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“I missed you, you know.”
We lay together the way we had fallen asleep. Still holding each other in her modestly decorated quarters.
“I missed you too.” I replied.
We had spent the time since the hangar together, hugging, kissing, talking and being together. Of course we also talked about the events around losing contact with each other.
The fight for Quivira was over, we all knew that, so helping those who had suffered through the war that had raged was the next thing for us to do. The refugees we were helping had fled to the Summerland system, more had fled to the Persephone system but Summerland was our main focus to start with. This put a great burden on the government of Henry O'Hare's Hangar who were caught unprepared for such a tidal wave of human suffering. A cry had went out for medical supplies, blankets and other humanitarian aid and a bunch of us felt compelled to answer. It was on one of these runs that I had been separated from Shoshana and the rest of my colleagues.
Denton Patreus' forces were being ruthless as they swept through Quivira and Godel Dock, any and all signs of opposition were being wiped out. It had become obvious early in the conflict that the loan repayments had been a sham. Patreus had driven the interest on them higher and higher until they were beyond the reach of the small independent system. Now to drive his point home we had all been marked for death.
I had just dropped back into the Summerland system with another load of medicines when the Python I was piloting was jumped by a wing of Clippers. I could have and in hindsight should have just dumped the cargo and ran. Obtaining medical supplies was getting more difficult, longer distances to cover, higher prices to pay and I knew that they were needed so I was being stubborn and it nearly cost me my ship. I high waked out and landed at Schuster Hub in Wuru. I was a little surprised that I had not been followed but it appeared their intension was just to stop help getting to the refugees.
I had taken a lot of damage and it took time to repair the Python, too much time as it turned out. When I returned to Summerland it was a different scene, as Imperial aid given by Aisling Duval had arrived. I did stick around for a day or two to try and find my friends but all I heard were horror stories. My next stop was Persephone.
Shoshana and others had been driven out of Summerland the same day I had been jumped and had ended up in Persephone were they continued to help but had been forced to leave a short while later. Over time some of the survivors found LHS 2637 and decided to call it home.
I wandered through Imperial space for a little while longer before returning to Atagat to lick my wounds and talk things over with Gabe. The only bright spot from this time after the war was bumping into what I thought was a crazy Imp pilot with an even stranger idea but Surly Badger and his idea were not that crazy after all.
In a short while other things started to dominate Galnet, a few days after the last war update, Federal President Halsey went missing and the Quivira War was resigned to the history books.
“If you get dressed I'll show you where to get the best breakfast in The Ring.” Her chuckle warned me but I was still too slow in ducking as my flight suit hit my head.
Shoshana was already half dressed as I began and every now and then I shot a sideways glance at her. She was a few years younger than I was and I had always found it amazing that someone as kind, gentle and attractive as her was interested in someone like me. She caught one of my glances and raised an eye brow.
“I thought you were dead when I didn't find you in Summerland or Persephone, so forgive me if I make sure I'm really seeing you.” I said in reply to her quizzical look.
“You're forgiven.” Her smile was dazzling and let me know that the feeling was mutual. She held out her hand and led me out into The Ring.
The Ring or Perez Ring to give it it's official name was a Coriolis station floating about 400ls from the arrival point, I would later realise and appreciate the beauty and usefulness of LHS 2637 but not quite yet. We left her quarters and after a short walk and an elevator ride we appeared at a large open corridor bustling with people and cargo transporters. A few of the crowd walking past smiled or greeted Shoshana as they passed, one or two smiled at me but most either ignored my presence or gave me a nod. No biggie as to them I was a stranger.
The Perez Ring Brewery had a visitor center, gift shop and restaurant attached to it. It also had guided tours so that visitors could view the process as well as hear about it. I wasn't going to get the tour but I was about to hear a little of it's history. We entered the restaurant, Shoshana told me to grab a table and that she would be back shortly. I chose a table with a view of the entrance but also close to a large window so we could look out onto the boulevard and those moving about it.
The PRB logo dominated the back wall of the restaurant, a black field with a ringed gas giant in the center, the same gas giant that the Perez Ring was orbiting. It had text surrounding it proclaiming the beers name and a marketing slogan. I would see the logo later all through the gift shop, on cans, bottles, shirts, basically on everything that was for sale.
“You remembered.” I said as a plate with a full breakfast was placed before me. The mug of coffee was a given to anyone that had known me for longer than five minutes.
“Kinda difficult to forget. Whenever I saw you after a supply run that's what you would be eating.” She gave me a smile as she sat down. “Which only seemed fair as you had just delivered most of it.”
“No, I only delivered some of it. A lot more were delivering more need materials for the war effort.” I corrected her. “Come on though you were going to fill in some of the history blanks.”
“Sure. When we first got here our idea was to back up the democratic government that was in place, hence the name we picked “The Allies.” It didn't take long for us to see that we were going to need a more stable source of income if we wanted to remain here. We took a long look at who we were, what our skills were and since we had a lot of pilots who traced their ancestry back to ancient Earth's Germany, we hit on the idea of a brewery. It was a peaceful, all encompassing way for us to blend into the system. Come on who doesn't like a beer after a long days work.” She paused looked at me and once again smiled. “Apart from present company as they prefer a coffee.”
“Oh believe me at times I really would like a beer but I tend to stay away from things that could kill me.” I replied rather flippantly.
