“Today’s the day,” a voice chittered beside me.
Even though I’d seen her countless times like this, waking up to Ant standing over me was unsettling. “Damnit, Hive,” I grumbled, as I pushed myself away from her on impulse, “Don’t loom if you’re going to wake me up while split.”
Ant took a step back and shimmered as my guardian reformed. “Sorry, Beleth,” she replied sincerely, “But I’ve wanted to keep an extra close eye out after what happened yesterday.”
I nodded, “Good call, and I appreciate your caution.”
Yesterday someone had killed Rat. Even though people saw Rogue Sentries around where it happened, people had seen someone else; a massive figure covered in blood with no other real costume. I would have liked to ask Big Picture about him, but my informant had gone to ground after his own run in with Sentries. Strange he wouldn’t reach out to me though.
That obnoxious Reckoner group were quite the thorn in my side as of late. Even though I owed them for helping topple Imperium, they had burned through my patience after trying to disrupt my Dart production.
Our brawl had admittedly been telling; the difference between me being twenty four and them being probably eighteen or nineteen gave me an extraordinary edge in terms of experience. Truth be told, if they had the practical training I had, they might have been able to win that fight.
I almost shuddered thinking about Eldritch and the horrifying size he’d made himself. That had been far too close and more worrisome than I cared to admit. It was a good thing he opted to moderate his size.
“Beleth, tonight,” she started.
“No,” I replied, “I have Shock and Awe coming with me for insurance. I need you here doing what you do best.”
Hive took off her mask and showed her explicit disappointment, “Beleth, I can do so much more than play guard. Why don’t you want me to fight like the others?”
“Because you literally have the ability to be in multiple places at once,” I replied. “If I lost you, I lose my only person who has eyes in the sky. You are simply too valuable to risk getting caught in a massive crossfire.”
“At least let me send Stag with you,” the dark skinned woman insisted, “Shock and Awe could always use extra help.”
“Fine, Ekina,” I relented, “But should there be any trouble, I want you to recall him.”
She nodded, a hint of a smile forming at the edge of her lips. I knew she would never admit to it, but playing either the role of Ekina or Hive, she loved being useful. Like so many other Adapted, she had felt displaced, cast out, discarded by others in her life. Being useful, being desired, that kept her constantly straining for my approval. In many ways, she was my most obedient and diligent subordinate as a result.
Though not the most powerful, she was also a very capable addition to the group. Being able to be in three places at one time made her irreplaceable.
A peculiar upside of her ability to split was that Hive didn’t need to sleep in a traditional sense. If she was divvied up, one form could rest for her while two continued to run around. Eventually she would have to coalesce but she would be rested. Since people knew who I was, I ironically needed protection. Her being tireless meant I had her watch me when I slept.
No matter how powerful I was, I was as vulnerable and soft as anyone else when unconscious.
Despite being the undisputed crime lord of Ciel, my lodgings were fairly mundane all things considered. On the northern fringes of the city, I owned a moderate flat that was about 150 square meters with a small yard. Most expected I would own some kind of fantastic penthouse or magnificent mansion.
I wasn’t an idiot; owning something like that was begging to be have my residence firebombed. I was already being bold enough to walk around with no mask unlike the rest of my peers, I was not about to paint a larger target on my back.
In my living room, a smaller man was sitting watching Television in his usual hoodie and a pair of sweats. John Green, better known as Goliath.
“John,” I greeted, “How long have you been here?”
“Few hours,” he said with a shrug, “Figured better if Sarah and I aren’t alone with someone helping the Sentries out. With Picture missing, who knows what they’ve learned.”
Sarah Walsh, John’s girlfriend and my other headhunter, Pyre. The two of them were driven by affirmation in some ways, but not to the same extent that Hive was. Pyre and Goliath were more sure of themselves but less directed; they required a strong hand to guide them and give them assignment more than anything. Goliath and Pyre were like bounty hunters who needed a contract and base of operations.
I glanced to the sleeping redhead curled up on the couch beside him. “How is she?”
