Black Horizon – Everything. In Black & White.

“I don’t like having to be careful of what I say and do. Lately I’m far more interested in spirits, be they high, free or alcoholic.” – CMDR Deuil Furieux

With his ship safely docked in a hangar after the encounter with the Cai system authority, Commander Deuil Furieux’s black market contact on Raven’s Landing had begun the process of unloading the human cargo almost as soon as the ship had hit the docking plate. Where exactly the five hundred and odd Imperial slaves were being taken was none of his concern. The contract had been personally drawn up by fleet Commander Arkan Ginova of the Raven’s Scouts himself, who had offered the smuggler one million credits per successful run. Up until now, Furieux had performed the task without a hitch.  Ginova had requested ten thousand heads in total and even supplied Furieux with a vessel in which to complete the contract; a battered, scarred and well-used Lakon Type-9 Heavy Freighter named the Nineveh’s Kiss. It had been too good an offer to refuse, though Furieux remained suspicious of Ginova’s motives. Nearly two years ago, Furieux had been arrested in his home system of Zeta Tucanae for smuggling; an unfortunate incident involving a few tons of narcotics while under the employ of Vidar Vondell of the Eta Draconis Gold Vision Company, an event that led to a bitter feud with his own father and consequently his eventual exile from Zeta Tucanae. Ancient history now, Furieux had come a long way from those early days spent roaming the galaxy in search of purpose and wealth. In less than two short years, Furieux had become a small scale narcotics dealer, a courier, a political pawn in games of interstellar conquest and even a leader of men in the form of the mighty 8th Dragon Squadron.

Furieux’s dislike of attachment and inherent aversion to responsibility eventually saw him back out on his own, doing what he loved best; flying under the radar. His most recent contact and source of credits was fleet Commander Arkan Ginova of the Raven’s Scouts. Arkan was no stranger to Furieux. Business exchanges between the Raven’s Scouts and Furieux Extraction of Zeta Tucanae – the family company – were common when Furieux was a boy and Arkan was often seen about the halls of the HQ on Elswick station. Whatever business Ginova had with his father was a mystery to the young Furieux at the time who was both indifferent and apathetic towards the day to day running of the extraction game. Ettiene Furieux’s son had never been interested in the precious metal business, a bone of contention to this day.  Still, Arkan was always cordial and even friendly towards the boy during his visits. When, almost two decades later, Ginova reappeared to offer Furieux some underhand work, the commander jumped at the chance to make some easy money. Through experience, however, Furieux remained cautious. He didn’t want another ‘adventure’ that bore similarities to the one under Vondell. Contacts were fine, Furieux concluded. Friends were much more rare to come by and so much more difficult to walk away from.

On the landing pad, Furieux began to power down the Nineveh’s Kiss. It had been a close call. The Authority wing outside Raven’s Landing had had him beaten. The majority of SysAuths that patrolled the proximity of stations throughout inhabited space were mostly incompetent. Bored, sleepy commanders relied on technology to spot traffic, their scanners homing in on ‘blips’; the heat signatures of incoming and outgoing vessels intent on doing business on the vast structures that orbited their home planets. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that a cold ship was an invisible one. In addition, the newly installed black livery that Furieux had commissioned for the Type-9 had enabled the smuggler to virtually become a ghost.  Nevertheless, the danger of running silent was acute. Closing the vents meant that heat didn’t dissipate into space; it remained within the ship. High temperatures could damage ship systems in a relatively short space of time and heat generating shields had to be deactivated. This meant that some degree of skill was required to dock a ship.  One slip and a vessel would end up as shrapnel after a collision with station bulkheads. Fortunately, after much practice in hauling not-quite-legal goods, Furieux had become quite proficient at flying cold and  at flawlessly landing a ship – even large ones – safely onto a pad. On this occasion, the awareness, the superlative piloting skills of the Raven’s Scouts and simple bad luck had very nearly caught him out. A cargo such as the Nineveh’s Kiss was carrying would have landed him with possible incarceration and a fine of over half a million credits.

Luckily, Furieux’s ace was firmly lodged up his sleeve. Ginova had some clout around Raven’s Landing and Furieux had no other choice than to call upon it. The fleet Commander was quick to respond and the SysAuth in charge had swiftly backed off. Furieux had no clue as to the identity of the Authority pilot who busted him, but he admired her tenacity. Its not every commander who would face off a speeding freighter of the Nineveh’s size especially in such a small fighter such as the Viper Mk.IV. It once crossed his mind just to smash his way through but the pilot had intrigued him somewhat. From what little he had established from their short communication, she had been feisty, smart and dedicated. She was ballsy. At some point, Furieux wanted to meet this fiery woman and made a mental note to discover more about her.

