Monday, February 9, 2015

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter VIII: Making New Friends (And Lying To Others)

38.AU.23 - Carbon Hill, Western Desert, Badlands

Esmé was a little nervous, which was unusual. Meeting new people was what she and Fatty did, but typically it was for a deal of some kind. This was different, this time she was going to be introduced to one of her aunt’s old war contacts.

Most of the people she had served with had stayed in or near Peace River after the war. Esmé had even met a few of them in the cycles of caravaning and trading, but every once in a while Fatty would take them to some unknown place and dig up some unusual item and send it off to some ‘friends’ of hers. These so-called ‘friends’ were never named and -- stranger still -- the bit of salvage was usually kept away from Esmé’s curious eyes.

Over the cycles under her tutelage, Esmé had become her aunt’s right hand in deals, salvages, and the occasional fight. In many ways, she felt they had no secrets, but on two occasions that she knew of, Esmé had seen Fatty share a glance and a knowing nod with a shadowed figure in a bazaar in Prince Gable or a trader’s lane in KAD. Fatty would deny it at first, but eventually she would admit that she had seen a ‘friend’.

Esmé was about to meet one of those ‘friends’ for the first time, which is why she was nervous. To be fair, it wasn’t nerves, it was anticipation at being let into the last great secret in Fatty’s life. There was also a bit of trepidation. Recently Fatty had been talking about what she would do when she ‘settled down,’ how she would ‘pass the torch.’ Her aunt was preparing to retire to a more sedentary life and Esmé couldn’t understand why. The open road and the way of the wanderer was the best life she had know, and she couldn’t imagine why anyone would give it up any more than she could imagine how she would continue without Fatty mentoring her.

Still, that was one day and this was here and now. They were in a small oasis tower a few days’ barnaby ride from Camden Forge, which was itself a few days south of Temple Heights. The air was cool and infused with the humidity of the collectors aspirating what they could from the dry air of the Badlands. In the back, the sharp sound of dishes being sanded stacked above the low murmurs of caravaners’ hushed voices and the droning of the condensers outside.

Esmé thought this was just the right kind of place to meet a spy or a hero on the run, some kind of romantic figure from a trideo. Esmé was keeping a keen eye open to spot what she assumed would be the furtive figure and so she didn’t pay much attention at first to the young man who came in and immediately clapped another Badlander on the back. The newcomer was given a warm welcome in return. Clearly a local and a well liked one at that. Esmé continued to scan the place. Maybe the ‘friend’ was already here and eyeballing them to make sure they weren’t followed.

The local guy gave the bartender a wave and got a wink and a smile in return. He wasn’t particularly handsome, but he did radiate a certain openness which made you want to know him. She didn’t know if she was staring or not because he looked right at them. Now in addition to feeling anxious about meeting her aunt’s mythical mystery man she was afraid she had drawn attention to them and ruined everything by paying too much attention to mister-nice-guy. She was mortified when he headed straight for their table. She looked at Fatty pleadingly as if to say it wasn’t her fault. Surprisingly her aunt was all smiles. Out of the corner of her eye she could feel the stranger’s eyes on her; he had slipped into their booth.

“It’s been a long time, Fatima. You’re looking great as ever.” He said it so affectionately that an onlooker could almost forget he was less than half her age.

“Oh, Ti, you young pup, you know your charms roll off me like sand off a barnaby,” Fatty lied; Esmé could see her cheeks blushing.

“You can’t blame a guy for trying. And this, I take it, is the much-praised Esmé.” His bright eyes turned on her like beams of light, except they didn’t blind like some flashy cad’s. They radiated warmth.

“Sure is. I’m glad you two could finally meet proper like. Esmé, this is Ti Corovan. My friend.”


37.WI.27 - Central Station, Oxford, Humanist Alliance

Fennec was concerned that things might get ‘weird’ when she came back to Oxford. After all, it was a strange arrangement. She was making good money, there was no reason for her to stay at the Nipen Metal Depot other than she saw no reason to go. Joe gave her a place to stay and collect her scraps and asked little in return.

So when he came out to her side of the scrap yard to ask her to go collect a bin of recyclables from the train station she didn’t make a thing out of it. She just shrugged and said ‘sure thing’.

The work order specified the the yard and time for the pick-up. Fennec rolled into the depot about 15 minutes early and waited. The others were doing their own things; Brumhilda was reading everything he could on the symposium Dr. Neeson was putting on and Ryss was off at the Olympic Center every day. She didn’t know what Jax did with his spare time, probably practiced annoying people in bars.

