Walter Simmons looks around Hugh's little space on Atea, silently judging and then filing it under 'irrelevant'. "How was your trip, Captain? It is still Captain, right?"
"Captain's right," Hugh says. He closes the door behind him. "Why are we here, Agent Simmons?"
Simmons grins whitened teeth at Hugh's non-answer. "Consider this an unofficial visit. Just wanted to make sure you knew that there are still people who expect reports and all that back home." Simmons emphasizes the home slightly.
"I'll have to clear releasing any details of this operation with mission control," Hugh says, "given that the government" - he still calls it 'the' government - "had no involvement. OPSEC. I'm sure you understand."
"Mission control?" Simmons permits himself a small laugh. "You mean Davis? Look, I don't care if you have to clear it or not, but the Army likes to know what its assets are up to. And make no mistake, you, Riviera, even Quis are still Army."
"I'm well aware of that, Agent Simmons," Hugh says. "But the way I see it, we've done our best to keep the Army involved. They decided they didn't want any part of this run, okay, so we had to do it on our own." He looks at Simmons. "If you're here to tell me that the Army has our back on this, then great, that's what I've been dying to hear."
"As far as I'm aware, nobody Davis shopped this op around to has reversed their decision. Now you're right, you went ahead and found support anyway. That's great, that's what I assume they train you for. What I'm asking is more of a favor, since as I mentioned, I'm here unofficially. Report back on this op, on the task force, on Davis. I'm concerned about him and I'm sure you've noticed his behavioral changes as well."
"The accent's creepy," Hugh agrees.
Simmons nods. "I just want to make sure he's still our man. And believe me, you do too."
"I'll think about it," Hugh says. "Now, I believe you'll find your own way out...I've got some things to write."
Atea's a big ship, used as living and operations space by many rebel operatives. There are a few facilities that just seem to pop into existence in any place this number of working people gather. Like, say, a bar.
With the Simmons encounter still on his head, this is where Hugh finds himself quickly. God, does he need a beer. However, a familiar voice echoes from the chatter at the bar, and Hugh sees at least one of his teammates has had the same idea - Davis. He's sitting on a stool with several rebels and a few team members around, telling tales about Aikoro and Napai.
"- and so, here we are in the Morningstar's bay, cutting Bello's skimmer to pieces. And he looks just as uncomfortable as a man can be, so I look at him and I ask, 'Hey, we're not cutting up your personal property, are we?' And he says 'No, but -'"
"More A-Team tales, Davis?" Hugh asks.
"Merely regaling our friends with tales from our many adventures, Hugh," Davis says with a smile. "They didn't believe half of the shit that went down on Napai, so we're starting off slower, with Aikoro and escaping from a locked-down planet." He hands Hugh some orange-looking Bashakran brew. "Here, try this, it's great shit. They said they make it out of leftover fruits, I love it."
"Prison wine, huh?" Hugh says. "What's your next story, Davis? Afghanistan? I mean, woah, that top secret shit...that's gotta get you a round or two on the house."
"Hey, relax, Hugh," Davis says, taking another drink. "everyone here knows we did Aikoro and Napai. I am merely relating the salient details of the mission, as an example for others to follow. Isn't that right, guys?"
The rebels laugh. "And getting us to buy him drinks," one of them adds.
"And that too," Davis says. "Hey, Hugh, seriously, try it out. It's good shit." He pushes the glass into Hugh's hands, then turns back to the rebels. "So! Where was I. Oh, yeah, Luis blowing the cruise engines in atmo..."
"I think he's had one too much, guys," Hugh says. "Why don't you take your drinks and get a table, we'll see you later." The rebels don't quite know what to make of the conversation between Hugh and Davis, but they do know when they've been told to get the fuck away. Hugh looks after them, looks around to make sure nobody's in earshot, then leans in close and continues in a whisper. "This isn't the place or the time for war stories, Davis. Not with people we don't know."
"People we don't know?" Davis asks. "I don't know if you noticed, but we're all on the same side here. OPSEC on those missions only extends to our involvement, and I think everyone here pretty well knows it was us who did Aikoro and Napai, since they've been shouting about it on the Cortex non-stop since then. These are our friends, Hugh. It behooves all of us to start treating them as such, and not like some suspect foreign nation."
"You were telling those guys details about how we operate in the field, Davis. It only takes one of those little details you just spilled reaching the Imperium and one of their intel guys having a damn clue before they've got more material on us, more room to figure out how we work, and more fuel for figuring out how to stop us. You wanna teach those guys something, put together a training module and run it by a a PSYOPS expert. One who isn't drunk, ideally."
Davis' face gets more serious. "What do you think I used to do, Hugh? I know what I'm doing. Training modules are all well and good, if the fucking DoD wasn't so gunshy about teaching our allies anything about Narsai." He looks over at the rebels, now a table away from them. "It's either this, or we're all going in blind. I'm just doing what works."
"'course. But the next war story's in a class room, with me, got that?" Hugh says. "And thanks for the drink," he adds, picking up the mug and getting up from the bar. "I need one."
"Think we all do, that last run was close," Davis says. He stands up and smiles. "No hard feelings, Hugh. If you care to join me, I'll be with my new friends," he says, and walks over and takes a seat with the rebels.
"New friends," Hugh mutters to himself. He takes a sip from the mug, frowns, puts it down on the bar and walks away.
Simmons nods. "I just want to make sure he's still our man. And believe me, you do too."
