Brushing out the creases in her uniform with her hands, Lieutenant Claire Farron took a deep, nervous breath before opening the door to her superior's office. Her superior, Captain Amodar was sitting behind his desk with a displeased expression plastered over his large and usually jovial face. His moustache twitched as he made eye contact with her.
"Sit down Farron, there's something I need to discuss with you."
It was at this point that Claire noticed they were not alone. Two other individuals were in the room sitting across from the captain, impeccably dressed in their white uniforms.
"Farron I'd like you to meet special agents Cid Raines and Jihl Nabaat from the PSICOM Division." The pinkette's heart leapt into her throat. She had been making applications to join the special investigative team of PSICOM for the last three years, working overtime to the detriment of her relationship with her sister. Could all this hard work have finally paid off? The captain knew how much progression in her career meant to her, Claire then wondered why he carried a sour look on his face.
Amodar cleared his throat before continuing, the agents not saying anything to the lieutenant beyond a basic but cool professional greeting. "Farron, Cid and Jihl have come here to request your secondment to an undercover assignment in Eden through the organised crimes special unit." Her dream job, it was all too good to be true. She cautiously looked over at the two agents, impassive in their appearance. Jihl looked almost bored with the proceedings and handed over a classified folder for Claire to look at. "Raines, if you would." She drawled at her partner as she gestured for him to take over.
"Of course. I'm not certain how well up to date your knowledge of Eden's underworld is considering you're all the way out here in Bodhum Farron."
The pinkette bristled internally but refused to let it show. She decided to take the professional approach with her response. "Up until approximately a year ago there were three major crime families battling it out for control over the territory, involved in just about everything illegal you can book a person for from underground gambling, trafficking, theft, murder.. A newcomer on the gang scene by the name of NORA which stands for No Obligations, Rules or Authority began targeting the families until an all-out war hit the streets of Eden. While NORA has disappeared altogether, in their wake they severely crippled the families, leaving room for other gangs from outside territories such as Nautilus and Luxerion to make their way in."
Jihl adjusted her glasses with a smirk on your face. "You do your homework ahead of schedule I see, Farron."
Claire shrugged in response. "I had to write a tactical assessment of the ganglands as part of one of my applications to join PSICOM ma'am."
Cid nodded and flipped through the paperwork. "NORA has indeed disappeared, with the death or incarceration of key members, and their leader known as Titan missing; presumably in hiding. However, we have reason to suspect that a small contingent is still operative despite most of the living members being in prison. We need to know how they are communicating, and if they are in contact with Titan."
He paused in his briefing, looking over at the captain as if requesting permission to continue.
"This is where you come in. We're going to put you into general population at the Gallies as a prisoner transfer, and let you get amongst them. Nobody you've put away is at this prison, we've made sure of it so that nobody will recognise you. If there's anyone still likely communicating with the outside it will be this member. Goes by the name of Yun Fang. We will need you to get close to her and find out what they're up to."
Yun Fang. Claire was familiar with the name. No family to speak of, save for a step sister whose identity is not known, she was the loose cannon of NORA, rising quickly through the ranks in the gang hierarchy due to her ruthlessness and reckless nature. She cared little for collateral damage, and she probably had more personality disorders than a deck had cards. She was found as a brawler in illegal pit fighting and was recruited by Titan to serve as the muscle. She was one of the few who was caught alive earlier in the year and incarcerated for the rest of her natural life. Unlike her comrade, Gadot Tsu, not enough evidence could be pinned to put her on death row, so she will rot in the prison system teeming with her rivals.
Claire had to pause her line of thinking as something struck her as odd. "Sir, while I am certainly grateful for the opportunity, I must ask something. I've been making applications to join the investigative team for over three years now… what was it that finally landed me here?"
Jihl sighed and took out a cigarette from a pocket in her jacket. "Don't overanalyse it too much Farron. Yun has a weakness for… beautiful women. So take it as a compliment and take the assignment."
Claire paled with cold rage seeping through her veins as the two agents stood up and saluted the captain. "We'll leave you to it then, Farron you'll need to report to HQ at dawn on Monday. We will be making preparations until then." They both turned on their heel almost in complete sync and left the office, slamming the door unceremoniously behind them.
Amodar immediately started on his subordinate before she blew. "Now Farron, please just take a breath."
"Are you fucking KIDDING ME." She growled, fists balling until nails bit her palms.
Amodar reached into his desk and pulled out a bottle of whiskey and two glasses. He had barely slid it in front of her before she had grabbed it and downed in a single gulp, letting the burn of the alcohol override her senses for a moment.
"Get a hold of yourself Lieutenant, for all our sakes. Please, Claire," The Captain calmed his voice in the hopes she would follow suit, "I know. They're assholes, especially Nabaat for verbally backhanding you like that. This is more than just your looks as far as I'm concerned, so ignore that arrogant bitch. They're about to throw you into the foxhole and you're a rabbit that needs to get some fangs in a hurry. You take out the last of the NORA gang and you can consider it an all access pass to PSICOM."
Claire had to reluctantly concede the point. However the opportunity was presented, it was an opportunity regardless. "Well Captain, let's see just how much trouble this pretty face of mine can get in."
Claire was slightly relieved at the knowledge that she wouldn't be going in alone. Her handler, a jovial man by the name of Rygdea would be going in as a guard to keep an eye on things. As they waited for the prison transport to arrive, the lieutenant fidgeted in her allocated prison garb, reading through the dossier for her new identity.
"Rygdea, if I may speak freely.." She cautiously asked the relaxed-looking man. He stretched on the bench and laughed quietly.
"Please Farron. I ain't my boss you can talk to me however you like."
"It's just… This profile I'm supposed to adopt," She started, unsure of how to proceed, eventually deciding honesty was the best policy. "It's likely going to get me killed."
"Just how do you figure that Lieutenant Farron?" Agent Raines stepped into view, startling them both. His dark hair fell over his eyes, obscuring his piercing gaze as he contemplated the young pinkette before him. "And please, speak your mind as candidly as you need to."
Claire gulped and looked over the notes. "From the profiling I have done of Yun Fang from the application submissions over the years, she would see through this in an instant. If she is the… womanizer she is claimed to be, she needs to seek me out, not the other way around. Not to mention the name… I don't exactly look like an Ashe do I?"
