Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Intel Over Info

When Syrna kicked her boyfriend out, it was literal -- a muddy running-shoe to the backside as Aren made a panicked exit.

'Next time you're gonna cheat, don't do it with your woman's dorm-mate!'

'Syrna, sweetie, I'm Gallente.... we're just like that.'

She scowled at the lame excuse. 'Well, I'm Minmatar, and the next time I see your skanky balls around here, they're going in a jar.'

'Wait! Can I, um... can I have my pants back?' The pretty blond fidgeted with the shirt clutched over his pubes.

'No.' The door slammed, locking him out in the rain.

Syrna turned to her dorm-mate, who was standing in the doorway to her own room, slightly more decent for having pulled a dressing-gown on. 'Syr, I swear, he said you'd broke up. I'd never have touched him if I knew he was lying.'

The taller woman shrugged, putting the issue to rest. 'He's single now, if you want him.'

'Nah. Who knows what else he could be lying about? I need a shower.' Rika retreated to their small shared bathroom, leaving Syrna alone in the living-room with her ex's discarded clothing.

A wiry young woman with features too strong to be called pretty, Syrna had spent the last ten years rebuilding from the shards of a shattered life. On a trip to visit her brother at the military school in Ammold, the ship she and her parents were travelling on had been waylaid by an Amarrian slaver gang, and only the arrival of a Domination fleet which had been pursuing the slaver ships saved the ones who'd survived the brutal attack.

Both her parents had died when the main part of the ship depressurised, and twelve-year-old Syrna herself, trapped in their room when the decompression seals engaged, suffered multiple fractures from a fallen bulkhead. The Angel Cartel had taken the orphan in, patched her up, treated her well and given her a new home. Domination Pelnon Reivel, seeing something stronger in her, became a sort of surrogate father.

Life in the Cartel had taught Syrna a lot of things, the first being that it took all types to make the system work, and the second being that it was more satisfying to get back at people by slowly tearing them down than by making a bloody example of them. Of course, that didn't stop some people from pulling blades, but her mentors had been far more frightening.

Her personal comm twittered and she accepted the connection.

'Hello, my dear,' Pel's whisky-burned voice purred. 'I have a friend here to visit, and I thought it might be good for you to meet them. How about dinner at Valkey's, 1900? Wear something nice.'

'Nice, huh? Okay.'

Closing comms, she checked the time: 1748, barely enough time to clean away the sweat from her workout, dress and get a taxi to the restaurant on the other side of the city. Syrna got up and knocked on the door to the bathroom. 'Hey Rika, you almost done scrubbing off the Gallente cooties?'


The establishment was a fine one, though if he was being pressed, Imral would have suggested that the right words to the maitre d' would have seen him through the kitchens to illegal gambling halls in the rear, or the basement, or upstairs. Or all three. This close to Empire space, the Angels put up a good face on the places they owned, but it was still only a front.

'Don't say anything, kid. You're supposed to be my bodyguard. Offering opinions on their legality isn't your job. Keep a poker face, and keep the system recording.'

'Yes, ma'am.' The lean Brutor adjusted his shades, checking the readouts and telemetry the glasses' fine electronics picked up. Everything seemed on order, though the guy who'd just stepped from the liquor store on the corner and stopped to light up was being highlighted a dim orange; illegal implants, possibly an agent.

Everyone here could be an agent. He shrugged his shoulders, feeling the fine material of his jacket tug taut for a moment. He'd been trained well for this, but until now he'd been little more than an analyst; this was his first field action. After years of exemplary service in the Republic Fleet, he'd been recommended to a special forces branch, and the 27-year old had never been more proud.

As the car glided up underneath the extended awning in front of the restaurant, his superior asked, 'Everything in order?' A quick diagnostic showed everything green, and he nodded.

'Then, after you, Mr Emvirren.'

Stepping out first, then holding the door, he watched his CO transform from a hunched and somewhat bookish-looking motherly sort to a straight-backed and imposing Vherokior tribeswoman in an elegant sari and a small fortune in gems. Hanna Ravishak had been retired from field-work years earlier to work as a trainer, but she had lost none of her skill.

