SLA: Truth of Consequences
Book 1 Chapter 2: The Blast Supper
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After what seemed like an eternity, they finally arrived in sector 54 of downtown. The sector was run down, but appeared to be within control of SLA. As they passed into the sector, they saw an obvious presence of both Shivers and Monarch. A pair of Shivers on a street corner watched them as they drove past. The Shivers had their pacifier batons in hand, twirling them often. Any civillians walking the sidewalks shied away from their APC, obviously averting thier gaze from the vehicle. Most were dressed in grubby and even filthy clothing. The rain in this sector consisted of a combination of rain runoff and sewage from the sectors above. The lighting in the entire sector was a constant dusk at best. Streetlights worked here and there, but more often they were broken or burnt out - creating pools of darkness and creeping shadows. The entire area had an obvious feeling of crushing depression that seemed to claw its way into the APC.
They arrived at the Shiver station for sector 54. The station was a huge concrete bunker-like building, surrounded by thick defensive walls. Shivers walked the walls or manned stations with a combination of spotlight/power-reaper on a pintle mount. Concertina wire wrapped around the outside of the wall at three seperate heights. The APC had to be navigated through a slalom course of concrete barriers. As Dedrick drove up, the two Shivers manning the gate motion him to come to a stop. The two power-reapers close to the gate swivelled and pointed at their vehicle, obviously waiting for something bad to happen. One of the guards walked up and motioned for the driver to step out while the other took up a defensive position with his browbeater at the ready.
Flaky leaned over before Dedrick stepped out: "Ehh, can you please not forget to show your SLA card and the BPN? They look kind of on edge."
Misery leaned a little closer to Flaky. "No shit! And aren't power reapers a tad much for a standard Shiver operation?"
HogBoy thought that power reapers on the front entrance was only sensible, but he kept his thoughts to himself. He made a mental note to build a power reaper booby trap into his front door when he had enough money...
"This 'Blue' gets more interesting by the minute - finding stuf is usually a Yellow, and now this..." Flaky blinked, remembering '735 The Operatives Life' teacher making a remark about some financers: "His name was Harvey right? Not Herman?"
Difference shook his head in worry: "I hope we haven't gotten ourselves in over our heads. This definitely looks unusual."
Misery pulled out her BPN case and looked at the BPN. "Actually, we're looking for the missing squad, so I guess that would be more a blue than a yellow. And yes, his name was Harvey."
As they were waiting for the checkup, HogBoy addressed Flaky: "So, I guess that you're not entirely human after all."
Flaky smiled at HogBoy - the smiles became wider than it should - eerie: "No, I'm a Vevaphon. Technically I'm not a Stormer - different DNA sequence - but I am a biogenic. In my training I learned that a good investigator does not attract attention, so I try to show a human face." She pointed to Gore "He's my eldest cousin." She then turned to the ebons, "If I'm down, just stop my body from getting more damage, if I'm not dead yet I will regenerate - I do not bleed to death." She looked at the heap of hamburgers lying in a corner, divided it 30/70 and passed the biggest stack to Gore: "Regeneration does ask lots of fuel though." and she quickly ate her portion.
Gore smiled a particularly disgusting smile at Flaky, scarfed down the burgers, and returned to staring intently out of a gunport.
Difference waited patiently in the back of the APC while the Shiver Guard talked to Dedrick outside. He watched with a strange fascination as Flaky ate 5 hamburgers in rapid succession. Difference had grown up around Stormers and was used to their appetite, it matched their size. But to see such a small figure as Flaky eat like a Stormer was new to Difference. All unrest and anger at the world left Difference while he watched the two Karma creations eat, there was something so natural in the act of eating and Difference started to feel a kinship with the two biogenetics.
Flaky stared at her BPN card again, mumbling "Yellow, get the missing shivers stuff; red, find out now what is happening; white, find out what happened, blue... blue is maintenance. Why do I always get these; Ah because we were ten dot zero and they always get blues!"
The two guards at the gate looked at their badges and then waved them through. The imposing ceramic gate door opened, allowing Dedrick to drive into the complex.
Dedrick opened the APC door and addressed the squad: "Alright guys, were cleared to go in" He started the APC up and began to drive it past the power reapers.
Flaky sat silently for a moment and, with subtle shifts, her investigator persona returned. Instead of an active operative, interested in her squad, there sat a tired looking, scruffy, and worn down woman, hardly worth looking at. "Let's see what we can do," but her voice utterly lacked conviction or real interest.
On the inside, the Shiver station's view of being a well defended fort doesn't change. Shivers inside the walls are armed with GA Finishers and you can see FEN 603's on thier hips. One of them happens to motion at a parking area on the left as he heads into what looks like a communication center.
Gore slowly gets out of the APC and scans the area suspiciously.
The main building is ahead and slightly right of the designated parking lot. The double doors leading into the building are guarded by four guards, two carrying Finisher AR's and two carrying Bully Boy shotguns... with snail drums. All four of them have thier attention seated directly upon you. You can see they have their hands on thier weapons, but in a ready rest and not actually pointed at you.
Flaky had learned that Shivers were only allowed to carry the 'beater, but that it was not unusual for sleeper Shivers to carry something 'extra'. As her instructor told her: "As long as it has no direct bearing on your BPN, ignore it." Yet these amounts of publicly carried illegal weapons made her doubt if SLA regulations were followed at all in this station. Still, her instructors comment stood. Control could see what she did, so she decided to ignore it. Her SLA badge and a slightly to high quality suitcase the only indicators of her being no resident, she walked towards the entrance, speaking to Misery: "Best to ask at the desk which officer is handling our BPN - I've got a feeling a little speed will not hurt."
Misery frowned slightly at the obvious heavy hardware the Shivers were carrying. "I agree with that. Faster we get this done the better."
