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  • Writer's pictureFrancois DesRochers

Adventurer's Notebook - A Scout's Honour (Chapter 1)

Micheline observed the squalid expanse of “Old Bones” as it stretched out from the St Lawrence River. The grungy stain of decrepit, billowing industrial stacks, warehouses and shipwright yards that formed the Port and Eastruins Districts ejected steam, smoke and exhaust cast a heavy veil over the region. Walls erected to separate the industrial zones from the bustle of the central Trade District and obvious newness of well-to-do residents of Northtown and New Town did little to contain the smell of industrial products, welding-induced ozone and the general filth an industrialized city this size always seemed to have.

Engaging the accelerator, she eased her jeep away from the shaded comfort of a copse of trees and back onto the dirt road, joining the traffic heading into the city. Like a roiling wave of cement and filth, the structures loomed higher and higher across the horizon as she approached. Determined not to give in to it, she refused to put on her helmet and engage the atmospheric scrubbers to reduce the smell. Grimacing, her jeep rumbled into the shadows of the dilapidated structures in Eastruins.

Scanning the surrounding vehicles and pedestrians that ambled close by, she allowed her hand to drift down and prime the las-pistol in her thigh holster. Her jeep slowed amongst the industrial traffic vying for space to manoeuvre with the multitude of people; grimy and ragged, the vehicles resembled those they tried to keep from running over. An unkempt and mixed group of humans and D-Bees, most dressed in heavy boots and work coveralls with shipyard icons, went about their way largely ignoring one another. Twice she caught sight of a distant outbreak of violence, each a fight breaking out between human and D-Bee, each an instance she could not have cared less about.

Guiding her vehicle into a parking compound, she paid her fee and voluntarily submitted her weapons to the constabulary, nodding every so often as they droned through their oft-repeated introductory comments and warnings about this sector of the city. The brief completed, she wasted no time turning on her heel and marching into the wretched hive of villains and the downtrodden.

Her athletic figure dressed in all-black fatigues and black leather overcoat immediately caught several stares. Black hair pulled back into a low, braided ponytail, her dark brown eyes stared back menacingly. Most turned away with either a modicum of respect or quickly determining she was not a person to trifle with. In this world, there were enough cases of seemingly meek and mild packages that managed an immense capacity to maim or kill. Micheline had no doubt “Old Bones” was no different. She counted on it.

Meandering through Eastruins, she doubled back a couple of times, ignoring items on display in favor of inspecting the reflection on the glass. She intended on ensuring someone who might be willing to push his or her luck with her wasn’t following her. As the sun finished setting and shadows consumed the recesses between the buildings, she stood outside Grease and Gears. The flashing neon sign portrayed a spinning cog and tilting martini glass next to a grinning buxom woman leaning over at the waist. It left little to the imagination of what awaited within.

She pushed open the saloon doors and squinted as her eyes adjusted to the dark interior and dull noise of heavy-beat music coming from the speakers. The doors screeched to a close on excruciatingly loud hinges. The club was very nearly empty; she scanned the few faces that turned to inspect the newcomer. The few she noted would more likely be emboldened by a stare down and she wasn’t her for them. She ignored their stares. Three club-employed harlots in scantily clad outfits lazily bounced from one table to the next in search of an easy mark. A fourth went through lackluster efforts as she spun around a pole on the stage.

A quick scan of her cred-stick, she grabbed her drink and slid into a shadowed space, waiting. A few small crews of local workers and mercenaries preceded the rush of shipwrights, the bellowing whistle announcing the shift change heard over the music. The bar went from near empty to capacity in the span of twenty minutes. Most of those that entered were concerned with drinking their water-down drinks or catching a grope of the club girls. Several groups were indifferent to the influx of workers or the staff, crouched over tables to hear each other.

Micheline found the man she was looking for as soon as he had entered. Her stomach leapt into her throat as his massive bulk moved through the doorframe. Marco deGallo stood well over six feet tall, massive shoulders and torso immediately demanded deference, scarred face demonstrated he was not above getting hit in a fight. Easily outweighing her by a couple hundred pounds, she barely kept herself still.

‘Stick to the plan,’ she whispered to herself over and again.

An hour of heavy drinking later, Marco guided his massive bulk through the crowd towards the toilettes in the back. Nimbly dodging though the throng, she found herself outside the men’s washroom. She fought to contain her breathing, now coming in gasps as she came to grips with what she was about to do. She took a moment to calm herself as a middle-aged man exited the washroom. Obviously not one of the shipwrights, he had the look of a know-it-all adventurer. He nodded as he passed by. She returned his sidelong second glance with a smirk, forcing herself to relax. As the washroom door slowly swung to close, she caught sight of her massive target, still standing at the urinal. A quick activation of her cybernetic hearing and all she heard was his steady stream flowing into the urinal. Reaching up behind her head, she grasped the handle hidden under her hair, the blade sheathed in her braid.

