More Chapter 12 which is either done or mostly done now.
The old man let out a sigh. Slowly and with great care as if he was trying to place it softly on his desk without disrupting his papers. With the air the tension left his body leaving him hanging over his hard chair his arms limply on his desk with his ancient looking fountain pen quivering slightly between his fingers.
"You can come in. And your friend." as he spoke the authority on his face broke leaving him with and expression of loss. "There is hardly anything left that you could break and how is one to disarm a creature such as you." his eyes met Petrova's for a second they were still hard with some kind of outrage but he quickly averted his gaze gesturing us with his right hand to move past him down the stairs, the pen wobbling between his fingers. The dice clattered on the table as the guards resumed their game.
The broad stairway breathed its humid breath into our faces as we descended into the port. It was cut directly into the, very broad and with long steps which would catch anyone stumbling instead of sending them crashing into the depths cracking every bone on the way down. As we were approaching the bottom the ceiling gave way and opened the sight over a strange miniature city. Inside the large floating stone people with far to much time on their hands had cut a tiny city out of the artificial rock. Complete with squat two story buildings lining narrow streets, all decorated with bright shining street lights who did their best to rival the radiance of the sun and neon signs plastering the walls trying their hardest not to be outshone by the artificial daylight. As we moved into the street my gut tingled slightly sending first cautious signs of fear into my consciousness, where it had been informing me that blood loss was a bit shit and that dinner might be a good idea now it was now pointing out that something was quite out of place. My rational mind was dismissive of these warnings. I was walking into an underwater city with only one exit, with most of the underworld of Europa City after me´, my rationality argued that this would of course cause unfounded paranoia. My instincts failed to see how that was supposed to make them feel better. While that discussion was going on I was looking around trying to see what was supposed to be so unsettling about this place after all. All the street lights where shining over the tidy main street and even the neon lights were all in perfect working order. No atmospheric blinking nor the sporadic failure of single letters leading to hilarious misspellings. Compared to the dump of Old City this was the poster child for a entertainment district. So clean, orderly... quiet. The realization made my rational mind concede defeat and my gut wrenched itself with artful grace sending shivers cascading down my spine. The 'town' was devoid of any signs of life. It was perfectly fine to look at. But there were no people. There were no human sounds, no talking, no footsteps but those of me and Petrova, no hollering, no crashing plates, no coughs, nothing but a perfect street. After my fall from grace back in the day I had not gone straight to Europa to become a miserable little loser. I was to rich for that shit so I travelled the Solar System while the war was dying together with my career. In that time I had passed through abandoned cities, bombed ruins and ghost towns. They all had the decency of showing signs of decay. This little settlement though was in a waking coma. With glistening eyes open, fixed on some marvellous point on the wall, mouth slightly open as if wanting to say something in just a second, the chest slowly moving with the tides of breath but with no conscious life left to it.
"What the fuck happened here?" I asked no one in particular.
Petrova snorted, cast a look around. "Law and Order." she said.
I did not ask for details. I could imagine that this was connected to the angry old man upstairs and with Petrova. I followed Petrova around a corner into an almost identical street, pristine, spotless, empty. Sometimes, especially with angry or annoyed people it is best to remains silent, eventually the other will want to vent its displeasure into the silence graciously provided by you. I could not count how many angry divas I had turned from perpetual passive aggression to actually telling me what particular pea was discomfiting the princess or prince that day. Petrova was a more hardy person she was leading me stoically through the streets of the port which still insisted of looking entirely alike. But in the end she did actually vent a bit.
"Not all to long a go this place was full of people. This the only port in these parts and because it swims it is always open for business no matter the water level. All manner of people made this their second home. Mostly smugglers but also crazy hobos and free spirits who don't like borders and of course criminals. Bronislav and his family have controlled the port for generations and things usually went well. Usually. One day a clever bastard with a bag full of Credits appeared, manipulated the local thugs into a fight and while they and the Port's security where at each others throats he started to kill key players, discreetly mopping up the field. When Zolkin's started to notice what was happening...'
"The Zolkin's?" I asked.
"Bornislav's faimly. When they finally realized what was happening it was to late. They had to hide in their own city. They were as good as dead."
"What happened then?"
I tried to imagine Petrova walking right into this place, with guns blazing killing everyone. It was ridiculous. Although it was not hard to imagine. I could even picture her breathing fire. But still...
