Two takes a day was getting easier. Once he'd established a pattern of finding a simple take in the morning and a difficult one by early afternoon KipTop was starting to wonder about whether he could actually go for two high value targets in one day. The wound had healed; for the most part anyway. He was being much more careful, using his time in the evenings to scout out areas for the next day and never visiting the same place within two days. It meant that he was also expanding his reach with less and less time spent in the Kinderhaus. He did feel bad about how he was treating Mistress Sdint and the other sisters but the increased funds had already provided new bedding for many and even a rudimentary body brace for one unfortunate child who had been born with a crippling deformity; he could never remember the name... but he'd never seen the sisters in such a way as when the brace had suddenly appeared. To a one they were so in tears over it that he'd almost regretted getting it until he realized the tears were of joy.
Something was different this morning though. The Boss was late. The Boss was never late. He could hear Coal shuffling nervously from her spot in the duct below his usual spot and he wondered how much longer he should wait before he started looking for contingency plans. His stashes had grown in the past few days as well. With what little he had left from the the body brace, he'd already restocked each stash with enough to survive for at least a few days. If the Boss was gone, he would be short on options and may need to exhaust some of those new supplies faster than expected.
As the time for his first take came and went Kip decided that waiting around The Spot may not be a good idea. At best the Boss was testing them all, and he'd have to give Kip marks for waiting this long. At worst, the Boss was in trouble, and if The Boss was in trouble, Kip wanted none of that. For a moment he thought about alerting Coal on his way out but then thought better of it. She was smart enough to find her own way. He slipped back into the ductwork highways heading inward. With nothing better to do for the day he decided that perhaps it was time to make up some good-will with the sisters and spend a day at the Home. He had nothing better to do anyway.
KipTop slipped his nanostraw back into the scar and gently released the latch on the basement entry window. At midday everyone would be at meal so this was the easiest way in. As he turned to reset the latch, something across the alley caught his eye. It had been just some spec of light reflecting off one of the disposal chute access hatches and he dismissed it as he finished sealing the window. He started making his way towards the stairs leading up and a strange sort of chill came over him. Something wasn't right. He knew that if he looked about he'd find everything in order and there was nothing physically wrong with the basement, but he just suddenly had that feeling. It was a feeling he'd very recently begun to trust much more than he had before. He remembered the reflected light and then remembered something else; those chutes rusted over long, long ago.
As his mind started to shift from a homecoming to an escape, KipTop didn't even stop to wonder about his paranoia. This was instinct, something definitely wasn't right. He bypassed the stairs and moved directly towards an access hatch for the Kinderhaus's own waste chute. It wasn't going to be a pleasant trip but with his senses on alert he wasn't about to go back out the way he came in; better if whoever might be watching him thought he was still here.
Kip opened the access hatch and after a moment to steel himself against the smell, he climbed in and re-fastened the panel behind him using magnetic clips he'd long ago installed for just such an escape. He'd have to watch himself more carefully for a bit, but at least he should be able to sleep under the stars tonight, and who knew, maybe that star everyone called Indigo might pass over tonight as well.
A new day; a new bar. The first of two evenings had found her in a rather posh socialite lounge situated at the very top of the twin spires of Icarus Station; a location that took far too long to get to but would act as a sort of outlier for her little experiment. It wasn't exactly 'scientific' but then unless Meyan was planning to attend a new Bar for the next 60 days she just wasn't going to obtain a significant sample size anyway. In the end she conceded that this little experiment was going to have to be more of a hobby than true science and in that light, she would need at least some range of locations. It would hardly do for her to only try bars situated right next to the docks. What kind of sample would that be?
The posh bar had given her little comfort for her effort and it had taken only about twenty minutes for her to confirm that no, it wasn't just her; everyone was staring at her. This led to an attempt at a worker bar much closer to her apartments for day two. The initial time in The Router went well and she certainly didn't stand out among one of the most dichotomous populations she had seen yet. One guy had mistaken her green skin as a full-body tattoo and spent the rest of the night buying her more drinks than she asked for all so he could find out who had done the ink. Perhaps he had wanted to know more about her than who her artist was. In either case, she left both locations still feeling drained from the day and without any great epiphany as to why they were different.
