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Thread: Ghost Grifter.

  1. #1

    Ghost Grifter.

    Ghost Grifter
    By: SMS aka Bubbacrush.

    ACT I

    Sometimes in the really real world, we often find ourselves in the most unusual of circumstances, usually without the knowledge of how they began. In stories, there is often a large and complicated woven plot of chance and fate that may or may not have been designed externally for our own personal place in history. I've heard stories about how one man could change the fate of nations, or that the efforts of a small group of people are so easily thwarted by outside manipulation. Thousands; maybe even millions of lives run frantic each day, wondering just how much influence the world around them really has. For me, it would seem, my day began with no such thing. It was just your average normal morning, as I was getting up out of bed. I keep an emergency comm device near me at all times. But that's just part of the norm. Well, everything started off normal anyway.

    Old Dominic, a buddy of mine from the old Hunters Lodge gave me a ring. His tone was somewhat hush, but frantic. Apparently a battle started to brew somewhere on the borders of northern Tir County. Omni-tek had managed to discreetly drop troops somewhere in the desert, for some strange reason. They caught a small group of our own boys, who had been on the move through the area, keeping the numbers of Sandworms down in order to stop terrorizing local minors, farmers, and nomads in the area. Generally speaking, this is an ongoing problem. Anyone that lives in Tir County understands this. It was nothing new. I told him I could be there in ten minutes, as the crow flies. He didn't seem to feel reassured by that, but it was the best I could offer him. We hung up without trading our usual pleasantries.

    The bartender of the Hunters Lodge was good friend. He actually pointed me in the right direction when I was first out on my own. I had quite a few meager professions before I met him, none of which really managed to pay my bills. In a way, he helped me get my start in the Bounty Hunting business. I couldn't let a buddy down. Even if this particular situation, though perilous as it may seem, was not so out of the ordinary. Usually in operations like this, it says in the handbook (oh yeah, we have a handbook!) that your group should lay low, move to high ground and just watch. Don't play hero or start firing off rounds or lay rookie class ambushes or anything like that. Stay low, keep your head down, watch for patrols, stay alert. When the coast is clear, or you no longer have the advantage of cover, thats is the only time you can move, and even then.. its mostly to skin out of the place.

    Such was not the case when I arrived on the scene. Apparently the clan hunters, which numbered about four, had been waylayed by the Omnis. The clanners had been, by the looks of the trailsign, been engaging in a short range firefight with them on the constant retreat. The numbers of bodies on the ground seemed to suggest that strategically crabwalking was the only way the clanners managed to stay ahead of the Omnis. I could hear the buzzing of rounds as drove my Skull Rider down into the valley they had just moved into. I knew this area pretty decent, and it would put a wall on their back when they got down far enough into it. Time to move.

    I set my bike down on a high ridge, and took out a sandstone coloured tarp I keep in the saddlebags and my gear. With the speed and ceremony of a striking cobra, I tossed the tarp over the bike and snatched my gear off the ground within in seconds and already began my stalk down a stony path that led into the bush. I knew the battle was not far from my position. Down in the valley, it had an old rock riverbed with high trees on both sides before they each met a pretty craggy rock face leading back up into the sky. It was a place that was pretty worthy for a last stand, you know, if you were into those kind of things.

    I was wearing my light anti-ballistic vest. I didn't wanna wear anything that would slow me down. Bulky armor and heavy footsteps tends to get someone like me noticed in a hurry. That wasn't my style choice today. Today it was just vanilla camouflage. Nothing fancy. Kevlar plating underneath for movement. I anticipated gunfire. I hoped to catch the Omnis with their pants down.

    I stole upon our boys from the flank. They had been set up against a large fallen tree, which looked a little more new than ancient. Its giant green and grey husk had apparently shielded them from most of the ballistics fire. It wouldn't hold long if the enemy swapped to energy weapons. My guess, was that it was only a matter of time.

    "How the hell!" one of them shouted as I entered their bubble. I scrambled down next to one of the hunters, who had been reloading his clip. "Don't look so surprised, I could hear the shots miles away. Whats the situation?!" I shouted over the firefight. The guy I scooped up next too under his cover looked at me with shock, but eagerly was ready to accept help. His fresh face told me he wasn't the most experienced of the group. Dirty as he had been, clearly he wasn't the leader. With shaky hands he slid his magazine back into his rifle. "Where is your squad leader?" I shouted at him. He slid the action back with his free hand, and pointed to about two men over. A tall one, also an Atrox, he was wearing a boony hat. For a split second, part of me was jealous for that.

    I crawled as another hail of bullets ripped at the top of the log, sending splinters all around me. The dust I had kicked up, started to cake on my lip a little. It was a hot one out today, no doubt. I got up to one knee, putting my back to the rock and the hard place this guy had set himself into.

