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. Half of a continent left in cinders. 

The cataclysmic event would bring mankind to its knees. To the very precipice of collapse. The harsh years under the ash bleak skies, the eternal winters, and the hope that would not be destroyed. 

Denariun squinted, peering out across the city, wondering if he could spot Earth on such a beautiful summer night. A few times he had been lucky enough to locate the tiny blue dot, floating amongst the infinite amount of stars. However, the crater he had only seen in pictures was always too small to make out with the naked eye. 

As a young boy, Denariun had heard the ancient tales of the event. At fourteen he had stumbled upon the famous photographs taken from the space stations. It was a life changing experience. Even now, as a man well in his thirties, the still visible bruise imprinted on the mother 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. 

He stood tall, peering out from the Revolutionary balcony as he had many times before. Privately, when he was heavy with burden—The responsibilities of an emerging leader, obligated to weigh the outcome of his decisions under the faint light of the moons. Publicly, it had been at his father’s side, under the midday sun, as they waved regally to the crowd in front of the palace. Every year, the Confederacy would throw celebrations and parades in honor of their hard won independence. They were always majestic, for they were necessary for the facade of the sovereign Martian government. 

The road had been long for them all. He knew that one day the job would fall onto him to secure the future of his grand nation. His father was a pragmatic person, and the mistakes of the old fumbling royalists in the east had thaught them valuable lessons. The line of succession must 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 earned the title of Heir Apparent to the Confederacy of Mars. A position he had spent his whole adult life pursuing.

Denariun slowed down, took a deep breath, and rested against the white marble railing. The city lights flickered so lovely in all different colors as they covered the horizon. 

The forefathers had struggled so that they may be free. As had his father worked hard to see that their society 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 expensive flagships, the military scheming. 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. 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 modern generation of bright minds, and strong families.

“Your guests are waiting for you, my dear,”

Alexandria gently slipped in from the balcony doors, graceful as ever in her long silver gown. The wrinkles in her smile had appeared just over a year ago. Denariun loved her even more for it.

“Oh, I was 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 another bottle of champagne, and remember how much I love you.”

The worries of the political race faded as he held her delicate, slender body in his embrace. She smelled of vanilla, her hair curly and black. Denariun pressed his nose into it to soak up her scent. 

*CchhzzChzzz*

The sharp sound made them instinctively turn towards it, out over the courtyard. A bright flash of white light blinded their 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 a quick walk from the famous Tower Bridge in London. With its long history dating back an incredible 1500 year, it stood as a testament to England’s love for their traditions and heritage. 

Westminster housed the local government, yes, but any power player—from the aspiring politicians to the high-ranking leaders—knew that the Grey’s was where the real 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 over it, reminding everyone of its lineage to an era long gone. The stately white facade, with its Corinthian columns. Built back in King George I’s days. Often renovated, but never altered. 

Displayed on the large black door was the brass face of an ominous lion. A hammer hanging from its mouth. Swing it, and the staff would greet you with a nod and escort you down the long, grand hallways—Which smelled of old cigars and timber — leading you to the main study of the exclusive club. The colors; tired brown and dark crimson. Aged beech and genuine cow leather interwoven, only disrupted by the occasional bookshelf or bust depicting famous Interplanetary Trade Union leaders. 

In the corner of the study, Sir William Hodgson sat, holding his favorite single malt Scotch and reading the morning news. The establishment would routinely print them out on plastic paper; A matter of security, he was told. 

Hodgson was a rather stocky gentleman. His black mustache grew thicker every day his hair grew thinner. 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 constant workouts in Union America. A full set of hair, and a chiseled chin.

“Sol.” He smiled inappropriately. “It seems to be going down the crapper every week.” 

JJ was your typical New Yorker: Brash, and straight to the point. It would usually make him look foolish in the eyes of others, but Hodgson figured it was the whole idea. JJ made you feel 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 linguistics professor and would often stress the importance of proper use of the language.

“Yeah, The office is worried about this one,” JJ said and signaled to the waiter. “I’ll have the usual.”

The Grey’s was less crowded than normal. The detonation that had leveled the Revolutionary Palace in Novograd had the media in a frenzy. As a result, the politicians in the sitting ITU government were currently putting out fires. Reassuring the public that 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 answered.

