Zaef steps out onto the perch, regarding Angel for a moment. The Delta sniper is looming over the balcony, hands clenching the railing, staring at the Kesh estate like a fucking akwhela waiting for its prey to stumble so it can swoop down and tear it to bits.
"It's not going to blow up if you glare at it hard enough," Zaef says as he leans against the railing.
Angel grunts. "You don't know that until you try."
Zaef grins a little at that. "How're you feeling, Angel?"
"Like hell." He nods out toward the Kesh estate. "But at least I've got something to focus on. How's the rest of Davis' over-elaborate song and dance going?"
"It's going alright, for now. The others are bringing Gorlan, he'll help us get outta there. If everything goes to plan."Zaef sighs and shakes his head.
"There's still so many ways this could go tits up, though. Gorlan could turn us in easily, if he thinks we're responsible for Tora's death as well. And Reno's a devious little spink. There's no telling what he's up to in there-he might've already sent our faces to his 'business partners.' "
Angel nods. "All the better that this happens fast. I presume you're coming with me on this one, make sure I don't forget to make my way to the nearest exit?"
Zaef raises an eyebrow. "Don't know why'd you'd need the help, really. Not many people want to crash and burn."
"Davis is worried I've gone all dark and stormy. The Captain too. To be fair, I hadn't quite worked out the getting out part yet." He nods to the estate. "Anyone else coming along for the ride?"
Zaef snorts. "You're telling me you can't hear the racket Robin's making in there? Maybe I should be worried..." He nods his head towards the Kesh estate. "Just me, you, and Robin going in there. Can't speak for her, but I'm going to let you take as long as you need in there. Just don't make too much noise."
"I can hear the racket, I just thought maybe she was, you know, out to see scenic Kesh Estates before I set them on fucking fire. Or providing musical accompanyment."
Angel points toward the garden. "Should be fast and quiet. That's the entry - a minimum of guards, and they don't parse it as perimeter. From there we're in, and Reno shouldn't be too hard to find."
Zaef nods, asking quietly. "And when you find him, will it stay fast and quiet?"
"I'm not a power drill and kneecaps kind of guy. A few muffled thuds spaced out over a couple seconds, and that's that."
He shrugs slightly. "After that, will probably be less quiet."
"Probably." Zaef spits over the balcony, hoping it hits someone. "Here's some advice, Angel. When you go in there and shoot Reno, it's going to feel pretty good. It's practically a given, after what that piece of shit's done. That feeling, that...satisfaction, I guess, that's not going to last."
Zaef turns to look Angel in the eye. " Make of that what you will."
Angel sighs. "I know. It is what it is. I'll settle for it being there at all. One thing at a time, right?"
Zaef turns back to the traffic floating down below, but he can't see where his spit landed. "Yeah. That's all life is, really. Take care of the present, and worry about the future in the morning."
Angel, Robin, and Zaef drop into the Kesh estate's garden. Soft whompra ferns silence their landings, and the three assassins cross the grounds and clamber up to the observation balcony Angel marked as his point of entry. Zaef deftly disables the minimal security and they slip unnoticed into one of many labyrinthine corridors crisscrossing the compact but ornate estate. Angel leads Robin and Zaef back the way Tora took him before, remembering every step, every glance, every breath. They move quickly; there would be no way to account for every sensor or recording device inside the estate, so speed and surprise would be essential if Angel was to catch Reno before the noble could escape or wall himself off with reinforcements.
Angel's not so naive that he figured he'd sneak into a paranoid noble's house without the slightest bit of hostile contact. The two men wear the black uniform favored by Reno's house attendants. They probably weren't even guarding anything, which is why it's all one of them can do to even free his handlancer from its holster before Zaef buries a gladius-style leaf-blade up to its hilt in the man's chest.
Clearly Zaef's become used to the extra muscle needed to get through Turai carapace. He wrestles his knife (it's funny how he calls the short sword a "knife") free while the second guard falls forward missing the upper third of his skull. Brass plinks on the corridor floor from Angel's SCAR. Robin mutters a soft curse and steps forward to take point, silently accepting Zaef's challenge.
Corpses are heavy, unwieldy things and you can't drag bloodstained walls into the shadows, so the trio leave the dead and redouble their pace. Angel breaks from their path here and turns down a servants' tunnel where surveillance might have a harder time finding them. Being a servants' tunnel, they turn right into the path of a harried man leading a procession of beefy drone servitors loaded with fine dishes and laundry. Robin taps Angel's shoulder as the Delta boy's revulsion at popping a manservant fights with the necessity to maintain secrecy. Davis' old CIA buddy smiles at the servant then pops his knee out with a lightning-fast short kick. An elbow to the temple followed by an unceremoniously brutal throat-punch leaves the man stunned and gagging. Robin chokes him into blessed sleep and dumps him in his own laundry drone. The part of her that's keeping score with Zaef, however, disregards the proceedings. The guy wasn't even armed.
