Saturday, January 31, 2009

29 January 2009 Penance 'n patience in Peace River

Making his way across the Bazaar, he pulled his shoulders in, lest he entangle himself with some ruffian. It had never happened mind you. This mild middle-aged Peace-Riveran from a management-caste family had never swung a fist in his life nor had he experienced the brutality of others, and he planned to keep it that way.

Head down, frown on full, he walked into the relative safety of the building's lobby and up to the sixth floor. He relaxed a bit, letting his shoulders sag. As he put the key in the lock, he heard noise on the other side. He released a sigh. They were already here.

The last few days had been horrible. The Boss, or bosses as he now came to see them - not so much for their inherent authority as for the way they did nothing but make demands of his time - were not what he had expected.

The Doctor, nominally the real boss, was adequate, but his company left much to be desired; Delacroix, that Southerner, was abusive, debasing and more than a little scary when he spoke about dispatching people with the same ease as he demanded fresh coffee. Tarmalin was mostly quiet, but Trevin could find no likeness of mind in him. He wasn't an introspective person: more likely a taciturn killer. As for Vonyran, well he was the opposite: loud and rancorous. Trevin half expected to have to chase out a pack of easy woman from the office and disinfect the board room table, again.

Trevin hung his jacket and sat at his desk. Accessing his terminal, he found a number of messages waiting: instructions from the bosses.

Trevin, remind Greyson to check public records for Lt. Vance outside PR as well as in. We think they were fabricated sometime during the war. If we can get our hands on his medical records, there may be some regional idiosyncrasies that can help. Don't forget to send out the pricing for the Z-list to the encrypted recipient and demand expedited payment. Check out who we have going out of PR from the BCG in the next days that have been vetted or referred from secure sources and give me a list. Thanks Trevin, Tom.

Cordial. Friendly in fact. Not very professional, but he supposed that was Chambers' idea of leadership. 'The Doctor!' Trevin scoffed to himself. He though about Lt. Vance. There was a piece of brute-like nastiness if ever Trevin had seen one. Coming in here without cause and tearing the place apart with his Peace Officer Corps, and just as the place was finally coming together! Chambers tried to console the office clerk by telling him that it suited him, as he had some remodeling plans anyway. 'Damn it!' thought Trevin, 'more paint.'

Make sure third and fourth party connections are used when you patch us to the Granis or the Forzi next time Vemeer. Also look into independent security agencies, preferably polar, to bid on a secure telecom hub for the office. Get Prabal to double check. D.

'Would a please kill you, sir?' Trevin’s mouth twisted like he had tasted something sour even at the thought of saying 'sir' to Delacroix. And then adding insult to injury, to have Prabal verify his work. Southern prat!

Vemeer,” the voice, silky and sinister like a well-placed blade between the ribs, came again. This time so clearly he could swear he heard it.

VEMEER!” Trevin looked up to find the dark figure of the Southerner towering above him and nearly fell back out of his swivel chair.

“Sir” the words came out somewhat brittle at first, “Yes, what - what can I do for you sir?”

Delacroix just stood there, eying him. It might have gone on forever if Tarmalin hadn’t come in and interrupted, “so, do we have fresh coffee, or what Kain?”

The languorous delivery of the Badlander's voice helped Trevin regain his composure.

“Of course, Mr. Tarmalin. Mr Delacroix, if you will excuse me, I will finish my work, and send out the morning confirmations. Then I would be pleased to get us all some fresh coffee.”

Trevin was able to inject his words with enough regained insufferability to match Delacroix’s stare evenly, defiantly. Delacroix left in a minor huff, Tarmalin looked perplexed at the exchange and Trevin sat down, smug with his minor victory. He logged an outgoing encrypted message to a Miss Pojhola in New Baja via the Hermes scrambler program Prabal had written, and an unencrypted secured message to a Mr. Quan of Prince Gable, both from Dr. Chambers.

