The Merchant

Special thanks to George Ledoux for asking out loud for something Battletech without the mechs, to Tyler Carpenter for making sure I didn’t abuse the Japanese language too badly and helping me hide things in plain sight, and to Paxamo for letting me bounce my rough drafts off of her.

 

 

 

The Merchant

Solaris VII, The Game World

Solaris City

June 24th, 3053

 

“GOOD EVENENING MECH FANS! Welcome to another evening of hot mech on mech action…”

The voice of Duncan Fisher poured from the cheap speaker mounted to the cart as Mamoru and Robert hustled it down the street toward the Ishiyama arena.  The cart was a two-wheeled affair designed to mimic the horse-drawn military ones of the early 20th and late 19th century of earth.  It had been painted the red and black of House Kurita and featured bronze fixtures.  It was loaded with the kind of swag that only tourists and aficionados of the Solaris games would find appealing: Battlemech bobbleheads, posters, patches of the major competitive stables, and an assortment of souvenirs that had been manufactured in sweatshops around the inner sphere that would all be sold for an exorbitant sum.

“Bah, old man! If we don’t hurry we are going to miss the best spot to sell to all the gaijin coming from black hills.”

Robert had a strained look on his face as he tugged the cart faster.  Mamoru lowered his head gave a bit more energy to his pulling efforts.  The cart sped up as they careened toward their destination.  In the background Duncan Fisher droned on, discussing the upcoming fight in the pre-match show.  They had plenty of time to reach the sales spot but Mamoru knew that Robert was impatient.  He attributed this to both Robert’s youth and his greed.

The distance to their destination gave way beneath their hurried feet and soon they were unpacking the cart and organizing its contents for display.  Foot traffic was heavy as buses dropped off spectators who would walk to the arena and its surrounding viewing rooms and bars.  Ishiyama was a unique arena in that it was completely underground, built inside a man-made mountain.  This made viewing the matches a challenge.  The result was that most serious VIP’s had private parties at Valhalla or any of the upscale clubs and bars around town where hundreds of cameras would pipe a direct feed of the action, but it also meant that the enormous trid-screens and parking lots around the arena were a huge draw for locals and tourists alike.  The largest trid was over 150 meters wide in a kilometer wide grass and pavement viewing area.  People brought food, portable grills, and copious quantities of alcohol.  There were 4 smaller gathering areas with similar layout encompassing a semi-circle around the arena.  It was, in effect, the Inner Sphere’s largest tailgate party, and it was filled to capacity at every match.  It was a busker or hustler’s dream.

Many of the main streets had been shut off so that the mech stables could make a public show and bring some of their machines above ground for a parade rather than take the maintenance tunnels.   The crowds were growing and Robert and Mamoru benefited from a location that intersected the path to the largest Bar in the area, the parade route and foot traffic from the Davion controlled Black Hills District.

Mamoru loved the ebb and flow of people, the hollering of vendors and the relentless haggling with customers over his wares.  They were selling out of the Yen-Lo-Wang bobble-heads; an always popular item who’s autocannon glowed and sputtered when first jostled.  The patches and posters for the current Kurita favored mech stable were doing well, but such items fell in and out of favor.  He would have to watch the stock and rankings closely to avoid ending up with unsold stock.

“OOOOOH, did you see that, did you see it?!! Folks, we have a brawling situation and one of our pilots has already lost an arm!” Duncan Fisher’s commentary was popular with most folks around Solaris.  Robert hated the man, but never let it get in the way of pleasing the crowd.  Mamoru, on the other hand, liked the aging commentator and his insights.  He would never admit it, but he also liked the gossip, slander and self-effacing stories that Fisher told.  Fisher was anathema to much of what most Kuritans considered civilized, but that also gave him a certain appeal.  The match continued on in the background as Mamoru hawked his wares.  A funny little Urbanmech statue smoking a cigar and wearing a top hat remained a non-seller and Mamoru wondered why Robert had ordered the thing.  No one liked Urbanmechs and no respectable pilots in the arena would pilot one.  Only a few had been sold and Robert had argued feverishly with customers in order to move them but had made no sales.

Robert and he had been partners for about a year and a half.  Mamoru had been selling near the arena but had not been getting on well until Robert had come by, hustling and trying to get free swag.  Mamoru had recognized his need for a young energetic partner and a second set of hands, so he had offered him a job.  Robert had excelled and their partnership had become lopsided quickly.  Mamoru was not a forceful man and Robert had quickly taken over the majority of the work.  He was glad to give up control to the tenacious youth and acquiesced to his demands.  He was making more money and that was good, but he sometimes wished that Robert were less prone to shortcuts and schemes.

