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House Rules

Posted on Mon Dec 16th, 2019 @ 8:28pm by Commanding Officer Mickey Serendipity & Comm Tech Wulf Edevane

Mission: The Forgotten Arm
Location: Ceres Station, Medina District, Golden Hind Casino
Timeline: Nine Months Before The Eros Incident

"You know," Mickey said as he looked back at the retreating Star Helix officer walking towards the bar. "It's one thing to hear about easily bribed Sec Contractors, it's quite another to see it's so openly endorsed."

"On Ceres, we have a saying: there are no laws, just cops. As long as I don't fill up a side corridor with bodies or Angel Dust junkies, it's just a price of doing business. Same with air, water and power. The necessities of life out here among the stars," The man speaking had the manner and dictation of an Earther scholar, his accent perhaps belonging to another time of colonial expansionism in mankind's past. But a closer look at the white-skinned man, whose too-long limbs and proportionally larger head, showed his birthplace in The Belt. He was dressed in a fine silk evening jacket, weighted in the hem to keep it was floating too much in the 1/3 gee the Station put on.

He led two Albatross crew to a discreet side door in the casino, hidden behind a bamboo screen, and soon they were in the more utilitarian corridors that backed the casino. The sound of happy drunks, happy gamblers, and happy people drifted through the air like incense.

"Yeah but I'm used to handling the small gratuities in life in a more discreet fashion. Just hand over a palm-full of chits to a guy you're on a first-name basis with, well it speaks to your success as a businessman," Mickey said cautiously.

"Such was the way before my arrival here on fair Ceres Station. When I first arrived here Star Helix was used to asking for handouts from the Golden Bao and the OPA. To have an independent businessman like myself just waltz into their office and place down a credit ledger, handing out bonuses like it was a festival day, well it had a charmingly fairytale appeal to it. Unlike my associates in the other cartels and families of the station's underworld, I want everyone to think of me in terms of the positive. Mr Drake of the Golden Hind is a man to be respected, and a man whose respect pays for itself, is the moral I want people to take away from any meeting they have with me," Drake said. They came to a pressure hatch, and he waved the head of his cane over the lock panel.

The door opened to reveal an opulently appointed control room. Padded velvet-lined seats, the latest volumetric holographic displays, as well as a fully stocked wet bar along one wall. The other wall was taken up by a constantly shifting display of camera feeds, all showing a top-down look of the casino floor. Cards here, slots there, a few cage matches.

"Simone! An Old Fashion for myself, and if I recall Mickey you prefer gin. I hope you don't mind a Martian distillation," Drake said as the Polynesian attendant in a silk dress went about making drinks. Drake the turned and pointed the cane at the person following Mickey through the door. "And you good Sir, I have not had the pleasure. Name your poison, I assure you Simone is well versed in catering to the tastes of many. And I would have us know each other better before we move onto the delicate matter of our business together."

“Wulf,” said Wulf. He didn’t remember ever being addressed as a ‘good sir’ before, but he’d take it. The nuances of the people washed over him as his gaze picked up on the little details of the world around them. Bribery. Corruption. Way of the world he’d wandered into upon leaving home, and one that seemed to operate smoothly enough for all concerned. For the most part at least.

“Um, rum, please,” the tech decided. He usually opted for soda when he was working, but Wulf was also aware of appearances. They mattered. One drink would make the right impression and it wouldn’t dull his senses any, sacrifice was worth it. He watched the lady's silk dress move about her slender form for a brief moment, then turned his full attention to the luxurious control room. This… this was just beautiful. Hell, he’d been in some backrooms, but this… this was definitely the prettiest.

"Rum it shall be," Drake said enthusiastically. He then gestured to a set of chairs beside the wall display of monitors. "Now to the matter of our business. In lieu of payment for the last consignment your fine fellowship delivered for me, I would perhaps barter for a better deal for you."

"Mr Drake of the Golden Hind is a man to be respected," Mickey said cooly, aping the man's words from earlier. "Hard to be respected if this is a set up for a riff on the old song 'I can't pay you today'."

"Oh, that..." Drake reached slowly into an interior pocket of his coat and pulled out a credit tab. "I have your payment in full here. As usual in Ganymede Credit Union stock, so easily transferred and thankfully clandestine. I appreciate the good work of your company and would endeavour never to fall into its bad graces. Bad news tends to travel as fast a ship on the burn these days."

He pulled the credit chit back.

"But then I thought to myself, perhaps they might want more? A sweetened pot and all that. Walk out of here with what you have now, or walk away with the riches you might gain..." Drake grinned. "I desire your help in stopping a gang of young upstarts from robbing me blind."