    "Good morning!" He cheered at me, with almost a good natured smile on his face. "The name is Miller, apologies for the hospitality. As you can see, we are quite busy at the moment." He seemed to almost enjoy the battle going on. Typical mercenary swagger, I thought. In that moment, a bullet managed to catch an inch away from my ear. I flinched and put my head down a bit further. "Gimme the details, what are you up against?" He popped off several rounds from his own rifle, which had looked to have some illegal modifications on it, as well as some rather interesting form of ammo feed. After a five shot volley, he needed to reload. "Were outnumbered. I started with a six man team, they are a full squad. I lost two in the initial firefight, and i'm running out of rounds." Wordlessly, I opened my gear bag, and dropped an ammo container at his feet. "Well hail Mary, fully of grace, my friend. He opened the container and began to toss loaded magazines to his group. "Much obliged..."

    "Bubba, just call me Bubba," I shouted. There was a small opening in the gunfire. I took that as a moment to get a look see. I slipped my binoculars from around my neck to my face, and took a second to see what it looked like down ranged. Apparently, the squad down below looked to be quite a few more. "Reinforcements!" I shouted, and dropped the lenses to the ground. "Well, I didn't expect today to be so interesting." Miller replied. "Any other toys you got in there, Bubba?" The other men began to reload their weapons as well. "I couldn't help but notice their cover. Think we could put some wood or rocks over them?" Miller nodded in response. "Then I got just the thing..." I opened one of the side packs and found something I had put away for a rainy day.

    In part of the world, the use of Trinitrotoluene was archaic. However, one learns to make what crude weapons you can find. These days, making TNT was fairly easy to do, chemically speaking of course. I pulled three sticks from the bag.

    "Well, holyyyyy **** Bubba. I'm starting to like you." I nodded, and handed him the other two, keeping one to myself. He passed it to the fresh faced kid, just as one of the other hunters took a round in the neck and fell over instantly dead.

    "****! Okay, on the count of three! Get ready!" Miller screamed. We waited for a opening in the omni volley. Three seconds passed, but it felt like three minutes. "One.. Two.. " on the third wordless time, we tossed the lit sticks of dynamite over the cover. One of them was a little short, we could tell by the loud crack that was just a little too close for comfort. The other two landed squarely on the rocks above their position, and bounced to settle on a small precipice.

    And that's when all hell broke loose.
    Last edited by Towerblock; Oct 14th, 2010 at 17:59:48.

  2. #2
    Tricky things can happen when you're in a situation where an amount of uncontrolled detonation. It takes quite a bit of thought when it comes to commercial demolitions. A plan is laid, physics is considered, as well as the local environment. None of that really came to mind at time when I decided that explosives were a good idea, so naturally.. the fact that the ridge also surrounded the entire area we were in, didn't really take in my mind. I was merely hoping for a quick solution.

    The blast knocked pretty much everything off its feet in the Omni-tek military boys down below and just a spit toss away from us. The rocks that had formed the structure under the precipice gave way, and like a stack of dominoes it starting falling away... and then just as I pulled my head back up to see what was going on... the ridge crumbled towards us as well. The entire side of the small canyon we were in, was falling apart at the seams. Loose dirt fell out by the truckload, and all of the sudden, things looked kinda grim.

    I yelled into my communications unit "Tower! I need extract now!"

    "Oowwwww.. my ears, boss. Can you not do-" I cut him off completely, "I need you on the machine, pronto. Warp us, no time to talk. Just do it."

    "Takes about 20 seconds with the upgrades, chief"

    "I don't care, do it now!"

    Seconds, seem like minutes when you're about to see your entire group get smashed under a heap of rubble. I instinctly grabbed everyone I could, as I stood up. The improved beacon warp that Tower had been working on was still roughly in its testing phases, but this was either gunna work, or end up badly. It almost didn't seem to me at the time, that it mattered how badly it ended, only that both sides of the bad luck coin looked equally unappealing.

    Miller and I picked up our gear, and we started to haul ass. The younger man, whos name I never did catch, was already way ahead of us. Lord knows whats happened to the Omnis by now, we had our own problems to worry about. We jumped over rocks and twigs and fallen brush, trying to stay ahead of the impending rockslide as more and more of it followed us down like a torrential downpour of ugly. Our speed wasn't looking so hot.

    "Got it chief! Hold onto something." Towerblock confirmed the warp, and I literally braced myself for reclaim as a boulder was streaming down at me at terminal velocity. The size of it alone could have taken me and Miller out cleanly. I closed my eyes.