One of the Shiver guards at the doors into the main building took two steps forward while the other three took up a ready stance. He held up one hand, motioning Flaky to stop. "Can I help you", he looked at her badge, "operative?" There was an obvious tone of disdain in his voice as he asked the question. Flaky showed him the BPN card and asked him in a tired voice if he could direct her to the right person. The Shiver looked at the BPN and then looked back at the other three, seemingly concerned about something. Then he looked back at Flaky, handing over the BPN card. "See the desk sergeant inside. He'll direct you to the captain."
They walked through the heavily guarded double doors and saw a reinforced security desk complete with armored glass. Through the glass they could see the Shiver sergeant seated at the desk, filling out paperwork. "Captain's office is two doors down on the left," the sergeant said without even bothering to look up at them. You heard the armored door leading deeper into the building click as he pushed the unlock button to allow you entrance.
Flaky trudged through the door, but she made very certain that Gore - and the rest of the squad - were with her before continuing. Some of the squad could sense a pattern: the more Flaky distrusted the environment, the more she projected a 'I'm a nobody - ignore me' persona. It would feel weak, if it wasn't for the fact that she seemed unafraid once bullets started to fly.
Difference smiled behind his mask as Flaky became even more the Downtown bag lady, someone a Shiver Captain wouldn't talk to. Of course, the Captain would talk to Difference, so as the innocent fascination of the last few minutes passes, Difference stepped up to the front of the group. "Good evening, Captain. My name is Difference of Illusive Death. We are here to be of service in finding a missing Shiver unit." Difference made a small Oriental bow to the captain in greeting and held out the BPN card. Though his words were pleasant and perhaps a little too formal there was a pain in his voice, like he was wounded.
The captain was seated behind a rather large and imposing desk. His office had the usual assortment of office furniture, including seven filing cabinets. He snatched the BPN card away from Difference and looked at it. He gave a sight and tossed the BPN back. "I already told the head office that this is being investigated. There's no need for you operatives to be here." At no time did he bother to make eye contact with any of the team.
"Sir, I am sure you did, but I am sure you understand that it is out of our hands. We have been ordered to investigate and since we are here, we might as well help you find your squad. There are things that Operatives can do that you as a Shiver can't and vice versa. So if we work together, I am sure we can find your squad." The pain in Difference's voice seemed to be increasing.
The captain shook his head, still paying more attention to the paperwork at his desk than to them. "Have it your way operative. The Shiver squad in question was last seen at Indiscriminant Avenue and Justice Way." He then made a 'your dismissed' motion with one hand.
Flaky listened how the captain dismissed them and her feeling of wrongness increased. She took her Oyster and logged Differences questions and the captains answers as she turned to leave his office. As soon as the squad was in the hallway, she switched on her cam. She glanced at all the internal security cams and hurried back.
Gore backed out of the office, glaring at the Captain. Somehow he had managed not to grind his teeth, but his jaw was clenched and his hands were balled into fists. He stood in the hall, looking of into space, lost in his thoughts and breathing heavily through his nostrils.
At the captains curt dismissal, Difference's angry rose and he left with out saying anything.
At the desk Flaky stopped and turned towards the sergeant: "Sergeant, could you assist us? Where can we find sergeant Mullen?" Now her voice and stance wasn't disinterested, but warm, friendly, and feminine without being sexy. The seargent actually moved his attention from the stack of paperwork and looked at Flaky. "Mullen? He walks the twenty-two beat. You should be able to find him and his partner in section twenty-two. Roughly a three klicks from here. They like to hang out in front of a bar called the Smash and Grab."
HogBoy had forgotten all about Sgt. Mullen and was confused for a while. Then he picked up the BPN card - again - and re-reads it - again - "Just three klicks from here, hmm. Since this seems to be such a nice neighbourhood, we might just walk there. I wouldn't bother asking for a shiver escort. The captain didn't seem too happy to see us. Then again, who knows where we might be heading fron there. Better go with the APC after all. I'll bet that Dedrick is by now at least a little bit paranoid about leaving the APPIE anywhere."
Difference stood impatiently by the exit while Flaky asked her questions.
Flaky had the smallest of frowns when HogBoy spoke. "Would it be possible for my friend here to buy some kickstart? He used his while assisting another Shiver squad arresting a gang.", Flaky said, "So there were no casualties," she glanced at HogBoys Claymore, "on our side."
The sergeant looked around, noted the name of your squad and did some typing on his keyboard. After a couple minutes he looked back at you. "Normally I would have to say no, but seeing as how you guys helped with a disturbance, I could sell you two doses at 7c each."
Flaky turned to HogBoy with her usual indifferent and tired face and spread her hand. She clearly wanted HogBoy to decide if he wanted to pay the markup. As this was probably the only spot in this sector where he could buy some...
HogBoy tried to haggle down the price, but not too aggressively: "Is there anything you can do to lower the price? I'm pretty low on cash right now."
The sergeant shook his head. "I'm afraid not. Normally I shouldn't even be doing this, but I figure I can help you out with a couple a doses."
"I'll just take what's available, thanks." HogBoy paid.
"I will be outside," Difference impatiently stalked out the door and into the rain. The rain had a soothing effect on Difference and took the edge of his anger, but a small smoldering piece remained.
The rage in Dedricks eyes was obvious at that moment. Once everyone piled into the APC he addressed the squad: "Mother fuckin shivers! Talk to us like that?! We should go in there and slam these fucks with weapons charges and anything else we can get them on... how about unwilliingness to assist in a BPN-That bastard didnt even release any of the info his crew has scrambled together about the missing shivers.. Not to mention illegal drug trade in a shiver headquarters-last I checked Shivers werent cleared to sell drugs." Dedrick turned his attention to HogBoy, "Let's go in there and get your money back" Dedrick held his hand at eye level: "Operatives live here," he then moved his hand to his crotch, "Shivers live here." Dedrick lighted up a cigarette and opened a can of Cider. He appeared to be much calmer. "Awww Hell, sorry 'bout that tirade guys. Lets just get this BPN done with." Dedrick fired up the APC and began to drive out of the Shiver Station. "So, we goin to the Smash&Grab or to Indiscriminant Avenue and Justice Way?"
