Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter V : Bloody payment

“So what are we going to talk about?” Ti asked after some time had passed. The train carrying Todd and Lyta off towards Storm’s Landing and from there deep into the Great White desert was already gaining speed, and Ti was anticipating spending a season with a childhood friend who had inconveniently grown up in the intervening decade. Ti realised he didn’t know much about Lukas except his manner around his brother and sister. With them gone, he didn’t have a leg to stand on.

“How good are you at picking locks?” Lukas responded as they started to stroll back to the terminal.

“Not a normal subject of conversation. I was thinking, ‘What trideo have you seen lately?’ or 'What kind of art or music are you in to?'” Ti was started with bemusement.

“I'm going to have to have to lock you up in Mainz to make sure you don’t follow me to my meeting. So I just wanted to know if I had to start thinking about alternatives.”

“I see,” Ti said, no longer amused. “I could just give you my word.”

“Which I would want to accept, but I’m not sure I trust you to control your curiosity. And even if I did, it would be unprofessional to place my client’s privacy at risk based on my personal feelings. How about ropes? Are you good with knots?”

Ti was pretty sure Lukas was joking, still. “Listen, how about I just save you the trouble? I’ll stay here in Prince Gable. I have a friend I can stay with and leave you to do whatever you’ve got to do in Mainz, and then you can let me know when you’re coming back this way, okay?”

“Hmm, well I was somewhat looking forward to finding an effective way of incommoding you, but I guess that’ll work. Who’s this friend?”

“She’s more of a friend of a friend, actually.” Something in Lukas’ tone put Ti on the defensive. “Tell you what, I’ll answer any questions you have about her if you tell me about your meeting in Mainz.”

“Deal. I’m going to see my former employer about payment for our last job. Now, who’s this lady you’re staying with in town?”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought. You have your secrets I have mine. See you when you get back.”

Ti left Lukas at the ticket counter and made his way out onto the street, with the occasional backward glance to ensure that Lukas wasn't following him. Prince Gable was a nice place, booming and vibrant. It was once of the places that had bounced back from the war the fastest. Trade with the North and its position on the Gamma made it a great location for tourism and business. Add to that the SNS, and it was a natural place for the Badlands Caravan Guild to set up its third office after Peace River and Khayr ad-Din. Ellen Cranby was the local station chief and Ti knew she was always welcome to having visitors. For his part, Ti was always welcome to having a famous Cranby feast. He wasn’t disappointed.

Even on short notice, Ellen whipped him up a stately meal his first day in Prince Gable and promised him a finer one still the next night when she was done at the BCG offices. Ti spent the next day calling on an old acquaintance and making sure debts were remembered as well as collecting the items on the shopping list Ellen had proved him with. The call came during dessert and though Ti was inclined to ignore it, he decided that if anyone knew about duty and would forgive him for the intrusion, it was Ellen.

He checked the data stream on his wrist and recognized Ennik Kazzov’s transmission codes. “Ti, I’m glad I could reach you. I didn’t know if you would be in Hermes range.” Ti instantly knew something was wrong from Ennik’s tone, even as the Desert Wolf continued, “I tried Lukas, then Torgath, but got no connection.”

“What’s going on, Ennik?” Ti asked.

“I had my meet with Campell, the Kolson Banker. Oscar and me, we got into his computer, we hit the motherlode. Oscar’s sifting through it now, but we’ve got two financial records with attached memos that caught our eye because they relate to a codename Teabag. One’s a small amount to an informant in Prince Gable yesterday and another one, a big one, today. Enough to maybe hire a some hitters, routed to Mainz. The memo tagged onto that one was ‘eliminate the mask’. Teabag is a Kolson agent called Smith and, well, Lukas and I did some things which a man could take personal-like. Please tell me Lukas isn’t in Mainz.

Ti? You still there?



Lukas didn’t have any safehouses in Mainz that he considered safe anymore, so his first half-day, after sending Renault a coded transmission telling her he was available when she was, was spent scouting. He found a storage locker in the industrial quarter next to a waste processing facility and a small hotel room (hourly rates available) next to a security substation. He rented two vehicles and spent the rest of his first day making financial arrangements to ensure his accounts were fungible and ready for a quick transfer. The next day he got Renault’s instructions. She led him through a series of way-points, taking a cab and then a tram before proceeding on foot through a public shopping center. At last he was instructed to sit by a paper stand next to a downtown commercial building. She emerged from a car moments later.

“Hello, Mr. Lassander, I’m pleased to see you again.” Her black leather gloves held two small envelopes. “Are you alone? I was expecting Mr. Kazzov as well, unless you are acting as his agent.”

