Shades of Black
Years ago in a village named Telar on the planet Geidiri, a foundling was discovered. When local efforts to identify the boy failed, he was taken in by a young ninja named Garret Janni, and his wife, Betara, who had no children of their own. The infant was named Thomas. Thomas grew into a healthy, active boy whose chief complaint was that his colour-blindness gave him a disadvantage at sports. The Janni family was not blessed with any other children, and so Thomas was especially cherished. Garret spent many hours teaching Thomas the way of martial arts, in which the boy excelled. Thomas was less studious of the lessons Garret taught on patience and inner peace, and Garret often scolded Thomas for being such a wild boy. Indeed, Thomas was always wandering off on grand adventures. In time, both Garret and Betara saw that their son could never be happy in such a small village, and arrangements were made to apprentice the boy to a friend, Darmen, who was a clerk in Alaross, the nearby city and space port.
Upon arriving in Alaross, Thomas, who by then had taken the surname “Wilde” in recognition of his father’s frequent admonitions, began working with Darmen at the local constabulary office. Within weeks, Thomas discovered that the work of a clerk in that office was as boring and tedious as the work of the constables was exciting and engaging. He pestered the constables constantly for details on their cases and was always willing to stay late to run errands for the men. By watching and listening, Thomas learned a great deal about the work of investigation. Thomas had never been a slouch when it came to something that interested him, and now he honed his skills by trailing men in the marketplace, training his memory, and studying closely the nuances of human nature. In time, his studiousness was rewarded with a position on the force. At 19, Thomas was a constable.
One day, after Thomas had been on the force for about five years, he was called to a local bookseller’s establishment after a particularly violent robbery. The bookseller, an older woman named Molly Spade, had been sexually assaulted at knifepoint and robbed of money and valuables. The woman was being attended by her daughter, a young woman of 20 named Mattie. Molly proved to be of little help in the investigation, but Thomas was impressed with the strength of the young Mattie in the face of such a crime. She, in turn, was impressed with the handsome constable who was gentle but firm and remained kind even as he spoke of the unlikelihood of an arrest with so little evidence. Indeed, the perpetrator was never identified, but some good came from such evil for Thomas and Mattie were married the next year. Molly never approved of Mattie’s choice. Whether it was that she felt marrying a policeman was beneath her daughter or that the sight of Thomas proved a difficult reminder of her ordeal, she became estranged from Mattie.
Thomas and Mattie lived in a poorer neighbourhood in Alaross. The two-bedroom home that could be afforded on a policeman’s salary was run down but always clean and well-kept. After two years of marriage, Mattie became pregnant. Both she and Thomas were overjoyed, but the pregnancy proved very difficult. A son was finally born but died only four days later. It was another six years before Mattie again found herself pregnant. This, too, was a difficult pregnancy and nearly cost Mattie her life. The result this time, however, was a vigorous, howling infant girl. Thomas and Mattie named her Kemper. Thomas believed that his wife and baby daughter were more than enough to keep him happy, and he swore there would be no further pregnancies.
From the time Kemper could walk, she was doing sweeps and strikes, a student of her father’s intensive training. As Thomas had never well learned the lessons of patience and meditation, he was unable to pass these on to his daughter. At age six, Kemper broke the nose of a local bully. At age nine, she tumbled a teacher who called her best friend “a whore’s begat”.
Thomas also taught Kemper important skills he had learned through his job, skills like observation, ambush, stalking, surveillance, and hiding. Although Kemper had a milder form of the colour-blindness that affected her father, she rarely found it to be problematic. Thomas ran her through the exercises of memory and concentration that he had developed when he was preparing for work with the force. He and friends from work also trained her in various weapons, notably the broadsword and various bows. The long bow quickly became Kemper’s weapon of choice. She like that it was stealthy, fast, and capable of injuring or killing a foe before he could get close enough to attack.
