Cool night air whips against a face permanently fixed with sunglasses and an ironic scowl, as the owner cuts through the sky on his totally unsubtle red-and-yellow flying skateboard. He'd lambasted the alchemiter department back at CQ for half an hour straight when they'd presented him his new means of travel, but inwardly he relishes the awful colors and ridiculous flame pattern. It's like something from a Sega Genesis ad from 1991. In a word: Rad.
As he's nearing his destination, his smart-shades alert him to another airborne presence in the area. Without warning, a similarly red and orange flying suit of armor swoops down to his altitude and began to fly alongside him. Out of reflex he tucks a hand into his white dinner jacket to grab his Walther PPK, but before he can complete the motion, the mechanical humanoid's visor opens: the inhabitant is none other than his foreign female contact.
"Easy there, Commander. We've all heard you're quite the lady-killer, but I didn't think OSI meant it literally!" she quips, her suit automatically syncing with his shades' inbuilt comm systems and displaying as lime-green text on the readout. "US Air force intelligence, Captain Jade Harley, at your service!"
"Seems you know me already, Harley, so let's get to it. I assume you have the mission files for this little get-together?"
"You bet! You're gonna land on the roof of a parking garage a couple blocks from the hotel where the event is taking place, change into formalwear- well, I see that won't be an issue for you- then a chartered limo will pick you up, drop you off at valet, and you and your partner will do your thing! The goal is to get as much info on codename 'Fins' as possible."
"Hold up. Who's this partner they're saddling me with? They know I work best alone."
"Silly! It's me!" shouts Harley happily, spinning in a neat barrel roll.
The dinner-jacketed agent is somehow able to facepalm and still keep his balance.
As the duo lands on the roof of the parking garage, the man quickly captchalogues the brightly-colored monstrosity and begins fiddling with his evening wear, fixing his tie and straightening his gig line- the press would be there, after all, and no decent spy could pass up a bit of notoriety when on easy offer. It hasn't escaped his notice that his female companion is taking a few steps away, far enough to be hard to see but for the imposing silhouette of the armor.
Which she promptly captchalogues, leaving her almost naked.
Apparently she isn't aware the other agent's shades allow him amplified-light vision. Even in total darkness the image is clear as day: a good field agent would never miss a chance to gather intel on his enemies or his friends, and as he finishes combing his blond hair back into an impeccable part, he silently ponders his new partner's choice in lingerie. Bright green? A bit childish, he thinks- but no matter, on that knockout figure she could make anything work.
The logic behind the odd color choice becomes a little more obvious, though, when Harley equips her evening gown: a pitch-black number with green sequins sparkling from swooping neckline to the ankle-length skirt, evoking a neon-sign-laden boulevard at 3 AM. Here in America, he reflects wryly, this sort of thing is unfortunately the height of culture. Still, in this instance he can't quite bring himself to complain; the long slit up the side allows more than just a peek at her long, milk-pale legs with each step and the low neckline displays her- be cool, he reminds himself- her munitions quite effectively. Satisfied with his own appearance, he walks over to her and smoothly draws up the zipper on the back of the charming agent's dress.
"You look ravishing, dear. Hope you've had the foresight to pack something with a punch amongst all that weaponry." Inch after inch of her pale back disappears.
"If you mean a gun, then no. I'm a 3rd degree black belt in Aikido. Learned from a Japanese grandmaster in Guam."
"All the oriental voodoo in the world isn't going to stop a bullet." Now he's attaching the string of black pearls she'd handed him over her shoulder.
"Can't wait to prove you wrong, Commander." Her wry smile is infuriating, but he technically can't give her orders on this mission, so he decides to play it every bit as cool as per usual. She extends her elbow. He takes it.
Descending one level of the parking garage silently, the two meet their limousine and quickly climb inside. Immediately the man reaches for the minibar. "What'll you have?" he asks, shades already loading up his bartending encyclopedia app.
"Oh, I don't drink on missions, club soda for me," she replies absently, looking out the window at the streets going by.
"Unacceptable. Let's try again. What are you drinking? A real drink, mind you; no one shows up to a party like this stone-cold sober."
"I guess it's pointless to argue with you. Anything you feel like making, then. But not too strong, okay?" She turns to look at him. Her long black hair follows a fraction of a second behind, flowing perfectly over one shoulder. He hadn't noticed her green eyes before. They're stunning.
"Yeah, not too strong. Sure." He grabs three bottles between his fingers and begins to unscrew the lids with his left hand. Deftly portioning the green fluid and a couple ice cubes into a martini shaker he pulls from the cabinet in the armrest of the limo, he shakes it precisely four times, and doles it carefully into a martini glass.
"One grasshopper for the lady." He hands it to her. "Have you had one of these? I had one in Harlem last month. Your eyes reminded me."
Blushing ever so slightly, Harley responded, "No. I really don't drink much at all." She takes a small sip. When she brings the glass away from her lips, a slight trace of green remains. "Oooh, minty!" she giggles.
