Campaign of the Month: January 2011

Honour Among Thieves

Angels of Mercenary Session Four

Wherein the crew attends a shady shindig.

Doctor Park was as good as his word, providing Tulsa with the necessary travel papers that would get the crew into the quarantine zone, and updated information on the quarantine and progress to date on the previous rounds of inoculations in the quarantine zone.

As the gala drew near, Tulsa read over the SNS briefing documents and briefed the crew.

“It’s a sclerosis, it’s necrotizing, and it’s systemic, hence the name,” he said. “It’s bacterial/fungal, so we may see fever and skin rashes that turn into blisters full of necrotized tissue. Painful eruptions follow. Think giant cysts. As it progresses it infects and disrupts internal organs, causing disruptions, internal edemas, blisters…”

He looked up at Worth and Jonah. “This is a fun one!”

He continued. “Untreated, this disease has a 48 per cent mortality rate in its early stages, and up to 80 per cent in its latter stages.”

Worth let out a low whistle.

“How many people are affected?” Jonah asked.

“The quarantined population is about 1,000. The total threatened population is 48,000, which is basically the population of the entire moon.”

Tulsa frowned. “With the traffic coming and going through the starport, let’s bear in mind that there are decontaminations and inspections on the way in and the way out. So if we have to high tail it out it’s not going to be ‘well, see you later.’”

“And look at these infection graphs,” Tulsa showed his crewmates the data points. “We’ve got three communities – Desperation, Mission Hill, and Sawtooth Crossing. With Desperation and Mission Hill, you’ve got an initial spike of cases of SNS, and then a spike of deaths, but then the drop is when Drexaline 28 was first administered. In Sawtooth Crossing, you’ll notice that even when the Drexaline was applied, there was no reduction in the number of deaths. So something weird is happening in Sawtooth Crossing, where the medicine is having no effect.”

“It’s a placebo!” Worth blurted.

Tulsa shrugged. “Or a control group maybe, I don’t know. So for the people in Sawtooth, the cases are still going up, new cases and deaths. But it’s leveling off, it’s staying steady.”

“Where’s my hazmat suit?” Worth said. He pondered for a moment. “Are these medications worth anything?” he asked. “Could we find out how many have died and pocket the difference?”
“You’re always thinking, Worth,” Jonah said.

The crew readied themselves for the gala event. Worth squeezed himself into his shoplifted formal wear, pocketing a cigar and a cutting torch he planned to use as a lighter.

Jonah rifled through the clothing in the Desdemona’s crew quarters and came up with an expensive ensemble. He was sure to bring his forged press credentials along and a recording device that would help him sell his journalistic persona. He palmed a micro-transmitter and a pair of brass knuckles, just in case.

Tulsa broke out his formal lab smock, dropping a few pills into a pocket for good measure.

When Desdemona’s airlock cycled open the crew found that it was no longer connected to a sealed umbilical tube. It was open to the air, though a pair of suited guards stood ready on either side of the door a respectful distance away.

The hot, humid air slapped them all in the face like a warm, wet washtowel.

There was a salty tang in the fetid air that made their eyes water, and they weren’t sure it was coming from the salt storage domes at the starport, or the brackish water of the river that the city stood astride.

Downriver crowded the banks of the slow-moving ribbon of black that eddied its way towards the coast to the south. The tallest structure they could see was an imposing concrete port control tower that overlooked the starship landing field and the riverine port, where barges and scows were tied up at the waterline.

Park’s guards escorted the crew across the landing field’s expanse of cracked concrete. At the moment there was one other ship docked at the starport – a bulk hauler of some kind that was basically a giant box with engine thrusters attached.

Their path took them near an area fenced in with razorwire atop the ten foot-tall chain link. Floodlights were set at regular intervals and had already begun to attract bugs as dusk approached. Behind this barrier were several identical portable structures. Both the fence and the portables looked as though they had been recently installed.

The rest of town appeared deserted, the buildings shuttered because of the disease outbreak or because of the oppressive heat.

From there, the crew was escorted to the grounds of Magistrate Martinez’s estate, located in the centre of town. The villa was a sprawling monument to self-indulgence, with tiered and terraced courtyards, many of which were festooned with tacky fountains and garish topiary. The mansion itself was a gaudy affair, its walls finished in white stucco supporting roofs of terracotta tiles.
To get there they had to cross a sizable parade square. The crew noticed the defensive machine-gun emplacements immediately. Stoic guards wearing red berets and khaki uniforms manned the weapon emplacements, which had been built up with sandbags. The barrels of the machine guns were aimed out at the parade square in front of the entrance.

The guards checked the crew’s invitations and waved them past. Beyond the perimeter they could hear the soft sounds of stringed instruments playing a formal dance number, and the clinking of stemware. The sound of merriment was emanating from the floor-to-ceiling shutters of one of the villa’s ground-floor protrusions, thrown open in defiance of the evening’s cloying heat. As the crew stepped over the threshold, they realized why – there was a weak force field in place keeping the air-conditioned air on the inside, and the humidity on the outside. The invisible curtain of air seemed to shake the sweat right off their bodies.

They surveyed the scene.

The atmosphere was that of a party long passed its best-before date. A busboy, his face sheened with sweat, his collar unbuttoned and shirttail hanging out, rushed past, carrying an armload of mirrored trays with suspicious powdery smears on them. Nearby, a woman in a fancy hoop skirt tittered as her male companion whispered a joke in her ear, her laughter tinged with a certain post-last-call hysteria. Across the dance floor where a number of swaying aristocrats were going through the motions, a band was performing. The band’s members movements were tired and their eyes red-rimmed, but judging from their determined expressions it was evident they were playing for their very lives.

Jonah and the Doc’s attention were drawn upwards to where a glass dome descended from the ceiling. It was filled with clean, clear water, and inside it swam a fish that had to be more than nine feet long, with a narrow, sleek body covered in shiny scales attached to a bony, elongated snout full of snaggleteeth that looked they like they could strip a man clean in seconds. The primordial fish flitted lazily in the waters of the domed ceiling.

Beneath this curious centerpiece they could see several aristocratic types dressed in the kind of finery they imagined folk from the Central Planet might wear. Having just been to the Central Planets, the crew could tell they had missed the mark by a few seasons.
In the centre of a room a man cut a dashing figure surrounded by a coterie of hangers-on.

And they couldn’t help but notice the armed guards ringing the ballroom.