Kemper’s time was not spent wholly in training her skills. Alaross was along the sea coast, and Mattie believed that her growing child needed time away from the city to simply run and play. Although Alaross was a clean, bright city compared to many others, Mattie felt that time away from the congestion and city air would keep Kemper healthy. While Kemper loved Alaross, which always had something to see or do, she loved, too, these times on holiday. She ran along the beaches, caught crabs, learned to swim in the sea, and cherished the time alone with her parents. Although pollen, which triggered her allergies, was more abundant outside of the city, she never regretted going to the shore.
Despite the obvious grooming for the constabulary, Kemper never developed an appreciation for rules. She felt rules and laws were not always just and were often applied unequally to different classes. She felt that it was more important to do what you believed to be good and honourable regardless of what laws were in place. Kemper was suspended from school several times because of her view, including once for leading a student revolt when it was discovered that their school lunches were being made from leftovers from one of the upper class schools.
When Kemper was twelve, her father was doing a lot of undercover work. He would be away for days or weeks at a time and always returned exhausted but satisfied. One week, he never returned. The constabulary sent an officer around to report that Thomas was missing and presumed dead. Soon after the official condolences, an eviction notice arrived.
The next two years were very hard for Mattie and Kemper. They lived in a single basement room, and Mattie worked 12-hour days as a washerwoman. Kemper spent every possible moment away from that small, windowless room, which meant she was on the streets most of the time. Some of the boys and girls tested her, but her quickness and excellent martial arts skills quickly earned her some respect there.
At age 14, Kemper took her school Levels early and passed with ample room to spare. Reasoning that it would be easier to steal the questions than the highly guarded answers, she had broken into the school and came away with the knowledge of exactly which facts she needed to memorize. She could have studied and done nearly as well, but Kemper figured there was no reason to expend that sort of effort when there was an easier way. Free from school, Kemper was now on the streets full time.
Frequently hungry and watching her mother working so hard for so little, Kemper began picking pockets, duping toffs, or pinching small items. This quickly earned her the notice of local thieves, who knew a good thing when they saw it. Kemper was recruited. In return for her work, she was trained and given a small allowance. She told her mother that she was working for Doni, a semi-legitimate used-goods merchant who was actually her fixer.
Initially given only small jobs such as gathering info or working as a lookout, Kemper was trained in lock lore and picking, setting and disarming traps, and some forgery and counterfeiting. Kemper’s natural agility and body ease led to training in climbing, tumbling, and acrobatics, as well as general use skills like rope mastery. Her jobs became more important and more difficult, but her skills had increased enough that she was able to keep up and occasionally impress. Kemper gained a reputation for being picky about the jobs she would take; they had to be challenging but also satisfy her personal sense of justice. It was well known that Kemper wouldn’t steal from those who couldn’t afford it. She worked in all areas of the city with the exception of the space port. Security there was very tight and, while less-than-legitimate business was frequently transacted, it usually involved forged waybills, illegal imports, and duty fraud rather than the more basal jobs Kemper did.
As Kemper’s abilities and thieving status grew, she was given a false identity, that of a merchant named Shana Morey. These papers would help protect her if she was stopped while in possession of stolen goods. She could show her false papers and claim the items were trade goods. Her other identity could also help her in getting out of the city if she ever needed to escape. In order to protect this false name and identity, Kemper transacted a certain amount of legitimate business, buying and selling trinkets or more valuable items without any profit. While the business end of her dealings may have been mundane, she always engaged her partners in long conversations or flirted, ensuring that they would remember her name. There were easily more than a dozen merchants, traders, or pub owners who could claim to have known Shana Morey for years.
After a particularly bad landing during a job, Kemper received healing from Murdoch, a fellow thief whose primary role was to provide magical support during larger operations. Although having little magic ability and less desire to wield magic, Kemper was able to channel her belief in the positive or negative energy produced by a person or thing—something Murdoch called “karma”—and learn a single healing spell. Although since the age of 14 Kemper had taken lovers, both male and female, the intense time spent with Murdoch learning about channeling her magic led to Kemper’s first experience with love. Despite the age difference—Murdoch, at 32, was twice Kemper’s age—the two frequently shared a bed and were together whenever work allowed.
