A Big Deal - 1
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A black sedan glided along the road of Tobruk, a coastal city in Libya. The large building came into sight not long after the car got out of the urban area. It looked like an archaic temple, evoking a desolate silence. Agent Yuri glanced at her watch before she looked up at the building. The driver spoke to her with an affable smile.

"Nice building, isn't it? It's a villa constructed about thirteen years ago. Mr. Richelieu designed it by studying the style of our traditional architecture, and employed local residents to built it. No wonder everyone loves it."

"Yeah, it's great." Yuri replied lightly, keeping her eyes on the structure. Agent Song gave a glance at it, but soon turned back to the front with his hands on the suitcase. As the sedan shifted its direction, the morning sun hid behind the building, wrapping the structure in shadow.


Yuri and her party entered the building; an attendant guided them to the innermost room. Unlike other places built in the tradition of Northern Africa, the room had a steel door, giving them a sense of discordance. As the door opened slowly, Yuri felt the delicate aroma of black tea from inside, and saw a man sat in front of a round table with his guards.

"Ah, you have arrived. I welcome your visit, agent Yuri. The name's Richelieu. I'm the Site director."

The man only turned his head to greet the visitors. Yuri noticed that the room itself and and the interior of it were made in western style.

"The driver had a lot of nice words about you. I heard that you love the local culture, you're a good man who does his best to get along with the residents…" Yuri slurred the end of her sentence, to provoke him to find out his style of conversation.

Richelieu shifted uncomfortably for being seen through. "Why, the locals wouldn't need to know the inside story of a generous French millionaire. The information control like this is so common in this world, isn't it?"

"Oh… Of course it is." Yuri nodded, smiling as if she understood his burden. Just like he said, she has been lying countlessly to conceal the existence of the Foundation as a field agent. Furthermore, she was convinced that Richelieu was not that antagonistic. Richelieu smiled back and continued.

"Thank you so much for visiting here in person. It cannot have been an easy job to come here while evading the Foundation's radar."

"I'm aware of the fact that this is not a business of little importance that can be negotiated without any direct discussion."

Richelieu nodded in approval. "You are quite right."

Yuri lifted her cup, pretending to be in an easy attitude, to gain time to evaluate the man. Maybe it could be drugged for a shallow trick, but there would be nothing to do for her if he did not trust the deal to that extent. She calmly savored the tea, and checked Richelieu.

Overall, he was a plain Frenchman. The well-tailored suit, the cup of Ceylon tea in his hand, the decent manner, and the smile on his lips added to that impression. His wrinkles and gray hair also disclosed his experience, but he was certainly not just a harmless old man. Rather —

'He's like an old… crafty fox.' Yuri privately concluded.

It showed in his icy, unsmiling eyes, and his skills that brought around the residents easily and insured the safety of his site in Libya.

She came up with the character Richelieu — the old schemer in "Three Musketeers" — thinking that no other codenames wouldn't be more suitable than that. As Yuri put down her cup, Richelieu broke the silence.

"Speaking about the business, Let me point out one thing for you."

Yuri looked at him.

"The Foundation is a strong organization. More dangerous than any other organizations we are hostile to. I'm sure you know this… You wouldn't suggest any high-risk action unless you are sure you will benefit by it."

"You mean, you wish to know why I'm willing to engage into dangerous business."

Richelieu nodded, leaning back. Yuri also settled into a more comfortable position before replying.

"Because I'm tired of it. Tired of being unacknowledged of my value, although I have worked so hard hiding all behind. You probably investigated about me, so I'm sure you will understand what I'm talking about."

"I do. I cannot respond to someone whom I do not know… I heard that you were expelled from the Russian headquarters. Is that the reason?"

"Part of it. But…" Yuri paused for a while. "The main reason is that I've found an alternate route. With the 'dormant star', I can elude the Foundation and live a free, easy and wealthy life for the rest of my days."

"You have great confidence in yourself."

"Yes, I do." Yuri smiled, then added firmly and seriously: "Though I cannot tell you more. For me, this business is… a great gamble, risking my life."

Richelieu nodded comprehension.

"Alright, I will not go further. You will have thought about it already. Well, it wouldn't be a great idea to hold you here too long, so let's get to the point. You want the anomaly 'the dormant star'. You offer a partial copy of the Foundation Database and one million dollars. Fifty thousand dollars will be deposited first. Is that correct?"

"Correct. The remainder will be given as soon as my safety is guaranteed."

"Do you mind if I check what you brought in person?"

"Not at all. But not everything at once."

Richelieu considered the options for a while. "Then the reports, please."

Yuri signaled to Song next to her; he lifted one of the suitcases and placed it on the table.

"With all due respect, sir, please don't take any photographs or scans before the negotiation is sealed."

"Of course."

"Song, open it."

By her order, Song skillfully turned the dial of the lock. A click echoed over the room. Song picked up a document and handed it to Richelieu, who examined it calmly.

"Very… interesting. How many files are in there, approximately?"