Mamoru noted the poor performance of the Urbanmech and decided he would slash the price in half just to get them moving after the match and ask Robert about them.  He turned his mind back to the business of selling trinkets and lost himself in the sounds of the crowd, the drone of the announcer on his radio, the gentle ping of credit chits making a deposit and the rustle of H-Bills changing hands.  Lost in his reverie of unbridled commerce he didn’t notice that Robert had disappeared until traffic had begun to slow and the drunk-to-sober ratio of foot traffic had significantly changed.

The cart and its cargo were a tempting target for thieves and hoods so Mamoru couldn’t leave it alone but he craned his neck to look around and took a few steps away to peer down the nearby alley.  In the alley, he could see Robert arguing with a large man who was mostly hidden in the dark.  He wanted to shout at him, ask him if he was okay but knew better.  Robert could handle himself.

“Hey, Ojiisan!”

Mamoru spun around and saw a lanky youth wearing a leather jacket and cheap dark sunglasses.  He recognized him after a moment’s hesitation.

“Ozaki-san, how may I be of service?”  He lowered his head in a slight bow and quickly moved back to the cart, avoiding eye contact. Ozaki was a low-level Yakuza Shatei who worked for Yama, a glorified thug and extorter who in turn faithfully served his Kodai.

“Ah, Mamoru-san, it is time to for me to collect zeikin.  Bureaucracy must be served, and we provide so excellently for your welfare and safety.”  Mamoru knew that Ozaki considered himself a businessman and future member of high society.  In reality, he was a rabid dog with a nice jacket and unpleasant smile.  It would not do to dally; there were consequences for crossing the Yakuza.

“Of course, Ozaki-sama, please take this meager contribution and give my regards to Yama.”  He placed a bundle of H-Bills into a plastic bag and proffered it to the thug.  Ozaki made no move to collect it and was instead staring at the cart with a strange look on his face.

“Is something wrong Ozaki-sama?

“What? Uh, no.” Ozaki looked dazed for a moment and snatched the bundled cash from Mamoru’s hand before hesitantly grabbing one of the Urbanmech figures and stalking off into the evening.  Mamoru noted the strange behavior and turned back to look at the alley one last time.  Robert was walking out and there was no sign of the individual he had been arguing with.

“Are you all right Robert-kun?”

“Of course Mamoru-kun, why wouldn’t I be?”

“I saw you arguing with someone.” A cloud passed over Robert’s face for a moment.

“A haggle, nothing more, I managed to convince him to purchase all the Urbanmech figures at a reasonable price.  He may even buy more from us in the future.”

Naruhodo, I understand.  A difficult task to sell such an ugly thing, we are fortunate to have your skills put to use on this matter.” Mamoru smiled.

“It’s true.” Robert paused, cracking a wry smile at Mamoru’s teasing and then began laughing, after a moment Mamoru joined in.  They returned to the business of their cart and began closing it down for the evening.  The matches in the arena were done and this late at night only troublemakers roamed the streets; the kind not even their Yakuza protection money could ward away.

Not having to rush they took their time pulling the cart back to their truck parked a few miles away in a public lot.  They loaded the cart into the rear bed and secured it with straps.  The truck was a dilapidated old ground car styled after some long forgotten Terran vehicle.  It ran on diesel and sounded like a small bore autocannon firing when its transmission changed gears.  It was, as Robert liked to call it, a “piece of shit.”  As ugly and terrible as the vehicle was it was still serviceable and roadworthy, but most importantly inexpensive.  It hauled their cart from their storage facility/ warehouse to wherever they needed to go.

The two drove back to the storage facility and backed the vehicle into its berth.  As dawn neared Robert packed up the Urbanmech figurines into a box he could take to the buyer later that day.  The next match wasn’t for a few days so two men had time to restock the cart and attend to other affairs.  They parted ways outside the storage center and headed about their own respective business.

