The thin orange-and-black line of mesa Kansat form a clear divider between two dozen solar farmers and the smaller group of Saloma's construction techs. Two officers help a third to his feet; the wounded Kansat sways drunkenly and spits blood at the still-smoking corpse of the solar farmer who must have laid into him over some dispute. A second solar tech, the day shift boss and only two rungs above Ody Quis' position, lies dead in front of the Rav-Kansat. It's clear he's just been executed.
The mob is cowed into silence and the Rav-Kansat cranks up his helmet amps. "Your administrator lies dead because he could not command you. The next person who assaults my men or these duly-appointed servants of the Imperium," he nods back to the construction crew, "will be pacified and then we will pacify whoever is supposed to be their administrator. Dropteams are inbound to provide additional security; they will not be as forgiving as we are." The officer waves the lead crew chief forward. "Speak your piece, chief."
The construction chief looks over the barely-contained mob with nervous, squinty eyes. His wide hat sits a little low, giving him the sihouette of a flying saucer on top of a headless horseman. "As we attempted to inform you earlier, you all have 24 hours to vacate your dwellings. Interim habitation will be in place by day's end, and those without other arrangements may quarter there. This mandate comes directly from Abe Saloma, Imperial Steward of Akis."
-"What about our jobs?"
-"What are you even doing here?"
The solar farmers start roiling up, rabbling their way to another crescendo.
"I'm sorry - I don't have any information on that. You'll have to take it up with the Steward," is the chief's response.
-"You'll take it up your ass!" shouts a farmer, followed by a chorus of affirmation, and a few of the Kansat train their longlancers on the crowd.
"They're making some kind of Arena! Gonna take our homes and our jobs!" shouts another. More than a few eyes turn towards Zaef, and then Haralin. Sure, the crews and farmers haven't been told what's going on, but they're not stupid and a band of newcomers with an Arena champion showing up right before teams come to steamroll their homes makes for a trail that's easy to follow when fueled by anger and paranoia.
Haralin puts his fingers in his mouth and issues a louder whistle than his high school gym teacher ever could. The crowd instantly quiets down and turns his direction. "As I was trying to say, I am Dropchief Haralin Arakuna. I am here in relation with this project, but I was personally not made aware of the need to remove you all from your homes, and I will talk with the Steward on this as soon as possible, you have my word."
-"Why should we believe you?"
-"You're selling us out to line your pockets!"
-"What about our families?"
Haralin has the crowd's undivided attention. The Rav-Kansat stares at him like he's some kind of troublemaker. "Believe me, the last thing I want is to cause undue difficulty for you all," Haralin says. "The Imperium, and myself, care about all those who live under her care. And as for trusting me, you all know where I am staying." He smiles. "If you have any greviances, any of you are welcome to sit down and discuss them with me at any time."
-"Fuck you and fuck your fancy tent!" The crowd's responses vary of course, but gist is a general unease regarding Haralin's trustworthiness.
"Sounds like the Dropchief's got 24 hours to fix this situation," the Rav-Kansat bellows through his amps. "Until then, we all have our jobs to do, and we are going to do them." He pats his lancer.
"Now, there's no need to resort to threats, Rav-Kansat," Haralin says. "I'm sure there's a way we can have this resolved without any more tragic loss of life. We can meet to discuss this in an hour, in a more calm and civil manner, in the community center. Please, if you could all gather in there, we can discuss this situation and what can be done."
The officer harumphs. "You," he points to Saloma's crew chief, "and you," he points at Haralin. "A word, please?" He starts walking away from the crowd. The crew chief follows him, after giving the crowd a nervous look.
Haralin nods to the rest of the team, and walks over towards the Rav-Kansat.
"Listen up," the Kansat barks. "I don't like shooting people before breakfast, but both of you are on your way to being number three and four. Arakuna, these people are going to be moved no matter what, right? Whatever cockamamie scheme you cooked up with Saloma is going to proceed, so why sweetcoat it like these farmers have a say in the matter? And you-" he starts in on the crew chief but the man interrupts the officer.
"Hey, I have my orders and I'm following them. Same answer goes for you or this Dropchief here. Take it up with Saloma."
"And I prefer not to have to shoot people either, so let's try smoothing things over with them, first, yes?" Haralin asks. He sounds a bit like he's explaining the concept to a child.
The Rav-Kansat nods his beplumed head. "Fine. But I am going to have... whatever this is... proceed smoothly. If I see another mob like this I'm holding you responsible, Dropchief." He looks at the crew chief, searching for a problem there.
"Hey, I'm just as happy to leave their habs there. Orders are orders, though," the chief explains to the Rav-Kansat.
"That is why it is probably best that you and your men keep their distance from this meeting, I think," Haralin says. "Let my men secure the inside of the meeting, and your men can handle the outside, and be ready in case things do unfortunately get out of hand."
"Are you officially waiving assistance from local Kansat during the duration of this gathering?" the Rav-Kansat asks.
"Only for the inside, Rav-Kansat. Your presence there might only serve to inflame the crowd."
"Done and done," he says.
"Thank you, Rav-Kansat," Haralin says. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a crowd to prepare to calm down."
The trio heads back to the main group as two Kansat dropteam skimmers dot the horizon. With a perceived outlet to voice their grievances, the majority of the solar techs disperse, leaving behind a core group to mourn the dead. The construction crew returns to their area and continue setting up the large monotasks and waldo units that will hopefully speed the rectenna array's construction.
It would also seem that most if not all of your marks are waiting on input from you. The Quoronas agreed to communicate through Mac's couriers, which is even more fortuitous considering your new alliance with the former Air Force officer. Segal Iyuzo needs the rectenna project to start before he can use Arketta and Luis to sabotage it, and with the Arena plans out of the picture, Segal doesn't seem all that interested in Zaef, and in return Zaef would rather not end up in a stim-induced stupor in some noble's decadent hellhole. Angel has a date with Tora Kesh in the evening, a meeting which Luis needs to attend as well so the Quoronas can see their contact is in cahoots with a rival family. Furthermore, Keji Iyuzo is going to find out sooner or later that Segal isn't funding jack shit, and he knows the project isn't actually an Arena well ahead of Keji's proposed schedule. Chances are he's not going to react well, but it'll probably still be more mature than Kohan's simple thuggery. Will the as-yet-unseen Iyuzo brother lay off the assassins now that your relationship with Segal has cooled?
At least Saloma doesn't seem to need any help oppressing the natives. The hour passes quickly and the community center quickly becomes cramped with worried and angry solar farmers. True to his word, the Rav-Kansat has kept his men and the dropteams out of the center. If something goes wrong, he'll have Haralin's prior refusal of his assistance and a defensible excuse to kill Haralin and probably all of you for allowing a crowd to turn into a riot. No pressure.
Haralin walks up to the stage at the front of the room. "Citizens - excuse me, residents of Array 11, of this solar farm, I know that what you've been told today is a huge shock, and seems unfair."
