OC Story 2 Chapter 9

Previous Chapter: Chapter 8

Reflection x and x Smokescreen


"You see this, Libon?"

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Libon looked at the screen his personal guard was showing, "Is that… what I think it is?"

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They were watching a video posted on the internet of a large, impossible vehicle. This footage was prevented from being shown on the news to avoid starting a panic. They were watching it in his office, which had no windows. This was necessary. It was the Scrap Kings' "Scorpion" contraption.

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His guard opined, "That must be his doing."

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"To think that he'd be using the gift I'd given him for such a purpose."

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"What are we gonna do? Attention like that will lead back to us."

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"It already has." Libon grabbed his cell phone off of his desk, "From now on, I want to help people. Not cause more of this."

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"Libon, please be careful about your words."

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"You said that we only have to worry about directional mics, correct?"

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"Yes."

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Libon looked around, as if he could see them, "All the windows?"

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"As far as we can tell." His guard stood up, "What are you gonna do?"

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"The only thing I can do."

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Libon then walked up the stairs and into a room with a large window, then dialed.

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"Hello? Kyair?"

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"Libon?" The man answered from the other end.

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"I think I just saw your work on the internet."

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"I must thank you for that. My ability has found new uses."

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Libon was hiding his disdain, "So, you've found your way to the junk gangs, I take it."

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"That's right," Kyair was laughing, "they have so many different materials to play with."

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"The Scrap Kings, no less."

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"They have the best materials."

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Libon looked out the window, "So, was Nen the key to winning over the military boneyard?"

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"It might have been," He laughed some more.

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"Well, I just wanted to check and see if it was really you behind it."

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"Which means it is really you behind it, Libon." Kyair's obesity came through his voice, even on the phone.

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"Well, take it easy." Libon hung up on Kyair, as he did not want to hear a response.

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He smirked to himself thinking about the other times people had hung up on him, and wondered if the reasoning was the same this whole time. Slowly, he glanced out the window. He looked far into the brush to see if he could spot an MCBI agent with a device, but he couldn't. He left the room quickly to discuss with his guard what he had just done.

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"That was fast." He said as Libon came walking back in.

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"Now it's just a matter of time."

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"You don't think the MCBI will do anything? Anhydrought isn't their jurisdiction, and they likely won't help the desert rangers find them."

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"No, but the NIB will take note of the recording as soon as they flag the keywords for Nen and the junk gangs. They weren't gonna touch the gangs before, but they'll touch the Scrap Kings now. Military equipment is fine, apparently, but once Nen gets involved, that's when heads roll." The way Libon spoke was like an historian reciting a text book.

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"Looks like Calatrac is going to have a new addition."

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*****

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Elaine was already up and leaving town to head towards Auxilium. Heading east from the border town, which was full of pleasant surprises, she had raised her expectations of the UPIO as a whole, especially Anhydrought's center of finest pleasures, Auxilium. A desert bus ride would take barely over an hour to arrive in the city. A part of her wanted to stay longer in the town with the fantastic restaraunt, but she resided to returning in the future at some point.

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After all, she was still trying to purchase one of the luxurious homes in southern Maremortuus. At that point, access to any and all fine-dining would be perfunctory. It simply came with the territory. Perhaps she could even hire the staff of the restaraunt she visited as her personal chefs. Then she could have such fine delicacies on command. A part of her wondered if it was right, in a moral sense, to take them away from the public eye, however. Such experiences might be best shared.

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Elaine continued to contemplate as she borded the express, first class desert bus she forked out for. The man took her ticket, letting her aboard the top deck, which was still shaded, yet a higher quality than the below level. Two steps in and she frowned.

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"It smells in here." She declared to the ticket man with disgust.

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"I'm so sorry."

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"I paid good money for this." She sat down.

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A few rows back, several others were uncomfortable by just hearing her remarks to the man. One of them buried his attention in his smart phone, surfing the internet. Something had blown up on the forums he tended to visit most. Almost all links and threads were about the same thing. Most contained comments or posts with links to the very same location, even. A file from a government site. A massive declassification had been released, and hundreds of people collectively tried to parse the information at once, sharing what nuggets they felt they found first before news organizations would come aboard the sensation.