Eventually, Kemper was approached by a fellow thief, Bonni, who was one of her contacts in the Alaross Scarlet Underground. Bonni gave her the name of a third party, known only as “The Keeper, who needed someone to work as an assassin. Kemper agreed with the stipulation that she be allowed to turn down hits that violated her personal ethics. Throughout her time working for The Keeper, Kemper never once saw his or her face, nor did she ever learn for whom The Keeper worked. Kemper used her work as an assassin to hone her skills in ambush, silent kills, using poison, and dagger. Unfortunately, Murdoch disagreed with Kemper’s decision to enter this particular line of work. Kemper saw this is as a sure way to support her mother and herself as well as a chance to challenge and develop her skills. When Murdoch’s pleas fell on deaf ears, the two grew distant and eventually parted ways.
Kemper continued to support her mother with the proceeds from her illegal activities. Mattie suspected that her daughter’s dealings were not entirely legitimate but felt helpless to offer any alternatives. Thomas’s death had driven a wedge between them, and the issue of how Kemper now spent her time increased the distance. When Kemper was 18, Mattie accepted the proposal of Saven, a middle-aged clerk who had been a friend to Thomas. While she had indeed been lonely in the years that Thomas had been gone, she also hoped that in marrying she would relieve Kemper of the burden of her upkeep and free her from the streets.
While Kemper remained unaware of her mother’s hopes for her, Mattie’s plan did meet with success. Kemper moved out on her own. She stopped taking assassin jobs and seriously curtailed her other thieving responsibilities. She continued to take certain elite jobs in order to maintain her contacts as well as to keep her skills sharp.
On one of these elite jobs, Kemper was tasked with retrieving a piece of hardtech from its current owner. Her curiosity prompted her to take the job despite the risk of being discovered with hardtech in her possession, which would become a matter for the Church, not just the local constabulary. The sight and feel of the item was thrilling, made not the least bit less thrilling by the fact that she had no idea what the item was supposed to do. Kemper had the brief thought that she could double-cross the man who hired her and keep the item for herself before acknowledging that the fallout from that decision would be too severe. She turned the item over to its new owner and, instead, began hanging out around the space port in the hopes of seeing other hardtech, with no luck.
What Kemper did see at the space port were exotic goods arriving daily, living ships, and travellers with all manner of expensive softech grafts. She was entranced. After being hired by the Port Authority to move cargo, Kemper spent her time learning space terms and theory, watching and listening, and befriending anyone she could get to who had been up in space. If occasionally a few ripe exotic fruits went missing or a shipment of books was delayed, well, no one was the wiser. Her boss, Naver Doss, had heard some rumours regarding Kemper’s past, but he saw that she was a good worker and trusted that whatever had happened was in the past. Kemper’s goal became to join the crew of a ship and eventually go into space herself, and she pursued it with a single-mindedness.
After working at the port for several years, Naver recommended Kemper to a new captain, Antonio Ramirez, who was looking to hire a crew for the cargo starship he and his wife, Annika, had recently acquired. After a lengthy testing and hiring process, Kemper accepted the position of Scout/Security. While the ship was being outfitted, Kemper and the other members of the crew, who were also new to space, were trained by Captain Ramirez and Annika. In return for signing on for a minimum of one year, Kemper received 2,000 tradits worth of softech. After considerable thought, she chose to receive wing grafts that allowed her to fly, far-seeing eye grafts that would double her distance vision, and a set of self-healing, all-weather, chameleon bio-clothes. In addition to her space training, Kemper worked diligently learning to fly and maneuver effectively in the air.
At last the ship was ready, and the crew was trained. Kemper readied herself for her first time in space. She almost vibrated from the anticipation of one day soon finding herself standing on another planet, eating foods that could never grow on Geidiri, flying above deserts, meeting people whose worlds she knew only from stories. She would work diligently, help those in need, and, hopefully, generate enough positive karma to one day attract someone who would love her as she had loved Murdoch. If she were unfailingly positive, maybe there would even be enough karma to lead her to her very own piece of hardtech.