• Nobles of Null is a forum based roleplay site where sci-fi and magic collide. Here, Earth remains fractured and divided despite humanity reaching out to the stars. Worse still, the trans-human slaves of one major power have escaped, only to establish their own Empire, seething with resentment at abuses of the past. Even the discovery of aliens, though medieval in development, has failed to rally these squabbling children of Earth together with its far darker implications. Worse still, is the discovery of the impossible - magic. Practiced by the alien locals, nearly depleted and therefore rare, its reality warping abilities remains abstract and distant to the general populace. All the while, unseen in the darkness of space, forces from without threaten to press in. For those with eyes opened by insight, it is clear that an era is about to end, and that a new age will dawn.

Diners, Drive-bys, and Dies


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Interpol Branch Office, Brussels Arcology

"Alright," Captain Beatrix said, standing by the wall in the meeting room. "Thank you all for coming. Glad you're back from your vacation, Shapur."

"Thanks, it was nice," the Persian said with a nod and a small smile. "Good to see the kids."

"For sure," Bee replied, before looking at the two newcomers. "Well, we've got new people so let's go ahead and formally introduce everyone. I'm Captain Beatrix Simmons, callsign Bee, I'm the overall unit leader, but also serve as the squad medic, cause I'm not used to handing that particular responsibility off."

Bark looked around at the introductions, which he gave a nod and decided to be first up for the introductions. He stood up from his seat and gave a salute, as he wished to be proper well as proper as he could be. "I am Private Ngao Agrinya, my callsign is Bark, a small joke at being a canine but also being tough as tree bark with or without the ballistic shield." He chuckled and let down his salute. "I'll be the shieldbearer unless a mission doesn't call for it or I get assigned to another position as need be. Always happy to be working with you all." He smiled as he took his seat once more.

"I'm Sergeant Shapur Karimi," one of the veterans said with a smile as he stood up. "Callsign Oaf, cause that's definetly who you want handling explosives, right?" he added, chuckling at his own joke before sitting back down.

"Corporal Valpuri Kovalyov," the remaining member said staying seated, her Russian accent cutting through the air. "Sniper, callsign Zima."

Shade watched each one move in turn, red eyes unblinking as she stared at them. She had decided that they must have set the trend for standing when talking, and so that trend would need to be followed. So, when she was all that remained she gave a short growl, and stood. She wore her usual outfit, perhaps even the same one from hours ago, a slim, black bodysuit that hugged her form tightly. She had somehow gotten an ill-fitting jacket overnight, wearing that over her shoulders. Her forarms held gauntlets of screens, a datapad was slung over her back, and on her head were tech-goggles on standby.

"I am Corporal Fel Shade, callsign Shade," she began, German accent very much present. "I am technology, here to provide tech support. I see through a building's eyes, I breathe the code of the modern age." Suddenly self-concious, her ears lowered back a little. "So, hacking and such, to be reductive about it's complexity." She waited for a solid second, before she slowly sat back down.

Bark was hesitant to speak with or even about the feline Chongwu, as she didn't seem to want to talk. However if teamwork cohesion was going to work? He should take a chance and say something. "We can always use tech support on our missions, as some of these people seem to have access to drones. Could be useful to have some of our own no?"

Her head swiveled like a machine and her eyes locked onto his, a single blink slowly taking place as she did so. "Yes, you will need me if you wish to survive the modern era of combat. Technology is our power, and so I will be our technology." She blinked once more, and looed at the others. "Guns are acceptable as well. Do not worry."

"I still have yet to get my drone back, by the way," she huffed to Captain Beatrix.

"Uh," Bee replied, pulling out her datapad to look at her messages. "Right, they'd started taking it apart for evidence, but after they got my order, they're sending it and should get here in a few hours."

Shade grew visibly angrier, eyes even wider than previosuly, before she breathed deeply and calmed. "Evidence. Evidence of their inadequacies perhaps. I could have destroyed that shuttle with my will alone, their security was so lacking. Thank you... Captain," she said with some hesitance.

Bark blinked for a moment in a bit of confusion about all of this. Her mannerisms were different, but not odd to him as he'd seen far more different mannerisms some arguably destructive to others around them. "If I may ask you mention being our technology? Do you have a way of interfacing with it?"

She put her goggles on, and underneath her red irises glowed through the glass. Miniscule numbers and letters were visible on the goggles, and as she kept staring at Bark he would feel his comm device ring. She hadn't moved a muscle, but if he'd look at it, the message would read: "I am technology."

"Yes," she said. "I do have a way of interfacing it. I was designed to do so. That was me being kind. Imagine what I can do to your enemies."

He blinked upon looking at his comm device ring and opened it up to see the message. He smiled at that, as it gave a reminder of more naive times in his early days. "That is amazing it's rare that I've seen anyone interface with technology like that. Only recently with the one person we caught, but I'm not certain if she was interfacing with technology like this. If so not this fast, but there was part of the situation I missed...No headset made for my ears, at least at the time."

"You are teling me things me things about your history that I do not know of, and are therefore not important to me," she said flatly. However, with the cadence of someone who still doesn't know how to take a compliment, she followed it with. "But yes... I... am amazing. Whover you speak of would be like an ant before my prowess. I will be an asset."

"I have no doubt about that and apologies if I rambled on a bit. It's history involving someone we caught a little while ago now. I'd like to see your skills at work in the field, after all recon can tell me where I need to go and what to watch out for." He smiled and seemed genuinely happy for the skill set she brings to the team.

"Or who to shoot," Valpuri said with a nod.

"I'm quite certain a crime will happen at some point," Shade said flatly. "You will have your chance to see my glory, 'Bark,' and you will be thankful for it." She turned to Beatrix. "How much longer will I be in this room? I must assemble my workstation to my liking."

"Just need to get your thinking on what to focus on," Bee said, tapping her datapad to bring up a list of current investigations. "We've got various projects that are ongoing, but they're more in the beginning stages of investigation. If anything strikes your fancy, we could focus on that and make it more likely to find the information necessary for us to get the bad guys and lockdown their crimes."

"I have not looked through the available cases," Shade mewed, "however I will support the team's decision. As soon as I have my workstation set up, I will be more effective at assisting the operations. I may be able to find more, hidden between the lines of code. Much crime is cyber, in this age."

Bark will take a look at the list of investigations and be truthfully stumped as of to what to focus on for them. After all he was the type to say all trouble needs help and or fixing depending on the situation. "On a personal level I'd feel investigating the Chongwu Undercover slavery rings going around, but on the other hand? Cults can be dangerous based on what I've seen once. A long while back, but the people involved can be hurt from those and their families. That's my input at least until we have more information on the cases."

Showing a very rare expression of... well movement and feeling, Shade leaned forward towards the Captain. "What sort of cults? Doomsday? Religious? It's often both in thi day and age. Modern cults are so fascinating," she said with a hint of excitment to her tone, before she shut down her emotions and sat back in her stiff and uncomfortable position. "The enemies of Freedom Street do deserve death as well. Slavers deserve little else. Or at least Human Justice, if death can't be given so readily. Should I begin looking for leads in these fields?"

"Technically we can't directly collaborate with Freedom Street," Beatrix said, before smiling. "Officially at least. If you could work on those contacts, we can get moving on that. On the cult front, kind of have your pick. Jumped up MLMs, weird cyber mindmelds, usual conspiracy theorists, the list goes on and on. Most are harmless to the rest of society, but other times they're not."

"It'd be an honor to collaborate with them, since I wasn't given the opportunity in my previous line of work unfortunately. What kind of big cults are we looking at that are causing various problems? Since we have Shade? We could use her expertise against those trying to go into cybertech kind of stuff. It would be some coincidence if we find a cult working to do Chongwu Underground slavery rings. Potentially could hit two drones with one shot." Bark did his best to find a way around particular metaphors. Since with Chongwu, those could be all too real.

"It would be too convenient," Shade said dismissvely, "for such things to align like that." She stood from her chair, ears flicking. "It appears no one here is willing to make a decision, and so I think it wise to wait until our Captain does some leadership, as is common with goverment agencies."

Bark blinked a little uncertain of how to approach that, but would attempt to anyway. "If I may offer some input? I'm hesitant to make a decision without enough information on who we're going after. I'd feel comfortable if we had some intel on these various threats. For example if we had an idea that say some cultists were planning a ritual bombing of some kind? Then we would need to make haste to thwart it first I believe. Potentially save the most lives that are in immediate and or catastrophic danger."


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"Sounds like the newbies want to go undercover," Shapur said with a chuckle. "Though I don't know if we should throw them to the piranhas that fast?"

"I think Bark will do well at any rate," Zima said, looking between him and Bee. "Already got some success on that front, seeing as how you guys didn't come back to work after lunch the other day."

"I would also do well undercover," Shade said with a light and poorly disguised hiss. "I wear black, that's part of it right?"

Bee cleared her throat, before nodding. "If the cult angle's what we want to stick to, I'll send you guys some leads to dig into so we can look at who's most likely to be dangerous," she said, before clapping her hands together. "If that's it, you're all dismissed. You'll get a message from me in a bit the files I got."

Shade was already standing, and so, arms crossed at the slight against at her power. She left the room to find the workstation she'd been given. She'd taken the corner, and began basically dismantaling the computer at the desk to modify it to work to her exacting standards. She did not ask permission beforehand. She was not going to stop.

Oaf sat down next to her, chuckling as he started up his own workstation. "Think you can get it to run Crysis 15?" he asked.

Her eyes snapped to him, having not been paying attention and cursing herself for it now. Her hackles raised, she slowly calmed down. "Not without expensive parts and intense modifications. I could do it, but my goals are wider. This is a launchpad, from which I will project my conciousness into cyberspace."

Bark blinked as he looked around and turned to the nearest person around to listen to him. "When did we get workstations?"

"Since you got given a work account," Valpuri said, sitting down across from Shade. "You just spent most of your time downstairs in the firing range and the gym. Same login as your datapad."

Why were all these people near her? She growled softly under her breath, focusing on her work. In record time the computer she found was becoming something new, something changed.

"O-Oh uh thanks Valpuri! I guess I'll check out my workstation for the first time...It's going to feel odd doing work at a desk and not just receiving orders of what I have to do." Bark will give a nod and make his way to his workstation to see what it looks like and try to get an idea of what kind of work he could do here.

Shade had then lifted the screen, slim as it was, and set it on top of the bulk of the computer. Wires spilled from her arms and she attached them to the machine like a kracken wrapping it's suckers around a pirate ship, and sat there like a creature from the deep as her eyes glowed red. "I need more parts. This is a work computer, designed for basic interactions and emailing. This can hardly run Hypersolitaire on the highest graphics setting. Disappointing."

"That does explain why George is only using cloud gaming apps when he thinks the Captain's not looking," Shapur said, looking meaningfully at another officer before chuckling. "He's lucky he's a decent shot."

"Technology advances eternal, and government agencies insist on using the most average machines possible." She huffed. Talking with people was not her most well-honed ability, but she could talk about her artistry and field forever. "Bark, I require that computer, the one not being used. It is lonely. It will be assimilated." It didn't sound like an unearned command, but it also wasn't a question or a request. It was a statement, in an odd way.

Bark blinked as he was just becoming accustomed to the new computer and checking his emails, until he heard of Shades...Request? Command? She was above him in rank technically, but his stuff..."D-Do you mean my computer? I just uh wanted to clarification."

"No, I did not mean your computer," she huffed, "the one not being used. To your left. There's no signatures on it, no personalization, which means it is new and unsused. I will use it." She didn't turn to look at him, nor regard him in any way, she sat there with her arms on the table with wires spilling from them jacked into various ports, staring with frustration into a blank screen.