Silence bore down on the trio as Cid considered her objections. "In the end Farron, you'll be mostly in there on your own. Rygdea is there as a backup to extract you in case it all goes to hell. You've been a decorated officer of the GC for long enough, and I will defer to your judgement. You'll be the one getting up close and personal with the Pulsian after all. If something doesn't feel right… Improvise. I don't care how you get the intel, just that you get it and don't get killed in the process."
Claire nodded in relief. "Thank you, sir."
The prison transport pulled up with a screech of the air brakes, and Claire took a deep breath. This was it. "Remember Farron, part of the undercover work is that you're going to have to stomach a few unpleasantries and turn your police instincts off for the rest. Just remind yourself you're doing this for the greater good, and you'll be fine." Cid called out behind her.
"Good luck Claire," Rygdea said as he patted her on the back in sympathy. "I'll be seeing you at the Gallies."
Claire had to admit she had never seen the inside of a prison before and her first time, of course, had to be on the wrong side of the bars. As she made her way through the halls with the other prison transfers that had been picked up along the way, she was very aware of the number of eyes on them. They were being sized up for anything from recruits to punching bags to sexual relief. She was put in a cell just across and slightly down from the Yun, who at that point was nowhere to be found.
What meagre possessions she was allowed to bring with her she arranged in the small cupboard she was allocated in the cell. A couple of books, socks and a hand-stitched symbol of Etro. Anything more solid could be used as a weapon and was confiscated, so Claire had done a crude stitching with her kit at home on an old piece of material to help sell the persona she was adopting. The easiest way to blend was to not act out of character, so the profile she had developed for herself deviated significantly from the useless tripe they had put on paper for her, but not too far from how she would normally behave anyway.
This was a hunt. Their approach was too obvious and out in the open. She needed to be patient, and bide her time.
They had put her in a cell with an existing prisoner, a timid quiet girl by the name of Alyssa Zaidelle. By Farron's request, they had been partnered up because out of all the prisoners she could be paired with as a cellmate, this one was the least likely to ask questions. The small petite blonde played with the curls of her hair, a nervous twitch that Claire observed straight away as the girl smiled sadly at her.
"H-hi, my name's Alyssa." The girl stammered. Claire merely nodded in greeting with an air of indifference and otherwise said nothing. The blonde was determined though, the Lieutenant would give her that. "You're… A. Palazzo yes? W-what's the A stand for?"
"Aranea. Just call me Palazzo." She responded curtly.
"O-o-okay." The stuttering was bound to try Farron's patience very quickly. "There will be other prisoners coming around l-looking to recruit later on… if you… stay out of it you'll be safer. I'm j-just trying to keep my head down until m-my sentence is up and I am f-f-free."
Whooping and hollering could be heard further down the cell block as a bunch of women started cheering. One of them could be heard yelling out amongst the din. "Hey, Oerba! Looks like we've got some fresh meat in again!" Oerba. The name rang meaning in Claire's head for some reason.
Yun Fang. Oerba's where she's from... Claire thought as she scanned the hallway looking for someone matching the mug shot from her files but found nobody resembling the Pulsian. That didn't stop a chill from shivering down her spine when she heard a hard accent ring out from one of the nearby cells, echoing through the hall.
"Like I give a fuck Paddra, unless there's some serious talent amongst them I couldn't give two shits!"
The accent was drawling, a harsh and grating sound to Claire's ears but at the same time the natural huskiness was definitely appealing. She dismissed the thoughts and settled down to read.
Keeping her nose in a book was the easiest way for her to be both left alone and observe her surroundings through her peripherals. It was with this method that she was able to first get a glimpse of the infamous Yun Fang while out in the yard for their daily recreationals the following morning. Claire sat along the back fence, reading away as she took in her surroundings. It was then that she saw her "target" with her own eyes for the first time.
She was over sitting on a table chatting with a number of prisoners, occasionally waving to the guards and making lewd gestures as she got their attention. Immature… Farron thought to herself disdainfully. However, she had done enough research into the Pulsian criminal to know that despite her jovial and casual nature, she was not one to be taken lightly. She was known for her verbal games and mischievous charm that served to get under people's skin or disarm them with her flirtatious banter. There was nothing cheeky about her gaze despite her behaviour, however; every glance calculating and contemplating. Even Claire had to take a moment to check to make sure her heart was still beating when the Pulsian's staring about the yard fell on her for the first time. A piercing colour; deep dark rings at the edges of her irises that reminded the lieutenant of a forest, and a bright centre of a much more intense green, reminiscent of clouds before a hail storm. Farron saw the woman nod in her direction, clearly asking around about her.
Thus far her plan was going better than expected; with the fact that she had said nothing at all was starting to draw attention to her from the right people. Yun Fang was a highly intelligent predator, and enigmas drew her interest like a ceratosaur to the water's edge.
A note was dropped on the ground by a passing guard, and Farron looked up to see Rygdea wink and continue on his rounds. With all the nonchalant indifference she could muster, she put her book on the ground over the note for a moment, before picking it back up with the paper in tow.
Nabaat's arranged for an introduction between yourself and Yun shortly. Again, trust your gut and use your instincts. Assess the situation as it happens and act accordingly. - Cid
Farron's stomach dropped. She didn't trust Jihl as far as she could throw her, and whatever this plan entailed, it was more likely to get her shanked than in Yun's good graces.
The whistle sounded from one of the guards that it was time to head in, and Claire sighed. She was secretly enjoying the fact her assignment allowed for the extra reading time, giving her the space to catch up on the books her sister had bought her for her birthday last year. As she headed in, her mind wandered back to the note she had been given, and what her daily schedule was that could facilitate such an alleged meeting.
"Oh for Etro's sake you have to be kidding me." Claire stopped in her tracked and pinched the bridge of her nose as realisation dawned on her. Next was the midday meal, which no criminal in their right mind would attempt there to disrupt their little-received food which only left one place that made sense for them to spring an ambush on her.
They were going to meet in the shower block.
