Furieux was sprawled out on Shizuko’s bunk when she returned to her quarters several hours after the events in Star & Garter. His head and right arm hung limply over the edge. He looked like death itself on a bad day. It appeared that Alder had simply dumped the inebriated pilot on the bed and left. The room stank of stale liquor and she screwed up her nose at the smell, peering around and looking for any signs of disturbance; any indication as to whether Furieux had spent the last few hours in a drunken coma or if he had risen at some point, discovering that he had been locked in and making some attempt at an escape. It appeared that he had not moved all night. The commander was a renowned barfly she knew, but the condition he had got himself into at the Star & Garter was bordering on dangerous. It wouldn’t surprise her in the least if Furieux remembered nothing of the events that transpired in the drinking den.
Personally she couldn’t have cared less about his well-being. She understood the man to be something of a wastrel; a worthless bon vivant with no consideration for anyone but himself. At the beginning of the Ginova’s ‘Black Horizon’ expansion campaign, the fleet Commander had put together a dossier that held data on a handful of potential new recruits in which Furieux had been listed among other useful candidates. Ginova held the Zeta Tucan in high regard irrespective of Shizuko’s misgivings and despite her protests concerning the mercenary’s reliability, Ginova remained confident of Furieux’s potential to help forward the plans and goals of the Raven’s Scouts. Furieux’s history was certainly colourful, but not in any way that struck Shizuko as particularly helpful to the party. Furieux had begun his interstellar career as a small time narcotics dealer, before subsequently becoming embroiled in Alliance espionage under the banner of Vidar Vondell’s Eta Draconis Gold Vision Company. After a successful campaign to bring the system under the wing of the Alliance charter, Furieux continued to head the newly founded 8th Dragon mercenary group who would then go on to be hired by any number of local system factions in order to gain power and influence in their respective systems. Their success rate was impeccable. Like his fellow hired guns, theft, assault, human trafficking and murder meant little to the Zeta Tucan. This was a reflection of his own personal morals; a mindset common among many other citizens in the thirty fourth century. Credits made the galaxy turn, and criminal activity was relative only to whatever jurisdiction a person found themselves in. Laws had range a measured in light years.
Ginova had gone to great lengths trying to convince Shizuko of Furieux’s worth as an operative for the Ravens. Despite his obvious flaws, the smuggler was said to possess a far deeper, introspective and brooding personality than he liked to portray on the surface, yet he had a way about him that motivated others, something he himself failed to realise. Shizuko didn’t really care. She didn’t have to like the merc for him to be effective. She also knew that Furieux had been hand-picked by Ginova given his heritage. As the son of Evelynne Blackfeather, an important character in Raven history, it was easy to see why the Fleet Commander had chosen him. As she watched him sleep, the resemblance to his mother was without doubt and Shizuko knew that Ginova had similar hopes for her son. Orders were orders. Regardless of her own opinion of the shameless hedonist, Ginova wanted Furieux among the crew and that was enough reason as any to get him on board. She hoped that the smuggler didn’t make a habit of making her life difficult and complicating matters on a regular basis, however.
Making no attempt to be quiet, she stomped over to a personal refrigeration unit and removed a bottle of water. It was of local origin, imported to Burroughs Palace from Xyile; the lush, agricultural world central to Cai’s interstellar trade. Like the majority of the citizenship, Shizuko had been born on Xyile but she rarely revisited the surface, preferring the low gravity life of the spacer. System patrols often took her into orbit of the Earthlike world, rekindling memories of the great lakes, forests and grasslands that covered the planet, recollections of her youth over five decades ago. Her position as chief administrator of the Burroughs Palace office of the Raven’s Scouts meant that most of her time was spent on the moon of Trango when not on active patrol. Trango was a far bleaker location than her native homeworld, but she didn’t mind at all. It was generally accepted that to be a Raven, you lived to fly, and Shizuko was comfortable with her lot. Although Burroughs Palace was under the control of the Cai Nationalists, the Ravens, being the major controlling faction in the Cai system, had a certain degree of influence within all sectors of local space, including that of rival factions. Shizuko’s main duties were of an ambassadorial nature, although cloak and dagger activities were not beyond normal operations. Rival parties had to be monitored for any signs of insurrection and in particular, the Cai Nationalists. Although this party shared many of the ideals of the Raven’s Scouts, they made it well known that they had they had aspirations to become the dominant group in Cai. Dictatorial groups like the Nationalists were not renowned for peaceful political movements and there was never room for complacency.
