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A few hours sailed by since meeting the Kanarussian transport. Avelyn spent the majority of the time in the astrogation deck, admiring the blue and orange void that lay just outside, the three inch graphene-reinforced window the only thing standing between ten seconds of agony and a grand total of 90-ish seconds of life. ‘Like at Proxima.’ a thought surfaced in the back of her mind for a brief moment before being banished. She didn’t see much point in hanging around all of the new arrivals and eavesdropping, now that they’ve spilled onto the ship like water out of a pierced barrel in bigger numbers than anticipated. After all, there was a fully sanctioned deep dive scheduled for all of them. Primarily, she wanted to find a calm place with no traffic to order her thoughts on how to approach the Captain. Ultimately, brutal honesty seemed to be the best approach. Natasha was a soldier after all, a profession where dry facts were the norm.

In the end, there were three possible outcomes she could think of. Option one: They solve the problem. An ideal, but unlikely time and fuel consuming exercise, not to mention the potential added exposure. Option two: Some other branch of Moonstrike is asked to solve the problem. Much more likely, but much more nerve-racking. Having some insight into their operations did not leave a good impression of Moonstrike as a whole. Maybe Avelyn’s expectations were too high. Maybe the rest was more well put together. Or maybe they were even worse. A grim prospect. And lastly option three: She gets booted off the ship for being a security risk. Very much not ideal, yet at the same time likely and worst of all, completely understandable.

Figuring the new arrivals have had enough time to settle down by now, she set out to find Natasha. After a minute of asking around to track her movement, she caught her going into the conference room. “Captain. Can I steal you for a minute? I bring bad news, but don’t shoot the messenger.” she tried to lighten the mood a bit, even though there was nothing funny about what she was about to say.

“Now, I’d like to preface this by saying I intended to first pull my weight and then ask for favors, but shit’s moving fast and we’re not as inconspicuous as I hoped” Avelyn took a deep breath, “Right. So, unsurprisingly, many of us still have a family out there, even if they probably think we’re dead. In my case a mother and father. And as long as the Ascendancy doesn’t know we’re working against them, all is well. The problems start once they figure out any of our identities, and although some prefered to call us by numbers, they’ll connect the dots if our names and faces land on their desks. And if they’re half as smart as they’re dickish, they’ll use anything or anyone to screw with our efforts. Now Flame has already identified himself to the Richthofen during your little episode with the 11th fleet remnant, so his old folks, if still alive, might be fucked already. I’ve seen a few black sites and what they do to people there.” She didn’t say it, but knowing her arcane arsenal, it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out what the Ascendancy had her doing there, “And while I can’t speak for anyone else, I can say with certainty - and please forgive my honesty - that compared to my parents, everyone else, this crew included, is and always will be second rate to me. So if I wake up one day to see that Jonas and Sola Vernal were arrested on the news.. Problem..” she paused for a moment, trying to judge how the captain was receiving this, “I was hoping Moonstrike could arrange for the aforementioned individuals to be discreetly removed from Ascendancy territory and into alien - preferably Korta or Rau’Ve - space where they’d be mostly or entirely out of harm’s way. Ideally, we would pick them up ourselves to make it easier on them, but I can’t ask that of you, given how out of the way Epsilon Theta is.” Avelyn finished, bracing for the worst.
Done. If I moved too far ahead, yell at me and I'll get deleting.

Also added the appearance at the end of the character entry.
“It may be a high price, but you’re buying premium here.” she shrugged at the bodyguards’ mention of being overpaid, lying without even batting an eye. Yes, individually they were premium goods, but it remained to be seen whether they could work well as a unit or if they’d end up looking like someone put a new GPU, old CPU and an odd number of RAM sticks into the same rig. Bethan’s plan was a solid outline, the specifics would need to be adjusted on-site depending on what they would be dealing with, but so far so good.