They saw a few familiar faces in the crowd: Philip Wong, who gave them the invitations. Doctor Park was also there, in formal wear, and was conferring with a tanned man wearing a sleek sharkskin suit.

Worth’s sharp eyes were drawn towards a woman seated at the opulent bar across the room. Tearing his gaze away from the clingy red dress she was wearing, he noticed that she was giving him an appraising look as well.

Jonah looked around for drinks and helped himself to the first fluted glass he could snatch off a proffered tray. Rather than drain it immediately he decided he’d use it as a prop.

Worth grabbed two drinks from a passing waiter and made a beeline for the curvaceous woman at the bar.

To Tulsa, it looked like a pretty stiff gig. “Dear God,” he muttered, and accepted a drink, pausing to add a little something from a vial he pulled from his suit jacket. He also set about strolling towards the bar.

Jonah decided to get the meeting with the magistrate over with. He wasn’t the only one with that idea; already he could see Philip Wong making his way through the crowd on an intercept course, a friendly smile on his face.

“Mr. Ferguson, thank you so much for coming,” Wong said. “May I introduce you to the Magistrate?”

“That would be fantastic,” Jonah said enthusiastically.

“Wonderful,” Wong said, guiding Jonah towards the Magistrate’s inner circle.

Magistrate Martinez was a tall man, his grooming impeccable. He cut an appropriately dashing figure with his sash, a brace of medals on his chest, a gold patterned waistcoat and a fine gentleman’s sword at his hip, secured in a bejeweled scabbard.

Jonah had to fight the urge to wrinkle his nose; the Magistrate wore his hair parted and slicked down with a heavy pomade that he could smell from ten feet away.

“Mr. Ferguson, allow me to introduce you to Magistrate Adalberto Martinez,” Wong said. He turned stiffly to his superior. “Magistrate Martinez, this is Chet Ferguson of Action Cortex News, a member of the medical team here to administer the latest round of inoculations in the quarantine zone.”

The aristocrats and nobles who surrounded the Magistrate looked on skeptically, waiting to see what would happen next.

The Magistrate’s face contorted into a perfectly manufactured smile. “Ah, our valued member of the fourth estate, welcome to my little moon.” Martinez gave Jonah a slight bow.

Jonah bowed a little deeper in return.

“I’m so glad you’ve arrived to tell my story to the people of the ‘Verse.”

Jonah launched into his Chet Ferguson persona. “Well, of course this is an exciting opportunity we have here with this mission, the coverage of which will be featured in many prominent outlets.”

“That is good to hear,” Magistrate Martinez said. He leaned forward, a look of concern on his chiseled features. “Tell me, what are those on the Central Planets saying about the terrible crisis my people are suffering? I must know.”

Jonah figured that the Central Planets would just as soon nuke the moon back to the Stone Age if it meant keeping a virulent disease from spreading, but he wasn’t about to tell the Magistrate that.

“Of course, they are worried,” he lied. “The concern is great, but there is a great opportunity to show that the people of the Core still care about the people in the outer regions. I am here to get the real scoop and feature both the mission and the real people of this moon.”

The Magistrate smiled. “My heart, it grieves for the losses we’ve suffered, both for the innocent and the guilty.”

“Can I quote you on that, Magistrate?” Jonah asked, his recorder at the ready.

“It would be an honour.”

Across the hall, Worth was approaching the woman in the clingy red dress. She watched him push his way through the crowd, her smile unwavering.

“You’re not a love bot programmed to smile at everyone who comes in the door, are you?” Worth wasn’t exactly a master at pick-up lines.

“That all depends,” the woman said, unfazed. Her large eyes flicked down to the glasses in Worth’s fists. “Is one of those drinks for me?”

“You’ve been inoculated right?” Worth asked. At the woman’s nod, he smiled. “Then they’re both for you.”

The woman accepted the tall glass and fixed Worth with an engaging look. “We haven’t been properly introduced, but I’ll make an allowance since you managed to find me a cold drink.”

“My name’s Travis,” Worth lied.

“My name’s Jessamyn Bradley,” she said. “I hear tell you flew in on the wings of a silver bird. You’re the ones on that mercy mission to the quarantine zone, aren’t you?”

“We are quite the humanitarians,” Worth said.
Jessamyn’s smile widened. “Tell me, do you always ship medical supplied on board fancy yachts?”

“That’s how we do it,” Worth replied.

“And what’s your job?” Jessamyn asked.

Worth was taken aback by the women’s interrogation. “Well, what’s your job?”

“You could say I’m in human resources.” Jessamyn said.

“I’m in waste management.” Worth said.

“Waste management?” She repeated. “I would have pegged you as chief engineer.” She leaned forward. “It’s your hands that give you away.”

Worth could feel sweat coursing down the back of his neck. He noticed that Tulsa had taken a spot at the bar next to him.

Jessamyn batted her eyelashes. “I think you’d be more comfortable with them handling a disassembled grav boot than a septic tank, let along a sick patient.”

“Well, that’s what I mean, a lot of the other ships I fly in, the engines are garbage, and I’m always working on fixing them,” Worth backpedalled.

Jessamyn gave Worth an even sweeter smile as she turned on the barstool. “Tell me, what else do you like to get your hands on?”

Tulsa spewed out a mouthful of shimmer wine. “Barkeep, this is stale, I’m going to need another one,” he said, wiping his chin.

Worth could feel a blush blossoming across his face. “Shiny, round, voluptuous, gears!” he blurted.

“You mentioned other ships you sailed on,” Jessamyn said. “Is this fancy yacht your usual conveyance? Because strictly speaking, it’s a bit more flash than necessary for I imagine what your normal line of work is.”

“Well, that’s what we were given to do the job,” Worth said.

“So what kind of boat do you normally sail in?” Jessamyn asked, taking a nip of the drink Worth had given her.

“What’s with all the questions?” Worth said.

Jessamyn indicated the threadbare atmosphere of the shindig. “Look around you. There’s not much to do here but talk.” She smiled again, a little slyly. “Well, there are a couple of other things to do…”

“Like what?”

“Why, Travis, I never!” she said playfully. “Things have been so boring here lately, gossip has to be spiced up with a bit of the fantastic.”

“I’m just a lowly old gearhead, bringing some people some medicine, that’s all, just doing my thing,” Worth said. “But enough about me. What about you?”

“What about me?” She smiled.

“Well, you said you were in human resources?” he ventured.

“Yes, well I’m particularly interested in the labour difficulties our mutual friend the Magistrate is going to have as a result of this sickness,” Jessamyn said. “Now, to be taken into Doctor Park’s confidence, you and your companions must have done your homework. So let’s here your spiel. What’s the mortality rate of this disease?”

