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GM

 

Saturday 10th August

 

Late Afternoon

 

Starbase Coffee House...

 

This particular Starbase Coffee House was just like all the others. Nothing made it stand out - and that's why it was a chain. One could not fault the service, the coffee, or the decor. But neither could one rant about it either. You knew what you were getting, nothing more, nothing less, despite bold advertising that would suggest otherwise. The coffee was good, but not out of this world. 

 

It's pleasant blandness served one man very well. 

 

Oscar "fingers" Ferson was old and, by his own admission, beaten with the ugly stick. That hadn't stopped him. He had a devilish smile, and a quick brain. He was cautious but clever, ambitious but not greedy. 

 

Illegal, but not immoral. 

 

Fingers fenced goods. He didn't touch drugs, he didn't touch killers. He just knew people who knew people, and new how to make plenty of contacts to "facilitate the flow of goods and money". Fingers had his fingers in many pies. Hence his name. 

 

Fingers nursed his coffee, a rich, creamy mug full of chocolate and marsh mellows. For all its abundance of calories, he looked painfully thin. 

 

He inspected his watch, and coughed violently into a napkin. He recovered, and folded the napkin neatly. 

 

He had called Kit. And he hoped she would turn up. Without police or handcuffs, ideally. She knew enough about him to cost him serious lawyer money. But then, he knew a thing or two about her, too. 

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Well. This isn't how I expected to spend my Saturday.

Sam enters the Starbase. It is much less interesting than that sentence should imply, but at least it smells moderately nice. She gets herself a frothy, chocolaty, sugary thing that might have a drop of coffee in there- the only way to drink it, really- with a brownie. Any business meeting that does not involve brownies isn't worth attending.

She sports a blue vest with a white short-sleeve blouse underneath. Black slacks, black flats, black fedora. Something with a bit of class that isn't too hot for the weather.

And really, there isn't any way this is anything but business. Fingers is a nice guy, but he was never exactly on the Christmas card list. Well, okay, technically he was one year, but that was only because it made for a convenient hand-off.

Still, he's a decent sort. Honest, for certain definitions of honest. And how many people can you turn to when you need to offload some extra alien tech? AEGIS still doesn't know she and Fox were the ones behind that one. She's still not entirely sure what the stuff they were actually there for was, let alone what their employer of the moment wanted with it, but it's probably not important.

She takes a seat across from the fence, setting her hat next to her. "Hey, Ozzy! What's up?" She takes a big bite of brownie, cheerful as can be. At least, until she notices the napkin. "You okay? You don't look so good."

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GM

 

Fingers stuffed the blood spotted napkin into his pocket. 

 

"Nothing. I'm fine. Just old, that's all" he said, lighting up a cigarette to go with his coffee. 

 

"Glad you could come. I was a bit worried you would show up with some handcuffs or do some hocus pocus on me. I'm too old for jail, you know. I would die in there..." he said, giving a sardonic chuckle. 

 

"And I have no intention of dying" he said, flicking his decaying but end of a cigarette into the street. 

 

"So, how are you?" he said, without much enthusiasm. "You look well. Fresh faced and young. Full of life" he drawled. Whatever else he was, Fingers had a winning smile. 

 

"I never really got to know you. Properly, that is. Always a mystery child. But I have a nose for people, a suspicious nose, some my say. And a nose that has a lot of contacts. You should see some of the stuff I have shifted over the years. It would give you hair as grey as mine" he said, laughing. 

 

"And I guess you have your nose about me too. I don't touch stuff that's too hot. I pass things on - information, items, money. And keep a bit of the last for myself, enough to live comfortably and more. But I'm getting to old for this. Gangs are taking over the city, and they don't always respect the code, you know? drugs, prostitution. Pfah. I wouldn't touch them..." he said with a look of disgust. 

 

"But right now, I would dearly like to acquire something. I can barely call it stealing, because its already been stolen. And I need a thief to steal it back..."

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Somehow, Sam suspects coughing up blood is a little more severe than an old man thing. Though the cigarette thing probably isn't helping. Still, not her business. If he doesn't want to talk about it, it's his choice. If Sam were dying of some disease that made her cough blood, she probably wouldn't want to talk about it, either. Strange to hear him talk so openly about the 'hocus pocus,' though. He used to be superstitious as they come. Just mentioning her mind games could scare the Hell out of him. Guess folks change. Maybe he moved some mystic stuff on the side?