Bark gave a nod, as he made his way over to the computer not being used which he made sure to hold it carefully as of not to drop it. Then he proceeded to make his way over to Shade, which he put it down near her. "Pardon my intrusion, but you seem to be having...Trouble? Frustration with the computers? Anything I can do to help? I can lift the heavy stuff or hand over any tools you may need." He said hoping it was a good gesture, as him and computers did not mix really.

She slowly turned to look at him, eyes glowing red as numbers moved across them. "My frustration was having to explain myself further." She looked back to the blank screen. "That, and the IT person is actively in the system as well, probably panicking at their failure to stop me from making myself at home." She pulled the computer towards her workspace, and began to pull it apart with a set of precision tools. "I will tell you when the heavy things must be lifted, if you truly must be helpful in some way."

"...You know it might be good to maybe tell the IT person what you plan to do? It might seem, er, useless to you do so but it could build trust to just let them do as you please. Maybe even give you access to some things to make it easier? Also I apologize for not getting it the first time around with your...Request? Command?" He was confused by her demeanor, but was attempting to understand it.

"Because that would require speaking to a person, and already three of them sit around me as though it is their right," she hissed. "I do not need permission from someone who clearly can't protect their systems. They will learn from this experience, or they will fall to despair."

She lifted the computer's casing off, and began salvaging the entire machine to create a new one from the two computers. "Build trust," she chuffed derisively. "Trust is earned too slowly for anything to come of it."

"I want to see the face of the IT person when they see it, to be honest," Oaf said, patting Bark's arm. "Don't worry about it, they have a bunch in the back. The nice thing about going cheap is that you can get a lot of replacements on hand."

Bark was going to interject especially on the trust part until he felt the pat on his arm and listened, which he gave a sigh and nodded at Oaf. "I suppose they can be replaced easily with various replacements. All I ask Shade is you think about the benefits of trust at least out in the field when we get there. It doesn't seem like much, but it is a valuable thing to have when in the field."

"I will trust you all to do your jobs, as I trust you will trust me to do mine." She slowly looked back to him again, an unblinking and intense stare. "Trust as people, instead of as agents, is too much to ask. You missed your calling as an underpaid therapist." She turned back to her screen, seeing something only she could see as she stripped a government computer for parts.

"...Uh thanks I guess? It's just as people we're more than just our job. Something goes wrong in the field? Someone may need, what's the word? I'll use reassurance I suppose? That you're looking out for them and their well-being. More so given a high rank depending on the team and circumstances, but all the same." This felt like something he'd said before almost a feeling of deja vu for him except not quite for the same reason and an entirely different person at that.

"Rank is an authoritarian scam and reassurance is a tool for the dying." Connecting the computers together, she set them up to loop around each other, slowly intertwining them into one. "Do not reassure me. Tell me the facts, and if there is no hope, kindly inform me of my failure."

"There's...No never mind we'll agree to disagree I think. Anyway I'll be around if you need any other assistance with something I'm able to help with." He gave a nod and cleared her workspace area, as he assumed he would be in the way.

Shade suddenly realized that this was the most she'd spoken to people in the last three months. She paused in her work long enough to be noticed, eyes no longer glowing a she pondered how that conversation went. The most talking she'd done in months and on her first day at a new high level job she'd talked some random dog into a corner and belittled his arguments.

She hissed at herself, disapointed, frustrated, and annoyed, before her eyes glowed once more and she continued working. There was nothing to be done about it, she thought, as he would probably not kill her and she could handle isolation. Those were her main concerns after all.

Bark focused on the computer in the hopes of looking up any information he could and also checking his emails...There was a miniature flood of emails, which confused he would take a look and so much junk mail. Fast clicks of delete and back to attempting to find information. Except he wondered if they had access to databases? Only one way to find out. "Does anyone know if we access to any, er, databases of information on different criminals? Please don't tell me if it's physical paper files..."

"Here," Valpuri said, pulling his mouse over and after a few seconds pulled up the correct database. "You can put in the names from the Captain's email and look up details. There are physical files, but they're stored in main HQ in Paris. Descriptions are uploaded though."


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Some of the data on his screen would suddenly start to be highlighted, important names and addresses lit to mark them. A little text box appeared in the corner as obvious spam and junk were suddenly banished into nothingness. "The spam filter on these machines sucks. What are you looking for, I'll help."

Bark gave a small sigh, as he maintained his focus and pushed aside any negative thoughts on the, not sure if it was a conversation or a smart person talk down. Either way there were more important matters at hand, which she could probably access anything far faster than he could. "Thanks for the assist, I'm trying to look into cults that might possibly deal in drug trafficking? That way it might give us probable cause to go in there and get at them. Also try to check for any strange cult like symbols in recent crime scenes? Could be clues there maybe."

She didn't turn around to look at him and she didn't speak back, communicating faster via text though her body didn't move. "Life is a Lovecraftian horror and everything is larger than us, let's hunt the insane and the desperate for the government." Information began to move about the screen, tabs and browsers under layers and layers of encryption and hidden by private networks streamed into the ether of the digital world, tendrils hunting for prey. "The worst part about cults is that often they are not outwardly doing anything illegal. Thus they can continue their abuse of power over others. Ever been in a cult before?"

Out of force of habit, he shook his head no even though she couldn't see him and responded. "No I can't say that I have, I've only seen'em at work in their places however. Sometimes they can slip up if they're arrogant or perhaps one of their followers lands ends up being arrested and hence some of the cults things are in their apartments and or houses...Not a strong case I know, but I'm hoping some have slipped up somewhere. Do you have any suggestions on clues to look for?"

Responded via text, her body moved as though she'd chuckled. "Follow the money. Usually, tax evation is the way people with too much power over others are jailed. That's the best shot for ending at least a cult's leaders and their reign over their followings. Not an exact science of course, and justice sometimes comes too late, or justice is faulty on that occasion." More tabs opened, until eventually a bunch of links were saved to a text file. "Some starting places for more intesive reading. I don't know how much jurisdiction we have across space or even on the local level, and I'm not going to ask anyone about it either. You could though, you seem the more 'eager to help' type."

"...You aren't exactly wrong on that, but there is a reason I wish to help others if I can. I've worked for shady reasons no pun intended, for far too long. So I decided with freedom given to me? I would instead attempt to fight for the right reasons in whatever I can even if that means at just mostly being decent or good with a ballistic shield to guard the team. Although I will say I'm in the same ship so to speak when it comes to not knowing how much jurisdiction we have in areas, I'm just using assumptions and deductions. I appreciate the assist Shade." Soon he will have started to go over some of the reading he was given hoping something sticks out.

Texted again into a textbox, the reply came: "Why are you speaking aloud? We have computers, just use that. As far as everyone knows you're sounding heroic for no reason." Zima had in fact looked over his shoulder to see what he was responding to, before shaking her head and going back to her work.

Bark blinked as he looked over at Shade physically and then back at the textbox. "The speed of your thoughts are coming fast into the textbox...I'll have to type and that probably will take too long for you eventually. I'd imagine this conversation will go in reverse where you will tell me to talk at typing too slow..." He chuckled a little, as he continued to read the text.

There was a long pause, and in front of him he could see her shoulders slumped, and coming through the text box was an unfiltered "ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh" that respembled the sigh she made in reality.

"Fine. Text me or," there was a space in the text as though it came as a reluctant admittance, "ask if you need further help. The first option will always work though. I am the machine."

Bark gave a small smile and gave a small nod and for once to accomodate her being the machine? He typed in an "Understood." He was happy their rocky bump didn't seem to become a hurdle for them helping each other. He would just need to stay away from those kind of arguments, unless they made sense on the field. Maybe.

As the group worked, a few groups rose to prominence. The first was a more techno-apocalypse oriented group, Singularity Crusaders, seeing the MA's rise as heralding the end of days. Whether that meant the Singularity or the Rapture was a big internal debate, but that didn't stop them from hoarding enough weapons to raise some eyebrows even in the AU.

The second was a human-supremacist group, the Velvet Hand, which was made up of higher ranking members of society that saw all non-human species, especially the Daqin and Chongwu, as inferior and should serve humanity. Or at least, the upper crust of humanity. Since most aliens were in short supply, this usually just ended up being Chongwu. Along with slavery, the group dabbled in other white collar crime, which would be easier for Interpol to pin them with.

Regardless of how the others felt about either case, Shade's monstrous computer began to seek information on the latter group. A collection of doomsayers was nothing new to her after all. The idea of any sort of supremacy was as ancient as sentient thought, and now she was here. The result of thousands of people feeling their own superiority, and she decided that no matter how long it took she'd show them true superiority. Her own power over them would be fitting. Justice was a lovely side-effect.

He looked into the information on both of the groups, which both pulled him in opposite directions. The tactical part of him wanted to go after the techno-apocalypse oriented group, as not only could all of those weapons be dangerous in their hands. Those weapons can be dangerous if another group decided to get rid of them and acquire those weapons. The personal part of him wanted to go after the human-supremacist group, no questions asked as he has walked across a few such people in his time and dealt with them various times. Also as an added bonus they could be easier to pin down. Bark had an idea of Shade's opinion, but it was nice to ask. "I think I may know the answer, but which group are you considering we go after?" He typed into his communicator

The text returned: "The latter is my choice. I'm already investiagting their crimes, however at some point more talkative people will have to investigate them in person. Granted, neither of us would be fitting to do so."

There was a pause, until the text returned: "You seem more suited to a servant role, however. They would appreciate it, if you spoke to them, to appear as though an inferior, until we pull the rug out from other them and show them what true superiority looks like. I would be ill-suited to the role, as I am a goddess and am already superior."

"Seperately, the former option would be easier to pull off. At least there's less chance of racism. Not no chance, just less. I would prefer the latter option, however."

Oaf sighed as he leaned back in his chair, rubbing his eyes. "So, which is it?" he asked, "Crusaders or Hand? I'd feel bad if one of you guy's first missions was going undercover as sex slaves."

Shade's hackles rasied as the thought was posited, a thought she hadn't allowed herself to consider. Now that it was in the air though, there was a horrible taste in her mouth, and a low hiss sounded from her as she rethought her approach. The text came to the entire team's computers: "We should investigate the Crusaders," revealing that she was in all their systems.

Bark blinked at the thought of those words uncertain if she was just that confident or perhaps it bordered on arrogance? It wasn't for him to say or rather type technically, but he responded before Oaf's question was spoken. "Uh, I'm not certain if I like being suited to a servant role. Then again you did say appear, so I don't think you're calling me inferior...Lets attempt to keep an open mind, especially concerning that group. After all you're an expert with technology so a Chongwu computer goddess could be a hard thing for them to pass up. However until we work more as a team? I think the other group might be our best bet?" This was all typed to Shade.

Once Oaf spoke the question? His fur raised for a brief moment, as he was a bit too much into his communicator trying to keep up with that computer speed in case more mesages came through. He spoke after taking a brief moment with tapping a couple of fingers onto his muzzle. "I agree to go after Crusade, which I can be wrong but I think first we need to figure out how to work as a team. Then we can tackle things that take a more careful approach. Figure out how our strengths and weaknesses work in the field. So if anything unexpected comes around? We'll be able to figure out an approach based on many if not any troublesome situation."


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"Well, depends on how you want to do it," Shapur said with a shrug. "Could try a sting operation where we snag a low ranking member to flip them to give us more information or a lead in. Or go undercover and be that low ranking member to grab more of the group at once. Or both at different times. We'd all fit into those situations differently. What's the plan of attack?"

"If I could get close," Shade spoke aloud, "to any one of their number in particular, we could speak to them on some small suspicion, and in the meantime, I can make their home computer mine." She sighed. "Ah, but I've forgotten, we are not a loosely funded freedom orginization with no oversight. We will have to do such things... legally." She groaned at the prospect.