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Many posts were simply quotes to large sections with links and descriptions as to where in the file to find said information as proof. Then, the comments were filled with discussions and interpretations, pondering potential consequences and predicting futures left and right. But still, the information was barely being touched. This forum was as underground as it gets, and the more popular social media sites were just barely catching onto a few nuggets here and there, but not the full picture. The news was still quiet.

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*****

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Within a rustic, quiet town in Maremortuus, Cell Donagher had found the home he was seeking out. For the most part, the locals kept to themselves. Rarely, but still occasionally, people would move in or move out. New homes wer built every now and again, mostly to accomodate the expansion of families with long ties to the area.

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Realators often tried to break into the market, but the homes were always inhabited. Moving from one home to another was so infrequent that building a home for yourself was more common. The construction of the type of home in the area was easy enough. It had its more spiritual rewards, as well. If you were so inclined, anyways.

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Developments were attempted, but the land was protected under Maremortuus-wide statutes protecting the environment, which was the opposite route that Anhydrought took. It's not hard to see why Anhydrought's people were so accepting of hyper-industrialization when the alternative was just more square-mileage for the desert lands. But Maremortuus and its methodology of respecting the natural land was at its epitome in this small village. Only a few main paths extended throughout it. Down the road from the spot where Cell was, an old bed and breakfast styled hotel was beginning to bustle with life again.

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Cell ignored the rest of the lives in the area. Despite the tradition of filling vacancies, there was but one house that remained abandoned while the owner was away. Ralbog's shack of a residence. Before he had left, he was a staple of the community. This respect is what led to them leaving the shack as is. That and the promise that he would return. This was before his employment by Brick, though, which prevented such action.

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The compacted pathway absorbed his footsteps. Ralbog would know he was coming regardless of attempts to hide his presence. Somewhere behind Cell, the MCBI's agent assigned with the task of following Cell and sharing all findings of Cell's with Mahagoney was hiding with Zetsu. But, he wasn't fooling anyone. Not anyone that needed to be fooled.

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Cell knew he was there, not exactly the location, but he knew there was an agent. Ralbog expected the MCBI to come knocking on his door any moment, and would think Cell to simply be another arm of this prediction. Before Cell could arrive and knock, Ralbog's door swung open, exposing the eponymous butcher. Many years had ravaged Ralbog since the last time Cell had seen him. Even before that, their interactions were minimal at best.

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A child in a mansion of busy parents. There were days when Cell would tinker all to himself. Witnesses often saw near prodigious engineering talent. Many years ago, this was, with Cell running from room to room, looking for more things to make. As he aged, this hadn't ceased. Eventually, a new hire was brought on… a butcher for the family.

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Cell did not interact with much of the staff, some more than others. All more than his parents. Long talks only ever took place with the staff he saw most, namely the chefs and housekeepers. For a time, he spoke mostly to the chef, when he was free from cooking, but sometimes as he cooked.

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"Do you do all of this yourself?" Cell had taken it upon himself to strive to do everything for himself that he could, especially where his gadgets were concerned.

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The chef was sweating over a hot stove, "Oh no no no. This is a process. We all must work together to bring the dish to the table, and we collaborate with you to turn it into an experience. Every great chef will tell you that the recipient of the food is just as important."

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Cell smiled, "So, where do you get your ingredients?"

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The chef chopped some vegetables, "The vegetables are mostly grown locally. The ones that aren't are shipped in." He sprinkled some spices into a pot, "The spices are also ground by staff or bought from markets."

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Cell glanced over at some meat lying out on the cutting board to be prepared, "What about the meat?"

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"The meat," He was stirring, "comes from various different places. I don't always know where. But, at some point, they go through our butcher."

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"I've never met him."

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"All of us, and many more who we may never meet, all work together to bring this meal to you."