"I'll think about it," Hugh says. "Now, I believe you'll find your own way out...I've got some things to write."
Robin spent the last two hours in the weight rooms on the Atea, and was quite enamored with the setup. Upon first seeing the high-tech, ultra-efficient equipment she felt intimidated, but quickly realized that ease of use was high on the designer's goals. Particularly impressive were the sparring rooms; she made a mental note to see if Zaef would be up for a bout or two in the next few days.
She turned down a hallway and spied a man ahead of her, leaving Hugh's little corner of the worldship. He turned, coffee in hand, and started walking in her direction. Her eyes widened in recognition, briefly, before she composed herself once again.
Holy shit, that's Walter Simmons! She had read many a dossier about this man, and heard many stories about him, both from the team as well as at Langley. She suppressed a smirk as the two grew closer, and then bumped into him, spilling his coffee down the front of his pants.
"Oh sorry! They really should make these hallways wider, you know?" She didn't bother to look him in the face and catch his expression. After continuing on down the hallway, she could not help but grin.
Simmons isn't around long. He says his piece to Hugh, gets spotted here and there while the team works up their report, and is gone - coffee stains and all - before Robin and Luis finish the first dossier. The operation before Whiirr was Operation CHECKMATE, where the team broke into the Imperial Palace on Napai, the capital planet of the Imperium, and conducted something between an assault, a theft, and a con job. Their target was the Repository of Benevolent Spirits, the central datasource for the Imperial Cortex. In the end, Emperor Kao himself opened the Cortex on his own terms rather than allow the team in there to do God knows what. Since the Cortex break-in, most every Imperial with something to hide has reencrypted their data, changed their protocols, and in some cases moved to entirely different worlds. The historical data the rebels have isn't complete - they only have so much storage and they had to prioritize - but the old Cortex data proves invaluable for filling in the blanks from the recon mission.
Hedian Noble and Chairman of the Council of Lords: Reno Kesh sits at the head of a cabal of Hedian nobles, bureaucrats, and executives. This council has no official power on its own, but rather acts to advise Abe Saloma in an unoffical capacity, and with a hefty amount of payola to make sure the council gets their way. Normally "their way" involves draconian and oppressive business practices, near-slavery and heavy penalties for servants, serfs, and lowly workers who step out of line, a near-complete lack of any punishment for any infractions by nobility, and an eye towards letting local (corrupt) authorities solve any problems that arise.
The power Kesh wields as a noble comes mainly from wealth, holdings, and the protection and influence such wealth can buy. His household encompasses a modest but luxurious block in the upper Akis area and is guarded by a small but elite cadre of men-at-arms.
Kesh takes keeping tabs on his competition seriously. He attends parties and events for Akis' upper crust but isn't a party animal. He rarely hosts parties, and judging from the rise and fall of several other VIPs around him over the last few years, when Kesh hosts a party it's to get a rival onto his property.
Scheming appears to be Reno's favorite pastime. He doesn't drive or fly himself anywhere. He doesn't eat out much, if at all, and when he visits parties he only partakes of communal foodstuffs. The records don't have anything that can connect Reno to any rebel activity, not even the ones from before the ROBS went down. They also don't explicitly link him to Imperial authority, either. He's been close to Imperial authority his entire life - he is after all a noble of possibly the most populated planet in the Imperium - but he's never actually had it. All the influence he has isn't the same thing as being able to simply proclaim something into law or sic Turai on a rival.
Reno's brother, Gorlan Kesh, is an executive for one of Faxom-Io's child industriums. A Pan-Industrium lies somewhere between the stereotypical megacorporations of Gibsonian lore and state-sponsored institutions. They are so large they end up competing with themselves. Imagine Coca-Cola and Pepsi were owned by the same group, but they also made Fords and Chevrolets and Hondas, and then Ford produced both Guitar Hero and Rock Band. In that scheme, Gorlan Kesh would be CEO of Activision. Gorlan's position at Faxom-Io is Reno's greatest weakness when going up against Quon Quorona, who holds an indirectly superior position at the Pan-Industrium.
Tora Kesh is Reno's sister. She's an Expansion agent cooling her heels on Hedion with her brother while her Imperial overlords decide where to send her now that she can't head to Whiirr to replace Vilos Arpana. She is more adventuresome, more direct, than her brother, often seen flitting through Akis' starscrapers in a luxury skimmer. Reno sends at least one bodyguard with his younger sister at all times.
The Kesh clan makes their fortunes through Gorlan's hefty pay and a fairly lucrative commerical drug business that's been in the Kesh name for years. Chances are good that Tora Kesh saves the best samples from her various Expansion routes for synthesis in the Kesh labs.
Criminal Kechop and Self-Made Magnate: A smattering of records show that Quon Quorona was born on Hedion, though not to the silver spoon of nobility. He grew up in the underhive, just a cog in the Faxom-Io machine. He worked his way up until he was the grease in the wheels, and finally was raised to executive. At this point Quon tried to pull his contacts up the ladder with him. By the time he was running a significant industrium, he had friends and backroom deals with every rung of the ladder. On several occasions his so-called buddies tried a power play, and that's where the other Quorona came into play. Quon's wife, Tealni, is easily as ambitious as her husband, is devoted as hell, and knows her way around the Cortex - enough so that she was clued in and was able to wipe her no-doubt shady past when the ROBS was opened up. The Quoronas had early warning and were able to preemptively strike.
