At the bar, Casner was entertaining his small, laughing crowd. Leta stood near his side, ordering a drink from the bartender with one ear turned to her target, eavesdropping. Fiearius approached slow and casual, grabbing the bartender’s attention to order himself a gin and tonic.
As he waited, he stole a handful of olives out of the serving tray and listened to the asshole spin stories at his side. Apparently, they were discussing ships, comparing different vessels in some sort of typical pissing contest.
” … that’s when I left the Blackbird,” Casner was saying, breathing out a plume of cigar smoke toward the ceiling. “That ship’s too damn small. Needed to set my sights bigger. We all did, didn’t we Siren?” he boasted, to murmured agreement of his audience.
That was when Leta, sipping copper-colored liquor from a glass, decided to break in. She turned to Casner in surprise. “The Blackbird?” she repeated brightly, which Fiearius found particularly amusing, considering the Leta he knew was anything but cheerful, “My father did a stint on that ship.”
Throwing another olive in his mouth as he leaned against the bar, Fiearius watched and could see clearly that she was just inventing this story.
“Did he?” Casner murmured, drawing the cigar out of his mouth as he glanced fleetingly to Leta, then did a very clear double-take toward the much younger woman. It couldn’t have been more obvious his gaze found her plunging neckline and Fiearius rolled his eyes as he reached for his drink. What kind of moron was that transparent about it?
“Well,” Casner chuckled gruffly, turning himself toward her more fully and grinning impishly, “If your old man was on the Blackbird, he got off easy then. We were never short of high-priority work on the Baltimore,” he muttered, clearing enjoying himself as he indulged her with a grin that she did not return. And how could she? He just mentioned the Baltimore. Where Leta’s boyfriend was.
For the briefest of moments, Fiearius paused mid-drink and exchanged a sharp, discreet glance with Leta across the bar. He thought quickly. How to get him to talk more?
Quickly he decided that what Casner needed wasn’t the gentle pressings of this woman. What he needed was to get on the defensive. Thankfully, offensive behavior was his strong point.
“By the gods,” Fiearius interjected pointedly, as though he had just noticed this conversation was even going as he turned to the group. “Is this really a discussion of TTD ships? Bit of a grim topic for the occasion, isn’t it?”
Casner was very nearly baited. He spared him a look that was polite, if slightly bored. “I happen to think ridding the span of Anti-Society scum is a worthwhile profession,” he mused. “The most worthwhile, in fact,” he finished coolly.
“Couldn’t agree more,” said Fiearius at once. “But if we’re really to talk of prison ships, why even bother with the Baltimore?” he went on dismissively. “It’s big, sure, but it only holds petty thieves and everyday trash. Doesn’t really need the crew it has as far as I’m concerned. It’s practically a giant dumpster. Needs about as much guarding as last night’s leftovers.”
Well, that certainly helped shake things up. A murmur of surprise rippled over the audience. Casner said nothing, but he gave a derisive snort as he sipped his drink and then regarded Fiearius as if he were his least-favorite servant.
“Well,” said Leta, suddenly intervening and sounding falsely affronted. “I’ve always thought very highly of the Blackbird.”
“As you should,” said Casner haughtily. To Fiearius, he said, “Don’t insult the lady.”
“Oh, never.” Fiearius smiled broadly and dipped his head to Leta. “Now the Belmont, that’s a fine ship,” he went on proudly. “She’s not as big as the Baltimore, but she’s a grander beast by far. The Belmont’s a place of high traitors, assassins and the most dangerous rebels. Brought in a few on my own actually,” he sighed, as though this filled him with grand memories. “And, she’s got a 21st class security scanner that can track the movement of an ant.”
“Oh, you can spare me, I remember the Belmont well,” said Casner. He was smiling, but it did not reach his eyes. “The Belmont captain begged me to come aboard and work for him. Begged. Remember that, Ina?” he added toward his friend.
“But no,” he laughed at the memory, sipping his drink. “No. No. I wouldn’t have it. That sure as hell isn’t where the action is. You must not like getting your hands dirty,” he added to Fiearius with a dark smile.
