"I'm glad you came, Suzie." I said as the Pirate Queen took her seat opposite mine in a private booth, tucked away into a dark corner of Feehan's Bar.
"Well, I could hardly ignore an invitation from my favourite Imperial Viscount, could I?" Her cool eyes gleamed when she saw the bottle of 3270 vintage Lavian Brandy on the table and she smiled as she poured herself a tall glass. I had already worked my way through a quarter of the bottle, a pleasant alcoholic tingle dulling the thoughts of rage and grief churning through my brain. I watched her shudder with pleasure as she emptied the glass in a single long swallow, savouring the fiery aftertaste of the strong spirit on her tongue. "I was intrigued by your promise of 'an offer you can't refuse'. Should I book us a room?"
"Hitting on the widower? That didn't take you long." I tried and failed to keep the disgust out of my voice, but Suzie simply laughed, rather than take offence.
"You should know by now that I can be very persistent when it comes to getting what I want." Suzie took another gulp of brandy. "But some things are worth waiting for. It makes it all the sweeter in the end. So, if you didn't bring me here for the pleasure of my company, why am I here?"
"You have something I need."
"Oh, I'm sure I do, sugar."
"Rumour has it that some tactical nukes came into your possession a few months ago."
"You should never listen to rumours."
"They were, how shall I say... liberated from a certain Federation shipyard, along with a pair of unmanned Corvettes, in the chaos after a devastating strike on a half-finished battlecruiser by a certain Imperial operative..."
"Who shall remain nameless, of course." Suzie said, her face a picture of innocence.
"Of course. Rumour also has it that you've not been able to find a buyer for them."
"Rumours always tend to grow an extra leg or two with every retelling. You should be careful who you listen to." Suzie warned, her body language becoming edgy.
"I happen to know that this particular rumour is true. I got it direct from Imperial Intelligence." I took a sip from my own drink to bolster my courage. This was a dangerous conversation to be having and I didn't know Suzie well enough to predict how she would react. The temperature across the table seemed to chill by a few degrees.
"Roche, if this is some kind of threat-"
I cut her off with a dismissive wave. "On the contrary. I want to take them off your hands."
"What?" Suzie replied, stunned. "Why?"
"It's probably better if you don't know."
"If I had them, and if I were to let you have them, I'd need to know that they're not going to come back to bite me on the ass." Suzie's eyes narrowed, wary that I was baiting some sort of trap.
"You're a smart woman, Suzie. Why would I want a nuclear weapon?" Our eyes locked and I could almost see her thought processes ticking over as she studied my face intently. We sat in uncomfortable silence, trying to read each other for long minutes until I saw Suzie's features show me something I never would have expected from one of the galaxies most notorious and ruthless pirates: sympathy, perhaps even pity.
"Okay. I get it. The nukes are yours." The Pirate Queen looked at me sadly, almost embarrassed to have to ask her next question. "What do I get?"
"This." I fished a ceramic data key from the breast pocket of my jumpsuit and held it up for her to inspect.
"What's on there? Money?"
"No. The Governor's command codes for Adam's Orbital."
Suzie sat bolt upright in her chair. That had certainly gotten her undivided attention. "The command codes."
"A private backdoor into every single system of the station. Life support, defence grid, traffic control, the commodities markets..." I let my voice trail off, letting Suzie fill in the rest of the blanks for herself.
"You could take over the entire station with that." Suzie's hands trembled with excitement on the table, the brandy quivering in her glass.
"That would be the easy part. The difficult bit would be keeping hold of it. Zemina would send everything she had against you to get the station back. In fact, that's exactly what I'm hoping she'll do."
"So the takeover would be a distraction. When the cat's away..."
"The mouse keeps the home fires burning. Literally."
"Roche, I think I might love you." Suzie sighed, smiling at me wistfully. "It's risky, but I like it. You really should join my crew. You're wasted in an honest line of work."
"You'd have a few hours before Zemina would be able to coordinate a response, and the defence grid of the station is capable of fending off a couple of Interdictors. You'd be able to redirect thousands of tonnes of cargo to your group's ships in that time. Not to mention asset strip the shipyard."
"I've always wanted to fly an Imperial Cutter." Suzie sat back in her chair, looking thoughtful.
"Do we have a deal?"
"Hell, yes." Suzie refilled both our glasses from the bottle of vintage brandy. "Let's drink to it."