Enemies Closer (Chronicle)

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Enemies Closer

New Hueromont, Gallente Prime
Luminaire System, Essence Region
November 12, YC113

It was one of those nights where even the stars seemed to shiver from the cold. Pretty much exactly what you'd expect from an autumn evening on the frigid tip of the northern continent. How the hell such a culturally important city had grown in the most inhospitable locale on this otherwise agreeable planet, he had no idea. Probably a disorganized and ramshackle affair. Probably no central authority. Organic, they'd no doubt call it.

With thoughts like these flashing their way across his mind, and with the cold wind streaming through his nostrils and burning his lungs, he checked his equipment again, then ran through potential enemy positions. Familiar processes, but this time laced with an acid tinge of excitement at the sheer gravity of what he was about to do. Usually he preferred not to consider the implications of his work; when all is said and done, the tool need not consider its function. This time, however, was a little different.


Piirkino Deep Core Mining Colony District 6B, Eskunen III
Eskunen System, The Forge Region
November 12, YC113

Special Agent Piers Lascaux was sitting there in mock wide-eyed surprise. "You gotta be kidding me," he said. His tone was considerably more laid back than his theatrical expression would indicate, creating a mismatch that made him as hard to peg as always.

Even though it had been several long years since their last meeting, his companion, Special Agent Haromi Itakainen, felt an old irritation beginning to creep back. He cleared his throat.

"I'm quite serious," he said. "A nearly complete retrofit. Brand new tech, but it's just being slapped on there. Paramilitary wing's scrambling to adjust, Intelligence is reeling."

"And nobody says anything?"

"Well, they want to, but they don't. Everybody that high up is a career man, and they're too afraid of the Director to question his motives. Publicly, at least. I'm the only one who's spoken up, and it's not exactly earned me any friends among the brass. Everybody else has had the good sense to restrict their talk to the hallways."

"I'll be damned. I thought you guys were so regimented about these things," said Agent Lascaux and laughed. "I thought we were the ones who run around back-biting and making alliances." Another laugh, a little louder this time.

Agent Itakainen gave an uneasy smile, stirred briefly in his seat, flicked some ash off his cigarette. "Human nature is what it is," he said. "And I guess 'afraid' may be a strong word to use. I mean, our guys believe in what he's saying, for the most part. The methodology just becomes a problem sometimes."

"Bet you're wishing you never got involved with the House of Records at all," said Lascaux, grinning.

Itakainen smiled humorlessly. "These are the only guys I'd ever run with. You know that. If I wasn't with the Keepers I might just as well be scrubbing decks. If you're gonna do heinous shit anyway, might as well know why you're doing it."

"Not gonna disagree on that one. Probably the same thing that made me jump on the Black Eagles as soon as they formed," said Agent Lascaux. "'The Record Keepers.' Funny name. I like ours better than yours." He grinned. Itakainen didn't.

For a while the two men sat silently in their secluded booth, as the patrons of this small bar on this small world, seeing that it was closing time, began filtering out into the tropical night-time heat one by one, their grimy expressionless faces betraying scant understanding of the world around them.

Lascaux made a brief scan of the surroundings, then dusted a bit of imaginary dirt off his carefully nondescript jacket. "So how are your parents doing?" he asked, leaning in a tad hesitantly.

"Been better, but been worse as well," said Itakainen. He paused, fixed the other man with a brief but firm glare, then said, "They talk about you all the time."

"Who doesn't?"

"Shut up, Piers."

"What?" Lascaux spread his arms in a mock gesture of resignation.

"You said you wanted to meet to talk about important things. You don't have to pretend to be interested in the family you abandoned."

"Hey, I didn't abandon anyone. When duty calls it calls, cultural program or not... "

"Right. Duty." The other man snorted. "Tell that to my sister and her son."

A swift and dark silence descended on the table, amplified by the final patron's slamming of the door behind him. The barman flipped the lock switch. A resounding clack signaled the establishment's lockdown from the outside world. The lights came up. The two men, by now the only people left in the place, stared at each other across a dozen empty bottles and several years' worth of something else. Quietly the barman disappeared into a back room.

