In the end, Mackie Cire really didn ’t know all that much.
Mackie and 33 C functioned as an isolated cell within a larger network of unknown alignment and origin.

Ves vaguely suspected that 33 C and its overarching network may have functioned as offshoots of a foreign intelligence agency.
Unfortunately, he obtained no proof to back up this assertion.

After questioning some more about 33 C, Ves and his Kinner staff learned that the cell only received a modest amount of funding and training.
The lack of generosity reflected the lack of information the members of the cell received.

A strict hierarchy existed where only the cell leader maintained contact with the larger network.

Strike team leaders such as Mackie Cire only occupied a middle position within the cell.
His responsibilities solely covered wetworks.
Other aspects such as intelligence gathering, analysis and more fell under the purview of other cell members.

”It ’s useless, haha! ” Mackie chuckled as Nitaa and Commander Cinnabar continued to hold his bound body in place.
”As soon as my superior failed to get in touch with me, he ’ll know the gig is up! 33 C has prepared an insane amount of contingency measures in the event that any operation has gone askew.
Even if they are overreacting, they will still go through with cutting off ties and bugging out of our former base! You won ’t be able to track down anyone from our cell even if you squeeze out every last nugget of information from my mouth! ”

”He ’s telling the truth. ” Nitaa remarked.

One of the many functions of her combat armor was the ability to identify lies.
While lie-detecting systems could be fooled, it would take a highly-trained operative like Calabast to be able to do consistently and convincingly under pressure.

Commander Cinnabar nodded, indicating that his gut feeling was inclined towards the same conclusion.

”Meow. ”

Even Lucky sensed nothing amiss with Mackie ’s statement.

As for Ves, even though he fell into a depressed mood, he still extended his spiritual senses.
He failed to detect anything that hinted at dishonesty so far.
Mackie had truly broken to the point where he no longer held any intentions to deceive!

”This fellow is useless. ” Ves scowled and gave the limp body a light kick to vent his frustration.
”After all of this questioning, we don ’t know who is responsible, why I ’m being targeted and whether there are others who want to have a second go at my life! ”

He supposed he could still experiment on the man regardless if he spilled all of his beans.
It wasn ’t as if Ves intended to let Mackie go if he obediently cooperated anyway.
This was just the nature of the work he did.

Someone knocked at the door to the storage room.
Ves approached it and briefly exited the room.

”Ves? The Planetary Guard is getting more and more insistent.
They ’re constantly on the line threatening to go in regardless of my objections.
Time is running out.
You ’ll have to finish what you are doing before the authorities haul us out of this building by force! ”

Isn ’t our bribe enough to get them off our backs for a day? ” Ves grimaced.

”We only bought off a single Planetary Guard official.
Now there ’s a different official from another department on the line! ”

I understand.
Tell the official we ’ll be departing in a couple of minutes. ”

Ves turned around and reentered the storage room.
”The Planetary Guard is getting antsy.
Let ’s cut this session short.
We already obtained what we can get out of Mackie. ”

”So this is goodbye, right? ”

It would be inconvenient for Ves if his Kinners dragged out a captive from the building.
Bribes or not, the Planetary Guard still maintained a responsibility to protect its citizens, especially from nefarious foreigners who stirred up trouble.

This is goodbye. ”

Mackie Cire closed his eyes.
”I ’ve already made my piece with this outcome.
People like me are merely pieces on the board.
The moment I fell into your hands is the moment I already died.
Just end it quickly.
Don ’t leave me hanging. ”

With a simple gesture with his hand, Nitaa immediately carried out the unspoken order.
She shot the man in the head with her pistol, ruining the brains and preventing anyone else from retrieving it and pumping it for whatever information could be recovered.

The occupants of the storage room left the reddening room and joined up with Gavin.
Together, they left the abandoned office building and boarded their waiting shuttle.
They returned to their hotel under heavy escort.

As the shuttle brought them back to their local accommodation, Ves gathered his Kinners in the same room to discuss their next course of action.

”While Mackie Cire talked a lot, the actual amount of useful information we ’ve retrieved is very little. ” Nitaa began.

”That ’s by design. ” Ves gravely nodded.
”Patsies like him serve as cheap and disposable tools.
Once I break a wrench or something, it ’s far more likely that I ’ll throw it away and take out another one than attempt to hammer it back together. ”

Commander Cinnabar rubbed his red beard.
”I think we did learn a few useful details.
There is an unknown clandestine organization in the Chuko Republic that is specifically targeting your life for some reason.
While we don ’t know which faction this organization belongs to, the fact that someone has taken note of you is already a cause for concern. ”

”It could be anyone, though.
Whitewellers, Bloodwellers, Hinsoners, Phantasmers, Tradders, Hexers and whatever else you can think up are all possible suspects.
We haven ’t been able to narrow down the culprits at all. ”

Ves helplessly shook his head.
Today was a day marked with modest gains accompanied by a lot of frustration.
He still had to process the insights he gained from his talk with the Prismatic Light.
He also had to suppress his profound disappointment at being robbed of the opportunity to conduct valuable experiments related to spirituality.

