04 December, 2097
Intergalactic Cruiser, inbound for Earth
The woman groaned to herself as she cracked her neck, feeling out the kink that cut through her shoulder. It hurt, but it’d been worth it to see the look on the upper-class morons who’d tried to take her for a plaything only a few hours ago. They’d be hurting a lot more than her right now, she knew that much. Especially once they learned what an Imperial prison was like.
Gritting her teeth together, she sat up on the fine cotton bed and reached for her datapad. A few seconds later and she was browsing through the internet, a series of videos appearing and disappearing as she finished them. Really, all she was doing was wasting time as the salve on her shoulder did its work. But it was time she had, and the trip home was a long one.
A knock on the door had her groaning as she moved herself up further, shouting a response for the occupant on the other end to come in. As soon as he walked through, that white fabric and stupid hat caught her eye and she grinned.
Strum smiled at Rose as he strolled through, though he dropped his eyes as he beheld what she was currently wearing. It wasn’t her fault though. The salve worked best with fewer clothes.
But it was funny as anything to watch him suffer.
Strum: “Señora, I’d appreciate if you’d at least have the decency of a shirt.”
Rose: “Nyaw, is Uncle Carlos too shy for his own good?”
Strum: “Oh not at all. In fact, I’m in admiration that you’d choose to wear something so…unfashionable.”
Rose sent a pillow hurtling his way, which he ducked under with a grin. Sighing, she relented and reached under the sheets, revealing the loose white top she'd discarded earlier. She pulled it on, but left her arms and shoulders uncovered, again for the salve.
Strum shrugged and removed his hat, leaving it on the armchair in her small, yet expensive, room. His dark hair, as always, was cropped incredibly short, but his goatee twitched as he walked closer.
The mood shifted slightly; Rose felt it in the air, but confirmed it when he spoke.
Strum: “Seriously though, how are you? After…you know.”
She let out a deep breath and met his eyes. Still fun, still the charming eyes she’d known, but there was a layer of caring beneath them. Uncle Carlos indeed.
Rose: “Fine Strum, I’m…I’m fine. No thanks to you, ya lazy bum, with your nose in the menu.”
Strum smiled again as he sat on the bed, his long legs folded underneath him.
Strum: “Sí, but you can’t deny that it was a good deal.”
Rose: “It was a free burger Strum!”
Strum: “A free burger meal, thank you very much.”
Rose: “Well, I hope your free burger was worth it when they dragged me off.”
Strum: “Definitely. In fact, it was bliss not having to listen to your whining for a few minutes.”
Strum: “Sounded like whining to me.”
Rose: “Whatever. Just be glad they were pushovers.”
Strum: “I knew you could handle yourself, señorita. Otherwise, they would’ve found out just how much the vacuum of space… sucks.”
Rose grinned at the slight pun, but the words lingered in her mind. Despite their banter, Strum had seen them grab her, had known that she could sort it out herself.
And if they’d hurt her in the way they’d intended…the vacuum of space probably would’ve been pleasant compared to what he’d have done.
Rose: “Fair. So, what’s for dinner tonight?”
Strum: “Whatever you’d like. The Captain’s offered us both free meals for the rest of the flight after what happened. You should get abducted more often.”
Rose: “Ah, free stuff. Ever the bargain-hunter..."
Strum: “Alas, my pockets only go so deep.”
Rose: “Yeah right. Your room is, like, twice the size of mine.”
Strum: “Ah, but it’s still not large enough for my incredible modesty.”
She shook her head at him as she turned and stared out the window. The endless view of space greeted her for the umpteenth time, but she would never get bored of it.
Despite their ‘holiday’ on Deltar Five, as was their excuse, this was still the view she savoured most. Even the gang they’d followed and taken down, even after tonight’s events, they couldn’t beat back her spirit.
Rose: “So…reckon Duke’ll be happy?
Strum: “I should think so. The Firepack Gang have been a thorn in the IIA’s side for a while. But even if he isn’t…you can’t say it hasn’t been fun.”