"It is unfair," Ody agrees with the tall man. Both of them tip back their glasses. "But what the Dropchief was saying in the farm center was only part of it..."
Haralin pauses to let them air their grievances. It's nothing he hasn't heard outside already, just louder for being in an enclosed space. He raises his hands again, and the room quiets down a notch. "And I agree! I agree, that these requests being made are unfair to you. However! There are appropriate times, and more importantly, appropriate actions to be taken. What will standing up and causing trouble for the poor construction workers simply following the orders that they are given gain you, or them? Do you think what will happen for them and their families will be any different than what will happen to you if you refuse?" Haralin shakes his head. "I know it wouldn't be. What will throwing yourself into the Rav-Kansat's beamer accomplish for you? It will simply make the cleaning of the mesa proceed more swiftly. No, what is needed is to be patient and bide your time. There are better ways, better supported ways of dealing with the problems that the Imperial bureaucracy has unfortunately placed upon you."
Arlana slips a vox-marker, a strip with a coded frequency like a phone number that the user doesn't have to know themselves, to her drone mechanic. "They're expecting a riot or something similar, something to use as an excuse to crack down on us. Wait for that signal and you'll have support. We're not alone here."
"So, I ask for you to wait. Wait, and go along with their plans for now. Even if they move you to this -" a look of disgust crosses his face, "- this residence camp, be patient. I will be working my hardest to ensure that when we speak to the Steward, your voices are heard loud and clear, and he will no doubt agree for a peaceful and reasonable relocation of you all back into your homes, and your livelihoods." He looks around the room. "Will you all give me that chance?"
"There's no chance you're moving back into your habs," Arketta explains to a wisp of an overcurious administrator. "But there are advantages to this new temporary housing. Surveillance is weak there and untested. There won't be work-shifts, so there'll be plenty of time to be careful and plan this right."
There's more confusion now than anger, as the people who actually listen to Haralin's words run headfirst into what they know. It's summed up eloquently by the loudest of the shouters:
"This was your idea in the first place! Running us off our habs and taking our jobs! Why should we believe you're going to tell the Steward anything?"
"Yeah! You're just trying to get us to settle down until it's too late!"
"Or incite us into doing something that gets us all killed!" shouts another. "Then we're out of the way and he can have his Arena!"
"What in my words says that you should rise up right this instant?" Haralin asks. "I am asking for time, time to create the proper environment for your well-justified complaints to be heard. My goal was to gradually move you all, over a period of weeks and with plenty of warning, but it seems that in their haste, things have progressed more quickly than I would have liked. Believe me, I will be working tirelessly to see that this situation is rectified."
"Why does he make such a big deal about caring what we do?" the Quises reply to the accusations thrown at them across the small round table. A row of empty caf and loko shots take up space next to the group. "Because the Arena is all spinkshit, he's doing this for us. Haralin and them are with the rebels and collectively you, me, and everyone else is going to give the Steward what's coming to him."
Haralin pauses for a second. "But I understand your fears of accountability. How can you ensure that my word is good?" Haralin looks over the crowd. "I cannot think of a better form of accountability than...easy access, shall we say. I will travel with you to this camp, across the mesa, and will stay with you. If you have complaints or grievances then, I will be easily available for you all to air them with me, in person. If the pacification you fear comes, I will be there in the crossfire with you. I would not put my life at risk in such a way. You may trust me on that."
Haralin's pledge seems to cool the residents' fire a bit, and a handful of more fatalistic techs figure what's done is done and they leave. The remaining crowd settles down.
"You better get this fixed," one of them says. "The Steward can't treat us like wherren. We won't stand for it."
"What about our jobs?" Arlana feeds Haralin, trying to tangent the conversation away from threats.
"And I agree, the Steward and the Imperial authorities should not be treating all of you in this way," Haralin says. "This is an intolerable situation, and should be dealt with finally and definitively. As for your jobs, well, this Arena plan, it can't replace your rectenna, can it? There will still be a need for your experience, both with the Arena and elsewhere on the mesa. Trust me, you are not being made redundant."
The reassurance about the solar techs' jobs seems to quell the last of the vitriol, and it doesn't take long for Haralin to ameliorate the less pressing grievances around the array. Then, since the rectenna is offline and there's no point to the usual shifts in the solar fields, it's decided that it's time to get drunk, what with the sudden death of two of their number and the doom of damocles hanging over their homes.
"We're doing a little opinion polling," Swao says, then nods at a nearby corner, "over there." The implication's clear - come with us or we'll make you.
The officer scowls but complies, smoothly setting his rifle down against the wall and taking a lean. "I'll see if I can find the time, Samal. Patrols been stretched pretty thin what with all the unrest," he says as if to place the blame directly on... Swao realizes the man's inclined just a little more towards Tanakta, so he probably means Haralin by extension.
"Yeah, I've been making some rounds since I got here," Swao says. "Doesn't look too happy. Lots of reinforcements from the Rav-Kansat, huh?"
The officer shakes his head. "It's like dispatch made sure to send the biggest, dumbest thugs they had on hand. I swear someone wants this place wiped off the map." His next sentence is more than a little accusatory. "And you people aren't exactly helping."
"Hey, we're all eating from the same pot of spink in shit sauce," Swao replies. "We just have to figure out who cooked it."
The Kansatai looks Swao over. "Believe me, the answer to that question is foremost in my thoughts." He takes off his helmet and places it next to his lancer, then pulls back the environmental coif from his painfully tan face. He immediately beads into sweat, but it's a gesture meant to show he's not the one broadcasting any of the conversation.
Swao makes a bit of a show of looking around twice. "Good thing about all the Rav-Kansat's thugs," he says, "I'm pretty sure there's no snipers here." He unseals his helmet, then takes it off, too, and puts it under his arm. "Vidas fucking Lam, it's hot out here. Let's take a little walk to cool off." He nods to his trin and Tanakta, then steps away from them with the Kansatai. "So, what's on your mind, then?"
The helmet and lancer are left on the wall as the man follows Swao. The hum of hab-mounted atmo feeds overshadows the crunch of gravel and covers their voices.
"A lot, actually, but most recently my trin and I have been putting some pieces together and we're getting some to fit, and we don't like the picture these pieces are making. It's no secret we've been bugging the Quises since their kid ran off and started shooting up our countrymen. There's an entire Kansat branch at the Farm just for them - you think a rectenna array needs a dozen Kansat for its day-to-day? When there are dropteams ten minutes out?" The guy shakes his head. "The worst part is, they transferred Brimfil here because it was such an easy job. That Rav-Kansat is not equipped to deal with actual Kansatwork, and you all saw that today." It's like he's feeling Swao out as the same time, gauging his response even as the faux-Samal does the same.
