“War isn’t the only way of harnessing the collective power of insanity.”
Chapter Six : Its just business.
“You know what the best thing about having fur is.” Said King as he changed out of his street clothes and into something more casual. “It makes wearing any clothing completely optional. Granted, its great to have pockets for when you want to carry something, but its just too bad that so many people are getting hung up on the little things, like modesty and public decency, to really cut loose and enjoy the simple things in life. Personally, I’ll take comfort over formality any day.” Stepping out from behind a Shoji paper screen carrying a wooden sword slung over his shoulder, he was wearing a plain black leather jacket that fell past his knees. Forgoing the need for a shirt, King had somehow found a way to arrange it so that most of his stripes had been left exposed. Once again, in a world where image was everything, King had managed to set himself apart.
“Well,” He said. “How do I look?”
Spreading his hands Shinji said. “The illusion is complete. Its like some low level street thug managed to accidentally wander in somewhere he shouldn’t be. Is that really the kind of impression you want to make on our, important guests?”
“Oh come on Shinji. Learn to lighten up. We all had to start somewhere. And this jacket has seen me through a lot of tough times. Besides, we both know the ladies love a man in a leather jacket.”
“Uh huh,” Preferring the cultured look that only a quality suit could provide, Shinji said. “And wasn’t it just yesterday you were telling me that it was your stripes that made them, oh, now how did you so eloquently put it? Hot, in the crotch.”
King grinned. “I did say that didn’t I.”
“And the day before that. You said it was the length of your tail.”
Flicking it back and forth King said. “What can I say, the ladies love that part of me too.”
“Yes,” Said Shinji rolling his eyes. “And tomorrow, you’ll be telling me that all of your sexual prowess lies in the way that you wear your hair.”
His whiskers twitching, King said. “Glad to know you still believe we’ll all be alive come this time tomorrow.”
“Just, getting into character. After all, I wouldn’t want our honored guests to think that we were anything more then a couple of ignorant chimeras watching out for their master’s best wishes, now would I?” Watching from out of the corner of his eye as Shinji’s lips began to form a sly smile, King knew he was thinking the same thing as him. Most people assumed that because of his inherent size, it meant he was slow and stupid. It was a deadly mistake to make, and one he was often keen to take advantage of. “C’mon.” Said King as he led the way. “Its showtime.”
“How much longer do they think they can make us wait?” Occupying the private box that overlooked the arena, the representatives from the Red Army looked as if they were almost ready to commit to murder.
It was a state of agitation that did nothing to improve their bargaining abilities.
Far enough from the crowd to be out of the range of any potential danger while still being close enough to be considered a part of the action, King’s private box contained what some would no doubt consider a wealth of chimera luxuries. Cigars made from rolled up catnip, a mini-bar that dispensed different kinds of cream, and if that wasn’t enough, two couches had been arranged around a holo-display that allowed for instant replays.
“Be at ease Ivan, what do chimeras know of formality, or hospitality for that matter.”
“At least he has taste.” Stopping to stare at the paintings on the wall, Ivan couldn’t shake the feeling that they were somehow being watched.
“Their names are Sergei, Ivan, and Kalina.” Said Shinji. “All of them except for Ivan are low ranking individuals. They have their leader’s ear and not much else.”
“So, they’re expendable are they?” Having spent the last twenty minutes watching them through the false wall behind the painting King had already learned more about them then he wanted to know. “Not exactly the kind of people you send into a situation that requires finesse. So are they simply here to test the waters, or do they really think to underestimate us?” Heading for the secret entrance he had built into his private booth, King said. “Let’s find out shall we.”
“Greetings comrades.” Speaking in flawless Russian, King’s sudden appearance had been more then enough to catch them off guard. “I trust your enjoying the show.”
Struggling just to hide their surprise, Sergei, Ivan, and Kalina quickly exchanged a series of coded glances.
“Apologies for making you wait. There was, minor matter that needed to be attended to. But am here now. So, let us get down to business.” Noticing their discomfort, King let his lips begin to stretch into a feral smile. Well, well, well, it looks to me like someone just got caught doing something they shouldn’t have. No doubt they managed to smuggle in some kind of illegal scanning equipment in an attempt to uncover some of the more illicit secrets of my operation. Letting out a mental sigh as he forced himself to school his expression he thought to himself. Which can only mean we’re going to have to increase our security yet again. After all, the next time something like this happens, they might be able to smuggle in something just a touch more dangerous then a hand scanner. And then were would I be?
“This . . . this is gross insult!” Rising to his feet, Sergei forgot himself as he sought seize the initiative. “We were told this meeting would be with a representative from the Yamato household, not one of their pets. I demand to speak with someone who is in charge.”
Tightening his grip on his sword, King’s words were little more then a deadly hiss. “You stand in the heart of enemy territory, and dare to make demands?” Looking past Sergei to the woman standing behind him, King said. “Is this how the Red Army does business? You would be playing at a dangerous game if you assume I don’t have the authority to speak on behalf of my master.” King’s smile was all teeth as he watched Sergei’s expression change from one of supreme confidence to absolute fear. No doubt it already was difficult enough to be intimidating when a ferocious man eating tiger was staring you in the face, but when he was holding a wooden sword against your throat . . .
