Ravens of Eternity -
Chapter 425 - 425 The Benefactor’s Reach, Pt 5
425 The Benefactor’s Reach, Pt Helios Megastation, Sol System, Sol Federation
The shop’s door chime rang out melodically. It wafted down the aisles and swept across the old Toymaker’s ears. They let him know that he had visitors.
More specifically, they let him know to listen to the footsteps of whoever just came in. And it took him a moment to place those footsteps, but it came to him soon enough.
A wide smile spread across his face as he looked up at his guest, but then was set aback at what he was seeing – both Freya and Raijin.
“I only heard Freya’s footsteps,” he said. “How’re you…”
Raijin answered moments after he trailed off.
“Walking is so bothersome, sometimes,” she said with a cheeky smile.
As she spoke, she rose up into the air and lowered herself gracefully, as though to show her capabilities.
He nodded in abject approval. If he could do the same, he would.
Then it occurred to him that he had a massive flaw in his otherwise wonderful early warning security system. But before he could think about new countermeasures to install, he shook all his concerns away and instead focused his attention on his visitors.
“It’s been quite a while,” he said. “You two seem to have done well with yourselves. The way you carry yourselves… they’re far from the two I first met.”
“For better or worse,” Freya replied. “Raijin’s the better, by the way.”
“Everything we do is always for the better,” he chuckled in response. “That’s the hope, at the very least. In any case, how can this old man help? I don’t think my small-time gigs would have anything to offer either of you at this point…”
Raijin came forward as he spoke. She leaned up on the counter in front of him, as though she was about to negotiate for one of the elaborate toys and gadgets beneath its clear display.
“Truthfully, we were hoping to convince you to move your operations away from Helios,” she said. “Which would also mean defecting to our nation-state in the Hegemony – the Corvus Republic.”
The Toymaker’s eyes just about bugged out of his head on hearing that. He had heard plenty of rumors about the Corvus Republic, about how it wasn’t just some theater company. That entertainment was a cover for their more shadowy operations.
Of course, he had also heard numerous stories about how they single-handedly tore down entire companies and nation-states by themselves.
Not that he took much stock in rumors, especially if they came free.
But now that he knew these two were part of it, he wondered how much of those rumors were perhaps based on truth. Likely a few slivers, but that was enough to solidify their prestige.
Joining them could be massively beneficial, of course. But…
“I’d have to completely uproot myself,” he said. “I’m thoroughly embedded in the Federation’s black and gray markets. Going to the Hegemony would… it’d cut every connection I’ve ever developed. I mean, without access to the Federation’s communications networks, I’m useless.”
“Thankfully, the Corvus Republic has access to all major galactic networks,” Raijin replied. “We have plenty of nodes within all three galactic nations – the Federation, the Hegemony, and the Empire. You would not lose any access whatsoever.”
The Toymaker could only gawk at Raijin. Or rather, at what she was trying to tell him.
If they had access to the every major nation’s network… then that changed absolutely everything. That meant that he could spread his own network without worry.
“Legal connections?” he asked.
Raijin shook her head in the negative. Not that the answer mattered to the Toymaker, of course. The legal gray was where he was most comfortable.
And the more he thought about the opportunity, the more the possibilities crashed into his imagination. He started seeing what kind of jobs he could get into. In particular, he was excited to be a part of the galaxy-wide fencing operations and black market dealings.
He could be the richest gray market contract broker in the galaxy! The old man jumped up with the thought, a wide grin plastered on his face.
But before he could work himself up into a frothing frenzy at the sheer unlimited potential of such a move, something occurred to him. Nothing that good and that amazing came for free.
“What does the Republic get in return?” he asked cautiously. “Half profits? Three quarters profits? Data rights?”
There was a short silence between them, as though the two didn’t know how to answer.
“Now, don’t get freaked out,” Freya began, “but all we’re looking for is… some information on the Benefactor. Or, better yet, a constant stream of information regarding the Benefactor.”
The Toymaker immediately paled on realizing the price, then slowly sat back down on his stool. Time crept by as he realized the gravity of what was going on. What it was these two were after.
It was the same when they asked for Nightmare’s information, only this time it wasn’t just some out of control jackhole. This was serious.
He cleared his throat before he spoke. Quietly.
“I’d heard stories, mostly,” he began. “You know the kind – braggart contractors talking about that ‘one big job’ they did for some Benefactor. Was easy, big pay, hush hush. That kind. A few talked about repeat jobs, but never more than three.
“I never really thought about them much at the time, figured most were just embellishments.
“People always want to think that whoever they’re working for is the most powerful bastard in the galaxy. Pirates or warlords or mercenary admirals. People with kill counts in the tens or hundreds of thousands, big tall tales like that. But yeah, I always thought those people were dumb ol’ liars.”
Freya dug at the floor with her boot as the Toymaker talked about kill counts and such. For him to think that a few thousand was enough to be considered a kind of powerful galactic monster. She felt shame from it, and a sharp kind of guilt slid into her, not that she resisted its pain.
“How’d those contractors turn out?” Freya asked.
“Hm. Most of ‘em? Pretty good,” Toymaker answered. “They definitely made something of themselves. I mean, nothing like either of you, of course. But you know, enough to live lavishly and expensively.
