Maijha 36th, y577
Deep within the industrial complex of Santus Persecutus, Campbell guided his one man freight trolley around behind the capital office building. He had no idea how much longer he could loiter with empty crates in the bed of his vehicle, chain smoking cigarettes, and avoiding being recognized before someone noticed just how suspicious he looked.
The deadline for his client was in less than an hour and the Mayor had been in his office well after normal hours. If the Mayor stayed put, Campbell could tell him which office he was in, and the man could follow him, gun him down, blow up the building, whatever he wanted. Valuable information that the buyer could get anywhere.
If the Mayor moved while he was gone, Campbell could only guess as to where he went off to. He could tell his buyer where the Mayor's primary home was -if the buyer was somehow too oblivious to know that already- and Cambell would have to assume the Mayor had not gone to his secure location, of which he had only a vague description, and no way to scout out.
A lot of money was on the line, but Campbell had to make the call. He would bump up the meeting and see if the buyer would be satisfied with pursuing the Mayor on his own from there.
Shanks spread out a map of the city center and marked off points of interest. "This is the Mayor's villa," Shanks explained as Ink looked over the map, "The thing is a Goddamn fortress. Fortunately he never stays there. I have no idea why he keeps it, probably just likes people knowing how rich he is."
"So where will he be?" asked Ink.
Shanks shrugged and replied, "No idea. The Mayor is smarter than most people I deal with, or more paranoid. Either way, he is reclusive, and he understands operational security. He is a warlord who happens to be in control of a city, not a mayor who overextends his reach."
"So, how are we finding him?"
"Informant. This," Shanks pointed to the map, "is where we meet him. He tells us what we need to know, and I give him this."
Shanks held up a small vial corked with a solid rubber stopper and then sealed with wax. inside the grimy glass was a small amount of shiny tan dust.
"Gold?" asked Ink, "We're paying him in gold? Isn't that a bit cliche?"
"Not really. Gold is small, universally accepted, and worth more the the farther you get from centers of federal power. So really, the more I need it, the more valuable the one or two vials I carry become. I have no idea why it works, but it does. You and I see it as a material for jewelry, but away from federal cities, people see it as a symbol of power."
"So we pay him in gold and he tells us, what?"
"If I knew that, I would hardly be paying him to tell me now would I? The Mayor keeps himself well hidden, his movements are erratic, he keeps irregular hours, and few know more than a piece or two of his schedule ahead of time. Anything that our informant tells us about what the Mayor is doing tonight will be more than we can find out on our own, and will be useless after tonight."
As if on cue, Shanks' short range radio chirped as it broke squelch and began speaking. "White Demon, I must move up our meeting."
"Why?" Shanks barked back without his usual radio etiquette.
"Because it's been a late night for our guest. You may want look after him yourself"
"Why would I do your job for you?"
"Because he may be here all night."
"Where is here?"
"Nothing is free. Meet me immediately at our agreed location."
"No. If you want to meet early, we do it at ballroom three. Fifteen minutes, on the dot. If I see your skinny ass early or late the deal is off, and you may very well get more lead than gold. Get moving and we will see what you know." Shanks switched his radio off and turned to Ink, "We had better get moving."
Shanks and Ink ascended the rubble pile above their base camp, and observed the aftermath of the firefight.
The bodies of the two fallen city guards had been loaded onto trucks to be taken to the morgue, but ten of the unknown attackers still lay in the street. Several of them had nearly escaped with sacks of grain and bricks of protein meal, which had all been recovered, but the bodies were of no interest to the militia.
The little gear the attackers had brought with them had been picked over by opportunists, or possibly their comrades returning in secret to recover important resources, but the bodies lay in the street, and would stay there until someone got tired of the stench, or until dogs came to drag them off.
Assured that the militia had made no increase in their presence, Shanks tapped Ink on the shoulder and they continued walking freely down the street, still aware of the roaming patrols enforcing the industrial district's curfew.
After ten minutes they arrived at their destination, a tunnel, fifty feet long, and big enough for two men to stand up straight side by side. One end opened into a pit, surrounded on all sides by retaining walls. The other end opened into a small flood field overlooking the river.
Shanks gave Ink his rifle and set him up in a well covered position looking straight into the mouth of the tunnel. Though the tunnel was completely immersed in shadow, the backlight from the moon allowed him to see Shanks' silhouette as he walked its entire length.
At the far end of the tunnel, Shanks searched for a place where he could climb up and out of the pit easily. He found one such place, but after reaching the top decided to set up a rope to assist his efforts.
Five minutes after the appointed meeting time, Ink could hear the sound of a small engine approaching. He switched on his infrared laser and flashed it briefly across the mouth of the tunnel. He saw a single flash of an infrared strobe within the tunnel.
Campbell carefully drove his vehicle across the hard bumpy dirt towards the tunnel. When he was ten paces away he dismounted and walked to the entrance. Ink watched him hesitate before plunging into the darkness and becoming a silhouette tripping over debris as he walked the length of the tunnel.
Ink saw the blurry shadow that was Shanks leap away from the side and pin the unwitting man against the wall.
"What kept you?" Shanks hissed in Campbell's ear. He had a hand on Campbell's mouth and a gun barrel in his throat.
A glow stick hanging from Shanks' collar lit his face from beneath, and revealed Campbell's eyes, wide as plates. He was a scrawny malnourished man with a scruffy beard on his dirty face. His head was wrapped in a thick scarf whose end dangled down over his ear.
