Kell Martin



THE DYING LION - ANTEBELLUM SOL

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"The great empires of Sol;
One more eager than the other to expand dominion.
But what shall they find in that endless abyss, 
save more cold and darkness?"


                                   - Thomas Gentry -

 
 




 

 
 

 



PROLOGUE
THE SPARK



Novograd, The Confederacy of Martian Sovereign States, Mars.


The Spark, that's what grandfather used to call it.
A massive behemoth of brimstone and fire laying waste to whole nations, and leaving half of a continent in cinders. The cataclysmic event would bring mankind to its knees, to the very precipice of collapse. The harsh years under the ash dark skies, the eternal winters, and the hope that would not be extinguished. Denariun squinted, peering out over the city skyline, wondering if he could spot Earth on such a beautiful summer night. If he was lucky enough to locate the small blue dot, floating amongst the infinite amount of stars, the crater he had only seen in pictures would be too small to make out with the naked eye. As a small child, Denariun had heard the ancient tales of the event. As a fourteen year old boy he had stumbled upon the famous images taken from the space stations, and it had been a life changing experience. Even now, as a man well in his thirties, the still visible bruise imprinted on the large blue planet put the fear of God in him. The Great Crater: It served as an ever reminder of the real threats out there. That humanity could... should band together, under the same banner, united on common grounds. Denariun stood tall, peering out from the Revolutionary balcony as he had many times before. Privately, when his shoulders had been heavy with burden. The responsibilities of an emerging leader, obligated to weigh the outcome of his many decisions under the dim light of the moons. Publicly, it had been at his father's side, under the bright midday sun, as they had waved regally to the crowd of people in front of the palace. Every year, the Confederacy would throw celebrations and parades in honor of their hard earned independence, and they were always majestic, for they were considered necessary for the facade of the sovereign Martian government. The road had been long for them all, and he knew that one day the job would fall onto him to secure the future of his great nation. His father had always been a pragmatic person, and the mistakes of the old fumbling royalists in the east had given them many valuable lessons. The line of succession would be that of strong character, and not of heritage. It was under these sets of rules that Denariun, against the odds, had risen to the top. Within this framework that he had earned the title of Heir Apparent to the Confederacy of Mars. A position he had spent his whole adult life pursuing.

He slowed down, took a deep breath, and rested his arms on the white marble railing. The city lights flickered so lovely in all the colours of the spectrum as they covered the entire horizon. The forefathers had struggled so that they may be free, as had his father worked hard to see that their cities could rise tall towards the skies. Now, it would be up to him to take the mantle and feed his people, to have way with guns and violence. The new flagships, the defence fortification. To usher in a new age of prosperity through diplomacy. The nations of Sol had slowly grown to become a network of checks and balances. It was now impossible to go to war with a minor faction without invoking the wrath of a larger empire, and with that knowledge Denariun believed he could navigate Mars into a better position without the use of brute force. To a glorious tomorrow, to a new generation of bright minds, and strong families.

"Your guests are waiting for you, my dear," Alexandria softly spoke as she slipped in from the balcony doors, graceful as ever in her long white gown. The wrinkles in her smile had appeared just over a year ago, and Denariun loved her so much more for it.
"Oh, I was simply getting some fresh air." He answered with a guilty look on his face. 
"I'm sure you can always figure out how to save the world tomorrow." Alexandria wrapped herself in his arms and pressed her face against his chest. "I think you should come back inside, open up another bottle of champagne, and remember how much I love you."
The worries of the political world faded as he held her frail, thin body in his warm embrace. She smelled of vanilla and coconut oil, her hair curly and black. Denariun buried his nose into it to soak up her scent. 

*CchhzzChzzz*

The sharp sound made him instinctively turn towards it, out over the courtyard. A bright flash of white light blinded his eyes. Denariun, in response threw his arms around his wife in an attempt to shield her from the explosion that violently engulfed them both. The last thing going through his mind was that of The Spark.











 

 

 


CHAPTER 1
GREY'S GENTLEMEN'S CLUB


London, The Interplanetary Trade Union, Earth.


