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Hunting Season

Jaques Station.

"So you've been in Colonia for what, one year, and you've never visited Jaques' Bar? Come on Kestrel. That's ridiculous."

The ex-imperial investigator gave Emma a smile.

"Well, you're never available. Whenever we're in Jaques you're spending most of your time fixing Myth and Moth and taking contracts whose legality I'd better not examine too closely."

"Aw, you're afraid of going to Jaques' Bar without me?"

"Well I don't know the locals and I don't know their customs. Always good to have a guide, don't you think?"

Emma smiled back before gesturing towards the bar's door, letting Kestrel go first. Colonia had transformed him, thought Emma. The disgruntled imperial flights operations investigator had lost a few pounds and gained a few centimeters as a result of having spent twelve months working on Emma's Python in zero-g. He had traded his stupid coat and hat for a simple flight suit-jacket combo that gave him a  "quiet space worker" ethos that was way less remarkable in Colonia than whatever he had been wearing before. He didn't stand out in the Colonial crowd anymore : much like Emma he was starting to become part of the scenery.

Waves of music surrounded them as they entered Colonia's oldest bar. Jaques' establishment was nested near the main spaceport of his Ocellus station and they could see ships come and go through a vast bay window. The walls were made of wood (a great luxury in Colonia), with abstract statues and light panels reminiscent of Jaques' former Bubble-bound bar. Both the architecture and the somewhat shady patrons would have created a perfect old Earth saloon ambience had not it been for Jaques' somewhat peculiar choice of neo-disco music. The bar was cramped, smokey, probably unsafe, which was precisely the kind of environment Jaques sought after. He had started his career in bars like this one, spending centuries gathering enough influence and money to buy the Ocellus starport he wanted to reach Beagle Point with. All in all, had always considered Emma, Colonia wasn't a bad resting place for the cyborg. It was closer to the Bubble than its intended target which enabled his bar to have more than token visitors.

"So, er, this is Jaques? The real Jaques?" whispered Kestrel as they approached a cyborg bartender whose multiple arms were alternating between an impressive array of bottles displayed on a seemingly endless shelf and a series of silver shakers he held like weapons. The lower half of his body was shaped like a bar stool while the upper half, arms notwihstanding, was mostly human-like.

"It's the real deal, yes. Two ground rules, by the way : one, never mention his age and two, whatever you do, never order tea. He hates it." Emma turned to the cyborg and waved. "Hey, Jaques! I'll take a cup of black tea, please. The one from Kinesi. Oh, and I'm going to replenish my stock of Quinentian Stills. I'm running a bit low."

Jaques nodded and extended one of his arms to reach for his automatic tea machine which sprung to life with measurable excitement and starting boiling water. Kestrel raised an eyebrow.

"I thought you said he hated tea."

"Yes but he owes me a favor so I have the right to be an annoyance."

"Right...I'll take a glass of whiskey, please."

"One Kinesia teacup for the lady, one glass of whiskey for the good it alright if I call you sir? I always take a point in getting pronouns right."

"It is alright." Jaques' voice was calm and soothing, probably the most human aspect of his current physical form. "Thank you, Jaques."

"You are welcome. It is a pleasure to see you in Colonia, Kestrel."

"How do you know my name?"

"Jaques always knows...remember, Kestrel : "I never forget a face!" That's his motto." She turned towards the bay window while taking a sip from her teacup. There was more traffic than usual at Jaques Station and a higher than average number of Belugas, Orcas and T10s were waiting in line for their landing clearance bouth outside and inside the station. Emma assumed that most of them were not carrying tourists but refugees from destroyed stations. Rich refugees judging from the prevalence of Saud Kruger cetaceans on Jaques' landing pads.

"Is everything alright, mistress Emma?" asked Jaques as he came back from an order. "I hope you did not lose close relatives or friends in Bubble bombings."

"No one that I cared about though there were a few close calls. Kestrel just told me that his aunt had barely escaped the Achenar bombing, flying through flames and exploding debris on her good old Adder..."

"My aunt is a professional racer." explained Kestrel when he felt Jaques' gaze rest on him, silently asking for more details. "The only member of my family who didn't become a cop or a slave trader. I respect her. We need more imperials like this." He chuckled but deep down he meant it.

"You mean we need more imperials who aren't imperials...I don't think the Empire can be salvaged, Kestrel, but let's not start this discussion again."

"I mean, the Empire still has a a one million bounty on my head though it's been a while since we had to deal with a bounty hunter. Emma is scaring them off."

"Nonsense, it's just that your bounty is shit." Emma raised her head as two heavy ships soared above the bay window while taking off from their respective pads. The white elegance of an Imperial Cutter followed by the military matter-of-factness of a massive Federal Corvette. They assembled in a two-ship formation before leaving Jaques at full speed, superheated contrails in their wake.

"Wow. That's a lot of firepower. Don't see that everyday." commented Kestrel. "Bounty hunters?"

"Aye." interjected a blonde woman wearing a full flight suit with the words EIDER embroided on the right sleeve, an automatic pistol strapped to her hip and a former Likedeeler ID plate on her chest. "The Bubble doesn't only bring refugees these days. Someone has put a massive bounty on one of our engineers. We've got professionals coming up to rack in the kill."

"I see. Who's the target?"

"Etienne Dorn."

"The creep had it coming, really."

"Yeah...I never liked this bastard but I don't think those who put that bounty care about whatever he does with occupied escape pods." Eider shrugged. "The bounty is suspiciously high."

"How much?"




Emma almost choked on her tea.

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