“You’re looking at the wrong guy, lady.” Worth said.

At this, Tulsa, stepped in. “Hi there,” he said. “I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation with my colleague. My name’s Tulsa. The pleasure’s all mine.” He took Jessamyn’s hand and lightly kissed it.

“Oh, I’m sure.” Jessamyn said. “So you’re the leader of this mission?”

“I like to avoid terms and categories,” Tulsa said. “What’s your interest in all of this?”

“Well, we are on one side of the quarantine zone and the sick are on the other,” Jessamyn shrugged. “People talk, people worry, about the spread of the disease and what it’s going to mean for productivity.”

“And whose interest do you represent?” Tulsa asked.

“You could say I’m a free agent.” Jessamyn replied.

“So you’re an activist then?”

“I wouldn’t say that, though I am active.” Jessamyn said.

“Being active can be quite costly,” Tulsa said. “Who pays your bills?”

She smiled. “I’m a businesswoman, Mr. Tulsa. Freelance, not beholden to any single payroll.”

“I see. If you’re a businesswoman, then you’re no doubt quite savvy and deliberate,” Tulsa said. “So if you’re here on business you’re interested in a return on your investment of time and energy. So what return are you looking for and can we assist with that?”

“Well I’m glad you asked,” Jessamyn said. “As I was telling your very charming colleague here-” she tossed a glance in Worth’s direction – “I’m in human resources. Now the Magistrate, he deals in salt, but requires human resources in order to extract said salt from the earth, which is why I’m keenly interested in learning more about the course of this illness, and how severe the impact this disease will have on the people of this moon. Thus I may be in a position to assist the Magistrate in shoring up those resources one you and your companions have succeeded in bringing this sickness to heel.”

“But couldn’t you have done that from a desk, halfway across the ‘Verse?” Worth asked.

“But if I’d done that, I wouldn’t have met you, Travis.”

“Well that’s true, I am awesome.” Worth admitted.

Tulsa swallowed a mouthful of wine much harder than necessary.

The interview with the Magistrate was proceeding nicely, thought Jonah. It helped that Martinez was obviously in love with the sound of his own voice. He puffed his chest out with each rhetorical flourish.

“I would do anything, anything, to protect the little people – er, the people – from this awful disease,” he was saying. “We’re sterilizing vast tracts of land and water, we’re enforcing the necessary quarantine, albeit at a considerable expense,” and at this he gave a cut-eye to Doctor Park, who was standing nearby talking to a couple of swaying aristocratic women. “while your medical companions work their magic. And I pray this sickness will be quelled quickly. That is why I have thrown open my resources to assist in the caring for the sick and ensuring that the inoculations proceed smoothly.”

“Excellent.” Jonah said. “And what can you tell me about the transportation infrastructure within the quarantine zone?”

“Well, the details are not something I concern myself with,” Martinez said. “I could introduce you to my chief of security, Salazar Cain, who is courageously leading my security force in ensuring our borders are protected and the quarantine zone is intact all the way around. He is more of the expert on transportation. But,” he said proudly, “We are a moon of rivers, tributaries, branches. Some would say swamp, but I prefer to think of them as marshes, and there is a substantial mine road we do keep clear of obstacles that has transported medical crews to the afflicted communities, there are a few bridges. The mine road of course connects us here in Downriver to the heart and soul of this hemisphere, the Comadrejas Saltworks, which sadly has been shuttered and closed during this difficult time where we have asked our people to remain in their homes, to stop transmission of this disease from place to place.”

“No doubt this disease has had a considerable impact on your operations,” Jonah said. “Can you tell me more about how it came about? That the land, the people have been infected. What was the origin of the infection?”

“Again, these are details that escape me, but my understanding is that we have not yet discovered the source of this terrible outbreak, but I would hope that once we’ve inoculated the population we can allocate more resources to ensuring that there are no further flare-ups. It is up to Doctor Park to make the final decision thus lifting the quarantine allowing us to get back to business, which would be just great. But these logistical questions would best be served if I were to introduce you to Salazar Cain, who would be also interested in speaking to the leader of your medical mission.”

“That would be fantastic for the mission, and I will certainly make sure mention of your generosity and leadership is front and centre in the final draft of my piece.” Jonah said.

At this, Magistrate Martinez straightened and slid his hand into his waistcoat as his chest swelled with pride.

Across the room, Tulsa was suddenly aware of a presence at his elbow. It was Phillip Wong.

“I’m very sorry to interrupt Ms. Bradley, but I was wondering if I could have a word or two with Doctor Tulsa?”

Tulsa turned and frowned at Wong. “Yes, in about five minutes, as I’m in the middle of a conversation. How about we meet over there?” He waved his hand at a depopulated spot near a pillar.

“That would be great,” Wong said.

Tulsa turned back to Jessamyn. “So, with every administration there are promoters and detractors. What would some detractors have to say about the current administration?”

“Interesting question,” Jessamyn said, drumming her long fingernails on the bar. “Did you come to this moon to talk politics?”

“Well, you broached the subject.”

“Indeed,” Jessamyn said. “Well, this is a moon where indentured servitude is at least one aspect of the labour market, and certainly the mining and dredging of salt is still a labour-intensive effort.”

As Tulsa and Jessamyn conversed, Worth scanned the crowd. Something about this situation didn’t seem right.

“Do you see it as unsustainable?” Tulsa was saying.

“The longer this disease is in play, certainly.” Jessamyn replied.

“And I imagine there are those poised to present a solution?”

“There may be,” Jessamyn said.

“Would you say your interests are in alignment with that solution?”

“My interests? If there’s a need, my partners and I would be interested in helping fill that.”

Tulsa smiled. “And who are your partners?”

“Everyone has friends, both close and far. You could say we’re a network of affiliates and leave it at that.”

“Pretty lady like yourself wouldn’t travel this moon alone.” Worth said, his eyes still on the crowd. He noticed a couple of people looking in their direction.

The first onlooker had cold, dead eyes, fixed on their position. He had a military bearing. Worth thought he might be in charge of security. Then, the man’s attention shifted away, his eyes boring into another knot of conversing partygoers.

The second man was the sharkskin suit-wearing man who had been in conversation with Doctor Park. He was frowning from across the room, looking none too pleasingly at Tulsa as Jessamyn lightly stroked his arm.

A bit grumpy for six o’clock, Worth thought.

