The counter raid went about as well as it could have. We met up with a few survivors from the raid, everyone was pretty fired up to see some reparation. Many of them had lost someone close. The plan was simple. A stolen military truck served as a battering ram, the few survivors that were left poured out and opened up with whatever ordinance we could scrape up. The blitz worked, the Feds were blindsided by the Trojan horse. Sudden gunfire threw them off guard, and they took enough casualties to pull into the central command building.
We followed after them, pushing as hard as we could. The base wasn’t finished yet, so many of the security features we expected were luckily absent. Once we got into the comms room, it was a short fight. There was simply too many of us, and too few of them. We took a few casualties, but ten of us survived. We started looting tech, Neko named off a comm jammer, some laptops, some kind of scanner and luckily, the briefcase the VTOL made off with. We never saw the woman again, and I hope to keep it that way. Suddenly one of the soldiers called out, one of the Feds had feigned death and was calling for backup over his radio when the rebel shot him dead.
Neko piled on top of the truck Cattie was driving, with me already inside. Claws skittered on the metal before finding purchase enough to hold him as he scrambled in through a window. Something had him spooked. He kept looking over his shoulder.
"Uh… Everything okay?" Cattie asked, raising an eyebrow.
Neko jumped, then met her eyes. He looked spooked. "No. Go slow, blend in with normal traffic. Roll up the windows." He sat back and forced himself to take a calming breath.
Cattie did as she was told, keeping the truck at a steady roll. "Uhm…Okay." She was starting to get visibly nervous, but tried to keep her cool. She had been through this kind of thing before, she slid down in her seat, making her figure smaller.
The truck rolled past a flipped over cop car that was burning and riddled with bullet holes. "Stick to the route out. I should have split them, scattered our forces…or, I don't know, something…I thought they'd just be fighting first responders. So I concentrated them into a loose convoy. They'll draw attention, they'll be way easier to hit." Neko growled and pounded the armrest. "Cattie. They haven't locked down the way out yet. Maybe we can get clear behind them if we roll slow. If we pick up a tail, go into an alleyway or side street. God, I hope I didn't send them to die."
Cattie bit her tongue, resisting the urge to gun it out of there. She nodded and swallowed hard. She followed the route exactly, taking every turn as it came. Slowly but surely we made our way through the street. They'd done an excellent job against the responders- there were plenty of dead, even civilians and military personnel who hadn't expected to face the heavy rifles and witheringly accurate fire of the strike team commandos. But then there was a trade block ahead, with a flipped over series of vehicles and lumps. "Turn off. Turn off!" Neko screamed, but it was too late, there was nowhere to turn to- and no one else there, it seemed, except one wounded, gangly and scruffy. He was an exceedingly tall person who looked a bit worse for wear. He raised an arm and hailed the vehicle as if asking for a lift out of there. Neko sucked in a breath and pulled a baseball cap over his ears, then sat uncomfortably on his tail.
There were no cops, no sirens, no sign of other survivors- the overturned vehicles were the ones of the strike team. The bodies were burning, the smell of human barbecue pushing itself through the vents and into the car cabin. Cattie’s hands tightened on the steering wheel. She was shaking and drawing an unsteady breath, but she seemed to be thinking clearly. Both of us had seen this before. One guy goes out, fakes an injury. Asks for help. When the truck stops, kill the driver and passengers, or worse, keep them. The motor spun up as air sucked into the engine. The truck picked up considerable speed in a short distance, crashing through the man in the road.
"You did well. It's them, or us. Besides, he may survive." Neko encouraged.
"I hope so." Cattie responded quietly. "Are we far?"
"Afraid so, and they didn't make it. Odds are there’s an ambush now further ahead of our planned exit route, we need to find somewhere to hide. Somewhere safe, or at least…" Neko smiled. He had a plan. "Someone we can intimidate and bully into hiding us for a spell, but who is still powerful and respected enough that people won't come sniffing."
“Who?” I asked from the backseat.
"Let's go visit the traitorous Bill Jameson."
"Jameson…didn't he used to run a nation or something? Oh yeah, he was co-president with that Psycho bitch." I rolled my eyes. "Why are we going to see him? What use is he?"
"I have a plan. Cattie, I need you to act for us."
"Okay, I guess." Cattie shrugged. "What's your plan?"
