Chapter 162: Last Stage Planning
Got it, boss." Fisk's voice echoed through Aldrich's ear, as laid back as ever in tone. Aldrich did not mind Fisk's attitude, though, even if it was the polar opposite to his own stern seriousness. As long as Fisk got the work he needed to done.
Within a few seconds, and Casimir's smooth talking voice was on the line as ordered.
"Now that was a spectacular finale, I must say, Mr. Vane," said Casimir. "I haven't seen anything quite like it, and let me tell you now that I've seen quite a few things in my tenure as a Connector for the underworld."
"I appreciate the compliments, but now's not the time," said Aldrich. "I want you to get ready to initiate your Cinder Protocol."
"There was once a time that even thinking about that protocol would have wrenched my heart, but considering the sorry state the Red Circle is already in, I suppose there isn't much left to burn down," said Casimir. "It will be done when you so desire. At a moment's notice, the Red Circle will be reduced to nothing but cinders within a meager hour."
Aldrich and Casimir had exchanged quite a few conversations in the planning it took to set up the party that led to Blackwater's demise, and during that time, Casimir had acquaintance Aldrich deeply with what he did, who he knew, and what he was capable of.
Like any smart man that held onto blackmail and criminal contraband, Casimir had an easy self-destruct switch to make sure everything sensitive in the Red Circle's vaults went down in flames. Normally, the Cinder Protocol was something Casimir would have had automatically initiated in the event of his death or when the Red Circle faced unstoppable intrusion.
In any case, it would have been a last resort. Something to symbolize the end of it all.
Now, instead, the Cinder Protocol was being used to burn everything down to start something new from the ashes.
Had Casimir been given more time to wax and wane about this decision, he probably would have remarked on the philosophical beauty of such an action, but time was unfortunately too tense.
"How much of your contraband do you think you've managed to salvage?" said Aldrich.
"Hmm. It is difficult to place a numerical value on finer, less tangible products like blackmail, but I should say around seventy percent of my collection is loaded out into the cargo trucks we use for drug smuggling," said Casimir. "Fortunately, you gave me good advance notice to make this exit, though I should say a variant disaster was perhaps one of the variables I least expected would spur it on.
But whether I make my leave now due to the threat of villains and mercenary gunfire or variant teeth and claws makes no difference in the end, I suppose."
Originally, Aldrich had wanted Casimir to make an exit plan because once Aldrich finished slaughtering Blackwater, it was inevitable that the entire criminal underworld would unite against Casimir.
At that point, Casimir needed to lay low and escape for some time until Aldrich established himself better.
Though, as Casimir pointed out, it was a variant attack in the end that forced him out. And, all things considered, this was actually quite fortunate. An attack like this would prevent the underworld from checking in on Casimir until the situation in the city was sorted out.
In fact, to villains looking into Haven from the outside, it was hard to tell whether Casimir and the Red Circle had even survived the variant attack, especially if they came in later to check and saw that it had all been burned down.
The variant attack thus gave Casimir cover to work with.
"Good," said Aldrich. "We'll be working with contraband quite a bit soon. Your contacts in the Wastelands – are they still active?"
"Mr. Vane, I assure you, there will be no issues in our grand escape tonight," said Casimir. "You need not worry so much about so many little issues – stress kills men more than any bullet or blade. I have handled everything on my end accordingly."
"You're right. I just have a tendency to want to micromanage things," said Aldrich. "What I needed to confirm the most was your transport space. I know you need trucks for your contraband, equipment, and your own personnel. But I need you to free up space to take in a couple of my people. I would say space for around thirty should be enough."
"There will be no issues with that," said Casimir. "It is unfortunate, but the loss of so many of my dear staff means that there is more than enough space." Casimir sighed. "Mr. Vane, I do not know what it is about you, but I believe in your judgement and vision. I simply hope that the blood of my staff was not simply cast away into the wind."
"I don't spill blood without a reason. Whether it is the blood of my enemies or the blood of those in my service," said Aldrich. "That blood will always mean something. It will always build into something bigger.
I'm going to send select personnel under me to your location at the mega complex. Once they get there, start moving, and start moving fast. Get out of the city and into Wasteland territory where it'll be hard to track you.
I'll signal you to initiate the Cinder Protocol when I can, but in the case that I can't for some reason, just start it when you reach outside the city walls."
"Understood, Mr. Vane," said Casimir. "I suppose, then, that this may be our last communication for some time?"
"Most likely," said Aldrich. "You were an incredible help, Casimir. I'll see you soon."
"I am most honored," said Casimir. "And I wish you only the best of luck dealing with the AA and their positively revolting pettiness."
With that, Casimir's voice cut off. Fisk and Spybird did not return on the line either, for they were now getting ready to pack up and move out of the city.
Aldrich then began communications with Portal Girl.
'Portal Girl,' said Aldrich as he put a hand to the side of his helmed head.
'Yes, sir?' came Portal Girl's alert voice.
'I'm going to gather all my forces back to the Deildeghast line. Once everyone's grouped there, I want you to start protaling them back towards the Red Circle,' said Aldrich. 'Once you've gotten all my forces there, you should regroup with Casimir at the mega complex.'
'Roger that!' said Portal Girl enthusiastically.
Aldrich switched his telepathy now to Ace, the de facto leader of Blackwater's A class as its rank 3.
'Ace, do you read me?' said Aldrich.
'Yeah, I got you,' said Ace. 'If it's about fighting, I don't see anything to rip apart anymore.'
'The fighting's done,' said Aldrich. ''Fly Damian out to the outer battle site where the flying heroes went. You'll find variants under my control there. Get Damian to move the variants back to the Deildeghast line.
Once you're back at the line, I need you to group your class and take Portal Girl's portals back into the city. Once you get close enough, go ahead and convene with Casimir at the Red Circle.'
'Sounds easy enough,' said Ace as he got to work.
Now then, there was finally just one more person Aldrich needed to talk to.
'Valera, are you there?' said Aldrich mentally.
'For you, my dear master, always,' said Valera.
'Have Crow drop off the Blackwater students with Casimir. Then, head to the Red Circle,' said Aldrich.
'Ah, is it time already?' Sadness welled up in Valera's voice.
The reason why Aldrich sent all his troops back to the Red Circle was to transport them to the Nexus. At the Red Circle, there was still a Sign marker to access the Nexus, and there, all of his troops would be completely safe and isolated.
When the AA, Panopticon, and government inevitably descended on Aldrich, there was no doubt that they would try to analyze and capture Aldrich's units whether through force or negotiation. He wanted to remove that possibility from them entirely.
Aldrich could not reliably look after an entire army of units out in the open, especially the larger and more monstrous ones, so he needed to send them away for now, and what better place than the Nexus?
Soon enough, Aldrich himself would also enter the Nexus, and he needed troops there to support him as he accessed the Trial Quests his many level ups should have unlocked.
And unfortunately for Valera, she was among the troops that Aldrich wanted to enter the Nexus. Mostly because when it came to facing threats from Elden World, Aldrich knew he could not rely on anyone better than Valera.
'It's time,' said Aldrich. 'I wanted to give you a more proper goodbye, but taking care of Hat Trick took more time than expected.'
'That accursed mortal…if my eyes land upon him one more time, I swear that I will tear his spine from his cowardly back,' said Valera with venom, though with a sigh, that faded away back to sadness again. 'Will you be gone long, master?'
'Not if I can help it,' said Aldrich. 'I'll be in the Nexus soon, don't worry.. I hate the thought of incomplete quests there anyway.'