Wooooow. I really sat here for five days thinking I responded to this.
Got the post typed up and everything. Just...didn't send it.
Valentina scoffed silently, her gaze alternating between the device and the woman who supplied it. What a stupid little concept. She's excessively dramatic even by my standards, she thought, resisting the urge to toss it in the direction of the huntress just to see her reaction.
Although mildly interested at the prospects of these other "operations," Rosso only concerned herself with the idea of how profitable they might be in her hands. Whether she could knock them off herself or extort them. If she could tolerate the huntress's theatrics it might be worth keeping her around. But that would all depend on how the meeting with her contact went.
"You just can't get enough...Exploding devices, half-volunteering information, thinly veiled threats as 'warnings.' I knew I had you figured correctly," flashing a self-satisfied grin. "It'd kill you if you were ever made to talk normal, I bet. So I guess it'd be a waste to ask you for a more reliable means of getting in touch," she said, not quite able to lower herself to lifting her voice in the way one usually did when asking a question. Well, I've waited long enough as is. No need to wait any longer. With that, she activated the communicator, turned around, and tossed it hard in the other direction.
Xi did not speak, but simply answered with a slight twitching of the corners of her lips. When Val turned to cast the communicator from her, she activated her cloaking shield and moved off. The deed was done; there was no reason for her to remain and be party to whatever might follow. Besides, she had a not-insignificant degree of distaste for the individual with whom she'd just put Val in contact with.
Val wouldn't have to wait long, however. Within a matter of seconds of the device exploding, a human-sized portal ripped open and a figure sauntered through. He glanced around in a seemingly casual fashion and spat before finally focusing a gaze both organic and cybernetic on the redhead.
"Earth." The word was pronounced in the same tone most would reserve for discussing parasites of the lower bowel. "Well, at least the women here are easier on the eyes than they are on Eristes. So...whatcha in the market for?"
...Bitch. I'll make her pay for that. Perhaps a minor slight at best to the huntress, Valentina's mind lingered a while longer on her being ignored even as the remnants of a shockwave kicked stray debris in her direction. True, she'd been used to it since her developmental years, but with what she wanted to achieve, she'd have to take every sign of disrespect as extremely personal and deserving of retaliation. In time...
Huh. That was fast. Maybe there's truth to the alien thing after all. Although her expression hadn't changed, for the first time Valentina found herself tempted to give credence to Xiandra's extraterrestrial claim. (Although, she also considered, it wouldn't be far-fetched for that kind of technology to exist on Earth already.) The cyborg's response time was almost enough to make up for the amount of time Xiandra had wasted with her little scavenger hunt. She cut right to the heart of it, ignoring his observation so much like those she'd been hearing for years from men of ill repute. "Xandra says you can get me Elsa Beremud's 'cure.' How much can you acquire?"
The cyborg seemed momentarily taken aback, before the realization of what was seeking hit him. A wide grin split his scarred features, and he allowed himself a hearty and not at all pleasant laugh. "Ah, right...that's what they're calling it here. Forgot that it was this planet."
He cocked his head, now fully appraising Val with his mechanical orb. "Depends on what you're offering. Last I heard, they were passing the stuff out free at clinics, so I'm guessing you want it for some other reason than killing an inconvenient power. That bein' the case, I'm pretty much the only source who's offering it up without a fight. Tell me what ya got, and I'll tell ya how much it's worth."
Valentina's face remained curiously impassive, save for an eyebrow creeping toward her hairline. What is this, some kind of test?No way any runner worth her salt would go for that. She searched his face for any indication that he was being facetious. When she found none she immediately renounced the entire interaction--and everything to do with this man or Xiandra--as almost certainly a bust. She remained calm despite her frustration. With as much time and energy as they'd stolen from her, she was going to get her due. Even if she had to take it in blood.
"Maybe I've overdone my makeup today, since you seem to be under the impression you're dealing with a clown. Nah uh, that's not how this is gonna work," she said. Firm, sardonic, but not extremely aggressive. "If you're worried about money, rest assured you'll be paid. But I'm not gonna let you upsell me just for the feck of it. I've got a lot, of a lot of things. Tell me what it's worth to you, and t he better you treat me, the more I can offer you. But we've got to meet somewhere close to the middle at least."
Well, she's not a complete idiot, at least...
