys are brimming with ventilation machinery, garbage drones, and the odd bit of loose detritus. The bodyguard's keen senses pick out traces where humans have been through the dark passages. Akis is probably very similar to a shadowport in many ways, a completely artificial environment built up over time to where there's a hidden ecosystem writhing in the walls and hunting through jungles of conduits and shafts. No doubt Tanakta's spotting tracks and markings from some underhive's nocturnal raid on the more affluent quadrants.
While Tanakta's musing on Morlocks, Eloi, and Denis Leary's treatment of the same from Demolition Man, Haralin is looking at the local constabulatory while he pretends to be keenly interested in some feathered serpent boas. The pair of them loiter a short sprint from the Faxom-Io cybersurgery office where Zakest is waiting to see the doctor about ripping out his eyeballs. Haralin notes the lack of Kansatai and the apparent compensation thereof with Faxom-Io personnel in green-and-white streamlined uniforms. It makes sense, though; Haralin recognizes three-quarters of the storefronts along the row as belonging in some way to the industrium.
Haralin glances at his chronometer. Zakest should be seeing someone soon, unless their waiting area took too many cues from Earth physicians. Additionally, Abe Saloma still hadn't contacted Haralin about his proposal, and the morning was drawing to a close.
Maximum Ocularity, a subsidiary of Faxom-Io Pan-Industrium, Akis Arcology 4th Quadrant Corporate Headquarters
The full title of the cybersurgery drones on and on along with countless propagadvertisements for related services that flicker insistently on widescreen holos. The waiting area was empty, save for Zakest and Arketta - shit, Fett - Luis corrects himself. The waiting room was comfortable, furnished with pristine multisofas and several automusicae playing soft Imperial tunes. It didn't look like an Earth waiting room, but boy, the staff (consisting of one human preening herself behind a cogitator and one plump man doing his best to scurry out of sight whenever his travels carried him withint line of sight) were doing their absolute best to try to capture the feel.
Arketta couldn't even act reassuring; she was there undercover as his Dropchief-appointed bodyguard. At least she had the full visor to mask her... boredom? Concern? Well, who knows? It was a full visor.
After an eternity, the plump man scurries out like Zakest's time is invaluable to him and says, "Greetings! Please follow me back and we'll get started." Arketta starts to her feet with Luis and the man adds, "Oh, yes! Please, both of you can come back, that's fine."
The consultation room consists of a cogitator obscenely mated with some sort of examination chair. The amount of gear they have for keeping one's head immobile in multiple positions is worrying. The plump man - presumably the cybersurgeon himself - motions the two of them towards a pair of thankfully mundane chairs. The surgeon takes a seat across from them, forming a little circle, and produces a large display pad. He sets the pad on the floor and engages some sort of implants in his fingers. Holographics spring to life between the surgeon and Zakest, waiting with anticipation and showing standby glyphs.
"I'm Surgeon Jalis, it's a pleasure to meet you both." The little man enters into a well-practiced presentation about the benefits and drawbacks of cybernetic implants, all of which Luis was already aware from his previous research. It becomes apparent through the presentation that Jalis practices what he preaches, however. His fingers all seem to be repositories for miniscule tools, and his eyes flash in time with the holos. His implants are meant to look human, though, with minimal actual enhancement besides a level of magnification.
"If you understand the risks of these procedures," Jalis asks Luis, snapping him back, engaged with the surgeon, "We can examine you now and determine a specific quote and feasibility index for the capabilities you wish to include." After a glance at Arketta, Jalis adds, "It's non-invasive, just some scanning, physical measurements, holos, and some cogitation."
Despite its name, the shabby little park didn't get any real sunlight. It was all pumped in from floodlights along the arcology superstructure or from slowglass running along the ribcage of Akis' massive trunk. Wispy treelike plants sprouted up in clumps from beige grass that covered the plaza except for the smooth, clean walkways. Benches and balconies dot the two-level spiderweb of topiary and sidewalk gantries. The park sports more than its fair share of bystanders. A few couples browse the meager vegetation on display, while here and there benches hold people trying to get a few quiet moments away from work. The majority of the people appear to be here on break, just stretching their legs. Apparently dessicated vegetation holds more appeal to hive-inhabitants than it does for anyone used to greenery, even the sad little parks clustered amongst Earth's cities' asphalt.
If it were simply Swao and Haaj, the Iyuzo courier would be hard-pressed to determine if the two Turai were really her contacts. Luckily, Zaef's presence makes it easy. Haaj, Swao, and Zaef alike spot the lithe woman resting on one of the ground-level benches. Her hair is raven-black, cut in a sharp diagonal, and she wears clothes that'd be good for running in. She motions briefly, then rests one traction-gloved hand on a small satchel at her side.