Fractal Softworks Forum

Please login or register.

Login with username, password and session length
Pages: 1 [2]

Author Topic: Second Rise of Man - a Starsector inspired story (NEW Update 11/15!)  (Read 2443 times)

B.K.

  • Ensign
  • *
  • Posts: 13
    • View Profile
Re: Second Rise of Man - a Starsector inspired story (NEW Update 11/15!)
« Reply #15 on: November 15, 2021, 11:29:39 AM »

Told you.
Four of a kind - chapters 32, 33, 34, and 35. They are of a kind because they are all filler. All filler, no killer. Charles Dickens would be so proud of me. But I have to confess writing in this periodic style does give me room for some experimentation. These chapters don't necessarily serve to advance the narrative much, but they give some character insight. Ol' Dicky did much of the same since he wrote monthly or weekly. It's almost like writing a TV series, except it's ***. Now I don't know if I will keep up the pace, since I might have to put my attention elsewhere, but one can dream. I really love writing the story. Well, you never know. But since I am, after all, a lazy ***, we might never know.
Thank you all for reading!

Chapter 32: SWEET AND SOUR
Spoiler
DEMIR HAS TO CONFESS that the suite isn’t even half-bad. In actuality it would have ranked among the better ones Demir had visited in his years roaming the Galaxy. That one suite on Venus, however, will always remain the pinnacle experience. I was luckier back then. Demir reminisces. He got the job from a powerful law connection of his, and it had to be done quickly. Hard job, easy pay, like most of the ones that fell in Demir’s lap back then. Unnamed big cheese got wind that his illicitly-acquired money shipment was going to get jacked by a competitor. Big cheese set a trap but the money needed to stay on board for the competition to bite. Demir was tasked with retrieving the money before the Authority arrived. Big cheese would call it in as stolen and cash the insurance, on top of his own money he would bank. As a bonus Demir got an all expenses paid stay at the Royal Falls premium suite for a whole month. A suite molded in gold and all shades of red. And by all expenses paid they really meant it too. Demir was given the choice of any meal on the menu, at any time of the day. Drinks on tap, any time of the day. Girls, any time of the day. Only thing he had to dish out the credits for himself were the drugs. But on Venus that’s about as easy as taking a *** in the morning. Venus is all about entertainment, and money. If there’s a place in the Galaxy where they go hand in hand more than Venus you can *** me dead.
The suite on Trafalgar had that gruff, minimalistic, and utilitarian feeling to it. Fully decked out in sharp angles, black-and-white future-perfect designs against white backdrops. Lounge area indented into the floor, a good series of five steps down, walled off on three sides with real-feel temperature plates. Good L-shaped sofa, black faux-leather, with a circular white table in the middle. Other small chairs interspersed throughout the entire living room area. Sleeping area with a king-sized bed hidden behind insulated faux-wood plating. Kitchenette and food dispenser alcoved next to the lounge area, next to it a table, chrome and glass. Quick-and-easy integrated washing system in the all-white bathroom. It was sterile in all the ways it needed to be in order for the person inside to forget that they were on Trafalgar, the pirate capital of the Known Galaxy.
   Another luxury that is clearly missing is the one that allows Demir his preferred amount of alcoholic beverage intake. He isn’t here for luxury, but having Leto cut his alcohol consumption to a minimum during their time together makes the sensation of being apart all the more palpable, and the possibility of getting drunk all the more enticing. To Demir drinking or drugs aren’t so much of a bodily high, but a mental stimulus that runs deep into the very core of his mind. The hatred core as Demir calls it. He hates his father first, his family second, and himself third. His DNA makes doubly sure he can withstand anything he throws at himself with almost no damage whatsoever, and that syphons much of the charm away from his addictions, if he can even call them that. Took Demir all about two days to kick the zazz, and all but one to kick the booze. Only thing that remains is a tingle in the back of his mind, the little ardwreck that whispers to him - why not try to kill yourself today? To him everything is about freedom. Freedom from his past, from his today, from his tomorrow, and from himself. Even Leto monitoring him closely, keeping him sober, keeping him in top condition, can’t squelch that tingling voice. Demir’s body can take the booze and drugs, but Demir’s mind is all that matters. And Leto trusts that least of all.
   For the week Demir had been trapped in the room the only comings and goings were by the room service. Luxury meals delivered at the allotted time. Same person doing the delivery, to the point where Demir was certain they were not so much a bellhop as someone who had to make sure Demir wasn’t up to no good. A beautiful trans person that basked in their androgyny. Flaunted it around like a service paycheck at a bar after a month-long haul from the Rim to the Core. Deadly quick, so much so that even Demir couldn’t see as their hands moved, and he was getting used to seeing quick combat movements even outside his Baby. The angles of their face were all so symmetrical, their hair so immaculate, and their posture so sure, that Demir even felt a tingle where he most liked whenever they came to bring him his meal.
