Let All Who Build Beware

From the Story Arc: Hymn Of Breaking Strain

Next Story in the Arc: With Loads We Cannot Bear by Belladonna Aura (Saturday, August 12, 2006)

(posted Friday, August 11, 2006)

“So. Ms Parker. I’m sure you are wondering why I asked for this meeting.”

The woman sitting across from Belladonna Aura could have been a model. Her facial features were perfect, her blond hair impeccably dressed, and the expensive grey suit put Bella in mind of the ones Countess Crey wore. Except…this one was a touch in better taste, just a tad more expensive, in some indefinable way. It would have been appropriate for Rhiannon Llewellyn to have asked for this meeting in her own office.

In point of fact, there were in Bella’s, in the infirmary. Rhia sat on that hard little plastic surplus chair as if she was in her ergonomically correct leather-upholstered custom-fitted number behind her own desk at Llewellco.

“I’m sure you are anything but a fool, Ms. Llewellyn,” Bella said evenly. “You believe I, CCCP, or both, can offer you something. You in turn think you have something you need.”

“Refreshingly blunt. I’ll come straight to the point.” Rhia made a gesture—and a folder appeared in her right hand. “The recent declaration you made with regards to the CCCP during the Tutelary Trial caught my attention.” She laid the folder down on Bella’s desk. “Now, I admire a leader who thinks in advance of the safety of her people. Too many these days are willing to sacrifice a few so long as the majority are left alone. I say that one taken to the slaughter is one too many.”

“Vickie indicated as much, yes.” Bella nodded cautiously.

“However…when one actually is planning an evacuation, it isn’t wise to announce it.” One perfectly groomed eyebrow rose. “For some peculiar reason, those who declare that they do not want you are always the first to try and prevent you from leaving.”

The corners of Bella’s mouth turned down. Having been witness to little Astra’s nightmares…which had become inextricably mixed with her own…she knew that as a truism.

“I have a proposition,” the head of LlewellCo continued. “I propose a—“ she chuckled for no reason that Bella could see “—lifeboat, of sorts. One that a few or all of the CCCP can evacuate to with no one the wiser. Ever. Until it is too late.”

Bella blinked. What—

“Open the folder, please, Ms Parker.” One perfectly manicured nail tapped the dark blue cover of the folder. Unable to resist, Bella opened it. And stared.

“This is a—“

“Former commercial container ship, yes. Built for the North Sea. The draft is too deep for most ports. I bought her with an eye to—“ a slight smile “—certain offshore endeavors. I am engaged in research that I would rather not have any government poking its nose into. Nothing unethical, I assure you; to be precise, yet vague, I am researching the quantum mechanics of magic with the purpose of being able to defend Underhill against a modern, technologically armed force. You can see why I would just as soon no government was aware of this.”

Bella nodded, her eyes widening. Vickie had hinted that something of the sort was going on but—well it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Rhia was half elven. Presumably her power came from Underhill. She wouldn’t want to lose that….

“As it happens I have, as I said, a great amount of sympathy for you and your people. I also have a ship that is about to be anchored in international waters within easy teleporter reach of Paragon City. And I am frugal when it is appropriate.” The perfect lips creased in a small smile. “I should like to hire the CCCP to be my door guards, as it were. Your fee would be the use of the ship as your emergency HQ. I have partitioned off roughly a fifth of it for use by my scientists. The rest is yours to do with what you will. Yours will be the job of repelling boarders, should they be so injudicious as to make the attempt, and to clean up and maintain the ship so that, at need, it can up anchor and away to a more salubrious clime.” She pursed her lips. “There are still some cargo containers there, and some hazmats. It will be the job of the CCCP to deal with both. In return, I will supply you with whatever you need to build the auxiliary HQ—within reason. Unless, like Krasniy Zakat, youre people are partly in my employ, I do not plan to budget in particle accelerators and the like.”

Slowly Bella nodded. Her mind raced, trying to find the pitfall, the loophole—and she couldn’t. “This seems rather excessive pay for—a mercenary force.”

“A metahuman mercenary force,” Rhia pointed out crisply. “A force with every sort of hero in it from the people in power suits to very powerful mages. Anyone attempting the ship would have to bring an equal force to bear—and I frankly don’t think they could without exposing themselves. There simply are not that many metahumans on this planet.”

Well, she had Bella on that one.

Not for the first time since all this began, Bella longed for her fellow commissars. Communard was—god knew where. Unter had made a trip back to Moscow. And Zach…was as ever, in DC. She was minding the store alone…and in the back of her mind a scared little girl wailed and wanted the comfort of others to share the decisions with.

“Well? Yes or no?”

It was exactly what Bella had been searching for. A way to hide comrades. A way to evac the entire CCCP. Offshore, yet it in a bad situation it would be—apparantly—business as usual for the CCCP in King’s Row. Until—it wasn’t.
But what did Rhia want, really? Was that all?

“I assure you, Commissar, there are no hidden agendas here.”

She felt honest. And Bella recalled something that Vickie had once said. “LlewellCo’s big on protecting the planet and keeping crap from boiling over, ‘cause Rhia’s looking at living at least a millennium, and she wants a reasonable place to live while she does so.”

“We’ll do it,” Bella said, at a stroke committing the CCCP to partnership with—a capitalist. She expected to hear the screams from Moscow even as she said it.

“Good.” Rhia held out her hand. Bella shook it, her own hand ice cold with nerves.. “You are now part owners of the MMS Sanctuary, Monaco registry. If anyone asks, yes there are labs aboard, engaged in oceanographic research. The Royal Family of Monaco is well known for their patronage of and interest in such research.” The half-elf made another gesture and a small box appeared in it. “Programming chips and portal keys for your teleporters. Add the chips, and anyone carrying a key can step into the teleporter and step out onto the ship.” Rhia smiled. “Now, would you care to see your second home?”

“Yes,” Bella said, mouth dry. “Yes. Please.”