Enjoying the larger man’s discomfort for a moment longer then was necessary, King drew back his sword and said. “Now, let us start over again, shall we?”
Nodding slightly, it was Kalina who spoke. “Forgive me for saying this, but as a show of good faith, we were told not to bring any weapons. Why then, are you carrying one?”
“Oh this?” Waving his sword around King said. “This is just an affectation of mine, being trained in the ways of Bushido, I enjoy carrying a sword around with me; even if it is only made of wood.” Handing it off to Shinji, he added. “Don’t worry, I only keep it around for decorative purposes anyway.”
The bokken had served its purpose nicely. They would now focus all of their attention on the wooden sword, and completely forget about the claws that were concealed within each of his hands.
Seeking to respond with an insult of his own Ivan said. “Is strange though, to see chimera speaking second language, especially one so obviously favored by the Japanese. Surely . . . Exotica Geno-Works did not seek to include such frivolous things in your training.”
Struggling to maintain his composure Shinji felt the fur across his body beginning to rise.
While most chimeras had been created as a cheap source of labor, those that were born as servants and companions came with special training that were often considered extras, and cost a considerable sum.
“Then you cannot tell?” Said King as if it should have been obvious to anyone with eyes. “I am Siberian tiger.” His whiskers twitching as he sought to hold back his laughter, King was awash in pride when he said. “My mumulya, she took great pleasure in singing to me in her native tongue.”
Looking somewhat surprised, Sergei said. “I did not know chimeras could sing.”
Singling him out, King said. “I suspect there is much you do not know, about chimeras. Still, she was great opera singer while alive. Her name was Sasha Destrov, you have heard of her yes?”
Even more unsure of himself then he had been before, he said. “She was, before my time. No doubt her passing was a great loss to us all.”
Accepting his condolences in the spirit if not the form in which it was given, King said. “Sadly, my father’s blood runs stronger in me, but I suppose there will always be room in my heart for my mother’s homeland.” Clapping his hands together as the crowd started to settle, King made himself comfortable on the couch. “Now for the real entertainment.”
Activating the holo-display as two fighters stepped into the ring, the ghostly image of a proud feline warrior lifted his fist into the air as the crowd began to cheer. One of his best fighters and a crowd favorite, Leo was a massive lion chimera with an unwavering love of battle and a temper that was all too easily provoked. His opponent however, was merely a man who had walked in off the street. It could hardly be considered a fair fight. But as the current arena champion, Leo was honor bound to accept any and all challenges.
“I find myself curious.” Said Kalina. “Why is he fighting against a mere human opponent and not another chimera? Surely people would find this to be more enjoyable if he were to fight against another lion like himself.”
Conceding to her point, King said. “Certainly there are circumstances where that proves to be the case. However, we prefer to do things a little differently here.” Pressing a button on the holo-display brought up a roster that was filled with the names and species of all the different fighters. “Most of our match ups revolve around gladiatorial themed combat. And by that I mean, anyone who wishes to step into the ring and challenge the arena champion directly can.”
Watching as Leo began to toy with his human opponent she said. “Interesting. Now, what happens if he remains undefeated? Surely he cannot fight forever.”
“Should Leo last long enough to retire, he will be employed as a personal trainer. I find it to be a very efficient use of resources, having one generation of fighters train the next.”
Interested in spite of herself she asked. “And should he lose?”
“Then the challenger will take his place as arena champion, and win almost ten times his initial bet.” King sighed. Despite the fact that stepping into the ring with a full grown lion was practically suicide, most humans seemed almost eager to throw their lives away. “Its a shame but, I find the right amount of money will motivate people to do most anything.”
Hearing the crowd grow strangely silent, King’s attention was drawn to the holo-display as Leo unleashed a quick succession of jabs that forced his already staggering opponent to the other side of the ring.
If only fighting could solve all of our problems. Thought King as he watched Leo begin to utterly destroy his opponent. Then you’d be the one standing up here, not me.
The crowd roared its approval as Leo lifted his fist into the air. The outcome of the fight was already a foregone conclusion, all that remained now, was sating the crowd’s appetite for blood.
Turning off the holo-display before the inevitable blow that finished the fight reduced his opponent to a quivering mass of pain, King said. “Gentlemen. As you’ve no doubt already seen, my fighters are clean. We don’t fix the fights, we don’t water down the drinks and we sure as hell aren’t going to start selling Dust between bouts.”
Lighting up a cigarette, the look in Kalina’s eye was anything but kind. “Why then are we here?”
“Why,” King spread his hands. “To negotiate of course.” Pretending that the smoke didn’t bother him, he pushed an ashtray towards her. No doubt she was already aware that smoke affected his ability to tell when people were lying using just his sense of smell. And if she wasn’t, well, King didn’t feel like enlightening her. “While humans can enjoy the effects of Dust without experiencing any of its otherwise unpleasent side effects, we chimeras on the other hand are already sensual creatures. We prefer aromatics to alcohol, mood elevators to mind altering substances. To us, simply being near our mates when they’re in heat offers us more of a high then any real drug ever could.”
