A Question of Profit: Parts 5 & 6

by Fellblade

This unfinished story by the famed Octavius leader and notable bard, Fellblade, was discovered by RazorsKiss.  We had been looking for a copy since the Library opened, and we thank RazorsKiss for this excellent find.  We still hold out hope that someday we may discover the rest of this great story.

 

Part V: Revelations

“The life of a mercenary is fraught. Favours are exchanged as easily as credits, alliances and friendships shift overnight. Nothing is certain. Beats a desk job though.” – Jemmet LaCorva, Leader of the Iron Talon Mercenaries.

The bar was badly lit; odd for Solrain Core, where competition between companies for maintenance contracts kept all the fluro-strips working. But the darkness was not through accident, but through design. Argo´s Tavern was a place you could go if you didn´t want to be seen, or if you needed a certain type of person with a certain reputation. The Tavern only had four customers; two men talking in hushed whispers sat in one of the corners, tense, arms curled defensively around drinks. The third person was another man, thin, lean, with shifty eyes. He was perpetually glancing over his shoulders as if expecting someone to sneak up on him without his best interests in mind. The fourth and last person a fairly tall black-haired woman with a faraway look in her green eyes. Fen Yutak leant forward and rested her elbows on the dark green textured surface of the bar. One hand wound some stray hairs around one outstretched finger while the other cradled her drink. Her eyes started into space, unfocused, mind drifting. There was a slight change in the reflection in the chrome border to the bar´s surface. Instinctively, Fen´s eyes snapped into focus and locked on to the change. Footsteps approached her from behind. There was a movement and a rustle of clothing beside her.

“Hello Carlson.” she said wearily, “Fuck off.”

The burly, thickset man with short dirty-blonde hair sat down on the bar stool next to Fen, ignoring her less-than-welcoming greeting.

“In a good mood I see.” he said in a deep voice.

“Yeah, until you showed your ugly mug I was.” she retorted.

The man she called Carlson glanced up at the barman, who raised his head and looked back. Carlson raised one hand.

“A pint of Oct light for myself, and another glass of what she´s already got for the lady.” he said, dropping his hand and then glancing at the liquid in the glass. “…whatever the hell it is.” he said somewhat more quietly. Then he swung himself around on the seat to face Fen as behind him the barman went about the business of getting the drinks.

“I just happened to be passing by and noticed a familiar face at the bar.” He smiled a winning smile and spread his hands in a gesture of innocence. The barman walked over with the drinks and set them down on the bar in front of Carlson and Fen.

“Eleven credits” said the barman in a bored tone.

Carlson raised an eyebrow, then stuck one hand in a pocket, withdrawing it with a wadge of notes held tightly between the large, grubby fingers. He selected a five and a ten credit note from the stack and put them down on the surface. The barman picked them up, checked the denominations, and then paced over to the counter. Fen looked back at Carlson, whose gaze hadn´t turned away from her.

“Carlson just because the face is familiar it doesn´t mean it´s friendly.”

“Now that isn´t very nice, is it? You could at least be polite to me after I´ve gone to the expense of buying you a drink.” he said, a hurt expression on his face. The barman walked back over and put the change down on the top of the bar, the four credit chits making a clicking sound as they hit the plastic surface. Carlson scooped the chits up with one hand and deposited them in a pocket.

“I didn´t ask for a drink, Carlson.”

“I was trying to be nice.”

“I didn´t ask for you to be nice, Carlson.”

“Ah-ha… you prefer it if I play rough, eh?” he said, with a raised eyebrow and a face contorted into a suggestive leer.

“You are absolutely insufferable.” she said wearily, “How long until you take on a job that´s too big for you and get yourself killed?”

“A job that´s too big for me? There aren´t many of those around. I wasn´t planning to kick the bucket for quite a while though, now you come to mention it.”

“Suicide looks like a good option then” she said wryly. Carlson took a swig from his drink before replying.

“Well, aren´t we harsh today? Business going badly?”

Fen finished the last of her drink and pushed the empty glass out of the way, then dragged the drink that Carlson had bought towards her. When it was half way to her Carlson reached out with a hand and grabbed the glass. Fen looked around and fixed him with an icy stare. Carlson cocked his head to one side.

