There were a lot of stories out there about Kurda Thorne, Flipp had heard most of them, the real difficulty was separating fact from fiction. No one knew how old he was, no one knew if Kurda Thorne was even his real name. Some stories claimed that Kurda was a local god, a being unbound by the rules of the many pantheons. Other stories claimed he had found a secret to eternal youth and had shared it with his closest disciples.
There weren’t just stories about his age, there were stories about his power as well and how far it stretched. Rumors said that even Federation nobility from Center-City came to the box and that he had dirt on them. Other stories said that he was the founder of the Crown criminal syndicate and that the other organized crime groups recognized him as a kind of neutral authority. The problem with these stories was that most details were probably valid, but twisted in some way.
Flipp took a breath and forced himself not to frown, twisted in his benefit, if Flipp had to guess. He glanced over at Yasmine who was leaning against a VIP room door with a smug look on her face. She seemed to have already calmed down from her earlier irritation. Kurda kept his attention on her until Alec and Flipp arrived at their side. He turned with pinpoint accuracy and practiced ease, slipping into a dramatic bow that sent his hair flowing around his shoulder. When he stood he practically glittered even in the dim light before breaking into a smile that could make Yasmine’s own smugness seem saintly.
“Alec Karzai! Good ta see you, boy,” He said, thrusting out a well-manicured hand. Alec took it and they shook once before he pulled his hand away and turned to Flipp, “And you must be Flipp Moran, right?” He raised an eyebrow, “That’s quite the name, I feel like I’ve heard it before. I daresay I might know a relative of yours or something.”
Yasmine glanced toward the two of them when Kurda spoke, watching Flipp’s reaction. Flipp seemed to hesitate a little at Kurda’s phrasing but shook the crime lord’s hand anyway. Kurda gave it two firm pumps before separating and slipping his hands back behind his back. He canted his head to the left and glanced at Yasmine, “So you want to do business in my establishment?”
“He paid for his time,” Yasmine said.
“Ahead of time?” Kurda asked curiously.
“He gave clear conditions on payment,” Yasmine pointed out.
“Oho,” Kurda said, giving Flipp an appraising look, “Well, I can’t stay and chat unfortunately. I have a business to run, you know. If you need anything, though, just use the tab on the wall. It’s on me of course,” Kurda said with a wink at Flipp before turning to Alec, “And your brother?”
“Boyfriend trouble,” Alec repeated.
Kurda shook his head, “Of course, my daughter is in the same boat,” he shrugged, “Ah, to be so young and free,” He laughed and turned away, nodding to Yasmine, “Your payment is in your account.”
Yasmine inclined her head, “Thanks boss.”
Kurda wasted little time in striding away, his form disappearing into the strange darkness of the hallway. Yasmine let out a breath and scratched her head. Alec visibly relaxed and moved to the door before glancing back at Flipp, “You kept a straight face, not bad,” Alec grunted and opened the door.
Flipp looked between the two of them, he hardly knew how to process what had happened. The man was like a whirlwind, one second he was there and the next he wasn't. Flipp pointed down the hallway, “Is that normal for him?”
Yasmine burst into laughter, “Thorne? Normal? I knew you were funny, come on in,” She jerked her thumb towards the open door and did not move an inch until Flipp proceeded inside.
The interior of the VIP room was spacious and comfortable, a couch formed a near complete ring around the room and had enough room on the seats to lay down if one wanted to. A long table stretched out along the center of the room and three screens were embedded in the walls so that no matter where you sat, you could see what was playing. To the immediate right, a tab was embedded in the wall with an elaborate logo welcoming the reader to The Box’s VIP Program.
Yasmine lingered in the hallway for a few moments, scratching at her wrist. The conversation she and Kurda had been engaged in when the boys approached had been a little bit more serious than advertised. She frowned and rubbed at the spot, losing focus and looking down at what was becoming a red mark on her wrist. “The fuck is this gods damned,” She muttered angrily, deciding to think about Kurda’s news more later. She wanted to get this business over with so she could move on with her life. Whatever Flipp’s job was had better be worth it.
She stepped inside and spotted Flipp admiring the tab, she leaned in over his shoulder, letting him catch a whiff of her perfume and smiled coyly, “You can order anything from that tab.”
He blinked and sidestepped, looking to her, “Anything?”
“Drinks, food, men, women,” Yasmine rattled off, “Drugs, other services,” She added with a wink before stepping past him and throwing herself down onto one side of the couch. Alec leaned up against the wall, refusing to sit down leaving Flipp to sit down alone on the opposite side from Yasmine. His face a little flushed, he took a few seconds to center himself.
“Time starts now, Moran, get on with it. You got an hour,” Yasmine clipped.
Flipp took a breath and slipped into a brief coughing fit before centering himself, he rubbed his eyes and leaned back in the comfortable seat, “I’m going to ask you to do something Illegal.”