   No word from Farideh during the week either. Comm silence with little updates coming in the form of messages Demir received via his neural link. Farideh was waiting for the Cardinal’s troops to get antsy and careless. It made sense, perfect sense even, and Demir would have done the same. It also made sense to keep him and Leto separated, perfect sense even. Keeping them locked in until Farideh needed them, also made perfect sense.
   None of that sense, that perfect sense, made things any better for Demir, who was slowly having to admit to himself that he had cabin fever. Being in his Baby for months on end, if need be, was one thing. He was flying, moving through space and time. On ground, in a room, he was just moving in a pile of sludge, his feet trudging through his waning sanity. There was no return IP for Farideh, so the coms were one-sided. He asked the bellhop to deliver a message to Farideh many times, and they would decline with a courteous smile. No word from Leto either, since their comm links were cut off.
   On the eighth day Demir ate less and slept more. On the ninth he ate more and slept less. And on the tenth day he ate nothing and slept all day. His mind had gone blank after revisiting the plan every second of every day, weighing the options and possibilities against each other, working the minutiae of every detail of every second that was about to come one day when he would finally be let free. The days were worse than prison, and he spent his fair share in those. In prison you know what to expect. It’s not one-third as nice as his room, and it’s the luxury that becomes a problem over time. Beat Demir Sunderland and he will rise. Stick Demir Sunderland in a room and feed him and he will become soft. And being a soft MOS is what gets you killed first.
   On the eleventh day the bellhop came with the meals at their allotted time and Demir rejected them. In the evening the door of his room opens again, and a new figure enters.
   A woman of striking beauty sways her way to the lounge area where Demir is splayed over the sofa, languid in his suffering.
   “Mr. Sunderland,” she wakes him. Her plump, firm lips parting like red waves.
   “One and only, I hope.”
   “Ms. Farideh sent me.” Her voice is sultry in that professional manner Demir knows all too well. She is either a hostess that will milk him for the evening, get him wasted and then drop him back into his cage where he can nurse the morning hangover a day later and jack off to the thought of her. Or she is a pro, a real pro, who will milk him for real after a couple of drinks. She isn’t armed unless a part of her perfect body is weaponized. There is no hiding anything in the black dress that clings to her skin like wet fabric. Her curves call to him, the soft touch of her legs, the parting of her thighs, and the warm moan from her lips. Her soft face, edged with plump cheeks and reddish hues, is all he can feel in his ***, and his *** is all he can feel in his head.
   “To do what, exactly?” Demir musters the question, in his mind sifting through the fantasies of her answer.
   “I am to escort you on a night out. Ms. Farideh will spare no expenses,” the woman says with a pep in her voice, and a jiggle in her breasts.
   “I can’t drink without anything to eat.”
   “Dinner will be served in the hotel restaurant. We can attend as soon as you are ready, sir.”
   Demir pulls himself out and off the sofa, brushing the hunger from his eyes. He’s alert, much more than he would like to be. The words Ms. Farideh will spare no expenses bringing him back from the brink. Farideh must have either seen Demir on the hotel feed, which he highly doubts she would waste her precious time on. Or she received word from the bellhop. Those are the two most likely explanations. Farideh just wants one of the puzzle pieces to not break apart before the final step. It makes sense, perfect even. But just like that lingering little voice at the back of Demir’s mind, he has another one telling him that the Queen of Pirates might be up to something more devious. Demir pulls his brain out of his *** and his *** out of his brain, and goes to shower and dress.
   In the bathroom Demir gets ready, but also takes a shaving strip, one of those small ones meant for mustaches, along in his pocket. The exquisite beauty is waiting for him in the kitchen, helping herself to a coffee. “May I ask your name? Since we will be dining and drinking together, I think it is only appropriate.” Demir acts cordial.
   “Misha,” she answers after a sip of coffee so warm it makes her lips look even redder and plump.
   “Very well Misha, let us dine.” Demir offers her his arm and she coils hers around so they can make their way to the elevator.
   The corridor to the elevator is narrow and pristine just like the rooms. Only six doors to choose from, and Demir has to choose since he has no idea which one is bespoke to Leto. They didn’t arrive in tandem. Another security measure Farideh insisted on. Demir slowls his step and takes in the doors, straining to find a hint of which could have Leto behind it. His mind races, and Demir remembers that dinner time had come and gone before Misha came to his room. Demir focuses on the doorknobs, the silver sheen of each glinting under the sharp light. One of them, in the middle of the corridor, has the sheen tainted by sweat and fat.
   Demir steps on his shoelace. “Excuse me.” He lets Misha’s arm fall and tends to his untied shoelace. “I still must be somewhat woozy.” Demir leans against the wall close to the door he believes to be Leto’s. All the while keeping out of sight of the cameras and under the cover of his own back Demir glues the see-through strip to the door and jamb. If the door is opened the strip will flop.
   Demir ties his shoelace and they make their way down to the restaurant.