“I thought you didn´t want a drink?”

“I said I didn´t ask for a drink. But there´s a drink there, and a drink is a drink is a drink.”

Carlson paused, considering this.

“Yeah, I guess so.” he said grudgingly, let go of the glass, then moved his arm out of the way. Fen pulled the glass the rest of the way then lifted it to her lips and took a sip. Carlson watched her movements like a cat.

“What is that stuff anyway?” he asked her as she put the half empty glass down. Fen started at the glass for a moment before turning her head and replying.

“Araak Spirit, from Ares Prime.”

“Ah. That would explain why it´s eight credits a measure.”

“Well, yeah. I was only going to have one; this is my lunch break. Anyway, I´ve already said. I didn´t ask you to buy me a drink.”

“True,” Carlson nodded, “and you still haven´t replied to me… how´s business?”

Fen swilled the dark brown liquid around her glass for a moment, then turned suddenly and smiled a fleeting smile.

“Business is good. Just completed a major contract. Made enough money to outfit my ´tensity again.”

“Oh… what was missing?”

“Guns. The last escort contract I had, some bastard put a cobra round into my ammo storage and two of the guns went up in smoke.”

Carlson took another mouthful of the golden liquid in his glass.

“Guns. Pretty necessary in our line of work.”

“Yup.” Fen nodded.

“What did you get?”

“Set ´o barraks. I had to go all the way to Hyperial to get them for a reasonable price of course; the prices that the hauliers charge around here is ridiculous.”

Carlson leant back against the bar and started up at the ceiling. Fen looked at him curiously.

“What is it?” she asked. Carlson chuckled to himself.

“I was just trying to work out which of the prominent recent events might have had some connection with you.”

Fen smiled slyly.

“What makes you think that any stories involving me would ever get to the news nets?”

“Good point.”

Fen grinned and sipped a little more of her drink.

“All the security cameras had a slight… malfunction when I did my last job. Nothing on me.”

Carlson raised his glass.

“Nice work.” he said, and drink some more of his beer. He put the glass down again on the bar with a thump. “Perfect, as usual.”

Fen looked at him sharply.

“…perfectionist. A perfectionist as usual.” he said hurriedly.

Fen´s expression didn´t lighten. She stood up, drained the remainder of her drink, then put the empty glass back on the bar.

“You hold that thought. I´ve got work to do.”

She turned and walked away. After a few paces Carlson stood up.

“Fen, I…” he started. She didn´t turn, but held her hand out at him, palm first.

“Stop there Carlson. I don´t want to know.”

 

The crowd of hecklers surrounded the Quantar priest who stood alone in a sea of faces atop a packing crate. His message of revelation and salvation fell on the faintly amused ears of the mainly Solrain listeners, there for the entertainment rather than for religious enlightenment. Occasionally one of the crowd would shout an awkward question over the heads of his neighbours, then settle back with a smug grin on his face as the priest struggled to explain. The priest and attendant crowd were occupying the centre of a spacious cul-de- sac surrounded by shops of a wide variety of types. The fluro-strips mounted in the ceiling lit the scene below brightly, faultlessly. No- where were to be seen the flickering light of fluros reaching the end of their life that characterized the public places of Quantar or Octavian stations. Gleaming grey and white-painted columns separated the shop faces with their various wares displayed for public viewing behind sparkling plexi-glass fronting. Kelsen Vass walked around the outskirts of the crowd, weaving around the odd bystander, Jovir Tuwana in tow. Kelsen brushed past a man in a dirty blue jacket, then turned when Jovir leant forward and tapped him on the shoulder.

“How much further?” the head of Solrain Core Security asked. Kelsen reached back and pulled the other man forwards by the sleeve of his jacket then put one arm around his shoulders.

“It´s just… over… there.” he said, finger stabbing out at the place in question as gaps presented themselves in the crowd. Jovir cast a practiced eye over the blacked-out shop front window and door, then read the sign that hung over the doorway. “Insin, Inc.” the black-on- white text read in large type. Underneath was the company motto. Jovir didn´t look impressed.

“´We do stuff´” he read aloud. Kelsen looked round at him.

“Yeah. That they do. What of it?”