“Oh, we know you’re armed alright.” She took a friendly jab at Hayden as the initiator of the earlier standoff, “Two times eighteen plus one. We’re all using 9x19, yes?” Her suspicion of why she was given what she was given instead of the expected PM or APS now confirmed, unless Sean was packing something in .45 ACP. “Let’s go find the car. That’s a 1200 kilo guided missile, if we get really desperate. We can ride home in the truck.” Yekaterina stood up, eyes wandering back to her freshly poured glass, “I know hindsight is always 20/20, but that might not have been the brightest idea.” She added, pointing at the whisky before setting out to find someone who could point them to the North-West gate.

“If we find the truck on the move, it might be best to follow it and make our move once it parks or gets stuck in traffic. If he wants to run away, make him work for it. You’ve said it, they’ll be prepared for car jackers. I’m guessing he’ll be running with the cab door locked, maybe even armed, definitely a tire iron on hand. And if we want the thing mobile, then taking out the tires is out of the question. And even if we don’t care, if it’s got a central inflation system, it’d keep it going long enough to give us the slip anyway unless we put a hole the size of a tennis ball in it. With all of that, the peaceful approach does sound like the best way to go about things.” She returned to bethan’s plan along the way to the gate, “Would’ve been nice to know the make, model and color of the damn thing. How do you want to approach him? If he’s on the clock, something tells me he’s not going to be picking up hitchhikers.”

Finally reaching the gate revealed a slightly battered Cadillac Cimarron. Paintjob and body panels have seen better days, but the south African climate at least kept it rust-free at first glance. Unlocked and with keys in the driver side visor. No way it would’ve been there longer than a few hours if Victor left it like that in Samara. Rummaging through the glovebox revealed the promised phones, a quartet of veteran Nokia 5110s. Tossing her bag into the trunk, Belyayeva settled into the driver’s seat to adjust the seat and mirrors, happy to find a 5-speed manual transmission. “Right, whoever sits in the back, check your seat pockets and please tell me one of you has a road map in there. I came into town from the South, but I have no idea how to get to Bo’lobo.”

Don't know if I'll have time to write today, don't wait for me if you have something.
One by one, the others began to open up. Good. Communication, exchange. “Nice to have someone with more than basic medical expertise. Here’s hoping we don’t need you.” Yekaterina raised the empty glass in a mock toast in Bethan’s direction as the other woman revealed an impressive range of experiences and traits, “And an explosives guy, okay, glad to hear that. I’m going to leave any potential demolition stuff to you, my track record with that... isn’t great.” There was a brief, yet perceptible pause as she thought of a way to phrase it without using words such as ‘clusterfuck’ and ‘stereotypical Russian disaster’ “And sorry, no fistfights with bears. Wildest thing I’ve wrestled were shitfaced Londoners.” The Russian chuckled. Hayden’s resume was also a cause for optimism, apparently full service in special forces, unlike Bethan’s unfortunately aborted training, under the paranoid canuck’s belt. With her turn to speak, she leaned in closer so she could lower her voice a bit, seeing no reason to openly flaunt different allegiances that might make people question their presence and motives, masking the motion by reaching for the bottle and pouring herself another shot. “As for me, I’m Main Intelligence Directorate special forces, you’re probably more familiar with the old designation, GRU. A door kicker by training. Mechanical, ballistic, explosive, thermal, the lot. Not like we’ll need, or find for the matter, more than irons here. Aside from that, I’m originally motorized infantry, so I’m pretty familiar with the operation and basic maintenance of vehicles, mainly older Soviet trucks and four by fours, and speak German.”

Their little bonding was interrupted by the arrival of a corporate-looking type. Guy looked like he had more money than Ukraine. Definitely looked out of place in a country like this. She hadn’t even noticed his arrival. Idiot, pay attention. His offer seemed decent though. They couldn’t afford to be picky this early on, so a simple-looking task to bring a guy over - with no penalty for damaged goods no less - seemed like a continuation of the good fortune smiling upon them, compared to the shitfest that was personal protection, frontline combat or other grunt work assignments they could’ve been saddled with as unproven new hires, each with a hundred and one ways it could go horribly wrong. Of course this could still get complicated. Uncooperative driver, driver in the middle of transporting half a platoon of COGS-affiliated mercs, driver getting killed by some passer by for looking at him in a weird way... After witnessing a convoy of mercs throwing fliers tied to rocks at vehicles on the highway, she had a feeling everything was on the table, at least it would seem that way until they got used to how things were in Matanbai.

