“So now you’re telling me that the official tax rate is 98.5%?” Garth asked the sweating clerk. The skinny man with bulging eyes nodded emphatically.
That explains why smuggling the adamantium out is so goddamn profitable. Shove a single crystal up your butt duty free, and it’s the same as carrying more than fifty out the front gate with you. If every mine of every planet was taxed similarly, were they building bedpans and sidewalks out of adamantium in the Core?
Adamantium mech suits? I’d pay to see that.
Garth reigned in his thoughts
“Up half a percent from last year?” he asked. The thugs behind Garth glowered at the clerk, cracking their knuckles. These particular men were adventurers who risked their lives in the Adamantium mine north of the dungeon, however the recent uptick in the tax rate had rendered the job less than profitable.
“You understand that half a percent, while it may seem small, is actually 25% of these men’s income?” Garth thumbed at the men behind him.
“That’s very odd, because Randy here,” He pointed at the other growling adventurer – “is a gold ranked adventurer and citizen of the Inner Spheres, so he and I did a little legwork and it sure seems like the tax rate for adamantium is derived from a flat amount imposed by the Dan Ui clan that hasn’t changed in centuries. We both feel that it’s a little odd for it to change now.”
The clerk glanced back and forth between them nervously as Garth leaned on the counter.
“So,” he glanced down at the man’s placard. “Michael, can I call you Mike? Mike, if we go behind your little desk there and look around, we’re not going to see approximately a quarter of these fine gentlemen’s income earmarked for some nefarious purposes are we?”
“Y-you can’t.. that’s against the law -It’s unlawful for a Civilian to-“
Randy and his buddy Koth lightly jumped over the wooden desk, landing on either side of the slender man.
“So many people confuse something that is illegal with something that you can’t do.” Garth said, following the two of them over the desk as they held the clerk’s arms.
“Now, are you going to tell us what your game is, or are we going to have to break every bone in your body?”
After a few minutes of roughing the guy up he spilled the beans, implicating some Brenna girl in the conspiracy to defraud the adventurers. Garth didn’t recognize the name or the description, and neither did his adventurer friends.
“Well, when she comes back around, you give her something from us, okay?” Garth said.”
Garth punched the clerk in the jaw, being careful not to kill him.
The clerk’s face snapped to the side, and a minute later he coughed up a tooth.
“Alright, let’s go.” Garth said, leaving Mike to think about his actions.
Garth and Marcus’s smugglers went their separate ways, their pockets loaded with their hard-earned loot. They clapped him on the back on the way out, telling him that they’d love to continue doing business with him in the future, and that he was damn scary for a kid.
That’s the big problem taken care of, Garth thought, walking through the dark streets back toward the Boss’s office. There was a lot of other things he would have to do, like interview and set up Operant Conditioning on each of the people working for him, weed out bad eggs, hire some new crewmembers to stay on top of the protection racket, destroy the Dentons, overhaul the exploitative prostitution ring. Unspook the whore’s customers that he’d spooked, get an inroad with the law…
Garth heaved a sigh. He was swamped.
Destroying the Dentons might be the trickiest part. He’d found the recurring payments to the noble house in Marcus’s ledger, and realized that the entire criminal organization was the Denton’s operation. They were unlikely to work with him after killing one of their own, and the amount of money that flowed through Marcus’s hands into that noble house was a huge threat to the profit margin.
Garth surely didn’t want to continue paying them, but upsetting the applecart at this point would just lead to death or, worst case scenario, a mob with pitchforks aiming for his phylactery.
Best case scenario, Garth could hold the business hostage and negotiate a lower payment and concessions from the Dentons, who would carry on as if nothing was wrong in order to avoid bringing their dirty laundry to light.
That meant the next step Garth should take is to gather all the damning evidence he could in a nice package, and square it away somewhere safely. That and get plenty of muscle, since their first instinct would be to kill his ass.
Work, work, he thought, ambling through the narrow alley to the door to Marcus’s tacky skull-filled office. He might have thought it was cool when he was fourteen, but now he was just irritated by how much dusting the orbital sockets would take.
Garth stopped and leaned against the door to the office, conjuring a self-wrapping blunt between his fingers. He needed to relax a moment before getting back to work, and to do that, he’d have to get past his powerful racial resistance to drugs.
Garth lit the cigar with a flame from his thumb and puffed on it to get it started before relaxing and letting the designer drugs work their way through his system.
Garth was just starting to feel the effects in his muscles when he noticed an odd pattern in the sounds of the surrounding alley, thanks to the pot altering his perceptions.
Behind the moans of lady entrepreneurs from the windows above him, and beneath the soft scratching of vermin in the alleyway darting out to find something to eat, he heard a soft pat pat, along with a faster tempo patter patter that was a little bit louder, less able to mask its noise.
Garth peered down the darkened alley, taking another puff of his cigar as he listened to the sounds approach.
