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Hachiman, Hard Boiled (Golden Lion AU) Cover Art

Chapter 4 - The Performance[]

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High stakes Heist[]

06/26/3046 - Location: Masamori, Hachiman, Draconis Combine

Muraski's bronze shark fin styled towers clustered near the Hachiman Taro factory complex on the banks of the River Yamato. From the western bank it appeared as if a great sea beast had risen from the, substantially less polluted than usual, waters. Although the expo was still ongoing the city was returning to its normal bustling self as 'enhanced' security measures began expiring. VIPs, such Gunji-no-Kanrei Theodore Kurita and family, were departing to the greater Combine with the best impression of Hachiman possible.

Kagura Cabaret occupied a wide street frontage within the 'Neon Arcade' neighborhood. A less exploitative but no less exciting option for Masamori's novelty seeking residents than the 'Floating City' that sprawled across the opposite river bank. Its proximity to well compensated workers given an unusually lenient work allotment (by Combine standards) had seen it explode in popularity. This popularity had not gone unnoticed.

Nor had the pale skinned women in a high cut red and gold qipao style dress sitting alone at the bar. Presently she sipped a bright blue cocktail, one she had brought with her own Ryu. It was but one in a long line of drinks lining the bar top in front of her. Each was courtesy of 'interested' men and women all been rebuffed by this mysterious apprentice Renkatsu judging by her silver nose ring. So many had accumulated that she had begun re-gifting them to others bold enough to approach. This had unfortunately not had the intended effect.

A young man, richly dressed beyond his rather low class accent, boldly occupied the seat next to her at the bar. His face was red with flush and he had apparently been dared into the interaction. She kept her eye on one of the five private boxes overlooking the dining hall and stage.

One presently concealed with a gold curtain thin enough that shadows sometimes appeared on the opposite side. Occasionally they were even flirty, as if one were looking through a women's dressing screen. Cleverly deployed props drew catcalls, laughter, and groans from the mixed crowd. Factory supervisors, office managers, and off duty private security (HTE Security, not Yaks) all shared drinks and food side by side sharing in their world's prosperity, one that was unique in the Draconis Combine.

Her prospective suitor noticed her intentional ignorance of his existence. “Excuse me, Miss.”

She nodded slightly and gestured toward the beverages. “Oh. Would you like a drink?

I have many options. Surely you have a taste for at least one.”

“I was interested in something more refreshing.” His drunken hands lingered to close to the slit in her skirt.

He shouted in pain as a Jitte, concealed under her fan, struck him hard across the knuckles. A pair of HTE security guards, unofficial bouncers for beers, stood up from a nearby table their tonfas beating across their palms. One of the lively barmaids signaled them off with a gesture yet they remained standing just in case.

The drunk looked at his bruised hand as the Renkatsu removed a bottle of plum wine, imported from the Capellan colonies, from its ice bucket. She pushed it toward him with her jitte, an elegant type of sai often used by police and women unable or willing to carry blades.

“You should put some ice on that. Its going to sting.”

The man loomed over her comically threatening to punch her with his off-hand as the primary one was damaged. “Bitch! Whore! Do you know who I am?”

“Thankfully no.”

She glanced at the security guards who proceeded to drag the lout out. Hopefully tossing him into a puddle outside, or the marshes.

Her attention was once more focused on her target in the box above. This seat was the only one with an uninterrupted view through the smoke gathering above the dining hall as it filled out in preparation for tonight's show.

Uchida Kinuko, Chief Sales Rep for Ibuki Robotics, was waiting for someone.

Hopefully someone that could give her some answers.

Business Dealings at a Show[]

The renkatsu watched a man enter Kinuko's booth. Based on body language this was her anticipated companion and she offered him a seat which he graciously accepted. From this distance she could only see enough to identify generalities. Feathered black hair with red locks and multi-layered dark clothes with unique colors, embroideries, and printed symbols.

“A Neo-Kei host young enough to be your son. Very naughty.”

A Bunraku puppet show with a lion puppet in tall grass, First Prince Ian Davion. Beneath it, within the tall grass was a rat named Takashi. This rat popped up and chased the lion about the stage with shrieks and squeals from the proud beast.