Tonight she stepped up to a warm looking entrance that read; Jayke's Pub. Absent mindedly she once again tried to transfer a data pad that wasn't there from one arm to the other and as she had done several times in the last few days, berated herself for forgetting. Adjustment to the new implant was progressing, but she just had never noticed how much her pads and the physical detritus of her life had become such a part of her person. It was like constantly thinking you left a part of yourself at home. The readout projected into her optic nerve began listing some of the more noteworthy offerings to be found at Jayke's and she struggled to navigate a few bar stools right behind the steady stream of words. Mentally she selected the next offering just to pause the scroll long enough to actually sit on the stool. During her talk with tattoo-man, (his name was Fessel her implant prompted un-bidden), during her talk with Fessel she had been happy for the distraction of navigating her new sensory companion. But that had been about the only time since receiving the implant that she hadn't felt in some way crippled by the immense amount of information being fed to her.
With both her seat selected and order placed she finally started taking note of the pub. Some form of native wood had been imported and used to fashion most of the furniture. That much flammable material in one enclosed place on a station must have taken some serious pull but it was the well-worn look of it that really caught her attention. In fact even the wall décor, signage, and the bar itself couldn't possibly be new and yet they looked as though they had been built and fitted for the exact space. It was an amazing example of repurposing and the more she looked at it she began to see a fresher edge here or an old fastener hole there. All together the ambiance spoke of a true craftsman and projected a sort of warmth that had Meyan wondering if she had finally found a challenger for the S'up.
It was as she was taking her first sip, mulling the many positive aspects of the bar when she felt a tap on her left shoulder. By the time she looked, found no one there, and returned a very confused look to her glass, someone had sat down just to her right. "Hi There!"
Delyyn beamed out from behind his highball glass with all the confidence in the system. "Delyyn! Um, how is Vox?" Once again her new implant surprised her by pulling facial recognition on Delyyn, listing several of his closest known associates including Vox, and pulling from her memory like one would an ancient book from a shelf, the connection that he had mentioned his friend the last time they had met.
The whole mental whiplash of realizing how she knew to ask about Vox completely distracted her from hearing his response but he was smiling so she just assumed it was good news and decided not to look foolish by asking him to repeat it.
"I didn't expect to find you in a place like this actually; can I buy your next drink?" He motioned toward her half empty glass and she just nodded. It was an innocent enough offer and she wasn't about to look adversarial. "What brings you here?"
A silly experiment? "Oh, just trying something new."
He took another sip of his drink but his body language and expression said he was actually curious. "How's it working out?"
She had to stop and think. He'd interrupted the analytic stream she's been using to asses each bar and so she had to quickly weigh the rest of those measures in order to respond fairly. Amusingly, a small 'visual' checklist appeared from her implant. Warm atmosphere, Patrons were generally pleasant and not raucous, Nobody was paying her too much attention; well, other than Delyyn but that didn't count, food and drink selection was diverse and what she had tried so far had been good. Looking to the negatives she determined that she hadn't felt any of the general effervescent energy that she had in S'up since arriving but then she still didn't know how in the hole she was going to measure that. Her workday hadn't been 'measurably' less stressful so that wasn't a factor either. With no other negatives at hand she concluded that while very nice and some place she would happily visit again, Jayke's just didn't have 'it', whatever 'it' was. What she actually said after all of that was simply "Meh".
Delyyn just sat there a moment in response himself as a sort of slow smile took over his face. "Just 'meh' huh?" She shrugged. "Tell ya what," He finished his drink in a final swig and came to his feet. "I was about to head over to meet up with some friends at the S'up. Care to join me?" He offered an arm to her in a minor flourish of gallantry. She hadn't had time to place a dinner order yet but at least she already knew of a few good options at his destination. Why not? At least she knew that if her experiment was anything to go by she'd leave the S'up feeling refreshed. She was about to flag down the barkeep to pay when a flash from the corner of her eye silently indicated that her implant had literally read her mind and was now showing the appropriate deductions from her account. I am never getting used to that.
She took his arm with what he read as a timid smile and they stepped out of Jayke's and into a throng of people making their various ways from evening plans to nightlife venues. Stopping her view briefly on any one individual with even a hint of curiosity prompted the implant to start running a search which in turn led to those damned words in her eyes so she quickly resorted to looking generally at everyone's chest or legs.