Rose: “They shot a rocket at me Strum. A rocket. From a rocket launcher.”
Rose: “It really hurt!”
Strum: “Oh please señorita, it didn’t even hit you.”
Rose: “It was close enough.”
Strum: “Like I said, what a fun time it’s been.”
She snarled at him and he smiled back, his brown skin crinkling around his eyes. Still, he wasn’t entirely wrong. It had been…fun to work again. After they’d stopped Uek’s little operation back in May, after the whispers Sal had been hearing about the Storm had dropped off…well…it was always good to stay in the game.
Especially when the game meant that people like the Firepack’s were brought to justice, though the money from the IIA was a nice bonus.
Rose: “Whatever. Let’s just agree to disagree on this one.”
Strum: “Lo que sea que diga, señorita”
Rose: “Was that an insult?”
Rose: “You’re insufferable.”
Strum: “Still better that than being boring.”
Rose: “I dunno. Right now, I could use someone boring.”
Strum: “Might I suggest a mirror?”
Rose growled through her smile and threw another pillow at him. He weaved around it and ran for the door, grabbing his hat on the way out and leaving with a smile. She aimed another pillow his way but he was gone before she threw it.
Shaking her head, she let the fluffy missile fall and stretched her shoulder again, silently grateful to have Strum still here, still by her side. True, he was over double her age, but despite his forty-one years of life his mind still seemed to belong to a toddler. As did his insults.
She sighed to herself as she picked up her datapad again. What an idiot.
09 December, 2097
Wheatview Town Hall
Kip Silis, the Mayor of Wheatview sighed through the mountain of paperwork that had seemed to sprout out of his desk. He could’ve sworn there wasn’t this much this morning, but here it all was, filling every space save for the computer, tucked away in the corner. The pen in his hand clicked once again, the sound jarring his mind as he began working away, signing and amending where he had to.
It hadn’t ever been easy, running Qoter’s agricultural capital. So many companies, with so many different shipments of a thousand foods for hundreds of different species. Despite holding the position for years now, each day was a slog. He didn’t hate his job though; he realised how important it was. It was just…long. Boring.
An hour ticked by, inter-spliced with a few colleagues coming in to ask questions, but other than that… nothing interesting. Slowly, the mountain dissipated, but just to spite him the last few documents seemed to double their word count. He stifled a yawn for the millionth time, browsing the lengthy contract for a new farm in one of the northern suburbs. Like they didn’t already have enough.
A pointed cough made him look up, his goggled eyes taking in the woman that marched into his office. Reeta Sian, every bit the Commander the public saw. Her clothes were crisp, her posture arrow-straight, her raven-dark hair cropped short for practicality over style. The slight smile in her face was the only dent in that finely crafted Imperium persona, but even that vanished as she spoke, professionalism taking over.
Sian: “Good morning Mr Mayor, I trust you’re well.”
Kip: “Ah, can’t complain for a Monday. Yourself?”
Sian: “Perfectly adequate, thank you. I’m just dropping by to give you the latest reports about the Collective protests.”
Kip: “No more fights?”
Sian: “None more violent than a few blows, which my men broke up, of course. No, I wanted to let you know that I’ve decided on a new strategy for locking them down before the riots spark.”
Kip: “Commander, we can’t stop them from protesting…”
Sian: “No, but we can organise them, so that they don’t keep spilling over near the residential areas. I propose that we-“
Whatever Sian was about to say was interrupted as Kip’s receptionist poked his head round the corner, a wary look on his face. Uncertainty…and fear. Kip gulped as a shill snaked it’s way down his spine.
Receptionist: “Um…sir? There’s some men here to see you…and you as well, Commander.”
Kip: “What do they want?”
Receptionist: “They wouldn’t say, only that I couldn’t take no for an answer. Can I escort them in?”
Sian: “Of course. I’ve sent my guards a warning, they’ll be here any second. No need to worry.”