Kinuko whispered careful not to allow to much conversation to be overheard by their neighbors or servers. “Bastard. The deal was only for two units.”

Franklin sipped his sake which required finesse for one as made up as he. A richly decorated cane leaned against the partition. The rich umami smell of freshly plated food on the table drew his attention more than the stage performance. “An MEU can hold two Shinobi engines. We captured both.”

Laughter erupted from the crowd as the puppet lion retreated off stage. As the stage disappeared through a trap door women dressed in colorful clothes wielding Bo staves appeared. They engaged in acrobatic martial arts routine accompanied by frenzied sound of traditional Japanese instruments. Taiko drums and wooden clappers accentuated mie poses, staff aided leaps, and daring use of aerial silks. A spellbound crowd clapped as performers conducted stunts seen on holovids.

She peered at a strange woman at the bar who had not turned to watch the stage show. He took notice of her as well.

“That woman has been looking at me for most of the evening.”

“Want me to bring her up here after the show? You, me, her, no extra cost.”

“I doubt that's her intention. She could be working with the competition.”

“Jirigawa, Bertoli, Osaka, there are a number of valid options. Did she approach you at the expo?”

“Not that I can remember, but she might be working for another.”

“I will deal with her when we are done.”

He slipped a tablet noteputer to her from inside his vest. Upon the screen was a fairly normal shipping request. However the payment was far higher than normal market rate for that particular cargo. “Sign here to authorize payment for a cargo of 'electrical goods' to be sent to Togura, and settle this order I made with IRM last week.”

From her white blouse's breast pocket a stylus appeared. Franklin watched her movements carefully as she signed her name on the form. “I will ensure our special cargo reaches Solaris to settle your debts with the Bertolis, Mrs Uchida. All evidence of our affair will be buried as agreed.”

“Your threats of blackmail had no power over me. My husband has done more to embarrass me in public.”

“Whatever you say, Kinuko-san. I'd keep off Solaris for a while for your own continued security. Although Hussars working the Solaris Circus will be very impressive for the next few years.”

“I've had enough. You got your payment. I will suffer your company long enough to not draw additional suspicion by this girl.”

Franklin's hand worked its way under the table to settle on the woman's skirt. “I will miss our special business relationship.”

The cabaret's evening show went into intermission after a modern dance by the troupe's stars. At the bar the mysterious renkatsu was drawn into the performance more to judge it rather than be entertained. After the curtain closed the renkatsu looked again toward Kinunko's booth. She let out an angry sigh but did her best to keep it under her breath. “Where did he go?”

She was torn between options as minutes passed and he failed to reappear. White smoke billowed out from the other side of the curtain filling the room with haze.

“Enjoying the show miss?”

A well dressed bartender she did not recognize appeared before her. He like most Combine citizens, including her, was a hafu with black hair. Unlike them he had bright blue eyes as did she. Her initial shock passed quickly as she had insisted no one bother her unless signaled. The man bowed slightly. “I'm sorry to surprise you. I just took over from the upstairs bar. Name's Jan.”

Jan picked up the warming bottle of plum wine and inspected it carefully. “This is a particularly fine vintage from Gan Singh. It should be under ice.”

“Its ice bucket was used for alternative purposes.”

“So I heard. May I consider it a donation to the staff then?” Jan asked

She waved her hands across the other drinks cluttering the bartop as well. “Fine. Get rid of these too while you are there.”

He diligently bused the drinks she had refused. Emptying each in turn before handing one of the bar girls the plum wine in an ice bucket with a 'for later' look. She seemed enchanted and disappeared into the back. “You seem to be rather popular. Come here often?”

“No, I had intended to meet my master here but he got tied up in Expo business.” Kinuko told Jan.
“Your master?” Jan peered at the newly acquired nose ring with a knowing eye that unnerved her for some reason. He returned to wiping and rinsing out the glasses. “Are you from Hachiman? I can't seem to place your accent. Two Moons?”

She momentarily forgot her training. Had she lost her Niwa accent already? It had been less than two months. “I'm afraid I don't know of that place.”