"What I can't figure out is what he needs the Quises for, though," Swao replies. "They're not community leaders, they don't have skills that are that special, they don't keep any grand secrets, their daughter's halfway across the galaxy. He had to know that would draw suspicion, quartering with them, the whole show with the bugs." Swao looks around again. He does that a lot. "You know what I think? Someone's trying to make this whole place explode. Piss the techs off just a little more, give the Rav-Kansar just one more excuse to have his men clamp down - and she'll blow. Hell of a way to clear this out fast with military firepower - if you don't give a shit about people, that is." Swao spits on the ground, not really surprised that it starts sizzling as soon as it hits the sand. "So the way I see it, what matters right now is where a fellow stands when the situation turns. And the only ones I can see that aren't playing into this mess are the techs, the people who live here. They've got every right to be pissed and whatever's coming down from up high, they deserve better."
"Shit, I'm getting all sappy again. Must be the heat."
The Kansatai shakes his head again to the sizzle of sweat on sun-baked ground. "I think your puzzle pieces match up real nice with mine. I also think you're in a little deeper than either you realize or you let on. I certainly hope it's the former." The man grimaces, wrestling with unseen choices. His eyes settle on Swao with an even look. "The Throne is interested in big scrofa, and I assure you It is willing to overlook a small scrofa here and there if it gets the Throne what it wants. Samal, you are a small scrofa playing with very large scrofa indeed. Are you interested in having a big open field to graze in when this is all over, or do all the scrofa get cooked and eaten?"
Robin, Angel, and the others see the Kansatai take more of an authoritative stance. It's a subtle change but one that suggests the man is not a simple beat cop. Angel narrows his eyes slightly. He's seen that stance. Thats Officer Stance. And it's the kind of officer stand that accompanies the Son, Are You Going to Play Ball? speech. He's coming to hate this planet.
"I'm sorry, I lost track at the second scrofa," Swao replies with a grin. "What I'm interested in is that the big scrofa don't screw over the little...guys."
"You would be, and I understand that," the not-quite-Kansat replies. "Corrupt Stewards and nobles in bed with terrorists interest us more than a handful of henchmen. Don't get me wrong, Samal. If things went my way I'd take you all down, but I'm willing to look the other way here if you can help me tag the major players."
"Well, I seem to be a person of interest for the Iyuzo clan," Swao replies. "How about we start with them? Can't say I'd cry if they went down."
"Nor I. How do they figure into this?" The agent asks. Swao feels like the man knows some of the clan's dealings but probably truly isn't as close to the Iyuzo.
"The Dropchief went looking for financiers," Swao says, "and the brothers three took that as an opportunity to sabotage each other. Two of them want to deal with me, the third's trying to kill me." Swao looks at the Throne agent. "I could scare up some details, but I think we've talked enough for now. How about we get back together some time later, after I've had some time to bundle up the dirt I have on the brothers?"
This time the agent looks around like Swao did and nods. "We'll see what you get and we'll go from there. Use the name Perus if you need to contact me."
The not-Kansatai picks up his helmet and weapon, nods to the cluster of not-Turai, and continues on his patrol.
Angel watches Tora Kesh's hair stream out and over the open sportsled's canopy. Tora's behind the controls, and she dips the garish yellow vehicle in and out of traffic, never bothering to slow down or heed posted traffic directives. Must be a little of her self-entitled noble blood showing through. Angel's seen plenty of drivers back home behave the same way, but it's a little more white-knuckle when you're ten stories up. The modest cargo space in the sled's filled with a small portable spread bought directly from Khalkiota's kitchens. The food and beverages looked like they were packed pretty securely but Tora drives like she could jostle stink from a skunk.
After a few minutes, Tora slows to a more reasonable speed and she takes a route headed for the arcology exterior.
"Mbushivata's gone," she shouts over the sled's mighty impellers with a nod back the way they came. "And I lost whoever might have been shadowing you as well. Now we should be able to have a pleasant evening." The sportsled shoots out of Akis' barrier wall and into the gleaming arc of a Hedion sunset. Tora banks right and plummets the sled vertically along the arcology like she's running the Death Star trench, then gradually eases off and comes in for a gentle landing in a stunted grove of sun-baked scrub and bristly trees just inside Akis' shadow. She takes a deep breath, and Angel sees she seems a little more nervous than he would have expected.
As she slows and brings the skimmer in near the grove of trees, Angel finally releases the frame of the skimmer from his iron grip, feeling one of his knuckles pop. "I suppose that's one way to lose a tail."
He gets out and walks around, opening her door for her - his Mother did teach him to be a gentleman, if nothing else, and manners, even manners from a place she's never been to probably won't be too out of place. Once she's out - and he's taken a brief instant to savor her dress - he unloads the modest meal and walks with her toward the grove, the pace relaxed, trying to give her a sense of ease. Not, admittedly, that he isn't also carrying a firearm - there's relaxed, and there's stupid.
Tora's all smiles and they take the short walk to exchange the minor pleasantries that wind noise and aerobatics prevented earlier. Angel instinctively picks out the best place for their space picnic and they sit down.
"Thank you for this, and for trusting me," Tora says, "But I have to wonder what Haralin- er, Davis - thinks of you running around with me. Don't get me wrong, I am not against a good time, I just don't want it to be a problem for you. Vidas Lam, I sound rightly addled today," she giggles.
"Is everything alright? You seem a bit more on edge than just first date jitters, even if its with a Handsome Killer Homeworld Agent." He shrugs at the mention of Davis. "It isn't a problem. Any issues he had we ironed out."
Tora's silence says most of it before her mouth opens. I am between a rock and a hard place and the rock just asked me which one I want to crash my skimmer into. "I... well... Dammit," she finally says. "Why didn't you tell Reno you were Narsai'i?"
"What do you think Reno would have done with a piece of information like that?"
"Used it to his own advantage," Tora agrees, "but you said that you take care of your own, and well, Reno's my own too. And we can't run to the authorities now, not after sitting on this. It'd come out during interrogation that we... weren't dutiful Imperial citizens."
"Speaking from experience, authorities might overlook some indescretions if your brother showed up with a few corpses of the Throne's Most Wanted." Angel sighs, looking at the woman. "But I'll be honest. The reason we didn't tell Reno is because he would use it to his own advantage. You wouldn't, or at least, your advantage is a little less...upsetting. But I was telling you the truth when I said we take care of our own. The key is for Reno to decide his own advantage is with us on his own, like you did. Davis is just setting the stage for him."
"I just don't think I've ever really seen him that surprised before," Tora says. "When he found out... it scared him, actually. Way more than when he thought you were Throne agents. Maybe I could just talk to him and reassure him," she muses. "I can make him see the opportunity this is for us."
Angel tries to hide the frown when it becomes clear what she's trying to say. He nods slightly, looking at her.
"And maybe you'll be able to, you're a...compelling woman. But can I ask you to think about something first? While you were off exploring new worlds, expanding knowledge, seeing things never seen...what was Reno doing? And why do you think the Narsai scare him so much?" He gestures toward the massive, towering spires on the horizon. "He was building up that, from the slums on up. Because he likes it this way."