It's fairly obvious that Quon approaches his life like a crime boss rather than a businessman, and he has the entourage to back it up. He readily abuses his corporate holdings, so the line blurs as to what he actually has access to, but if Quon was feeling saucy, it could include several smaller solar farms, almost an entire upper quarter of a starscraper inside Akis, and any number of hive-thugs. For all his power, Quon lacks finesse, and his star seems to be falling at Faxom-Io. He wants more power but isn't careful about what he does have. Quon and Tealni keep their Cortex records clean; Tealni is probably the source for that. Quon might also use human couriers, like a few of the other notables in Akis. The fixer, Maq, that Robin and Zaef know about is known to use such information traffickers.
The Quoronas enjoy life; eating at the most prestigious restaurants, driving overpowered skimmers where public transportation is safer and in most cases faster, competing in various activities that would be dubbed "XTREME!" on Earth, and generally taking every chance to flaunt their wealth and contacts. Everyone knows you simply don't touch the Quoronas, because they'll know, and they won't bother the Kansat; they'll send their own people after you. They don't put any stock in the idea that the Imperium governs Akis; they respect demonstrable power and recently Akis' Steward has been content to let the arcology run itself.
I don't know what it is with the cigars in these pictures.
Imperial Steward, Akis Arcology: Everyone in Akis knows Abe is a lazy, sleazy scumbag, which makes him one of the most effective Stewards in Akis' history. His vices (women and drug bowls for the most part) are on display to the public, after several unsuccessful blackmail attempts ended with the perpetrators off in the Arena or worse. His idea of government appears to be "you all fight it out; somebody'll come out ahead, which is better than true Imperial authority, where nobody comes out ahead." Abe has a vested interest in who comes out ahead, of course; whoever takes the most work off Abe's hands and lets him enjoy his leisure time gets the most backing from the government. He has a particular relationship with Kesh, since his preferred bowls of choice come from Kesh's pharma business. In return, he's more amenable to Reno's council of lords.
Abe's from Kharpara, a waterlogged world of archipelagos, and he loves the sun. He spends as much time as possible on Akis' observation platforms, in open-topped vehicles, even outside Akis, tooling around the countryside. The Akis Imperial Palace is a gleaming nodule at the top of the arcology. It has its own artificial waterfall and a small network of pools and islands. If pushed, Abe can requisition nearly any of Akis' governmental assets. Kansat, Turai, vehicles, shuttles, skimmers, and more are at Abe Saloma's disposal.
Abe's hands-off approach to Stewardship is almost as bad as if he was a draconian tyrant. The human cost of letting Pan-Industriums duke it out with noble families and crimelords in Akis is incalculable.
The Iyuzo noble family owns Akis' shipping. Legitimately, their vassals and companies handle transport within Akis, suborbital shuttles, and have a large share of shipping to other arcologies. They are even branching out to shipping energy through to other worlds. These include skimmers, large suborbital cargo ships, and a network of gravesleds and tubetrains. The drivers and mechanics and dispatchers inside Akis are predominantly Iyuzo, and if they're not, they are low enough on the totem pole to where the Iyuzo haven't extended them a buyout offer.
The Iyuzo like to solve problems with bribes first. They're incredibly wealthy from their illegal smuggling business and no matter which side of the family you're dealing with, they'll be able to bring corrupt Imperials to bear on any problems. It's a vicious cycle; their income from smuggling gives them the ability to make generous offers to higher-level bureaucrats who in turn make it easy, through apathy, willful ignorance, or legislation, to smuggle in more drugs, arms, slaves, and so on.
The three possible heirs to the Iyuzo clan are Keji, Kohan, and Segal. They are triplets, but all of them have undergone surgeries (either reconstructive, elective, or simply the results of several unorthodox fashion fads) to differentiate themselves.
First of Three (disputed): Keji lives in the affluent seventh quadrant of Akis (how or why there are more than four quadrants is not important right now). His outward-facing estate is a bubble on the arcology's wall and is guarded like a fortress. Of the Iyuzo, Keji takes the most care when keeping the smuggling and shipping parts of their fortune separate. His predilection towards caution stems from several incidents a few years back. His brother, Segal, sold Keji out to the Imperials on some accusations he was smuggling some sort of masterless AI. Records aren't clear whether it was an actual Sheen, a clever lie, or some other homegrown experiment, but it took all their father's influence and a considerable chunk of change to keep Keji alive. The blow to their noble house and coffers left the elder Iyuzo unable to adequately protect himself, and he was killed in a skimmer "accident" with a Faxom-Io gravsled (not labeled as such, but the Cortex trail leads there). Keji is convinced their father's killer is one of his brothers looking to usurp the Iyuzo throne and trying to make it look like an outside job.
The only reason you know any of this is from your Cortex theft from the Imperial Palace from before. The Iyuzo's current Cortex records were wiped clean - butchered and stripped of any incriminating information, and it was a sloppy job. It's possible that Segal wasn't telling lies. An AI would certainly have the electronic muscle to clear out an unprotected Cortex during the time it was down, although it's unlikely that a Sheen would lack that much finesse in what is basically its native environment.
At any rate, Keji is approachable through any number of shipping businesses. He travels with a small entourage but doesn't seem overly concerned with paranoid self-protection.