   The rest of the hotel mimics Demir’s room in aesthetic and detail both. Utilitarian comfort for the brazen and the bold, for pirates and misfits of all walks of life. Demir and Misha are ushered to their secluded table at the far end of the restaurant, near the windows overlooking the cityscape, with its dark foreboding lines and jaunty holodeck lights.
   Demir orders the faux-lamb steak and grilled potatoes with seasonal vegetable salad, coarse mustard dressing, faux-olive oil, and a side of pickled radish. A tour de force of hangover food, and not on the cheap either. Along with that Demir has white wine, Misha has red. She orders a small fish platter with a seasonal salad, no dressing.
   Once the food is there they eat slowly and speak softly about all things not related to the task at hand. Misha inquires with a degree of professionally-feigned interest about Demir’s life, his family, and generally all the things he hates the most. He indulges her with his professionally-feigned love of his previous life, and digs into his food with all the gusto he has in him. While not answering her stupid basic questions about the things he hates the most, Demir probed Misha for any info on the proceedings.
   “My Leto will not be joining us during the evening?”
   “I am not a liberty to say, honestly. I wasn’t given that information.”
   “You could send a message through your neural link, could you not? It’s just that I always feel better with a bodyguard by my side. Sadly I must be growing old considering I used to wander alone. His company soothes my frazzled nerves.”
   They both continue eating under the umbrella of the festering silence.
   “It seems your Leto is content with his meditation, while Ms. Farideh suggested you might need a break,” Misha lets Demir know through a coy smile.
   The unnerving correctness of Misha’s answer lets Demir know all he needs. She is in contact with Farideh, or at least she forwarded his question. Farideh wants Demir out of the picture for the evening. That much is certain, but not for his mental wellbeing. That snide remark about the break came directly from Farideh, and it was just that right amount of snide to keep Demir in his place. Just let the night ride and be back in the cage by morning. The Demir from maybe a year or two ago might have fallen for that. The Demir sitting across from Misha begs to differ.
   “That is indeed true. I need a break. Thank Ms. Farideh for that.” Demir suggests he is bowing down and accepting the pity parade. “Before we continue I have to visit the restroom. My stomach is a bit fussy. Excuse me.”
   Demir ducks out of sight to the bathroom, jettisons that plan and rushes to the elevator in complete disregard of all the cameras following him. He takes the elevator to the suites and checks the strip. It’s dangling from the door. Demir takes a good look at the camera in the corridor, gives it his most stern look of anger, the type of look that vows for revenge. Just to let them know that he’s onto whatever little scheme the Queen has in mind. Demir makes his way back to the restaurant.
   “Will we be leaving soon?” Misha asks him in complete disregard of the fact that he knows she’s been informed about his little trip to the top floor.
   “I would prefer we stay at the hotel bar. I find myself not feeling up for a stroll around town.”
[close]

Chapter 33: FACADE
Spoiler
FARIDEH MADE SURE the Leto was picked up after Demir had already left, but that sly little gorghast was onto them after he feasted on her tab. Some little grifter trick he pulled off under the nose of her cameras. Not even too shabby. She admits. By that time the Leto was already deep into a conversation. Farideh didn’t want to skip any of the pleasantries. It is always of the utmost importance to make interrogations feel like they aren’t. Farideh started by presenting her city. Beaming and booming about the terraforming, the oxygen dome, the living quarters, pleasure district, banking center, the opulent dark streets that gave way to a flourishing community. She basked in the lights of her city, while Leto regarded it with the empty vastness of his analytical stare.
   Receiving no response from the Leto, Farideh continues her story about Trafalgar. Loosening the tension visibly rising and swelling like fog.
   “So, considering I haven’t found you in our files, how do you find Trafalgar your first time around?” Farideh asks after she is done propagating her own empire.
   “I mean no disrespect, Ms. Farideh.” Something always said when you mean exactly that. “I have only seen Trafalgar from the safety of this vehicle, and only your words can account for the actuality. I haven’t experienced anything, or seen much. There are planets and cities like this all across the Galaxy. The only difference is that Trafalgar is run by pirates, and fueled by criminal enterprise.”
   Farideh senses that pang of contempt in the Leto’s highbrow army-infused Common. “You disagree?”
   “I have no stakes in this matter. It is not my place to agree or disagree.”
   “Yet you work for one of the most known MOS pilots in the entire Galaxy. A criminal, in more ways than one. Now on a warpath to running his own criminal empire. The obvious contempt you have for criminal enterprise is nothing if not hypocritical. I would have thought better of someone wearing the facade of Leto III.” Farideh pokes and prods, waiting for the reaction.
   “I wear no facade, I am Leto III.”
   The magnitude of the delusion hits Farideh at first, but then she focuses on the fact that he dodged the answer quite nimbly. “I have to say, out of the many Letos I have met over the years you must be one of, if not the most, dedicated.”
   “My dedication is solely to mankind.”