Tora nods, and opens up a frosty bottle of Khalkiota's finest. "Reno exemplifies everything you're fighting, but it's always stuck in his craw that he's never been part of the actual system. The nobility don't have legitimate power in a Stewardship-controlled planet like Hedion, and it's never been enough for Reno simply to bribe and blackmail his way to what he wants. Maybe if he could be made to see things your way, maybe if there was no Stewardship, he would see a way to attain the legitimate influence he's wanted all along." Tora takes an unladylike slug from the bottle. "And I've managed to ruin this outing as surely as if Mbushivata found us."
Angel chuckles slightly, watching the woman take a rather determined gulp.
"There's a saying on my planet that one should never talk about politics or religion in polite company." Looking back at the towers, he smiles gently. "Still, if my evening must be ruined, at least I'll be with pleasant company."
Turning back to the woman, he shakes his head slightly. "You can try, and I know you want to. But if the Stewardship falls, do you think Reno would be happy with a reformed government? One where folks like the solar farmers had a voice? He doesn't strike me as someone who is interested in settling for anything but the top."
Another long drink. "I... no," Tora admits. "If you actually wanted vassals to have power, no. But what do you plan for the nobility once the Imperium is shoved aside, hmm? We are part of Hedion as well, and to deny us is just as bad, yes?"
"The nobility is part of Hedion. I'm no political philosopher, but when it comes down to it, we'll probably be asking the nobles to be what they like to pretend they are, what they should be. Well-educated, passionate, driven leaders of a society. People who show Hedion the way forward, help guide it, bring the more common people with them. Rather than just collecting taxes and executing whoever lifts their head too high." Angel lays back on the grass, looking up at the stars. "People like a certain dynamic, well-educated young women who took this long to ask that question."
Tora sets the bottle down, having had her fill of courage and not willing to avoid the matter in that uncouth a fashion. "How can I leave my family?" she asks. "Reno is my brother, and Gorlan... oh, First, I hope you haven't dragged him into this too. Please don't tell him."
"You said he'd stick with your family, and I took your word on that. I'll keep him out of this as long as I can." He looks at Tora, his eyes sympathetic. "I can't tell you the answer to how you do this, because I don't know it. Reno might be your brother, but he's alot of other things as well. You might ask yourself what would happen to *you* if his best advantage was...elsewhere."
"No. We are family," Tora replies assuredly. "I know full well what Reno does - what he enjoys - but he would never betray Gorlan or me."
She falters when she looks at Angel. "What if Reno had no reason to betray anyone? If he saw the peril in continuing with this rectenna project, if he pulled out completely and... I'd leave with you and set up a place, a safe harbor we could go afterwards. Reno's only peripherally involved, hell, I am more involved than he is right now. It might even hold up under Truthseeking, if it came to that. He heard you were Narsai'i from me, not you or Davis," Tora continues. "I just don't know what to do, but if me leaviIng will keep Reno safe I'll do it."
"That's enough for me." Angel agrees succinctly.
Whatever burden Tora was carrying visibly lifts, and her shoulders lower just a little in relief. "Then it's settled. I will get my brother to distance himself from all this. Now where were we?" Tora says as she starts setting up plates for them both. "I believe you were flattering me and admiring my dress and I was going to feed you crisped quint fin."
It is quite a slog to get to the top of Akis in more ways than one, but once Davis steps out onto the Imperial Palace's entrance pad, he can't help but be impressed at the view. Hedion's horizon curves gently but surely, offering up its silvery solar arrays and golden fields. In the far distance, Davis can spot other arcologies. From his vantage point they look like clusters of needles or thorns. Behind him, the waterfall's roar muffles the noise wafting up from the city below.
Davis finds the weapons scans almost ubiquitous at this stage, but the Imperial Turai don't physically search him. That would be too demeaning for such a cultured guest. Davis does note, however, that it's a Turai that escorts him through the ornate palace halls and not an unarmed assistant or even a drone. They exit through a great set of glass-or-otherwise doors and stop in full view of the palace's artificial tropical island. One barrier wall has been landscaped into a rocky, green terrace that follows the waterfall down into a pool with several small islands, the type you see cartoon characters stranded on, each sporting single or small clumps of trees, soft clean sand, and full drone-serviced bars.
Abe Saloma's wearing a light short-sleeved tunic instead of his official stepping-out robes, and toasts Davis with an extra-fuming drug bowl as he spots the not-Expansion agent enter. He's alone in the pool on a little floating sofa, though two attractive women in Imperial-style swimwear busy themselves with holographic administrative tasks on the island closest to "shore".
"Harry Arakuna!" Saloma shouts, a little too loud for the venue, and a little too quickly for casual greeting. Perhaps Reno has been tampering with the Steward's pick-me-ups. "How's my favorite Throne agent?"
Haralin keeps his smile and brushes the listening device in his robes, taken from the rectenna Kansat the previous day. "Fine, thank you, but the compliment is undeserved. Just here to see how things are proceeding."
"Not so good, Harry," Abe says. "I pull some strings, institute that 24-hour relocation thing on the mesa, and make sure the absolute thickest-skulled, bloodthirstiest, scrofa-fucking sons-of-bitches are on the dropteams assigned to that sector. Then all I hear is how there's no riot, how you calmed down the rabble and no matter what I do I can't seem to take this edge off today." Saloma gives his drug bowl a sneer and sets it aside on his floating barcalounger.
"What's worse, someone is lying to me," he adds.
Davis mantains his smile. "I told you all about how timing is crucial, and maybe having everyone be shot at while my team and I are still on the mesa is not the best timing. No worries, I have it all under control, but what's this about someone lying to you?"
"Either you're a Throne agent and you've been lying to me, or Reno Kesh is lying to me." Abe's trademark smile is gone from the short, bitter laugh that follows. "I wouldn't put it past Reno, but then you lied to me already about the rectenna being just an Arena expansion. And I told you what would happen if you lied to me again."
"Emm?" Abe asks one of the administrators seated at the island bar. "Can you get that Rav-Samal I like over at that place-"
"Rav-Samal Una, out of forward base 338, sir?" the woman responds smoothly, as if she's quite used to interpreting Saloma's vague directives.
"Yeah, her. Get her and have her sunball Array 11, please." Abe turns back to Haralin as Emm starts making connections and authorizing vox channels. "Easy enough, buddy. If you're a Throne agent, you can use your mighty and secret authority to stop that manta."
Haralin takes a seat next to the pool's edge and motions for a drink from one of the assistants on the floating island. "Or, and this is just a thought, I let you sunball the mesa, killing hundreds of people, including Kansatai officials, for absolutely zero justifiable reason. You'd have just committed a very serious crime, Steward, and directly in front of someone who may or may not be a Throne agent. Now, a Throne agent would then be duty-bound to arrest you for several hundred counts of murder, abuse of power on a capital scale, and having an incredibly tacky office."