"I need you to knock on his door and ask if mister Jameson is in, and that you're here on behalf of your impregnated sister to bargain. He can't resist women, and he can't resist a good bargain. Then we bust down the door when he opens it."
Cattie blinked a couples of times before speaking. "Uh, alright. I'll do my best."
A short and very tense truck ride later, Neko had us pull up in front of an oddly ornate house. It stuck out like a sore thumb, I hoped Neko knew what he was doing.
Cattie knocked on Jameson's door, doing her best to look confident. "Hello? Mr. Jameson?"
"He's not in," A man’s voice answered. "But I can take a massage." Wait, did he say message, or massage?
"Please sir, I must speak with him personally. It concerns my sister, it seems Mr. Jameson has impregnated her." Cattie pleaded, putting on her best damsel-in-distress voice.
"And what, your dad is livid about it so he sent you?"
"No sir… We live alone, and we don't have much money. She can't support a child, we were hoping you would be willing to talk…" Selling it.
"We? And I might…"
"Yes, my sister and I." Damn, Cattie picked this up quick.
"What's her name?"
"Ah yes! I liked her. Good officer. I warned her," Footsteps approached. I made eye contact with Neko, who nodded. "But I could be open to a bargain."
"Well…I might be in the bargaining mood." Cattie replied sweetly.
The door practically flew off its hinges for her. "Well why didn't you say so?" Jameson was greeted by a sweet looking young woman, and a rough looking young man all too happy to see him. I wasted no time, walking right into the open door.
"Uh…this is one of those Jamie things I have to be progressive on, right?" Jameson asked. Neko took off his hat and Jameson let out a long curse that might have made anyone blush. "Well, I'm dead, aren't i?"
"Not yet." I said cheerily. "Look I'm not gonna beat around the bush, cooperate and everyone leaves happy."
Neko grinned. "And if you don't, well, I owe you for selling out. Trockle sends his regards." His claws came out as he flexed his hands. I turned my hand, letting Jameson get a good view of my handgun. A pipe wrapped in an old shirt served as a makeshift silencer.
"What is this, bad cop bad cop? What sort of negotiation is this?"
"The kind of negotiation where if you keep asking question you start losing fingers. Catboy, what are we here for?"
"Simple. We probably got pinged on the way here as a suspicious vehicle. You're here to have your chauffeur slap those diplomat tags on the car, and book it into the inner city and then ditch the car, and profess knowing nothing as to our whereabouts if someone knocks." They'd ask Jameson instead of searching his quarters and turning them inside out.
"You heard the man, get moving." I shoved Jameson's assistant. "Get your plate on the truck, move it."
Jameson grumbled and pulled out a screwdriver. His house was simple but well furnished. 'Jameson's Screwing' it said on the handle. Jameson went outside, handed them off to the chauffeur, then had her drive away. If looks could kill, the one the Chauffeur gave to Cattie would have her dead in place.
"Alright, now that our car problem is taken care of…" I turned to Neko. I still had no idea what we were doing there, Neko wasn't spilling and it was starting to annoy me.
"Get inside," Neko urged.
"Cattie, I will explain everything. Andrew, check around the house, okay?"
"Sure. Anything in particular I'm looking for?" I started looking through the house, pulling drawers off their rails, scattering papers, and breaking various things.
"Bugs. Weapons would be nice, but I doubt you'll find any." To which Jameson shrugged.
"What, I'm a lover not a fighter."
"Cattie, we're hanging here for a bit, until they call the manhunt off in the morning. Whatever you do, don't sleep with him." Something told that wouldn’t be a problem.
"No worries there." Cattie rolled her eyes.
I spent a few minutes combing the house top to bottom. I returned to the group after scouring the house. "No bugs that I could find. But I did find this." I held up something wrapped in cloth.
"Huh?" Neko asked. He looked at it. Then his eyes widened. "Is that what I think it is, Bill?"
"What?" I glanced between Neko and Bill. "What is it?"
"It's the real thing," Neko smiled. "Say, Bill, the ball is coming up, and I have nothing to offer her holiness as a token of my appreciation for her service. I'm sure, being such good friends and all, you won't mind throwing this in."
"It wasn't what we agreed!" Jameson protested. Neko pulled his claws out again. "But I'm sure I can find it in me to make adjustments, where prudent,"
"I'm taking this either way." I shrugged.
"We done here?" I asked, examining his newfound toy.
