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Alessa Sikova

The Sniper

0 · 388 views · located in Digital Shorts

a character in “Digital Shorts”, as played by Homesick Angel

Description

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♫♫♫ Ready, Aim, Fire | Imagine Dragons ♫♫♫




| Age |
34

| Appearance |
On the surface, Alessa doesn't much stand out in a crowd. She's of both middling height and heft, standing somewhere in the upper five foot area, and weights in somewhere around one-hundred fifty--sixty. A flow of brown hair falls frames her smallish face and falls down to somewhere around the middle of her back in straight locks. A pair of chestnut rings dart around her eye sockets, though upon a closer inspection it's clear that the right is obviously a replacement. The orbs are large, giving her a searching and inquisitive appearance. Musculature is also readily apparent in the woman when the opportunity presents itself. Her slender figure is backed by taut strands of muscle weaving it's way through he limbs and core, hiding power behind her frame.

Once upon a time, Alessa was military, though a glancing view of her won't do much to relay it. A study and careful watch would reveal a straight backed posture, a gait with with all auxiliary movement and waste eliminated, and a nasty habit of standing at ease with her wrists locked behind her. Her outfits are always prim and proper with the military neatness in play and she often flips between suits and ties, and flowing coats. Underneath the clothing on her right arm sits a tattoo. It reads Кров вовка, and underneath that is the image of a wolf with a bloody eye.

| Augmentations |
Alessa is no stranger to enhancement and replacement, though mainly consisting on her right side. Her right eye is a AxiSci model that allows synchronicity between a wide array of weapons and objects. Her right ear is implanted with an auxiliary hearing device that simulates a real human ear, with the added bonus of acting as a communicator augmentation. Her right arm is also entirely prosthetic as well, with a sheath of cheap synthetic skin covering it. Her right shoulder is also augmented to provide support for her arm. Apart from a few skin weaves, Alessa has no other augments.

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| History |
Alessa was born in the middle of the former Eastern Bloc, in what was once Ukraine in the year 2068. She was raised in a group who called themselves the "Кров вовка" or the Wolf's Blood. The group was in essence the remaining military elements from surrounding areas. They were always relatively small in number, but made up for it in strength. It was here that Alessa learned to fight, becoming a child soldier of sorts. She was given her first rifle at the tender age of seven. Her first kill was the very next week. Raids constantly plagued the Bloods

Life was brutal for Alessa, but the Кров вовка was home enough. In time, she grew accomplished with her rifle, making for a crack sniper. She and the Bloods repelled many raids, and conducted a few of their own when resources grew tight. It was during one of these raids that put Alessa on her path to Mars. She ways laying down covering fire with her rifle when caught something glint through her scope. By the time she recognized the glint as the scope of another rifle, it was already too late. A shot rang loud and struck her in the wrist. Due to her positioning, the bullet traveled along the her arm, shattering the limb beyond repair, and as it reach her upper arm, bounced on the thicker bone there, and took out her eye as it left her body.

She survived the ordeal, if only just barely. Someone found her before she bled out, and she was saved before blood loss took her instead. Even if she was saved, the same could not be said for her arm and her eye-- even her hearing in her right ear was affected thanks to a piece of shrapnel damaging the ear drum. She was twenty-six when this happened. It was then and there she decided that she had to get off the hell-hole of planet earth had become. While the Кров вовка were reluctant to let her go due to plain loyalty, the fact that she was missing an arm and eye limited her combat effectiveness and she was allowed to go her own way.

The Snakeheads took her money, and Alessa was on her way off-world. However, the trip wasn't as uneventful as she would've liked. A Snake sought to take advantage of the maimed woman, but after a quick lesson on кров training that ended with him staring down the barrel of his own gun, things settled down and she was dropped on Mars without a second thought. In her time on Mars, she's gotten a replacement arm and eye, as well as augmented hearing and a few skin weaves to cover up her massive scarring.

Alessa tried her hand at work that does not involve guns, but after a number of failures, and the debt incurred for the augments breathing down her neck, she found herself as a bounty hunter of sorts in Red Sand Investigations, with her partner, one Graham Case.

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So begins...

Alessa Sikova's Story

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Characters Present

Character Portrait: Alessa Sikova Character Portrait: Graham Case
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Mars
Kaiser
RSI - Tech Support


"Promise you'll be gentle Case, I'm sensitive there," A voice cooed with an edge of a Slavic accent. An exaggerated sigh answered and replied, "Don't make this weird, 'Lessa. Now come on and take a seat." Alessa simply chuckled and took a step off the wall she was leaning against, moving forward and taking a seat on Graham's desk. She then ran her hand through her brunette hair, lifting a tuft up from around her right ear and revealing a port sitting behind the lobe. Graham then produced a cord from the console on his desk. Notably he let her jack herself in.

"So tell me the problem again," Graham asked, fingers a blur as they danced across the holographic keyboard.

"problems," Alessa corrected. If the man was to be rooting around her augs, she wanted to make damn sure he knew what he was looking for. "The vision in my right eye is lagging a split second behind the other, and I think my hearing is dropping."

"Mhm. What about your arm?"

"Apart from not being real, it's fine," she answered above the rhythmic tapping of Graham's fingers. He made no other sound-- but that tapping, and Alessa had to ask, "Dammit Case, you know they have augs so you won't have to do that right? With your money, I'm sure you could afford it," She said, with a subtle edge of venom behind her tone.

"I could, but it's not the same," Graham said, a grin playing at his lips, "Call me old-fashioned."

"You're old-fashioned."

Graham paused his tapping and shook his head, he should have saw that one coming. Ignoring that comment, he continued with what he was doing, pulling up all the information on Alessa's Augs on his console. "The good news it that it's not a hardware problem."

"Slava Bogu, good, I don't have the money to replace them," She said, slipping into a bit of Slavic.

"Maybe you would if you didn't drink it all away?" Graham asked rhetorically. He couldn't see the furrowed brows of the woman sitting in front of him. "I still don't know how in the hell you managed to get so screwed with the interest on your augs. Did you even read the contract?"

"Look, spend a few years without an arm or an eye, see how much you care about the fine print," She replied defensively. But perhaps it wouldn't have hurt to maybe give it a once over after all.

Graham shook his head back and forth, but let the subject drop, using his hands to navigate through the information on the console. "Anyway, it's nothing a defragmentation on the systems in your eye won't fix," he said, pulling up a system image of her AxiSci model eye. "Still, the eye'll go dark for approximately seven minutes... Ready?"

"Do it." She said, closing the lid over her right eye.

"As for your ear-- well you just had your settings turned too low." A settings bar appeared on the screen, and with a flick of Graham's wrist, it was reset to the default settings. "You haven't been playing with them, have you?"

"I was drunk."

"Of course you were." Graham said with a shake of his head, though a light grin playing at the corner of his mouth. "Well, that should do it. How's the ear now?"

Alessa plugged the left ear with a pinky and gave a listen. She could hear the dull footsteps around them, the shutting of doors, muffled voices from other employees, and even the constant whirr of technology nipping at her artificial eardrums. "Good, it doesn't sound like I'm trying to hear everything from under a blanket now."

A chuckle came from Graham as he swiped all the information of the ear off the screen, as if shooing it away, leaving only the information about Alessa's eye "Say while we wait for your eye to defragment, we do some actual work?"

Alessa had already stood and made her way to the corner of the room where the coffee machine sat, the wire behind her ear stretching across the office. She was kind of glad that Graham had upped the length since their last diagnostic. She poured herself a cup and took a drink of the pitch black liquid, before making a face. "Case, has anyone told you your coffee tastes like ass?"

Graham simply sighed as he rubbed his chin with his hand. "Only you 'Lessa, every morning," he said as his hands danced, drawing information out of the company server and throwing it on the wall. "It's my coffee anyway, go to the lunch room if you don't like it."