Now that Ginova had seen fit to ensure a clean entry into Raven’s Landing, Furieux made the decision to take a short break before contacting his employer. As the fast, efficient loaders had begun to empty the Nineveh of its cargo he used the time to open a fresh crate of Centauri Mega Gin. He looked curiously about the cockpit while swigging from the bottle. Two months ago, when he stepped aboard the borrowed Type-9 for the first time, Furieux had felt strangely at home. A deep sense of belonging threatened to overwhelm him the moment he sat down in the Nineveh’s command chair. Of course, Furieux’s cynical and practical nature overshadowed this feeling and he had shrugged it off with little more thought. Yet there remained something about the vessel that he couldn’t quite nail down. She was an old ship, that much was clear. She creaked and clanged. She boomed and she steamed. There was a history deeply rooted within her bulkheads; a past that Furieux could only wonder about. After a shaky start, not used to flying such a huge vessel, he somehow felt right piloting the freighter. The myriad cargo bays felt warm. The corridors were like something from a familiar dream. Control of the vessel became second nature to him only after a few hours in space. A more superstitious pilot might proclaim that he had a connection to the ship and sometimes Furieux wondered if his one time comrade, friend and so called ‘ship whisperer’, Talynne Star was correct in saying that ships were more than just mechanical parts and electrical impulses. He shrugged that idea off too. Furieux lived in the moment. He was a realist. Credits were real. Gin was real. Women were real. The good times. Those were real and those were all that mattered.

Furieux flicked a switch on the comms panel and hailed Arkan Ginova.

“Greetings, Arkan! I trust you are well, sir?”

They reply was almost instantaneous. “Pleasantries, Furieux?  After that performance, you owe me, son. You are slipping. I thought you were good?”

The effects of the gin in combination with his narrow escape permitted Furieux to take on a air of bravado. “I am good. It just so happens that, today, your Authority pit-bull was better! You should offer her a raise!”

“I’ll take it out of your payment then, shall I?” replied Ginova giving no indication of whether he was joking or not.

“Sure! I’ll buy her a drink myself if I knew her name. Care to share?”

“All in good time, commander. Although it is probably for the best that you don’t meet my Authority staff.  Are you drunk by any chance?”

“Just a little bit. It’s been a long trip. Today has not been a good day. First I was interdict…”

“Save it for later.  Come see me at HQ. Building 76, floor 121. Give my secretary your name when you arrive. We have much to discuss. Ginova out.”

***

“Furio? There is no Furio listed here, I’m sorry, darling,” stated Ginova’s secretary, poking the keyboard with her index fingers. She was a robust woman, with bright, bushy purple hair built into a style that made Furieux think of a nebula. Stout, matronly, and from what Furieux gathered, a little off-kilter, she was seated behind a large, untidy desk outside Ginova’s office. When Furieux arrived she had been studiously filing her nails while watching a Galnet news piece about the newly discovered barnacles out in the Merope system.

He leaned over the desk and rested his chin in his hand. “You have spelled it correctly, right? Furieux. F-u-r-i-e-u-x. It’s Gallic.”

“Don’t use all those fancy-shmancy regional dialects with me,  you young whippersnapper! I know my job inside out and I am telling you that there is no Furio on the system!”

Furieux glanced at her name tag. Cara Fey. The name was printed but the word ‘Mizz’ had been added to the badge in scrawled handwriting. He cleared his throat. “Mizz Fey,” he said. “I’d never presume to tell you your job, sweetheart. I mean, it goes without saying that someone with your obvious experience, intelligence and dazzling beauty clearly knows what she is doing. In fact, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that perhaps you chose the wrong career. You should have been a model. Many a painter’s eye would have spent hours roving over your quite considerable charms. But just for little old me, how about we check again. Just in case there was a software error, eh?”

She peeked at him over her thick optics. A hint of a smile made its way to the edges of her heavily lipsticked mouth before she entered the details once again.  “Oh, here we are. Devil Furieux.”

“Deuil,” corrected the commander.

“What?”

“Not Devil. Deuil.”

“Jewel? Isn’t that a girls name?”

“What?”

“Jewel! That’s a name best given to to girls. Devil is better. It suits you.”

Furieux closed his eyes and sighed in resignation. “Cara, can I please just see Ginova? He is expecting me.”

She shook her head indignantly. “Not according to the system. There is no mention of a Jewel Furieux in the appointment database. Are you sure you aren’t a Devil?”

“Some might say. Look, can you please just send him a message or something? He knows who I am.”

“Until we find your listed appointment – as dictated by the system –  I am afraid you must remain in this room.  Unless you are a Devil instead of a Jewel, please take a seat while I reboot the system, it’s overdue.