Tulsa took a long drink of wine. “Well, Miss Bradley, as you’re aware, I must meet with some other people, but I am interested in discussing the opportunities we may present one another in a little more detail if you’re interested in being a little more forthcoming as transparency is something I value highly in a partnership.”

Jessamyn’s eyes widened slightly.

“And I’m sure a woman of your talents can let us know when and where you’d like to discuss things further, so I’ll leave that with you and I hope you enjoy the rest of your evening.” He leaned in and gave her a light kiss on the cheek.

Worth noticed the man’s eyes narrow even further.

“So who’s tall, dark and rancid over there?” Worth asked Jessamyn.

“Oh, him?” Jessamyn tossed her head. “Don’t worry about him.”

“He’s looking quite gruesome.” Worth said. “He doesn’t like that we’re talking with you.”

“He doesn’t like anyone,” Jessamyn said.

“Boyfriend?” Worth asked.

Jessamyn smirked. “He wishes.”

Tulsa adjusted his suit jacket and made his way over to Philip Wong.

“Would you mind stepping out onto the balcony?” Wong said. He indicated a nearby patio.

“Sure, is everything all right?” Jonah asked as he stepped through the force field partition.

“Yes, of course.” Wong said. “How are you enjoying the party?”

Tulsa shrugged. “It’s a party.”

Wong took a cheroot from an inside pocket, tearing off the self-lighting end. He reached in for a second one. “Cigarette? No of course, you’re a doctor.”

“Yes, my body’s a temple,” Tulsa said, feeling for the pills in his pocket.

Wong took a long pull of his cigarette and looked over his shoulder at the party going on. Satisfied with whatever he was looking for, he turned back to Tulsa and leaned on the patio railing. “So I understand that Khonsu Medical Ventures contracted you do to some very vital work here on Blackwood.”

“Yes, it’s very important stuff.” Jonah said absently.

“Yes, I get that.” Wong said, tapping ash over the edge of the patio. “And this journalist Chet Ferguson hitched a ride with you to do a media report on behalf of the expedition’s sponsor, is that correct?”

“Something like that, yes.” Tulsa said carefully.

Wong inhaled a lungful of smoke. “So what do you know about this Mr. Ferguson?”

“My personally? Nothing.” Tulsa said.

“Hmm,” Wong said. “Let me put this another way. Do you think he’s the sort of journalist that follows a story all the way down with no thought for his personal safety, or is he a realist? What I mean is, does he know when to be discreet?”

“Couldn’t tell you,” Tulsa said. “I’ve only known the man for all the time it took to fly here. I’m not going to be a good resource, it’s best if you have that conversation with him directly with Mr., ah, Ferguson.” The stumble over Ferguson’s name was deliberate.

Wong frowned, but nodded. “Well, how about you? Are you discreet?”

“I’m whatever I need to be,” Tulsa said. “One thing that I can tell you that I am is direct.”

“Direct, eh?” Wong said.

Tulsa nodded. “And I gather you’re going somewhere with this interview.”

“I suppose I would be,” Wong said. “that is, if I were satisfied that given the right, shall we say, inducements, and these can be as soft or as hard as they need to be, that activities that you might undertake in the quarantine zone that are not relevant to the narrative Ferguson is building remain unwritten.”

“I see,” Tulsa said. “Do you read a lot? A history buff?”

“When I’m not busy administering the saltworks, of course.”

“Well if it’s one thing I’ve learned in my brief and light study of history, silencing the press is never a good idea.”

“True,” Wong said, tapping more ash. “I’m not looking to silence anybody insofar as that may sound ominous. I prefer to think of it as purchasing the rights to a particular story, granting me a little creative control.”

“I don’t take Ferguson for being one in the entertainment business,” Tulsa said. “But what do I know, I barely know him. I do recommend having a chat with him. What do you have to lose?”

“Indeed,” Wong said, flicking his cigarette butt into the bushes beyond the patio. “Well, thanks for speaking with me Doctor. Godspeed on this mission of yours.”

“Now I do have a question for you,” Tulsa said. “The lady with whom I was speaking with earlier when you came over.”

“Yes, Ms. Bradley.” Wong smiled.

“What do you know about her?”

“I know she’s in human resources.” Wong winked.

“Isn’t everyone? But whose human resources?”

“Well, I’m not one to gossip,” Wong said. “She is an independent contractor, shall we say, and she helps shore up deficiencies in the labour pool. And she’s an absolute delight.”

“Fair enough. Would you ever assist her in shoring up deficiencies in the labour pool, personally?”

“What do you mean by that?”

“What if she had a job needed doing, and thought you were the right one, and let’s say it has nothing to do with her, if you know what I mean, would you be willing to assist her with that?”

“Let’s put it this way, she’s a tough person to turn down.” Wong straightened his tie. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to the party.”

Across the room, the Magistrate was still extolling the virtues of his leadership abilities. Jonah decided to change the subject.

“What a wonderful specimen above our heads,” he said. “Could you tell me a little bit more about this marvel?”

“Yes of course.” Martinez said. “I caught this garfish myself with my bare hands. They are a tough creature, but very noble, in their way. These fish occupy some of the waters of our fair moon, and they are wonderful additions to the ecosystem, and the source of much joy for fishermen, much adventure and action, and they are even tasty.”

“So you are also a man of action? Interesting.” Jonah said.

“Yes, I love to get out into the wilderness and get back in touch with nature.”

The Magistrate led Jonah to a mean-faced man who silently cast an appraising look over him with a set of cold, dead eyes. His clothing was of military cut, but unlike the many hangers-on whose chests were festooned with more medals than there had been wars in the last quarter century, his finely-tailored black uniform was bare of adornments save for what Jonah took to be the Martinez crest emblazoned on his perfectly-positioned red beret.

“Now I will take my leave, and give you an opportunity to enjoy the party.” Martinez said. “But first, allow me to introduce you to Mr. Salazar Cain, my head of security.”

“Welcome to Blackwood,” Cain said in a low grating whisper.

Jonah took Cain’s measure. If this man was not the devil himself, he was holding Lucifer’s coat. He projected an air of complete confidence and control, and Jonah certainly wouldn’t want to be on the wrong end of the pearl-handled sidearm on his hip.

Alpha Dog, Jonah thought. “Mr. Cain, as we prepare to travel on this mission and given the conditions of this moon, as we’re not using our transport ship, what advice would you have for us as we embark overland?”

