"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.
Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
( -George Bernard Shaw )
An antique bell chimed as the wooden door opened.
The silhouette of bodies sitting along the walls all turning their attention to the white aurin that pushed through the door and into the hazy room. The dry Malgrave air at once replaced with a stale and oppressive humidity, wisps of smoke dancing in the funnels of golden light cascading down from the ceiling lamps. The deep murmurs and muffled voices crashing to a halt as the air began to tingle with anticipation.
Lucki could feel every eye in the room fixing on her. She smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes.
In the back of the room stood a plump middle-aged woman, her graying black hair pulled back into an iron-tight bun. The flowing silk and gold of her far-colony kimono hinted of foreign power, the disapproving scowl on her face could belong on an Exile judge, and her slouching lean into the nearby table with impatiently folded arms would be better suited for an prison inmate.
By the time Lucki reached the Cassian woman, the room was thick with silence. Despite being expected, Lucki felt like an intruder. She supposed that was on purpose. She bowed her head forward as her short white ears folded back, "It's done. Everything is ready, Auntie Sweetly."
Sweetly reached down to the table, a robotic hand clasping a clear bottle of some foul amber liquid. A high scratchy tone incredulously barked, "Is it now?"
Lucki made a deep breath - she knew that tone. It was time to spill her guts, be dissected, and have every action and fiber judged. She pulled her head up and smiled into the beady black eyes of the woman, but the cold glassy look that came back caused the smile to wilt.
"...We've identified the weakest area on Hei Xing's perimeter defenses. That's where phase one takes place -- I call it operation Blue Breach -- We'll fly the Black Albatross there to take out the anti-air turrets. Most of the cities' mercenary defenders are on our side and support the Gold Lotus' Coupe. They'll ignore the call to defend the city. But some of them are still loyal to The Jade Dragon, so... I've been tapping circles to get some mercenary fighter pilots of our own to escort us. Once the Albatross clears a path, the transport shuttles can land mercenaries just beyond the Eastern wall."
Sweetly tilted the bottle with her robotic hand, pouring the amber liquid into a glass. She snapped the glass to her lips and downed the contents with a single hard swallow. Her red lips curled into a smile as she lowered the glass, but her eyes remained cold and fixed on the aurin. "Go on."
"Well. Uhm. After we land, we'll begin Phase two, Red Doormat. Most of the other lotus agents will head south to take control of the Glitter Gate. It's a vital choke point that'll hold off Dragon reinforcements. I'll be with the tanks, heading deeper into the city to the Emerald Tower. We'll be taking out any inner-city anti-air bunkers we meet along the way and secure a foothold around the base of the tower. Once we do, the leaders will be isolated from the rest of the city and an air-path will be cleared right to the tower..."
Sweetly lifted an eyebrow, her exposed forehead crinkling with years of calculated thought. Her scratchy tone humming out, "And what crafty little name have you decided for phase three?"
Lucki's fangs flashed a nervous smile, "Operation Golden Dawn~?"
An amused snort huffed from the woman. The whirr of delicate gears made from her hand as she refilled the glass with more of the harsh liquid. This time taking a more delicate sip before she cooed out, "Golden Dawn. It is a fateful name, is it not? How sentimental of you."
Lucki tugged at her gloved fingertips and continued, "Once a direct air-path to the Emerald Tower is secure, that's when that starship I told you about, the one I've been working with - The Mint Julep - will fly in."
Sweetly paused, "The Mint Julep? I thought they got their heads blown off."
Lucki gave an apologetic bow before correcting, "That was -- the previous ship, Auntie Sweetly. The Rumrunners. The Mint Julep has been FAR more exemplary. They're the ones that acquired The Talon dagger and brought it to us."
"Ah~" Sweetly's smoker voice cooed, "The one with the handsome Cassian captain."
Lucki gave an uncomfortable smile. She dared not make further corrections, "Yes. That one, Aunt Sweetly."
"And, once they reach The Emerald tower?"
"They--..Uh...We'll... uhm. Well..." Lucki risked a glance around, for the first time noticing the bodies along the walls had been steadily creeping closer. The shimmer of metal danced across gun barrels and sword blades. Walls of silent eyes were fixed on the exchange. "We'll fly The Mint Julep into The Emerald Tower."
"...Through a window. A really BIG window. It's five stories high, and surveillance suggests a large room is behind it - big enough to land a piglet sized starship." She hoped. "Once we're in, that's when we'll take out the Jade Dragon leaders, with the knife. Most of their security will probably be at the bottom of the tower to defend against the siege. Hopefully, that'll make it easier to isolate their leaders and... End it, for good."
