Zeta Tucanae – Nineveh’s Kiss

“Hallow be their name, and blessed be their claim; if you who trespass put down roots, then hallow be your name.”  –  Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of Invasions)

Velidhu Dream was a starport just like any other. The ageing Coriolis design with its iconic shape and towering inverted skyscrapers was commonly seen throughout the populated galaxy. Though the newer Orbis and Ocellus style stations were more striking and pleasing to the eye, the majority of trading hubs were still based on the old cuboctahedral blueprint. From an internal perspective, most stations looked identical with very little clues as to which structural design they adhered to. Essentially, star port interiors were cylindrical, the central core reserved for incoming and outgoing traffic, the ‘walls’ hosting a total of forty five landing bays catering for various sizes of craft. After a ship had successfully docked on one of these plates, it was pulled into a great hydraulic elevator and into an available hangar below the surface.   From there, pilots could take a station shuttle to whichever section of the station they had business in. For commander Deuil Furieux, there was only one location in mind. The Star & Garter, the best watering hole by far.

Furieux had been looking forward to this moment for some time. The commander had been without alcohol for nearly two months, perhaps longer than he had ever been without it before. In actual fact, he was lucky to be alive. His association with the mercenary group, the 8th Dragon Squadron meant that he had begun to gather enemies, some more dangerous than others and there were many who wished him dead. Were it not for his sister Anais, who after many weeks of searching, found him wandering alone, gaunt and dehydrated on a planet known as Londinium in the Alexandrinus system,  these enemies may indeed have celebrated his demise. Anais had found a very different man from the one she knew who stumbled on board the Delicate Heart – his Delicate Heart; a ship she now regarded as her own, much to his protest. He still hadn’t recanted to her the events that led to his stranding, nor what exactly had happened to him on the surface of a planet that was barely populated; home to a cloister of god fearing zealots. Perhaps one day he would tell his story, but she knew him well enough not to push the issue, her brother hated being coerced into anything. Furieux had spent almost fifteen straight hours resting in a cabin on the Orca as she flew them back to Zeta Tucanae, and there emerged a man more subdued, less cocky and very distant. She had assumed the first thing he would do was open a bottle containing some of that vile firewater they sell on Hutton Orbital and was pleased and surprised to see that he did not.  He didn’t even object when she informed him of her intention to fly home to Darwyn; he simply nodded, avoided eye contact with her and set about some routine checks on the ship. Anais had always been close to her brother and it pained her to see him try to shut her out, especially when he knew that it was futile to do so. Furieux had not even made mention of flying back to Caerus or even the 8th Dragon Squadron, the group he had spent the last standard year with.

It hadn’t taken long for him to come around though. Instead of setting a course for Darwyn directly, Anais had decided it would be more prudent to dock the ship on Velidhu Dream, a station within the system that rivalled Elswick, where her father’s company were based. She would speak to Ettiene Furieux first before he was made aware by some other means that his son had come home. Better to break the news softly and not bring about the inevitable clash too soon. As soon as they had arrived in Zeta Tucanae, it became clear from local news reports that some great changes were about to be made in the system they called home. She left Deu on Velidhu and headed to Elswick on her own.

All over Velidhu, Justice Party of Zeta Tucanae slogans were displayed everywhere.  As an autocracy, the non-aligned group were making moves for political reform; a return to independence. Holographic ads covered the walls of nearly every corridor and plaza in support of the campaign, bulletin boards were awash with jobs and assignments for independent pilots with handsome monetary rewards paid to those in support of the Justice Party. Furieux had examined these closely. He was no stranger to private contracts; he’d been running contractual missions for factions across the galaxy and knew how to read between the lines. Some of the tasks he’d performed in the past were a little more sinister than the bulletin blurb led one to believe. Some of the jobs were not entirely legal, a few downright unethical, but Deuil had done some awful things in his twenty nine years, many of which he was not proud of.  His direction during the formation of the mercenary group who had left a burning trail of death, disorder and upheaval across several star systems in the search for credits led him to gather more than a couple of enemies. His recent departure from the group may have gave him the chance to free himself from the chains of responsibility, but his past would not be so quickly forgotten.