Grey's Gentlemen's club was located only a quick walk from the famous Tower bridge in London. With a long history dating back an incredible 1500 years, it stood as a testament to England's love for their traditions and heritage. Westminster housed the local government, but any power player knew - from the aspiring politicians, to the high ranking leaders - that the Grey's was where the actual deals were made. Usually over a cup of tea, and for a handshake and a price. It was situated awkwardly in the shadows of several sleek skyscrapers looming tall over it, reminding everyone passing by of its linage to an era long gone. The stately white facade, with its Corinthian columns was built back in King George I's days. Often renovated, but never significantly altered. The large black door carried the brass face of an ominous lion with a hammer in its mouth. Swing it, and the staff would greet you with a nod and proceed to escort you down the long, grand hallways - Which smelled of old cigars and timber. Eventually leading you to the main study of the exclusive club. The colours; tired brown and dark crimson, as old beech and genuine cow leather appeared interwoven, only disrupted by the occasional bookshelf, or bust depicting famous Interplanetary Trade Union leaders. In the corner of the study, Sir William Hodgson was holding his favourite single malt Scotch, whiles reading the morning news, - which the establishment routinely printed out for them on plastic paper. He was a rather stocky gentleman; with thick black hair, and an even thicker moustache. He loved his wife, but his mistress more. And she loved him and granted him his vices.
"So, are the worlds ending?" A voice crackled through the air.
"Excuse me?" Hodgson replied and looked up. It was JJ Jonathan, head of the ITU Security Directory. An older gentleman much like Hodgson, but one who had aged remarkably better. He sported an athletic frame due to his constant workouts in Union America, a full set of hair, and a chiseled chin.
"Sol. It seems to be extinguishing every week," he smiled inappropriately as he took a seat next to Hodgson. JJ was your typical New Yorker: Brash, and straight to the point. It would often make him look rather foolish in the eyes of others, but Hodgson figured it was the idea. JJ made you feel calm and relaxed, so much so you'd forget he was in control of the largest intelligence bureau on Earth.
"Ah, yes, old boy. Looks like this time we might actually pull it off," Hodgson answered in true English manner. Growing up in Harrow, his father had been a linguistic professor and would always stress the importance of education and proper use of language.
"Yeah, The office is worried about this one." JJ signalled to the waiter. "The usual".

The Grey's was less crowded than normal. The detonation that had levelled the Revolutionary Palace in Novograd had the entire media of the solar system in a frenzy. As a result most of the politicians in the sitting ITU government were currently away putting out fires, reassuring the public that a war was not looming on the horizon.
"You know what I like about this place?" JJ threw his hands behind his head and leaned back, seemingly unfazed by the whole situation.
"That it's far from New York?" Hodgson retorted.
"Hah!" He laughed. "Good one, Willy! No, I like the timelessness of it, the newspaper you're reading on, messages you can only get at the desk. Nothing goes out, all phones are dead, devices are cold, the jammers take care of everything. In here it's the good old times and men can be men."
The waiter came out carrying JJ's usual glass of bright amber Cognac.
"Well that's the point of this establishment, chap." Hodgson brushed his moustache with his fingers, before taking another sip of his Scotch. "We dabble in secrets. So we should have shadows to dabble in."
"Ah! you should have been a poet, Willy, my man." JJ slapped his palm on the table in his usual larger-than-life way and let out a hardy laugh. "Maybe Malik should give you an audience with the Queen, promote you to jester."
"Well, speak of the devil."
Hodgson smiled and subtly pointed at the entrance.

