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Chapter 9: Triads

Much as a tree may appear strong from the outside yet be hollow and rotten at its core, so too may a city or entire planet exhibit signs of health while, at base, it slumps toward decay and dissolution. And, just as rotten trees have all manner of grubs and vermin writhing at their core, so too will the Triads be found feeding off the ruin of worlds.

Ekaterina Vremeniy, VASA Inspector-General

The Triads of Iskandria

It would not be an exaggeration to say that all crime in Iskandria, and all illegal profits of said crimes, ultimately passes through the hands of five powerful men, the crime lords of the great Triad Houses. These Houses are affiliations of Triad clans and gangs that dominate particular regions and designated activities, everything from smuggling and illicit manufacturing, to gambling, prostitution, and assassination. Each House, and the clans and families that form them, are centuries old - dating from the earliest stages of Iskander's great construction and colonization projects on Kyklops. In a sense they represent the oldest claim to the planet when compared to the powers of the Tripartite Alliance or late comers such as the Koralon, and their tenacity and adaptability will probably assure that they remain a fixture of Iskandrian life regardless of the outcome of the present war - assuming of course the planet is not assimilated in a tide of infectious coraline.

Each of the Triad Houses jealously guards its territory and its rights over certain businesses, both legal and forbidden, from claims by the other Houses and their sub-clans. The method of exploitation of these territories varies tremendously, in some cases the Triad presence in a region is in name only, in others they control a few key industries or firms, and in a few cases they walk the streets openly and collect tithes of protection money in much the same way their ancestors had thousands of years ago. Each House, and many of the sub-clans that make up a House, possess walled enclaves within the Free City in which this open behaviour is the norm, such regions being nearly completely beyond the ken of Free City or Great Power security or enforcement. The greatest of the enclaves are the five Floating Worlds that form the headquarters of the five Triad Houses, fabulous and unreachable domains that rise far above the city - terraced landscapes in the sky. In these enclaves ancient traditions and architecture mingle with contemporary currents, and the powerful lords and bosses of the clans move openly and ostentatiously about like the great generalissimos of old.

Each House has a name rooted in tradition, and an entire iconography based on sacred notions of geography, colour, and symbology. Their names date from the first clan coalitions of the earliest times; Three Clans North, Six Clans West, Five Clans South, Eight Clans East, in addition to the Centre Clan, the sacred Golden Dragon Clan which has long held a ritual and ceremonial (some might even say sentimental) role in Triad life. The Centre Clan, currently presided over by Great Lord Nakamura Daiki, is a House unto itself, and presides over internal matters of Triad politics and rivalry, acting as final arbiter in all Triad disputes. Representatives of the Golden Dragon are always on hand to judge the inter-clan ritual combat and underground battles of the Triads, and act as ambassadors amongst the criminal underworld. Members of the Centre Clan wear mostly yellow, the colour of the ancient Cithanese Emperors, and display a variety of dragon mons, or clan symbols.

Three Clans North are better known as the Black Water Gang, a ruthless House notorious for their role as assassins and hired thugs. The Black Water Gang is rather elitist, and still officially consists of only its three founding clans - unlike the other Houses that have swollen to adopt new clans and gangs over the centuries (for example, the Eight Clans East, the largest House, consists of around 117 separate clans, gangs, families, or other criminal enterprises). Overboss Oonishi Makoto, aka Dagger Singing, of the Ten-Thousand Demons Clan is current head of the Black Water Gang, and under his rule the Three Clans North have exerted considerable pressure on The Golden Dragon Clan - so much so that this most important of all clans can now be said to be little more than a puppet of the Black Water Gang. The Northern Clans tend to favour close combat and Oni battlesuits, and all wear the Octopus mons of Three North prominently alongside their own clan mons, and dress appropriately enough in black.

Richest of all the Houses is the Six Clans West, presided over by Overboss Narita Jiro of the Iron-Bending Mandibles Clan. Narita, aka Greedy Fingers, continues the tradition of his House as a centre for illegal financial and banking operations, especially sophisticated money laundering and embezzlement schemes as well as stock manipulation. Six Clans West, referred to in Triad circles as 'Steel Glaring Brightness,' is a cautious but powerful clan, and has grown rich because of its location in the commercial west of Iskandria, especially in the flourishing Outer City of the VASA quarter. The Clans of this House generally wear white, and often flaunt the triple diamond mons of their House. Though they view battle as a last resort they command an impressive array of high- tech weaponry, and place great reliance on rockets, snipers, and tiger claws to deal death at a distance.