Kip: “Very well then. Please, esco-“
The words disintegrated as a pair of men gently shoved the receptionist out of the way and strolled into Kip’s office. Even Commander Sian took a step backward with wide eyes as she took them in.
One was glad head to toe in rippling black, a cape of carefully cut material flowing behind him. The other was more casual, but the skull mask that covered his face said otherwise. Though they both would’ve had any weapons removed at the door, they carried an awe of power that told Kip they were weapons themselves.
A second later, another man stepped behind them, his face young but set in a line. He leaned against the archway, merely taking in the scene. Kip forgot about him instantly as he focused on the pair in front of his desk.
The one in black spoke first, addressing both him and the Commander as the receptionist scurried away. His voice was impossibly deep, and carried a weight that seemed to push at Kip’s very soul.
Grim: “Mayor, Commander. Good to finally meet you.”
Mayor: “Erm…ah…Sorry, but…who are you?”
The other one raised his voice, lighter, friendlier, but still carrying an edge to it that hinted at the skill of the man.
Bones: “I’m Bones, he’s Grim, and the guy in the back’s none of your concern. Now, can we get on with this?”
Sian had had enough. Her rank seemed to jolt through her as she stepped forward, her finger jabbing at the newcomers with dangerous implications. But standing next to them… Kip had to admit that even her power, her intimidation, seemed dwarfed.
Sian: “No. You listen to me whoever you are. You do not get to barge in here and demand whatever you want.”
Bones: “I wasn’t under the impression we were demanding, did you Grim?”
Bones: “Exactly. We came to ask some questions, not demand them.”
Sian: “I don’t care. Leave, now, or I’ll have you escorted out.”
Bones: “Aw, but we had such a hard time getting in here. You even took Grim’s scythe, which I don’t think he appreciated.”
Grim: “I really didn’t.”
Sian: “Scythe? No, never mind. I don’t care. You can come back when you’ve made an appointment with the Mayor or myself. Otherwise…”
A squad of guards filtered in, as if the Commander had been planning the timing the whole time. A sigh of relief escaped Kip’s mouth as the guards surrounded them, weapons sitting casually in their arms, scowls on their faces. The Commander merely nodded at their arrival, but seemed to hold herself a bit higher with the reinforcements.
Sian: “Like I said, you will be escorted out otherwise. Please leave the premises, now. I’m sure the front desk will be able to set up an appointment for the lot of you. Until then, you have no right to be here.”
The pair looked at each other briefly, before the skull-masked one rubbed his hands together, taking his time about it.
Bones: “Well, we’re here already. And so are both of you. Doesn’t really make much sense to leave and come back just to see you again.”
Grim: “Agreed. Commander, order your men to leave. We won’t be long.”
Sian growled, actually growled, at them before yelling her response. Kip merely nodded in her direction as she spoke. She knew what she was doing.
Sian: “Guards, get these two out of my si-“
Kip barely had time to register what was happening until it was already over.
The two men moved in unison, quicker than bullets, quicker than warp drives. They leapt on the guards and unleashed themselves upon them, wolves in a den of sheep.
The one called Bones dispatched one of them with careful blows to the nerve endings, ducking effortlessly under the swing of the second one to his right. With a flying kick, he took him out as well, minimizing the blows and effort he exerted.
The other one was even worse.
He moved like a blaze of shadow, his fists snapping out and meeting jaws, stomachs, knees and throats. The two guards were down a moment later, struggling to breathe as they slumped against the wall.
Then, it was done. Like it had never happened, like Kip had dreamed the entire thing, because no human could move that quick, take out highly trained troops like it was nothing.
But they had. The evidence was right before him. Sweat began dripping down his collar, like someone had poured ice down in his shirt.
Casually, the pair strolled back in front of the desk, taking their time. Kip glanced once, just once, at the other man at the door, casually blocking the entrance for anyone looking in. His face was unchanged, like he’d seen this kind of thing already, and too often. Perhaps…perhaps he’d seen more than that.