Alessa only scoffed as she crossed back across the office, coming to a stop behind Graham. "That's a long walk with this thing plugged into my head," She said, leaning over his shoulder to get a better look at the screen.

"Sounds like a personal problem then. Add it to the list?"

"Yep."

The pair then grew silent as Graham worked on bringing the available jobs up on screen and Alessa watched with one eye open. He brought up the first two jobs, both of which Alessa turned down. It wasn't until Graham pulled up the last job that Alessa displayed some interest.

"Next on the list is another MSS job, Dingo and Badger Ramirez. Brothers," Graham began.

"Creative names," Alessa scoffed, blinking her right eye and noting it was still dark.

"Former Snakeheads. They decided to strike out on their own after a delivery to Mars. They've popped in and out of various gangs since, never staying in one place for long," Graham gleaned from the information given.

Alessa chuckled and spoke, "Just trying to find their place in the world. Such is life."

"Worlds, we're not on Earth any more," Graham shrugged, "Seems like the brothers have been pulling armed robberies in Hades' Kitchen... Hey... isn't that where--"

She cut him off before he could finish his sentence, answering the question in the process. "Yep, home. Knew those names were familiar, they've been fucking around my home. Never had the balls to rob me personally, but they're pissing off the locals." She then nodded, "It's in familiar territory and I really need the money. I'll take it."

Graham smiled and nodded, and wrote up an acceptance message and sent it to Anna for confirmation. As he did, Alessa finished off her coffee and took a seat back on Graham's desk. "Debt collectors knocking on the door again?" He jokingly asked.

"Shut up and see if my eye's fixed already," she answered.





Mars
Kaiser
Hades' Kitchen


After a stop at Jenks' for ammunition, Alessa was on the same route she took home every day. Hades' Kitchen was only a short hop and skip away from the RSI offices, and in a manner of hours, she chimed in through her communicators, "I'm here Case, Hades' Kitchen... Home sweet home, dirt and grime all. Talk to me,"

"Not much to say sadly. They're thugs, they keep things pretty low-key. I can feed you the robbery details, but don't expect much more than moral support from me," he replied.

"So I'm doing this the hard way?"

"Unless one of them pops on the Net and broadcasts his location, yeah. Even if I search through the Net usage from around the area, it's like looking for a needle in a haystack. There's a lot of people that use the Net, 'Lessa. The best I can do is monitor the channels until something pops up. I'm sending you the details not, I suggest starting at one of the stores they robbed, see what you can find out."

Alessa sighed, it sounded like that was the best she was gonna get for the time being. "I'll do it, it's better than nothing."

"How's your eye? and hearing?" He asked while he sent the information.

She blinked repeatedly, to make sure that her eye was still in working order, and once satisfied replied. "It's fine, whatever you did did the trick. The ear's fine too."

"Good. Data incoming, check out your tablet. I'll keep tabs on your status here and contact you if anything comes up. Good luck, and good hunting," Graham finished, ceasing contact with his last word.

With that, Alessa dipped into the leather messenger bag she carried on her shoulder and slipped out a rough beaten black tab. Her fingers slid across the foggy scratched surface, summoning it to life. In the corner of the screen a light flashed, and when she pressed it the map of Hades' Kitchen appeared, with a few brightly colored circles indicating the robberies. A frustrated sigh escaped her lips as she flicked through the information. The nearest robbery was a convenience store only a few blocks away. It was a start, at the very least. Killing the screen, she slipped the tablet back into her bag and swapped it out for a rubber band. She pulled her hair back and out of her eyes, tying it up into a bun and wrapping the band around it to keep it's shape. She was on a job now, best to keep it out of the way.

The store wasn't difficult to find, as it was one that Alessa came to on occasion for home items-- if she could call the tiny flat she lived in home. The store owner gave her the robbers' descriptions-- though she already had them in her tablet. Apparently, they were decent sized men, both standing somewhere around six foot, maybe a touch over. Wild brown eyes, even wilder brown hair cut in a strange fashion. One had a short mohawk while the other was cropped close to his head with stars cut into it. Alessa simply frowned to herself. Stupid thugs, they had no notion of subtility. Made her job that much easier in the end though. She bought a pack of cigarettes from the store, and took her exit, popping one into her mouth as she did.

She stood outside the store, tablet in hand and matching information up. Apparently, Dingo was the one with the mohawk, and Badger with the shapes. Along with the funny hair, they both had augs-- but who didn't in this day and age? Dingo had his entire left leg swapped out, while Badger was with only one real arm, as the right was also traded in. Alessa grimaced in thought, why the hell would someone willingly trade in their body parts for fake ones. Taking a drag on the smoke, she killed the power and slipped it back into her bag, walking off in the direction the store keep saw the brothers run after the robbery.

After a few more stops in other stores, she was no closer to finding them than when she started. But she wasn't the one to give up on her target. She'd stay out all day and night, if she needed to. She was finding these thugs. Fortunately, she needn't have to wait that long.

"Good news and bad news," Graham chimed through on her communicator.

Alessa never hesitated in her step, and kept moving forward, taking the cigarette out of her mouth as she spoke, "Yeah?"

"Good news, I found the Ramirez troupe. Bad news? They're right in the middle of an armed robbery."

"That makes it simple, where?" Alessa asked, sticking the cigarette back in her mouth and picking up the pace.

"Kaiser Ministop, I've got them on vid now. I'll remotely lock the doors until you get there," He said, and she could already hear his fingers working at his desktop.

"Don't," she demanded and the fingers stopped. "If you do, they might kill the shop keep in an attempt to escape."

"That's... Heroic," Graham noted with a surprised tone. In fact, he sounded like he didn't even think of the possibility of the store keep getting injured.

"Not quite, they die, and there goes a chunk of my paycheck," Alessa said, coming up on the store in question. The streets around it were oddly empty, perhaps due to the fact the people not wanting to get wrapped up in the robbery. There were no sounds other than a ruckus coming from the storefront. It sounded like Graham's intel was solid, and thankfully she was close enough to arrive before they made their exit. "Any suggestions?" Alessa asked as she came to a stop beside the store-- well out of sight of the brothers. She took the cigarette out of her mouth and flicked it into the ground. Even from where she stood, she could hear them shouting their demands at the storekeeper. She then drew her firearm from it's holster from under her coat.

There was a pause before Graham chimed in, "... Not really?" He said, totally unsure. He didn't deal with the criminals, all he did was feed Alessa data and information, she was the soldier, the tactics were up to her. But soon the point was rendered moot, "Dammit, they're leaving."

"Good," She calmly said, entirely at odds with Graham's rushed tone. Afterward, she killed the contact and listened. She pushed herself up against the corner of the store, and patiently waited. The sound of the door being slammed opened was followed by the patter of heavy footfalls in her direction. They continued to do her job for her, it sounded like. She waited until the footsteps were close, then jumped out from the corner, putting her directly in the path of one of the brothers. Surprise lit his face up like a Christmas tree, but was soon replaced by pain as she fired three rounds into his left kneecap. No blood came from the wound, only a mechanical grinding down and a shower of sparks-- Dingo.

Acting quickly, she wrapped her arm around his neck, taking a step back throwing him off balance even further, and fired another shot at the other man, hitting him squarely in the right arm, sparking as the round entered the fake limb-- Badger. A quick glance confirmed what she believed, both Dingo and Badger dropped their guns in the chaos. She kicked Dingo's gun away and then looked up at the other brother. His eyes mirrored his brother's, filled with surprise soon replaced with anger. As he reached for his gun on the ground, she shifted further behind Dingo, obscuring all of her body, leaving only a single eye peering at the man to give him a harder target to hit.

"Going somewhere?" She asked.