“Still mending. She isn’t made to be riddled with bullets, not like me. Stupid girl was shot six times and probably didn’t even feel it. At least Dragoon was using non-lethal ammunition, otherwise I don’t think she would have lived.” Despite his callous tone, John gently stroked her hair; even though I’d seen him literally rip people apart, John Green was a very gentle and caring man when allowed to be.
But no one was Adapted because life was kind.
About ninety percent,” he replied as he rolled his neck, “Still some muscle damage thanks to Mutant, but the skeletal damage is fixed.”
“You want me coming tonight?”
“No, I think I want you sticking around the shipment coming in tonight and making sure Chem doesn’t get hassled. With Big Picture missing, hard to know who might be vulnerable. Plus, I dare not re-injure either of you.”
He nodded, “Fine.”
Hive had been nice enough to make me breakfast, though it was a little disconcerting to know that she had done it with Ant. Still, I wouldn’t say no to eggs and bacon…well what this planet called eggs and bacon.
What little I remember of my biological father, before being dumped into foster care, was his intense disdain for this world’s attempt to replicate Earth. Zari shared much in terms of organic development with our home that they co-opted our technology and culture in many ways. Even though we’d only been in contact with our extra-terrestrial friends for five decades, the impact had been extreme.
But for many who’d come from our old home, it was a cheap and offensive imitation.
John came and sat down at my table with me, clearly having trouble with my plan, “You sure tonight’s a good idea? Just the twins around?”
I gave my enforcer a glare, “You think I need additional protection?”
He shrugged, “I’m not trying to belittle you, but this is suspicious as fuck. The last thing you should do is go in unprepared.”
“I’m hardly unprepared,” I replied, curt. “I may not be a Cognate, but I’m not an idiot either. This isn’t some Adapted trying to posture and prove themselves, this is a genuine invitation. I might as well show up and hear what he has to say.”
“You can’t really trust him to be a man of his word, can you?”
I chewed thoughtfully, “No. But how often do you get an invitation from Suppression as an Adapted?”
Nearly three years ago I had opted to live without a mask on, being the first—and so far only—Adapted to live without an alternate identity. While it had done plenty for my reputation as a criminal and fighter, it had also made me a wildly accessible target for Suppression and Snatchers. It was why Hive watched me most nights; even without other criminals or Reckoners knowing where I lived, Suppression was government funded and could find me anywhere if they really looked. It’s why I made a point to live in the confines of Ciel and not out in the borderlands.
If I had strayed out too far, they probably would have dropped a bomb on me to be done with me. Here I at least had other people around me to prevent them from turning me into a crater.
There had been seven real attempts on my life by Suppression and two capture attempts by the Snatchers, all but one ended with multiple casualties. Incidentally, the closest attempt on my life was when Suppression had one lone operative jab me with a needle. No other people, no show of force, just one unassuming woman with a needle of designer poison.
I’d had to pay Organelle handsomely to keep my alive. Even my own chemist wasn’t able to make a counteragent fast enough to keep my organs from deteriorating.
Since then I hadn’t let anyone close to me that I didn’t recognize. Fortunately, my reputation kept most people far away; I was an object of fear and malice, not someone you opted to snuggle up to.
Four days ago, Suppression had reached out to me in the aftermath of their bout with Rogue Sentries and the slaughter that had ensued. Over twenty dead and dozens injured. For the new kids on the block, Rogue Sentries had really come to play.
Given our history, the difference in tactic was, at very least, intriguing. How clever would it be to invite someone into a trap with something so simply as a piece of mail? It was so illogical that I resolved to accept his invitation immediately. It was requested that I’d come alone and the head of Suppression would follow suit; I’m sure we both knew it was bullshit. He’d have snipers watching me, I’d have Shock and Awe waiting in the wings.
If they shot me in the head, I would die. Awe, however, would be back on his feet if Shock wasn’t dealt with.
The amount he could restore while being charged by his brother was honestly unreal; most with a healing factor would still go down after being shot in the skull but he was back on his feet in a minute. Literally. That wasn’t to naysay his brother or downplay the Projector, Shock was a threatening entity in his own right.