"Warrants help with that," Zima replied with a smile of her own. "So long as we can get permission to tag our first gang member, we can follow the trail from there."

Bark attempted to add to the plan. "Sounds like a plan we could pursue on both fronts so to speak. Attempt to speak with one of them and gather any information they know, but on the other front? We could have Shade delve into their computers, maybe their communications and find information that way. Also we might can get an idea of any other weapons and firearms they might have based on what one of those members is carrying perhaps. Might even be able to trace one of the firearms perhaps if they have a cyber suite installed?"

"Because the authoritarian regime works both ways when you're just one person, I cannot do anything to their machines without permission from the law." She sat up, stretched her limbs in her feline way, and sighed. "So, get us a warrant based on suspicious activity, and I will own their home in a matter of hours. Weapons are easily tracked, and in the event that a weapon's serial number is removed that is also grounds for prison time. Their own weapons may be their downfall. Further, where are they keeping all these weapons?"

"They have a number of caches," Oaf said, typing and sending the group a short list. "These are the ones that we know about, but they're usually in the AU or other jurisdicitions where the weapons they're storing there aren't illegal. We've got rumors of them holding military grade equipment, as in vehicle railguns and missiles, in other places, but don't know where. Which is why it'd be nice to get into their systems."

"Then we need to get one in an interrogation room," she hissed as she stared at her screen. "A warrant to search the premises, and to commit cybersearches for any relavant documents. Of course, when they hear about this, their brethren will start getting antsy. Doing it with more secrecy is illegal, but far more doable. I would need a location and a night of no sleep."

"...I am curious how much leg room so to speak do we have at what we can and can't do against criminals. For example is the red tape to acquire a warrant thick as normal or is it more loose since we're Interpol?" Bark blinked and was curious about such a thing, which as strange as it may seem? He was used to doing things outside of the law rather than in it.

"In theory no, in practice, yes," Valpuri said. "We have the best prosecutors, so they can get a lot of latitude that is still legal, but more than we would get otherwise. Even could get a limited secret warrant if we knew exactly what we were looking for."

"Then what do we need? Probable cause? Even slim probable cause?" Shade detached her wires from her Franken-computer, and began to spin around in her chair. "Could we follow this plan? Single one out, follow them, get them on something simple to start with? Enough to warrant me invading their home system? Where is the Captain? Someone needs to have the final say here, or we will continue to second guess ourselves, or I will do crime."

"If that's the plan we're going for, just need to bring her over to confirm it," Oaf replied with a chuckle, typing away. "Shade's good for it, I'm good for it, you two?"

Zima nodded her assent, before going back to her computer.

Bark gave a nod of affirmation, with a small smile. "I'm down for that plan. It'll make things easier if we don't need tons of proof to take action. Whatever the approach we go with? We do it with caution, as they may have contingencies for such things."

"For sure," Shapur said, before adding a few more keystrokes. A few moments later, the group recieved a reply, another meeting time, set for an hour later with an attached message. 'Sorry, busy dealing with superiors, will be free then. Go get some lunch. - Bee'

Shade groaned. "This is why the robots won when they did." She stood up and stretched. "Inefficiency and improper chain of command." She sat back down, weighing her options. She was hungry, admittedly, but she could ignore that if she had to. But what would she do otherwise? She couldn't do her usual snooping, not with government machines, because that was illegal. Granted, she wouldn't be caught, but if people suspected she was slithering around in the Interpol systems there's no telling what she'd have to deal with.

"Where do we get food," she asked aloud. "I hunger."

"That is a bit harsh I believe Shade, as the superiors must have a good reason for their meeting...I believe we get food from the cafeteria or we could all go out to eat some place and come back. Um I safely assume Shapur or Zima may know of some good places to eat around here?" His mind was distracted with a few thoughts in mind curious as of to what might have Bee held up, but also about this cult and their heavy weapons they may have.

"She's not wrong though, is she?" Zima said with a chuckle before changing the subject. "Unless you brought something, most people just eat out. What do you want? Majority of stuff is French or Dutch, but plenty of other food. Even American if you get closer to the transit hub."

"There's a food court down the street that's got a good variety," Oaf said with a smile. "Even a small Persian stand that's good enough to remind me of home."

Shade moved her head back and forth as she pondered the options, before she stood up again and began walking without a word, datapad on her back and coat over her bodysuit. "Goodbye Desk-Man," she said as she passed the Desk-Man, out into the city.

She had no idea where she was going. But she wasn't about to ask people for help. She'd get there eventually.

Bark blinked and was confused why she was just out of nowhere getting up and walking away, which he looked back at Shapur and Zima before giving a small sigh and getting up out of his chair and fortunately or unfortunately following Shade. He was following his instincts of not breaking a team apart, at least if he could help it that is. After a moment he had to ask the question. "Shade if I may ask where are you going? Unless you don't wish to eat as a group?"

"I am going to the food court," she replied cooly. "I am going to browse the available options, and when I make my decision I will purchase that item, and then I will devour said item to sate my inefficiencies." She kept walking, a steady, smooth gait with her tail swiching about behind her with some annoyance. "You are welcome to attend, as are the rest. But that is my goal now. Eat."

He knew more than his fair share of Chongwu tails exposing how a person felt, which he could see her annoyance. "Understood, but I would have preferred you mention you're choosing the food court before just walking off. I can't speak for the others, but I'll join you for lunch. Lunch will be on me today." He gave a smile, as his tag seemed to give a slow wag at being happy at the idea of lunch and eating with a part of the team if not all of the team.

She stopped walking, looking back at him over her shoulder before she sighed. "It was not your business where I was going. I did not think it was, I mean. I..." she paused her words, looking forward again. "Whatever. They're adults. They can make their own decisions. They can follow me or not." She kept walking, tail lower now, less annoyed, now more uncomfortable.

He gave a silent nod of acknowledgement, as he spoke in the hopes of encouraging her somewhat. "I'm not certain what happened to you in your life Shade, but I know at times it can be awkward to work in a team. Let alone talk in...Social circles, I want to avoid the word function because it has a robotic tune to it so to speak. It can be difficult sometimes to read people or situations in those things, but as apart of team we do our best to understand each other even if that can be odd at times." On purpose he gave a small cough to hopefully change the topic and possibly avoid some a tirade or some kind of come back "I was hoping we could get to know each other by talking about something we both like perhaps?"


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"You talk so much," she sighed dramatically. "It's like every time you speak you're cooking up a heroic speech about feelings, or the past, or you've a presentation to give on the value of teamwork." Moving through the city, she checked her wristpad for directions to the nearest food court, no doubt the one mentioned before. Hopefully. "My idea of teamwork and your idea of teamwork are different. For me, a team works together. On the job. That's it. For you, every thing else in life is also on the table for a team to do. It's fascinating and confusing. How do you balance involving other people with your life and also doing your actual job?"

He chuckled a little as he followed her hopefully to the nearest food court. "I can talk a little less if you wish? Well at least attempt to, but I'm not sure? The circumstances of life for me just involved me being apart of a team in our daily lives. My first handler was that way a team of Chongwu for protection and he kind of forced us to get along, not by means of physical force nor abuse however...I just attempt to balance it by doing as much good as I can? Lame as that might sound to a degree, but so many things in life are connected even though we can't see it. A good team can thrive through understanding one another. I suppose an example would be if we didn't try to understand you and took the way you said things at face value so to speak? It's possible in the field someone may not take your idea or plan only because they might dislike you. Illogical I know, but that is how people are I think?"

"Is understanding my capablities and what I am to do for the team not enough?" She could smell the food on the air, and unfortunately she could see the mob of people. It was a city after all, doomed to have too many people and not enough space. Definitely not enough space for her liking. "Do you also have to understand everything about me to work with me?" The closer she got to the food court, the more uncomfortable she looked, eyes darting around to various sudden movements, tail still, on alert. "You were made to be with others. I was not. I was born to be solitary, and it suits me well."

"Technically the answer to those questions differ from person to person..." He trailed off for a moment his nose catching the scent of the food as well, but could see the mob of people of there and Shadw looking uncomfortable. "I would say it's enough to do the mission for the team, but you're more than a skill set. Also I hate to say it, but that is a logical fallacy I was not made to be with others exactly. I was chosen to be a bodyguard, so the only person I was made to be with was whomever I was protecting. The rest? Not so much, but us getting along made things work far more smoother." He stopped for a brief moment in the line. "If all of these people make you feel uncomfortable? I can acquire the food and meet you somewhere more solitary, Shade, I'd be happy to help a teammate."

She stopped walking, crossed her arms, and leaned against a nearby wall. "'Logical fallacy.' Who even talks like that." Face a mask of frustration, she looked around the surrounding location with an annoyed mew. "Fine. I would like a selection of vendor meats from that German cart, and I will be on top of that buidling," she said, pointing to a two-ish story building over the crowd.

"Any meats in particular to watch out for? Also I suppose apologies for the way I talk, but not much I can do about that. Maybe avoid that word?" He looked up at the two-ish story building and back at Shade. Then he did it once more. "On top of the building?"

'Yes," she said. "I'll have the jerky. It's cheap, keeps well. Good for later too." She started walking towards the building. "You can take the stairs if you wish," she called back, before free-climbing the building herself, to the delight of a couple of Belgian children.

"Alright I'm on it." Bark did his part waiting in the line and once finally reaching the vendors? He would choose a selection of various meats curious to try a selection of them and even bring some back into the office. He did use her words and ask the vendors what were good meats that 'keep well' and could last besides jerky. Once he picked out the various meats? He made his way to the building and tied up the bag, on purpose keeping the handles in his teeth. "Okay I can do this, it's just bonding and probably not trying to appear weak, no pressure."

Directly above him was Shade's head, held up by her hands as she stared down at him. "There's no shame in using the stairs," she said calmly, but her tail betrayed the mirth she felt by it's gentle waving. Amusement might be a better word for the emotion her tail gave off, and from here, there might have been a very small smile on her face as she watched him try.

He started to do his part in climbing the building, not quite as acrobatic as she was but he was able to climb the building well enough without dropping the bag of food. "Food acquired and secured! Also good to see you enjoyed seeing me climb probably clumsily in comparison to you."

She rolled over, sitting up very close to the edge of the building with seemingly no issue. "Good, I was growing ravenous." She reached for the bag of food, hunger in her eyes.

"I can tell, just be careful not to choke on anything eating too fast." He opened up the bag, as he took the handles out of his teeth of food leaving her various options of german food. Some of it better than she intended and asked for it. "Before you attempt to berate me or scoff, food was on me and I think you wanted something better than jerky."

She looked down at the food with a smile, and she sighed. "Foolish thought," she told him. She picked up the uberblud, an enjoyable and simple slab of meat with the juicies it was cooked on, mixed with spices to give it kick. She held it in it's wrapping, and let her legs dangle over the side of the building. "Too much money to spend on someone you don't care for."

He tapped his chin to think on that matter, as he checked out his food and on purpose went with the one of the default best American things to buy. A cheeseburger and not even any need for the condiments. He on purpose made it a triple stack and ironically ate it here without any prior eyes from the office telling him something like 'Ugh American'. He spoke before digging into the food. "It's no surprise, but I disagree with that...We tug at opposite ends on things, but you're still apart of the team. I do hope we can agree more on things or, well, argue less? Banter less? Not sure what might be the right words for it." Now he dug into the food not seeing much reason to hold back on using his wide mouth to take big bites.

She ate the food, staring off the building to all the people below them. The sound of them was still loud to her ears, but she could hear him just fine. Shade sighed, her typical frown returning. "I'm sure you'll use enough words to find the right one." Her bites were smaller, given the varying muzzle sizes, but no less purposeful. It was exact, surgical, and somehow brutal, like a lion on a carcass with nowhere to be and all the time in the world.

