“She brews a bruise on my heart, and drinks it like a beer. She calls it love, but she would, because she’s drunk on my torment.” – Jarod Kintz
Raven’s Landing, Cai System.
Furieux left the office of Arkan Ginova and made his way back to the main hub of Raven’s Landing via an internal shuttle. From there, it wasn’t far to hangar forty where the Nineveh’s Kiss was undergoing some minor repairs. He stood on the docking platform and peered up at the huge freighter. A couple of uniformed techs were in the process of welding some of the outer hull plates that had been split open during the Commanders earlier less-than-graceful landing. The Type-9 was not a pretty ship. A far cry from the smooth, curving aesthetics and lush interiors of the Orca, Delicate Heart, the Nineveh’s sharp angles and bulky design was typical of Lakon Spaceways. Furieux had made more than a couple alterations to the vessel since it came into his possession, the most obvious being the change of livery. The original dirty white paintwork had been replaced by a black as dark as the void itself where, with lights off, it served to make the ship a little less easy to spot when approaching a station. He had also removed the Class 6 shields in favour of adding another thirty six tonne cargo module, replacing it with a Class 5 generator. Furieux had made the potentially hazardous decision on the basis that should the Nineveh ever be attacked, it was most likely a sitting duck to any vessel wielding enough firepower to shred the shields before the lumbering beast could escape anyway. He believed the risk was worth it, but added a couple of shield cell banks just be safe. Firing off a few shield charges could mean the difference between escape and complete destruction. The Type-9 was a one trick pony and as far as the ship’s new owner was concerned, maximising hauling capability took priority over protection. Evasion was the commander’s sole defence against piracy or opportunistic pilots and should the worst happen, relying on sensor alertness, quick thinking and luck to get himself out of any sticky situations was an approach that had so far served him well.
For the majority of pilots, the sheer size and lack of speed and agility made the Nineveh a poor choice for moving contraband goods, yet Furieux’s experience in the field along with a quirky penchant for the unorthodox meant that he was more than comfortable using the freighter to shift illegal commodities. In his eyes, the Type-9 had four hundred and ninety six reasons that made it a worthwhile smuggler. It’s cargo capacity was immense creating a great opportunity to profit heavily.
Furieux approached the lower entrance hatch and climbed the access ladder. The door hissed open after he tapped a few commands onto a wall mounted console. Inside, the commander made his way into a boxy elevator that would take him up and to the cockpit. It opened out onto a two tiered bridge; a fairly large room with a slim walkway leading to the main flight chair. Communications and diagnostic terminals lined the walls to the right and a rather compact and spartan living space lay to the left, built into the bulkhead. Below the walkway, the lower cockpit featured another two seats for dedicated communications and sensor operators. The T-9 could be flown by a single pilot but Furieux imagined that these positions would certainly be advantageous to the defence of the vessel if and when it found itself in hazardous systems or potentially dangerous situations. Two corridors led away from both the starboard and port sides of the vessel into the rear of the ship, ultimately into the main holds and engine room. Furieux considered how far he had come since leaving Darwyn in the small, single seat Sidewinder. The Nineveh was gargantuan in comparison. He hopped down the steps into the commander’s chair and accessed the comms panel.
The most recent message was from Arkan Ginova;
Commander. I hope that in light of the new information you have received, this is not the last that we will see of you. You have assisted the Raven’s Scouts more than we had expected and the offer of a permanent contract still stands. My superiors have shown an interest in your ability to forward our plans and are keen to take you on board. Should you decide to accept it, you can contact myself directly or my second in command, Shizuko Vangelis. Her office is based at Burroughs Palace on the moon of Trango. Do not hesitate to contact either one of us for any reason. Fly safe commander. Ginova out.
Furieux was familiar with Trango. In orbit of the gas giant, Cai II, it was a small, bland rocky world with only one major planetary outpost. It was currently under the control of the Cai Nationalists, a dictatorial political party who also owned Jeschke Vista, another ground based research installation on the other side of the moon. Trango was a depressing world and Burroughs Palace was a glimmer of hope on its barren surface. The station was in poor condition and in dire need of repair but Furieux had found that the on site Star & Garter was one of the better establishments in the whole of Cai. Maybe he would pay the bar a visit again. Ginova’s message also reminded him of the data chip in his flight suit pocket; perhaps he would need a drink after discovering the contents. Finally, he rose from the flight seat and made his way to the rear cargo hold in search of the hardware that could read the information on the chip.
Burroughs Palace, Trango, Cai System.