There were a couple waiting messages from unidentified sources; opening them, Trevin saw that one was from Lt. Fenton, Vance’s partner. The other from Roger Zahn, the terrorist. Strange bedfellows this Badlands Caravan Guild kept, strange indeed.

Trevin brought the messages over to Dr. Chambers, said good morning, and was greeted with smiles and some useless small talk. A glare from Delacroix reminded him of the urgency to procure caffeine, but he didn’t let that press him out in an undignified manner. He checked the petty cash and found it nearly empty. The funds had evaporated, and in their place were bills for some electronics, pharmacies, ground coffee from the Cimmaro cafe (a delicacy), liquor bills, as well as some sizable receipts from Claude’s.

Trevin shook his head disapprovingly, let out another sigh, and went to make some coffee. 'I can't wait until they leave,' he thought to himself.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Painstaking Pieces of Peace River

Dear Julie, we have it!

Fenton has the link; we just need to get it out of him, somehow. With that we can tie Lt. Vance to Mr. Arens without divulging the NEC conspiracy. We take that to Robert Zahn and hopefully he will see the error of his ways when we reveal to him that he is just a puppet, and the puppet master plays both sides against each other. Plan B is to appeal to his sense of loyalty and tell him about the NEC plot involving Arens and Vance. Failing his senses of shame and patriotism...plan C involves appealing to his mortality.

If he were any other man, plan C would come before B; Kain doesn’t want more people in the know as operational security demands we limit this intel. But Zahn isn’t any man. He’s a political icon sure, a hero of his caste. His death or even disappearance would turn him into a martyr. I don’t like the way that plays out for Hitachi and Simosa. I need them coming out ahead in this imbroglio - not fighting a mob crusading for a dead ideologue.

No, however impractical the political costs of his death, I have another consideration, a personal stake in this man. His wife came to me for help and I don’t want to let her down. Funny how sentimentality weights so heavily in the balance. Actually, it’s sad.

This side of the Pacificas, seems like every city I’m in, some dame I love, or used to, pulls me into all kinds of barnaby shit! Wouldn’t you say?

I think Sam’s itchy trigger finger is permeating this office with generalized anxiety. He’s all cooked up and jonesing bad for blood, I can’t say I blame him, some gratuitous violence sure would help me get my mind of you.

But right now I’ve got to send a message to Quan at SNS, see what he thinks about a new show I want to produce, I’ve also got to put together some info for Greyson, and get him to lend me a micro recorder.

I’ll ask Trevin to show me the outgoing caravans: see who we can trust, who’s been vetted. You don’t know him yet. He’s an uppity little bitch. I think I like him.

Finally, I need to call you and tell you to get your lovely ass to the Alpha Maglev junction in 2 days time to meet two Peace River refugees and get them over to Prince Gable. It would be nice if I could do so without recriminating glares of vindictive silence but I probably can’t, sorry.

I hope as Hades that you and her don’t realize what you have in common.

Lots to do, and I am wasting time typing to no one. This is the 23rd letter I haven’t sent to you, thanks as always for listening and helping me get it all straight, I love you.



Monday, January 26, 2009

The Game

I played a game as a child; my cousins showed me.
I don’t remember the name in the old tongue, we called it Sticks.

Draw a card with a figure on it, keep it hidden. This is your goal.
Drop the sticks onto the board in a confused pile and the game begins.

It's played on several levels and utilized a host of skills.
It teaches you patience, precision and foresight but also subtlety.

We take turns drawing a stick from the confusion and set it on the side.
Both actions are significant: you can’t disturb the chaos or it will collapse,
Placing the stick realizes the simple shape on the card you drew.

If the pile comes down you lose. If you are too slow,
Your opponent will complete his geometric shape first.

However, there is also an advantage to holding your sticks: the patient win.

The shape can be usurped by an opponent with a well placed stick:
half your square can be made into a triangle.

