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GetMeOffTheMoonRockman PMTRRL
Fan Fiction by Dashe
Press Start to Continue - Chapter 6: Cheating the System

Chapter 6: Cheating the System. Chapter image depicts a derelict alleyway in the sketchy part of Teomo City.  Approximately twenty people get tetanus from the rusty metal in this district per month.

Max briskly walked down 7th Street toward the digging sector. He'd given Teisel an allowance of 10,000 zenny to pick out a good weapon for himself. It was the last of the cash he and the Bright Bats had on hand, but he trusted that his new lackey would spend it well. He couldn't have asked for better weather for this recon mission. Even from twenty yards away he could see that the square was packed with diggers who were decked out in various combinations of street clothes and armor.

He scanned the premises for anyone who looked unlicensed. He knew that the Digger's Guild prohibited certain attachments from being used while testing, but he'd never cared enough to actually look up the specifics. He spotted an older-looking blond guy with a drill for an arm sitting on a bench and waltzed straight up to him. "Yo, have you got a sec?" He asked the guy, flashing him a slick grin.

The man eyed Max suspiciously. "What's this all about? Whatever gang you're from, if you think you've got trouble with me you've got the wrong guy! There are a dozen other guys out here who look just like..."

"Dude, relax." Max assured him as he tried to get the stranger to keep from yelling. "We've never met before. Promise. I just want to know some stuff about digging, that's all."

The stranger looked at Max as if he'd just suggested they team up to join a hula dancing class. "Really?" He skeptically asked.

"I've got this friend," The biker replied, inwardly cringing at how suspicious that one must have sounded. "He's interested in taking up digging as a hobby. He's pretty old and out of shape so I'm not sure how well he'd do with the exams. Know of any points of entry around here that're good for noobs?"

"Look, pal, I don't know what it is you're really plotting," The digger quipped back, "But if you're really trying to help some old guy learn to dig, you might want to think about investing in a digging coach. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got two weeks left until my mother's birthday and I still haven't figured out what I'm going to get her."

"Geez," Max sighed. "You try to be friendly..."

The blond man huffed and snapped, "If you're REALLY that desperate, why don't you go try and smooth-talk Seedy Leigh down on 9th or something?"

"...Who?"

"Oh, forget it." He groaned. "I've had enough of this." And with that, he stormed off into the crowd.

It took all the effort Max could muster to keep himself from chasing the guy down and beating some sense into him. "Nope, I can't afford to make a scene here," he reminded himself. "There's too much riding on this...now who the heck is this Seedy Leigh character, anyway?"

Upon hearing Seedy Leigh's name, a cluster of well-equipped diggers pointedly moved away from Max. "Huh." The biker observed.

He realized this job was going to be quite a bit more difficult than he'd anticipated.



9th street was just off the Diggers' Square. He found himself accidentally walking in the wrong direction for a while, but he eventually realized he was headed the wrong way when he caught a glimpse of the Wasteland Gate. He did an about-face and jogged back the way he came...only to skid to a stop in front of an alleyway.

There was no mistaking that dorky green vest or that spiky gray hair. Teisel was crouched down at the intersection of a side street, holding a hamburger patty out at arm's length and staring intently ahead, completely oblivious to the fact that his boss was right there watching him. He couldn't have been much closer to the shopping district or the library than Max was to his own destination.

"T-Bonne! What do you think you're doing?!" Max shouted. He heard a loud scuffle from somewhere around the corner as Teisel snapped to attention, fumbling with the burger, which tumbled to the ground. The look on the old guy's face made it seem like he'd just been caught murdering a kitten. "These alleyways are full of stray dogs! You could get hurt!"

Teisel wanted to reply. He really did. "I...I...I..." was all he found he was able to articulate. Everything else was stifled in his panic as Max grabbed him by the arm and led him back out onto the main road.

"I thought I told you to spend that money on a weapon," He scolded. "Did you even make it to the part shop?"

"It was...it's not what it looks like!" Teisel exclaimed. He looked like he was on the verge of hyperventilating. "It's just a hamburger, it was cheap! I...I..."

This day wasn't going well at all. "Stop wigging out on me and get back down to the market." Max instructed. He pointed in the opposite direction and sighed. "Just head downhill the way you came and then follow the street signs to the Harbor District. The market's along the way. You can't miss it."

Teisel looked back down the alleyway to find that his burger had disappeared. "Right," he mumbled, clenching the satchel of refractor shards in his hand. "Sorry I...er...uh...sorry. I-I got lost." he added as he stared off into the distance.

"Eh, it's been a while. Teomo's not an easy town to navigate if you don't know what you're looking for," Max shrugged. "I've got a lead to track down in the other direction, so I guess I'll just see you later. And remember—those are the last refractor shards we have. Make sure you use them for a good weapon, got it?"