    Quiet, followed by a squeal of joy from the overgrown whiz kid. "We did it! Yehaaa!" His gloved fist went into the air, accouncing his victory.

    I opened my eyes, to find myself, Miller, and the younger hunter standing in the transport cube that we had erected for the pure purpose of extractions. Combined with the Beacon Warp technology, its pretty useful. You can pull an entire team out of trouble, but its only a one way trip and its slow to get moving. But, it can be done from anywhere, right to the cube, if you have a good engineer at the helm.

    "Good work, we're not dead." I replied. Miller blinked his eyes and scanned the room. The younger kid looked like he was about to loose his lunch. Miller instinctively pulls the boys helmet off and handed it to him.

    "Ugh... don't do that in..." Was about as far as he got before the boy popped. "Oh maaaaan. thats nasty."

    Miller looked up at me and then Towerblock, and nodded. "Well done, and thank you. I really don't know what to say. I suppose my distress signal made it out to the Hunters Lodge, because I can't think of anyone who could have responded in time."

    I shook Miller's hand. "Indeed, Dom filled me in on the details. I made a few calls and set the plan up while en route to your last reported location."

    "Well, it sure beats reclaim, and tells a better story. Much obliged, Bubba." The boy chuffed his final burst into his own helmet. Miller looked back at him and snapped him to attention. "Pull yourself together, Taggert. You're safe."

    He muttered something, and made a shoddy attempt to stand. "Y, yes sir."

    He then cocked his eye back at Tower and Bubba, and nodded a bit. "I suppose some sorta reward will be expected for this kinda operation?" I cut him off with a dismissive wave.

    "Yeah, there is a hacked node that runs on the web. It details Omni-AF and Pol movements and is regularly updated by clan freelancers, snitches, and scouts. You might wanna look into it and check it every now and then. Some of the information you find there will be sensationalism and the usual conspiracy chatter, but if you follow it you'll learn to distinguish the difference between the garbage and the gold. Do yourself a favour and look into it, because it might save you. No money needed. Save it for insurance."

    Towerblock piped up and began to discuss the server information with Miller, as I pulled my gear off and changed back into my regular duds.

    Then I remembered.. I left my bike back at the canyon.

    I thumbed my nose.

    ****. Looks like I'll be walking back.

  3. #3
    Act 2: The Scent of Trouble.

    I have a bit of a reputation of sorts. Because of certain issues surrounding my rise to power, and the things I tend to curiously stumble into, tends to gather several raised eyebrows wherever I go. In the media, for example - I can sort of brag to being one of only a miniscule minority to have ever claimed the male gender.

    The effort took years. And by years, I mean almost a decade. I did this on the account, that somewhere in the middle of the life I was building I came across a fantastic woman, who could look past what sort of history I had come from, into the person I really am. She is a quick one, definitely even good for her breed. Some folks would snicker and roll their eyes, and make jokes about how a big gorilla like me, manages to keep a woman at least one third his size, happy. Let me tell you, that it came with its own set of problems.

    Being married to Ahava I can honestly say has improved and guided my life to such a degree, I am unsure of the kind of man I would be, had she never existed. For that, I am pretty thankful. Few Atroxes can boast being a father, either. Another modern medical marvel. And, I truly love my kid to death. Even if it weren't for his mother, I think no matter what, I would have definitely given this fatherhood thing a try, even if at the time it would have remained medically impossible to do so.

    Jaxon was going onto his third birthday. He is such a tiny, messy, but quiet little thing. The kinda baby that most parents would be thankful for. Sure, he is a handful, but he has never made a public scene, cried too loud in front of company, and even the one time he had bumped his head on the ranch front stairwell, the tears did not even settle in till several seconds after it had been over. A chip off the old block, I'd say. Still, part of me wonders what that little boy will grow up to be one day.

    I spend hours and hours with him. Sometimes, even the wife is jealous. We have this new game, kind of like hide and seek. Just recently, I picked out a sort of family pet. Just under a year ago, there was a proliferation of leets that were albino in a way. People called them Iceleets, despite their lack of any connection to ice at all. Coming from a predominately arid world, ice was somewhat rare. I think it was kind of a breeders fad gone horribly awry myself. Anyway, my boy and the new leet hit it off famously. They are like two peas in a pod. Quiet, and messy. Ahava can't stand the combined might of the dynamic duo, but for some reason I suppose I never paid it much mind. In fact, I tend to look forward to playtime with them both. Though, I feel the story of that might make better at another time.

    I got another call from Old Dom when the three of us were particularly involved. My comm signal came through loud and clear, and I scrambled away from a big fluffy leetpile to scurry over to the comm.

    "Helloz?" I said.

