“What did you expect? They’re assassins. You can’t be too surprised when they stab you in the back. It’s kind of in their job description.”
Braccus Kai flexed\ his hands on the tablet in frustration. He was thankful that the newest models were more durable than their predecessors. They’d had to switch suppliers to slow the rate at which he churned through the devices. The medications that were supposed to help with his anger were obviously not working as advertised.
“You say that like it’s a trait exclusive to the Ghenza,” he growled. “In my experience, trust has no safe harbor in all Terran space.”
Rico’s laugh was more resigned than sardonic. “True enough. You seem to have had a rough run of it as of late, Kai.”
“Indeed—something I might largely credit to your own prestigious family.”
“Oh come now, you’ve made out all right in the end. Don’t let past business cloud your eyes to future possibilities!”
At this moment, Braccus was seriously considering the possibility of putting the tablet through Rico’s skull. “How do I even know this is real?”
“You don’t,” the young man replied. “But it’s yours to keep. Have your own men verify it.”
That he would do. Information this damning was not to be taken lightly, and the requisite response should be measured carefully.
For the sake of this conversation, Braccus decided to entertain the idea that the intel was at least partially correct. “Why would the Ghenza turn around and sell the Conduit to House Valadar?”
Rico shrugged. “Why would Valadar want to buy it in the first place? That’s the question you should be asking. Honestly, you should have been suspicious when the Ghenza first approached you. Their inter-system monitoring stations work fine without investing in cutting-edge power disbursement tech. I’m surprised you didn’t ask that question sooner.”
True, though Braccus knew exactly why he hadn’t. The Ghenza Collective had a way of making sure that your mind was occupied by other things instead of contemplating their end game. He’d enjoyed the partnership the Inheritors had struck with the assassins. He’d also enjoyed some of the fringe benefits proffered by the Collective’s representative.
A calculated move in retrospect. This meant his mind had been more focused on Aria’s body instead of her ambitions. He’d taken her for a simple creature with simple needs. It now seemed that he’d been quite mistaken.
“What do you want for this information?”
“Nothing in this universe is free, Rico. What is it that you seek in return?”
Rico smirked. “I think that should be obvious. I want to buy the Conduit instead.”
“And why do you want it?”
“Aside from keeping it away from my father’s most powerful rival? Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps I’ll use it to power my yacht.”
Braccus eyed the smug little noble. Despite the fact that the man might have actually brought him something of value, he still wanted to crush that perfect face of his. The political ramifications would be significant, but the greater part of his temperance came from the figure looming to Rico’s right. That silent brute eyed him up like a predator stalking its next meal.
The man was tall for a Terran, more on the level of one of the Maur or Orchallen. It was typical for those other races to tower over their Terran counterparts. Such was the reason the Great Houses and other Terran factions favored them as enforcers or bodyguards. Rico’s guard was bald, with eyes that seemed too small for the rest of his face. Thick lips and a grayish cast to his skin made Braccus think he might have some Orchallen in him after all.
A half-breed, maybe? Or perhaps one of his parents was the halfie. Most half-breeds were sterile, but Braccus wouldn’t place a bet on the accuracy of that information. Plus, with recombinant technology so commonplace, who knew what was possible. Perhaps the brute in his office had been cooked up in a lab somewhere.
Braccus looked back to Rico. It didn’t matter what the smug asshole wanted the Conduit for. It wasn’t worth anything to Braccus other than a payday.
“What’s your offer?”
“I’ll match whatever the Ghenza are paying.”
“You’ll have to do better than that. Even if they are aligning themselves with House Valadar, betraying the Ghenza is not something I do lightly. If I sell the conduit to you, my arrangement with the assassins comes to an end. That means you must bear part of the cost of breaking the deal.”
“Fair enough. Name your price.”
“And a formal alliance with House Chronos.”
Rico hesitated. “I don’t necessarily have the authority to…”
“That’s my price, Mr. Chronos. Do what you have to make it work.”