"Smash & Grab" Difference answered, still very much in pain.
How to pay for a drink
The Smash & Grab had a dark sinister feel to it. Wether this was due to the various gang member hanging around the place in some sort of shifty truce or the muffled sounds from the semi-isolating screens between the booths was hard to tell. A young and very sleepy boy addressed the squad: "Welcome. How big a group are you?" The young boy staggered because of sleep deprevation (and properbly some drug use) as he tried to get a clear view of who had entered the door.
Flaky closed her Oyster as she walked in, as she just had finished her progress report. She had tried to get in as much detail as possible: this BPN felt like it could backfire any minute and she wanted to cover her ass by following the book to the letter. Seeing the boy staring, she gently took his arm and turned him around before the sight of Gore did things to his mind (and if he reacted poorly, probably to his body as well) "Could you tell us where we'd find sergeant Mullen?" She tried to keep an eye on anyone leaving suddenly and whispered in her comset (squad frequency): "Ehh, perhaps a few of us could stay outside with the APC?"
"He could be here any moment now..." the boy replied, suddenly much more awake. "Let me get you to a place where you can wait for him" The boy led them to a table in the more discrete part of the bar and disappeared into the toilet. When he reappeared much much later he had a relaxed smile on his face. Obviously drugged.
Difference remained outside, he took up a position where he wouldn't be immediately discovered, though once seen he will stand out as a SLA Op immediately in his Death suit and expensive clothes. The rain beating down cooled Difference's frustration, but the constant pain across his body continued. He checked his time piece and saw that it is time for more of his medication. Carefully taking out the pills, to keep them dry, he slipped them under his mask and swallowed them dry.
Flaky as thinking about asking some questions as she is interrupted by a person on the other side of the screen. "Hey baby! Me Love you looooong t-" The rest of the catchphrase was quickly disrupted by a dry cough before the wisecrack hit the floor gasping for air. "1000 apologies but Crystal must first see honoured costumer before tell you that Crystal not part of gold heart staff" A young, strikingly beautiful and welltrained young orientan woman arrived with an orderbook in her hand and a discrete pink heart on her slightly too short top. "HimynameisCrystalwhatcanIdoforyou?"
A few seconds pass in awkward silence. "HimynameisCrystalwhatcanIdoforyou?"
She repeated again, this time a little bit more unsure of herself. She shook her head and said: "Crystal can do what for honoured guest desires?"
HogBoy thought that things were very strange in this establisment, but tried to look as relaxed as he can. Which looked kind of funny, considering that HogBoy was still on Rush: "Get me a pint, will you love?"
The girl's face lighted up in relief as she flipped over the front piece of paper and revealed a note on the backside saying 'Meet at back entrance. 2 hours' She quickly jotted down the orders.
"HogBoy can you give me a lift? I'm out of uni's for the moment.", she turned towards the girl "A small one for me, we've got an appointments to keep."
"Oh fuck! I've spent too much time in central. Is there a banking machine anywhere near here? I forgot to withdraw UNI's." A thought formed inside HogBoy's head. He looked slyly at the waitress: "Are you willing to take an alternative form of payment?" He moved his hand towards his groin area... and picked up a spare FEN603 clip, popped out a bullet and tossed it on the table. HogBoy grins like he had made a smart move.
Flaky looked at HogBoy, her face passive - She wondered how long it would be before Cloak would pick him up: first the subversive talk, now the bullet... The thought of warning him crossed her mind but got stopped by two facts: she was chipped and such behavior might be seen as subversive itself, and Cloak already had her flagged. They might even expect her to report him... but he seemed more of a frother than a subversive and to arrest him now would probably ruin the BPN. And she thought that this BPN was tricky. First opportunity she must exchange some creds for uni's.
The girl looked briefly at the bullet, then at Hogboy. "Forgiveness please. But Crystal must only take uni. Master and manager say this."
"Now, now. No need to get upset. We Wouldn't wan't you to get any trouble with the manager" HogBoy slowly picked up the bullet and replaced it in the clip.
Misery shook her head and sighed. "Obviously none of you have ever lived in downtown. Hog, put your company owned equipment back in the mag." She pulled out a small wad of Uni's to pay for the drinks. As she did so, she still kept scanning the strip club/bar with a keen eye.
"No trouble. Manager just subtract payment from Crystal wage (like alway).", she then saw Misery handling some unis: "So if honoured customer please give Crystal 6 Uni when honoured order is brought Crystal very happy"
Misery thumbed through her stack of twenty unis and pulled out six and put them on the table.
When the waitress left the table, HogBoy watched where she was going, taking a note of possible back exits, then looked at what time was: he estimated that there was enough time to down another pint and still be able to make an ambush at the back exit.
As she left to get the order a small hint of a circular tattoo could be seen on the small of her neck. There was something very strange about this girl. Something deeper than the misplacement of an orientan supermodel with assumingly poor killian in a rundown downtown stripbar.
Flaky tried to study the girl: she seemed to have the walk and talk of a waitress, and although the occurence behind the screen suggested she had combat training it did not feel like a true martial artist. Flaky had solid knowledge about SLA, but unluckily enough Orienta had not been not covered and this was downtown, so she could be part or have been part of a gang.
Gore was waiting outside the bar in the parking lot, leaning against the APC. He had his GA Finisher out and seemed indifferent to the pouring rain. It was real easy to tell that people avoided him and the APC like it was a plague infested carrien pack. Some people even walked onto the road and avoided using the sidewalk, just to keep some extra distance. Gore actually saw a guy come around the corner, take a look and turn around to go back the way he came.