You can play the game with any number of players:
The shapes are more or less complex, the thickets of sticks more or less dense.

Keep and eye on the chaos and know the easy sticks,
Lest you miss an opportunity.
Avoid the precarious or pivotal ones,
Lest you bring it all down.

Look at the shapes emerging, know when to draw and when to pass.
Anticipate your opponent’s goal and keep yours hidden as long as possible.

I haven’t played Sticks in years,
But here in Peace River, it's all coming back to me

Friday, January 23, 2009

Uncivilized police behavior

The car pulled up to the stout ferrocrete building that housed the Badlands Quarter Peace Officer Corps Precinct. It sat there for ten minutes, as the driver inside the little green car waited, watching the main public entrance across the street. The Peace River storm wall was half-closed, shielding the city from a north-blowing sandstorm, and casting much of the Quarter in a shadow. It made for easier surveillance from the car, as the lower ambient light made being inconspicuous just that much more simple.

A single figure walked out of the precinct, shuffling past the row of small patrol cars and police bicycles. He hunched over, hands stuffed in his long coat, his hair slightly more tussled than usual. He stopped at the sidewalk, turned to walk down the street, crossed the street and double backed to the car. The maneuver was essentially meaningless, but the man did them anyways. Old habits were always hard to break.

The door cracked open and the man climbed into the car, wincing slightly. The door closed shut.

"You alright?" the car started rolling forward, a slight hum emanating from its electric engine. The man in the back looked up at the rear-view mirror where he made eye contact with the driver, who had asked the question. He smiled grimly.

"Yes Wilkins, nothing a few analgesics won't cure," Claude Marlenoix nodded. Wilkins fished around in the glove compartment, one hand on the wheel, and produced a bottle of painkillers, which he handed back to his boss.

"Thanks," Claude smiled grimly. He popped the pills and looked out the window quietly, watching the crowds surge down the Street of Willows in the afternoon sun.

"How bad?" Wilkins asked, pulling into the side street next to the restaurant.

"Not bad at all. But strange. Usually PaxSec invites me to the precinct under some guise or another. This time the Peace Officers picked me up in the Bazaar. That CIB lieutenant, Vance," Claude rubbed his jaw, "bit of a brute."

Wilkins' eyes flashed. The two men had developed a very close working relationship during the War. "How bad?" he asked again, more emphatically. The car stopped with a shudder.

"Not bad!" Claude sighed, "but he's heavy handed. I don't understand why the POC is looking at us. Unless..."

"You don't think Delacroix-" Wilkins interjected.

"No, no," Claude waved the notion away, "not consciously, anyways. But there is a connection somewhere. I think Delacroix and his friends are making Vance nervous."

Wilkins chuckled, "they make us all nervous."

Claude nodded, "yeah, but now we've made Vance nervous."

There was a pause.

"I'll get on it boss," Wilkins nodded as they got out of the car.

"Yes. I think that's prudent," Claude didn't even nod. His eyes were fixated on the restaurant. Wilkins followed.

* * * * *

The woman walked through the alleys of the Labyrinth with practiced ease. She didn't look up. She didn't have to. She knew the route perfectly. Quickly dodging through the crowds only made it harder for anyone to tail her. She knew it wasn't foolproof, but she hadn't been tailed for more than ten minutes before she lost her pursuers in the Labyrinth. This time it was no different. The Labyrinth was just too good to her. She paused as she found the door and knocked three times. As she waited, she looked around the neighbourhood, such as it was. Busy alleys, shadows and an ambient hum of activity nearly overloaded her senses. Sonya would miss this place, she realized as the door opened. She smiled to herself and stepped from warm shadowy Labyrinth and into the cold, tense safehouse.