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"Oh," Cell felt guilty of not being appreciative enough, "I am glad that you all do this work!"

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"It is our pleasure."

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"I hope I can provide something for you to enjoy as well!" Cell began trying to plan out futile futures.

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"You already have," The chef always smiled so easily.

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Ralbog stood in the doorway of his shack, frowning. Cell did not say a word, but Ralbog suspected collusion with the MCBI before anything else. It was caution. He had grown not to trust anyone, and in this situation, they were his biggest threat. He knew exactly how things looked, especially if he had been discovered to have escaped.

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"What are you doing here?" His voice was like a stone breaking another stone.

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"My father's dead."

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He paused, "Come inside."

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Cell followed him in. The door shut behind him. The MCBI agent in hiding made a call to his higher ups. The call was quickly routed to Mahagoney.

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"Sir, I think I've found Ralbog Noden."

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Down the road, at the bed and breakfast, Mirko was just waking up. Smells hit him like the light as it bled through his curtains. Though, they weren't his curtains. It was hardly his room. As contract would have it, it was his for the night, but, truly, it was the old woman's.

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He went down the stairs and found a quaint table packed to the brim with dishes intended to help start a day with a healthy dosage of nutrients of all varieties. Before he grabbed a plate, he poured himself some tea from the communal table and sat down. He picked a cup with a peculiar engraving on the side of a vague bird-like shape. There were numerous tables around the room, each with a few chairs. Mirko noticed that he was the only one in the room till the old lady that ran the place came in. It was all operated by a single family, withered in numbers.

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The old lady was doing some minor maintenance and bringing out even more food, even though Mirko was their only paying guest, it seemed. The young man that had led Mirko here was visible outside, through the many windows playing with a little girl. The girl seemed to be under 4 years old, while the man was perhaps barely over 18. The old lady's age was a mystery, even as a guess. Past a certain age, it almost becomes futile to venture an estimation. She sat down by Mirko as he sipped his tea to help wake up.

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"George brought you here?" She asked, comfortably.

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Mirko set down his tea, "Yes, he did. Is that his-"

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"But what brings you here?" She had grabbed herself her own glass of tea without Mirko noticing.

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He knew what she meant, "I'm passing through to see the vast estates of southern Maremortuus. Then I suppose I'm back up to the mountain temples." He reached down for his drink, but it wasn't there.

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"Ah, like a Grand Tour River Hike?" She set down the tea cup again.

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Mirko saw the bird engraving on the cup, "Grand Tour River Hike?"

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"It's quite popular in this province. You find a point in the middle between the coast and the ocean, and then you follow the river one way, till you reach a peak or the coast. Then, you go all the way back." She slid the cup back to Mirko, "It gives perspective."

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"I guess so."

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"Only instead of a river, you're seeing the whole province! My, what a splendid idea."

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Mirko fidgeted with the cup and felt the engraving, "What is this?"

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"Full of questions!" She looked over at it, "Why, it's a tea cup."

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"No I mean-"

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She interrupted him again, "I know. I'm not so old that I can't have a little fun anymore, am I?" With a quick movement, she smirked at Mirko, "It's an old nomad's. It was passed down, carrying the mark of their tribe's guide."

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Mirko had more questions than before, but decided to cease, "I love this town here. Everything seems so… peaceful. Some of the other places I went, that wasn't exactly so."

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"Only someone who's truly seen Maremortuus would say that." She winked an innocent wink.

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"I don't always get the feeling that I'm welcome in this part of the country."

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"This village is no different. Outsiders here just mean anyone who isn't from this place. In that sense, you're as equally off putting as someone from this province."

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Mirko almost laughed. Her sense of humor was different than what he had experienced since entering this country, or rather, this province. But, all types must exist in some form or another in every location one may arrive at.

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"I appreciate you taking me in."

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"We were desparate for customers!" The lady laughed, "Plus George took to you. I guess outsiders attract outsiders."

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"Is he your son?"

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"In law. Before you ask, yes, that is his kid."

