Log:Array Consortium: Cloak and Dagger, Part 3
After meeting with Adhar to discuss his last meeting with the Syndicate operative, Aline, Pash heads back to meet with her to tell her some uncomfortable truths. But what fresh peril will this bring to this double-agent smuggler and diplomat?
Pinpoints of stars, planets, and satelites decorate the spacescape. Thousands of them. A tapestry that always manages to humble. Sitting in the foreground: a familiar ship with attached hangars. Aline's lair. And Pash Danigo is on the approach.
"Long time no see, Aline," the smuggler speaks into his comm, his voice on the thin line between smokey and gravely. "Got something juicy for ya."
The engines on the Broadstar blaze as Pash increases speed and aims for the hangar recently cleared for him. He's calm, thoughtful, but aware that one wrong move could be his last. He intends not to make any today.
Indeed, the ship is there - which is, of course, where she said she'd be, since you told her you had some real juice. The exact term she used, of course, was 'treat a girl this nice, Pash, and she'll follow you anywhere in this galaxy'. So there's that.
Soon enough, you are whisked back on board Aline's CR90 carrier convert job - where, of course, the guards come to search the ship. No Aline here, however, so you are forced to tromp along with your two friends from last time into the guts of the ship, into the same salon where the lady of the house is waiting. Dressed in a sleeveless gown of shimmering, matte-silver material that shows far too many of her more intimate contours that is ever going to be professional, Aline sits with her white hair done up in a slicked-back style that falls over the back of her hair like a wing. Seeing you there, she smiles, lifting a glass of something bright red in her hand.
"Captain Danigo," she says in her warm, liquid voice, smiling so that her eyes crinkle at their corners. "Come on down and sit with me, you handsome man. Tell me all about every little thing, hmmm?"
There's a tug deep inside Pash when his ship is searched. Poor thing can't even give consent and here he is testing its resolve like this. Hang in there, kitty; be patient. On the way from the hangar to the meeting place, the smuggler glances sidelong to one of his guards. Where he didn't even acknowledge them the first time around, now the armored being gets a nod of greeting. That's all, though.
Aline, however, gets something a bit warmer: a flash of a smile, there and gone again. "Don't you look nice today," he says, walking over to the woman. When he's just a few feet away, instead of sitting, he says, "Let's get the bad news out of the way. Your man Koolen's dead." Always business, this one is.
"Like it?" She grins a little bit at you, dipping her lashes as she strikes an alluring pose. "I wore it for you." Then you speak again, and the pose melts away - as does her smile. She sits there for a long moment, looking at you - squinting, as if attempting to gauge if you were lying. And then, when she senses you are not...she explodes.
On her feet in an instant, with a liquid grace that marks a deadly fighter, Aline lets out a roaring shout, hurling the glass across the chamber. "K'naak-tha-teh," she practically screams. "Tana vosla sivo!" Her skin, were it able to, should be flushed red from the rage rolling off the woman's body like heat, and when she looks at you it is with silver eyes wide with fury. And yet, when she speaks, her tone is...arrested, but clipped. Every word its own sentence.
Pash knew his words would likely stoke something in the woman, but he wasn't expecting this. It was basically the antithesis of what he's come to know about her. He tenses, but remains planted where he is, watching as she expels what he imagines to be the foulest curses into the room.
When she approaches to speak, he meets her gaze with a leveled one of his own. "Nope, that's still Koolen," he says, calmly. "Apparently it wasn't a pretty death, either. You know how our boy can get." Slowly, so as not to agitate her further, he raises his arms so that his open jacket is more accessible. "There's footage of that day in my inside pocket. Watch it when your head's clear." He doesn't move to take it out, though, leaving that up to Aline. His play at a little seduction?
Aline is /livid/ for a moment, her fingers set into claws, long nails like talons. She's about to scream again, but when you look at her, she's able to catch herself; she falls silent for a moment, listening, silver eyes narrowing into slits.
"I would watch it now, please. Give it to me."
Pash blinks, focusing his gaze on the woman as she moves through these tumultuous emotions. Still moving at a snails pace, his reaches into his right pocket and pulls out the recording Adhar gave him just the other day.
"Careful. This wasn't easy to get my hands on," he says, handing over the device.
She gives you a wicked look, snatching the card out of your hand. "I wouldn't test me if I were you, Pash, /darling/," she hisses, and waving her hand toward the ceiling a holoprojector node lowers a foot from the salon's ceiling. She slots the card into an aperture in its rim, and the lights go down as she drops into the couch again, picking up her drink and watches stormily as the footage begins.
What is there is nothing short of incredible. Hypering into the space over Vestar just over the planet's atmosphere, the pilot cuts all power after pushing the ship in; while strugglng to keep the ship on course, the ship plunges through the air, hurtling faster and faster toward the water; the mere sight of the fall is enough to get the adrenaline going, and regardless of what is coming Aline can't help but lean forward and watch, rapt, as the altimeter counter drops with no sign of cease.
Pash has already seen the footage, of course, and while he'll agree it's evidence of some ace piloting, he also doesn't need to be reminded of the carnage that it documents. So, while it plays, his eyes are on Aline.
Crossing the room to a couch near - but not too near - the Cathar woman, Pash sits down. He says nothing, does nothing, until the footage is viewed in its entirety.
She watches as the ship nearly hits the water, how the power kicks in just in time for the Avenger's pilot to pull it up and roar off toward its goal amid two towering waves of water. She watches as it closes in on the complex, laser cannons spewing death; the glow from the lasers light up her face, a ghostly green witchfire halo caught in the mirrors of her eyes. She watches intently as the ship takes off, bursting toward the atmosphere, and then...the great yellow-orange fireball whose light floods the room, shrinking rapidly as the fighter speeds back into orbit and then the swirling torrent of hyperspace.
