Regency Starport -- High Centre
There are vertical landing towers holding floating landing pads on elegant support struts spread throughout Regency Starport like massive trees. The glimmer of soft force fields circles many of the surface-based landing pads to inhibit atmospheric disruption by the landing and lifting off of vessels. The whole of the starport is a stark contrast of black and polished white: the landing surfaces themselves done in black and everything else in pristine white. Numerous vessels of various shapes, styles, and purposes rest on pads, or drift from pad to docking berths nestled around the port. Overhead the clear, climate-manipulated sky of High Centre is bright blue with ethereal white clouds spread through the sky like the delicate brushstrokes of some master artist painting a happy picture across the horizon.
The _Stark Contrast_ pierces the sky of High Centre, a small, unremarkable freighter flying through the atmosphere at an odd angle. It is clear whoever is piloting it is not skilled with such craft, though it manages to avoid near collisions even as the various layers of traffic grow thicker and thicker.
There is a moment of terror as the _Stark Contrast_ approaches the landing platform. It's still moving at an odd angle, and it hasn't slowed down enough. A few seconds before turrets go hot and alarms begin to sound, the ship rights itself. Retro-thrusters engage, and there is a whine of servos and inertial dampeners working harder than usual. But then, the ship lands without further fanfare.
The landing platform descends unevenly, the hydraulics hissing and allowing the metal door to move in fits and starts. Moments later, the bounty hunter in leather, the Selas of Telgosse, Malideus of the Wood descends. It is not his time on High Centre, but there is something about this visit that feels... different.
The alert system sent a signal to Kalden a half hour ago. Malideus was detected entering the system and his landing pad was pre-determined before even requesting permission to land. The agent quickly made his way to a private taxi and sent the driver on course. The timing was too perfect. Possibilities rolled through his head yet each doom scenario in which Malideus was part of a plot to play him seemed implausible. "Fortunate timing then", he muses to himself. The driver looks back into his rear view mirror but says nothing, realizing that the words were not intended for him.
With a few minutes to spare, the agent arrives at the pad. Just enough time to witness the Selas break enough laws to impound his ship. Soon it would not matter. If Kalden's plans bared fruit then the days of flying themselves around would be a distant memory. When Malideus finally exits the ship, a familiar voice calls out "Here to turn in bounties? Or have you finally decided upon my question?" The agent was waiting next to one of the ship's landing struts, leaning his shoulder against it.
For the past day or so, Sian has been spending time on her ship rather than in the Auxilius household. The Black Sparrow needs time to be put away for an extended period of time in the docking berths while she's out on these missions. General maintenance. Systems checks. And a full inventory of every weapon on board: can't be too careful.
But then Kalden made clear she was to meet him on another landing pad and not knowing if that meant 'time to go' or something else, the dark-haired woman collected the backpack she had everything she needed and made her way there. She arrives just moments after the agent, casting an eye over the Stark Contrast. She says nothing, but there is a long look for the bounty hunter. Sure, she recognizes him (from the holos Kalden has shown her), but she strives to not let it show.
There is one unusual quality to Malideus's freighter and that's the organic growth piercing its hull. In places, tree-like growth can be seen piercing through areas where the ship has been repaired and the pitted metal is rusted. The landing struts themselves appear to be supported by a series of flexible roots. As Malideus approaches Kalden, the Selas reaches up and traces a knot of roots with one of his gloved fingers.
"My time securing bounties is at a pause," Malideus says, his voice low and rough. He pauses to look at Kalden's companion, his bloody red eyes weighing and assessing her, before turning back to The Agent. "I am prepared to work with The Regency for a time, but I will swear no oath that will bind me and prevent me from the righteous work for which I have been chosen. I aim to preserve the True Source of All Souls. There is no higher cause."
"All creatures serve their purpose even if they do not know what it is. Prey exist to be consumed by predators to make them stronger, yet their lives are not insignificant. They tend their lands, grazing upon grass and insects so that they do not descend upon the world as a plague choking out the natural balance. In turn they give their own essence to the predators who prevent them from overfeeding. The predators in turn die to feed the grass and insects. We sentients have a gift and a curse. We can break the natural cycle or we can nurture it." Kalden's index finger follows the curve of the roots on the landing strut much in the same way Malideus has. "Your path is not to be bound to the Regency but to help guide it so that it might restore balance to sentients who consume and destroy without thought."
The agent glances towards Sian and the collar across her neck. "Others have had that choice taken from them. They have been shackled and robbed of the choices we celebrate. In time, they may choose to remove their own shackles and forge their own path. A frightening proposition for those who have only known servitude." Kalden stand fully on his feet now, turning his attention to Malideus. "It just so happens, I may have a lead which can help you on your path of preservation if you are interested?"
Under the bounty hunter's gaze, Sian does not bend. She just regards him steadily in return. Kalden's little speech earns a roll of the eyes... that is until he turns it on her.
As he's one of the few that knows what the band around her neck means, her expression directed toward him is one of ire. For a moment, it's naked and undisguised. Not quite rage, but certainly a measure of disgust for being spoken to in such a way. "I trust you have informed Lord Auxilius of this man's arrival?"
The description Kalden gives of the balance of nature, hunter versus hunted, draws a slow nod from Malideus. No doubt he sees himself in his rightful position as hunter, purging the galaxy of certain individuals so that those remain can be stronger. He almost certainly has said such to Kalden, in one of their previous encounters.
When The Agent moves on to talk about people being shackled and escaping servitude, Malideus frowns. His move with Kalden's to Sian, and he does not need a mystical connection to the True Source to read the anger in her eyes and in the set of her jaw. He doesn't understand the dynamic playing out between Kalden and Sian, but he recognizes the emotions Sian is expressing.