Mamoru lived in a rundown apartment on the edge of an industrial sector between Montenegro and Kobe.  The building itself was old and had classic architecture from the star league era.  He climbed a set of stairs to the 4th floor and wandered through the halls until he came to his unit.  It was located at the back of the building.  The light in the hallway had been broken and he had to feel his way down the hall.  He fumbled with his keys and made his way inside.  The apartment was sparse with only a few photos and trinkets.  There was a small tri-def monitor in the living room surrounded by unimaginative beige couches.  He made his way to the kitchen, grabbed a glass of water and meandered down a hall to a small office, turning on the lights on as he went.  He sat down heavily at a desk and flipped a switch to turn on a data terminal.  The terminal bleeped to life, humming and chiming as it began displaying a login prompt.  Mamoru entered his credentials and checked his messages. Mostly spam, he deleted a long list of items before turning to one titled “Father.” The message was from his son, who told him that he had successfully completed a big job and that he would continue working hard for his employer.  Mamoru smiled wanly and replied with encouragement and sent an attachment that would deposit a sum of money into his son’s account.  He couldn’t help but spoil the boy.  He turned next to a Go game.  The game was part of a play by mail service.  He quickly made his move and sent it back to his partner.  He continued to browse the remaining messages and finished his water.  He leaned back in the chair to stretch and smile; retirement was just around the corner.

 


 

Solaris VII, The Game World

Solaris City

June 28th, 3053

 

Ishiyama had again drawn a large crowd and Mamoru and Robert had done brisk business.  The streets had been alive with people and vendors, a raucous shrine to the excesses that Solaris was known for.  Mamoru again noticed the nonexistent sales of the Urbanmech statues but didn’t worry as Robert had promised that he had a buyer lined up.  They made good money; completely selling out of some commemorative plates and three signed new-in-box Legend Killer plushies they had finagled from an estate sale the day before.  The ancient relics might have gotten them more money in a real auction house, but the notoriety and reputation they would acquire were far more valuable on the street.  The stuffed toys sold for an amount of money best described as obscene with their cart turning into an impromptu auction house for about 20 minutes.

The evening was mostly over when Ozaki and three of his fellow Yakuza strolled up to the cart; their faces blank masks of determination.  Robert noticed the young Yakuza approaching and his face grew taught with what Mamoru recognized as anxiety.  Something was wrong. Mamoru grew cautious.  He moved to intercept the young Yakuza.

“Ozaki-San! How good to see you, how may we be of service on such a beautiful night?”

“You two need to come with me.”  The directive was stated flatly, but the threat of violence lingered on the edges of Ozaki’s voice.

“I don’t understand, Ozaki-san, we paid our ‘taxes’ and–” Mamoru was cut off by Ozaki almost immediately who waved his hands in an exasperated manner.

“Shut your mouth old man, Gozu says he needs to see you and all you need to do is follow instructions!”  Robert’s face grew red as he strode forward to within a foot of the Yakuza.

“Hey, asshole! I don’t care if you are a Yak; have some respect for your elders.  We have a business here and we can’t just walk away.”  Robert’s fury was righteous but ill-advised.  You could say many things about Robert, his schemes, and failings but he was loyal.  Ozaki turned his attention to Robert and gave an exasperated nod.  One of the Yakuza hoods grabbed Robert by the back of the neck while another slapped him in the face hard enough to bust his lip and leave Robert stunned and silent.

“You will speak when spoken to and obey as required. Do you understand?”  Ozaki had moved close to Robert and leaned in so close to him that their faces almost touched.  The restrained lethality in his voice made Robert tremble.  He swallowed hard and nodded.

“Hai! Understood.”  Ozaki smiled at the response and stepped back.  He again nodded at the man who had Robert in a tight grip, signaling his release.

“Of course we have no wish to harm a source of income; one of our esteemed brethren will ensure your goods remain undisturbed.”  Ozaki whistled and waved his hand over his head and a hovercar from down the street sped toward their location.

“Get in the car.”

Robert and Mamoru climbed into the hovercar as soon as it came to a stop.  Inside were three more Yakuza strongmen, each with a neck as thick as a tree trunk.  They looked like the movie stereotype of a thug.  As Ozaki climbed in after them the one in the middle reached into his coat and produced a vibroblade, laying it across his lap.  The other two produced black hoods which they promptly placed over Robert and Ozaki’s heads.  The hovercar pulled away from the cart, taking the two men into the unknown.

 


 

 

Robert and Mamoru remained in the darkness of the hoods for what seemed like an eternity.  They could feel the car slewing through the streets and in some cases making multiple turns in the same direction.  Robert tried to ask questions once or twice but was promptly hit for his troubles.  Eventually, silence reigned supreme and Mamoru decided to meditate.  Time passed quickly once he had entered a state of relaxation and the gentle thump of the hovercar coming to a complete stop and shutting off roused him.