The agent chuckles once. He sets into making his own drink with robotic precision, seemingly not even paying attention. The various bottles fly left and right as he adds a little of this, a little of that- actually, quite a bit of that-
"Gosh, commander, take it easy with the gin, why don't you?"
"Firstly, don't tell me how to make my drink. Secondly, congratulations, because you just ordered one of your own." As he pours the clear liquid out of the shaker the cool concoction immediately frosts the glass. He adds a long curl of lemon peel before handing the glass to the girl even as the bubbles are still rising. "I always have one before a mission. Same every time, like a scratched record. I've got it down to a science- portion, temperature, even the lemon peel."
Harley takes a cautious sip. "Oh my god. Commander, this is the best-"
"Thirdly, stop calling me commander. The name's Strider. Dave Strider."
Harley takes another sip of the strong cocktail in silence, the blush returning to her face, as Dave makes another for himself and downs it quickly. The rest of the limo ride passes comfortably, and before long the long black car pulls up to the valet stand and drops the two off at the party.
They proceed into the hotel arm in arm, and Jade makes the mistake of slipping slightly on one of her high-heeled shoes. It seems she's a bit of a lightweight- who'd have thought- and Dave steadies her, his arm wrapping around her shoulder, bare but for the thinnest black strap. They cross the threshold into a lavish ballroom, populated almost exclusively by trolls in expensive clothes. Harley tenses, earning a patronizing chuckle from Strider, and a little squeeze on the gooseflesh of her arm. "Now, try not to get into too much trouble, my dear. Go have fun."
"Don't worry about me, I'll be fine," she answers with an impudent cheerfulness, giving him a heart-stopping wink, her bright green eyes glowing in the gold light streaming from the chandeliers. Yet again, as she turns around, her hair follows slightly afterwards, floating like dark silk in water. How does she do that? Strider only nods, and as she bounds away, he begins to look for high-profile targets.
Immediately he spots Vriska Serket, codename Webs, known aliases Mindfang and known colloquially as the Spiderbitch. She is, unsurprisingly, standing in the center of a ring of male and female trolls in lavish clothes, laughing and grinning, pointed teeth and dangerous-looking horns glinting in the light. The known kismesis of codename Fins, her presence was predicted but as a documented kismesis, she'd be useless to interrogate. The kismesis of a troll like the one they're looking for would die under the most extreme torture before betraying a single fact that would lead to his defeat by anyone else. It's a strange, strange relationship, but one the Royal Navy's used on multiple occasion to bring down their targets.
He notices Harley getting acquainted with a hulking brute of a troll with long straight hair. He's wearing cracked sunglasses but they don't hide the obvious perspiration on his brow. Another high-profile target; that makes three of them, assuming codename Fins is here tonight. But they're here for info, not blood, regardless the color.
He sidles up to a waitress holding a tray of cocktails, hands in pockets, one-hundred-percent nonchalant despite his $2000 jacket. Might as well be wearing a letterman. She's a gorgeous number in a sort of playboy-bunny getup- fishnets and cleavage ahoy- her long curly black hair topped with a pair of ram-like horns. Her expression doesn't change from its statuesque smile, and she extends the tray to him.
"Care for a drink, sir?"
"I'd rather have the bar," replies Strider coolly, "Assuming it's full service."
"You can have a drink," replies the troll. "The smile's all the service you're gonna get." She exaggerates her smile just a bit, and in her sharp fangs glimmer threateningly.
"Easy there, lady. Didn't mean to offend. I was just wondering if your boss is here tonight- the man behind the operation, so to speak. The one they call Dualscar."
She goes still. "Take your drink and go, human. I don't know how you got invited to this mess but it's not somewhere you want to be."
"Fine, have it your way, but if you get bored later, I'd like to pick your brain a bit more…" He slips a card adorned with a pixelated broken record logo onto her drink tray. It says:
S c r a t c h
Followed by his phone number. There's no name. "This is just my cover, I'm actually a secret agent. Don't tell anyone." The troll girl's smile goes a bit incredulous, but before he can say anything he's already slouched off.
Next target sighted. The agent's shades identify yet another highblood: not one of the underworld royalty but one of the actual for-real yes-trolls-actually-have-royalty royalty. Her name is Feferi Peixes, and she's apparently Fins' "moirail," which is like a specially-designated, officially sanctioned best friend. Why she'd involve herself with someone so below-the-board is beyond Dave, but then, Trolls' view of criminal work is that it's equal to legal work in every conceivable sense.
Since Human law enforcement pretty much leaves their parts of town up to their own messed-up justice system, this strikes Dave as really neither here nor there, but what he's being informed of now by his shades is that she's the highest-up troll in the entire city. There's a lot of info on her; she's gone through the most minimal of efforts to hide data about herself online. Frequent hangouts, favorite cuisine, top 10 albums- it seemed a miracle she hadn't been assassinated! She's even got a Glubspace page, for Christ's sake.