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Mirko thought about their ages. To have had a child as a teenager, and to have come to this town as an outsider like him, marrying into a family here. He stopped. It wasn't his business. Every single person alive has a story to tell and be heard, but it was up to them to tell it. All of the hints were in place, and he could infer what he liked, but it would be rude to assume, and perhaps equally as rude to pry into their life from the outside. The key to acceptance was realizing that no one needs to know another's story. Simply acknowledging that one exists, and it is no more or less contrived or meaningful than one's own was the most enlightening course of thought.

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The lady saw Mirko, deep in thought, as he took another sip from his tea. Quickly, he remembered that she was drinking from it, and awkwardly placed it back on the table. Her smile had not died in any of the countless moments she was watching him. They both were now looking out the window, watching the two play outside. The spirit of the whole village was summed up by what they saw.

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"The name you put on the bill was quite long. Can I call you Mirko?"

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"You certainly can. May I get your name?"

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The lady laughed a little, "On top of the front door, it says something. Just call me Miss, whatever it says up there."

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"Well, Miss whatever-it-says," Mirko joked back, "I do need to leave soon if I want to make it to the south shore and back in good time."

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"Of course. I'll help you check out in a moment."

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Minutes later, Mirko ate a small breakfast and checked out, waving goodbye to George and his daughter. As he left he turned around to read what was above the door. A smile infected him. The sign read, "Welcome." It was one last joke before he set off.

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*****

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"And how did Shivra die?" Attica's voice was quiter than before.

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Barrett thought for a moment. He had to make it look like he wasn't taking too long though, or else Governor Attica would suspect something. Attica knew that the rest of Barrett's unit was dead, and he knew that Shivra was dead, but he had to keep his promise to Law about keeping the others out of things. But it had to be satisfactory to Attica as well.

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"Suicide." A version of the truth would be most convincing.

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"Is this a joke?"

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"No."

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"Before you set off on your explanation, do think carefully about every detail."

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Barrett was never much of a story teller. In situations like these, that was actually a good thing. Keeping things dry and objective was always the preferred approach to a report. One as important as this was no different. He'd need to stick to his debriefing with his overseeing officer. It was a fabricated tale, and one he needed to remember just as well as he remembered the truth.

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"My unit engaged Shivra during the rain after he had assaulted our scout, killing him. We thought the rain would be good enough to mask all operations from the locals. There weren't any witnesses."

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Attica leaned in, "He just attacked your scout?"

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"Our scout had just finished seeing Shivra battle two unidentified fighters."

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"Unidentified?"

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"There was nothing left to identify." Barrett reagined some confidence after saying this.

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Perhaps now Attica would understand the dire situation they were in.

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"So, you engaged." Perhaps not.

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"It was a one-sided slaughter. We had no chance. Even when we thought we might be able to land a hit, he always had some counter, many times subconsciously." Barrett was being completely truthful, "He must have changed his mind, or something. In some way, he decided he didn't want to live anymore." Still not a lie, in Barrett's eyes.

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"So, he just decided he didn't want to live anymore?"

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Barrett had not seen the encounter with Kasumi and Gorick. He had no knowledge of their brief, but meaningful conversation. He was telling things to the best of his ablity, opting to leave out certain major details, as part of a promise made to a warrior that bested him. Attica was trying to understand things from his limited perspective.

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Barrett had to defend himself, "I have no way of understanding the psychology of Shivra, why he did what he did. After the experiments, I don't know if experts could have even understood his mind."

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A look came over Attica's face, "Why did you survive?" He was frustrated with something.

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Barrett had asked himself that question many times already, "I was the sniper. My range must have been enough to escape his wrath. I think it was just a mere result of the situation that I survived."

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"A mere result of the situation?" Attica was deciphering what that meant, on a phonetic level.

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Another person came in with a near identical suit to Attica's, "Sir, it's time for the meeting."

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"I see." Attica turned to Barrett, "You've done a great service. From now on, I think it would be best to have you on the other side of the desk, running the show, so to speak." He extended his arm for a hand shake, "I don't think you'll need to worry about field work anymore. Not unless you want to get your feet wet."

