Smoggy gray light filtered weakly through the stained windows of the tavern. It was midday on Archeti and the dive bar held only a handful of people: the sleepy bartender, wiping down the greasy counter, and a few mumbling alcoholics slouched in their seats. Normally Corra would have been intrigued to find their life stories and talk up the whole bar — but today, she was distracted. She sat beside Finn and tapped her fingers on the counter, waiting for their new business contact who was supposed to meet them here. Thirty minutes ago.
“He’s late,” said Corra. As usual, Finn did not look bothered: he rested a forearm on the bar and drank from his beer.
“Yeah, Callahan’s the kind of guy who’s either an hour early or an hour late,” he mused. “It’s kind of a toss up.”
“Speaking of late.” Corra frowned. “Did you hear that the Dionysian was supposed to be here yesterday? Why d’ya think they’re coming to Archeti at all?”
“Fiear misses me terribly.”
Corra rolled her eyes and reached to slide her drink closer. “I really hope we don’t leave before the Dionysian gets here,” she said darkly, which made amusement come to Finn’s eyes.
“Corra, we haven’t even been apart that long.”
“Well it feels like ages.” Her eyes snapped towards the door. “So who is this guy again? How do you know him?”
“Callahan? We met in the Genesi casinos a few years ago.” He lifted his chin, looking a little proud of himself. “We made a killing for awhile counting cards in blackjack, beat the house a few times.”
“You counted cards?” she laughed.
“Well, he was way better at it than me — trust me, this guy’s a genius. A real freak.”
“If he’s such a genius, how come he’s wasting his brains at casinos?”
“He does plenty else,” Finn laughed. “Runs the vessel black market. Ships, ship parts, tech, and the like. Runs the smoothest and most complicated operation out of Archeti from his console at home and has never been caught. All the corrupt politicians want him on their side. And so do we. We ever got a shot on doing more than break even with the Beacon, this guy — he’s our ticket. Ah, and here he is.”
The door opened and in stepped a tall, wispy man with short dark hair, his hands tucked into the pockets of his crisp dark jacket. Somewhere in his mid-thirties, he looked rather like a strong wind could have blown him sideways. Corra would not have pegged him a seedy criminal thug, but then again, Fiearius’ old network of associates tended to be more burly, less brainy.
His face was pale and clouded, until he spotted Finn — then, he perked with mild interest and wound toward the bar.
“Finnegan Riley,” he said, smiling gently and holding out his hand. “It’s been too long for us.”
“No kidding. I think you’ve owed me a drink for a year now. How the hell are ya?”
“Never better, never better,” said Callahan lightly, before turning to Corra. His angular face was almost handsome, except there was something distantly cruel in his eyes. “And you must be Corra? The first mate.”
“Co-captain, actually,” said Corra, and Callahan blinked slowly. He did not look like someone who was regularly corrected by anyone else.
“That so? Well, I do apologize. It’s nice to meet you, Corra. I hope you’re enjoying Archeti so far.” He lowered to his barstool, his grey eyes resting on her face. “Finn seems to believe you and your ship would be a good fit for my exporting operation.”
“Definitely,” Corra said with confidence. “I’ve been in the ‘exports’ business for years now on the Dionsyian. And the Beacon? She’s new, but I’m sure she can manage.”
“Mm.” Callahan was not looking at her, but examining a cocktail list. “What core did you say she runs on?”
Corra opened her mouth, then closed it again. She’d heard Cyrus say something about the Beacon’s core, but hell if she could remember the specific model. “Um…”
“I mean to ask, how fast is she?” Callahan clarified, lifting his eyes, which had grown much cooler. It was then Finn intervened.
“Fast and getting faster, mate,” he said briskly, swigging his beer and sighing. “Runs a 50-80 stabilizer, and I just hired an engineer to help me with some hotwiring.”
“Mm,” said Callahan again — it was an affirmation that he heard Finn, not that he was impressed. He laid down the menu and glanced again at Corra. “And what is it you smuggled on the Dionysian?”
Corra was certain he was baiting her. Carefully as she could, she said, “We moved weaponry.”
“Ah yes. Guns and ammo.”
After a short, uncomfortable pause, Finn said, casual as ever, “And they were pretty damn good at it too, eh? Corra and Fiear built up quite the reputation toge– “
“Certainly,” said Callahan, his eyes now on the ceiling. “Moving weaponry is just not what I do. In fact, pistols and bullets are nothing, nothing like the challenge of moving whole ships. Do you realize that? Every time you take apart an engine, every nut and bolt is marked and recorded somewhere.”
Corra did not know that at all, but she said nothing.
“I’ve been in the smuggling business since I was eighteen years old,” he went steadily. “And never once — not once — have any of my ships missed a drop. That’s how strict this business is.”
He stared right at Corra, eyes glinting. She was determined not to look away even though disappointment was sinking through her: there was simply no way this man wanted to partner with them. He was practically laughing in her face.
But then, to her shock, Callahan looked down at the bar and mused, “But I may have a job that’s just right for you. A simple lift, you pick up goods for me, move them successfully, I compensate you, fuel included.” He pressed his lips together in thought. “If you wouldn’t mind coming back to my office, we can discuss finances?”
“Hell yeah we can,” Finn said at once as he slapped a hand on his bony shoulder and beamed his most charming grin.
Following a step behind the pair, Corra did not feel like smiling at all; most especially when she heard Callahan say quietly to Finn, “In the future, you might want to keep your first mate more informed.”
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
From his spot atop the Dionysian’s ramp, Fiearius looked over the gritty maze of the Genesian streets and inhaled a deep breath of atmosphere. The smoke-thickened air of Archeti’s failing terraform certainly served as a reminder of the benefits of spaceship living. And there was nothing like Desophyles Cordova complaining nearby to serve as another reminder: why it was important to be a little more picky in who lived aboard that spaceship with you.
“We should have gone over the details by now,” Dez was saying as Fiearius stalked down the ramp, ignoring him as much as he could. But Dez kept speaking in his ear, machine-like and automatic. “There is a multitude of information that we must bring into consideration when we meet with Utada. It would have been wise to recount it all this morning.”
Fiearius barely glanced backwards. “I was busy.”
“We are unprepared,” he informed him matter-of-factly. “Utada will not offer assistance if we are unorganized. Perhaps it would be in our best interest to reschedule.”
At that, Fiearius let out a laugh. “It’s just Quin, Dez. Relax.” He threw him an amused glance. “You’re not nervous, are you?”
“Quinida Utada leads the most extensive and powerful gang on all of Archeti,” he said, marching along at his side. “She commands a small army and single-handedly wrenched all control of Archeti’s span-wide trade relations from her predecessors. She demands a great deal of respect and I feel no shame in approaching her with caution.”
There was something satisfying in witnessing Dez, a force of Society fear-mongering for so long, actually shift with unease now that he was in Fiearius’ territory. He couldn’t help but grin.
“Oh don’t get me wrong, she’s terrifying,” Fiearius admitted with another laugh. “But she likes me. We’ll be fine.”
He spoke with confidence, and Fiearius purposely did not let on that, actually, he was exhausted — Dez certainly didn’t need to know just how little sleep he’d gotten the night previous, and why, and with whom.