The side door opened and Fennec expected the typical Humanist with a cheery disposition going about his daily duties in immaculate coveralls and carrying the all-important clipboard. She was not expecting Miranda Winters.

She was smartly dressed, like a business woman would be. Trailing behind her was a small piece of luggage. She smiled to Fennec and waved her over to a bench. She straightened her skirt before sitting down.

"It's nice to meet you," Winters said, then added with a smile, "you know, officially."

Fennec didn't know what to make of this cloak and dagger stuff. She was a trader and a mechanic, not a spook. She had been concerned she wouldn't be able to hide the shock she had had outside Daniella Morris' hotel room when Winters had introduced herself, but Jax hadn’t noticed. Now it was time to meet Ti’s contact for real.

"So," Fennec started hesitantly, "what do I call you? My contact, my handler? Are you going to tell me what I'm doing here in the Alliance?"

"You're already doing it. You met up with your teammates, you've made yourself part of their team, and you're investigating neural nets. That's pretty much the brief."

"So you’re saying I should just keep doing what I've been doing."

"Yes, but there’s a bit more. I need something from the TDI and I want to hire your team; I just don't know how. Let me know if you have any ideas."

Winters stood up and straightened her skirt.

"That's it?" Fennec asked incredulously.

Winters smiled. "Yeah, pretty much. By the way, you can call me Thalia." With that she grabbed her suitcase and strolled off to catch her train.


24.SU.27 - Crest’s Nest, Pacifica Range, Badlands

Ennik stood up to stretch out his back. Righting himself, he got a little dizzy from the thin, high-altitude air. Reflectively he patted his chest looking for his pack, but it was buried two layers down under the parka, which made him chuckle.

 "You know, those'll kill ya," Fennec said as she crested a snow bank with a sled full of cabling.

They were stringing up the west side of Mt. Colden to descend the crates. Apart from the brief distraction of saving a caravan from a rover gang the night before, the two mechanics had been pretty much constantly at work on the ski-lift-crane.

"I expect I'll be dead long before these do me in." Ennik reached into his jacket and produced the maligned cigarettes.

"Yeah? How's that?" Fennec asked conversationally as they both selected a set of clamps and wordlessly set to connecting cable sections as they had been doing for the last fifty hours.

"Ah, you know. Doing what we do?" He gave her a grin.

There was a long silence as he puffed at his cigarette and tightened bolt crimps. Fennec wasn't one to pry, but every conversation with Jax -- or Quinn, as he apparently went by in the Badlands -- always left her wondering about her role in the team. She knew she was the odd one out; that would never change. After all, the others were blood. But now she had an occasion to ask someone who had been in her position before how things had ended up.

"Say, Ennik, d'ya mind if I asked how you and Quinn left off? You know, how you left the partnership?"

"Heh, it was never a partnership." He snickered.

There was a long pause, so long that Fennec was starting to wonder if that was all the older Wolf was going to say or if he had forgotten to answer.

"I guess it's a bit ironic,” he said at last, lighting another cigarette. “I left for the same reason you took my place."

Fennec turned that over in her head a couple times, trying to untangle some kind of logic. She couldn’t make heads or tails of it. "Whad'ya mean?"

"Ti," Ennik answered succinctly. "I didn't like the way they were using him. He was good to me and I believe in what he’s doing. I believe in him. These kids are so involved in their own secrets, I guess I just got sick of it."

Fennec just stared. She was trying to figure out if she had misunderstood, if there was some missing context, or if Ennik assumed she knew more than she possibly could.

He saw her struggle and saw her try to hide it and decided the charade had gone on long enough.

"I know who you are, Esmé. I’ve know from the first second I saw your red hair in Crest’s Nest. I’m Kith too and I’ve got some information I need you to carry to Port Arthur and hand over to one of Ti's Kin."


02.AU.27 -  Outside the Shady Café, Tashkent, Barrington Basin, Badlands

“How did you get away?”

“Bathroom window.”

Thalia nodded her approval. Fennec handed her a piece of paper, one which she had not been confident enough to pass on at the table sitting right in front of Jax, Ryss, and Brumhilda.

Thalia looked the paper over. It was a series of names from the Abacus List but with distinct connections. Ennik had figured out how the Bear had used certain people, and the result was a rare glimpse into his plans.

“So effort and assets were used to get Kim to where he is and the same for Jacobi. Thanks, this is important.”

“I figured,” Fennec said.

A handler always has to be alert to what isn’t being said as much as what is.

“What is it?” Thalia inquired.

Fennec hesitated. A series of emotions flashed over her face. She was struggling with something.

“Spit it out,” Thalia urged.