When dealing with the upper echelons of criminal society, where the majority of Republic Intelligence's field agents had been identified, sending Ravishak and Emvirren to deal straight -- or as straight as an under-the-table exchange could be -- had been ideal. They needed the information the Cartel had, but the Cartel wouldn't give it to just anyone who asked. Setting up this meeting had taken over a year's worth of work retconning records and creating false resumes, building Ravishak up as a highly desirable prospective business associate. He was determined not to screw this up.

He fell into step behind and to her right as Ravishak strode up to the doors; they swished open as the pair reached to top step, and a young woman in a hostess' uniform stepped forward to take Ravishak's wrap. The older woman passed it instead to her 'bodyguard' without acknowledging the girl, then turned directly to the maitre d'. 'Jionnatira,' she said, eyelids drooped in an expression of superior boredom. Expressionless behind his shades, Imral admired the act and hoped his own part would do it justice. He followed silently in his CO's wake, taking cues from her subtle hand-signals.

The private dining-room they were led to was, if anything, more opulent than the rest of the place, but with a subtler tone: hand-carved wood panels inlaid with iridescent shell and fossil-bone patterns rather than the blindingly-polished gold of the main room. Imral's shades picked up the cameras his eyes wouldn't have located, little flickers of orange in his peripheral vision. As they entered, the room's occupants remained seated, but the fox-featured Deteis at the head of the table raised his crystal wineglass, rings glinting on his fingers in the dim light.

'Madame Jionnatira, an honour to finally meet you. You have quite the reputation for privacy; I'm surprised I could convince you to join me this evening.'

An almost careless flick of Ravishak's bejeweled hand cued Imral to take a position behind her with his back against the wall, her silky wrap draped over his arm, as a server stepped forward to draw the chair for her. His job now was to become an attentive statue.

'It is necessary to socialise on occasion. And I wished to meet you, after you have been so generous in your assistance, Mister Reivel.'

He sipped from his glass, barely enough to moisten his lips. 'Please, call me Pel. And you're very right about socialising. May I present my daughter, Syrna?'

Imral felt his breath catch in his throat: the woman seated to Reivel's left was a striking Brutor a few years younger than himself, her athletic figure draped in a slinky black gown that shimmered distractingly over her curves. 'Daughter', indeed; it was quite obvious she was the man's bodyguard. And what a body...

A flare from one of his glasses' readouts caught his eye and reminded him of why he was there; he was suddenly grateful for the opaque lenses. A glance at the condensed report showed a positive identification had been made on the man, the girl and two of the four people serving them. He sent the data off to storage with a blink, keeping half an ear the the guardedly idle chatter.


At Pel's invitation, Syrna retired with him to his office after the guest had departed, a packet of valuable business data in her bodyguard's pocket.

The Caldari poured mineral water into champagne flutes and held one out to her. 'What did you think of her, my dear?'

Syrna accepted the glass and sipped slowly as her mind worked. 'She seems to know exactly what she's doing and how we could use her services.' She took a seat in one of the comfortable padded chairs, draping the long train of her dress over her knee. 'Maybe a little too well.'

Pelnon had taken his usual position on the edge of his desk. 'How so?'

She knew he was testing her. 'Her pitch was too practiced. She knew just what to say to tick all the boxes.'

'In fact,' her adoptive father husked, 'Her pitch was nearly word-for-word what her earlier messages have said. She could simply be unimaginative, and that's hardly a crime. But I don't like it when people fit the bill too precisely.' He reached over and lightly touched an indent in the surface of the desk. 'Ndira, has the data been analysed?'

'Coming through now, sir.'

A holo report appeared above the desk, and Pel flicked his fingers at it to turn it the right direction. From her vantage, Syrna recognised dossiers of both the woman and her young bodyguard. The Domination chuckled grimly.

'Republic intelligence tried to pull a fast one, I see.' He shrugged. 'Ah, well, they got what they wanted, and once that datachip goes into their system, so will we.'

'They won't pick up on the dataworm?' Syrna rose and crossed the room, her curiosity piqued by something in the bodyguard's bio.

Pel knocked back the last of his water. 'They never do, my dear. ...Is something wrong? You look as if you'd seen a ghost.' He pouted handsomely at her in concern, and the young woman shook her head.

'Nothing, Pel. It's a shame we can't recruit the bodyguard, he's got a good record.'