Commander Sian stood with blazing eyes, her hands balled into fists at her side. But even she couldn’t hide the shiver that raced down her back. That look, the look of blatant, but terrified, defiance was what terrified Kip the most.
Bones: “To be fair, Grim did say to call them off.”
Grim: “True. Now, will you answer our questions?”
Sian trembled as they spoke, at the power that seemed to emanate of the very walls.
Sian: “You…you killed…”
Bones: “Oh please, we’re professionals. A bunch of dead guards isn’t going to help anyone, is it? A bunch of humiliated, beaten guards though…”
Sian: “F…fine. What do you want?”
Grim nodded and stepped forward, his hand behind his back. Kip straightened as much as he dared, suddenly very grateful for the desk between them.
Grim: “A simple question, for a simple answer. Where is Risa Donovan?”
All colour drained from Sian’s face, but she kept her mouth set and eyes burning. Kip considered the question even as he wilted slightly. Risa Donovan, and Ted Michaels he supposed. The two that had been running around his city four months ago. Sian had kept it on lockdown, increasing the security of the city yes, but not informing the rest of the planet.
She’d wanted to bring them in herself, wanted to show that Wheatview wasn’t just the farming town many saw it as, but was indeed a powerhouse of military strength. However, after the pair had managed to slip through their fingers… well… they hadn’t really talked about it.
She’d let the public know they’d been sighted, let Qoter know they’d done their best, but they’d moved on very quickly. Sian hadn’t wanted to dwell on her failure, and Kip was far too busy.
But…but here, now These men wanted an answer, and they couldn’t give it to them.
With a gulp, Sian spoke, keeping up the defiance in her eyes. But one look from Grim as he turned to her sent another spasm down her spine.
Sian: “We…we don’t know.”
Bones: “But they were here, yes?”
Sian: “Months ago now, but…yes.”
Grim: “How did they escape?”
Sian: “We’re…still not entirely sure. They stole a ship from a small airfield, but they were already gone before we could identify which type of ship it was. They killed the camera feed as well; we didn’t see what was taken.”
Grim: “And the owner?”
Kip: “The airfield’s owner doesn’t know either, but a handful of ships were stationed there at the time. It could’ve been anyone of them…”
Bones: “Right…And what of their flight path? Did you track it?”
Kip: “No…they were already out of Wheatview airspace before we knew what had happened. They were headed to Regentis, but other than that…we don’t know.
Kip jumped in his seat as the man leaning by the archway smacked his fist against the wall, frustration evident on his face. By the looks of it, it wasn’t good news. Perhaps they’d just come from the city, or perhaps they knew how hard it would be to find them in the capital.
For there part, Grim and Bones merely nodded and stepped back, their voices sounding once again.
Bones: “Thank you for your time, both of you. Just don’t ever harbour criminals like them again without letting the world know first, okay?”
Grim: “Because if you’d let the information become public knowledge, Donavan and Michaels would be in cages by now. Or dead. Whichever one they forced upon us.”
Kip gulped as the trio left the door, back into the building that was unaware of what had just happened. Sian for her part sighed so loudly her knees buckled slightly. A second passed and she straightened again, colour slowly leaking back into her face as she checked her men. All were breathing, but none were conscious.
She raised her eyes and met Kip’s, the look of relief present in both.
Sian: “I can have them followed-“
Kip: “No…just…no. We don’t want to get caught up in their business, whatever it is.”
Sian: “But we can’t let them go unpunished!”
Kip rubbed his temple furiously, suddenly aware of the wetness in his pants as relief swept over him. But he met Sian’s gaze with a hard look of his own.
Kip: “Commander…who on Qoter do we have that could stop them?”
12 December, 2097
The Conduit Building, Knightborn
Uek: …appreciate it Kendall. Thank you.”
Kendall: “No problem at all, Commander. Just a little bit of work to get the paperwork through quicker.”
Uek Ferris smiled his best smile as Commander Kendall Andreasson handed over the documents, all organised and stapled and, more importantly, completed. He took them and placed them on his desk, thanking her once again, genuinely. The investors she’d managed to gather would help him tremendously when it came to rebuilding Knightborn. The building contractors didn’t run on faith alone, though his public image had certainly help keep them around.