The famous Sakai Isamu, aka Tiger- Shifting, is Overboss of the traditionally minded Five Clans South, the House of Spreading Flame. This House specializes in arms dealing, illicit manufacturing, and racketeering, and boasts an impressively balanced force of veteran infantry and high-tech weaponry, as well as the largest proportion of Hatamoto of all of the Triad clans. The primarily orange or red uniformed Five South is often involved in ceremonial wars with the other clans over points of honour, and even the slightest infraction or insult can provoke their wrath. Their mons is the dragonfly, although many sub-clans prefer to display their own mons in preference to the House mons, as this is regarded as more traditional.

The Eight Clans East is regarded as semi- barbaric by the other Houses, no doubt their close dealing with the Junkers having something to do with this reputation, but they are nonetheless a powerful presence. Having authority over nearly all of Iskandria Minor, the Eight East, or 'Ever-Swelling Army-of-Brothers,' prefers to deal in contraband, gambling, prostitution, and low-level protection and numbers rackets, as well as highjacking and all manner of thievery. Often, they engage in unsavory tasks at the behest of the other Houses. Overboss Murakami Shinichi, aka Broken Table, of the Hundred-Handed Thieves Clan presides over the Eight East, though his authority over this loose coalition is questionable. Few sub clans bother with the protocol of wearing Eight East's mons of the triple spear, though many do at least pay credence to tradition (or superstition) by partially adopting the sacred colors of the east, green and blue.

The Triad Underworld

What is it that gives us strength? True, we understand the uses of wealth, and we know how to twist the will of men, to feed their weaknesses and make of that our strength. Ruthlessness we posses in abundance, it is second nature to us, and efficiency as well - whether it be on the battlefield or in the boardroom these traits are paramount. But what is our true strength? It is honour - that alone separates and elevates us, and when it is gone we too shall perish.

Triad Boss Fukugawa Jiro, Wind Ringing Bell Clan

Wealth and vice are two sides of the same coin, and every prosperous system contains individuals or groups on the margins of society eager to take advantage of any opportunity to turn a profit. However, while many worlds have an underworld operating outside the law, only one such organization can truly be described as intergalactic: the Triads, a nefarious criminal brotherhood that combines cunning and ruthlessness with a millennia old code of honour that emphasizes discipline and self-sacrifice. By merging new and old ideas, resurrecting an ancient way of life while keeping pace with the latest the modern world has to offer, the Triads have continued to grow in power and influence.

Triad members take great pride in their ancient roots, tracing a lineage back to Viridia's remote pre-industrial past to the Heaven-Earth- Man revolutionary societies endemic in the coastal cities of the Empire of Cithan. Such 'three point' gangs took as their symbol the triangle, hence the name Triads, and became powerful players in not only the expected fields of smuggling, gambling, and assassination but also, surprisingly, law enforcement. What had begun as a secret society fomenting rebellion grew into a powerful and dangerous criminal organization that eventually became an arm of the civil apparatus itself. It was in this last capacity, when the one-time Triads became town watchmen, firemen, and customs inspectors, that the bushido code of Cithan's warrior elite merged with the outlaw mentality of the great crime families to create the myth of the Triads as we know it.

Myth, because the shadowy history of the Triads has never been a straight-line story of cause and effect, of one group growing and changing over the years; and the Triads today are not, as they claim, the literal successors to the powerful gangs of long ago. They are rather their spiritual descendants, a contemporary echo of an ancient idea revived in a modern context. Today's Triads have their origins on Vacillus, capital of VASA, a world with a large minority of Cithanese colonists that lies at the crossroads of trade between the homeworlds and the rest of human space. Born of a movement to revive traditional culture in the decades following the Second War of Secession, the Triads solidified as a conscious imitation of the warrior-thieves of legend and to this day, long after the currents of traditionalism have relaxed in most societies of Cithanese ex-patriots, the Triads adhere to a rigid behavioural orthodoxy based nearly as much on mythic stories as on tangible tradition. Thus, they see no contradiction in thinking themselves outlaw heroes, as guardians of the common man and protectors of clan and family, while at the same time exploiting every opportunity to turn a profit.