Cain leaned in. “You’ll want to stay on the roads, such as they are. The terrain on Blackwood can be unforgiving.” He motioned Jonah over to a sideboard and placed a small cube on the countertop. The cube projected a hologram onto the surface of the sideboard showing a map of the terrain in what Jonah understood to be the quarantine zone, a large tract of land with grim borders outlined in jagged red lines.

Cain pointed to a pair of red-encircled areas within the zone. “Europa Township and the Comadrejas Saltworks are no-go zones. Far enough from your route you won’t need to divert away from them.” His gloved finger stabbed at the holographic map to punctuate his point as he listed the afflicted communities. “Desperation, Sawtooth Crossing, Mission Hill. Those are where the outbreak is most severe, and where you’ll be inoculating the sick.”

“If you’d like I can arrange for a guide.”

“I think that would be very prudent, to have a guide,” Jonah said. “Do you have any particular concerns about the three areas we are to visit, and any procedures or precautions we should take during inoculation?”

“As I understand it, it’s pretty straightforward,” Cain said. “As I said, you may find the wildlife more tricky to deal with than the humans, if you get my meaning.”

“I have no doubt about that. Tell me, as chief of security you have your finger on the pulse of dealings here on the moon,” Jonah said, fishing for information. “Sawtooth Crossing seemed to have worse luck than the other two communities. Should we be concerned about security in that area?”

“Not overly,” Cain said. “I haven’t heard anything in particular about their situation, other than it’s bleak.”

“Excellent. Well, we’ll certainly take you up on your offer of a guide,” Jonah said. “I’m sure you’re a busy man and I don’t want to take up any more of your time. We appreciate any assistance you can give us on this mission, and I’ll be sure to mention in my report that the quarantine zone has been handled and secured professionally.”

“Oh, that’s good, that’s real good. Let me introduce you to Sadat Nazir, he’s one of my best men.”

A tall, black-skinned man with intense eyes dressed in full military regalia strutted over. He shook Jonah’s hand, his grip like a vise. He nodded solemnly.

“You’re doing the Lord’s word here on Blackwood, I thank you.” Nazir bowed respectfully. “I’d be happy to guide you out into the swamp. If you’re not careful it can swallow a man whole.”

“I have no doubt sir and we welcome your help. We want to make sure this mission is as successful as it can be.”

“Good,” Nazir said.

“We shall depart at your earliest convenience,” Jonah said. “How should we get in touch with you?”

“I will wait for you at the gates to the quarantine zone,” Nazir said.

“Excellent, I look forward to hearing your story. You seem like a fascinating man, and I’m sure my readers would like to know more about the fine folks of this moon.”

“Indeed.” Nazir smiled.

Over at the bar, Worth continued to drink, making sure not to make eye contact with Jessamyn Bradley. Seeing Jonah’s conversation with Cain and Nazir break up, he lurched away from the bar.

“Come back soon,” Jessamyn Bradley cooed.

“Say my name,” Worth muttered under his breath as he made his way towards Jonah.

He and Jonah linked up in the centre of the party, which swirled around them.

“How did that go?” Worth said.

“The magistrate’s a pompous ass,” Jonah said. “He talks as if he’s the saviour of this moon, but I think he runs a pretty tight ship in terms of the security apparatus. I’ve secured a guide for us, but I wouldn’t try anything funny around here.” He stopped for a moment and cocked his head at Worth, giving him a look.

“Do you have anything in your pockets? Is there anything in your pockets right now?”

“No,” Worth said uncomfortably. “Definitely nothing from the bar.”

“Put it back, Worth. These guys have their eye on us. And I got a bad vibe from this Salazar Cain fellow.”

“I ain’t going back over there with that woman,” Worth said.

“Whatever you’ve got in your pockets, drop it,” Jonah said.

Worth pulled out an entire bottle of Chardonnay from his pants pocket and handed it to a passing waiter.

“A guide?” he said. “Like, one guy, or a whole security force?”

“One dude.” Jonah said.

“Because we’re just begging to be jumped for this medication by crazy people,” Worth complained. “We need lots of…”

“We have a guide, that doesn’t mean it’s just him,” Jonah said. “We’ve got our mule, we have a guide, we asked about security and they said stick to the roads, it’s pretty safe and they said we had more to worry about from the wildlife than people.”

Worth nodded.

“He was also very insistent about not going to certain places out there in the quarantine zone. But they seem to be encampments and when I probed him about Sawtooth Crossing, he didn’t flinch, he just said he felt sorry for the poor bastards. Obviously there’s something not right there, but by his response I have a feeling that they know more than they’re letting on. At the same time, this guy’s salt business is losing, and the question is, did he find a different source of revenue and this is just a cover?”

“Well,” Worth said. “I’m bringing grenades.”

Tulsa stepped in. “There’s a whole lot of stink around here, and as usual trust is in short supply. I would love to just drop this wad of medicine off and leave this godforsaken shenanigan behind. This whole operation is one big dice roll.” He turned to Jonah. “Oh, and you must be barking up the right trees because Philip Wong pretty much wanted me to pass you a message that you might want to be careful what you actually report. Now, I wasn’t about to tell him there wasn’t going to be a story…”

“Yes, there’s definitely more than meets the eye here,” Jonah said.

“Which is why I say let’s do as little as possible.” Tulsa said.

“Yeah, we shouldn’t get involved,” Jonah said. “This is a swamp I’d love to leave, not die in.”

Tulsa nodded. “And Worth’s new girlfriend over here, she’s got an angle too.”

“Wait what?” Jonah said. “Who?”
“Some broad Worth met over at the bar,” Jonah said. “who says she is in ‘HR.’”

“Wanted to know a lot about us and our ship and our meds, and our deal here,” Worth said.

“Yeah, HR, I get it.” Jonah said. “What did you tell her we were into?”

“Waste management,” Worth said.

“Yeah, leave it to a guy from Beylix to make waste management his go-to alias,” Jonah said.

“Hey, it’s where I’m from.” Worth said. “I should have told her agriculture.”

“You should have told her we were lead farmers,” Tulsa said.

While they were talking, another gentleman approached. He was wearing a fashionable, if a little threadbare, suit. His sun-baked features were arranged in an ingratiating expression.

“Mr. Ferguson, I’m wondering if I can have a moment of your time.”

Jonah fought the urge to roll his eyes. “Well now, who do I have the pleasure of speaking to?”

“My name is Lorenzo Fox,” the man ventured.

“Well Mr. Fox, how may I be of service to you?”