The Yakuza guided them out of the car and wrangled their hooded forms into two chairs.  When their hoods were removed they found themselves sitting in the darkness of a cavernous warehouse.  The place smelled metallic, and vaguely of oil and dust.  There was no merchandise visible, no boxes or other items, just the expanse of concrete, a handful of Yakuza, another chair, and a hover limo.  The limo was jet black with tasteful chrome. It sat silently in front of Mamoru and Robert, a monolith as mysterious as it was common.  Yama, Ozaki’s boss, stood near the limo next to another Yakuza.  The Yakuza in question was a woman who wore a black 3 piece suit and Kurita red tie.  Her hair was shaved on one side; a dragon could be seen tattooed in her exposed scalp.  The rest of her hair was slung down her back in a braid.  Yama leaned in close to her, whispering.  She giggled and gently rapped on the window of the passenger compartment, stepped aside so it could open.

The car’s door opened gull wing style and two Yakuza bruisers exited the vehicle before a Man in a white suit gently exited.  He moved with the grace and authority befitting his position as Wakagashira to the Oyabun of Solaris.  Gozu was lithe with a scarred face.  He was young for a top-ranking lieutenant and right hand of an Oyabun.  He had risen through the ranks fast, known as a man who could, and would get blood on his hands; but also as a canny negotiator that could navigate the underworld and high society like a fish in water.  He glided across the warehouse arriving at the chair in front of Robert and Mamoru.  He gently settled into the wooden chair, leaning forward to examine the two men as one might an insect. A sword rested in his lap.  Mamoru noticed that Gozu was missing half a finger on each hand.  He was not perfect it seemed and had been forced to make penance to his Oyabun more than once.

“Mr. Robert Nakayama and Mr. Mamoru Maeda, thank you for taking the time out of your schedules to meet with me.”  Gozu smiled at them; his eyes were black unreadable pits. “It has come to my attention that you two are moving some, well, inappropriate merchandise without paying the appropriate taxes, or receiving proper permission.”  Gozu snapped his fingers and the woman Yakuza stalked forward and placed one of the Urbanmech statues in his hand.  She bowed and withdrew to a respectful distance.  Robert and Mamoru remained transfixed by their host.

“Yama’s shatei Ozaki brought this to his attention, and he brought it to mine, as any dutiful kodei would do.  It seems you have been selling Urbie Surprise in Kobe.  Selling drugs to Kuritan citizens is something we prohibit and not a transgression that is easily forgiven.”  Gozu pried the top hat off the urbanmech and dumped a baggie of tan powder into his hand.  Gozu’s face became stern, not unlike that of a teacher or parent.

“Thankfully it seems you have been selling to someone in the black hills and so there is margin for forgiveness here.  Are you ready to atone for your failure in judgment gentlemen?”  Gozu smiled again, but there was no warmth, it was the grin of a shark searching for prey.  Mamoru looked away and he could hear Robert begin to sob in the chair next to him.

“Excellent, here is what I want you to do.”  Gozu’s voice ran like a river, gushing forth instructions and comments.  He wanted the pair to set up a meeting with their supplier.  Gozu would send a representative to negotiate a deal for his own distribution.  Mamoru filed it all away in his head like he had all the paperwork and accounting of their business; nodding and making acquiescence when required.  On the chair next to him Robert begged for forgiveness, and then seeing this as an opportunity, not unlike any of his other schemes, he began to volunteer information and accept the plan; all while looking for a way to turn this situation to his advantage.  He obviously was hoping to join the Yakuza, a prospect that was about as likely as a lightning strike on a clear day.

Gozu finished providing instructions and the two were quickly black bagged again.  They spent another eternity in the hovercar before being deposited at their cart.  The Yakuza had been good on their word and the stall had been unmolestedT they had even made a few sales.  Mamoru set about packing the stall up.  Robert assisted and they completed their work in silence.  On the way back to their ground car Robert broke the silence.

“I’m sorry.”  The words were halting “I didn’t mean to put us in this situation.”

“Robert, no apology is necessary; this is just your nature.”  The words from Mamoru cut Robert to the core.