Returning her attention to Furieux, Shizuko loosened the cap on the bottle and tapped the bottom of it against his forehead. “Move yourself, Commander. This isn’t an accommodation berth.”
The smuggler groaned before he forcing himself upright and rubbed his face with the palms of his hands.
“Mother of all Tucans, what hit me?” he said croakily, looking up at Shizuko who was standing with the bottle held in his direction.
“Drink this,” she said, remaining expressionless. “You look as if you might need it.”
Furieux accepted it gratefully and proceeded to chug the entire contents in less than thirty seconds. “Thanks. Any more where that came from? Who’re you by the way? And where am I?”
“Commander Shizuko Vangelos. Weapons specialist and Executive Officer of the Nevermore. Also, Chief Administrator of the Raven’s Scouts Embassy here on Trango. These are my quarters. You are Commander Deuil Furieux of Zeta Tucanae, former leader of the 8th Dragon Squadron, purveyor of illegal commodities and all round piss artist. Am I correct?”
Furieux laughed out loud despite his hangover. “Damn…who have you been talking to?”
“Certainly not to you. You were barely able to string a sentence together last night,” said Shizuko, turning to retrieve another bottle of water. “Let’s make one thing clear, Commander, I don’t particularly like you much. You are here in my quarters and not in a cell because Ginova wished it so. If you ever pull a stunt like that again on my watch, I won’t be so forgiving. Despite the Fleet Commander’s orders, assaulting our system authority personnel is a serious offence.”
Furieux glared at her with red, watery eyes, an inquiring look that suggested he had no idea what she was talking about. After a moment, he reached into his flight suit and removed a small container that held several clear capsules. He took two out and popped them into his mouth before swallowing them with a quick gulp of water.
“Modern marvels, ” he said, rapidly trying to change the subject. “These babies will get me on my feet in no time. Works within minutes.”
“Booze and pills?”
“Hangover cure. Perfectly safe. And legal of course.”
Furieux consumed the contents of the second bottle of water a little more slowly than the first and took stock of his surroundings. Trango, like many other low gravity worlds required the use of magboots to get around comfortably. This meant that even living quarters on planetary installations such as Burroughs Palace held very little items that weren’t secured to its walls and floors. Trango’s slight gravitational pull was enough to keep the water in the bottle, however. Shizuko’s room was sparse yet functional. Furniture and utility stations were fashioned from a grey, drab alloy. Hardly decorative, but life on barren rocks meant giving up the aesthetics commonly seen on more highly populated garden or water worlds.
“Well. I guess I should thank you for your hospitality. Can’t say a prison cell would be much less inviting though,” he said with a smirk. “So…thanks. Am I free to go?”
“To do what?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“You and Ginova have made it my business. You may leave Cai if you wish. However, if you decide to stay, I would suggest that you refrain from drinking and making a complete ass of yourself. Perhaps you should get some proper rest.”
“Listen lady, I’ve just discovered that everything I thought knew about myself is a complete fabrication. I reckon I’m entitled to a drink, no?”
Shizuko didn’t answer right away. Through the Commander’s sneering demeanor she caught the slightest flash of pain cross his face as he spoke. In an effort to gain Furieux’s trust and allegiance, Ginova had given the Commander a true account of his origins, a story completely at odds with what Furieux had been led to believe his entire life. Backed up by irrefutable evidence on a data chip; genealogical tests, official certificates and more importantly, personal logs belonging to his mother, Evelynne Blackfeather, the facts could not be ignored. Shizuko couldn’t imagine how difficult the truth must have been for Furieux to accept and she wasn’t without compassion. She damn sure wasn’t going to show it though.