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"Thank you sir." It was a promotion.

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After Attica left the room, Barrett pondered his message. Wet work. The lingo was borderline popculture slang, yet still employed as part of the political lexicon. It made sense. With Barrett's history of covert operations, opening him up to the opportunity of being a government sponsored hitman was logical. It came off as more of a threat, though. Barrett knew too much, and if he didn't want the desk job, they'd force him into the dirtiest career path available to him. He was neutered in the eyes of the military.

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Attica and the other man walked down the hallway outside of the room. Despite both having such similar suits, Attica's tie was much more modest than the other's. Instead, it was a simple color with subtle texturing of the material. The man beside Attica had a tie of two colors in a simple geometric pattern. The white was used as the second color to add dimension to the tie. SO he was told. Attica's, despite being a much simpler color scheme, was an order of magnitude more expensive.

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Some words were exchanged and then Attica was walking alone. The man went to another room to meet with a handful of others. Turning the corner, Attica's face experienced a minute twitch. The Governor of Anhydrought, Mrs. Minerva Ananke, stood before him. He walked to pass her, onto his destination.

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"I presume you're heading to the meeting room?" Ananke conjected.

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"Mrs. Ananke, you weren't waiting for me, were you?"

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"Maybe I was."

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"What would your husband think of that?" Attica was obviously annoyed.

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"He wouldn't have anything to worry about, knowing you." She walked with him, "Quit trying to flatter yourself."

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"Well, Minerva, I see you've got off on the right foot today. What do you want with me?"

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"A debriefing?"

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"Excuse me?" He stopped walking.

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"What were you doing just now?" She stepped ahead of him and then stopped as well.

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Attica thought quickly, a skill he was forced to develop as a politician in the UPIO, "I was talking with a military representative about potentially employing a privitized security force to deal with that atrocious parade we have coming through."

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She didn't buy it, but understood that if he was lying, there was nothing else she could do, "So you think someone will use the transport caravan and all of the junk gangs fighting as a cover to attack? Or just that their conflict will spill over into our territory?"

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"Either one. Auxilium's big, but not big enough that that couldn't happen."

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They were both walking again.

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Ananke began again, "I thought you might have been debriefing someone on this 'Shivra Nyarl' incident."

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Attica stopped, "Minerva, I don't know what you're talking about."

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"There's no use lying, I already know." She realized Attica wan't going to respond, "You've been keeping a lot of secrets, Attica. At first I couldn't figure out why you were proposing lowering the capital gains tax so much. I thought you wanted to take in more revenues from taxes, but last year you made such a huge push." The two of them began walking again, this time much slower, "But then you staretd that campaign in Maremortuus about-"

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"That was the news, just a simple press release," Attica was thinking back to a year ago.

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"Please, we both have moles in the news, I know you suppressed any discourse on other motives."

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"It was as they said, to imply a threatening stance against the corporation for their actions, which were detrimental to the public of Maremortuus. You may be fine with industrializing Anhydrought, but we don't want that in Maremortuus. The best way to stop them was with a carrot and a stick." He was confident in his explanation.

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"Yes, lower the capital gains tax before threatening a take over. Something didn't add up. I understand your explanation. The government, especially in an effort led by Maremortuus politicians, buying up a large amount of their stock using tax payer money as a threat of a hostile takeover from the government. But, instead of the public going into a rage from squandering tax revenue, and the ethical implications of the government forcibly taking over a corporation, the news had already whipped people into a frenzy against them. What made it so believable was that it was more or less true."

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"So, why bring it up?" Attica was trying to figure out how this may have related to Shivra, and how she knew about him.

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"Sure there were environmental worries with them, but then why the reduction in taxes? You could have argued that the government would make some of that back. Their stock value was high, but you were a little too eager to buy up more than was necessary to establish the threat, meaning that there were high capital gains-" Ananke was cut off.

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"You love to talk, don't you?"