He watched the two men interact, and couldn’t help but smile. Said smile was aimed directly at the carpet though as Wulf kept a relatively low profile. He’d been with the Tross long enough now, he understood the rhythm of this crew, and Mickey was definitely the lead to be followed. As the tech looked up, his expression shifted back to quiet disinterest, though his gaze tracked the camera feeds and his ears followed every word spoken.

It was a game, a to and fro, but Mickey would win.

And, there it was, the gamble. The casino owner’s test. Did they want to take the straight payment or play for more? Wulf frowned as the credit chit vanished back into a pocket and Drake laid out the conversational deck.

“How would we help you do that?” Wulf asked outright, sounding intrigued. “And,” he added with a wonky grin. “What’s it worth?”

"It's a tech problem. I thought it was a little odd you asking me to bring along my comm guy," Mickey said.

"In my line of work meeting new people is how one forms the network connections to stay solvent, and one step ahead of the competition," Drake said. Simone had arrived with their drinks, delicately handing them out before stepping back to be unobtrusive. Drake gestured to the wall of feeds, and the myriad images died away until six filled the wall. The feeds showed a top-down view of a number of part tables, baccarat and blackjack mostly. Time codes showed them all to be at around the same time. A figure in each image was highlighted.

"A month ago these six began to frequent my game floor. From what my dealers and servers can tell, they are Martian upper university students attending Ceres University. Two future biochemists, and a quartet of geologists. Nothing special in the grand scheme of things, no connections to any of the local gangs or the more notable Martian cartels. Just students enjoying their free time. And if that was all, I'd leave them to it. But after the first week they began to win on a regular basis," he pointed at one of the feeds and it began to play. The dealer had placed the first set of cards out for each player and was going through the second phase of the game.

"You'll notice there's no hesitation in their actions. No hint of chance pulling on their hopes. I've also had their glassware tested to make sure they weren't using focus drugs to aid in card counting," Drake took a sip of his old fashion, the large spherical rock of ice rattling the glass. "Though when they are here, there is a sudden uptick in packet traffic. Highly encrypted, short-range, but scrambled to the point of insensibility."

"Pardon me for saying so, but this seems to be a simple enough problem," Mickey sipped at his gin. "You have people who enjoy this sort of work. Why not have them take these six and ask a few hard questions?"

"Counsel I have thrice been given. But that would still leave me out of pocket by 14 million Ceres Yen. A trifle to be sure, but enough to make me look weak. Appearance is everything you know," Drake said and turned his gaze to Wulf. "I would very much like you to break into their private network, wherein we might find our 7th player who is guiding these gamblers. I would then ask you to redirect his comm's to here, where I might run this crew into serious debt by pretending to be their handler. Your end would be 5% of the sum total they are indebted to me."

As he politely sipped his drink and listened to the guy talk, Wulf hadn't questioned his own presence here. If this had been a beatdown kinda situation, then Ken would be sitting here right now, but Ken wasn't. The tech was happy, proud to be able to help in something that made a difference to Mickey, and he kept silent and paid close attention to the words.

Yeah, this was definitely a tech problem.

Uni students. Smart, but sciencey. Had to have an extra pair of hands working the distance angle and supplying them with the information. That was just exactly the kind of situation he could have used himself, if he'd needed a shitload of money and the sort of trouble that Mickey immediately suggested as a solution. Casinos. Big payout. Big payback. It hadn't previously occured to Wulf to go all pro-Casino owner on this particular money train before, but he nodded enthusiastically. He could definitely do this.

No one needed to have the crap kicked out of them.

But Wulf did have his own code to consider. He looked directly to Drake this time, conscious of Mickey's proximity yet confident of his own morals.

"10% minimum," Wulf said without blinking. "And you only take their money, no violence. They're just bright kids testing your system, and losing their money will hurt them more than enough." He'd seen it before, with far less gifted players. "And I need to be here with you when we run the re-direct handler scam." He sat back and waited to see how that went down, his gaze still locked on the casino owner.

"5% is generous, 10% is lavish..." Drake tapped a fingertip against the head of his cane. He looked to Mickey for a moment, before nodding slightly. "10% it shall be. And no violence will be delivered unto the gamblers, you have my word. And it just so happens our friends are currently at their tables. Simone, bring the young man here a terminal interface for the security system."

The attendant did so, placing in Wulf's hands a rather sophisticated and modern piece of tech.

"And please be so kind as to inform Mr Billford to have men attend the exits, just in case," Drake asked Simone as she stepped back. "If they make a break for freedom, I would very much like a word in their ears before they depart."