Mustafa Malik was dressed in an immaculate black suit, tailored sharply to his physique. An indicator of his stature. Born in Bangladesh, awarded the King's Medal for bravery during the Callisto riots, and, most importantly, the current Prime Minister of the Interplanetary Trade Union - going into his second term. Mustafa was an older gentleman now; Like that of a tired tiger, or an old silverback gorilla. Past his prime, but most powerful and still very much a force to be reckoned with.
"What took you so long?" JJ joked.
"Running an empire, Mr. Jonathan. You should try it sometime." Malik rebutted as he made his way over to the table. His three burly bodyguards stood back by the doorway, scanning the empty study for possible signs of threat. They always reminded Hodgson of Malik's importance as the de facto commander of the Great Empire. Her Majesty, the Queen of course being the true ruler, but the people had voted Malik in as their representative. In turn, it seemed that the Queen had taken quite a liking to him, even trusting him with the matters of running her vast dominion - which still covered many moons, and still had heavy influence on most planets. 
"How are the wives?" Malik issued the customary politeness to both men.
"Still kicking, unfortunately," JJ shot in and grinned at his own foolishness.
"Have you heard the news?" Hodgson interrupted the pleasantry. Even in a world where mobilisation took weeks, a simple message could reach the far side of Sol in a few hours. Wars had broken out before, and often it was the nation that could organise the fastest that carried the advantage. Hodgson knew this, and time was very much of the essence.
"Of course." Malik answered casually, as he sat down at the table and signalled to the waiter. "That's why we're having this meeting."
"Yes, but I'm referring to what the experts are saying about the bomb. They believe it was made by the Parliamentarians."
Hodgson's glasses hung at the the edge of his nose, as they would often do when he had something important to say.
"Run me through this whole thing." Malik said.
"03:31 solar time," JJ responded dully, reading one of his intelligence reports. "A tactical Penning fission device detonated close to the Revolutionary palace, levelling 2 blocks of New Bakhir, Novograd, including the palace itself. Denariun Dinamo - General Maksima Dinamos's eldest son, and heir apparent - along with his wife, died in the explosion. The blast also claimed the lives of several dignitaries, most important being Vilhelmine Svana; the Venusian Ambassador for The Confederacy. Along with roughly 500 guards and other military personnel, and of course, 1,500 civilians."

Malik shook his head in sadness. "May God look after them now."
Sol had seen its share of terrorist attacks, civil discord, and riots. The intensive expansion of mankind had stretched technology and human capabilities to the limit. Sub-standard living conditions and wage slavery had been the norm for hundreds of years now. This had in turn created a long list of enemy factions within all of Sol's empires. Security and military intelligence had been on high alert for many years now, and it did not look to change anytime soon. The waiter came back and brought Malik his regular cup of Darjeeling green tea. 
"My chaps on Mars are telling me the Confederacy is preparing to invade the Parliamentarians," Hodgson said. "They consider this the last straw."
"But.." JJ grumbled, "The Sino-Russians will never in a million years allow the Confederate army to march in on Py!" The diplomatic relationship between the ITU and both Martian nations were lukewarm at best, and had been since the first terra-colonisation 600 years ago.
Hodgson, the ever calm gentleman, gestured gracefully for JJ to compose himself. "And if they do, the Venusian Empire will declare war. They all know the stalemate as well as we do."
"So what do we do?" JJ pondered.
"We do damage assessment." Malik proposed. "We issue our formal condolences to the Confederacy, and to Venus. We publicly offer them assistance. To be diplomatic we also extend our hand to assist the Sino-Russians, and the Martian Parliamentarians when they launch their own investigation."
Hodgson looked at him curiously, and scratched his clean shaven chin. "Continue..."
JJ coughed nervously and interrupted. "Well, in the briefing I sent you both." He whispered. "We omitted to mention one little thing." JJ glanced over his shoulder to make sure the room was still empty, and that the waiter had left. "Look, nothing goes in or out of the Confederacy without them knowing about it. Especially not a fucking Penning bomb. So I had my men at Langley crunch the numbers. There are about 50 diplomatically immune ships leaving and entering the Confederacy every year. Out of all those only one big enough to carry the equipment needed for this bomb."
"Please don't tell me it's one of ours." Malik squinted as if a sudden headache had hit him.
"The HMS Albion requested an immediate landing at Novograd 5 months ago, standard emergency protocols, you remember the news. An embarrassing event for the Royal navy." JJ hid behind the glass of Cognac as he finished it.
"And you believe they carried the bomb with them?" Hodgson asked.
"It doesn't matter what we believe." JJ croaked back. "If we stumbled upon this, then other nations will, too."
"If the Venusians or Sino-Russians figure this out...." Hodgson's hand had found its way to his mouth as he gasped. Both the Venusian empire and the RZRR had been at odds with the Union for ages. He knew if this news ever got out, they could be responsible for smuggling in the bomb, they could be responsible for the murder of the Confederate heir. Planets would turn against them, war would break out.
Malik had turned quiet. He stared out between the two men, mumbling something to himself. "Excuse me, sir?" Hodgson turned towards the Prime minister.