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"You said that those gains should be seen as a 'donation' to help them change over to following public demand more than financial demands. But Grae and I vetoed your cut. Their gains were less. And now there's this Shivra incident. The declassification information, when we reviewed it, said that some of operation push-pin's information went to a private company. This private company received heavy donations from the corporation you were feigning to take over." She was happy as they saw the meeting room door at the end of the next hall.

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"Are you saying that you think I shuffled money around using government influence?" Attica's tone was as though it was ridiculous.

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"It looks like that corporation made a hefty profit and then offloaded most of that into a private company that had some sort of government ties. I think you contracted them. Then you sold off all the stocks without any regard for profits." They were getting closer to the door, "And this prviate company was off-books from the rest of the government, so I couldn't see it."

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Attica was hiding his worry. She had discovered what he had done. Through a series of purchases, he had forced a corporation that had the public's ire to use the capital gains from the government's purchase of their stock as a donation to a private company that he had ties to, and used them to set up the experiments that led to Shivra Nyarl. He couldn't show it, physically, but he was racing in his mind trying to find out how she discovered it all.

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"That's quite the story."

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"Such a big secret for you, Attica. What was it for? Another hostile takeover, this time of the UPIO?" She smirked, "A weapon, all thanks to Nen."

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"That sounds like a nice work of fiction. I think you'd have trouble selling that, though. Too convoluted."

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"You're not the only one that can play that game." Ananke pulled ahead again, trying to make it to the door first.

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"You don't have the funds." He heard himself say out loud.

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"Maybe I do, maybe I don't. Like I said, two can play your game. I might just be able to play it better." She was about to grab the door, then turned to him again, "And Grae's death. Don't tell me you'd be so petty as to want such harsh revenge because he and I vetoed your tax reduction proposal?"

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"Now that is crossing the line."

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"Regardless, we'll have to decide what to do in the mean time, since his death will be made public today." She opened the door for him.

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He walked through, "The election cycle for Cowtip isn't that far off. A temporary should do for now."

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"The nominee from Grae turned it down." Anake followed him in, and they both stood, watching many others take their seats and arrive through other doors.

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"Then I guess we'll have to find a new one." Attica was just stating the facts.

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As they stood, Minerva wondered if the Shivra situation on Cowtip was actually a ruse just to assassinate Grae. Attica thought that Minerva was trying to set up himself as a fall guy for Grae's death. She revealed a potential motive, but he knew that he didn't order or know of how he died. He then suspected that she would only do that if she had had him killed. The two did disagree on how to handle Cowtip's economic problems, but he never thought that that would be enough to have him killed.

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She also thought that Attica would use their past disputes to set her up. Minerva knew that she had no idea of the Shivra incident till after it happened, and knew even less of Mayor Grae's death. But, their disputes were public, and a simple leak to the news through Attica's moles in the outlets would be enough to convince the public that these disputes might have had a part in his death. They both were suspecting the other of framing the other for his death, yet the nature of Grae's death wouldn't be made public, not for some time.

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The context of the meeting was originally supposed to be Cowtip's economic situation, but things changed, and the topics would also include the declassification's effect on the public, and now Grae's death. With the two other representatives blaming each other for the death of Cowtip's representative, the discussion would focus almost solely on Mayor Grae. Minerva was going to keep her knowledge of Shivra to herself, unknowing of who else in the room was in Attica's corner.

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Lahara waited in another room for her chance to discuss a proposal with Minerva at the request of Grae, who was much closer to Minerva than with Attica. After this initial meeting, Minerva and Lahara would discuss details, and then take the proposal to the others when the meetings continued later that day. Attica would be left out of the talks with Lahara, especially after Minerva's conversation with him on the way to the primary meeting room.

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A rift was driving further apart thanks to their suspicions of each other, when the truth was that neither had killed Grae. It was a man named Sern, who had killed the mayor to open up his briefcase for Alecksander to retrieve the Devil's Eye. Ironically, just earlier, Sern had talked Virgil out of his assault on the meetings, instead focusing on the conflicts over the relic left behind by Brick Donagher after his will was made public. At this very moment, Sern was watching the police swarm around the place where the transport trucks were staying before their next leg of the journey.