   The Leto flaunts his delusions not like a facade, but like a wall. He mingles through the questions and provides answers that will put Farideh solely back to square one. A veritable castle she has to break down first in order to get to the meat of things. “How did you come to meet Demir Sunderland?”
   “By chance.”
   “Please, spare me the *** at least.” Cut through. “A man with your considerable skills, mods, and obvious experience does nothing by chance. It seems to me like you have just as much an agenda here as Sunderland.”
   “What concern is that of yours?”
   “I hate receiving questions as answers.”
   “That is none of my concern.”
   The Leto obviously knows how to push buttons, in general, not just Farideh’s. She’s aware of her control issues, and to her own dismay so is the Leto. Disobedience, insubordination, coy banter, even spite towards her, are not things Farideh takes lightly. And the Leto is abusing that fact to its fullest potential. “Why is it that you were the one to talk to me about Sunderland’s plan? If it even is Sundeland’s plan.”
   “Mr. Sunderland is acutely aware of his image across the Galaxy. A thrill seeker, a miscreant, drunk, addict, a person living day-to-day. Plans, schemes and grandiose takeovers are not known to be part of his repertoire. Hearing such things from me shelters him from the possible mockery such proclamations might entail.” The Leto’s matter-of-fact tone betrays little to nothing. His focus on the facts shields him just as much as his delusion.
   “So you are his mouthpiece?”
   “When need be.”
   “Now that is something I believe even less than you being Leto III.”
   “What you believe is also none of my concern.”
   The stone walls keep rising instead of falling. Farideh is getting nowhere by being polite. “You know I can have you killed at any point. Considering you’re not vital to the plan Sunderland can just get another Leto to be his mouthpiece.”
   The Leto doesn’t even grace her with an answer, instead just blankly staring out the car window. His massive shoulders leaned against the vehicle frame, his dark eyes in the distance, blank as if he isn’t even thinking at all. “Do these questions lead you anywhere, Ms. Farideh?”
   “They lead me where I want them to lead me.” Two walls, two castles, just bashing against each other until one cracks.
   “And where is that?”
   “I see you’re asking the questions now.”
   The Leto turns to her, gazes into her eyes with his black pearls, not a miniscule trace of any kind of emotion, just blank and staring at her like an abyss. “I am,” he tells her.
   “What if I decline to answer?”
   “I will continue to sit in silence and look at this city and try to match it with the marvelous words you told me about it, all the while experiencing nothing, and you will be led nowhere.”
   “Were you in the army?” Farideh doesn’t let up.
   “That is also none of your concern.”
   “Well, you see, it is.” Farideh leans in, removes some of the distance between her and the Leto. “You don’t see me as your superior, which is why you either act insubordinate, or dodge my questions with facts that are so obvious that we end up back at square nothing. You purposefully lead me nowhere, which is something that is integrated into standard army training even before the C. I did my homework, I’ve been doing my homework, Leto, since before you took that face. You’re running me around in circles in hopes that my anger will overtake me and the conversation ends there. But I can tell you right now, that’s not going to work. Now, I know, I feel, that you have a much larger stake in this than you lead on. We are both here because I want to know who exactly I’m getting into bed with. But what concerns me above all else is that I know you are way in over your head here. So, one last time, lest we make this a formal interrogation, what is your role here?”
   The Leto leans in heavily, weighing himself against his knees, his massive shoulders bulking like a tide, washing over Farideh. “I am a bodyguard, a mouthpiece, a tool, a paid hand. My agenda is getting paid, leaving, and forging ahead. I have no ties to Sunderland or his plan, I am just honorable enough to fulfill my contract.”
   “And I don’t believe that for one second.”
        “What you believe is none of my concern.”
        “Who are you exactly?”
        “I am Leto III, the Grand-Master of War.”
        Farideh scoffs at that answer. She knows well enough she won’t get anything more out of the man at the moment, but she knows a bit more now than she did before. A confirmation that he is more than just a pawn. His resilience, his facade, his unwillingness to even contemplate answering her questions in of itself speaks volumes about his intent in the long run. He’s just as much a player as Sunderland himself, or me for that matter. He’s dangerous, deadly, and I’ll have to keep an eye out. Over the years Farideh has come to know people to their core. Since she worked in the brothels, since she was but a child, she had to know people in order to survive. To move them around like pieces on a chess board, the most ancient game in the Known Galaxy. Eons may have passed, but the game stays the same, and she stays on top by always being one step ahead. By telling her nothing, the Leto told her just enough. Confirmed just enough.
        Farideh puts the message through to her driver to go back to the hotel. On the way there she and the Leto sit in silence. Farideh escorts the Leto to the foyer of the hotel.
In the foyer a senselessly drunk Demir Sunderland lays thrown over a settee like a sack of ***. Dishevelled, strewn about, wild hair dangling from all angles, crusted spit in his ten-day beard, looking more emaciated than when he first came to Trafalgar. Misha at his side.
