She wasn’t used to not being in the know. 

She had built her career on her ability gather and retain pertinent information about anyone she had dealings with. Yet here she was, vexed; vexed by one of Vex’s comrades.

“He would appreciate that one,” She muttered to herself.

Her preferred methods had, so far, proved useless; no amount of digging and research had found anything, and the only hint of a clue came from that little street-punk kid who had found out more in a joy ride than her best agents had found in the last month.

Oh well. there were times that you could circumvent the mess that was the most direct route, and other times when you could not.  This was clearly going to be one of the latter.

It didn’t mean she had to like it, though.

There was a knock on the door and one of her secretaries entered.

“Madam.  There is what appears to be a drunk here to see you.  He claims he has an appointment.  Should I send him back to the establishment he came from?  You do have a meeting with one of your Commanders in a few minutes?”

She sighed. “Sadly, that is my commander – send him in please.”

Her secretary did well to only raise one eyebrow at this, but regained his blank countenance with aplomb and ushered the gentleman in question into her presence.

To be called a drunk was not doing him a disservice.  He was wearing the same outfit he had several weeks before when she had convinced him to join IPEC; though ‘convincing’ may not be the correct word. Many things did not stack up about that night.

His clothes were the height of fashion twenty years ago, and looked like they’d been worn every day since. His lank, greying hair hung down the sides of a face that had the evidence of striking good looks, pissed away at the bottom of many bottles. However, his eyes still held the bright spark of life; a keenness that did not match the rest of his appearance. Yet another riddle layered upon this walking enigma.

“I apologies for being early, Ms. Squid,” he said lethargically. “I’d hoped for a quick pick-me-up on the way, but the bars aren’t open yet.”

She stiffened, trying to regain her composure and relaxed countenance.

“It’s ‘Octopus’.” she said stiffly. “Just ‘Octopus’. I would advise you to remember that. I would also advise that in future you do your employer a greater service than to have a “pick-me-up” before a meeting.”

She examined his countenance as she delivered this rebuke. Anyone else in her employ would be squirming in their seat already. However, this dreg in front of her was smiling as if they’d just exchanged pleasantries.

“I guess you are wondering why I have asked you to attend a meeting?” She continued.

He shrugged.

“Well, I did initially, but then I remembered that I live in a spaceship. So I stopped wondering about a lot of things and revised my other drinks cabinet.”

At this rate she was going to need to visit the drinks cabinet. Why did she let Souvarine recruit him? How did she manage to spend an evening in this drunk’s company without making the executive decision to end his life?

She started to pace back and forth behind the desk.  “I invited you here, Commander, because you are an enigma. A mystery. An unknown. And that makes you almost unique. You see – from this office I can tell you the histories of everyone in my employ.  I can open up the closets of the rich and powerful and make their skeletons dance.  I can give you the name and stories of woe of every bum in Nicolet Vision who has to suck asteroids for nourishment and hope they can beg a lift home from the miners. Yet here you are, a nobody who turns up – by chance – at a time to impress one of my aspiring young Commanders just as I am looking to recruit pilots to establish a foothold in this system. A nervous person might have removed such an individual, lest their motives prove disingenuous.”

She paused to look at him.  “Do you read much, Commander?” she asked; presumably rhetorically, as she continued her speech:

“In ancient times there were epic poems written, telling of the deeds mighty and fickle Gods.  One of these Gods – the son of the God of the sea – was called Polyphemus.  One of his great pearls of wisdom was ‘trust Nobody, not even nobody’.  A philosophy which did him no good.  I for one am much fonder of the saying: ‘Trust, but verify’.  Although the author of that quote could neither be described as a poet nor a God.”

She turned to look at him again just as he was reaching into his jacket.  On reflex her hand shot to the holster by her side. He froze – shocked; and was that a blush? He pulled his hand out and had a hip flask in it.

“Sorry,” he said sheepishly. “I just needed something to keep me going if we’re going to be delving into classical references.”

He smiled and took a swig.  It felt as if he was somehow challenging her, but she was determined not to be riled.