"Yeah," Teisel wistfully replied, squinting intensely down the alleyway and only half listening to what Max was saying. "Got it."

Max gave Teisel a good, long glare in an effort to drive the point home before turning on his heels and walking down the road toward the sketchy part of Teomo. He glanced back after a minute or so of walking. Teisel was already out of sight.

"What a strange dude..." Max muttered. For all he knew, maybe that thing with hamburger was a part of the plan he just didn't know about. Whether it had anything to do with his past or not, the Bright Bats' new strategist was shaping up to be one interesting fellow.

...Strategist?

Max smiled. He liked the way that sounded.



The west end of 9th Street looked decidedly more like the kind of place where a guy named Seedy Leigh would hang out. Max was able to obtain several matching sets of directions to his hideout, which was conveniently located in an apartment above a pawn shop. "Refractors For Gold. Huh." He read off of the handwritten sign as he meandered down the alleyway to a boarded-up side door and pressed the buzzer mounted on the dilapidated brick wall.

"State your business." A voice on the other side snarled. It sounded like the person was right on the other side of the piece of plywood they called a door.

Max faltered a bit before he replied, "My name's Max. I'm looking for Seedy Leigh. I heard he could tell me the best route for a beginner to get into the ruins without a license."

He could hear a few voices whispering from the other side of the plywood before the door opened, revealing a narrow, unlit staircase and no sign of anybody else in sight. After a moment's hesitation, he started up the stairs. Once he made it about three steps up, the door slammed behind him. He turned around to find two men almost as wide as the staircase, one right behind the other, staring him down and blocking his exit. "Go on, punk. Move it."

Somehow this didn't seem like the good idea it had seemed like five minutes ago. Max didn't have much of a choice, so he proceeded up the staircase. The steps creaked the whole way up and he was sure they'd give way with those big guys climbing up behind him, but one way or another or another he made it to the door at the top.

Thankfully, this door had a doorknob attached, and once the big guy directly behind Max started complaining that they didn't have all day, the leader of the Bright Bats walked into Seedy Leigh's hideout.

The place was dimly lit and filled with artifacts that had been clearly excavated from the local ruins. Whether Leigh had excavated them himself or extorted them from diggers he'd dealt with in the past wasn't quite clear. Max didn't doubt this guy had ways to hunt his clients down. There were maps and charts everywhere and the room itself was so smoky Max had to squint to see through the haze.

The proprietor of the operation sat behind the desk wearing a faded business suit, with his thinning red hair slicked back. He sported a goatee and had a cigarette dangling from his mouth. That cigarette nearly tumbled out of his mouth and onto a stack of flammable-looking paperwork the minute he laid eyes on Max. "Y-you? You're the Max who wants to get into the ruins?! Did you finally realize how lousy you were at racing fly carriers or something?"

Max blinked. "Do I know you?" He asked, raising an eyebrow.

"You've got to be kidding me," Leigh groaned, grinding his cigarette into the ashtray. "You really don't remember, do you?"

Max shook his head, wondering if he really wanted to remember how he knew this man in the first place.

"I used to have those stupid-looking dreadlocks when I was your age," Leigh said. "I rode for the Lightning Crusaders back then. Ring any bells?"

"Uh..." Max tried to recall to the best of his ability, but he could not remember anybody with red dreadlocks. He usually remembered the interesting haircuts, but he was drawing a total blank on this guy.

"Eh, I guess it doesn't matter that much anymore," Seedy Leigh sighed. "It's not like the Crusaders were the laughingstock of the Rebel Riders or anything. Even now that I'm in the ruin navigation business, I'd never forget the infamous Bright Bats—the only team we ever really slaughtered out there."

"Gee, thanks."

"Digging's where the money's really at," Leigh added. "I guess you've probably figured as much seeing as how you're in my office..."

"Actually, this is a favor for a friend," Max explained. "He's new around here. Bit of an older guy, not too keen on dealing with the feds. Those guys take too long getting their affairs in order and he really doesn't look like he'll make it very far before losing interest anyway."

"You sure your ties with Goodwin's daughter don't have anything to do with this?"

Max shrugged. He figured it'd probably be best to leave Teisel's pirating history out of this exchange if he could help it, so the less they discussed their aversion to the local police, the better. The fact that Seedy Leigh saw him as more of a joke than anything was proving to be a tremendously lucky break. Those bouncers of his looked downright lethal. The last thing he needed was for a back alley ruin expert to consider him or any of the Bright Bats as a threat.

"You really need my help to find a free ruin entrance for some random old man?" Seedy Leigh balked. "You know I charge for these services, right?"

"I'm really new to this whole digging thing." Max admitted. At least that part of his story was true.