"Shoot her! Shoot her, shoot her, shoot her!" The man in her arms yelled as he squirmed. The squirming stopped when she fired another round into his artificial leg, causing another shower of sparks.

"I wouldn't, you'd just hit your dear old brother instead," She said, giving Dingo a little tap to the temple to show how little she was playing. "But that's just me. I only need one of you alive, and I don't much care which one it is," She said darkly.

"I'll kill you!" Badger screamed, but hesitated in reaching for his gun.

"I doubt that," She replied, taking the gun from Dingo's temple and firing toward Badger's gun. That had the intended effect as Badger withdrew his hand.

"The fuck do you want? Is it the cash? Take it and leave us the fuck alone," Dingo said, attempting at some sort of bargain. And if Alessa was a lesser person, she might have considered it. Alas, all of her years in an Earthland military unit had drilled loyalty in her very core, and she wasn't about to betray the RSI or even Decker like that.

Returning the pistol back to Dingo's temple, she spoke, "This will go one of two ways-- either of which is fine by me. I'm either taking the both of you to the MSS... Or just one, I'll let you decide which one." There was a moment of silence between the brothers, and in that moment Alessa confirmed what she had suspected. The Ramirez brother's cared for each other, and they were unwilling to sacrifice the other. In that moment, Alessa finally knew for sure that her plan had worked. She felt the weight against her arm slacken, and watched as Badger's shoulder's hitched.

"Promise you'll take us both in alive?" Badger pleaded.

Internally, Alessa let herself mentally exhale. Externally, she didn't move staying firmly behind Dingo with an iron hard grip. "Wise choice. I won't hurt you-- anymore than I already have anyway-- unless you give me a reason to. Understand? You so much as try to run and bang! The other is dead. You try and get cute, same thing. Am I perfectly clear?" She threatened. They said nothing and only responded by nodding their heads in afirmative. Removing the gun from Dingo for only a moment, she dipped into a pocket and threw a pair of handcuffs at Badger. "Put those on-- Slowly," She demanded.

As he slipped the cuffs on, Alessa loosened the grip on Dingo, but kept the gun pointed at him to slip another pair of cuffs on him. She forced them against the wall of the store, her gun always pointed at one of them as she worked to clean the scene up. She policed the weapons they dropped and allowed the storekeep to collect the dropped bag of cash as she spoke to Graham over her communicator.

"Case, contact the MSS and get me the nearest VTOL." She asked, now standing in front of the Ramirez brothers, pistol at the ready.

"On it. You only needed one, you know?"

"Think of it as a bonus," She replied.

"Well, whatever. It was still damn impressive, watched the whole thing on a corner camera."

She looked up and located the camera Graham was talking about. She then proceeded to flip the bird at the camera, smirking all the while. Alessa then indicated with her gun for the Rameriz brothers to get to their feet. "Come on, up on your feet and Remember what I said," She warned. As they got to their feet, she picked one to stand behind, grabbing his cuffs and pointing the gun at the other while she waited for the VTOL's location.

"Well, that was rude. There's a VTOL waiting at 42nd Apollo. Hurry on home now,"

"Copy that, and Case? Have a cold beer waiting for me."

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Character Portrait: Alessa Sikova Character Portrait: Graham Case
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Mars
Kaiser
RSI - Gun Range


"Hold it tighter Case, else I'm going to be the one picking your nose off the floor," The Slavic voice warned. "This isn't one of your VR games, the Panther has some bite." Having enough of Graham's posture, she hopped off the range bar and took a hold of his arms. She pressed his elbows in, locking them in place, and straightened the limb. Pressing her face against his shoulder, she lined his arm up with the target down range. "There," She said, satisfied, and taking a seat back onto the bar.

"... That was awkward," Graham said, giving Alessa a raised brow for her troubles. She never had a problem touching people, that was for sure. Though the stare only last for a moment, as he returned his gaze back down range, his arms thoroughly locked, and hands interlaced over the pistol's grip

"Shut up and shoot the damn thing-- and no cheating. Augs take all the sport out of the shot," She replied with an almost bored tone.

Graham gave one last sigh before he aimed down the sights. Only a moment passed before a shot range out through the range. Alessa tilted her head and closed her eyes, subtly shaking her head in disappointment. "What? I hit it!" He quickly defended himself.

Silently and without looking, Alessa pressed the button beside her, and summoned the target closer to the pair. Once it had arrived, only then did she venture a look. It was just as she thought-- he hit the thing, but it was wide right from the center. "Barely," She monotoned. "I heard it. You squeezed it off too fast. Took no time to aim, and fired when you were still in the middle of a breath. Augs got you spoiled. They do all the hard work for you." Her voice lined with disappointment.

Once again, Graham let a sigh slip past his lips. He sat the Panther back down on the bar and rubbed his temples, trying to ignore Jenks' chuckling nearby. "Which is why you're the field agent. If we ever get a bounty for a synth-- then I'm your man."

"Yeah, Case the AI guy. I know, we're partners remember?" She said with a quick upturn of lip.

Graham shrugged humble and glanced at the Panther laying on the bar. "Hey 'Lessa. Why that gun? You know there's bigger calibers out there, right? Some can even stop a fully Augged man in his tracks."

"Like Decker's Bulldog?" She inquired, letting her head loll back.

"A bit old fashioned, but yeah."

"Case," Alessa began, a grin forming at her lips. "Hadn't anyone told you it's not the size of your piece, but how you use it."

"You're making this weird again, 'Lessa..." He uttered through a shake of his head.

That managed a chuckle. Once she got the laugh out of her system, she reached down and picked the Panther up and ejected the magazine, ensuring it was empty. No way was she giving Graham a full mag, bullets were expensive. "The point being..." She said, as she began to field strip the pistol. "It doesn't matter how big a weapon is if you can't hit a damn thing with it."

"But I did hit it," He defended himself again.

"Maybe. It's an arm shot at best. But what if that arm was augmented, and not one of those cheap ones like mine?" She paused her work for a moment to tap the black leather glove on her right hand. She never showed the hand under the glove to anyone, not even Case. "Then you've just seriously pissed someone off." Then it was her turn to sigh, procuring a oil rag from along the bar. "You've got to be accurate. You've got to be fast, and you've got to be efficient. The Panther has twelve rounds to the Bulldog's six, not to mention the better fire rate. And with those twelve I'm willing to bet I could wreak double the havoc he could." She paused for a moment before staring through him. "And Case? I better not find out you told him I said that. Else it's your ass I'm going to wreak havoc on."

Graham brushed the threat off like he did all of them, and spoke again, "But that's why we use Augs."

"And that's why they use disruptors," She countered deftly. "And that is why I taught myself to shoot with my left hand."

"Did you really?" He asked, more impressed than anything.

Having finished with her field strip, Alessa sought to show rather than tell. She slid a single round into a magazine, and forced it into the pistol. Never leaving her seat, she wielded it with her left hand, and closed her right eye as she aimed down the range. Her arm was straight as an arrow, her breathing even and on her next inhale she fired. She ejected the magazine as Graham brought the target up to them.

He looked at the piece of paper and studied her handiwork. The shot was to the left-- about a few centimeters to the left to be exact. Far closer than he'd managed with both of his eyes and hands. "Impressive."

"Have your arm and eye blown out-- you'll learn some things." She said with a dark smile. "You owe me a bottle of whiskey for the demonstration. You know the kind I like."

Graham opened his mouth to refuse her before he shut it again. Where was the use? "Phobos Black Label?

"Phobos Black Label. Now how about we do some work?"

"Sure. Got your tablet on you?"

Alessa didn't bother with a yes, instead reaching for her messenger bag nearby. She rifled through the bag, retrieving the black scratched tablet and handed it to Graham.

He looked at the tablet with an raised eyebrow and shake of his head. "It's... Seen better days," He said quite simply.