The holo dies, and she sits quietly, staring forward. She takes a sip of her drink as if on automatic, and sets the glass down. "Well," she says after a few long minutes. "That was a thing."
Pash lets "that thing" sink in for a moment before dropping the rest of the bomb. "He also knows about Ma'ar Shaddam. And Kuan." With each namedrop, he tenses for another emotional explosion. "You've managed to keep the spice mining location a secret from him, but he doesn't seem to care." He leans back now, exhaling. "I do, though. I care a lot about what happens next."
The words land on her like lead, but she doesn't detonate as before. Instead she sits there for a long time, thinking. The wheels turn, lubricated by one drink and then another. The distant thrum of the reactor is the only sound there, besides the tinkle of crystal as she switches glasses.
Finally, Aline looks at you. Watching you with those hungry eyes, considering. Finally she speaks, and when she does, her tone is surprisingly calm. "All right," says Aline. "Tell me what he wants. How do we...placate him?"
Pash waits patiently for Aline to pull herself together, get another glass, and address him once more. The question is one he's expected, but he doesn't come right out with an answer. Instead, he sits musing.
After a short time, he shakes his head. "At this point, you can step off his turf, let him win." A chuckle here, which is nearly akin to a cough. "Or you can kill him. But, I'm afraid things are getting personal with him and the crew and the window for diplomacy is shuttingfast." He thinks some more. "I'm due for drinks with the man when I get back. Not business drinks, for once. I may be able to crack him some, get a better answer for you if you don't want to go the violent route. Can you meet me on Nar Shaddaa?"
She snorts at that, taking another drink. "Kill him," she muses. "Will that even work? What's stopping his people from taking revenge on us? What about that...pilot? He got more of those? Not much good if we kill him only to make things a lot worst for us, after all."
Pash ponders this for a moment. "He has some talented people behind him, I'll give him that, but I don't know exactly what else would hold them together if he was gone." He pushes off the back of the couch, scoots forward, and leans in. "But, for a time, yeah, it'll get worse."
Switching topics only slightly now, Pash smiles. "Remember when you sent me to some shitty swamp chasing spice last week? Well, you're not fooling anyone, first. Give him a bit of that trade and some space to run it. See what happens."
Her brow arches just a bit. "And what spice might you be referring to?"
Pash narrows his eyes. Just a bit. "Eldratz," he tells her. "Let me bring in a cut of that business and you'll have Adhar chewing on something onther than the Syndicate. You know what happens when you cag in a wild animal." His eyes then open, and he adopts a more sympathetic look. "Listen, whatever Koolen was to you, I'm sorry he went the way he did. It's time to give Adhar a little space, though. Make him change his mind about you."
"I told you before," says Aline, frowning at you now. "We aren't /running/ eldratz. I'd know, believe me. What is this all about, handsome? Why do you keep harping on that? That stuff is low-street stuff, certain death. We aren't interested in that. Blue is clean, doesn't addict, but the high is so good, so strong, that people prefer it to almost anything else that isn't, say, glitterstim. It profits us nothing to run that poison."
Pash takes a moment and nods. "Then what are you using it for?" He realizes that pushing Aline like this isn't the smartest move, but figures it might also pay to show he has some balls from time to time.
"This line of questioning bores me," she says, her expression growing flat. "I told you, we aren't running it. If you don't want to believe me, fine, but that's how it is. Now that we've gotten that straight, tell me what we can do to get him to back off!" She shakes her head, taking a deep draught from her glass. "Mind you, if he really /has/ killed Koolen, it might be a moot point. We might not even -have- a spice trade anymore."
Pash is getting bored of the games, too, but a new, more sinister thought has popped into his head. One that makes him want to get out of here all the more quickly. Nevertheless, he scoffs and says, "Your whole spice trade hinges on one man? Hard to believe," he says. "Listen, meet me on Nar Shaddaa in a few days. Koolen is dead, I can assure you of that. You figure out what that means and I'll get a better peg on the good captain. We can have dinner to discuss." At this final point, he offers a suggestive smile, as if they both can have something to look forward to.
"It didn't, but Koolen's house went up as well - with his lab, all his records, all of it. If there's a record, we don't know about it." She eyes you as you speak, but any mood she was in is gone. "All right, Pash," she says after a moment. "I'll tell you what you an do. You can tell your boy to back off, or come up with something that we can both profit from - I assume, by this conversation, that you will mention to him our...situation with Koolen, and that's fine. Tell him we're ready to deal if he is."
And there it is.
Pash rises and spreads his arms. "So that's a no for dinner?" His brows arch and his smile becomes a smirk, but eventually his nods. "I'll see what we can put together. Wherever you and I stand at the moment, you can trust that I want this all to end without more bloodshed." And that's the truth. Whether he thinks it actually can or not is another story.
"That's a no for now," she says. "Business before pleasure, isn't that what you've told me?" Aline lets out a deep sigh. "You should probably go, Pash. Go talk to Gann, see what he's willing to do." She's trying to swallow it, but there's undenialy twinned notes of anger and resignation in the Echani's tone. He might not have /beaten/ them, but the Captain seems to sure as hell had make them finally blink.
Pash nods once more. "So you /have/ been listening to me," he tells the Echani. That's good, then. "We'll talk soon." He turns from her then and makes his way for the door, pausing to acknowledge the guards who will take him back to his ship. "After you," he tells them before he gets on his way.
She says nothing as you leave, but you feel Aline's eyes boring into your back long after the salon doors close. Getting back into your ship, the sensation fades, and as you depart the pocket-carrier and make the jump to hyperspace, you get the distinct feeling that something has changed here - maybe for better, maybe for worse, but it's a definite shift. It will play out, though, and soon...that's as sure as the stars.