Flaky waited till the girl returned and they had gotten their consumptions. She finished hers quickly and remarked "Well, I can handle the broken airco in the car again - shall we go?" As she left she sais "I'm not going to wait forever till that Mullen shows up."
Misery shrugged her shoulders and played along. "Hey. It's not my fault he can't show up on time."
After they got and payed for their drinks, they left the seedy strip club and headed back out onto the rain soaked sidewalk. Gore and the APC were right there waiting for you. Dedrick drove around to the back of the strip club, by driving to the end of the block and then entering into the long alley that cut in between the buildings. The alleyway was quite dark and strewn with large ammounts of trash. The APC barely fitted, requiring some creative driving from Dedrick. The Frother did a rather good job, however, and before long they were waiting for what was left of the two hours to pass.
"No-one saw Difference or Gore at the strip-club, right? Maybe Gore could take a high position with his assault rifle and Difference could find a place to hide in the valley. Sound anything like a plan? I don't trust that girlie, Crystal. If this is an ambush, with any luck, we could be ambushing the ambushers in turn!" HogBoy remarked.
Misery nodded: "That's not a bad idea. And at least that way we'll be giving them our 10mm through the barrel instead of trying to use it to pay for our drinks." Misery gave Hog a playful wink.
"Yeah, yeah. Rub it in" HogBoy said with a smile. "If you haven't guessed already, I'm a downtowner, born and bred. I just happened to be out of any kind of cash, until the pay from kicking those propagandist-butts showed up on my account."
Misery shook her head. "You're an operative now. You need to start planning ahead a little better." Then her deathsuit shifted from the red and gold to a mottled black and dark blue.
Flaky could not sit still. She twitched a bit and says: "Waiting 2 hours doing nothing feels, well, ehh, bad. What about me going to talk to some people, with one of you KMS'ers as unseen guardian. The odds of getting info on that Shiver squad is fairly low, but some general info - why the heck those Shivers seem so jumpy and what the civs think about that... well, that should give us a better picture. It also gives us an outer perimeter, in case a gang drops by."
Misery smiled: "I don't have a problem with doing some leg work while we wait."
While the others were talking Difference was messing around with his clothing. He pulled down a matte black ECM body suit that he was wearing beneath. Finally he pulled over the mask, hiding the 'frozen face in smokey bone' behind the matte black material.
HogBoy muttered under his breath, hoping that nobody heard: "You try to plan ahead when The Craving is on you. You freak alien bitch."
There was absolutely nothing wrong with Flaky's hearing. She looked at HogBoy, then at Misery and finally at herself looking puzzled. With a start she looked at her hands again where the skin seemed to be patchy - she opened her suitcase to grab a tube with some ointment, but then decided against it. Instead she got out some lipstick, and managed to colour her mouth absolutely pink.
Misery gave Hog a mock pained look. "Awww. You say bitch like it's a bad thing." Then she gives him a wink.Flaky got out her Oyster and turned to Misery "Can I exchange some credits to uni's with you? Some small change is good when talking to people." She also got out one SMG and hung it under her coat. She sat still for a moment and slowly the bulge disappeared. With a satisfied nod she stood up and banged her head full tilt against the ceiling.
Misery said to Flaky: "Yea, no problem. I've only got fourteen left though. How much do you need?"
Difference, who had remained quiet up till that point, finally spoke in a soft whisper: "Here take my Uni's, just let me have back what you don't use. I will go find a position to hole up in, I could use some time to think." He uncliped a stack of 200u from an bone-like white money clip he took from a pocket beneath his jacket. He carefully put the money clip back in his jacket then slid out of the APC and began searching the alley for a good hiding spot from which he could remain hidden but keep an eye on the alley.
Flaky sat down again, looked up and stared for a moment. Then she stood up again and this time she fitted. She wanted to answers Misery but stopped as Difference offered his cash "Ehh okay... two hundred, thats 20c. Are you su- Okay, I be careful." After splitting the money in several stacks and putting those in her coat she opened the rear hatch and stepped outside carefully, trying not to get soaked by the 'water' streaming out of broken pipes.
HogBoy tried to hide his involuntary smile, caused by Misery's comment and Flaky hitting her head on the ceiling, but he continued to play his sour act: he did not engage in conversation anymore, was tapping his fingers now and then irritatingly and had a sour look on his face. He started to play with his syringe again, probably in hopes of making the others nervous.
While preparing for the meet, Difference checked out the alley thoroughly. He Looked for survellance devices, exits and doors to buildings, manholes and drains, etc. Once he felt like he had an idea of all the possible points of attack and exit, he concealed himself in his hiding place and waited, letting the rain cool him.
Flaky returned about 10 minutes before the meet in an absolute foul mood and with nasty red spots on one of her hands. On her way back to the APC, she happened to see the reflection of a blinking red light from a puddle of water under the APC, but she just walked on. In the APC she cleaned up as best as she could, while she smeared some greenish past on the red spots, which did not heal at all. "Nobody wanted to talk. Nobody! The shit is going to hit the fan here bigtime and we're in the ***ing middle of it doing a ***ing blue. And we don't have any leads except to wait here to be ambushed, but that's the ***ing best option we have." She dug out her electronic kit from het suitcase, not stopping her grumblings. She pointed to her comset and then made the 'silent' gesture, she then pointed to the floor of the APC, reversed her hand to tap something invisible above it and then opened/closed her thumb and index finger a number of times. "Arghhh, the stench in here is worse than outside, I'm going out again!" taking her electronic kit and quickly crawling under the APC.
Flaky slipped under the APC and found herself looking at a rather improvised explosive device. It had a timer (at 5:05 and counting down) which was attached to some kind of breaching charge or anti-tank mine.
Difference saw Flaky wiggly under the APC: "What's going on?" over the comm.
Flaky rolled out from underneath the APC: "Okay, we've got five minutes to remove a bomb package: it's crude but powerfull. I've done the full basic disposal course, but any help would be appreciated."