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The first meeting would take over an hour. Around that time, Grae's death would be made public, linked to his trip to the hospital that was fabricated the day before. That was all according to the schedule laid out by the UPIO, spear-headed by the NIB. At this very moment, while Lahara was waiting for her turn to talk Minerva Ananke's ear off, the declassification was spreading at a slow but steady pace.

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*****

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Cell was already seated inside of Ralbog's rickety home, drink in hand. Ralbog and he had quit the small talk and were now on their second cups of tea each, Ralbog a bit further along on his than Cell's. Around this time, Cell had notived, despite the dark interior, Ralbog's body had become slightly warped and riddled with permanent signs of injuries. He loooked like he'd been through several large scale battles and barely come out.

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"What happened to you, Ralbog?" Cell wanted to get some answers now.

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He grew uncomfortable, reliving his past, "How can I trust you?"

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"I don't know what you mean."

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"Your father. I don't know if he was the person you think he was." Ralbog looked like he was trying to readjust on his chair, squirming from the harsh memory of something.

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"I was actually on my way back to talk about his ways. The need for change and-"

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"You must not know the half of it."

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Cell had a familiar feeling. A sense of grand guilt. He knew where he had felt it before, but he didn't quite understand why he was feeling it now. On some level, a part of him was able to figure out what Ralbog was going to tell him next. The clues had been there.

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Ralbog decided Cell had the right to know, "A lot happened while you were gone. Then again, a lot happened while you were still around that you either were kept from knowing or just didn't fathom at your age."

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Outisde, Cell's MCBI tail was trying to approach the home from any angle, but was having trouble circumventing Ralbog's keen sense of paranoia. Without trying to tip off either Cell or Ralbog, he tried to listen in. He wasn't equipped with the usual equipment for such techniques, like the directional microphones deployed at Libon's estate.

.

Inside, Ralbog was sharing everything with Cell, "I really did love working for your father. To have someone you know enjoys what you do, and to be able to do that everyday. The amenities were wonderful as well, but I would have done it for much less pay than he was offering. Still, I shouldn't have looked away for as long as I did. I feel like all of those things were just to make me not want to see what was happening. For a while it worked. I didn't want to interrupt the lifestyle I had grown accustomed to.

.

"But, the meat. The meat had changed. Anyone in my position would have noticed, he had to have known that. I shold have said something much sooner than I did."

.

Cell was curious, "What was wrong with the meat?"

.

"The quality, for one. It dropped significantly. But, there were times when the meat came with… artifacts. I think they were human bodies."

.

The room went quiet. Ralbog hadn't said it out loud in a very long time, and certainly not to Brick's son. Ralbog felt bad for Cell, coming home to find your home burned down and now having his butcher tell you he was sending him human remains to prepare for meals. It would be too much for most people. Discussion of family was a weakness for many. But not for Cell.

.

"Go on."

.

"He didn't like that I had figured it out… locked me up… kept me alive. He could have just killed me but didn't. I don't know why." Ralbog lifted up his shirt, revealing many scars, "He had his fun. Your father…" He debated on whether he should tell Cell or not, then decided that Cell of all people should be the one he tells, "He was a very sick man."

.

"Did you burn down the place? You had all the motive, I don't think anyone would even blame you."

.

"How could I from where I was?"

.

"I'll send in Little Helper to find out for sure," Cell thought to himself.

.

But, he trusted Ralbog's words. There wasn't any need for Nen to be involved, and Little Helper might not help in discerning the truth. At this very moment, Little Helper had already divided into many smaller forms and was spread around the house. The MCBI agent had failed to notice them, with the use of In helping to hide them.

.

Little Helper then came back together into a single, fully formed shape again. When Cell realized this, he put his goggles on. Through the goggles, he could see through Little Helper's eyes when fully formed. This application worked as an adequate security system in this moment. With Little Helper spread out in his smaller, divided state, Cell couldn't use his goggles in this way, but Little Helper could cover more ground. Then, once someone was spotted, he'd come back together in a place where Cell could use Littler Helper's eyes to see who was coming.