The real benefit to taking the long way to Reno is that the primary surveillance post is kept back here, out of the way of Reno's civilized guests. Angel, Robin, and Zaef slip past a few more patrols using the heavy noise of the estate drones' labors. The surveillance post is guarded, of course, but it looks like neither of the bored-looking black-suited goons expect any trouble. In fact, they look relatively cheerful about the extremely simple task assigned to them - a task they fail miserably when a fusillade of suppressed AP rounds open up the rest of their schedules for the forseeable future. Angel paints the surveillance consoles with the overseer's face and double-checks Reno's location. He's in his study, gathering a small satchel of data modules and hardcopies for his upcoming meeting with the Quronas and Iyuzo. He's not in his ostentatious longcoat yet, which means Angel likely still has some time. It's when he notices silent hubbub in the corridors where they left corpses that Angel ratchets his time table up to shoot n' scoot. The quickest way to Reno from the surveillance post is unfortunately through the dormitory for the men-at-arms. Those same man-at-arms would be up in arms in a few minutes, however, so after a brief flurry of hand signals (whereupon Zaef expresses he only learned the Air Force ones) and a briefer barrage of whispered tactics, Angel waves his team on.
At this point, Angel had pretty well figured out Reno’s guards. They probably were highly trained when they were hired or conscripted or whatever one did to end up in the cushy luxurious employment of a Hedion noble. The fact of the matter is, Reno’s guards were livery. They were paid to look badass in their pressed uniforms and have the qualifications to impress those who would issue idle threats. They were paid to guard the Kesh estate from commando raids as well, but the difference is they were certainly not prepared for that.
The guardsmen’s dormitory was a U-shaped corridor with clusters of rooms branching from it. It was a gauntlet that would become deadlier every second Angel, Robin, and Zaef spent there. Angel cherry-picks a man-at-arms in the corridor, his vox halfway to his ear, and their stealth evaporates. Silenced or not, a suppressed rifle still carries a weighty report, and the heavy thump of the falling corpse alerts anyone who wasn’t sure what was going on. Zaef and Robin take over now. At first, Kesh guards idly poke their heads out to see what’s going on. The first three or four are mangled before they realize they’re in a fight - Robin slams the bunk hatch closed on one’s head with a horrific crunk while Zaef plays whack-a-mole with his sword and the guards’ major organs.
Angel just walks down the hallway like Gandalf in the hall of the horse-lords.
It gets hairy. Robin’s struggling with a man-at-arms, using him as a shield against the hand weapons the more alert guards are bringing to bear. She goes for her rifle, firing suppressing bursts that allow Zaef to dart in with his knives before what could only be a recent hire grabs Zaef and bodily hurls him down the corridor. Robin sends the brute a 7.62mm pink slip that empties her magazine. She lets her SCAR hang and falls back to the cover afforded by the stairwell Angel’s ascending even as concentrated fire from the men-at-arms shreds the human shield.
If Zaef and Robin can hold the guards here, Angel would have a straight shot to Reno. Robin reloads while Zaef burns through a magazine. The floor is slick with brass and blood from a few of their minor wounds, nevermind the gore pooling under the charred corpse of the helpful meat-shield.
“I’ll be down in five, have my skimmer brought around, please,” Reno voxes to his perimeter forces. He shrugs on the heavy coat he always wore when venturing outside. Its armored layers were never tested but they reassured Reno nonetheless, and confidence was everything in his business.
He made a mental note to speak to his guard-captain about the men playing their holos too loudly when there was a double clap from outside the study, like a book being shut forcefully. It was followed by a limp thump that was all too familiar to Reno given recent events. His hand closes on the handlancer nearby but Reno freezes when Angel steps over Mbushivata’s replacement and enters the well-appointed study.
Reno looks at Angel’s rifle, then down at his handgun. He leaves the lancer on the desk and straightens his coat. “If you kill me, your cover gets blown,” he says. “I’ve made arrangements.”
With all the righteous certainty of his namesake - the scary kind that doesn't get much time in Sunday School - Angel strides into Reno's study. He's impressed with the man's confidence, smart enough to know going for the gun will get him killed, but that his silver tongue might buy him time for his guards, or he, to do something. Not the worst plan.