After HogBoy saw Flaky doing weird motions with her hands and she had left the APC, HogBoy extended his index finger and did a circular motion with it, beside his temple. When Flaky entered the APC again and told the squad what was going on, HogBoy's eyes widened in terror. "A bomb!!! I hope that you know what you are doing Flaky, but I'm not taking any chances." HogBoy evaced from the APC and took some distance to it. He talked in the comm at squad frequency: "I bet that Crystal girl knows something about this. I'm gonna go rough her up, anyone with me?"
"Not right now HogBoy, we need to setup a perimeter incase whoever planted the bomb wonders why it didn't go off and comes to investigate. We can question potential suspect later. Everyone not working on disabling the bomb should move to a safe distance and setup a defensive perimeter." Difference stayed in his hiding spot underneath a pile of trash inbetween a couple of dumpsters. He was very happy that Dark Lament clothing cleaned itself or he would never have hidden there.
"I copy, Difference. Positioning behind the club's back exit." HogBoy was looking at Flaky disposing work worriedly.
Flaky reached in the APC, stre-e-etched her arm and pulled her suitcase out. Quickly she got out her forensics kit. "The question is when was it planted? With some luck to bastard who planted it left traces." With that she rolled under the APC again. While lying she mumbled: "Why explode it then: our meet is only in 10 minutes, so it won't catch them, and they gave us enough time to find and disable it. Hmm, perhaps the timer will tell me more."
Over the com: "Control... Control... Control please reply... Damn. Okay let's see... Thresher? Shit... but just a timer. Outside... some dirt, rust, ahh the usual stuff nothing telltale... Now how long ago has this thing been placed... ehhh, shhh... don't know... fairly recent... Not while we stood here... Looks like anti tank - yup that will kill the APC and everybody inside... So now the timer... quad signal... this is tripple detonation, but what's this... redundant?... voltage is... whoaw, stop. shit. bridging... no, open the timer... where that wire... no-no-no not that one... this... loop back and... no... yes... stable. pheew. 23 seconds left. uffff. Now get it off... Ahh ugg, industrial glue... time to pump the muscles... now concentrate... don't forget to take a sample... Lucky I have a CMC kit, gnnnng, yup it's loose."
Talking in Tongues
After disarming the mine, Flaky spent several minutes shaking, holding the mine gently. Then she stored the mine - carefully packed - in one of the storage compartments of the APC, while the timer - still blinking 0:23 - was put in another location. Slowly she changed back from her current blocky and muscular form to her default, tired, self.
When the time of the meet was close she stood quite visible opposite the backdoor, after having told HogBoy and Gore: "We need information, so, even if this is an ambush, keep them alive!"
About ten minutes after the wonderful mine disarming issue, the back door to the club opened and the waitress poked her head out.
"Careful, HogBoy don't scare her. Remember, this is when we were supposed to meet. We don't know if she was involved." Ghost whispered into his comm while he scanned the alley from his hiding space.
When the waitress emerged from the exit that HogBoy was guarding, he tried to crouch down silently and not be seen by the waitress. He observed the situation intently, ready to spring into action.
The girl looked dashing even half concealed underneath a broad hat and a trenchcoat. She quickly scanned the bar, waved her hand: "See you some hour" She then slowly and methodically eyed the entire area. She seemed to pay extra attention to windows and corners of buildings. She then moved towards Flaky. When she was close enough she whispers: "How many following you?"
Flaky whispered back "This is not our turf - we haven't spot anyone - but they tried to blow us up." while gently moving her closer to the APC, so she can't be shot from that angle; if possible get her inside.
Dedrick opened his eyes, "huh mustve fallen asleep for a minute or two... He remembered driving to the back of the club but had no recolection of anything there after. Dedrick rubbed his eyes and then addressed everyone over the com: "Hey, whats the status? Whats that girl saying?"
"Quite, Dedrick. Just stay alert, there still might be an ambush and we don't know what is going to happen when the people who planted that anti-tank mine figure out that it didn't kill us. Let Flaky do her job and you concentrate on yours." All delivered in Differences harsh whisper.
The girls eyes widened for a second, then she walked quickly towards the APC still scouting the area. After walking to the opposite side of the APC to check the area, she quickly scrutinised the interior of her ride before she took a couple of deeps breaths and entered it. The smell nearly knocked her off balance as she went inside. "Music" She handed over a disc containing a mix of music: most of it designed to make it hard for anyone to eavesdrop. Once she felt secure enough she pulled out a small mirror, some paper and a pen. She placed a single piece of paper on the glass and quickly wrote: "Empty parkinglot on Equality" After having shown it to whoever was with her she hastily adds: "Place hard to hide"
As the girl walked around the APC Difference finally got a good look at her and realized that she is an Orientian. He whispered over the comm: "Can she speak Killian? I can speak Orienta if you have trouble."
Flaky was less than happy to see someone skilled in talking and writing absolutely gibberish when that was the only info available... She grabbed the pen and wrote underneath "We go there? (Now/Later/No) You come along? (No/Yes) Hide that you come along? (Yes/No/X)" She then gave Crystal the pen back and made her indicate the options. On the Comm she whispered "Open line! we're leaving."
As soon as the words finished crackling over Difference's comm, he slit from between the dumpsters and quickly walked to the APC while scanning the alley. He slipped into the APC.
"A fuckin MINE? How the hell did they get so close to us?" Dedrick asked Flaky, "You know, during my training on explosives, Instructor Kaczynski had mentioned that mines can be used as effective inTERRORgation devices... Remind me later to show you how."
People are most likely to give you honest answers if they are scared.. and blowing something up is a good way to scare people.
Crystals underlined Now and Yes, but adds underneath: "Precausions already made for bar... Any more will make suspiscion" Over the music she says: "Look for tail"
Gore stood up from behind a large pile of garbage where he had been squating and covering the enterance of the alley. He backed up to the APC, never taking his eyes or the muzzle of his gun of the opening of the alley. As he moved Gore growled into the comm: "Hogboy. move to the APC. We're moving out."