At some point before they left the lift that deposited them just outside the Lab, and within a few meters of Sunny-side Up, she noticed that Delynn now had his previously chivalrous arm wrapped gently about her waist. As subtle as the change had been Meyan barely knew what to think of the gesture. Had she almost stumbled into someone without noticing and he's done it to steady her? Was he just being a bit more friendly based on their shared experience from the other night? Or was it simply his way of indicating how he felt? As they reached the entrance to the bar what surprised her the most was that whatever his reasons, she found that she didn't mind them so much and was even willing to accept the most innocent explanation on trust. Someone was making contact with her; someone who knew her skin was green, knew she hadn't previously known an implant from an isolinear chip, and by now knew that she had a tendency to get all stuck in her head. It felt... nice.
And so, as their path brought them to a standing table with Anna, Aaron, and someone her implant identified as Tezra, she found herself smiling when Delyyn opened with "So, you guys remember Meyan from the other night right?"
Affirmative nods and smiles responded from all but Tez who simply cocked her head for a brief second then smiled warmly. Meyan suddenly recognized the gesture she had seen so many times since arriving at Icarus and the realization had her wondering if she was always going to look like some curious puppy anytime she met someone new from here on in. The tepid response did not go unnoticed by Tez, however rather than take offense the capsuleer giggled. "Yeah, I'm still pretty new to it too." Meyan absently started moving her hand to her temple and stopped herself. Her own implant was already indicating that Tezra had only been sponsored into the capsuleer program a mere few months ago with known implants only about eight months prior to that. "It can take some getting used to for all of us." Tez finished with a rather smart glare at the others who were immediately reminded of their own past newbie phases; the glare diminished more than one grin.
"Thanks" Meyan found that she meant it too.
"What's your drink?" Anna asked her as Delyyn decoupled from her waving a hand.
"No, I got this one." he siad. Then to Meyan, "Same thing as before?"
She had no idea to which 'before' he was referring so but just nodded. "Mhm'hm"
"Right then. Be right back." Delyyn stepped away toward the bar.
Anna smiled and winked at her. "I think he likes you." Meyan was beginning to suspect but the confirmation didn't hurt.
"Really?" Aaron's immediate facial response indicated that he thought it was beyond obvious. "But we just met, right?"
Anna's smile was warm but just a bit maternal. "All it takes sometimes. Besides do you like him?"
"Maybe?" It was the best Meyan could make of the jumble that was her emotions on the topic of relationships.
"Well, maybe that's enough. You only live once right?" Anna lifted her glass to the rest of the table who joined in the ironically given toast.
Delyyn returned shortly with her drink, a little stronger than the last, and Tez launched into a story about some other spanky new capsuleer who had very recently stumbled into Origin from High-sec. Meyan took another sip and acknowledged that her side had once more been graced by Delyyn's arm. Between the alcohol, Delyyn's arm, and Tez's rather humorous story Meyan was swiftly enjoying herself. Or maybe it was just the bar. How was she ever going to work out all these variables now? Maybe it was time to admit that it wasn't a very good experiment and just go with it.
The night rolled on and a few drinks and many good stories shared by each of the capsuleers later had her in high spirits and feeling like she had energy to spare. The friends were all in to produce the party that had been so rudely interrupted a few days back and even Delyyn's seemingly consistent contact seemed exhilarating.
Solu once again found herself looking on from the other side of the booths. She'd intended to go over but Meyan was an employee now and with the way Delyyn was hovering so clearly possessively about her, she'd decided to wait instead to see if the timid biologist actually needed rescuing. But Meyan's enjoyment continued to improve until Solu couldn't think of any believable reason to interrupt other than to say 'Hi' and look silly doing it. Delyyn had a reputation for never staying around too long in a relationship but he wasn't unkind or mean so who was she to impose on Meyan's free will just because she was starting to realize that, at least in her mind, Delyyn had become competition. In either case she knew Anna, Aaron, and Tez as fellow capsuleers and there was no way that those three were going to let anything more than a horrendous hangover befall the young biologist.
She stretched and decided that her 'paperwork' was about as done as it was likely to be. She'd have plenty of chance to talk with Meyan tomorrow and it was already getting a bit late. As she passed the bar on her way towards the door she looked up one more time hoping to catch Meyan's eye and at least wave. At that moment, however, Meyan was caught up in a particularly endearing giggle borne of high spirits, Anna's devastating impressions, and booze; leaving no chance of even glancing in Solu's direction. The cybernetics director left quietly with only a sigh as the door closed behind her.
The Agent stepped quietly from the sleek black car leaving it at the curb to idle. The district was hardly without risk but he trusted in the city-smarts of the hardened locals to know better than to interact with a car so clearly owned, and defended, by authority. He'd chosen just this car because it practically screamed OSS and he wanted that clout to ensure the visit played out very much in his side of the game court.