Kendall gave him another nod, and he realised he’d missed her presence. Of course, she was still one of the Archmage’s officials and had her own meetings to attend to. But still, having her around… it was a welcome change. Especially when she helped him out.
He nodded as she left the room, a goodbye on her lips. No doubt off to keep writing her report which Knightborn was, apparently, passing with flying colours.
He grinned once more as he turned to the documents and began reading through them. Despite appreciating Kendall’s work, he still didn’t fully trust her. Well, he didn’t fully trust anyone but himself. Trust had hurt his plans already, trust in all the wrong people.
So, he read through the documents, amending where he needed to, but it was over sooner than expected. Kendall hadn’t snuck anything incriminating into her wording. Which was good. Perhaps she was worthy of a smidge more trust. Maybe.
A vibration from his drawer interrupted his thoughts. Frowning, he grabbed his datapad and opened the notification. It was camera footage…from Iapra. His frown deepened as he realised where it had come from.
Remy Ac’ross’ base. Odd...
Uek, or rather the Storm, had been working with him up until a month ago. Weapons mostly, and a few men to boost his slowly growing army. He’d visited Ac’ross’ pit of a living quarters back in September, though Remy hadn’t even realised he’d been there as he;d hacked his security network. It never hurt to have a few more camera's, and it seemed his hack had finally paid off.
Something interesting had happened.
Curiosity flaring as the gears in his mind began to turn, Uek opened the file on his screen. Security footage from ancient, grainy cameras. But…but it was easy to see what had set off the warnings he'd implanted.
Men were dying.
Uek raised an eyebrow as he took in the man that swept through the corridor, jabbing and slicing his way through Remy’s troops like paper. He recognised the armour instantly, from the files he’d…borrowed from the Imperial archives. Darkblade, from the now defunct Beta Squad.
Eventually, he seemed to tire of the blade and replaced his well-placed sword strikes with well-placed bullets. He kept working through the crowd until he was out of frame, leaving behind a trail of corpses.
Uek paused the recording, thinking for a moment before he replayed it, analysing the attacker’s movements. They were hard to make out due to the poor quality of the image, but…they were familiar. He replayed it once more, watching the blade twirl in the stranger’s hand. There were only a handful of people he knew with that level of skill, most of them dead, but the way he’d moved, the way he’d fought…
Uek: “Agent Blade…not so dead after all.”
Uek leaned back in his chair, his mind a machine, recalling memories and pushing them into the spotlight. Jarred Zeal, Agent Blade. He’d thought he’d been killed by the Imperium, or at least sent to rot in a prison somewhere. But no…Darkblade…the name was so obvious he was amazed he hadn’t thought of it before.
So, Agent Blade was back. And he’d killed Remy Ac’ross.
The thoughts as to why brushed at his mind, but he didn’t really care. He’d despised Ac’ross from the moment he'd seen him, even with the barrier of a comlink between them. Such a horrid little man, content with the hole he’d secured for himself. But now that he was dead…well…perhaps what was left of his organisation would need a leader.
And who better to temper a Blade’s vengeance than a Storm’s might.
He reached for his comlink, keying in a number and waiting for the image to appear. Eventually, a thug filled the frame. He was bleeding from several wounds, but he held himself well enough. The self-appointed head of whatever Agent Blade had left behind.
Uek thought about Zeal for a moment, just one, but decided to leave it. From the looks of the recording, from the way he’d known were the guards would be stationed, he had gone for personal reasons. He likely didn’t even know anything about Uek's involvement.
No, he’d let Zeal be for now. If he came after Uek though…that was another story.
Thug: “Who is this? How did you get this number?”
Uek smirked as he pulled the comlink closer, knowing all the thug was seeing was a cloud of soundless static. He spoke, allowing the modulator to twist his words until they were unrecognisable, but still carried the weight he put into them, the meaning.