"Already? I was just starting to enjoy getting soaking wet" HogBoy answered.
Flaky reacted: "Perhaps you should close down your armour then. You know it can be sealed... do you?" She then returned to her nav system trying to plot alternate courses as the map was no doubt outdated.
HogBoy said: "I can't put the helmet on. My dreads are in the way."
Upon entering and seeing the girl Difference gave a small formal Orientian bow and spoke softly in Orienta, "Hello, I am Difference. It is a pleasure to meet you."
The girls face lighted up in shocked relief before she gave a deep formal bow. She then spoke in with a very pleasant if a little too girlish and enthusiastic voice in Oriental. "What a pleasant surprise!... You are very skillfull in Orienta."
Flaky sat back and relaxed: they had got a location, the informant had her back covered, and they even got a pretty secure mode of communication: how many people in Mort talked that weird language. She got out her nav system, and started plotting a route, checking with the others if they had ideas too. The first part as open as they could get it so they could ID followers, and then the covert route.
"Are you comfortable, Crystal san? Is there anything I can do for you while we travel?" Difference asked. While speaking to the girl, Difference fell back into his aristocratic ways from his time in boarding school in Orienta. It wad been the happiest time of his life and for the minutes he spoke to the girl, he forgot what happened after he left Orienta. He continued the small talk.
"Well it is a bit odorous in here. Ah... Please forgive my rudeness. It is impolite of me to speak so ill of my transportation. Yes I am very comfortable" Crystal took out a small napkin, folded it ceremoniously and placed it over her mouth before she gave a small discrete cough and let the napkin vanish into her pocket again. "Please excuse me."
Difference was ignoring the others and obviously enjoying himself, though his mask still held a neutral expression: "I am sorry about the conditions of this transport. It is the esteemed driver's transport and I am afraid he has no sense of hygiene. Still he is very good at what he does and must be forgiven for his imperfections."
HogBoy walked back to the APC and climbed inside.
Flaky looked at the dreads - at the helmet - and back at the dreads: "You could have asked for a Shaktar sized helmet? I assume such impractical hair style is neccessary for some human social interaction?" She picked up the airfreshener can from underneath one of the benches, sniffed a little puf of it, looked doubtful, and then empties most - but not all - of the can inside the APC.
HogBoy strapped himself again to the side-door gunner's harness and began eyeing the newcomer suspiciously. He asked his squad mates. "Can she speak proper language?"
Flaky looked at Difference chatting with Crystal and remarked "Whatever, at least it's fairly secure."
Misery appeared to be rather vexed at this point: "Can we get to the bottom of this sometime soon? I'm still rather annoyed at the thought of almost having been turned into chunky bits by an anti-tank mine." It was obvious that Misery was directing the comment to Difference.
"Forgiveness please." Crystal gave an apologetic bow, "Yes. You are right. Apologies. It has been long since there has been chance to speak own tongue. A pleasant surprise. Let no dwell on this and move with haste. Who we wait for?" She looked around, making sure that the only potential person behind her will be the driver.
Flaky answered sarcasticaly: "Ehh, we wait on our driver's brain to start up? Dedrick, back out and main street to the left. Hopefully this map isn't to outdated."
The words made the girl giggle. Difference even spotted a slight blush.
Difference paused, then said: "What can you tell me of the missing Shivers and this Sgt. Mullen? Are we really to meet him?"
Crystal tried to answer, but Dedricks 'direct' driving style made speaking fairly difficult. To make matters worse he also liked one of the tracks of Crystals music, so he turned the volume to pain levels. The level of noise made it impossible to tell to soften the noise and nobody dared to grab him ad he took the corners on two wheels.
They were about a hundred meters from their destination when there was a loud 'POP' in the APC. It was about as loud as a CAF round going off. Just about everybody jumped out of their skins at the unexpected sound and Dedricked finally turned down the volume. It didn't take much of a check to notice the smoke coming from the timer detonator. The detonator was seriously fried and the smeel of cordite and burnt electronics displaced any other scents that had been in the cabin.
Dedrick jumped at the 'pop' and swerved a bit. He retained control of the vehicle and began to decelerate.
"Ugh, I'm not sure this is an improvement - smellwise. This stuff isn't really stable." Flaky tried to banter, but anybody could tell she was shaken.
"Did it just finish its count down or was it set off by someone near by?" Difference asked.
"Hehhh, I - eh - I mean - ehh, when I looked it over under the APC I did not see any external trigger mechanisms - and the clock had stopped. But, ehh, sorry, I did not check it over again when I had finished." Flaky sat there, not looking at anybody. "I'm just glad I followed procedure: 'even if you're sure, you always put detonator and explosives in different locations'." she intoned, "but I shouldn't have stored the timer and detonator as one package."
"Just to be sure, let us back track again and check to see if we have a tail again. Gore and HogBoy would you please help Flaky check. Also, has the APC been checked for bugs? Crystal san is worried that we might be bugged. Thank you." Difference commanded. Then he turned back to their guest.
The Girl looked slightly bewildered at all the commotion: "Is there anything I can do?" The hankerchief reappeared and moved towards her face, stopped halfway as she decided that the smell might be a bit stronger but not as bad as previously.
Difference turned back to Crystal with a smile in his voice, if not on the face carved out of bone that is his mask: "Yes, you can tell us what is going on and why we might be killed for trying to find this missing Shiver squad."
"Well at least the bloody detonator was out of the mine.. Although it would have been kinda funny if we all blew up" Dedrick started in with one of his gasping laughs. Dedrick took his eyes of the road long enough to make eye contact with Difference then reverted his attention back to the road: "So, all I hear coming out of that girlie is jibberish.. is she gonna help us or we gonna get rid of her?"