"We have a mole," The words crystal clear as Malik's gaze was broken.
"That's impossible!" JJ blurted out. "At that level? Bypassing the security of a a Royal space destroyer? You would need a damn admiral or higher."
The Royal interplanetary navy was the pride and honour of the ITU, and had followed in the strict disciplinary traditions of the old navies on earth. Border control was also the second highest priority of any nation, right behind defence. Hodgson knew all of this.
"We may have a mole, sir." he nodded in embarrassment.
"This can go no further than the three of us." Malik promptly stood up from the table. "Aside from you two and Her Majesty, the Queen herself, I trust no one with this information."
JJ was still scratching his head trying to come to grips with his judgement.
"Sir Jonathan will be in charge of finding the perpetrators of this appalling assassination. Hodgson will be tasked with hunting down this fiendish mole of ours." Malik towered over the both of them like the shadow of a tree, the light from the windows behind creating a silhouette out of him. "Work fast, and report only to me." He grabbed his coat as if late to another meeting and gestured to the three burly bodyguards at the door that he was ready to leave.
"But.. what do we do if the other empires get a sniff of this?" JJ stammered.
"Make sure they don't, and use only off-the-books operatives we can disavow if things turn ugly." Malik casually said. "Oh and remember." He disappeared through the large wooden door, and walked down the long hallways that made up the rich history of Grey's Gentlemen's Club. His voice the last thing he left behind. "God save the Queen!"

"God save the Queen." Both men grumbled back in disappointment..









 

 

 


CHAPTER 2
SIDNEY TAKUMI


The Sadovo Interplanetary Spaceport, the Parliamentary Kingdom of Mars, Phobos.


Sidney Takumi checked her watch again. The emerald green digits flickered 21:59, lighting her concerned face and reflecting in her olive eyes. She'd been standing at the tunnel corner for the last fifteen minutes, patiently watching the occasional guest enter and exit the little box cafe on the corner of Valentina. Sadovo -or anywhere on Phobos for that matter- was a network of cramped tunnels. A claustrophobic landscape of cheap neon signs, thick black wires and dripping pipes. All with their own distinct sight, sound, and smell, and having seemingly been placed with little concern of any coherent scheme for the station. The arranged meeting place was not far from her personal hub, but Sidney had no intention of being the first to arrive, nor did she wish to sit there on display for all of Phobos to see. Sadovo had been her base of operations for a solid year now. A rusting tin box, half-buried on a dirt rock, forever orbiting Mars, and her cover could very likely be blown as a result of this last minute lunch date with a Union lackey. Everyone from the top down had been on high alert since the bizarre bombing in Novograd, and as a result the suits were dragging her out of the shadows.