He had discovered that Zeta Tucanae Legal Ltd, the corporate entity that controlled the entire sector was failing. The federal hand that wrapped its fat fingers around the system was losing its grip. Minerals from the planets and the industries that exploited them were an important asset to the Federation. Blast All Incorporated was a long standing Zeta Tucanae munitions manufacturer that supplied the fleet with kinetic ammunition and mines and losing the system to an independent would mean having to fork out more credits from Federal coffers, an expense that shadow president Felicia Winters would not approve of. Furieux had chuckled at the thought. He’d liked to have see Zeta Tucanae as its own sovereign state, in control of its own resources. Perhaps it would fail to sustain itself outside the influence of a galactic power but at the very least it would have the chance to try. As long as he was in Zeta Tucanae, Furieux had decided to support the Justice Party. Legal still held the majority of influence in the system, but it was certainly not the powerhouse it once was. Furieux’s only real concern was that Furieux Extraction, the company run by his father were united under the Federal corporate banner. By supporting the Justice Party, he would find himself actively opposing the company.  However, while taking a couple of days for some R&R around the station he began to think about his own link to the mercenary life and how best to spend his time in Zeta Tucanae.  His home system was far from where he wanted to be, and he didn’t care too much about its politics but he knew Ana did. An idea began to form. A win-win situation for all.

***

Arkan Ginova waited patiently in the Star & Garter, nursing a Lavian brandy. Furieux had chosen the location for the meeting but Ginova struggled to find any reason why. It was noisy, neon lit and plastic. Everything in the establishment felt fake. From the lights and music to the clientele, it smacked of celebrity artificiality, cosmetically enhanced and cheap. It even smelled bad. A mixture of sweat, perfume, and spilled alcohol invaded his nostrils.  He shook his head slightly, aware that he was completely out of place and far too old to be sitting at a table in this crowd. If and when Furieux arrived, he would make an attempt to convince him to move to another, smaller bar on the opposite side of the station.

As if on cue, a man bearing the pilot’s description walked, no – swaggered – into the room. He stopped in his tracks near the door and uttered something into the ear of a girl who was standing nearby. She leaned in, cupping her other ear ear to better hear him. After a few seconds she laughed, shook her head and quickly pulled away.  The resulting cheeky smirk on the commanders face reinforced to Genova of Furieux’s reputation for for being a man who loved to flirt. He observed him as he wandered over to the bar, walked directly past the queue and  leaned on the bar with practiced ease.  Almost instantly, a barmaid walked over to where he stood, beaming, and began to pour a drink into a small glass.  He uttered a few words and gave her a wink, in which she responded with a blush,  pushing the glass in his direction.  Arkan smiled. Furieux was someone who used people. A born charmer, who used the power of words to get what he wanted. He would be of use, but people like him can be dangerous to those who don’t see them for what they are. Arkan remained doubtful of Furieux’s ability to serve the group as a lone merc but decided to give him a chance. His history both as a mercenary and of his link to Zeta Tucanae were clearly useful. Furieux’s proposal might just work but Arkan didn’t trust him at all.

***

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“You see, there are drowning angels at the bottom of every one of these glasses, friend, and if I rescue them all,  perhaps they will make me a saint.”

Furieux admired the five shot glasses laid out in front of him. Each were filled with Centauri Mega Gin, his drink of choice. The Crow Bar made a nice change from his usual haunt. It was old fashioned, created to make customers feel as if they had gone back in time. Music from the 1950’s was played throughout, and Furieux marveled at the skill of whichever taxidermist had meticulously worked on each and every stuffed corvid that stared at him through big, glassy black eyes.

“You are such an attention whore.” said Arkan, grinning over his own glass of Geueze. “

“Quite the opposite. I’ve lived my life being someone thanks to the silver spoon that choked me since the day I looked out from these big browns.  These days, I’d rather be no-one. I’m not back in Zeta Tuc through choice. My sister can be persuasive.”

“Don’t give me that shit. You love the limelight. That much is painfully obvious. Why did you leave the Dragon Squadron? You had it all. Leader of the dirtiest, sleaziest, and most effective mercenary outfit the galaxy has seen for a long, long time.”

Furieux smirked. “I found an angel.” he said and swiftly downed the first drink.

Arkan stared at him before bursting into laughter, nearly choking on his own beer. “Well, they did say you liked a joke. No, really, why did you give it all up?”

“I didn’t. They gave up on me. Once they saw the demons smiling back at them from within my eyes. I left before things got ugly, or in this case…cute.”

 “Can’t you just give me a straight answer? Do you always talk in riddles?”

“If it keeps people out of my heart of hearts, yes.” Furieux picked up the second glass and downed it, exhaling loudly as it burned his throat.

Arkan began to question the commander’s sanity. Perhaps it was the booze talking, but Furieux was strange. Whether it was affected or genuine made no difference. He was a loose cannon. How could he trust a man that just up and leaves whenever he wishes? That said, he found himself liking the man and he was utterly clueless as to why. Furieux’s idea was a good one, but nonetheless he would have to prove that he could be relied upon to come through.

“There are more Feds in this system than freedom fighters. We are losing.  This plan of yours, what makes you think it will work?” he asked as Furieux threw the third glass of gin back, swirling it around his mouth before swallowing hard.