Also First of Three (disputed): Perhaps the easiest way to get to know Kohan Iyuzo is to tell the story of how he got his scar. Years ago, Kohan took a mistress whom he loved very much. Segal Iyuzo coveted Kohan's mistress and took measures to disguise himself as Kohan. It wasn't hard; they were identical triplets after all. He took Kohan's mistress and when Kohan found out, he killed the woman himself rather than let her live or pass the duty to an underling, as she was sullied by his brother's machinations. Kohan declared war on Segal from that point forth and radically changed his facial features. Now, when the other brother, Keji, saw his brother had defaced himself and thus metaphorically rejected his family's gene pool, he attacked Kohan. During the duel, Keji slashed Kohan's face. Kohan could have easily had it repaired, but he kept the scar... and blew up Keji's gravsled. Ironically, after all the reconstruction, Keji's face has changed even more than Kohan. Segal jumped on the bandwagon and has been subtly altering his features simply to fuck with his siblings.
Kohan believes a job worth doing right is worth doing himself. He also doesn't surround himself with the trappings of nobility. He values friends over family (it's easy to understand why, given his family) and his attitude seems to resonate with his underlings. Kohan spends more time in the underhive than his brothers. He gets to know more than the people directly underneath him, and so when a gangster or a port-thug or a gravsled driver says they work for Kohan Iyuzo, for most of them there's a loyalty there that goes beyond a paycheck.
Living amongst "the people" can be dangerous; to counteract the high possibility of death, Kohan travels with bodyguards and is himself well-trained in urban combat. He keeps any incriminating records off the Cortex, preferring to deal with parcels passed via trusted human couriers (similar to Quon Quorona).
First of Three for Real Reals (disputed): The Iyuzo brothers are triplets and people still say Segal Iyuzo must be a bastard. Where Kohan is more of a hands-on kind of guy, and Keji tries to separate his legal and illegal business, Segal either doesn't care or actually likes the attention. He's addicted to the feeling of invulnerability that money and power give. Segal is in that position where everybody knows he's a scumbag and nobody does anything about it. Too many people around him are on the take. It's hard to know who might actually be able to help. Those that are on the take like that Segal bleeds bribe money. Abe Saloma himself isn't above taking some Iyuzo lats and turning a blind eye to some of Segal's gangster shit. Segal's generosity is why he's still alive - both his brothers have tried to buy off Segal's inner circle so they could get a crack at him over the years but were unable to meet the price.
Segal used to be more careful. He used to scheme, like when he called the Imperials on his brother Keji for dealing in masterless AI. When he saw that his family was, as a unified group, powerful enough to keep Keji from execution, Segal decided he was already at the top and it was time to start livin' large. He pays his underlings incredibly well. He has countless Kansat and starport authorities in his pocket. He has an overblown, ludicrously expensive skimmer for every day of the week. He brings different lovers of all genders to any party he deigns to crash and shows no sign of slowing down.
He's also losing money at an incredible rate. The few allies Segal retained from before he lost his discretion are increasingly tired of his shenanigans. They know it's either time to distance themselves from Segal or attempt a coup. The only problem is to take out one Iyuzo is to risk the wrath of all of them. Segal may be a bastard, but he has powerful family and they may unite against outside interference. And Segal's proven pretty lucky; he's avoided serious Imperial trouble despite his overt nature and he's survived his brothers this long. Given his past, the over-the-top schtick could simply be a facade, but after the Iyuzos butchered their Cortex records, what is the facade hiding?
Angel hears the telltale grunts and barks of Swims-the-Black and Davis chatting in Whiirr-sign, intercut with the occasional Imperial and English word, halfway down the cinder block and concrete hallway as he approaches Davis' office. "I'm telling you, football would take off like crazy on Whiirr," Davis grunts. "You guys would be great at it." "I suppose, but the rules are very...arbitrary," Swims replies. "What is this...offsides rule?" Angel walks up to the door to see Swims sitting on the chair on the other side of Davis' desk, vox holointerface open in front of him. "Ah, that's soccer, British football. I'm talking about American football," Davis says. "You guys are natural-born linebackers." "Hm, perhaps. These videos do make it look fun."
Angel stands in the doorframe, shaking his head softly. "First Samoans, and now Wherren? You do realize that it isn't *actually* supposed to be a blood sport, yes?" "Ah! Hello, Angel, we didn't see you there," Swims says.
"I have that effect on people."
"Indeed you do," Davis says. "What's up?"
Swims-the-Black looks at Angel, and reads his demeanor in a flash. "I think I will go to the food court and get something to drink," he says.
Davis looks up at Swims. "You sure?" "Yes. I will be back later, and you can explain why this football does not use a ball, or why they seem to do the same thing over and over if they do not seem to advance." Swims squeezes past Angel and walks to the door. "See you in a bit, Garrett. Nice to see you, Angel."
"Nice to see you too, big guy." Easing his way into the office, he nods to Davis. "Got a minute?"
"Yeah, sure, what's up?" Davis responds in his accented English, mirroring Angel. He motions to the chair. "Sorry, but they seem to be content to keep me in this janitor's closet for now."
"There's been talk. About you. Hell, about all of us, but you happen to be both visible and...unapologetic about it."
"Yeah, I know," Davis says. "But the stuffed shirts at the DoD and the grunts that have been giving us shit don't really get what's going on out here, they haven't seen the scope of the problem like we've seen, what we're a part of now. You understand, right, Angel?"
"Maybe. But that doesn't make them wrong, Davis. And it's not just the DoD or grunts..." Angel avoids bringing up the matter of his actual rank. "You're heading down a path Davis, we all are, but you're far and away leading the charge. And it is a concern - you're too smart to just handwave it away as not a thing. Not when its the Captain worried about it to. Or your wife. Or me."