Whatever it was, it didn’t bother him. The likelihood of something scarier than him blundering down this particular alleyway was astronomical.
Unless it was Cass being a beggar again.
You just wait until I find you again.
In a matter of seconds, a girl of maybe eighteen turned the corner, holding the hand of a young boy.
She was slender, with full, crimson lips, black hair and blue eyes peeking out from a beneath a black mask. Her clothes were all black, of high quality silk, and a silvery rapier of exquisite quality hung from her side as she walked. She had small breasts on a thin frame that lead down to hips that flared out into a generous butt, gradually narrowing back down into her legs.
Never going to have balance problems, Garth thought, watching them approach. Mmn.
The boy was maybe eight, also black hair, blue eyes. still had a bit of baby fat, a bit young to have many distinguishing features. He looked sleepy.
The girl strode up to him like she owned the place, heedless of the rats that scurried out of the way. The boy on the other hand, seemed a little skittish around them.
“Who are you supposed to be, the dread pirate Roberts?” Garth asked the girl in black, tapping a bit of ash off the end of his cigar as they stopped in front of him.
“I’m here to see Marcus Denton on urgent business.” She said, shaking off the odd question from the door guard. She briefly wondered what might have prompted her uncle to hire a door guard, and then settle for someone as unintimidating as this brown haired lad of fifteen. He was a few inches shorter than her, and obviously not of noble birth, despite his gaudy clothes. His face had none of the tell-tale features that many of the noble houses had, with a rather thin face with a slightly bulbous nose and jutting brow, lending him a bit of an unsophisticated look. His body wasn’t as large or solidly built as a boy born from a Garthspawn, either.
The dimwitted looking commoner in front of her sucked in a breath through his teeth, paused a moment to take a puff of his strange smelling cigar, before speaking.
“He’s…indisposed. I can pass a message along, if you like.”
Alicia’s ire rose as the half-lidded fool shrugged her off like some common street walker.
“I will speak to him now.” She said, freeing her rapier from its sheath with a beautiful ringing sound. “I don’t care who he’s with, or what he’s doing with them, my uncle will see me.”
“Your uncle?” The door guard said, his eyes regaining a bit of clarity.
“You stand before nobility,” she said, putting the tip of the rapier beneath his chin. “Did the sword not make that perfectly clear? Now, open the door, or I will be forced to go through you.”
“Oh,” The boy said, glancing behind him at the door. “Oh! You think I’m guarding the door!” He slapped his palm against his forehead and took another puff of the acrid smelling smoke while chuckling, completely ignoring the sword against his neck. “That makes sense.”
Something about his behavior was making the hairs on Alicia’s neck stand on end. There was something not right about the boy in front of her. No concern for the blade, no concern for her status, no concern for his life.
“So your uncle’s out of commission for the night. He smoked way too much opium and is currently sleeping it off in the bed in the back. He won’t do anyone any good until tomorrow. Is there anything I can get for you in the meantime?”
“Opium?” She asked, frowning. She had never seen – or heard of – her uncle dabbling in the drugs he occasionally moved from city to city.
“Yeah, that’s still a thing nowadays, right?” The boy asked.
“I’m losing my patience. Stand aside or be cut down.”
“Yeah, stand aside,” Thomas echoed.
“No problem, no problem.” He said, scooting aside. She hauled the heavy door open and climbed the flight of stairs to her uncle’s office. She passed by the trophys without even noticing them, zeroing in on the tiny room in the back of the office. Peeking her head in, she saw her uncle curled into the fetal position snoring into his pillow.
“Uncle,” Alicia said, shaking him. “Uncle Marcus!”
True to his word, her uncle didn’t respond in the slightest. If it weren’t for his snoring, she would have thought him a corpse.
Alicia growled in frustration, stood up and opened his desk, pulling out one of the safehouse envelopes, containing the address of a safehouse, its key, and a thousand credits.
Maybe it was better she didn’t have to deal with Marcus. He might have asked her about the Adamantium tax she had used to line her pockets these last six months.
She bent down and wrote a quick letter.
Uncle, the race for Succession has made it necessary to move out of the Denton Mansion until the winner is decided. I’m borrowing a safehouse key in exchange for one of the favors you owe me.
When you wake up, perhaps reconsider whatever drug-addled thoughts prompted you to hire the fool guarding the door.
Thomas got to the top of the stairs moments before she finished writing.
“What now, Alicia?” he asked with a yawn. “I’m tired.”
“Now we need to buy a change of clothes and rent a room at an Inn. I can carry you if you need to sleep.”
“Nah,” he said, struggling to keep his eyes open. “This is like a treasure hunt. It’s really fun.”
“Glad you think so,” she said, taking his hand and heading back down the stairs. When she stepped back into the alley, the smell of trash, sewage and sex assaulted her nostrils again, nearly making her stomach rebel against her.
