Founder’s Landing, Day One, Afternoon.

Silver Zone, Sun Shining

I walked out, adjusting my uniform cap, and went in search of someone that valued money over patriotism. You’d be surprised how easy that is, even in the Silver Zone — especially if you listen to the ever-present propaganda that permeates our daily lives.

We’re always “Marching To Victory” and “Winning the War”, which might even be true for all I know. But after a while you start to wonder just how long the war is going to take to win, or for that matter if we’re even fighting the same one, all these years later.

When my unit first dropped on Founder’s Landing, we were recapturing the capitol of the Republic from the Lizard Men. Our first priority was to dig in and defend; you’ve never seen anything until you’ve seen Lizard shock troops charging your positions. But we were reinforced, and then reinforced again, and I noticed we weren’t giving the world back to the Republic (our nominal allies at the time). After a while, people stopped even mentioning them.

As our population grew and the Lizard threat faded, no new enemy showed up — but the war continued. Oh, we heard about the Confederates and their foul practice of enslaving Robot droids, but we also were told of the depredations of the Robotic Imperium against all humanoid life. Everyone was evil except us, and the government was only harsh because we needed every ounce of productivity to support the war effort — hence the curfew, high taxes, and so on.

After a while, even the most patriotic among us starts to wonder. And me, I was born cynical. In my line of work, a certain level of cynicism is an advantage; it’s also the reason I hadn’t re-upped in the Militia once my tour was over. Better a Citizen on civvie street than one more brainwashed lump of cannon fodder marching off to glory.

It took me a while to find the man I needed, a certain morally flexible Marine quartermaster I’d heard of with a love for the ponies and a pressing need for cash. Once I tracked him down it took even more time, what with him taking measurements and checking in his computer, but eventually he found what I needed and we arranged for pickup after dark. I’d be risking a lot on him getting this right, but on the other hand I was only paying half up front. That eases a lot of worries.

I took the blaster away in an EM-proofed duffel bag; it might come in handy during my upcoming negotiations. Technically, you’re not supposed to have one on the streets, but if a patrol stopped me it would be the least of my concerns. In that case I’d have to rely on the persuasive power of a large wad of cash — it’s always wise to carry an extra few thousand in a separate pocket; I call it “walking-away money”. Fortunately, that proved unnecessary, and I made it back to the Cypress Club unmolested.

It was barely evening, but the night people were starting to wake up. There were a dozen identical girls in threadbare sequined togs that could never stand inspection in the light of day, with makeup that right now seemed clownishly excessive but on the dance floor would be daring and avant-garde. Among them was a bartender with arm-garters, vest, and bowtie, sporting a Boston Blackie mustache; anywhere else, his uniform would seem silly and affected, but here and now he was a Personage, someone you’d confide in, the man who knew all the ladies and most of their prices. The crew was arriving, and each and every one was wearing their Tag.

That’s the reason I’d gone with the uniform, by the way; here in the Zone it’s the best way to blend in. Everyone wears a surveillance Tag, but civilians either stick to their routines or get noticed and pulled in. A soldier on leave goes wherever, whenever he likes; the Tag’s just built into the insignia and ID. It’s a lovely perk, if you don’t mind getting shot at from time to time.

Unusually for this hour, two bouncers had already taken up station by the front door. One I knew slightly, a former prize-fighter called Gino Maltese. I went up to him, said “Hey, Gino”, and moved to the side so I wouldn’t block his view. He appreciated the courtesy; I could tell by the way he didn’t hit me. We weren’t exactly friends.

“I need to talk to Eddie, if he’s in yet.” Gino grunted, which told me nothing; I tried another tack. “Hey, why are you guys out so early? Expecting trouble?”

He grunted again, this time expressively. “Riots,” he added after a bit.

“I saw some sort of demonstration over in the District. But that couldn’t possibly affect us here…” He glanced at me sideways, raised an eyebrow. “…Could it?”

He snorted. “Best be safe,” he said. He glanced at me again. “Boss is in back, doing inventory.”

“He’ll be happy for the distraction, then,” I decided, and turned to go in. Gino grabbed me by the arm, gently for him. I stopped; it was either that or leave my arm behind, and I’ve always been attached to that arm. He looked me over carefully.

“You ain’t bringing in trouble, are you?”

I had to laugh.

Riots now? Must be nothing… or is it? And what does this have to do with The Operative? Tune in next time to find out!

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