A single, hard tap of a metal finger on the glass signaled the aurin to be silent as the older woman poured more of the foul liquor in her mouth. She swirled it around, sloshed it all over her teeth and gums, savored the bitter strength burning her tongue, before giving an audible swallow once her thoughts were complete.
Lucki released a breath she hadn't been aware she was holding. She felt an oppressive and dreadful weight lift from her shoulders as Sweetly's voice rose in pitch, a mean smile wrinkling across the older woman's face, "With their leaders killed" Sweetly cooed with venomous sweetness, "and the soul energy severed from their cabal, they'll become shadows of their former power. After proving this to the Hei Xing Council, We'll succeed them as the new holders of the cities' Economic Seat."
Sweetly stood tall, her beady little eyes turning to the other bodies in the room as she began to address the crowd, "No longer will we live in fear of The Dragon - no longer will we be shamed by an enemy we cannot face! Today marks the last day that we hide as serpents in the Earth. The Dragon will know our venom. The galaxy will know our strength. And we will know the riches that our ancestors have long sought."
A stir of noise ushered through the crowd - it wasn't an uproarious applause, as much as murmurs, rumbles, and hisses of approval. A few hands began to clap. Muffled chuckles bounced around the room. The silhouettes turned to each other - a veil of tense silence lifting from the entire room.
"I have monologued enough~" Sweetly gestured to a massive granok that stood in the corner, "Mr. Annie, fetch the very good Whiskey and all the fancy glasses. The nice little ones the Darkspur gave to us. It is time to be happy."
Through all this, Lucki watched as the crowd shifted and spoke amongst themselves. The lumbering granok silently marched around the room, handing out filled glasses he could hardly hold with pinched fingers. As the attention dispersed and an ambiance of voices filled the room, Sweetly approached the white aurin, handing her a filled glass.
Lucki snapped to attention, giving a quick and stiff bow, "Thank you, Auntie Sweetly."
Sweetly took a sip of her own glass. Her beady little eyes frozen on the aurin, her voice dripping with an insincere politeness, "I absolutely hate this plan."
Lucki froze. She could feel the fur of her tail beginning to stand on end.
Sweetly continued, "I do not like this at all. It reeks of reckless bravado and spectacular failure. There are too many unknowns and what IS known is unverified. But... I do not pretend to have another choice." She snorted, "Worse, I especially do not like that so much relies on you."
Lucki squeezed the glass with both of her hands, "I assure you, Auntie Sweetly, I will do everything in my power to make this happen."
"Oh. I am very certain you will." She leaned her face closer, boring her black eyes directly into the aurin's. "But I do not like being in so helpless a position. Having so much of the future of my business depend on one fateful little hurrah-de-da. But there are times when the most prudent course of action is to risk everything. Terrible, desperate times, but times we are in nonetheless."
Lucki was unable to look away from Sweetly's stare - she'd never noticed her bosses eyes were actually brown, and not the bottomless black pits of despair she'd seen from a distance. But more surprising were the word's Sweetly spoke. Was she was confessing a fear? Lucki resumed breathing after a few seconds, "...Why are you telling me this, Auntie?"
Sweetly tapped her glass on her lip for a thoughtful few seconds, her tone falling flat and blunt, "My usual threats to build morale, they will do no good, because if you fail, there will be nothing of you left to kill. Instead I am saying this; I am not in the habit of depending so much on one person, let alone a little au-rin rat. If you do this, I will know I can trust you. And my trust is the most valuable thing I can offer. Do you understand?"
Lucki folded her ears back and bowed her head, "I understand. Thank you, Auntie."
Sweetly nodded, her robotic hand popping a thin black cigar between her red lips. Without a word, Lucki pulled a torch lighter from her pocket and carefully lit the end of the cigar. Sweetly puffed until a warm red illuminated the tip.
"If you're done with me, Auntie, I should go. I have a lot of things to go over."
"You do." Sweetly cooed, her honey-glazed tone returning, "Do stay safe, deary. Like it or not, you're an ever so important little petal that we can't afford to have plucked too soon."
Lucki bowed her head once more and walked back to the creaky wooden door. Just as the antique bell jingled with the opening door, she heard Sweetly's voice call over "Oh, and deary, one more thing~"
Lucki paused in the door way, looking back over to Sweetly, "Yes Auntie?"
Sweetly smiled her smile, cheeks wrinkling beneath her dark little eyes. Usually, they sparkled like coal buttons. But the twin reflection of the cigar's embers made them glow as if infused with demonic pupils as she cooed out;
"Don't fuck this up."