Internally, Fiearius wondered what Casner would think if he knew just how dirty his hands actually were. He probably would not have been speaking to him like this, he guessed.
With that, Casner straightened up off the bar, downed his drink, and said importantly, “If you’ll excuse me, everyone, I’ve got a welcome speech to deliver — “
He was leaving, Fiearius realized horribly — their window of opportunity was closing. Before Fiearius could think of a way to get him to stay, if there even was one, he was surprised to hear Leta chime back in with the absolute perfect tactic.
“I can’t believe you actually worked on the Belmont,” she gushed suddenly, leaning over and grasping Fiearius’ arm. Admiration shone in her eyes, a look he never would have expected she was capable of managing, least of all towards him. “That’s amazing, no wonder Mr. Casner wanted you here tonight!”
It was the perfect bait. At once, Casner faltered on his heel and spun back around, practically sputtering. Leta had insulted his ego and effectively kicked Casner right between the legs. So she really could do this, he thought proudly, biting back a grin and the urge to pat her on the back.
Best of all, even with his mask, Casner’s expression had darkened into total offense.
“You should know,” he began coldly, “It’s not the fancy technology that gets the job done, miss — what was your name?”
“Ella,” Leta lied at once, looking appropriately flustered to be addressed by this gracious host. “My name’s Ella.”
“Well, Ella,” said Casner, his eyes glinting in the light, “It’s not the tech that does it. It’s hard work. It’s total dedication to the craft and the Society. Gods, don’t be so foolish to believe this — “
“Oh, I was only saying,” said Leta, sounding crestfallen, “this man’s work sounds very admirable.”
“Oh, does it? You think it’s admirable?” He stepped directly toward her, leaning in so he was sneering inches from her face. He raised his hands and held her shoulders in his palms, looking like he wanted to shake her.
Fiearius felt himself tense at once, straightening against the bar. His hand twitched at his side, readying himself to react if this creep made one more move. But that would be too stupid of Casner, wouldn’t it? To assault a young woman in the middle of a fancy party when all eyes were on him? No, he wouldn’t. He couldn’t. Still, Fiearius didn’t relax. Leta, however, was as frozen as a statue. She did not flinch.
“And what is it you think I do for a living?” Casner went on coldly, releasing her shoulders. A vein twitched in his jaw. “Considering the last man I brought was once tortured for his Anti-Society information, and he’s still, to this day, detained in the Baltimore’s prime isolation hull.”
And there it was. One tiny piece of information, perhaps, but information nonetheless. It wasn’t much, but it was something they hadn’t had before that they had now. They knew which wing of the enormous ship Leta’s boyfriend was held. It was a small victory. But it was a victory.
And even if the rewards were slim, winning against this bastard still seemed entirely worth it in the long run anyway. It’d always been fun watching 2nd Division agents squirm. Fiearius downed the last of his gin in silent celebration as Casner turned to leave.
“Next time, perhaps get your facts straight before you insult your host,” he snarled toward Leta, straightening his jacket smartly as he turned on his heel and left.
Fiearius beamed at the man’s retreating back as if he’d just paid him a compliment. Then he turned back to Leta. “Well, well well,” he said proudly, “looks like we’ve got a real trickster on our hands — ”
But it was clear, even under her disguise, that Leta wasn’t celebrating. She’d gone very still against the bar. Quietly, she said, “They tortured him. Casner just said they tortured Ren.”
Numbly, she swayed to the side and dropped onto the nearest bar stool, and it occurred to Fiearius she might get suddenly ill. Instinctively he took a step towards her, ready to put a comforting hand on her shoulder, but resisted and his hand fell to his side. It wouldn’t help. They’d gotten news, sure, but it really hadn’t been good news, had it?
“Get her a water, would ya?” he called to the bartender, but then Leta talked over him swiftly, “No. Double whiskey.”
At that, Fiearius couldn’t help but grin. “I like your style, kiddo,” he remarked and, to the bartender, “Make it two.”