The dilapidated apartment building was near-abandoned when Roger and his closest advisors moved in. Now it stunk of human habitation and the cigarette smoke of social revolutionaries. Sonya wrinkled her nose and poked her head into the various rooms, looking for her husband. She found him hunched over the little kitchen table she had found for the group, smoking a cigarette and reading the latest reports on a datapad. Roger Zahn wasn't much older than his wife, but the hardships of the Prospects and the pressures of radicalism had taken its toll. Sonya swallowed hard. She would try, one last time, to reason with her husband. She knew it wouldn't work, but she had to try. Roger was committed to this cause. That's why she loved him, after all.

* * * * * *

The Badlands Quarter Peace Officer Corps precinct was bathed in the shadow of the half-closed storm wall. It significantly muted the view of the Quarter from Fenton's office, but he didn't notice. Detective Estobar Fenton was busy studying video and still camera surveillance footage, trying to put everything together.

So far, he had put Sonya Lien and that Doctor Chambers together. That was easy. Lien was a Mekongese national, and so was Chambers. They had an affair in university until the Doctor joined the MILICIA in TN 1915. The others didn't fit. Tarmalin was a nobody. Vonyran was a minor duelist. They came up in Khayr-ad Din and in New Baja. Big deal. Marlenoix and Delacroix were Southerners, but so what? He wasn't sure why Marlenoix was brought in. His senior partner, Rucker Vance, said something about sedition charges and gun-running, but Marlenoix's interrogation centered around Delacroix and Chambers.

"A need to know basis," I'm sure. Fenton muttered to himself with a wry grin. He looked down at the pictures and the transcripts of the interrogations. Vance wasn't telling him something, but that was pretty standard for senior detectives. He was warned at the POC Academy that it would take a while for a senior partner to trust him. These were not trusting times, Fenton noted sadly, as he looked up and out of the office window. The unrest was tearing the city apart. He knew that something would have to give. He wasn't entirely sure if Vance's tactics were sound, but even the precinct chief had to admit that the hard-nosed detective and his junior partner were getting results. The Quarter had gotten quieter, and the radical activists had gone to ground.

Fenton sighed. After going to ground, the activists' next move would be to do something spectacular. "So why are we worried about four itinerant Badlanders?" he wondered aloud. Naturally, he understood that the Badlands Caravan Guild was a conduit for information and smuggling in and out of Peace River. The POC and PaxSec were quite diligent in their security sweeps of the Bazaar and the caravan fleets as a result. The junior detective sat and thought. Was there a connection between the radicals and these four? The Guild did not stand to gain anything through an increase in radical activity and terrorism in Peace River.

Fenton remembered that interview that made the Executive caste uncomfortable. What was that old man's name? He chuckled. The harsh truths exposed by Trishaw Carmichael's interview had strengthened people like Simosa, and that reformer Hitachi. She had gone to ground too. But Fenton wasn't worried about Hitachi. He could see the writing on the wall: if the radicals' terror could be minimized, Simosa would sweep the election. So what was Vance doing?

Estobar Fenton frowned and continued his research.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Meanwhile, In Peace River

He didn’t mind the smell but the sound was sickening; like some half eaten meal being lapped up by a wild animal or the oozing fleshy sound of meat. He suppressed a shudder and tried to focus on his work.

Drawing his eyes away from the painfully slow workman silently moving in repetitive and regular movements he tried to push the tacky sound to the back of his mind as he finished filling the latest transit file from the ‘commissioned’ to the ‘billed’ file.

‘well, I`ll brake fo’ lunch now sir` The workman’s statement broke into Trevin’s concentration as he updated improperly tagged comments on the digital bulletin board of the BCG portal site. He looked to the time and saw that it was indeed mid-day, he gave the painter a nod and wished him a good rest.

The labourer put away his accursed rollers, at last silent in their washing solutions. Trevin looked at the work done and was pleased. The small office of the BCG in Peace River was shaping up. Just as well, according to a coded transmission, his boss was arriving in the coming days.

