Olesia was an ancient, craggy world of deep forests and towering mountains. Once the foremost power of the Eventide League, it had long ago been overshadowed by the rising stars of the League and the influence of distant Hesse – a low brought even lower with the advent of piracy along the frontiers, based in nearby systems. Now, much of Olesia’s effort was expended outwards, a fact worsened by the estranged Count’s recent actions.
Still, Ulyn knew it well – he’d served time here in his younger years as a mercenary hired on by one of the smaller merchant houses, protecting claims on Olesia’s moon, Tyche. It felt like a lifetime ago.
That same pale moon hung high above as the synth watched the retreating white bulk of the Farsight lift into the night sky, intent on following another lead the Prince had managed to track down in the days following the discovery in the Heart. Fine by him, he mused.
He had business to take care of.
The Count’s plays had been sloppy. Callister Rhose had been sloppier, still. Sentiment, as far as one could feel the pulse of a world from light-years away, was negative – and, with the world now neglected by the so-called Director playing king, Ulyn knew a few well-placed problems might just be the thing to set the house of cards tumbling.
He’d not counted on one small detail, though.
They called themselves the Ibrea, towering warriors of black robes and interlocking plates. The starport was guarded, but years of playing commander of the guard had taught Ulyn the benefits of being quick on your feet. Whoever – whatever – the Ibrea were, they were clearly aligned with the Count Illor, and as such… needed to be avoided. Whenever possible.
He was just finishing his last cigarette when the quiet of the night was disrupted by the approach of a vehicle, the whine of an electrolytic engine carrying on the wind. An older model, certainly; few drove, anymore.
The silver vehicle slowly slid to a stop in front of him, the driver’s window rolling down – and a familiar scruffy grey bearded face grinned back. “Thought you’d bought the farm, Variss. What’d I say about jobs that get you killed?”
“Haven’t got me yet, Holland,” Ulyn grunted, giving the hood a pat as he rounded the car and yanked the door open, piling in. “But I’m sure you’ll manage.”
The man laughed, putting it back in drive, and they turned away onto one of the many roads criss-crossing the outskirts of Olesia’s capital.
“So what brings you to our little slice of rust?” Holland offered, carefully avoiding a security checkpoint as they left the spaceport.
“I’m here to get the band back together,” Ulyn grinned, tapping the dash of the car. “Remember the border wars?”
“How could I forget? Every little noble with a grudge had a deeper pocket book than the last.”
“Big fan of the Count Illor, Jayme?”
“Fuck you. I’d kill him myself if he hadn’t run off to some core rock and taken half his cronies with him. Best thing to happen to Olesia in centuries and the people who took his place won’t take bribes.”
Holland sighed after a moment, connecting the dots. “Let me guess. You’re roped up in that mess, aren’t you.”
Ulyn laughed, a genuine, actual laugh.
“When I said don’t take jobs that’ll get you killed I wasn’t kidding, Ulyn. You sure have a hard-on for danger.”
“And you don’t?”
“We’re not talking about me here, are we?” The car shook slightly as the roads grew rougher, not as well maintained beyond the spaceport’s perimeter.
“So who the hell are these guys?” Ulyn asked suddenly, looking out at a gathering of the tall figures in armor, staring at the passing traffic. “They certainly weren’t here the last time I passed through.”
“Ibrea. They’re some sort of… what the fuck’s the word, a PMC or something. Nobody’s sure. When the Count grabbed his guard and ran off, he had these ballbusters step in for him. They’re running this place like a dictatorship, and it’s really starting to grind against the other houses. Last I heard they were considering declaring the Count absent until the Ibrea disappeared a few of the loudest voices.”
Interesting. So even Olesia wasn’t a fan of their mutual friend.
“Any idea where they went?”
“What, in the prison breaking business again?”
Ulyn held his hands up, shrugging. “Can’t say it doesn’t spice things up.”
“You need to get a better hobby,” Holland scoffed, pulling off onto a smaller road. “And to answer your question – which, by the way, you made me have to dig through a decade of shit to find the cypher – fine. I know a few people, have plenty of strings to pull. I have no problem helping send that dickhead to whatever hell he doesn’t believe in and I doubt anyone else here does, either.”
“Apart from the Ibrea.”
“Yeah, well, they can get fucked.”
Slowly, the car slid to a stop. A small roadside bar was lighting up the night, invitingly loud and baudy. Julie’s Roadstop was a tradition going back to even before Ulyn had left for the stars – of course it would be this place.