She couldn’t afford to be weak, so she squared her shoulders and strode purposefully out into the alley.
“Find what you were looking for?” The boy outside the door asked jovially. That was strange. It was frowned upon for a commoner to engage a noble in conversation. He’d been allowed to speak because she’d been speaking to him, but here he was, talking to her without being prompted as if he were her equal.
It simply added to her sense of unease.
“Do not speak to me.” She said without looking at him, marching toward the alley exit.
“’Kay,” he said.
She glanced over her shoulder and saw him staring at her hips for an instant before his gaze flickered away, his face assuming studied indifference.
How uncouth. Her first instinct was to gut him, and her second was to tell Marcus, so her uncle could gut him.
Then she dug down past her anger and remembered her Aunt’s tales of seduction. If she gutted him, he was dead, and she got nothing. If he lusted after her, maybe she could profit from it someday. According to Maggie, lust made men work for free and hampered their judgement.
So she faced forward and added a little sway to her hips as she walked, Letting them work their magic.
Looks like the Marcus decoy worked, Garth thought, eyeing the girl’s generous hips that had begun to roll as soon as she noticed him watching. Was she trying to seduce him? after threatening to kill him?
I’m confused. But also slightly aroused.
Not gonna say no to nice view though, Garth thought taking another hit as he watched the perfectly round buttocks jiggle and sway, barely contained by her pants. There was about a half of his cigar left when two big thugs jumped into the alley and swung heavy clubs at the young girl’s face.
She reeled out of the way of the blow, shoving her brother backward with superhuman force, sending him tumbling halfway back down the alley towards Garth.
Now things are getting interesting, Garth thought, tapping ash from his cigar.
She freed her adamantium rapier and lashed out, the reflected light from the blade creating a crescent of silver in his retina.
One of the thug’s clubs was sheared in two, the cut taking a bit of flesh out of his shoulder.
The other one aimed a two-handed blow at her, and she swirled inside the man’s reach, avoiding the strike but putting her at a bad range for her rapier. With some creative maneuvering, she was able to pull her sword all the way back and stab at the chest only inches away from her own.
The man saw this coming, however, and knocked her blade aside with his palm, forcing it to go through the flesh of his side rather than his internal organs.
His partner dropped his club and pulled out a wicked dagger, swinging it at her chest.
She nimbly danced around the man’s partner, trying to put him between her and the blade, and received a shallow gash across her shoulder for her efforts.
I wonder if this is common, Garth thought as the boy sat up and began to cry while the girl screamed in pain.
Garth resolved to step in if the girl looked like she was going to die, or if they went after the boy, but otherwise, this was an excellent opportunity to see a noble in action.
She growled and ripped her blade out of the man’s side, skewering his knife-wielding partner in the center of his chest, driving him up against the wall.
The man who’d had the rapier through his side stumbled aside as she forced his partner up against the wall and began sawing through his heart. He shook his head, reached into his shirt and retrieved his own blade.
The girl was preoccupied with her first kill and didn’t notice the dagger plunging toward her kidneys.
The man barreled into her blade first, slamming her up against the wall in a Thug/girl/Thug sandwich, held together by steel in flesh.
She let out a scream of pain and knocked her head against the man’s nose, sending him reeling backward. She twisted around and delivered a gymnast level kick to the side of the man’s head. His dagger fell from senseless fingers, clean.
Must be wearing body armor, Garth thought, nodding.
She picked up the dagger and jumped on the toppled thug, ramming the blade into his chest six times while his desperate, clutching fingers tried to tear at her face, hair and clothes.
Finally, the man stopped moving, his arms falling beside him as his blood emptied into the gutters.
The Denton girl stood up, her face mask torn away, her lip busted, panting desperately.
Pretty cute, Garth thought, taking another puff of his cigar.
The sudden red light from the end of his cigar attracted her attention to his face, and she began limping over to him, holding a hand over her right kidney, where she’d surely have a nasty bruise in the morning.
She gonna try to silence the witness? Garth thought idly as she approached, passing by the weeping boy. Let’s see what kind of people we’re dealing with.
She stopped in front of him, glaring at him with bloodshot eyes, the painful stoop making her appear animalistic.
“Why didn’t you help?” She demanded.
Garth shrugged. “You seemed like you had it under control.”
“Give me that,” She snarled, snatching the cigar out of Garth’s hand and taking a deep breath of the thick smoke.
Her eyelids fluttered for a moment before her eyes rolled into the back of her head. She collapsed into the grimy alley. Her split lip sealed, and her bruises began magically fading, care of Garth’s cigar.
“My own special blend.” Garth sighed.
Garth was now left alone in an alley with a couple corpses, a weeping child, and a blood-covered unconscious girl. He hadn’t been in a situation this awkward since the prom.
At least this couldn’t get much worse.
“City police! Nobody move!” came an authoritative voice from outside the alley.
I stand corrected. Thank you karma, you sadistic bitch.