The clerk in the Badlands Caravan Guild office finished some last minor data entries before locking his computer terminal. He had been working there for a season now. It was little more than a hole in the wall on the third terrace. Everyday Trevin made his way from his sparse apartment on third terrace up to this office and set about doing his duties for the Guild. At the beginning of the season that meant very little, he oversaw the workman that reset the walls, and installed the dedicated Hermes network uplink. Then things started to change, both for the Guild and for Peace River.

The middle-aged man pulled out his lunch box, he used to go home for lunch and a nap, now that was no longer convenient. It seamed as if everyday new riots broke out in the streets, new protests. Mass disturbances that were an annoyance a cycle ago had become common fare and the scope of the unrest was reaching frenzying levels. Much better to stay inside the office and spare himself the grief of wading through the crowds milling about, perpetually on the verge of another clash with the Peace officers or worse…

In his job he had the unique privilege of knowing a fair bit more than the common Riveran. The BCG network portal was a nexus for information which people shared. As traffic on the portal grew, so did Trevin’s role of managing and intelligently classifying that information. Of course he had some help, a former contact of his who had recommended him for this position was providing him with programmes from time to time which helped him cope with the volume of useless information and weed through it for the interesting tidbits. The rest of his time was spent overseeing the work crews now reduced to a painter putting the final touches on the office and reviewing the receipts, transactions and commissions for caravans coming and going in the Peace River area.

The fact of the matter was that at first he was a little bored, as the work was almost nonexistent. Gradually it grew until now he could hardly cope, and he was relieved that his employer was coming to Peace River. At last he could request an assistant.

He was meticulously formulating a mental list of demands for this Dr Chambers when he would see him when he was woken by a dull thud. He new immediately that is was an explosion, not too close, by the sound of it, but unsettling all the same. He was sympathetic to the worker caste’s plight, he knew quite a few who had been abused by Paxton greed but he had a hard time abiding this violence. Soon there would be elections and he hoped that the new Paxton CEO would manage to quell the unrest which so violently disturbed placid day to day life in this city.

He thought of the violence, the bomb, it could have been terrorists or PaxSec, he was too well informed to have any illusions that one side was playing more fairly then the other. He thought of the senseless violence and the victims, soon there would be information on SNS and more posts on the BCG portal. He thought of the scenes he would be viewing and remembered the sickening sound of the paint rollers as it plastered the walls, the sound of blood drenched clothes and open wounds.

The clerk was momentarily overcome with revulsion, it rendered him ill. He was unable to finish his repast, instead he headed into the board room, sat on the bench under the window, and lay down. This room wasn’t as cool as the others and he could feel the warmth of the mid-day sun lulling him to sleep. As he drifted off his mind let go of the political intrigue of the coming elections, the trepidations associated with making demands on his long absent employer, the bookkeeping of caravan transactions and the confusion he would have to wade through this afternoon on the Hermes Network in the wake of this new violence.

In sleep came a blissful calm, he dreamt of simpler times and simple joys and the permanent crease that furrowed his brow gave way. And for a few minutes after he awoke and descended to the office Trevin was blithe, but soon enough the painter was back and so was the woeful sound of his roller and to make matters worse he had an encrypted message from the caravan out in the Barrington Basin waiting for him when he logged back on to the computer network. He thought about that information, the violence outside, the uncertainty that prevailed and the coming of the BCG head and his frown returned. He tied to ignore the world and concentrate on his work.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Meanwhile, Back at the Caravan...

"So, what are the rules?" the stern matronly voice of Avatanya Brom came over the radio. The woman perched on the top of the Behemoth transport she had dubbed 'Petunia' a long time ago, and surveyed the scene below her. It wasn't pretty.

Next to Petunia, some ten meters below, a diminutive teenage girl climbed into the cockpit of an equally diminutive heavy gear. The Ferret's hatch closed and the v-engine roared to life a moment later. The gear leaned back onto it's unique rear wheel as the legs locked in position, revealing wheels in its feet. The small gear began rolling forward in its reverse-tricycle configuration.