"I do not take prisoners that they should be made into servants," Malideus says, slowly. "I prefer to take my bounties alive, but not to turn them into slaves. If a slaver hires me, the subjects die. The True Source is not made greater by the unjust suffering of others."
With Sian's question about some Lord, Malideus says nothing. He looks back at her, then back to Kalden.
Kalden chuckles at the question posed by Sian. "I'm an intelligence operative, please do not take me for a fool. His prized possession accompanies me. I am being watched and I have no doubt everything I say will be relayed to Lord Auxilius in short order. If he objects he will let me know. The presence of Malideus of the woods will only serve to protect what he values greatly." The subtle lines of a half restrained smirk creases the sides of the Agent's mouth. "We are bickering already. We should have no problem maintaining our covers"
"Lord Auxilius is an ambitious man who belives he may have uncovered something extraordinary. He has set me to task to investigate it and assigned his.. assistant to aid me." The words provide a very brief run down of Cato and his plans. "Of course... he is holding back and not telling me everything he knows and I'm reasonably sure this one knows just as much as he does. I can not say much more here yet I can tell you that at some point in history, one more powerful than any member of the enclave may have ravaged this galaxy and we head to a location which may contain artifacts of his reign." A slight pause and Kalden looks to Sian, "What name would you go by when introduced to others?" Despite Kalden's repeated jabs at Sian, he does seem to provide her the courtesy of respecting her identity.
"Prized possession." Sian seems to find amusement in this. The corner of her mouth just barely twitches, but the smile it might have formed wasn't going to be a particularly pleasant one. It disappears entirely when Kalden speaks of a cover. That, too, seems to be something she takes issue with.
However, none of it even compares to the stormclouds that cross the woman's mien when Kalden goes into some detail about Cato's discoveries. "Agent Kalden," she says in a tight voice. "I would have thought you more prescient of security issues." To her, Malideus and his talk of swearing no oath means he will take anything he hears to the highest bidder. But then, she doesn't know of the bounty hunter's 'mission.'
As for a name? "Nais." It is not particularly unique, but if one doesn't know her actual name: it can work quite well. And it requires little effort to memorize.
Malideus can seem simple in his directness and his single-minded pursuits. From a sparse planet with limited technological resources, Telgossians are often xenophobic luddites ignorant of other cultures, and Malideus is no exception. But even he cannot miss the placement of the word "possession" on Sian, and his frown deepens.
For a moment, Malideus feels compelled to act. He takes a step toward Sian. For a bounty hunter and self-proclaimed slayer of those that would qualify for entry into The Enclave, there is a kind of nobility to him. In that moment, during that step, Malideus is ready to fight to free this stranger. The words he spoke before are not hollow. He cannot abide slavery.
But Malideus is no fool. He would die for his convinctions... he is already dying to them... but to fight The Regency at High Centre, throwing his life away for a meaningless gesture that would do nothing for Sian... there is no point to it.
Malideus clears his throat and turns back to Kalden. "Trinkets and baubles do not concern me, but I am willing to offer a trade of services. I will help you and your Lord find the items he seeks in exchange for something I cannot do myself."
If Sian that that chastising the Agent would cow him she we learn that the attempt was futile. "With respect to your concerns Nais, Malideus has proven himself honorable and wise. He knows enough to make a decision yet nothing worth a single basic unit to an information broker. Two people are headed out somewhere to go on a treasure hunt sponsored by a Regent Lord. He will show the same respect to our intentions that I have shown to your identity. You will have to trust my professional discretion if we are to complete this mission unless you are prepared to divulge more information which makes his presence not required?" Kalden sighs softly, "All three points are based on reality in one form or another, or all three are false. We cannot assume that only the one the Lord wants is true while the others are not. Malideus provides security against the two which neither of us are equipped to deal with." He was attempting to bridge the divide of trust between the two without revealing the secrets of each. "Malideus of the Woods, we are honored that you would trust us with your affairs and are happy to consider your offer."
The way Malideus steps toward her makes Sian take a step back. The woman doesn't know -why- he's doing it: only that he is. She gives him a strange look. It's a mix between wary and confused.
Dark eyes slide back to Kalden and her mouth presses into a thin line. "And if it is based in reality, what is to stop him then?" From going to a broker. There is a tightening of her jaw, but all she leaves with is: "This is on your head, Agent." And chances are, in her line of work: covering her own ass is the most important part.
"You have shown a great deal of wisdom when we have spoken," Malideus says to Kalden. His eyes flash over to Sian again. Holding a slave in Malideus's presence is not wise, but Kalden couldn't have known that. Everyone always assumed the worst of the Telgossian.
"Trust me as you will. I turn in bounties, and my record is clean and consistent. It is not the lure of money that draws me, but a spiritual journey. But withhold what you will as well." Again, Malideus pauses to look at Sian. "There is wisdom in keeping your own council, especially if what you hunt is as dangerous as you have hinted."
Malideus looks down at his empty, gloved hands. He needed a new staff. More importantly, he needed a change in strategy in his hunt of Sarna and Delphine. "This is what I require. I wish for one of your doctors to draw a sample of my blood. Put it in a vial that I can inject it back into my body. Do not keep a sample. It is dangerous and will kill people on this planet without mercy. Give me a sample of my own blood, and I will help you find your trinket."
Kalden nods towards Malideus, "If the Lord does not object to your presence when he is informed than I shall inform you of our anticipated departure. As for the vial I see no problem with that. The appointment will be set up." The agent turns and makes his way out.