“My father hates me. He is going to assume the worst and I am counting on that. He has powerful friends and money to burn. I have many enemies, mostly Federation scum, that will undoubtedly help the cause too. The rest, well…I am sure you can come to your own conclusions. Spite is something we are all guilty of. Humanity is a fickle beast.”

“You are just one pilot, Furieux. Get over yourself. You cant change the face of Zeta Tucanae on your own.  Had you come to me with the 8th, I’d have more faith.”

“Fuck you, Ginova. I don’t give a Mother’s tit what happens in Zeta Tucanae.  Worlds are conquered not with guns, but with mind games. Destroying corporations simply means one less bank balance less to pay me. War is a waste, not of life, but credits. Don’t think for one minute that I brought this idea to you for any other reason than personal gain.”

“I am glad you can be honest about that at least. Your mercenary heart is both a boon and a curse. You are going to have to earn my trust.”

Furieux picked up the fourth glass and stared at it – through it. He seemed to lose himself for a moment, lost in his own little world. Arkan felt like a ghost. There was more to this pilot than meets the eye. Furieux was troubled –  by what, Arkan could only guess. There was a soft edge to the man that he tried to keep hidden;  a fear of being recognized for what he was. Arkan had seen it all before. Ego, and the death of it, could bury the best of us.

“You gonna stare at me all night? I charge by the minute, handsome.” said Furieux finally gulping down the firewater.

“Okay. Consider this.” replied Ginova. “I am willing to give this a shot. But there is something I need you to do for me first. You wont be paid by my party, but you will make money and lots of it. We will also supply you with a ship in which to perform the task in. If you complete it, the ship is yours.”

Furieux turned to him and raised an eyebrow. “What kind of ship?”

“Something better suited to the job than that red obscenity you are flying.”

“Well then, its a start.” said Furieux, lifting the last drink. “A toast. To old friends and drowning angels!”

“No.” answered Arkan, “To new ones, and rescuing them!”

***

Nineveh's Kiss

“You have got to be joking me!” said Furieux as he observed the ship. The giant behemoth before him was a Lakon Type-9 Heavy cargo freighter. Thirty meters tall, it owned the hangar. The livery was a dirty white, but it looked as if it seen some action. Scrapes were visible here and there.

“The Nineveh’s Kiss.” gestured Ginova.  “She’s been out of work for months, her last pilot was killed in action, but don’t let that put you off.”

“I love the name! Who is Nineveh? She hot?”

“Not who,” corrected Ginova, “Where. Read your history books. You might learn something.”  They stomped over to the stairwell built into the forward landing gear. “Mother, I hate mag-boots.” he added.

Gravity was substantially lower in the hub; the hangars and the landing bays being central to the station required the use of magnetic boots in order to walk around.

“Me too,” Furieux laughed, climbing the steps. “But they stop me falling over after too many gins.”

The cockpit wasn’t as large as he had expected. The pilots chair was built into a raised platform, entombed within an arching view port not dissimilar to that of the Asp, another Lakon vessel. Below the platform, on either side, were another two seats, probably reserved for systems and communications officers but Furieux had no real idea. Flying a ship this large was new to him.

“This is madness. I cant fly this. Its not even a ship. Its a home with a frame shift drive. How big are the cargo decks?”

“This beauty can hold over five hundred tons of goods. You can get lost in the hold. As it stands, the Nineveh ships over four. Enough for what you need it for.”

“And what exactly is that?” asked Furieux as he sat in the pilot’s chair and looked around excitedly, fiddling with the controls.

“Slaves.” replied Ginova. “Imperial Slaves. We need workers. Federal law says its wrong. But we need them, they need us, and we need someone to ship them. Is that a problem?”

“Not for me.” said Furieux, flicking switches on and off. “Impies too proud to get into debt? I’m happy to help them out. No issues here. The D.H would be better though, its comfy and at least they could play video games in transit. I even have an old system that plays this weird space game, thirteen hundred years old, called Elite:Frontier on it. Popular, it is. “

“No. Your hold isn’t big enough. We want you to bring in four hundred a run from Ehecatl. The profit is substantial. That you keep. Once you bring in five thousand, the Nineveh is yours, plus a bonus. Then and only then will we trust you enough to try this plan you speak of.”

“Gimme a few days flying this gargantuan bitch and I’ll get back to you.”

“I need an answer Furieux, don’t keep me waiting. In the meantime, make sure you put out who you are working for. Your plan could work, but  you need us more than we need you. Should you choose to accept, there is no going back. Once you are with us, you are always with us.”

Furieux didn’t answer right away , he was too busy playing around in the cockpit. Arkan clunked over to the the stairwell and began to descend. He still wasn’t sure about Furieux’s intentions.  As he stepped down towards the hangar floor he heard the commander shout back.

“Hey, Ginova? I’ll decide!”

Arkan Ginova smiled and kept clunking.