“Its a fine village from what I hear. One of the pillars of the greater Masamori community.” Jan explained to her

The renkatsu maintained an appropriate poise despite the inner fire of embarrassment that burned inside her at being made so easily. She peered back at the box to see that Kinuko had made her escape while this bartender wasted her time. “I am afraid I must leave, Jan.”

Her shoulder was grabbed in such a way to make it difficult to hit his hand with her jitte. “Let me call you a cab. I don't know how many of these drinks you actually consumed.”

With a forceful step she broke free of his grasp although he exited from behind the bar to pursue her. The action roused the partially drunk HTE security guards from their twilight time. “I will be quite alright.”

Three men broke down the door from the main parlor and looked over the dining hall. A forth man, Fujio Jirigawa, strode between them dressed in a sharp suit with sunglasses on. His bokken held over his shoulder while the others were armed with shorter hanbo straight clubs.

He pulled the sunglasses down and saw Franklin and the renkatsu next to one another. “Get them!”

Bassy throat singing of a beast of a man filled the bar from its brightly lit stage. His long queue braid and full beard thrashed to the rock beat of a karaoke machine. Partying youths dressed in riotously contrasted harajuku fashions followed the beat, mesmerized by the exotic outsider. They cheered as two svelte waifs were lifted aloft with arms accustomed to the coarse labor of a stevedore.

Loud beeping pushed above the music. He regrettably lowered the disappointed girls to the floor before flipping the commpad open.

“Get the car! There's a situation.”

Shan Ryken shook his head to the disappointment of his audience. He exited the noisy room and its screechy impersonations of the latest pop idol hit. “Your MILF contact tied you to the bed situation? Or your back's against the wall kind?”

Franklin Sakamoto parried a hanbo thrust with his cane. The Jiri kept coming and forced Franklin to drop his cane. He exhaled sharply, digging deep to sprawl out. This barely allowed him to keep his feet. Upon rising he barely dodged a punch meant for his head. One was followed up with more forcing his back to the stage wall.

The Jiri kept coming, Franklin ducked and weaved returning a few with his own bare knuckles. His foe smashed his fist against the wall just as the wind of the blow passed by Franklin's right ear. A sharp cry of pain was met with Franklin bracing himself against the stage. From his secure position his legs pistoned out kicking the rival Yak away.

His target landed on a recently vacated wooden table. Glasses and plates flew back crashing into the floor. He scrambled to his feet disrupting the fog that covered the floor. Sounds of brawling overcame the house music. Smells of spilled beer and tang of fog juice filled the club.

“Definitely the latter.”

Nearby the renkatsu did whatever she could to avoid being cornered and captured by Yakuza trying to cut off her avenues of escape. She used her off hand to bat items at them they used their hanbo staves to block most of it. The floor filled with broken crockery and an abysmal stew of half eaten dinners. They tried to disarm her of the hurtful club she carried and used well.

Breath came quickly as Franklin scrambled across the fog laden floor dodging and sometimes pushing customers in the way. Jirigawas exercised restraint as he did, merely pushing people out of the way in pursuit of their objective. He looked around the gaily lit club keen to find 'Renny'.

Customers yelled 'MiPS' as they made their way to the exits to escape the brawl. He could hear her ki-ai shouts over the crowd. As he pushed through the crowd his opponent found his feet again. A swift smack to the man's head made him reconsider as she crumbled in the debris.

Someone pulled the fire alarm on their way out. Klaxons assaulted the ears of those dwindling number of those inside. The renkatsu's agility and wardrobe failed her as her skirt caught on a table. Fujio passed his bokken over her head pinning her arms at the waist. One of his goons pried the jitte out of her right hand kicking the hateful instrument away.

The four of them were all that remained in the club. The lights only illuminated the figures while the rest of the trashed dining room was dark.

“We got your girl. Now where's my cargo?”

His illuminated cane cast ghoulish shadows and red light over Franklin's face.

“She is a fine specimen of a renkatsu, but is she forty million Ryu good?”

The renkatsu struggled against Fujio but he was much stronger than her and had mechanical leverage. “I don't even know this bastard!”

