Hunter set the meet in an out of the way wine bar in the north end of Vesper. It’s not his favorite place but it’s nice and quiet and that’s exactly what he needs for this particular engagement.
His contact isn’t here yet despite it being a full fifteen minutes past the meeting time. Hunter isn’t surprised. This particular contact always did like to keep him waiting. So he’s having a drink of wine.
“She likes to keep you waiting.” Ardul stops by the table Hunters sitting at and puts two glasses of wine down. “I suppose trying to kill her has an effect.” There’s more to the story than he’s told her, she’s sure and maybe she’ll find out more today.
She doesn’t take a seat, not yet, but peers around the bar, checking exits and surveying patrons for the moment.
“She does yes. And to be fair, she tried to kill me too.” Hunter says. He has stopped checking the exits. He’s pretty sure no one is going to try to kill him and if someone does… he’s also pretty sure that he can outshoot any but the most determined ambush.
The door opens and a Simvan woman in a fur lined leather jacket, a white shirt and hide trousers steps in. Her coarse mane is braided in a few places with bones and teeth woven in. She immediately picks Hunter out of the crowd and makes a beeline for his table.
“Hunter Greymane as I leave and breathe. No thanks to you.” She looks at Ardul. “Who’s the broad?”
Hunter takes another drink. “Ardul, meet Valetta. Head of Vesper Intelligence.”
“To be fair, I suppose she did.” Ardul doesn’t smile often, she’s rather stern naturally, but she casts Hunter an amused glance. She’s fairly sure the attempt was after the first time he’d tried to kill the thief.
It’s hard to miss the Simvan when she arrives and the blondes eyes narrow momentarily. Simvans operate in Vanished Point and there’s been some interesting engagements with them. “Well met, Valetta. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I am Ardul, Companion to Hunter.” Broad indeed.
“Can I get you a drink before we begin? ” There was a reason she hadn’t sat down.
“Companion?” Valetta quirks a brow and looks Ardul up and down. “Sure, why not, I wouldn’t mind a drink.”
The simvan woman turns her attention to Hunter and tilts her head slightly. “I haven’t heard a peep from you in years. Hell I thought you’d gone and died out there in the brush somewhere. Various gods know you deserve it. What is it you want from me?”
“I’m working on a problem.” Hunter says simply, taking another drink. “Ardul can explain more. It involves her.”
“Yes. Companion.” the blonde warrior says quietly, quirking a brow at Hunter. It doesn’t take her long to get another glass of wine before she’s sliding into the seat next to the Wolfen.
“I, for one, am very glad he didn’t die. As he says though, we’re working on a problem. It involves, what we think, is an older Northern Gun explorer bot that we’ve seen escorting Xiticicks that have been raiding settlements down south.” She pauses, letting Valetta chew on that a bit, taking a sip of her wine as she watches.
“We need to track it to work out what’s going on….” She drops that and looks to Hunter, waiting for the Simvan to respond. This should be interesting.
“Xiticicks don’t raid with anyone else. They build hives. And then kill people.” Valetta says, looking suspiciously at Ardul. She was going to take her up on the offer of a drink but the statement that just came out of the blonde woman’s mouth was so ludicrous that she’s forgotten all about it.
“Not if they’ve been cybernetically lobotomized and hooked into a control computer.” Hunter says quietly.
“Whaaaaat?” The Simvan no stares at him and then back to Ardul. “Alright. Sit down. You’re gonna need to explain this to me.”
The drink is left on the table and Ardul just quirks a brow at the Simvan as she processes the information. “That’s what we’ve seen at least. Squads, swarms?” She looks to Hunter to confirm the collective noun “of Xiticicks have been converted using mind control technology and are raiding settlements. They’re certainly taking the inhabitants but footage we’ve recovered indicates the bot is there when they’re raiding.”
“It’s of interest to me, because the technology we’ve recovered is based on something that my people outlawed years ago …” Another glance to the Wolfen by her side “… and it’s been enhanced using Wolfen tech. So we’re both concerned about what’s going on.”
“I presume you brought some proof of this?”
Hunter has already anticipated that question and hands Valetta a data pad. The woman watches the footage on it for a few minutes.
“Alright, you did. So, someone is making tech-zombie Xiticicks. This is bad on a couple of levels. The Xiticicks are horrific fighters, utterly ruthless. So we definitely don’t want htem under anyone’s control. More than that, if they manage to break free, they might establish a hive in the area and that would be very, very bad news. And the key to all this is an old Northern Gun Explorer Bot?”
“And what’s this about outlawed tech? If your people brought this over, where are the rest of them?”
“Of course.” Ardul answers quietly, waiting for Hunter to hand over the pad. “I’ve experienced the Xiticicks and their fighting – I can imagine they are bad. We have, fortunately, only encountered isolated groups so far.” The blonde sips at her drink whilst the Simvan talks.