“Duh,” Yasmine grunted, “Otherwise you’d hire a troubleshooter.”
“Right,” Flipp admitted, “I need your help stealing something.”
“Why didn’t you ask the mafia? They’re based out of East City, yeah?” She asked, frowning, “The Aelves got plenty of good thieves for hire at the right price.”
“This isn’t a job a catburgular can do,” Flipp pointed out, “The item in question isn’t something they’d let me keep either. No matter how much I paid.”
Yasmine and Alec exchanged looks, “Where is it?” She asked.
“The current owner is Sonya Chernovna, CEO of the ASTA Corporation,” Flipp said and his right hand twitched, his finger making the smallest of movements.
In an instant Yasmine was up and across the table, her hand on Flipp’s neck and her face inches from his. Her left hand was up, electricity dancing along her fingertips. She looked him square in the eyes, “You wanna die? Hah?” She demanded, “Are you stupid or something? You want me to steal from the most powerful tech corporation in the city? You have some balls on you, Flipp Moran. I should fry you right here.”
“Uh, Yaz,” Alec grunted.
“What? I’m performing an assisted suicide right now, can’t you see I’m busy?” She snarled.
“You sure about that?” Flipp asked, unfazed by her threat.
“Yasmine,” Alec growled, “Turn your head.”
Yasmine glanced over her shoulder and spotted what Alec was so concerned about. A quartet of floating knives had appeared out of nowhere, their blades just far enough away from Yasmine’s neck that she didn’t feel their presence right away. All four of them spun silently, trembling with the readiness to strike. She turned back and looked at Flipp, releasing her grip on his throat, “You’re better than you let on. What’s with the duds?” She asked.
“I don’t get out much,” Flipp said, not breaking his eye contact with her. She glanced down at his right hand, his index finger raised slightly. She cracked into a wild grin and looked back at him.
“Man, almost makes me want to test your reaction time,” She snarled, “I love it.” The electricity vanished from her fingertips and she slowly released his throat. She moved backward with a careful movement and didn’t feel a blade puncture the back of her throat. When she finally sat down she rested her elbows on her knees, “Alright, so you’re nuts, that’s cool,” She said thoughtfully, “But what’s so valuable that you want to piss off the Queen Bitch of North City?”
“A Map and a Key, one item,” Flipp said.
“A map?” Yasmine blurted, “Come on man, not some ultra expensive work of art or a piece of rare tech only you know about?”
“It’s a map of the catacombs,” Flipp said, “And a key to get into the Depths.”
Alec chortled, “The Depths are a myth,” He said, “There ain’t nothing in the catacombs but spooks and old magic.”
Yasmine clenched her fists, “Shut up Alec,” She said, staring Flipp in the eyes. “Are you being serious with me right now? You know a way into the Depths?”
“I can interpret the map and use it as a key to open a way in, yes,” Flipp said and smiled at her, “I also know where Doctor Chernovna keeps it.”
Yasmine licked her lips and wrung her hands just once, thinking. Next to her, Alec frowned and leaned forward, “This guy’s full of shit, the Depths are a myth, I’m telling you. No one’s ever been down there.”
“Kurda has,” Yasmine said, “He never got to the bottom though. He told me about it when I was a kid.”
“No offense, boss, but Kurda claims he’s done a lot of things,” Alec pointed out.
Yasmine turned and pinned Alec with a stern look that broached no argument. He held up his hands and leaned back against the wall. Yasmine leaned her elbows on her knees and rested her face against her clenched fists, her eyes fixed on Flipp. What was his game? He was too confident, too sure of himself. He wasn’t lying, or at least he believed every word he was saying. She couldn’t sense any disturbances in his mind either, not that she tried to dig too hard. His surface thoughts were so under control it was obvious to her that he wasn’t about to give away anything easily. Who the hell was this guy?
“You can’t honestly expect me to steal something from Sonya Chernovna on my own, even with Alec-” She was cut off when Flipp chimed in.
“The Rollock Avenue Fixers,” He said flatly, putting a finger on the table, “You ran one hell of a gang a while back. If anyone can get them back together, it’s you.”
Yasmine rolled her jaw and glanced up at Alec who shrugged, “Dude’s got a point,” Alec said, “But Jacob and Lyss are a no go, yeah?”
Yasmine rubbed her chin, “Not necessarily,” She said, “Lyss owes me a favor.”
“And Jacob?” Alec asked.
“I’m planning on causing some serious trouble,” She grinned at him, “He’ll want to be there to ‘supervise’.”
Alec laughed, “You’re a bitch, you know that?”
“What else is new?” She grinned and tapped the table a few times, “So I might be able to pull my old crew back together. That means paying them, and they aren’t cheap either,” She paused, “You also intend for us to help you get to the bottom of the Depths, right?”
