"So we can just... drive to the base?"
Well, 'drive', Adrian was sitting shotgun in what seemed like the most primitive of pick-up truck loaded with supplies, second in a column of 6 led by a similar pick up but with a machinegun mounted on top of it. This 'drive' was by no means a walk in the park and the man driving knew that other vehicles wouldn't pass the 50 meter mark before sinking in the mud, these vehicles were somewhat of s specialty of the locals as normal ground vehicles would sink while hoover crafts would suck in so much dead vegetation they'd fail after a while.
"Sure! People were intimidated at first by the big bad Black Sun, but we did like humans always did before."
Adrian raised an eyebrow, thinking about how violent humans were with each other throughout history when they first met a different tribe. The driver looked at the incredulous face of Adrian and showed a bright smile.
"They got thirsty for a beer and went to the nearest pub, so we socialized!"
This seemed unbelievable, considering all the things people said about the Black Sun, what kind of sick person could do a tenth of what they are rumored to do and just go on with their lives to have a cold one in the village nearby after? It was amusing since some people thought the same of the people in Zion with how they could make a family member vanish if he did not fit in, but Adrian didn't realize. Still, if they got drunk...
"Did... you learn anything during those nights?"
The driver shook his head negatively as he slowed down to take a particular sharp turn, causing Adrian to hold on for dear life as he looked down the ravine they narrowly missed.
"They drink to unwind, not to get shit faced. Its something we all appreciate, they don't cause any problems but I haven't heard anything interesting."
As mysterious as ever then. Maybe he could dig up more, try to find a girlfriend or a mistress, he was confident that if he searched he'd find something that could be useful but for now he hoped he didn't need to do so.
Turning his eyes to where his chauffeur was pointing, Adrian squinted his eyes at first to see through the thick foliage of the local jungle to see the buildings of the base that soon came into full view as they entered a clearing with stumps all over, visibly a firing line cleared to better spot intruders. If this was anywhere else this would look like a colony like any other, for some reasons some spent generations in these prefab buildings, but for Zionists you couldn't call something like that a home, it was too... impersonal, temporary.
The guards otherwise seemed relaxed despite the arrival of the convoy, obviously this scene happened regularly. The pickup they were in accelerated and overtook the lead to then slow down in front of the gate, the driver passing his head through the window. "HEY! We've got your stuff! And get someone in charge, we've got business to talk about... Business that involves me and the guy who runs the show okay? Just go get him!"
Just like they they were allowed in, not that this revealed anything special. Everything important must be indoor or... underground. Still, looking at the size of the operation, Adrian figured the local militias could handle things should they had to evict their guests forcefully.
After short walk around the site, Adrian and his chauffeur find themselves being escorted inside a small dark room, with a shadowy figure standing opposite their side. From where they stood only the black boots of the figure was lit by an overhanging light, and it appeared well-polished; too polished for someone who's living in the middle of a jungle. The room looked empty due to the poor lighting, but it didn't feel as such. Something or someone else was with them, but the two couldn't put finger on it.
"Search them." A distorted voice utters.
And as if on cue, two guards wearing high tech exosuits slowly stepped into the light, and began frisking the visitors. The men looked and acted like professionals, running their hands on every nook and cranny with complete disregard of the visitor's personal space or comfort. To them it was a job needed to be done, regardless of how often they did it. After all, they work for the Black Sun, and the Black Sun is not known for lacking discipline.
A gun is found in the driver's coat and was quickly taken by one of the guards, only to be dismantled fluidly with precision a few seconds after. "Non Arma" the guard says, before moving towards the sides of the door Adrian and his driver entered from.
"We're not expecting visitors today.. nor are we expecting deliveries.." Uttered by the same distorted voice. "So it's either you're here to sell us slaves, or you're here for some other business.." The figure takes a few steps forward, revealing a man wearing an all black military uniform, a cape, and an enviro-helmet which resembles an officer cap from Old Earth.
"So.. state your purpose."
Adrian raised an eyebrow as he turned toward his driver who merely shrugged as an answer. Ah well, there he went.
"Shalom! I am uh, a representative from the people of Zion, for the moment ignore the crates if you would. I am here indeed to talk about business, namely the terms of our present business. As you know, we lease you this land under the condition of payment, but also that your 'business' doesn't affect the lives of the tribes of Zion. I am here about that last part. As I think you probably know, there have been suspicious disappearances of many people lately, many of my own kinsmen in fact. It is something we cannot abide and so, I have come here looking for answers."
"Disappearances you say?" The man uttered after pressing a button on the left brow section of his helmet, emitting a light that projected a holoscreen in the middle of the three. His fingers hovered in front of them, emulating the pressing of a button on the holoscreen. He enters a sort of combination; of symbols not numbers or letters, that sent them to a page where tiles of images can be seen. The images showed different locations and people being corralled by Black Sun men, either unconscious or forcefully.
"New Eden... Raygon 8... Wosmo... Dothan... Parravon... Ascia... I don't see Zion on the list. Been off this list for decades in fact, ever since your people made that deal." The man says in confidence, even after just incriminating himself and his organization in front of Adrian. In his head, no sane mind would snitch out and cross the Black Sun, or so he thought.
Was this man serious? They did check Adrian for weapons but he could have any amount of spy gear to record this information and while the reach of the Black Sun was long, it barely extended to Ascalon or Zionist space in general. Still, this was leverage and Adrian would enjoy the stupidity of anyone if it helped him and his people. Ultimately, he shrugged at the answer.