“I just…”

“Drugs Robert! And on the Yakuza’s turf!  Anyone who has heard of the Oyabun and his family knows how much they loathe drug dealers and their friends.  Now we are trapped with no way out.  Gozu is breaking the family rules and the family will kill us for dealing!”  Mamoru continued his work and the two said no more until they had placed the cart into storage.

“You had better hurry up with the arrangements or Gozu will see us both dead by week’s end, and I plan to retire after this.”  Mamoru’s words were another cold jab and Robert was taken aback before nodding shamefully.

“Hai.”

The two men parted ways into the night.

 


 

Mamoru spent the next few days waiting for Robert to let him know when the meeting would occur.  He checked his computer terminal often, keeping up with his correspondence.  Robert called on a Thursday evening to confirm that a meeting had been set up.  He had already contacted Ozaki and everything would happen the next night.  Mamoru was relieved, he had worried that Robert might lose his courage and try to skip town instead of following through.  Mamoru spent the evening playing email Go with his opponent and conceded the game after a series of progressively poor moves.  He sent a haiku as an apology for his early withdrawal.

Icarus in flight

The roses bloom far below

Daedalus weeping

His opponent had been gracious, sending a reply indicating they accepted his apology. Before bed, he checked his messages and found a new one titled “Father.”  He read the message and found that his son had received word that his big job would be happening soon.  Mamoru smiled and wrote back providing some guidance and warning him to be careful, that highly profitable work often came with hidden risks.  Mamoru finished using his computer and went to bed early.

 


 

Solaris VII, The Game World

Solaris City

July 2nd, 3053

 

The meeting had been scheduled for a parking garage between Cathay and the Black Hills district that catered to some local condo complexes and a business center.  The bottom floor of the garage was mostly vacant as Robert, Mamoru, Ozaki, and Yama drove into its depths.  They parked swiftly and exited the vehicle, seeing their contact already waiting.  Momuru chose to stand behind Yama as they were approached by a grizzled man with a dark beard.

“Alright then, Robert, who are your friends?”

Robert cleared his throat.

“Uh, hey there Musuko. Umm… I’ll let them introduce themselves, but they are big business partners.”

“Is that so?” Musuko gave the men a dark stare as Yama stepped forward.

“I represent Gozu of the Yamaguchi-Gumi and we want to make an arrangement for all of your Urbie Surprise.”  Musuko’s face betrayed his suspicion.

“All of it?  That’s a lot of money, and I didn’t think you Yak-Gumi types were into the illicit substance business.  I’m game if you want to spend the C-Bills.”

“Gozu is taking the family in new directions.  There will be no payment.  You will provide the drugs and we will be generous on occasion.  We will also ensure your safety.”  Yama stepped closer to Musuko who stepped back, keeping the distance between them.  Elsewhere in the garage, the patter of running feet could be heard.  The Yakuza had sent troops.

“I thought it might be something like that after I was warned, so I took some precautions.”  Ozaki shot a look of rage at Robert whose face reflected abject terror.  Several of the parked cars doors opened and a retinue of individuals with sub-machine guns and rifles climbed out; taking up positions where they had clear lines of fire.  Musuko squared his feet, throwing back his jacket to expose a needler pistol.  The needler was a weapon that fired shards of ballistic plastic that shattered and shredded its targets into pulpy disasters. It was a horrific weapon used by spacers and thugs.  Everything was still as Yama and Musuko stared each other down.   Mamaoru looked to his right as the first of the Yakuza soldiers made their way down the ramp to their floor.  There was the sound of Yama cursing as he reached for a gun tucked into his waistband and then the world exploded into gunfire, yelling, and blood.

 


 

 

Robert’s screaming woke Mamoru.  The fight had been brief in the parking garage.  Ozaki had been gut shot by one of the drug dealer’s enforcers almost immediately and Yama had shot Musuko in the arm in his haste to draw his weapon and fire.  Musuko in turn retaliated by firing point blank into Yama’s face with his needler.  The results had been a horrific explosion of gore and plastic sanded bone.  The Yakuza soldiers had fought the rest of the dealer’s men, also killing Musuko; but not without casualties of their own.  Robert and Mamoru had hit the ground during the first exchange and then scrambled behind a vehicle to wait out the battle.  Ozaki had seen them hide after he had been shot.  He attempted crawling to them; trailing his guts as he came.  The head of the Yakuza soldiers had found him this way afterward; a living pile of gore strung over six meters of concrete.  The soldier had gathered Ozaki’s innards up onto his chest, prepping him for evacuation.  Ozaki had whispered fervently to the man before passing out, or dying; Mamoru couldn’t tell which.  The soldier had then black bagged him and Robert, striking them until they had each lost consciousness.

