05.05.3302: CONFLICT ZONE



Since the outbreak of war between our rivals the Empire Pact and the new upstarts, the Imperial Private Expeditionary Company, I have been monitoring the activities of one of their assets. He’s an Imperial citizen called Phineas Souvarine who resides here at Dashiell Orbital. The man is known to be both an effective intelligence asset and also a wet work operative when the occasion demands. Furthermore, he has successfully recruited a number of other agents to IPEC, any of whom would be (by themselves) a cause for concern. As a group they are an extremely dangerous group of characters and a major contributing factor to IPEC’s sudden rise.

I am pleased to report however that there may be some fractures in the group which we could (with time) exploit.

Souvarine recently called a meeting with one of his associates – a borderline sociopath called Dexter Vex. The two have a long and sordid history together, always operating in the level of illegality in which they are either too insignificant or too usefully-placed to be picked up by the authorities. Souvarine called the meeting in a high class bar called Blue Shift Lagoon. Fortunately our signal analysts intercepted the message and I was able to place a listening device on the table they booked. I positioned myself at a table nearby to record and observe the conversation that followed. Please find my transcript below – which I have annotated with my observations in lieu of video.

Vex comes in, sees Souvarine sitting in corner and heads over to him.

“Swanky place Sou. Very public. Very high security on the door. What’s wrong?”

Souvarine looks up and gives Vex a forced smile.

“Can’t a chap organise a romantic evening for two without being accused of ulterior motives?” He answers lightly.

Vex meets this with a raised eyebrow. Souvarine sighs.

“All right, maybe I wanted to speak to you,” he says, pushing a whiskey across the table to Vex. “Have a drink first. You might not like this all that much.”

“Well, that’s a change,” replies Vex jovially. “You, telling me something I don’t want to hear! Last time you said that, you came to tell me that our new home was in fact a collection of sheds.”

[This in reference to IPEC’s ill-fated first campaign against the Pact, which saw IPEC being outmaneuvered politically despite military superiority]

Souvarine nods.

“Ah, yes. Imperial politics at play, it seems. The Octopus didn’t tell me all that much about it, but she seemed angry.”

He pauses, taking a sip of his wine.

“The Patron at the head of the Pact – man called Trabe – apparently has some high-up friends. Our string of victories rattled his cage. Some dictat came down from the Senate, basically asking us to accept Laming Horizons as a concession. Which, as you so eloquently note, wasn’t exactly a five star hotel. Needless to say, that’s why we’re still fighting.”

Vex shrugs.

“To be honest Sou, it hasn’t affected me all that much. I’ve spent the last few months living in my ship on a barren ice moon. The only thing was I didn’t have to kill anybody for that one.”

Souvarine laughs. “Well, yes.”

His smile drops. He takes another drink.

“Look, Vex. There’s something you should know about all this. Something I should have told you a long time ago maybe. But now… Now it’s different. You have a right to know who you’re fighting for.”

He pauses and looks at the other man.

“Do you remember the woman I flew with for a while, back in ’92 or ’93? Jane?”

Vex smiles in recollection.

“Medium height? Dreadlocks? African ancestry? Very bright? Fantastic tits?”

“Gosh, there’s a thought.” Souvarine looks quizzically into the middle distance for a moment, then blinks and shakes his head briskly.

“The very same. Well, there’s something about her I didn’t tell you.”

He takes another drink.

“In the early days, during one of my less-than-legal forays into Senator Torval’s spaceports with hot cargo, I was clocked by the interior local enforcement. I wasn’t as cautious as I should have been. Or, I wasn’t as good as I thought I was.”

He shrugs.

“Anyway. I was held for a night in a cell in some backwater orbital near the Federation border. I didn’t tell you at the time – too embarrassed I suppose. They grilled me for hours. Made me think they would take my ship, and worse. In the end, they let me go, scared out of my wits – but without charging me. Free of charge, on one condition: I accept an undercover agent as a wingmate for six months. To get into our circles, find out who was running those black markets. They made me agree to take her with me and tell nobody who she was.”

He looks Vex in the eye.

“That woman was Jane.”

Vex clenches his fists and goes to stand, then looks over Souvarine’s shoulder at the security monitor on the wall. Very slowly, he unclenches his fists and lowers himself back into his seat.

Glaring at the Imperial, he says in a low, flat voice:

“You knew she and I were screwing? What am I saying – of course you knew. You’re not stupid.”

He shakes his head, and breathes deeply.

“So you let me bump uglies with an Imperial agent for the better part of six months. And you didn’t think to warn me? You prick! Did you think I wouldn’t be able to keep your secret?”

He lights up a cigar. Sou goes to talk but Vex holds up a finger, silencing him. He takes a drag, then shrugs.

“Still, you were what? Nineteen then. And you’d had the frighteners put on you something good. Plus, she’s dead now so it’s not like there’s much harm done. You’re still a prick, but then we knew that already.”

Souvarine looks down.

“I’m sorry. I couldn’t tell you – I thought I’d go to prison if I told anyone. I was worried that if I told you, you might have told her I’d told you – or at least given her reason to suspect I’d told you. And then she reports back as such, and bang – there goes my freedom.”

“However, I should have told you before now. At first when she disappeared I was still too scared. Then I was too embarrassed. Then, after a while, it was ancient history and didn’t seem worth it.”