Misery rolled her eyes. "Oh yea. That would have been absolutely hillarious!" Misery looked at Flaky, pointed at Dedrick and made a choking gesture with both her hands while baring her teeth.
Flaky looked at Dedrick and Misery, then turned to Difference and Crystal, turned around again and sat close to Gore hunched together, her face passive and empty.
Dedricks words and Miserys handgestures made the girl pull her shoulders up and press herself away from everybody, into the corner: "Please tell me that you all are not with them..." Her eyes began to widen and her voice almost quivered by the end of the sentence. She knew it was only the driver that was not between her and the exit. "Please!...." She repeated, "I'm scared. I should not have come. The Shives will kill us all."
After translating what the girl had said: "That is a pretty serious charge, do you have any proof or is this just your suspicion? Tell me all you know about these shivers and don't worry about retribution. I know not all those who work for SLA Industries follow the policies of SLA. Corruption is everywhere." The eyes in the expressionless mask stared at the girl with an intensity that made the air seem to crackle and Difference's voice became a low whisper.
"You've seen them carry guns. They are not afraid of anything. They come and go as they like. They take who they want. Sometimes when they are drunk enough they even brag about it. I've seen one carry the fingers of a human... They are monsters... Please tell me you are not with them..."
"We are not one them. We are SLA Operitves and he are here to help. Is that the reason you think they tried to kill us? Because they are monsters or do you have more proof? Also tell us about Sgt. Mullen and missing Shiver squad. What do you know of them? How can we meet with Sgt. Mullen?" Difference was slowly and unconsciously leaning towards the girl. His fists were clenched and his voice was taking on a edge.
The girls fear triggered something in Flaky. With one fluid, to fluid, motion she moved next to Crystal: "Listen. We have no orders to harm you. We are operatives. We remove problems. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem. SLA Industries does not like people who report problems. SLA Industries like people who report solutions. We need info for a solution. Give us that info."
"You've seen them carry weapons. Some of those weapons where taken from the streets. My guess is that people are as afraid of you as of the shivers... Properbly more. What more proof do you want?...." She looked at Difference in awe as she waited for him to translate then continued: "I've heard Shivers bragg about how this area is the one with lowest crime, but I guess that is only because they don't count the crimes they commit."
"We need physical proof if we are to take the Shiver's down or we need to catch them in the act. What about the missing shiver squad? Did they try and stop the others? We need to find them. You must help us." Difference's voice was gaining in intesity, from the harsh whisper of a few moments ago to a sharp command.
She sniffed. Dryed her eyes. And the formal smiling pleasant girl emerged in her face again. "Please forgive this sudden outburst. I suggest you try and look at papers filed for this area. I do not know how your company works, but one shiver mentioned statistic. This means it exists. I recommend you look at them. See how much paperwork they've done. How much weapons they've given over to SLA. Any personal reports from the captain.I also recommend you take a look at the chemical factory near Indiscreminant and Justice. Sgt. Mullen said something about some shivers missing around there. I might be able to get him to speak a bit more. I think he trusts me. What do you want me to ask him?"
"There is no need for you to put yourself in such danger by questioning Sgt. Mullen. We need to talk to him ourselves. What is your relationship to him and were can we find him?" Difference asked. He turned around: "Flaky, can you look up those statisitics on this sector?"
"He is a regular at the bar. He speaks a bit to much when drunk so have shielded him from the other girls so they would not tell the Shivers. She smiled bashfully. "He tips well and I am flattered that he sometimes refuse to enters the bar if I'm not there. I don't know if they were the only good guys. If they were about to report the Captain. If they threatened or blackmailed him. I just guess they weren't loyal to him. Please forgive my inability to help you on this particular matter any further" She bowed again. This time she stayed down untill the conversation restarted.
Once he was done translating the girl's last few sentences, Difference turned to the others: "What do all of you think? We still haven't gotten any definitive answers on how to find the missing squad. Why was Mullen on the BPN card as the contact? Is he willing to talk or should we take him as part of the corruption? Should we start kidnapping and interogating Shivers or should we keep a lower profile and have Flaky infiltrate their ranks and try to persuade information out of them. Perhaps we should check to make sure this shiver station doesn't have special orders first and verfiy the statistics that Crystal san has mentioned. Flaky?"
Misery shrugged her shoulders. "Maybe Mullen is trying to send out a cry for help, and the BPN is the only way to do it. Although if that's true, we just fingered him to the captain."
Flaky grabbed her Oyster then stopped: "Official, filed, information I might get, although I'm not very good with computers. The unofficial reports and notes of the captain... Forget it with SCL 10."
Difference pulled out his Oyster: "Flaky, I'm good with computers but I don't know what databases to look for. If you direct me perhaps we can gather more info than we would alone." So with her help he established that this sector had a crime rate almost as low as Central, which was quite suprising considering it was in downtown. There had been a few exposes on Shiver corruption on 3rd Eye, but all of them came up with just rumor and suspicion... nothing concrete. Additionally, two of the three repoerters that did the exposes died in Downtown violence. To their chagrin the station orders required a minimum SCL 4C clearance.
After Difference had translated Crystal's words, HogBoy looked worried. Suddenly HogBoy rememberd one thing. It might not have slept through all the classes at Meny: "I think that we should report this to Control." HogBoy looked at the faces of his team, looking for a acception or a rejection of his idea. He seemed a little bit lost when trying to form a decicion on his own.
"HogBoy, haven't you listened? That's a problem, not a solution."
"Yeah Flaky, I heard you, but I thought that you were just trying to soften up the girl. If there is one thing I remeber from my training, it is that never interfere directly with shivers, unless ordered to do so. That goes the other way around too. And always to report suspicious behaviour to own superiors."
Operative-Shiver interaction guideline no 9:
If any operative has doubts over the performance or abilities of a Shiver, they must report it to their superiors, not attempt to deal with it themselves.
