NCC - 81102
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Where the Devil Lives

Posted on Thu Nov 19th, 2020 @ 1:38am by Maximilian Dedeker

Mission: What Came Before
Location: Fiddler's Green
Timeline: April 2389

A courier had visited the Chimaera's harborage on the outer ring of the pirate haven. Sayuri had never seen them come or go -- merely a summons, etched on parchment, stuck to the primary entrance with an ornate dagger. Upon inspection, the dagger had been somehow fused to the front door.

Their host, it would seem, had an undying flare for the theatrical.

Upon the briefest of considerations, Sayuri decided to go alone. The last time she had a face-to-face discussion with Maximilian, the man had forced painful concessions out of her. Afterward the two Security crewmen who accompanied her had defected to one crew or another, never to be heard from again. Sayuri could ill afford to lose even more face.

Passing through the airtight complex of domed rings to their center, Sayuri listed her assets. Her original crew of mutineers had dwindled down to a core group more or less loyal to her. She had taken on a few roughnecks to replace them, but they were neither free nor cheap. The line of credit that was supposed to last for several months was running low. All she had was a lone working Alpha section of a Prometheus ship. Max already held the other two as collateral, and no doubt he was looking to collect the last piece.

Sayuri knew that unless she played her cards right, she could end up at rock bottom, a broke and impoverished fugitive at the mercy of honor among thieves.

The threshold of Paradise awaited. Sayuri hesitated a moment, breathing in the last of the recycled air before stepping through. Once she did, there was no coming back without some sort of resolution. She could feel her life teetering on a knife's edge.

With the resolve that only a fatalist can achieve, Sayuri stepped forward. The metal portal opened like an iris, revealing what seemed an entirely different world. While most of the moon of Fiddler's Green basked in the pale light of the Avalon gas giant and the red dwarf Limbo far and away, somehow the inner dome was bright and fully lit. Sayuri's understanding of Arcology technology made her suspect an amplification effect that stepped up the cosmic radiation into the preferred Minshara class range.

White sands spread out in either direction, but Sayuri followed the flagstone path to the cabana where she had first met with Max several weeks ago. Every moment which passed only put her further in the man's debt. If there was a way out of her predicament, it laid forward.

Rather than manning the bar, Maximilian sat on a bamboo chair raised on a dais. Though he still wore colorful holiday attire, his facial expression was anything but casual.

"Onaga Sayuri, as I live and breathe," he called out from his tiki throne. "Just the woman I wanted to see."

Sayuri strode boldly before the man, though not so close that she'd need to incline her head. "I received a rather urgent summons." She made no attempt to restrain the glow of her eyes. "So, here I am."

"That is the Lagashi dedication that I've always admired about you." It was a throwaway compliment, and they both knew it. Max had gestured for an attendant to bring him a rolled parchment. A Lethean of all creatures. Sayuri could only imagine what hidden measures lied in wait in this tiki-cabana environment should the meeting turn south.

"Down to business, yeah?" Max accepted the parchment from his Lethean attendant and cleared his throat as he unrolled it. "Client Echo-Six-Delta, primary contact Onaga Sayuri, is within the final 5% of the line of credit issued to an amount of 250,000 credits on Fiddler's Green. Without sufficient payment to bring the account out of arrears, the collateral--listed as sections Beta and Gamma of client's Prometheus-class Federation starship--will be forfeited by the client and claimed by lender in perpetuity."

Lowering the parchment, Max stared down his nose at Sayuri. "Do you understand the situation in front you, love?"

Sayuri raised her chin defiantly. "I do, Mr. Dedeker." Though she bristled at his condescending demeanor, she knew her efforts were better spent in a more constructive direction than expressing the umbrage this man inspired. Playing the dutiful role of subordinate, at least in their current arrangement, she said nothing more. At least she could deny him the benefit of setting her on edge.

"Well?" Max asked, his patient dwindling. "What do you propose to do about it?"

"Pay it back." Sayuri fought to keep the smirk off her face. She couldn't afford for her arrogant confidence to be mistaken as mockery or insincerity.

Max laughed at that. "Love, it never even occurred to me that you wouldn't. What I want to know is what form that payment will take -- cash or ship?"

The bristling came through. Sayuri would not release her ship, not without a fight. It was all she had left. "Goods," she said. "Acquired from our next job."

"Ah, plunder," Maximilian said. "But -- and this should be of no surprise to you -- but I've scored more than my share of plunder in my day. Ergo, the exchange rate for plunder to Greenback credits is not in your favor." Max gave his cuticles a sharp blow as he fixed Sayuri with a domineering gaze. "I'd need something invaluable."

Sayuri turned her hands into fists, clutched against her thighs lest she raise them in protest. "You just want my ship, you old bastard!"

"No shit I want your ship!" Maximilian roared back in a sudden burst of wrath. "Why the fuck do you think I let you come here in the first place? I gave you a chance, you blew it, and now your ass is mine!"

The truth of his words bit into Sayuri as he spoke them. He had her backed into a corner, and they both knew it.

"Then what else do you want?" she asked demurely. Bitterly. "You already have my ship. If that was all you wanted, then you would've just sent a notice of transfer of ownership. All this melodrama... you're after something else." She gulped at the thought of what that might be.

Max's rage was gone like a tropical storm, a sunny disposition returning to his bearded face. "Oh, you are sharp, I'll give you that. If you survive the next few weeks, I may even have a place for you on payroll." He eyed her up and down, taunting her with her worst fears. "But, as you so cleverly deduced, I do have a job for you, one big enough to pull your sweet ass out of the fire."

The not-so-subtle implication notwithstanding, Sayuri's ears perked up. "And we'd be square upon completion?"

"Aw, hell no!" Max threw his head back and laughed just as fiercely as he had bellowed a moment ago. "Smart, gorgeous, and funny? Dammit if I don't just bring you home to mama. No, we'll just say that I double your line of credit and let you keep ownership of your ship--still held as collateral."

That... was better than Sayuri had hoped. But it was still a shit sandwich on rye. Fortune favors the bold, so she countered. "No. If I do this job and acquired something truly 'invaluable' for you, then rather than double my credit, you reduce the balance to zero and return my ship."

Max pursed his lips and nodded at the proposal. "You've got some brass lady balls on you, I'll give you that. But the moment your line of credit is reduced to zero is the day your ass flies out of here. Nobody stays at my pleasure for long, especially when they have quadruple bounties on their head from every corner of the galaxy." He twirled a tangled knot of his beard in thought. "Yet I can't deny your tenacity. Makes me feel so hot all over." He chuckled again in tune with the dark desire in his eyes. "So I will take back my offer and give you my final one: get me what I want, and I will reduce your balance by half along with releasing the Beta section to your ship--upon completion. Either way your Gamma section stays in hock with me to cover the remainder of your debts. Debts which accrue more every day, I might add." He stepped down from his bamboo chair and met Sayuri face to face. Even on level ground, he still looked down on her. "Do we have a deal, Ms. Onaga, or do I get myself a new ship and see which of your many enemies gets to you first?"

Looking down at the man's proffered hand, Sayuri hesitated only an instant. She had fought hard and received as much as she was going to get. At least this round. "We do, Mr. Dedeker." She gripped his hand with the full pressure of her enhanced physiology. His knuckles popped under her grip. "Just get me the details."

Max pulled back his hand and flexed the pain away with a sadistic grin. "Details, yes." His dark eyes glinted as if hateful banter was mere sexual foreplay. "That's where the devil lives."


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