Spyder was half right: the Vladescu Canyon was several hundred feet deep and quite narrow. As the Sun Rose the illumination did filter down, though in a sort of half light or shadow. Not the pitch darkness they had encountered around Presidia of course, but an area in more or less permanent shade. It was around 8 am when they saw the place in front of them.
“Um, its an….ummmm Fortress” said Spyder.
Indeed it was. As they approached the canyon widened out somewhat, even bringing more light down against the southern walls. Along the northern cliffs were a series of terraces, and these were sealed with stone or concrete security walls, towers and solid looking blockhouses. They could see little sign of any actual activity, apart from the odd guard figure.
“Maybe the mine is burrowed in?” said Jake.
“Could be mostly automated” said Katrina. “There little sign of miners barracks and such.”
“Must have a lot of cash then” said Marcus. “Robots, automation, all this.”
“Diamonds man. Diamonds” said Spyder, his eyes glinting.
As they approached the lowest double gate they saw that a guard tower linked to another by a bridge overlooked the dead zone between the two gates. They also noticed the machine gun positions. Security certainly was a priority. The vehicles needed to enter in two groups, but they drove through and were instructed to park up on a middle terrace. The mercenaries jumped out of the Mantis.
“I’ll sign for your delivery now” said their leader, holding out his hand for the delivery datapad. Marcus handed it over and he pressed a code in.
“Your credits have been transferred” he said impassively. “Wait” he said, looking over their shoulders. A covered buggy was approaching from behind. The mercenaries formed either side of the vehicle, forming a flanking guard. Four people stepped out.
Two of these were young men, dressed in the finest mars gear. One of these stood silently by the buggy while the other, seemingly clad somewhat showily in black leather let his face protectors slip, and grinned wolfishly at them beneath his dark goggles. He twirled an expensive looking shotgun and rested it over his shoulder.
“Man, it’s f*****g Jim Morrison” muttered Spyder under his breath.
One of the figures was a girl, and they caught wisps of dark hair from her hood, but she also stood in the background.
It was their leader who drew their attention like a magnet. A huge man, six foot four at least, and wearing an expensive duster trimmed around the shoulders, it seemed, with real fur. Despite the cold (now a mere -20 or so) he let his face mask down, revealing a lined face with long, iron grey hair – man in his early sixties perhaps, but still hale and strong. It was his eyes that fascinated them however, deep and cold, like the martian night, and seeming to stare thought them out of a deep pool, or from very far away. They were eyes that missed nothing, and that had seen much. They were eyes to be afraid of.
“Which of you is Kaminski?” he said in a thick Slavic accent. Everybody pointed at Marcus before he could bring himself to respond. The man stepped forward, and gripped Marcus in a grip of ice and iron.
“Velcome neighbour” said the old man. “And Christmas Greetings on this day. It seems I have you to thank for delivery of our cargo.”
Spyder started to say something but Jake kicked him in the shin. The Lizard King grinned wider.
“We like to keep to ourselves here ….for many reasons” said the old man. A truck had pulled up and the cargo was being unloaded now. A new container was loaded onto one of their Rovers however.
“Uncut Diamonds: a fact which we do not advertise. Operation is very secret, and of course we would like to keep it that way……Neighbour.” said the Old Man.
“Otherwise it cause us….and you as near location…. no end of trouble.” he continued.
“And of course you are small farm in lonely location. And you are often away leaving cousin alone. Very vulnerable. You not want that placed at risk with trouble makers and looters do you Mr. Kaminski?”
“Er…No” gulped Marcus. “I guess not”
“Of course knowing you as a good neighbour my men will try to keep an eye on things from now on, as we may. Neighbours should help one another, do you not agree Mr. Kaminski?”
“Sure thing Mr. Vladescu” stammered Marcus. “I totally agree”
“And understand” cut in Katrina.
“Good” said the Old Man, with a somewhat unnerving smile. “Then I wish you all on your way”
He gestured and a guard brought up a series of sealed toasts. His was slightly different, noticed Katrina. They drank down what appeared to be some extremely fiery liquor.
“I wish you safe journey then” said the Old Man, looking at their vehicles. “I suggest you leave damaged Rover here and make your way quickly home in the other. My men will repair it, and deliver it within a week or so.”
“That seems fine Sir” said Marcus. The return would take them all day trailing the damaged vehicle anyway. This way they might actually be home for Christmas lunch.
Nobody spoke much on the way home, and Katrina simply slept.