“Ah, I see. Woe is you, huh? Thought a drunken pity party would help your torn soul? Give me strength. Commander, you are not defined by how you came to be or where you came from, nor does your past need to influence your future. If you are looking for sympathy from me, then I am afraid you will be disappointed. Tell me, what happened to the proud Dragon Furieux I hear so much about? Ginova speaks highly of you, as do many of the faction heads that you have served in the past. At this moment, all I see is a mess of a man who is all liquored up with nowhere to go. Partly due to his own self indulgent misery.”
“Don’t shrink me. And I don’t need your sympathy. I don’t need anything from you or anyone else. Now if you don’t mind, I’ll be off.”
Shizuko was about to reply when her internal comm signaled that she was being hailed. Communications implants were common among most high ranking personnel in both the military and in commercial sectors. Like other enhancements such as network integration and piloting suites, these implants were now simple procedures. They were incredibly useful to people who need access to data or comms anytime, anyplace.
Interrupting the smuggler, Shizuko held up the palm of her hand. Furieux raised an eyebrow in response.
“Go ahead, Officer Jinx,” she responded to the hail.
“Ma’am. We have reports of pirate attacks on miners coming in from the orbit of Cai III. Pilot’s Federation registration data suggests they are of Aroucan origin. This has been confirmed by surviving rockhoppers who say that the attackers bear insignia belonging to the Arouca Jet Hand Gang.”
“Aroucans in Cai? Damn. We have enough to deal with right now without more brigands. Scramble a security wing and patrol the rings. Report your findings to me and engage any wanted vessels on sight. The Fleet Commander is still out of system and I have a feeling that this is somehow linked. Our previous appointment will have to wait, Kaila. Vangelos out.”
Cutting the comm channel, Shizuko returned her attention to Furieux who had been listening intently. “I’m sorry, Commander, I have work to do. Please leave.”
“Pirate problem eh? Maybe I can help.”
“Why would you?”
“If you’re paying, why wouldnt I?”
Shizuko paused. Jinx’s crew could handle the Aroucans with ease and there were more important things to deal with. The Raven’s Scouts commanded a relatively small naval fleet, perhaps only a few hundred personnel strong. Many of these pilots were currently in Paipai forming the Fleet Commander’s escort, in talks with the Federal Coalition. Others were were either undergoing maintenance or were part of System Authority wings patrolling Cai. She wished that things were not so moving so quickly. Among the original expansion plans was a move into the nearby system of Bedaho, where a base of operations was being set up on the moon of Strauss Reward. Political and commercial control of Bedaho and the orbital station Peters Terminal in particular was high priority, yet the Scouts forces were spreading thin.
“If it’s work you want, I may have something. What do you know of Bedaho?”
“Are you serious?” laughed Furieux, “Bedaho? I know it well. Not only is it one of the most amusingly named systems ever, it also happens to be the home of Saud Kruger. My love of Kruger vessels is well known and I have drank in the bars of Salam on many occasions. I love that place. The city of eternal night. Why do you ask?”
“We have some interest in the system. The planet of Matto has a much more robust economy than our own Xyile and we consider their resources to be a boost to our own growing agricultural exports. It is early days but we have a footing. Ginova assures me that you have an innate talent to make things happen. If credits are what you seek, you may wish to join my colleague, Dillon Reade at Salam Enterprise. Make some connections. Gather intel and support for our expansion.”
“You got me at the Saud Kruger bit. Maybe I’ll get discounts on future purchases. Sign me up. Congratulations, Vangelos, you just made this personal.”
“I’ll inform Reade of your arrival. Try not to be intoxicated when you get there.”
“I’ll refrain when on duty, as long as you lot keep paying. I’ll make the jump to Bedaho immediately. Thank you again for the use of your bunk.”
Shizuko nodded. Furieux looked to be feeling better already. “It had better not happen again.”
“Play your cards right, sweetheart, and it just might,” Furieux grinned cheekily. “Oh…by the way…where did I leave my ship?”