Wulf smiled. That had gone well, but he trusted Mickey’s judgement on this fella, and that was his main source of comfort. While the smooth, experienced chap in charge of this successful establishment might find it surprisingly easy to rip off a lowly tech, Mr Serendipity was a whole other matter.

“Thank you, ma’am,” Wulf said, his accent gently lilting about the words as he looked up at Simone. Fingertips skimmed over the gorgeous surface of a terminal that felt way more luxurious than the velvet cushion on which he was currently sat. He spent a moment simply enjoying the sense of beauty and wealth that he had left far behind him, then directed his attention to the mission he’d been hired to complete.

Headphones were plugged into the side of the interface, a legacy from Wulf’s online persona and ones that cost more than most workers earned in a month. He could have gone hands free, but that brought its own risks at this level. Silence pervaded the space around Wulf as he took his own sweet time, as he explored the software, tapped into the Casino systems and sought what he needed. A trail. A way. A path to the hidden code that he needed to win over in order to find its source.

The other guy was good, but brazen and egotistical. He had developed an encryption that spoke of long nights spent staring at a screen and longer days obsessing over his script. Wulf, however, had been around a while longer, learned a good deal more and ventured a lot deeper into the darker depths of multiple, intricate levels of software hell. He grinned, a maliciously satisfied open mouthed grin that aimed up at Mickey for a split second before vanishing into a serious intent face.

“Found him,” Wulf said, for the benefit of his audience. “Leading him down the garden path now….”

There was a crackle of static over the room's sound system, and then voices began to play out.

"...-kay Leslie I want you to hit on that six. Kyle you hold for the next round. Jules bet it all on this hand, the guy across from you is holding comet dust in his hand."

On the feed's three of the proxy gambler's did as they were instructed. The dealer dealt out to Leslie a winning hand, whereas Kyle folded to avoid a loss, and Jules went all in to make the Rockhopper he was across the table from bluff his way out of a very deep hole.

"You know, Marco, this almost seems to easy." One of the other gamblers said. This one was on a feed by the bar, cycling through rounds of gambling with generous spending at the Drakes well stocked top-shelf.

"We can stay on Mars and work until we're grey and old perfecting better oxygen generating lichen to spray over the Hellas Crater. Or we can use our education to live it up to the max. Besides we're taking the credits from Belters, it's a worthy part of their moral education." Marco, the mastermind not in the casino said with a chuckle. "What did the Belter say to the garbage drone?...Put me down!"

On the feed Leslie, still sat at the blackjack table chuckled. When she noticed the Belter dealer raising an eyebrow she waved a hand dismissively. "Sorry, just remembering a joke a friend told me once."

"If there is one thing I cannot tolerate, it is discrimination," Drake said in a tone of voice just a shaved Kelvin above absolute zero. A new data set appeared on the feed, listing a local data node address as well as a physical location. "Ah. There he is. Now, Mr Wulf, if you could clone young Marco's voice so we might better fool his compatriots, I will have my head of security on hand to interrupt him. Simone, be a dear and have Mr Billford attend to that task directly."

Wulf winced. They sounded so cocksure of themselves, so blase about the whole affair as they robbed his temporary client. That mindset, as he had learned way back in his school days, was unhelpful in this line of work. Overconfidence led to mistakes, and there was - almost - always someone better than you out there in the world. Law of averages combined with high stakes for the victim meant it didn’t usually take too long to get caught. Especially when you kept nicking golden eggs from the same goose.

Their attitude removed any sting that his conscience might have felt, and the denigration of Belters - his sister’s cause and technically his own designation - steeled Wulf’s morals against them. He still didn’t wish them physical harm, but the sting felt so much more justified now.

Like a composer making up a favourite new piece of music, Wulf guided his helper programs through the numbers and practised the shiny newborn Clone Marco a few times by the numbers just to be sure he hadn’t fucked anything up. Then, with a quick inhale and sharp nod, he flipped that app from one device to the other, where it popped into view atop Drake’s own terminal. Aaaaand, exhale.

“You’re good to go, sir,” the young man stated. Wulf looked to Mickey then as he added. “Your Mr Billford won’t hurt this guy though, right?”

"He won't kill him if that's what you mean. But I must ensure there is a consequence to actions taken against me. Mr Drake of the Golden Hind is a man to be respected, after all," the silk jacketed man said with a smile. He then began to speak into the mimicry program, his voice taking on a two-tone duet as Drake and Marco shared a conversation. Another feed opened beside the six showing the gamblers on the floor, this one a lapel camera showing off a booted foot taking a door off its rollers in a single kick.