Standing up to see Victor, the Russian nodded at the offer. “20 diamonds doesn’t tell us tourists much. What’s that worth, can you give us some examples? And is haggling with traders the norm here like in, say, Tunisia, or is it frowned upon?” She wanted to know, not even bothering with attempting to hide how clueless she was about how things in Matanbai worked, inwardly wishing unspeakable things on the person who sent her into the middle of bumblefuck nowhere, Africa, with what could not be by any metric considered adequate intelligence. “Wouldn’t happen to have a picture of the driver, would you?” she asked, trying to remember if Gunther’s truck had any markings like the one presented on it. That would’ve been an ironic twist.
@FourtyTwo No worries, means I have more to work with.
At last, the air of paranoia and distrust was dispersed. Now they were in business. Even the impossible could be a mere inconvenience with a good enough plan of action, equipment and some luck. Luck they seemed to be having so far and equipment was beyond their control for now, but now that they were all on the same page about what they were here to do, they could figure out at least a rough outline of how to go about it. Bringing her bag over from her previous table, Yekaterina sat down, shaking her head slightly at the waiter’s explanation of Matanbai’s economical situation. “Gemstones for pocket change. ‘Abundant’ he calls them. With what those must be worth back in the civilized world, we get our hands on a few of those, we could disappear in Argentina and forget this whole clusterfuck.” the Russian chuckled when the waiter left.

Accepting the free drink, she raised the glass before taking a careful sip.“Za zdorov'ye, Damn, this actually has some taste. And you’ll excuse me if I don’t put too much trust in local infrastructure. I’ve seen the roads here. Much like blacktop, I’d be surprised if cell coverage extended too far beyond the biggest cities. A lot of the comm towers around the country could be private networks owned by the mining corporations. Not great if you want to sneak information by them.”

Sean’s story sparked some interest. “Honestly, it seems it isn’t much of a problem to throw intel off for someone this big. ‘Tis a sad state of things, but scumbags aren’t strangers to political connections, and knowing the right people can get you places no amount of firepower ever could. Doubt he would’ve gotten this big without some envelopes delivered to the right people in the first place.” She spoke confidently, perhaps with some experience given her home country, “And if he keeps a small team and keeps on the move? Wouldn’t surprise me if this guy - if it is indeed one guy and not a group of people under one pseudonym - was once in our line of work.” Facing a group of salty Gulf War veterans or an ex Soviet officer who cut his teeth selling Red Army equipment after ‘91 wasn’t a cheerful prospect.

“And as to what they’ll have us do? Probably the same things as the people who almost took your heads off were doing for COGS. Asset protection, maybe messing with the competition.” the Russian finished her whisky, turning to face a light to read the engraving on the bottom of the glass. “I’ll hazard a guess and say we’re a grade above the usual merc. Probably our biggest asset, we’d do well to capitalize upon that. Like you said, we’ll likely need to get to higher echelons if we want a realistic chance of learning what we want to know. With a bit of luck, which seems to be on our side thus far, there’ll be an opportunity to shine. Get us noticed. Hopefully without too much recognition from anyone but our current bosses. Don’t think most of these mercs would think twice about putting us in the dirt if they felt like we were a threat to their paycheck.” She set the glass back down, “And speaking of assets: Any of you bring something special to the table? Knowledge, skills, anything helpful the others should know about? Certainly easier convincing them we’re more useful kept together when we know what and who the others are, not to mention actually working together.”
The Canadian’s paperwork and last question were a good sign. One found, that was the first task of the day done and dusted. Lucky as they might have been, that was still the easy part. Finding someone who was looking for you was one thing, finding someone going to great lengths to not be found was another. Now the only remaining variable were the Britons.

