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The House Always Wins [IC]

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Iridium Shore

Gerivan, Volash

October 27, 2015

 

Gerivan was serving its old purpose once again. 

 

In the bad old days when the Lor Empire was first starting, the spaceport city had been a place for cargo, immigration, and flight - which had brought with it political refugees, vice, and all the issues associated with both of those. As the Empire stabilized, the city went from a place of intrigue and conflict to an exotic resort town with a reputation for those who wanted to coast on the phantoms of a more dangerous time.

 

And then Lor-Van had been destroyed. And once more, Gerivan found itself playing host to refugees, black marketers, and very dangerous men. With the empire beginning the long process of stabilization, Gerivan's shadier side was still casting long shadows. Which could be quite alluring to a lot of people.

 

 Kyle Steward was one of them. He had to admit, this was a lot nicer than some of the Star Knight details he'd been assigned to. The conflicts between the various aspects of the city's less-than-legal trades was starting to spill over, to the point that Citadel had noticed. The constant factor in all the bloodshed was that it seemed to brush up against the Iridium Shore, one of Gerivan's finest casinos. Intelligence was limited on the concerns of the bad men with guns, but whispers indicated they were seeking info on an asset in the casino's possession - the Midnight Diamond. Which meant a good old-fashioned casino heist.

 

Which meant he was on security, helping to oversee the operations and ensure that nobody brought too much bloodshed into this corner of the city in their efforts to rob the Iridium Shore. And, while he was trying very hard not to get loaded up on comped drinks, Kyle had to admit this was a lot nicer than blasting at Communion drones on a god-forsaken mining planet in the Khanate. 

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There was a time to do good and a time for bad in the universe.  And on this day, Stahnze Turk woke up on the less than altruistic side of the bed.  In search of a little mischief and relaxation, the Zultasian had docked on the all too familiar atmosphere .  Volash in general couldn't qualify as an old haunt for Stahnze.  It was Lor space and they weren't exactly what one could call trusting when it came to any ships docking from Khanate space.  But, the city's descent into a less than reputable local was like a homecoming.  Harkening where rather than chasing down fugitives throughout the stars, he would instead be running with them.

 

Not long after the charlatan turned bounty hunter had put an ear to the ground had the rumor mill began turning.  It was mostly the usual fanfare.  A lot of braggarts and deflated egos.  Some talk of what unpleasant things they'd do to a Star Knight if they were ever trapped alone with one.  Or dreams of their next big score.  Nothing worth transmitting home about.

 

At least, until he caught the whispers.  If someone were looking to pull of a big score, and really finance a vacation.  A lot of rough customers had already made themselves known in foolhardy power struggles with the casino as a backdrop.  Really, it'd be rude to not pop in and have a look or feel around the casino.  One might even say it'd be irresponsible to not get eyes on this midnight diamond no one will shut their klatarps about.  And that's how Turk found himself in the middle of a game of Kesh.  A card game whose closest Terran relative was Pai Gow.

 

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For every minute that Kyle spent on the casino floor, trying desperately to blend in with the other patrons, two minutes were spent in the security room, looking over the cameras with the chief of security. Varis Laend had been in the Stonebreakers, one of the spec ops units of the Lor Republic's military - mentats who brought a whole different meaning to "psyops." And now, she put her talents to use as chief overseer and enforcer for the Iridium Shore, making sure nobody was counting cards, carrying banned cybernetics, or had reprogrammed their brain for probability analytics. 

 

"Any regular interests that come at the casino?" Kyle asked.

 

"The Iridium Shore has a... rich and complicated history," she said. "But it has traded many hands since the last time it dealt in the less savory aspects of this city. And anyone who struck at the casino back in that day did not exactly become a 'regular.'"

 

He had wondered why there were so many of those concrete abutments on the edge of the city. "What sort of intel do we have on people with a record?"

 

"The casino has facial recognition software and access to the major criminal databases of 31 worlds. We're trying to upgrade to genomic security, but the civil libertarians keep making it an issue." She looked at Kyle. "I could more easily isolate the threat if you told me what they were after..."

 

"Our intelligence was vague. As far as we can tell, they may be trying to clean house." Kyle hated dealing with telepaths, especially when he had to (technically) lie. And it was the most technical of lies - while Citadel knew that the various interests were after the Midnight Diamond, the accounts from the interests indicated that none of them really knew what the Diamond was. Even Citadel's intelligence had run into a few road blocks, but there was reason to believe it was something more than a diamond. He just had to make sure to not think too hard on that fact around Varis.

 

Fortunately, the both of them were distracted when the software popped a hit. "Stanzhe Turk. Bounty hunter by trade, but he's got a long reputation for scams, schemes, and theft. He has allegedly cleared his debts, but..."