“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, ol’ chap.” Hodgson brushed his mustache 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 hearty laugh. “Maybe Malik should give you an audience with the Queen, promote you to jester.”

“Well, speak of the devil,” Hodgson said and pointed at the entrance.

Mustafa Malik entered, 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, but, most importantly, the current Prime Minister of the Interplanetary Trade Union—going into his second term. Mustafa was a veteran in both politics and war. An old tiger, or silverback gorilla. Past his prime, but most powerful, and always a force to be reckoned with.

“What took you so long?” JJ joked.

“Running an empire, Mr. Jonathan. You should try it sometime.” 

Malik made his way over to the table. His three burly bodyguards posted up by the doorway, scanning the empty study for potential threats. They always reminded Hodgson of the prestige of their de facto commander. Her Majesty, the Queen, of course, being the absolute ruler of the Great Empire. But the people had voted Malik in as their representative. In turn, the Queen had taken quite a liking to him. Even trusting him with the matters of managing her vast dominion—which still covered many moons, and still had a heavy influence on most planets. 

“How are the wives?” Malik issued the customary politeness to both men.

“Still kicking, unfortunately,” JJ grinned.

“Have you heard the news?” Hodgson interrupted the pleasantry. 

Even in a system where mobilization takes weeks, a simple message could reach the far side of Sol in a few hours. Wars had broken out before, and when they did, it was the nation that could organize the fastest that won the first battle. Hodgson knew this. Time was very much of the essence.

“Of course.” Malik answered casually as he sat down at the table and signaled 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 edge of his nose, as they would 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, leveling 2 blocks of New Bakhir, Novograd, including the palace itself. Killing roughly 380 people. Of those 150 were guards and other military personel. 200 were civilians in the surrounding area. Blah, blah, blah.” 

JJ flipped through the pages. “Ah, this is where it gets interesting: Denariun Dinamo - General Maksima Dinamos’s eldest son and successor—along with his wife, died in the explosion. The blast also claimed the lives of several high-ranking dignitaries, most important being Vilhelmine Svana; the Venusian Ambassador for The Confederacy.”

Malik shook his head in sorrow. “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 a decade, and it did not look to improve anytime soon. 

The waiter came back and brought Malik his regular cup of Darjeeling green tea. 

“My chaps on Mars tell 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 them to march on Py!” The diplomatic relationship between the ITU and both Martian nations were lukewarm at best, and had been since the first terra-colonization 600 years ago.

Hodgson, the ever-patient gentleman, gestured 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 control,” Malik answered. “We issue formal condolences to the Confederacy, and to Venus. We publicly offer to assist them. We also extend our hand to the opposition: The Sino-Russians, and the Martian kingdom will receive the same offer when they launch their own investigations.”

Hodgson looked at him curiously and scratched his chin. “Continue...”

“Sorry to interrupt.” JJ coughed nervously. “In the briefing I sent you both.” He lowered his voice to a near whisper. “We omitted to mention one little thing.” He glanced over his shoulder to make sure the room was still empty. “Look, nothing goes in or out of the Confederacy without them knowing about it. Especially not a fucking Penning bomb. So I had my boys 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. An uneasy feeling hit his stomach.

“It doesn’t matter what we believe.” JJ croaked. “If we stumbled upon this, then the other agencies will too.”

“If the Venusians or Sino-Russians find out about this...” 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 that if this news ever got out. That they could be responsible for smuggling in the bomb? That they could be responsible for the murder of the Confederate heir? Nations could turn against them, war would break out.

Malik had turned quiet. He stared out in 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 awoke from his deep contemplation.

“That’s impossible!” JJ proclaimed. “At that level? Bypassing the security of a Royal space destroyer? You’d need a damn admiral or higher.”

The Royal interplanetary navy was the pride and honor of the ITU. It 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 after military defense. 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, I trust no one with this information.”

JJ was still scratching his head, trying to come to grips with this declaration from nowhere. A mole? in the Royal Navy?

“Sir Jonathan will be in charge of hunting the perpetrators of this repulsive assassination. Hodgson will be tasked with flushing out this fiendish mole of ours.” Malik towered over both of them. Like the shadow of a great tree, the light from behind creating a silhouette out of him. 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.