Truthfully, if those two ever wanted to try and usurp my position, they might be able to. I was glad they weren’t more ambitious, instead content to take the jobs I handed them. While the others needed approval and accolades, the twins were eager to have a place where they fit in and weren’t judged for being hyper violent bastards. Shock and Awe loved to fight, plain and simple. They had been orphaned at ten and for a short time were on the streets where they had to fight for everything. They Adapted young, at thirteen, leaving them dangerously unstable in many ways. I found them two years later and given them a place they fit in and weren’t despised for seeking conflict.
All I had to do was ensure they had something to fight with. They would often pick fights with Goliath for fun and to help sate that itch for an adrenaline rush. I wasn’t going to bother insisting they grow up and act more professional since they did what was requested. Even Goliath didn’t mind fortunately; I think he secretly enjoyed flattening Awe when the other Enhancer got sloppy.
John debated continuing to argue with me but then opted against it, knowing full well I was already committed. “I’ll at least make sure nothing goes wrong on our end tonight.”
“Appreciated as always,” I replied sincerely.
“Ekina, good morning,” he said, turning to our other Adapted present.
The dark skinned Peculiar sat down at the table, “Good morning, John,” she said with a fairly flat affect. She and he had never entirely seen eye to eye since they were both after the same thing from me in a way. I didn’t mind; competition was a healthy thing in a controlled dose.
Living nights meant that breakfast for me was a 3p.m. affair, giving me just a few hours to make a stop at the new Dart facility.
Even though I was known for being the Adapted who didn’t wear a mask, I went to great lengths to keep my whereabouts fairly well disguised. I had three drivers with three identical cars and every day they swapped license plates around from a pool of ten. Whenever I left my house, I never wore my hallmark trench coat but instead opted for something much more casual like what John always wore. I just changed in my car.
When people got used to only seeing you as one specific look, it was amazing how easy it could be to hide yourself in plain sight. With a pair of sunglasses and a wig on, I could walk around in public with almost no one pausing to look twice. Ironically, I wore a disguise to NOT be an Adapted.
Today I was with my preferred driver of the three, Kanar. He was the perfect mix of respectful and amicable in my mind: he would engage in conversation when addressed, but otherwise was content to drive in silence and not force anything beyond a greeting.
“Good afternoon, sir,” he greeted as I climbed into the backseat and ditched my hoodie and slid into the familiar embrace of my armored coat. “Where to?”
“New facility,” I replied, “I want to see how production is going since we had to move due to those pipsqueaks. Seventy-five hours down time, three whole damn days.”
“At least you have a monopoly at this point,” my driver pointed out as he waited to be second to drive away. “You don’t lose an awful lot being put a few days behind.”
“Breakage is still breakage,” I replied as I changed shoes. “I’m not exactly thrilled about losing a fair amount of cash. How else would I pay for three drivers?”
I saw the faintest hint of a smirk, “Of course, sir. Still, I’m sure you’ll manage.”
“I’m sure I will,” I agreed as I looked outside, watching the grey tones of smog and city roll by. Ciel was a cesspool the grand scheme of things: lifeless, full of petty criminals, polluted, and desperate. No one who was in Ciel really wanted to be here. Even though it was the capital, it was a run down monument to the past. As the Zari had embraced human’s culture for themselves, the old ways died out and Ciel went to shit as a result.
Despite its bloated population, they didn’t get additional government aid for industry. Why would they? The tycoons who ran everything wouldn’t bother pumping money into this sewer. It would cost too much to make it a truly modern and efficient city.
My new manufacturing site for Dart was a bit closer to downtown, meaning a longer drive for me, but a closer eye on anything that might still contain some Imperium influence. Even though Shockwave and his enforcement had been driven away, that didn’t stop the human element of the gang to run. However, this meant less upfront conflict and more conniving methods of sabotage. Despite Shockwave being the powerhouse of Imperium, he wasn’t the actual founder and creator of the criminal empire.
As we pulled up and into a loading bay of the repurposed grocery store, I took a moment to get myself into the proper headspace before exiting. As soon as my feet touched the ground, I felt relieved as the world lit up with activity.