Kaila Jinx was still vexed. Although it had been several hours since the incident during her patrol outside Raven’s Landing, her anger was showing no signs of abating. The slaver should have been tagged and held for inspection. Thanks to the fleet Commander, the capture of the vessel had been halted and Ginova still hadn’t explained why. Kaila hated failure. Lynwood Alder, her wingmate, wasn’t helping matters much either. Every time she looked at him, he had this big, stupid grin on his face. Almost like it didn’t matter. Sometimes she wondered why she flew with Alder at all; he was essentially a good guy and capable pilot but he lacked drive. Something Kaila had in spades. If all the System Authority pilots were as dedicated as she was, perhaps the Ravens would get the respect they deserved in Cai.
What tugged at her the most was that she had identified the ship. Alder clearly thought she was crazy but there was no doubt in her mind whatsoever that the vessel was the Nineveh’s Kiss. The scar along the top of the hull was unmistakable. Evelynne Blackfeather’s ship was as steeped in Raven history as it’s owner. It was widely known that despite many attempts at repair, the vessel’s prominent disfigurement remained. As far as Kaila knew, the ship was still out of commission, gathering dust in one of the fleet Commander’s personal hangars. Had Eve come back to Cai after more than twenty five years? It couldn’t be. It didn’t make any sense. The new generation of Ravens were of the belief that Eve was dead. Sure, it had never been confirmed, but twenty five years is a long time. Eve had become something of a legend among their ranks.
“Hey, slow down Jinxy!” yelled Alder from further up the corridor, “The booze wont run out!”
“It’s not my fault my legs are longer than yours, shrimp.” she retorted with a smug smile. “Wine waits for no man. Or woman, come to that.”
Lynwood hurried to catch up, slightly breathless. “I feel less beat when on duty!” he panted, “They call this R&R for a reason, you know.”
Jinx turned towards her wingmate as he walked alongside her. He was about six feet tall, only slightly shorter than she was. Young, barely in his twenties, he was in good condition physically, though often the first to drop out during physical training. He was fully capable of completing all the daily workouts assigned to SysAuths but seemed to doubt his own abilities. She knew that deep down she had a soft spot for him. Sometimes she felt it was like looking after a puppy.
The pair continued down the corridor to the Star & Garter. The bar at Burroughs Palace was the dingiest drinking spot in Cai but had the biggest range of liquor and saw the most traffic. Unlike the larger watering holes on the surface of Xyile and even on Raven’s Landing that catered to mainly law abiding citizens, Burroughs Palace was a haven for the dregs of society. Smugglers, pirates, human traffickers and worse regularly used the bar to make plans, exchange goods and put out bounty contracts. System Authority pilots were never welcome and Kaila knew it. Should things go awry, at least a fight would help her to her feel better.
Like a scene from an old western movie, every head in the bar turned to look at Jinx and Alder as they entered the Star & Garter. Jinx smiled sweetly back at the sea of faces before taking a seat in the centre of the establishment – the only one available. Alder followed her lead but hunkered down a little at the table.
“What’s wrong, Alder? Not thirsty anymore?” she grinned. “Hey it’s your round. I’ll have a red wine. Chateau De Aegaeon if you please.”
Alder shot her a menacing look before rising and carefully heading over the bar, avoiding the other tables. Murmurs of discontent reached his ears as he passed a few of the locals. The bartender watched his approach. He was a robust man and by the looks, in dire need of a wash. The heat in the station was clearly taking its toll; beads of sweat trickled down his forehead. A row of stools along the front of the bar were all taken and Alder squeezed in between them. As he leaned in, he accidentally knocked over a glass belonging to a pilot who looked as if he had fallen unconscious on the counter. The drink sloshed over the counter soaking the pilot’s face and the glass rolled off, smashing onto the deck.
“Sweet mother…careful pal!” slurred the pilot, “That’s a full damn quart of Centauri you owe me.”
Alder stepped back and appraised the guy. At around six two, he was tall but wiry. He didn’t look local nor did he look particularly threatening. He was also incredibly drunk.
“Looks like you have had enough already, sir. I think I just did you a favour.”
“I’ll decide when I’ve had enough, you self righteous little duct rat! Now get me another drink!” bawled the pilot.