'Too good.' The man sighed contentedly and set his glass down on the desk. 'All in all, a most productive evening, and I had the pleasure of treating you to a fine dinner as well. Thank you my dear.'

Smiling, Syrna leaned over and kissed her foster-father's cheek. 'Thank you, Pel. I had a lovely evening.' She collected her coat from where she'd dropped it over a chair on her way out, wrapping the luxurious garment around herself as she mused, What are the odds?


Imral ran a hand over his clean-shaven head. 'I can't believe--'

'Pull it together Mr Emvirren, or your first field stint will be very short, indeed.' Hanna used a special cleanser to wipe the elabourate false tattoo from beneath the dark stubble on her skull, eyeing the young man sternly in the mirror. 'It's fortunate you didn't read the reports while we were there, or you might have jeopardised the whole thing.'

'But she's my sister!' he repeated himself as if unwilling to believe Ravishak hadn't understood the first time, leaning forward over the hotel-room desk that separated them, the damning reports fractured by one of his fingers resting over the embedded projector. 'I've thought she was dead for ten years--'

'And as far as the rest of us are concerned, she ceased to be your sister when she accepted her place in the Cartel.'

The angry young man slapped the surface of the desk, juddering Ravishak's cup of tea; she rescued the drink with a warning glare he ignored. 'That smiling bastard's been lying to her if she thinks he "rescued" her from slavers, the attack evidence clearly shows--'

'Mister Emvirren.'

He stopped short at the ice in his CO's dangerously soft voice. She gazed at him unblinkingly, one eye still coloured an unsettling grey from her cover.

'If you wish to remain in service, you will listen to me very carefully. You will forget that that woman used to be your sister. Whomever she was to you, that little girl is gone, now. She is a bare step below an officer in the Angel Cartel, and if you do not know what that means, I wonder how you ever made it to this point in your career.'

Imral swallowed dryly as Hanna concluded, 'This entire discussion is off the record, and if you wish it to remain so, you will do nothing foolish. Now, sir, do you understand me?'

He bit his lip, then looked down and nodded.

'I didn't hear that, Mr Emvirren.'

'Yes, sir. I understand.'

The older woman sighed, then relaxed, her expression sympathetic. 'You're not the first intelligence officer to rediscover a lost loved one. You can take some solace in the fact that they've clearly treated her well. Get some sleep, we're leaving very early tomorrow.'

An hour after her assistant returned to his room, Hanna received a call from one of the oversight team.

'I'm not surprised. Keep an eye on him, but only interfere if you think it'll jeapordise the mission.'


The knock at her door wasn't wholly unexpected. Syrna padded over to the door, barefoot in loose trousers and a sleeveless top, a small pistol tucked down at her side in her right hand. A peek at the security camera told her all she needed to know, and she rolled her eyes in disgust.

Opening the door a crack, she stuck the barrel of the gun through and growled, 'Give me one good reason not to blow your balls off, Aren.'

It was clear the blond Gallentean hadn't been expecting an armed reception. 'I-I-I was just out for a walk--'

'You live halfway across the city, dipshit.' She started to close the door, but he stuck his foot in the way.

'This big guy came to my apartment, okay! He said he knew I knew you and to give you this!' He thrust his hand out, nearly whacking his knuckles on the doorframe in his rush.

The object Aren dropped into her hand was a datachip. As she eyed it suspiciously, her ex stuttered, 'He said that it contains answers and that you can do what you want with them. And that he was happy to see you.'

He looked terrified. Syrna squinted at him. 'Did he threaten you?'

'N-no! Just said that if it wasn't in your hand in thirty minutes it'd explode!'

The woman laughed. 'You idiot, it doesn't work that way,' she chuckled at his consternation, and closed the door in his face.

This is my submission to Silver Night's fiction contest. I wasn't going to join in, but the teptation to exercise my keyboard was too much :)

Monday, 15 March 2010

On The Edge

It was a long way down. A very long way down.

The small Gallente leans forward, elbows propped on her knees, the yawning gulf open beneath her boots not phasing her in the slightest as she looks up instead at the frigate drifting in dock above her.

'One wrong twitch and you're gonna be needing a parachute, girl.'

The redhead chuckles without looking up. 'Good thing I'm not twitchy.'