Kallak's grin widened. He enjoyed the back-and-forth negotiation of deal-making almost as much as he enjoyed straightforward combat. It was something about the matching of skill, probably. Or maybe the fact that both benefited from fighting dirty.
"Money? I'm not interested in whatever seashells or beads you use for currency on this planet; I need something I can spend anywhere: rare gemstones, precious metals, weapons, tech...although I don't think you're going to have much of that last to offer, either. But if you wanna play it that way, I'm game. I can get you an ounce of the 'cure' for a kilo of vibranium, or something of comparable value."
For a brief moment Valentina found herself utterly at a loss. Currency had been her entire life since Sorabella brought her into his world. Even as the swordsman outlined alternative paths, everything he wanted was everything she lacked. In her mind, his job was to help her so that she could have a path to those things.
She doubted threatening him would work. As much as he came across like a monkey's ass she didn't doubt he could handle himself in a direct confrontation. Maybe she could take him, but even if she could, good luck getting the drug then. And she couldn't quite deign to try and charm him.
"I can do that for you," she said, striding toward him with the appearance of confidence. "But not yet. We can both still get what we want, but it'll be much easier and faster if you're willing to invest in me. I'm building something—huge, it'll span the entire globe within a month. But what you have is one of the keys I need to stifle opposition. Front me the suppressing agent now and I'll cut you in on my operations—and with what I'm working on, by then vibranium will be the least of your rewards. Surely a businessman like yourself understands concepts like investment, delayed gratification for an even greater reward."
Kallak's grin broke into open laughter at this point. "It actually worked, didn't it? You terrans actually think this is some kind of miracle cure." With an exaggerated effort, he regained his composure. "Alright, look...here's the deal: if you actually got your hands on this 'cure,' you'd get why I've got no interest in investing in anything going down on this planet. I mean, you saw what happened at that one city of yours, Euthanasia or whatever, right? Your planet's on the greater cosmic radar now, sweetheart; there's players who'd make your pretty head spin making moves on it even as we speak. I'm more than happy to give you what you think you're after, but I need something of value that I can take with me, off this planet, now."
Aha. Just like her, in every way that matters.
It wouldn't have been so bad if not for the ongoing skulduggery. If either one of them had given her what she wanted, she wouldn't have minded so much. But on top of everything else, it was just too much. It was as though both were compelled by an obsessive need to constantly point out the fact that they were apparently off-worlders, as though without the constant reminders they might themselves forget, and in so doing, forget that they should consider themselves superior simply for being born elsewhere.
Maybe it was the pressure of so many blunders in succession. Valentina knew The Undertaking was going to be rough but up til that point she'd been convinced by everyone that she was a prodigy. She shouldn't have gone this long without at least some form of success. Her miscalculation with Ishmael Strix still stung, and Noah Noble's scathing rebuke might as well have been yesterday. Hot on the heels of the fiasco with Xiandra, the cyborg's latest series of disrespectful jabs and put-downs effectively pushed the furnace past its breaking point.
I'm done being disrespected.
"'Miracle cure?' You monkey's ass, I don't give a shit about that, it's a utility. But that doesn't matter. I don't owe explanations to dead men." With that, a blinding flash erupted just behind her. It carried no force and was meant purely for distraction. Mere meters behind his mistress, Arclight's bioluminescent solar flare was merely to blind the cyborg while a shower of bullets exploded at him from the fluted-barrel Desert Eagles Rosso had drawn from their holsters.
The cyborg instinctively threw up an arm to shield his organic eye from the flashbang that unexpectedly ended the verbal stage of negotiations. He briefly mused that perhaps his fellow Ephemeran, who had never hidden her contempt for him, had finally decided to attempt to off him. As he felt the impact of the bullets, however, he realized that, had this been the case, his assassin would have been better informed. Once, such projectiles would have posed a serious threat; these days, not so much.
That said, physics was still physics. The impact of the shots knocked him flat on his back. The necrotite that infused his body responded immediately, and the flesh around the wounds would seem to shimmer, as though it was more liquid than solid, as the damaged tissues were swiftly repaired. He leapt back to his feet, timing it so he could catch the last bullet as it was ejected from his body, which he tossed back at Val.