    "Bu.. wha.. Bubba; You there?" Blast my sense of timing. I felt a little sick at first, but it sounded like a business call. Can't afford any shenanigans there at all. I stood up, picked up the comm, and re-asserted my presence. "Dom? That you? What's cookin' today, friend?"

    "Howdy son. Hey listen, the boys have been kinda light on attendance today. Seems the omni-incursions have stepped up. Big game is a little off topic lately. But, I think I might have something to pique your interest. Its not a normal hunt, however. I just need you to look into this story I heard over drinks last night."

    "Oh?" I retorted. "And good morning to you too. What did you hear?"

    His voice seemed dry, "I dunno. Something weird. Could be nothing, but it appears some of your old friends, the Rhinos, might have some sort of bad juju going on. Better you come on down and have a looksee for yourself."


    "I can't tell, really. I hope I'm not interrupting anything important." I chuckled at him. "It's not something I hope will take long, and it can wait if it needs to."

    Jaxon looked up at me with his big bright green emerald eyes. It was at that moment I panned out and realized we had wrecked the entire nursery. I put my hand on my forehead, as the child coo'd.

    "Yeah, just gimme a bit. I need some time to manage a mini-crisis."

    The wife came through the front gate, pulling in with her Dusk. She picked up a load of groceries as the door opened. I, of course, was standing there, child in arms.

    "Oh hey love, can you help me - " I took the cargo from her with one sweep of my arms without even speaking, replacing it with Jaxon. He gurgled somewhat, like it was a game to him. His tiny spindly arms reached out to grab his mother by the hair, which is sort of normal for him. Sometime, he even puts it in his mouth. Silly boy.

    "I need to borrow your Yalm, Princess." I managed in two trips to yank everything out of the back seat. "I promise I will bring it back in one piece."

    "You mean like your bike?" Her hand motioned over, to the remains of my Death Rider. I had already started to restore it back to normal. I can't believe I was that careless.

    "Sort of, only without the topographical devastation part." I kissed her on the cheek, "I got lunch primed already. Its waiting in the hot box. I'll be back in an hour or so." Ahava smiled at me, like she always does. Its not a condescending smirk, but one of those where she knows I really have no idea what time I will be back. But, since I didn't pack my usual gear, she must have decided to not fight me on it. "Be careful."

    "Aren't I always?" I smiled back at her, while I revved the engine of the Dusk.

    "No...." She turned around as the engine flared up. The boy clapped his hands. I didn't even hear her reply, but I waved at them both anyway, sending them my regards.


    The trip back to Tir County is not a terribly long one, especially as the crow flies. I pulled up into the carport just outside the lodge itself, and throw my coat on as I climbed out. Old Dominic wasn't even inside the saloon area.

    "What'll it be stranger?" called a soft voice off to my left. I turned around and leaned against the bar, cowboy style. "Oh, nothing for me thanks..." At first I didn't quite make her out, but it was one of the barmaids. She had been sorting out chips and poker tiles, neatly packing it away from what I must assume was more recent than last night.

    "Big fella like you scared to drink?" She smiled a bit of a barfly smile. "Nothin' of the sort miss. I'm here looking for Dom. We had an appointment."

    She raised her hand, pointing off towards the office. "He's been making calls all day," and nodded at me. I tipped my hat, and mosied down to the door. A polite knock on the shaded glass, and he opened the door to greet me second later.

    "Hey Bubba, take a seat." I spun and removed my hat, placing it neatly on his old fashioned hat rack. The office was immaculate. The smell lacquered hardwood was the strongest in here. I was always jealous of it. Mine was all abustle with file cabinets in what could only be considered organized chaos. Dominic's office was a monument to the business life, even for such a small operation as the Hunter's lodge. It was an institution however. One that I dearly respected. I sighed generously and took a seat on his oldworld upholstered chair.

    He sat behind his tarnished desk, and made his goodbye's to whomever he had been wheeling with. He took a second and surveyed me over, "Thanks for the other day, Bubba. Although Miller's squad isn't here today, I appreciate you sorting out that situation. Business has been a pain lately. Lots of the local don't want to cause too much of a stir round these parts, especially since outside the protected zone we still have company men to contend with."

    "Weren't nothin' " I replied, folding my fingers over my chest. "I'm just glad we made it out okay. My ride got a little buggered, but aint nothing a lil love and some polish won't match"

    Dominic nodded, and laid a weathered hand against his chin. "I overheard something you might find interesting. Seems that one of our teams - while out past the crater near the old Fielder farmstead - managed to discover sort of strange burial ground. The Rhinos aren't in this area, and haven't been for quite a long time. This area is too populated for their tastes. But, there is whats left of some sort of crudely made burial site." And old fashioned coffee kettle started to steam off to one side. The team that discovered it, seemed to think that whatever had happened there, couldn't have been long ago. Its possible that someone out there might have met with an ill fate. I have had several teams within the past couple of days or so, not even call in. I've not only lost money on trade, but i've also lost potential people as well. Since you're somewhat of anything close resembling an expert on the aboriginals, I figured you might wanna crack at this and see what the wierdness is about." He talked as he poured.
    Last edited by Bubbacrush; Nov 9th, 2010 at 07:07:25.
    Towerblock, 220/30/70 Engineer
    President of Steadfast

    And way too many alts...