 

"But he could have decided to dip his toe back in." Kyle studied the purple man through the cameras - he looked Zultasian, but Kyle had only met a few of them. He didn't want to profile. "If you send your legbreakers down, it might tip him off. Means you might never find his comrades."

 

"And your solution?"

 

"Well..." 

 

---

 

With the armor retracted into its bracelet form, Kyle was in his usual leathers, looking like a hauler or roughneck out for a day of thrills. He sat down at the Kesh table, plopping down some credits. "Deal me in," he said. 

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Stahnze examined the man that sat down.  Clearly he was a Lor.  One of their finer physical specimens, not that he was complaining.  But, Ruby was enough Lor, or Terran or whatever Ruby is to last a lifetime.  However, the Zultasian wasn't entirely convinced a stereotypical Lor busybody would dress like that.  Much less find themselves in a den of inequity such as the Iridium Shore's less than hallowed halls.

 

"Come to the outer rim of Lor Space often?  Hope you're a high roller, this dealer's just too cautious.  After all what's life without a little risk."  Roulette tapped on the table indicating he wanted the dealer to reveal their hand.  Or hands depending on whether you would count some of those tentacles as extra card holding digits.   

 

A sly smile slowly edged the Indigo skinned man's lips.  "Well, either way, more credits for me."

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"Shame," Kyle said, shaking his head. "Here I thought I might get some actual action." He sent a friendly smile Stahnze's way; up close, he could see how the Zultasian had been able to cut it as a con artist. He had a certain confidence to him that could take hardened men in. And, when coupled with his looks...

 

This is no time to get all school girl, he thought. He leaned back in his chair. "Then again, if the dealer can handle his own --" Kyle raised two fingers to the dealers, part-salute, part-bid. "--I might be willing to give you that risk. After all, I'm not sure you can take all the chips." 

 

As the dealer bid him in, Kyle extended a hand. "Kyl Stuar," he said. "Hauler. Dropped off cargo, just got paid, got a local rotation and a half before my next gig... figured I'd try my hand at the tables."

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"Stahnze Turk.  Variety my friend, you can't take all the chips if you stick to one table.  If you jump around and experience all the delights there are to offer here, I usually save the thorough explanations for how to win big for my bedroom.  So we can table that conversation for another time. Let's get right to that risk."  Roulette winked before extending his arms on the table. Just before reaching out for his cards.  Keeping a firm hold.

 

The Zultasian wasn't merely flirting with the stranger.  Okay, he was doing that too.  But, he was also laying preparations to get his guard down.  There was never such a thing as a lack of information.  Especially in such questionable circles.  So it never hurt to acquire new contacts.  Even if they didn't know they were being used for that reason.

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"The bedroom, huh?" Kyle knew that he was likely being lured into something; then again, he knew how to handle himself, and maybe he wanted to be lured in this case. But he at least wanted to wait a while before he bit into the hook. "I might be up for that kinda lesson. But you said it yourself. Let's get to that risk. Maybe after a few hands here, you can show me some of the other tables..."

 

There was always this subtle interplay to con artistry, especially when both sides had reason to play. You had to pretend to be gullible, but with enough cunning to know how to put your underpants on in the morning. You had to be boisterous enough to show that you might miss the obvious, but not so boisterous as to hint that you could crack the other guy's neck if you caught him fleecing you. It was always an interesting tightrope to walk, and it had been a while since Kyle had tread that strand. But maybe he could make this work...

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Roulette examined the cards carefully as the dealer trotted out the face down cards.  Starting out with a small bet to get a feel for the table.  "So.  Mr. Hauler.  Traveling all through the black.  I'm sure you've heard all the latest juicy rumors.  Got anything to keep the table entertained?"

 

Sure, he was fishing right from the get go.  But, social combat wasn't played without risks.  It allowed the Zultasian to figure out how much of an open holo-book this Lor was.  He didn't expect anything that wouldn't actually be dated or easy to refute.  But, there was always the chance he might've been approached by feelers.  Someone out there with intention to transport fenced goods.

 

Fenced goods like a soon to be stolen diamond.

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"What have I heard?" said Kyle as he looked over his cards. "What have I heard..." 

 

There was the question. What was true, what was false, what was tantalizing, what was obvious, what was too obvious, and what was too, too obvious to be written off entirely. There were a number of things he could say... question was, what would draw him in the most? Then again, best to drop the big morsel somewhere in the middle. 