"This is no time to be self-conscious Farron…" The pinkette muttered to herself as she undressed in the cubicle. There were no doors, no privacy so she had to just suck it up. She tuned out all the whoops and hollers being cast in her direction from the other inmates as she got under the water. The hiss that escaped her mouth was unavoidable when the droplets first hit Claire's skin, barely even lukewarm.
She proceeded to wash and rinse off as quickly as possible, knowing that the longer she was there with her back turned the higher the risk climbed of someone trying something with her, let alone whatever Jihl had planned for her and Yun. Suddenly she was deathly aware of the silence in the place, all chatter had ceased, and she turned around to find herself face to face with an aggressive looking inmate.
"Such a pretty face you got girly, yet you hid it behind that damn book all mornin'. What's that all about?" She drawled, her voice raspy from what was likely too many years of substance abuse. Farron chose to ignore her comments and stared blankly back at her. Out of the corner of Claire's eyes, she saw Yun Fang enter the bathroom in her robe, skipping the queue and taking up the cubicle next to her. Seemingly ignoring the current altercation occurring, she proceeded to remove the tattered cotton material from around her shoulders, humming quietly to herself.
The inmate grabbed Claire by the jaw and pulled her close. The woman's stubby fingers were filthy, and Farron wasn't hesitant about letting her distaste show. "So how's about it girly? Want to keep me company for the evening?"
Revulsion ran through Claire's mind at the very thought and slowly reached up to grip the brute woman by the wrist. She squeezed and twisted slowly, moving the offending hand away from her throat. "If I wanted to spend the night with a beast," Farron growled, "I would have requested a transfer to a swamp pit. Would have been cleaner than you."
Barking laughter rang out from next to them as the thug's eyes widened in rage. "You keep yer damn mouth shut Oerba." The inmate warned. "Just coz I share a cell wit' you doesn't mean I won't snap your snotty little neck for getting between me and my girly here." The tanned woman whirled around dangerously and leant over the short wall separating her cubicle from Claire's.
"And you watch yours Paddra. I'm in here 'til I'm dead. Like I care if I get a few more years on my belt to put your arse through a wall."
They both looked at Claire, who had gone back to washing herself, scrubbing the soot marks from her face the rude inmate had left. "I belong to no one. Touch me again like that and I'll claim your wrist." She called over her shoulder.
The prisoner grinned, a poor attempt at a flirtatious smile when half her teeth were missing. "Maybe you can have the rest of me too little girly, not just my wrist." She sauntered under the water and gripped the pinkette around the waist. There was no time to even reconcile what happened next. Farron took the inmate's wrist by the hand and twisted it in a terrible direction, breaking the bone. As the woman screamed Claire whipped her head back, smashing the woman square in the face and knocking out a few more teeth in the process. Yun Fang looked impressed, leaning over further to look at her laid out cellmate.
"Damn. That'll teach her good. Hey Sunshine, you got a bit of blood in your hair from that idiot. You need a hand washing it out?" Claire found the salacious smile from the Pulsian far more visually pleasing than the previous one she'd received but still was annoyed at the forward nature regardless. If this was all part of Jihl's setup, it was a terrible idea. It would be too easy. It would get her killed.
"You want to end up like her too?" Farron hissed as she went back under the water to quickly wash her hair. Fang stood back up, spine straight so she could tower over the pinkette despite the low wall separating them.
"You have any idea who I am?"
Farron rinsed the soap out of her hair before turning the water off. "A prisoner, like the rest of us. Beyond that, I don't care." She donned her prison-issue robe and walked out, kicking the unconscious thug in the face as she left.
In the monitoring room, Jihl was seething. "What the hell does she think she's doing? There was a perfect opportunity to sidle up to Yun and she didn't take it!"
Cid was far more perceptive and held a hand up to silence the blonde's ranting. "Off script was the best thing she could have done given the situation. Watch."
They watched Yun on the screen as she still stood facing the exit Farron had just left. "Oh. Oh, I like her." Her accent crackled through the audio.
"She's dropped the lure. Now she will set about reeling her in." Raines observed.
"Well then if she's so intent on improvising, let's give her a hand with that shall we?" Jihl snapped, still visibly frustrated.
"Get up prisoner Palazzo, you're being moved. Zaidelle you have the place to yourself again."
Farron gathered her meagre things and nodded in acknowledgement. "Look after yourself, Alyssa. Keep your head down, put in for a few volunteer things down at the library, you might end up getting your parole earlier." The blonde's head snapped up, shocked at the words from Claire. It was about the most she had said in the week that they'd shared a cell.
"Soooo what was that all about Farron?" The guard whispered as he escorted her down the hall.
"She was just a kid in the wrong place at the wrong time, in with the worst crowd. They don't all deserve to be here." Claire sighed at her handler. "So what's happening here?"
"Jihl's kind of pissed that you didn't follow the script so she's fiddled with transfers to get you in the same cell as Yun," Rygdea responded softly, barely moving his jaw as he spoke.
Claire couldn't help but turn around and stare incredulously. "Are you fucking kidding me? That whole scenario was like every bad prison porn movie, does she want answers or not?"
Rygdea stifled laughter as he regarded the pinkette. "And just how many bad prison pornos have you seen Farron?" He beamed in amusement as he watched her face go red.
"Not my point and you know it." She hissed, "And Jihl trying to speed things up is going to get me into trouble. I've done enough profile studies on Yun Fang to know that she hasn't gotten as far as she has by just blindly trusting the first pair of breasts shoved in her face. Nabaat is reckless and it's going to get me killed."
"Then don't play by her rules pinky… you've done a great job of doing that thus far, so just keep doing it. She's not in here, you are. Now uh, I'm sorry about this but it's gotta be authentic." Rygdea looked a little embarrassed, but before Claire could enquire further he had slipped his role back on and pushed her by the shoulder, making her stumble as she reached her cell.
"Come on, hurry up I got a cigarette to smoke. Meet your new cellmate, Yun. After that stunt your friend pulled yesterday she's in solitary and this one gets to move into her spot."
"Is it at least a new mattress?" Farron drawled sardonically. She suppressed a yelp when Rygdea slapped her on the ass to get her to hurry along into the cell. Right. Gotta make it look "authentic," Claire thought bitterly. "Hey, guard," She said quietly. Rygdea came back up to the bars with a concerned look on his face.