"We wait until the morning commute. We slip into the crowds and get aboard a train. Cattie, stop staring at Jameson."
"I can't, it's like…watching a trainwreck in slow motion." Cattie responded.
"Well what do we do with him?" I asked, nodding to Jameson.
"Don't give it. If this nation is to succeed, it needs her. You give her that, and she'll remember all the ways she's been betrayed. She'll remember all she's had taken from her. People will die horribly. There are better ways to go about your aims. Leave her out of it."
I stepped up to Jameson, nearly toe to toe with him. "Enjoy your posh life while you can, Bill. Soon enough this will be all over. Then everyone will be on a level playing field. This is a dog eat dog world, Jameson. I'm just putting down the biggest dogs."
"Well, as it goes these days I'm a nobody sitting on the sidelines. Believe me, you're going to hurt a lot of innocent people with that if you let him-" Jameson pointed at Neko, "-get his way."
I chuckled. "You seem to think I have a problem with that. Gotta break a few eggs to make an omelette old man, this isn't your everyday war. This is a revolution."
"Yeah, and what omelette is being made, with rotten eggs? You are breaking with no thought to creation. You don't start with perfection, you build on a rough start."
"Spoken like a true politician."
"And Trockle will lead us out of the ashes?"
"When the dust settles, I guess we'll just have to see who's left."
"That doesn't qualify as a plan, you have to know that."
"It a damn good thing I don't make the plans then. I'm getting tired of you, I suggest you shut up before I put a hole in your knee."
The sun rose. Neko checked his phone, then showed us. "Interesting. Also, worthy of note, we have diplomatic tags. I am a diplomat of sorts. This ball is also an olive branch, one I'm sure will be ignored and equally am sure is a trap."
"What's interesting?" I took a look at Neko’s phone. A QR code splashed on the screen. "That’s good, you told me we needed those to get in, right?"
"Yep. Tickets for diplomat, and a Plus One."
I turned to Cattie. "Sorry sis, looks like you're sitting this one out. Got any other goodies, Jameson?"
"You sure? Maybe I should take another look around, be a little more thorough." I taunted.
He sighed. "Look, I can't pretend I understand everything about why you think this is a good idea. Sewing chaos? Discord between the king and Queen? Make her angrier and more unbalanced?"
"Ah, now you’re asking the right questions. See, a lot of the public don't know what goes on behind closed doors. They only see what Wallace and Spootin want them to see. We intend to drop the facades, remove the masks. Starting with her." I replied.
"She's pretty plain how she comes across. They have the right idea. But she's lost some of her paranoia, that anger at prior betrayals…it wouldn't be peeling back a mask, it would change her. And people would suffer for it."
"This is who she truly is now. Yes, she could do a better job parenting. She needs help. This nation needs help. But you're trying to destroy it and calling it progress."
"I grow tired of you, Jameson."
"Fine, sure, threaten me. I can't stop you, but what’s threatening me going to accomplish?"
"Do you know what Wallace does behind his doors? Do you know what's right outside those walls, waiting for someone ballsy enough to try and leave?"
"About the same as the punishment during the colonial era. Tarred and feathered. Few survive such a thing."
I laughed in his face. "No no no. Tarred and feathered? It's worse. It's much worse. Remember Junetics and all the fucked up things they did? The federation dug up their equipment. They said they destroyed them, they didn't. They took the equipment for their own. And their doing things even more twisted than you can even imagine. Iron Hands was a fucking toddler compared to Wallace. You ever heard of Hounds? Because I've seen one up close."
"And what would you have me do about it? Princess would say it was better than it going to waste. I'm not sure I disagree. The country wasn't founded by saints. Legion was bad. But at least not everyone is a slave or hooked on drugs. You can carve out a life of meaning, one that is ethical. It isn't perfect but it beats starving, it beats dying, and it beats being infected as a certainty."
"So you'd gladly have folks snatched off the streets and forced into genetic mutation? They say it's only criminals, but I swear they make up laws on the spot when they have an open bed. If you think that's safety, then you’re as bad as the rest of them."
"The laws are fucked, maynnnn," he was suddenly imitating a hippie stoner out of nowhere. "Fuckin Carlos just got thirty years for doin' nothin, just carrying an unregistered weapon and getting in a gang and being my dealer, myaaaan, such bullshit, myaaaannn, gotta stick it to the mannnn," he imitated further. "It's not his fault it was illegal, such bullshit, like they make it all up, myaaaannnn, drugs aren't bad for you, maaaannnn."
