The four pilots of the 8th Dragon Squadron waited on the surface of landing pad 40. As Delaine and his entourage descended from the huge Anaconda the two groups appraised one another warily. The scene was reminiscent of an old western movie Adamantium thought. Archon stood out among his men; an imposing figure, broad shouldered and tall with coarse blond locks that framed a craggy, simian face. He looked dangerous and cunning and held an unchanging expression that displayed a mixture of cynicism, suspicion and superiority. He, like his companions who were obviously keen to emulate their leader, were dressed in garb befitting Imperial nobility rather than the pirates they were. The Kumo Crew were not just some small criminal empire like so many others scattered across the bubble, they had real power, influence and evidently – very good taste in clothing. The station had become unnaturally quiet after the defences had finally failed and the two groups faced each other until Furieux finally broke the silence.

“Greetings!” he said chirpily. “To what do we owe the pleasure of such a melodramatic visit to our humble system, friends?”

The question was met with hostile stares from the invaders.

Furieux scratched the back of his head. “You know, we generally prefer that visitors, however magnanimous, follow correct docking procedures. Saves all that tedious tidying up, see? I mean, just look at that nasty stain on pad two!”

He threw his head back theatrically and slapped a hand on his forehead. “Oh sweet Mother! The cleaners are going to be bitching about this for-”

“Who is in charge?” one of Delaine’s retainers interrupted. “Mr Delaine wants to talk.” He was nearly as large as the boss himself but as wide as he was tall. A long grey beard tied in elaborate knots hung from his chin.

Furieux gave Adamantium a sideways glance. “Looks like you’re up, brother.”

“Since when was I in charge?” the commander replied.

“Well, you are, aren’t you?”

“Was it ever made official? Fangz here has just as much clout as I do.”

“I’m pretty sure it’s not me,” Fangz answered.

The Dragon pilots mumbled amongst themselves, ignoring the increasingly threatening glares from the opposing side.

“…No. I’ve never held that position….left for a year and a half…certainly not me.”
“…but Fangz here does the orders and mission briefings.”
“…are you sure you didn’t accept the role last month?”
“…I just do the system influence…isn’t it Mohizz?”
“…Where is Mohizz anyway?”

“Enough!” boomed Delaine. His voice echoed through the station. “You,” he pointed at Adamantium. “You with the scar. Come. And bring your lunatic and his bottle with you.”

******************************************

The ready room of Delaine’s Anaconda was surprisingly modest. Almost stock. Adamantium expected it to at least contain the common trappings of a modern pirate vessel. Perhaps human skulls or other trophies taken from their victims, personal weaponry, litter even. But it was clear, clean and pristine.
He and Furieux were shoved roughly into the room by two of Delaine’s men. Delaine himself moved around the desk and sat down heavily. He leaned back into the chair put his feet up on the table and began the staring game again.

“Nice boots. Have you had them long?” Furieux asked with a chuckle.

“Shut up.” Delaine grunted, turning his attention to Adamantium. “Why are you here?”

Adamantium frowned. “Shouldn’t we be asking you that question? You come into our system with guns blazing and-”

“It is not your system. It is ours now. What exactly is it that you pathetic drunks do here?”

“Actually,” Furieux said, “It’s a common misconception that Dragons are drunk all the time. Like everyone else we occasionally have to sleep-”,

“I told you to shut up.”

“Well, excuse me!” Furieux retorted, feigning affront.

“We’re mercs,” Adamantium said. “Based right here on Coney Gateway. We offer military and logistical services to factions across the bubble.”
“Then why are you causing political and economic upset in the systems surrounding Patocuda?”

“A condition of well supplied and efficiently run stations and planetary bases. But we have no direct control of businesses and ventures held by the citizens of Patocuda. Nor do we wish to.”

“You are suggesting that your people continue to push forward into outlying star systems without your say so?”

“They don’t need our permission or our blessing. As I said, we do not govern directly. That is left to the civilian population. We never meant to become a fully blown political party in our own right. We simply evolved into one.”

“The peons keep our bars supplied in return for protection,” Furieux piped up. “It’s a very lucrative and symbiotic relationship.”

“Protection? Your tiny outfit did not offer much protection an hour ago. Destroying your defences was easy.”

“It’s not over yet, Mr Delaine,” Adamantium said quietly with just a hint of menace.

Delaine’s eyes narrowed and he looked dubious for a moment before sitting up properly in his seat, “While I admire your audacity, I don’t think you are in any position to be making threats. We have Coney Gateway under lockdown and there is nothing stopping me from having you killed right here, right now.”

“What you say is true. But you and your team would never make it out of here alive.”

Delaine laughed out loud. A booming, animalistic sound that ricocheted off the very walls of the ship. His bodyguards joined him in his reverie.

Nonplussed, Adamantium further explained. “Our station security has recently been overhauled with some new tech. Its design allows us to keep unwanted vessels out but it can also serve to keep ships in.”

“A giant cat flap, if you will.” Furieux added, helpfully.

Adamantium stifled a childish giggle, and continued. “The docking bay is already sealed. Ask your men. If we do not return to our HQ-”

“The bar,” interrupted Furieux.

“-within one standard hour, the entire docking cylinder will be purged, killing everyone in it.”

“Including you.” Delaine pointed out.

“Including us. And this is why we must now discuss our options. Perhaps there is some sort of mutually beneficial arrangement we can come to?”

Delaine stood up. “A clever trick. Even if is only forestalling the inevitable. The systems in the surrounding sector are important to us and must be maintained specifically to further our goals. We will return and you will be destroyed.”

Furieux made a rasping sound. “That’s not exactly the kind of ‘mutually beneficial agreement’ we had in mind, really. Listen, we have a better idea…”

******************************************

Thirty minutes later the last of the Kumo Crew ships departed Coney Gateway.

Back in the Star & Garter, Adamantium set about informing the rest of the Dragon Squadron of the events that transpired aboard Delaine’s vessel. The mercenary group had settled an agreement that would see Patocuda safe from further attacks but in return, they had consented to fulfil a contract for the so-called Pirate King of Harma. The campaign details, Delaine had told them, would be sent securely at a later date.

At the bar, Furieux ordered drinks for the entire crew.

“Cause for celebration, my fine, liquid refreshment bearing friend!” he said, gleefully rubbing his hands together.

The bartender shook his head defiantly. “Not this time, Deu. You still haven’t paid your last tab. Would you like an invoice now or later?”

“Well, hell,” Furieux sighed. “You see sir, it’s like this…”

Image Credit: CMDR Adamantium

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