"Well, you never were one for social calls. Busy as a beaver. Always another client. Slowing down and enjoying your cut nowadays, I hope. Or just slowing down to get off the radar a bit?"

She takes a sip of her lightly caffeinated milk fluff and screws her face up at the offer. Strange one, too; he knows the score. The only reason he's alive is he always knows the score.

"You know I left The Trade when the boss dropped out." This is a statement, not a question. "You work with plenty of pros you could call on. Why come to me? I haven't pulled a real job since I got out." Of course, she's solved plenty of hero problems with those skills, but it's not quite the same.

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GM

 

Fingers finished his coffee. 

 

"I'm slowing down but haven't stopped" he said, ironically slowly, studying Sam. 

 

"As for why I chose you, its because you a damn good thief. Or, perhaps, a damned thief. What I want is not from this earth. Its not even a thing. Although its not really a person either. Its a demon...." he let the words sink in. 

 

"I think you stole something this little devil had. The Cantos cane. Yes, I heard about that little incident. Don't ask me how..." he said firmly "But it had your name written all over it..."

 

"The demon looks, I hear, like a small black rat. And hangs around with a two bit thug by the name of Filth. I can't really say which one of them leads the other. Perhaps both. Perhaps you could enlighten me. But when I would very much like to get my hands on that little rodent. And crush its little neck..." he said, a trace of venom in his words. 

 

"And, from what I hear, the pair are pretty furious that there plan to steal the Cantos cane, or perhaps its owner, was foiled by some thief. Luckily for you, your part in that caper is a secret. Whilst Filth hasn't the brains to work out who did it, The Vermin-demon does, given enough time"

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That shuts Sam up even longer than the last punch to the gut. She considers the man for a while, sipping at her loosely coffee-based beverage.

"At least you know what to do with him," she offers in an ambivalent start.

"I know a little more about this topic than your typical Tradesman, sure. But it's enough to know I never want to deal with their lot if I can avoid it. This is a Hell of a favor you're asking. Literally. This thing's a little demon, and that's the most dangerous kind you're telling me to go after."

On the other hand, even if he didn't see her, there are only so many people who could have broken in there that way. He will figure something out eventually.

"You know you'd owe me big for this one." She can't exactly ask for a paycheck, as that'd cause too many tax questions for Miss Vance, and she's not exactly hurting for gear, but a favor from a man with so many fingers in so many pies has its uses. "What'd the rat do to you, anyways?"

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GM

 

"I am sorry to say that is my business" he said, apologetically. He was irritated at both the question and his secrecy. 

 

"Suffice to say, it is very important business indeed. Without the Rat in my hands, and without my fingers around its scrawny throat, I am in big trouble. Such is the nature of its kind, I guess. Troublemakers. And I would have thought you would do well to dispose of the vermin too, before it comes crawling into your life and making misery. I doubt it's memory will fail when it comes to the blistering failure you inflicted on it" he said sternly. 

 

"And yes, I will owe you. Big time. More than you could know. If you get me the rat, then I will be in your debt. I confess I do not know which side of the fence you sit on these days, or if you merely dance along it. But you do know that I have plenty of information that could help you wherever you look. As long as you are discrete, and as long as it does not expose me to the vengeance of rather powerful, and distasteful, people - I could bend my normal rules on confidentiality for you. For as long as you wish. I would like to offer more, but kindly and generous as I am, and morals such as I do have, all are subjugated to my need to protect my own skin"

 

"Understand that is quite an offer. I wouldn't be making it to anybody else. I wouldn't be making it for anything else, either..."

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Sam goes silent for quite a while at that one.

"That's... wow."

In his line of work, he lives or dies by his silence. If anyone even knew he were making that offer, his business would be tanked, and he'd probably wake up dead in the morning. Whatever he needs that demon for, it must be serious.

"Hard to put a price on this job," she says as she tries to return to some appearance of normalcy, finishing off her brownie. "But that sounds about right. Dunno your reasons, but must be pretty serious to get mixed up in something like this. Whatcha got to hunt him down by?"

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GM

 

"Filth"

 

Fingers pointed to the Subway station opposite Starbase. 

 

"I know of him, of course. I know a lot of things about the street. Filth is a gang leader, of sorts. The Filth gang is where all the scrawny, cowardly, or inept gang members go when nobody else will have them. And Filth is as you would expect for a leader of such a gang. He hasn't the wit or charisma to go anywhere"

 

He put his finger up. 