She pushed open the door, reaching to her wrist-mounted personal computer and activated the awaiting algorithm. As the door started to swing shut behind her, she activated the vibro-blade as the club’s sound system ramped up in volume.

‘For my family,’ she implored as she lunged forward.

Marco, already cued by the disturbance, turned his head. Catching her furtive movements, he tried to spin in place, not caring about his modesty. As she had imagined, the tight confines allowed her the chance to slip the blade into his back before he could properly turn. She aimed for the kidney and swept the blade back across his spine. His body arched, the pain too much to even scream.

He grasped her jacket behind her shoulders and heaved her across the room. She slammed into the wall, stunned at the sudden reversal. ‘He should be dead!’ Glancing at her hands, she cursed. Marco’s blood was bright pink, not dark red, which meant not human. She raced through what she knew about D-Bees, fumbled through the bits of lore she had picked up over the years. She locked on the one possibility, and it left her chilled to the core. It meant his spine wasn’t where she thought it was. “You’re a fucking Gar-anoth?”

Chaos ensued.

Bellowing a scream, Marco’s face a rictus of rage and pain; veins bulged as his body hyper-stimulated endorphins and adrenaline. His massive fist plowed towards her and careened into the wall where she once stood. Ducking under his swing, she desperately reached for the vibro-blade still impaled in his back. She struggled to grip the handle, now covered in a mass of blood, as she fought to keep Marco from exerting his physical mass. The floor was slick with his pink blood and they fought to maintain their balance. She wrenched the blade free as he spun around and grabbed her left shoulder. She cried out as he tightened his grip, fearing he would collapse her shoulder in his massive hand. She blindly jabbed the blade upwards, the blade entering the soft palate under Marco’s chin. His body immediately went slack and collapsed to the floor, the blade wrenched from her grasp.

Leaving the vibro-knife, she exited the washroom. She slid into the throng of anger and grief. Patrons were still screaming for the volume to be readjusted. Her ears rang as she made her way through the mob, slipping towards the rear entrance. Keeping her head down, she tried to hide the bright pink congealed on her hands. The acrid-sweet smell of Marco's blood made her stomach heave, the club’s dank air a cloistering sensation that surrounded her. Her vision swam in and out of focus as a sudden rush of heat enveloped her.

She pushed the door open into the garbage-strewn alley, gasping as the cool night air swept the burgeoning miasma from her. She leaned into a nearby waste container, exhausted. She flexed her left hand, the fingers in left arm going numb, shoulder throbbing where Marco had grabbed her. She could still fell the bastard’s fingers digging onto her.

The smell of garbage and industrial waste was a welcome respite.

The two figures observing her from down the alleyway were definitely not.

The man who had passed her on his way out of the toilettes had his arms crossed across his chest. Next to him, a woman dressed in mercenary fatigues didn’t hide her annoyance. They stood at ease, infuriatingly nonchalant. “What have we here,” the woman asked sternly.

“A trouble-maker, apparently,” the man replied. He sounded slightly amused.

“Don’t bother,” the woman added as Micheline turned. A third figure emerged from the shadows behind her. Dressed in black leather, Micheline could physically feel the power radiating from him.

‘Psychic, her mind screamed in alarm.

“Yessss,” the leather-clad one hissed in response.

“You screwed up a very important plan for us, little bird,” the woman said. “Marco was our contact for a shipment we were very interested in learning about. Thanks to you, we are back to square one.”

“He was dead the moment he entered the bar,” Micheline replied through grit teeth. She had a hard time ignoring the pain in her shoulder.

“So, you hacked the music system to distract everyone, then followed Marco to the lavatory as your chance to kill him? You left a lot to chance in your plan.” She sounded like her exasperated grade school teacher, reprimanding her for sloppy homework.

Micheline stared back at the woman.

“She has very good form,” the psychic behind her said. Micheline flinched and turned her head back. Just out of arms reach, the psychic looked her up and down, appraising. “Athletic physique, good skin, piercing brown eyes, lustrous hair.”

“Enough Vok,” the woman reprimanded.

“Do I look like one of the club girls back in there,” Micheline spat back.

“I observed the fight with Marco,” Vok corrected with a raised hand. “She handled herself well, even after finding out he was a D-Bee. What exactly is a Gar-anoth?”

“Your suggesting she may be worth an interview,” the other man interjected. “Recruit her?”

“She has the tradecraft, the drive,” Vok added.

“Well, it’s that or we leave her to the locals to deal with. We’ve wasted enough time and someone is about to find the body. So little bird, what’s it going to be?”

Micheline glanced at both men before turning to the woman. “I stay here, the locals execute me. I fight, you three kill me. Go with you for an, interview, and what, get a job?”

The music in the bar died down, returning to the dull throb of its normal volume.

“I don’t have a bloody clue what is happening, but I refuse to die in this shit hole. I imagine if I fail your test I am as good as dead?”

The woman nodded.

“I guess I’ll take that interview.”

The man smiled. “I like her already.”

Continue to: Chapter 2

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