Previous Chapter: 1.8 – Outposts
By morning it seemed I was completely emptied of Sledg’s energy. I bathed and headed down to my favorite red room. As I arrived for the morning’s briefings, an extravagant meal was being set out. I sat down at the table, taking something orange and squishy from the middle. I bit into it but it was much tougher than I expected. Ace saw me attempting to eat the food and nearly spit out his drink.
“Jo, man… that’s an orange, you have to peel it,” he said in between his laughing fits.
Still unsure what to do, I looked toward one of the domestic rentals who was setting the table for help. My pleading eyes must have worked because she came over and began to peel the skin off of the strange fruit.
“Is it safe now?” I said as I took another bite. It wasn’t. Bitter juice squirted down my chin and onto my fresh shirt. Apparently Ace was waiting for this as his laughter multiplied tenfold.
“Can I just have some bread, please?” I said, deciding to save my next food adventure for another day.
“You will eat that orange and you will enjoy it. Do you know how hard it is to grow these babies in this climate?” Ace said.
I relented and resigned myself to suffering the fate of this bitter ball of fruit. We continued eating as Ace stood up, addressing the group.
“As you all may know, our muscle,” he gestured to Sledg and me, “took out three important police figures yesterday.” Ace briefly clapped, “Now it’s time to see how effective their diplomacy is!”
Sledg looked to me with a questioning look in his eye.
“I think it means talking instead of fighting,” I whispered to him and shrugged.
“But Ace, I’m not good with talking,” Sledg said.
“Then this will be good practice for you,” he winked. “Here’s the plan: You two were going to meet our informant at the Trading Union but because you two were so conspicuous yesterday, we had to change the meeting place. You’ll now meet her at an abandoned barn; it’s as close to here as we could manage. She’s a big lady, you won’t miss her.”
“Finally, I can use my brains,” I said with relief.
“Okay, Mr. Orange…” Ace teased, “Anyway, Hyde – you will take Anroma to go meet our other informant. An’s a domestic rental if anyone questions you.” Ace looked over the room. Everyone nodded.
I walked down the city streets, a borrowed Trading Union hat pulled down over my face; Sledg flying above me in the skies. We figured one man and an out-of-site boy would be less likely to match the description of us from yesterday. I followed the directions Ace had given me, every so often looking up to see if crow-Sledg was keeping up. As I turned the last corner to the abandoned building, I froze when I spotted two ladies sitting on a bench. I had already passed the point of no return and simply froze, one of the girls looking up at me. I was caught. Wait, no. They were just two random ladies. But why were they so close to the meeting place? Stealth is not for me and my poor heart, I thought. It was never simple.
The one who spotted me leaned into her friend and whispered something to her. Do I leave? Are the two women close to the police? Do they recognize me?
The woman who first spotted me waved me over. I hesitantly walked over – leaving now would cause too many unknowns.
“Hello,” the first one said.
“Did you need something?” I was unsure what to say.
The second one spoke up, “I am Shannon and this is my friend Rella, we wanted to help.”
“You and another boy were responsible for the fire yesterday, right?”
“Can we talk about this off the street?” I suggested as I continued to walk to the abandoned barn. Rella took Shannon’s arm and they followed me to the building. We were early, so I doubted our contact would be here already. “You guys are pretty close, huh?” I said, noting Rella leading Shannon through the doorway.
“If by close, you mean blind, then yes, I am,” Shannon said as a thin smile spread across her face.
Fortunately, she couldn’t see my cheeks burning red, although she probably didn’t miss my stuttering, “Oh… my apologies, miss. I- I’ve never met a blind person before.”
“She’s just giving you a hard time – relax,” Rella spoke. “What’s your name?”
“Jochro,” I said, suddenly unsure if I should have revealed any information to them. Where was Sledg?
“Interesting name…I’d like to offer my services as an informant for your rebellion. You are a part of the rebellion, correct?” Shannon asked.
“We prefer going by The Night Shift, actually,” I joked.
“Again, interesting name, but my offer still stands.”
“What do you have to offer to us as an informant?” I asked, even though I doubted I had authority engage in recruiting.
Rella spoke up, “She is the daughter of Sarkard DeLure.”
I gave them a blank stare, unsure of why this was important. They both rolled their eyes which was eerie.
Rella continued, “Future councilman, Sarkard DeLure…”
That was not ringing any bells. Was I supposed to know this individual?
“Shannon, I think we might need to find someone a bit higher in the organization,” Rella said impatiently.
“We’ve been trying, Rella… This is the closest we’ve come, you know that,” Shannon responded.
“Well, we were out of town until a couple days ago,” I interjected.
“Who is we?” Rella asked, “Shan, this is a waste of our time,” Rella suggested as she began to pull Shannon away.
“No, wait,” Shannon took a step forward and brought her hand up to my face. “May I?”
I nodded, forgetting she was blind. Rella whispered to Shannon, confirming that I’d agreed to her proposal. Shannon’s hands explored my face, tracing along the lines of dirt I had missed and the cuts I had obtained from the day before. She didn’t linger long on my face and soon moved her hands to sense the details of my clothes. She ran her hands over the seam of my hat, feeling the craftsmanship and quality of material. Eventually, she felt over my shirt and pants, once again leading me to blush.
“He’s not lying… He’s not a typical Trading Union employee; his uniform feels different,” Shannon concluded. She turned to me, “Can you get me a meeting with your boss?”
“I could, but what do you have to offer? Besides being some councilman’s daughter.”
“I have information on all of the councilmen and advisors. I want to help you expose them at the very least.”
“Theoretically, I could get you a meeting, but I think we already have an informant for the noblemen,” I said.