It might have even worked - if Angel cared. Standing there was the man who had had a vision of a better Imperium, an end to this war, and a beautiful woman stabbed to death for asking Reno to come along.
"You'll still be dead. Your siblings send their regards."
The coat might protect Reno from the first two shots, although even the most cutting edge fashions in tailored protective clothing hadn't yet fully adjusted to the Terran use of projectile weapons. The third shot...
The rest happens quickly. True to his word, Gorlan Kesh arrives at the embattled Kesh estate with his own retinue and the rest of the Narsai'i. After a tense standoff at the front gates, Gorlan gets the perimeter guards to send a runner down to what's left of Reno's forces. Vox contact is reestablished and Gorlan broadcasts his inheritance of the Kesh holdings from outside the very same.
"Reno Kesh is dead. I am Gorlan Kesh, his brother. Many of you know me, and know that I am not one to play petty games with mens' lives. The men and women you are engaging are no longer the enemy. I order you to stand down as your lord and master, and if that is not enough, I urge you to see reason. There is no point to continued hostilities. There is nothing to be gained by further bloodshed." Gorlan lets the vox hang by his side, shakes out his nerves, and calls back to his retinue as well as the team outside, "I should go in and see."
Wounded men-at-arms are scattered here and there in the formal dining chamber. There aren't many. The direct route to Reno's study is very nearly unmarred by bullet or beam - it's when you enter that you see the smouldering results of Zaef, Robin, and Angel's would-be last stand. Craters flake charred wood and puff trails of smoke everywhere. Reno's elegant furniture lies shattered or burnt. Brass skitters at every step. Reno's desk gutters with several angry fires, and behind it, the Kesh lord's ruined corpse lies where it fell.
As for the three assassins, they look the worse for wear but it's not like they were up against Khiraba or anything.
Davis looks around the remains of Reno's office, and at his dead body. The bastard's corpse caught a few stray bolts and bullets in the firefight after his death, but it's still recognizably Reno.
"Everyone okay? Zaef? Robin?" After the other two members of the hit squad chime in, he walks over to Angel and puts a hand on his shoulder. "You okay?" The question carries a different emphasis than when he asked Robin and Zaef.
Angel chuckles at Zaef. "Probably. Officers are spoil sports."
He looks at Davis, his expression tired. "Word has it I will be." Pushing past his own thoughts, he nods to Reno's corpse. "He mentioned having made arrangements to blow our cover if - well, if I did exactly what I came to do."
Davis nods. "Fuck him," he says. "He probably only had time to tell Gorlan, and if not, let me worry about the fallout. You focus on getting ready to help Gorlan and Luis sell the next step to the Quorona and Iyuzo - and on what you want to say at the bonfire. Okay?"
Angel nods by way of response and the slow work of alternately cleaning up and covering up the assassination begins. Local Kansat arrives and Gorlan works to intercept their investigation like he's handled similar situations before. Bribery keeps the officers from prying into (or documenting) the smaller details like the Narsai rounds that laid Reno Kesh to waste or even the fact that the assassins are part of the same group that arrived with Reno's brother. The second part of Gorlan's ruse is a believable lie: the Iyuzo had it in for Gorlan and struck down Reno in a tragic attempt to get to the younger Kesh. After several more bribes and official statements that certify the Kesh house guard is qualified to conduct an internal investigation (and you wonder why the men-at-arms had such impressive resumes), the Kansat leave fat and happy.
Understandably, Angel, Zaef, and Robin keep out of the bulk of the bustling. Gorlan remains quiet through the aftermath, only speaking to give orders to his newfound retinue. He is easily as busy as any of the servitor techs running the cleaning drones, and you lose track of the younger - make that only - Kesh from time to time. It gives Davis and Luis a chance to work out a vital piece of the puzzle for the villagers on Array 11.
Abe Saloma said some very incriminating things while Reno's doctored drug bowls made the Steward lose his inhibitions. Davis got a recording of those things during his brief meeting earlier, and now he weaves them into a Cortex message that takes as much social engineering to complete as it takes Luis computer engineering to plant. The message is meant to be leaked, not simply broadcast, but it can't be completely anonymous either. The mesa Kansat who will be receiving it must also not be able to trace it back to Davis. The message leak has to be a subtle, suggestive thing, to get them to suspect Davis but leave them without proof that they could otherwise take to their superiors.
The message itself has to make them consider their stance, should an order come to sunball the mesa, just as Saloma half-ordered the day before. They must wonder who else got the message, and inquire quietly. They must organize but not too carelessly.
Finally, Luis bends his mind to the third task - encrypting a Cortex address for Perus and his Throne agents to find. Once again, it's a subtle working, meant to distract the agents from researching the team and redirecting them towards cracking the secret message and investigating who sent the message in the first place.