"What is it, Palazzo?"
He was caught unaware and unprepared when Claire whipped her hand out and grabbed him by the collar. She jerked him forward hard, grinning as she heard the 'thunk' of his face hitting the bars.
"Gotta make it look authentic…" she mouthed silently as she shrugged at his split lip. "Maybe you'll think twice the next time you think it's a good idea to touch an inmate without their permission." She spat at his feet and then turned around to make herself comfortable, completely ignoring her new cellmate's fascinated staring.
"Well aren't you just a ray of sunshine?"
Claire said nothing, grabbing one of her books and opening it to where she was up to as she took up her spot on the bunk underneath. Yun had been sitting on the small desk opposite the bunk beds, watching the entrance with great interest. But the pinkette's lack of communication and snubbing had bothered her. She wasn't used to people putting up with her usual antics to the point of where they were outright rebuked or ignored. This'll at least keep me entertained for the foreseeable future… She thought to herself and chuckled.
The Pulsian stood up and walked over to the bunk, very aware that everything would be very close to the inmate's eye level. Yun deliberately stretched luxuriously as she took her shirt off, putting her tattooed abdomen on display. Not that she would give the criminal the satisfaction of knowing, but Claire had to pause in her reading for a moment as she heard Yun fumbling around on the mattress above her while her taut abdominal muscles were at eye level. Her tanned skin was covered in a variety of images, text clearly in Pulsian and Etro iconography splayed across her visible body. Which at this point was highly visible as she only wore a black crop top and black tight shorts.
"You don't mind if I do my daily chores in here do you Sunshine?" a husky voice rang out from above Claire's head. She still said nothing, even as Yun bent down from where she was standing so that the mattress was no longer obscuring anything from the neck up. Claire's eyes moved up to meet Yun's against her will. A shrug was given from the pinkette as the only response she could muster.
Her thoughts went back to the dossier to remind herself of the atrocious amount of crime this woman had committed. If this were just a night out at a bar and they had met Claire couldn't say for certain that she wouldn't have allowed this tanned menace to take her home to bed. She had to reluctantly admit that from a surface level, Yun Fang was certainly beautiful. About a head taller than she was, most of that came from her long legs. High-defined cheekbones with a beauty mark under her right eye that crinkled up every time with that damnable irritating smirk.
Chores… what chores? Claire thought to herself. The question was answered as Yun dropped into doing push-ups, counting them out as she exhaled. Her muscles rippled along her shoulder blades as she pushed up against the weight of her own body, occasionally pressing herself off the floor with one arm to clearly show off. She then spun around on the floor and launched into a series of crunches and sit-ups, making sure to face the pinkette as she did them. Claire couldn't help herself. She stared at a bead of sweat making its way down the centre of her tensing abdominal muscles, making a wet trail down her front.
Etro… this place must be getting to me already. Farron thought as she coughed and buried her head in her book to obscure her vision. "Like what you see, Sunshine?" the Pulsian's voice called out from behind her book. Claire just ground her teeth and refused to speak. She felt the mattress shift beneath her and slender tanned fingers appeared over the top of the pages she was reading. They slowly lowered the book to come very close to Yun's face. "I kinda feel like we got off on the wrong foot here, so I thought I might pop over to your place and introduce myself." She chuckled at her own joke, which made Claire roll her eyes.
"I know who you are." She clipped in response.
"Aye? I thought you said you didn't yesterday?"
Claire's eyes narrowed and she snapped the book shut, the Pulsian barely missing her fingers getting caught. "I said I didn't care, not that I didn't know. A remarkable difference I can assure you. You're Yun Fang. And I'm not caring. So Yun, let me get back to my reading."
Jade eyes rolled around mimicking Claire's earlier gesture. "Fucking typical Cocoonian. You lot never get the naming conventions right. My name is Fang. Yun is my clan's name. In Pulse, the family comes before the individual, so it's reflected in our names as well."
Claire had to admit she was genuinely taken aback by the admission. She hadn't done her research as thoroughly as she had thought. "My… apologies Fang." She said quietly, blushing as she did so. Fang licked her lips at the sight of colour along the pale-skinned cheeks.
"So come on, you can make it up to me by introducing yourself."
Claire sighed, knowing she was beaten. "My name is.. Aranea. Aranea Palazzo." Fang made a sound low in her throat as her eyes narrowed.
"You paused slightly before you said your name you know."
Farron's heartbeat sped up suddenly. She fought down the panic with a swallow and kept her face neutral, responding at first with a shrug. When she found the imposing Pulsian still staring at her, Claire thought a reply was in order. "I was never really attached to my name. I don't really feel like an Aranea. Never have. Just can't be bothered doing the paperwork to change it."
"Hmmm…" Fang purred in response, "Well Palazzo, welcome to hell with fluorescent lighting."
The next day in the yard, Claire deliberately kept her distance in the yard while Fang did her rounds. Socialising, wheeling and dealing, bartering and scheming. The pinkette watched while keeping an eye on her book, writing small encoded notes in the pages of her book closest to the spine.
A random blonde haired woman sat down next to her and huffed. "So this is nice. A nice day, nice place, nice people am I right?"
The pinkette eyed her suspiciously, expecting a shank to be brandished. "Can… I help you?"
"Name's Lettie Zalera. Jihl's moving up her schedule as you insist on going off script." Claire paled at the constant spanners Nabaat insisted on throwing into the works.
"Have you done any reading on Fang? Any of the profiles, the history, the records? If you follow Jihl's plan you're going to get killed."
She shrugged and waved her off with her hand. "As if. Nabaat is a highly trained agent of Psicom. Just because you're a lowly GC cop that got handpicked for your looks is why you're sitting over here reading a book instead of actually doing the job that's assigned to you."
Lettie got up and sauntered off, and Claire's angry gaze followed her. She then glanced over towards Fang to find the Pulsian had been watching her. The brunette leapt off the bench and meandered over to her and sat down against the fence next to her.
"What was that all about?"
Claire shrugged, not sure how else to respond.
"Come on Palazzo.. Why was she asking about me?" Fang smiled but there was nothing jovial behind the piercing stare she gave the pinkette. Claire fidgeted in her seat and looked away, trying to calm her racing heart.
