Chapter 8: Negotiations

The Dionsyian touched ground of the planet early the next day. Before Leta could talk herself out of it, she walked through the halls to meet Fiearius outside of his ship. He was leaning against the door mechanism, absently spinning a small pistol around his finger.

She could hardly believe what she was about to agree to. But what choice did she have anymore? She’d run out of options.

Leta could still remember, in perfect clarity, the very last time she’d seen her fiance. It had been a strange afternoon.

They had met in the city square for a hello and a goodbye: Ren was in a rush on his way to the library, and she had to be at the clinic for a long overnight shift. Her last overnight shift, she hoped, since wedding planning was growing terrible and exhausting and she’d let Ren know it on a regular basis. Tired as she felt that day, it was nothing compared to the exhaustion Ren displayed. He looked like he hadn’t slept in days, but he was also geared up about something. He’d been distracted.

I think I found out something, he’d finally confessed. Something big. He sounded almost fearful, but then he smiled in assurance when he grasped her hands and promised he’d tell her the second he could.

That was their last afternoon — exactly three months and two days ago. In the morning, he wasn’t at his apartment. He wasn’t at her apartment. He wasn’t at the library, his parent’s house, his brother’s house, he wasn’t in the square or anywhere in the city. He was nowhere.

It had to be his research, she’d thought over a thousand times. What had he found? What did he learn, what did he know? Something worthy enough for capture, it seemed. Since then, Leta had not stopped looking for him. She’d dug through his research, she’d talked to everyone Ren had ever spoken with. She’d begged and pleaded for help and information, but nothing was enough to grasp in her hands. And no one dared question the Society as she did; no one hated them quite as openly as …

Well, only one other person had. Fiearius, the captain of the Dionysian, spoke of the Society with the same bitterness. Which was why she found herself in an impossible position: she was going to help him, the black market dealer, with whatever it was he was demanding.

Now, after securing her own gun to her hip and waving a morose goodbye to Corra, she followed the captain away from the Dionysian and into the gray, dark city.

Leta’s first impression of the city was that it was dirty. Soot and grime coated the crowded streets and buildings they passed. In her head, she could not help but compare the scenery to Vescent’s white-stone architecture. Of course, on Vescent, she’d never had a gun hanging from her hip, either.

“In the interest of full disclosure and so you don’t blow our cover, I should probably catch you up,” Fiearius began conversationally at her side after they’d walked a few blocks. Leta tore her eyes away from a particularly rowdy group of people on the sidewalk and glanced uneasily at him.

“We came across a pretty hefty stash of arms a while back,” he told her simply before translating, “We liberated them from their former owner, a trader with a reputation for having poor choice in clientele. Problem is, he’s a protective bastard and keeps his stuff marked.” He paused and frowned down at her, seeming to realize (accurately) that she may not have known what that meant.

“It’s an old trick from when the market warring was real bad. You install a device in your heat that leaves a data imprint on fired ammo. It’s a warning, mostly. A general threat. Ensures everyone knows who’s got the power. And, unfortunately for us, the marks also give ‘em a very easy way to track stolen goods.” He shrugged. “It’s less common these days but, I dunno, he’s old-school. Habits die hard.”

“Anyway, point being, it can be hard to lift marked heat for obvious reasons. Goddora’s one of the only ones this side of the span who’ll take it ‘cuz he’s one of the only guys this side of the span who can deal with it. Un-marking six cases of weaponry? Takes a lot of effort. Effort only guys like Goddorra have the time and man-power to donate. There’s a few others out there, but they’re more desperate. They won’t pay as high a price. And let’s be fair, we’re a little desperate too.” He smirked down at her.

“Doesn’t matter how much fancy technology my brother shoves into her, ship still needs fuel and fuel ain’t cheap. He’s not gonna wanna pay what I’m asking,” he told her frankly. “Not even close. Which means negotiation. Which brings me to why you’re here.”

“Yeah,” said Leta darkly, “I was about to ask.”

Fiearius stopped walking suddenly and turned to face her. “I told Cyrus I needed a medic,” he said calmly. “That was true. But not for me. See, I happen to know that there was some trouble here a few days back. One of Godorra’s top guys took some pretty heavy fire. He’s been in critical ever since.” He smirked at her, no hesitation in his eyes whatsoever. “These shit guns aren’t gonna be enough to keep us flying. But that’s all I’ve got to offer. ‘Cept prime, alpha-planet medical care, of course.” He smiled a little darkly at her as he finished, “I need you to fix him.”

So it was a medic job, Leta realized in surprise. He really did need her skills as a physician. But that didn’t make any of this easier to swallow. Now that she was here, she wasn’t sure if she was up for this.

“You need me to fix him,” she repeated, not bothering to hide the bitterness in her voice as she looked Fiearius in the eye. He looked nothing but amused. “And why should I do that, exactly? Corra told me, you know,” she couldn’t help but snap. “I’m not helping a slave trading business.”

“Oh, I’m sure Corra told you a lot of things,” he said, almost groaning. “But you’re not helping the slave trading business,” he went on to correct her matter-of-factly. “You’re helping the weapons dealing business.” A grin touched his lips as he stated, “There’s a pretty distinct difference.”

“And Goddorra does both,” Leta snapped. “I’m not doing business with him and I’m not helping him or you, unless –”

Unless he could help, reminded the voice in the back of her head. Unless Fiearius really did hate the Society’s twisted ways and ached to act against them as she did. Unless he had information, unless he used his unregistered ship to take her to Ren.

“Unless there’s something in it for me,” she said finally, hardly daring to believe her own words. What would Ren think of her now, she had to wonder, for making deals with criminal pirate captains.

“Since you’re a businessman and all,” she continued sarcastically, “Let me try negotiating with you.” She spoke steadily, but she couldn’t help but glance to the Society tattoo on his arm before looking him in the eye once more. “So let’s say I do ‘fix’ your patient. If I do — I’m cashing in a favor myself.”

Fiearius glanced back at her curiously, his brow cocked in interest. “Oh really?” he asked skeptically. “Now what in the span could a nice little alpha planet girl like you want from a guy like me I wonder?”

“Your help,” said Leta flatly, not willing to dive in just quite yet. “Specifically, your distinct lack of moral code.”

Was this dangerous territory? Fiearius’ eyes narrowed slightly, but the smirk stayed firmly in place.

“Is that so?” he asked, sounding thoughtful. “Not sure whether that’s an insult or a compliment, kiddo. But tell ya what, you help me out with this, we’ll talk. Got my word on that.” He shrugged. “For what little I’m sure it’s worth to you, Ms. Moral Code.” He let out a sharp, one-note laugh and shook his head in disbelief.

“So I’ll do it then,” said Leta, feeling both terribly relieved and terribly nervous. This deal wasn’t solid and his plan wasn’t perfect. “But suppose I can’t? Suppose Godorra’s man is dead when we get there. I have no idea what kind of condition he’s in. What kind of treatment he needs. Or, suppose he’s not as valuable to Godorra as you think he is, and they don’t care about my saving him. Then what?”

“Then,” said Fiearius, “we’ll break out the guitar and start dancing for credits on the street instead.” He looked over at her cheerfully for a moment. “Relax. It’ll work,” he added more seriously before nodding his head forward and picking up the pace.

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