Late at night with the darkness here around me I'm drinking all alone Nothing here but my medicine to guide me Since I've been on my own Well, have you forgotten now? Memories that continue to amaze me Are all but over now ♫ The Jetzons - Hard Times ♫ Barrier Island Medical, High-Sec Emergency Ward Holographic targets of light sprung up around the hospital room walls as an out-of-timely wakeful Luca amused himself with a coordination test for his left hand, pointing a laser at each circle from his side on the bed. With flicks of the wrist and the left eye leading the pointer. The nurse left it behind after she'd had wrapped up the tests, but Luca had saw fit to reactivate it to pass sleepless hours in the dead of the night, focus on something other than the doubts and anxieties that'd crashed in his amygdala and pushed his friends away. Then the door opened suddenly and a new target had appeared - no guests were scheduled or expected, even welcome faces. Survival instincts had kicked in Luca's red dot was drawn against the new arrival's head, expression steely as instinct told him to reach for something with the other hand. Except, the reality was his other hand and most of the forearm was gone. A snarl of frustration welled up in Luca's face as he thought this could be Tanhauss finishing what they'd started. The other option in conflict was a tasteless vase with plastic flowers - heavy enough to discombobulate someone if thrown at their head. "Settle, Mr. Pavone." The silhouette said, the voice sounded like a pained older man's, passing through a vocoder or voicebox as an integrated respirator breathed for them. Gait stilted as he dragged a chair from aside to sit down beside the bed. "Me being here is already a risk to us both." Luca's laser pointer stayed around his head, reflections showing patches of dull metal and sallow, liver-spotted skin intertwined - some manner of elderly full-body cyborg, the man in red guessed, and they worked on a last-name basis. "And stop trying to blind me please - my vision is augmented." Luca finally stopped with the laser pointer, turning on a bedside light to get a better look at their guest - wearing a smoke-black double-breasted trenchcoat with dull mint trimmings and buttons, and what looked like a suit beneath it. The man's features in full illumination were ghoulish, a hodgepodge of flesh and steel solutioned again and again to stave an inevitable end, but a remarkably calm demeanour, bordering on acceptance. Most telling was a glistening badge on the trenchcoat with the Gruppen Tanhauss 'T', showing executive level trim. "Gruppen Tanhauss?" Luca laboured, looking into the man's eyes, narrowing as he crossed his left arm over his chest. "Did you get tired of sending people to kill me; wanted to do it yourself?" He asked, grimacing - he respected it at least if that was the case. "Hohoh, I heard you were a sharp-witted man." The elder chuckled, shoulders shrugging as they glanced at the bedside table, gut feelings upon the money. Nobody else had been here save for nurses and Units who'd been questioning and coming up short too, no knick-nacks nor get-well's, or any signing of bandages around what remained of Luca's right arm. "You're not taking visitors in your darkest hour, eh? I thought you'd clamour to have them all lifting you out of this, fixing you up with a new arm, telling you to take that medal and enjoy it for saving Sargasso from the Driver, and getting Tanhauss decoupled from Sargasso..." Luca grew curious - the insights went under his skin as the man continued: "Within a week, I reckon Mr. Isbala could fix you a new limb, should his connections at Cloverpaw not tie him down. That combat medic I saw apply a tourniquet to what was left of your arm on the scene-" Breyja, specifically. "-she looked like a fine addition too, though just a finger." Maidenhand vernacular - was this a tactical breakdown? "And you have the trust of the Crude, who only wanted to whistleblow when her planned con spiralled, hell, I thought you'd be spending your recovery engulfed in her knockers instead of in a military hospital!" The blankness on Luca's face made the man chortle - no way the thought wouldn't have crossed Luca's mind at least once! "Fill your boots once in a while, kid. It'll take the edge off you both, and she's been hammering you for it." The impromptu relationship counselling only raised more questions and had Luca seriously contemplating to let them meet that tacky flower vase at high speed, but the man could see that and cut to the chase. "The point is, you have specialised men, women, aliens, and Chelti willing to go above and beyond the call, or throw themselves at their feet for you - or both." The lurid grin at the thought elicited a snort from the codger. "As a man who knows the value of his connections and what they can do, I say you take them and take it all the way to the top." "The top of what? What's your angle, then?" Luca looked down at his right arm stump, a phantom pain spiking through it as his instinct to clench a fist and crack his knuckles as a threat was missed. A wince in his eyelid. "Why are you telling me this? Plenty of people have profiled me, figuring at what I can bring together officially and otherwise. I'm just an ex-military punk with straightforward ambitions, and friends high and low" Gruppen Tanhauss definitely had a file on him, he figured "you don't need to tell me how to shoot my ropes, old man." "Please, you hardhead, I am complimenting you - I'm a fan." The elderly man stood up, opening their coat. "I am Erik Van Krupp. Founder and Owner of Gruppen Tanhauss, GMBH." Erik finally introduced himself, stunning the man in red - in his investigations of the megacorp, Luca had Erik's name as a bullet point within the rest of the Tanhauss conspiracy they'd uncovered. "I want you to liquidate and subvert my empire, stratum by stratum before what's inside of it grows out of control and consumes us all. You have my express permission, I'll leave it to you." This was already lining up with existing plans, though. Confusion and red flags sprung forth. "I'm ... flattered?" Luca mock-gawped, guessing this was his biggest contract as a troubleshooter to date. "but the Units? Can't they make this nudge happen?" They could move mountains, why not knock a megacorp off its perch? "They're hitting brick walls as Tanhauss seals off their data from public networks save for medical records, and cooks the books as extracts are taken." Such security and oversight, as well as manipulation was implemented to protect the company externally - but now it'd turned inwards and cocooned itself. "It'll only be a matter of time until the inconsistencies reveal themselves." Which could be a month, six months, maybe more as the paradigms kept shifting. "But you work faster, you can draw more fire out, goad them, terrorise their black operations and interests, perhaps even turn the public in Noir against them." But a thought occurred as to why the Units were unable to grasp the true form. "What about..." Luca asked, looking left and right before asking. It was ubiquitous before, but the thought of being watched never seemed to wash away, even in total isolation. "that thing?" "That's why I want you to end it - you're the only person I know to survive physically and mentally, after meeting them." Arm-stump and new-found and palpable paranoia notwithstanding. "They ... they are not of this world." No shit, gramps. Luca raised an eyebrow. "You mean you've sent others to try and take them out, and let me guess..." Luca twirled his left index finger around, conclusion foregone. "Completely dropped off the map, neither hair nor hind of them." Erik assumed they'd been taken within the fold or eliminated. "That thing may already be listening now. Nobody knows I am here, not even the board, and I fear it won't stay that way for longer." "A CEO going over the wishes his board? Where have I heard that one before?" Luca said, singsong. "They wouldn't be open to the idea." Erik said, just as sarcastic. "Assets and interests aside, they've brought into this entity's ... madness. I fear it will not be long before I too am subsumed by this new culture as it bleeds down, racing for the bottom to fall through the floor, and perhaps beyond." They turned for the door, framed in the low fluorescents of the corridor. "I trust you to get your new hand dirty when your physio's done, and to bring this to an end swiftly..." And then it slid shut. Finally, something greater was coalescing as Luca turned off the lights, finally feeling some security in knowing that even within, his enemies had discontent within to capitalise upon. He figured he'd put a call out to the team the next morning - or afternoon, however his sleep schedule lined up... > GO!