        As soon as Sunderland sees the Leto he jolts up like he’s being electrocuted, shot with adrenaline. He runs up to the Leto, three steps forward and one back, swaying like a sea in the wind, a ship lost. With a degree of comedy he jumps up high enough to clock the massive man in the chin with a punch that surprisingly resonates meatily across the foyer. “We’ll trawlk tomorrer,” he slurs out.
        The Leto bows like he’s in the pre-C army, and retreats to the elevator. The only thing staring down Farideh now is Sunderland with his bloodshot eyes. He moves in close, the stink of booze on him. The waft of his body shedding toxins slick and sour with the punch of alcohol. “That was just for the people to see. For the image to stay intact. Just so you know, your little escort can’t get me drunk for ***. Leto is mine, and I’m in charge here. As of tomorrow we are free to roam, no more lockdown, no more meals served in our rooms, no more surveillance. What I say to my Leto stays between me and him. I’m not here as a prisoner, I’m here as a partner. You speak to me, and me only. If the Leto speaks it’s because I told him to. Now, I gave you the courtesy of revealing my position and my plan, and I expect you to respond in kind. Your deviant need to control everything may work for Trafalgar, but it doesn't work for me. Cross me again and I will be off-planet so you can handle this shitshow on your own. I know full well who you are, I never forget that, but you don’t seem to be aware that I’m Demir-***-Sunderland. You’ll say it’s impossible for me to get off-planet, but you know full well I’ll at least find a way to make it *** hard for you to stop me. We may not be equals here, but I demand some respect. If you have any questions you can put them through with Misha,” Sunderland snarls, “and next time pay her to *** me at least.”
        Sunderland does his mock-drunken stagger away and to the elevator, leaving Misha behind aghast and Farideh riveted to the floor. Farideh knows she’s done for the night. She has all she needs.
[close]

Chapter 34: GHOST OF THE LIVING
Spoiler
“MS. FARIDEH, MR. MUTEMBA is on his way up. You requested notification,” her secretary lets Farideh know, like the good employee she is. Farideh’s word is canon on Trafalgar. Mutemba, formerly known as Mutemba Ginzego before he cut ties with his family due to internal political strife, is her main investigator and Drakkweb surfer. While still Mutemba Ginzego he was his father’s head of secret service, and as Mutemba he puts that knowledge to good use. Farideh requested a quick sweep on the Leto. Under the radar, quick and easy, as to raise no red flags and get no eyes on them before the operation unfolds.
   The door to her office opens with a bare sound, and Mutemba enters. The man is striking by being exquisitely unremarkable, uncannily so. Average height, average build, slight belly, plain marble face almost to the point where he might be the archetype for the populace of New Johannesburg, and the desert planet Kurrekesh in general. Short cropped hair, three-day-shadow, simple business garb, and a soothing voice. If Mutemba came into a bar, murdered the barkeep and walked out, no one would remember him. Mutemba first came into her service when he needed shielding from his father, who was approaching the last leg of his life. Mutemba supported his younger brother taking over the throne since his older brother had more tyrannical aspirations than Mutemba was comfortable endorsing. When Mutemba’s vote went sideways he jumped to Trafalgar. Now that his older brother runs Kurrekesh, Mutemba is free to go about his own business, as long as it doesn’t interfere with his brother’s. Bad blood is bad for business. Farideh and Mutemba had grown quite fond of each other over the years, and the investigator decided to stay on Trafalgar and work for Farideh exclusively.
   “What have you got for me?” Farideh cuts to the chase before Mutemba is even in his seat.
   “This Leto is making you ansty.” There’s a hint of that New-JoBurg accent in Mutemba’s Common. He sits down with the grace and precision of an ancient EN *** court magister.
   “Then you know not to keep me waiting.”
   “I cannot keep you waiting for something that will never come.”
   “Do you really think now is the time for riddles?” It feels to Farideh like she’s being pulled around, clamped by her limbs and then pulled in all directions by MOS skiffs. Her mind feels even worse. Hundreds of strings tied to one part of one thought, tied together to larger thoughts, each pulling in their own direction.
   “It’s not a riddle, Ms. Farideh. I found nothing.”
   Farideh’s heart is in her throat, and her mind in her ass along with all the *** she’s been keeping in both. First a basic sweep finds nothing, then the Leto gives her nothing, and now her best investigator finds nothing. “There’s no such thing as nothing in the Known Galaxy. We have his DNA on file. I want to know where he went, where he was carded, where he was seen, where he drank, where and who he ***, how he started doing protection work, who he affiliated with before, where does he come from, and most of all - where the *** is he going. We have his DNA, so *** nothing does not *** exist!” she booms and the office rattles.
   “I must admit myself that I haven’t seen something like this in ages. There are skilled assassins and information traders across the Galaxy that have no profile, but they aren’t nomads. Stay in one place and you can secure your anonymity. During his time with Sunderland, at least, the Leto had moved about the Galaxy. We presume he moved before. I can be sure of one thing, and that’s that the Leto was never carded,” Mutemba offers his candid explanation to Farideh’s own fury, his lovely voice not helping it subside one bit.