"I don't know. She was asking about the players or something. Probably looking to cut a deal somewhere. I wasn't really listening. She made me uncomfortable so I tuned her out."
Fang nodded as she processed the information. The Pulsian yawned and stretched languidly as casually as possible before getting up. "I'll leave you to your book Palazzo. Give me a rundown on it later yeah?"
Claire's heart was in her throat as she watched the brunette leave. Fang went and sat back down on the table at the other end of the yard, staring at the sky.
Wait, she's not staring at the sky, she's turning her head slightly every time Lettie moves… She's watching her! She thought with creeping dread.
Lettie wandered past a couple of times before finally mustering up the courage to approach the notorious Yun.
"Hi there… I'm Lettie," She said in a sultry tone that made Claire want to retch, "The word tells me you're the go-to woman of the hour for needing… things…"
Fang smiled her charming smile and leant forward, resting her head on her hands. "All depends on what you need darlin'. I can be very accommodating."
The blonde woman grinned and moved closer to Fang. "Just after a few smokes, then maybe a good time later… What do you say?"
Claire winced, she was following the script to the letter. Fang leant forward with a salacious smirk on her face. "A generous offer indeed. I think I can hook you up with a few smokes. I think I can hook you up with a lot of things." The pinkette suppressed her shock at what she was witnessing… Could she have been wrong? Was Fang actually buying the show? She watched as the Pulsian pulled the blonde close and Lettie laughed. But there was an edge of nervousness to the sound, like she was just realising now what she was getting herself into.
"How long?" Fang asked as she wrapped her arms around the waist of the woman.
"What… How long what? How long do we need?" Lettie queried, watching the two other inmates that were sitting at the table stand up and move away.
"No, how long have you been doing this gig for?"
Claire watched the inmates move to opposite ends of the yard, one striking up a conversation with a guard, distracting him, and the other move towards the gate, calling out another prisoner to start an argument.
Shit.. I wasn't wrong…
"Gig? Oh the prison thing? I'm in for a few years. Possession."
Fang sighed and ran her hands up underneath Lettie's shirt until she found what she was looking for. "Oh darlin'. You really have to tell your superiors to try harder." The blonde paled as she realised the Yun had been fishing around for the wire she was wearing. Fang's smile vanished and was replaced with a cold, hard expression as she drew back a fist and clocked the undercover agent square in the face.
Lettie fell back as the yard exploded into chaos, with the guards not knowing where to race to first with Fang's other companions starting trouble on either end of the yard. Fang leapt on top of the prone blonde, straddling her waist with a dangerous grin. She leant forward until she was right up against the woman's face.
"The only reason you're going to see the sun rise tomorrow is that it's obvious that you were thrown in the deep end without any idea of what you were getting yourself into. You are unbelievably lucky that I have a soft spot for complete fucking morons. Go back to your superiors, child. Tell them I could smell the badge on you from the minute you entered the yard." She licked at Lettie's ear and laughed as the guards came to pull her off the agent.
From the other end of the yard, Claire had stood clutching her book like it was a lifeline. Fang jogged over to her once she had placated the guards with some quick handed offerings of whatever she was carrying. "Sorry about all that Sunshine. Undercover cop. They've been trying this shit for months. But for fuck's sake give me a challenge, these rookies have no idea."
"Huh." Claire was fighting to maintain composure after what she had witnessed. The Pulsian put an arm around her shoulder and pulled her close.
"Don't worry about it love. Not your fault she got close to me, she would have been gunning for me anyway regardless of whether you told her I was a lowly petty thief or the overlord of this entire place. I'll teach you all their tells so you will spot them from a mile off in the future."
Fang had decided that her new cellmate was the next best thing to having a television inside. She poked and prodded at the pinkette at every conceivable opportunity. But every now and again Aranea, or Palazzo as Fang preferred to call her, would drop her almost impenetrable guard and she would get to learn something more about the pale-skinned woman.
Other times the defensive wall would climb even higher. She'd never had to work so hard in her life to get into someone's good graces... And ultimately her pants. Fang chuckled to herself. She enjoyed the challenge however as it kept her busy and there was something genuinely intriguing about the woman that she found endlessly fascinating.
"So come on, million gil question Palazzo."
Claire rolled her eyes for the twentieth time that day, to the point of where she wondered if her eye muscles could outperform Fang on the weight bench. "What question?"
"The one everyone asks at one point or another. You've been here for three weeks now and I still have no idea what you are in for. I don't really have to tell you mine, just tick every box on the list. But what about you?"
"Is that really any of your business?"
Fang poked her head over the edge of her mattress, her head hanging upside down as she regarded the pinkette with a smirk. "Well I gotta know who I'm dealing with here don't I? If you're a serial killer or something I need to know if I should be sleeping with one eye open or not."
"It's been three weeks Fang. If I haven't killed you by now with your incessant need to annoy me, I'm not likely to." She looked up to find the Pulsian with wide glistening eyes and a giant pout.
"Aw come on Sunshine, please?"
She sighed and closed her book. "This and that. Used to be a runner for a drug dealer back home as a kid. Boosted cars, few weapons charges. It kind of…. Escalated. Hence, here for the next fifteen years."
"Fifteen? Damn. Love you must have fucked up to cop that." Before the pinkette could respond a commotion was heard from the entrance to the cellblock, and Rygdea appeared at their cell door with a decidedly nervous look on his face that was missed by neither inmate.
Claire paled when Jihl Nabaat appeared at the bars, yelling at the guard to open the door. What the hell does she think she's doing…
"Miss Palazzo. I thought I'd come in to check on my favourite transfer. You seem to be quite comfortable here, treating it like a resort stay? Catching up on your reading?"
Fang stayed silent, watching the woman's face as her voice rang higher and higher the madder she got. "You're not here to be comfortable Palazzo. You're here to do your time. Guard, confiscate her possessions. She can… get them back at the end of the school day." Nabaat finished with a chuckle.
He stepped forward and put his hand out for the book. His eyes were apologetic despite him not being able to say anything. Rygdea looked genuinely worried as he scooped the remaining books out of the cupboard.