"See?" His manner was desultory, even as his free hand closed on the hilt of his blade. "This look like some kind of power suppressing 'cure' to you?" Without waiting for a response, he was suddenly in motion, his sword flashing from his sheath and swirling in an arc designed to bisect the barrel of Val's firearm. There was no salvaging a deal when one party was dead, after all.
As the Ephemeran bladesmaster hit the ground Valentina broke into a fit of exaggerated laughter herself, more to get him back for her own wounded pride than any true sense of amusement. But even that modicum of satisfaction vanished as once again he began moving. By then Valentina had been around metas and related phenomena enough that it was no longer shocking when a foe recovered after eating a bulletstorm. Still, it was a bit unnerving.
She wasted only a moment trying to process the connection between Kallak's condition and what she'd been seeking. Even that was too much. The swordsman crossed the distance almost faster than she could blink and before she knew it, the assassin was holding a worthless chunk of steel in her left hand.
But he stopped short. And that was enough, at least for the moment, to earn a reprieve. If she'd parsed their half-hints correctly (and she was sure she had), she had a bigger vendetta to settle than some doofus making snide remarks and wasting a couple hundred bucks on a Deagle.
"Christ, I get it for the twelfth time, the 'suppressing agent' isn't a suppressing agent and Beremud's a shady bitch. What, you want a cookie? In that case, the best I can give you is a peaceful parting for saving me more money and future efforts." He was lucky to be getting that much, all things considered. "But if you don't want to leave here empty-handed you can help me find Xandra. Now is fine. Or as close to now as you can manage," she said, a hint of patronizing in her voice. "Then"—nodding back toward Alex who'd begun advancing toward them—"my friend and I could give you something that might be of use. That bitch gotta pay for wasting my time on a goose hunt. If that doesn't interest you, beat it."
His gambit seemed to pay off, and by all appearances his buyer had interpreted his little display correctly: he was here for business, not pleasure. All bluster aside though, her counter-offer was intriguing; he certainly returned Xi's antipathy, and he was beginning to suspect that the huntress had set up this meaning because she calculated that one of them wouldn't have walked away from it.
"I'm gonna pass on hunting the huntress," he replied, his blade spinning in his hand and resuming its home in its sheath with that delightful hiss of metal on synthleather. "Couldn't tell you where she's gotten to even if I wanted to; and finding her when she doesn't want to be found ain't worth my time. Tell you what, though, if you've got nothing of sufficient material value, how 'bout a little compromise?"
He reached into one of his belt pouches, and produced a tiny, empty vial. "I'll give you this much of your 'cure' in exchange for some information. I want to know what your history with Xiandra is, and what you plan to do with the sample. I'm willing to bet that intel's worth a bit to the right bunch."
Valentina shrugged. No surprise there. Given what she'd understood about the pair, even if he did particularly dislike Xiandra the swordsman was unlikely to hedge his bets with an Earthling. She hadn't exactly shown him much to inspire confidence in...well, anything.
Not that she entirely minded. It wouldn't be the first time she'd had to endure scornful gazes and condescending evaluations for a bigger pay-off later on. It'd be a pleasure to prove them wrong. And with the low-ball exchange Kallak suggested, several elements of the puzzle seemed to fit perfectly into place.
She considered his offer. Thought about the likely angles he could be playing, staring off with a finger posed dramatically at her chin. There was likely little he could do with the information he specifically requested even if she was keen on telling the whole truth (she wasn't). In which case, it couldn't exactly hurt her to tell. Or he'd want to sell the information about her plans, and someone else would come up with the idea before her—in which case, she could just steal it from them with less cost and expended resources. This was all played up for show. Kallak was in all likelihood the simplest way to her now shifted objective. "Hmm, alright, not really seeing how this could bite me in the ass, so you've got a deal.
"Seems like it should be obvious, given the way it was marketed." Guess we're not the slow ones after all. "What I wanted it for was its apparent utility, as a means for profit and as a practical resource. Have my scientists analyze it, be able to synthesize and make modifications ourselves for when necessary. And of course, to weaponize it. Anything that can sever the superhumans—whatever you want to call them—from that which gives them strength is sure to sell in my circles. And to serve me well should I happen to face resistance from these individuals myself. If it's not the power suppressant as has been suggested, I'm not sure I need so much. But looking at you," she gave him an appraising glare both disgusted and intrigued, "I could still find a purpose.