   Whenever you land on a planet the local Authority will card your entrance, and get your DNA into their system. Faking the test or even slipping in with fake papers or invitations is possible, but expensive. There are other ways to get on-planet without anyone noticing, and those ways are undoubtedly familiar to someone like Sunderland. But the Leto isn’t new, he’s not some pup fresh out the kennel. Everyone leaves a *** trail. This just shows her that the Leto is good, exceptional even.
   “Was he incarcerated during that time? Didn’t get carded because he was dormant?”
   “Possible, but highly unlikely. I checked with my contacts in the main prison directory, and there were no signs of his DNA signature. That means he could have been in a dark-site, political asylum, or level 9.” Those were the types of prisons only reserved for the most dangerous individuals across the Known Galaxy. All traces of their incarceration are wiped, and they never see the outside of their cells.
   “The Leto is certainly army stock. That much is clear. Could he be a swap? Or an operative?”
   “I have to work the swap angle. From what I can tell no major army figures have disappeared or been discharged in recent years. The army lets the Authority do the heavy lifting. It’s peaceful for those ***. The Leto is most certainly not an operative.”
   Farideh first had the swap idea when she discerned the Leto’s army background. Maybe he was a bigshot from a corporate, private, or government army. Disgraced and discharged he took the Leto facade and is now working his way back in, or even working up a revenge plan. Men and their revenge plans. *** me and I’ll *** you back mentality, animal instincts, all bad for business. The Leto would work through the Syndicate and Authority to earn his stripes, or *** over his former employers. A long shot, just as long as him being an operative going deep undercover. A long shot, but nonetheless plausible. Which is why having nothing on him hurts even more than knowing the truth. “What about any previous employers? Pending contracts?” Mutemba shakes his head, that worried and apologetic look on his face.
   Farideh leans into her chair, becoming almost one with it. Like seeping into a safe haven where the entire Galaxy can go *** off. “I see him Mutemba. Can’t really explain it, but I see him. The Leto coming back like a nightmare, one day in the future. It’s like he’s haunting me right now, in living flesh. I see him. We won’t see the last of him, and I want to know why. Why the *** is Leto III, the Grand-Master of *** War, dead for ages now, haunting my *** life.”
   “The contacts Sunderland and the Leto have given us have all panned out. I have my men on them and the operation is progressing at a steady pace.” Mutemba is trying to pull Farideh out of her dark corner. “I don’t see Sunderland or the Leto hindering the operation in any way. Quite to the contrary, I believe they would be the first to mourn its failure. While I cannot neglect the enigma that is the Leto, I know the only way you’ll ever find out more about him is if he tells you that himself. I would wager that hasn’t worked out so far.”
Farideh shakes her head. “How do I get this out of my head, Mutemba?”
   “You don’t. Just live with it.”
   “And if I can’t?”
   “People come and go, Ms. Farideh. Plans come to fruition or fail miserably. But there will always be more people and more plans around the corner. Don’t forget this feeling, but live with it.”
   “I would wager you have someone living haunting you too?”
   Mutemba chuckles. “The most obvious one. My brother. Every day I think, will this be the one where he decides I am a threat rather than a willing non-participant in his reign on Kurrekesh?” He shrugs. “I ask myself that every morning, and then I go to work.”
“That’s the difference. You know who he is, where he is, and what he can do. I know nothing. Even *** worse than having a ghost at my heels. Ghosts have stories left behind.”
“Do you want me to continue the line of inquiry, Ms. Farideh? We will risk alerting some parties, but it can be done.” Mutemba said his piece, and it’s back to business.
“No. I’ll live with it, and keep a blaster under my pillow.”
Mutemba nods and heads out the office, leaving Farideh to her haunted existence. Just her and Leto III, Grand-Master of War, all alone again.
[close]

Chapter 35: GHOSTS OF THE DEAD
Spoiler
“I DON’T BELIEVE WE ever sat down for a meal like this before?” Demir observes in between bites of his now-usual faux-steak. He didn’t want to mess around with anything they would call traditional cuisine on Trafalgar. “It’s good to be out and about again. Can’t say I miss that room all too much.” Leto grumbles to himself and Demir recognizes that as his usual disgruntled acquiescence to the same notion. Unlike Demir, Leto is made to withstand anything, and they could have left him in that room for years; he would come out just the same as he entered.
   “Can we trust Mutemba?” Leto asks, cautious as always.
   “If you mean can we trust him to have our backs - no. If you mean can we trust him to do the job well - of course. He’s a top operative, skilled investigator, and one hell of a secret service agent.” Demir knows Mutemba from way back when, while the man was still in the employ of his father. Even then he was a formidable operative, considering the political constraints shackling him. Now, as a free agent in the employ of the most ruthless pirate in the Known Galaxy, Demir has no concerns he will do the job more than aptly.