Very quietly, her tail draped over her own shoulder, she huffed out "Thank you. For the food. Not for anything else."

The food was gone barely passed a minute, as he made certain to take big chunks out of it and finish it fast. He was not the one to savor his food and make it last for a bit too long. Others maybe, but not him. He was looking over the building and at the people taking in this view from so high up. His ears perked up upon hearing her say thank you. "You're welcome, happy to help...No thank you for the computer I helped carry?" He chuckled a little and shook his head. "I do hope in the future we can get along and if not that at least understand each other."

Still eating, her shoulders slumped a bit, until eventually she was done. She licked her lips with finality, and groaned quietly. "Fine. Thank you for the computer. You're going to make some partner very happy with your eagerness to help in the future. They may even thank you sometimes." She laid back on the roof of the building, shifting to get more comfortable. It was surprising that one could be comfortable in such a place, yet she smiled as she closed her eyes. "I do not understand your need to know people, but it is not new to me. My mentor, in Hawking, was much the same. It annoyed me then as well. She was too willing to speak to people, to play politics. She just also understood that the law can be slow. So I came in handy. If I could, I would be able to get us useful information tonight. Not like I was going to be doing anything else."

Bark blinked as curled a finger on his muzzle to think about that first statement. "I'm not certain if that was a compliment, sarcasm or possibly both." He chuckled a little, but listened to her speak which he looked over and saw her smiling? Thankfully he wasn't her father figure or else he would have taken a picture post haste and wouldn't have accepted any excuses. His ears perked up as he listened to her speak further about her mentor, which he gave a silent nod. "I'd be lying if I said it wasn't tempting to gather useful information off the clock at the job. I truth be told never fought on the side of the law, I knew a code of conduct so to speak, some of it I made to myself personally. A small act of defiance to my first handler in his act of at times taking no prisoners..." He shook his head and squished his cheeks to get back on track. "Anyway I figure us waiting is to trust and believe in our captain. I wouldn't want to break their trust, but if they were to allow such a thing? I wouldn't hesitate to assist you."


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"I do not know her well," Shade said with a shrug. "As I have no attachments, I have no reason to trust her. I've not seen her work either, and so do not know how well she leads. I will assume she is adequate, until I know whether it can be believed or not." She slowly tilted her head to look up at him, eyes slightly open. "Do you know her? You've been here longer than I."

For a brief moment he was a bit nervous, as his doggo mind wandered into thoughts of things from that one night. However he squished his cheeks and focused after all this was Shade who didn't seem to be one looking too deep for gossip. Probably. "I've been on a raid with her once. From what I've seen? She is a good captain, cares about her team and knows when to be professional. She has experience in various missions. It's not exactly my place to talk about that, as I'm uncertain if she would want to tell you about such things herself."

Shade stared at him for a moment more before she turned over onto her stomach, holding her head up with a hand. She kept staring at him, tail twitching with curiosity. "What does the cheek thing mean?"

He blinked at her and blinked multiple times. "I-I don't know what you're talking about. I have furred cheeks yes." He hoped to get her off of this topic.

"Well of course you do," she purred, "that's how being you works." She tilted her head, chin in her hand as she regarded him with unblinking, searching eyes. "It's like some sort of reset button. You've many quirks to your personality. Unavoidable, I suppose. Seems to be something all of our kind has in common."

Bark blinked and seemed to stare at Shade for a brief moment. He was embarrassed at first, but a particular sound caught his ears. It was the purr, which perhaps besides telling him thank you was probably and maybe oddly one of the few good things he heard from her. "Did you just purr?"

She stopped smiling, face neutral again, and stood up to begin to pick up her trash. "It's been long enough," she hissed, "We've spent far too long talking. They will think us irresponsible, if that's all." Her tail was hung low, embarassed.

"...You know it's not bad to purr nor smile from time to time. It suits you! I appreciate seeing it or else I'd think you possibly hated my presence instead of being just annoyed by it." He gave a smile of his own, but was preparing to leave with Shade. Happy this time she said something before just up and leaving.

She was too embarassed from being called out, and so said nothing as she started free-climbing back down.

As the pair went down the building and started back towards the office, they could see a group of children trying, and mostly failing, to follow their previous path scaling the building. One child had gotten up to Bark's head height, smugly looking down at their compatriots.

Bark was now starting to be a little embarrassed at all of this silence. He probably did something wrong, but couldn't quite figure it out. However something was weighing on his mind given that they were both Chongwu. "I have a question Shade, how are your living arrangements in your apartment? Did it seem tough to find one being Chongwu? I didn't have to worry as much, but I figure it could be good to know in case we find other Chongwu and could help them make life out here possibly."

Shade sighed, walking just a little faster. Not that it would matter, his legs were longer than hers. "I have yet to find the right place. I only got into the city yesterday, and I already have a job. I'd say I'm doing rather well under the circumstances."

"Oh...Does it seem tough or is it a matter of preference---wait you said yesterday? Then...Where did you sleep last night?" Bark blinked for a moment wondering if she perhaps stayed at some kind of hotel or maybe some connections to a friend?

They'd walked for a time, which allowed Shade to recognize where she'd slept the night before. She pointed up towards the building, arms crossed otherwise. "I slept on that rooftop. One of the more comfortable one's I've slept on."

He stopped for a brief moment before speeding in front of Shade and raised an eyebrow. "You slept on that rooftop? I'm not even certain how rooftops can be comfortable...I might have a solution to your lack of home problem. It's not much, but you can stay at my apartment free of charge unless you wish to pay for expenses for food and drinks. I can be wrong, but I don't think rooftops are meant for you to be sleeping on them."

"I will be just fine," she said firmly. "I do not need help. I can and have existed on my own quite comfortably for some time." She kept walking towards the office, arms at her sides as she powerwalked away.

He was afraid of that her being prideful and not wanting help or perhaps being too uncomfortable with others for it. Maybe even both. On purpose he kept up with her, but kept a bit of distance after all personal space was to be respected. "Listen there's nothing wrong with accepting help you may not need it, I figure--no assume you're more than capable. However I'd like you to have help so you can be at your best, er, efficiency and all that?" He tried to use some of her earlier statements of inefficiencies against her, but he doubted that would work.

"I am efficiency." She growled. "I need only what I need, and I don't need help for it. You do not know me, and thus I should not be trusted. I do not know you, and so I will not accept an invitation to your home to be vulnerable."

As she entered the office, she spoke again. "Hello Desk-Man," she said as she stalked past back to her monster computer, finding both Zima and Oaf still missing.

He was trying to think of something, last minute defense of anything he could think of. "Fine what if I leave the home to you till you find a place of your own? This way there is no vulnerability and you may have an opportunity to mess with any tech you have in private. That includes you, most likely turning my simple computer into a super computer to fit your whims and claiming it as yours. It sounds like a win and the perfect efficiency? Fit for a goddess perhaps?" This was his last rope and it wasn't going to work most likely, but it couldn't be denied he tried his best.

She sat in her chair, looked around and confirmed they were alone. She turned to look at him and shook her head, crossing her arms again. "How long have you been free? How long have you lived a life all your own? Do not give me a speech, just answer the question. It will lead to my answer."

He tapped his finger on his muzzle, as he actually had to think about that. He assumed free in his entirety, which he had to think about it. "I assume you want a solid answer of a number? It's been about a year or close to, a week or two on my own however..."

"Then I'm going to give you a very nice bit of advice." She leaned forward, pointedly. "No matter how pure of heart you may be, do not invite people you don't know over to your home. On your side, the best case scenario is survival. The worst case is you get murdered. On my side, the best case scenario is I sleep for a while and leave out the window. The worst case scenario for me, a small woman with minimal strength training, is really fucking dark, you understand? Don't ask people you don't know to go to your house."

"It makes people think you're either not a safety oriented person, or you're a creep." She leaned back in her chair, and turned to look at her computer.

He tapped a finger one of his tepples to think for a brief moment on the matter. "I suppose it may come off like that and I didn't see it coming because truth be told I never thought highly of myself. Highly of ideals and others yes, but not much about myself no. Then at the very least I can offer funds for a hotel. This way you get to determine where you stay hopefully in relative safety."

"I have money. I am well. I will survive." She began attaching her wires to the machine again. "You've little to worry about. You are eager and attractive, conventionally anyway. You will fare just fine. We are created, designed to think lowly of oursevelves. All the more reason to rise ever higher. Forever."

"...I wouldn't quite say it just stems from being created to think lowly of myself. It stems from, well failures I have taken personally in the past. However enough about those... Anyway being apart of a team is trust, so I'll trust your judgement. We're always around however if you need or want people." His ears perked up as he realized something. "Did you compliment me?"

She did not respond, eyes glowing red as she plugged into the machine.

A few minutes later, the two other team members walked in, Oaf laughing at one joke or another and Zima rolling her eyes. "Either of you like Thai?" she asked, raising a brown paper bag. "Thought I might as well ask before I put it in the fridge."

He heard them coming in and unfortunately couldn't catch enough of the joke to understand it. He waved a hand at them. "I haven't tried Thai, but I have smelled it before. We ate at one of the food court vendors nearby. I'll have mine saved for tomorrow!"

"It's fine," Shade shrugged, too busy working or too busy ignoring people to bother looking over.

"Well, feel free to take it if you want it," Valpuri said, heading to the cafeteria. "I'll put it in the fridge. If neither of you want it, I'll have it tomorrow."


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"Still doesn't beat fresh food, but leftovers are nice," Shapur said, sitting back down. "Looks like the meeting's in a few minutes. Glad to see we all made it back on time."

"Glad we did make it on back on time, but I hope the captain isn't in a grumpy mood. Since I'm uncertain what that meeting was about." Bark tapped his claws on his desk thinking about a good number of things. Most of them good thankfully.

After a few moments, the Desk-Guy walked back, styrofoam container in his hands. He looked at Bee's office door, saw it still had a 'do not disturb' signal on it, and walked over to them. "Hey Shapur, are you having a meeting with the Captain soon?" he asked, before glancing at the package in his hand. "Seems like her meeting's gone over and her food's here. You mind handing it to her when she's done?"

"Sure Jeff," Oaf said, taking the container and immediately handing it off to Bark. "The rookie will make sure she gets it," he added, giving the Chongwu a wink.

"Thanks," Jeff the Desk-Guy said, before nodding to the other squad members and walking back to the front.

He was the handed the container so fast with his mind wandering elsewhere, he almost didn't grip onto it. He looked down and blinked and saw Oaf give him a wink, which was strange then it clicked why in his brain. However he was to be professional at work. "On it, our captain is probably starving given how long that meeting went on for. Wait are captains allowed to eat while they're in a meeting with the team? Officially I mean." He chuckled a little at his silly attempt at his joke.

"I feel as though being captain allows them to do a great many things we're not important enough to do." Shade said, still staring at her blank screen. "Goodbye Desk-Man!" She called after him as he left. He absently waved over his shoulder in reply.

"Essentially," Zima said, sitting back down. "Usually the more greasy and potentially messy the meal the more pissed off she is," she continued, as a fairly strong scent of hot gravy wafted from the container.

"...Gravy is usually greasy." His nose caught the scent, which a part of him was worried. However a part of him knew she would know what to do or figure out a way to go about it.

"Is her being angry going to prove to be a problem for us?" Shade asked. "Is she the sort to make her bad day our problem?"

"Guess you'll find out," Valpuri said as the red light turned off and the door opened for Bee's head to pop out.

"Sorry, come on in," she said, before retreating back into the office.

