Black Horizon – An Uncertain Friendship

“Commander Furieux?” inquired Dillon Reade, turning towards a booth near the back wall of the Star & Garter. “Please follow me.”

“Reade? How did you recognize me?” Furieux asked, following a path weaved before through the masses.  The journey to Bedaho had been short, and the smuggler had only just docked at Salam Enterprise moments before. He had hoped to have had a drink or two before the meeting but Reade had approached him nearly as soon he had entered the bar.

“I know a merc when I see one,” Reade said without looking back. “And you might just as well have had the word Blackfeather tattooed on your forehead, you look so much like her. It wasn’t too difficult to deduce. Come.”

The bar was busy. Filled with drunken citizens both local and foreign, the atmosphere was noisy and the crowd boisterous. Reade led the way to an arching row of seats with a centre table bolted to the floor. Around it were another three pilots, clearly mercenaries like himself.  Reade gestured, “Please. Take a seat, Commander.”

Furieux shook his head as he observed the bare surface. “It’s unlucky to sit at a table with no drinks on it.”

“Sit down, Furieux. A waitress will be here with refreshments shortly. I have taken the liberty of ordering you a Centauri.”

“Well thank the Mother for that.”

The other pilots eyed the smuggler curiously but made no attempt at conversation as he took his place at the table. They were an unlikely bunch; a heavyset man perhaps in his forties with the longest red beard Furieux had ever seen was seated next to a woman with hair as white as the snows of Darwyn. She wasn’t uncomely, but Furieux made a mental note never to get on her bad side given the expression she wore. Her demeanor suggested that mirrors protested when she applied the thick black lipstick she seemed partial to in front of them. If Furieux knew anything about anything, he knew women. Some men used the phrase, ‘out of their league’. This was a fallacy and Furieux knew instantly that white hair was a fine example of this. She wasn’t out of any man’s league. She wasn’t in any league to begin with. These ladies were colder than the most heartless of men and were best avoided. There was no game there. The final character was a sly looking man who sat away from the other two.  He had that clever, calculating look that Furieux instantly recognized as that of a bounty hunter. He was probably working out how much Furieux might be worth.  Reade reached over to a small terminal built into the wall of the booth. Almost immediately the raucous sounds of merriment dimmed, not completely, but enough to ensure that a person could talk without shouting over the noise.

Reade took a seat and addressed them all. “This is Commander Furieux. He will be joining us in our operations here in Bedaho. Furieux, meet your colleagues. Commanders Erikson, Bentzen and Syn.”

Heavyset, otherwise known as Erikson, acknowledged Furieux with a single nod but all three remained silent.

Reade continued. “I’d liked to have spent some time getting to know each other but there have been some new developments that demand our swift attention and time is of the essence. I’ll get right to it. Some of you may be aware that local anarchist group, the Bedaho Jet Raiders, have a base of operations on the moon of Strauss Reward named Lambert Observatory. This is our first target in our expansion into the system. The base’s sensor arrays will be critical in gathering further intelligence on other parties and will also serve as a temporary HQ and launch point for future assaults on the other installations.”

“It is imperative that you all understand that this will not be an easy task. The majority of our naval fleet is currently based in Paipai. The threat of war with the Coalition of Paipai is very real and we cannot afford to yield our position as a deterrent to full scale war. A battle on two fronts is not feasible at the moment. That said, we have several wings available to each of you should you require them, and these are currently based in rented hangars here on Salam Enterprise. In short, we are relying on you four to pave the way for our move into Bedaho once the Fleet Commander has completed his plans for Paipai.”

“Until such times as we hold Lambert Observatory, any and all future meetings shall be held here. I will be uploading new objectives on a daily basis and you may access these via public data-links on the three major planetary bases, Salam, Morin Legacy and Sharipov Hub. There will be logistical, recon and combat tasks to be completed. However, our main goal is to reduce Raider numbers. Your orders are to engage all pirate vessels on sight. A direct assault on Lambert Observatory is being planned.  I advise that you all remain away from the orbital station in the meantime. They key  here is low key, pilots. The last thing we want are our plans being picked up by the Tilialans. At least for now.”

“Your dossiers contain information on the main objectives that we hope to achieve and you will all no doubt be aware that our primary goal is to assume control of Peters Terminal, and thus, full political dominance in Bedaho. The Conservatives of Tiliala hold substantial influence and we do not want to stand against them until we have a firm position on the local political stage. Removing the pirate threat will be positive step in maintaining good relations with the citizenship and will put us in in the spotlight.  After all, everyone loves pirate hunters and don’t forget that each and every one of you will  personally gain from the bonds and bounties for every Raider ship you manage to put out of action. Do any of you have any questions?”

The white haired woman known as Bentzen spoke up. “Are there any other parties besides the Raiders that we need to be aware of?”

“No,” replied Reade. “At present, we have no other known enemies within these borders and we would like to keep it that way, Commander. Engage Raider targets only.”

“That’s not leaving me much scope to fatten my credit balance.”

“Succeed in taking Lambert Observatory and you will all be well paid. This will be an amount far more acceptable to you than mere bounties and bonds.”

Bentzen, apparently satisfied with the answer, tilted her head in agreement. She was obviously only here for the money and Furieux could relate to that, but he couldn’t help but consider the coldness that emanated from her every pore.

Syn raised his hand. “Why not simply make a move on Peters Terminal right now?” he asked. “I don’t want to be here for weeks on end. I could be making more money in Morrina right now.”

“We do not have the numbers for a direct assault on the Tilialans. And before you suggest it, assassination is out of the question. That is not how the Ravens operate.”

“Seems longwinded to me,” shrugged Syn.  “Strike quickly and silently. Take out their faction heads and you leave a vacuum that should be easy to fill once your boss gets here.”

“You’re recommendations are noted, and I will relay your suggestion to the Fleet Commander. As of now, I am merely following orders, and I expect you to do the same. Erikson?”

The big, bearded man made a show of studying Furieux for a moment before speaking. “I’ll fly with Furieux. He looks like he needs protecting,” he said with a warm grin.

Furieux, at the mention of his name, flashed the burly pilot with an incredulous look. “Needs protecting? I’ll have you know that I’m rated danger…”

“What ship are you flying?” Erikson interrupted.

“The Immaculate Deception. Core Dynamics Dropship. And she can handle herself very well, thank you very much!”

Erikson laughed heartily. “Furieux. Please do not be offended. All I am offering you is a mere gesture of friendship. You see, I fly the mighty Hammer. A refitted war Anaconda based on the blueprints of a ship belonging to a man of legend. Do you not think that such a vessel in your wing would be useful?”

“Well, since you put it like that,” muttered the smuggler. “I don’t suppose it’s a problem. I’m just used to flying alone.”

Erikson raised his hands theatrically and yelled  “‘Solitude is fine but you need someone to tell that solitude is fine,’ said a famous Earth poet once upon a time. Good words they are.”

Bentzen offered a slow clap in response to Erikson’s recital. Furieux figured she had a heart as cold as ice because it rang true. As much as he didn’t particularly like the idea of flying with someone else, the giant, bearded man seemed amicable enough, and having a well armed Anaconda by his side was definitely a plus. He also thought that the big man would make a great drinking buddy, quips and all.

“Furieux? Any questions?” asked Reade.

“Well actually I do have one and it’s pretty important,” replied Furieux with a smirk.

“Where’s the waitress got to?”

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