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Odyssey to the Northlands, Part II: Among the Lowlifes of Treason

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Odyssey: Among the Lowlifes of Treason

…Wander the Wastes of Sand…

 

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Prologue – “Wrong Turn”

“That’s how decent guys ended up doing evil things – small steps at first, then bigger ones until they’d covered the full shameful distance.” – Halo: Glasslands by Karen Traviss

         

                Scritch.  Scratch.

                Hm… the Glatorian thought to himself.  A sand rat must have gotten into the cell next door.  Wonderful.  Now I get to listen to it scuffle around for the next few hours or so.

                Scritch.  Scratch.

                For the umpteenth time, his mind returned to the events that had transpired two days ago.  How had it all gone wrong so quickly?  He’d always been good at manipulating the shady individuals he dealt with, so when was it that he'd messed up and made a wrong turn on this road to profit he'd been taking?  Truth be told, it occurred to him, this was always coming to me. I was just too ridiculously good at this dangerous game to get what I should have gotten… until now.

                Scritch.  Scratch.

 

                The sun had been beating down on him as he repaired a vehicle.  Cendox class, relatively well-armed for its small size.  He looked up from his work to witness three warriors stalking in his direction, presumably his clients returning to see what progress he had made.  Wait, no.  Not his clients.  Undercutters.  Spikit dung.

                “Hey dustbag!  Yeah, y’over there, Skid.  What’ch’up to Skid?”  He didn’t even get a chance to respond before another one of the three cut in.

                “I don’t know, Clunk.  Looks like Syndicate graffiti on that grindbike’s frontside.  I don’t like what I’m seeing.  Skid should know it’s a tad bit unhealthy to aid the Syndicate.”  He’d shrunk back, giving a panicked look that darted among the three as he anticipated a blow.

                “Naw, tha’couldn’t be,” the first sarcastically intoned.  “Skid’s not Vorox dumb.  He’s just pretty dumb.  Jus’is buddy tha’s’a Vorox.  Skid wouldn’t try crossing an Undercutter.  I mean, really.  Hey Skid!  Y’aren’t happening to be repairing a Syndicate vehicle, are ya?”

                He’d shaken his head emphatically.

                “Goooood…” Clunk had venomously whispered.  “Of course, if you happened to see a Syndicate grindbike, you might want to plant one of these rather close to its engine.”  Clunk had lobbed something at him.  Upon closer inspection, he’d noticed it was an explosive.  “If you ever pass up a good opportunity, Skid, it might turn out to be… unhealthy for you.  We clear?”

                He’d looked up at the cloudless firmament.  “Clear?” he’d hoarsely replied.  “We’re clear as the sky on a day like this.”

                “Nice to know.”  So the third Undercutter warrior did have a voice after all.  “See you ‘long the wayside, Skid.” Skid had just turned around in order to start his repairs again when he felt a sharp jolt of pain.  He’d just been broadsided by one of the three boorish maniacs.  He’d heard them cackling as they walked off, but he had barely noticed above the pain.

 

                Scritch.  Scratch.

                Yeah… that poor client.  Never noticed the bomb until he was reduced to dust, as if there isn’t enough dust on Bara Magna.  He had placed the bomb in a makeshift cradle he’d welded into place, right under the engine.  He wired one of the weapons to light the fuse rather than fire the launcher when the trigger was pulled.  He’d hoped that would make it look like a weapons malfunction.

                It hadn’t.

                Scritch.  Scratch.

                Unfortunately, the Undercutters that had bullied him into service had been anything but subtle.  The sabotage was obvious.  No sooner had the client taken it on a test run and blown himself to pieces than his comrades had shown up to incarcerate the saboteur.  That put him at the mercy of the people he feared the most: the Syndicate.  The largest illegal mercenary group in the area.  They operated in defiance of the Tribal regulations to keep peace and settle disputes with arena battles.  When you needed something dealt with by force that was prohibited in legal venues, you drew a contract under the table with the Syndicate.  The only things the Syndicate generally kept clear of were Undercutters.

                The Undercutters were just a pain to deal with.  He’d gotten a lot of business with them by installing secret compartments in their vehicles.  The Undercutters were so called because they obtained rare goods and smuggled them away to black market dealers.  Someone beat you to a rare artifact found by a Jungle Tribe explorer and bought it before you even knew it existed?  Break a deal with the Undercutters.  No problem.  It’ll cost a high rate, but they’ll obtain the artifact by whatever means necessary and deliver it back.  That’s why they needed secret compartments and hidden stashes on their vehicles.  Delivery always required some careful smuggling.

                He’d played both of them for a profit.  Repaired Syndicate vehicles after they’d banged them up in a battle somewhere out in the wastes.  Outfitted Undercutter vehicles with smuggling chambers.  But now it was all coming back to haunt him.  You try and cater to two opposing criminal consortiums and one of them catches on sooner or later.

                Funny thing, it was those three Undercutters who had caught him, but they had just wanted to use their advantage to blackmail him into sabotaging their opponents.  Those three had probably been severely punished by their superiors for squandering the opportunity to get their hands on a double agent in favor of planting a single bomb for their own amusement.  Of course, then the Syndicate had caught on as well now and they were keener to notice the jackpot they’d earned.  All they would have to do was lock him up and get him to talk.  Then, they could get him to divulge all the specifications and details about Undercutter vehicles as well as information they could use to flush the Undercutters out into the open, since he’d been working with them for years without Syndicate knowledge.

                Scritch.  Scratch.

                He’d almost told them – answered their questions – but he knew what would happen if he gave out.  He’d been marked untrustworthy for collusion with the Undercutters.  Once he was no longer of worth and had exposed all the information he had, they were going to kill him.  He knew it.  No matter how hard they beat him, he would have to hold out if he wanted to live.

                Scritch.  Scratch…

                Scritch.  Scratch…

                Scritch…

 

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I AM OFFICIALLY BACK! :D After 18 months on hiatus, I have returned, but I have spent that time well. If you want to see how it was spent, click on the banner to start reading the result or click on the linky-link below to get further information off of the review topic.

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