She responded with a bored look and a shrug. "It was cheap," She explained.

"Clearly." Nevertheless, Graham's fingers began their dance across the screen, drawing the tablet to life and making it sing in a way that Alessa never could. In a matter of moments, Graham was already tapped into the RSI's network, and pulling up the available jobs. An intrigued coo followed as he sat the tablet onto the bar for Alessa to see. "We've got an official one. From the bossman himself."

"No shit? What's it about?" She said, hovering over the tablet.

"Remember that meeting him and Ms. Hanzo had?"

"The one that went fucked? Yeah?"

"Turns out the boss wants the girl Interceptor caught. 'Moved to our custody' the report says. Basically we're supposed to steal this woman. There's to be no fatalities, violence to SI is to be minimized." As he spoke, Graham crossed his arms and tilted his head a bit.

An exasperated chuckle escaped Alessa's lips as she spoke, "sounds like it needs finesse that we don't have Case. It sounds like an Eckhard or a Rouvelle mission."

"And not a Sikova one?" Graham chuckled. Moving on he read off the next mission. "A casino job? Nabbing a cat burglar."

"The last place I need to be is in a casino Case," She denied.

Nodding, he tapped the tablet, pulling up the next job. Eyebrows rose in unison as both Graham and Alessa read over the mission details. "Well?" Graham asked.

"That sounds like a Sikova job. Take it, I've got to see Jenks about some Jellybeans." She said, hopping off the bar and heading toward the man in question.




Mars
Aeolis Mons
5.08°S 137.85°E


"Rigs, don't you dare drop that crate, or the creds'll come out your goddamned ass." A woman barked. She was wreathed in a hardsuit, gray scratched metal alloy encasing her in a shell. Around her shoulders was an orange mantle. Orange was a stupid color for someone like her to wear to wear, she knew this. But she was outside the Atmo-rings, surrounded by a number of like-minded criminal-- most of which wanted her goods. So she wore the orange to stand out from all the other hardsuits, so if someone wanted to buy from her, they'd have no problem finding her.

"Dammit Carla, get off my ass!" The man carrying the crate barked back. "This shit's heavy!"

"That's the idea. We're selling that shit, so the more we got, the more we get." Through the amber faceplate, an older woman's face sat framed against the backlight. She looked to be in her late thirties, but with technology the way it was, who even knew her real age? Short blonde hair sat perched upon her crown, cut short in a pixy fashion. Electric blue eyes sat in her sockets, which were organic and completely hers. It would be stupid for her to augment herself when she worked so closely with disruptors.

Carla followed Rigs all the way to the booth she had set up at this fair. She let herself smile a little at the whole image of it. The whole thing was very official-like with the booths set up in rows, tables lined with the best hardware found in the underworld. In an hour or so, Various dealers would be extolling the virtues of their goods and trying their best to sell their own weapons to an array of buyers. It almost made her forget that what they were doing was highly illicit. Almost. They came to a stop at a long table, where Rigs sat the crate down and popped the top.

Rigs then left to no doubt retrieve the rest of the crates, leaving the Carla to lay out and organize the weaponry. Was followed next was a whirlwind of activity as she sat about her work, pulling disruptors of all shapes and sizes out of the crate and laying them out on the table. There were small handheld one to be used at close ranges, ones to be used at a longer range. Anything and everything to shut down augments of any kinds soon found their ways to her table-- with many more laying in wait in crates behind her.

"That it?" Rigs asked, watching as Carla put the finishing touches on her booth. Rigs was a large man looming a whole foot over Carla. The augments he had in both arms and legs didn't hurt. His faceplate was a purple color, though the bearded face laying within wasn't obscured in the slightest. A strong jaw culminated in the wide chin and low cheekbones cemented his place as her bodyguard and occasional mule.

"Yeah. Place should start to get busy soon. Street hoods, professional gangs-- the whole works. Time to earn our keep," He said, giving the man a toothy grin before gently punching him in the chest.

Rigs simply smile and shook his head. "Hope I don't have to crush someone like last time."

"Hey. Sticky fingers thought he could get away with it, you showed 'em otherwise. Still impressed you could run that fast," She said turning around and standing behind the table. "Well, don't just stand there. Start hawking."

It wasn't long before customers started to file in from all over. Carla explained the inner workings of her weaponry time and time again, always giving enough information, but never too much. She repeated statistics of the amount of Augs found in both the bounty companies and the MSS. "My weaponry only has a one percent chance of sterility." She explained to one individual, the fact causing Rigs to roll his eyes. At one point, one customer requested a demonstration, and with no hesitation she picked the disruptor up and fired it off at Rigs-- suddenly causing him to fall forward all his limbs went limp. "And look," She pointed out over Rigs' cussing. "No damage to his hardsuit."

"Goddammit Carla! Fuckin' warn me next time!" He barked as the paralysis wore off, and the customer went happily along his way with his new Excelsior model Disruptor. It was nearing the end of the day, where most of the buyers were tapering off and even some of the vendors were beginning to pack up.

"Yeah, but where's the fun in that?" She teased. "Hush and help me pack this shit up-- it shouldn't be near as heavy now you big baby." That's when she felt something on her chest. Something slammed into her with enough force to push her backward and cause her to stumble. "What the fuck?" She asked as she put placed a hand where whatever it was had struck her. When she pulled it back she saw it to be some sort of blue gelatinous fluid, with metallic flakes sprinkled inside for good measure. "Oh shit-- Rigs!" She managed before the electric shock kicked in. It had enough voltage to immediately lock her body up and force her to the ground in a crumpled mess of pain.

The last thing she heard before she was forced into the dull lullaby of unconsciousness was the shot ripping through the hostile Martian air.




Earlier...
2,051 Meters Away...


"Got eyes yet Case?"

The communicator embedded in her ear came alive with the sound of Graham's voice, tinged with a hint of frustration. "No, are you sure you didn't drop the thing?"

Alessa simply sighed and responded, "No Case, I think I would remember dropping a camera." She said, tapping the instrument beside her. The instrument she referred to was something of Graham's own make. A lightweight camera connected to a mechanical tripod, with wires connecting to an external battery. Another wire connected to Alessa's tablet nearby, to enable connectivity to net. "I'm going to need a spotter today." She said, giving a slight rap to the camera. Percussive patience always worked.

Case was silent on the other side, and Alessa didn't press him for anymore. He did his best techno-wizardry when she wasn't chatting into his ear. And that silent payed off moments later as the camera whirred to life beside her. "I've got a feed. Wind speed, gravity, distance, everything's green."

"And you sure the lens won't give away our position?"

Nonreflective materials, same as your scope. We are effectively invisible. Anything happened?"

"No, not much. It's still early, they're still setting up stalls and putting out their goods. Our target's not made her appearance yet," Alessa said, sightinig down the scope of her rifle. The charcoal face plate of her hardsuit lit up with a myriad of information-- namely of Carla Reynolds' image. Though she missed the feeling of the scope to her naked eye, the hardsuit more than made up for it with it's ability to relay information to her.

Alessa had set up in the foothills of Aeolis Mons, giving her a good vantage point on the arms fair. She'd been lifted in via VTOL a few kilometers out and hiked her way to her overwatch position. Her hardsuit was colored and patterned in the same way that the Martian ground was, as well as having a tarp thrown over both her and Graham's camera. She was still roughly two kilometers away from the fair, a decent distance even for her rifle. "When we get ready to take the shot Case, I'm relying on your information," she said. He had the tools on his end to calculate the bullet drop on his end-- this wasn't Earth she was shooting on, everything was different. Gravity's effect on the bullet, the shifting winds, even the Coriolis effect, that would be all on him.

"I've got the program up and running. Whenever we're set, the shot won't miss. Programmed it myself," He said, his voice lined with an edge of pride.