“Yeah, that's a common thing I hear from Frankie's girls.”

Fujio's teeth gleamed white in the limelight, a shark on the hunt. “He's just a handsome little mystery isn't he?"

He pulled her hard enough to lift her off her feet. “Now the cargo, or we take this broad and you with us to Ukiyo. I know a good sadist that can make you talk.”

Franklin's eyes found the fallen Jiri's hanbo lying on the floor. Fujio's 'batmen' neared him from either flank trying to keep to the shadows. “I don't even know her name. Though I appreciate her feistiness.”

“That never stopped you before. Well why don't we get a name out of you then.”

He pulled her back into a rising knee eliciting a cry of pain from the woman. Franklin drew closer to the unseen club. She whispered something under her breath. Fujio leaned closer to her. “Go on let it out.”

She bit down on a lone earring pulling it and a piece of flesh from the gangster's ear. Surprised and in pain Fujio loosened the grip on his weapon. After slipping his bokken she drove her palm right into his solar plexus. Fujio stumbled backward tripped over a table and doubled over in pain.

Since he was down she closed the distance spat the earring at him. It was followed by a rising strike to the head with his own bokken. Fujio collapsed in agony at the impact.

“My name is Miya, you ass.” She kicked the weapon across the floor.

Franklin took advantage of the distraction to reach the second club. Quick forceful strikes and the defeat of their boss caused a rout. Both Jiri 'batmen' fled as the sirens of the Ministry of Public Security blared uncomfortably close. A horn honked outside 'stage right.' He looked around finding himself the last man standing in the dining hall.

“I guess Miya had her own exit strategy, like a true professional.”

Shan was helmeted outside in a matte black Nissan 3SS super-cycle. Franklin put his own helmet on as the open canopy three wheeled low rider burned rubber. Its small size and large engine allowed them to bypass MiPS barriers that prevented motor vehicles from entering the streets.

“Did kinky Kinunko set you up?”

The bronze towers of Murasaki lit up in a vivid lighting display. Bright colors reflected off the River Yamato and onto the vibrant riverfront districts. “I don't think so. She authorized the payment before everything went to hell. If I hadn't been covering her retreat I might have escaped Fujio and his men.”

While driving Shan noticed Franklin was zoned out or entranced by the show. He let it linger while they sped down the highway. Yoshitune Spaceport loomed ahead as they left behind the bronze towers of Masamori. Magnesium bright flares of outgoing dropships arced toward space like shooting stars passing over the drab industrial space.

Both kept an eye out for any tails as their 3SS rolled into a small warehouse near the marsh.

“So what kept you?”

“A woman.”

“Isn't it always.”

“I felt a connection to her, unlike anything I've ever felt before. I'm not sure but I feel like she felt it too.”

Their 3SS parked against freshly relabeled shipping container belonging to 'Ibuki Robotics and Manufacturing.'

“You say that about every girl you fall for.”

“I'm not lying, but Miya is different. I'm not sure how.”

They disembarked to one of the smaller compartments inside the warehouse. Futons, rice cookers, Shiwasa 42s assault rifle, and a hibachi grill all neatly laid out for use. Everything the Black Dragons needed while they waited out the Jirigawas.

Both men removed their helmets and went through debriefing with their partners, Wugone and Huyen Shi.

“Well keep your head in the game till we are off-world and the checks clear, Franklin. I'd really appreciate you buying out my indenture. The next twenty years would be hell otherwise.”

Franklin settled down at the hibachi picking up one of the kabobs left warming upon it. “I resent that statement. I've worked for Isesaki for almost twenty years.”

Shan sat down across from him pouring himself a cup of green tea. “I'm not saying the Confederation is that much of an improvement. Especially considering the circumstances I left behind.”

His partner rested his hand of the larger man's shoulder. “Don't worry, Shan. The Jirigawas would be just as willing to flay your flesh as the O'Doug'n Bratva.”

He shook his head causing the queue to bob about like a pendulum. “You need to work on your motivational speeches rather than your game buddy.”

As he departed toward the futons Franklin turned once more to the seated Shan. “Nah, I have my Priorities.”

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