People assumed I had a danger sense but that wasn’t quite the case. I had something more along the lines of a seismic sense. Vibrations in the ground told me a fair amount of information; people didn’t appreciate like I did how unique footsteps were or how their bodies could convey emotional just through little adjustments in their movement.
Inside there was a hustle of activity as a few Zari were shouting instructions to other laborers and chemists who were frantically setting the apparatuses back up. Dismantling the lab had been costly, and a few pieces of equipment ended up being damaged which had delayed starting production back up, not a fact I was thrilled about.
But I did find the man I was after.
“Chemtrail,” I called, “How are we doing?”
My chemist and progenitor of the hit stimulant, Chemtrail was an acne riddled teenager who had a mess of unruly brown hair that refused to be tamed. As expected of a chemist, he was wearing a lab coat and I insisted he wear a surgical mask to help protect his identity. He originally didn’t wear a mask because he didn’t see himself as an Adapted; I had to explain to him why being able to create a stimulant that kicked harder than meth was decidedly not a normal thing for a 15 year old. While he never needed to hide his identity from other Adapted-since he never picked fights-I’d still rather not let the other people working here know who he was.
He was far too easy to exploit and blackmail; while the kid was capable of making chemical weapons, he couldn’t throw a punch to save his life.
The pasty teen turned to me with a surprised little jump before nodding to remind himself to answer. “Right, we’re doing okay. The production should be up by the end of tonight with a fresh batch of Dart cooked and cleaned within the week.”
I frowned, “That puts me almost nine days with no new production, Chem. Any way you can speed it up?”
He shook his head, “The only way I could accelerate the process would be to add more catalyst…and that risks blowing up in someone’s face. Literally.”
I clicked my tongue, “Damn. If you think of something, let me know.”
“I won’t,” he said, matter of fact. “You know that.”
“You never know,” I replied as I started walking around the facility. While more cramped than our previous location, it would be large enough to easily hide the activity and for a while we could attribute the coming and going of people to ‘renovations’.
Even though I wasn’t overly concerned with any other Adapted competition picking a fight with me, I knew that Suppression would still take out my money making schemes in an attempt to undermine me if I wasn’t careful. Most people assumed I was an egotistical and arrogant ass because I walked around with my face exposed. Truth was it had made me more cautious than most.
“Boss,” my chemist called after me, “I heard about your thing tonight.”
I raised an eyebrow, “And?”
Chemtrail was a Cognate who understood chemical interactions and seemed to be able to facilitate some chemical reactions in his hands: to date his most notable achievement was performing electrolysis with a liter of water to make a fair share of Hydrogen and Oxygen in elemental state. However, when it came to people and things not pertaining to hard science, he was a socially stunted kid.
“Suppression are bad guys, they hunt us, right? Why make a deal with them?”
There were times his rather blunt and simple take on things could be good though. He didn’t pander to anyone, even if he was afraid of me. I never told him that I could always detect the slight hesitation in his steps when he came in my direction and the quick scurry he used to get away from me.
“They are,” I agreed, “But sometimes even bad guys can do something decent. I never said I was going to work with them, Chem, just going to listen.”
“I still don’t like it.”
“I still don’t care,” I said back, blunt, “To my knowledge, the head of Suppression has never wanted to have a sit down with an Adapted…ever. Xandal Verak is a very reclusive individual; worst comes to worst, I kill him and Shock and Awe get me out of there.”
Chemtrail hadn’t seemed to consider that outcome. “Okay. Be careful.”
“I’m always careful,” I assured as I took a quick walk around, letting my presence be enough to scare people into working faster. Zari and human alike were intimidated by me. It was ultimately the reason I didn’t wear a mask; if I had the balls to not wear a mask when every other Adapted did, what did that say about me?
Shockwave had a more suitable power for commanding fear and respect, I had a more suitable persona in my opinion. He had just been a bit of a mad dog though his bite was definitely worse than his bark.
Still, thinking about the Imperium enforcer, I smiled a bit. He’d been fantastic fun to brawl with.
The whole ‘inspection’ took about fifteen minutes; I had no idea what I was looking at. I didn’t pretend to understand the chemistry behind it or even what the equipment was. I was a mob boss, it was why I hired people like Chemtrail; all I’d needed to do was lend him my credibility and a heap of money to get started.