As Mamoru came back to reality he realized that he was bound with his hands behind his back and sitting in a chair.  They were back in the warehouse and the Yakuza woman from earlier in the week was slowly cutting on Robert’s hand with a switchblade knife.  He was screaming bloody murder and she was smiling the like a lover during intercourse.  Gozu sat in a chair about three meters away, his sword in his lap; and Robert realized that they were situated on a wide plastic drop cloth.  2 Yakuza thugs lurked behind him, and the Yakuza soldier stood next to Gozu; arms crossed watching the woman work.

“Come now Kanmei, don’t play with him so.  We need him to tell us his sins.”  Gozu’s voice was clear even through the screaming.  Kanmei shrugged, gave a strong tug and Robert’s finger broke free with a popping sound.  She promptly placed the bloody stump in her mouth.  She grabbed a welding torch off the ground and burned Robert’s empty finger socket with the flame.  The screams reached fever pitch and then turned to bubbling tears.  The stink of burned flesh assaulted Mamoru’s senses.  As Kanmei stepped away from Robert it became clear that he was already missing two fingers on his other hand.  Mamoru’s head swam.  Kanmei noticed he was awake.  She sauntered over and leaned down, running her tongue over the top of her finger-turned-sucker in a pornographic display.

“You’re awake.  Perhaps you can tell us what the little boy won’t?  Will you tell me or will we get… intimate?”  Her voice purred, but Mamoru held no illusions about her role in this affair.  Robert wept uncontrollably a few feet away.  Mamoru closed his eyes and counted, centering himself and growing colder inside.

“Stay away from me!” he made fear appear in his voice and jerked back as hard as he could.  The chair began to tilt and then fall.  As he hit the ground Mamoru pressed his left thumb hard dislocating it with the additional force of the fall.  Almost immediately the thugs descended on him, picking him and the chair up off the ground; one on each side.  As the guards began to re-seat him Kanmei stepped close.

“Oh, jiji I’m going to have a good time with you…”  Kanmei’s voice was dark and breathless as she drew close.  Mamoru kicked out at her, both feet catching her in the chest and knocking her over.  The guards lost their grip as the backward momentum from the kick pushed him out of their hands.  Hitting the ground he yanked hard on his damaged hand.  The bindings fell free.  He bounced up off the ground like a rubber ball grabbing his left hand and snapping the thumb back into place.  The thug who had been on his left reacted first; charging at his position head down.  Mamoru whirled like a bullfighter and slammed his elbow down on the back of the Yakuza’s neck with targeted force.  The crunch of bone breaking greeted his ears.  The thug went down, unconscious and maybe dead.  He turned toward the second thug.  The Yakuza guard had already closed distance and grabbed Mamoru by the throat, attempting to pick him up off the ground like a wrestler.  Mamoru wrapped his legs around the man’s head and arm, forcing them to tumble.  As they fell Mamoru twisted with his thighs; forcing the man’s head to meet the ground at an odd angle, snapping it with his own weight.  Mamoru came up into a crouched position from the limp tangle of meat on the floor.  Kanmei had just managed to stand up and the Yakuza soldier guarding Gozu was starting to react.  He stalked forward, pushing the unsteady Kanmei out of the way as he brought his silenced submachine gun to bear.  Mamoru rolled forward to the chair he had occupied, grabbed it and threw it at the soldier in a whirling arc.  As the soldier staggered from the blow Mamoru ran forward.  The soldier opened fire just as Mamoru reached him, but his aim was off and the rounds flew past the charging man.  Mamoru grabbed the weapon’s barrel and palm struck the Yakuza in the chest.  The hot barrel burned his flesh but Mamoru refused to let go.  The soldier attempted to punch Mamoru with his off hand, but Mamoru blocked the attack and shrugged it to the side before striking again.  The blow landed in the Soldier’s throat, crushing his trachea.  Mamoru yanked and the gun pulled free of the dying man’s grip.  The Yakuza soldier fell to the ground, writhing, unable to breathe.  Mamoru turned to Kanmei.  She smiled and licked her lips. He raised the weapon and emptied the magazine into her.

Gozu had spent the entire altercation sitting and watching, seemingly immune to the nearly instant death of his people.

