Marcus arrives at the planet Hecate, having passed clearance codes to the terraformers at Summit Base on Boreas on his way through. A courtesy really - their scanners were unlikely to pick up the Hardrada. But best to honour the local customs given he's here to ask a favour.
Bulwark Village is in rough shape. He understands the name and appreciates it, since names have power. A good name, more a statement of intent than representing what it currently is. Like the rest of the buildings the hospital he's going to is built of scrap and salvage. The people on the streets show signs of - almost - what he's looking for, though only when looked at closely. Most keep their heads down but eye him warily. He doesn't see any corp types or even mercs, nothing to indicate rank or seniority. Plenty of hard-looking faces but most are worn and tired and many are scarf-wrapped or bandaged or scarred. All are wearing rebreathers - Marcus re-checks his own. The lethality quotient reading almost makes him wish he hadn't.
"Basilisk, to see Lux", he states at the door. The eyevox beeps, gurgles once, then the door scrapes open partway. He pushes it the rest, then pulls it shut again. There's an asthmatic hiss as the locks re-engage. Just about.
The activity inside is just as slipshod. A dry-wipe board lists a handful of names and rooms. Someone sits sobbing quietly on a chair while a child tries to comfort them. Two young men he takes for orderlies wheel a rickety gurney past, a young woman on it groaning and staring glassy-eyed at the ceiling. She's gowned-up for surgery. Marcus winces at the red black grey metal melding of flesh that he can see in places. Time was he might've prayed for her but... not now.
Over in the corner there's a cluster of activity that seems more focussed. Surgery? Surely not out in a main room like this... No, he can hear a familiar voice as he draws closer. Lux Legrand, a few younger men and women, a teenager taking notes. She's doing the rounds, he'd guess, that's probably what they'd be doing in a real hospital and Lux would no doubt want the best efforts even in bad circumstances.
She looks up and notices him, a slightly deeper frown flickering over her already grim face as she dismisses the others.
"Marcus. Let's make this quick. Your message reached me. I don't know where Elenoh is."
His heart jumps. He didn't expect she would, but it's hard to hear it.
"No, but -"
"You came all this way, on the off chance I'd know something?"
"I had t-"
"Yes, I know. I'd do the same for my daughter." She looks at the floor, quickly, then back up. "But you don't do anything without a good reason. So why here? Or should I ask why me?"
He takes a moment. Need to answer this well. "I didn't know where you'd gone. Or about this place and Menders Pact. It was coincidence, really. Was on a job, asked if they knew of any cyber-enslavements recently. Like I always ask. They never know of any - or say they don't. But this time, this guy did. Said he heard there was a place they take freed cybers for... fixing. Probably wouldn't've told me even that much but for I'd just saved his favourite cat when the airlock got stuck-"
He catches her glance. "Yeah, anyway. Obviously I asked about Elenoh and that went nowhere, but I had to ask, of course, and we got chatting some more and I happened to mention I once knew a cyber-surgeon and, well, turns out he'd heard of you too."
Lux fixes him with that stare of hers. She probably uses it on junior doctors. Doesn't bother him much. The clan held worse. She breathes in deeply though her nose.
"Marcus, I'll try to help. But you can see how little we have here. The people we take in - they're not often chosen deliberately, you know? They just bring in whoever needs the help."
He nods. "OK, so... what can I do? I can't use Ebon resources on this, it's... I'm on my own. Well, and Trix of course."
A slight smile at last. "That old thing still running? Not many robo-mastiffs around anymore."
"Wouldn't let her expire for the whole Forge."
"No. I suppose not. I heard you arrived in some sleek dark thing of a ship?"
He grimaces. "The Hardrada. Long story. But yes. It's no warship but it's capable. Probably exactly what I need."
"Probably?" She raises an eyebrow, watching him closely.
"Well, I don't much know what I'm going to need to do when all's told."
"I suppose not." She tucks a hand into her lab coat. He notices how much her tidy kit and modern handheld scanner stand out in this place of rust. She turns back. "You'll have noticed there's no law here. The Pact doesn't hold with that sort of thing. We just help. That's the only rule really - help each other, so we can help the enslaved."
He nods, slowly.
She continues. "Someone here can't be trusted. I believe you found us through proper channels, Marcus, I believe you and your story - but some who arrive here, don't add up to me. But what means have we of checking? We've got enough to do just taking care of people and the Pacters who can fight or think, well they're off in other sectors searching carefully for those we can aid... "
"Of course. I wouldn't waste our time otherwise. One of the medibots has lost its head. Or had it stolen. It could be petty theft but there's no market here, obviously."
"And otherwise why risk it, unless it's important?"
"But just a medibot?"
"Look around - not just at all. We only have three. It's not sabotage I'm thinking of, though. It's data. The bots record all the ops they assist with."
He swears. "Someone with recordings of multiple patients - "
" - could identify patterns or recent contacts, yes."
"If someone is betraying you, they could just... leave, and -"
She shakes her head. "It's not that simple. We may be anarchists but... we? Do I want to say 'we'?"
She gives a rueful smile. "Anyway. The Menders may be anarchists but they aren't stupid, or we wouldn't have got this far. This sector is ours, small as it is, few as we are. Nobody leaves or enters without us knowing. More than that, only a few people know enough of the whole to be much of a danger. The passage to Hecate is hidden. There isn't another one other than via Boreas, so we have early warning. Frankly I don't think the risk is to us, it's to friends, family, the outriders... And yeah, maybe longer term to us, here."
He takes a deep breath. "If you're telling me this then you must have some hope the data hasn't left the system."
"Or the planet, maybe."
He takes a step back, turns away from her. He's already decided. Already knew he'd do whatever she needed. And this sounds almost trivial. In ease, not importance. He cannot fault her cause. Only a second or two has passed and he turns back, his Geldsmith's token held in his hand. He feels the weight of the chain that bears it lift from his neck - a rare feeling. It's heavier than its size, that token.
A short intake of breath - almost a gasp, by Lux's unflappable standards. "That's black iron," she says. "Sorry. I normally hate stating the obvious. I didn't know you'd gone so far with the Ebon Wrights."
"Story for another time."
"I can't thank you enough. I don't know about Elenoh, but as soon as I know my comrades are safe I'll - "
A crash and a muttered curse from above cuts her off. Marcus whips his head up, hand reflexively reaching for his sidearm.
"No," she says, "listen!"
The makeshift ceiling, all corrugated metal and rivets, rattles as footsteps pound across it.
Marcus, callsign Basilisk, growls. "Overheard. Gonna make 'em regret that."
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