As expected, Kanar was waiting politely for me; as soon as I got close, he put the book he had been reading into the glovebox and started the car.
Right before I got in, I hesitated. The second my feet left the ground, I felt blind. No seismic sense, no ability to manipulate the ground, nothing.
Most powers had some kind of shortcoming or weakness that you could exploit. I had to remain grounded otherwise I was unable to tap my gift, to bend the world to my whim. It was why I never owned a two story building, and why I had refused to meet Big Picture in his office. Once I ascended a flight of stairs, I was powerless. If someone attacked me in my car, I would have to throw myself out before I could retaliate.
“Kanar,” I said finally, “A question.”
“Of course, sir.”
“This meeting, do you think it’s a good idea?” I knew my fellow Adapted would hate the idea, and they had good reason. Suppression were a heinous group of low-life’s whose sole purpose was to hunt us. While Kanar was my employee whose fiscal stability hinged on my well being, he would be less biased than any Adapted who’d dealt with the violent government organization.
Kanar pursed his lips, scratching at his desaturated chin, “I’m not sure. It’s a unique opportunity, but I don’t know if they are good to do business with.”
“How do you figure?” Despite being my driver, Kanar was often my sounding board for ideas. What else was I supposed to do while moving around the city after all?
“Adapted aren’t always driven by logic or money, many are emotionally volatile.”
“Maybe people hearing about your dealing with the very organization who seeks to kill Adapted could mark you as a traitor. It might draw people to town with the explicit goal of ripping your head off. It could bring a lot of violence to your doorstep.”
I scoffed, “I think I can handle myself should that be the case.”
“Titan is known for interfering with Suppression, sir,” Kanar noted, “I don’t think it’s smart to piss him off.”
That left me at a loss. I hadn’t considered the nomadic powerhouse.
There were two people on the planet I didn’t want to pick a fight with; he was one of those names. No one ever beat Titan. There was only one Adapted who dared to brawl with the Projector; the fight had lasted fifteen seconds, and the man was reduced to a pile of ash.
“Sir,” Kanar interrupted my quiet pondering, “There is a box back there with you. Ekina wanted to make sure that you were well fed before going in tonight.”
I chuckled, “Of course she did.”
One the floor beside me feet was a small box with a sandwich and bottle of water with a little note from Ekina
A fed boss is a happy boss! And stay hydrated! >_<
As childish the gesture, I felt my heart warm a little. It was part of why I kept her around; I’d never gotten time to appreciate childhood and loved the glimpses she gave me. People had wondered why I was given a Zari name; being raised in a Zari foster home had been brutal, and the first thing the kids had done was strip me of my old name. I wasn’t Tony to them, I was Beleth. In the tradition Zari language-the same language almost none spoke anymore thanks to universal common-Beleth meant ‘waste’. When I Adapted, it seemed fitting to leave my old name behind. They cursed me with a literal trash name and I aimed to show people how wrong they were about me.
And now look at me; the Zari government needed my help.
I wolfed down the sandwich and got myself back in the right headspace as we approached the destination provided by Xandal. A single floor office park that looked like it used to host an independent doctor, a business consultant, and a few other things that I didn’t bother to read. Once I stepped through the front door, I rolled my eyes; Xandal had the whole place gutted prior to the meeting. Walls were gone with only supports remaining. A place with large windows, no walls, he might as well have made a sign that said ‘we have snipers watching in the neighboring buildings’.
Even if he hadn’t made is this painfully obvious, I would expect nothing else than to have an army in the wings. It was why I had the wonder twins hanging around. Neither one of us trusted the other, and for good reason.
Xandal himself sat at a table in the middle of the barren floor, waiting patiently for me to approach.
Like most buildings, this one had cement flooring. Wood was fairly scarce and a luxury on Tso’got with lumber being a bitch to really harvest. Concrete was cheap, reliable, and easy. It worked for me since wood was a bitch to warp and bend for my gift. Thanks to Zari having thicker skin and a generally more ‘rugged’ physiology than humans, they seldom saw the point in seeking a less harsh flooring material. Most would complain, I saw no need.
