For the first time, Reyes was well and truly sick of Tartarus. Since he’d arrived on Kadara, the sleazy dive had been his home away from home, and he knew he’d spent more of his nights sprawled on his private room’s couch than in his matchbox apartment in the Slums - or the much nicer one he’d acquired after taking control of the Port, mostly at Keema’s insistence. But tonight, despite its familiarity, the relentless pound of bass from the dance floor below grated instead of soothing, and though Kian was a man with many fine qualities, the ‘whiskey’ he sold had none of them. Still, it was alcohol, and at first, it had done what it was supposed to do. But, much to his consternation, despite the nearly empty bottle leaned against the arm of his couch and several of its empty comrades strewn across the floor, he barely felt drunk. He tried not to ponder the implications of such a heightened tolerance, though he knew he couldn’t be as sober as he imagined; his body would feel this when he dried out, even if his mind was still running at breakneck pace in precisely the direction he’d hoped the whiskey would roadblock. He sighed heavily, tipping the last of the rotgut straight into his mouth and shaking his head sharply before tossing the bottle aside, listening absently as it rolled beneath the coffee table. The insistent thrum of a Saturday night still far from its conclusion seemed to fade around him as he finally allowed himself a moment of weakness, letting his mind chase the thread it so wanted to- Sara Ryder. Her voice. Her smile. Her sharp wit and deadly confidence, her bright eyes, her long, purposeful stride, an unruly laugh which bubbled out at the most devious of times...
The last thought veered dangerously close to forbidden territory, to memories he refused to drag back into the daylight, and without thinking, he reached for the bottle of whiskey that was no longer there, his hand opening and closing around nothing several times before his brain caught up to his body. With a displeased groan and another deep sigh, Reyes pushed himself off the couch, wobbling on his feet almost enough to send him sprawling back into his seat. Physical evidence of the intoxication which seemed to have overtaken everything but his tired mind did nothing to improve his mood, and though he knew he didn’t really need to go down to the bar level to order another bottle - Kian would certainly have it brought to him, if he asked – he knew if he couldn’t make it there, he probably didn’t need it. That didn’t mean he didn’t want it, though, so with a low growl of frustration, he stalked out of his room, teeth gritted as the club music hit him at its full volume before he made his hasty exit, pointedly ignoring Kian’s worried eyes as he stepped into the arms of a Kadaran night. The air outside was only marginally cooler than that of Tartarus and still reeked of sulfur, even with the Vault reactivated, but it was still an improvement from the stale stench of cheap booze, sweat, and secondhand beer breath, and there was even a slight breeze to cool his sweaty brow as he rode the lift up to the docks in silence. He made his way up to the highest platform before he leaned against the dock railing, panting as he struggled to catch his breath and trying in vain to appreciate the view. A memory arose, unbidden - another time he’d had this sea of lights spread beneath him, with Sara beside him, the taste of far superior whiskey on his lips and his skin set alight by the promise of her proximity. His labored breath caught in his suddenly-tight throat and he exhaled harshly, running both hands through his thick hair before burying his face in his palms with a groan. He stood like that for a moment, eyes screwed shut in the dark, and he made a conscious effort to slow his breathing as he listened to the sounds of the port around him- his port. The muffled thump of bass from somewhere – maybe Tartarus, but more likely Kralla’s from the proximity. The whirr of poorly maintained engines on shuttles less reliable than their undoubtedly criminal pilots. Snippets of conversations on the marketplace platforms below him, a bright peal of intoxicated laughter, an indecent moan from some dark corner which sparked a few whistles in response. He scrubbed at his face and opened his eyes, looking out over his little kingdom. Kadara Port never slept, was never silent, and though most of the party crowd seemed to have found its destination for the night, there were a few dozen people of various species going about their business. He glanced over the few vendors still locking their stalls down for the evening, the loud drunks arguing amongst themselves with varying levels of aggression, and, to his annoyance, the couples necking in the shadows of the storage crates who seemed bent on bringing life to more memories he was determined to squash. His Sara was gone. Once she had seen him for the man he truly was, that glorious look in her eyes had vanished, and soon, so had she. The Pathfinder had raced back to the Port and was off-planet before his coup was even finished. He’d sent her email after email in the weeks following, both personal and political, chasing the vain hope that he might somehow still be able to make things right. She’d never replied, of course, forwarding any business concerning the Initiative on for Christmas Tate to deal with and ignoring the rest outright. Despite the hollow, throbbing ache in his chest- or perhaps because of it- he didn’t blame her at all. How could he? He had lied to her, refused to trust the one woman he’d thought he truly could, been an utter fool to think he could placate her with half-truths and tie up his loose ends once he got everything he wanted, and because of it, lost the only thing that had finally made this whole fucking intergalactic road trip feel worthwhile.
Reyes spat bitterly, very much wishing he was still in his room at Tartarus, spilling his sorrows to another bottle of shit whiskey. He preferred the company in the slums, anyway, but had a nagging suspicion Kian would try to cut him off if he came back more upset and tried to resume drinking for the night -or worse, water down perfectly bad whiskey. He could always stop at Kralla’s for a few before heading home to his bar of choice, he mused, and let his feet carry him back down the stairs in that direction. He paused a moment in front of the doors, smoothing his hair and trying to put on his best sober face. Based on the look Umi gave him as he walked in, it was a wholly unsuccessful effort.