Alessa chuckled in response and nodded, "Sound's good. If we do miss, it's coming out of your paycheck."

"It won't," he said confidently

"That's what I like to hear. Now eyes open, we've got work to do."

Time slowly slipped away as both Alessa and Graham kept watch on the arm's fair awaiting their target. An hour later, Graham was the one to speak first. "There she is," He said, sending a live feed to Alessa's face plate. Sure enough, as soon as she turned to give Alessa a better look into her helmet, the face that sat there matched the image she'd seen. "Gunmetal suit, orange mantle-- makes our job easier," He said as her range popped up on screen along with the feed.

"I've got her sighted. See that fellow behind her? Willing to be the crate he's carrying has her toys in it?"

"I'd rather not. I'll get the program up and--" Before he could finish his sentence, Alessa spoke up and cut him off.

"Case. Patience, if we take the shot now, the entire arms fair will be firing everything they got in this general direction. I'd rather not take that chance on getting nicked. We wait until the fair starts to wind down," She said, the experience in her voice overuling any objections Graham may have had.

"Okay, I'll keep it running in the background. Whenever you need it, it's ready," He said, and at that moment a red dot appeared in her helmet. As she looked down the scope, she lined the red dot up with the center of the crosshair-- lighting the dot green as she did.

"Thanks," She said, taking the scope off the dot and returned back to Carla.

Hours passed with Alessa intently watching their target. She was the model of calm patience, she never stirred, never moved, and never even yawned. Graham could do nothing but marvel at the level of patience and discipline she was displaying. Already he had to stand up and walk a few laps around his desk.

"Case, you there?" She suddenly asked.

"Always. Is it time?"

"Mhm, looks like they're getting ready to head out. On my count," She said, lining the sights up with the red dot again.

"Program's running, distance 2,052 meters. Wind speed, drop, everything's accounted for. When you're ready."

"Three, two, one... Firing," Alessa gentle squeezed the trigger, causing the rifle to exploded to life. In a single fluid movement, Alessa worked the bolt, ejecting the spent cartridge and loading another from the magazine. She watched through the scope and waited for the hit.

"Target struck. You sure your Jellybean'll work for this distance?"

Alessa didn't respond at first, opting instead to watch the round take effect. The round was a conductive-gelatin based projectile she had nicknamed the Jellybean, encapsulated by a skin of plastic that explodes on impact. Inside the gelatin were hundreds of of flakes of shaved metal to aid in the conduction of electricity, amplifying the volts running through the material. It had enough shock to pacify any ordinary humans, but unfortunately had less of an impact on augged individuals. Fortunately Carla was completely unaugmented. She watched as he target collapsed into a heap.

"There's your answer," she said, sounding rushed. "Case, paint me targets.

"On it, just rinse and repeat," He said. The first target was the man who had carried Carla's crates. Alessa squeezed the trigger again, sending another round the two-thousand and something meters down range. He was moving to assist Carla, and to ensure that their target stayed there he too was pacified-- far more violently. The rounds she were using now were lethal-- the only one she really needed alive was Carla, and thus only the first round had been a Jellybean. Alessa's scope had already switched targets by the time the man was struck in spout of crimson nor did she watch him slump over the table and throwing the disruptors into the Martian dirt.

By then, confusion and panic had set in on what remained of the arms fair. Those who sought to grab a weapon and fire in the direction of the gunshot were put down, but those who decided to escape instead were left to do so. Though far less than what it was, there still remained more people than she had bullets. Still, her rifle spat bullet after bullet in a savage symphony. In the end she only had to waste a magazine and some rounds before the arms dealers got the picture, grabbing what they could of their merchandise and escaping into the Martian wilderness as they could. Still, she was patient. She didn't immediately rise to her feet, nor did she congratulate Case on a job well done. She scanned the the remnants of the fair for half-an-hour just to be sure.

Once she was satisfied, she called out to Case, "Targets neutralized. Everything seems quiet. Give the MSS the Coordinates for target pick up, I'll start heading that way," She said, as she began to police her casing, and pack up Graham's camera. She stood like a ghost rising up from the dirt, her burlap cloak whipping in the Martian wind. Her rifle was slung around her chest, tight in her grip. She wasn't going to let her guard down until after she returned to the RSI offices. She was worried there might have still be stragglers. So she began her slow decent down the foothills of Aeolis Mons.

"MSS are en route 'Lessa, you should meet them there. Patching into your suit camera," He said, killing the feed and power to the camera and reviving the one on her suit. "What's the damage?" He asked.

"Aside from the target, twelve casualties, and seven warning shots. The rest grabbed their shit and scattered."

Graham was quiet for a time before speaking again, "A lot of people for just one woman."

"Maybe... But sooner or later they would have bit it too, either by us, another bounty group, or a gang raid. You don't get into that business with a great life expectancy."

"Fair enough."

They were quiet for the rest of Alessa's trek, and by the time she descended the rest of the way down the mountain, the tell-tale sounds of a VTOL descended into the valley. She looked up just in time to see the VTOL pass overhead and head toward the former arms fair. Another twenty minutes saw Alessa meeting with the MSS. One of the officers spoke up, "Red Sands?"

"Mhm. Alessa Sikova-- Case?"

"Sending credentials."

The officer looked away for a moment before returning gaze, apparently getting what he needed. "You check out. Good work here, maybe this'll get some of the guns off the streets," The officer said. "And good job nailing that bitch," Another one spoke up, "Thompson was a good man. He deserved this much."

Alessa nodded absent-mindly, as something in the Martian dust garnered her attention. She knelt and brushed the dirt off it and was greeted by a weapon of some sort. She picked it up in her hand and turned it over, noting the make. It wasn't a conventional weapon-- a disruptor. It was a small version, with a pistol like shape. She tucked it into her hardsuit as the Officer watched and asked, "A souvenir?"

"Something like that," She replied. She knew a person who would like it. Whatever her reasoning was for not killing, Sami could use a better disruptor for the bounties with augments.

"We're finishing up here, you can wait in the VTOL until exfil," The officer said, hooking a thumb backward.

Alessa nodded in agreement and headed toward it, "Case, send a report to Hassan. Mission complete, and I'm on my way home."

"On it. You enjoy the view now," Graham said, chuckling as he spoke.

Alessa paused and threw a glance around her at the Martian landscape. She lingered on it for a moment before shaking her head, "Red isn't my favorite of colors," She said, hopping into the VTOL.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Marcus Sun Character Portrait: Sami Rouvelle Character Portrait: Alessa Sikova Character Portrait: Graham Case
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[co-written with Homesick_Angel]

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Mars
Kaiser Port
Bluebird class Cargo Transport


"You know the worst part about this particular job?" Graham asked aloud, partially hidden by a table full of portable desktops. Somewhere underneath the table Graham lay, connecting cords, wiring desktops, and making sure that their connections were good.

"Your constant complaining?" Alessa asked sarcastically, her fingers dancing through the sensitive innards of an assault rifle she had requistioned. It was an unfamilar rifle, she had to field strip and clean it to make absolutely certain that the insides were clearn, else run the risk of it jamming at a time when it really shouldn't. In the end, a clean gun might save all of their asses. It wasn't like in the cities of Mars where her Panther was enough to shut down any thugs, nor was it outside the Atmo-rings where a long-range sniper rifle was needed. Here, she was planning on sticking right next to their client, and personally ensure that he lived through this job if things turned sour.

A blonde head popped over the lip of the table and stared at her for a time before answering, "It's dragging everything we need onboard, and then it's the set up, and then it's synchronising with everyone-- and then when it's all over and the job's done, it's shutting everything down and dragging it back off the ship." Hazel eyes regarded her for one second more before they disappeared below the table again. Not only was he setting up his work station, but Marcus's as well, as he was off getting a check-up in the ship's infirmary. "Whatever, Marcus can set up his own personal preferences when he gets back," He continued to gripe.

