Rated M for violence and distressing themes.
Potential strong language and drug references.
"We must have been...what, 15 or 16?" Kelly Black was saying, pausing as she tried to convert Solomon years to Imperial standard for Vincent's benefit. "They never checked ID in Plenus Luna, so we could just walk in. We never got recognised either because most of the folk who went there were from Spire 12. Though there was one random guy who came up to me like 'Hey, do I know you from somewhere?' - when I said I didn't he asked me what school I went to and then answered 'Hey, me too!' You know, blatantly trying it on, not even bothering to hide his Twelver accent..."
Kelly grinned, and laid her cards carefully face down on the table so she could gesticulate with her hands. She was an angular faced woman, with brown eyes and dark, shoulder-length hair.
"I'd have buckled laughing if this guy wasn't six foot and looming over me, but the best part is when he says 'Small hive isn't it?' and Marc turns up with our drinks, squares up to the guy without missing a beat and answers 'No pal, it's a very big one with one billion other women in it - frak off'. Bearing in mind that this guy is twice our size and maybe three times as wide..."
"He hit me first." her brother Marc put in defensively. He and Kelly shared the same angular features, with straight noses and arched eyebrows. Marc sat with the elbows of his rolled-up shirt sleeves resting on the table, his ever present PDA tucked into the inside pocket of the suit jacket thrown over the back of his chair.
"Need to pick your fights better, kid." Vincent grunted, scowling as he sat back in his chair and tapped ash off his lho. In spite of the relaxed atmosphere, the grizzled ex-guardsman seemed to be in one of his dour moods. 'Kid' was his nickname for Marc, which he had stubbornly retained ever since their first meeting nearly a year ago. Although Marc was hardly a juvie, anyone looked young compared to the scarred, weather-beaten Vincent Nyl. "And while all this is very interesting, you still haven't told us if you're in or not."
Marc peeled his face-down cards off the table, just far enough to see the numbers in their top corners. "Well...I'm pretty sure you can't make the full house you're aiming for, because I was handed the last 7 two hands ago. I think Kally's got something, because she's been quietly calling every bet. And I know Kelly's got something impressive, because she never raises unless she's got an absolute premium hand. Knowing all that, there's only one thing stopping me from taking this one."
"What's that?" Kelly asked, looking sidelong at her brother.
"My cards are shit." Marc admitted, and pushed his hand into the centre of the table.
Kelly grinned. "You know what your problem is, Marc? Sometimes you focus too much on the worst case scenario."
She leaned to one side to show him the cards in her hand, and whatever they were caused Marc to lean back in his chair with a good-natured "Oh, for frak sake..."
"You know," Vincent said irritably, fixing the Blacks with his mismatched stare. One eye was storm grey, the other milk white from an ancient war-wound. "You two covering each other's asses shouldn't apply during card games. Some of us are trying to take this seriously."
He looked at Kally Sonder, the fourth member of their group, for support. The blonde haired ex-bounty huntress had just been smirking quietly throughout the exchange.
"Oh, I agree completely." Kally grinned. "But what you haven't noticed is that Marc has a tell. His eyebrows do this little up and down thing when he sees his cards for the first time. And I'm betting Kelly has the same one."
She put her cards face down, then threw a blue chip into the pile.
"I'm in, and I raise twenty. Because this time I'm sure Kelly's hand is grox shit as well."
"Vince," Kelly grimaced as Vincent reached out across the bottle-strewn table with his augmetic arm, sweeping Marc's cards into the discard pile with an awful grinding of servos. "You ever thought about getting that arm upgraded?"
"I love this arm." Vincent replied stubbornly. "The middle finger works perfectly."
At that moment, Marc's PDA chimed. He turned in his chair to fish it out of his suit pocket, and frowned when he read the contents of the message.
"What is it?" Kelly asked.
"A summons." Marc replied. "From interrogator Machairi."
Alongside Javid Schafer, Alia Machairi was one of lord Sidonis' highest-ranking acolytes on the True Bane. The inquisitor lord's staff was monolithic, and Marc had never met Machairi in person; having been assigned instead to interrogator Schafer after that hideous business with Kally, Sapphira and explicator Strelilov had been resolved. He did know that Frank Priest - his group's one-time leader - had trained under Machairi briefly before being posted off to the Malfian sub with agent Van Der Mir. Of the interrogator herself he knew very little, other than Schafer's occasional assertions that she was a manipulative, two-faced bitch.
"What's the script?" Kelly asked, raising her eyebrows.
"All it says is she needs us to assist a mission team that she's putting together."
Vincent growled. "It's the middle of shift 3. Doesn't she know we're off duty?"
"Truth never sleeps, apparently." muttered Kally, sighing. "Lets go see what she wants."
+ + + + + +
With the exception of lord Sidonis' own offices, none of the True Bane's conference cabins could be called luxurious. This one was no exception; well lit, but made cramped by the long blackwood table that dominated the floor space with seats for fifteen people, most of them unfilled. Claustrophobia was allleviated by a trio of pict screens along the rear wall that served as windows, projecting the slowly-turning star field captured by the Bane's hull sensors. A tall glass-fronted chronometer hung on one wall, its brass innards ticking softly.
Interrogator Machairi sat at the head of the blackwood table in a plain, high-backed armchair, the lumoglobes studded around the rim of the table illuminating her long oval face. Around her were gathered her six closest agents. Ex-arbitrator Glabrio Hybrida lounged on one side of her; the Tallarn infiltrator Abdur Salah sat quiet and unobtrusive on the other. Aleksandr and Malpais sat apart, both psyker swordsmen, but of different callings - the one a young and strong willed Carthaen of the Esw Sadyr clan, the other a quiet but volatile pyromancer. Both exemplified speaking softly while carrying a big gun, which was why Machairi favoured them. Solvan Balannor, her personal confessor, had pride of place on her right hand side. Standing while the others sat was her personal bodyguard Tomas Prinzel, as always never far from the interrogator's side.
Machairi's eyes flickered to the chronometer and then to the door, one elbow resting on the table with her fingernails rubbing thoughtfully against the ball of her thumb.
"Try to be nice to them." she told her team as she sat back in her chair. "They might have trained under Schafer but I don't think they've been with him long enough to turn into his yes-men."