Chapter 220 Agreement”They say that age begets wisdom. Looks like that’s true,” said Aldrich to Gerard.
Gerard put a bashful hand on his head. “Don’t you try to smooth talk your way around this old man. I’ll still be keeping a close eye on you.”
”Understood,” said Aldrich. That meant that of the six chiefs, Clint and Gerard were now for him. But he still needed more.
Specifically, Aldrich wanted Z. She was the most useful one here with her specialization in technology. The fact that she was the creator of the fake CID (citizen identification) template meant she was an undeniable genius on par with or even above Panopticon higherups.
”Now then,” Aldrich turned to Z. “Does my deal sound a little better?”
”To me, it doesn’t matter much,” said Z, unfazed. “Unlike Clint, I am not itching for a fight. Unlike Gerard, I don’t have so many riders that any of them will go hungry. The services I provide in the criminal underworld are utterly unmatched.
Even if the Dark Six replaces me, I will have no shortage of other buyers. I might rack in fewer credits, but I don’t need much to keep my riders going.”
”Ah, looks like with you, I’ve lost my leverage, then,” said Aldrich. “What about security? With a small following, you have less manpower to defend yourself with. And now more than ever’s the time to have manpower.”
”Quality over quantity.” Z motioned behind her to Knife. “A small team means I only need a few strong individuals to secure our safety. But that is, of course, at my current level of risk.
Clint does not care at all about risk, and Gerard has made the analysis that his military strength is not enough to cover the Hawks against the Dark Six even without partnering with you.
For me and my Phantoms, we believe ourselves adequately protected already. But should I officially partner with you, then the risk grows to the point where that may not be true anymore.”
”Basically, by partnering with me, you’re taking on an extra burden,” said Aldrich.
Z nodded. “As I have said before, I do not mind supplying you with tech as a client. But partnerships are not my forte. My principle is to provide my tech to anyone that asks and can pay.
The underworld may seem like a den of selfish lions, but an ecosystem filled only with predators dies off frighteningly quickly. My tech allows practically anyone to escape cities and become a nomad or, if they want, take it a step further and become villains. It is crucial in creating a sustainable environment.
To maintain equity of distribution, I need to remain as neutral as possible.”
”Interesting,” said Aldrich. “I assume you had a similar hands off approach with Casimir, then?”
”He was a client. But a partner? No,” confirmed Z.
”Then what was the point of you coming to this meeting?” said Aldrich. “If you’re already sure of your position.”
”Because I am still part of this council,” said Z. “And my vote still matters to you, doesn’t it? I wanted to know what kind of person you were. If you were an unstable element that I could not take even as a client, then I could not give you my vote.
But you aren’t.”
Aldrich nodded. “I’ll take that as a yes then?”
”You may,” said Z.
”That’s three for me, 1 rejection, and 2 neutral parties,” said Aldrich.
”That’s enough support. I’m in too,” said Stone. “I don’t like thinking too hard about these kind of things, but if Z and Gerard support you with their big brains, then I will too.”
”Haha, you and me both,” said Clint. “These nerds gotta learn how to live sometimes, I tell ya.”
”The way you live, I don’t imagine you living much longer,” said Z.
”What’s life without risk, huh? Just a boring ol’ shitshow,” said Clint proudly.
”A very short show, yes,” sighed Gerard. “You youths have no concept of what it’s like to reach a ripe old age like me. It’s fulfilling in its own way.”
”No way. If I die of old age, then by god, someone throw me in a ring and toss a variant at me, because hell if I’m gonna die sleepin’ on a comfy bed!” said Clint.
Aldrich knew that Clint’s bravado was not misplaced. One of the first things he noted the moment he sat down was that although the other nomad chiefs had powerful guards behind them, Clint had literally nobody. He was that confident in defending himself.
And considering Z had brought Knife, a bodyguard who could at least stall an A ranker, that spoke volumes to how strong Clint probably was.
”And Crone?” Aldrich motioned gently to Crone’s still sleeping, frail old form.
”She’s probably using her power to figure out her decision.” Gerard got up and put a hand on her back and then shook his head. “No wait, she’s just sleeping. I’ll go ahead and fill her in on the details later, but for now, this meeting’s over.