“Do you have a death wish or are you really that stupid?”  She mused.  “On second thoughts, don’t answer that.  Even if you did I wouldn’t trust your answer.” 

She took a deep breath.

“Where was I? Oh yes – trust, but verify.  This is my problem with you ‘Al-pocalypse’.  I can trust your skill, but can verify very little of your character.  You turn up, apparently drunk and destroy an Imperial Courier with a stock Sidewinder; whilst, seemly, too drunk to open a comms channel.  Next you make it halfway across the bubble to help Commander Souvarine with a refuel. You follow this with a trip to Maia; where you are unharmed by the violent Anti-Exploration protests. On your return trip you succeed in alerting half the Federation’s security services to the nature of your cargo, yet fail to be captured by any of the numerous agencies following you.”

“It would appear that now you are apparently ‘somebody’. I checked with my contacts at the Pilots Guild and within the Imperial Registry: you have only been on their books for a few short months; yet somehow you now hold standing as a Squire within the Empire, you’re rated as a Master combat pilot and a trading Entrepreneur. Not only that, but you have never raised a single insurance claim and have racked up earnings over over two hundred million credits. How does a careless drunk do that? How does any Commander do that? Luck only goes so far.”

He looked at her with a with a vacant, optimistic smile on his face.  It was so easy to be taken in by it.  But then you looked at his eyes and you realised he had been paying very close attention, and carefully weighing his response.

“How does anything happen?” He began whimsically. “You see, when you reach my age and have seen what I have seen, stuff just happens, and it seems to go very well for me. So long as I have a drink in my hand, life is great. Why would anyone have any record of me anyway? The only reason I seem to have turned up on your books is because I bumped into Submarine and Dex that one time. What does the universe care about another old drunk?”

“Look, I am enjoying flying with these guys, and with IPEC. Have I harmed you? No. In fact I think I have done your company very well, and in return it is doing me very well, too.”

At this another swig from his hip flask.

“You don’t want to know this old drunk’s history, it’s not a story worth telling.  But I am still alive, and whilst I’m alive there is hope, and you have to laugh don’t you?”

She listened impassively as he rambled.

“Now, I don’t know why you are so interested in me.  There is nothing much to say other than another sob story in this vast galaxy.  I could either sit here, bare my soul and embarrass both of us to no mutual gain – or we could get on with our lives, you keep providing the jobs and I’ll keep on doing what I can to improve your and your company’s standing within the Empire.”

This last statement was said with such lucidity and force that she was quite taken aback. Before she could regain her mental footing, he was already getting up and letting himself out of her office. “Anyhow, the pub should be open now and I’ve got to christen my new ship. Keep up the good work and – between you and me – you don’t look much like a squid.”

He was already heading towards the door as he said this.  As if she’d dismissed him. 

The nerve.

There were probably better times to play the ace up her sleeve but right now he needed to be taken down a peg or two.

Looking at the paperwork on the desk she murmured lightly:

“I wouldn’t spend so much on alcohol if I were you – we both know it only goes to waste.”

It was worth it.  The way he froze in the door; that sudden surprised look he shot her, with those clear eyes.  She had absolutely made the right choice.  Not that there’d ever been any doubt.

But then it was gone.  The slightly bored expression returned, and with a shrug he continued out of her office.  The door closed and she sat down, the puzzle now seeming to have five more corner pieces but not an edge in sight.

She could have had him stopped and escorted back to her office, but what good would that do? No. On this occasion she had to wait. This commander was useful and she could trust Souvarine and Vex to keep an eye on him in coming war, and – who knows – that might render the issue obsolete.  If not, there would be leads out there. Indeed, there was that one ship’s log that had been hacked out of his Cobra’s comms system.  More information would eventually be forthcoming. 

She decided, for now, to not let it worry her and assign this case to one of her staff.  She had bigger problems, what with the lack of commitment from the Senate, and The Empire Pact’s intractability.

Although, there were aces to play there, too. Her mind turned to the Inquisition’s unexpected communique. Solutions always present themselves.

Her terminal blinked with a message from a member of her security team, breaking her reverie.

Ref: Cmdr Al-Pocalypse – high-definition facial and iris scans captured.


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