- "Forgive me if I find it hard to believe you wish to access classified intelligence simply to satisfy a curiosity!"
Agent Network Recruitment Specialist - 996 ATA - Hel's Market, Hel, Asgard System, Neutral Space
“Knowledge is power."
“This is a truth universally acknowledged, an old saw that cuts new teeth with every new iteration of information technology. But even in this age, where so much data is generated and available to so many curious eyes, one of the most crucial currencies of knowledge remains the same. Not what you know, but who.”
The neomorph sitting opposite Shan’Chael rolls his eyes impatiently. It’s an oddly fascinating sight, given that he has six of them. “Is there a point to this?”
Shan blinks owlishly at his guest, takes a slow, deliberate sip of his tea, notes that the neomorph has not touched his cup. Perhaps he fears poison? Shan knows the tea is safe for his client to drink; he took the time to research neomorph dietary habits before the meeting. One among the many strategic benefits of having his offices in the heart of the markets of Asgard is that he has access to a pan-galactic range of goods. With a little research, he can offer impeccable hospitality to visitors of any species. “Merely establishing the value proposition of my services, dear fellow. I’d hardly expect you to enter into a commercial arrangement without understanding what it is you’re purchasing.”
“I know about your services,” his guest hisses disdainfully. “You are a criminal, and a mercenary, loyal to nothing and no-one, selling secrets and souls to the highest bidder.”
“Not at all. I am a businessman,” Shan’Chael corrects in a firm tone. It’s a common misconception, and best nipped in the bud right now. “I deal in commodities, and loyalty is simply one among many parameters to be considered in tailoring our search to your specific requirements. I may not owe your government any loyalty, but I owe my customers, and myself, my integrity before all else.” He took a second, measured sip of his tea. “And you would do well not to forget that.”
“Was that a threat?”
“Hardly. An observation, nothing more. Now,” Shan fixed his client with a pointed stare, “since we’ve exhausted the limits of our small talk, shall we attend to business? What is it that you need from me?”
The neomorph flares his crest in irritation. “I don’t need anything from you. But I am commanded to bring you a request from my government.”
“The leviathan Giants are reaching out their greedy claws towards our systems.” The sibilant quality of the neomorph’s pronunciation intensifies as he lowers his voice to make his unpalatable confession of weakness. “Not content with essentially making the Insectoids their vassal state by blockading them, they are testing the defences along the borders of our space. We need an army.”
“I can’t supply you with an entire army,” Shan notes dryly.
“We have systems, and weapons, and we have willing volunteers in our Champions, but they are components,” the neomorph admits reluctantly. “What we need are generals, masters of the craft of warfare.”
“Then I have just the man in mind.” Shan offers a wry shrug as he corrects himself. “Well, half-man, half-machine if you’re going to be precise about it.” He enjoys precision. His need for accuracy in the verification and cataloguing of numbers, dates, and facts is what makes him so effective at what he does. He is aware that the tendency makes him look finicky and pedantic; he is equally aware that such misjudgements shield him from unwanted attention more effectively than a cloaking device ever could.
“And the price?”
“Half a million credits. Legal immunity within your territories. And access to your cartography databanks for one solar day.”
“Absolutely not!” Indignant, the neomorph lurches from his seat, tail twitching, the colour of his scales mottling and darkening as he loses control of his emotions.
“Oh come now, dear fellow, don’t be unreasonable,” Shan’Chael soothes. “I’m finding someone who can safeguard the borders of your space and defend your people from unwanted aggression. Such expertise is not easy to find, and thus is not cheap. And it’s hardly too much to ask to guarantee I can go about my business in peace and quiet, now is it?”
“Perhaps not. But you really expect us to allow you access to material you can use against us?”
It’s Shan’s turn to roll his eyes. “Hardly. You’re my customer. It makes no sense for me to do something that will lead you to never want to employ me again. This is a simple barter transaction. I assist you in the acquisition of assets, and you do the same for me in return.” He sighs. “I guarantee that I will not sell the data on, it is for… personal consumption.”
“Forgive me if I find it hard to believe you wish to access classified intelligence simply to satisfy a curiosity!”
Shan studies the outraged neomorph for a moment. He dislikes explaining himself, dislikes giving away information about his habits and practices, but this over-excitable fellow and his people are a new customer, a new market, a rare opportunity in these times of increasing universal distrust and disharmony. He can afford, in the short term, to turn them down, but that would be near-sighted and most probably counterproductive. “Please calm yourself, sir, and allow me to explain. I deal in information, that is true, but my primary focus is providing a brokerage for individuals with specific, desirable skill sets. Assassins, scientists, generals, spies, diplomats, explorers, pilots, engineers… my network contains many experts, many specialists, all of whom trust me to place them in the employ of a grateful patron. To grow that network, to find new talent, and new employers, I must travel, and up to now the systems of your territories have been unknown to me. The immunity is the greater part of my fee; the data I will use solely to assist me in recruiting new operatives.”
The neomorph settles back into his chair, mollified, the flush of colour fading from his serpentine skin. “I see. I will have to clear this with my government, of course.”
“Of course. I will await your answer with bated breath. But if I might offer a suggestion, don’t wait too long. The man I have in mind is much in demand, and if he receives a better offer while you deliberate, well…” Shan spreads his hands expressively, “one can only imagine the consequences for your people.”
The neomorph scowls, then flows from his chair, gliding away without a backward glance. Shan watches him go, masking his emotions until he’s sure his client won’t look back, and then he allows himself the luxury of a grin. Hooked him.
Where to find it?