"From what I know, nomads and villains are just two sides of the same coin. Villains do most of the real crime. Nomads do most of the mule work - the supplying and transportation." Aldrich said this, but he understood it was only a surface level conception of what the nomads were like.
As a city child, it was true that Aldrich knew almost nothing about nomads. And because nomads were away from society proper, there was very little information about them other than traditional media outlets that branded nomads as dangerous pillagers and criminals.
Nomads were branded even more dangerous than villains, because villains at least had a vested interest in maintaining societal order for profit.
Aldrich understood that the media had an interest in demonizing nomads, making their lifestyle away from cities less attractive, but he himself knew precious little about how nomads were or what they valued.
Not to mention his experience with the only other nomad gang he had - the Odinsons - was not particularly positive, ending in bloodshed.
"Technically right, and a very thoroughly city-centric way of looking at it.
Both villains and nomads are part of the underworld, but also fundamentally different. We share a commonality in that we hide from from society proper, wallowing in its 'underworld'," said Z.
But where villains do so to amass power, nomads like us mostly do so for the sake of freedom. The vast majority of us do not or cannot live in cities, so we choose the freedom of the wastelands, no matter how hard the life may be.
And because life is hard, nomads work and stick together. We share as much as we can. That includes my tech.
Without easily accessible forged CIDs, it would be near impossible for nomads like us to survive in the wastelands. We do have to enter cities form time to time for supplies, after all.
Hence, why my false CIDs are as 'free' as possible. Easily reproducible. Easily copied. Easily updated to escape changing Panopticon security measures via myself or one of my Phantoms."
"There aren't any others that forge CIDs like you do?" asked Aldrich.
"Oh there are plenty," said Z. "But I am simply the best."
She said this with a matter of fact tone, as if being the best was just a simple and natural part of her.
"Which is why you're confident about your job security with the Dark Six."
"Correct. Of course, if the Dark Six do make a move against me, I would sever connections with them. But until that happens, I am a neutral party, Mr. Vane." Pa nda
Novel "I understand that. I wasn't here to try and convince you," said Aldrich.
"Oh?" Z took a sip of her coffee. She did so through her jaw shaped mask which seemed to have a suction function that drew in the liquid.
"There are two things I wanted to discuss with you. Or rather, one thing I wanted to discuss, one thing I wanted to tell you. Here's what I wanted to discuss: do you trust Desmond?"
Z briefly tore her gleaming purple stare from the two CIDs to Aldrich. "Seeking to sow the seeds of discord among us already?"
"No, this was just a question," said Aldrich.
"A leading question."
"Will you answer it? I have no issues if you don't."
"Hm." Z put the CIDs down and crossed her arms and legs, taking on a relaxed yet confident air. "As I have said before, nomads operate on strong bonds of trust. Desmond is no different.
He is an information broker. His spiders know things, their web of knowledge spreading far beyond even my comprehension. But the fact that he is part of this council means he will not spread knowledge about us to others."
Aldrich raised a questioning brow. "And you trust that? This idea of nomadic trust - is it really that solid? I know that look in your eyes. It's sharp. Wary. I don't think someone like you believes that."
Z shrugged. "No, I do not. But I accept it. It is simply how things are in the Wastelands. There is precious little space for duplicity. Nomads all rely on each other.
Without me and my Phantoms, there is no tech.
Without Clint and his Spearhorns, there is no muscle.
Without Gerard and his Hawks, there is nobody to scout out variants or storms.
Without Stone, travel across the harsher parts of the Waste becomes very difficult.
Without Crone and her Poppies, determining safe and efficient supply routes becomes quite the challenge.
And without Desmond and his Spiders, it is difficult to get news of Panopticon and government movement. Or, when needed, villain movement.
Had Desmond not been here, we would not have known about the incident in Haven. We would not have known about the Dark Six standing against us, either.
Should Desmond break this trust, he will be cut off, and unless he and his Spiders are willing to completely become villains, they can no longer survive in the Wastelands."
"Oh? And what if he does? What if the Dark Six offers him a deal so sweet for him and his people he thinks he can survive all he wants without all of you," said Aldrich.
"Certainly possible. But then he loses freedom," said Z. She noted Aldrich's confusion. "You do not understand. But freedom is what drives the nomad spirit. Most of the Spiders under Desmond live here because they believe in this ideal of freedom.
Freedom from surveillance. Freedom from control. Freedom from society.
If Desmond tells them he will sell their freedom away to work for the Dark Six, he will have quite the revolt on his hands."
"I see," said Aldrich. "Freedom, is it? Seems like a silly thing to believe in so highly. But I can understand the want for it."
"Freedom is not simply a want, it is a need," said Z. "Like food and shelter. Humans by nature, even when born with tremendous powers, strive for freedom. Some wish to be freer than others. Some wish for everyone to be as free as them.
But in the end, everyone grasps for freedom." Z tapped the CID chips on the table. "And I am finished updating these."
She slid the chips over, and Aldrich pocketed them again. "What are your plans, then? With the Dark Six against you."
"My plans are to remain neutral. But I presume you mean us nomads as a whole.
All the nomad tribes will be on the move after tonight for the sake of our safety. If you manage to secure Sentinel status, then I imagine as promised, the other tribes will ally with you for security's sake.
If not, well, I do not possess Crone's future sight, but I foresee that things will be quite a bit more difficult for both of us."
"I know." Aldrich knew full well that if he did not obtain Sentinel status, the nomads could turn against him to try and get back in goodwill with the Dark Six.
He did not believe Clint and his Spearhorns would. Clint seemed to have something personal against the Dark Six which, added on to his strong want for adventure, made it much easier for him to side with Aldrich.
But the others, he did not particularly trust yet. Especially Desmond. That was why he had a Grave Ward spying on Desmond's base.
The moment Aldrich found Desmond doing anything suspicious was the moment he found a way to out Desmond and eliminate him. If possible, Aldrich wanted to raise Desmond as his undead to access the information he possessed.
But Desmond was a small fry compared to the other enemies Aldrich would make by losing Sentinel status. Aldrich would become an enemy of the AA-Panop complex and world governments, perhaps the greatest force on the planet.
Yet even then, he felt confident he could survive. He could just hide out in the Wastelands, perhaps even in areas ripe with Null ore, and build up his power in hiding.
Nobody could really stop him. No matter what, Aldrich would build up his power.
However, Aldrich wanted to hold out and see if the AA-Panop complex would work with him. He wanted access to their resources, and he knew they wanted access to his strength, now more so than ever with the recent mass locus attacks.
"I will grant your technos access to secure communication channels to get in touch with us," said Z. "Update us on Thanatos's path to Sentinel status. So far, Thanatos has quite the popular fanbase, but popularity alone may not be enough. Even the backing of a Fortune heir may not be enough."
"I will." Aldrich stood up, readying to leave. "Oh, and one more thing. V says they are home."
Z's eyes widened for a brief uncharacteristic moment before they narrowed back down to her usual sharp coolness. "Is V with you?"
"Why does it matter to you?" said Aldrich.
"…" Z looked away, and for a brief moment, Aldrich felt like he could see Z's eyes waver in something resembling sadness. "I suppose it does not. Enjoy your stay in the compound, Mr. Vane. And get to know the other chiefs a little better if you can. After all, we must part ways by tomorrow."