Was that too much? Over the top? To his relief, Grice moved his eyes back to his face and, after a tense pause, said, “Fine. Sit, then.”
He slid into a bar stool beside Leta. Corra remained standing behind them, threateningly grasping her own rifle. Grice wiped his beard with a dirty napkin, then threw it back to the surface of the bar, one of his hands waving over the bartender.
“Drinks,” he grumbled, and seconds later, the bartender crossed the room, four mugs in hand.
Grice reached for his tankard. Feeling it would be impolite to do otherwise, Cyrus did the same.
“Admit I’m surprised,” Grice grunted, pulling his mug from his mouth and sloshing beer down his front. “Thought your brother was done doin’ business with the Saints eh.”
He swiped his mouth with his sleeve and continued, “But ya need med supplies. And what is it you’ve got for us?”
Cyrus nearly took a drink of his own, but halted in unpleasant surprise. Fiearius wasn’t doing business with the Saints any longer? But Fiearius had told Cyrus to meet with this guy. Or — hadn’t he?
Suddenly, his stomach dropped. No, Fiearius hadn’t said that explicitly, but Cyrus had thought for sure Grice was who he had meant. He was the only gang leader Cyrus had ever had any contact with. Why would he say ‘you know which one’ if he hadn’t meant the only one Cyrus knew? But if they weren’t on business terms anymore…
Well it was too late now. They were here and no one had started waving their guns about just yet. Perhaps he was overthinking this. Everything seemed fine. There was no reason he couldn’t just go on with this deal and everything would remain fine.
Nonetheless, he felt the need to once again clarify, “Like I said. I’m not my brother.” He was not a lying, scheming, dirty space pirate terrible at clear communication, he thought angrily. He, Cyrus, was a goddamned cluster-reknowned ship-building genius. So why the hell was he here talking to some Archetian lowlife on behalf of his elder sibling’s stupid infection?
“Five cases, Ridellian heat, virgin made,” Cyrus repeated diligently. Oh wait, that wasn’t right. “I mean…Ridellian made. Virgin heat.” Whatever that meant.
He clutched his mug of beer and felt Leta glance at him. What, had she been reading up on guns too or something? Fortunately, Grice was not quite as quick and didn’t seem to notice any slips. He was cupping his chin thoughtfully, glancing at the ceiling, apparently considering the deal.
“Huh. You must really need med stock eh. Well take a look.”
He gestured, and one of his men came forward, bringing with him a long, rectangular wooden crate and setting it atop the bar before them. Words and numbers were scrawled across the top of the box — one of them might have said ‘disaster relief,’ but Cyrus couldn’t have been sure. Judging by the unrecognizable language, this med kit had traveled far.
“Got everything ya would need,” Grice growled, grinning proudly, showing yellow teeth. Cyrus did not return the smile, but glanced sideways at Leta. She was the only one that could discern if the med kit was what she needed to fix his stupid reckless brother. Or if they were about to be ripped off in this deal.
Horribly, judging by the look on her face, it was the latter category. She stared at the crate, then looked up at Grice, anger and shock arriving in her face.
“Where’d you get this kit?” she said sharply.
Grice, whose attention had wandered back to his tankard, looked up. “‘Cuse?”
“Where,” she repeated, her voice cold, “did you get this?”
Possibly Grice had never been addressed like this in his life, because he looked between Leta and Cyrus, his jaw hung open in an ugly display of shock. Focusing on Cyrus in particular, he demanded, “Now what the fuck does it matter?”
His gunhands were beginning to stir along the wall. Before Cyrus could stammer a panicked reply (why did it matter? what the hell was she doing?), Leta seized his wrist and muttered, “We need a minute.”
Forcing his expression into a look of calm, as if this interruption was totally planned, Cyrus slid off the stool and joined Leta and Corra in the corner of the room.
“We can’t do it,” said Leta at once, her voice sharp and quiet. “We can’t do the deal.”
“What?” Cyrus whispered harshly. “What do you mean we can’t do it?”
“We can’t accept that med kit,” she went on, short of breath. “I recognize that kit, I’ve packed them myself — all those supplies? They’re meant for a children’s ward. It’s aid, donated from affluent planets, meant for children in need on Archeti. Grice’s people probably raided a volunteer’s ship on its way to a hospital or something. We can’t take it.”
“Can’t–” Cyrus began incredulously. “I don’t–Look, it may have been meant for the sick at some point, sure, but…” He threw his hand towards the crate. “It’s not ever going to get to who it belongs to. It never does.” He eyed her desperately, but she was shaking her head. “This is just how it works.”
“How it works? How it — ?” Leta repeated, sputtering in her anger. Then she grit her teeth, “I don’t care ‘how it works,’ we’re not taking supplies that belong to dying kids.”
Cyrus stared, riddled with shock. On one hand, he found himself inclined to agree that the morality behind this was rather questionable. On the other hand, those men had guns. “It’s already been taken,” he pleaded with her under his breath, trying to remember Fiearius’ excuse for it. “We’re just taking it from them. If we don’t, someone else will.”
Looking weary, Corra spoke up. “I dunno, Cy-cy,” she muttered, her eyes locked suspiciously on Grice and his gunmen. “Even if it will never get there, aren’t we just supporting the original theft? Perpetuating it?” She looked up at him sadly. “If we trade for it, aren’t we just giving them more reason to keep stealing it to begin with?”
“Exactly,” Leta snapped, throwing a furious and grateful look toward Corra. “Look, Cyrus, we’ll get supplies for your brother’s arm some other way — I rationed what supplies we have on the ship — but I am not trading with someone who steals from volunteers and sick kids –”