“Of course you do, that's why you have so many new scars on your body and head. I'm sure none of those 'things' were out to kill you.” No smile this time. I took a sip of coffee, put some more bacon and egg on my fork, as soon as I had it in my mouth I started to chew. All a delaying tactic so I could think about how to answer Shoshana.
“We'll talk about that later. Please continue with the history lesson.” A thoughtful and concerned look greeted that reply, but she nodded and continued.
“It took off. It was soon the hottest selling beer in the system. The price, the taste, the fact that it was local all seemed to make it that. Very soon after we started to receive orders from near by systems for it. Pilots who had tried it here would order it at a bar in another system and of course we didn't export it at that point. Once we did start to export it we hit another problem. As you know space is limited inside a space station so we could not keep up with demand, we could not expand the brewery so we hit on the idea to expand outside the system and start other brewery's in the systems that were our largest customers. It worked and at present we have six others. All are smaller than the original but cater to those systems and we can still export, and do, to them when demand raises to above their production capacity. Of course Perez Ring Brewery had by this time became a corporate and political entity. It didn't take long after we started selling Perez Beer that we became the controlling faction here due to the amount of trade we were generating. It's been a wild 18 months, I wish you had been here to be part and enjoy it.
I'd finished eating by the time she had finished her recalling of the rise of PRB and just sipped at my coffee. Question time.
“Why Alliance space? Why not an Independent as Quivira was.”
“The Alliance wasn't really what we were looking for but it has made sense since then. I know you have destain for big government but the Alliance is a little more laid back than the other two, more hands off and that suits us fine. Independent's are easy pickings for the other two, as you know from experience. Plus we can and do help other Alliance member as well as those Independent systems that accept our help. What about you, want to fill in a little more detail than last night?”
I nodded as I took a sip of coffee, gathered myself and then spent the next ten minutes giving her a brief, very brief run down of my time since Summerland. I only missed out the nitty-gritty but I did tell her about the Silver Boys, Charity/Emma, Mr. Smith, the Consortium, the Purple Pirates, Jaques and of course the Fuel Rats.
“I'll get specifics from you later but it sounds like you have been busy too. Although I doubt you will ever tell me all the details.” She knew I had been smuggling before we met and even back then I had kept my dealings quiet. Just because I had increased my activity in that area didn't mean I was about to open up a little more, in fact it made me even more tight lipped.
“Sure. How about that tour then?” I asked to deflect the conversation a little.
“Ok. Come on I can grill you on this Fuel Rat thing as we go.” Again the smile was in place. This time I returned it and asked another question but not about the brewery.
“How are the boys doing?” Shoshana had two sons from a previous relationship, calling them boys seemed a little strange as both were in their twenties.
“Still in Quivira but well last time I heard from them.” I interrupted her, not something I did often, nor did I like too.
“Nova is still there too. Still working against the Empire last I heard.” We stood in front the the brewery's main door.
“I know. Todd and Miguel help him when they can but I fear Patreus has his claws in too deep to get him out now.” Shoshana had been born and grew up in Godel Dock. Up until 18 months ago it had been the only home she had known.
“Hmmm, as tough as losing your home was I think you've done pretty well here.” Trust me to ruin her mood, I hoped I had thrown some sugar to sweeten my silly words.
“Yeah, I guess we have, it wasn't easy at times but it has borne fruit. I actually don't know if I could or would return if things got better. Although from what I know I don't think things there will.” Again a veil seemed to descend over her usually happy expression. So I quickly changed the subject again.
“So you want to know about the Fuel Rats?” I then launched into the story about Surly Badger, my first rescue, about the humble beginnings to galaxy wide acclaim. I managed to get a chuckle from her by retelling some of the mistakes I and others had made over the time the Rats had been operating. All this time we had been walking around the brewery and Shoshana would interrupt my story telling to share her knowledge of the process. We exited the tour at the gift shop and I had a further question for her.
“Where do you fit into all this?” She had never struck me as the master brewer type.
“As with most of the non pilot original 'Allies' I work in the administration side of the faction. I work in the Finance Department, not as exciting as it sounds believe me.” She gave a small chuckle. “But I did help to over see the expansion into other systems.”
“Alright. So who is in charge of this since your a corporation I guess?” Politics, man I hated politics but I understood that they were necessary.
“You remember Rodger Clay? He's the VP of Perez Ring Brewery.”
I did in deed remember Rodger Clay. He had been a Squadron Leader back during the war and he had not thought that highly of me. He looked upon me as a profiteer, that took advantage by hauling in goods for the black market during the time of conflict. That I had joined in the fight as things became more and more desperate mattered not a jot to him. To tell the truth he wasn't far wrong about my dealings but I had only smuggled in goods when I had spare cargo space after picking up needed supplies. Not my proudest moment but one I would make use of again if I was ever in the same position.
“Yeah I remember him. Thanks for the tour.” I tried not to show my concern at the news of who ran the show here and I managed. I hope.
“Come on, you look like you could use another coffee.” Her smile would have been enough but I hardly ever turned down a good coffee. Or a bad one come to that.
We were back in the restaurant, sipping coffee and looking out the window now and again when she asked the question I had been waiting for.
“How long are you staying?”
My thanks to Capt. Kirby and the members of The Allies[AID]for additional background information.
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