The entire room exploded in laughter. Alder doubted that the inebriated pilot had any idea that he was talking to system authority personnel and he was fully aware that any insult directed towards to a SysAuth on this rock would be cause for merriment among the locals. He felt a little resentment towards the drunk for ridiculing him in public. He took a deep breath and stepped forward. “I am System Authority Officer Lynwood Alder of the Raven’s Scouts, Officer number nine-eight-four-seven. I suggest that you take yourself out of here and sleep it off before I take you in on a disorder charge.”
The pilot attempted to turn around to face Alder and nearly slipped off his stool in the process. Lynwood turned to glance at Kaila who was casually observing the proceedings. She merely rolled her eyes.
“Hey, leave the guy alone, crow,” one of the other locals piped up, “He wasn’t doing anyone any harm until you two scavs arrived.”
Alder turned to face the source of the new voice when the drunken pilot grabbed him by the arm in an poor attempt to haul him back. Kaila made the decision to step in before things got out of hand. Swiftly hopping up onto the tabletop she launched herself into the wasted pilot who fell from his stool and landed face first onto the floor. He was clearly in no condition to put up a fight. Straddling him with her full weight she quickly grabbed his arms and slapped an inhibitor around his wrists. Alder grinned as the other patron sat himself back down. Kaila turned the pilot around on his back. He opened his eyes and attempted to focus on her.
“You know, sweetheart,” he croaked through the obvious discomfort he was in, “This would be much more fun for both of us were we naked.”
Kaila grabbed him by the collar. A flash of recognition sparked in her mind as she brought his face up to meet hers. The pilot looked somehow familiar but she was certain that they had never met before. It was his eyes. Dark, mild eyes that were completely at odds with the sneering smirk on his lips. “I’m taking you in, dreg. Inciting disorder and assault on a SysAuth Officer. Anything you say may be…”
“Officer Jinx.” bellowed a new voice from the entrance to the bar. Kaila raised herself up. She already knew who it belonged to. Shizuko Vangelos strode in and gauged the scene. Neither Jinx nor Alder had any idea how long she had been there. As Ginova’s XO, she outranked them both. She peered down at the prone pilot who looked as if he was about pass out at any given moment. “Officer Alder. Remove this pilot’s inhibitor and take him to my quarters and lock it down. I’ll deal with him personally after he has sobered up. Jinx? My office, 0700, tomorrow morning. “
Kaila’s jaw dropped as she listened to the older woman. “What? Ma’am, he just attacked Lynwood! Surely that’s a chargeable offence!”
“No. I’m aware of what happened.” Shizuko replied. “This man is clearly under the influence and simply demanded recompense for a drink that Officer Alder owed him. Lynwood, do as I say. That’s an order.”
Kaila huffed while Alder fulfilled the request. After a brief struggle to get him upright, Lynwood managed to get the pilot off the floor. Getting him out of the bar required some degree of support however; the pilot could hardly walk.
Kaila was furious. “With all due respect, ma’am, this is the second time I have been challenged today by a superior officer while performing my duties. That pilot was absolutely out of line!”
Vangelos fixed Jinx with a stern look. The XO rarely smiled at the best of times and always made Kaila feel a little intimidated and awkward. “It is you who is out of line. I’d advise you to watch what you say, Kaila. You are paid to follow orders and though you perform your duties admirably, I suggest that you keep a tighter control on that temper of yours. The reasons for my actions here will be made clear. 0700. Do not be late.”
Vangelos surveyed the room once more. The bar had become quiet since her arrival. Her reputation as a no-nonsense officer was well known around Burroughs Palace. Despite the station being a Nationalist controlled installation and outside the Raven’s Scouts jurisdiction, people respected her authority. After a moment, she marched out and the noise in the bar returned.
After Shizuko left, Kaila ordered a glass of wine before changing her mind and deciding on a whole bottle. She sat back down at a table feeling the daggers on her back from the others in the bar. She didn’t care. Frustration welled up inside her. How could she progress up the ranks of the Raven’s Scouts when this crap held her back? Alder could have at least backed her up instead of catering to the XO’s whim without protest. It should have been his tag anyway. As she mulled over the day’s events she began to piece things together. The return of the Nineveh’s Kiss remained a mystery and Ginova wasn’t exactly forthcoming with an explanation. Who was piloting it? Why would the fleet Commander allow a slaver free reign to dock at Raven’s Landing? As far as she knew, the infamous Type-9 had not seen action since Eve allegedly vanished. Kaila was too young to have known Eve personally, but like all pilots training to be a SysAuth she had seen images of the woman during training seminars. Eve was written indelibly into Raven history. Then it struck her why she found the drunken pilot familiar.
He reminded her of Evelynne Blackfeather.