“Well, you haven’t had me shot yet,” I said with a grin as I took a seat opposite the older Zari. He, like most of his species, had a fairly grey complexion with a weathered face that had clearly been overworked and stressed beyond belief. His cheeks were shallow and eyes sunken slightly, but there was still an intensity to him that was unmistakable. If we were standing, he’d likely be a full head taller than me, but that wasn’t uncommon between Zari and humans.
“Yet. I’m still debating it,” he replied, no-nonsense.
“You wouldn’t make an invitation and gut a building to just take a shot at me. I know your antics better than that.”
He narrowed his glare, “You don’t know a damn thing about me.”
I smirked, “I know a few things. Definitely more than you’d like me knowing,”
He didn’t respond, but he raised an eyebrow, challenging.
“You’ve tried to kill me…a lot. None of them came with greeting cards or invitations, though the last attempt was a bit sneaky. If you really wanted to kill me, I would have been shot on my way to the door…because you wouldn’t ever want to put yourself this close to me.”
Xandal scowled, “If I move my hand the right way, or say the right words, your head will pop like a fucking balloon.”
I leaned forward across the table, “And if I so much as think about having you killed,” I shifted his chair a centimeter, enough that he’d feel it, “It happens.”
“Do that again, I have you executed,” he threatened.
“Execute me,” I replied, “And you’ll have to deal with Shock and Awe killing all your men. Do you want to spend tomorrow making dozens of calls to families? Even if you put one through Awe’s head, he won’t die immediately. Even if you kill Shock, you’ll have to try and put down a pissed off Awe. You should see the things he can do to people. It is…not pretty. Oh, but you know that! You’ve sampled his handiwork, I almost forgot.”
He didn’t reply verbally, but I could see him tense at my jab.
“We’ve killed what…thirty five of your men?”
“Forty-one,” I whispered, “Oof. That’s gotta hurt.”
“You have a point to this little song and dance other than proving you’re an asshole?” Xandal demanded impatiently.
“I do!” I replied with a smile, “I know that since you haven’t taken an attempt at removing my head from my shoulders, you really want something big.”
“Maybe I just want to hear your brain hit the floor when a bullet rips through your skull,” he replied with a menacing growl. “Have you considered that maybe I’m lulling you into a false sense of security so you’ll be an easy target?”
I smiled for a second, and then created a dome of cement around us as rapidly as I could. The instant the ground shifted, I nudged my chair out of the way; sure enough a bullet struck where my head would have been. As darkness engulfed Xandal and I, I turned on my phone to provide a little bit of luminosity; I didn’t need it since I could feel him moving around, but I was being nice.
“Your boys missed,” I pointed out.
“What are you playing at, Beleth?” He did a good job trying to sound confident, but I could hear his fear. He had no leverage here, and his only hope of fighting me was to lunge; he knew how fast I could have made him a pincushion.
“I’m making a point. I can kill you, and escape through the floor with your men none the wiser. Now, I was respectful enough to attend your meeting, can we stop having a pissing contest that you cannot win? You called me, erego, you need something from me. Stop pretending we’re on even footing.”
Xandal glared at me but finally nodded. “Men, hold your fire and hold position. Beleth will put things back, just easy on the trigger.”
As he requested, I shifted the ground back to its proper place; if you hadn’t been watching, you’d never know anything happened. “Now, can we talk without threatening one another?”
The head of Suppression nodded and straightened his shirt and tie, trying to stay composed.
“Now, how about we try again: what do you want?”
He hesitated, reluctant to answer.
“Tell you what, how about I try to figure it out! I’m not a Cognate, but I’m a clever guy. It’d have to be something so big that you’re willing to endanger yourself and swallow your pride to put up with me. You’d have to go against the fundamental law of Suppression and work alongside and Adapted, which makes me wonder what could be so demanding within Ciel.”
“We want you to reclaim control of the city,” he expelled.
“I have control of the city,” I replied, “All but a single Reckoner team listen to me. There’s a few individual players around town, but none are violent or particularly active.”
“That team is causing problems,” he confessed, “Big ones. Too much public conflict, too many big power struggles. Multiple fights between whole teams, all initiated by Rogue Sentries.”