As Hayden started getting squirrely, the Russian shifted her weight forward, her own hand inching toward her side where her ‘Gesha’ was concealed by her jacket. She wasn’t sure about trying to draw and fire faster than the other merc with a weapon she was unfamiliar with if he got aggressive, but with just a few paces between them felt confident she could close the distance and get up in his face fast enough to buy herself a precious second or two to act.

That plan suffered a significant setback when the Welsh woman drew on Hayden. This group needed to calm the fuck down before they made the Challeneger’s tenth launch look like a relative success. That thing at least got off the launch pad. Fortunately, the Irishman was of a more agreeable disposition - a welcome change from what seemed to be the norm here - taking a diplomatic approach and confirming their goals also matched hers. She took a few steps back, waiting for the standoff to be resolved, her right hand still hovering around her holster. As the air cleared and she was addressed, she raised her hands in an attempt to prevent more guns being pointed.

“I’ve been given something similar. ‘Go here, find the others, kill the target. What, don’t know who the others are? Don’t care, figure it out, bye.’ or something along those lines. I don’t have it in writing, the people back home wanted maximum deniability, but they agree this country has a hyena problem and sent me to help take care of it, for reasons I’m neither important nor politically active enough to know.” She tried to explain without giving away more than necessary, “So, it might be a good idea to put that away.” Yekaterina slowly pointed to the Canadian’s Hi-Power and Bethan’s Sig. “We’re all friends here, and the moment someone sees this going on there’s bound to be questions I don’t think we can answer to our hosts’ satisfaction. Don’t even try to pretend your covers still hold up after this.” She indicated Hayden’s red cross lapel pin.

With this out of the way, she nodded along as Bethan laid out her plan, “I agree we hitch our wagon to these people for the time being, but how do we ensure they won’t separate us again? In a way it could be beneficial, different things to be learned North and South, but communication could be a problem in that case.”
Speaking to her guide was even less useful than speaking to Gunther, as he rebuffed her probing with a polite, yet somewhat curt “All will be explained soon.” Her newfound companions on the other hand, offered something of interest, however temporary their company might turn out to be. Time to strike the iron while it’s hot. Phrases like ‘This fucking job…’ and ‘...the other operatives.’ sounded promising. Despite the fact that they all seemed to be just as out of the loop as she was, maybe there would finally be some answers. After all, Jawline didn’t say anything about not talking to others. Neither of them looked like the driftwood that accumulated in places like this because the rest of the world rejected it, these people looked like they still had a clear purpose in mind. The Welsh-sounding woman, Bethan, pretty much confirmed that, even if there might have been some internal friction in that pair.

’All Operatives are tasked to arrive in the capital of Tangayi before beginning their mission.’

Could it really be that easy? If so, where was this luck in Chechnya? And was finding the closest thing to an actual ghost even doable with four people, or would a small team allow them to move under the radar more easily, if it was really them she was supposed to be working with?

“Oh my, where’d you find this wonderful bundle of joy?” She turned to Sean with a chuckle after his and Bethan’s spat. “But back to the subject of introductions, I’m Yekaterina.” The Russian stood up and walked to the center of the table triangle, looking toward the British pair with an offered hand. “The cheerful one has a point though.” She gestured to Bethan after handshakes were done or ignored for a few seconds, lowering her voice. “And even if we’re all seated here by coincidence and our goals in this cesspit of a country, whatever they may be, are completely unrelated, that itself doesn’t necessarily prevent us from helping each other. I think it’s safe to assume people don’t last long here on their own, with or without patronage. I doubt the exchange rate between natural resources and merc lives is favorable with either faction.”

“So, what’s on your mind?” She decided to take a risk by questioning Hayden directly, “What’s that ‘fucking job’ that’s getting complicated?” Having spent her early childhood years under Brezhnev’s rule, she had been raised with the mindset that asking too many questions led to misfortune, but the alternative was tiptoeing around it and getting nowhere.
The tables are in the garden or the building?
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