"That implies that at the minimum we should set up a survellance on the shiver station and keep a look out for Sgt. Mullen. Let's stop off at this convience store on the left Dedrick. I want to buy Crystal san here a disposable cellphone. Can I have my Uni's back please." After handed over the Unis, Difference turned briefly back to Crystal, while taking out a small bussiness card and handing it to her. "Crystal san, please accept my bussiness card. It has my cell phone number on it at which you can contact me. I shall buy you a cell phone, use it only to contact me do not call anyone else. Also call only if you are in trouble, have more information for us or you find out where Sgt. Mullen is. Do you understand?" As Dedrick pulled over, Difference quickly jumped out of the APC, walked into the small store and bought a disposable cellphone. Once he got back he said: "Let's move." and he handed the cell phone to Crystal.
"Bi za solushon. Bi za solushon." Crystal muttered under her breath with her eyes closed. The eyes opened again with a: "Thank you very much." and took the cellphone with both hands in a small ceremonial bow.
Flaky sat back and turned towards her suitcase and starts rummaging, in the mean time she whispered in her comset (so Crystal couldn't hear): "Listen, Control will not give *** if the Shivers run shod over civs. They will get upset if we dig up dirt without a solution - and guess what our BPN is... We have to solve the BPN and show that the Shivers are anti-SLA. And how? Well they tried to blow us up with a *** Tresher mine! If we can prove a connection, then we can talk to Control!"
HogBoy whispered into his comm: "Roger that, Flaky." He was secretly satified that someone smarter than him was calling the shots and made no further comment on that matter.
Misery whispered in her comm as well. "I agree with Flaky. We've got the ball on this and we have to carry it foward. If we go back to the Head Office without proof, we're going to be labeled as subversive. And while we're at it, what are we going to do about Mullen? If the captain IS corrupt, we've put a target on Mullen by showing the captain the BPN."
Difference joined in: "Agreed. Mullen is our primary concern right now. The question is should we go to this Chemical Factory or back to the Shiver Station. At the moment, the Shivers probably don't know whether we are alive or dead, though they will no there hasn't been any reports of an explosion. We should use this uncertainity to our advantage. We just need more info. Lets drop off Crystal and move on."
Flaky spoke out loud: "Oke. Now Mullen. Let's find him."
Crystal turned to Difference: "Some day when we meet under more... pleasant circumstances, you must tell me how you've became so good at speaking Orienta" Her voice sounded as pleasant and inviting as ever and a suggestive smile appeared on her delicate lips.
"Perhaps some day, Crystal san" Difference's voice was still full of drive and intensity and he didn't seem to notice Crystal's smile.
After the girl was done talking and Dedrick had absorbed everything that had been said, he lighted a cigarette: "You know what, these Shivers dont sound all that bad... sure they break the rules but their tactics are obviously working, and apparently the got the balls to try and back up what ever they're doing... gotta admire that.
Difference and Flaky, I think we should back this train up a minute... Your talking about Shiver Scandal right now... the last thing I want is a whole damn shiver precinct, no wait, a whole damn ARMED shiver precinct thinking were asking too many questions. I could give a fuck less what Captain WhoEver is up too. The guys a dick, but an effective Dick. I mean how long do you think it will be before Commander Cribbage comes down on these guys anyways?
All I'm saying is that we're assigned a BLUE bpn. We aren't suppose to bring down a whole Shiver Precinct with some corruption scandal... let alone taking the word of some waitress whore. Lets just try and find these shivers bodies, because I assume they're dead, turn them in and collect our SCL increase and Money. I almost gaurantee that if we go talk to the Captain, explain our situation, this BPN will wrap up in hours. We'll file what we've seen in our report and leave it at that.
Flaky answered: "We're a loose end, Dedrick. If they had bodies, I'm sure they would just have let them see them with some story of 'an accident'. No forensics on our part, because the mission is finished: 'here let me sign of the BPN for you, sergeant Mullen is on patrol'... Instead they tried to blow us to bits - Then we're MIA in upper downtown: an APC, 2 deathsuits... that's enough for an SCL8 Yellow. Or the captain will tell Control of our little accident, but first he must have caught Difference, HogBoy, and Gore, because they were outside - he might get away with that, but a Tresher mine is guaranteed to get some attention. Plus Control is unavailable and we're really not that 'down'.
Please try to use that zonked out brain of yours..."
Crystal gave Dedrick a pleasant smile. Most people would be unclear whether she understood what has just been said about her. She turned back to Difference: "Please come out of this alive. I'd like to see you again..." She gave another bashfull smile and bowed discretely.
Dedrick continued: "All I'm saying is that for someone that does a whole lot of talking, you didnt really talk to the 'source' of our headache too much. You let that Captain walk all over you and the rest of us... I dont even think this captain is in charge of his Precinct anymore, thats why he was so stand offish, its his ass and hes trying to cover it. I even pointed out that we should bust all those bastards for illegal firearms and drug sales and no one piped up then (people pointed it out but no one acted on anything).. Look, you want to play their little subterfuge tag your it game then play it.. Ignorence is Bliss and I'm just the driver."
Flaky sighted: "Dedrick... Learn - The - Rules!
Let him walk over us? I cannot question a Shiver captain. He outranks me. He didn't want to talk. End of story.
Shivers carrying illegal weaponry? Had we proof then that it was connected to the BPN? No! So.... And I did vid it when we walked outside.
Illegal drugs sales? If I can, I'll try to get that sergeant out. He did what was best for SLA. That's the bottom line.
We need to find a solution which will: allow us to finish our BPN, makes SLA Industries look good, and will not make SLA loose money - which will happen if this sector goes up in flames.
Somewhere in the Department of Interior a man swiveled in his chair and gazed out his window. "Ah yes, all I need now is a section of Downtown to go into chaos and then move in with the contract to clean the area up. The money will be wonderful and I should be able to take quite a bit off the top for a bonus. It is Downtown after all, I can become most wealthy from such an endevour."
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