He had so many ideas!

”Sir, some of the intel we ’ve received might help us track down other members of his cell.
If we move fast enough, we might be able to track them down. ”

”It ’s too late for that, Nitaa.
33 C may not amount to much, but they ’re professional enough to clean up their tracks. ”

”If we employ Commander Meivin ’s contacts to sound out the local situation, we might be able to track them down regardless.
The local powers have a much better lay of the land than us.
I ’m pretty sure that some of them have already kept an eye on 33 C, especially considering that the cell has been operating on Paisley I for decades. ”

”There ’s no point. ” Ves reiterated.
”Although I ’m just as pissed as you for being targeted, this isn ’t my first rodeo.
A lot of people wanted me dead or captured at some point in time.
Most of them have given up.
I ’m a hard man to kill and the price of killing me is only getting higher.
Staying alive is a sufficient form of reprisal.
It ’s not worth it for us to pursue the matter in a dysfunctional state where we have no allies at all who we can count on to cover our backs. ”

Commander Cinnabar nodded.
”I think our boss is right.
My Battle Criers pissed off a lot of people too, but you don ’t see us going on a revenge spree.
There are countless bastards in the galaxy.
If you ask me, I ’d like to punch each and every one of them in the face, but I won ’t even get past their guards in most cases.
Sometimes the best decision is just to let it go. ”

”I understand that! But this threat is bigger than that! ” Nitaa burst out.
Larkinson is an eminent person! It is a grave affront for someone to target his life! ”

”Look Nitaa, I get it that you ’re his bondswoman now, but your duty as a Kinner is to protect his life.
Following up on these tangled threads will just keep our employer in the Chuko Republic longer.
I don ’t know about you, but I think we ’ve had more than enough of this awful state. ”

Only now did Ves understand why Nitaa insisted on retaliation.
She took affront that someone had the audacity to target a Holy Son!

In her view, Holy Sons were the most dignified and holy humans in the galaxy.
For some scumbag in the shadows to have designs on the life of a Holy Son was one of the biggest crimes imaginable!

Ves nonetheless held out his hand.
”Nitaa, enough.
I ’m fully on Commander Cinnabar ’s side on this.
Lashing out reflexively is not a good idea when we have the option to avoid any further problems entirely. ”

”What if the masterminds will try again? What if they strike you even if you ’ve left the Chuko Republic? ”

”We ’ll deal with that problem when it is evident that a stronger reaction is required. ” Ves responded.
”Remember the purpose of this trip.
I merely set out to sample different cultures and conduct professional exchanges with fellow mech designers.
Nothing in our lists of goals state that we should stick around and get entangled in regional conflicts.
None of us have a stake in the future of the Redwell Province or the Chuko Republic.
If the attackers are one of the factions involved in this struggle, then all the more reason for us to get out.
As soon as we leave their range, we won ’t face any further threats. ”

His arguments still offended Nitaa ’s sensibilities, but she was sensible enough to agree to the decision that best ensured his safety.

From what little clues they gathered from Mackie Cire, 33 C operated on Paisley I for a long time! That was a considerable investment on a very specific planet that wasn ’t all that important in the greater scheme.

This pointed out that the ultimate masterminds were highly likely entangled in the local power struggle!

Staying in the Chuko Republic would just expose Ves and his companions to other attacks.
33 C was just one of many cells in a vast unnamed network.

Yet no matter how vast this network stretched, Ves doubted that it extended beyond a couple of states.

The only ones who could truly do so were enemies so powerful that Ves absolutely couldn ’t confront directly!

”So it ’s decided? ” Cinnabar spoke.
”We ’re leaving? ”

I have had enough of the Redwell Province.
While we still have another destination on the agenda, we ’ll just scrap it.
I ’m more than ready to leave the Chuko Republic and it ’s needlessly murky struggle for power behind! ”

While Ves didn ’t know whether he made the right choice or not, his intuition did not ring any alarm bells.
That was a good enough reason for him to go through with his decision.

Everyone split up after he brooked no further argument.
Although he let his Kinner subordinates voice their opinions, he was still in charge in the end.

Once Nitaa and Commander Cinnabar left, Gavin entered the room.

Both of them stared at each other for a moment.

”How do you feel, Benny? ”

”I don ’t know.
Left out? Disgusted? Scared? ”

”It ’s okay to feel that way about today ’s events.
No normal person should experience what we ’ve just been through. ”

”Is that what you think of me?! A normal person on your staff?! ”

”I think of you as more than that.
You don ’t have to fish for compliments from me, Benny.
Today has been a day where Nitaa and Commander Cinnabar happened to be of actual use.
Previously, they ’ve been sitting on their thumbs while you got to help me with managing my affairs. ”

”You ’re right. ” Gavin sighed.
”It ’s silly for me to think I ’m useless just because I haven ’t been able to do anything today. ”

”If you want something useful to do then please prepare for our impending exit from the Chuko Republic.
Get in touch with Commander Meivin to inform him that we ’re cutting our regular schedule short. ”

”Will do, boss. ”

Gavin exited the room in better spirits than before.

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