Thursday, April 21, 2016

Bark: Elite: Dangerous - Requiem - Chapter Four

Sorbago – Hencke Orbital

"Where are we going now, master?" Karina asked, following me closely through the crowd as we made our way down the concourse of the space station's leisure sector. 

"The Outside Factor. It's a nightclub popular with Alliance sympathisers." I linked arms with Karina to prevent her from being buffeted away from me as we fought the stream of pedestrians heading in the opposite direction. "We should have tried there earlier. Independent commanders might be less reticent about talking."

"For a price, of course."

"You're learning fast, Karina." I patted her hand, like a proud parent. 

We had been on the station for a week, trawling bars and nightclubs for people who had been in the system during the slave revolt who might have information of misconduct by Senator Torval's forces during the blockade and the put down of the abortive insurrection. I had posted a suitably coded request on the station's bulletin board, cryptic enough not to flag the attention of the local System Security force, but obvious enough to be understood by anyone who felt hard done by in the incident to come forward with evidence. Despite the high volumes of ships that passed through the station, not a single person had responded to the advert. Not even the generous 100,000 credit reward I had offered for new information had provoked a response - not even from the cranks and chancers looking for an easy payday.

Instead of waiting around on the ship for a call that clearly wasn't going to come, I had decided to be rather more pro-active about my effort to sweep up some dirt Laure and I could use in our ongoing feud with Zemina. Karina and I had visited almost all of the social hubs on the station over the last few days, posing as freelance investigative journalists looking for a scandal. Our nightly sojourns thus far had proved as fruitless as my bulletin board advert. Not even the thousands of credits in financial incentives I had given to the bartenders and nightclub staff to send anyone with information my way had provoked any interest. The only consolation from the whole exercise was that we'd spent our evenings drinking a lot of good wine and Karina had listened to some types of music for the very first time. It appeared that she was an appreciator of chillout jazz. It was still early, 7pm by the station's Galactic Time clock, so there was no queue outside the nightclub. The bouncers waved us in politely, no doubt glad to have paying customers through the door. The club was practically deserted. The bar staff outnumbered the punters. A handful of booths were occupied by tired-looking commanders and their crews, nursing their drinks without enthusiasm, obviously settling in for a long night. A lone dancer occupied the floor, a stunning redhead in a flowing, iridescent dress that looked like it was made of mylar foil. She had her eyes closed, moving in perfect union with the beat and cadence of the music, which could best be described as acid ambient. Her limbs and body undulated and flowed languidly with the music until she matched the sharp, dissonant notes with spiky, rigid spasms of her arms and legs. Karina stood hypnotised as she watched her.

"Master, what's she doing?" 

"Dancing. She's very good." I tugged Karina gently towards the bar, holding her hand. "Come on, let's get something to drink."

"Dancing?"

"Yeah."

"Why? What's the point?"

"Because it's fun? Or so I'm told. I'm not a natural dancer, myself." I said as we approached the bar. With no-one else to attend to the bar manager appeared within seconds.

"Good evening, sir, mademoiselle." The bar manager bowed slightly. "What can I get for you tonight?"

I scanned the wine list and found an easy choice. "We'll start with a bottle of the Brazin Zinfandel, please."

"Ah, a connoisseur." The bar manager's eyes glittered with pleasure. Little wonder, at 2,000 credits a bottle. "Would you like anything else?"

"A consideration, if you please. If you happen to know anyone who was here during the slave revolt, I would like to speak with them." I programmed my credit chip to transfer 20,000 credits and tapped it on the bar twice. The OLED screen flashed to confirm the transaction. 

"I'll see what I can do, sir. Please, follow me. I have just the table for you." The bar manager led us to a booth overlooking the dance floor and bar, with a good view of all the other tables in the club. The area was reserved for high prestige clientele who wanted to be seen. "Please make yourselves comfortable. I'll have one of my staff bring your drinks. If you need anything, use the terminal and one of my people will be right with you."

Service was prompt and courteous, and while we waited for the nightclub to fill up, Karina and I ordered food and a second bottle of wine to pass the time.

"She hasn't stopped since we came in. She moves beautifully." Karina drew my attention back to the lone dancer, gliding carefree across the dance floor, in absolute synchrony with the tempo of the music.

"She definitely has a good feel for it." I agreed.

"Could you teach me how to dance, master? I'm bored of waiting."

"Maybe later. I'm not nearly drunk enough to get on a dance floor that empty. When it gets busier."

Karina scowled and emptied the bottle of red wine into my glass. "I better order another bottle, then."

"Take it easy. We still need to be able to walk back to the ship." I stroked Karina's hand reassuringly. "Besides, I don't think I could teach you anything. I'm sure you're a great mover."

"How do you know that?"

"Social anthropologists have said for centuries that dancing is a form of courting behaviour. About finding a good mate. The better the dancer, the better the mate."

"You mean it's about sex."

"To put it bluntly, yes. Just vertical, rather than horizontal." I laughed.

"So how do you know I'd be a good dancer?" Karina asked. I smiled, raising my eyebrows in return, letting her work it out for herself. Karina blushed. "Oh. Thank you, master."

"We can test the hypothesis later. Let's give it another couple of hours and see if the bar staff send anyone our way."

By midnight the nightclub was full but still not a single person had approached our table. Karina stirred restlessly beside me, having lost interest in watching the crowd seething rhythmically on the dance floor hours ago. I had noticed the bar manager speak with dozens of commanders and point out our table, but obviously he had not been able to persuade anyone to talk to us. I stroked Karina's arm, shrugging my shoulders in defeat. "Well that was a complete waste of an evening. Do you still want to dance?"