He takes the drink offered, draws a measure of it through the pink straw, then continues. "After the 'trial', you'd be strapped to a re-education grid for a few months, and then thrown into the Arena as the final part of your sentencing, while I continue with my project, completely unfettered by not only the civilians who you so kindly disposed of for me, but by your continued involvement." Haralin smiles. "You know what? Maybe I'd pull strings to have you put into the very Arena your *stupidly* paranoid actions would have allowed me to build. Bet that'd be top-lat entertainment for the round or so that you manage to survive." Haralin smirks at Saloma. "If I was a Throne agent, of course."
"If you were a Throne agent," Saloma replies, his mouth barely able to keep up with his addled mind, "You'd have already seen enough to put away my entire administration, at which point it's in all our best interests to ensure you don't leave here alive." The presence of the Turai at Davis' back intensifies. Abe and Davis stare each other down. Well, for Abe, it's more like twitching someone down, but after a long, drawn-out silence Abe silently relents.
"Emm, nevermind about those sunballs. Save 'em for later, okay?"
"Of course, Abe." the assistant's shapely fingers dance out a series of abortive commands on her console.
"So why are you here in person anyway? You're not my nanny," Abe says, his smile flashing in false friendship once again.
"You told that Rav-Kansat to keep his nose out of our business, yes?" Haralin asks.
"You flew all the way up here to ask me that? Come on," Saloma counters.
"No, I didn't," Haralin says. "I did come up here to show you this, however." He pulls a bug out of his pocket and passes it to one of Saloma's assistants as she floats by. "Don't worry, it's off. But I found that in my tent this morning. Seems like your Rav-Kansat isn't listening to his bosses right now. You might want to see to that. We're business partners now, Saloma, and we go down together, you and me, yeah? So, I'm looking out for you."
"You're full of charity, Harry," Abe says. "I'll keep the bugs out, you get those farmers out from under the rectenna and into those temp habs. Tomorrow morning I want to hear my crews saying how quickly the project is proceeding."
"Already done, Steward," Haralin says. "You make sure that we don't get arrested first."
I’m going to talk some sense into Reno before he can use your secret to hurt you or your friends. I’m sorry about the dart - You being there would only make it harder. Besides, I got you into this mess, I should get you out. I’ll be back as soon as I can.
“Come with us,” Tora urges her brother once more. She looks Reno in the eyes, ignoring the painstakingly hand-crafted bas-relief of the sanctum walls, the great gilded desk with high-end cogitator, and Mbushivata’s silent bulk at the doorway. “Leave this solar array to those that will be trapped by it. Leave this twisted web of lies you’ve woven around yourself, around your family. Leave Akis and return as the leader you’ve always wanted to be.”
Reno’s mismatched eyes regard his sister. “The leader they would want me to be, you mean,” he responds bitterly. “A traitor to his own people, with no choice but to follow the rebels’ directives or be left poor and alone or worse. No, sister, true power within the Bureaucracy may yet elude me but take it from me: it is far better to be the puppeteer than the puppet. Arakuna’s plans for the solar array are sound. They just suffer from a preponderance of Arakuna at the moment; a problem that is easily rectified.”
“What are you going to do?” Tora asks softly.
“Complete the rectenna project,” Reno replies. “Arakuna has laid the groundwork for his own undoing. There are others who are willing to put aside past quarrels in exchange for controlling the lifeblood of Akis and possibly Hedion itself, and we can simply stop all contact with the Narsai’i. What are they going to do? Go to the authorities? Complain to Saloma? Saloma’s controlled by his addiction, and we control that. Soon we will have quite literally all the power we could ever want.”
“Who’s ‘we’?” Tora asks.
“That’s what is so gloriously ironic about this,” Reno preens. “An alliance between Keji Iyuzo, Quon Quorona, and myself would never have been thinkable without Haralin Arakuna and his seditious dreams of rebellion.”
Tora’s visibly shocked. “The Quoronas? It’ll never work, Reno! You hate Quon! It won’t last, and furthermore, it’s too blatant! You’re reaching beyond your grasp here, please just forget the whole thing and get out before it’s too late!”
“Such a masterstroke requires a measure of boldness,” Reno states. “As for Quorona, you’re right, were I ever to consider an alliance with him we would be at each other’s throats by nightfall. However, Keji acts as a balancing force. None of us are friends and all of us assume the others are conspiring against him. Simple mutual distrust is what will keep this alliance strong. It will keep our family strong, Tora. You may have come here to ‘talk some sense into me’, as you put it when first you arrived, but you’re the one led astray by gilded promises of a better future.”
“You could help us make that future real,” Tora says.
“I intend to,” Reno replies. “I am doing it for us, for our family,” he continues. “You’ve known the Narsai’i for two days and you’re ready to throw in with them after a roll in the hay.” Reno watches Tora’s face redden. “They came here to use us; use you, use me, use the Steward, the Quoronas, the Iyuzo, anything and everything in their quest for so-called ‘liberation’.”
Tora leaves her chair with a force that slides the heavy upholstered seat back across the thick carpet. “Like you’re any different?! Vidas Lam, Reno, how can you use that as an argument? My faculties haven’t been paralyzed from a fling! I’m going into this with my eyes open, and if it comes to choosing the plan that leaves us locked into the same cycle of corruption and decay and oppression, or choosing the plan that actually tries to change something, I choose change!”
“Even if it means betraying your family?” Reno asks.
“It betrays nothing!” Tora shouts back. “Let the rabble have their day! We’ll be safe, either here with the Narsai’i or offworld until it blows over! It could even clear out those foolish Lords you spend your life keeping tabs on! You could out there living your life! Don’t you want things to be different?”
“Why would I want things to be different?” Reno replies calmly. “Everything is turning out better than I could have dreamed. Don’t ruin this, sister. Don’t throw away everything for a pretty face and lies.”
“Veritaserum, brother,” Tora says softly. “Two days and I already know him better than I know you.” She shakes her head. “You say you do this for our family but you always mean your family. I am a noble of the Kesh clan,” she says, “and you are my brother, not my lord. I see you pulling at my strings and I will keep my own counsel.”
“As you wish,” Reno capitulates. He slumps back in his high-backed chair. Tora walks towards the exit but stops one last time when Reno calls her name.
“You have my word,” Reno promises, “You shall be avenged.”
Mbushivata darts in as Tora fires her digital weaponry. The rings pop, each ingenious mechanism loosing a tiny dart. Three hit the floor or wall; the fourth sticks Mbushivata’s leg with barely a sound. The silent henchman’s knife flashes once, twice, thrice into kidney, lung, and throat. The lady Kesh crumples to the soft carpet of her brother’s sanctum.
“My leg, sir,” Mbushivata reports in a deep, increasingly-slurred basso. “I’ll need the soltoxin antidote.”
“Of course,” Reno replies. “I have the solution right here.” The handlancer Reno draws from his desk flashes once - then twice - then frantically a half-dozen more times. Mbushivata falls dead beside Tora.
Reno replaces the weapon and looks down. “Consider yourself avenged, Tora,” he says.