Beyond the door was a natty hole apartment, the sort of thing a student might get as housing if they had funds. A living sleeping area, a little space for a microwave cooker, and a shower/toilet stall at the back. On Ceres Station that combination of luxuries was hard to find all in one place for anything south of a government pay chit. The man sat on the holes sofa bed, with six terminals spread out before him making a screen array, looked suitably shocked as the lapel camera closed in rapidly on him.

His face lost the surprised look after a few seconds as a lip and eye began to swell.

"Marco! What the hell are you doing to us! We've busted out the last three hands, and we're down more than we came in with?! What gives with your magic algorithm!" Kyle, the student playing poker now far out of his depth, asked as more of his chips fled his side of the table to populate the now jubilant rockhoppers.

"I've got nothing left to bet with!" Leslie hissed into her cuff, where the mic was no doubt secured. The dealer was eyeing her suspiciously now. "When I get back to the apartment, I'm going to kick your ass!"

"Oh, now that seems a tad harsh," Drake said, dropping the mimic program.

"Who the hell is this?!"

"Just a Belter. Marco got laid off, and a dust grubbing comet jockey took his job," the casino owner growled.

"Oh my god...Oh my god, oh my god!" Leslie began to hyperventilate, as members of the Golden Hiund's security team began to appear in the corners of the camera feed.

"Shit! Shit! It was just a joke man!" Kyle sputtered, as a burly fellow appeared behind him. Similar actions were beginning to take place around the feeds.

"But it's so much funnier now, don't you think?" Drake said with a grin. "I advise you all to follow my people. I have a meeting room, very well appointed, where we will begin to discuss repayment plans in regards to what you have lost tonight and what you have taken from me. You won't be harmed, but I must insist on your attendance. See you all soonest."

With a wave of his hand, the feeds all died away and he clapped his hands together.

"Most capital work Mr Wulf! Very well done indeed!" Drake said as he stood up, his grin infectious. He wagged a finger at Mickey. "Oh if he was a free agent I would snap him up this instance! In fact, would you be put out if I were to offer the lad employment? I have an enticement package I think would be proper for a man of his skills. Money, women, drugs, whatever vice you have my boy I will see it filled day noon and night if your services should ever become untangled from your current employer."

It was a weird, oddly uncomfortable feeling to sit amidst the heart of the sting he had initiated, lovingly crafted even, within those requested parameters. Wulf watched the scene unfold, heard the realisation dawn in those out of their depth students' voices and he winced on their behalf. He didn't enjoy this part, the bit where other people, people he had no reason to care about, panicked. The rising voice tones, the hope, the realisation and the fear.

Fear had dug its claws into the young tech many times in the past, but he'd avoided capture for a good long while now. Not like these poor idiots. They deserved it, of course, they'd gone out to deliberately steal, but Wulf still winced as the hit went in on Marco. He fidgeted his chair and then swiftly regained a grip on himself as Drake turned back to regard him with a lovely speech filled with praise. Applause even.

A grin couldn't help but warm Wulf's expression as kind words were spoken about him. And the talk of an employment offer didn't go unheard, the use of 'enticement package' lighting a brightness in the tech's eyes. Drake looked as if he could afford a great deal of enticement, and a happily safe bet going forward jobwise. He sounded full of promise and offered a bounty of wonderfully decadent treats and bonuses that just weren't available on the long haul Albatross delivery missions.

But... it wasn't enough to ground Wulf here on Ceres. Casino work would only keep him interested for so long, staying in one place was something he'd done before, and moving around? Just had more appeal to it right now. Not to mention the fact his current crew had started to feel like a little more familial than the tech had really experienced before. They had each other's backs, and they had a knack for finding just the right amount of trouble with absolutely the correct amount of back-up.

"Thank you kindly, sir," Wulf acknowleged all the compliments spewing from Drake's mouth. It hadn't been that tricky a job in all fairness, but so long as the client was happy, all was good. "And I'm not gonna lie, you're saying all the right things, and offering a really great sounding deal, but..." Wulf let his gaze linger on Mickey Serendipity. "I'm not currently looking to leave my existing employment. There's always," he added, with a shrug that implied he'd happily be overridden on this next statement. "The possibility of us helping you out again in the future, though, right, boss?"

"Futures always in flux," Mickey said and finished his drink. "Next time, a bottle of Bombay Sapphire."

"Next time," Drake said with a nod, and then smiled at Wulf. "In the meantime, we will watch your career with great interest. And now, if you pardon me, I have to induct some new employee's who will be working off their debt for a considerable time."

He walked towards the door.

"Simone, ensure the cashier pays them the agreed 10%. 1.4 million Ceres Yen," Drake paused by the door and smiled. "I'd say don't spend it all in one place, but I sincerely hope you spend it all here."


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