“I wish to speak briefly with you in private, if I may?” Fox said. “If that’s not too much trouble.” He bowed at the other members of the crew. “I don’t wish to interrupt.”

They stepped out onto another terraced balcony.

“Mr. Ferguson, it is such a pleasure to make your acquaintance. As I said my name is Lorenzo Fox. I am a salt buyer, in fact you could say I’m a salt of the earth kind of guy. I understand you are a journalist?”

“That I am.”

“And that you arrived here by private spacecraft? Is that correct?” Fox said.

“Absolutely. We are on a mission of mercy to deliver some much-needed medicine to this area,” Jonah said. “But as it is of interest to many people, I am here to report on the events and on the mission itself.”

“That’s wonderful, that’s exactly why I wanted to speak with you.”

“How may I be of service, Mr. Fox?”

“Would you care to walk the grounds with me a moment?” Fox asked.

“Sure.”

Fox led Jonah away from the patio, descending cobblestone steps to a garden. “I have some pressing news to share with you but I cannot do it around these people. There are too many ears that would hear, if you get my meaning.”

“Well, I suddenly feel the urge to sniff the roses in that garden over yonder,” Jonah said.

“As I said before, I am a salt buyer,” Fox said. “The company I represent has contracts with Magistrate Martinez. I was sent here on a routine assignment to shore up those contracts. Unfortunately my timing was poor. I arrived just as the quarantine was going into effect. My family was with me, and we are all now in danger because of this situation. I cannot protect them from this illness. We must get out.”

Lorenzo gave Jonah an earnest look. “That is why I am willing to trade with you information so vile, so scandalous, that it will cement your reputation as an investigative journalist. You will be feted with awards, commissions, and the like, for blowing the lid off a conspiracy and scandal the likes of which your kind can only dream of uncovering.”

Jonah smiled. “Well, as you can imagine my benefactors are people of considerable wealth and interest as the spaceship we have arrived on can attest to. So taking appropriate precaution in terms of medical situations, I believe we could come to an arrangement.”

“What I am asking for is 3 berths on board your ship and medical clearance to leave before I can tell you the scandalous truth,” Fox said.

“Well, in terms of medical clearance…”

“I can assure you that neither me nor the members of my family are sick,” Fox broke in.

“Well there is a way to obtain that through certain administrative means.” Jonah said.

“I understand of course, as I am after all a businessman.” Fox said.

“Yes I think we could broker something, some resources might be required but nevertheless I’m confident we could come to an agreement with the local authority, however maybe that’s not the route?” Jonah said.

“Hmmm.” Fox replied.

“The problem remains that we have a mission to complete, so you will have to wait for our return.”

“Oh yes, of course, that’s easily done.” Fox said.

“Well as you can imagine, I believe that we can come to a sensible arrangement. 3 berths, you said?

“Yes, for myself, my wife and daughter.”

“That should not be a problem. The ship can accommodate a larger number of passengers than currently on board.”

Fox seemed satisfied. His voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. “You must hold what I am about to tell you in the strictest of confidence.”

“As a journalist I never reveal my sources or my information until the time is right.”

“Music to my ears sir. You have heard of the Comadreja Saltworks, yes? And you know that Phillip Wong administers it on behalf the Magistrate.”

“Yes, that’s our understanding.” Jonah said.

“It produces most of the salt that Martinez exports. You must also know by now that it has been shuttered since the outbreak.”

“Yes, I understand there’s a human resources concern and issue in terms of labour there.”

“Interesting that you should put it that way,” Fox said. “Because what you do not know, I what I know that you don’t know, is that Phillip Wong has been skimming money from the saltworks, for years, by inflating the worker head counts and pocketing the difference in the monthly payroll.”

Jonah tried not to stare.

“But you say ‘Senor Fox, these are indentured servants, paid in a pittance!’ To that I say yes, but, multiply the number of exaggerated phantom workers by the number of years that Wong has been operating this little scam, and you collect a fair amount of coin. Who goes into the swamp to verify? If the garfish and the gators don’t take a bite out of you, the Swamp Rat might.”

“Very interesting,” Jonah said.

“But that is not the worst! These sorts of scam don’t work forever. Sooner or later someone will check up on it. Perhaps the Magistrate’s men, or perhaps a salt buyer from a potential client inspects the mine and its productivity reports and finds a suspicious gap. So, if you are the mine administrator, how do you cover up your crime?”

“I believe I see where you’re going with this, but that kind of solution to a problem would need to be highly coordinated with a pretty large number of resources.” Jonah said.

“Yes, but think about it. Spreading a disease that kills not only real people, but fictitious people as well! Wong’s headcount goes down, and his fictional headcount goes with it, until the situation has normalized.”

Lorenzo smiled with pride. “Now that last part I worked out for myself. But the first part is true. The evidence is right there in the mine.”

“Yes, Mr. Fox, this is certainly information that is worth us risking taking you on board.” Jonah said. “You should make your preparations, but whatever you do, do not make it obvious that you are making preparations to leave.”

“Of course,” Fox said. “There’s a tavern near the landing zone called the Barking Fish and we can wait there until you signal. Here’s my private number.”

“Very well, I’ll make sure my multiband is programmed right away.”

“Wonderful. It has been a pleasure doing business with you. You can leverage this to elevate your own career as you uncover this terrible crime.”

“Yes, absolutely,” Jonah said. “But, since we’ve been seen leaving together…” he gestured in the direction of the party.

“Of course, the so-called ‘cover story.’ I am a salt buyer, perhaps I can say that I was trying to sell you some advertising?” Again, if he could reach, Fox would have patted himself on the back.

“Yes, that’s a plausible explanation,” Jonah said. “Perhaps looking for patronage for the company I’m working for.”

“I’ll make myself scarce,” Fox said, giving Jonah’s hand a firm shake before heading back up the garden path to the ballroom.

After listening to the croaking of the frogs for what felt like an appropriate amount of time, Jonah too rejoined the party. He found Worth and Tulsa lounging near the dance floor, drinks in hand.

“Gentlemen, a word?”

“That’s two words,” Tulsa said, his eyes shining.

“Funny guy. Remember that chart and statistics you showed us with the statistics about infections and death rates?”

“Yes,” Tulsa said.

“In your professional opinion, why would one community, treated with the exact same medication, assuming it wasn’t a control group, would they display absolutely different results from the two others?” Jonah asked.