Slight movements in the corner of his eyes and identified by his implants alerted him to several well hidden onlookers. His cloak of authority wasn't going to last long out here should the local gangs, a rarity on Renaissance and perhaps not as dangerous as one might find in Empire space but still unavoidable in any city, choose to act upon the stranger in their midst. He triggered the archaic digital alert pad beside the door and waited. It wasn't that he feared for his own safety should they choose to strike, but an incident, especially any incident that was likely to involve the maiming of citizens barely even into their teenage years would be very counter-productive, especially if he was hoping to make a strong impression on the caretakers within the austere home.
It took several moments, which had the Agent looking to press the suspect alert pad again, before a rather elder woman opened the door. She looked quizzically at him and spoke something so softly that it was lost to the sounds of many children at play within. He just assumed her intent and got on with it.
"Yes, I am here on behalf of the OSS, may we talk inside?"
His perfect tailoring and forward nature were enough to convince her that he wasn't some sort of local prank and the OSS were well known to associate directly with her Home's sponsor, the Araai Foundation. She tried again to invite him in, this time a bit louder; "Please do come in from out there... foul smelling place today."
He must have heard her this time because he stepped promptly up the additional step and into the Home that was dwarfed by more modern neighbors. Mistress Sdint moved slowly but carefully further into the hallway as she led him toward the parlor. Like the rest of her Kinderhaus its furniture was worn and overused speaking of just enough funding to exist but not enough to replace. It was a testament to her stalwart will and the immense care that she had for her kids that any of it still stood; the building or everything in it. As she fluffed one of the cushions her mind went back over the years to all the many times the city planners had offered her a 'better' location or 'finer' apartments. She'd insisted that it was the simple nature of the home itself which led to a more grounded kid and she had availed herself of some of the most committed attorneys the Foundation could provide to make her point for her. In the end those same city planners were forced to concede to her above average care measurers and instead decided to challenge local architects to build around and indeed over the simple three-story building. That this agent had even found her buried so deeply in the roots of the city made certain that his business was important. "Can I get you some tea?"
He accepted the seat as she took one facing him but put his hand up gracefully at her offer of beverage. "No thank you, I expect that I won't be here long."
"How can I help the OSS then?" She adopted a no-nonsense pose and listened.
He sat forward and opened directly. "I've come to locate a minor by the initials of T.L., goes by the name of KipTop on the streets."
She barely let him finish and was already rolling her eyes by the time she spoke. "Oh dear, that one. What's our little Kip gotten himself into now?"
"After reading his file I understand your confusion but I am not here to restrain or puni-"
"He has an OSS File? He's not even matured yet!" She knew she was getting defensive. Her other sisters had always told her she had a blind-spot the size of the city for that troublesome orphan but she was emphatic that she was no less protective of any of her children; and she was in charge so they could keep it to themselves anyway. He looked at her as if to ask her permission to continue so she folded her arms and just nodded.
"Yes, he has a file as do many of the children who are found to have repetitively fractured the law." His emphasis was not subtle. "As I was about to say, I am not here to restrain or punish KipTop but rather to ask him some questions in relation to someone much worse that he may have had contact with."
He was hiding something or she'd lose her stockings on the bet. "Well, I'm very sorry for your troubles but I haven't seen him since he left this morning at his usual time and in his usual way."
"His usual way?" There was confusion in his tone.
"Yes", again she rolled her eyes in submission. "That is to say I have no planetary way of knowing how he leaves each day. I'm not exactly equipped for surveillance and he certainly doesn't use the door."
She nodded toward the hall he had entered through and a quick review of his ocular files showed that the door was equipped with a lock much, much more sophisticated than anything else he'd seen in this home. She didn't know about his nanostraw then, clever boy.
Mistress Sdint waited patiently while her guest seemed to be mulling his next move over in his head. She wasn't sure whether or not to tell KipTop about his visit yet but was quickly deciding that if there was any way to keep him from sneaking out it might just possibly be to let slip that he was being sought and that perhaps his safest place would be here with her. It was a long shot but she'd tried just about everything else. The Agent seemed to make up his mind finally with what seemed like an oddly placed smirk. "If he does return I will be sure to let you know," In time "but lately he hasn't made it home before dusk more than once." Maybe she did have just a little soft-spot for the rascal.