The ruins expert pushed his paperwork aside to reveal a large map of Klickelan Island underneath. The Guild ruins were plenty easy to find, but he'd also marked off various other points of entry, including a handful right in the heart of Teomo City itself. Max had no idea there were really that many independent entrances.

"If your buddy can swim, I'd recommend starting him off over here, by this inlet." Leigh pointed to a spot near the base of the summit. "You just dive in. One of my guys dug an underwater passage into the southern gate. It oughta dump him in a large, empty chamber...getting out's a bit trickier, though..."

"Got any other options?"

Leigh rolled his eyes and scanned the map. "We've got one halfway up the cliffs on the west. There's a hole in the ground right up against the rock, but you'd have to be looking for it to find it. As long as the grass stays tall, it's not going to look like anything that's gonna be big enough for a person to squeeze through. It'll put your guy in a run-down hallway that's a magnet for Shekuten and mostly sealed off from the rest of the ruin, but as long as he's quiet he'll probably be fine. It doesn't take much to take out a Shekuten. He just has to be careful about where he ends up from there." He reached into his desk and handed Max a small copy of the map in question. "In case you forget."

Max considered the proposition and nodded, taking the piece of paper. "That'll do. Thanks, Leigh. I owe ya one."

"I'd say you do. That'll be 50,000 zenny. Pay up, kid."

The brash young man whipped out his trusty credit card. "Just charge it on the ole Teomo Rewards!"

"Charge?" Leigh frowned. "Do I look dumb enough to take credit from a scumbag like you?"

"Who're you calling a scumbag?!" Max bickered, breaking into a cold sweat. "You're the one with the shady back alley ruin network dealings!"

Leigh suddenly seized Max by the collar and stared straight into his eyes. The younger man could really smell the cigarettes on the hustler's breath now. "Look. I'll buy your little story about the old man for now, so I'm gonna let you go. But if you don't get 50 grand to me by the sixteenth...see my boys back there?"

Max didn't even have to look back to know that the bouncers who'd escorted him up to the office were staring daggers at him on the other side of the room. He nodded.

"If I don't get that money—in refractor shards—by midnight on the sixteenth, I can't guarantee you or your so-called buddy will ever be fit to explore a ruin again. Capisce?" Seedy Leigh snarled.

"Got it," Max gulped. "You'll get your money. No problem-o."

"Good. Now get out of my office."

Max didn't need to be told twice.



Max ran as fast as he could out of there and up to the library. At first, when he stormed in through the door, he started to panic since he couldn't see Teisel anywhere.

Thankfully, Teisel had only holed himself up in a reference room. Even after getting lost, he'd still managed to amass a generous pile of books on the Klickelan network, Ghiotte Summit, and the Klicke Lafonica next to a large brown paper bag that Max could only hope contained some sort of weapon. He'd also taken a considerable amount of notes on the library's printer paper.

In fact, he'd immersed himself so thoroughly in his research that he didn't notice Max was even there until he collapsed into a chair in exhaustion. "Hey." The gang leader uttered as soon as he managed to catch his breath.

"What the heck happened to you out there?" Teisel asked, setting his notes aside for the moment.

"Well," Max tried to explain once he'd caught his breath, "I've, uh, got good news and bad news. The good news is that I got a very obvious set of directions to a candid training location. The bad news is that if we can't scrape together 50,000 zenny in two weeks, this information dealer named Seedy Leigh is going to send a bunch of goons out to beat us up. Maybe worse."

Teisel stared slack-jawed at Max. The color had completely drained from his face. "W-w-w-w-w-w..." he stammered as he broke into a cold sweat. "D-DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT YOU'VE GOTTEN YOURSELF INTO!?!" He roared.

Max couldn't help but flinch, and he fervently hoped Teisel hadn't noticed. "Dude, chill!" He urged. "50 grand isn't that much. Besides, how was I supposed to know the guy didn't take credit? If you go into this Shekuten pit and shoot them down as they spawn you'll make that back in no time since they only take a shot or two to beat!"

That did nothing to reassure the man who was actually going into the ruins and doing this shooting. Teisel picked up a copy of The Digger's Database and flipped straight to the page on Shekuten. "The payoff's horrible for those guys. There's less than a 50% chance they'll even drop a refractor in the first place! Why would you pay for something like that on credit, Max?! That never works! He'll probably expect you to pay him with interest you haven't even thought to collect!"

"What's interest?"

Before Teisel could go on a spastic tirade about the dangers of loan sharks and shady business agreements, they heard a knock at the door. "Crap!" Max shrieked. "That's probably him!"

It was the librarian. "Gentlemen, you're going to have to stop yelling in the library or I'll have to ask you to leave," she reprimanded.

"I AM NOT YELLING!" Teisel shouted reflexively, which took the librarian completely by surprise. The last time she heard him speak was when he'd applied for his library card. She'd assumed the noise had been coming from Max the whole time.