“Pretty ambiguous isn´t it?”

“Well, yeah, but it pays to be in their line of work.”

“And what, exactly, is their line of work?”

“This ´n that.” replied Kelsen with a mischievous grin. then turned back towards Insin Inc. and walked away. Jovir gave a mental shrug and followed him. Kelsen walked up to the door and pushed it open, wedging it with a foot for Jovir to walk through, then took a couple of steps into the interior of the sparsely-furnished office. There was a single desk sitting in the middle of the blue-carpeted floor with a light-grey terminal resting on it´s black surface. Behind the desk sat a plain-faced woman who looked up from the terminal at the pair of men as if they were the root of all evil.

“Yes?” she asked in a tired, irritated voice. Jovir and Kelsen looked at each other. Kelsen shrugged, then turned back to the woman with a smile.

“Who´s is charge here?”

“Me.” she said in a leaden tone.

Jovir leant sideways, put a hand in front of his mouth and whispered out of the corner of it.

“I thought you said the woman in charge here was a nice piece of work.”

“I´m beginning to have serious doubts about my contact´s taste.” Kelsen whispered back.

“…until, of course, the company president gets back.” the receptionist, looking more irritated than ever because of the vague whisperings of the two men.

“Ah.” said Kelsen, turning around to look back at the door, “That does explain it.”

“Explain what?” said the woman behind the desk. Kelsen opened his mouth, but before he could say anything, Jovir butted in.

“Eh… nothing. This company has a president? How many employees in this company?”

“None of your business.”

“Okay,” said Jovir while pulling a face which contrived to indicate that he didn´t really want an answer anyway, “and when will she be back?”

“Only a couple of minutes, at a guess.” She paused, and drew her chair forward. “Now, if you´ll excuse me.” The woman looked back down at her screen and her fingers started tapping away on the keyboard. Jovir paced around the office, staring at nothing in particular, until he had circled around behind the woman. He glanced down at her screen out of the corner of his eye. On the terminal´s screen was a card game. He grinned, and carried on walking around. After a few minutes there was a quiet beep from the terminal, and the woman looked up.

“She´ll see you now.” she said, and pointed at a closed white door at the back of the office. Jovir looked puzzled.

“And she got in there how?”

The woman looked back up again, glowering.

“It doesn´t matter. Leave it. Let´s go.” said Kelsen hurriedly. He walked past the desk and stopped in front of the door, then turned to Jovir and beckoned to him.

“Come on.” he turned back and knocked on the heavy duty plastic of the door.

“Enter.” said a slightly muffled feminine voice from behind it. Kelsen pushed the door open and stepped inside, Jovir coming in behind him. The office was small, but not cramped. The walls were painted a light blue, the modern-looking desk was chrome and black, and upon it sat a matte silver terminal. The large, synth-leather chair behind the desk was facing away from them and from behind it protruded a delicate, black-clad leg ending in a bare, white-skinned foot. Kelsen wondered for a moment about the wisdom of bare feet in the average space station. Then he glanced downward and noticed that he´d sunk almost an inch into the deep-pile carpet.

“What can I do for you, gentlemen?” came the pleasant voice again. Kelsen cleared his throat before answering.

“We have someone we´d like you to find and track for us.”

There was a moment of silence.

“What have you got for me to work from?”

Jovir was glancing around the office still, examining some curiously chosen printouts, which were framed behind panels of plexi-glass on the walls.

“We´ve got one grainy picture and a limited amount of information on the way the person in question operates.”

“What perspective is the picture? Are we talking about an birds-eye security camera here?”

“Frontal. The person in question is looking directly at the camera, at close range.”

“Hmmm….”

“Can you do it?” asked Kelsen.

“We’ve found people before from less. Of course the amount of data you can get me alters the price. The less you can give me, the less I have to work from, the harder the work is, and therefore the more I charge.”

“How much to you reckon? A rough guess?”

“Oh, I don´t know… call it thirty. Let me take a look at the picture.”

The chair swiveled around and Fen Yutak leaned forward, hand reaching out for the picture with her face on it.