"Hey flash," the kid greets the spook. "Maq wanted you to know, he's been contracting a lot of messages lately between Reno Kesh, Quon Quorona, and one of the Iyuzo... Keji, yeah, that's the one. They're setting up a meeting at Khalkiota next afternoon, before the dinner rush." Buck looks visibly uncomfortable with the news, and he continues softly. "My dad says you're on the level, but this whole leaking intel thing feels all kinds of bad. We don't need the heat from this falling back on us and if you barge in on them they'll know we tipped you off. We don't have anywhere near the muscle to hold off all three families like that, so play it cool, flash."
"See you around, flash," Buck says. It's strange to see someone actually move in such a way scamper comes to mind, but Buck scampers up a low divider and disappears into the literal cracks in the system as Davis turns around to get into the drone back to the Array.
Something in his gut told Angel this wasn't going to end well. The skimmer Tora rented was still sitting idle on the grassy hill, his companion apparently having the foresight - in addition to drugging him - of summoning an alternate ride. Probably to help keep any tails she had confused.
It's a short ride to the Kesh estate, at least at the high altitude, panicked pace Angel sets, almost slamming head long into a cargo hauler entering the traffic patterns for the main city. As he brings the skimmer around their posh estate, the swarm of Kansat confirms his suspicions. One of them has taken to directing traffic, and he asks an innocent sounding question.
"I...I had an appointment. What happened in there?"
The officer grunts, flagging him forward. "Some bodyguard went berserk, killed Lady Tora before her brother gunned him down."
Angel nods, politely thanks the officer, and drives off, knuckles white against the steering mechanism.
When Davis eventually reaches his tent, "Tanakta's" kit is conspicuously short a good deal of his effects, and there's a note laying on his desk, in rough handwriting, that somewhere a CIA analyst would characterize as 'Highly Agitated'.
Specialist Rivera has been missing since, the date hastily written in, and is his current whereabouts are unknown.
Below it, the handwriting gets more precise, calmer, more detached. "Get them out Davis. Reno knows."
*Leave a message.*
"A-," Davis catches himself before he spits out Angel's full name, "-aah, I heard about Tora on the way back. I know what you're thinking, but this isn't the right play to be making right now." Davis starts rummaging through Angel's things, trying to figure out what he took. "You trust me on this sort of shit, and we need to talk and plan before we do anything else, before you get yourself in too deep. Call me back, please."
Angel's weapons, Turai armor and recon gear, both Narsai'i and Imperial, are all missing. It looks like he's prepping to go underground and recon something. Davis can guess what, and his next move is to call Hugh. He holds off until he gets back into another drone taxi, heading back into the city.
A few seconds later, Hugh's voice comes through the vox. "Yeah?" he asks. It's not quite clear whether he's free to speak at the moment, but at least he took the call.
"Tora's dead," Davis says, "and Angel's gone AWOL."
"Give me a moment," Hugh replies. The line goes dead for a few seconds, then stays dead for a few more, then comes back to life. "Okay, this is really bad news. Do we have a location on Angel? Did he take a vox with him?"
"He has his vox, but he's not picking up. I left him a message telling him to contact me, but that's all I can do at the moment. As for locating him, well, I'm heading to the Underhive now, maybe Maq knows a way to find him," Davis says. "It sounds to me like Reno had their bodyguard kill her, then Reno killed the bodyguard, and I'm pretty sure that's what Angel thinks, too."
"And the next logical step is Angel kills Reno," Hugh replies.
"Exactly," Davis says. "You guys know his methods, if you, Robin, Arketta and Zaef get on finding him while Luis makes contact with Gorlan like we planned before, I think that might work until we have a chance to talk with him."
"Actually tracking him is still gonna be a long shot," Hugh replies. "But if we don't go looking, there's zero chance of finding him. So what the hell. We're on it. We'll probably need an excuse to be skulking about on our own looking for him, though. Any ideas, spymaster?"
"Zaef's a celebrity," Davis says. "Tell him he has free reign to act like it as his cover, trust me, that'll be enough."
"Still don't know why it's popular here," Hugh says. "But I never liked NASCAR either, so what do I know?"
"And Hugh?" Davis adds, "Angel said Reno knows we're Narsai'i."
"We'll worry about that when we've got Angel."
"I know, and if he told anyone, we'd all be staring down the barrel of another system lockdown, so we're probably clear for now," Davis says. "Still, keep your eyes open out there."
"My eyes are always open, Davis. I'll keep in touch."
"Same here," Davis says, and ends the call but keeps his finger near the recieve holo. "Come on, Angel, call back."
In his quiet little corner, Mani Swao - no, Hugh Verrill - places another call, this time to Angel's vox. He waits patiently for the messaging service, then speaks his mind.
"Listen to me," Hugh says. "You feel like you have to do this right now, but you don't. You have options. Even if you decide that you do need to do this, you're going off half-cocked and without a plan. That's a clusterfuck recipe if I ever saw one. Come in and we'll help you."
Angel can just make out the tips of the Aikoran firewillows peeking out from the garden wall. In his mind's eye, he sees Tora walking with him through the flora, talking about the duality of an indoor crossworld garden. That would be his way in, then, over walls strangled with alien vines and easy handholds. A perilous but brief climb should put him over the observation balcony and past the bulk of the roaming guards. From there, Angel would rely on his memory of their dinner together. Angel's mind, trained by years of recon missions, had a sort of internal compass. He'd know where to go once he got inside... and woe betide anyone who got in his way.
Luis' vox connects to Gorlan Kesh's personal line almost immediately. Reno's younger brother sounds harried, hounded, and more than a little curt.
"Gorlan Kesh. Who is this? How did you get this number?" Skimmer traffic whines in the background; Gorlan is on the move.
Half-cocked and without a plan? Captain, it's like you don't even know me.
The entry was easy enough. Up and over into the guarded, and a quick, brutal assault. The problem was getting out. Reno's extensive security probably wouldn't keep him alive, but it did make the ensuing exfiltration...difficult.
A dark corner of his mind wonders if its worth bothering to plan for. A single, massive act of death, building Tora a spectacular pyre.
Luis' vox connects to Gorlan Kesh's personal line almost immediately. Reno's younger brother sounds harried, hounded, and more than a little curt.
"Gorlan Kesh. Who is this? How did you get this number?" Skimmer traffic whines in the background; Gorlan is on the move.
Luis had just been working out how to trigger his new internal vox so Zakest could report to the Quoronas when Davis gave him the news, so he's ready when he feels the slight tingle of it kicking on. According to the manual, it's a common temporary side-effect of the implantation. He contemplates it for just a second--a little like touching a low-voltage circuit with his fingers?--before Gorlan picks up.
"I got this number from Tora," he says. "She was going to work with us on making this world a better place. She tried to convince your brother to help us as well, and we have reason to believe he killed her. I think you and I need to talk."