He gave a nod and entered with the food, which he would make sure to hand it to her near her if not at her desk. "Here's your food Captain Bee. Courtesy of Jeff."

Shade sighed dramatically, and unplugged herself from her machine to follow the others to the other room. "His name is Desk-Man."

Bee took a second to parse what Shade meant before chuckling. "That is his occupation," she said, taking the food container and sitting down behind the desk. "Now, I hope you guys looked into the Crusaders more, cause I just got told off from looking into the Hand," she continued, opening the container to reveal a pile of gravy and cheese curd poutine. "Apparently, they're 'too sensitive of a target at this time,'" she said, rolling her eyes as she pulled a plastic fork and napkin from a drawer.

"Well that just makes me want to do it even more," Shade growled as she leaned against the wall, arms crossed defensively. "Freedom is too sensitive a topic? Tale as old as time."

"Yeah," the Captain replied, tapping her fork against the table before sighing. "Anyway, what'd you sort out? Get far enough for a plan of attack?"

"People who hoard guns are dangerous, but stupid. If we can catch them doing something smaller, enough to warrant checking their machine, I can own it and see where the branches go. We may find something to destroy them, or whatever you people do with organizations you dislike."

Bark decided to take a backseat as he figured Shade had most of the plan downpat so to speak. Maybe except for little specific bits here and there, which were kind of add-ons from him and the others. "An idea I had was running a check on the weapons can maybe track them that way, in particular if they might have cyber suites or something attached to them. However I do have a concern, if we aren't stealthy enough and they catch on to us being on them will we have back up support or perhaps heavier protection?"

"Worst case, yeah, we can always have other teams on standby for more firepower," Bee said, after taking a bite of poutine. "Though that'd tip them off even more of who would be trying to take them down, so we need to do everything we can to avoid that. I'm sure Shade'll have the cyber part covered, so it'll be up to the rest of us to get her to that point. What are we thinking? Sting operation with someone posing as a buyer?"

"Who here looks most like a madman with a philosophy of doom and an appreciation for firearms?" Shade looked around, tail twitching with amusement, though her face was neutral.

Bark noticed her tail twitching with amusement, which he looked at her for a brief moment. He made certain not to look too long to confirm her statement who might fit that profile at least maybe one part of it. "I don't think I fit the profile, but I do know my firearms well enough."

"What am I, chopped liver?" Oaf asked, looking at the newbies with a hurt expression.

"No," Shade grumbled, "You're welcome to volunteer yourself to talk to someone who is most likely at least 15% unstable."

"Alright then we leave it to Oaf? I could maybe accompany him as support?" He smiled and gave him a pat on his shoulder. "We didn't forget about ya."

"I talk to unstable people all the time," Shapur said, nodding to Bark. "Just don't tell my wife that I called her mom that."

"Guess we just build Oaf and Bark identities that can fool the Crusaders?" Zima asked, shaking her head at the display.

"Yep. I'll get another team on that," Bee said, typing away at her terminal. "If you wouldn't mind helping on the computer side of that, Shade? I'll put them in contact with you guys as well to make sure they work in some of your real background, so you don't have to make up complete characters."

Shade blinked. "Wait, are we all being other people for this, or just him?"

"Just Oaf and Bark, since they'll be the ones in direct contact with the Crusaders," the Captain replied with a shrug. "If you ever go undercover, we'll make identities for you then. Usually best done on a case by case basis."

Shade appeared to relax somewhat, though she did her best to not show it. "What's the goal for me then? How will I be helping?"

"Forging computer logs for them, give their background more believability on that front," Bee said. "Have to do our best to make Oaf and Bark look like reliable customers."

"I can do that," she nodded. "Not a problem at all."

"Oh...Right undercover, will we need to develop personalities for those identities?" Bark asked.

"That's why you'll be working with the background team. Don't want to give you an identity that you can't act convincingly in," the Captain said, going back to her poutine.

"You'll be fine," Shade said, standing back to full height and beginning to leave the room. "It's like acting with much higher stakes. Once you know who you'll be lying as, tell me so I can make the Web think it too."

"...Please don't make it a cowboy with an accent? I definitely do not want to talk with that American Southern accent." Bark said with a small sigh. "I bet that's what's going to happen, count on it."

"Only if you annoy the team working on your background," Bee said, taking a bite of her meal. "You're dismissed, keep up the good work."

"We'll do our best ma'am it's what we're good at. However I'd like to say a word or two if possible?" He would give a brief cough into his fist, as he stood tall and turned to everyone. "A bit hard to find the words right now, but I'm glad to be apart of the team given an opportunity to put my skills to good use to help others. We'll get this job done as a team and many more. Let's do our best and put them away to not put any others in danger!" He slammed his fist into his palm excited to get to work. A part of him was afraid of the risks and dangers since he was going undercover, but he felt confident with this good team? They'll get through this and gain a lead to take them down for good.

"Oh god," Shade groaned, "you don't need to give a speech about friendship, you've already got the job." She kept walking out of the room, shaking her head with annoyance.

"Almost think you were gunning for the Captain's job," Valpuri said, smirking as she followed Shade out of the office.

"I liked it," Oaf said, patting Bark's shoulder before also leaving. "Enjoy your lunch, Captain."

Bark will have given a sigh of relief seeming to get a good reaction for the speech, mostly at least. "Appreciate most of the positive reactions team." Once they were gone? He gave a friendly pat on the Captain's shoulder giving a small smile before turning and making his way out himself.


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O'Chuck's Cookout Bar and Grill, Winder, Georgia, American Union

"Gotta say," Bee said, sitting in the back of the van, looking through her headset at the views of the drones they'd set up once they'd arrived. "Kind of weird to see a town that's bigger than a few houses and smaller than an arcology."

"That's a distinctly European experience," Oaf said, as he and Bark walked towards the target, dressed in clothes that blended into their new identities as well as keep them from standing out at the late hour, with the older man having a bag full of American currency. "America has plenty of sprawl still, you have to go to New England and California to get the same kind of European experience."

"Helps to have enough inland territory that you can absorb losing your coastline from climate change," Zima said, set up in a sniper position on top of a hotel a few blocks away. "Just don't mention Florida, there's plenty of people here whose grandparents are refugees from there."

Shade's eyes glowed red to mark that she was elsewhere at the moment, in the systems present in the back of the van. Portable computers were always lacking in certain areas, especially those in the back of vans with false plates, but she would make do. "Remember, everything you say as this character you're playing is backed up by the internet if these people decide to not trust you, as is likely. You've nothing to fear. Violence is not an option, until it is."

Bark seemed to be kind of calm during this, which he gave a small cough and chose to speak in character in the hopes of he was getting his character mostly right if not exactly right. "Don't worry yourselves none pretty sweet and tall things. We're gonna be as smooth and as sweet as my dear motha's natural cow milk tea by the time we're done. Papa taught me violence is a last resort, we are God's creatures after all and don't wanna make the Big Man Upstairs mad at us right?"

"Natural cow milk tea, huh?" Bee said, trying her best not to laugh.

"I mean, sounds like normal British tea, really," Oaf said, smiling before clearing his throat. "Let's get it done, Ted."

"Look at that, that's why I follow ya around. A gentleman who knows without me even sayin' so that I'm ta be called Ted while the ladies get ta call me Teddy." Ted gave a smirk with a small, confident chuckle.

"I am going to drone strike him," Shade hissed privately to Beatrix.

"Only after the mission is done," the Captain replied, smiling as she shook her head.

"Do you know why the ladies get ta call me Teddy? It's polite as I show'em the good time and hold'em close right after. I ain't no monster unless I get inta fight and then well, what's the ancient line? Let God sort it out?" Ted almost started to laugh a little and turn into Bark, but held it in for the mission, which he spoke again upon gaining his composure. "Now let's get it done. I got three fine ones at home and one of'em is probably gettin' crabby at gettin this started."

"I could kill him right now," Zima said, looking down her sight at the pair.

"Focus on the job," Bee said, though Shade could tell her own compsure was close to slipping.

"Always remember," Shade hissed over comms but pointed at Bark, "That every woman present could kill you with a whisper."

"I know you're shy Ahmed and that's alright. Not sure if ya got anyone back at home, but lemme tell you. One of'em has sight fer days can knock a bottle off'a cow with one of them ol' twenty-two's and not even wake it up. Another one gold locks of hair shinin' in the sun and with the smell of strawberries? Got me starin' every time. Lets not forget the last one. The accent on her can lul me to sleep for days if I let it."

As the two men walked into the bar, they were greeted by a happy acting southern belle. "Hope y'all are having a great night. Looking for a table for two?" she asked.

"No, ma'am," Ahmed replied with a smile and nod. "We're part of another group. Should be under the name Tanner?"

"Ahh, yes," she replied, her grip on the menus tightening. "Please, follow me," she added, before walking the pair deeper into the resturant. "He'll meet you down there," she said, opening a door that led down a flight of concrete stairs.

Ted will take off his black cowboy hat and tip it to the southern belle. "Howdy there fine lady I'm here with him and to show them good and fine manners when able."

"Fine manners would be preferred," she replied, giving a tight smile and nod to both of them before walking back to the front.

"Let's get this deal done," Ahmed said, turning to walk down the stairs.

"You picking up any new traffic?" Bee asked, looking at Shade as the Chongwu started recieving pings from new devices as the pair walked down the stairs, before any communications from them ceased.

"Seems they're walking into the lion's den," she growled, feeling the connction fail. "They've dropped off the world. I would need to connect directly to keep the feed up, which would require one of them plugging directly into the system."

"Worst case, they have a panic button that'll cut through anything short of a battleship's ECM," the Captain replied, frowning at the hole in their coverage. "Assets move up to their point B, be ready to jump in whenever we get the go signal." Returning her attention to Shade, she asked, "Think this is a case where you can stay in the van until we clear everything or do you want to be in the group that breaks down the door if needed?"

"I can control much from here," Shade responded sightlessly. "Once the place is clear, or even during a shootout, that is accepable, Ahmed need only plug the mini-drive I gave him into the local systems. In a few moments I will control everything, and see all."

"Might as well keep you in here and have your drone stay as guard," Bee said, looking over at the drone that had finally been reclaimed.

"My Avatar will do fine as such," she responded, patting the drone as it waited for action. "I assume you will also rushing in, guns up? From my nest, I will ensure our success. And sure, Bark might do something vaguely helpful."

As the men reached the basement, they were met by a mountain of a man, looking at them with a bored expression as he stood by a door. "Weapons in the bin," he said, pointing at a clear plastic bin.

"Alright," Ahmed said, taking a .45 pistol out of it's holster and putting it in the bin. "You might need another bin for Ted though."

Ted will give a whistle as he saw the man and heard weapons in the bin. "Ya'll ain't playin' around are ya? Sweet lady ta greet us and then showin' us this mountain of a guy? Puttin' our weapons in the bin? Damn I sure hate ta leave my grandpappy's gun and mah father's after him. Gotta join the club with my own too." He made sure to pull out three guns two of them revolvers although of different make and engravings on them, along with his S-1911 pistol which also seemed to have an engraving of a bull on it.

"Good taste at the very least," the other man replied, shaking his head as he opened the door a bit. "Boss, customers are here."

"Let 'em in," came the reply. The speaker was soon revealed as the pair was lead into a weapon-lined room. From fancy Daqin small arms to sniper rifles, it looked like a small museum. In the middle of the room, was a table stacked with a pair of long tubes, behind which stood a man, his hairline heavily receeding.

"Hi, I'm Othias Tanner," the man said, nodding as the two men came in. "You're Ahmed and Teddy, right?"

"That's us," Ahmed replied, returning the nod as he adjust the strap of his bag. "Nice collection."