"Please do." He came to his feet and placed a small holo-chip on the table beside his seat. "My direct contact."
She rose as well to show him out without looking twice at the chip. "Thank you, and I shall." She followed him back out and to the door, careful to note which noses were not-so-covertly poking around the corner down the hall where things had gotten deceptively quiet. "Do have a good afternoon Mr...."
"Smith." He reached for the door handle but it didn't budge.
"Well, 'Agent Smith', do have a good afternoon all the same." She edged past him and opened the door as though he hadn't just tried it. The nearly inaudible click of the door spoke to the lengths at which Mistress Sdint had gone to protect her kids and she didn't miss the slightly raised eyebrow from this shifty agent with a fake name.
He stepped through the door and out into the alley just wide enough for his vehicle. "And you as well Mistress Sdint." He turned and started walking to the car and she closed the door behind him. It was time to go find out why two of the children had coerced their peers into keeping watch at the end of the hallway.
Half a planet away in Foundation city one of 'Agent Smith's' associates waited patiently hunched over a makeshift table composed of mismatching parts and topped with various knockoffs ranging from communicators that would fail in a day to smutty holo-chips. She waited patiently as people passed giving no notice or care to her wares. The alley she had set up next to would have fit quite well beside the one her comrade had just left save that it led into a rather nefarious den of liars, thieves, rapists, and murders. She had no use for them just as they had no care for her withered and decrepit exterior. They'd soon get theirs but today she was here not for them but for what they'd found.
A car whisked suddenly around the corner and into the alley before settling onto idling repulsors. She checked her implant to confirm the target and promptly abandoned the pitiful table and wares. Staying to the shadows as much as possible she used the various detritus of the alley to get within jumping distance just as the doors opened to admit two massive thugs and the bound child they held between them. The girl's skin was darker than any she had recently seen and for a moment she wondered if they'd mistaken the Gallentean half of the child's heritage, until she saw the girl's eyes. The fire of her Brutor father burned behind the clearly Jin-Mei set eyes of her mother. The thugs began directing the child around the back of the car and if she didn't move fast the 'old woman' might not get to her before that telltale Brutor fire erupted into the futile violence that would certainly only end with the child beaten to a multi-colored pulp.
The 'old woman' moved with a sudden lethal grace as she shot out from behind some discarded equipment. Her augmented jump had her crashing through the first brutes face and bringing her knee into the windpipe of the second before the child had barely registered something was above her. Both thugs went down hard but rather than run the still bound girl growled behind her taped mouth and redirected her rage to the new challenge before her. Caught in the direct line of that glare the 'old woman' suddenly wondered if perhaps this girl had in fact been escorting the thugs. She was suddenly very glad of her many enhancements too. The young girl's legs took her suddenly toward the 'old woman' as their footwork lined up for a roundhouse. The 'old woman' barely had time to consider neither the uncanny instinct nor the woefully obvious technique before she delved deep into her implants and slipped like liquid under the kick. She came up on the other side of the child but could already hear reinforcements coming from within the rat's nest. The two thugs were recovering as well and she was out of time. The girl set herself for another furious attack and the 'old woman' carefully twisted one of the rings covertly placed within her fingerless gloves. The child's next pass, a just slightly overextended hook, brushed harmlessly past the 'old woman' who slipped in and open-palm touched the girl's neck. Knowing the speed of her ring's sedative she quickly withdrew a hidden pulse pistol and put two immaculately placed shots into each of the soldiers emerging from the nest. She hadn't meant to kill anyone but she couldn't risk her life or that of the child's any more than she had already. She put two more kicks into each of the brutes' chins and they once more collapsed to the stiff-crete alley before the 'old woman' dashed forward to scoop the now swooning child onto her shoulder. The 'old woman' didn't look back to see who was left to remark on her presence but instead took off out of the alley in a dead run and didn't slow as she found the car lanes beyond suspiciously deserted but for the sudden appearance of a sleek black car. Pulse rifle fire reached out for her from back in the alley and she practically dove, child and all, into the back of the moving car. She thanked the armored doors as they automatically closed behind her interrupting all but a few shots. She'd been hit in her own leg and it hurt like a bitch but a quick review of the now unconscious child showed her no worse for the escape. The 'old woman' mused for just a moment over the girl's scrap of dirty white hair which had once been so carefully molded into a pitiful little mohawk. She was forced to admit some level of grudging respect for this upstart freedom fighter wannabe as the car sped off and up; deeper into the city.