"Well, that's what I wanted to talk to you about, actually," said Agent Lascaux.


New Hueromont, Gallente Prime
Luminaire System, Essence Region
November 12, YC113

Just sitting there breathing. Made it all this way. Almost there, just a little bit longer to wait. Breathe, breathe, keep it going. He peered over the ledge at the gigantic monolith of a building and all the security, wondering how in hell it was possible he could have made it this far already. Even with all his experience – all those dozens of people dead and gone by his hand – nothing had ever been on this scale. Settle down, breathe. No sign of the target yet. Check the scope for the ninth time, embrace the cold, pray to no-one about nothing. Breathe.


Piirkino Deep Core Mining Colony District 6B, Eskunen III
Eskunen System, The Forge Region
November 12, YC113

"You said you had some intel for me," said Itakainen.

"I do," said Lascaux. "I have information on Blaque's latest dealings, as well as some connections I'm sure you didn't know he had. Before I spill it, though, I need to be guaranteed safe passage off this planet and back to Jita. I want to defect."

Itakainen raised his eyebrows but remained otherwise impassive. "Oh?" he said.

"Yeah. I've been thinking a lot, these past few months. It's all changing back in the Fed. Things aren't what they used to be. I'm sick to death of all this."

Itakainen pursed his lips, his gaze unwavering. "Supposing you are, and supposing we could arrange something."

"I need your word."

There was a long silence, during which Itakainen fixed Lascaux with a hard glare. "All right, you have it," he said presently.

"Good," said Lascaux. He looked down at the table, then back up at Itakainen, then began speaking. "So Blaque has a directive that he wants to push. He wants to allow capsuleer alliances into the auxiliary forces, and he can do it without much help at all because he's got some kind of leverage within CONCORD," he said.

Itakainen's eyes widened. "How the hell does he have leverage within CONCORD?" he said. "I thought Blaque and Director Angireh hated each other."

"Don't ask me," said Lascaux. "I can't even begin to imagine how the guy operates."

Itakainen shook his head. "Okay, let me get this straight. You're saying Blaque wants to allow capsuleer alliances to enlist wholesale in our auxiliary forces?"

"Well, not just any alliance. Be pretty strict entry criteria as I understand it. Every corp vetted for loyalty, devotion to the cause, that kind of thing."

"But it would still mean that capsule pilots could join up now by the thousands instead of by the dozens."

"Theoretically, yeah."

"Be able to coordinate much better than before. Have more central oversight."

"That's about the long and short of it."

Itakainen buried his head in his hands. "I just... it just goes against..."

"I know, man."

"I mean, the empires are already at a disadvantage. Why would we want to let the eggers even further into our backyard?"

Lascaux spread his hands again, but this time the expression on his face was anything but flippant.

"Apparently," he said, "the idea is to learn something from the alliance leaders about how they conduct their warfare. Spy on them from the inside. Keep your friends..."

"Right, right," said Itakainen. "Because they've been doing their cutting edge thing on the fringes for the longest time."


"Because they're just fighting for conquest and they don't have to think about running actual societies."

"Something like that."

"Because they have the money and therefore this whole god damn arms race revolves around them, and to hell with all the cultural heritage that we're actually fighting for here."

At this Lascaux leaned back in his seat and regarded his companion coolly for a while. He picked up an empty glass, looked towards the bar, saw no bartender, then looked back at Itakainen and put the glass back down on the table, hard. "Cultural heritage is a contentious term, my friend," he said.

The two men stared at each other, and for the span of a few seconds no sound could be heard beside the jittery buzz of the establishment's fluorescent after-hours lighting.

"Leaving that aside for now," said Itakainen finally, in measured tones, "we both know that the status quo is being threatened pretty deeply here. Are you positively certain Blaque has CONCORD's backing here?"

"Yup. He's ironclad on this. I have it on good authority."

"Great. Can't do proper espionage, so just find the biggest and baddest friends you can, and do muscle instead."