Vex frowns.

“So why’s it worth it now?”

“Because… She’s not dead.”

“Really? How’d you find that out?”

Vex has noticeably stiffened in his seat.

“Deduction. Suspicion. I keep abreast of things, as you know – and I heard rumours of a high ranking Naval Intelligence officer striking out on her own a couple of years ago. A couple of snippets about how she’d been instrumental in the fight against contraband, back when Arissa was still a Senator. It reminded me of that woman – ‘Jane’ – of how she talked. I did some digging. Eventually I found a photograph – and there she was. The same woman.”

Vex hasn’t moved at all.

“Uh-huh,” he says, noncommittally. “And when did you have this ‘revelation’?”

Vex, it appears, is one of those individuals who can pronounce an inverted comma.

“Couple of months ago.”

“Oh. Right.”

He takes a drag of his cigar, and then – with the air of someone who’s enquiring about the weather – muses:

“About the time you started trying to recruit me into an imperial organisation formed by a mysterious, former Naval Intelligence officer? A Naval Intelligence officer who just happens to know a lot of personal stuff about me?”

He looks Souvarine straight in the eye.

“What a fucking coincidence,” he growls.

“Yup. It’s her.”

“Well, no. You see, it can’t be the same woman. Because that would be the sort of thing you’d of told a friend before you got them involved with the organisation. You’d of come to me and said…”

Vex affects a nasal, whining imitation of the high-class Imperial drawl in which Souvarine speaks:

Vex, my old friend. There’s this organisation you might be interested in. I’m going to keep badgering you until you join it. Oh, by the way, you may have carnal knowledge of the Director. You may have performed the act of coitus with her. The two of you have in fact, on several occasions – fucked.

Souvarine rolls his eyes in exasperation.

“Yes! I should have told you sooner. But there was never a good time, and – as perhaps you can imagine – this was not the easiest thing to say. So for that I’m sorry. It’s not an excuse, it’s an explanation. I should have mentioned it sooner, when it didn’t seem worth mentioning. Then she’d told me to recruit you, and it was suddenly important, but that made it even harder to say. And then you turned up. So I’m telling you now.”

Vex sneers contemptuously.

“Not easy? You’ve traveled to the centre of the galaxy, smuggled contraband under the nose of the authorities, hunted wanted fugitives, and transported radioactive alien artefacts. You’ve made a career out of doing ‘hard’ things. The difference was you wanted to do those things. You’ve only told me now because events have forced it on you.”

Vex is clearly in full flow now, and his voice starts to rise as he continues.

“So instead, you pulled your usual shit of telling me only the bare minimum of what I need to know, after I needed to know it – because you’re worried I might lose my shit if you actually tell me everything right from the start. Because you’re worried that I might not react in the way you want me too.”

“So you brought me here, to this very public place, in case ‘Mr. Meat Feast’ goes off the rails. Then you tell me a sob story about how you were young and stupid -which would be an excuse if you hadn’t always behaved as if you’re the smartest person in the room. Then for a fucking encore you tell me a second story about how you were older and scared.”

Vex stands up quickly, knocking his chair over. People begin to look over. Souvarine leans back, instinctively. The other man shifts his cigar to one side of his mouth, places both fists on the table and leans towards Souvarine, forcing him to lean even farther back. Inches from his face, he murmurs:

“You want to know something interesting, Phineas? I’m not angry. I’m just disappointed. Because for all your character flaws, I never thought you were a coward.”

He takes a deep draw on the cigar, blows a huge cloud of smoke directly into Souvarine’s face and drops the remainder of the cigar in his drink. With a satisfied nod as if he’s just proved a point, he turns towards the door to leave.

Souvarine’s eyes narrow.

Do you know what, Vex?” he asks slowly and quietly. Vex stops and turns.

“Fuck it. Just – fuck it. I see we’re in for another round of the ‘smouldering tough guy’ routine, for which I’ve lost patience. Yup, I should have told you a bit sooner. I’m terribly sorry about your ickle hurty feelings but I’m fucking well telling you now, and you’re welcome. If I’ve bruised your peach-like ego, Iron Man, you’ll have to piss off back to your ice fortress to nurse it better – I’m not going to sit here and be chastised like an errant child, yet again.”

He suddenly sweeps his ashy glass to the floor with a smash. Other diners stop talking and begin to stare. He laughs abruptly.

Fuck! Why do I allow myself to be treated like your idiot little brother, all the time? All I seem to do is save you from your own cock-headedness and monstrous ego! I’m sick to death of fucking babysitting you while we pretend you’re some kind of special ops hero, instead of a thuggish nutjob. Jesus!

He snorts as if incredulous, slams his chair back and stands up.

“Sod this. I’ve got a war to win.”

He stalks out, leaving Vex looking like he’s just been slapped.

At this juncture I am not sure how to best use this information. Clearly there is a rupture between these two – if we can expand that to the remainder of the group it will weaken IPEC. Possibly more interestingly, it appears that IPEC’s leader has a history with Vex, though to what extent this can be used to our advantage remains to be seen. I would suggest cross-referencing our records of Souvarine with known INARA operatives from the time period in question and seeing what they find out. Some more information on this elusive cephalopod would be very useful, given our current situation.




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