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An Unrefusable Offer (Part 1)

Posted on Sat Dec 14th, 2019 @ 7:13pm by Fordyce Kirschler PhD

Mission: Mission 10 - Temperance
Location: Lower Kasson District, Lithios Prime
Timeline: MD 09 23:17



"Ah, geez, come on," groused Ford as he looked down at the communicator strapped to his wrist.

An unsubtle vibration had drawn his attention to the incoming call just as his ground transport had pulled away, leaving him stranded on the sidewalk in the rain with a choice to make. He could answer it now out in the rain, or he could go inside and risk everyone overhearing his end of the call. When the small screen flashed the Bank of Bolias symbol, he knew the decision had been made for him, and he tapped to answer. A little rain never hurt anyone.

"Dammit, Lucie, I've been calling you for three weeks," he complained the second the call connected. Literally no one else at the Bank of Bolias would ever be contacting him besides his handler, Lucienne Bex. He was just a number to them; he might have been just a number to her, too. "I thought maybe the fleeties were locking you out."

Lucienne Bex stared back from the relative comfort of her office suite on Bolarus IX. It was easy to see it was raining on Lithios Prime, which wasn't a great surprise given the planetary climate. From the patterns, sizes, shapes, and content of the flashing neon holodisplays that she could see around the dripping brim of Fordyce Kirschler's hat, she could tell he was in a certain district of the city. Whoring, likely. Her face shifted to disapproval; whoring was a frivolous and unnecessary expense that she felt certain he was charging to his discretionary account.

"No, the Federation values its relationship with the Bank of Bolias. We've been allowed to maintain private comm channels to facilitate business through the blockade. But I do apologize for taking so long to re-establish contact, Dr. Kirschler."

Ordinarily, a caller's voice would resonate from the device on his wrist. Instead, it skipped the bother of the whole ossicular chain and was instead routed to the implant connected to his cochlear nerve. Rather than interpreting sound waves traveling through the air, his body received electrical impulses directly to his brain. It was a significantly more private way of communicating and cost a small fortune back in the days when he'd had a small fortune to spend.

"In other words, you didn't have a reason to bother with getting me off this piece of shit rock until now," said Ford. He didn't have the benefit of a subvocal processor to mask his half of the conversation - those were both prohibitively expensive and largely unnecessary since he could control when, where, and what he spoke. When she didn't reply, he goaded her further, "You're looking… dry."

Lucienne didn't take the bait but the look on her face gave enough of a response. "The Bank appreciates your efforts thus far on Lithios Prime. But we have need of your services one final time before extrication."

"I don't like the sound of that."

She kept speaking as if she hadn't heard him. "The Primarch has been an invaluable associate to the bank, but we have need of an item in his possession. We anticipate he will be reluctant to part with it. I would send someone better suited for the job, but the fighting in the Pentara sector with the Swophnoond Imperium-"

"Who's that?"

"You've been on Lithios Prime while they've been establishing themselves."

Ford made a thoughtful noise. "Yeah, they've got this place locked up tighter than a drum. I haven't heard about anything in months."

"As I was saying, the conflict has made travel in the region unacceptably hazardous."

"If it's too risky to get somebody here, how are you gonna get me out of-"

"To the point, the Primarch has an item of interest to the bank, and our agents have planned an operation to acquire the item. All you have to do is follow instructions, Dr. Kirschler," said Lucienne, not sounding the least bit convinced of his ability to do so. His aptitude for following directions was rated fairly low in the personality analysis of his portfolio; luckily, his penchant for improvisation usually made up for it.

"Well, what is it?"

"Dr. Kirschler, I would have thought at this point you would have learned my standard response to that question and adjusted accordingly."

"Whoa, now. These are billable hours," said Ford, grinning. "Don't blame a fella for stretching a conversation out a bit. So, you want me to do somebody else's job and go steal something? Sounds like a charity case to me. You tryin' to throw some work my way, Lucie?"

"Dr. Kirschler, I work for a financial institution. We have never once acquainted ourselves with a charitable enterprise," deadpanned Lucienne. "The item has strategic value to the long-term interests of the Bank of Bolias."

"Sexy," said Ford, drawing out both syllables. "So, what's the item?"

Lucienne let out an exasperated sigh that sounded like a decompressing shuttlebay. "Proprietary technology exclusive to Lithios Prime."

There was a lot of proprietary technology exclusive to Lithios Prime and not much of it was particularly wholesome. In fact, the whole reason he'd been sent here highlighted what they were about. It started out as a favor from the Bank of Bolias to the Lithian ruling government, which was heavy-handed and authoritarian but "business friendly." A disease outbreak on the southern continent had threatened to turn particularly nasty and get Starfleet involved with a medical quarantine, which both the Bank and the Primarch wanted to avoid at all costs. Quarantines were bad for business (surely one of the lesser Rules of Acquisition).