"Muscle and political muscle aren't the same thing."

"You know what I mean," said Itakainen.

"And you know what I mean," replied Lascaux.

Itakainen dropped his head. He nodded slowly, nostrils flaring. "So this thing is actually happening?"

"'Fraid so."

"How can we be sure?"

Special Agent Piers Lascaux looked down, then back up, then away, then ran a hand through his hair and sighed deeply.

"Because I wouldn't have come here otherwise," he said, and as he did so he fixed his eyes on the table and did not look up again. "I'm done with all this. Please believe me, here. I'm done with this. The methods these guys use have been eating away at my conscience almost since I started, and now that they're starting to truck with the eggers, and have these deep deep CONCORD connections... man, I just don't know. My gut is telling me to get out of all this." He briefly looked up, met the other man's eye. " I want to start a new life, Rom. A peaceful one. An honest one." Looking back down at the table, he bit his lower lip. "I want to set things right again with Laina. Make up for what I did."

For a good deal of time, Special Agent Haromi Itakainen regarded his old friend. His gaze was purposeful at first, but as the lights continued to buzz and crackle, his gaze softened, then grew distant.

"Leave me alone for a little bit, would you?" he said then, not unkindly. "I have a couple of calls to make."

Lascaux looked at him with a small smile in his eyes, a smile that briefly spread to the corners of his mouth. He bit the knuckle of his index finger. "Just about to excuse myself anyway," he replied, then got up and vanished into an adjoining room.


New Hueromont, Gallente Prime
Luminaire System, Essence Region
November 12, YC113

Breathe. Time window opening now. Breathe. Hybrid chamber stable, points secured, scope clean. Set up. Breathe. Here he comes. Don't think about it too much. Target acquired. Don't think about it. Here we go.


Piirkino Deep Core Mining Colony District 6B, Eskunen III
Eskunen System, The Forge Region
November 12, YC113

"It's true, sir," said Itakainen into his FTL link, to a disbelieving ear five star systems away. "Our CONCORD source has confirmed it, and she says it does in fact look like it was Blaque who pushed it through, but she has no leads on who exactly these CONCORD contacts of his are."

There was a leaden silence on the other end. Then, "How did this stay hidden from us so long?"

"I guess we were looking in the wrong places, sir," said Itakainen.

"A little more outward attention and a little less inward attention may be called for when conducting interstellar espionage, don't you think? I guess some of us failed to do our jobs, Agent." The words were drawn out, purposeful, laced with menace.

Itakainen rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Sir, we have to abort. We can't go through with this if we don't know who his contacts are, let alone what his intentions are with the capsule contingent."

"Special Agent Itakainen," came the voice, "that's the first thing you've been right about for quite a while. Now, what are you going to do about your source? He wants to defect, I hear?"

The bathroom door opened. Agent Lascaux came out.

"I have to go," said Itakainen, looking his friend in the eye. He cut the FTL link. To a small control room orbiting the shoulder of New Caldari, he sent two words: "ABORT IMMEDIATELY."

"We should get out of here," he said.

Piers Lascaux nodded and smiled.


New Hueromont, Gallente Prime
Luminaire System, Essence Region
November 12, YC113

He thumbed the safety, drew in the final breath and held it. Just as he did so, comms squawked.

"Corporal, stand down. Orders from Central. Primary is no go, repeat, primary is no go."

His finger lifted away from the guard as his breath, so carefully held, involuntarily escaped from his lungs. The cold stung his face. "Copy," he said. His thumb again reached for the selector lever, and as he flicked it back to the SAFE position he watched his target through the scope. Mentas Blaque, Director of the Federal Intelligence Office, head of the Black Eagles, all hollow eyes and pock-marked skin, now shaking hands, now walking purposefully toward his vehicle, now getting in and being driven away, now a blip on the crisp dark horizon.