Flipp nodded, “I have a theory about what’s there, more than just wealth,” He said, “I want to study it.”
“They’ll want a share of what we find down there,” Yasmine said.
“Take whatever you want, I’m not interested in what junk you find. I’ll let you know when I find what I’m looking for,” Flipp said.
Yasmine leaned back and looked at Alec, “Not a bad gig, yeah?”
“If we actually find the Depths, that is,” Alec reiterated, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Yasmine nodded, “You better not be yankin’ me Moran,” She warned.
Flipp held up a hand and reached into his tattered clothes, Alec leaned forward but relaxed when the man pulled what looked like a small handpurse from beneath the folds. He opened it and reached inside, pulling out a folded piece of paper. The paper was thick and when he unfolded it Yasmine spotted glittering purple ink ringing the entirety of the document. He placed it down between them and she stared in disbelief. “You aren’t serious,” She murmured.
“This clearly says I am,” He said.
“What is it?” Alec asked, peering at the document.
“A breachsoul contract,” Yasmine said, running her fingers over the purple ink, “Iridium ink and everything, you are one crazy motherfucker,” She said and laughed. “Alright, so you aren’t going back on your word, clearly.”
“The terms state that if I fail to hold up my end of the bargain, either in payment or in the acquisition of loot from the Depths, my life is forfeit,” Flipp said calmly, “Only the opposing signator may release me from the terms.”
Yasmine reached down and pulled her knife from her boot, pricking her thumb and pressing it to the sheet. The paper glowed faintly and where her blood had stained it, a black signature came into being. Flipp reached for the paper but Yasmine grabbed his wrist, “I’ll hold onto it,” Yasmine said cooly, “No offense.”
“None taken,” Flipp said, pulling his hand back.
“What’s our timeframe?” She asked.
“I have information that says that Doctor Chernovna will be leaving the city to attend a symposium in a week and will return the week after that. Her residence will be empty save for standard security until then. Her bodyguard and daughter will be going with her,” Flipp said, “Beyond that, we’ll need your team’s help to come up with a complete plan of action.”
“Then we’ll meet at my place in three days,” Yasmine said, “That should be enough time to drag them all together,” Yasmine added, it would also give her enough time to make arrangements for Shayde to stay with Krasus. She had no idea how long this was going to take. She should probably let Kurda know that this was going to be a longer job, maybe even a month of no distractions. He wouldn’t like it but he’d understand.
“We done here? I want to drink something,” Alec grunted.
“Yes, I believe we are,” Flipp said, getting to his feet.
“You should stick around, enjoy the atmosphere,” Yasmine said, “Order something, we still got a half hour.”
Flipp grinned but shook his head, “Thanks but no thanks, I have some loose ends of my own to tie up before we go forward on this, and I want it to be done before we meet up again.”
“Fair enough, see you around, Moran,” She said and gave him a playful wave while he slipped out the door. She looked up at Alec and Alec shook his head. She knew he didn’t like it, but she couldn’t resist this chance. If it was real, and if this guy was actually as serious as it seemed, then they were in for the chance of a lifetime. Most of the old crew should be easy enough to convince though there were a few outliers that would be a bit more trouble.
She pulled out her tab and began to type up a message, ‘Listen up, fuckers…’
Outside the door, Flipp let out a sigh of relief and looked down at his trembling hand. He didn’t know whether or not he was terrified or exhilarated. The woman was clearly just a few steps past sane but she had the power and the connections to make his dream happen. He wasn’t about to give up just because his best bet was a little crazy. He turned and froze when he spotted a woman standing in the hallway, waiting for him. She had dark, messy hair and bags under her eyes as dark as his own. Her smile was as grim as her sense of style. She canted her head to the right and showed her teeth, “Hello Flipp.”
“Anna,” Flipp breathed, “I figured I’d see you here.”
“How’d it go?” She asked.
“She’s in,” Flipp said quietly, striding toward Anna and placing his hand over his heart, he inclined his head in her direction, “I’ll make it happen, I promise.”
Anna put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed it, “I believe in you. Don’t cut any corners, we only have one chance at this.”
“As you wish,” He said and looked up but she was already gone. He sighed and scratched the back of his head. He needed a nap.
A few hours later, Yasmine pushed through the shabby door to her East Side apartment with a sodden groan. She pressed her head against the cold metal and sighed. “Shayde! I’m home!” She called, stumbling a few steps past the threshold and catching herself on a wall. She’d drank way too much. How the hell did she make it back here again? She lit up a cigarette and took a drag, sliding down the wall and staring up at the ceiling. Footsteps drew her attention and she turned to see her daughter standing in the hallway with her hands on her hips.