An angry look crossed the young man’s face. Finally, an actual display of backbone. “You overstep, Kai. I’d advise you to remember your place.”
“My place? At last calculation, my place was that of the seller, and yours that of the buyer. It is my right to demand the price I wish. If the proposition is not to your liking, take your corporate stock and governmental influence elsewhere.”
Rico balled his fists. His jaw tensed like he might grind his teeth. “I could just take the Conduit, you know.”
“You would have to find it first. Don’t think for a second it’s here with me now.” Braccus paused, staring Rico down and letting that bit of truth sink in. He leaned back in his chair, taking a sip from the tumbler on his desk. “By the way, threats will get you nowhere with me. Even if you were to have your lapdog over there strangle me, you’d never make it out alive. So, let’s avoid any mention of unpleasantness, shall we?”
Rico was fuming now. “Why you…”
Braccus slammed a fist on the nearby desk. “You sir, are in my house!” Lowering his voice, he growled, “I don’t care how much money and influence your father has placed in your pocket. A full bank account and a handful of parliamentarians do not a great leader make. It is best you learn that now, while your ailing father is still alive to make amends for your indiscretions.”
Rico hesitated again, a pause that lengthened into an awkwardly tense silence. As Braccus had imagined, invoking the man’s father had provided the necessary sobering influence.
Gods help them all when Don Chronos finally succumbed to his illness, for they all knew the man had not paid proper attention to his succession plan.
Rico drew a deep breath. “Forgive me. Your point is well taken. It does not change the fact that I will have to confer with my family before extending our protection.”
Braccus smiled, though he doubted it reached his eyes. “Most certainly. You have one week, Dorian standard, to close the deal. I am appointed to pass off the object in question to the Ghenza at that time. Absent a better offer, I will be forced to go through with that transaction.”
Expression teetering between skepticism and consternation, Rico asked, “You would truly transfer such a powerful asset to an enemy faction?”
“My enemies abound Mr. Chronos.” Braccus waved his hand dismissively. “As you pointed out, my faction has had a run of ill-luck lately. Though House Valadar represents a dangerous adversary, my list of allies runs thin. If I am to begin betraying those few that I have, I will need to line up replacements.”
Just entertaining Rico’s proposition was enough to put Braccus on the receiving end of an assassin’s blade. He was putting a lot of faith in the room’s scramblers to prevent Rico from recording this conversation. He could always claim a recording was a forgery, but it would still do much to weaken his ties with the Ghenza.
Rico’s brow knit with concentration. “Are you sure there isn’t something that I can arrange more immediately? A transfer of company stock, perhaps. Shares in Vega Major are surging quite nicely at present.”
“I’m not worried about finances alone, Rico. My offer stands. Rich men are overthrown every day. I need something that grants me position—something to cement my place in this system. If you are unable to secure a formal protection agreement, then my position remains one of vulnerability.”
The sag in Rico’s shoulders put the truth to Kai’s words. Truthfully, the compensation Braccus demanded was so valuable as to actually turn this little betrayal on its head. A protection arrangement from House Chronos would provide the Inheritors a leg up on all other minor players in the system. The House was arguably the only major player left in the Ravian System with House Barkay gone.
The Ghenza were formidable in their partnership, but they worked in the shadows. House Chronos was currently the dominant player in the system and would soon be a contender for the title of the most powerful House in the sector. No one would cross Braccus with the threat of Chronos’s wrath hanging overhead. To secure such a contract, Braccus would have written an indenturement contract for his own mother—gods rest her soul.
“Very well,” Rico sighed. “Give me a few days to secure consensus. I will either reach out to you at the time to confirm payment or arrange a counteroffer.”
Braccus made a mental note to double his guard until he heard back from the young noble. If the Don was not amenable to Kai’s terms, then the counteroffer would likely take the form of a bullet sent from a nearby rooftop.
“Agreed,” Braccus extended his hand. “A pleasure doing business with you, Rico. May this only be the first accord of a long and fruitful partnership.”