“I can, but I’m mostly concerned with representing my own interests.” Lukas answered, in as relaxed a manner as he could muster, both avoiding responding directly to her leading question and hopefully not betraying the anticipation he was experiencing. He was probably being watched by snipers like the last time; maybe they would assume he was being overwatched by Todd as well. Lukas enjoyed thinking they would be impressed by the fact that they couldn’t locate him.

Nicosa Renault slipped him the two envelopes. One had EK printed on it and the other LL. “Thank you,” he said. “I hope I’ll have the pleasure of doing business with you again in the future.”

“Please review your payment, Mr. Lassander.” Renault said from behind her large dark glasses as she interlaced her fingers.

“I trust you,” Lukas said, trying to be as cool as her. But something in the way her lip twisted provoked him to do as she recommended. Tearing open the envelope, he found a small piece of very thin fibre, the kind that turned to fine ash in an instant or dissolved in a few drops of water. ‘MARIUS WALLRAFT, KAD’ was printed along with the words ‘ASK FOR ARENS.’

Slowly and deliberately reaching into his pocket, Lukas produced a pocket flamer and set the sheet alight. It vanished with a brief flash. He put the other envelope inside his jacket. “I take it that this Mr. W. has some information for me concerning my assets. Is that the password?”

“I’m glad we could meet face to face, Mr. Lassander, as your payment is less self-explanatory than Mr. Kazzov’s. I told you I had proof your family fortune was misappropriated, but what I consider proof, others may simply consider evidence or even unsubstantiated allegations.”

“With all due respect, Ms. ... R., what you offered me before the job among our former enemies didn’t sound as qualified.” Lukas said, keeping calm because there was little else he could do.

“I brokered a large transaction for your father in 1916. A substantial sum of money was made available to the resistance movement in exchange for getting your family out of Baja. Your father’s financial record came into my possession in order to make that transaction possible. I therefore knew the exact state of your family accounts in 1916. A cycle later, Paxton nationalised your family stock under the Wartime Reparations Act. As your father had passed, it’s clear that whatever evidence they had was created in the intervening cycle and worked backwards. Your father was a resistance financier. He acted with implicit authority from Paxton to sell weapons to the rebels during the fight, in spite of Paxton’s supposed neutrality. It can’t be argued that Paxton didn't benefit from these sales, or that your father, as a stockholder, didn't make some profit. But he was no traitor, nor a profiteer.”

“So you have my father’s financial records from 1916. I can use those to prove they were later falsified.” Lukas said at last, trying to remain focused on the heart of the matter and not be distracted by the memories Renault was dredging up.

“I can’t share those. First, they would not exonerate him, because they could be construed as forged. I admit they would be of probative value, but the second reason I can’t release them is because the financial transaction involved a person of interest that I can’t have drawn into the public light. It is imperative that his role in this remain hidden or he may become alerted to my interest.”

“Of course your own interests outweigh mine ... but I don’t see how sacrificing my fortune and my family name to protect Kaspar Dagovan satisfies our agreement.” Lukas calculated that the deliberate slip of the Bear’s name would communicate anger.

“My interests do outweigh yours, but I am not protecting Dagovan, just keeping him blind. However, I am true to my word and you have what I promised you. You can still unmask the fraud perpetrated on you without involving Dagovan. The man who changed those documents to incriminate your father was named Arens; he worked for the Treasury of Paxton. He went missing about five cycles ago, but Wallraft will lead you to him. Find Wallraft, find Arens, get the proof you need to reclaim what is yours and save your family from ignominy.”

Renault stood up, gave him a nod, and had started to return to her car when she stopped, hesitated a fraction of a second and then turned around. “Mr. Lassander, I hope you meant what you said about working with me again. I could use your talents. To that end, I’m going to give you a warning in order to safeguard our future transactions. You are being followed and I believe they wish you harm. Please consider that I’m sharing this with you precisely because I do not.” She then spun around again and a scant four seconds later was in her sedan speeding off.


“Hello?” Ti yelled over the sound of the thrusters. This hopper flight was going to cost a fortune, but there wasn’t another train from Prince Gable to Mainz until the morning and Ti felt he had no time to lose. Lukas hadn’t answered his calls, and try as he might, he couldn’t get any local assets or help in Mainz to back Lukas up--not, now that he thought about it, that Lukas would have trusted them if Ti could have found someone.

“Hi, Ti. Say, you wouldn’t happen to have been lying to me back in Prince Gable in order to follow me to Mainz?” Lukas’ voice was barely audible over the hopper’s roar.