“They aren’t doing anything too unheard of,” I replied, “We’ve had a few fights with Imperium in the past that involved full line-ups. They don’t do near the damage that we do. Which begs the question…why now? What has happened that makes things different?”
He didn’t say a word.
“As far as I’m aware, nothing terrestrial has happened. No government shifts, no huge ordeals happening. The only thing that I can think of that would prompt this was the bloodbath from earlier in the week. You like what, two dozen people to Rogue Sentries and some mystery kid?”
“Still, not enough to warrant working with me. Something changed or gave way…” but try as hard as I might, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. “Something from another planet,” I finally concluded. My eyes widened, “No fucking way.”
He sighed and nodded, “Yes. Them.”
“The fucking Trillodan? Are you serious?”
“We heard from Vuuldar and Kelix, there has been increased chatter about the Trillodan and spottings of observation vessels.”
Vuuldar and Kelix, the other two planets that humans were thrown to in desperation. Tso’got wasn’t set up to be able to handle literally hundreds of millions of exiles from Earth, so the population was divided predominately between those three planets.
“And you think the Trillodan are after…what exactly?”
Xandal almost rolled his eyes, “The Adapted. Clearly. The only thing we have in common with Vuuldar and Kelix is you lot. The fighting, the spectacle, it attracts attention. It was only a matter of time before the Trillodan took an interest.”
“So, you want me to silence the Reckoners here? You want me to make another fight break out? That seems counter intuitive.”
“We want you to retain control,” he replied, “We want there to be an absolute rule for a time so there is no more spectacle.”
Even though I hadn’t been around to see my own home turned to slag, the thought of the Trillodan was terrifying. Cosmic tyrants that people knew very little about, other than their penchant for annihilating planets who seemed to make themselves too technologically advanced. They did more marvelous feats with technology than the Adapted could ever hope to; why take an interest in us?
“You want me to suppress Adapted activity so the Trillodan lose interest and leave Tso’got alone, that about sum it up?”
“Exactly,” he affirmed.
I shook my head, “Why are the Trillodan interested in us?”
“I’m sure I don’t care. Observation vessels are generally a precursor to Protocol 37; I’m not about to let my planet be reduced to the same ash heap that yours is.”
I sat back from the table, taking it all in. I knew that it must have been something important to get the head of Suppression to talk to me, but this? Had there really been that much excess activity with Adapted lately? The Rogue Sentries had made quite the name for themselves and made a hell of a mess, but enough to finally get the Trillodan’s interest?
“Are similar conversations being had in other clusters? Other cities? Is Suppression looking to weaponized people like me?”
Xandal sighed, “Suppression is utilizing every resource available to ensure stability. Whether they know it or not, Rogue Sentries’ activities have started a surge in Adapted confrontation. Otherwise passive Reckoner groups and criminals are getting more confrontational.”
“So, that’s a yes?”
“Okay. You guys are desperate,” I noted, pulling myself back to the table, “And you’re really hoping that the Rogue Sentries going away will help stymie a huge push of Reckoner activity. You think they are really the catalyst here?”
“You’re a clever man, yes?”
“I like to think so.”
“In the last two months, since their confrontation with Shockwave and Imperium, there has been a 32% rise of Adapted conflict across Tso’got. People are rising up since the new kids fought the old guard and are holding up; if someone can fight you and Beleth and live, there is hope for them to accomplish similar feats. Since the Rogue Sentries are the ignition source of all this new conflict, we are hoping that them being crushed will stymie a majority of the rising conflict; with no inspiration to draw from, new Adapted will be less drawn to conflict and active combat. Despite Suppression’s frantic attempt to recruit enough agents to cope with the threat, we can’t contain this spike in activity. Part of our problem is that we believe Titan is leaving Adapted scattered around in various clusters to thwart our efforts.” Xandal sighed and shrugged, “Don’t you think the time has come to make difficult compromises?”
That certain did sound like him, but would he have done it if he knew the Trillodan were interested in us? Then again, Titan was never a guy who was caught off guard; was he making sure the Trillodan looked into Tso’got? But why?