"Hey lady, does that massive stick up your arse make it hard to walk? This place is already hell, you don't need to make it any worse." Fang piped up from the top bunk. Jihl glared at the Pulsian with murderous intent.
"Don't think I can't put my sights on you as well Yun. You may not be in my jurisdiction but this one is. There are plenty of ways I can make your life worse vicariously through her." She hissed with barely contained rage.
"Are you done? Can I get back to my job now of sitting here for the next fourteen years, eleven months and nine days?" Claire yawned, trying to remain undisturbed by Jihl's blatant meddling that was risking her position, as well as her life.
"Oh I'm sorry, am I boring you, Palazzo? Making you tired? Well, let's see how you have a good rest now. Guards, her mattress as well. She can sleep on the bed slats for the next month and see how much she enjoys talking back to authority."
"Are you fucking kidding me?" Claire exclaimed. Two other guards came in when Rygdea hesitated and ripped the mattress out from under her, unceremoniously dumping her on the concrete floor in the process.
Nabaat, satisfied with her work span on her heel and left. "Until next time Aranea.." she called out from the hallways.
Silence settled back in the cell as Claire took stock of herself and stared miserably at her now empty cupboard. A whistle sounded from above her as Fang leapt off the bed and held out a hand. "Drawing the ire of a Psicom agent huh? Now that's saying escalated as an understatement aye Sunshine?" Reluctantly Claire took the Pulsians hand and allowed herself to be hoisted up.
"Wait how the hell did you know she was Psicom?"
Fang shrugged and looked around the cell, contemplating the newly introduced complication to their living arrangement. "All those arrogant bastards have the same smell about them. Just like that Lettie bird in the yard the other day. What did you do to piss that one off?"
"I…. stole her car and put it into a ravine. On purpose."
The brunette baulked at the answer. "You're fucking kidding me right?"
Farron shrugged a little sheepishly. "It…. Was a dare. A really, really stupid dare."
Fang laughed uproariously and nodded to herself like she was deciding something, and then patted Claire on the back. "Welp, it landed you in here but it would have been worth it to see the look on that bint's face. If her lips puckered anymore they'd look like a cat's arsehole. But whaddya know. Palazzo has a wild streak. Come on, let's go get some dinner and call it a night."
When night fell and lockdown was in place, Claire stared at the unwelcoming bed slats and winced. Fang walked in behind her and took stock of the room, before going up to her bed and throwing the sheets and pillows off it. "What are you doing?" Farron asked, watching the spectacle.
"What's it look like? Can't have you sleeping on that, you'll do your back in and then you won't be worth shit the next time that grabby Paddra bitch tries to pull one on you with her wandering hands again."
"Oh no. No no no no no. If you think I'm going to be sharing a mattress with you and your wandering hands you can think again." Claire backed up, glowering at the Pulsian. Fang held her hands up in a defensive gesture.
"Hey now. You've made your point and your stance abundantly clear. I may be a lot of things but I do harbour some respect. I promise you on the honour of the Yun clan that my hands will not wander to forbidden territories… Unless requested." She added with a cheeky grin.
"Tch." Claire clicked her tongue in annoyance and disbelief. The grin disappeared from the tanned face and was replaced with something a little more sombre.
"Hey come on Palazzo. I swear on my sister tearing my hair out and beating me to a bloody pulp that I won't touch you. We'll move the mattress sideways. It won't be the most comfortable night's sleep with our legs well off the edge but it'll make more space between us." She made the bed with what pillows and blankets she had, and then lay down as far as she could on the edge of it to further solidify her point.
In all of Claire's research that she had done on her many submissions to Psicom, she had never expected chivalry to be in Fang's nature. She was correct, it was absolutely uncomfortable with their legs hitting the floor from their calves and the pillows hanging off the other end, but at least their spines would be slightly elevated on the terrible mattress. They got as comfortable as they could given the circumstances and lay there silently with a gap between them that felt like a chasm.
"Thanks, Fang. You… didn't have to do this. You don't know me from any other stranger and yet you stuck up for me." Claire said quietly, choosing to break the silence. Internally she had felt very conflicted about this afternoon's altercation with Jihl. The side of authority was using their position to abuse her and the criminal was the one that stood up for her.
In that moment she felt lonelier than ever. She missed her sister, she missed her co-workers. Stuck here for who knows how long while Nabaat decided to use her as a personal pin cushion, being trapped in a cramped cell with someone that has more murders on their record than notches on a belt.
"Hey, don't even worry about it. Us types gotta stick together. We're the only family we got in here." Fang replied, piercing the darkness with her voice that held a surprisingly gentle tone.
"You said... You had a sister? Before?"
The Pulsian made a sound of confirmation, nodding her head in the darkness. "Yeah. 'Nille. I got into all this mess to try to build a better life for her after our parents were killed. Look at how far down the road that got me."
Claire baulked at the admission. She had taken the opposite path after a troubled childhood, getting into police work and joining the security forces in Bodhum for her sister after their own parents died. The same sort of sacrifices willingly given for their only family, two very different outcomes. And yet they were sharing the same filthy thin mattress in the end weren't they?
"What about you darlin'? Got any family?"
"I… I have a sister too. I had to become her guardian after our parents died. Mom died from an illness when I was about 9, my sister 6. Dad followed suit when I was 16. I quit school and took up jobs wherever I could find them to keep us out of the orphanage... Did some stupid shit to pay the bills, and then.."
"You wound up in the same position I did. Wow. Talk about your serendipity. What's her name?" Fang enquired innocently though her eyes narrowed subtly.
"Serah," Claire said without thinking, caught up in the moment. A brief moment of panic welled up in her at the slip-up, but then she realised the name was as common as the sun rising so wouldn't have meant much in the long run. "The only thing I have of her in here is my memories and the hand-stitched Etro's Seal she made for me when she was a kid. Gods, I don't even have that anymore. I was using it as a damn bookmark…" Fang's face smoothed out a little at the personal admission.
Claire sighed. "She's been kept… out of the loop. Of all this. No idea how I'm going to keep this from her though.." She gestured broadly at the room around her. That wasn't a lie. She didn't have time to talk to Serah about the assignment before she was whisked off to be thrown in with the behemoths. She was going to cop the lecture of a lifetime when she got out, if her sister didn't kill her first.