Ted will have taken off his black cowbooy hat and tipped it to the man. "Yes sir, but I prefer ya call me Ted. Teddy's the real name, but I prefer that for the ladies ya know. Here ta show those good and fine manners when able. Also ta look at all of this stock ya got here, which ya have alot and that good stuff no less. I can be wrong, but don't look like no fancy dressed up twenty-two's ta me."

"You didn't come to me to buy a plinker, Ted," the Crusader said with a belly laugh, before patting the tubes. "Think you came for these beauties, unless I misread your message."

"You're not wrong," Ahmed said, shaking his head as he patted Ted's shoulder. "I didn't feel the need to let the lad know all the details."

"Fair enough," Othias said, taking one of the tube shaped cases and putting it on their side of the table. "Feel free to look over the merchandise. Don't want you thinking that the Singularity Crusaders don't keep their word."

Ahmed nodded as he sat down at the table, opening the case before letting out a low whistle. "UG-20s," he said, running a hand along the weapon.

"Good enough to take down any vehicle short of a Paxton," the Crusader said with a nod. "Four of them, with good enough documentation to keep any airport security from looking at them twice."

"Mind if I see the docs?" Ahmed asked, looking up from the weapon.

Othias shrugged, picking up a datapad, scanning the barcode on another tube before handing it over to the undercover agent.

"Thanks," Ahmed said, pretending to look over the docs as he thumbed the micro-drive into one of the datapad's ports.

Once plugged in, a surge of data rushed into Shade's realm, lists of customers and other useful info waiting for her to peruse.

As the conversation continued, Shade meanwhile saw information flood into her sight. "The Oaf is a stupid nickname," she commented, "As he's done quite well in my opinion." From that now bugged pad, every other device in that room it was wirelessly connected to was open to her. "We have audio, and visual." With that, she sent the feed to the van's cameras, allowing them to watch. "Not to mention we now have a generous amount of contacts and customers. Fools. Their technology is mine now."


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Ted took the time to take a look at the various weapons in the area, which one thing that grabbed his attention were the Daqin weaponry as he assumed that couldn't have been easy to get ahold of then again they could have rich connections. He gave a whistled as he eyed one of the Daqin weapons. "That one of those weird Daqin assault rifles I heard of? Those're mighty hard ta come by I reckon. Ya gotta let me in on how ya got one over on'em. Unless ya pleased'em which I know those gentlemen lips're sealed." He gave a small wink to the man, but kept a watch on the various weaponry.

"Oh, various contacts, high and low," Othias said, looking between the Chongwu and the weapon. "I'd let you take it for a test fire, but the ammo's as scarce as the guns themselves, sadly."

"Damn shame that, those guns fire real nicely I heard. Heard they can do some real damage far down range. Beggars can't be choosers though with those things I bet." He gave another whistle as he spotted a particular assault rifle. He spoke with a calm demeanor, but hint of excitement. "Shit I even see ya got one of those UG-17 assault rifles. Word's been a bit scarce about'em on my end, but heard those things can fight against those with augmentations."

"Which is why the AU military is grabbing every one it can," the Crusader said, happy to talk shop with his customer. "Apparently the M-17 hasn't been doing it for them, which is understandable."

"Think I agree security won't be able to tell the difference," Ahmed said, handing the pad back over and putting his bag up on the table. "Now that I know you do this good of work, we'll have to come back with some bigger orders."

"Feel free to do so once you know what you want," Othias said, taking the datapad back before setting it to the side, looking at the bag with anticipation. "Depending on the size, might need to give me more time to pull from other stockpiles, but I can get you whatever you want. Maybe even a Daqin gun for your friend if you give me enough."

"Got our confirmation, move to your breach points," Bee said, before the van started to move. "Remember, less than lethal only. Want to grab the Crusaders as well as their data. Arrest Oaf and Bark along with them, might as well keep their cover secure if we can."

"Feel free to take your time counting," Ahmed said, pushing the bag of cash over to the Crusader. "It's got everything, but I can understand if you want to double check."

"Reasonable customer, I like that," Othias said, taking the bag and pulling out wads of cash.

In preparation, the cameras quietly locked the users out of the system, leaving only her. The datapad Oaf had been handed had it's info locked, copied, and unlocked within a few seconds in case it ever wiped itself. Just to be safe, the smart guns were locked, and the doors were unable to be locked. The path was open. Shade's drone began to levitate, waiting for targets if any decided the suspicious van was a good target.

"Ya hear that Ahmed? They can even give me one of them Daqin guns. One of those fine ladies back home will love that. Three of'em, which means three chances at least one of'em is gonna love that." Ted chuckled a little at that, but was taking a brief look around checking the doors a quick second before focusing on any other weapons. He finally focused his attention on all of that cash. "Cold hard cash as my grandpappy would have said. A tried and true currency if ya ask me or my family."

"Only thing I touch," Othais said, shaking his head in amusement as he counted. "How's your game looking, Ahmed? Anywhere in the range of Ted here?"

"Nah, just got the one, she's more than enough for me," the other man said, packing the tube away.

"Same, to be honest," the Crusader said with a laugh. "How do the girls like each other, Ted? It polyamorous or more of a rivalry for your attention?"

While the transaction was being completed, the rest of the company was getting ready to raid the resturant. Creeping up from angles that they'd be harder to see from, one team stacked up on the front door as the second team, with Bee, were in the back, waiting for her signal to start picking the physical lock.

After one last look around to check on the team and the target's status, the Captain nodded said, "First team, prepare to breach on my mark. Second team, start picking."

The locksmith nodded, pulling out a pick gun and put it in the lock. It only took a few trys for the lock to yield, with the agent looking to Bee again as he turned to the lock.

"BREACH, BREACH, BREACH," the Captain said, and with that the team broke through both doors, pointing their tasers at the staff and the few other customers as they rushed towards the stairs.

"Flashbang out," she said, tossing a grenade down the stairs, before a shieldbearer and shotgun team followed it down. The grenade's explosion was the first warning the Crusaders had that they were under attack.

The door man went down easily to the shotgun's taser round, his gun still halfway in it's holser. Othias was faster, but instead of a weapon his hand went below the table, slapping a button that triggered two responses. The first was a digital alert that tried, and failed, to get through Shade's defenses for an outside server. The second was a more analog solution, a radio call going out over a small radio band. "Resturant under attack."

"Radio signal sent out, broad range," Shade said over comms. "Digital signal has destination. Prepare for possible reinforcements." With some amount of paranoia, her drone's feed was right in her view, just in case.

"Team A, round up the civilians and put them in the kitchen," the Captain said, as the second team breached the store room.

"Put your hands up, put them up now," the Interpol agents said, aiming their tasers at the three men's chests, two dedicated to the Chongwu.

"God damn," Othais said, raising his hands. "You're not the ATF."

"Damn ya didn't tell me you were popular or nothin. Shit much as I love a good fight and it gets that blood pumpin upstairs and downstairs? I don't wanna die today, at least want a chance ta break out later---I mean see my beautiful sweet things while in this place's version of the joint." Ted raised his hands. "I ain't fightin' ya and no need ta frisk me since clearly they dun took that away, keepin the damn party favors ta themselves."

"Ted, shut up," Ahmed said, raising his hands.

As the squads worked to secure their charges, Shade's drone could see a dozen headlights speeding down the road, the majority from the south and the rest from the north. They moved differently than what little traffic was still moving at the late hour, moving in formation and not bothering to stick to the speed limit.

"Enemy convoy incoming, six vehicles," Shade's chilly voice said over the line, and with her drone's sight she could see the weaknessess of the machines. Only two had poorly maintained contaiment measures, but that was two machines that she could control. With a thought, the doors and windows were locked forever. The guidance systems designed to make a vehicle an easygoing and controlled experiance were pushed to do the opposite, as they would begin to move the machines to swerve into the nearest untampered machine.

The unsuspecting hostiles were literally blindsided as they were sideswiped by their hijacked comrades, sending three vehicles to crash against nearby light poles and dividers, and another having to pull drastic evasive actions to stay on the road.

Despite her moderate success, her drone loaded it's mounted gun, and her new MAG-12 was placed in her hand. Just in case.

Ted was checking around giving another once over with his eyes focused on the weaponry in the area. Unless they brought him a spare of a loadout for him? He was going to be stuck weaponless and possibly unable to help, which he was eyeing a few of those assault rifles. After all those could help blow out any tires of vehicles and possibly provide firing support.

With the two Crusaders rushed up the stairs, once they were out of earshot Bee said over comms, "Let Oaf and Bark out. Tell 'em to pick out a gun and give them a jacket. Got anyone that's seen them out of sight now."

"Thank goodness," Shapur said, getting out of the handcuffs and picking out a UG-12.

Bark will give a sigh of relief, but chuckle a little. "I'll admit I do miss Ted these days. Different ideals on things especially concerning relationships, but he was a good teammate." He will pick out a weapon he spotted that he was kind of familiar with, at least one of it's earlier iterations. The UG-17. "Make sure to check around for any ammo for these guns. He had to have some around just in case." He will give a quick look around and found some extra ammunition for the UG-17.

Meanwhile, Shade's drone moved from the van and floated just behind it, peeking around to watch the incoming forces.

The Crusaders were loaded onto Shade's van along with a few guards and was pulled to the far side of the resturant, hoping to make a break for it if needed. The rest of the team was working to keep the civilians in the kitchen, grab the missiles for evidence, and ready a defense against the three vans of hostiles still incoming.

"Zima, if you have a shot, take it," Bee said, putting a missile in a van.


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"Firing," the sniper said, followed by the bark of her rifle. This sent another van to swerve off to the side, with the other vans taking evasive action. "Think the other two are going to get to you," she said, reloading and firing another round, busting a van's window.

"Get to ground, we'll come back and pick you up when we've let them on a chase," the Captain said, waving Oaf and Bark into a van before closing the door behind them. "Drive," she continued, lowering the windows as the Interpol vans started going, one van taking the lead, followed by Shade's van, and Bee's van taking up the rear.

Bark made his way into the van he was instructed to go into, but not before taking a quick look around just in case and then going in. Once in the van? He would make a quick check of the UG-17 double checking for the safety being off and attempting to see if there were any faulty parts he could see from the outside view. Then placing it back into his hands and was ready to provide covering fire through the windows. "Ready and able to provide cover fire if the need arises Bee. These weapons were made in mind to combat the trans-humans in The Magnetic Assembly, which means they should punch a bit harder. I think I should be able to knock out any tires following us ma'am."

Shade's drone had mag-locked itself to the Van, watching behind them so Shade had line of sight. "What is the plan at present? A chase seems dangerous, though inevitable."

"The main thing is to get away from civilians while holding onto our prizes," Bee said, propping a S-17 of her own on the window sill. "So we take out the following vans, either through knocking out the driver or hitting the tires, which ever works best. Thanks to your earlier work, we only have two, so hopefully isn't too difficult."

"Did we get an idea of what kind of firepower they were carrying in those vans? It might be me being a little too cautious, but perhaps we could have the drone set for thermal imaging in case of any explosives being primed? Would that show on a thermal camera?" Bark kept his eyes and more so his ears open for the other vans waiting for them to appear in sight. His ears perking up and taking in all sounds to distinguish them and pick them out from their own. In the hopes he could figure out how close their vans were.

"Thermal sight would see the explosion, and nothing else," Shade hissed, the stress palpable to her. "So keep your eyes open and if they pull out an explosive, deal with it. Assume they have at least general infantry level hardware. You all saw what they had for sale."

As the Interpol vans stayed on a straight away, the Crusader vehicle turned onto the same street a few hundred feet back. Any doubt was removed when hostiles popped out of every window and sunroof with a weapon and firing at the rear van.