"Yes," he agrees. "Meet me at Khalkiota as soon as you can. I'll have a private room arranged and we can talk." Luis hears him faintly next, relaying directions to a pilot before the vox cuts out with another tingle, which may actually be intentional at first so that the user knows when they've successfully operated their implants.
Luis fights his way through the pharma haze, following the shapely hostess to the club's upper chambers. Even if the employee wasn't there leading him, Luis would have no problem spotting Gorlan Kesh's chamber. The doorway is flanked by 2 pairs of beefy but well-dressed thugs in Faxom-Io livery.
"Mr. Kesh's companion," the hostess introduces before the guards can move to intercept. They nod in return, and the woman repeats her message to the private chamber's intercom. The door cycles and Luis enters to find Gorlan Kesh standing in the chamber with a Cyllan - presumably the same one he was here with the previous night, but it's hard to tell them apart. Reno's brother is of average height, with sandy brown hair and none of the visual panache of the elder Kesh. Gorlan wears a simple but clean-cut industrium-style suit, adorned only with a small golden pin with the Kesh crest. His tentacled friend wears just enough of an encounter suit to stay moist. Its undulations are... unsettling.
"Thank you," he tells the hostess.
"Of course. Do you wish for any-"
"No, what we're unfortunately already breathing is plenty enough, thank you," Gorlan cuts her off. The hostess leaves and the chamber seals once more.
"I am burning a great deal of money to speak to you here," Gorlan says to Luis. "So you'll excuse me if I get right to business. I'm not disinclined to believe you. I was suspicious when Reno's explanation got out, how Mbushivata was turned against the family. That story reads fine for anyone who's not a Kesh. Mbushivata was possessed of an absolute loyalty. It'd never happen that way. Likewise, Tora would never attack Reno or me, not like that. So she didn't attack Reno and she didn't get killed in self-defense. What you need to help me understand, Mr. Zakest, is why you and yours aren't complicit in my sister's murder. Who are you really and what are you up to that would result in the complete destruction of my family?" Gorlan's voice breaks into a mournful rage as he can't keep up his calm, curt persona any longer.
"My name is Luis Stanhill, and I'm here to help lay the groundwork for liberating Hedion while also getting the Quis family to asylum on Earth. Your sister seemed to have similar concerns about the Imperium and my friend Angel told her who we are and why we are here. Tora decided to work with us. In order to ensure that we didn't have to hurt your brother in the course of our mission here, she told him as well. She convinced us to try to save your brother from what our mission would require us to do to him, and your brother killed her for her trouble."
Gorlan looks at the Cyllan. "Vortala?" he asks.
The alien's voice is modulated, even, and basso, emanating from its translator circuits instead of requiring physical contact to its recipient's skull. "It speaks true."
"And now you are down a Kesh and you've come to me," Gorlan says, the Cyllan's verdict apparently good enough for him. "What was Tora into with you people? Why my family? What are you 'required' to do to Reno?" he bursts out.
"In order to clear out some of the worst of Hedion's nobility and get some of our agents on the ground here, we were going to get some of them do our work for us with a scam that looked like they could gain some additional power but would actually get them to do what we needed to do to help free Hedion. You know your brother, so I hope you won't be surprised that when he found out about a plan that could improve his power even if was at the expense of killing dozens of others, he jumped at the chance. Tora was not an intended target, at least not directly, and her offer of assistance was unexpected but would have made our goals on Hedion much easier to accomplish. Her condition was that she could try to convince Reno to help us, that he could benefit from being on board with us and in a way that meant fewer others would have to get hurt while he did so then in the scam he was buying or the way he operates right now."
"...But 'onboard' wasn't good enough for Reno," Gorlan correctly surmises. "Oh, Reno..." he shakes his head and sits back in the copious mountains of pillows surrounding the private room.
"If I may, Mr. Kesh," Vortala interrupts, "Such instability could work to our mutual advantage."
"I don't care about advantages!" Gorlan growls back at the alien. "I want my sister back! I want my brother to pay for what he's done!" Vortala takes the hint and floats back, content to let the strange ebbs and flows of human emotion subside before attempting any more rational suggestions.
"Well, we're in a very tricky position ourselves. Tora told Reno who we are," Luis says. "I think you can work out the position that puts us in."
Gorlan nods after composing himself, and produces a small parcel. "Indeed. Reno sent this to me by courier with instructions that I open it should anything happen to him. I can only imagine it's enough information to out you and your people. Of course, now that Vortala and I both know, we are put in a delicate position as well. What would you suggest we do?"
"I can't tell you what to do here. All I can say is that we still do need people on Hedion. Your sister was the sort of person we hoped to meet--recognizing the injustice of the Imperium and dissatisfied with the status quo. She may be gone now, but we still need people willing to work with us to make this a better place, and we can still present opportunities to those kinds of people. So now you have the same choice your brother had. You can work with us, for your sake or for the sake of your sister's memory. Or you can do what you will to take advantage of what you know and what the Imperium is willing to offer. I'm sure even divided between two people the reward on just my head is quite substantial, much less my whole group. If you join us, we may not be able to offer then kind of cash, but I hope unlike your brother you can see something other than that."
Luis lays his hands on the table palms up, showing there's no weapon in them. "What decision will you make?"
Gorlan looks to Vortala once again. The Cyllan... well, nods isn't the right word, but it affirms Luis' intentions with a bob of its suit. Gorlan stays silent for a long while, clearly mulling over the fork in the road of his life at which he's just arrived.
"Before I can help you, I - we - have a small problem." Gorlan waves his hand in annoyance and frustration at having to tell a near-stranger. "It's not related exactly, but, well, the Iyuzo clan apparently has it out for me. I can't offer overt assistance until they are dealt with, and I cannot do that on my own, especially now that I dare not go to Reno for help except as an excuse to get close enough to put our family right once more. If you can clear me with the Iyuzo or deal with them somehow, I'll help you deal with Reno and beyond."
Vortala makes a passable attempt at an ahem that mostly sounds like feedback. Gorlan nods. "And Vortala can sell his wares on an open market once you finish with Hedion."
"The Iyuzo have placed themselves on the same rarefied list as your brother, and your sister brought your situation with them to our attention--Reno isn't the only one Tora was trying to help. If our mission here goes as planned, at the least they should be left holding some part of the blame for a failure of the entire local power grid. If that's not enough, it's possible other arrangangements can be made. Besides, I happen to be friends with the person they think is a corrupt Samal able to be bought to lean on you. So the Iyuzo can be dealt with. The more pressing issue is your brother."
"My brother..." Gorlan growls off to incoherence again. "Here is how you deal with Reno." He nods to himself again, convincing himself of the worthiness of his nascent plan. "I can get you into the estate and past the bulk of the guards. Kill Reno and bring me his head, as if the Iyuzo had you do it to scare me off my arrangement with Vortala. That will lessen the heat on me and allow me to move freely until your powergrid scam hits them."
Luis nods, "Excellent. Here's why it's urgent: the agent I was telling you about, the one who made contact with Tora? He became very attached to her, and since Tora died we have heard nothing at all from him. We need you to help us get to your brother before Angel..well, before Angel does what we need to do but in the wrong way."