"Don't even stress yourself about it, Palazzo. We won't be in here forever.. Goodnight Sunshine.." Fang trailed off with a yawn, leaving Claire alone with her thoughts.
She seems awfully optimistic about that…
"Oi! You two are lookin' awful chummy lately, Oerba take you as her bitch?" The awful woman known only to Claire as Paddra snarled at them in the courtyard. She had since joined up with one of the prison gangs following her beating and was clearly looking for payback.
"Why? If I did would you be jealous?" Fang bit back, in no mood for any banter today. She was on edge, Claire noticed, distracted and looking for something. There was a fight over in the other corner that seemed to end in a bit of bloodshed between two inmates, and the guards ran over to help the wounded inmate off to the medical bay.
Paddra took her opportunity and slammed into the unfocussed Pulsian, sending her sprawling. Claire was up in an instant, whirling on the woman and kicking her in the stomach. She didn't even know what had come over her or why her instinct was to immediately defend the Yun, but she ran with it. Laying punch after punch into the not-so-smug face of Paddra, Claire was only stopped when two of the brute's lackeys came in and dragged her off, kicking her in the ribs in the process.
The pinkette struggled to get air back in her system, and the whistle sounded from one of the guards as he raced over to break up the situation. Two other guards joined the fracas, beating Paddra into submission with their electric batons. Claire crawled over to Fang to check on her, and she was unresponsive. "Fang! Come on wake up Fang." She rasped, clutching at her ribs. The guards helped her up and picked up the Pulsian woman as well. The first guard to come to their aid was Rygdea, who had Claire lean on him with an arm around his shoulder as he helped her out of the recreational area.
"Shit woman, you sure know how to pack a punch!" He exclaimed to the wheezing woman who was still trying to get air back into her lungs. "We better take you two up to the infirmary."
"Fang, is she ok?" Claire asked.
"She'll be fine," One of the guards carrying her called behind him, "Looks like she just hit her head when she landed and knocked herself out. She'll come to eventually."
The doctor checked Farron out and concluded it was only some minor bruising to the rib cage where she was kicked, thankfully nothing was broken. He gave her some painkillers and a book to read. With Fang still out cold and the only other patient was the stabbing victim from earlier that they witnessed, the guards left, with Rygdea staying outside to keep watch. The doctor milled about at the other end of the room, busying himself with other work.
"Psssst. Hey, pssssst!" a whisper came from the bed on the other side of Claire. She looked over to find a pale brunette with ridiculously long hair grinning from ear to ear. "Hi, I'm Tifa. Rikku told me about you."
"Rikku? Who is Rikku?" Claire asked, confused at the casual nature of the stranger's conversation.
"That'd be one of the best thieves this side of Nova Chrysalia." Fang's familiar voice rang out from the bed beside her.
"Fang! You're awake! Are you ok?"
A sheepish chuckle met her ears as a response.
"You… were awake the entire time weren't you." Claire surmised with an annoyed tone.
"Yeah, yeah. Was necessary. And your concern for me was just cute as a bug to boot!" Fang's smug grin spread across her face as Claire went red and scowled. "Well, now that we're all here... I'm bored Palazzo. Wanna blow this popsicle stand and go get drinks?" Fang sat up and stretched, cracking her knuckles in the process.
"Ha ha very funny. You forget we're in a prison when you hit your head?"
The Pulsian just smiled a very predatory smile that made Claire feel uneasy. "You sure Rikku got the goods Tifa?" The young girl nodded enthusiastically and leapt out of bed, wincing as she remembered she had a stab wound in her side. She ran to the door and yanked it open, startling Rygdea on the other side. He barely had time to react before he was laid out in the hallway by a swift and brutal right hook. Fang did the same to the doctor and ran over to drag the unconscious guard back into the medic room. Tifa propped them both up on the beds and drew the curtains.
All the while Claire was staring at them in shock. "What the fuck are you doing?" she hissed, panic not able to be suppressed as she checked Rygdea for signs of life.
"Told you, we wouldn't be in here for long and I meant it. I mean shit if you want to stay here, that's fine but don't you want to see your sister? People like us don't belong in cages Aranea. We deserve to be free."
Farron was torn. She was outnumbered with her only escape currently unconscious on a hospital bed before her. She didn't want to have any part of helping Fang escape, but if she revealed her identity and tried to stop them she would end up dead. If I go with them I will at least be able to lead Psicom to her, if I don't she could disappear altogether…
"Ok. I'll come with you."
Fang's face lit up with what looked to be a genuine smile. "Awwwright! Tifa, lead the way!"
The way ended up being through the hallways of the medical wing until they came across the boiler room access. Tifa fished a key out of her hair and unlocked it, ushering the other two inside quickly before locking it behind her. The three women made their way down the stairs and through the hot corridors in silence, until they came to a dead end. "Uh, Tifa? You sure you got the right directions?"
"Tch. Please. I didn't get myself stabbed for kicks you know." She replied curtly while kicking open a decommissioned boiler. Its back was removed to find a tunnel stretching into the darkness beyond. They crouched in the low space and crawled through for a spell until they could see light up ahead. Fresh air hit them in the face like a cool welcome after crawling around in filthy tunnels. The breeze was tinged with salt from the ocean nearby, and Tifa motioned for them to follow her through the trees. They came across an old run down pier that had a small boat attached to it.
"Like clockwork. Etro I love that woman. Remind me to buy her a stripper or something." Fang breathed, elated with the open ocean in front of her. A bag with a bunch of clothes was stuffed behind the boat seat, and Fang rummaged through it. "Couple of days' worth of gear here if it was just me, or enough for everyone to go around!" She passed around a few shirts and pants, laughing a little at how oversized some of the shirts were.
"Oh. Before I forget. Palazzo, here I swiped this from one of the guards for you." Claire turned to Fang and found her palm being opened and an item placed on it. When she drew back she realised Fang had gotten the fabric with the symbol of Etro stitched onto it, the Pulsian remembering the story she had mentioned. Despite it being a haphazardly thrown together idea at the last minute, she still felt a little warmed by the gesture.
She didn't get the opportunity to thank her though, with the alarm sounding from the Gallies nearby.