An almost thoughtful expression on her face, Kalina looked to Sergei and said. “Why is it no one has spoken to me of this?”
Looking decidely uncomfortable under the scrutiny of her stare, Sergei seemed unsure of what to say.
“Well, that should be a simple enough question to answer.” Saving the man from himself, King said. “Who in their right mind would ever ask a chimera what they want out of life?” Running his fingers through thr ruff around his throat, King looked at each of them in turn. “Take it from someone who knows. Chimera biology is fundamentally different from that of a human beings. Almost all of the major narcotics have little to no effect on us and even if they do, the result is barely worth the risk.”
“Gentlemen,” Said Shinji, taking advantage of their confusion he handed each of them a piece of paper. “And lady, this is a list of all the approved substances that Mr. Yamato has felt gracious enough to prepare for you.”
There was a moment of silence as each of them studied their list.
“Valerian, foxtail, sweet grass?” Ivan’s countenance darkening as he read off each one, he looked ready to explode when he came to the end of the list. “Do you actually expect us to lower ourselves to selling catnip!”
Refusing to rise to the bait, King simply leaned forward and said. “Its a whole new world out there, and if you want to do any kind of business in this sector whatsoever I expect you to sell whatever works.”
“Provided the Yamato family receives the lion’s share of the profits.”
“If our only interest was profit, then we never would have invited you here.” Offering up a concession in exchange for a cessation of all hostilities, King said. “At the moment, our territory is limited solely to Sector Seven so we lack the room necessary to branch out into other areas. And in case you hadn’t noticed, being so far underground makes it difficult to actually grow anything.”
“Hydroponics are expensive, as well as time consuming.” Speaking as if she was actually considering it, Kalina said. “What guarantees are there we will ever see a profit?”
“How does guaranteed revenue sound to you?” Watching as a spark of interest suddenly passed between them, King knew he had them exactly where he wanted them. “And since I’m willing to purchase whatever your able to produce at cost, it becomes a simple enough matter of distributing it through my own local network. Any and all potential losses would then occur on my end, not yours.”
“You make it sound as if there’s good money to be made in selling,” Her eyes scanned the list. “Darjra. What if we simply tried selling it ourselves?”
“Then I would tell you right now you right now, it wouldn’t work.” Seeking to enlighten them once more, King said. “Most free chimeras are inherently distrustful of humans, even if you were to walk up to one and offer them a controlled substance, they would no sooner take it from you then they would report you to the police for trying to sell it.”
“Free chimeras?” Raising a single eyebrow, Kalina’s face drew together. As if she didn’t believe the words ‘free’ and ‘chimera’ had any business being used in the same sentence let alone together, she tapped the ash from her cigarette and looked at him quizzically.
“Sorry, perhaps I wasn’t making myself clear. Maybe what I should have said was, those chimeras who’ve actually managed to purchase their service contracts, wouldn’t take time out of their busy days to piss on you if you were on fire.”
“There was no harm in asking.” Starting to like the position she found herself in less by the minute, She said. “And since we’re already on the subject of who’s selling what, what makes you so certain they will buy it from you?”
“Trust.” Said King.
“That’s it, trust?”
“What more in this world could I need?” The truth on the other hand, was actually much simpler. There were dozens if not hundreds of specialty stores that would cater specifically to the needs of chimeras, and by providing them with a steady supply of quality goods, he knew that the desire for catnip alone would secure a tidy profit. “Let’s stop beating around the bush and get to the point. You came to me looking for potential business opportunities, why? Because the Corliogne Family is busy putting pressure on your operations. They’re buying you out, and we both know you don’t have the financial backing to resist them for very long.”
Ivan stepped forward, only to have Kalina raise her hand in order to stop him from saying or doing something stupid. “Your very well informed for a chimera, but what you’re asking us to do would cause us to lose a great deal of face in front of the other Families. We may not be able to risk going forward without certain, assurances.”
So, not everyone here is who they appear to be, eh? King made a mental note to retrieve something with her scent on it before saying. “Now, let me think about that for a moment, lose face or be completely wiped out, why, the choice seems obvious to me.”
Faced with a choice between financial ruin and a minor loss in position, certain death and salvation, they seemed to be seriously considering their options. All they needed was that one last push to force their hand.
Making no secret of his intentions, Shinji leaned over and spoke into King’s ear. “King, we’ve just received word from our forces in Sector Six. They’ve finished putting down the last of the Lost Lobos resistance. In a few days time, they won’t even be able to take a piss without asking us for permission first.”
“Good. So long as everything continues to occur outside the jurisdiction of the law, then everything should remain nice and legal.” Provided they had already been paid to look the other way, the times when the SynCity Police Force was more then willing to let the local gangs fight it out amongst themselves was proving to be undeniably useful. “Gentleman, my condolences to you on the recent loss of your allies. However, should any of you wish to continue doing business with me in any sort of capacity, then you’d better be prepared to make me one hell of an offer.”
Recognizing the truly tenuous position they now found themselves in, Kalina’s face was a mask of barely restrained fury. “It would seem that our continued survival has just become our highest priority. Name your price.”