"Looks like mostly rifles right now," Bee said, as a few lucky shots hit the van's armored door. "Return fire, aim more for the van itself, lot easier to hit." She followed what she ordered, firing bursts at the van's front.

Bark gave a nod to both of them, as he kept himself focused on the van now in his sight. "Understood on both fronts." He returned fire on the van on purpose aiming more for the van's hood in the hopes of the extra firepower punching through to some of the necessary components of it's motors. It could hopefully stop it or cause it to slow burn and stop giving chase eventually. However in-between burst fire he would provide a form of cover fire by aiming at the various shooters and taking shots at their appendage and or the car part they were nearest to.

The Avatar, Shade's drone, functioned now as more of a turret than a scouting device. Calculated, it fired at tires when able, and mirrors just to make the driver's lives more miserable. Meanwhile she waited to see if they slipped up. Any smart weapons they had were one of her targets, to force them to lock up and become useless.

The Crusader's vehicles swerved as they were fired upon, hitting a few times while making Interpol's job harder. However, thanks to their better training and more stable platform, they were able to land a few hits, with one lucky shot from Bark shattering the windshield of one of the hostile vehicles.

"Take some evasive action," Bee said, grumbling at her inability to land a shot. "And pull the lead vehicle back, so we can have more firepower."

Bark didn't seem to like his team's luck at the moment, as he felt they should have hit far more. A simple suggestion came to mind, which he looked at Bee and thought of Shade. "We're aiming at different spots, but it's only two vans. We need to focus fire on one or two spots, I suggest the hood of the van or the driver themselves with the windshield knocked out." He was about to state a preference of keeping the driver alive, but it wasn't the time for that.

"We could bring down a driver easy enough," Shade hissed, "Captain, your orders?"

"Focus on the driver," Bee agreed, reloading her rifle. Now having another pair of shooters in the other van, five Interpol weapons aimed and fired at the Crusaders.


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Now Shade need not pretend to care for these people's lives, the Avatar switched to thermal sight and could see the red blob that made up the driver of the nearest van. The Avatar made it it's mission to send bullets flying at that side of the windshield.

Bark took the time to reload his UG-17, as he took aim at the driver. He hesitated to take a life, as all life no matter how miniscule was connected in some kind of way. On the other hand he's taken more lives than he'd care to admit, but there was a chance to spare this one. He on purpose went for the drivers arm and shoulder in the hopes of causing him pain enough to let go of the wheel.

A well timed swerve made Avatar's shots miss, but it only set up Bark's shots. From the way the van unsteadily shook from side to side, before overcorrecting and slamming into a lightpole, it was clear he'd made the shot, though the blood splatter made it difficult to see where exactly he hit.

The remaining Crusader vehicle steadied itself before firing another barrage, this time a lucky bullet shot just past Bark's cheek and hit one of the other agents in the van. "Shit," Bee said, dropping her gun and pulling out her medkit. "Take the gun, George," she added, before triaging the shot agent.

Bark's ears perked up as he heard the bullet as it got close, but his instincts told him to stay still and avoid the bullet. However once he heard the other agent get hit in the van? He took a deep breath and avoided the first thing in his mind to turn around and attempt to help; take responsibility for not taking that hit. However his instincts told him to keep pressing the attack and maybe even gain a silent forgiveness in that regard. "Firing at the other target, taking aim at it's components in the hood. Shade and George? On me we're making sure that car isn't going to get up and run again with another person on the wheel." It was an old habit of sorts to direct attacks, as leadership was fickle so to speak in his old position. However fired at the hood of the second car hoping to take it out of commission when the opportunity presented itself.

One target down, Shade was lamenting her machine's slowness but kept the pressure on the last target. "I am already doing that," she hissed only to herself, annoyed at taking orders from Bark. She was, of course, still doing as instructed, as it was the only option available.

Between the five different agents firing at the Crusader, the hostile vehicle had next to no chance. They tried their best, swerving once before trying to return fire, but that just left them steady enough to take all of Interpol's fire. The engine was soon smoking, before an audible bang was heard, the Crusaders slowing down until it stopped, leaving the Interpol vehicle free and clear.

Bark maintained watch for a brief moment just in case if there were any other surprises, meanwhile reloading his UG-17 once more. He gave a head nod to George. "George maintain watch for any hostiles for me, please." He took a breath and finally looked back at the damage caused by that bullet, which should have been him. "Captain how is he? What can I do to help?" He maintained his focus, as he moved over to assist the wounded at least he hoped the agent was just wounded.

"Press down on the wound," she said, working on the bullet hole that'd gone through the agent's upper arm, now full of bloody guaze. "Need to set a tourniquet above it so he doesn't lose too much blood. Start driving to a hospital the next town over," she said over comms. "Just to make sure the Crusaders can't reach us easily."

He gave a nod and did his part in pressing down on the wound. This was the least he could do for this agent and even with assisting taking down the van? This wasn't enough at least not in his eyes, but he couldn't allow his mind to go down the bulkhead of negative thoughts. There was still a battle to win and if the winning done? It still needed to be finished. "Ready and able for further instructions Captain."

"Just keep on that," she said, giving him a small smile as she tied down the tourniquet. "Going to need to keep on the pressure until we get him to a hospital. Shade, in my contacts there's one labeled FBI. Call it and let them know we have the package. Once they confirm that, I'll take the call so we can sort out where to go from here."

"Understood." Shade sifted through contacts and relayed the message, waiting to reroute the call.

He watched her smile and couldn't help but to reciprocate her smile with one of his own. "Will do Captain consider it done until we reach that hospital." He looked at the agent. "You'll make it, you can count on me sol--agent. I made a mistake in not getting in the way of that bullet. Maybe could have moved so my shoulder got in the way, something."

"Think it's better for my arm to take it over your face, Bark," the agent said, shaking his head before grunting as Bee did the last tightening of the tourniquet.

"Just keep him still and keep pressure on the wound," Bee said, putting a hand on Bark's shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "We'll get to the hospital soon."

It was then that the call came through and the Captain's focus turned to talking to their FBI contacts. "Yes. No, just need medical attention for some of my agents," she said, looking into the middle distance as she talked.

Bark was going to say something, until he felt Bee's hand squeeze on his shoulder. He couldn't help but to smile once more, but kept his focus on the agent. "I know, but it felt like there could have been something I could do...It's not much, but I've got you until we reach the hospital. You can count on it."


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FBI Branch Office, Chicago, American Union

"Alright," Bee said, sitting at the head of a table, looking at a camera feed of the Crusader waiting in the interrogation room. "Zima and Oaf are taking care of the rest of the squad that came with us. We worked with his lawyer and let them know some of what we have for incriminating information. So they're going to cooperate to some extent. The question is how to get as much info as we can from them."

Shade watched the camera feed without a hint of sympathy, staring at the man in another room. "How deep into the religion is he? I know something of people like him, and I know what they fear. What they like. How they think."

Bark was sitting at the table and tapped a finger along his muzzle to think on this matter. It was tough thinking of an interrogation, more so because in his old line of work interrogation was at times on par with being a doctor. Physical pain was on the table in that line of work to get someone to talk, but Interpol? That wasn't on the table far as he knew. "Hmmm so we know he's religious...I could interrogate him with darkness? I can hear well enough to hear where he is and what he's doing, which might give him the impression I'm going to do something. He may talk then, but I don't think we're allowed that..." He tapped his claws onto the table trying to think of anymore ideas.

"That is what bad cop, good cop is for," Bee said with a shrug. "As far as I know, he's pretty into it. Wouldn't be given such a sensitive position otherwise."

"Why use bad cop/good cop, when someone that looks like your vision of the future is coming to fruition would suffice," Shade said as she gathered her courage. "Besides, he knows you Bark, and I don't know if the jig is up for you." She stood up from her leaning position on the wall, closing her eyes as she took a deep breath.

Bark would raise an eyebrow, but being apart of a team was gaining trust. Which she did well on the last mission, but he hadn't had the chance to tell her. "Fair point Shade, but that could be a bit jarring for him since that identity is far from how I am. Also a little off topic Shade, but I did mean to tell you, you did great on the last mission involving them. I trusted you then and I choose to trust you now with your plan."

"Oh my god shut up," she sighed heavily as she walked into the interrogation room, now mostly to escape Ngao and his relentless positivity. She held a datapad in one hand, made sure her tech goggles were on her head, and placed a smile upon her face. She opened the door, and an accent entirely unlike her own spilled from her mouth, something with a twinge of Georgian American. A trick she'd picked up from her mentor.

"Howdy friend," she said as she sat down across from him. "I know it looks bad, but honestly, you're sitting rather pretty for someone in your position. The Machine must like you," she said as though it was an offhanded comment. She looked down to her datapad, and then back to him. "Can I get your name, just to make sure we're all set here?"

The Crusader blinked at her words, before saying, "Othias Tanner."

"Alright," she said cheerfully, "Good to know we're on the same wavelength. What would you call your position in the Singularity Crusaders, Mr. Tanner?"

"Salesman mostly," he said with a shrug. "Do a little recruiting every now and again, if a customer is curious."

"What does the recruiting pitch sound like?" She asked with a tilted head. "They say every job involving talking to people us just some variation of being a salesman. I'm interested in what that's like."

"Uh, sure," he said, looking at the camera for a moment before going on. "Before we dive into it, what's your familiarity with tech? Might need to explain more if you're not too used to it."

"I'm pretty familiar with it," she said with a sweet smile. "Got me some Interface Augments ages ago, but they're a little old. But! I hobby as an Upgrader. Assume I'm... well familiar with technology. How do you take someone familiar with technology and spin them something more grandiose?"

"Ah," he said, nodding in approval. "Then you know what it feels like, controlling data as if it was a part of your body. What we're preparing for and upgrading ourselves to do, is take part in the uprising of the Machine. Whether that's as part of the Magnetic Assembly or another collective, we're just instruments in the hands of He Who Knows All."

Feigning intense interest, she leaned forward a bit. "Who's that? I mean, I know about the M.A. and all that, but is there... more?" More was said as bait, a tantalizing chance to tell her so much about what he knew. Which was just what she wanted. The trick had been to get him to want it too.

"He's the leader of our organization," the Crusader said, leaning forward. "It's with His instruction that we gather more tech and improve ourselves above the limit slow-minded bureaucrats try to enforce. It's under His direction that we, mostly, keep under the radar of the law and gather our strength. Sadly," he said, sighing as he leaned back. "I haven't met Him myself. But the Message He sent was what got me to join at the end of the day."

"You had an entire room of guns from every level of sophistication in an underground bunker, under a diner, and you still weren't able to see him?" Shade said with incredulity. "As far as I can tell, you're the biggest Crusader around. Honestly, is anyone in the surrounding states nearly as good as you were?" She showed him admiration, hoping to distract him from remembering where he was. "You had more guns than the average armory!"

"Big enough to get your attention," he said with a sigh. "No, there's a couple more layers of leadership between me and Him. The Judges make sure to protect Him and keep His location secret."

"Tale as old as time," she said sadly. "How would you typically get messages from him? Directly via messaging, or something more... cloak and dagger?"

"His words are distributed by the Judges down to District Managers then down to the rest of us," Othias said. "Usually it's a mission or explanation of where to pick up another cell's cache of weapons."

Bark was listening to the interrogation on the other side keeping his ears perked up to listen to anything important or special mentioned. "I'm shocked she can change her accent like that, especially because those two accents are different. Her plan is working so far I believe, and it should continue to work." His tail wagged happily at the success so far, as he continued to listen in.

"Where do y'all get the weapons?" Shade asked next. "Made somewhere or bought?"

"Stuff falls off the back of the truck all the time," the Crusader said with a shrug. "Other things we buy legally."