Davis leans back in his chair and sighs. "Yeah, I know. Ngawai and I talked about this before everyone showed up to plan the mission, she kicked my ass about letting this slip with you guys. She was worried that I wasn't letting you guys in on...all of this, that I was alienating you guys. It's not what you think, what Hugh thinks, Angel. You're worried if I'm turning too rebel for my own good, forgetting about Earth in all of this, right?"
"Hell, Davis, I don't give a shit about your accent, or what you wear, or if you and the lady want to get a nice little flat overlooking the palace. You haven't gone native - not yet - and that's not the part of Earth I'm worried about you forgetting."
Angel sighs, sitting back in his chair as well. "I get why you like the rebels. It's a cause - a good one - and one where you're freed from whatever you think is holding you back. But there's two things that worry me. Before we came in and started kicking up rocks, the rebels weren't winning. You start forgetting who we are, you're going to end up as just another rebel leader - too clever for his own good maybe, and just as fucked as they were. Beyond that - the rebels won't fucking say no to you. You know that as well as I do. You want to know what worries me? It's not your accent. It's that you've finally found a war you can lose yourself in."
Davis nods. "I get that. And I thank you for your concern, Angel. It's good to know that I have friends that see past stuff like...this silly accent," he says with a smile. "But I think that saving our culture, Narsai and rebel, is worth losing myself in, Angel. This isn't their war that we're helping them out with. Their fight for freedom is our fight for survival. If we lose, they have no power anymore, and the Imperium crushes them. If they lose, we're all alone against the Imperium, with no support at all against an empire thousands of times our size. Samantha sees it, I see it, Ngawai sees it, and Brinai, Bello and the other rebel leaders see it. This isn't Narsai helping the rebels on our way to getting the Imperium to decide to forget we exist. Either we all defeat the Imperium, or the rebels, Narsai'i, and Wherren, we all burn together."
"Missed my point, Davis," Angel says. "It's not about standing together or hanging separately. It's about who you are - who we are - and how we've done what we've done. We came at the Imperium sideways. Did things we weren't supposed to be able to do. Things the Imperials - or the rebels - didn't even think of. I get that you like the rebels. I get that with them, there's no bullshit and red tape. But being Narsai, it's what's made us stronger than just a handful of people with a defective sense of self-preservation." He stands, clapping him on the shoulder. "You're not what the rebels think you are. You sure as hell aren't what the Imperium says you are. You're Garrett Davis, CIA spook who is probably a bit more clever than he has a right to be. There's no one on that side whose going to tell you that. So, I am. Because chewing out people who get paid more than me is one of the few actual perks to this job."
Davis laughs. "We try. But I do know what you're saying, Angel. It isn't just the team that took over Boranai, and it's not just us helping the Wherren pick themselves up out of the cage the Imperium forced them into. But we can't just depend on the Narsai brass to be there for us, Angel. They think that we're an expensive risk at this point, a sinkhole for resources that could be put towards analyzing the Imperial threat, they think that our work with the rebels is a distraction. Some of them get it, but there aren't very many of them." He stands up. "The resistance we got setting up Hedion is likely just the beginning, and this fight is too important to let the Narsai brass fuck it up by keeping their heads up their asses. The rebels are getting stronger all the time, but I'm gonna keep on trying at every chance I get to keep Narsai on board. And you know that this fight is too important to let Narsai's bureaucratic powerplay bullshit fuck it up. We have to do what works, right? We'll drag Narsai kicking and screaming to victory and unity if we have to." Davis smiles.
"Davis, I've spent my entire life dealing with brass that had their heads up their ass. All I'm saying is you've found yourself an easy fight, where a righteous man can just wade right in and find himself enough battles to occupy the rest of his days. Don't lose yourself in it, Davis."
"What are you worried about me losing then, Angel? You're not worried about losing myself, my wife, the team...what are you concerned about?" Davis asks.
Angel turns to leave, looking thoughtful at the spook's question. "The part of you I'm willing to follow. The man your wife married. The man from LA named Garrett Davis. The part of you that wants to stop fighting." He shrugs. "You're not there yet. And yeah, this fight is too important to hamstring yourself. But its also too important to take the easy way out, and only talk to the people who think you walk on water. I've seen you Davis - you charmed the pants off an alien killing machine, literally. Pretty sure you could talk your way onto the Throne if you really felt like it. If it's a fight that's worth winning, it's a fight where its worth not retreating - and that goes for Narsai briefing rooms as much as it does Gateships and jungles."
Davis smiles again, and claps his hand on Angel's shoulder. "That's exactly what Ngawai said, and I'll tell you pretty much the same thing. This isn't me losing myself in the Imperium, I'm not giving up who I am to this fight. I'm just falling in love with this new culture, with who my wife is, and I think that it's something I want to be. I'm...I'm just Narsai'i now, not an Earthling, that's all. Does that make any sense?"
"It does," Angel says. "And like I said, you're not there yet. But that's when you need to talk to someone, make sure they know the road they're on."
Angel looks him straight in the eyes, and gives him a stare that can best be called unsettling. "And Davis? If you stop liking cheeseburgers and beer, I swear to god I'll put you down myself."
Davis returns the stare as best he can. "Are you saying I'll forget about In-n-Out, Angel? I might have to shoot you myself." He maintains the stare for a few seconds, then a big smile slowly breaks across his face. He slaps Angel on the back. "Thanks for having my back, Angel. Good to know that my friends are looking out for me."