Curiously, she's by herself. Taking it as a welcome opening, he crosses the ballroom to her, passing tuxedoed trolls and scantily-clad waitresses proffering trays of delicious-looking hors d'oeuvers, and with just the right amount of aloof charm, he draws up to the seatroll, standing at the bottom of a beautiful red-carpeted staircase.
This would be the moment to stun her with a perfectly charming, witty-but-still-sexy line that will echo in her head for the rest of the night.
"'Sup," he says, leaning casually against the brass banister. "Heard you like glubcore."
Feferi's eyes are suddenly wide open. "I LOVE GLUBCORE! OH MY GOD DO YOU LIKE IT TOO?" She claps her hands together and personally delivers the most disgusting grin.
"...Er, yeah. Well, it's not as good back in England, but I have a few LPs by, er," His shades quickly remind him of one of her favorite bands, "Scared To Depths."
"WOOOOOOOW! You have SUCH good taste! OH MY GOD, You know what? I met the Singer? Of Depths! At this little dive bar? And like, turns out he's a vegetarian?"
Suddenly the reason behind Feferi's solitude becomes abundantly clear. After 15 seconds he already hates her royal pink guts.
"Wow. That's so deep," he replies unenthusiastically. Feferi's grin increases even wider and she bursts into a particularly unpleasant cackle.
"OH MY COD! Was that a fish pun! I love fish puns! OK, my turn-"
"Say, I was hoping you could tell me where to find your moirail, actually..." Strider replies quickly, hoping to nip any further punning, intentional or not, in the bud.
The fishtroll's expression darkens glubstantially- substantially. Her purple lip quivers, and a fuchia-tinted tear sparkles in her eye.
"Glub…" She glubs.
"Woah, sorry, didn't mean to upset you. Uh, so I guess he's not going to be here?"
"No… I mean, yes, he's here, probably in his suite, but he's not my moirail anymore… Glub!"
So he is here, Strider concluded. "Sorry to hear that. Shame for such a lovely creature as yourself to go unaccompanied. Unfortunately, I've some terribly urgent business to take care of-"
"Oh, don't go yet! Tell me about the Glubcore scene in England! I've only been once- I spend most of my time bouncing between here and the Caribbean."
The moment she says these words, Strider's shades flash an update directly from CQ. Persue lead into troll crime activity in Caribbean. The agent barely blinks, instead looking back at Feferi and smiling slightly. "You know what, sure. Terribly urgent business can wait. But before I tell you about the time I saw the most amazing show at Brixton Academy, I have to know- where in the Caribbean?"
The aquatic troll giggles. "Nowhere you've ever been… There's a pretty big city of seatrolls off the coast of Nassau, on the seafloor. If you grow gills someday, drop by and visit! The water's warm all year!" She cackles merrily.
"And all your swimming about is for vacation or what?" Dave cocks an eyebrow.
"No, silly! Wow, you really don't know much about trolls do you? I'm the Queen! As in, like the president? Duh!"
"Wow! I mean, I always just thought it was a title with no real power but a ton of cash and corgis, like ours." Strider is getting tired of feigning ignorance to entertain an immature political leader, but then he's had practice with this kind of thing his entire Naval career, so he puts up with it.
"Yeah, so needless to say I'm pretty busy all the time. But glubbing Eridan texts me out of nowhere and tells me to 'drop wwhatevver I'm doin'' and get over here right away for this important party. Sometimes there's just no arguing with a guy like that! So here I am!"
"So you go around making sure things that take place in your city are legal and things like that? Writing laws and whatnot?"
"Legal? Glubglubglub!" Her laugh reminds Dave of the sound of blowing bubbles in milk. "You're just precious! I get what you're saying, though. You know, if you're trying to move products through the area, I can hook you up with some of my import/export friends- I keep my flippers out of it but there's no blueblood alive who doesn't at least know a guy."
"I'd appreciate that. Not out loud, though- I have an SSL email for business, proxied and 256-bit encrypted. Military-level security. If you could send the info to this email, I'll cut you in for one-and-a-half percent." He proffers one of his cards, and she takes it in her cool, rubbery hand. The word clammy flashes in his mind but he waves it aside like cigarette smoke. No time for puns, Strider. Focus.
"Glub! Sounds like we cod ourshellves a keel," giggles Feferi, and then interpreting Dave's pained expression as misunderstanding, repeats herself. "Got ourselves a deal..."
"Oh! Haha!" Strider forces a laugh.
She digs her phone out of her purse and fiddles with it for a minute. It's a heavy-duty number, apparently designed to withstand seafloor-level water pressure.
"There! Sent!" She chirps.
His shades assure him sufficient data has been gathered on the secondary mission and it's time to get back to plan A. "Well, I'd better be going before the peanut gallery over there starts talking. If we're going to be in business, I'm sure we'll be seeing more of each other. Maybe we could catch a show sometime."
Feferi grins, exposing her rows of sharp shark teeth. "I'd really like that." Mental note- no matter how much of this crazy broad I do end up seeing, fellatio is off the table. And with that, Strider saunters off to resume his search for Eridan Ampora.
"Wait!" she calls. "I didn't get your name!"