The emerald light flickered again. 22:00. She begun crossing the street, pulling her black hat down to avoid any unwanted attention, hurriedly scanning the area in the process. Her figure was deceptively thin; hiding a muscular, athletic frame under the thick hoodie and leather jacket. Whenever people noticed how defined her body really was, she would quickly blame it on her work as a cargo cleaner, and on the lack of any real social outlets on Sadovo, leaving her with few options but to do burpees in her hub all day. What no one here knew, however, was that Sidney had trained martial arts for most of her life. As a child, she had won the ITU Florida Youth Muay Thai Trophy twice before the boys had reached puberty, after that she couldn't keep up. They broke her nose twice before she learned that hard lesson. As a result, the then adolescent teen had taken up Union Physical Defense instead. Learning how to use momentum to her benefit, throwing opponents over her shoulder, and strangling them with her legs in the process. Sidney wasn't all that tough, though. She was 'too dainty' as the coach once told her. Too short, and not enough muscle mass. Not to mention the delicate way she would carry herself, even more so than her female friends. Her family had loved her deeply and given her a warm upbringing. She in return had spread that love to a few less-than-good boys, causing plenty of heartache and grief, both in her life as well as her parents'. A stumbling entrance into adulthood her father had called it, an awkward chapter in her life, but nothing a turning of the page couldn't mend, nothing they hadn't forgiven her for... That was until she - at the age of 19 - enrolled at the Military Academy at Ocala a year after yet another horrible breakup, leaving the young lady desperately looking for a new direction in her life, foolishly heeding her uncle's advice to join the armed forces. All this was under her birth-name of course;  A childhood picture of a little girl in a summer's eve dress, with big red boxing gloves and a black eye. Another of a determined green cadet in a ITU uniform. 

For the last 3 years she had been Miss Takumi. Her once long flowing black hair now cut jagged and short. Colourful dresses changed out for more practical garments, such as jeans and jackets. She was publicly a worthless grub now. Miserably slaving away at the shipping station for a lousy pay-check, just like everyone else here. In reality, the Intelligence Department had sent her on a covert assignment to monitor the ever-strained tension between the Confederacy and Martian Empire. Sadovo was a known stomping-ground for all kinds of people; an off-planet harbour for Sino-Russians to come and discuss matters with the Parliamentarians, where radical Confederates could recruit outsiders to join in their cause, or low-life mobsters could rule like big fish in a little pond.

Sidney slowly pushed the door open and entered the establishment. Inside, the Valentina Cafe looked like any other place on Sadovo: Small, dull, and grey. Standardised metal walls covered by cheap trinkets in the misguided belief that it would 'spruce up the place'. Most moon bases were built to be highly cost-effective. No one wanted to slap some expensive rockets on a baseball stadium and send it all the way up here. No, Phobos and her sister moon Deimos were low-gravity ports; where massive ships could dock on their long voyages between planets. The smaller ferries would then shuttle the travelers back and forth to selected terminals on Mars. Sadovo was simply a connection between worlds, or in her case; a dead end.

"What can I get you?" The bartender asked.
"Oh, I'll just have a beer, please." Sidney softly replied as she glanced over her shoulder. The door creaked open again and a shadowy figure in blue slipped in, moving hurriedly past them towards the more secluded area, all whilst avoiding eye contact with anyone.
"Could you make that two?" She smiled to the bartender and slid two yen across the counter.
Alcohol was the only good thing about Phobos; beer in particular. The weekly transport ferries would ship tons of it from the Martian Empire. Kemper Breweries was one of those major corporations that spanned most of the Solar System. Never involved in politics, but always had a finger in the pie. That's how companies would operate across borders; with a wink and the almighty Yen. She reckoned the regular crews stationed here knew the value of bringing some decent beer on their long hauls to the far reaches of Sol, and Kemper Beer was more than willing to supply them. In fact, Kemper reminded her of Florida, the good part of it, anyway. Watching her friends run laps on the beach, daring each other to jump from the broken pillars, and shotgunning beers around the campfire 'til one of them threw up. It was dirty, but it was home. 

