FREELANCERS #22 - 01/15/24
Lina Ro'Shaer back from vacation giving you this month's Bullet Points.
Today’s tale comes to us from the Ryukaze Shogunate. A Freelancer fan favourite, Rafael Rush, found himself in a precarious situation when an explosive sent his grav car careening through traffic into the depths of Soten 6. Crashing into the watery depths of the azure planet’s undercity, he saved his VIP from drowning only to be attacked by opportunistic assailants slithering out from the shadows to snatch his mark. Another group of ruffians with tattoos that glow in the dark closed in to corner him. Wounded, wet and trapped, all alone in unfamiliar territory, the dashing bodyguard thought his number was up.
But the spirits had other plans for Rafael.
The hotaru, or fireflies, are a less known facet or Ryukaze society. Often branded as nothing more than gangs of criminals, they come together in families or clans to bring a measure of order and honourable conduct to vice and other dubious enterprises. Though imperfect, they exist as a muddy reflection of their samurai masters up on high. Protectors looking out for those at the bottom of the social totem pole. It’s customary for their members to etch their skin with tattoos that glow to be a light for those who live in darkness.
Rafael found himself spirited away to a ruddy tailor’s shop where his wounds were meticulously sown shut. They fed him plates of inky sea creatures he’d never seen before. An animist revitalized his spirit and staved off infection as a network of urchins tracked down the miscreants who kidnapped his mark.
Within a day, he was back on the surface with his client, alive and on their way to the starport.
One lesson I learned on my spiritual retreat was never judge a book by its cover. The universe is chaos, and it’s important to examine each situation without prejudice or you might miss something special. Is that roughly hewn person limping out of an alleyway a mugger, or a wise old soul who could become your new best friend? Is Capt. Davius a troll trapped in the body of a pale elf, or is he a lesson on my journey to manage my anger?
Think about it, Freelancers.
A Taste Of Suffering
Viewed from above, the star’s bountiful light reflected off the immense panoply of solar panels covering the city of Soten 6. Though a spectacular sight from space and a real hazard of blinding someone flying in atmosphere, only so much light made it to the city’s lower levels. Far from the watchful eyes of their samurai lords, a different breed of warrior ruled the grimy underworld streets.
Two siblings strutted down the road lit mostly by neon bulbs and flickering holoprojectors. The eldest of the two stood tall with her hands in their pockets. She wore fine, metal capped shoes, dress pants, a waistcoat, and a dress shirt with rolled-up sleeves exposing tattoos that extended the length of her arms to the tips of her fingers. The cut of her clothing accentuated her athletic physique.
The crown of the younger sibling’s head only reached his older sister’s chest, but his swagger felt too large for these streets. Smirking ear to ear with his hands behind his head, the brother’s tattoos criss-crossed with cybernetic enhancements he built himself. Thinner and more wiry than his sister, his posture dared anyone and everyone to take a swipe at them.
Approaching an alley with deep shadows, several sets of hungry eyes emerged to block their path. The siblings noted the slavering teeth and jagged blades, but kept marching forward. As they stepped into the dark, their tattoos began to glow. The figures retreated into the shadows with haste as the siblings didn’t break their stride.
Entering a ramshackle market square, a group of patrolling law enforcement showed no such reverence. A pair of muscle-bound police doggos, poorly trained by how much they bayed at anyone moving nearby, lunged at the sharp-dressed duo. The handler took her time before holding the snarling animals back, but the siblings didn’t flinch. Noticing the tattoos, the handler sneered and muttered something rude under her breath.
Big sis paid them no mind, but little bro stared daggers at them. Plots raced through his imaginative mind. A tap on the arm from big sis reminded him they were on a very important assignment.
The siblings strode into the fishmonger’s store. While little bro raised a colourful mask over his face to filter the stench, big sis handed something to the large, amphibious Quali man behind the counter. With a nod, they continued into the hydraulically sealed back room.