Neko stepped between Jameson and I, which was good, because I would have laid Jameson out right there."Fuck you old man, I've seen cockroaches with more respect than you."
"I honestly don't understand you street rats thinking that your lot will improve under no system. A government protects you and provides at least a modicum of safety and a monopoly on violence. Imagine if rich could purchase poor people hunting parties through the slum and the government didn't exist to stop it. The merchant guilds would sell tickets and be modestly annoyed at attendees shooting the concierge but do little else. Instead of working hard or enrolling, you break laws- stupidly, I'll add. Do you think the government cares if a mayor smokes crack? No. They don't. If you want to smoke crack, become mayor."
"I felt safer under Iron Hands than I ever did Lokison."
"And Warnik is soooooo much better than Wallace, right!?” He was still sarcastic, but had lost his temper now as well. “Besides, you must have loved Iron Hands, with his free rape and drugs. Best life scum like you could imagine."
I growled, cursing the conditioning Cerberus put us all through to make us sound ‘intimidating.’ "The second you outlive your usefulness I look forward to ripping you apart."
"Too close to home? No wonder you hate psycho for stopping that gravy train,"
I pushed Neko away with a surprising burst of strength, in one efficient motion punched Jameson in the mouth, loosening a tooth.
"Easy now," Neko pulled me back. "They'll have his vitals monitored, he flatlines and we won't make it a mile." Jameson had a shit eating grin plastered over his face.
"I can do a lot without killing him."
"Boy wants to be just like Daddy Iron Hands," Jameson mocked. "Don't you?"
"Stop it." Neko hissed.
"Iron Hands wouldn't have the sense to leave it at one."
"You used to run with a more refined crowd, Neko. I worked with your professors, your founder, and your headmasters. Look at the company you keep now. I'm not talking bombers, or terrorists. I never judged FCC Smith for what it did. But this…this is scum. You hear him. He wants Legion back, Neko. Remember what they did to you?"
I shook my head. "You don't get it." I locked eyes with Jameson. "I want people like me dead. So pansies like you can sleep at night without fear. You don't like it, fine. Either way I don't really give a shit. Call me scum, talk to me like a child, I don't give a shit. But don't compare me to Iron Hands."
"Why not? You served him, right? And you apparently like him. Hell, if he or one of his lieutenants were still around…"
"Then I'd kill them myself." I growled again.
"Nice words, but empty ones. Psycho would have chewed you up and shit you out in front of your sister if it would prove a point."
Neko seemed to be calming himself down. "Jameson I don't know what you're playing at, but you should quit while you're behind. You won't sway me from Trockle or FCC Smith. The Real FCC Smith."
I had enough, and left the room before he crushed Jameson's head into the cabinet behind him. I leant against the wall on the other side of the doorway, cooling my head.
"With family like that, it sometimes makes me rethink all the kids I've made. Scotch?" He asked Cattie.
"No thanks." She said meekly, shaking her head. I could see around the corner from a mirror hanging in the hallway.
"Rum and coke, then. You've had a rough night. And I can tell you don't mean to be wrapped up in all this, you're just worried for him." He sounded sincere.
She swallowed hard. "He's reckless…but it comes from a good place."
"Tell me about it? I promise, I won't try anything."
Cattie looked at him, away and back again. "I…don't know if I want to."
"Look, you're stressed. I'm no Fighter but I can think straight. If Neko is running from the manual, you're a three man team. It won't do you any good to be stressed, so let's share. Look, I'll even start. Trockle scares me. I used to hope he could rejoin me, that he'd do the right thing, and he'd be forgiven. Now? I'm not sure there's forgiveness." He poured two despite her earlier refusal. "Your turn."
She paused hard. "Andrew….he…he wants to be a better person, but his anger gets the better of him. It's…landed us in trouble before…" Got that right.
"Ever wished you could get him the help he needs? I could arrange that. I am owed a favor or two. I could get him real counseling, a good job, set him up on a good track for life, if he sticks to it."
She shook her head. "He won't. Not from you, not after that."
"It wouldn't be from me. But it would be in the Empire. From a source of good."
She shook her head again. "Then I know he won't take it."
"Why, because it's imperial?"
She nodded silently.
"A pity." Cattie shrugged in response. "Well, get some rest, Neko can watch over me."