.

"Ah. Ralbog, it's time to leave."

.

"Another of your gadgets?"

.

"Sort of." He took the goggles off, "An MCBI tail is trying to spy on us. If we leave out the window, he might not spot us."

.

"Alright."

.

They left the light on, and managed to leave the house without the tail noticing, due to the angle of approach. Little Helper returned to Cell, to preserve his Nen in case of a fight, then the two made their way throughout the village before they'd leave. The MCBI agent slowly, gradually, cautiously made his way to Ralbog's house, wondering why things were so quiet in there for so long. He peered in through the window.

.

Shocked, he then rushed in and tried to find out where they had gone, or if they had left any trace. No secret doors through the floor, no other doors beside the front one, and no traces of a powerful Nen ability like some form of teleportation. He wasn't happy about it, but he had to call it in. It was an embarassment to have to do it, but he placed the objectives of the operation much higher than his personal well being.

.

"They got away." He said, finally realizing that the only escape route they had was out the window as he approached from the opposite side of the house.

.

"They'll be there shortly."

.

With reinforcements on the way, the MCBI was now a bit more prepared for Cell the next time. Firstly, that he was aware of his tail. Not impressive on its own, but being able to find the tail without the agent realizing it meant that he was skilled, perhaps even using Nen to help in that action. Secondly, that Cell wanted to avoid the MCBI. This could have any number of implications, each one needing to be explored separately. Things would be much easier with Cell in custody at this point.

.

Many dark cars sped down the dirt paths to the village, eventually surrounding it. Some went in to meet up with the other MCBI agent. More people came out and began talking with him. There was no shame, as no one expected Cell to try and pull something like this off. They assumed that he trusted them. They assumed incorrectly. From Ralbog's house, they all began infecting the town in all directions, not bothering to hide like before.

.

Mirko was just outside of the town when he noticed some of the cars speeding to the village. When he looked back, he saw it being surrounded and simultaneously filled with these suspicious lookng vehicles. With how the locals react to outsiders, he was thinking, this could cause more harm than good. His curiosity got the better of him, wondering just what the hell was going on there, right after he had left.

.

With conviction, Mirko turned back, away from his destination, to return to the village. He had a bad feeling, a hunch, about what might possibly happen if he didn't return. He hoped that nothing was going to happen, but should his hopes fail, he wanted to be there to help. It would be a gamble to ignore it, but not to return.

.

"Looks like I'm coming back, Ms. Welcome." He said to himself.

.

Within the village, Cell and Ralbog tried to keep hidden behind the various natural-looking structures around. They stopped when they saw a man playing with a little girl. He stopped too, and smiled. The girl ran inside the building they were playing in front of.

.

"Looks like we've got more customers," He declared, "My name is George, nice to meet you."

.

George walked over to Cell and Ralbog and coaxed them into the Bed and Breakfast, half aware of the state of the situation. Cell looked above the door, which read "Welcome" as they entered. Inside, a cheery old woman greeted them.

.

"Welcome! We are open to all outsiders!" She anounced to them, indicating that she could read what was going on slightly.

.

At the very least, she could tell that Cell was an outsider.

.

"It's been a while, George," Ralbog patted George on the back, "I see you have a kid now."

.

George walked Ralbog to a table for some more tea. The older lady waved Cell over to the desk, as if she wanted him to buy some rooms. Cell begrudgingly abided. He didn't know if they were trustworthy. When he got to the front desk, she waved him in some more, as if for a secret.

.

"I think we've got something that will fit your needs perfectly." She whispered, sliding over a particular key, one without a number like the rest.

.

"I'll show you to your room," George excitedly got up to walk them up stairs.

.

Cell looked over at Ralbog, who seemed perfectly okay with the idea, "Guess we don't have a choice."

.

*****

.

[continued in comments]

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