Furieux made a face. His patience was wearing thin. Dealing with Mizz Fey was taking up valuable drinking time. After the meeting with Ginova, Furieux had planned paying a visit to the Star & Garter and possibly taking a few days R&R before taking on whatever the fleet Commander offered him next.

“And if I said I was?” he said, leaning in towards her, “Would you believe me?”

“Was what?”

“A Devil.”

Cara Fey’s eyes lit up. “Oh so now you’re a Devil. Well, you would of course, have to prove it,” she grinned, batting her false lashes.

The door behind her hissed open and Ginova entered. “When you’re done flirting with my associates, Cara, I’ll take it from here, thank you,” he said in a mild authoritative tone. “Furieux, follow me, if you please.”

Furieux bit his lip as he watched Mizz Fey mouth a cheeky,  silent imitation of Ginova’s words before going back to studying her nails.

***

 I apologize for my secretary’s little games, Furieux. Please take a seat,” said Ginova moving towards a tall freestanding cupboard at the back of the room.

Furieux accepted the invitation and parked himself down casually. “That’s okay,” he chuckled, “I don’t suppose I was helping matters. She seems like a fun lady.”

“You don’t know the half of it. She has been employed by this office longer than I have and she knows her stuff. I am, to this day, undecided as to whether she plays the fool to alleviate her boredom or simply to wind me up. A drink, commander? Centauri is your tipple if I remember correctly?”

Furieux nodded eagerly and watched Ginova pour a liberal amount of gin into a tall hexagonal glass. From the chair, he took in his surroundings. As expected, given the location of Cai system, the furniture was typically Federal in design. Two central desks fashioned into interlocking right angles in the middle of the floor used up most of the available office space. Around the walls of the room were various cupboards, display cabinets and wall mounted holo screens showing a diverse array of data feeds, the purpose of which Furieux could only speculate at. The screen behind Ginova’s seat proudly displayed the shimmering logo of the Raven’s Scouts, a stylistic black Raven with wings spread wide over a golden sphere.  Above this, Furieux noted the glass frame holding at least ten military decorations. Ginova was clearly a man of some esteem within the Raven’s Scouts.  The fleet Commander followed Furieux’s gaze as he handed over the drink.

“Nothing but pieces of shiny metal, my friend. Sentimental reminders of actions that have become second nature to me. I am far more proud of what we have achieved in Cai and that my past endeavours helped shape our future as an independent system, free from the Federation chains that have squeezed us dry since our inception. Yes. Far more than in little bits of gold, silver and platinum.”

“I’m sure you are aware that my father would disagree with you on that count, Arkan. I, however, share your ideology.  Live and let love. Oh, but Federation law does allow me to make a killing from the various prohibited commodities in any given sector of space. I guess that’s important to me,” smirked Furieux.

At the mention of Ettiene, Furieux’s father, Ginova paused in thought before taking his place behind the desk.

“You know, Deu – mind if I call you Deu? – some say a well known smuggler is doing it wrong. You would do well to keep your activities to yourself, even to those who employ you. Keeping your head down is a prime requisite in your line of work. I have said it once before, but I get the impression that despite your protests, you like being under the spotlight.”

“Nah. I once thought I did, but that life is too demanding. Too restraining. I don’t like having to be careful of what I say and do. Lately I’m far more interested in spirits, be they high, free or alcoholic. And you can call me anything you like as long as you keep paying me.”

Arkan flashed him a smile. “Noted, commander. Well,  that aside, you have managed to fulfill your contract satisfactorily. You promised ten thousand Imperials to Raven’s Landing and you have delivered. I hope the credits earned will sustain your lifestyle for some time to come and the Nineveh is yours as promised.  I hope that you find her to your liking. Tell me, what will you do now that the job is finished?”

Furieux was quietly taken aback. He had expected more work from Ginova and was getting used to the flow of credits that the Ravens were supplying him. Of course, he took great pains to present a devil-may-care attitude towards the fleet commander’s question. He didn’t want to sell himself short and knew Ginova to be wily, clever and manipulative. “Oh I dunno. Probably take some time out. I hear the Star & Garter on this station is something special. After that, who knows? So many rich systems out there and so little time. I’ll find something to keep me ticking. As for the ship, she is a beauty. What she lacks in style, she more than makes up for in ability. A total workhorse.”

“Glad to hear it. That ship has a very colourful history. Perhaps one day I’ll tell you of it. Will you make a return to Zeta Tucanae, perhaps? I am sure that the issues with your family could be rectified in time.” asked Ginova.

Furieux shook his head. “No. I doubt I’ll ever go home. Too much history. The system is too heavily steeped in Federal fat for my liking.”

