Black Horizon – One for the Road

Star & Garter Bar, Raven’s Landing, Cai System.

“Something on your mind, commander?”

The question was delivered in a heavily accented and sweet cadence but Furieux ignored it and remained hunched on a barstool, swirling what little was left in the bottom of a square cocktail glass.  Normally, he’d never disregard the attentions of the fairer sex, but he recognised the voice and was not inclined to reply, rolling his eyes in mild annoyance.

“Oh, come now,” she pressed with a theatrical sigh. “What does a girl have to do to gain an audience with the great commander Furieux?”

Her words dripped with biting sarcasm but they were bound in good humour. Furieux found himself grinning at the inflection yet still refused to face her, defiantly gulping down the remnants of his drink instead. “I’m not interested, Harper,” he answered finally, after it became obvious that she was not about to give up. “I’m already engaged in a mission that involves copious amounts of Centauri and a double shot of fall down. It doesn’t pay, but it’s supremely rewarding.”

Iliana Harper, chief Aide to the Raven’s Scouts, slid onto a barstool next to his and crossed her legs with a feminine grace.  Used to seeing his contact in the plain matte black of a Raven uniform, Furieux was thrown off guard by her current attire; a figure hugging knee length red dress and heels.  The smuggler found it impossible not to steal a quick sideways glance at her shapely calves. Harper was dusky skinned and slim, yet was possessed of an underlying musculature borne from a daily exercise routine that most spacers adhered to. Low gravity conditions could wreak havoc on the human body if routine exercise wasn’t regularly practiced. Weak bones, poor circulation and muscle deterioration were very common among long term inhabitants of space stations or low grav planets but Harper clearly wasn’t one to skip workouts.

She smiled and inclined her head.  “You are aware that consuming that amount of alcohol can really impair your performance, commander,” she said.  “In piloting a ship, I mean.”

Furieux smirked. “I’ve managed fine for nearly thirty standard years and I’ve had no complaints thus far.”

“So I’ve heard,” she answered knowingly. “Your … docking skills are well known among the hangar crew.”

Since his arrival in Cai over nine standard months ago, Furieux had begun to make a name for himself around the local systems, unquestionably bolstered by the fact that he was a direct descendant of an almost mythical Raven legend;  his mother – Evelynne Blackfeather. Despite this,  Furieux had performed well as part of the vanguard for the Corax Vindex; Arkan Ginova’s elite logistics and combat unit tasked with pushing the Raven’s Scouts into new territory. Some station personnel were already treating him with a certain degree of reverence, much to the commander’s chagrin. Though he was quick to dish it out, Furieux found flattery towards him uncomfortable, mistrusting the motivations of others. Still, he was particularly instrumental in the liberation of Paipai and the reclamation of Future Hopes star port; a second major station in the Cai system, once held by the Ravens and lost to Federal rivals in the latter half of 3301. These actions, among others, established Furieux’s reputation as a formative member of the Corax Vindex in the eyes of his peers, despite him having turned down Ginova’s many offers to join the group in an official capacity on several occasions.

“You sound as if you don’t believe the reports. Perhaps you would like to witness my skills first hand?”

Harper laughed and shook her head. “Lets not go down that route, commander. Now tell me. What is it that’s bothering you? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you looking so deflated.”

Furieux shrugged and made a face. “Isn’t it obvious, Harper? The order to pull out of Tiliala is utter madness. Everything  we have worked towards has gone to waste purely through political jinking and pandering towards mewling officials. I’ve no time for that jazz.”

“I see. Sadly, our allies, the Black Fleet, have already begun to claim it as their own and we cannot afford to threaten that already delicate relationship.”

Furieux made no attempt to disguise his exasperation. “When Ginova first approached me, I accepted his proposal due to the substantial amount of credits involved. I wanted nothing to do with the future of the Raven’s Scouts and had no intention of becoming a member of the family.”

“Yet here you are. Nine months later,” she smiled.  “The support you have given us for that length of time has to be  attributed to something more than just financial gain. You have the respect of many officials in the Raven’s Scouts, Ginova in particular. We think highly of you, commander.”

“Nonsense! You know as well as I do that I’m living in the shadow of my mother around this sector. My own merit is incomparable to the ghost of Evelynne Blackfeather and I’m still no further forward in even learning any more about her disappearance. I think Ginova knows more and is withholding information purely to keep me around.”

Harper disagreed. “I am certain that if the fleet commander had any more details to share, he would. You should trust people more.”

“Thirty years of existence has taught me otherwise,” Furieux replied. “Besides, I have a habit of outstaying my welcome.”

Harper frowned. “Outstaying your welcome or becoming attached?”