  4. #4
    ( ooc: So lucky, I almost lost this piece of the story due to another ill-timed power outage on my block)


    The morning air left the ground dewy and moist, not so typical for Tir. There was a misty haze that covered the low points in the ground. The mist crawled almost snake like through the crater basin, never quite reaching more than a meter off the ground. The wake I left while zipping up and over various fallen trees marked my trail cleanly. It wasn't thick, but enough to obscure vision to about a hundred meters. Not exactly the best of driving conditions.

    It didn't take long to fly down to the area that Old Dominic had mentioned. The site itself was in a massive crater, which locals tell had been created by a meteor that impacted this area during the terraforming push through this area, centuries ago. There was a large plantation-style estate on a far side of it, which sold produce from the rich minerals within the soil on the inside of the caldera. A mist clung to the lower walls inside, all the way down to the center, which was the actual site of the mass grave itself. The mist was thick enough in parts that I had to land outside of the crater itself, and go in on foot.

    I got out my essential gear and threw it over both shoulders. I wasn't sure if the area was secure or not. The estate itself seemed awfully quiet, even thought several workers were already well into the days production. I decided to bypass the property entirely, and go deeper into the bush.

    I found the site nearest to the far southern edge of the crater. It was a large almost oblong mass grave. The creatures of the inner valley had their way with portions of it, finding not to submerged fleshy skeletal remains protruding at some points. The surrounding noises from the local animals seemed to dissipate after a certain range, as if consumed by unseen beings made of the mist itself.

    But that wasn't the creepiest of things. No. Hardly. What I didn't prepare for what a ghostly outline of what appeared to be an almost albino Rhinoman, adorned with feathers and other tribal trinkets. It had been watching over the site itself. His tribal markings were not quite distinct from my vantage point. It was clear however, that it had heard my approach. And, a little more strangely.. he was alone.

    Rhinomen take their religion seriously; I suppose that is a truism about most tribal cultures. While I didn't have a much perfect understanding of it, I did understand several things that weren't hard to pick out. Craters themselves are holy sites to them. They represent an impact between heavenly bodies, where one has "touched" another. This became pretty apparent as the last tribe that had taken me in during a particularly interesting time in my life, had also lived in a meteor crater. The center piece of the village itself, was crudely crafted out of the minerals left behind from the initial impact. To them, these are signs from the divine.

    One thing they are also not so hot on, are outsiders. Particularly, outsiders that employ gross amounts of technology. Even deeper, are people that use flying machines. To the Rhinomen, its a symbol of putting yourself above the earth. The Rhinos worship Rubi-ka as a mother, and in so doing, they revere the idea that you should place yourself on top off the earth - not above that. It is a sign of humility before her, and acknowledging her presence and power.

    Had I expected a shaman, I most certainly would try to create a good impression. However, I needed a closer look at the grounds. For that, I'm glad I left the Dusk back at the plantation.

    I was not certain as to if it had actually seen me coming. From what I understand, the colour white also means something to them. Being an albino must have been an interesting thing for this particular guy. I would have never thought I'd actually see one. White means death, and is part of a greater cycle. For this one to be in his appearance, it was most likely a very important role. For this particular rhino to be alone, I have no idea why.

    I came out of the low hanging mist, with my weapons still slung. No sense in creating a ruckus. I had had some good dealings and some bad. However, since I wasn't entirely surrounded yet by warriors, I had to understand that things were not normal. I help my hands high, and approached the edge of the grave, on foot. I sank to my knees as they do when they witness death. I also did not show my teeth, after all, as it wouldn't help his reaction towards me.

    The Rhino's eyes were closed. Strange. It seemed oblivious to my presence, until my knees struck the mossy ground. The smells were a mix of forest and rot, combined with an almost ever present moisture that carried it right to your brain. Things just starter to appear sharper for a moment, as the mist retreated from us as if guided by a slight breeze. The grave itself seemed almost oblong, and judging by appearance, the animals of the forest had its way with things for a little while before being chased away by the new caretaker. Some of the remains were not completely submerged under the soil, and protruded out of the ground.