"Look at it this way, Case. At least you have something to do for the trip," She said, slamming a component back into the rifle. The M-gate was monster of physics equations with words that Alessa didn't even know how to pronounce, much less know their meaning. All she really knew is they flew into one gate and ten hours later they pop out another one, while twenty hours elapsed outside. It was simplier if she tried not thinking about it too much.

Both Graham and Alessa was within the Cargo bay of a Bluebird class Transport. While Bluebird brings to mind the images of graceful feathery creatures dancing through the air effortlessly, the Bluebird was decidely not it's namesake unless you decided to paint it blue. It was a cargo transport with emphasis on the transport. The defenses were minimal, the speed was lacking-- but it did have enough room to fit a VTOL in the Cargo. Alessa brushed her hair back with a gloved hand and looked at the vehicle nearby. Graham had decided to take a corner of the bay for the Support team, so the VTOL was within sight at all times.

"So you see, the situation there is very...delicate. It would have escalated had Asa sent some of their personnel with me. The workers have their gripes," Timo Glock strolled in with Jenks beside him.

Timo was indeed a suit as Anna had professed. Although, these days, suits of anykind were more skin tight, and bows were out of fashion, for practical reasons, and to some extent sartorial ones. The man was of middle height, there was nothing extraordinary about him. However, it was possible that the man known as the "Negotiator" knew that, and he used it to his advantage.

Jenks, for his part, was in a grey skin tight suit, ready to slip into a chunk of armor if necessary, but he figured his augmentations worked pretty well.

"Again, thank you so much for doing this."

"No problem, Mr. Glock, it's what we do at RSI," Jenks glanced over at the pair, Graham and Alessa, letting a short and sly smile slip by. Brand positioning, if all went well, Timo Glock and Asa could add RSI onto their list of contacts.

"Do you think it would be necessary for...well, heavy weapons?" Jenks asked, "I understand that they're a bit disgruntled given the current situation."

Timo let a sigh escape, "Quite so," he calmly replied, "It would be best not to aggravate them, there have been multiple times in history when ambassadors or envoys have been killed for no reason. All the guns in the world wouldn't be able to save us. At your discretion, sir."

Jenks nodded before following up with another "Do you know what you're expecting?"

The negotiator shook his head, "No. They mean business. And I intend to do business with them."

Jenks nodded once more, it was a good enough answer for him. They continued to converse as they entered the winding corridor that led to the bridge, leaving the two RSI operatives to themselves. Privacy eluded Graham and Alessa as Sami exited a nearby corridor, the metal blast door hissed to a close behind her.

"Hey guys, need any help?" Sami spotted Graham working on some wires while Alessa was managing her rifle, or perhaps fondling it.

Sami expected as much from one of the best marksmen, or markswomen that RSI had to field.

"No," Alessa answered simply. "This is something I have to do myself," Not that she didn't trust the woman, but if the weapon misfired, then it would be on her head and her head alone. "See if Graham has anything for you, or at least take his attention off of complaining," she said, never taking her eyes off the rifle.

At the mention of his name, Graham's head popped up from under the table. He took a moment to register what was being asked, "Oh! Hey Sami. Yeah, you got your goggles on you? We can go ahead and sych them with the desktops. I want a visual feed so we can see what you see in the field-- and we'll link up your communicator while we're at it."

"Hmm, oh yeah," she immediately unlatched one of her suit's waist compartments holding her goggles.

And she walked over to the tech and handed it to him, letting him manage all the tech components as she admired his work. She wished she could half the things that they did, but then again, she enjoyed being a field operative for a reason.

Graham then hefted himself into a nearby chair, and his fingers began tapping away at the console. As he tapped, he tried to make small-talk. "So what do you think about Mister Timo?"

"Not much," she said absentmindedly.

She hadn't really read up much on his profile, and at first glance he was everything Anna said he would be.

His eyes turned toward the blast doors Jenks and Timo had left though and then shrugged. "He reminds me of my dad, honestly. Maybe it's just the suit, but he's a business man too. Though you wouldn't see my dad setting foot on Titan unless he absolutely needed to," He said.

He picked up her goggles and began the syncing process, a few more button presses and an image appeared on the desktop in front of him. He put her goggles in front of his face and looked through them at Sami, noting the mirror image on his desktop. Nodding his approval, he turned around and spoke into the communicator, an echo reverberating back through the console.

He turned around with a frown and handed the goggles back. "The volume is too low, and there's a bit of reverb going on. But it's nothing I can't fix," he finished, wiping the image from screen. He would pull it back up when he needed it. "It's all good, now I won't have to do it later," he said with a nod.

His attention then drifted back to Timo and his thoughts on him. "He might seem stiff-- but he's clever. You don't do what he does for long without being sharp as a tack. A lot of people in our work don't like to negotiate and a suit can be just as dangerous as a soldier," he said, pointing at the nearby Alessa.

"And it's our job to make sure he stays sharp," Alessa spoke up, finally looking away from her rifle. The weapon was once again fully operational and put together.

"I'm going to be glued to his shoulder while the negotiations are taking place, Rouvelle. What do you plan on doing?" She asked, leaning the rifle up against the nearby wall.

Sami gave a good look at the woman, she seemed as though she was ready for war, and here Sami was in the dockingbay unarmed. She simply had not unpacked her belongings in her habitation unit, a dank little cell like space for sleep. She looked back at Graham, he had made some good points. They made sense to her because that was who she was, and she was never a killer.

"Honestly," she returned to Alessa, "I don't know yet. I don't even know why the bossman wanted me," she paused,"Me and Marcus here."

Her partner was in the infirmary, it was one among many trips that he had taken ever since what happened in Cangwu. The physicians said he had some heavy internal bleeding, but it didn't appear so when she found him sitting in an alley with just a bit of blood under his lip.

She would often look at Marcus and wonder why he wasn't the field operative instead, he could take a punch, she was sure of that. Of course, whatever it was, they slipped up. He was not dead at least, one of the few pieces of good news.

"So besides guarding the guy, what's going on here?"

"Who knows?" Alessa said with a shrug, "He's got to be paying a hefty price for the boss to send us on this little field trip," she said with a small grin.

Graham glanced at her and then back to Sami, "She's not wrong, we've got access to some serious hardware for this mission. The Bluebird, the VTOL, we've even got access to some drones in the area. It could be that Timo's just covering his bases, or maybe he knows something we don't. Let's hope it's not the latter," He said, leaning back against his chair.

"But," Alessa provided, "Glock's the one paying, so our first and only concern is him and his safety."

"Yeah, but it doesn't hurt to be a little curious," he said, leaning forward back onto the desktop. A few keystrokes later and he was brought the information he was looking for. "Titan's main occupation is mining, so the bulk of the company is underground. You're to be dropped on the roof of the Asa office's, but where the meeting's being held... That's something only Mister Timo knows."

"But if I were the workers, then I'd push for the meeting to be in the mines. That's their home turf, and they know it-- we don't. And with the companys' short leash on their workers, I'd want every possible advantage on my side," Alessa said.

"This is all conjecture, of course. It could be a simple cut and dry talk in the end," Graham reminded.

"You make it sound like there's going to be a firefight," Sami looked at Alessa.

Old habits die hard, she guessed.

"I mean, he's nothing more than a negotiator, right?" she asked.

"That doesn't necessarily mean that this is going to go according to his plan," another voice interjected.

Sami turned to catch Marcus coming in from another corridor. His bruises had subsided, he had a stitch bandage just below his left eye where Charlie Lewis had clocked him the week before. All other wounds were in his torso, covered from the eye by a black jacket.

"Marcus?"

He looked at her with a pair of odd eyes, "What?"

He had not changed, "So what did the doctor say?" Sami piped, eager for the news as ever.