Shayde was short, obviously, the girl was just a few months away from thirteen. Her red-and-black hair was wild around her head and her dark-ringed eyes marked her as having psionic blood. She wore a black shirt with ‘WAYHARD’ written on it and a pair of torn dark-blue jeans. Her black-and-red fluffy tail whipped back and forth now and then before drooping a little. Shayde let out a long weary sigh, “Really, mom? Again? Come on let me help you up.”
Shayde came over and slipped down under Yasmine’s arm, helping her to her feet. Yasmine smiled blearily, “I have the best daughter in the world.”
“And the most patient,” Shayde added.
“Patient?” Yasmine grumbled, squinting at the girl’s face and noting a few scratches and scrapes that hadn’t been there before. “Patient girls don’t get into fights at school,” Yasmine mumbled, slipping into the couch as Shayde let out a defeated sigh, “What happened, kid?”
Shayde looked away, “Mei Lin.”
“Again?” Yasmine laughed, “Come on, haven’t you two had enough already? Get a room!”
Shayde’s face went scarlet, “Mom! I’m twelve!”
“Didn’t stop me,” Yasmine grunted, leaning back and throwing her feet up on the coffee table, “Eh… yeah you’re right, fine, still you shouldn’t be fighting, I warned you about that.”
“She’s such a bitch though!” Shayde ranted, “She lords herself over the other kids in class because her dad is an Elder on the Psychic Council. She thinks she can tell anyone to do whatever she wants because her dad is scary! It’s crap! She hasn’t done anything to deserve the respect she gets from everyone!”
“Did you win then?” Yasmine pressed.
“Of course I won! What do you take me for?” Shayde growled, “You taught me everything I know.”
“Damn right I did,” Yasmine laughed, “Atta girl, show that brat who’s boss.”
“Mister Felix was pretty mad though,” Shayde said, throwing herself onto the couch with her mother, “We’re allowed to tussle but he said we went overboard.”
“Bullshit, you barely got a scratch on you,” Yasmine said, tapping Shayde’s cheek.
“Yeah well, Mei Lin looks worse than I do,” Shayde mumbled.
“I warned you about pulling your punches, Shayde,” Yasmine grunted, “Finish the fight as quick as you can and do as little damage as possible. Only wreck someone who really deserves it.”
“How do I know who deserves it?” Shayde asked, “That doesn’t make sense.”
“Sure it does,” Yasmine said, “It’s not entirely Mei Lin’s fault she grew up a brat. Her dad is just as at fault for her behavior as she is. You can’t blame her for him being a shitty dad,” Yasmine explained, “She’s just behaving the only way she knows how to behave. Can you be mad at a fox for hiding under a bed?” She asked, ruffling the girl’s hair.
“No,” Shayde muttered, sinking a little bit into the couch.
“Apologize to your teacher for going overboard and do better about settling it cleanly next time, if it comes,” Yasmine instructed her.
“Okay, I’m sorry mom,” Shayde mumbled.
“I know you are,” Yasmine said and pulled the kid into a hug.
Shayde struggled and thrashed, “Mom! You reek of booze! Let go!”
“Nope! I want some time with my favorite plushie!” She laughed and fell back, squeezing the child tightly. When Shayde stopped struggling the two of them lay there on the couch, staring up at the ceiling. “I got a big job coming up, sweetheart.”
“Gonna be gone for a while?” Shayde asked.
“Yeah, probably,” Yasmine said, “I’ll bring you a souvenir.”
“Am I staying with Krasus?” She pressed.
“I’ll have to talk to him, we have dinner tomorrow,” Yasmine said, stroking the girl's hair.
“Just don’t make me stay with Auntie Sylva,” Shayde begged, “I hate salad.”
Yasmine laughed, “I’m bringing Auntie Sylva along for this job too,” She added, “Might be bringing all my old friends together for this one.”
Shayde sat up, staring down at her mother with wide eyes, “Woah, what kind of job is it?”
Yasmine winked and raised a finger to her lips, “Can’t say, but I’ll tell you the whole story when I get back, okay?”
“But Mom!” Shayde complained.
“No buts! Now go take a shower so I can take mine! Go on! Git!” She shooed the girl off toward the hallway leading to the two bedrooms of the apartment.
Shayde stopped at the door to the bathroom, “I love you, mom.”
“Love you too, Kid, now wash up! I gotta figure out dinner too, Orcish?” She asked.
“Mm… I’ll have fajitas,” Shayde said and disappeared into the bathroom. Yasmine scratched her chin and pulled out her tab, placing the order. She really didn’t feel like cooking tonight after everything. Not that she’d be any use in the kitchen anyway. She rolled onto her side and stared out into her spartan living room. She wondered how long it would be before she could move Shayde someplace nicer. Even the money from her jobs with Kurda could only get her so far.
The last thought she had before dozing into a brief nap was a small hope that this upcoming job would be the break she needed.