"Any time, Sir. Like I said, it's one of the perks. Since apparently attractive alien women aren't part of the standard package, rumors to the contrary not withstanding. All I've really got is disapproving glances and the occasional chat. Have a nice night, Davis. Say hello to Ngawai for me."
"I will," Davis says. "It'll take a load off her mind to know you guys are keeping me out of trouble. As for the rest, she did say that she knows the types the Turai like, and, well, she thinks it's just a matter of time." He throws Angel a wink.
Davis struggles to get into his ridiculously complicated outfit. It resembles an amusement park costume more than it does an article of clothing, down to the hatch in the back he climbs into in his revealing armored skinsuit. He hoists the contraption onto his shoulders, as Ngawai folds the back over and seals it with a touch. Davis fiddles with the holointerface for the outfit, which used an encrypted wireless connection to network with his vox so he could use it while stuck inside his clothing, and gets it to power on. The outfit goes from hot to cool in an instant as the internal environmental controls power on and the impellers make it possible to effortlessly stand the entire thing up.
"How do people move around in these things?" Davis asks.
"Very slowly, or as little as possible," Ngawai answers, a big grin on her face. "Here, you messed up your hair a bit, one second."
She walks through the holograms orbiting Davis and brushes his hair up again. Everyone got new haircuts to go with their cover IDs, and as befits Davis' noble persona, his is by far the most elaborate and ridiculous-looking. It's an angular design, that slants sharply from a short cut, one inch tall on his left side, to six inches tall on his right. Some foamcrete-derived product makes it stand straight up, but keeps it pliable enough to cascade over the top like a breaking wave. Even more than the pompous attitude, even more than the ridiculous outfit, Davis envies the other members of the team for their much less silly haircuts. He actually really likes Angel's, and thinks about keeping his hair that way when this is over.
Ngawai leans back out of Davis' clothing's orbit. "How does Haralin Arakuna's hair look?" he asks.
"Like I want to punch him square in the face," Ngawai says with a grin. She leans forward and kisses Davis. "You look perfect."
Swims-the-Black walks in, carrying two caddies of cups. "That is to say, you look utterly ridiculous, Garrett. The nobles that I saw in my Alef-ka days would be put to shame by your tastelessly ostentatious display of wealth." He passes out cups of what smells reasonably alcoholic. "Drink, my friends. No mission of this great a risk should be undertaken without a salute."
"Amen to that," Davis says, and knocks back his cup. He looks over at Ngawai, who has stopped smiling quite so wide at the mention of risk. "Relax, babe." He puts his arms around her as best he can. "I promise, no unnecessary crazy risks, and I won't let them blow up a building on top of me this time."
"Okay," she whispers, and hugs him back. "Now, move your ass," she says. "No one can get out of this damn room with your stupid outfit in the way."
"Yes, ma'am," Davis says, and heads out the door. Ngawai and Davis walk hand-in-hand down the hallway to the Gateroom, and Davis nods to his new friends on Atea as he passes them. As the Gate warms up, Davis and Ngawai kiss one more time, this one crossing over into publically-awkward make-out session a bit, and then she takes a step back to let the team pass through the gate.
"I love you," he says. "I'll see you soon."
"You'd better," Ngawai says with a grin. "I'd hate to have to use my Hedion contacts to hunt you down."
Samal Mani Swao - that's Captain Hugh Verrill to his closest friends - checks his gear, again. You can never check your gear too much. Sure, people will talk, but then they'll go into battle and they'll notice they're missing their canteens right as a sniper takes their arm off, and who'll be laughing then, huh?
Not Hugh. Hugh's not laughing. In fact, Hugh's trying to find his calm center. This is the Imperium's heartland, and he's got a role to play.
Arketta doesn't have to be told how to act as part of a Turai three-man formation - she literally wrote the training manual on that. Robin doesn't quite have the reflexes yet; there's that moment of hesitation where she has to think "US Army does this, Turai do that..." before she can actually do it, but that'll pass. Hell, Hugh thinks, we're playing a bunch of those guys who got stuck guarding an Expansion asshole. Nobody expects the Silent Drill Team.
"Drink, my friends. No mission of this great a risk should be undertaken without a salute."
Hugh briefly looks to Swims-the-Black, but turns the drink down with a wordless gesture. Holy hell does he not need alcohol in his system right now. All hands on deck, as it were.
If things go wrong - well, they're the ones in full battle armor with a similarly full complement of weapons. Hugh likes that part of the plan a lot. However, there's something bothering him that's not part of the plan. Well, not part of the team's plan. Spying for Simmons. It feels dirtier the more time he's had to think about it, but dammit, Simmons did make some good points. They can't just pull shit like this and then come back to Earth like nothing's happened. There has to be accountability, something Hugh reflexively places above the team. Let the brass worry about it.
Hugh doesn't think about himself as brass. It helps him sleep at night. It helps a lot.
Zaef is waiting for the team in the briefing room, sharpening yet another knife. Not that anyone can tell it's him leaning against the wall at first, though. The armor makes him look like a completely different person.
Arm carapice based on a Turai suit completely covers Zaef's left arm up to and including the shoulder, but it's colored a bronze-ish crimson, like dried flaky blood, covered in studs and several lengths of polished cord have been wrapped around it, making it look like it needs to be lashed together. The cords on the arm intertwine with a larger network of cords tightly wrapped around Zaef's torso and tunic as if he doesn't need real protection, bound to a centerpiece: a Gateway replica inscribed in runes. The right arm is bare save for an armored glove, but broken lengths of cord around the shoulder and glove suggest there should be more. The shins, thighs and kneecaps are armored like the left arm, with studs and cords galore as well, but the boots ditch the studs in favor of a big spike on the toe. The spikes catch the light rather well considering how bright the room is.