“That’s part of the mystery. Travel to and from Iyesgarth isn’t common. It’s not unknown but we’re not on the beaten path if you like.” The blonde ducks her head, it’s a point of shame for her that the tech is here at all and even more so that she doesn’t know how. “I’m not sure how whoever has this, has it all and I’m even less sure how it’s been combined with Wolfen tech. As far as I know, a faction on my world has access to Rift technology and are sending individuals through, but I can’t be sure till we track some of this down.” Yaren hasn’t got back yet, but when he does – they’ll know more.
“What is it you need from me?”
“Our best lead is that robot. You’d think something that big would be easy to find but it’s a big world out there.” Hunter explains. “We need to know if you’ve heard anyhting and if not we need to find that thing.”
“Nothing solid but I’ll have my people look. There is… one thing. A rumor. We discounted it as unimportant but far to the south, in Dinosaur Swamp, we have heard that something has been stomping around the ruins of old Atlanta. We’d written the rumor off as inconsequential. The locals find big d-bee monsters in that area all the time. But the description //might// fit a robot if the person who was looking at it didn’t know what they were looking at. It’s a couple weeks old, but it’s all I ahve right now.”
“A way to track it, would be helpful…” Ardul glances at Hunter. Valetta, whilst salty, hasn’t tried to kill him – yet. She can ask at least. “I believe that most tech like this has homing beacons or the like.”
“Rumours are good. It’s more than we’ve got at the moment. Since the last time we know it was sighted, we’ve heard nothing.” And whilst the blonde can cover a lot of ground, fairly quickly, as Hunter said – it’s a big world out there. “The timing would be about right too. Though I’m not sure how they could confuse a walking building for a D-Bee Monster. I’d like to take a look down that way…”
She’s not quite sure where old Atlanta is, but it won’t be hard to work out.
“There are tribes in the swamp that have never seen tech like that. Or much tech at all.” Hunter says. “It’ll do Valetta. We’ll look into it.”
Valetta stands. “Fine, do that. I’ll put my people on it, since this is too big to ignore. You would have to turn my night off into a working night.” She is salty, but she also knows that she has to take care of her city and if that means working with her least favorite wolfen and his companion that’s what it means.
“Try not to get shot again.” Hunter says, needling her.
“Shouldn’t be hard so long as I stay away from you.” Valetta nods and turns to go.
“Well… that was interesting. Do you figure she meant that or was it a ruse to get us to go away?”
“Fair enough…” Ardul murmurs, grey eyes shadowed as she thinks on what they’ve been told. “And thank you … We’ll let you know what we find.”
Once Valetta leaves, the blonde sips her wine, strangely quiet. She’s thinking but looks up when Hunter speaks. “That she won’t get shot if she stays away from you?” She’s teasing a bit. She does that, mostly when they’re alone. But she sobers, looking back to where the Simvan left “I don’t know, Hunter. She gave it up awfully quickly. I know that we had a lot of proof – but she didn’t even question it.”
Her wings move slightly, a sure sign to the Wolfen that she’s unsettled. “I think there’s something in the swamps and I think it suits her to have us investigate. At the least, it gets you out of town for a while … ” Ardul runs a hand through her hair, causing a strand to fall over her cheek “You know her better than I, what do you think?”
“When I knew her she was a career thief with a penchant for violence. Something changed since now and then so I don’t know how much insight I really have into her.” Do people change? That much? Hunter doesn’t know. Something is different but he doesn’t know if it’s that different.
“Could be related, could be she just wants to get rid of us. Either way we don’t have a choice but to go investigate.”
Hunter inclines his head, indicating that they should go.
“Well, I’m looking forward to a jaunt in the south. The weather this time of year, is delightful.” Ardul looks at Hunter and rises, waiting for the Wolfen to do the same. “I particularly like the bugs that try to find their way into my armour. It really adds to the experience.” She’s being flippant but it’s really not that nice travelling in the Swamp.
When Hunter joins her, the blonde slips her arm through his and lets him guide them out. “Yaren left for Lynchburg a few days ago. I expect him back soon. Do you want to wait till we can speak to him before we go?”
“Yes, I do. But I don’t want to delay too long. If he’s not back by the day after tomorrow at the latest, we’ll have to leave and hope he’s around when we get back.” Hunter knows that there on a clock. The worrying part is that he doesn’t know how far run down the clock is. There is clearly a design being executed.
But they’re too in the dark. They’re playing catch up and they need to start playing it a lot harder.
“I’ll organise supplies then.” Ardul answers, looking out into the streets as they walk. He can feel the cuff on her arm, the one he put there. The one that marks as her as is. Companion. That’s how she describes in public. And, much like with Valetta, it gets a few raised eyebrows.
“It’s been a while since either of us have been attacked.” the blonde says quietly, wings moving again as she thinks “I know I should be thankful for that, but I can’t help but wondering when the ‘shoe will drop’.” She’s not sure where that saying came from. She heard someone use it when on patrol one time and it seemed quaint enough. Of course, like most things on Rifts Earth – the real meaning of idioms and the like, are lost in the mists of time.