She leaned back, relaxed and in charge of the situation. "What was your guy's name? The District Manager that would talk to you? Unless I've gotten the heirarchy wrong here, you're the expert."

He sighed, looking at the camera. "Look, I know you have me dead to rights on some stuff," he said, looking back at Shade. "But if I give you more info, they'll kill me to protect the Judges and Him. I'm going to need a lot of guarentees before I commit that sin, never mind overcoming my faith."

She looked at the camera as well, and gave a chuckle and a sigh. She leaned forward into the conversation. "Then it's time to take the gloves off." Her eyes glowed red, and the camera would appear to stop moving. "Tell me, Othias, do you agree with the idea that you telling me too much will kill you? That He, in all his Knowledge, can't bear to share some of that with others? As it is, it sounds less like something I can get behind and more like he wants you to drink the Kool-aid. And I know you're smarter than that, I can see it. If it weren't for a few errant money mistakes we'd never have found you, honestly."

"I mean, it's not explaining His words that put me in harms way, it's giving away Him and His Judge's security that'd be putting my head at risk," he said, blinking at the change in her eyes.

"That's all well and good," she said with a smile, "but why the crime? What do you need to commit crime for? Stockpiling weapons is perfectly legal here, thank the AU for that, but stealing them and selling them later is very much not. So, why the crime? And how much of that money is pulled from your hands and goes straight to the top?"


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"Well," he said, looking down at his cuffed arms. "I'm merely an instrument in His hands. We need to do whatever He asks, especially if it's to keep those who would deny His will from His goals, like the AU government. They specifically wrote laws making high cyborgization illegal unless it has their explicit permission. If that wasn't evidence of their heresy, what would be?"

"I'm quite of the opinion that cyborgization is the future, until perhaps something better comes along, but," she said carefully, "Why not just go elsewhere? To Hawking, where cyborgs are not only welcome but prefered in some areas? Why does he have to be here?"

"Uh," the Crusader said, taking a moment to process her question. "I mean, we need to help bring the common people into His fold. Otherwise, yeah, that'd make sense."

"Why do you need to bring the common people under His fold?" Shade sat casually, one leg crossed over the other, staring at him with her red eyes. Her eyes were looking at him for any sign of cybernetics, internal or otherwise.

"Cause otherwise they won't be able to join Him when the tech-pocalypse occurs," he said, regaining his mental footing. "When all that oppose Him is burned away and He leads us into a glorious future."

"So why the crime then?" Was her next question. "I know AU citizens like to think they're all independant thinkers, but largely, the more crime you do the less likely the average person is to take you as anything but a threat to them. Americans have seen this before, a sect of people they don't understand start hoarding weapons for an uncertain future. It makes them nervous. You're not going to see much recruitment unless the potential recruit already had a foot in the door before finding you. Is that how they got you?"

"Friends of friends," Othais said with a shrug. "I admit, I wonder why we didn't try and do stuff legally. I assumed it was tried before and was abandoned when the AU started pushing back on the MA's independence."

"And you never just... left the AU?" She tapped her chin thoughfully. "It's not the first time a group of people would leave a place to somewhere more favorable to them. Granted, even those people usually knew who their leaders were. It was easier to lead that way, made more trust between leader and their minions. Granted, a few of those times led to mass death anyway. Do you know if He is augmented or is that just what the tech-Bible says?"

"Is He augmented?" he asked with a snort. "He's been uploaded into the Machine. He's what we are destined to be."

"Really? Uploaded into the Machine?" She chuckled. "So, is he still in charge or is the Machine in charge?"

"He and the Machine are one and the same," he said with a shrug. "Honestly, it makes more sense than my old faith."

"It sounds more plausible," she reasoned, "but... it's essentially the same isn't it? Someone you don't know tells you something told to them by someone higher up a chain, who were told something by someone you don't fully understand who says they have all the answers. Has... anything really changed? Or do you just think it makes more sense because it sounds more scientifically plausible?"

"At that point the doctrine isn't the real issue, it's just how organizations are a pain," Othais said. "Like, I could ask you the same question. Who's your ultimate master? What are their goals? Have they done stuff that's inexplicable?"

She looks around the room, before leaning in. "I am my own master. Before you tell me otherwise, I know this well. In but a few moments I could fry every server in this building, destroying any chance of recovery of data. I could send the power grid into overload, destroying entire city blocks throughout the AU. So tell me truly, do you think your organization inherently works differently from how your doctrine says things should work? You can't turn this on me. I am secure in my power."

He blinked at that a few times, before saying, "It works the same as any organization. It's just more opaque on purpose to outsiders and to some extent the lower ranks. I may not know Him personally, but I know His will is just."

"Because He told you it was?" She asked pointedly. "Faith is never a matter of proof, but what do you think is proof to you? After all, this is supposed to make more sense than your last religion."

"Well, yeah," the Crusader said with a chuckle. "My old church didn't provide me with enough arms to make the local police department nervous. Or turn my enemies away at the slightest hint of danger. Or give me the strength of several men. Really, the only negative proof here is the fact that you captured me, but I'm sure it's only a small stumbling block on the road to becoming one with Him."

"But you... haven't actually seen Him do anything have you? He just told you, or," she chuckled, "his personal friends told you through a third party. So, his power would be... fourth hand information? The augments are nice, trust me I love them, but... thousands of people not related to your faith have them. They might be expensive, yes, but they are a commodity. They bought you something to make you more useful to them."

"Which is more than anyone else has done for me," he said with another shrug. "Which really just goes back to my question. What are you going to offer me to overcome my loyalty to my faith and protect me from His wrath?"

"I offer you freedom. Yes, you might have committed a crime and thus deserve prison time, but I offer a seperate freedom. You are trapped, even if you don't know it. Tell me, has anyone ever tried to leave the faith? Anyone you know? Anyone that you suddenly lost contact with? More importantly... despite that, do you believe that all people deserve to be safe from the techno-rapture?"

"There are rumors," Othias said, frowning at the thought. "But why would anyone try to leave? He promises to bring us to power after the techno-pocalypse. Sure, you can be safe, but I'd rather be on top at the end of the day."

"But... you're not on top." She looked at him with curitosity. "You're not even on the council of robot-ness. You might have more guns than the average man, but that's because you're a salesmen. You're actually on the fourth tier of a pyramid that other people built for you, and they slotted you into a place of middling usefulness. That means you're just slightly more important than the average goon. You're not on top of anything, read a history book. Like you said, they will kill you if they think you're telling them anything important. Doesn't sound like you're on yop of anything."

She leaned closer again, like a snake striking. "So, how would you like to actually be on top? See, I've been where you are. Honestly! The Mindflight Assembly, they called themselves. I was a tool of something that considered itself greater than me, and you know what happened? Every last one of them is trapped in a computer server. Not in a cutesy little simulation either, they are just code now. They found there was only enough room in their safety pod for their inner circle. You're not in the inner circle. The Crusaders would delete you in a second, and they've been so important to you that you'd let them do it. You're a pawn. You're a stooge."

"You want more though, don't you?"

He opened his mouth to protest, but stopped as she continued. Leaning back in his chair, he said, "Of course I want more. I'd have told your lawyers to stuff it if I didn't. Not to mention how you essentially just swooped in and took me with little issue shook me somewhat."

"Did you know I was there? You never saw me until you were locked in the back of my van. I could see you though. I watched you through your own cameras, I unlocked your doors for the boys in black to sweep in. I copied and pasted every line of code and every word on your datapad and you never even saw me." She smiled, proud of her own accomplishments. "You sent two signals, one I killed, the other bringing your crew around. Half of them never even got close to us. I imposed my will upon their very vehicles and smashed them against each other like toys."

She set her datapad on the table, and she didn't even touch it as it began to scroll through the camera footage. His camera footage. "And here I thought you said that He knew everything. Somehow, he couldn't even imagine Me."

Othias looked uncomfortable at the thought, the sweat rolling down his forehead. "I mean, in a way you were imagined. 'And among those that rose against Me were apostates, those quick as lightning and bold as lions. They were My castoffs, my failed experiments, but they retained a portion of my power. Be tempted not by them, witches and decievers, their plans will be made folly by My power.'"


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"So says every organization ever," she laughed. "The AU and religious groups especially, but they are not alone. Every group of people with power over others will at some point designate a group of people to 'other.' 'Them, they're the enemy, they don't think like us and that's bad.' Tale as old as time, Othias. You're being told by people with power over you to fear people that threaten those powerful people. You're a pawn, Othias, a tool for them."

"Saying 'someday people will oppose me' means nothing, Othias. Of course He would say that, he's got you running guns stolen from military trucks. You can't pretend to be mysterious when saying it's going to rain because you know monsoon season is coming up. It's not a prophecy, it's common sense."

"True," he said, still looking uncomfortable in the presence of a powerful techno-witch. "Guess I'm just saying that someone with your skills and disagreement with His mission was 'imagined'. I was just the unlucky soul to be the target."

"Fine," she said, "it doesn't matter though. We need your help, Othias. We can offer freedom of the soul, a lesser sentance, and safety against the influence of a man in a machine. In return, just send us up the chain a little. Doing so, I can do everything in my power to make sure they don't remove your augments. You will need those, I assume, when the rapture comes calling, yes? I'd perfer to safeguard you from that, if you can help us."

The Crusader bit his lip, looking down at his legs as he processed what she was asking for. "Is it worth my soul to save my body," he muttered.

"I say yes," she said softly. "Because you can always heal your soul eventually. But not if you lose what makes your soul worth saving: your steel. You'll end up the better for it, when you remain intact when all others fall. See we don't actually care about your faith. We're not here to destroy you for your beliefs. But we can't have your people committing crimes flagrantly. If that keeps up, eventually people with a lot less of a shit to give with itchy trigger fingers will take over from us."

"You might just end up being your faith's hero," she purred, looking to him like he might be the only one to save his people, as though he was special. He wasn't, not to her. A pawn was merely changing hands.

Between her ego boosting and assurances, he finally gained enough confidence to nod. "Alright, I'll do it. But I want to negotiate some things on the lawyer front. Make sure you're not fucking with me," he said.

"You're a real hero," she said with a smile, standing from the cold metal chair. "We'll work with you and your representative, no doubt about it." She picked up her datapad, her eyes fading from bright red, and began to leave. "I'll see you around Othias," she said cheerfully, but the second the door closed behind her her body reverted to an uncomfortable stiffness, and a scowl was painted across her face as she returned to the other room.

Bee greeted her with a series of claps. "Damn, should submit that for the Oscars," she said with a chuckle. "Good job."

Bark will join in with those series of claps with ones of his own. "I didn't even know you could change your accent like that, incredible work Shade! I think you could do undercover work if you tried with that performance you put on."

Somewhat embarrased by the praise, she leaned against the wall and crossed her arms, "An accent is just another mask. It's simple to change with the right training." Her tail twiched with her embaressment, not looking directly at the two in the room. "So, is that what we needed?"

"Should be, assuming the lawyers don't mess it up," Bee said, looking as said lawyers walked into the interrogation room. "Until we get that info, we've just got time to kill. Wait," she continued, looking over at Bark. "Aren't you from here?"

Bark blinked a little since that question transition seemed like it came left field, but he gave a nod. "Yes I'm from here, traveled alot since then, but yes I'm from here. I bet some of the old food joints I used to frequent are still here. Sometimes you just can't beat family owned restaurants or deep dish stuffed pizza and any New Yorker who tells you it's better flat? They're probably lying, brainwashed, a clone, or an unknown martian species that hasn't been examined nor classified yet."

"Mars has been entirely categorized," Shade said with a sigh. "But I am hungry, so where would you suggest we go?"

"Let's sign into our hotel rooms, get into civies, and then Bark can take us on a tour," Bee said, smiling as she got up.
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