"Our 'history' is simpler. I break into warehouse, single guard on duty. We fight, I win - thus earning respect - and she tells me all her dirty little secrets. And occasionally does favors like arranging this meeting. Pretty shit favor, I know, but now you see where that's left us."
Smirking, he resumed his desultory manner, crossing his arms and resting his weight on one leg. It was ever a ruse with him, of course, his twitchy cybernetic reflexes were always ready to explode into violence. Perhaps too ready, some of his superiors seemed to think, although Kallak made a point of ignoring them.
Not really seeing how this could bite her, eh? She's clearly never had a date with an offworlder; spend enough time in the interstellar scene and you'll be finding teeth in the damnedest places... "Oh, it can be a power suppressant, at need," he responded as Val finished her explanation, "but I won't ruin the surprise. Once your brain trust starts poking at it, I'm sure you'll see the potential."
He held up the small vial, casually flipping open the top with his thumb. He then held the thumb over the aperture, and the flesh of that digit seemed to shimmer and liquefy briefly, flowing into the small container. Once the vial was filled, he quickly snapped it shut. His thumb looked no different, but the "flesh" that had flowed into the vial was now a dark, metallic hue, and it seemed as though it was active, spreading around its new prison systematically, as though analyzing it.
"Enjoy." He casually tossed the vial Val's way. "Shit favor or not, looks like you're walking away with what you came for. Pleasure doing business. Let me know if you ever want a real taste of what's available, out there." he jerked his thumb in the general direction of the sky.
Like ink spilled onto a map, the Abyssal Imperium spread across galaxy after galaxy, staining all it touched with death and devastation. With his now absolute control of the Imperium's fleets and armies, Nordok, the last of the beings known as the Ancients, observed the cosmic destruction on both a macro and micro level.
In one star system, he drank in the death of a world, as heavy cruisers swept aside its defensive fleet and turned their devastator canons on its surface, each blast striking with the force of an advanced nuclear warhead and swiftly turning once-inhabited environments into irradiated wastelands unfit to support any life.
In another, he reveled in in the piecemeal extermination of the desperate survivors of an initial assault, as he experienced every kill executed by even the most basic legionary infantry unit. If the death of the world was a king's feast, each individual death was a bite of a delectable dessert, compensating for quantity with quality.
But each victory, no matter how grand the scale, did nothing to sate the malevolent being's hunger. Rather, like a fire grown out of control, he found himself consumed by the need for ever more death. Finally, after countless aeons of conflict and plotting, he had acquired the raw power to make his vision, the will of the universe, into a cold a brutal reality. Finally, he had the power to purge existence itself of the abomination of organic life.
The Ancient One hungered, and he would be sated.
Snatching the vial from the air, Valentina hardly spared another glance before tucking it away into a compartment on her belt. Not exactly the plan, but she was sure she could spin her new direction from this. That said, as interesting as armaments from distant galaxies seemed, short of another lavaliere Valentina had more than her fair share of firepower. What she needed most was manpower - munitions were useless without the bodies to run her operation.
He'd come around. A man like him would be simple once she got her feet moving. "And when that day comes, how should I reach you? A direct line, without all the bullshit." No amount of help was worth that much waste.
Though his outwardly cavalier manner did not waver, he was mildly surprised; he hadn't expected her to take his offer seriously, given her apparent dissatisfaction with the difficulty of this transaction. This might be easier than I thought.
Reaching into his belt pouch, he withdrew a small, metallic sphere and tossed it in turn to Val. The sphere would seem almost unnaturally cold to the touch, and its surface presented no apparent flaws. "Just give that beacon a drop of blood and leave it someplace open," he explained. "It'll let me know you're looking to make a purchase."
With no further explanation, he took a single step backwards into a tear in the fabric of space that appeared mid-stride and swallowed his figure before resealing just as quickly.
Right. "Make a purchase."
Valentina glared at the space where he once stood for nearly a full minute, mentally adjusting to the weight of what she'd just gone through as well as what lay ahead. Compared to the Lavalieres those two and their vague, high-minded threats didn't mean much. The culture shock of coming to America - that was overwhelming. But after everything she'd gone through since, this almost seemed a natural progression.
Mentally collecting what she'd consider a small victory if only for sanity's sake, she passed the device to Alex and set off.
Next up: Elsa Beremud.
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