“Work fast, and report only to me.” 

“But.. what do we do if the other empires get a sniff of this?” JJ stammered.

“Make sure they don’t. Use only off-the-books operatives we can disavow if things turn ugly. Oh, and remember...” Malik casually said as he disappeared through the large wooden door, and marched 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. 

21:59

The green digits flickered, 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 few guests enter and exit the little box cafe on the corner of Valentina. 

Sadovo—or anywhere on Phobos—was a network of cramped tunnels. A claustrophobic landscape of cheap neon signs, thick wires and dripping pipes. All with their own distinct sight, sound, and smell, and having been placed with little concern for esthetics. 

The arranged meeting place was close to 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. Her cover could easily be blown by having a 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 crossed the street, pulling her hat down to avoid any unwanted attention, hurriedly scanning the area. 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, or on the lack of social outlets on Sadovo, leaving her with few options but to do burpees in her hub all day. Both were close to the truth, but no one here knew 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 before she learned that hard lesson. Then the teenage girl had taken up Union Physical Defense. Learning how to use momentum to her benefit; throwing opponents over her shoulder, and strangling them with her legs. 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 loved her deeply and gave 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 to herself and her parents. A stumbling entrance into adulthood her father had once proclaimed. An awkward chapter in her life. 

Nothing turning a page couldn’t mend, nothing they couldn’t forgive her for... 

That was until she, at 19, enrolled at the Military Academy at Ocala. It was after yet another horrible breakup, leaving the young lady desperately looking for purpose, 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. A newer one of a determined green cadet in an ITU uniform.

For the last 3 years she had been Miss. Takumi. Her once long flowing black hair cut jagged and short. Colorful dresses gone for more practical garments, such as jeans and jackets. 

She was publicly a worthless grub now. 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. She was to monitor the ever-strained tension between the Confederacy and the Martian Kingdom. 

Sadovo was a known stomping-ground for the bad kind of people. An off-planet harbor 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 fishes in a small pond.

Sidney slowly pushed the door open and entered the establishment.

Inside, the Valentina Cafe looked like any other place on Sadovo: Cramped, dull, and gray. Standardized metal walls covered by cheap trinkets in the misguided belief it would ‘spruce up the place’. 

Most moon bases were built to be cost effective. No one wanted to slap expensive rockets on a baseball stadium and drag it all the way up here. No, Phobos and her sister moon Deimos were low-gravity ports. Where massive ships docked on their long voyages between planets. The smaller shuttles would then bring the travelers back and forth to terminals on Mars. Sadovo serving only as 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 replied as she peeked over her shoulder.

The door creaked open and a shadowy figure in blue slipped in, hurriedly moving towards the secluded area.

“Could you make that two?” She smiled at the bartender and slid three 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 Kingdom. Kemper Breweries was one of those giant corporations that spanned the Solar System. Never seen on the political stage, but always had a finger in the pie. That’s how companies could operate across borders; with a wink and the almighty Yen. 

She reckoned the crews stationed here knew the value of decent beer. Lives spent hauling cargo to the dark reaches of Sol. Kemper Beer were more than willing to make that trip bearable. 

For her, Kemper Beer represented Florida. The good part, anyway. Watching her friends run laps on the beach, daring each other to jump from the broken pillars, shotgunning beers around the campfire ‘til one of them threw up. It was dirty, but it was home.

And she missed it.

“Good evening, Miss. Takumi.” A shrill voice said as she entered the secluded area of the cafe. 

The shadowy figure folded the blue jacket behind the chair, revealing herself to be a middle-aged woman with graying hair, and thick-rimmed glasses. Her name was Moe, and she was Sidney’s handler.

“Evening?” Sidney answered. “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. “Do you want to file a formal complaint?” She didn’t look up. Her eyes calmly moving from right to left, skimming through the important papers in front of her. 

Sidney stared down at her beer, gritting her teeth.

“No, ma’am,” she mumbled, whiles thinking of Florida. “It’s the jolliest tin-can this side of the belt.” 

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 was even smaller. 

It’s hard to keep to oneself when the men are drunk and lonely. Even harder to be a spy. 

The organized crime family took an interest to her the moment she landed. She suffered 3 broken fingers, lost 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 in practicality banned from downtown Sodovo.