There are also no weapons seen on his person aside from the knife he's sharpening, but when he waves at the others and stands tall, the blade disappears. When he turns for his pack, though, there's a customized Turai plate covering his back. The cords appear to lash it on, and the team suddenly suspects that at least a couple blades are concealed inside somewhere. The armor is also colored a dull bronze on the back.
Zaef passes his pack of "confiscated items" to one of the "Turai," and wordlessly holds out his wrists for Hugh to cuff them. Getting closer reveals even more about the ensemble-Hugh notes that the cords are actually tightly woven mini-chain-link, and the studs have all been inscribed with mini runes as well. Everyone else notes that the color is fortunately part of the paint job and not actually dried blood, but the tan tunic Zaef is wearing is really his bare chest, wiry and completely kauka-tone. At least he's wearing pants.
Zaef takes the drink Swims offers, lifts it to the ceiling, and downs the whole glass in one go before turning to completely face the others.
"What the hell are you all looking at?" he growls. "We've got work to do."
"Have you ever heard of Halloween, Zaef? I'm going to go as you for Halloween this year. Hopefully I'll scare a few kids." Robin can't help but chuckle.
Zaef looks askance at Robin. "This isn't just a gaudy costume, kid. This thing saved my ass a couple times in the Arena. Wasn't too sure it'd fit coming out of storage for so long." He rubs the left gauntlet a little and frowns. "Wasn't sure the blood would wash out, either. Stained it something nasty."
"So tell me about this" Robin indicates the cords. "Is there a significance to this beyond aesthetics? Would someone who's a student of the games assume something about you based on the elements of your costu-er, armor?"
"For the most part, no. The Arena is a weird mix of practical fighting and lunacy. To succeed, you can't just be good at killing, you have to look good doing it too, even if it means trying something near suicidal, like doing somersaults in close quarters while fighting over a pit of lava." Zaef then looks at his right glove and feels the severed cords, smiling a bit. "But I suppose it's symbolic to me, yes. I tore off the armor on this arm in my final Arena battle. Nice way to cut my ties, I suppose."
Robin looks at him in surprise. "Final, you say? Never again? I've spent a good portion of my life studying and practicing fighting. Its in my blood. Were I to stop - hell, I don't know that I could ever stop practicing, sparring" she thinks for a second, "it keeps me sane. I guess the arena isn't like that for you? I would have thought that it would be."
Zaef's smile disappears in an instant. "No. Unlike some other participants I could name, I disliked fighting and murdering innocent people in exotic and gory ways just to please an audience. The Arena's not fun and games-okay, not for the fighters, anyway. You've done something to catch the Imperium's eye, and they want you offed discreetly or in a fun and amusing way, they send you to the Arena to fight against serial killers and psychotic Turai and other citizens who've only done one wrong thing in their lives. As many as a score go in and only one comes out and you can only hope that it's you. I was lucky to get out alive, kid, with no small skill and luck on my part, and I never want to go back."
The time has come. Task Force 815 gathers the hodgepodge of equipment they'll need for the mission ahead and suits up according to their various cover identities. Most of it is innocuous enough; the lavish clothing Davis' alter-ego wouldn't be caught dead without must have cost someone a fortune in Imperial lats, not to mention the ridiculous tent and other fineries. Luis' formal getup is positively bland by comparison, and you realize how wrong that is as you look over the Delta-turned-CIA medic's transparent plastic vest, striped pants, and long lamellar coat. At least the shirt underneath the plastic vest is a mundane black tunic.
Hugh calls for one final radio check - you all have Earth radios to supplement the Imperial voxes, but they're a last resort. The Imperium's shown some skill at tracking simple radio signals in the past, despite not being able to reliably listen in. Then Captain Verrill clips the last seals on the tight-fitting Turai undersuit. For those of you in the Turai armor, you can't help but wonder whose armor this used to be, and what happened to the poor bastards. It's a fleeting thought, however, as you all realize any of the former wearers could've been put in the ground by your very own hands. For Robin, the Imperial armor is a strange first experience. The chromed opaque helmet covers her entire head and face, but from the inside looking out it's like she's viewing the world through a glass bubble. There's no vision or hearing impairment like she'd get from a MICH or PAGST or any Earth-made helmet. To the contrary, the onboard systems filter out bright lights and flares and bring up the dark areas to a comfortable level. Robin looks around and sees Hugh and Arketta highlighted in her HUD - friendly squadmates. She has a view from her Imperial beam rifle as well - handy in case she has to peek around a dangerous corner. The armor's undersuit is tough and pebbled, like a wetsuit made of rhino skin. It's a little constricting but the backpack-housed environmental controls keep the suit comfortable.
Angel, on the other hand, looks fairly dapper in the closest thing the Imperium has to a simple gray 3-piece suit. The sunglasses are his own, as is the SCAR-H. You don't know where he's secured the frag grenades.