 

"But for two things. Firstly, he has somehow - and I don't know how - acquired the ability to communicate with, and control, rats. He has swarms of the things as his army. If he had the brains to use that gift he would be quite a player"

 

"Secondly, his acquaintaince with one particular rat. Or rather, demon posing as a rat. The object of my..." he licked his lips "...affection" he said slyly. 

 

"Now the demon, Vermin, is far more sly than Filth. That is not saying much, of course. What you should be aware of is that whilst Vermin is cunning and crafty, Filth is not. He is an insecure, uncharismatic, and incompetent leader of the worst gang in Freedom City. He has a tendency to brag, and his tongue does not fail in its clumsiness. Filth is currently hiding out in the subways. I cannot say exactly where, but near this one" he indicated the station opposite them. 

 

"Probably in some disused tunnel or something. Probably with a few of his drop outs. It shouldn't be too hard to find him. But unless you can see in the dark, I would bring a flash light" he said, pulling a small but powerful one from his pocket and offering it to Kit. 

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Sam pockets the flash light, but gives Ozzy an incredulous look. "You can't give me more to go on than that? I'm surprised. You're the one with the information network, not me, and you're asking me to jump down a hole waving around a beacon to find a guy so far below the radar he barely even registers."

She considers the situation for a moment. "They can't stay down there forever. If they wanna do anything, they gotta surface some time. You know where they normally crawl out of their hole? Keep in mind I ain't going down there blind. More I get now, the less time I'll need to prep."

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GM

"They do crawl out of there hole" replied fingers with a smile.

"The idiots that are in the gang, anyway. Some even collect coffee and cakes from this very shop. As well as other shopping runs. But filth himself, he just runs the subways now. He is holed up down there. And his little pet demor rat too. I expect they have some master plan, but aside from trying to recruit to their army of incompetents, I don't know what it is..."

"Of course information on that would be appreciated. As a broker of such whispers I cannot help but be interested. But what I really want is that rat. Filth and his gang can wait another day, I am sure"

"If you can wait, I'm sure I can spot you one of his gang. If you fancy trailing them..."

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"I got the time if you do." Sam stretches, a display that flaunts a whole lot of nothing.

"Patience is the first tool of the trade, after all," she quotes her mentor as she gets up. "Besides, I need to swing by City Hall for the second tool of the trade. Lemme know when you find something."

She grabs her trash and starts her way to the trash can, but catches herself. "And Ozzy? Thanks for trusting me."

With that, she leaves, and steps through a shadow to get to city hall, for the building department. The blueprints to that chunk of sewer will be invaluable. Of course, they're 'for school.' Thwarting vicious, scheming demons counts as schoolwork at Claremont, right?

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GM

 

The Sewers and Subways of Freedom City were a complicated spaghetti arrangement of new built on old. Of course, the new, used systems were easily available. 

 

It took considerably more digging, from an irrate old gentleman and a partially broken flashlight to get to the old records. But they were public access, so persistence and insistence won the day. 

 

As the photocopy machine rolled off a print (for this, there was a nominal charge), Fingers phoned. 

 

"Get your skates on. Or whatever you kids do to shoot around. I just spotted one of the Filth gang headed underground..."

 

He was eyeing a small punk, spotty and sporting a mohican, wearing a badly fitting leather jacket, slide down to the depths, with a couple of Pizza boxes in one hand and a brown paper package in the other. 

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A few bucks for good intel is no big deal. Heck, getting something of this caliber from Ozzy would probably cost a few grand on the bottom end. Then again, the ones he keeps on file aren't exactly public access.

When she gets the call, she just gives a short, "En route. Gimme a destination?" On getting that, she hangs up. Clock's ticking.

First, she steps through the shadows back to her closet, where she sheds her nicer duds lickety split in favor of a more expendable outfit. Jeans, old sneakers, the tank top she was already wearing underneath, and a beat up jacket. With that, she drops off the map and 'ports to the meet-up point.

She exits the shadows and looks to Ozzy for confirmation that she's headed to the right subway, then says, "First trip's just scouting."

And with that, she follows, turning unnoticeable and looking to tail the thug's light rather than using her own.

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GM

 

The Filth gang did not, it must be conceded, recruit the finest calibre of thug. The scrawny rake carrying the starbase coffee, pizza box, and parcel did his best to look mean and tough but without significant effect - no matter how hard and nasty he glared at the commuters. 

 

He would hardly have noticed Kit if she had worn a bright pink t shirt with "I am Kit" written on it. 