   Leto scoffs. “It’s those kinds of people that will thrust a knife in your back first opportunity they get,” and Leto proceeds to eat his abundant faux-fish meal without even looking at Demir.
   “I can’t help but figure that little jibe comes from experience. I also can’t help but notice that the more time we spend together the more I find out which people you dislike, and no one so far even entertains the notion of having your limited affection.”
   “This is not the Galaxy I know. This is a shadow of what it once was.”
   “And you expected everything to stay so peachy and preachy like it did before the C? You didn’t even expect to be alive and now you’re *** on everything and everyone around you just because it’s not better than it was before.” Demir’s turn to sigh, only he does it loud enough which he knows will annoy Leto enough to look him in the eyes. “You’re fighting it, and you’re doing a *** job too.” Demir also lets out a sly smile.
        Leto doesn’t give him the time of day and just goes back to his meal.
        “Demir, what do you mean by fighting it?” Demir does his best, and also at the same time worst, impression of Leto’s booming voice. “Do you mean the fact that I am holding on to the past to such an extent that it clouds my judgement to the point where you have to set me straight every time? Is my hate which permeates my every choice, my disdain for the underbelly of society, or is it just my coddled *** upbringing during a time which I believe to be much better than your own that colors my mood? Tell me Demir, what do you think?”
        “I think you are being childish, as usual.”
        “And I think I’m *** right. Ever since you met with Farideh you’ve been hiding behind that army facade, veneer of professionalism, and it’s all crumbling. Did she get to you?” A much more friendly tone in Demir’s voice. “Or is it that you didn’t get to her that’s the problem? The fact that you’re nothing weighing on you, suffocating you. The fact that the truth buries you more than lying. The fact that you have to dwell down here instead of in your ivory tower.”
        “If there’s anyone who knows about ivory towers it must be you, Demir Sunderland.And there it is, that little spite nugget I manage to bring out. The more he writhes the more I corrupt him. “The decadence of your early years must have been the envy of the entire Galaxy. What was it that made you decide to take up the mantle of a MOS? From what I could gather it was in direct spite of your father. A spoiled child then, and a spoiled child now. So don’t you dare presume to know what drives me, what brought me here, and how my life unfolded before I was ordained. This line of questioning is over,” Leto booms and returns his attention back to his meal.
        Not by a long shot. “True enough, the records of your life before you became Grand-Master of War had been wiped to preserve your image as an Immortal. If I was a gambling man, which I am, I would put my money on the fact that you grew up dead poor, or at least not nearly as rich as me. Mommy or daddy or both made you enter the army in order to pay for the bills they couldn’t afford themselves. You lived in either a slum, project housing, or middle-class instant pods they had back in the day. That would be the height of luxury I could see you in. That superior DNA got you far, and sure as the skies flow, no one knew how the *** you got that. So you decided to prove yourself over and over again, just to show everyone that it’s not your DNA that drives you, but you who drives your DNA. People think it’s that easy, like we’re being pulled around by the biological strings of our bodies, but you set out to prove them wrong.” Leto just keeps eating his meal, undeterred, until it’s finished. “Skies know you did, trying to prove all of them wrong. Now it’s one of the few things that you hold dear to your heart, that you proved them all wrong, and the more you show that to people the less they believe you. Must be grating, mustn’t it?”
        “Does all this psychological insight come from your years of study, or just that famous gut of yours which has landed you in more trouble over the years than even your *** ***?”
        Demir chuckles. Hearing Leto III utter the words *** *** in his massive voice that fills a room more than his body does is something to behold. The fact that Demir brought it out makes it all the more fun for him. “Not even my gut’s good enough for this. It’s my silver spoon upbringing that gives me all this psychological insight. Because, Leto, your cold demeanor, stoic facade, and even that little hint of malice behind your eyes, is nothing if not a reflection of my father. I know people like you, which is one more thing that doesn’t make you special. The reason why I know you want to show people that you’re more than just your DNA is because I’m doing the same. Now, given your years of life and insight, you must have deduced that yourself. Just as I’ve deduced that about you. That makes you even less special. You’re just like me, Leto. A hint of my father there, of course. Are you sure we’re not somehow related? The Reign didn’t splice your DNA around just to see what sticks.” Demir feigns open-mouthed realization. “Am I your son? Please tell me I am, so I can ditch my old man.”
        “Demir, is there a point to all this?” The eyes of Leto III wash over Demir like a cold shower after a night of hard drinking.
        “And there we are. You reverting the point back to the person throwing said point across the table at you. Instead of you recognizing the point you invalidate it by having the person in front of you reaffirm it, thereby putting it forward as their point and not yours to realize yourself.” Leto’s frown, stark and stern like a disappointed father, tells Demir more than words. Demir takes a deep breath. “The point to all this, Leto, is that we cannot work together if we don’t know the person we’re working with. We have a lot to do, and it won’t be easy. You know that full well.”