"That's our queue to book ladies, let's ride!"
Claire Farron couldn't believe it. Here they were on the docks back in Eden with nobody chasing them and freedom before them. Fang must have been planning this for months for it to have been so perfectly executed. "Damn I gotta get back to HQ and find out what the lay of the land is.." Fang muttered, looking at the unfamiliar scene of a completely renovated downtown. Tifa chuckled with a hint of sadness to the tone.
"What HQ? Sanctum buried that the moment you were imprisoned. There is no NORA anymore. Anyone that wasn't killed or arrested put their guns down and walked before they wound up with the same fate as the rest. Just… keep your head down, go get a drink, a lap dance, whatever it is you do to unwind."
"Normally I just blow shit up." Fang replied with a shrug, as casually as she was mentioning the weather. Claire rolled her eyes and looked around to see if they were drawing any attention or if there were any Psicom agents secretly waiting to swoop in and arrest the two criminals.
Technically aside from Nabaat, Cid and Rygdea all the other staff and inmates thought I was a criminal as well so I guess I'm sort of on the run too… She thought to herself with slight amusement.
Tifa handed Fang a burn phone and a wallet with a couple of grand's worth of gil inside. "This is the rest of the gear Rikku wanted you to have. It'll be enough to get yourself some better clothing, figure out your next moves… or you know, get a hovertrain out of the damn city…. My number is on there if you need me for anything though. I'll get in touch with Rikku and get her to call you when she has a chance. Laters." The brunette gave Fang a wrist bump then took off into the streets with a jog, leaving Fang and Claire alone.
"Well fuck, what now? Drinks?"
Claire shrugged. After the day they've had, a drink was definitely in order at bare minimum. She grabbed a couple of gil out of the wallet Fang had been given and pointed at a pay phone across the street. "I gotta call my sister, check in and make sure she's ok first. Don't trust burner phones all that much and we'll be long gone before they trace the public phone."
Fang nodded and gestured to a nearby clothing store. "No worries love, I'm gonna duck in there and see if I can't get something a little less… conspicuous. Meet me there when you're done yeah?" She added the invitation a little too hopefully, probably expecting Claire to run at the first opportunity. She beamed when she was met with a decisive nod from the pinkette.
They parted, and Claire jogged over to the payphone, shutting herself in the booth and dialling.
"Captain Amodar speaking."
It wasn't her sister she was planning to call at all.
"Sir, its Lieutenant Farron."
"Claire! By the Maker have I been worried about you." Scuffling was heard in the background before she heard her superior gruffly telling the other people to hold on.
"Sorry Claire, I've got you on speaker. Agents Nabaat and Raines are with me. Rygdea too."
"That's ok. Rygdea, how's the head?" Claire asked, keeping the conversation deliberately casual in case she was being watched.
"Pride hurt a lot worse for that kid to get the jump on me like she did." He replied with a chuckle.
"Never mind any of that, what the fuck do you think you're doing Lieutenant Farron?!" Jihl shrieked, all semblance of professionalism abandoned in the face of pure rage.
"I didn't know that F-Yun Fang was attempting an escape. I was put in a compromised situation that would get both me and Rygdea killed, with Fang disappearing; or I could just go along with it, stay undercover and see where the rabbit hole leads. And by the Goddess did it lead me somewhere."
"To a committee hearing and your eventual firing is where it's lead you Farron, how do you feel about going back into prison population for real this ti-"
Jihl was cut off mid-sentence, and Cid took over the conversation.
"Claire this is Cid. Are you safe currently?" She hated how he felt he was familiar enough to use her name. She didn't even like the name, not since her parents died.
"I am sir. You told me to trust my gut and I did. Granted I didn't expect it to lead me to technically be a fugitive with a notoriously dangerous criminal but I can give you our location for extraction."
"That won't be necessary. I think this will work to our advantage. You're going into deep undercover at this point Lieutenant, keep going, see what you can find. We might see where this rabbit hole leads a while longer. Keep us updated."
Farron checked the time of the call, and said she had to go. She needed to quickly call Serah to let her know she was ok. "Be safe Farron. Please." Captain Amodar begged before terminating the call. She took a breath and steeled herself for what lay ahead of her with Fang, and then quickly dialled her sister's number. Relief flooded through her system when the younger sibling picked up.
"Serah, it's me."
"Oh my god Claire WHERE have you been? It's been over a month! Your boss wouldn't tell me where you were, nobody would tell me anything!" Serah's voice was frantic, chastising and panicking all at the same time.
"Please Serah. I'm ok. I have been on an undercover operation that had me playing inmate for a moment. But I'm out now."
Serah was taken aback by the candidness of her older sister. "Wait... You never tell me about your job. You always go on about how it's classified this and confidential that… Why are you telling me this?"
Claire sucked in a breath through her teeth before she continued, "Because I'm still undercover, and I need you to not freak out if you see me on the news or anything ok? I'm with Fang, Psicom has me on assignment to try to take out the last remnants of NORA."
"Fang… As in Yun Fang…." Serah trailed off, overwhelmed at her sister's predicament.
"Serah I.. I have to go, please just… I'll be ok just don't worry. And uh, again don't freak out if I wind up on the news. I'll try to get in touch with you again when I can."
"Claire! I love you. Please be safe."
"I love you too Serah. I will talk to you as soon as I am able." She hung up the phone then, with her hand lingering on the receiver. She sighed sadly and turned to exit and yelped in fright as she was met with a vision of Fang pressed up against the glass pulling ridiculous faces at her.
"Fuck's sake Fang are you trying to give me a heart attack?" She yelled at the Pulsian as she slammed the door open in anger. Fang just grinned and danced around her like a hyperactive kitten looking to play. "Naw Palazzo, the conversation with your sis just seemed so serious I thought you could use some lightening up." She clapped a hand over Claire's back guffawing at her own antics.
"You were taking your time so I figured I'd just get some other clothes for you. I guessed your size but that should be fine… I'm not usually wrong about the shape of a woman's body." She waggled her eyebrows suggestively at Claire who huffed and took the bag from her. "There's a bar nearby that will have a change room and a cold beer. You in?"
"Yeah. You're buying the damn beer though."