The two girls exchanged a touch. “If you say so, Mr. Orange.” Shannon smirked.
“How-” I began.
“How do you think we knew where your meeting was? I doubt your other informant is as connected as I am,” Shannon said.
That seemed to be true. I pursed my lips. I had no rebuttal for that. “I’ll ask my boss and see what he says,” I suggested. After all, they were both cute and I was only human… “Meet me here tomorrow, same time. I can give you a better answer then.”
I started walking toward the door to leave, hoping they’d follow suit so I could prepare for my scheduled meeting. We exited the barn and parted ways without another word. I turned around and walked right back to the barn once they were out of sight.
“I thought we were supposed to be meeting with a big lady?” Sledg spoke from the shadows of the rafters.
I jumped, startled by his sudden appearance. “We are, that wasn’t her. I’ll explain later.”
The two of us waited a few more minutes before the barn door creaked open once more.
“Hello?” A plump face peeked into the room.
I stated the cue for the password, “Juicy orange.”
“Vomiting crow,” the lady responded, now entering the room completely. She walked in slowly, transferring her ample weight with each step.
“So what is it you’ve got? Reports?” I asked utilizing what I had rehearsed with Ace earlier.
“For the most part,” the lady looked around, “You’re quite young…”
“Perhaps; young but well regarded in the organization,” being dismissed was quickly getting tiresome. “Please continue, what do you have?”
“Financials regarding the Trading Union publicly endorsing the noblemen and vice versa. However, the funding is not used for what the TU claims. They’re making profits from misreporting. If you release this data, the Union will no longer have nobleman support.”
“There’s also one more thing available to soil the TU name, if you are interested. I quit today, however, so someone else would need to retrieve it.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“There are a few written records of malpractice. There is a lot going on behind the scenes of the trading union, things you couldn’t imagine. Whenever something is reported internally, a form is completed and testimonials are taken. However, Mr. Sell, Trading Union boss, always keeps them filed and locked in his personal office, out of employee reach. If your organization could retrieve those papers, you could reveal the inner workings of the TU. I am sure this will be more than enough to encourage the citizens of Ikalga to rise out of complacency and to counteract the fate they’ve accepted for themselves. The TU would lose the noblemen support and then would have trouble controlling public opinion.”
“Where is this documentation?” I asked.
“I was able to move some of it from Mr. Sell’s office to the front lobby. It should remain in my desk in the lobby until it’s cleaned. You’d have two days, three at the most.”
“You’ve done a great service – thank you,” I said, reciting Ace’s words.
The lady nodded in appreciation and waddled out the front door. Sledg and I followed, eager to share the news with the king.
“Weren’t you supposed to be practicing your talking?” I asked Sledg as we made our way down the street. He just smiled in relief.
We made it back to base with no incidents, meeting with Ace back in the red briefing room. He was painting as we walked in.
“Hi guys, how’d it go?” He asked, not turning from his work.
“Good, I think…,” I answered. I filled him in on our two encounters while he continued to paint. I managed to draw his attention away from his painting upon mention of Shannon.
“We do already have an informant that supposedly has dirt on the noblemen, but I’m thinking we should at least hear what Shannon has to offer. We can meet with her together tomorrow.”
“Are we taking the cloud?” I asked hopefully.
“You really like that don’t you?” Ace chuckled. “We can take it.”
“Are we going to try to retrieve the papers from the TU, too?” Sledg chimed in.
“You can sneak in there tomorrow while Jochro and I are meeting with Miss DeLure” Ace suggested to Sledg.
“Yes – no talking!” Sledg replied.
Hyde and Anroma walked into the room.
“How’d it go?” Ace asked.
“Good, good,” Hyde said as he walked over to a tray on the table to pour himself a drink. “Her information seems good, albeit a bit expensive. I left the details with Aga”
“Okay, so that leaves retrieving the TU papers and meeting with Shannon for tomorrow,” Ace said. “I met with the three potential captains and they were not ideal candidates. Long story short, I’ve decided my son will be taking over the force. Good news is that he believes I have a mysterious force of assassins ready to send out thanks to Jochro and Sledg. He’ll be drawing back the force, and removing this martial law. It’ll be tough to get them to work in sync with the Crown, but it’s a step in the right direction.”
“We might need to establish some manpower before he realizes we don’t have any…” Hyde suggested.
“Among other things, yes,” Ace replied, “But most of the other things, I can handle.”
Ace gave us our assignments and dismissed us. I was to get a haircut and to work on developing myself as the face of the Night Shift as an act to help distance the Crown’s involvement with the rebellion. I was also to be Shannon’s point of contact with the Night Shift. Hyde was charged with assembling more manpower with the assistance of Sledg. An would be revealed to the public as Ace’s secret daughter, and therefore heir to the throne.
I had no idea how to spend my free time as I had been on the go constantly since I was captured and enslaved over six years ago. With Sledg having decided to go out on a flight, I visited An in her room. She seemingly had similar trouble with the concept of free time. We caught each other up on the past couple of days. Her meeting with the informant among the nobleman was uneventful. She told me that Ace had wanted her to just continue practicing honing her abilities for the near future. I was okay with that. I felt a strange protectiveness over An. It was confusing, but I didn’t mind being the front line for her. It really was becoming uncanny how sibling-like our relationship had become in such a limited amount of time.
“Do you want to meet my friend?” I asked her eventually, surprising even myself.
She looked up. “The one with the back injury?”
“I don’t expect you to go snap his back into place or anything, but I thought-”
“Yeah, sure. Let’s do it,” she said in a tone that was quite heartfelt, even for her.