Gorlan works nearly as fast. By the time Davis and Luis' message is leaked, Gorlan has rearranged and combined his retinue with Reno's staff, implemented emergency workarounds for the estate damage, and organized a tasteful and intimate funeral service for both Tora and Reno. Despite Reno's betrayal, it would be terribly uncouth to leave the Kesh despot without a service. People would talk.
It doesn't take long for Gorlan's carefully-constructed messages to fly out to the small circle of nobles who would be affronted were they not invited. The service is shaping up to be more like a gathering of Reno's enemies than a service for his frie-oh wait, that's exactly what it is. You spot Chaev Mahin, Saloma's pet ravilar, foremost among a gaggle of perfumed and wigged nobles from the Council of Lords. Quon Quorona and Tealni are there as well, content to wear their usual simpler clothes. They're not going to try to best the nobles at their own game. Instead, their clothes look like they're better for running in. Gorlan pays off enough filler-people to stand around and act sad that there shouldn't be any trouble, unless the instigating party doesn't mind a very public bloodbath.
When Segal Iyuzo steps out of his shining skimmer with an entourage of eight burly men, you wonder if that's exactly what Segal has in mind.
Part of the pre-funeral arrangements was to get Angel, Zaef, and Robin out of the way. Gorlan doesn't want to take the chance that one of Reno's staff fingers the trio for the murder right there in front of the ravilars and nobility. The surviving men-at-arms may not be loyal to Reno unto death, but many count good friends among the fallen and they're savvy enough to know that they're the "old guard" now. Gorlan's own people would be getting promotions and filling out the vacancies left by the dead, and there's not enough time to win back the loyalty of the old guard before the public service.
The end result is that Angel and his two partners in crime are looking down at the Kesh estate from the run-down hidey-hole where it all began. When it's time for Tora's service, they'll come back down and enter the estate, but for now there'll probably be enough impromptu finger-pointing with Segal's Iyuzo's unexpected arrival that the three of them don't need to add to the chaos. Speaking of the most flagrant of the three Iyuzo, Segal and his retinue don't seem particularly inclined to start trouble at the moment. They wait with the other onlookers and hired mourners in a rough crescent around a raised dais in front of the Kesh estate's main entrance. Mohawk is conspicuously absent, although you spot Tor, Segal's other "numba-one guy", weaving his way through the crowd towards Arketta. Tor's purpose is suspicious enough that Angel sights in on him before he sees that the henchman is just talking to Arketta. At the same time, Hugh shoulders his way past the outer ring of goons and gets within earshot of Segal himself.
Zaef and Robin spot the glint of a scope while Angel's taking up the good views of the funeral. There's someone watching from underneath a tramway several hab-blocks over. They've got good cover from the trio's perch and are barely more than a shadow. All three of them know the area by now, and to reach the surprise observer's lookout requires a difficult climb past some pretty unsavory alleys and shafts.
Luis figures Tor is approaching Arketta to discuss some aspect of the rectenna's sabotage, so he's focused on their interactions when Tealni Quorona hits his onboard vox. It's less an attack and more of a cloak, a quickly-constructed privacy screen Luis has sensed before in places like the Kesh estate and Khalkiota. It's also nothing he can't break through, but Tealni's effort connotates a desire to converse discreetly.
*Haralin's up to his elbows in this Kesh mess,* Tealni voxes to Luis from the other side of the courtyard. *And back on the mesa, they've started construction where they could. Most of the techs have already moved offsite to those temp habs. Our concern is why we had to find this out ourselves, Zakest. We've seen no couriers and had no word from you, our supposed partner. But then maybe you were too busy seducing Gorlan Kesh at Khalkiota to think about us?* Her accusation rings clear over the shielded transmission.
Segal nods in response and smiles. "It is truly tragic that such a strong noble line should be reduced to one child nearly overnight. Even more tragic that the remaining scion is careless enough to expose himself in public. No doubt the vile perpetrators behind this would be paid in untraceable valuables secreted in their transport while all eyes were turned inward on this ceremony."
Davis motions for Gorlan to join him in a side corridor off of the main floor. The (now) elder Kesh flows into the corridor in his mourning attire, which is heavy enough to ablate the first hit from most weaponry. "I'd prefer to get the crowd of personal nemeses and my late brother's blackmail targets off my property as soon as possible," he says. "So I hope this is quick?"
"Very," Davis says. "You remember the mariposas, yes?"