“Lukas, are you all right? You’re in danger. I’m on my way to Mainz now. I’ll be on the ground in an hour. Stay below the radar until then and call me back at this number.” Ti yelled over the thundering noise.

“I’d come to that conclusion as well. I guess I’m glad you aren't the one who shot me. I would have preferred just this once that you had been less than truthful and were already here,” Lukas said laconically.

“You’re wounded? Lukas, keep moving, call me back in 50 minutes. Lukas? Lukas!” Ti was yelling but there was no response and the line went dead. Ti moved to the front cabin and offered the already outrageously overpaid pilot a ridiculous bonus if he could get Ti to Mainz any faster. He wished he had tailed Lukas, or let himself get tied up, if only to be there to back him up. ‘Lyta will kill me if Lukas doesn’t make it out of this,’ Ti thought to himself.


‘Lyta will kill Ti if I don’t make it out of this,’ Lukas thought to himself. He was holding very still, grateful that bleeding, in and of itself, was not a particularly noisy affair.

With Renault’s warning, he’d been able to spot and dodge the pair closing in on him from opposite directions on the street. The guy in the café had been a different story; Lukas’ vault over the counter had been a little too slow, and he had what appeared to be a through-and-through bullet wound to show for it.

If he could surprise the burly guy searching the alley, Lukas figured he could make it to a speakeasy he knew, where the whiskey was awful and the patrons tight-lipped, well-armed, and generally ornery.

He hadn't really believed Ti was hunting him down, but he drew little comfort from that now. For the first time that he could remember, Lukas wished he had a friend.

Now, for the sake of his little sister, he’d have to time this just right--


The scavenger crows were picking the carcass clean. That was the way of the desert; the death of one meant life for another. Ti couldn’t make out what it had been in life. The Longrunner was rolling pretty quickly and the carcass was a few hundred meters off.

“See anything interesting?” Lukas asked from his bunk. Ti turned and found his friend awake again. “Let me look at that leg again. It’s about time I change the bandage,” Ti said as he put his words into action.

Lukas craned his neck and saw the flight of the crows on the dunes. “That might have been me,” he said with a slight smile. Six days and 300 klicks south of Mainz, he and Corovan were traveling with an especially slow caravan. Ti had wanted a discreet way to get to Khayr-ad-Din for the both of them after Lukas had called him with directions to where he was hiding out.

Ti had always figured “bucket of blood” to be a figure of speech, but finding Lukas propped up in a booth with a pistol in one hand and the other cinching a compress of bar napkins on his leg made him rethink it. Lukas had been vague on the details (as always), but media reports and emergency radio chatter helped Ti piece together Lukas’ fairly spectacular escape from the goons sent to eliminate him. A combination of stealth, athleticism, and a couple of underhanded tricks had allowed Lukas to get outside of their cordon and to relative safety. Except for the bullet through the leg and an an abrasion from shoulder to hip on the opposite side (and which Lukas refused to explain), Lukas had made a clean escape-—not counting his three units of blood, the five innocent bystanders and two security officers wounded in the fray, or the three downed would-be assassins, of which one was certainly dead.

Ti finished changing the dressing on Lukas’ wound and sat on the adjacent bunk. “So what kind of art do you enjoy?” Lukas said, rolling onto his back and looking up at the Longrunner’s ceiling plates.

“Seriously, you want to talk about art? You could’ve been killed back there, and I let you go without back up. Unh-uhn. Not again, you hear? I hope you got what you were after back there, your severance or whatever, because if you guys work with me then I’m not being left in the dark anymore. From here on in, I know where you are, who you’re with, and what you’re doing at all times.” Ti was still shaking his head, clearly frustrated.

“Okay, how about music? What do you listen to? What else do people talk about? Girls? If you’re going to be involved with my little sister, maybe I should know if you’re some kind of player,” Lukas continued, ignoring Ti’s little outburst. “You’re the one that said we had to talk about regular stuff.” Lukas sat up with a sly grin. “So tell me about your exploits.”

Ti was momentarily stunned but recovered quickly and laughed. “Prismatic cubism of the third Bauhaus school.”

“What?” said Lukas, laughing gently himself.

“Given the choice of discussing my so-called exploits with women and any other subject, I’d rather talk about my preferences in art, thank you very much.” Ti said, folding his arms in and relaxing a bit.

“I figured you more for a paint-by-numbers kind of guy.” Lukas stretched back out.

‘Three weeks to Khayr ad-Din at this speed,’ Ti thought to himself and sighed. He couldn’t see it, but he knew Lukas was smiling.

Heavy Gear Roleplaying Game


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