“Well, it’s just that I’m not so sure how I fit in. I mean, I knew about the webbles and I was happy enough to go investigate those for Ti. Then I’m told to watch these guys” -- Fennec threw a thumb back in the direction of the Café -- “which I did, but finding out about Ennik and some of the stuff he told me…”

“What did he tell you?” Thalia asked, not so much concerned about it being confidential, but wanting to know why it seemed to be rattling Fennec.

“About the Bear, Earthers coming back to invade Terra Nova again. It’s pretty heavy.”

“Yeah, it is. And it isn’t that it isn’t important to what you’re doing, but it could be a distraction. You know,  in case you're wondering why you heard it from him and not me or Ti…”

“Or Fatty?”

“She doesn’t know. Few people do, Fennec, and you understand that it’s got to stay that way, right?”

Fennec didn’t look too sure.

"Thing is,” Fennec started slowly, “where do these folk fit in? Ol' Jax... er... Lukas... whatever. I get that he ain't exactly the easiest person to work with, but seems to me that if we're talking about a second Earther invasion, and the Kin are tryin' to prevent that... well... why ain't we workin' together on this one, instead of runnin' around behind peoples' backs? I know Ti has some kinda history with these folks, but shouldn't we at least be able to have all our cards on the table? I mean, this ain't just North and South, and us in-between no more... this is all Terra Nova. Again. "

“Look, you’re right, and things are going to get a lot more transparent real soon. That’s what Ti wants, but soon isn’t all at once, okay? Just hang in there a little longer and everything will be laid out for you. When the time comes, you’ll get to decide what you want to do about it. That goes for Lukas and his people too.  Alright?”

Fennec chewed that a little and rather than commit herself just shrugged. “I best get back,” was all she said.

Thalia took that for what it was worth and nodded. ‘This had better get simple real fast,’ she thought to herself.


14.AU.27 - Shopping District, Siwa Oasis, Southern Republic

Fennec was hunting. Performing the impossible task of collecting the little bits and pieces that she never knew she’d need until the unexpected, inevitably, obliged her to have them. The task was equal parts inspiration and meditation and one she usually enjoyed.

“Find anything good?” Thalia asked, suddenly appearing out of the shopping district crowd.

Fennec raised a small Palm-sized micro computer circuit board, the kind used in a thousand simple devices and infinitely versatile for the electronically literate. Fennec's nonverbal communication was unusual for the tinkerer.

"What's the matter?" Thalia asked as they strolled casually through the bazar.

"Rough train ride down here. Jax was, well, it don't matter. What've you got for me?"

"Remember the preceptor I met in New Baja? She gave me a name: Caitan Caspari. He's a municipal architect in White Rock. He was contracted by an associate of the Bear’s called Mike Vohn a few cycles ago to design a few underground facilities. We need you to get a copy of his blueprints."

"Am I suppose to ask him?"

"I trust you'll do what's best when you got there. Finding him and the information isn't the hard part."

"This ought to be good."

Thalia was getting to know her asset pretty well so she simply ignored the sarcasm and continued. "The data is time sensitive. Once you secure it, you need to get it to Port Arthur to Minnie ASAP."

Until now Fennec had always been asked to nudge or facilitate her team's operation. Now she was being asked to run a parallel objective and then to pursue a completely independant agenda afterwards.

"What if that doesn't work with Nightingale's schedule?"

"Then it can't be helped. This is the most important thing we've asked you to do. If it compromises your position within Lukas' team or jeopardizes your relationship with Nightingale, then so be it. Ti has a strike team waiting on standby to move on this intel within 36 hours of you delivering it to Port Arthur."

Fennec was silent a moment. She picked up a small electric motor about the size of her pinky finger nail, turning it over and over as if inspecting it while she bought herself time to think over the ramifications of Winters' latest instruction.

"I’m worried about retaliation. What about HIRA? If they don't let us go and I have to hightail it they'll come after us. I don't know if I can do that to Jax, Ryss, and Brumhilda."

"Lukas Lassander will survive, trust me," Thalia said wryly.

"I don't know. I feel bad for him somehow." Even as she said it she was reminded of the bitter argument they had just had on the train. "What about Fatty?" she asked instead of thinking any more about Jax's problems and her overdeveloped sense of loyalty.

"We've got a detail on Fatty. It isn't a permanent solution but Ti is working on brokering something to get you out from under HIRA's thumb."

"And the rest of my team?" Fennec asked.

"Perhaps," Thalia said tentatively, "but that's another matter. You do realize they aren't Kith and most likely after this mission they won't be your team anymore. I need you to do this. Ti needs you to do this."

"Listen, my priorities have always been clear. Even when I didn’t know what was going on, at least I knew what I was doing it for. So I’m in."