“You are no old merchant.”  Both a statement and a question, it hung in the air.  Gozu stood up, drawing his sword.  Mamoru advanced on him.  Gozu swept the sword in a wide angled arc that Mamoru dodged by ducking under, closing to within arms-reach.  Gozu attacked again as he retreated, this time whirling around like a dervish.  Mamoru dipped back out of reach of the blade and advanced again in two quick shuffle steps.  Gozu made an attempt to stab and Momoru spun into the attack, placing his hips against Gozu’s.  Mamoru reached out and grabbed a hold of a portion of the sword haft and one of Gozu’s hands.  The two men engaged in a test of brute strength for the gleaming blade.  They struggled and whirled attempting to fling each other to the ground or twist free for what seemed like an eternity only to come to a stalemate staring into the others eyes.

“I am Mamoru Maeda, and HE knows.”  Gozu’s eyes went wide and Mamoru ripped the sword away, pushing Gozu back with a kick.  Mamoru brought the blade down in a short slice, striking Gozu’s hands clean from his arms before stepping back and driving the sword through his ribcage; piercing the heart.  Gozu fell to the ground, the surprised look still on his face.

Mamoru turned and surveyed the carnage.  He pulled the sword free of Gozu’s corpse and plunged it into each of the Yakuza lying about to ensure their deaths.  He returned to Robert who was shivering with shock in his chair.

“Mamoru, where did you learn to do that!  You got to get me out of here! I think I might be dying.”  Robert’s pleading was drenched in tears and the stink of burned flesh. sick and sweat.  Mamoru looked at him for a moment and then walked behind the chair.

“Thanks so much, I can’t wait to get out of here.  I’m going to make this up to you I swear!” Mamoru reached around with the blade and drew it across Robert’s throat, slitting the carotid arteries wide open.  Robert gargled his own blood, struggling against the inevitable.  Mamoru dropped the sword on the ground and found the warehouse exit.  Walking into the Solaris night he never looked back.

 


 

Solaris VII, The Game World

Solaris City

July 4th, 3053

 

The man who had been Mamoru Maeda stood in line at the spaceport ready to board the dropship Canticle of the Cosmos.  His hair had been dyed bleach blonde and his eyes bore contacts that changed them to a shade of slate.  His face had changed shape, prosthetics no longer gave him an Asian appearance and he looked like a middle-aged Steiner citizen of average height.  He wore a loud floral shirt and unfashionable hat; both distracted people from really seeing his face.  When he reached the embarkation officer he presented his ticket and ID.

“Mr. Geoff Garrity, welcome to the Canticle, your room awaits in section 3 of the passenger cabins, 3 decks up.”  The ticket taker returned his documents and ushered him inside to an elevator.  As the elevator moved, Garrity thought back on his work.  He had done as the Oyabun had asked, ferreting out and punishing an overly ambitious subordinate who was ignoring family values.  The pay had been acceptable, but he hadn’t taken the job for the money.  He had been getting rusty waiting out his time on Solaris after killing that noble in Liao.  He had needed to stretch his legs so to speak.  Setting up the Yakuza had taken a very long time, but he and the Oyabun were patient men.  The key had been in recruiting an unlucky hustler from the street to act as a catalyst.  His identity and name had been a message to Gozu from the Oyabun.  The Yakuza lord had insisted on it. By the time the elevator stopped on the appropriate deck Mamoru had ceased to exist in Geoff Garrity’s mind and the happy go lucky terribly dressed accountant had fully taken his place.  Geoff knew he would change ships and identities two more times on his way to Tharkad; he had to be careful.  He had pulled a new contract that would require serious work and yet another identity beyond the upcoming two.  Geoff stowed his gear and strapped in for the launch.  He ordered room service for after the ship had broken orbit.  An accountant on vacation deserved a treat or two, and he could afford to spoil himself a little.  He already had an idea about how he would do the next job; Mycosia Pseudoflora, a lovely flower, and favorite of his target.  He smiled as the captain announced departure; he was back to doing what he loved, and what better retirement was there than that?

 

 

If you are kind enough to have read the story and finished it I want to thank you for your time. I hope you had as good a time reading it as I did writing it.  If you want to dig for little tidbits hidden in the story then start with the names of all the characters.  There are double meanings in most.  If you want to dive in to the real lore of the main character I recommend reading up on “The Dancing Joker” on http://www.sarna.net