"The reports about the anomalous objects contained in the headquarters of North America and Korea, thirty documents in total. Not so many were available, I assure you that they are all useful."

Yuri secretly looked at Richelieu's face. He tried to hide his expression, but failed to hide his flushed skin.

"You look interested."
"I admit I am. If I could, I would hire you as an agent of ours right here."
"Thank you for saying that."
"Alright. Here is your document. I accept the deal."

Richelieu handed the document over the table. Song took it and placed it back in the suitcase.

"Now, shall we check this item of yours?" Yuri suggested.

Richelieu glanced at his attendant, who walked toward the vault, unlocked it, and dragged out a handcart that was already prepared. Yuri and her companions focused their attention on the aluminum box on the cart. The box was slowly opened, revealing the 'dormant star'; it lay modestly on a red cushion, glowing softly purple.

"Here it is, the 'dormant star'. We have kept it since 1948. This is the first time in 50 years we take it out."

Yuri rose slowly and took a step toward the cart, and put her hand in her front. At the same time, Richelieu's guards all drew their pistols and aimed them at her.

Richelieu raised his hand to keep his guards back, looking at Yuri for an explanation. Yuri raised her hands, showing that she did not plan to resist.

"Easy there. I just want to check."

Yuri took out her laser thermometer and a GM counter from her front. Richelieu waved his hand; the guards put their guns away.


"Surface temperature 50 degree Celsius. Radio reaction is detected. Perfect match with data."

Yuri straightened her black hair scraped back, and put away her equipment. Beep! The item is checked.

"Check. It is the 'dormant star.'"

Richelieu looked pleased.

"I do not lie during a negotiation."

"Why, how trustworthy you are." Yuri smiled. "Alright… I saw it, so I'd like to seal the negotiation now."

"Well, yes. As I just said, we the Chaos Insurgency accept the deal. The 'dormant star' now belongs to you. You do not want to have the agreement in writing, do you?"

"No. I don't want to be tracked by the Foundation with a written proof."

Richelieu offered his hand, smiling. Yuri shook it.

"Song, give them the suitcases and bring me the handcart."

Song handed the two suitcases to Richelieu. He matched the password; Richelieu opened one suitcase, which contained documents and fifty thousand dollars. Song went to the handcart and seized its handle.

"Merci, monsieur Richelieu. This was a very productive meeting."

Richelieu didn't answer, and continued to examine the documents with a stern face.

"Monsieur? Is there a problem?" Yuri asked, patting her neck. Beep! Problem emerged.

"Oh yes, jeune dame loyal agent de la Fondation. There is a problem."

Yuri turned towards the exit, but froze before a guard's drawn gun. Another guard seized Song by the arms; the handcart was taken away.

Richelieu picked one of the documents, sniffed and held it out.

"A special ink that will fade in time." he said mockingly. "Brilliant idea. How bad, I've used this so often when I was young. I even remember the smell of the ink."

"What a veteran. I thought you were totally deceived." Yuri said, putting her hands together behind her head, following the command by the guard. Beep! Negotiation Failed!

"I bow to your daring attempt. I would have been deceived if I'd checked the other documents later. The first document was written with normal ink. I should have guessed when you selected one… The deal is cancelled." Richelieu declared.

He handed the papers to his attendant, ordering for an immediate scanning of them. The attendant walked to the working desk, and activated a multifunction printer. Richelieu saw him once again, and ordered to another guard.

"Radio to all personnel to prepare for the neglection of the Site. And pack the money, the documents, and the object."

Since the moment that he knew that Yuri was a spy from the Foundation, he was judging that the site was no longer safe. They were located, so the raid heading to hostages and the anomaly was so obvious. But he thought that they could escape from the danger if they leave right away, since Libya has had no Foundation sites; the immediate attack wouldn't be done.

"What are you going to do with these spies?" The guard grabbing Yuri asked. Richelieu glanced at her, paused for a while, and said to her sarcastically.

"Congratulations for the martyr medal of the Foundation."

He pulled out an ornate S&W M29 revolver, flicked off the safety, and pointed it at Yuri.

Gunshots and shouts sounded beyond the room.

"What's going on?"

Richelieu instinctively withdrew the revolver, and grasped it with both hands. It could be outside noise… or, it could be the Foundation attacking.

"You brought a task force."

"I did need an escape scenario." Yuri sniggered.

Gunshots and footsteps were getting closer.

"What will you do now? Whether you kill us or not, you won't live long."

"Anyone can tell what's going on. You want to live long, so you're going to turn this situation in a hostage-taking, right?"

"Obviously. But you don't have many options."

Richelieu pointed his gun at Yuri again and was about to speak when explosions and gunshots rang behind the door. The guards hurried to prepare for the engagement on the horizon. Some of them went to the hostages, and some turned to the door. Richelieu also adjusted his gun.

The steel door exploded off the wall. Soldiers in black uniform rushed in.

"I think you're right for now, young agent." Richelieu agreed belatedly, shifting his revolver to the intruders.
 


 


 
 

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