Max, of course, didn't like where this exchange was going. He tried to subtly catch Teisel's attention by pretending to zip his own mouth shut, but Teisel was off in his own little panic-stricken world.

"Well then, whatever it is you're doing, you're going to have to be a little more quiet while you do it," the librarian firmly insisted. "You may be the only ones in the library, but you were so loud just now that I was worried I'd have to call the police!"

"Y-you can't call the cops on us! This is a matter of life and death!" Teisel frantically argued, jumping to his feet and knocking over his chair in the process as if she'd actually threatened to call the police. Max could see he'd broken into a sweat from distress.

"Sir, calm down or I am going to have to ask you to leave." The librarian persisted.

"WHAAAAAAAAAAAT??!!" Teisel roared. At that moment, the AC hit him with a sudden chill that sent him reeling. He managed to keep his balance and gripped the edge of the table. That was it. They were done for before they could even get into the ruins. "We can't just leave now! Not without a..."

"Dude, breathe!" Max cut him off before he got them banned for life. He jumped up and grabbed his strategist by the forearm to steady him. "I can't take back what I did, but we'll figure out something. I

won't let you get in trouble because of me, promise." He turned to the librarian and said, "He'll be fine. He just needs some fresh air. There isn't a limit to the number of books he can borrow, is there?"



"I blew it, Max," Teisel groaned as he slouched over, rubbing his forehead in an attempt to make his headache go away, his extremities stop shaking, and the ground stop spinning. "I'm never going to be allowed back in that library again, am I?"

The two of them were seated on the fountain in the Market Plaza. It was still early enough in the evening for children to be out in the square playing a game of hide and seek nearby, but thankfully other than that it was a fairly quiet night. Max had carried the books, the paper bag, and Teisel's notes the whole way to the square in a stack. It had made keeping Teisel from doing anything rash quite a chore, but they eventually managed to make it to a spot where they could sit down.

"You're fine," Max told him for what felt like the twentieth time since they'd left. "With the librarian, at least. We have the books, and you can go back to the library anytime. She never actually kicked us out. I mean, it'd probably be a bad idea to go back right this instant, but you can come back later in the week. It's probably better if you go alone, though. Maybe. I'm not sure. What happened, anyway?"

Teisel squeezed his eyes shut for a moment and sighed. He still wasn't convinced everything was alright with his library account, and he definitely wasn't convinced he'd be able to raise 50,000 zenny in a matter of weeks. They weren't even underground and things were already going horribly awry, but a barely-audible "I don't know," was the only response he could muster.

Max didn't have any money left to even toss in the betting pool for a race, and he'd been so sure the credit card would go through without a hitch like always. That man really needed a "Refractor Shards Only" sign or something. Unfortunately, Max couldn't return information the way he could return a new leather jacket if he'd kept the receipt. Their success or failure was almost completely dependent on how well Teisel took to digging. The Bright Bats' fearless leader had almost no control over the situation, and the guy who did have the control was shaping up to be distressingly easy to set off.

The whole situation was unnerving, to say the least. Why did Max even tell Teisel he'd get him out of this mess in the first place? It wasn't like he'd made a backup plan or anything like that.

They sat in silence for a while, until Teisel looked over and told Max he felt like getting some dinner and that he'd set a thousand zenny aside for food.

"Don't worry about that. I can charge it." Max assured him as they both stood up to leave.

Teisel just stared in a stunned silence as the all-too-obvious fact that he wasn't the only member of the Bright Bats who had issues became increasingly apparent. "You really...you weren't listening to a word I was even saying back there, were you?" He finally uttered, inwardly grappling with the rush of despair that threatened to rise up again and overcome him right there.

"We need as many refractor shards as we can get." Max tried to explain, "If we charge dinner then that means we only need to raise 49,000 zenny. T-Bonne, the last thing you need is more crap to worry about, so don't worry about it, alright?"

Don't worry about it? For all Teisel could tell Max might as well have said "Go climb up the side of City Hall and backflip from the balcony onto the roof!"

"Just trust me." He added. "It'll be fine. You don't have to worry about what I do with my credit card. I'm a grown man. I can handle it."

He reached over to reassuringly pat Teisel on the shoulder, but Teisel stepped back and stammered, "Look, Max, I...I think I need...I have to go. I need to think. Alone. I'll, uh, come back to base tonight."

Before Max could open his mouth to try and convince him otherwise, he'd taken off into the streets, leaving his books, notes and the paper bag behind.

Max couldn't bring himself to chase Teisel down. He just sighed, picked up all of the old guy's stuff, and headed back to their headquarters. "That Teisel Bonne is one unpredictable dude," he muttered under his breath as the street lamps flickered on around him. He hoped Teisel wasn't doing anything too crazy...for both of their sakes.

-----

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