“Of course, a few died along the way, but that’s not really anything new. Mercs and contractors die all the damned time. Usually to their own hubris.”
“How about anyone important?” asked Raijin. “Have you had anyone with real prestige mention the Benefactor?”
“Other than you two?” the Toymaker joked. “Not really… Though there was an organization some time ago. Black marketeers if I recall correctly. Loved to liquidate merchant fleets and profit off the stolen goods and parts. They seemed to be pretty good about it.
“I remember one of their bosses constantly namedropped the Benefactor. I thought at the time he was just another braggart jackhole.”
The Toymaker leaned back in his chair as he dug into his own memories.
“I also recall that the troupe fell off the face of the galaxy not long after,” he continued. “At the time, most of us in the community speculated a kind of economic takeover by their rivals. Pretty common thing out here, and wouldn’t have been outta the ordinary.
“You know, one gang buys out another gang’s soldiers. Or supplies. Or territory. Or all of it. Things done the accountant’s way, rather than the warlord’s way. Slick and sly and all that.
“It came at a time when all their bosses were infighting about this, that, or the other. Where they were going to relocate, or who they were going to steal from, or what ships they needed to buy next. Usual org drama. I’m sure you’ve seen it happen at the Republic.”
Both Freya and Raijin shook their heads. Neither had seen anything like that in the Republic. Everything they did was publicly vetted and approved. When they moved, it was at the behest of the majority. Any infighting was usually resolved by committee and maybe even a vote.
Basically, things ran very smoothly in the Republic.
“Well, alright, that’s weird,” the Toymaker said. “But anyway, the fruit was ripe for the picking, and all the vultures came to feast. By the end, nothing was left and it had all been completely wiped out.
“It never really sat right with me, honestly. The whole thing felt too clean. If it was actually a breakdown like normal, there’d be remnants if you know what I mean.”
“The last slice of cake,” Raijin said, which the Toymaker nodded at.
“Exactly,” he said. “Some part of the original group would’ve remained. But they were practically erased. Oh! And that one boss who kept namedropping the Benefactor? Ended up dead somewhere. Never even got confirmation of the corpse. Just up and vanished, never seen or heard of again.”
“That definitely sounds like that gang’s downfall was engineered,” said Freya. She then turned to Raijin and said, “I say we start looking there.”
Raijin nodded in agreement.
“Are you two telling me that you’re going after that ghost?” the Toymaker said. Incredulity was laced in his voice. “Are both of you saying that all those stories about him or her or whoever is actually true?”
“No,” Raijin replied. “The stories could be complete embellishments for all we know. But there is someone out there doing this, and they are seemingly and subtly adjusting the galaxy’s course from the sidelines. This war, for example. Its beginnings can be traced back to this Benefactor.”
The Toymaker’s face scrunched up as he pieced together what they were trying to tell him.
And the danger of it suddenly filled him.
“So, er, having heard that, I feel things have become significantly more dangerous all of a sudden,” he said. “When can I expect to move to this Republic of yours? Soon, hopefully?”
“Don’t worry,” Freya said with a grin. “Our operatives are out here with us. We’re pretty much getting you out now. So pack your valuables and dig up your Creds.”
The two then left the nearly speechless old man to himself and cleanly exited his shop. They stepped out into the warm Helios streets, though they were currently in a nighttime cycle.
Out there, the two walked down the grungy alleyways and observed numerous people living in makeshift and ramshackle lean-to’s all along the unkempt sidewalks. Most of whoever lived there had curled underneath their flimsy shelters and slept somewhat peacefully.
Freya: Oh, now you’re walking?
Raijin: Hovering takes too much attention.
Freya: I don’t think anyone around here cares about much
Freya: They look like they’ve got bigger problems
Freya: Which I’d call the Federation itself
Raijin: This is true.
Raijin: Most of these people likely do not care.
Raijin: Not even if either of us were heavily armed and stomping down the street.
Raijin: But we cannot rule that there isn’t someone among them who does care.
Raijin: It is them we need to be wary of.
Freya nodded in agreement. They had to tread incredibly carefully now that they were going after the Benefactor.
Someone with that much power and influence and pure anonymity no doubt had eyes and ears everywhere. Being careless and showing their hand far too early would only result in unwanted and undue attention.
Such as from hired guns and assassins and whatnot.
They would much rather avoid all that and perform their search as quickly and as quietly as they could.
The more Freya thought about the Benefactor, the more she realized that whoever it was acted along a very specific set of rules. She couldn’t quite place what they were exactly, but knew that they existed.
At first, they all believed that they acted randomly, that their methods were chaotically destructive in every realm. Similar to what Eris was all about.
But when they realized that the war had been engineered to some degree, they couldn’t help but come to the conclusion that all of the Benefactor’s moves were calculated. Their goal wasn’t chaotic at all, but more entropic – an orderly means to absolute dissolution.
Her thoughts turned to Lucifer suddenly, as she realized ze would have come to the same conclusion she just did. Except perhaps faster.
A sad smile spread across her face as the memory of her dead lover caressed her soul.
Then, she continued her hunt.
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