"You want me to believe you just walked in here shooting everyone left and right" and breathing fire "and thus liberating the port?"
"You read to many silly pulp stories Kane. No I did not walk right in. That would have been suicide. I talked to a pair of incompetent mercenaries guarding the entrance. The idiots told me pretty much everything that had happened. I killed them and then sneaked into the city. The rest was actually rather easy. There was enough chaos down here to hide among the panicked and afraid. I waited for one of the attackers main leaders to relax took him as a hostage. People came to save him. He was wired to a bomb I had improvised. Killing him and his would be rescuers. After that I confronted their leader. I was actually expecting Bronislav to crawl out from under his stone and start a counter attack. In the end I almost got killed because that fucking coward was to scared to protect his own home."
Petrova was now quiet again. Fuming silently.
"And what was all that talk about back at the entrance?"
Petrova stopped. Turned round parting her lips showing me her teeth, I guess it was supposed to be a smile.
"That ungrateful fucker dared to present me with a bill for the damage caused during my attempt to save his arse" teeth still shining she turned around moving forward again.
When I was starting to wonder how big that hollowed out brick could possibly be Petrova extended her arm pointing to a building, looking pretty much like all the others. Flat, two stories, covered in neon signs. It did stand out though. It sat there alone with now other buildings directly adjacent as if the other houses were keeping a respectful distance. It even looked more important, more radiant. I did not notice it directly because of the blanket of coloured lights but someone had gone through the trouble of painting the entire building white. The colour had long since given up its purity and had turned into a more world weary shade of grey but it still maintained some of its former glory. Certainly enough to make the other houses around feel slightly uncomfortable in its presence.
As far as I could tell all the signs said the same thing: 'The Ashes' and in smaller letters below 'Bar and Restaurant'. It was written in dozens of languages many of which I did not recognize. Some using a script so convoluted that I was sure that they were if not breaking at least evading some laws of physics.
"Fancy? A drink? I could certainly use one. Shooting people and passing out tends to make me thirsty." I was getting tired getting dragged around by Petrova. And now that our destination was rather obvious I decided to take the initiative again for a change. I advanced dragging the large box behind me. It felt oddly liberating being taking point. I stepped through a metal double door that was built to swing smoothly inwards or out wards so that it would yield to a drunkard that was thrown out as easily to a thirsty man wanting to get in.
Inside I saw for the first time other humans since we had walked down into the port. When I say I saw them I mean that I stepped in stopped and had a long hard look around trying to find any signs of life apart from two large potted plants who were fake anyway standing guard at the entrance. I spotted and older woman behind the bar, she was leaning over the counter talking to a old man built like bear stuffed into a human skin who sat at a table near her. The old man had younger man as company, also built as if he was intended to break stones with his bare hands but he was of more human proportions. Then there were no signs of life for long stretches of nearly endless bar. Only empty table, uninhabited chairs and long abandoned pool tables. Like the rest of this place it was all very clean and creepy. It was then that I heard a soft muttering coming from a far corner. Turned my head looking past the plant, pushing a few large leaves aside with my free hand and saw that there was another man sitting alone at a corner table with his back towards the room. He was concentrating hard on y bowl of stew with which he seemed to have a rather heated but low key discussion. He was probably the King of a wild hobo tribe, working on a practising an address to his people. Just to make sure that there wasn't anyone else here I also checked behind the other plant. But there was only a forgotten manila envelope tucked behind its pot, probably some long forgotten testament.
"Please tell me that your friend isn't King Hobo over there." I said to Petrova. She only glanced over to him for a second before answering. "No. My friend's over there. I have to talk with him first. In private."
"No. Just careful."
I did not really care. I was tired and felt like shit. If she wanted to talk to her mysterious friend alone, great. As long as I did get a decent beer and something edible I was content.
"What about the box?" I asked.
"You keep an eye on it." We out the large container on the floor and I slumped down in a chair next to it.
Apart from King Hobo who was still trying to convince his stew of something of vital importance the other people in the bar had noticed our arrival. The woman behind the bar looked surprised but in a positive way. The old tower of a man was leaning back on his chair grinning broadly with his massive arms crossed over the bulk of his chest. The younger man was looking confused shifting his his gaze between us and his companions. I rested my elbows on my new conquered table and rested my chin on my hands watching things unfold.