"Casimir made a bet on me that he thought would pay off. It's a simple as that," said Aldrich.
"Really now? Sure doesn't seem like it. Seems more like we're way far up shit creek with the Dark Six against us," said Knife.
He leered at Aldrich, and that was when Aldrich noticed that Knife's dark eyes were cybernetic, the pupils indented with subtle lines that indicated they were not soft flesh but metal. "Well, I'm just a bodyguard. I don't really do much of the thinking. I leave that up to my boss.
Also, I appreciate that you're dressed formally, but this isn't the right place for a suit. Here-,"
Knife looked around until he saw a nomad man passing by.
"Hey, you! Yeah, you, the chump with the wack mohawk, come here!" said Knife.
The nomad came up to knife with a nervous smile. "Uh, what is it, Knife? Somethin' wrong?" He gave Aldrich a quizzical look that quickly turned into suspicion. "And who is this? Why's a suit standin' around in our compound?"
"You don't need to be asking questions. Just give me your cloak and be on your merry way," said Knife.
"I just got this! Completely geostorm shock proof, too!" complained the nomad.
"I'll pay back the credits, so buzz off," said Knife.
"Alright, fine." The nomad grumbled before he took off his cloak and handed it to Knife.
As the nomad left, Knife tossed the cloak towards Aldrich. "Nomads don't take kindly to looking like a suit. Keep that on you so you don't stick out like a sore thumb and blow a sensitive fuse somewhere."
"…" Aldrich wrapped the cloak around himself, and it covered his whole body, draping down to ankles. It was meant for full body protection against geostorms, the umbrella term coined by all the types of storms generated in the Wastelands due to instable fluxes of ether energy within the earth.
The biggest issue that nomads faced with these storms was something known as charge-death. Geostorms stimulated alter organs with constant energy output, enhancing the powers of Alters within them, but this could quickly overload, rapidly causing alter organ failure and, subsequently, death.
The damage to the alter organ could also be permanent even if one survived a mild case of charge-death.
Thus, nomads all wore cloaks that prevented that energy buildup. It was made from materials harvested by variants that managed to live around these storms, using the energy rich environment to their advantage.
"There, aside from that annoyingly good looking face, you look just like one of us," said Knife.
"Just take me where I need to be," said Aldrich.
As Aldrich followed Knife through the compound, he felt some prying eyes on him. He had a good sense of when he was being watched, but when he checked the eyes on him, he saw most of them were just curious, not hostile.
"I didn't know so many nomads could live together like this," said Aldrich.
"What? You thought nomads were just a bunch of bike riding maniacs that just looted and pillaged?" said Knife.
Aldrich just stared at Knife. That was indeed what Aldrich thought, largely because information about nomads was so limited, but he did not let it show.
"…Yeah sure, there is SOME looting, but we try to take from the rich, y'know, the people that have it all and don't need what they got," said Knife. "You strike me as a city boy. Where? Neo-York?"
"You could tell?"
"Just a hunch. I got a good nose for sniffing out city folk." Knife shrugged. "Being a nomad is a way of life. Some of us are criminals fleeing justice, yeah, but even more of us are just people that didn't belong.
In the new world order that the Panop and the corps built, there isn't a space for people who really want to think for themselves. Corps force ads and their bootlicking ideology down your throat 24/7 in cities. It's fucking nauseating.
Most of the people out here just want to be free from that."
"So what? You would describe yourself as a community of free spirited individualists?" said Aldrich, somewhat sarcastically.
"Yeah, that has a nice ring to it," said Knife, not catching the sarcasm at all. "Oh, and we're here."
Knife pointed to a vehicle that looked like a giant mechanical wheel. It was easily the size of a three story house, anchored to the ground via giant mechanical legs that extended out from the sides of a house sized sphere that housed the crew that operated this war machine. These legs also formed ladders to get up to the inside.
The design of its sleek black plating made it very obvious that this was multiple grades above the often makeshift bikes that many of the other nomads had. No, as Aldrich observed closer, seeing a logo of a serpent devouring its tail, this was not just good, but the best of best.
This was Imugi tech. Probably the highest end military tech company in the world.
"I see you're admiring the Wanyudo," said Knife proudly. "It was a hell of a fight to steal this thing. Had to beat up a couple B ranker mercs and hold off Shogun, tough bastard that he is."
Aldrich made note of this information. Shogun was an A rank hero in Japan famous for being a living tank with a suit of samurai style armor that seemed to organically grow around him.
It was undeniable that Shogun was more of a 'combat' hero and not a 'popularity' hero, his A rank earned through feats of strength, not crowd pleasing. Much like Seismic.
The fact that Knife could hold someone like Shogun indicated a tremendous amount of strength. Or it was possible that Knife's power just had a good matchup against Shogun.
Either way, Aldrich could not underestimate Knife. It also made him understand that whoever Casimir was dealing with in the Wanyduo had the influence and resources to hire a bodyguard that could take on an A rank hero.
"What, getting cold feet now?" said Knife, noticing Aldrich's thinking pause.
Aldrich did not respond and just walked up the anchor leg. When he got close to the wheel, a door sensed his movement and slid to the side with a pressurized click.
Peering into the sphere, Aldrich saw gray metal tile flooring and walls. Thoroughly bare and military in design unlike the stylish and sleek plating on the outside with its shining black paint job.
In here, Aldrich saw a large table around which seven people sat, one of whom was Casimir. Notably, there was one empty chair. More people stood on the outskirts of the table, and by how they carried themselves, they were combat personnel.
Aldrich stepped in, and the hatch door of the Wanyudo shut behind him, clicking with a heavy sounding locking mechanism.
"Ah, Mr. Vane! We have been thoroughly awaiting your arrival!" Casimir stood up from his seat and waved Aldrich forward. Behind Casimir stood Walters, Smoke, Hirondelle, and Blanca. His three strongest guards and his trusted secretary.
Casimir pointed to the empty seat, and before Aldrich sat in it, he spied the others around the table. Four men and two women. None younger than thirty. The oldest was a man that looked close to seventy.
All with grizzled looks in their eyes. People who had gone through tough times a plenty, survived them, and come out on top.
The air around this table was tense. Everyone except Casimir stared at Aldrich with barely concealed suspicion.
Aldrich sat down and stared back, not backing down a single bit.
"You haven't been here for our first two meetings. Why is that, I wonder?" said the oldest of the group. He had a cybernetic monocle that extended slightly like a miniature binocular, inspecting Aldrich.
"I was busy. I'm sure you can understand that," replied Aldrich coolly.
"Chiefs, this is, as I have mentioned before, Mr. Bruce Vane." Casimir motioned to the table around him. "And Mr. Vane, these are six nomad chiefs that I am well acquaintanced with. They have been instrumental in helping me build my empire of connections."
"Your former empire, Casimir," said a woman with piercing purple eyes and a mechanical mask shaped like a beast's jaw over her mouth. Here voice rang out through the mask, undulating with a threatening ring. "With this stunt you've pulled off, you've gotten the Dark Six to paint a massive target on your back.
You're lucky we're even entertaining you here for the sake of our old partnership.
Every second you sit here, the chances of the Dark Six targeting us goes up too.
You better have a very good explanation as to why we should keep working with you."
"From the ashes, the phoenix rises, no?" said Casimir. "And Mr. Vane here will be that phoenix."