Kral piloted the MET in a curving spiral down into the dock. As it settled on its landing pads he ran a quick check on the systems before shutting it off. If they had to get out of there in a hurry he’d have to start it cold, which would be bad for the engines, but it was less suspicious to turn it off first.
He took a minute to stretch his muscles, then another to buckle on his gun belt before popping the hatch and descending the ramp.
“Are you the owner of this ship?”
Kral looked over at the woman. She was wearing an official looking jumpsuit and had a portscreen in her hand.
“Yes, ma’am, I am. I’ve been cleared with the landing crew”
“What’s your purpose here Agent?”
“...How did you know I was an Agent?”
“It says so on your registration”
“What is your purpose here?”
“That is also on the transcript. I’m here to pick up a Preacher And her assistants”
“The Preacher has assisstants?”
“I was told that she had one, but in my experience, you plan for one and you’ll get a half dozen. If you plan for the half dozen then maybe you’ll get the one. That sound like fair logic to you Ms. Lian?”
“The logic is sound Agent Kral. I trust that your trip was comfortable and speedy?”
“It was neither, but it was enlightening”
“Enlightening? You’ll have to tell me how on the way back”
“Maybe. Jor didn’t tell me to share. Now, I’m supposed to bring back you and someone else. Where is the someone else?”
Lian’s face dropped a bit.
“Well, I had to put her into stasis. I didn’t want her getting caught. See those crates over there?”
She gestured to a stack of refrigeration crates against the wall. They were all blinking green for active.
“She is in one of those. You need to load them, and once we get to Jor’s ship we can unlock them all”
“Don’t you know which one she is in?”
“No. I don’t. I know two that she isn’t in in case we get searched, but I don’t know which one she is in. That way they can’t torture it out of me”
“Smart. But they would just open all of them”
“Two of them are rigged with explosives. I also know which two those are”
“But they won’t be able to get you to tell?”
“I’ll only be able to tell them once I half open them. There is still enough time then to stop the explosive from triggering, but any more, and if I don’t do it right away, they’ll detonate”
“Smart. Well, lets get to loading”
Lian walked over and turned on a loader while Kral lowered the cargo ramp.
The Artist smiled as she walked down the street. She had a new target in mind. A very special target.
Her “best friend”. The one who was always there for her, always there to help her. Always there, always pulling her back from glory, beauty. Lian.
It was time for Lian to stop being the brake, the thing in her way. It was time for the impediment to be removed.
She smiled at the thought as she continued to walk through Poletown. Blood dripped off of her with every step that she took, but she did not take notice. People bled all the time in Poletown. What was truly unique was the fact that not many other people payed attention to her either. Poletown.
The Arc. Pah.
Why had she cared? She should have let the Arcernment mold her into a better weapon. She would have been better able to kill those who irritated her.
But, if she had allowed the Arcernment to change her, to keep her, then she would never have been able to come to the realization that she should have let them keep her…
That was…unimportant. Too much thought would dull her edge, dull her moments, dull the truth. Her truth. The truth of the new dawn.
She smiled at the thought of those she had left dead behind her. Anyone who had been foolish enough to get in her way, or to even look at her wrong had ended up dead in the street. Oh, so foolish! Such foolish people on this foolish foolish ring.
She smiled again as she walked down the street. She would have to clean herself up before she could find her way off the Arc, off to find and kill Lian. And to find and save the Sniper. She would save him, save him from Lian and from himself, from the Arc, from insanity. Together they would make wonderful art. Two artists, the only two true artists.
She laughed. Some might think, if they could hear her thoughts, that she was in love with him. No, she was not in love with the Sniper. She did not lust after him, She only wanted more art. Better art. More beautiful art like the two of them could create.
She broke into an apartment, killed the owners, cleaned the blood off of herself, and stole some clothes. Nice clothes too, as well as some money.
Well, nicer than her rags. A faded, patched miners jumpsuit.