    It stared at me for a few moments, and it picked up a large naturally ornate staff. At the very top it had been adorned with various colourful knots and other animist symbols. Typical but a little over the top for this guy. It leaned on its staff, looking almost directly through me as I sat diametrically across from it.

    Speaking the Rhino's tongue is no easy task. Our mouths and theirs are structurally different. They can attempt to formulate some words, and when they are particularly motivated - anger, being the first and foremost - then they spit them out with horrible accents but you can always tell what they all mean.. which is opening battle cry of some sort. Not all rhino tribes are the same. Some revere their matriarchs, some keep them equal to males. Respect is always given to females, but they do not always rule the council of the tribe. Universal to their culture is the belief of the right of counsel of elders. The strongest and the wisest and the quickest always live the longest, so elders are a great importance to them. The older you are, the more they assume you know what you are talking about. To them, I appear way older then my urban counterparts.

    For one of us to speak their tongue, which is no small task, you have to simulate their phonetic structure. As a human, my method is to insert two of my fingers into my mouth, in place where tusks would be, and then I speak from the back of my throat. The more gutteral and purposeful you sound, the more inclined they are to respond with less than hostility.

    I grunted out a few words as a universal greeting to one of the wise-caste (this includes a basic honourific given to anyone of respect). It only shifted in its seat. There was no indication, this close up, that it even had any tribe. Aside from a large number of tribal tattooing and scarification, there was also no sign that it was female nor male. This shaman, clearly was a mystery to me on so many levels I had no idea where to begin.

    The large humanoid grunted at me, after a few moments. I took it on good faith that it was unimpressed regardless of my knowledge of his people. It looked at me, with almost a tear through distant eyes.. but clearly was not hostile. More like, pity to me, or disgust.

    In my most basic of understanding I asked him what had happened. It snorted back at me, and used the staff to poke around in the burial mound. It pushed the end of the stick a few times around in the remains and prodded out what appeared to be some sort of device. It tilted my head and squinted, due to the mist and distance. The Rhinos were never known to be great orators.

    The device flew over the grave, heaved by a strong side arm from a crouching position. It then barked out a few things that didn't make any sense to me. My understanding of their language is basic at best. I know several common expressions, but anything beyond that I knew I had no hope of gleaning. So, by logic.. I kept my responses simple and geared towards body language.
    Last edited by Bubbacrush; Nov 8th, 2010 at 23:27:02.
    Towerblock, 220/30/70 Engineer
    President of Steadfast

    And way too many alts...

  5. #5
    I leaned towards him, and picked up the crude object. It appeared to be some sort of bad leatherwork at which an electronic device had been attached to. There was no power to the device itself, and it clearly had been exposed to the elements and even some minor damage. A large number of clasps on the outer ring of the leather work made this large enough to wear as a woman's belt, that would be attached to something else. I examined the pieces carefully, before looking up to Shaman.

    As I did so, he patted the chest under his neck, affirming my su****ion that perhaps the belt was more of a collar of some kind. The technology was very much jury-rigged, and maybe I needed to have my gearhead associate, Towerblock, to take a look at it.

    I grunted out the most obvious of questions as to why this had happened. It did not reply to me, in any way that seemed intelligible. A great squeal erupted in its throat, and his hands flailed wildly.. before it through them into the air in a manic pattern that seemed to denote a wild spasm. It then patted its head with its huge weathered hands, before pointing at me and gesturing to the surrounding countryside.

    Apparently, it appeared to blame us for the problem. Us, as in humans.

    The shaman stopped to look about the gravesite, and it mourned deeply. It let out an arching wail that chilled me to the bone. At the same time, off in the distance and deeper into the mists, several brontos caught my attention as they chimed their laments like wolves baying at the moon.

    It was enough to shake me to the core. I sometimes take life with a certain amount of subtle detachment. The burden of leadership makes it hard, but it becomes a habit. That being said, the vibration and emotional crescendo of the despair in the air penetrated deep into my chest. Instinctively, I reached for my sword and scanned the grounds again.

    The shaman had vanished.
    Last edited by Bubbacrush; Nov 8th, 2010 at 23:29:12.
    Towerblock, 220/30/70 Engineer
    President of Steadfast

    And way too many alts...

  6. #6
    Act 3: Cold Case.

    Back in the office, I couldn't concentrate too deeply. The coffee on my desk and the datapad in front of me, although seemed to be what my focus was on - clearly was not. The coffee had been cold for several minutes, and most I was staring at words on a screen. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat from time to time, not in an effort to mime interest in the blankness in front of me, but because the gears turning in my brain can sometimes make multitasking difficult for me. I chewed listlessly at a half a salted bagel but didn't pay attention to its flavour at all. I was turning out observations in my head, in an attempt to line up details. Perhaps any sort of luck from the analysis would turn up something new. Given only a basic idea of the situation, my first thoughts would be... who would have the most to gain from killing rhinos? What is the suspected function of the collar? Why were they buried this way? Who is responsible? And, more importantly.. why were the rhinos even at that location?