 

Part VI: Revelations

Jovir´s eyes widened as his brain drew the conclusion that the woman in front of him was one and the same as the woman that they were looking for. Kelsen on the other hand pulled the picture out of his inside jacket pocket, face calm and unperterbed, then reached over and put it face-down in Fen Yutak´s outstretched hand. As he put it in her palm he looked up at her face, to see shock there.

She can´t have seen the picture… thought Kelsen quickly, so what is she…?

“Kelsen Vass?!” she said in a high pitched voice which broadcasted her surprise like a beacon, “You´re my… I never thought I´d…” her cheeks started to flush.

Kelsen´s inner voice gave a quiet sigh of resignation.

“Yes, it´s me. Kelsen Vass. The guy from the news.”

Jovir looked around at him, blinking owlishly, unsure just what to make of the situation. Fen Yutak subconciously shifted herself in her chair slightly and ran a hand through her hair as she turned the picture around in the other hand, eyes still locked on Kelsen. He smiled gently.

“Take a look my dear.”

Fen blushed slightly and smiled a little, then her eyes dropped to the picture. There was a moment of silence, broken only by a quiet rustle of clothing. Then something clicked, and Fen realised why the face looked so familiar. A look of sudden comprehension ran across her face, and she looked back up at the pair of men with trepidation. Jovir Tuwana was standing side-on to her holding out one large dark- skinned hand which held a chrome-plated pistol which gleamed in the glare of the office´s lights. Kelsen was holding an oddly-shaped machine pistol in one hand. The barrels of both weapons were pointed at her, twin tunnels of darkness leading straight to oblivion, if things went that far. Fen smiled weakly.

“What can I do for you?”

The door which Kelsen and Jovir had come through burst open and the woman who had been at a desk inside the office moved to jump into the room, a pistol with a truely enormous bore in one hand. Kelsen, without looking, kicked back with one foot which slammed into the door, intersecting its curve with a reverberating clang. The door rocketed back at tremendous speed, connecting with the woman´s head half-way through its arc with another metallic noise and sending her sprawling backwards into the room beyond. Jovir raised an eyebrow and walked over to the door, then slowly opened it with one finger of his free hand, keeping his pistol trained on the widening crack into the next room. The woman was lying on her back on the floor, eyes closed and with a large red mark over the right side of her face. A large lump was beginning to form on her forehead. Jovir leant down and retrieved the weapon she had been carrying from where it lay on the floor, then closed the door again and weighed the pistol thoughtfully in his hand. Kelsen was looking at Fen with a coldly unimpressed stare. She returned his gaze with resigned expression on her face. Kelsen blinked and the spell was broken.

“Kindly keep you hands away from the underside of the desk,” he said in a quiet but clear voice, “and if you push another panic button with your foot I will shoot you in the face.”

The gun sat, unwavering in his hand. There was silence for a moment as Fen appeared to consider her options, then she slowly withdrew her hands from the top of the desk in front of her, and folded them over one another in her lap. Jovir started to pace slowly around the outside of the room, gun trained on Fen as if he was the hand of a clock, sweeping around the office.

“We realise you´re a mercenary organisation, and you do work for others which they may not be able to do for themselves for…” Jovir paused here, “well, various reasons. I take it you don´t do anything of this nature for personal gain?”

Fen shook her head.

“All work I do is strickly mercenary, with a target to achieve. I don´t go out… uh, how shall I put it, obtaining items of interest and then auctioning them off to the highest bidder.”

“That´s good.” said Jovir, nodding solemly, still pacing around.

“That´s very good.” confirmed Kelsen, warming to the routine. “Because we want to hire you.”

“Yeah, we wan… what?” said Jovir, switching his steady gaze at Fen to a look of alarm directed at Kelsen and throwing his hands up in the air in a gesture of exasperation, complete with gun in one fist, “Are you out of your mind!?”

Fen looked from one to the other with an expression of no little alarm on her face.

“She´s a mercenary, right?” said Kelsen, the last word directed forcefully at Fen.

“Yes!” she said, glancing at the pair of them, now on opposite sides of the room.

“All she cares about is the money, doesn´t matter to her where it´s coming from.” explained Kelsen. Jovir folded his arms for a second, the barrel of his pistol poking out beneath one armpit.

“Ah, I see what you´re getting at.”