"Congratulations, Director," said the Corporal under his breath. He hoisted his weapon back over his shoulder, and as he turned around and slid down the ledge to sit on the frigid rooftop, he felt a dizzying rush of relief along with his disappointment. He gingerly touched the antimatter containment chamber in his pocket. A gentle snow began falling. Mentas Blaque was not the only man who had survived this night.

With the cold wind streaming through his nostrils and burning his lungs, he began to dismantle his weapon.


Piirkino Deep Core Mining Colony District 6B, Eskunen III
Eskunen System, The Forge Region
November 12, YC113

The tropical air outside the shanty bar was thick with the fumes of broken promise and human decay. The shiftless inhabitants of this muddy waste had long since repaired to their scattershot makeshift hovels, leaving their window-lanterns to carve timid columns through the humid dark. From just beyond the edge of vision on all sides, countless unseen creatures vied against each other in a jarring congress of chirps and croaks. The two men began walking.

"Look, Rom," said Piers. "I know I wasn't always the greatest to Laina."

"I know that as well as you do, Piers," said Haromi. He was looking down at the ground a few feet in front of him as he walked, his eyes unwavering.

"My father was dying and I needed to go see him," said Piers. "And then the service just... it just sucked me in. It was just the spirit of the times, brother. Crielere was starting to go sour, the FIO needed new people and I scored like nobody's business on the aptitude tests. It was no intention of mine to..."

While he had said these last words another small sound had made itself known in the night, barely audible over Piers's chatter and the constant murmur of the encroaching jungle. It was the sound of Haromi's stun baton extending with a practiced flick of the wrist, and before Piers could say another word the other man had pivoted towards him, whipping the baton into his teeth with a sickening crack.

Piers collapsed backwards into the mud with a thick splash, his face and chin craning involuntarily toward the emptiness of the indifferent sky as the shock volts coursed through him. An indistinct gurgle escaped the jagged expanse of his broken mouth. "Hraaaaaarrrdd..."

"Better not try to talk," said Haromi. "Wouldn't want to bite off that silvery tongue of yours." He retracted his baton and holstered it. Then he sat on his haunches in the festering mud, face inches away from the shivering mess of blood and tears that moments before had been Special Agent Piers Lascaux of the Federal Intelligence Office, Black Eagles Division.

"Do you know how they feel back home about a single woman who tries to raise a child on her own, refuses to give it up to a creche?" Haromi said in a conversational tone, pulling off one of his leather gloves. The hand underneath was not a hand but a chromed monstrosity, a mechanical approximation of a fist. "A child that also happens to be a Gallente halfbreed?" he continued, regarding his robotic hand pensively as it opened and closed. A snuffling burble escaped the man staring up at him, accompanied with a dumb look of terror and disbelief.

"Do you know what they do to people like her when war breaks out? When she lives in a border zone filled with xenophobes and spies and propagandists?" His voice was a laser-edged dagger held by a shaking hand; tears began to form at the corners of his eyes. "They do things a lot worse than this."

Swiftly he clamped his mechanical hand around Piers's mouth and nose. Piers's eyes went wide.

"The man you sold out tonight is alive because of you, you traitorous pile of garbage," said Haromi. "But others haven't been so lucky."

For the next several seconds the cold metal fingers, with strength as inexorable as the ticking of time itself, journeyed toward the wire-mesh palm, and a penetrating scream slashed into the sultry evening.

Afterwards, when the blood had been cleaned off, the glove had come back on and the window-lights in the vicinity had been judiciously snuffed, a small weak moan came from the crawling remains of Piers Lascaux.

The Caldari genuflected again, bowed his head. "What is it?" he said quietly.

"Uhh.... uhb ss... sssuuhhrr...." was the sob-choked reply.

Haromi Itakainen stood up, closed his eyes and let a deep sigh escape him. With his metal hand cool against his burning face he wiped the tears away, while with his other hand he reached for his sidearm.

"Tell that to my sister and her son, Piers."

For a few brief seconds the sounds of the jungle were interrupted by a sharp crack which percolated into the night, bouncing off the trees and buildings before merging with the quiet misery of the world. Gradually the animals of the jungle went back to their chattering, and all was as before.

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