        “Ms. Farideh said much the same.”
        “But you’re not working with her, you’re working with me. We’re at a point now where we can’t turn back even if we wanted to. Like you’d ever want that, but still.” Leto, still somewhat begrudgingly, acknowledges the point. “We’re also at the point where we can fake being a complete unit, but faking won’t get us farther than this. That’s why I need to know who you are.”
A poignant pause breathes a steadfast stupor between them.
        “I was raised on Earth, actually. My parents were middle-class workers at an armament factory on Mars. They came home during the weekends, and I spent the rest of the time alone. We weren’t well-off by any stretch of the imagination, but we weren’t starving either. When my father suffered mod sickness we could no longer pay living expenses and I entered the academy on the fast track in order to earn money quickly. As I advanced up the ranks my parents and I grew apart steadily, since I have,” and Leto pauses, “had no siblings. When I became Grand-Mster of War the ties that bound me and my family were severed completely. During my years in the academy I scoured the database for any information as to how I came to have such advanced DNA. The only conclusion I ever came to was that it was absolute dumb luck of cosmic proportions. Dumb luck didn’t get me where I am, hard work and good use of it did. The reason I’m here is because I don’t want to see everything we built as a species crumble under the ambition of fools.”
        “You believe in the pre-C centralized government. So, after we finally put an end to the AIs you would install a new government with yourself in charge. Is that it?” With the conversation finally getting somewhere Demir actually feels delighted to talk shop.
        “I am not leadership material. I am war potential. There’s no place for me on a throne or in government. All I want is for humanity to realize its potential once more. No more petty squabbling, trivial skirmishes, and the pursuit of personal gain. If we align all mankind against the AIs, in a different way than we did the first time around, we can actually make a difference. We can finally win.” The enthusiasm in Leto’s voice comes as a welcome surprise. The boom therein warmer, the husk lighter, and a tang of hope shining through the cracks.
        “I must admit that makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. But let me tell you exactly what’s going to happen after the AIs are gone.” The shine now gone, Leto listens from behind his stark walls. “Everyone and their dead grandmother is going to take credit for getting rid of them. Any and all alliances forged until then will be shattered, and every party will start fighting for both the glory and the scraps. First thing they’ll fight over will be your cloning station. Imagine, immortality right in front of their noses. Even if we trash the thing they’ll still fight over the scraps, the mere potential of cloning will be a siren song for any would-be ruler of the newly-freed Known Galaxy.” Leto’s frown turns even more sour. Maybe because of Demir’s interpretation of the future, or because he just shat on Leto’s affectionate confession. “The problem with that whole idea of being better and doing better is that there is no better. Pre-C everything was kept tightly under control. The Reign barely let the people breathe. Everything was done in the name of mankind’s perseverance and persistence through the Galaxy, and even beyond. But this, this Known Galaxy, now and in the future - this is the truth. This is who we are, Leto. You suffer from a savior complex, probably because you did it once before. But there's no saving us, because we’re right where we’re supposed to be. Save us all you want, but don’t expect anything better from mankind.”
        “Is this truly what you believe?” Leto cuts in immediately, even though Demir thought he would take a pause and let the tension fester.
        “It’s what I know.”
        “Then why even fight for mankind? Why are you even here?”
        Something about tables and the turning thereof which always drives me insane. “Why don’t you just make me tell you coordinates to the cloaked sector and be done with me? Maybe even kill me yourself, and go your own way. Fashion your own revolution. Work towards the betterment of mankind. Instead you sift through the dregs of mankind you so obviously despise. Heading headlong into a criminal enterprise that will span entire planets and sectors. Against your own nature, better judgement, and even moral code.”
        “I don’t know what the AIs are syphoning from me when I die. If they punch through to my memories, despite my trained memory retention and deletion protocols, they might find something about you and my knowledge of the sector. They might come at mankind harder, decide to push forward earlier. It’s my wager that they are syphoning psychological data to counteract our maneuvers on a conscious and subconscious level. To literally build themselves up to be more human than humans, and to crush us on every turn. But if they dig deeper and they become aware of our enterprise, then we might just be doomed before we even started.”
        “And there it is again.”
        “Please, Demir, no more.”
        “No, there’s always more. There’s your problem. You’re trying to defeat the most logical entities in the Known Galaxy through logic. You know what’s the downfall for a perfect, pristine, glass table? A rock. It was mankind that beat the AIs in the first place. Making yourself more like them, Leto, is setting us all up for failure. Embrace the chaos, embrace the now, and embrace mankind as it is. That is the only way we will succeed. Wild and free. Uncompromising and stupid beyond belief. Savage in our greed, malicious in our perseverance, and above all else, dangerous when we’re pushed into a corner.” Demir takes the opportunity or a theatrical pause, and enjoys it thoroughly. Tables and the turning thereof. Tables and turning. “Don’t expect better from us. Use what we have, and we will win.”
[close]
Logged
Pages: 1 [2]