“Three possible explanations, one that you’ve explained away,” Tulsa said. “The other two would be that there’s a genetic difference in that community, which I don’t believe there is. The flip side of that would be that the disease itself has mutated which I highly doubt it has, given the short lifespan of the event, but based on my mingling here tonight I’m pretty sure people are getting offed by other means at the numbers are getting swept in, or there is some weird experimentation going on. Like Unification War, black ops biological warfare-level shenanigans.”

“This doesn’t add up,” Jonah said, “because all around people are losing money, with the trade being stopped and the salt mine not working. And I’ve come into some interesting information. Although we might have to smuggle three people off this planet after our trip.”

“Of course, what would one of our trips be without pickup up another body?” Jonah said.

Jonah told the crew about his encounter with Lorenzo Fox.

“Remember Phillip Wong? It seems he might be involved in an interesting predicament.”

“You don’t say,” Tulsa said.

“Apparently our friend Phillip has been skimming from the mine by overinflating labour costs.”

“There’s a shocker.” Tulsa grinned.

“Here’s how I see it,” Jonah said. “You guys meet a human resources person asking all sorts of questions about our mission. I find out that Phillip Wong seems to have been skimming money from the magistrate, and from the mines and was potentially looking for a way to cover it up. See he apparently had a lot of workers that didn’t exist, and diseases kill workers, and yet the medicine only seems to be working at two of the three quarantined communities. How much are you willing to bet that that community is where the workers who don’t exist are dying?”

Tulsa scratched his chin. “So remind me again why we’re getting involved in this and not just doing our job and getting off this rock?”

“Because there’s a potential profit to be made?” Jonah smiled. “And we cannot turn away from money.”

“Spoken like a true Shenzou.” Worth said.

“Wo kao, here’s gotta be another way to make money in this Verse.” Tulsa said.

“Well doctor, those medical pleasures of yours don’t come cheap, and there’s another ship payment coming up.” Jonah said.

“And our engine needs repairs.” Worth added.

“So what’s our play?” Tulsa asked.

“Our play is, let’s find out what’s really going on, confirm the suspicion here, and maybe Phillip Wong is looking to play ball.” Jonah said.

“So, it’s extortion, then?” Tulsa said. “If we’re going to extort him, he should not have any idea that it’s coming.”

“Perhaps he’s willing to do business.” Jonah said.

“Oh, he’ll be willing to do business once you’ve got the right information and lined up your pawns.” Tulsa said.

“He’ll be willing, or the magistrate will. He’d be interested to know that somebody’s skimming from him.”

“So you want to play both sides.” Tulsa nodded.

“Or we could just do our job, get paid, and go home.” Worth said.

“We’ve already been paid.” Jonah said.

“So let’s do our job, and go spend that money.” Worth said.

“Money’s already gone.” Tulsa said.

“Then let’s play both sides.” Worth said.

Jonah scratched his chin. “I’m not a big fan of the security apparatus here. I don’t want to make a play for the magistrate before we know exactly what’s going on here.”

“Why don’t we tell the magistrate we’ve caught wind, we’re going to do some digging, and line up the ducks and let him pull the trigger?” Tulsa asked.

“That information is dangerous. Him knowing that we know might not be the best. He might see us as a liability.” Jonah replied.

“Why don’t we go to the mine and see what we can dig up there?” Worth said.

“I think there’s some merit in that.” Jonah said. “If he’s skimming money, he’s not putting it in the bank.”

“Do we even know this Fox guy is telling the truth?” Worth said. “He could be feeding us a line so we give him a berth on our ship.”

“I say we get on the road,” Jonah said. “Let’s do the first round of inoculations so all looks kosher, and then between the first and second one, let’s just lose our way.”

“So let’s blow this party,” Worth said. They began to make all the necessary courtesies.

Jonah went to Phillip Wong and thanked him for delivering the invitations.

“You know, we haven’t had a chance to chat, you and I.” Wong said. “Leaving so soon?”

“You understand our mission will take some time to prepare.” Jonah said.

“I understand that. Have you been shown the villa’s grounds yet? You may find it very interesting before you leave.”

“I was busy marveling at the interior. Even out here so far from the Core people seem to have some wealth and taste.”

“Yes, well, would you be interested in a very brief tour?”

“Not at all,” Jonah said under his breath, and then said “Yes, sure.”

Wong ushered Jonah outside right where Lorenzo Fox had taken him only minutes before.

“This is off the record, is that going to be a problem for you?” Wong said.

“No, investigative journalism and reporting on issues doesn’t necessarily mean that everything one hears and sees finds its way into a story. How else could I develop my sources, not only for this but for future endeavours?” Jonah said.

“Future endeavours, interesting.” Wong said. “Where do you think the story is going?”

“What can I say? Our benefactor’s team is going on a great mission that at its core is helping people suffering form a terrible disease and we’re here to bring some science and civilization to this moon and those people who are suffering. Advancements in medical science aren’t just for people in the Core Worlds after all. So far, the story’s going in that direction. Of course I want to interview the people who are affected and see how they are faring and see how the administration is caring of its own. Not the most exciting story I’ve ever been on.”

“Well, it’s the first day.” Wong said.

“Yes, absolutely, we are very concerned about the vaccine and its effectiveness, and there have been some alarming statistics, so we are also going to make sure the medical establishment is well aware of what’s going on so we can document the events not only for the information but to help out with any future medical research.”

“That’s reasonable. I hear you’ve enlisted the aid of a guide.”

“Well, times like this can be treacherous. It’s not my first trip around the block. A guide is prudent measure.”

“Very prudent, especially given what’s out there.” Wong said.

“Yes, but you would not ask me out here to talk me about routine medical reporting, or even the great and powerful pharmaceutical industry…”

“Just trying to get a sense of your work ethic and your approach to tackling sensitive and multifaceted issues.”

“Well, I’m a journalist and I’ve been around for a while. I’ve covered many conflicts, political unrests, and I’m still here. So I think I do okay.” Jonah fixed Wong with a look. “But you’re clearly getting at something. Are you suggesting you have a tangent of a story for me that does not involve vaccine effectiveness and the advancement of medical sciences to the outer reaches?”

“If you’ve been in hot spots before, you must have survived because you’re a realist. Pragmatic.” Wong said.

“You’re not incorrect.”

“You’re in a situation where discretion may be the better part of valour, if you get my meaning,” Wong said. “And so, pragmatically, and also speaking in the hypothetical, are you type of survivor, the pragmatic realist who can be trusted in situations where discretion is required?”

“What would be an investigative journalist without discretion? That’s paramount. The question remains, discretion on whose behalf?”

