|0937 Hours, August 7th, 2557
Tiny Birds, New Tyne, Venezia
When it came to bars as bad as this, it paid to look like someone not worth bothering. Sat in a corner booth, her coat still damp from the pouring rain, was Amanda Wade. She looked as inconspicuous as any of the career criminals who frequented the diner, clad in a dirty dockworker's jumpsuit with her hair tied back in a tight bun. One hand rested on the thick metal box on the table in front of her, while the other rested on her knee, fingers brushing against the grip of the hand cannon she'd carefully unholstered after sitting down. Venezia was one of her least favourite places to be, though if they played their cards right, they'd be off the planet by tomorrow morning.
Ash, where the hell are you?
Her partner, Ash Mitchell, had left to meet their contact fifteen minutes ago and still hadn't returned. Ash had paid for the table and made his presence known to dissuade any curious clientele from approaching their table. The owner of Tiny Birds, an old man named Rouse, had promised that they would not be disturbed after Amanda slipped him a few hundred credits. While the downpour outside had kept things quieter than usual, it also meant that most of the current clientele had no intention of leaving. While mostly comprised of humans, Amanda had noticed a group of furtive Kig-Yar glancing her way in the midst of some squawking argument. The bar door jangled open, turning a few heads as two men stepped inside, shrugging off raincoats.
The first could only be Ash. While he lacked the height and musculature that lent the bar's hulking bouncers their intimidation factor, the barely-concealed titanium-ceramic armour plating and dark bodysuit marked him down as a former Helljumper, likely one who had absconded with his fighting gear. While he'd get a few looks from some on Venezia who were suspicious towards even ex-UNSC personnel, few wanted to mess with anyone who had been in the special forces. Beside Ash was a tall man in an expensive business suit. He stood out like a sore thumb, with his turquoise-dyed hair half-shaved and an earring with what might have been a Sangheili tooth dangling from it. Spotting Amanda, Ash waved for the man to follow him and directed him to sit across from her in their booth. He took a seat, and Ash slid in next to him, wary as ever.
"This is Wuyi Xiong," Ash introduced his contact. "He says he can get us a ship."
Xiong smiled. "If you can afford it." His voice was pleasant and refined; a far cry from most of Venezia's human population. He certainly didn't act like one of the locals.
"What kind?" she asked, leaning in.
"I've got an old Bison-class freighter sitting in the airfield right now. It's not the fastest around, but it's got decent storage space and more importantly, a clean record."
Amanda nodded in approval. "What condition is it in?"
"Everything's up and running well, as far as I know. Made sure the slipspace drive was properly refitted and it shouldn't need a major tune-up for quite some time."
"Did Ash speak to you about payment?"
Xiong's pointed a ring-covered finger towards the box under Amanda's hand. "That, plus your current ship."
"Must be a good deal for you," Amanda tallied the cost in her head. "Our ship's worth a lot on its own, you know."
The businessman leant back in his seat with a contented grin, crossing his arms. "True, true. A modified Yacht like that would be worth a fortune if it hadn't been tagged by the UNSC already, so I'll have to refit the whole thing. Then there's the costs of changing the registry when I name it, because let's face it, nobody wants a ship called 'Quisling'."
She had to admit, he was entirely right. She and Ash had stolen the Quisling to escape a particularly dire situation on Madrigal months ago. During that disastrous operation, they had lost the rest of their crew and their old vessel, the Dynasty. While its name - one synonymous with traitor - had fit the previous owner perfectly, it also made it very difficult to sell. They had spent the last few weeks on Venezia looking for anyone to take it off their hands, and were it not for the second part of the deal, Amanda doubted that anyone human would have even given their offer a second glance.
"What's the name?" Mitchell spoke up.
"The Rambler. Nothing too fancy."
The two spacers smiled in unison at this; Amanda had dreaded the possibility of having to trade out the Quisling for something with a name that was either ridiculous or worse, completely alien. Xiong slowly moved a hand into his pocket and pulled out a small datapad, ensuring that the pair knew he wasn't reaching for a gun. He slid it across to Amanda, who tapped it with her free hand. The Rambler's specifications scrolled across the screen, including a fairly detailed service history and maintenance reports. Confident that everything seemed to be in order, she span the pad back around and extended a hand for Xiong to shake.
"We'll take it."
The sharply-dressed broker didn't take it, and instead reached for the box at Amanda's side. "I want to see it."
"In public?" Ash whispered, looking round to ensure they weren't being watched. "Are you-"
"Yes!" Xiong hissed.
This would be the price for their freedom. In exchange for a new ship and supplies, Amanda and Ash would not only be selling their craft, but the only thing of value they had recovered from Madrigal: a HAVOK nuclear device. This would have been her ultimate weapon; the instrument of Amanda's vengeance against those responsible for the deaths of her friends and the loss of all she cared for. Now, they were selling it just to stay ahead of their pursuers. She unsealed the clasps on the box and opened it, just wide enough for Xiong to peer inside. The rather small, egg-shaped device could probably wipe New Tyne off the map if it were detonated here. By the way the man's eyes shone with delight, he knew it too.
"What're you going to do with it?" she asked, mostly out of curiosity. It felt surprisingly difficult to let such a thing go.
"I've got some friends who've been looking for something just like this. Ever been to Europa?"
"Well if you do make plans in the near-future, stay away from Katreus. Word to the wise."
With that, he flashed a winning smile and took the box from Amanda's outstretched hands, sealing it shut as he stood up. Amanda hesitated, one hand still under the table and holding onto her sidearm. For the briefest of moments, everything in her mind screamed for her to kill him. It passed quickly, and she stowed away the weapon as the two men headed for the exit. The rain outside had stopped. All she had to do was not think about what she had just sold, and what their buyer was going to do with it. Their survival mattered most, after all. She and Ash still had a man to kill.