“And the 8th Dragons? I understand that the group have now invested in some property in Patocuda and are expanding into nearby systems. They have done well since your departure. Have you considered making a trip out there?”

Furieux reached into his inside pocket, pulled out a vapourstick and puffed a few times before answering. Arkan watched as a grey mist float around above the commanders head.

“With the Dragons, I created a monster.  And in doing so, I became one. I left at the right time. I wish them all the luck in the galaxy and have the utmost respect for what they hope to accomplish, but I have no plans to make a return to their ranks. I am certain that Walford understands, and I know that he is quite capable of leading them to success. He has good people and brilliant counsel around him.”

“I admire your honesty, Deu, however self-centred it might be. What surprises me is that you recognize who and what you are even if you do not like it. Self-reflection is something not a lot of people are capable of, and even less so would have stepped down from a position of power the way you did. You have some humility despite the front that you so proudly wear. A worthy trait.”

“Don’t analyse me, Ginova. You are starting to sound like my sister. I am whoever I want to be whenever I want to be it,” answered Furieux, a bit too tersely.

Ginova dropped his gaze to the desktop. “Fair enough. You see, Deu, we could use someone like you. We have great plans for the future of the Raven’s Scouts. Cai has been our haven for many years and yet also our cage. We have stood idly by while Federal parties continue to expand into nearby systems including our own for centuries. It is time the Ravens flew the nest. The people of Xyile are tired of the Federation bleeding us dry. Our own expansion has already begun. You may or may not be aware that we have initiated the development of trade routes into the Paipai system, where we are now harbouring some political weight. It is only a matter of time before rival parties begin to see us a threat. The Federal Coalition of Paipai are tolerant of our presence but we do not expect this mutual acceptance to last long. War is inevitable at some point. To win these wars, we need good people. Men and women like you, and this is just the beginning. I’d like to offer you a permanent contract.”

Furieux blew a long stream of vapour from the corner of his mouth as he digested what Ginova had to say. It sounded like a bind. His heart sank. Why did everyone want a piece of him permanently? Life was too short to be chained to one system, one planet, one person. What had went wrong during the evolution of humanity that dictated that each new generation was bound to the rules of the last? What right did the people in Furieux’s life have to demand his sole and undivided attention, now and forever? How boring.

“No. I am done with politics and power games,” he said, finally. “I gave that jazz up when I left the Dragons. This brothers in arms shit is all nonsense. Its nothing but propaganda, and make no mistake, every one of us is out for personal gain.  What makes you think I want to continue doing something like that? Whats your angle?”

Ginova held up his hands. “Don’t get ahead of yourself, Furieux. Not everyone thinks like you do. All I am asking at this moment is that you continue to perform…tasks. We do not require leaders. We need people to put our plans into action. I think you are one of them, but you need to work on your impulsiveness and trust issues. You know, its uncanny. You remind me so much of your mother.”

 “You knew my mother?”

“I did. I knew her very well. She was a fascinating woman.”

Furieux laid down the vapourstick on the desktop and brought out a dataslate from his inside pocket.  He swiped at it a few times before bringing up a holographic image of a thin, red haired woman alongside his father, Ettiene.  A familiar shot taken upon the snows of Darwyn, Zeta Tucanae. He held it out for Ginova who studied  it for a moment before locking eyes with Furieux.

“What do you know of your mother?” Ginova asked.

“Not much. I’m told she died a few hours after my birth. Her name was Evelynne.  I don’t think my father has ever forgiven me for her death. This image was transferred to me by my grandmother when I was a kid. It is the only one I have.”

“Deuil,” said Arkan, gravely.  “What if I was to tell you that the woman in that picture is not your mother?”

Furieux frowned. He didn’t really know how to reply. For the first time in years he was speechless. He sat back in the chair, awaiting an explanation.

Arkan continued, “Her name was Evelynne, that much is true. The rest is fiction. Your mother was one of the finest wingmen I have ever had the pleasure of serving with. She could turn her hand to anything. Eve was an Elite combatant, an accomplished explorer and probably the finest stealth pilot I have ever met.  She was, like you, a smuggler, and the Nineveh’s Kiss was her vessel of choice. I am certain that she had the ship dressed in white purely to taunt her would be captors.  We felt that it is only right that you should fly it now, though I daresay she would not approve of your new livery. She was a free spirit, eternally lovable yet always beyond range, your mother was a gift to everyone she met.  Despite what your family have told you, the woman in this image is not her, I can assure you of that.”

Furieux grinned, but it was without conviction. “How can I trust you? How do you know all this?” he inquired.

Ginova paused, swirling his drink around the glass before answering.

“Because, Deu,” he said, “Your mother was a Raven.”

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