He wore green-lensed goggles and a wry smile that told you that he wasn’t one to cross. Everybody in the Star and Garter knew he was a drug dealer; he had visited several times before, selling his Tarach Spice. The more aware knew his name, Commander Ne’Mall, and that he flew with the Guardians of Tranquillity, a cult of drug-pushing ‘crazies’ led by Tranquillity Boss, their Spice-Seer. Those in the business of intelligence gathering knew the most: ‘Two-times Tranquillity Top Dealer and aide to T-Boss’ meant he was a diplomat for an independent faction, a player in ‘The Game’… and a puppet on a string; perhaps they knew more than he did.

He approached the bar. The goggles were removed and he ordered a drink. Tranquil Tea. The barman, never forgetting a face, knew Ne’Mall and his green eyes. He knew that supping tea meant he was here for business. He knew that Ne’Mall would fortify his tea with some of his wares and nurse his drink in contemplative silence before stating his purpose.

A little while later, as expected, Ne’Mall gestured to the attentive barman to come close. “I need to speak with Adamantium,” he said. “Tranquillity Boss would like to contract the services of the 8th Dragons. It is important. We think you will want to help. I’ll be back later to have some drinks.”

“You know that name, but I don’t know you,” came a softly accented voice from his right shoulder. “Maybe you should come with me.”

“So…” Ne’Mall concluded, words slightly slurred. “It’s not about the money, or the glory, or being right or wrong; it’s about surviving the coming storm. Surviving… as Independents.

“There will be a storm, mark my words, and the dirty Imperials and greedy Feds will take everything, especially our independence. They’ll stop our drugs and instead give us ‘control’; they will control us! They will take away our choice. At the moment, you can choose your work but if they’re in charge, they choose for you.”

“We Independents that have common cause need to stick together. This is why we’re helping the Black Birds Squadron. Therefore we invite you… to help us… to help the Black Birds Squadron. We’re trying to build a coalition to ensure our survival.”

“Think on it. I need a piss.”

The commanders from the 8th Dragon Squadron sat, stunned. Ne’Mall’s garbled words about the Guardians of Tranquillity had left them needing more drinks.

Adamantium raised his head from the glass. “That guy is totally fucked. That is, more fucked that I have seen any of us recently. What the hell?”

“I’ve seen worse,” grinned Furieux. His cold hard stare was something these Dragons had never quite become accustomed to, but they were glad to have him back.

Walford cast his eyes across the bar. “Is that guy asking us out for a fight? Someone please let me know. Whatever he’s smoking, I’ll try it though, guy’s a fuckin’ nutcase!”

Mohizz spat his beer, despite his best attempts at containment. “He’s not asking us to fight him, they are trying to help build an alliance. These Black Crows, they are allies.”

“It’s an easy contract, and it is good money. Simple,” stated Adamantium. “What, two days? It’s a straightforward cash in. I’d love to get hold of some of that spice though…”

“Gin, brother. Just drink your gin.”

The Black Birds Squadron, and the recent cooperation between these factions in the Jardovici System- this indicated that the Guardians of Tranquillity were more than drug-pushers; to them Tarach Spice, their narcotic, represented freedom… the freedom to choose, to be different, to not conform. The Black Birds Squadron, for the part, are a sect of mercenaries, wanting to hold on to their esoteric traditions. Traditions that the Feds or Imperials would no doubt want to replace with their own. How long would it be before the superpowers interfered with the affairs of the 8th Dragons?

It had been agreed that the Black Birds would control Jardovici and the Guardians of Tranquillity would maintain a helping ‘diplomatic presence’. It is hoped that this cooperation might lead to a more formalised coalition.

NeMall returned. “Well, what’s your answer?”

“Our glasses are empty.”

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