"He says," he paused and cleared his throat, "That it's okay for me to walk, but that I should not over-exert myself," he ended his certain tone with a pause that went hand in hand with a certain look aimed at Sami.

"You make it sound like I fell out of a VTOL," he snapped, "Anyway...is everything good to go? When are we leaving port?"

Sami exhaled and shook her head, she knew for sure he had not changed.

The blast door leading to the bridge slid open with the crunch of Jenks' boots, the team looked at him.

"Now," his lips moved, but no sound came as he waved them in his direction.




Bridge

Jenks was at the front, managing the navigation console. Before joining RSI, he previously worked as a ship pilot and navigator for merchant freighters. It was either that or security detail, both of which he became proficient and useful enough for Decker to accept him.

Timo stood near the central table, which was a giant holographic panel with net access that bathed his face in a cyan glow. The techs were at their respective consoles with their field operatives beside them. Jenks set the ship on a suitable cruising vector toward the M-Gate, where the ship's credentials would be scanned before it was allowed through the stream. Then he stood up and joined Timo at the central table, where he tapped the interface and brought up the files Anna had sent them. The table immediately beamed to life, a giant three-dimensional box of pixels composed of light was formed by the table's projectors. Most cargo transports were not has sophisicated as this one. The Bluebird was not the newest, but it was fairly modern, by about one and half years. The newer models had sleeker interiors, all the wires and hubs completely covered by plating for aesthetic purposes more than anything.

The four sides of the box lit up with screens showing news reports and feeds, and a stock ticker rolling ceaseless at the bottom edge. Volume was muted though.

Alessa nudged Graham's shoulder and pointed out a name on the stock ticker, causing the man to grin to himself, "I see it, AI Models gained five points. Dad ought to be happy about that."

Sami watched the space from the side viewport, having never been on an interplanetary ship before in her life except once in her childhood, when she could not remember a thing. Now she was old enough to appreciate the glittering jewels that sat against the great drape that was a mix of ebony and velvet swirls. Sami quickly joined the two men at the table after she had enough time to contemplate the stars. Marcus swiveled around in his chair after he had finished adjusting his console's settings to suit his personal tastes.

"Alright, Mr. Glock, you have the floor," Jenks folded his arms.

"Right, um, so I'm sure you all have read the briefs. But let's freshen up a bit. Asa Corporation," he paused, "Is one of the largest mining conglomerates based in Mars with one of the largest mining operations in Titan."

Glock pressed a key on the table, and the screens immediately shifted to logos of Asa Corp. followed by a montage relating to the company, from short clips of the CEO and other executives supposedly touring mines to promotional advertisements.

"They have a lot to lose. Partially, I think fault lies with my superiors, they don't really understand conditions on Titan, and I would be lying if I claimed to know what it was like. Of course, this analysis is a story for another time."

"Asa doesn't really want to...how do I put this...lose," he exhaled slightly.

"The workers are probably dead-set on unionizing if they don't get what they want," he paused before continuing, "But then again, they could probably do so and get away with much more from Asa based on our current straits."

"I'm sure you're aware that they took over all of Asa Corp's ports, save one. Nevertheless, the operation has effectively shut down, which has taken a drain on Asa Corp assets. While the board of executives is trying to manage the situation back on Mars, the managerial and security staff of the Titan operation is holed up within their management offices, waiting for a reply from headquarters. They're probably surviving off of rats and other things that I do not wish to imagine. I kid though. They're armed, which would technically be against the law back on Mars, but Titan has a different set of rules."

The screens then faded out of the Asa Corp. montage and went to news footage of miners on strike with multiple headlines as Glock pressed another key before he continued.

"So far the situation has been, in a word...tense. Other corporations with operations in the sector such as Hybari Group and the Galilean Resources Combine are already licking their fangs and ready to pounce."

"It sounds like you've got a lot riding on this," Sami stated.

The negotiator nodded solemnly, "It's possible that the workers have already started arming themselves. And if I...if the negotiations fail...then this might become one of the largest mining strike or riot since the 2074 Iazu Strike. Workers were denied leave to grieve for the loss of loved ones."

"Just damned inhumane," Marcus muttered and shook his head, which drew a glance from Sami.

He knew what it was like, he used to be a miner on Mars, but he was under the employ of Neiro Resources. They treated their workers with some respect, at least compared to what he heard of Titan based operations.

"The landscape is full of mines, and the towns are full of miners. I suggest you be careful," his aims went to the women, "I can't make any guarantees aside from you'll get paid if I manage to get out of there alive, which is all I ask from you. The contract, which I hammered out myself with your boss Mr. Decker, stipulates that payment will be received upon my safe return to Mars. I'll try my best not to rile them, and I hope you do the same."

He nodded to Jenks and took a step back.

Alessa let her head lilt to the side as she spoke, "We're the bodyguards, you're the negotiator. Don't worry about us irritating them, you're the only one who's going to be speaking." She wasn't being paid to speak, only to make sure he didn't end up riddled with bullets. "I'm going to be right beside you during most of the talks and if things sound like they're starting to turn sour, we'll leave. We don't want to shoot our way out unless we absolutely have to."

"And I'll moniter the area around the offices via drones in the air." Graham added, "We'll also have a direct line to both of our field agents if anything unusual turns up. With luck, we'll have four sets of eyes on the meeting at all times."

"Why do you get to use the drones?" Marcus angled his head at Graham.

Sami scoffed, "Why does it matter who gets to use the drones?"

"Uh, it certainly matters. It matters very much. One man can't handle all of those drones," he fired back before he turned to Graham, "Don't be greedy."

"... I meant we?" Graham offered tentatively, before chuckling smoothly. Everyone wanted to play with the new toys.

Jenks shaking his head did not boost the negotiator's confidence much after Alessa mentioned the 'shoot their way out' scenario, the possibility of which seemed to increase steadily.

"I apologize, Mr. Glock, he's just normally like this, but you can trust in his professionalism."

Mr. Glock gave a hesitant nod.

Then the news feeds, which were live feeds, switched to a new story. The tagline of which was, 'Six Cangwu Casinos Pilfered."

As soon as he saw this, Marcus exhaled a 'son of a bitch' to all the synth newscasters.

"You'll get the bastard," Graham whispered to Marcus.

Marcus replied with a flippant sideways glance.

Alessa followed up by painting a grin on her face and giving her best it'll be fine shrug. "It's what you're paying us for. We have to consider all the possibilities, no matter how unsavory. It may all turn out fine, and all this planning was just excess. Either way, it's better to be overprepared than under."

"Alright, plan is simple, Sami, Alessa, you guys are with me on the ground. I'll be piloting the VTOL. Can I trust you boys to keep this ship intact while we're gone?" Jenks' eyes went from Marcus to Graham before resting on Marcus.




The jump through the Martian gate terminal to the Titan gate terminal was a tricky one. Ships had never been lost in M-gate travel, but there was always a first in a world that seemed unbound, or rather, unexplained by the laws of physics. Nevertheless, time remained the same on the Bluebird cargo transport, and ten hours would be the estimated travel time within the field, but with twenty hours elapsing in real space.

There were few things to do on a cargo ship. Sleep, eat, and wait.

Marcus, for one, was snoozing away in his compartment, still resting the bruises and internal bleeding he had incurred from the previous bounty.

Timo had retired to his quarters, resting his mind for a longer journey up ahead. The struggle in a coming heated negotiation required as much.

Jenks was in the cargo bay checking his equipment and the Penguin LT-82 VTOL transport that he would later pilot.

Sami found herself in the bridge sitting with her legs outstretched over one of the terminals, half-awake. All she could see out of the viewport was pure blackness, she had never been in space before. The void seemed to frighten her, it was something unnatural and hard to understand. She was more familiar with skyscrapers, run down slums, holo boards, drinks, maglev and tube trains. Now, she had no interest in the starless night, but she found the bridge soothing to sleep in. The silent hums, the whispering whirs, and the intervaled beeps all synchronized into a dull, yet pleasant digital lullaby.