"Yes, master." Karina's face perked up in delight, her boredom instantly forgotten. I led her to the edge of the dance floor and eased us into the mass of undulating bodies. "So what do I do?"

"Whatever the music tells you to do. And imagine that no-one's watching." I tried to let go of my self-consciousness as I felt for the beat of the music, not even trying to control what my feet and arms were doing. Karina watched what the other couples around us where doing and mimicked their motions stiffly and unnaturally, coming in close to almost touch with me, chest to chest. I slipped an arm around her waist and brought her against me. The music was slow and sensual, with no lyrics to get in the way of the soothing melody. "Close your eyes. Just listen and feel."

"Yes, master." Karina followed my advice and put her arms around my neck, following my lead and letting her response to the music become more instinctive. "It's nice."

"I said you'd be a good dancer." I rested my cheek on the top of her head, likewise closing my eyes. We danced together for over an hour, responding to our own rhythm as well as that of the music. Karina was almost in a trance, half-asleep as we swayed with the music. I was wondering how long it would be until the nightclub closed when I dimly became aware of another body pressed intimately into me from behind, firm hands gripping the top of my hips and a strong whiff of vintage Lavian Brandy wafted over my shoulders.

"Got room for another one in there?" a familiar voice asked mockingly. "I knew I'd get my hands on your ass one day. Though I never imagined it would be like this."

A quick glance over my shoulder confirmed who it was. "Suzie? What are you doing here?"

"Mmm. Getting a good feeling." Suzie slid one hand up my chest and the other down between my legs, the full length of her torso pressed into my back. "Who's the blonde?"

"My co-pilot." I said through gritted teeth, trying to evade the insistent motions of her fingers.

"Roche, you're the worst liar in the galaxy. No-one dances like that with their co-pilot." Suzie admonished me. "You're fucking her, right? Can't say I blame you, she's hot."

"Suzie..."

"Oh, you can be so tedious at times. That righteous earnestness might be the Imperial standard, but it doesn't really cut it out in the wild." 

"Did you just come here to lecture me about my sex life, or is there something else you wanted to talk to me about?" I stopped dancing, rousing Karina from her trance. She saw Suzie's face over my shoulder and I saw her suppress a panic reflex.

"Who's that?"

"Oh, hi. I'm Suzie. I'm the second most wanted commander in Federation space. After your friend Roche, here." Thunda Sue, the Pirate Queen, introduced herself cheerfully with a broad, innocent smile.

"It's alright, Karina, she's a friend. Of sorts."

"Of sorts? Roche, you wound me." Suzie gave me a gentle slap on the side of the head. "Over here, we need to talk."

"Why don't we go to my booth?" I pointed to the table where we had been sitting all night at the head of the club.

"You mean the idiot table?" Suzie snickered. "You do realise the bar manager screwed you, right?"

"What?" I asked, confused, as Suzie led us to a table at the side of the dance floor. With a flick of her finger, she dismissed the two underlings guarding the booth for her.

"Roche, you're really not half as subtle as you think you are. That bulletin board advert ruined any chance you had of getting anything out of the locals." Suzie explained as she poured us triple measures of Lavian Brandy from one of the three full bottles on the table. "The bar manager put you up there so only the most moronic of the moronic would risk talking to you. Senator Torval has this whole system in her very deep pockets. And that 'investigative journalist' cover of yours wouldn't stand up to a four year old. You've got one of the most famous faces in this sector, 'Butcher'. The bar manager put you up there to be recognised, alright. So that everyone would steer well clear of you. Everyone knows you're one of the Senator's special operatives. With that advert you might as well have gone around wearing a t-shirt saying 'agent provocateur'. No-one here is going to tell you shit. Even if they had anything in the first place."

"Son of a bitch. So I really have wasted a week." I took a slug of the brandy to take the edge off the realisation of how stupid I had been.  "But that still doesn't explain why you're here."

"I was in the area. And when I got wind of what you were up to, I thought I'd better give you a warning." Suzie drained her glass and set it down on the table. "If I was able to figure out what you're up to, then the Imps and the Feds certainly will have, too. You need to get out of the system, pronto. The Feds are out for your blood after Groombridge and they won't mind spilling it in Imperial space."

"And why would you do that for me?" I asked, suspicious. There was no such thing as an altruistic pirate.

"You're a person of interest to me." Suzie replied, with a suggestively arched eyebrow. "And my offer still stands. You'd be welcome in my crew at any time. I might even give you co-pilot benefits." Suzie glanced over at Karina with a playful glint in her eyes.

"I'll think about it." I replied, rather less than honestly.

"Here. In case you ever need to find me." Suzie slid a data chip across the table towards me. I placed my thumb on the fingerprint reader and the OLED screen flashed red.

"It's encrypted." I looked at Suzie questioningly. "What's the unlock code?"

"Oh, if you can't work that out, sweetie, I doubt you'd be any use to me." Suzie stood, taking one the full bottles of brandy in each hand. "Be seeing you, Roche."

I watched Suzie and her bodyguards leave the club, contemplating what she had told me. I swore, with feeling.

"Master?" Karina looked and sounded tired. Her eyes were half-closed and she looked like she was drifting on the afterglow of the evening's wine consumption and dancing.

"Come on." I helped Karina to her feet and wrapped and arm around her waist to support her. "I think we're done here."
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