Home again, Razorback Cliffwalker steps off the transport, his brow furrowed as he looks around with a sigh. His tail sways behind him as he makes his way towards the gate and Alhira.

Two militia guards flank the gate at this entrance to the city. One holds up a hand while the other hefts a rifle in his grip. “Random stop and check,” the guard says to Razorback. “State your name and the purpose of your visit.”

The Cliffwalker’s collection of armaments make the likelihood of the check being truly random rather doubtful, but he decides to trust in Senator Sandwalker’s promise. “Razorback, clan Cliffwalker,” he says, “And the purpose of my visit is … Well, is it a visit when one comes home?” A faint smirk plays on his muzzle while his ears lean forward.

The guard with the rifle gives a mordant snicker, but his companion checks the name against a list on his PDA. His eyebrows twitch and his ears swivel backward. “Sorry for the inconvenience, Mr. Cliffwalker. You’re cleared. No problem.”

“My thanks,” Razorback says, dipping his head respectfully as he passes through the checkpoint.

Hunger seems to be the first order of business for the Cliffwalker, and he immediately begins to make his way towards a particularly popular pastry shop.

“Feed the underclasser orphans!” shouts a female Demarian on the corner near the pastry shop, waving a sign that reads “CARE FOR OUR CHILDREN.”

Razorback does pause at the shouting, stopping to study the female carefully. With the sigh of someone expecting disappointment, he approaches. “You represent an orphanage?” he asks.

The female blinks, her tail lashing back and forth. “Yes?” she ventures. Nervously.

Nostrils sniff the air as Razorback continues to study the other Demarian. “Which orphanage?” he asks.

“The, uh, Keepers of the Perpetual, erm, Light,” she says. Fangs clack together.

“And you say that the kits there lack food?” Razorback asks, his brow furrowing incredulously.

“I’m saying that it isn’t cheap to feed them,” the female replies, lifting her snout with a bit of an imperious air.

“Very well,” the Cliffwalker says with a faint nod, “Then you will take me there.”

“Will I?” she inquires with a huff. “And you think someone else will just stand here in my place, asking for money? Give or don’t. Stop wasting my time.”

“Very well,” Razorback says with the same nod before turning and stepping into the shop.

“The Holders of Eternal Hope will remember your ‘generosity,’ stranger!” she calls after him, before turning back to other generous souls.

A minute or two later, Razorback emerges with a large box of fresh bread which he offers to the female. “If you represent an orphanage, surely this will do as well, yes?” he says.

The female eyes the bread like it’s a wriggling sand eel. She grunts, then walks away – probably in search of a new corner to inhabit.

Razorback snorts with derision and begins to make his way down the street with his box of bread until he finds a hotel. This time, he takes a good, hard look at the porter. Just to be sure.

The white-and-blue furred porter tips his cap to Razorback. “Any baggage, sir?”

“Not at the moment, thank you,” the Cliffwalker replies, chuckling at himself as he makes his way inside to acquire a room.

“And how long will you be staying with us?” the clerk inquires at the main desk.

“Let us say the next three days for now,” Razorback says to the clerk.

“I have a luxury suite available,” the clerk replies. “Many of the other rooms are booked, I’m afraid. Big crowd in town for the gladiator tournament.”

“So,” Razorback begins, an eyeridge quirking upwards, “If many of the other rooms are booked, you imply that some are not. I will happily take one of those.”

“Of course,” the clerk says,  calling up a display on his holographic emitter. “Room 326. Third floor. Unoccupied suites on either side – those rooms are undergoing a complete refit. I think they’re doing the plumbing in 324 and replacing the walls in 328. You’d be right across from the lift, though.”

The Cliffwalker’s ears flatten just a little bit. He puts it down to paranoia though and thanks the clerk, making his way to the lift.

A maintenance worker is taping off the lift with a strap of yellow. “Sorry,” he says. “Malfunctioning. Stairs work up to three. If you’re going past four, the lights are out. Oh, and look out on the second-floor landing. Bachelor party went bad. Nasty sick.”

Feeling just a little bit like a rat in a maze, Razorback makes his way to the stairs sniffing and listening ahead of him as he opens the door and begins to make the climb.

The lights do appear to be dark above the fourth landing if Razor looks up. And the stench from the vomit on the second landing is nearly overwhelming. But the silver hover orb bobbing at the base of the stairwell seems unperturbed. It drifts at about snout-level to Razorback. It’s not bristling with guns. Looks like a pretty standard image-casting orb. From it emerges the holographic image of Robert Colclough: “Hello, Mr.  Cliffwalker.”

“Sands…” Razorback lets slip, his ears flattened tightly against his mane, “Mr. Colclough, while I appreciate the lengths through which you have gone to arrange this … meeting … Perhaps next time a brick through my window might give me less fur loss, no?”

That gets a tight smile from the Consortium Intelligence director’s pudgy face. “My apologies for the subterfuge. I prefer to ensure that our communications are secure and unmonitored. By anyone but us, of course. Your hotel, I should assure you, is quite safe. It’s one of our operational centers. You are not, in fact, staying in room 326. Instead, you are in 671. We’re putting someone else in 326. Someone we’re watching closely after talking with Agent Wilkes.”

“Are you asking me to have a conversation with this particular individual?” Razorback asks, his ears quirking forward now.

“Not yet,” Colclough replies. “Soon, I think. For now, go about your business as normal. I’ve taken the liberty of leaving a special commlink in your room. We’ll use that to talk. And, of course, you will be compensated for any assistance you render during this investigation.”

The Cliffwalker considers this carefully. “You understand that my level of trust in you and your government is tenuous at best,” he says.

“You may choose not to assist at all,” Colclough replies. “You are under no obligation to remain here. You may leave and stay at a different hotel. I will not trouble you there. But…I suspect you are nagged by the unfinished business caused by Agent Wilkes. As I am. Still, you have a choice. It is up to you.”

“I am willing to assist,” Razorback says with a nod, “Just be aware of the consequences that might arise if I were to discover that my … talents were being put to untoward use.”

“Understood,” Colclough says. “I’ll be in touch.” The orb goes dark.

The Cliffwalker shakes his head for a moment before he takes on the six-story climb.

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By Brody

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