"Good evening, Miss Takumi." A shrill voice said nonchalantly as she entered the secluded area of the cafe. The shadowy figure had folded the blue jacket behind the chair, and had revealed herself to be a middle-aged woman with greying hair, and thick rimmed glasses. Her name was Moe, and she was Sidney's handler.
"Evening?" Sidney complained. "Is that what they call it when they dim the lights here?"
"Ah, I take it you don't like the assignment you were given," Moe replied, never looking up. "Do you want to file a formal complaint?" Her eyes calmly moved from right to left, skimming through the important papers in front of her. Sidney stared down at her beer, gritting her teeth together.
"No, ma'am," she mumbled, whiles thinking of Florida. "It's the jolliest tin-can this side of the belt, I'm really enjoying myself." The year had been tough on her. The isolation was one thing, she was used to dealing with that, to being alone, to making it up as she went along, but Phobos was such a tiny place, and Sadovo even smaller. It was hard to keep to oneself when the men were drunk and lonely here. Even harder to be a spy. The organised crime family had taken an immediate interest to her the moment she had landed, and as a result she had suffered 3 broken fingers, a tooth, and was now knee-deep in debt with the mobsters, all just to have some space to operate in. Now she was sporting a cheap silver knock-off, and was effectively banned from downtown Sodovo. "I love this place, Ma'am." She smiled, while quietly wondering why they had sent her to this hellhole. Keeping an eye on any socialist revolution was a joke. What revolution? She barely saw anything resembling one, aside from people rightfully complaining about dirty cops and utility leaders on the take. Moe on the other hand lived in the Martian Empire, working close to the ITU embassy in Solits. Mars was the oldest terraformed planet in the solar system. The air had settled. Rain, real rain. Large, fat droplets of water pouring down from the open heavens. The sun high above, slowly, but surely moving across the sky. The planet was as good as Earth, if not better. At least the Parliamentarian part. The Confederacy on the other hand was its disfigured twin. A clashing horizon of twisted, decrepit skyscrapers. Smog as far as the eye could see. Crime in the overcrowded streets. But not the Martian Empire, no, the Martian Empire was majestic. Solits, the capital stretched towards the air with open arms. The parks were sacred places where good people could sit and watch ducks in the pond, the trees blowing carelessly in the wind.

"And how's your mother?" The words snapped her out of her daydream and pierced the soul. She looked back in time to see Moe stealing a glance from behind her thick glasses.
"Good....How's yours?" She awkwardly and pathetically retorted. Clenching her thighs hard together and in her mind pretending to flip the table over and choking the older woman lifeless. Moe, as calm as always, simply raised her right eyebrow in response, and continued reading.
"Well you'll be sad to hear that you are being re-assigned then." She said apathetically, and barely audible.
"Wait, what?" Sidney blurted out, letting her mask slip for just a moment.
"Ah, yes, Miss Takumi." Moe replied. "It appears that The Gardener is in need of your skill set somewhere more... critical." 
Sidney was tumbling into a tunnel of false hope and desire. Was she getting out of this purgatory? Was the hell of boredom in exile finally over? Even a new dump like Deimos seemed like a vacation about now. Anywhere away from the crime family, anywhere but here. 
"Well I'm sure you've heard the news." Moe's old voice crackled through the air.
"The New Bakhir Palace bombing?"
"Indeed," she replied, still casually flipping through her papers. "What do you know about it?" Moe said, now subtly more interested in gaging Sidney's form.
"Well," she leaned back, pretending to be at ease in her newfound role as a private detective for the ITU. "Someone blows up the General's family, and they want it to look like the Martian Empire did it." 
"And what do you think?" Moe finally looked up, curiously studying Sidney's response.
"Not sure why they would attack, knowing full well General Dinamo was out of town, and on top, leaving such an obvious trail back to them."
"Yes, that's The Gardener's problem too." She took out her pocket flask and poured a few ounces into her beer while continuing to talk. "They're worried someone is trying to offset the balance we work so hard to maintain."
"What's the word from the Martian Empire?" 

"Official condolences and the usual." Moe took a large sip. Her facial expression never changing as she swallowed the bitter brew. "But Solits is on high alert, Py is on lockdown and they're indiscreetly mobilising everything they have to the borders. They've even reached out to us for help, Not to mention their big, bad mother."
"RZRR?" Sidney said in a hushed tone, as if mentioning a ghost.
"The one and only." Moe squawked. "We reckon it will take them 3 weeks until they can park the entire Inner Sol Command right outside these docks."
Sidney closed her eyes and leaned her head back, envisioning the colossal RZRR Battlecruisers, with hundreds of smaller support vessels, all crowded around Mars, ready for the showdown. The Venusians would love the opportunity to respond in force to that, supporting with their much smaller, but deadlier fleet. Things could escalate very quickly. Things could get ugly.
"So we have the angry Confederates backed up by Venus on one side, and the Martian Empire with the Sino-Russians on the other. That leaves the good old Union Empire on the fence, watching from afar."
"Well done."
Moe nodded.