“Right. Now, you.” said Kelsen, turning and looking pointly at Fen. “You are being hired by us…”

Jovir cleared his throat loudly. Kelsen shot him an irritated look.

“…okay, by me. Did your employer for the Olss Systems job take out a policy?”

“What sort of policy?” asked Fen guardedly.

Kelsen put on a big grin and leant forward, putting both hands on the desk.

“You know exactly what policy I´m talking about. Insurance. Did they enter into a contract with you to prevent you back-tracking on them and finding out who they were. Did they take out a policy to stop Olss Systems hiring you to work for them?”

“Ah… that sort of policy. Regretfully for them, I don´t think they did.”

“Good. Because it would have become inconvenient for you if they had.”

“Inconvenient?”

“Well I would find both my arms being broken inconvenient.”

“Ah. I see.”

“I´m glad you do.”

“Can we finish with the idle chit-chat please ladies and gentlemen?” asked Jovir, “Some of us have a job to get back to. Kelsen… you might want to think about Olss Systems and what they´d pay to have their data back.”

Kelsen nodded thoughtfully.

“And I know just the gal to retrieve it for them.”

“What´s to stop me going straight to Olss Systems and cutting out the middle man, so to speak?” asked Ken, airily.

“You try and cut out the middle man and I can tell Olss Systems exactly who it was who stole their data in the first place. I don´t think the mercenary attitude would convince them; there are plenty of mercenary outfits around and I know these chief execs. They like to get a little bit of personal revenge against anyone who wrongs them.”

Jovir walked over to the door.

“I´m off. You,” he pointed at Kelsen, “don´t do anything stupid. And you,” now he pointed at Fen, “if anything happens to him, I shall hold you personally responsible”

“I´m getting paid extra for bodyguard duties as well?”

“No, I just won´t turn you in to Olss Systems.” Jovir turned around, opened the door, and walked out. There was a moment pause, then a thump of something heavy hitting the ground. Kelsen turned around and nudged the door a little further open. Jovir was picking himself up off of the ground where he had fallen after tripping over the woman who still lay spread-eagled on the floor. Kelsen chuckled and received a dirty look from the other man in return before he turned and walked out of the office and into the mall. He turned back to face the muzzle of a gun.

“What on earth makes him think that I´m scared of him? Why should I give a shit about him holding me responsible.”

“Because,” said Kelsen with an amused smile, “he´s the head of Solrain Core Security.”

“You, Mr Vass, seem to have everything rather nicely organised.”

“Simply taking advantage of the circumstances. Having you as a bodyguard is a nice touch, but not strictly needed; I´m quite capable of taking care of myself.”

“You are?” asked Fen with exaggerated surprise in her voice, making a gesture towards the pistol she was holding with her free hand.

“Why yes. Firstly, you can´t shoot me.”

Fen stood up from her desk, the chair behind her getting knocked back a little in the process, and carefully circled around towards Kelsen, gun aimed levelly at his head.

“And why not?”

“You know exactly why. You just won´t admit it to yourself.”

“I don´t know what you´re talking about.”

“Whatever you want to delude yourself with, that´s fine. However, there´s also the second reason; I’ve had a number of attempts on my life and am quite combat-capable myself.”

“I know exactly what happened in those situations, and I know who trained you. There´s plenty of stuff you don´t know.”

Kelsen stifled a laugh before replying.

“And you know all of this about me why? Professional reasons? Someone offer a hit on me?”

“No!” cried Fen defensively, “I… uh…”

“Point made, I think.” said Kelsen, a touch smugly, “Now, shall we get down to business? We need to find out who your previous employers were.”

Fen still had the pistol aimed at Kelsen, who was regarding her cooly, ignoring utterly the deadly piece of weaponry which was hovering a mere half meter away from his face. She left out a sigh, lowered it, flicked the safety on, and threw it onto the desk. It skittered along the polished surface and hit a stack of paper of the far side of the desk, which promptly lost the upper half of it´s contents to the embrace of the floor. Fen sighed again, heavily, walked over to the chair and dropped back into it with a thump. She sat there for a few moments, staring glumly at the desk´s polished surface.

“Well, have you done any background checks?” she asked eventually.

Kelsen shook his head.