Davis finally gets his clothing powered on and manages to stand up. The formal clothing is more architecture than fashion; miniature impellers suspend a network of orbiting jeweled spheres, and holoemitters cast phantoms from Davis' torso. The effect is that of a miniature solar system walking through an ethereal nebula. This getup is all built around a high-collared, broad-necked apparatus that flows in several tapestries down to the floor. It makes Davis look pretty supervillainous, which is the point after all. Even funnier is the tent (because it just does not do for a haughty Expansion chief to have to beg, borrow, or buy substandard housing, even for a night). The red and gold and purple mass is folded down into an impressively small but dense cooler-sized package that trails Davis on stubby drone legs.
The insane procession parades down Atea's main corridor and into the Gate-pit. Bello waves; so do several other rebels that you've come to know during your time here. A few techs check various timekeeping consoles, synchronizing the outbound Gateway's portal to fit between Todaki's expected Gateport schedule. The ancient ring's glyphs begin casting blue-white light through the pit, then the great golden Gateflash cascades through the worldship's interior. Todaki's arid, hot landscape stretches out before you. A series of small, one-and-two-story habs and markets sit clustered around the Gateport on the other side of the portal, countless light-years away.
There is a single Imperial Samal, his armor battered but clean, watching his side of the Gateway. He waves curtly, as if expecting you.
The rebels dial the Gateport right on schedule, and the portal flashes open to reveal a small circus. Two Expansion agents, one clearly from noble stock, walk through the portal with a suited man who must be a bodyguard or the like. Three Turai follow them. These rebels-in-disguise are escorting a vaguely-familiar man... Elvis remembers now, he was some kind of Arena champion. Word was he turned rebel, so chances are good that his captivity is just a cover in the time-honored "Chewie, put these binders on" tradition.
Elvis' rebel contacts didn't tell him a lot, just that he was to accompany this group on their mission to Hedion and assist them however possible. The Imperium was bringing more and more "civilization" to Todaki, and it was about time Elvis cleared out before someone figured out who he was. For now though, the group of men and women stand there, adjusting to the too-bright double suns, Chae and Plutux, as the Gateway winks out behind them.
It was fun while it lasted, says Max to himself, waving the procession past him and into the hab he's picked out for their meeting.
Davis watches Samal in his well-worn but still shiny Turai armor lead the way into the hab. Once they're inside and the door's secured, he turns to the Samal. "Samal Kahnanmoku," Davis says, "Garrett Davis. I'd shake your hand, but this stupid outfit makes that kinda hard." He smiles at that. "Anything you need to grab before we get out of here? As you might know, we're on a mission to Hedion for a rescue mission, and we need to know if you'll have any problems making it through Hedion customs. You might want to take your helm off so we all know what each other looks like in case things go wrong fast."
Hugh's tense, though it's a bit hard to tell through the armor. They don't know this guy. They're not in too deep yet, not too far from the gateway. Now's the moment of truth.
Samal Kahanamoku waives his two Turai outside, then locks the hab and flips up his visor.
"Agent Davis. It's...been a long time." says Max, extending a hand to shake, his hair longer and his face much more weathered than last they spoke.
Before the standard SciFi TV-fade-to-intro starts up, Max is quick to dispense with the pleasantries and the awkward reunion.
"If you're here, Davis....I assume Captain Verrill is here too. So, which one of you is it?!" curtly asks the scientist, sweeping a pointed finger at the armored visors.
"My guess is...you." pointing directly at the Turai standing far too attentively for an Imperial soldier.
"You in there, Verrill?!" pokes Max at the mirrored helmet visor before him.
You'll never pass for a Turai if you keep standing like you've got a stick your ass. I see that even the CIA are still unable to come up with a way to remove it." jests Max, smiling with a certain air of confidence about him.
Angel idly taps his fingertips on the side of his rifle, looking at a slightly tinted world - and a slightly tinted Max.
An outfit that could pass as a suit in the right - notably absurdly trendy - setting, a pair of red shades, and a backstory that meant if anyone went digging they'd find a long enough chain of gunfights, honor duels and straight out assassinations that they could fill in the blanks with whatever their nightmares wanted it to be....considering Davis got cast as Dean of the Imperial Clown College, he was doing just fine.
He grunts softly, muttering only half under his breath. "Davis, this plan of yours got fucked up faster than usual. You're going to mess up the betting pool. I had $20 on ten minutes."
(OOC: Reagan's still got a gearing-up scene he wants to post, so you can go ahead and slide that above all of this when he posts it, Adam.)
Davis sees Max's grinning face and his gut contorts with rage. As Max prattles on, all Davis can remember is him stealing the sled on Aikoro and riding off into the night, drawing the attention of the Turai and blowing their hiding place, forcing them to sacrifice the Akamu, his best friend's pride and joy, and his life, in order to escape.
Max leans over to poke at Hugh's helm and taunt him, which means he doesn't see Davis proving just how nimble he is in his miniature solar system gown and sucker-punch Max straight in the jaw.
Hugh sees it coming - one advantage of the helmet is that he can actually look to the side while appearing to be focused on Max - and therefore steps out of the way just a moment before Davis comes rushing in. Max tumbles right into his arms, and he catches his erstwhile ally, though he fights down the urge to hook his arms and open him up for an extended round of playing punching bag.
"You know, Doc, for a smart guy, you're still pretty stupid," Hugh says.
"You fucking whetu!" Davis spits at Max. "You stabbed us in the back and left us on Aikoro to die! I had to ask my best friend to blow up his ship and his life to save our asses because of you, and you have the audacity to smile and joke with us?"
"Look at the bright side, Doc," Hugh adds, "at least we didn't bring Swims-the-Black with us. Imagine how glad he would be to see you."