But for every virtuous old-timer that keeps the streets of his territory free of petty crime and looks after the interests of his humble 'clients,' there are a thousand cut-throats eager to make a c-scrip, and a reputation, in any way possible. This up-and- coming cadre of young blood feel they have been marginalized by the elders that dominate Triad society, and in their impatience for success traditional virtues are often the first casualty. The age old organization of the Triad clans, each a top- down autocracy of affiliated families and their retainers, has been threatened in recent years by the ruthless gangs that respect no law or injunction save that of the street.

Iskandria is no exception to this, though its deeply entrenched clans have proven more resistant than most. Perhaps one mechanism that helps to curb this endemic cycle of violence and reinforce the traditional bonds of family and clan is the use of formalized combat in dispute resolution. Such battles are bloody, close order affairs fought with a fixed number of men and munitions, all of which are agreed to before hand according to a prescribed code of arms. Though the fights are staged, with each side concerned as much for form and appearance as tactics, they are played for high stakes and death is not uncommon. This constant underground warfare acts not only as a stabilizing element in Triad society, but has also given the gangs an experience and proficiency in combat that has proven valuable in the present conflict.

Now, of course, the Triad armies are no longer a rumour of the night but a strategic reality. Life in the Free City is forever changed, and the Triads have been as severely affected as anyone else. Gone are those staples of illicit Triad activity, the profitable trafficking in contraband and stolen goods of the Shadow Market and the unreal pleasure palaces of the Floating Worlds. Under the tenuous patronage of VASA the Triads have chosen to fight rather than flee the destruction of the neutral zone, and already their forces are learning the arts of open warfare. These soldiers can now be seen patrolling the shattered zones of the abandoned city and the rhetoric of Triad myth can once again be heard from the crime lords that run the clans, and it just may be possible that the legendary ideal of the noble warrior shepherding the common man is, against all odds, becoming something of a contemporary reality - just so long as it continues to be profitable.

The Triads at War

They're always where I'm not, and never where I am!

Tribune Lukius Demiko, Sand-Vipers Leg. XXXVIII

The Triad Houses and affiliate clans began the Iskandrian War fighting under VASA aegis - but slowly this has receded as it has not only become increasingly clear that they cannot be trusted to uphold any contract that VASA makes with them, but also that VASA's greatly augmented military power following Operation Arkadian Dawn no longer necessitates Triad involvement in VASA affairs. Indeed, VASA has distanced itself from the crime lords, believing its legitimacy as a pan- humanic regulatory force can only suffer through contact with the Triads. Still, it is not unheard of for the two to cooperate in certain instances, though both sides prefer to deny or ignore this.

The Triad Houses have proven to be islands of order in the Iskandrian storm, the five fortified enclaves of the Houses as well as many lesser clan holdings have held out against the ravages of the Neutral Zone, everything from hybrid infestation and Syntha attack, to the depredation of Gladiator gangs and Viridian bombardment. The Triads, it seems, are one of the last indigenous forces with the authority and power to maintain security in the NZ, even if only in their own 'backyards'.

But this apparent benevolence has another side, as the Triads were quick to capitalize on the chaos of the Syntha and Koralon invasions to increase their clan holding and their material wealth invading and stripping whole regions with a ruthless efficiency that would make a Junker proud. The opportunity to settle old scores or launch ambitious campaigns against one another was not lost either, and many Clans, having developed a liking for open warfare - so much more lethal than their traditional ceremonial battles - have taken to attacking their perceived rivals and usurping their territories and possessions. Not only has this new rivalry created friction between the Houses, but also between the sub-clans within a House; as can be seen in the example of the vicious battles between the Wind Ringing Bell and Razor Lotus Clans - both members of Five Clans South.

But despite this internecine rivalry, and despite the damage done to Triad holdings in the Free City - and the virtual elimination of their primary sources of income - the Triads have prospered in this new environment of open war. There is not a sector of the Free City that does not contain some form of Triad presence, nor a faction that has not fallen victim to Triad thievery or assassination, or felt the sting of a Triad ambush. Above and below the streets of Iskandria the Triads launch their new campaigns for dominance, and they are ever quick to seize on new opportunities for profit and adapt to new conditions. Much like the Gladiator packs that roam the Free City, the Triads are a force that must be contended with, either through combat or negotiation, if the Tripartite Alliance is ever to regain control on the planet and restore order. In the meantime, the Triad Houses will continue to act in accordance with the bottom line.

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