"As I thought. Its been years, breaking your deal now, with your assets exposed as they are make no sense, when you think about it... The problem is that a lot of people don't think about that. They only think about how there are people disappearing, that you have a reputation of making people disappearing and that traces of weapon discharges and supplies used during the attacks match that of Black Sun operations. If it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck... It is probably, a duck as the saying goes. Now... my theory is that someone is... framing the Black Suns. Its convenient if you`d want to kidnap people en mass... but they bother to use Black Sun equipment, which is not cheap so not within the reach of your average pirate. Plus... I'm guessing you keep a track of sales, so it would be the matter of finding a client who buys stock from you, uses it frequently so either buys in bulk or relatively often..."
Adrian crossed her hands behind his back and shrugged. "I'd suggest you cooperate since even if you say you aren`t responsible, someone needs to take the blame. The simple thing would be to ask you to leave and of course break any future possible dealings, you know how we in Zion are with that. Or, I ask for increased surveillance to find the real guilty and this means much more people seeing and much more equipment recording what's happening in the colonial system, meaning a lot of records and eyes on ships I presume we all would wish would remain unseen and unheard of so they remain unspoken of." He said, implying the possible leaks this could naturally lead to.
"So... I think it would be best to work together to find who's trying to profit from our friendly relations, yes?"
The man stood in complete silence for a minute, before suddenly speaking with the same distorted voice. "Very well, we agree to that plan. I'll inform the men to make preparations for an investigation. Anything we gather we'll relay immediately to you." The response sounded scripted for some reason, but still sounded convincing. "In show of good faith, please allow me to give you something for the trouble caused. I know it can't replace the people you've lost, but I hope it would show our investment in this deal we have." The man commented before pressing a few buttons on his wrist console.
The ground shook seconds after the man responded, as if an earthquake had hit their location. After a while the ground came to a halt, and the man clad in black raised his hand and gestured towards the door. "Please, have a look."
Adrian turned toward his driver who shrugged in ignorance. He turned back to the man with a visibly displeased look on his face. "Among the disappeared was family, sir. You can never replace family." Having said that though... he still advanced toward the door. He half expected to be thrown in a meat grinder honestly but it would be stupid not to accept a possible gift.
"You'd be surprised on what the Black Sun can do." The man says after exiting the door. Five hulking walkers stood in front of the three, with their weapons primed but lowered. The walkers looked new, with the plates still glossy, and the gears still silent. The dirt beneath the walkers appeared loose without tracks leading to where they stood; implying they must've been kept underground. Who knows what else the Black Sun kept beneath the dirt hidden from prying eyes.
"These are the latest walker models the four-eyes in Arcadia Engineering came up with. Their documents stated that they were not for public sale, and was a direct commission for some warlord in the fringe. Too bad their security isn't as good as the things they make." The man walked towards the walkers before pressing a few more buttons on his wrist console. "These things could wipe settlements off the map, and disappear without a trace."
With the last word spoken, the five walkers slowly disappeared from Adrian's sight; as if a mirage in a hot desert or a reflection on the sea. "There's fifteen more waiting in a cargo ship in orbit. They'll follow your ship when you depart." The man slowly walked towards Adrian and his driver while pressing buttons again on his wrist, and with that the walkers came back to sight like a slow haze forming into a solid matter.
"Don't worry.. Adrian.. we'll find Shimon." His head tilts lightly to the side, as if trying to express a smile through his helmet. He removes the wrist console from his gauntlet and motions it in front of Adrian.
The Zionist didn't appear impressed for a second during the presentation and looked down at the console and back up at the man with disdain. His driver though, he couldn't help but give a whistling of admiration. "With that, I'd like to see any scumbag try to fuck with us!"
This ticked Adrian. This thing... it could be a trap, if it was the Black Sun that was responsible, they might just be automated to turn against the defenders during an attack and even if it was not, it didn't mean there weren't any tricks attached. Trackers of all sorts, trojan worms that could infect computers in Zion should they try to analyze the thing for reverse engineering... and overall, there was the matter that Arcadia wasn't from Zion, accepting these mechs meant buying ammunitions and other things from Arcadia on the long term. Worst of all however, accepting this gift would morally mean that Zion accepted a compensation in exchange for Black Sun to take its time to look into it, which was unacceptable. Lives were at stake and Adrian wanted answers NOW.
"I have contacts with mister Laurenstein from L&G armament, I'll make sure they send more weapons here, but we won't accept this."
Adrian crossed his arms behind his back. "I don't know if you personally will get what I am saying, but I think your organization will. Zion doesn't deal in goods. We deal in trust. You being here, Arcadia and Black Sun using special banking services and the secret that we give, we allow not just because of material benefits, that would make us like any company on Raygon. We deal with you because of trust, trust that since we have your best interest at heart, you will have ours in yours... I need answers and a stop to the attacks. I don't know what involvement your organization has, but it has at least some and if there is another attack before we find what's going on, the families of the victim will blame the most obvious suspect and will act in consequence. You know how far family ties run in Zion... If there is nothing else, I will leave. I instructed my men to tell yours how to contact me."
"If you're really decided to learn of the truth.. take this."
The man returns his wrist console to his gauntlet before pulling a small chip from it. He tosses it towards Adrian after a long sigh.
"Inside you'll find information about the culprit's location. That's all I can say. Black Sun's contract was to merely cover up for them." His voice sounded monotonous, his confidence gone and replaced by defeat. "I always forget how principled and troublesome you people are."
The man turns to his wrist console before speaking again. "Now, it's best for you to leave."
In a flick of a button the dirt beneath the walkers began to shake and split apart, revealing a massive hold beneath the ground. A glimpse inside the hollow pit reveal numerous lit rooms and parked vehicles of varying sizes. Men armed to the teeth patrolled the narrow walkways, while workers kept routine maintenance to the assets. The walkers slowly sank to the newly opened pit and before a minute could pass, it was gone. The ground closed right after the walkers have returned to the Black Sun's underground hold, without leaving a trace other than a few displaced rocks.
"And don't forget to take your gun with you."