Gorlan raises an eyebrow as he stands back up from the sultan-like array of cushions. "You're telling me you already have a man headed into my estate to kill my brother and you want me to help you stop him?" He smiles, a sinister, wry thing, and shrugs. "Whatever. I've have the sled brought around." He claps Vortala's encounter suit in farewell. "I will vox you when this situation is resolved, Vortala."
"Or you are dead," the Cyllan responds.
"Then I won't vox you at all," Gorlan replies. "Shall we go murder my brother?" he turns to Luis.
"Davis..." comes the scout's mellow voice over the comm. "If you keep calling like this you'll come off like a creep and then I'll never go out with you."
Davis sits up straight in his seat. "Angel! Ah...I'm sorry, man. About Tora."
"Not your doing, Davis. The rest...will get sorted out shortly."
"Yeah, about that. Is there a place we can meet? I'd like to help make sure you come out of this upright, Angel."
"That makes one of us. I've already got an entry plan Davis - if you all want to help, haven't quite pieced together the way *out*."
"That's what I'm calling about, Angel," Davis says. "And Luis just let me know that we might be able to help you get in, too. Gorlan wants Reno dead, too." He pauses. "So, where would be a good place to meet?"
"No offense Davis, but I'm a little disinterested in placing my fortunes in the hands of one of the Brother's Kesh. As for a meeting place - I've got a comfy little spot overlooking the garden."
"All right, I'll land a few blocks away and meet you there so we can talk. Just zap me the location." Angel sends him the location - it's a pain to get to. But then, that's half the point. "Good, I'll see you in fifteen minutes, Angel."
Angel cuts off the connection, leaning against one wall as he eyes the Kesh estate, wondering if he'll regret picking up.
Davis turns back to the console for the taxi. "Redirect me to this address," he says, and dictates a location a few blocks away from Angel's meeting place.
"In-route direction changes add a 20 lat surcharge," the taxi drones in reply, and Davis waves to accept the charges.
"And step on it," he adds.
After climbing two concrete barricades, kicking in a basement window and navigating the building's dilapadated inner structure, Davis knocks on the locked door leading to Angel's perch. "Hey, Angel, it's me, open up."
The deadbolt - added after the structure's previous owner vacated - shifts a bit, and Angel opens to door. "Welcome to the Hyatt."
Davis smiles and looks around. If the Imperials used wallpaper or paint, it would be peeling off the walls, but instead it's just colored foamcrete, dry and dusty, with a bare metal table and bench seating molded into the wall. Angel's gear lays on the table, and the doors to the balcony are shoved open. "I've stayed in worse," Davis says. "At least this place doesn't have the standard AK-47 bullet scars." He walks out to the balcony and looks out at Angel's perch, across a massive chasm from the Kesh estate, the air between them buzzing with mid-day traffic. "So, what's your plan so far?"
Angel goes to the perch, gesturing as he talks. "Vines have overgrown the garden along that wall - decent footholds, low security, and the guards don't seem to parse it as part of the perimeter." He points inward. "Also a bit of poetry there. Head in, make my way into the living quarters - shouldn't be hard, all of the Kesh security is pointed out, not in. End Reno." He gives the estate a thoughtful expression. "Hadn't engineered a way out yet."
"But you're still looking at going in, regardless? Even without an exit strategy?" Davis' gaze doesn't move from the Kesh estate.
"Give me credit," Angel says. "I haven't gone right this minute. Figured I'd give it until tonight for me to come up with something besides 'Kill every bastard I meet until I hit the street'. Open to suggestions though. And yes, regardless..."
"I've got a few ideas, and Luis said that Gorlan looked ready to shoot Reno himself," Davis says. "But I'm worried about you, Angel. I want to help, but you know that I've been down this revenge path before, and it doesn't lead to a healthy place. I'm in this, because Reno can blow our cover and because Tora deserves justice, but I'm worried about you and that look in your eyes you get when you look at that estate. I know that look. Yeah, Reno's a bastard, yeah, he needs to die, but someone else warned me recently about throwing away everything just for a crazy idea, and I think that's a good warning for you right now."
Angel gives a lingering look at the garden. "She wasn't an asset, Davis. And like you told me, I know what I'm doing - and what it might cost. But this planet, the Imperium, Tora...they deserve better than Reno. And you all need him dead, or distracted, long enough to do what we came here to do. If I can do that and get out alive - great. But if not...I'll settle for it."
"Well, Luis said Gorlan mentioned something about wanting us to bring us Reno's head in a box after all this is done, so I think that 'dead' is the order of the day," Davis says. "What would you say about making it so that we go in there, you get some quality alone time with Reno, and then we all get out of there, together? As a team?"
Angel grunts. "Haven't planned for a team. Would make the garden assault considerably more difficult. On the other hand - an exit team and something to keep the Kansat at bay..."
Davis nods. "Sounds solid. You're still going to need someone to watch your back in there, though. We'll see what tricks Gorlan has up his sleeve, compare it with your scouting and throw a plan together, yeah? Maybe he can distract the guards, disable part of the security system..."
"Alright, I'll hear him out. But you know I spend a good half my time - the half not subjected to your hairbrained schemes - without someone watching my back. The whole thing hinges on not being seen."
"Which is why if someone goes with you, it won't be me," Davis says, grinning. "But I think we'd all feel better if you had someone at your back on this one. You're not all by yourself anymore, Angel."
Davis looks out at the garden. Something important must have happened there, something between Angel and Tora. "I know what it's like to...well, to fall for someone like Tora. And I know what it's like to have her taken away from you. It changes you, meeting someone like Tora, like Hadiya, like Ngawai. And I have to say, I like who Tora turned you into, Angel."
Keeping his gaze out on the estate, he nods. "I liked it too. It's what I talked to you about back on Earth - the idea that this war might be done some day. That it's not just a galaxy full of people we have to fight. And she lasted all of a day once she met us."
"Things don't always go as well as we hope, but you did everything right, Angel," Davis says. "Including falling for Tora. Who she is, what she stood for, that hasn't gone away. If you can find someone like Tora within days of looking, there's got to be billions more out there who believe what she did. And the man she made you into hasn't gone either, Angel. Remember that." Davis sighs and touches his wedding ring. "I know I do."
He nods slightly. "Alright, Davis. Make whatever calls you have to make...and thanks."
Davis returns the gesture. "Once Reno's dead, we'll take an evening with a pitcher of fermented heran or whatever else passes for beer around here and you can tell me whatever you want about Tora, give her a proper memorial."
"Fair warning," Angel says, "it'll involve fire."
Davis smiles. "If that's what you think she'd want, then we'll make as big a fire as we can." He walks back inside to call Hugh and Luis.
Angel's been quiet since Davis found him, but this quiet isn't like the Delta's normal calm. This is the calm before the storm, and that deadly hurricane seethes and roils behind Angel's gaze.