Furieux remained silent. He wasn’t about to be head-shrunk by this woman. Instead, he placed his empty glass on the bar and flagged the bartender who acknowledged him with a nod, reaching for a bottle of clear liquid from the top shelf. As with all bars that fell under the Star & Garter umbrella, the establishment was well maintained and equally well stocked. Bottles and containers sourced from all over the galaxy were arranged on transparent shelving behind the bar, each hosting the various exports of their respective native worlds. After his personal discovery of Centauri Mega Gin two years ago, Furieux rarely consumed anything else, which had led to many drunken adventures and misadventures, some of which had been detrimental to his person or his ship, and ultimately, his credit balance. As the bartender refilled the glass, Furieux requested another for his companion. Pushing it towards her, he raised his own and offered a toast.

“To Evelynne Blackfeather, the future of the Raven’s Scouts and to pretty women in red dresses.”

“Thank you commander. Yet I can’t help the feeling that your toast has a certain finality about it. You’re leaving, aren’t you?”

“You gonna miss me?” he asked just before emptying the entire glass in one quick swallow.

Harper simply stared at him. “That ego of yours will get you into trouble someday, Furieux. You really do think a lot of yourself, huh?”

A smile formed on his lips. “Some say that the only true love is unrequited. That being so, I am doubly fortunate in that I both adore and reject myself in the same instance. Now buy me another drink so that I can forget what I just said.”

Throughout their working relationship over the past year, Harper had always thought Furieux to be a little on the arrogant side, perhaps even discreetly misogynistic. He did however, have the innate ability to pull off that smug attitude without coming across as a total jerk. Watching and listening to him now, it occurred to her that in fact he was none of those things. Maybe it was the amount of booze in his system that had broken down some wall that he had built for himself; a protective mask of sorts, constructed to shelter him from hell knows what. She was a good judge of character, her job required it, and she was convinced at that moment that commander Deuil Furieux wasn’t quite the man he pretended to be. A part of her wanted to try to eke out the real Furieux and discover what drove him, but realised that her efforts would probably be wasted. 

“See Harper, you may or may not be aware that I’m  something of a renowned smuggler.” he explained, a sliver of pride manifesting on his face.

“Of course you are. Renowned for being caught that is. Officer Jinx still has her eye on you even after all these months. If it weren’t for Ginova you’d most likely be playing games of Factions with cell mates on a penal colony by now.”

“Rubbish. That successful scan on my hold was a one off I assure you. And Jinx is no ordinary SysAuth, she is an excellent pilot. But let me continue. Black Market trading has earned me a pretty penny but I’ve since learned that the real money is not in illicit goods, but in people. Those who wish to travel under the radar.”

“You mean offering passage to known criminals?”

“Not quite how I’d put it, but essentially yes.  Those on the wrong side of the law, justified or not. I prefer to call them freedom fighters, rebels or just misunderstood souls. I currently have a couple of contacts in Zeta Tucanae who are willing to pay handsomely for transport to Jaques Station. I’ll be leaving as soon as our friends in Bedaho have completed the construction of the custom ship I’ve ordered, built to my own specifications. I expect the work to be signed off in less than twenty four hours.”

Harper was genuinely surprised.  “But Jaques is currently over twenty thousand light years distant. That’s a long trip for a barfly like you. Why not continue running passenger contracts along those lines right here in Cai?”

“All my ships are well stocked with essential supplies,” Furieux smirked. “And I appreciate the offer but I’ve already accepted half the credits, the rest payable on return to Elswick. I can’t back out now even if I wanted to.”

“Have you informed the fleet commander of your intentions?” Harper asked curiously.

“Nope. He’d try to convince me to stay and he’s a very persuasive man.”

Harper knew that Ginova would be livid when he discovered that Furieux had left the region. He’d had high hopes for Evelynne Blackfeather’s son to lead the Corax Vindex after his own promotion to Admiral. Furieux’s departure would complicate things now that the Raven empire was growing fast. She wondered if Furieux would disappear just as his mother had more than thirty years ago.  “You have served us well, Furieux,” she said, “Though I don’t agree with your simply sneaking off, I’ll deal with the fallout. Will you be returning to Cai?”

“I doubt it. While your hospitality has been vital to my extended stay here, I had no plans to remain in the Corax Vindex forever and Ginova will find a replacement in no time.” He flashed her a mischievous grin. “Perhaps not as awesome as my good self of course.”

Harper gave him a half smile and shook her head before extending her hand. “In that case commander, on behalf of the Ravens Scouts of Cai, I’d like to thank you for everything you have helped us to achieve. Your mother would have been proud of you. Just as we are. Raven’s Landing will always have her doors open to you.”

Furieux returned the handshake. “Thank you, Harper. It’s been an interesting year.   But now that we have all that jazz out of the way, how about that drink?”

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