 

He slipped through the tunnels and rails, going deeper into the belly of the subways - and out of the main arteries that carried customers. Soon, he had reached some disused maintenance tunnels and was whistling a tune to keep himself brave. The light was dim and low here - emergency power only. 

 

Rats crawled in their dozens along the floor, but all avoided the skinny youth. 

 

"Hey, Filth, I got;s the package! where are you?" he called out, a little nervous. 

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Thrice hidden is thrice safe.

An incompetent mark. A mental veil. Add in her own skill, as she sneaks behind the goon, and there's no way she's going to be spotted. Still, she's been trained better than to get cocky at this point. It's a fast way to die.

She keeps the map in mind as best she can as she follows along, using the gangster's light instead of her own. Rats? A sign she's getting close.

She scurries nearer to her mark, in case she needs to zip through a door quickly at the end. Relying on veil alone is a bad idea when she can avoid it, but it may be a necessity.

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GM

 

Kit recognised Filth. He was hard to forget. If anything, he looked even more scrawny and ragged. And tired. His ginger hair was mopped and greasy, and his clothes ripped and dirty. 

 

And on his shoulder, the rat demon, vermin. The little creature's black eyes were darkly unremarkable at first glance, but gave one the unnerving impression of a deeper intelligence than his human companion. 

 

"You got it?" asked Filth, his voice a little creakier and worn than Kit remembered. 

 

"I got it, just like you said" said the thug, handing over the pizza box and parcel. 

 

"Dug it up out of the cemetery, just like you said. Gotta say, that place gave me the spooks, real big time. I thought Nick CImitiere was 'round every damn tree and stone..." he said, gulping. 

 

"You did good, you did good" said Filth, patting his youthful minion on the shoulder in an affectionate way. 

 

"This is what our man Stan needs..." he said, caressing the parcel lovingly. 

 

He looked up, not seeing Kit but flaring his nostrils. 

 

"Wait...I smell something...someone...something I smelled before..." he said, frowning and sweating. 

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Hm. Tricky, tricky.

Sam notes the nose. Hard to hide from that the old fashioned way. She loosens her jacket to vent her brand and prepares to keep her cloak up for a long, long time.

Must suck having a nose like that in a place like this.

But, the veil's back. Should be good.

So, she unleashes the greatest weapon of the thief. Patience. The parcel is obviously important, but it needn't be snagged right this instant. So, young Miss Vance waits. Best to see this lot's routine. The guard rotation, such as it is, their oh-so-intricate security protocols, and more importantly, where they sleep, when they sleep, what that rat does when everyone else sleeps, and where they're gonna put the package while they sleep. Hell, odds are, if she can get the rat out of the picture, they won't even know what to do with... whatever it is in the package.

So, she finds an out-of-the-way corner and stays to work continuing to be out of the way, possibly for hours on end.

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GM

 

It didn't take long. 

 

Filth slowly unwrapped the parcel keenly. The little demon on his shoulder, Vemin, looked on if anything more keenly than Filth. It was of course hard to say who was master and who was servant. 

 

The parcel was an antique. An old thing of stone and wood, a primitive icon, like a skill or a face on a skeletal body. Perhaps Fingers could have placed it, but Kit couldn't. It didn't look very nice, however. 

 

"You think Stan will like it?" asked Filth. 

 

squeak replied Vermin. 

 

"Hmph. Its damn ugly" replied Filth, unsure, before wrapping it up again. His thug friend looked uneasy at the sight of it. It was easy to feel unease when looking at it. 

 

A few minutes later....

 

Stan Kirby was dressed in a shabby suit with a name tag. He was, according to the name tag, an engineer of Freedom Cities subway systems but he did not inspire confidence. He looked old, tired, and ready to retired, or drop down dead from a heart attack. He was short, thin, with grey hair and a lined face, full of tired bitterness and too little sunlight. 

 

"Filth, I am busy man" he muttered. 

 

"I cant just drop everything just because you say so. Remember, I tolerate you down here because you do what I ask. You are useful. But don't forget who really is in charge down here, huh?"

 

Filth just sniffed. 

 

"Yeah yeah, whatever, old man. We all get to make a big buck with this scheme of yours eh? Your retirement package, so to speak. You show us where to strike, we cripple the subway, big ransom demand for the city, we all walk away with green lining our pockets, all happy...."

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'Hello

my name is

Stan Kirby'

Wow. Either this guy is the dumbest criminal mastermind ever, or the world's least subtle master of misdirection.