 

"Let's see... there's always the rumor of the Astral Blade drifting through the fairlanes again, its crew mutated into some new abomination. Nothing more than a ghost story. Keep hearing stories that someone plugged a Communion drone into the wrong outlet and now it's trailing off, trying to assimilate asteroids. Hopefully dren. This city's been talked about more than a few times - apparently there's more than a few starfarers who think they can find a fortune hiding somewhere in the casinos. And not just at the tables. And then, there's a bunch of people who swear they heard from a friend that the Star-Khan was seen waging a campaign on some backwaters, trying to rebuild his Khanate one village at a time." He shook his head. "Gotta be better prospects." 

 

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"Ah Star Khan.  Last rumor I heard was that he was dead.  Before that something about him being turned into a robotic saurian.  Or maybe it was that his limbs were replaced with the a star knight's sword.  It's tough to muck through the propaganda.  Survival of the fittest, eat or be eaten it is the Khanate way.  All that good dren."  Stahnze rolled his eyes.  The Khanate fared better than the Grue on paper after the Communion.  But, that did a whole little for the people living in now contested territory.

 

It did however give him something sour to seem passionate in.  So that his next question looked as if it were a desperate grab for a subject change.  It was a better hand dealt than the dealer had seen fit to give him.  "Fortune in the casinos not on the table?  Is there some sort of contest going on I should know about.  I can be very competitive."

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"Could be a contest," Kyle said, raising his bid - his hand was crap, but he had to stir the pot. "But if it is, it's not the public kind. And it's the kind where people are more likely to bring guns than playing cards. Some sort of gem or something; ancient relic, maybe unearthed in a ruin or something." Two lies and a truth - if he was even managing that. "Could just be the story people make up to explain the upturn in gangland violence. I don't know. But it's --"

 

The lights flickered on the main floor. Holodisplays flickered off for half a second before roaring back to life, and the jazzy yet still conventional music blaring through the speaker drones skipped a beat. All the signs of someone making a move. Fortunately, the dealer had turned over his hand long enough for him to see that he wasn't going to win this one. "Welp," he said. "Maybe my luck will be better at qulit." If Turk was part of this, odds were his associates might be pulling this as a distraction to lure him away from whatever this guy was planning. But if he wasn't, then he couldn't let this attempt go - and besides...

 

He handed Turk a chip. "Had a good time trying my luck with you," he said. "Gonna be in the Azimuth at 1800. You want a break from the tables, well... maybe we can find something more exciting." And with that, he took off, trying to blend into the crowd as casually as possible as he tried to source the chaos. 

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Roulette caught notice of the small flickering of action.  Especiallys as it interrupted this Kyl Stuar, just as story was just getting good.  It made him suspect his gaming companion as being in on the take.  The timing was too coincidental.

 

He could be a criminal.  He's got all the right muscles for hired muscle.  I might have to examine them once or twice more to be sure.  But, the rough and tumble guys don't like to charm.  Looking at the chip, the Zultasian smiled.  Commiting the room to memory.  "I'll keep that in mind."

 

Watching Kyl as he faded out of view.  Perhaps to commit a heist.  Rather than attempting to tail the handsome stranger, Stahnze had a different play in mind.  "Tell me, mr. dealer.  How would you like to earn a few extra credits.?"

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"I'm sorry, sir," said the dealer. "The casino has a very district policy on taking offers from guests or customers. I'm afraid I can't discuss this matter with you in any further detail." Subtly, however, Roulette noticed as the dealer scratched at the smooth surface of the table fingers drawing towards him. A hand signal, recognizable to thieves and spies the galaxy over - I'm listening, but be subtle about it.

---

Kyle, meanwhile, was already halfway across the floor, talking into his headpiece. "What's happening in here, Laend?" he said. "Thought I saw the lights dance."

 

"We registered two explosions," she said. "Extremely contained. One at the bottom of the southwestern elevator to the Ruby tower, one of the bottom of the western elevator to the Sapphire tower."

 

"Guessing you've got a team en route?"

 

"Yes, I am leading my men to the Ruby tower. I will send a brace to back you up at Sapphire."

 

"Got it." Cavalier ran to the elevator, past groups of tourists. Their attention was drawn to the other elevators, namely because of the flashing OUT OF SERVICE banner on the targeted one. The doors popped open just as Kyle approached. He didn't break stride, hearing the other guests let out murmurs as he walked off into empty space --

 

-- and took flight, his armor flashing into existence right before he hit the floor. He hovered over the bottom of the shaft - or at least, what had been the bottom of the shaft. Kyle could see that someone had managed to hardwire a grav pad onto a blast door -- this elevator had been meant to go lower at one point. Likely before being cut off to the guests.

 

Cavalier floated down into the subbasement, looking to meet with the thieves and see what might have drawn their attention. 

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