With a sharp hiss, the duo entered the freezer. Set up to the side, a chef wore a motley collection of protective gear as he stood over what looked like a macabre art exhibit. A hideous, bloated fish carcass covered in spines hung splayed out on hooks over the table.
Despite his breath being visible in the frigid freezer, sweat dripped from the chef’s brow. One wrong move and the corpse would explode in a spray of toxic fluid. Several highly illegal chemical weapons across the galaxy used these same compounds to devastating effect. Once refined, however, it became a much more subtle poison. One that created a sense of euphoria before inflicting unimaginable pain on a cellular level. Hence why the fish earned the moniker kurushimi, or suffering.
The chef, one of the few specialists in the galaxy who knew the creature’s dark secrets, glanced at the siblings. Younger brother checked the time on his holopad. It was supposed to be ready by now. The chef removed his face mask to wipe his brow and readied himself to do what he had to do. Every time he got close, the doggos outside would bark and make him flinch.
The siblings sighed, then exited the room.
In the market square, the authorities continued their shakedown of lower city denizens. Several floors up, tucked behind a neon sign, little bro removed a device from the pack he carried with him. What could pass as a portable charging device for electronics unfolded into a makeshift laser rifle.
At street level, big sis weaved through the gathered crowd to circle around the authorities. She held a sealed bag in one hand and a wicked blade in the other.
As she got into position, little bro looked down the sights at the animal handler.
Big sis placed the bag on the back of a flatbed truck stopped at a nearby intersection. In one smooth motion, she cut it open with her blade before disappearing into the crowd. As traffic got moving, the doggos stopped what they were doing, sniffed the air, then tore off down the street, entranced by the smell of succulent meat in the opened bag. The handler tried to hold the large animals back, but lost her balance when a laser beam burned through one of the leashes.
The first doggo parted the crowd and stopped traffic as it bolted down the road. Refusing to get only scraps of the tasty meat, the second bowled over its handler and gave chase. The other officers shouted and rushed down the road as their screaming colleague was dragged by her doggo through the busy undercity streets.
Inside the now silent freezer, the cook smiled, took a deep breath to centre himself, grabbed the knife, then did what he had to do.
Back at the clan house, the siblings knelt before their boss. Decorated with holograms and art of protective spirits, the room resembled a samurai’s court. Albeit a much smaller one covered in an immovable layer of grime.
The elderly boss, dressed in his worn kimono covering a hide covered with scars and faded tattoos, regarded his subjects expectantly. Big sis reached forward and unwrapped the sumptuous meal of fish fillet. Steam escaped the wrapping and filled the room with a rich, heady aroma.
Little bro dared to give the boss’s lieutenant a sly grin. At the back of the room, the lieutenant, their father, gave an approving nod. Hand on a weapon at his hip, his body remained tense. After months of careful planning, it all came down to this. Everything had to be perfect.
Careful not to get any on her hand, big sis poured some liquid from a vial marked as lemon juice onto the fillet. Using both hands with due deference, she placed on the table before the boss. The venerable gangster, who ruled these streets for decades, tucked in his sleeves, picked up a piece of steamy fish with his chopsticks and took a bite. He closed his eyes and smiled as the flavour filled his mouth. Euphoria washed over him.
Everyone in the room who knew held their breath.
After a few moments, the boss stifled a cough, then pounded his chest. One of his attendants motioned to help, but the lieutenant extended a hand to stop them. The boss’s face grew red, a bead of sweat dripped from his forehead.
Then he let out a loud belch.
With a nod, the boss spoke in a low, gravelly voice. “Delicious.”
Everyone in the room sighed with relief. The added ingredients to the dish were in just the right amount to neutralize the kurushimi’s poison, downgrading it to the danger level of a very spicy pepper.
As the siblings smiled and bumped fists, their father, ever a humble servant to the family, signalled two others to shift the hologram on the wall to read, "Happy Birthday, Boss."
Hope you enjoyed that fun twist at the end ;)
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Talk to you next month. Have a good one!