She watches the meeting in silence, measuring her options. She could drop her cloak, fill Filth with rage at being talked down to so, and drive a wedge between the thug and his cover, but it puts the job at risk. Not to mention putting her at risk, and tipping her presence to Filth even more. No, that's too bold a move.

I have a better idea.

This Stan guy is definitely worth keeping an eye on. She could pass the name along to someone more interested in the white-collar crap, let them take care of it. If he's dumb enough to wear a nametag, he probably has his real wallet on him. And there's a place to start.

She slips out of her nook at the edge of the room and makes her way behind good Mister Kirby, gently relieving him of his wallet. She waits behind while rifling through his stuff for any bit of information she can find. Even pictures from the company Christmas party could come in handy. Though there are two things she grabs first. The cash, and some ID. Not a license, though; too obvious when it's gone. No, there's gotta be something else in there... and any other handy tidbits to hold onto? Maybe he's old enough to keep a hard copy phonelist on hand that he wouldn't miss...

When it's done, she takes her winnings and returns the wallet, withdrawing her hand just clumsily enough to get a bit of notice, and scurries away for a good vantage to watch the fireworks.

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GM

 

As Kit slipped Stan's wallet into her palm, and started her deft manipulation, the dark eyes of Vermin grew wider and darker. 

 

Then, its is quiet and ominous squeak, it turned and scuttled to Filths ear, emitting its rat noise. 

 

Filths eyes narrowed and he looked left and right. Then sniffed. 

 

"I don't see anything" he said, suspiciously. But he frowned deeply, clearly not liking what he had heard. And vermin was on the prowl around his shoulders, squeaking furiously. 

 

"That rat of yours give me the damn creeps" muttered Stan, shuddering deeply like someone had walked over his grave. "I know you have an army of the things. Hell, they can chew threw the cables and wiring of this subway. I seen what you can do to this place...." he said, with a note of respect to Filth. A thing Filth clearly didn't get very often. 

 

He stopped, feeling his pocket, and pulling out his wallet. 

 

"What the hell?" he asked. "Did one of your crazy rats just steal mu cards???" he demanded, as Vermin hissed into Filth's ear.

 

Filth frowned deeply. "No man. No way. I think we are being set up...." he mumbled, unsure. 

 

"I think am being set up..." retorted Stan, bitterly. "I should have known better than to trust some no good thugs and his army of rats..." he muttered, getting ready to go. 

 

"Don't go...don't go..." spluttered Filth as Stan started to stomp off. 

 

"Look, I have something for you...a...a...gift..." he said, pressing the filthy and horrible idol his minion had brought him into Stan's hand. 

 

"What the hell is this trash you have brought me" said Stan, turning the thing over in his hands "I don't want this...it's...ghastly....it's...it's..." he said, his voice trailing off....

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As Stan takes the icon, a stream of curses floats through Sam's mind, several of them not in any earthly tongue. One of the perks of living on a hellworld; you learn all the good swear words.

That whatever-it-is is some serious bad juju, and it needs to go. Now.

Not a lot of options in the next few seconds, sadly. Hellfire? No. Illusions? No. Just taking it ain't gonna be easy, and everything she does is gonna give her away.

Panic! That's the answer.

She slinks her way further back, into a shadow in case she has to bolt, and takes off her jacket, ready to grab the icon when the opportunity presents itself without touching it herself. At this point, she's gonna have to move quick. But first, time to part Stan from the soul stealing relic of doom.

She drops her veil and dives into Stan's mind. Hard. She shoves a piece of her own memories of the soul-rending terrors of Dis and focuses all of them on the icon. The scruffy businessman has no idea what he's holding on to, but a bit of abject terror should fix that. And once he drops it... time to move.

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GM

 

Stan shook his head as his skin turned a pallid ghostly white and his eyes became blood shot. As much as might have wanted to drop the Icon, his grip on it did not falter. 

 

"What...is this..." he croaked before his voice gave out completely. 

 

This time, Vermin spoke. His voice was small and tinny coming out of a rats throat, but it was still quite audible, and perfect English, in a slightly strange and clipped accent. 

 

"Something to ensure your compliance. We never were convinced you had the will to go through with this...."

 

Stan still looked like Stan, but his flesh was drawn and haggard, his eye bloodshot like he had not slept a week, and his skin white as a ghost. He looked half dead

 

Which was, ironically, half true

 

"Now, lead us to the main engineering suite...." hissed vermin, eyes still darting around, alert to the mystery unseen intruder...

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