"Yes, of course. One of your patsies introduces programming that redirects all available satellites and their collective energy blows out the barely-functional rectenna, which Segal Iyuzo is supposed to sabotage anyway. Everyone involved is put to death and I inherit a new world order." Gorlan smiles in jest - maybe. "What does that have to do with sending Reno off?"
"And the chain reaction browns the power for all of Hedion, yes," Davis adds. "What we need is an in with the Quorona, and to drive the Iyuzo that one last step to eating themselves. Segal and Keji think that Reno's death was meant to remind you that they're in charge. What we need you to do is show them that you're anything but cowed. Be emboldened, defiant, just enough to let them know that their attempt didn't work, and let Haralin say a few words about joining together with Faxom-Io and Kesh Pharmaceuticals, and hint about dumping Zakest by the wayside. That will prime the Iyuzo and Quorona for the next step."
Gorlan considers Davis' request and there's a longer pause before his response. "Heh. I suppose it is fitting that Reno's funeral be part of some manipulative scheme. Very well, Homeworlder."
"Well, before you agree, let me explain the rest of the plan," Davis says, grinning. "Zakest and Swao attack you and Haralin, and we go into hiding. We have a place for you that they won't find, you'll be safe for the few days it will take for the sabotage to go off, I go back to being a simple Turai. We set off the sabotage, extract the Quises, and we talk after a few days for everything to settle back down. That's the plan. What do you think?"
"Where is this bolt-hole?" Gorlan asks. "What can I tell my staff, if anything?"
"With a courier, you might know him as Maq?" Davis says. "As for your staff, tell them that you'll be away for a few days. Do you think that they're secure from Iyuzo and Quorona spies?"
"If I thought that, I'd be dead already," Gorlan replies. "Anything else?"
"Then just make it known that you're going into hiding, not running away," Davis adds. "And it's Garrett Davis." He offers his hand for Gorlan to shake.
He returns the shake, adding, "I knew that. I was just practicing my haughty noble act."
"We're both about to get some stage time in with that persona," Davis says, and smiles. "After you, Gorlan."
Zaef and Robin spot the glint of a scope while Angel's taking up the good views of the funeral. There's someone watching from underneath a tramway several hab-blocks over. They've got good cover from the trio's perch and are barely more than a shadow.
Zaef nudges Robin and points towards the glint with a grunt. "Time to pay the neighbors a visit, don'tcha think?"
"And I would appreciate it if you stop speaking in hypotheticals. It's giving me a headache."
Swao looks around.
"Now, you stay here while I go check out my transport. If you make a move before I come back, I'll have to assume you're trying to fuck me. Then I have to deal with you. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"Away from any sharp objects," Davis quips as he follows Gorlan up to the front of the crowd, onto the top of the ornate terrace. "We're about to rattle his cage to set up the final step, just make sure he doesn't start shooting."
Robin nods to Zaef and both warriors skulk down from the lookout hab.
Akis' noble houses showcase a drastic divide between the immaculate hab-blocks and the dingy, cluttered, noisy, dangerous spaces between. It's an arcology-sized tactic akin to sweeping the dust under the rug, but those with the money and power accept it as long as they don't have to deal with the aftermath of their excesses.
Zaef and Robin drop from a connecting skywalk into knee-deep sludge. They feel the prodding and pressure from any number of sharp, potentially deadly junk that fails to penetrate their armor as they land. The sludge-pit leads to a grate, which leads to an easy climb into a spiderweb of cabling. It reminds Robin of some of the more atrocious wiring jobs she's seen in India. From there, a quick job down a drone-track leads the duo to the base of the hab-block nearest to their mystery observer's perch.
Zaef recognizes the sigils on the grimy foundation. It's a little high up for Tube-Spinks, but then it's been a while since he's delved into Hedion's underworld. The Spinks might have expanded. They press on, wary for jumpy gangers hiding in the steaming, stinking, constantly rumbling alleyways.
Reno's corpse decorates an actual coffin made from the dark wood that comprised much of his (now ruined) study. It's closed, of course, which means that it could be anybody in there, a fact that was murmured many times as guests arrived. For most of the onlookers, however, it serves as confirmation enough of the Kesh noble's passing. For the rest of the less trusting upper crust, surreptitious credit checks confirming family asset transfers serve much the same purpose.
Gorlan exits the estate, fails to wither under the eyes of the Akis elite, and takes up his position on the raised dais before his brother's dignified wooden box.
Zaef and Robin
Robin whips her head back from the next corner and stops Zaef short. "Ten hostiles," she whispers. "I saw three guns, the rest knives or worse. They're between us and a maintenance ladder to the tramway where our target should be. They're just... hanging out. You're the native here, it's your call," she adds.