"Were you telling the militia where to find me?" Shanks chided him, "Hoping your reward from them would be greater?"
Shanks finally moved his hand and allowed Campbell to reply, "No! No! I would never dare to show you my face had I done that. I had to avoid detection. The security detail is still at the capital; they are strong in number right now, and they know my face, I had to be careful coming out or they would follow me to you. I wouldn't dream of betraying you, I swear."
"So the Mayor is in his office?" Shanks asked, trusting that the man was smart enough not to be lying.
"He is in a meeting. He has been meeting with foreigners all day. I didn't see them come in, but someone said they had strange looking vehicles. Like federal patrol trucks, but different markings."
"I don't know. I never saw them. It was my friend Jaiqoub, he..."
Shanks stopped listening. Campbell's face had just lit up in green. Campbell had seen nothing, but then again, Campbell was not wearing night vision. Shanks slapped his hand back onto Campbell's mouth and shushed him while flipping off the safety on his machine pistol.
They both looked toward the entrance. Two figures were moving into the tunnel. Campbell started running away from them. Shanks tackled him to the ground. A shot rang out in the distance and one of the figures collapsed. The second opened fire, the report from his rifle boomed in the tunnel. When the spray of bullets ended, Shanks responded by firing a controlled burst at the shooter's head.
The second figure collapsed backwards.
Shanks dug in his front pocket and took out the vial of gold dust. He jammed it into Campbell's hand and whispered, "When I exit the tunnel, get to your 'Nid, and fucking drive." He grabbed Campbell's collar and dragged him to the entrance, keeping their profiles low and out of sight.
Outside of the tunnel, Shanks could see two more militia men running for cover. There was a flash of light in the distance, and one of the men bucked up out of his covered position and he writhed on the ground, clutching his side.
Campbell ran for his vehicle and jumped in it. The engine turned over, and shanks leaped into the flat cargo bed. "Drive for that bush!" Shanks shouted. The vehicle took off, and Shanks slammed against the back wall of the small cargo bed.
Ink watched as Shanks and the other man drove past him. He had almost broken cover to meet them, but when they kept their speed instead of slowing down, he hesitated. Then they drove around the corner and were gone, leaving him alone with the last remaining militiaman.
He tried to take steady aim, but the man was running. They had parked their vehicles on the road in the opposite direction that Shanks had gone. Common sense said that they probably had radios in the vehicle as well, which would mean reinforcements and a likelihood of their cover being blown.
Ink aimed at the vehicle. The driver's door was closest, so he aimed just above its window. The militiaman ran to the vehicle, opened the door wide, and a bullet went straight through the glass and hit him in the chest. He clutched the door and the seat, struggling to support himself. Another bullet hit him through the shattered window, and he fell to the ground.
Fueled by raw the raw adrenaline that came with the fear that he may be alone in this dangerous place, and throwing all caution aside, Ink ran. He sprinted harder than he knew he was able until he crossed the entire distance to the truck.
When Shanks got back up, he saw Ink's cover disappearing around a bend in the road behind them. "The hell are you doing!? Go Back!" he bellowed over the rushing wind.
"What for? I'm not interested in a fight!"
"Because I ORDERED YOU!" Shanks kicked him out of the vehicle. It swerved and lost speed. Shanks spun the steering wheel around and kicked up dirt with the arachnid's eight thick tires. He drove hard and skidded to a stop. He leaned back, and a militia gun truck slammed into him while skidding in the dirt.
Shanks was not unconscious for long, he might not have even lost consciousness so much as he had lost coeherence. Someone loomed down over him. He lashed out, and Ink blocked his feeble attack with some difficulty.
"Woah! Easy, killer! It's me!" Ink extended his hand and helped Shanks up from the ground. The arachnid cart's engine had been smashed in, but the passenger portion was fine. "Anyway, I got a vehicle for us to use."
"Good, get this thing going, we need to move. Every second is one more chance that the Mayor has already disappeared" Shanks trotted over to Campbell and grabbed him by the collar.
"Shut up!" Shanks said dismissively as Campbell began to protest, "Keep helping me until I get out of the city and there is another payment in your future. Otherwise I shoot you now and get rid of my only witness."
"No please don't!" Campbell screamed.
"Drive us to the Mayor's last location, and take it slow."
The gun truck came to a halt outside the fence of the capital building. Shanks threw a militia jacket over the barbed wire. He turned back and said, "Ink, you stay with skinny here and keep a lookout, My hand mic is patched through my earpiece, contact me if you see anything, and be ready to follow the Mayor's convoy. I have faith in you, but be careful." Shanks climbed over the fence and dropped down on the other side.
"Shanks. Shanks seriously. This is my first time away from the Oasis, and you're leaving me alone in the middle of this city to avoid a lawless militia while stalking their leader? What the fuck is going on in your head?"
"Ink, this seems worse than it is, just keep your head down, and don't let him do anything stupid," Shanks pointed at Campbell. "Remember: breathe, look, squeeze, the rifle will do the rest."
"Shanks. I just killed someone. I killed three people."
Shanks pawed at Ink's face, nearly invisible in the starlight. He covered Ink's mouth and said, "Stop, now is not the time to start thinking about morality, now is the time to survive. We can decompress when we are enjoying a bottle of whiskey tomorrow. Be good."
Ink watched him climb over the wire, step away from the fence, and vanish into shadows.