“That is the question,” Wong said.

“It looks to me like you’re trying to tell me something,” Jonah said.

“Okay, I’m going to be frank with you because I think you know which side of the bread yours is buttered on.” Wong said. “You know that I administer the saltworks. It’s in the middle of the quarantine zone. Now, when the quarantine went up we had to evacuate quite quickly. In my rush to leave, I inadvertently left behind an object of some personal and business significance. I’m wondering what it might be worth to you to take a slight detour on your mission of mercy to retrieve this for me.”

“Well, I’m intrigued, but you must understand this is something that will not be viewed positively by the hosts of this jurisdiction. It depends on the size of the item. We are not flying a ship.”

“But I’ve heard you’ll be using a vehicle. A cargo skiff?” At Jonah’s nod, Wong continued. “The item is not large, nor dangerous to transport. It’s a strongbox, with the magistrate’s seals. The box contains backup copies of my business records, efficiency reports, personnel files. I’ve been unable to retrieve electronic records from the mine office since the quarantine went up. The records contained therein represent a great deal of effort on my part and the part of those in my employ, and they are vital to the continued success of the mining operation. However, quarantine rules being what they are, I just can’t stroll in and pick them up. But you might be able to, and I might be able to compensate you and your colleagues for the trouble.”

“Very intriguing, but other than the monetary benefit, I really don’t see how that would further my story.” Jonah said.

“I think you need to look past your story and come back around to the monetary benefits,” Wong smiled.

“Every time I was dispatched to a hot zone with significant risks and disturbance, we were always guaranteed either insurance or hazard pay, so you have to understand, hypothetically speaking, if we were to take a detour, we would be taking a considerable risk.” Jonah said.

“Oh, of that I have no doubt.” Wong said.

“And in that situation the risk would have to be balanced by the reward.” Jonah said.

“Indeed.” Wong said.

“So, what is this box of records worth to you?”

“Well, what do you say to 300 platinum, each.” Wong asked.

“Well it is an intriguing offer,” Jonah said.

“How about 350,” Wong said. “Each.”

“Let me put it this way,” Jonah said. “This kind of endeavour I will have to make sure my companions are on board, after all this is not what my companions came here for. Meet me tomorrow before we set off on our journey, before we meet our escort, and we’ll give you an answer.”

“So be it,” Wong said. “Thank you for your time.”

“Absolutely. I have to tell you, intriguing, it’s too bad these things can’t make it into a medical story.”

“Well you know what they say, when you have to choose between printing the truth and printing the legend, print the legend.”

“Well, I think that a medical story was what I was advanced for, so a medical story is going to be what I submit,” Jonah said. “I think other aspects of it do not need to make it into a medical story, a piece about the plight of the human condition.”

“That is always a page-turner. Guaranteed ratings.” Wong said.

“The core planets’ pharmaceutical community is always interested in situations on the outer planets, it might be. As for other dealings, make sure you meet us before we reach the gate.”

“I will. Thank you for your time.”

Jonah, Worth and Tulsa left the party and headed back to Desdemona. On the way, Jonah filled his crewmates in.

“So guess what your good buddy Phillip Wong proposed? To retrieve his records from the salt mine. Somehow he claims he can’t retrieve his electronic records and he’s willing to pay us 350 each to retrieve a small box containing his records.”

“We’re going to need more guns,” Worth said.

“Wait and see, that’s if we decide to take the job,” Jonah said. He turned to Tulsa. “But you know how you wanted to play both sides? I think this could be an opportunity first of all to validate the claims.”

“Or he knows what our conversations have been tonight, and he’s just setting a trap for us,” Tulsa said. “What better place than a salt mine? Only one way in and one way out.”

“I think the problem is that he’d need free reign to travel in the quarantine zone.”

“We have a legitimate reason to be outside of the city walls and into the open country. We have two pieces to the puzzle. We have the mortality rates that don’t add up, we have this story of the phantom workers dying in order to cover a long-running skimming operation, and now we’ve got someone asking us to retrieve the paper trail which he claims he’s unable to access electronically, which I’m not sure what he thinks of people from the core worlds, but that’s highly suspicious. I think there’s an opportunity to make money. And Worth, definitely bring guns.”

“Done,” Worth said.

Tulsa frowned. “It just feels like one of those obvious plots from a B-rated sci-fi show where you sit there and know the characters are going to go where they shouldn’t and you’re telling them ‘don’t go,’ with the root of it all being the simple motive of greed.”

“And what, we’re running a charity here? We’re going to just inoculate a bunch of villagers?” Jonah said.

“I don’t even want to be here,” Tulsa muttered. “So we go there, confrontation ensues.”

“Who says confrontation ensues?” Jonah said. “We just get lost and…”

“How long have we been travelling together?” Tulsa shouted. “I swear, every time the hatch goes down there’s someone shooting at my ass.”

“What are you talking about? Captain Bad-Luck isn’t here,” Jonah said.

“And all that for only 350 platinum?” Tulsa said.

“Hey, I didn’t say we’d take the job for that rate,” Jonah said. “There’s an opportunity for him to pony up more dough.”

“150 credits…” Tulsa was doing the conversions out loud. “Hardly pocket change.”

“You’re a rich bastard, but what about the rest of us? We still have to pay for the ship.” Jonah said. “Tomorrow we’ll say we’ve discussed the dangers and personal effort involved and we will ask for him to pay up.”

“If he does 300 credits apiece, then maybe.” Tulsa said.

“If it’s truly a no-go zone, depending on how it’s enforced, we shouldn’t encounter much resistance,” Jonah said.

“Except for that very large guide we ordered,” Worth said. “That’s automatically a problem. We’re going to have to tie him up.”

“So I just want to situate things here.” Tulsa said. “We’ve got Wong over here who’s trying to get us to cover his ass, we’ve got the Magistrate, whose district is falling apart at the seams, then we’ve got Cain, the magistrate’s security chief, and our guide Nazir, who reports to Cain. All right then.”

“We have to get the guide. If you tell the stone-cold devil guy who says you should have a guide that we don’t need a guide, that’s just going to raise more suspicions.” Jonah said. “If he thinks it’s bad enough out there to need a guide, the less time we spend out there, the better.”

“The guide isn’t for our own security, it’s obviously to keep tabs on what we’re doing.” Tulsa said, sighing. “These guys aren’t running a charity either.”

“I’ll shoot you in the leg if you don’t come.” Worth growled.

“So, when do we leave?” Tulsa said brightly.

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