“Oh, too good for the classics now, Variss?” Holland rolled his eyes. “Told the rest of the Blues to meet us here, everybody knows Julie’s. Practically the start of any good job, these days.”
With a shrug, they both piled out, and headed in. It was just as he’d remembered it – loud, bright, and welcoming.
The same couldn’t be said of the Easy Blues.
“Well, well, somebody dug up the tin can,” One of the three mercs seated at the booth quipped, rolling her eyes. “Surprised you came back, Ulyn. Let me guess, bills too big to keep you dirtside for long?”
“Shove it, Triss.” Holland snapped, taking a seat.
“What’s this all about, anyway?” A second merc, Harell, stated flatly, crossing his arms.
“I said I wouldn’t work with him again after Vind, Holland, you can’t just–”
“Can you all shut up for once? He’s here about a job, and if you want to settle your tabs you’ll listen.”
That shut them up.
“Ladies and… men,” Ulyn began, taking a seat. “Our good friend the Count Illor has bitten off more than he can chew, and I believe it’s about time he choked.”
Surprise flashed across their faces.
“I need his power base here on Olesia crippled. I’ve got a few names and targets, but… it’s been some time since I called this world home, and I’m sure my info’s outdated. Each of you keeps an ear to the ground – I remember the Easy Blues of yesteryear, and old habits die hard.”
Triss, scowling, took a sip of her drink, dark hair and silver scales on her cheeks glinting in the light. “I’ve had my people following a few big shots, sure. Mostly for blackmail, but I’ve got patterns and routines down. Taking a shot or two would be child’s play. But what’s in it for us, Ulyn? You hit it big out there when we weren’t looking?”
“One twenty five, split three ways.”
Even Holland blanched at that.
“You can’t be serious?”
“How the hell did you get that kind of money?”
Ulyn shrugged. “I ran in high circles.”
“Fuck… not much of a choice now, is it?” Harell chuckled darkly, placing his elbows on the table. He was a mountain of a man, with a voice like a landslide.
Harell was the Easy Blues’ munitions expert and quartermaster – outfitting a few dozen mercs across the Eventide League was tough business, but few were tougher than him.
“You’re really going after Jayne, huh?” He said after a moment, a look in his eyes the synth couldn’t place.
“It’s… personal.” Ulyn said quietly, thinking of Hallek, and his heir. Probably most of the way to Banne, by now. “He’s a murderer and a usurper. Putting him down like a dog is what he deserves.”
“Didn’t think you were one to play hero.” Harell raised an eyebrow.
“I’m not. I’m here to get the dirty work done so the heroes can play hero. You know how our jobs end.”
“That I do. Fine, I’m on board. I’m sure I’ll find a few fun things to try out.” He grinned.
The third merc, the company’s personnel ops officer, frowned. Ulyn hadn’t met him before – he’d clearly joined the Blues after he’d left for Carrigan.
“No. I’m not risking people on this.”
“Gage-” Holland began.
“Holland, do you know who the Ibrea are? What they’d do if they thought we were starting a rebellion?”
“Frankly no, and I don’t give a damn, either.”
“Triss tapped their comms when she was building her network. They’re not from around here.”
“Well, surprise surprise.”
Triss interjected. “No. I mean, they’re not from the Spur. They’re some… other, thing. Warriors from some kingdom deep in the black. They made some deal with the Count, and it’s what’s keeping him afloat.”
“That’s just further reason to why we have to get this ball rolling,” Ulyn muttered darkly, leaning in. “There’s something out there that can turn stars to ice. I saw it with my own eyes, a system killed as surely as with a bullet. I don’t know if they’re related, somehow, but the timing is too convenient for my liking.”
“Ice. The whole damn thing crystallized.”
The table fell silent.
“…I’ll, see what I can do,” Gage said quietly, already working on his wristcom.
“That explains something.”
Ulyn frowned, turning to Triss. She wore a mask of concern, brows furrowed. “What?”
“The Ibrea kept mentioning something in offworld communiques, I thought it pertained to the Directorate matter. Something called “Project Sunshard”, whatever that means.”
“I don’t know. They were vague, and the parts I couldn’t see were encrypted in ways I’d never seen before. I’ve got the relevant dumps, but…”
“Send them to me,” Ulyn said, standing. “If you hear anything else about it, send that along, too.”
“I’m sending a list of targets and sites – most grabbed from orbit, but a few scoped out by… other means. Hit these, and the payday’s yours.”
“And what will you be doing while the Blues get busy?” Holland asked, raising an eyebrow.
Ulyn turned, already looking over the info he’d been sent. “Finding out what the hell this is.”