“I admit, it does sound pretty dire.”
“So,” Xandal said, leaning forward, “Are you willing to work with us?”
I curled the corner of my mouth in a sly grin, “What’s it worth to you?”
The head of Suppression couldn’t answer for a moment. “You…you’d exploit this?”
I returned a cold stare, “I’m a businessman. I have something you want. Clearly, you are coming up short in results, and you’re desperate enough to come to me and dumb enough to tell me exactly what my services will get you. Now,” I said as I wrapped my hands over one another, “I know exactly how valuable my services are.”
He was appalled, but what could he do? Argue? Beggars couldn’t be choosers. “Your price?”
“Immunity. I want to own the drug trade within the cluster. Also,” I pressed before he could interject, “I want better lodgings for me and my Adapted and I want those paid for indefinitely.”
Xandal glared, “Is that all?”
I leaned back and snapped my fingers, “One more thing. I want you to pay for a complete overhaul of my Dart production. And I want you to bankroll that so I never see another penny of overhead.” I reveled in the glare he gave me before adding, “Seems like a small price to pay for keeping your world safe, doesn’t it?”
“You’re a lowlife, a fucking villain.”
“You knew that before coming here,” I replied. “I’m a drug lord and a scoundrel, and you need my help. Now, is my help worth-” I paused and looked at the ground, feeling lumbering footsteps. Even Goliath didn’t weigh that much when he was bulked up, which left only one option. Four other steps of steps accompanied it, and none were rushed. Nothing opposed them, no hasty movements. Why were they being allowed to move towards us unaccosted? “Answer quickly, will you honor the agreement?”
“I need to-”
“Answer the fucking question,” I snapped, “Are you going to agree to my terms?” Reaching into my jacket, I ripped my phone free. “Shock, Awe, what the hell are you doing? Why aren’t you stopping them?”
“Your men outside,” I demanded, “Call to them. Get them to answer.”
Xandal tried, and he had as little luck as I did. “What’s going on?”
“Rogue Sentries are coming for me and they have help. Now, from what I can feel,” I said, closing my eyes to better feel the movements in the ground, “They are all coming through the front door in about five seconds.” I erected a barrier of cement in front of my contact keeping him from slipping away, “Now, do you agree to my terms, or not?”
He rounded on me, eyes wide with panic. “Yes! For fucks sake, let me out of here!” Even if I was being nice with him, other Adapted would kill the man on sight.
“You’d better not screw me,” I cautioned as I opened the way for him and turned to the door, just in time to see the frame obliterated as Eldritch came lumbering through. Mutant follow him, Dragoon next, then Geyser, and lastly Lightshow.
“Making a deal with Suppression?” Dragoon demanded as she stepped forward, taking point as I expected. “That’s low, even for you.”
I smiled and shook my head, “You kids really don’t know exactly how much is happening around you, do you?”
“We know enough to know you need to be gotten rid of. No Adapted should be working with Suppression, you fucking piece of shit,” Eldritch hissed at me, his voice affected by the suit he wore. He wasn’t nearly as big as last time, but he didn’t start enormous last time either. I would have to make sure to keep him contained.
“You can’t win this Beleth, it’s five against one,” Dragoon warned me, “Even you aren’t that good.”
“And what are you gonna do with me, even if you win?” I said, making a sweeping gesture, “You gonna hand me over to Suppression?”
“We’ll dismantle your drug supply, fuck over your cash flow, and leave you with nothing. You’re done making Dart, and done terrorizing people.”
I almost laughed at Lightshow’s idealism. “You think it is just that easy? You think the lot of you will be able to just rip apart everything I have built? Speaking of, you’re down a man. Where is Parasite?”
“Keeping an eye on Shock and Awe,” Geyser replied.
The corner of my lip curled with frustration; how had they dealt with my enforcers silently? How did they even know I was here? If Big Picture knew I was doing this, he would also have known why. Would he send them my way if that was the case?
I put aside my concern as I stepped forward and put my hands behind my back, infuriating at least two of them with my seeming lack of concern. “So, come on then. Take your best shot, Rogue Sentries. See if you can beat the king.”