I had trouble focusing on anything but those squirming tattoos.
They moved, crawling around and across each-other like so many pointy ended, occasionally bifurcating caterpillars. It took me a minute to realize that wasn't just the pop to the head I'd taken; the tattoos were actually moving.
I blinked and things came into better focus. The face behind the caterpillars was young: late teens or early twenties, and a smile of nervous relief hung like a ghost of innocence on those lips. A Blooder smiling in relief is like an expression of vicious blood-lust on your grandmother: a bit off-putting. She spoke, brisk and businesslike, over the slightly worried tone, "Good, you're awake."
She gestured and I noticed track marks on her forearm. Old and still fading, like footprints in sand. Must'a quit before joining up - I'd heard that Dun didn't like his troops sampling the product, and they had a real short recovery program. 1 step, in fact.
I was lowered to the ground by a bulky guy with a nose like a cargo hook and a permanent sneer. He had a few less of the Rak' cavorting across his face, and a scar pulling down the corner of his left eye. He wasn't really the chatty type, I could tell right away.
He cut off my restraints and lifted me to my feet like a sack of beans with legs. Maybe I was still a little wobbly, but I was coming to my senses quick - waking up surrounded by blooders'll do that to you.
They escorted me through the small room's only door. It opened onto a wave of thick, fragrant smoke from dozens of hookahs. Low tables were scattered around, most of them crowded with people. I recognized the place, its quasi-Amarr trappings and its mix of Empire and Kingdom ex-pats and local-born Intaki: Kalorr's Delight. It was a bar and lounge with a good reputation among those who enjoyed a pipe, a drink, and ignorance about who the powers on the station were. For the rest of us, it was blooder central, and the back rooms enjoyed their own reputation.
Trackmarks and Hooknose hustled me through the mixed, sweet haze, conversation dipping as we went by and picking back up behind us, a wave of interrupted susurration tracking our progress. Maybe the normal clientele knew more than I credited them with. Then we were through one of those notorious doors to the back, down a short hallway, through another door, and there was the man himself.
Dun was somewhere in his fifties, Minmatar, mixed tribe. I've heard it said he is just a little more of everything than anyone should be, and that's maybe true. When he was put together, they added a bit of extra everywhere. He's huge, powerfully built, a good half meter taller than me, and I'm not a short guy. He's also ugly as the morning after a bender and charismatic as a - well, as a cult leader. The Rak were swimming across his face, atop the faded remains of gang and tribal tattoos.
The Rak'esme, the fearsome reputation for fanaticism, even the garishly ornate tent Dun wore as a robe - it was all just branding. The man leaning back in a throne-like chair across a wide, design-inlaid desk from me had seen the Blooders and he had seen potential. For money, for power. So, he threw on the robes, rose in the ranks, and made up some scary tattoos. Before Dun, Blooders were non-existent on the station as movers and shakers. Strictly small time. Now even the local Cartel is wary of them.
No doubt he had wielded the knife himself, any number of times, and splashed around in rivers of blood, but Dun was an ambitious businessman, not a fanatic. At least, that's what my gut told me, and I hoped I was right. My life depended on it.
Dun dismissed his lackeys and gestured to a chair, "Rordon, I have a problem."
His voice, his manner, invited confidence - even trust. Like a dear old friend just rediscovered, or a well liked boss. Maybe there's a reason I'm self-employed. I took a seat as he went on, "I understand that you've been asking questions about the followers of the Faith. That someone told you we stole something. Even that one of my people might have attacked you. I thought if we could sit down, we could clear up this little misunderstanding."
"Whacking a guy over the head and stringing him up doesn't say 'let's have a chat' to me, Dun."
"Regrettably, when I made it known that I would like to see you some of my people took it upon themselves to actually capture you. I will make sure that they understand their mistake. Something to drink?"
He might have been telling the truth about how I ended up hanging up-side down in his club, or the whole thing might have been an exercise in pointing out how I could have ended up. I don't think I'll ever know. The important thing was he didn't want me dead.
Unless he just hadn't decided yet.
He pressed a button and spiced wine was brought in, piping hot - and blood red, of course. Hell, it did do wonders for my headache.
After a minute or two, he went on, "I can tell you categorically that none of my people were involved in this. In fact, I'm more than a little unhappy with whoever it is that is sullying our reputation, and I would consider it a personal favor if you would let me know anything you find out." Tempting. In Syndicate, a personal favor meant a debt that would be paid. He smiled, looking like some huge, Gothic, late-Doule-era gargoyle dressed in a brocaded, silk robe, "If I want podder corpses, I can buy them. Again: sorry about the rough handling."
An obvious dismissal. As I stood, the door was opened by the girl with track marks who indicated I should follow her. Before I left, I turned back to the Blooder high priest, "Just a question, Dun. The Rak, they always move?"
Trackmarks looked bit shocked anyone would speak after being dismissed, but her boss took it in stride, "Yes. They represent the power that rests in our blood. If your blood is still, you're dead, aren't you?"
You sure are. It might be bullshit, but he managed to make it sound good. I headed back to the office.
I checked behind the door first thing. No one waiting to clobber me.