    I made alot of calls after I got back. I talked to the owner of the plantation, and his wife and top foreman. Nothing. They couldn't explain anything, nor did they even realize the grave site was even near the farm. I warned them against going near it. I made other calls too, to contacts and snitches... both leads turned up nada. At a glance, there wasn't enough data to formulate anything, really other then speculation. Even furthermore, was it even my business at all to go sticking my nose into? All these things I was considering, the hardest thing for me to evade is a mystery. My guts always tell me things. Sometimes I listen, sometimes I don't. But, most of the time when I listen... patterns try to form in my mind. Things like.. motivations, profits, details that most people overlook, and who has the right sort of resources to pull this sort of operation off. Nothing added up. So, I loose sleep over it.

    Such is the case of today.

    I gotta call from the wife moments later. My comm panel sprung to life. It was an open work channel, so I assumed the call was casual. Her smiling face was something i always looked forward to. "Hey, Princess." I smiled back, "You look awfully chipper this morning. What's the news?" She quickly responded, in such a way she was loading her guns when she usually springs things on me. "Oh, its been a rough day all around, but that's the bad news. The good news is, is that I managed to get two tickets to a very posh getaway, just the three of us for a weekend, which date is yet to be determined... so, this is not me asking you for what looks good. This is me saying we should make time somewhere. Trust me, you want to make time for us." She winked in a rather playful way.

    I couldn't help but smile. Damn, I loved her assertiveness. She was all brains and sass, and while most men consider her a bit too much for her own good, I always felt it was her way of constantly letting me know where I stand. It was something we had established in our relationship, since we both love our work but can't be immersed in it for long periods of time or else we loose too much contact. This was her way of saying there wasn't any choice, and it was and always has been endearing.

    I looked down at my timepiece. It was already into mid day on the third day. She knows when ever timing is an issue I instinctively check the clock. Its almost become a habit. A habit she dislikes quite a bit. Although, by comparison when I pester her for wants when she gives me the 'I'm busy' look, then the situation is usually unfavourable to me. "Okay, what did you have in mind?" I asked. "Oh, sometime within the next couple of weeks or so. I got this great deal through a contact of mine, who appreciates keeping his best computer specialist advisors within arms reach. I can only assume that this is a show of appreciation, some would possibly call it a payoff, to keep us wanting to pick up further freelance work through their network. Side job, not really Steadfast stuff."

    "Is it a safe network?" I replied with a question of my own, raising my eyebrow. "About as safe as any of yours. Why?" She raised her eyebrow at me as well. "Oh c'mon love, you know I don't like most freelance stuff. Its a crap shoot. You know the risks."

    She cut me off, "Of course I do. While I do appreciate the concern for me, might I remind you I'm one of the best out there. I get bored with reviewing security cases and updating code. I want something a bit more challenging then chasing down two bit hackers and offering discount packages to merchants. I can do it in my sleep, and none of it is exciting."

    I chuckled a bit at her. "Exciting? You mean like getting shot at?" Her smiled widened to almost a shark-like grin. "No. Not that I can't handle myself, mister mercenary. Its not black op material, but research. And, before you start lecturing me its not espionage related, nor countermeasure. Its logistics related. You know, like a security advisor should do?"

    I got curious, "Who's your client? I can do a background check and find out." She chuckled at me and made the most playful of faces. "I dare you to try..." Ahava winked.

    It became clearer to me. Shes running shadow games. Most likely shes protecting wayward hackers in an attempt to cover trails. There was a moment of silence before I let out another silent laugh. I scratched my beard, and squinted at her closely. "I can seduce his security advisor and lure her into a romantic evening, at an location of her choosing..."

    She almost squealed. "Its a date then!" and hung up on me.

    Silly creatures, women are.

    The comm rang again. I picked it up right away, and put on my best sensitive husband voice. "I'll find a way into your secrets... you little vixen, rest assured I have ways of making you talk."

    The other end was silent for a few moments. I could almost hear a male chuckle on the other end. "Ooooh, someone's being naughty. NASTY I SAY!" I could hear almost a puking noise after that. "Who is this?" I asked harshly.

    "Its me, boss. I got the test results on your device. I gotta admit, its a rather innovative use of- " I cut him off before he could go off on his geek raves.

    "Just tell it to me straight. What is it?" Silence. Towerblock choked a bit, "My theory is, this device is meant to have a dual function. It connects to a transmission network, and then it distributes suggestions to whomever the collar belongs to. Its also rigged with a small shape charged explosive, which has enough yield to blow a large hole in whoever it has captured. Based upon what you told me, I have to assume its meant to deliver suggestions to the brain by a remote source."