She was nearly about to drool had the nearby blast door not hiss open. Jenks stepped in with a mug, he seemed to be lax. He looked like he just came out of the shower, he was in a loose fitting jumpsuit, not like his earlier combat vest. Sami's eyes flitted to alertness, but Jenks signaled her to continue sleeping with a wave of his hand. By that point, she was already awake. Jenks sat in the chair closest to the forward viewport. No stars, just the glowing terminals.

He took a solitary sip.

"Is that beer?" Sami asked, pulling herself up to a sitting position.

"God no. I'm not Marcus."

They both laughed.

"Couldn't sleep?"

Jenks managed a mild smile, "I don't know, can't really tell if it's day or night," he thumbed toward the view port.

He continued, "Imagine if we never get out of this...place."

"I'd rather not," Sami reclined again.

"So how's Marcus?"

"He's...a dumbass."

"What happened?"

She sighed, "I don't know. I guess we were unprepared. We...I guess I should say he found out the hard way that our target had augmented legs."

Jenks's surprise was capped by a slight gaping mouth.

"He's fine though, they fixed him up. It wasn't too bad, but the guy slipped out of our hands."

Jenks nodded and sipped.

Sami yawned, "So how long before we reach Titan?"

Jenks checked the monitor, "We've got another four hours," he took another sip.




"Red Sand Investigation," Jenks spoke through the comm.

There was a long pause on the other end as the group sat patiently waiting in the bridge.

The orbital space station revolved around Titan with a central space elevator connected to a planetary platform located outside the capital city atmo ring.

"Alright you are clear for entry. Enjoy your time on Titan."

The cargo transport cruised to a point of stationary orbit above the moon, one that was assigned by an AI onboard the M-Gate control station.

"Alright everyone suit up," as Jenks said this, Graham retched over his screen.

"That is not pretty," Marcus grimaced, all across the board the reaction was the same.

Graham fell over clutching his sides. The entire episode ended with Jenks and Marcus carrying the unconscious tech to his quarters. Alessa looked visibly distraught from what Sami could tell.

"Hey he's gonna be alright, what happened?"

She was verbally responseless as she shook her head and shrugged.

Minutes later, the men came back, Jenks' face was grave.

"I don't think he'll be joining us," he turned to Marcus, "I guess you're gonna be our eyes and ears."

Marcus nodded. With Graham out of commission for the time being, he was left with managing all the screens, a task that would require more focus than he would have liked. All they had to do was get this guy out safely, and they could get paid. That was all that mattered, it would not be too hard.

"Okay, let's hope everything works out," Jenks turned to Glock.

Minutes later, Marcus saw the VTOL transport descend onto Titan from one of the cameras located on the side of the ship. Once it was out of sight his fingers raced across the haptic interface, he was activating the surveillance drones that were stowed aboard the transport.

The screen was then divided into eight smaller screens, four of which were devoted to the drones, the other four were monitoring those onboard the ship.




"The signal seems to be fine, drones activated. I've sent the coordinates of the Asa Corp headquarters to your console. I'll keep the comm closed for now."

"Copy that," Jenks said, switching off a button in the cockpit. Then he activated the ship's announcement system, "Alright, we'll be touching down on the roof of the main offices in five minutes. From there, everybody knows what they need to do."

Minutes later the VTOL thrusts whipped the air around the landing pad as it touched down. Several armed guards in full black combat vests were waiting for them. It seemed the situation had gotten very tense. Jenks stayed back while Sami, Alessa, and Glock made their way with a security detail to a tube that would send them to the core of the management offices.

"We apologize that Mr. Praxus could not personally greet you," one of the security guards told them, trying to make small talk.

Orek Praxus was the director for Asa Corporation mining operations on Titan. Beyond that, Timo Glock did not know much more about the man. They had a few correspondences, mainly Timo giving him advice and tempoary solutions on how to deal with the disgruntled workers.

They entered the tube and would not see the artificial rays of sunlight for a good five minutes as the tube transported them at a speed of mach 1. The doors slid open upon their arrival within an atrium that served as the lobby of the office building. Their clicking steps on the black marble floor were met by the director as he exited his office. He was a tall man, vain, pompous, the archetypical image of a corporate bureaucrat. Sami and Alessa stood at a distance as Timo and the director talked while the guards dispersed to their stations. The office building looked like a fort under siege given the number of armed guards that Sami spotted on the inside.

Add that to the number of guards that Marcus scoped out on the outside via the eyes on the drones and they could conclude that it truly was a tense situation.

Timo, Alessa, and Praxus disappeared into a conference room leaving Sami to do whatever she wanted such as wandering the premises, which she did.

The few pieces of flora that adorned the interior of the sleek and sterile management environment were fed by automated streams of water that were connected directly to a fountain of water. She danced around until she exited the building and walked around outside. That was where all the commotion was. A large crowd of workers, waving holoboards with the usual signs, 'Down With Asa!', 'No Union, No Miners!', 'Stop Digging Into Our Wages!', and then there were a few that were radical, which was subjective, like "Go Drill Yourself!."

They clearly outnumbered the guards, but they had not broken into the compound yet probably because they were cowed by the automatic weapons in the hands of the security.

"Psst, Sami," her comm buzzed.

"Marcus? What is it?"

"I did some snooping at several of the closest surface mining sites. The miners are packing heat, most likely illegal. Not sure who's supplying them, not like it matters, but if negotiations break down, be ready to get the hell out of there."

"Got it. Anything else?"

"No, I'll keep you posted."




An Hour Later

She was unsure what it was, but as soon as Marcus rang in yelling, she knew she had to run. The voices clashed over the comm for dominance.

"Where's Timo?" asked one voice.

"I got him! Is the VTOL ready?" another replied.

"Yeah, engines are starting. Sami where are you?"

Was that Alessa? No, that was Jenks, he was the pilot.

"I'm on the third floor of the building with the landing pad. I'll be there in five, no, wait, seven minutes maybe."

"Alright good," the storm of voices had finally calmed as Jenks sighed, "Son of a bitch. What...happened?"

"She fired a couple of shots." That was Marcus.

"Yeah, I did, but that was after they fired. We were fucking lucky to get out of there alive."

"What about the director and the managers?" Jenks asked.

"Oh them? They're fucking dead. The miners killed everybody. Like I said before, we were lucky to get out alive."

Alessa said that with a certain nonchalance that was calming yet disturbing all the same. Maybe it was the kind of demeanor one had when they were running for their lives while trying to figure a way out of a corner full of barbed wires, or maybe it was the comm.

"I don't know who started it-"

"If I may," that was...Glock?

He remained calm. Sami supposed that was natural for him as he was a negotiator, and situations like these were almost his lifeblood. If he had any ounce of fear he kept it well hidden with the way he dispatched his message.

"I believe it was Director Praxus. From the moment I laid eyes on the man, I knew we were in for trouble. I honestly tried my best, but I think the miners were already gone by the time we got here," he sighed, "Oh well, Asa Corp's a large company, one operation on Titan wouldn't mean much to them."

"How can you be so sure?" Sami felt an urge of curiosity behind his line of thought.

"They're Asa. One of the largest. In a couple of years, if we moved to another moon, they'd probably be the first ones on it," Marcus answered.

"Precisely," Timo confirmed.

"But what about the guards and other workers?"

Timo sighed, "Let's just..." he paused, "I don't know."




It was going to be another ten hour trip back to Mars, but at least they were alive and were going to get paid Sami thought as she boarded the VTOL. The ship dusted off, leaving behind the towers of stainless glass windows flecked with silver.

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