"I take it that you're sending me to Mars then?" Sidney casually threw out the question she knew could very much change her life. Her toes and fingers crossed. Surely the embassy would need every available operative in the area.
 "Yes," Moe replied, "But we don't require your assistance in Solits." She lowered her voice to a near whisper. "We're sending you to Novograd."
The worlds stopped. The tunnel of hope and desire closed shut around her throat. "Wait." Sidney pulled away from the table. "You can't send me there. I have spy written all over me, they'll eat me alive." Her cool composure was gone, her mask had slipped to the ground, leaving only a horrified expression.
"I trust you can manage, Ms. Takumi." Moe replied coldly. "Unfortunately you're the only one we have in the vicinity."
Sidney's skin had turned paler than usual. Her pupils constricted, and the hair on her neck stood up. If Moe could see any of this she was clearly ignoring it.
"A few quick things before I give you the briefing from The Gardener," she said, before leaning forward and half-whispering again. "HMS Albion will from here on out only be referred to as Seagull. Remember that. The New Bakhir bombing will from here on out only be referred to as The Frozen Pond. Remember that."
"Wait, the HMS Al...?" Sidney mumbled confused. She was going to Confederate Mars, with a big target on her back. She would be arrested the second she showed them her passport...
"Remember that." Moe urged again as she sat back, and pulled out an envelope from her dossier.
"Here's a quick briefing from the boss upstairs." She said, and slid it across the table. "Read it and destroy it. I'll wait."


EYES ONLY - BURN AFTER READING.

I'll leave it to The Caretaker to fill you in on all the boring stuff. 
You are to leave for your assignment ASAP on a transport that will be assigned to you by The Caretaker. Small suitcase. Burn the rest.
Your objective is to investigate Seagull and any possible connections to The Frozen Pond. 
OFF THE BOOKS. So you'll be on your own.
The Caretaker will set you up with a suitable dead drop.

Your codename will be Red Rose.
Catchy? I know.
I love this spy shit.
Don't fuck this up.

God save the Queen.
The Gardener.


"Wait, what?" Sidney's mind was flooded. Seagull, dead drop, Red Rose. 
"Well it's better than The Caretaker. I sound like an old bag." Moe muttered as if she had read Sidney's mind. All while she casually begun packing the papers back into her briefcase. "I don't need to tell you this conversation never happened." Moe placed a brown envelope on the table and slid it across. "This should be more than enough for you to reach Novograd and set up operations."
"You must be joking." Sidney blurted out, no longer caring how she presented herself. "What about the visa entry, filing for an apartment? The Confederacy is a military state. You don't just waltz in there. Someone's gonna ask for papers. Someone's gonna know."
"This is not your first Rodeo."
"It's my second."
Sidney moped.
"I just handed you 20 000 yen, Miss Takumi," Moe said annoyed and distant. "That is more than enough to make the necessary arrangements."
"That's not even my name." Sidney was at her rope's end. Phobos had been a difficult task as is, now they were sending her into the mouth of the beast to get her head chopped off, all just to appease some suits and uniforms at the top. 
"Act like a bloody professional." Moe grunted as she stood up and threw the blue jacket around her shoulders. "Send me a message when you've set up operations. The address is in the envelope." She turned around and tucked her suitcase back in under the jacket. "Oh, and destroy that paper" She groaned as she walked away.
"I'm so screwed.." Sidney mourned as she crumpled a piece of the paper, stuffed it in her mouth and washed it down with a gulp of Kemper beer, knowing that she was sullying the comforting memory of watching Sol dip into the magnificent Atlantic ocean, standing on the piers of St. Augustine, together with her friends. Instead it would forever remind her of the year in this gasoline smelling dump, and the plane crash that turned out to be her career.








 

 

 


CHAPTER 3
two emperors



To be continued...