"Rules? We don' need no stinkin' rules!" a teenage girl's voice shot back into the radio. Karin Hassan's voice was jubilant. She was already tearing off into the sand dunes of the Barrington Basin, the Ferret's massive butt-wheel kicking up sand and dust in its wake. As the gear climbed a dune, Karin switched back into walker mode to better negotiate the sand. The Ferret waddled its way up. At the crest of the dune, she stopped, turned towards Avatanya back on Petunia and waved. Then she started reciting the rules as she leaned the gear back onto its butt-wheel.

"Rule number one," she began, "look before you leap." The gear shot across the top of the sand dune and leaned right hard, its hand dragging in the sand as Karin made a sharp turn and kept following the crest. The sun glared off the Ferret's sensor eye.

"Rule number two: obey all traffic laws," the girl smirked. The caravan hadn't been to a single settlement with traffic, let alone traffic laws, since they left Prince Gable nearly three weeks ago. Occasionally Karin wondered what the traffic laws were, but the topic was left vague and nebulous.

"Rule number three," the gear skidded to a stop at the edge of the dune. Karin looked and then let the gear drive straight down the steep slope. Her heart raced as she broke left at the bottom of the slope and opened up the throttle. The gear seemed to enjoy the impromptu sprint as much as its pilot.

"Rule number three?" Avatanya keyed the comm as she grinned, occasionally seeing a plume of dust rise up from behind a sand dune.

"No bad habits!" Karin yelled happily as the gear balanced backwards on its butt-wheel, turning it into a unicycle for a moment. The neural-net had already picked up the youthful exuberance of its two pilots. Only Karin and her friend Tessa were small enough to fit into the midget gear.

"Rule number four?" Avatanya rolled her eyes.

"Hey! There's no rule number four!" Karin protested as the gear landed back down on its two front feet and continued to zip among the sand dunes.

"No boys!" Avatanya growled.

"Awwww!" Karin groaned. The Ferret revved its engine.

* * * * *

Ben Cantor climbed into the Longrunner and walked into the little office. Bill Pearce was already there, sitting at the desk, data pad in hand.

"Any word?" Bill didn't look up as he continued reading.

"They left Baja," was the reply, "your friend Lenny said that they were probably headed north to Peace River. They'll be under the radar for a while, he said." He kept the news that Julie Pojhola would be arriving in Khayr-ad Din to manage the construction and operation of the casino to himself. Ben got the impression that Lenny was dubious of the whole arrangement.

"Sounds like Baja isn't the friendly place it once was," Bill frowned to himself.

"From what I hear, it never really was that friendly," Ben replied. He looked at Bill, "what do you have there?" he nodded to the data pad.

"Just an intel report from the Guild."

"Oh?" Ben leaned against the wall of the office.

"Yeah. Rover activity's up all along the Pacifica and Westridge ranges. There's also unrest in Peace River. The worker caste wants more rights, and the election's just around the corner," Bill shrugged, "sounds like your kind of work."

"Maybe," Ben shrugged, "but we've already got a job. And besides, Paxton's still one great big family. They need to change from within, not from without."

Bill nodded, continuing to read.

"This is interesting," he began, "looks like a dueling league is forming in the Badlands."

"You mean the Spider?" Ben looked puzzled, "that league is already formed."

"That's just it. It's called the Ultimate Dueling Championship League. Apparently it's all independent. They've been going around, challenging the Khayr-ad Din League duelists, beating them, and putting the footage on the Hermes network."

Ben chuckled. "Brilliant. I bet the Spider's thrilled."

"I bet. After all the money he invested in the new arena, you'd think he--wait, what's that?" Bill's eyes flitted to a blinking message on the little computer on the desk. Ben picked it up.

"It's from our source," Ben read it slowly, "we need Prabal. He's going to have to send a coded message to Peace River."

Hermes 72 - Heavy Gear RPG - Most artwork Copyright 2002 Dream Pod 9, Inc.