    World stops mid sentence. " Boss, we think this thing is a slave collar..."

    Last edited by Bubbacrush; Nov 9th, 2010 at 22:45:39.
    Towerblock, 220/30/70 Engineer
    President of Steadfast

    And way too many alts...

  7. #7
    "So what you are basically telling me, this thing not only implants passive suggestions into the mind of its wearer, but can also be set for explosion the moment it is triggered? That's is... is.. completely and utterly... " I took a moment to desperately slow my breathing. It was if someone had taken napalm to my sensibilities. The idea that somewhere, not only someone was mustering slaves, but an entire organized group was involved. My heart rose in my chest a few centimeters, as a bad taste filled my mouth. I could hear Towerblock sighing as he confirmed it for me.

    I fell silent. I had no words for it. No words at all.

    "Listen, boss. This technology is not too difficult to reproduce. The collar's schematic is crude, but easy to make from a few things. Its basically a stripped neural impulse device, set with a few modifications and induction pads to send these signals indirectly to the brain. I also knew you'd want a second opinion, so I asked Falikos to take a look at it as well. She came to the same conclusion faster then I did. We are even doing tests on Rhino physio and reflexology. I reconstructed a similar device here using spare parts, and I know if I could install it on someone who wasn't aware or didn't know about it... I could conceivably send signals myself. It's not too terribly different then certain Psycho Modification nanoformula's run by 'Crats or Traders, just less intrusive."

    I let him talk. My mind was incensed. Omni-tek would not have had this technology under their white list. While Omni-tek can be some bad company, their technology.. even their black market technology would be listed and accounted for. Neutral organizations would never consider this option under pain of death by Omni-tek. So, who.. in their right sane mind, would consider such a thing to be viable?

    I only had one solution come to mind, that could possible make direct sense as the facts were presented. Someone from the clans had to be responsible. As much as it hurt to admit, the Clans.. as much as we love our freedom and are willing to fight and die for it, multiple times if necessary, that our ranks are also filled with the dregs of the universe that Omni-tek casts off. It's their way of diluting our populace with the worst they refuse to control. They send their waste to us, knowing that not only justice will come for them on our side, that the justice may not take as long to drop on them. So, the bad elements have time to work their way into our society and cause havok from within.

    Now, there is something I need to tell you before I continue. Something that is a source of irony, humour, and a morbid sense of justice that we - the proper clans - hold. Let me first offer the idea that our life is vastly different in some ways from Omni-tek. We are respected to a certain degree to a point of fear for non-clans. A very favourite trick used by Omni-Pol was instituted by long dead admin of Omni-tek long before this idiot they have now, stepped in. The plan is that sometimes there are criminals and terribly wicked individuals that instead of rehabilitating or incarcerating, they literally pack them up in a truck and dump them several hundred kilometers inside clan territory. These refugees then most often choose one of two paths upon arrival. If they fear what will happen when we - the proper clans - get a hold of them then they often choose to go back after Omni-tek for vengeance reasons. Omni-Pol will then happily label the group of people as 'Dirty Clan Terrorists' in the eyes of the media, drumming up their own drama about it and patting themselves on the back for their ingenuity and moneyless expenditure on the deal. The second option, which they equally enjoy, are the sort of criminals that could actually survive in our neck of the woods, who then become entrenched and gather power within our ranks. They cause trouble for us first, thinking they know what it takes to live in the jungle like the rest of the tigers. They soon are shown the error of their ways, when we find them and bring them to justice in our own method. Its a win-win situation for them. While we laugh at them as they look down at their nose at us, they laugh at us for the ever popular pissing in the proverbial pool. Its a stupid circle, but its one of the things we are forced to deal with.

    This time it has gone way too far. The enslavement of a people is a sin that begs for blood. There is no other judgement. The rhinomen have never ever wanted to join the rest of civilization. They have a society all their own, and they are happy with it. To put this noble group in shackles is nothing short of blasphemy. Double blasphemy, when it's done under our own au****e. This is unforgivable, and leads to a ruination of truly despotic proportions. There is no smoke without a fire, and the fire is lit and burning. Its time for a reckoning.

    I dropped the call as Towerblocks words drifted off into nothingness. He was talking but I stopped listening. I was angry. I was devastated. I was sick inside in a way that it was even too painful to cut out with a blade.

    I had to do something.
    Last edited by Bubbacrush; Feb 14th, 2011 at 19:01:37.
    Towerblock, 220/30/70 Engineer
    President of Steadfast

    And way too many alts...

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