Then she would just go to the spaceport and…
A miners jumpsuit. That gave her an idea.
The Agent watched the battle swirl in front of his drones. He fired twin shots from each of the four drones before spinning them away and around for an attack run on a cruiser. The pre-battle assassination done he had been spirited away to one of Callion’s new carriers. They were impressive he had to give them that. And the excellent thing was that every time he lost a drone another one would launch into his squadron.
He opened fire with the heavier cannons; they had a slower rate of fire but were strong enough to actually pose a threat to the ship’s shields.
Another excellent thing about this much precision in the control of one squad was that it allowed him to do…this.
He spun all four through an out and in again pattern and fired simultaneously. The bolts all hit at the same time, same spot, and punched through the shield, then the armour.
As he pulled his squadron up and away from the ship he saw in his HUD the ship fracture and blow apart, its armour rupturing from the inside out. His shot had evidently hit something important.
But it had only been a small cruiser, and escort frigate. While maneuvers like that were impressive, more often all that these drones did was die in droves like what he saw before him.
Squadrons spiralling away from incoming fire into each other leaving only two survivors. As the new six drones deployed to form up they didn’t worry about what was in their way; just flew, and so were mostly blown apart.
He sighed and shook his head before spinning his drones back into the battle. He would do his best to make up for the inefficiency, the deficiency of the other pilots.
Lian watched this strange man. Kral.
Who was he? Jor trusted him. But, that was starting to seem like not enough.
“So who are you?”
“Me?” Kral didn’t look away from punching in the course.
“Yes you. Who are you?”
“I’m one of the Agents assigned to Jor’s team”
“I know that. I mean, why does Jor trust you?”
“I…I don’t really know. He asked me my name”
“Yes. My first name. Out of the blue”
“And then he trusted you?”
“Thats what he said he needed the name for. But I think it was because of how we started out”
“How did you start out?”
“I hated him”
“And that leads to trust?”
“Yes. Because I hated him. I wanted to protect the Arc. And Callion had told me that Jor was a threat to the Arc. So I hated him”
“And that changed?”
“Yes. As I worked with him I began to see that he was not a threat to the Arc, no more than I was. Oh, he may be better than me, may be able to do more damage on his own, but he didn’t want to hurt the Arc. He said treasonous things, but they were only treasonous towards Callion. The rest of the Arc he served loyally”
“And so you became friendly with him?”
“No. I began to trust him. And I think he could tell that I did. I would question his orders to fix flaws, not to find them. I would trust him to watch my back, and would watch his for all I was worth. And slowly, he began to trust me”
“And then he asked your name?”
“And then he asked me my name. And then I got sent on this mission”
“Is his trust misplaced?”
“No. I grew up on a mining colony. I know what its like to be crushed by the big guy, to be ground underfoot. I know-”
“Sorry to interrupt, but you grew up on a mining colony?”
“Yes. Star pf Tomorrow. They never did correct the typo in the name” he smiled fondly “But as I was saying, I know what it means to be the little guy. And I know what those who protect the little guys and those who crush them look like. And Jor is one of the former while Callion is starting to look more and more like the latter”
“How much like the latter?”
Kral spun his chair around to look at Lian directly.
“You’ve been the one asking me all the questions so far. My turn. Why did you get excited when you heard that I lived on a mining colony?”
“Because I grew up on one. Star’s End. Sho and I both grew up there”
Kral’s face darkened.
“Thats right. You’re the Butcher’s childhood friend. Well Lian, this conversation has been nice, but I think you should go check on the inventory now while I file my report to Jor”
He turned his back on her in what was very clearly an end to the conversation.
Evidently Sho was a sore topic with him. And he hadn’t even seen the news from the past few days.Lian shuddered at the thought. Dozens and dozens of murders, murders with her signature style. But they had been in Poletown so nobody cared. This world was coming apart. And it was up to her, and Jor, and yes, maybe Kral, to try and fix it.