Hope you enjoy working with most of us, Mr. Vane, and I hope you can actually deliver on what you promise.”
”You won’t regret it,” said Aldrich.
”And this is where we are staying.” Casimir bowed as he gestured behind him to a series of three mobile homes fused together to create one surprisingly spacious base.
Also, ‘mobile homes’ was underselling what these were. They had the same basic structure as mobile homes, yes, being basically houses on wheels, but they were fitted with enough armor plating and mounted turrets that it was easier to call them ‘mobile bunkers’ instead.
”You had all this in reserve?” said Aldrich.
”The nomads kept it maintained for me. For no small price, of course, but it has served as quite the comfortable escape on many a rainy day,” said Casimir.
”You’re sure it isn’t bugged, correct?”
Casimir looked offended, the emote on his mask displaying shock. “Mister Vane, goodness gracious me, you would expect me to have fallen to such amateurish standards?”
”Just making sure you didn’t have any more surprising waiting for me. Like you did in the negotiations.” Aldrich was not accusing Casimir of anything, he was just curious why Casimir withheld some critical information like the fact that Aarav Singh had voiced public support to Aldrich and the fact that the Dark Six had already abandoned the nomad chiefs.
”Ah that, I must apologize, but you cannot blame me. I do enjoy seeing you speak. It grants me ever more confidence that I have made the right decision in backing you, Mr. Vane,” said Casimir.
”I figured as much. It was a test then, hm?” said Aldrich.
”A test, my, Mr. Vane, such harsh wording. It was simply an opportunity for me to admire an artist at their craft. And it made me feel quite useful, dropping in with those grand revelations. Did you see the look on dear old Gerard’s face? Quite priceless, I must say,” said Casimir.
”Yeah, it was.” Aldrich smiled, remembering Gerard’s complete and utter shock when Casimir revealed that he knew Gerard had nothing to leverage.
”Anyways, I want you to do something for me. Consider it payment for watching me at work,” said Aldrich.
”Ah, payment, how I do love that word. What is it, Mr. Vane?”
”Desmond still trusts you to some degree, right? Could you meet with him personally, in his base? Try to reach out to him about a partnership again before he leaves. I doubt he’ll agree to anything, and I don’t care about that. I just need you to get in his base,” said Aldrich.
”I will have Walters and Hirondelle accompany me,” said Casimir. “Quite curious, this is. Mr. Vane, I do wonder what you are plotting. But I will do as you say and let the revelations come to me later. A delayed payoff is often more satisfactory than immediate reward, after all.”
”That’s right,” said Aldrich.
As Casimir turned around, Aldrich said, “And Casimir, about your men in the Red Circle, the ones I raised. Did you get the chance to bury them?”
Casimir did not turn to meet Aldrich’s gaze. He instead looked up at the blue skies and shining sun. “I did. Most of them, at the very least. They lie in graves not far from here, in these grand old wastelands.”
”Are you sure you didn’t want to bury them somewhere more proper?”
”I did wonder about that. When I first hired those men and women of mine, I told them I needed their service to rise to the top of the underworld.
Most of them were mirror images of my younger self. Having nothing but wanting so much. They wanted credits and safety but most of all, I came to realize, they wanted a vision.
They wanted a dream they could look forward to and believe in. They wanted the freedom to live and fight for something big.
Somewhere along that way, their service became friendship, and the rise to the top became an adventure.”
Casimir smiled. “A grand old journey. And for some, their journeys ended sooner than others, but there is no shame in that.
In a way, it is fitting that they rest here, in the vast wastelands that many call the neo-frontier: the very symbol of adventure and freedom.”
Casimir nodded to himself. “Now then, Mr. Vane, before I wax and wane more about this topic, I shall arrange that meeting with Desmond.”
Casimir strolled away, as confident and forward looking as ever. Back tall and undaunted. Aldrich could see why Casimir would attract so many loyal followers.
Aldrich rapped on the fortified metal door leading into the base. Spybird would let him in soon, and then he would catch up on issues like contacting Aarav and Seismic.
And, most importantly, his plans to capture Blackwater.