“No, the plan was to identify the agent in the picture, then find out from her, by one means or another, the identity of those she was working for. We decided to go to a mercenary unit to hunt her down. Put it down to good fortune, but finding you here has saved me quite a bit of money.”

“Good fortune? Depends on your point of view, I think you´ll find. Anyway, what are you doing mixed up in all of this?”

“Tuwana hired me for my detective skills to sort out a case he couldn´t work on. The Olss Systems case.” he paused for a moment, then added, “He´s the guy who was in here with me.”

“Detective skills? You´re a news-man…?”

“How do you think I get the juicy innards of the stories? Anyway, times have been boring lately, not much happening. Have to pay the rent…” he looked vexed for a moment, “and the repairs.”

Fen bit her lip thoughtfully.

“If you need somewhere to stay because you can´t afford the rent… and… I can get good rates on Joshi´s Repair and Refit center…” she said, awkwardly.

“I thought you were going to shoot me?” said Kelsen, waving around the machine pistol which he still held in one hand.

“Well… yeah. Never mind that. Background info.” Fen adjusted her seat. “Background info, yeah. We need some.”

“Really?” said Kelsen in an innocent tone.

“Yes! Of course we…” Fen looked up at Kelsen, grinning like an idiot, and treated him to a scowl. “Stop it. I´m trying to help.”

“Okay, okay…” Kelsen pointed at the chair in front of him, “mind if I take a seat?”

“Be my guest. Well… the obvious thing is to take a look at the news items and see if there’s…” Fen was interrupted by the sqeaking of the synth-leather as Kelsen settled himself back into the chair. She waited for a few seconds before continuing. “…if there´s anything about Olss Systems in there at all. Anything could give us a clue.”

“Just remember I do this stuff too, and been doing it sucessfully for a long time. You´re the understudy on this one.”

“Fine, but you´re in my office.”

“I don´t mind; it´s quite comfortable.”

Kelsen reached out and pulled the terminal screen around to face him, then pulled the keypad around after it. Fen moved her seat so that she could see the proceedings on the screen. Kelsen´s fingers were already pattering over the keyboard, calling up the Olss Systems information page and a news and articles search page for the station network.

“Official page first; it´s unlikely there´ll be anything there so we´ll get it out the way.”

“What are you looking for?” Fen asked, “surely the news web will be better?”

“Usually, yes, but we might be lucky and get a little gem like information about an attempted buyout that they have to inform everyone about by the trading laws, but will have played down massively in the news.”

Onscreen a window opened up and displayed all of the official company news since their founding. Kelsen typed in ´takeover´ into an onscreen dialogue box, then tapped the confirmation key.

“No dice.”

“Maybe ´sell´?”

“I don´t think… well, we can try it.” The keys clattered under Kelsen´s fingers for a moment. “Nope… just something about sales every month, regularly.”

“What do they sell?”

“You know, I´m not entirely sure.” Kelsen turned from the terminal to look at her. “Why don´t you know? I thought you were hired to steal this data… what was it, anyway?”

Fen shrugged,

“I was given the name of a file, the place where I could get it from, and told to do it. I checked on background data that was pertinent to the mission in hand. What the company actually made or did was not one of the things I thought was important.”

“Well… let´s take a look.” said Kelsen. The screen flicked over to the main corporate site. Kelsen flicked through the pages, eyes scanning the screen.

“I can´t actually see any mention of what their product is.” said Kelsen, shaking his head. Turning to Fen again he said “Didn´t you see anything while you were in there?”

“An office, a corridor, some hired security goons… the normal rigamarole.”

“Hmm… definitely worth looking into this I think.” Kelsen switched to the main search page and keyed in some more text. A couple of second later the returns came in.

“There seems to be very, very little on Olss Systems. Nothing before two weeks ago, in fact.”

“That doesn’t tie up very well with the company site does it?”

“N-oooo…. Hmmm…. I think we need to go and have a word with someone at Olss Systems.” He stood up, and put his machine pistol away in a shoulder holster, out of sight. “Coming?”

Fen nodded earnestly.

“Thought you would be.” said Kelsen as he turned, then walked out of the office, Fen Yutak trailing along behind him.

 

NO KNOWN ADDITIONAL PARTS …

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s