Take Me To Your Leader
Kaz leads Keith through Paragon’s Stand proper. As befitting a subterranean settlement, the lights are all artificial, fluourescent beams illuminating the plasteel walls. Wide thoroughfares let the inhabitants travel across levels, while lifts and stairs lead up or down levels. Some notice Keith and react with either scorn or awe, but most ignore him. He wonders just how much of those from his former command remain here.
Keith finds himself at a hab that seems spartan, even by the settlement’s standards. Entering after announcing their arrival, the pair are greeted by a plain seeming gentleman in a bare room, with only some settees and a coffee table. The plain man nods to acknowlege their presence and introduces himself as Shariff Jones, Overseer of the settlement.
“Kaz,” he says, in a soft voice. “And Ironsworn Keith Vanadu. I don’t know if I should bow, and if I should, I’d like to refuse.”
Great start, Keith thinks, but just extends his hand. “A handshake would be sufficient, Overseer Jones.” They shake hands, and sit down.
“I mean you no personal disrespect, Mr Vanadu,” Jones says, “But as Overseer I execute the will of the people, and the people feel that if we accept WeaveComm’s system the Iron Banner would have undue influence on the colony.”
“Tale as old as time, Overseer,” Keith nods. “And I understand that position. Really, I do. My primary motivation in coming here was to provide help to the colony founded by the people that used to be under my command, and I do so without expecting any allegiance sworn to our government.”
Jones sneers. “Forgive me if I don’t believe you.”
Keith holds up a hand to stop Kaz from rebutting. “Offer of help’s honest, and you’re free to reject the Iron Banner after. Though…does seem a little…ungrateful.” Keith offers his own little sneer. “But hey. You’re free to do what you want.”
“And what is it do you think you can do to help us?”
“Kaz here mentions something about…a cult having taken power in another settlement. Dreadspire, was it?” Keith looks at Kaz as the man nods, frowning. “Bad enough that a war seems to be brewing. I’d like to help resolve the situation.”
“And by resolve the situation you probably mean blasting the cult off the face of Sanadris.”
“If it comes to that. My experience with religious groups is that they usually force it to that.” Keith frowns. Something wasn’t right. “You don’t sound as if you agree with that.”
“What leader agrees to war?” Jones replied. “War, now, when we need to be united and turn this hellhole into a paradise for our children? War, when we need to resist the influence of Black Iron on our settlement? War, when we need every resource we can spare to see the next star rise?” He shakes his head. “I thought you would understand how ugly wars can get.”
“And I thought you would understand how far cults can push things,” Keith grimaced. “Remember the Church of Sol’s Flame. We all don’t like the idea of war, but sometimes that’s all that would make people listen. Still, if you have an idea of how to resolve this without direct confrontation, I’m all ears.”
Jones shook his head. “If I had a solution, I would have done it. Alas, the people wish to liberate their friends from Dreadspire by force if necessary contrary to my wishes, and an Overseer is an executor of the people’s will, not his own. I am forced to comply.”
That’s not a red flag or anything, Keith thought as Jones said that. The Overseer continued. “Perhaps that is what you could do, Mr Vanadu. Try to convince the good folk of Paragon Stand that there is another way than to resort to violence.”
“I can’t promise anything, except to see what I can do.” Keith stood and left the Overseer’s hab with Kaz, who was fuming the whole time.
“D’ast coward,” Kaz spat as they walked away. “He talks of peace when the cult is slaughtering people as we speak!”
“Any of that sound weird to you, Kaz?”
“Aside from the yellow bellied cowardice on display?”
Keith shook his head. “When he says peace, I think he means surrender. You may have a viper in your midst, Kaz.”
Kaz stopped and stared at his former commander. “Wait. You don’t mean…”
“Keep walking,” Keith whispered. “It’s entirely possible you’re all compromised. Any attack you make would be suicide. We have to find out if Jones is the only one or if the fuckers have a whole cell in the settlement.”
“But what if Jones is innocent?”
“Then he’s a fool and a coward and you need to remove him from power. But first things first. We need to make absolutely sure we’re not compromised. We need people we can trust, and we need to move fast. My being here has probably spooked them.”
Kaz nods firmly. “I’ll take you to your hab, and call a meeting of the people I can trust. We’ll see you at dinner.”
Rooting Out The Cult
Keith looked around at the group of spacers Kaz had called The Dust Runners, those who ran refugees from Dreadspire and engaged in the odd sortie against the cult. They were heavily augmented – seems defiance against the cult had its price to pay. He was both saddened and proud to see so many among the Runners people he had known from his time in command. Saddened, that they had given so much of themselves quite literally in the name of freedom, but d’ast proud of them for doing it not for their sakes, but for others. They beamed when he told them so.
Wasting no time, Keith told them of what he suspected – which drew sharp intakes of breath from them – and that he needed their help to find the cell and, if it exists, drag it out into the open and remove it.
“We have a problem, Colonel,” said Talia Valentino, one of the Runners. She was a harsh faced woman with a plasteel gripper for a right arm. “We’ll need weapons.”
“D’ast it, we need to be subtle,” Keith began, but stopped when Valentino raised her gripper.
“And we will be. But all of what we have is…well, loud. We’ll need stuff that can put the pressure on quiet like. Not to mention to keep near our cots.”
Keith nodded. “Right. Where can we get those?”
“The Synergy,” another spacer said, nodding. His entire left side was replaced with haphazard bionics. When he spoke it was a mix of synthetic vocals and the ones he was born with. “It’s this ship we found crashed on the planet. From the looks of it, we think it might have been one of the ships that made The Exodus. We’ve been looting weapons from it since we made landfall here.”
“And Jones stopped us from going there, saying it was too dangerous,” Kaz said, scratching his chin. “D’ast it. It all makes sense now.”
Keith considered. “You all have to stay here and make do with what you can. We’re on a clock here, people. We can’t be staying put while they’ve got targets on our backs. Give me the location of this wreck and I’ll head out and grab the hardware myself.”
“Alone, Colonel?” Valentino asked.
“Yeah. It’ll be fun,” he smiled, patting his gun. “Don’t worry about it.”
Kaz sighed. “That’s one order we won’t be able to follow, sir.”