'You were when you got back up here. Even two weeks in nullsec really fucked you up.' The willowy Thukker woman leans forward on the railing, gazing up at the ship. 'She's looking good.'

'Yeah...' The smaller woman leans back on her elbows on the deck, swinging her feet carelessly over empty space. 'First time in ages I've fit up a Rifter. Hot little thing.'

'Hot like a bounty-huntress tricking you into an alley. Lemme see her fit.'

The Gallente tugs a datapad from one of the myriad pockets of her grease-streaked black combats and passes it up, then lays back on the deck and tucks her hands under her head. 'Bear in mind, it's all bits I had lying around. There's a couple things I need to buy.'

'Not too bad, though. You gonna rig her?'

'I was thinking I could ask you to retrieve a few things from highsec for me so I can do that.'

The Thukker hands the datapad back and lights the cigarette dangling from her generous lips. 'For a price, as usual.' She drops down gracefully into a meditation pose, her back braced against one of the railing's upright. 'Shae, you know you're welcome to stick around in H4VN' --she pronounces it 'Haven'-- 'as long as you need to, but I gotta say, we worry about you. A lot of people are worried, actually. You've not been yourself for months.'

The Gallente languidly extends a tattooed arm, plucking the cigarette from her friend's lips and drawing just enough to blow a perfect smoke-ring before handing it back. 'I need time to think. And space.'

'You wanna tell me what's been bothering you? It's not the pirating, I know you too well to think that.'

Blue eyes meet green before the green turn away to stare into the haze shrouding the hangar ceiling far above. 'I don't... I've been trying to figure things out. I feel badly for leaving after only two weeks... they deserved better of me than that.'

'You were going very quietly insane down there, and the only one who didn't see it was you.'

'I... yeah. Okay. They're good guys, they have a good cause. I'm just not accustomed to having to trust people I don't know.'

The Thukker shrugs. 'Pacts are forged for different reasons down there than they are up here.'

'And the last time I joined a nullsec alliance, the leadership flipped standings without warning the soon-to-be-red blues. That was fun.'

'That was Syndicate. It's different.'

'Doesn't mean I trust pacts like that to last.' She sighs and tugs one leg up, hooking her heel on the platform's edge. 'I like things simple. I like reds and neutrals: you don't have to keep one eye awake at night worrying about being stabbed in the back.'

Sighing, the taller woman flips the stub of her cigarette into the void. 'Face it, girl, nullsec is too complicated for you.'

'Fuck yeah, it is. I don't see why anyone would want to deal with stuff like that. Gimme a gun and a sea of neutrals and I'm happy.'

'Simple Shae,' the Minmatar chuckles. 'What do you want to do?'

'Dunno. Could do with a drink, though, sit and mull things over.'

The Matari woman flows to her feet, then reaches down to help the Gallente up. 'I've gotta bounce off Goinard, if you want a lift to the Last Gate.' When the smaller woman looks down at her grime-streaked combats and sleeveless red shirt, blazoned proudly with the Hellcats' crossed flaming swords and cat-skull logo, she laughs. 'Who gives a fuck what you're wearing? I hear grease-monkey girls are the hot thing this year.'

'You been bootlegging porn again?'

'Of course I have. C'mon, I'll drop you off at 4-5. You just have yourself a think about things, sugar.' The two turn their backs on the Rifter, bantering amiably as they exit the Vitrauze hangars.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Not So Easy

'Shae, honey, I know it's a new lifestyle, but... you'e gotta be kidding me.'

'Hang on a sec...' I flipped 'Lara's comm over to room audio. 'Okay, go ahead, what's the problem?'

'I'm looking at this shopping list you sent me. It's ridiculous! Who the hell uses railguns in combat?' Her voice followed me around the tiny apartment as I got dressed. With so many people based here, space was at a premium.

Crowded systems make me paranoid. Even when they're all blues.

'Yeah, it's weird, I know. It's what they use.'

'I dunno girl, I think you're gonna go fucking insane down there.'

I ran my hand over my face and sighed. 'I'm starting to think you're right about that. I said I'd give it two months.'

She tsked. 'You'll be back in one, Shae. I know you too well, you'll have a hard time adapting to that ranged combat bollocks.'

'Just... get the gear, Lara. And no placing bets, 'kay?'