“I love the place, Ma’am.” She lied. Quietly wondering why they had sent her to rot in this hellhole. 

Keeping an eye on any socialist revolution was a joke. What revolution? She barely saw anything resembling one. Just people complaining about dirty cops and incompetent utility leaders. 

Moe was lucky enough to live in the Martian Kingdom, 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 floating across the sky. The planet was as good as Earth, if not better. At least the Parliamentarians. 

The Confederacy, on the other hand, was its disfigured twin. A clash of twisted, decrepit skyscrapers. Smog as far as the eye could see. Crime in the overcrowded streets.

But not the Kingdom, no, the Kingdom was majestic. Solits, the capital, stretched out with open arms. The parks were sacred avenues where good people could sit and watch ducks in the pond, trees blowing carelessly in the wind. Where good people could take a breath and allow themselves to be happy.

“And how’s your mother?” 

The words pierced her the soul. She looked back in time to see Moe stealing a glance from behind her thick glasses.

“Good... How’s yours?” She clenched her thighs together, in her mind pretending to flip the table over and choking the older woman out. 

Moe, as calm as always, raised her right eyebrow, and continued reading.

“Well you’ll be sad to hear that you are being re-assigned then.” She said, barely audible.

“Wait, what?”

“Ah, yes, Miss. Takumi.” Moe replied. “It appears that The Gardener is in need of your skill set somewhere more... important.” 

Sidney was tumbling into a tunnel of deceptive hopes and desires. Was she getting out of this purgatory? Was the hell of exile finally over? Even a new dump like Deimos seemed like a vacation. Anywhere away from the crime family. 

Anywhere but here. 

“Well I’m sure you’ve heard the news.”

“The Palace bombing?”

“Indeed” Moe replied. “What do you know about it?” she seemed subtly more interested.

“Well,” Sidney leaned back, pretending to be at ease in her newfound role as a private detective. “Someone blows up the General’s family, and they want it to look like the Kingdom did it.” 

“And what do you think?”

“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.” Moe took out a pocket flask and poured a few ounces into her beer. “They’re worried someone is trying to offset the balance we work so hard to maintain.”

“What’s the word from the Kingdom?” 

“Official condolences and the usual.” Moe took a large sip. Her face made of rock. “But Solits is on lockdown, Py is in a state of emergency and they’re indiscreetly mobilizing everything to the border. My, 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 shivered. “We reckon it will take them around 3 weeks before they can park the entire Inner Sol Command next to this moon.”

Sidney closed her eyes, envisioning the horrifying RZRR battleships with hundreds of smaller support vessels. All floating above Mars, ready for the showdown of the century. The Venusians would love the opportunity to respond in force to that. Things could turn very bad very quickly.

“So we have the offended Confederates backed by Venus on one side, and the Martian Kingdom with Mother Sino-Russia on the other. That leaves the good old Union Empire on the fence, watching from afar.”

“Well done.”

“So, you’re sending me to Mars then?” Sidney asked casually. Words she knew could change her life. Her toes and fingers crossed. Surely the embassy would need every available operative in the area.

 “Yes,” Moe replied. “…But your assistance in Solits is not required.” 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 poker face slipped to the ground, leaving only a horrified little girl left.

“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. The hair on her neck stood up. If Moe noticed any of this she was ignoring it.

“A few quick things before I give you the briefing from the boss upstairs,” she leaned forward and whispered. “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’s world crumbling before her eyes. She was going to Confederate Mars with a big target on her back. She would be arrested the second she arrive...

“Remember that.” 

Moe pulled out an envelope from her dossier.
“Here’s the instructions from The Gardener.” She 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 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.” Moe muttered “I sound like an old bad”. She casually started packing her briefcase. “I don’t need to tell you this conversation never happened.” She placed a brown envelope on the table and slid it across. “This should get you to Novograd and cover the operation.”

“You must be joking.” Sidney no longer cared 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.”

“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 chewed off. 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,”

“I’m so screwed..” 

Sidney ripped off a piece of the paper, stuffed it in her mouth and washed it down with Kemper beer. She knew she was sullying the 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 was turning out to be her career.








 

 

 


CHAPTER 3
two emperors



To be continued...