Ford had managed to help get things in hand by reprogramming portions of the government's robotic labor force to operate as field medics under the control of medical professionals in the capital advised by Starfleet Medical. Rather than risk further infection, the entire area had been cordoned off by the military while the new mechanized medical personnel handled the situation. Everyone cooperating and working hand-in-hand lasted about four days. First, it came to light that the government was using the automatons to euthanize patients with less than 50% chances of survival. He hadn't programmed them that way, of course, but he also hadn't spent a whole lot of time bothering with medical ethics. That was supposed to be an operator's prerogative. Naturally, Starfleet wasn't happy about all that.

They were even less happy when some go-getter science officer started analyzing data coming out of the region. Within 24 hours, they'd blown the lid off the true cause of the illness - a covertly developed biogenic agent accidentally released from a government lab. That brought about another kind of Starfleet involvement that extended just a slight bit beyond medical officers - at last check there were six ships enforcing a planetary blockade while the diplomatic corps coordinated disarmament talks and other punitive measures.

"So, listen. I'm not much cut out for all this cloak and dagger bullshit they got goin' on around here. Can't I just negotiate for whatever this thing is?"

Lucienne gave a mirthless smile. "Your aptitude for negotiation is too low for the Bank to even consider-"

"Aw, shucks, I'm an embarrassment to the company."

"-placing you in a public position of any kind representing our interests anywhere. Also, the item is non-negotiable. What we want is for you to assist in limiting the impact of this acquisition on the Bank's relationship with the Lithian government. You're not the ideal candidate for the job, but you're the only suitable asset available to us at this time." The way she said 'asset' made his skin crawl a little bit. "The alternative is to remain on Lithios Prime. Current in-house projections suggest the blockade will be lifted in eighteen months."

"You're shitting me."

Lucienne Bex looked like she was as capable of joking with him as she was of being charitable, which was to say not at all.

"What if they know I took it? Who've you got set up to take the fall?"

Lucienne frowned; he could practically see the calculations flying around her as she weighed the necessity and/or desire to tell him. "The Primarch will likely develop the impression that the Orion Syndicate relieved him of the item in question."

"Ballsy," said Ford. "And what if they're watching me?"

"Are you indicating that you need assistance in dealing with Starfleet security personnel?"

For a minute, Ford was tempted to say "yes," just to see what the Bank of Bolias did to "deal with" Starfleet security personnel. "No, I could lose them in broad daylight. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the other guys."

"Your illicit activities have attracted attention again?"

"You make me sound like a criminal, Lucie."

"The Lithian government has been dissuaded from monitoring you," said Lucienne. "And as a material witness to their involvement in the development of an illegal biogenic weapon, they're also eager to have you off-planet before Starfleet brings you into their investigation."

"It's a wonder I'm not dead. Yet."

"They have no reason to suspect your involvement in the acquisition so long as you follow protocol," replied Lucienne. She made it seem like he was being dramatic for fearing for his life under the bootheel of a ruthless autocrat. "And the Primarch values his relationship with the Bank of Bolias."

"You saying you've been keepin' me alive?" asked Ford. Then he teased, "You saying you like me, Lucie?"

"You're a useful component of my portfolio, Dr. Kirschler."

"Close enough," said Ford with a grin. "But how the hell am I going to run the blockade in a corvette? The Couronne isn't outfit to deal with the kind of firepower Starfleet has in orbit."

The side of the screen of the device on his wrist flashed to indicate transmitting data while Lucienne spoke, "Your window of departure is narrow as is your point of egress. Follow these instructions to disable the primary sensor palettes of the Nebula-class vessel scheduled to patrol that sector grid and then route your course through the Francien Nebula."

He didn't ask how or why the Bank of Bolias had the schematics for a Nebula-class starship on hand, or how and why they knew how to disable its sensors. It wasn't important because he'd already made up his mind. It seemed like a good job, and it got him off Lithios Prime. As long as he didn't get caught red handed then he should be okay. He just wanted to massage the offer a little bit.

"Dunno, Lucie, this looks dangerous. Stealing from the Primarch, running a Starfleet blockade, transporting stolen goods..."

"Are you looking for hazard pay, Dr. Kirschler?"

Ford seemed like he'd been caught at something by a stern parent. He even answered reflexively and earnestly. "Yes."

"Fine," she said without hesitation.

"Whoa, you really are desperate."

Lucienne looked like she resented the implication. "You're mistaken; I'm wealthy and impatient. Instructions regarding the acquisition of the item will be sent directly to you from our operations center." In other words, she wanted some plausible deniability in case he bungled the job. "Follow the instructions precisely, and you should be fine barring any extenuating circumstances. No delays, doctor. Bex out."

Ford stared at the screen for a few seconds beyond the disconnect then pushed some air through his nostrils. "Rude."

OFF::

Dr. Ford Kirschler
Engineering Consultant
Bank of Bolias

 

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