Thalia took Fennec's arm gently above the elbow. "Find Caspari, get the blueprints, and get to Port Arthur as fast as you can, Esmé. We're counting on you."

"I’ll get it done."


03.WI.26 - 21° 6’ 14” ,N  58° 45’ 22”

Her memcompass told her this was the spot, and by the waning light of Helios' final rays she caught sight of a fire burning at the foot of a small Spur foothill.

There were about a dozen of them sitting there. Their springers were lapping up water from collapsible buckets while the Badlanders huddled around the campfire. There was an animal roasting on a spit offering an inviting smell. They were a ragged looking bunch, however. Their faces had deep lines of fatigue and sorrow while their weary eyes watched Fennec's approach with the apprehension of a wounded dawg. ‘Definitely uninviting,’ she thought to herself. There was one exception, the only one who didn't have a weapon at the ready.

"Fennec, how ya doing? Good of you to come."

Ti's warm and cheerful welcome settled the group considerably as well as allaying most of Fennec's trepidation. He walked up to her and gave her a hug.

"How are you? How's Fatty?" He inquired as he guided her gently into the thicket of desperadoes.

"Good, and I guess you've heard Fatty's settled down in Khayr ad-Din."

"So I've been told. Well, she's earned a bit of comfort and a place to hang her hat. I also know that you chose not to take her up on her offer to go into to business with her."

Fennec threw a subtle glance at her surroundings. The casual tone of her conversation with Ti stood in stark contrast with the vibe she was getting from the roughs.

"Well, I didn't see myself settling down just yet. Terra Nova's a big place and I'd like to wander some. Besides, I've got to make my mark."

Ti nodded sagaciously, as though she had said something profound or with which he deeply agreed. Fennec couldn't tell. He was weird that way, but it added to his charm. A charm which was desperately needed in this company.

"I'm glad to hear it. Have a look at this," he said as he took a piece of tech out from his pocket and tossed it to her. She caught it and looked it over.

It was small, but her experienced scavenger senses immediately picked up on its value. She would have picked it out of a metric ton of trash. The housing was incredibly well manufactured and the microcircuitry was, even at a perfunctory glance, some of the most sophisticated she had ever seen.

"What is it?" she asked as her nimble fingers played over its surface, identifying some components while remaining ignorant of the majority of it. When she could pry her eyes off of it to look up she was a bit unsettled by the looks of the fighters around her. It was as though she had just pissed on their mothers' graves. She swallowed hard.

"It's called a webble implant. They cost a million dinar new if you want to teach a monkey how to wait at tables or a dawg how to count, but this one is priceless."

Fennec whistled softly under her breath. She had heard of them but never expected to see one, let alone handle one.

“What makes this one so special?” she asked.

That is an excellent question. I’m not sure. What I can tell you is that it came out of the Humanist Alliance some time after the war in the head of a GREL, and some people were very serious about keeping it hidden. Commercial versions are expensive, but this one is different somehow. I can’t put a price on it because six of our friends here died to retrieve it.”

With that he motioned to the mercs sitting around the fire, collective teeth tearing at the roasted hopper.

“We’re counting on you to make sure they laid down their lives for something. Can you go the the Alliance and look into this for me? For us? I don’t know what you’ll find, but I know it’ll matter. What d’ya say?”

Those assembled looked at her differently now. They were still angry and heartbroken, but when they looked at her, Fennec could feel the weight of their expectation, and now trust. That same trust radiated from Ti’s eyes.

Fennec didn’t know how he did it, if it was innate or calculated. If it was something he could turn off or turn up, but he always managed to inspire.

“I’ll get it done.”


_Hermes72 uplink active...
_AUDIO file-003.A delivering...
_Last update 04W 1926
_Begin play...

Hi Fennec,

I hate recording these but it’s part of what we do and the cost we are willing to pay. If you’re hearing this recording then I’m dead.

It’s weird because you’re sleeping soundly a few meters away, but I take the time to record these when I get a chance and now I’m adding you to the mailing list. Congratulations on your dubious upgrade to Kith.

Seriously, though, I’ve given you a serious responsibility and I need you to carry on even without me. I hope you’re settled in with Joe Nipen by now. He’s got a old war buddy called Okran Radsley. Sooner or later he’s going to come to Joe for help and I hope you’ll be there to tag along.

I’m assigning you a new handler. Her code name is Miranda. She’ll find you. You’re not alone. You’re Kith now. You’ll never be alone again.

Take care, Fennec. It’s been my honour to know you and call you my friend.


Heavy Gear Roleplaying Game


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