Uek: “They call me the Storm, and I have a proposition for you…”
12 December, 2097
Somewhere in America
The air split in two as the sniper’s bullet tore through the night, slipping under the open window and entering Ai Ro-Chen’s forehead, directly between her light green eyes.
Her partner, one Sandy Ro-Chen, screamed at her to get up, the young woman’s jaw dropping in shock as she noticed the fresh hole in Ai’s skull. Her screams woke the neighbours, the whole apartment block, perhaps even the entire street.
Blood soaked Ai’s pillow, soaked Sandy’s hands, the sheets, the mattress and the bed as it began to flow like a lazy river. In the distance, siren’s sounded.
Someone had been smart enough to call the police.
Minutes later, they were storming into the room, pulling Sandy away with rough hands, analysing the scene with guns drawn and loaded.
The sniper did not care.
No one but Sandy would suspect he’d been here, especially not with the gun he’d planted underneath the bed, with Sandy’s carefully applied fingerprints on the handle. He’d even taken the liberty of using an exploding round. Nobody on any planet could trace the calibre of the bullet that’d been used.
This was what the Imperium on Earth was good at; imprisoning those with only the barest of evidence. Sandy Ro-Chen would be eating prison gruel before the new year. And Ai Ro-Chen would be buried, her hidden knowledge dying with her.
Once the sniper watched the police find the weapon under the bed and turn to Sandy’s bawling figure, he lowered his scope and removed the comlink from his loose pockets.
The number he keyed in was answered immediately, and the face that greeted his was already smiling.
Taze: “Is it done Vox?”
Vox nodded, not needing to speak to convey the message. A clean kill, a falsified story, and a media scandal about famous actress Ai Ro-Chen’s murder at the hands of her own wife. No one but the few in the world paying attention would realise that Agent Zen had also met her end. And only Taze and himself would know why.
Taze grinned at him, a smirk he’d seen many times at the completion of his work. She, at least, appreciated the time it took to make the perfect shot. It could not be rushed, and it was a thing of beauty when it was completed.
Taze: “Nice work. Funds will be in your account…now. Hey, if you’re interested, I got another job here.”
Vox spoke, his naturally deep voice heavily lined with the German accent he’d never lost. Despite the bandana over his mouth, he knew he heard her well enough.
Vox: “Give me one week. I’ll be ready after that.”
Taze: “Alright. One week it is.”
Vox: “And I want double.”
Taze: “Awh…But it’s an easy one…”
Vox: “Then double isn’t going to be much trouble.”
Taze: “Fine. Double it is.”
Vox: “Good. Who am I killing?”
Taze licked her lips slightly, and Vox knew instantly that it was another Core agent. He’d been wise to ask for double beforehand.
Taze: “Brody Higgins.”
Memories exploded behind Vox’s eyes. Brody Higgens. Crutch, the medic, the doctor. He remembered the numerous times he’d patched Vox up, the hundreds of hours spent training with him and the rest of Bravo Squad.
Crutch, who had never taken a life, but had as much blood on his hands as any of them.
Crutch, who had often hated the targets they went after so violently that he had fit right in with the killers.
Crutch, who had gone through Firelight and come out in pieces. Crutch, who had left soon after and vanished into obscurity, his name occasionally appearing in a doctor’s magazine or news article.
Crutch. The healer that had helped keep Vox going during those years, his support, his crutch.
Vox turned back toward the comlink, his eyes hard behind the glasses.
Quoting Stuart Lucas
Nice episode, clever work with framing and lighting again! Very good. There do seem to be a lot of ex-Core agents wandering around, although judging by that last scene their numbers could soon take a hit...
Thanks Stuart! And you're not wrong, but considering there was 232 Active Core agents in 2091, there are bound to be a few still hovering around. And before you ask, yes, I have named them all. Because I'm a tad bit crazy. :D
Nice episode, clever work with framing and lighting again! Very good. There do seem to be a lot of ex-Core agents wandering around, although judging by that last scene their numbers could soon take a hit...