“Vidal,” she spat, crossing her arms and shifting her weight to one hip. “What, tired of getting shitfaced at your own bar? Thought you’d come do it at mine?”
Reyes smiled halfheartedly and shrugged. “You wound me. Perhaps I simply missed the pleasure of your company?”
“Yeah, right. All the major players in Kadara know that in the past six months, Reyes Vidal has gone from taking every smuggling job worth a shit to spending most of his waking hours getting piss drunk in Tartarus and bitching at the barkeep. Mine’s not the pleasure or the company you’re missing.”
Reyes inhaled sharply, a dark look wiping the feigned mirth from his face. Umi blanched, holding her hands up in a gesture of surrender and quickly saying “Sorry, ah, shit, sorry. Guess that you really- I mean, I forgot she wasn’t – you know what, I’m just going to get you a drink.”
“Excellent idea,” Reyes replied through gritted teeth as she readied a glass, accepting the whiskey without thanks and draining it in one go. She pulled the glass back and refilled it, setting the bottle down beside it as she turned to go help a customer approaching the other side of the bar. Reyes took another long drink of liquor, bracing his hands on the edge of the bar and coughing a bit, shaking his head sharply against the burn.
“I don’t care how torn up you are, Vidal, don’t you dare puke on my bar,” Umi warned, watching him warily.
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” he replied a bit bitterly as he righted himself, mimicking her gesture from a few moments earlier and still smarting from her comment. She looked him up and down, assessing, then turned back to the Angara she’d been tending to. Reyes poured himself another drink, sipping this one slowly enough to notice the taste – which was solidly unobjectionable, meaning Umi had given him her top shelf… and he’d nearly finished it in the grand span of about two minutes. A twinge of guilt caught the edge of his mind, and he waved Umi over.
“Glad you took the time to savor it.”
“I did, and I enjoyed it- you should too,” Reyes replied with what he hoped was a grateful smile, pushing the remainder of the bottle towards her.
She eyed him warily again. “You know I don’t drink on the job.”
“I know that’s a damn lie, and I know you can’t have many more bottles of that. Go on, have one on my tab,” he joked.
Umi arched an eyebrow – well, where an eyebrow would be – at the mention of his infamously outstanding tab, but accepted the drink nonetheless, draining the bottle and tossing it in a receptacle under the counter, looking him up and down again and leveling him with a piercing look. If he didn’t know better, he might think she was worried about him, and he shifted uncomfortably where he leaned. He didn’t do well with people worrying about him.
“Well,” he said, pushing off the bar and injecting his voice with a weak attempt at charisma he didn’t feel, “I should get back to getting shitfaced at my own bar. Wouldn’t want to intrude on your hospitality any longer. Thanks for everything, Umi.”
“Vidal, wait,” Umi started, grabbing his wrist as he turned away. The both looked down at the point of contact, and she let go, looking almost embarrassed, before continuing, “You’re not… you aren’t going to walk out of here and do something stupid, are you?”
Reyes felt his cheeks color a bit, and he smiled ruefully, letting out a sigh. Did he truly seem so near the edge? “Damn, I knew I looked bad, but I didn’t think I was in that sorry of a state.”
Umi returned his half smile, regarding him with something that looked sickeningly like pity. “Take care of yourself, Vidal. Kadara would fall apart without you, and since- ah, since Sloane’s unfortunate passing- I’m finally pulling a crowd that doesn’t destroy my furniture more than three nights a week. Don’t you take that away from me.” She leaned back a bit, that horrible pity finally leaving her face, though there was a strange tendril of something else which remained; knowledge he’d care to know, if he had the energy to think about much anything beyond the moment at his fingertips. “Now pay your tab, or get out of my bar.”
“Going, going,” He said over his shoulder, watching as Umi shook her head. The drink had finally done its job, and he felt the much-craved drunkenness dampen his senses, but Umi’s worry and casual mention that his extended bender was public knowledge had only made him swallow a heavy dose of self-loathing. Was he truly in such a bad state that an informant, even a friendly one, would be concerned for his safety? He’d certainly spent long enough soaking himself for it to take an effect on his appearance; he knew his stubble had long since graduated into the scruffy beginnings of a beard, and the thick waves which had once been cropped close and barely met his forehead were now drooping to his brow and curling over his ears. The knowledge he’d stopped keeping up appearances fit for either Vidal the Smuggler or The Charlatan stung, badly, and he swallowed hard against the ball of shame in his throat. He had to pull himself together. He was sure Sara wasn’t conducting herself like this. He had no proof; he’d promised her he would never bug her ship and had long since told his men not to send him updates on her movements, but she was the Pathfinder, the shining beacon, always on the move, always off to save the day on some planet or another. She couldn’t still be out there making history if she was in the sorry fucking state he was dragging himself around in, laying shattered in her bed on the Tempest.
Reyes dragged his hands through his hair, heading back towards Tartarus as quickly as his drunken feet would take him. The lift jerked to a halt, and he stepped off, the mere sight of the ramshackle architecture which crowded the cavern enough to take a weight off his shoulders. It was an irrational sense of ease, he knew, since the Slums were undoubtedly more dangerous than the Port proper, but this was the underbelly, and the underbelly was where he felt at home. His omnitool buzzed as he paced towards Tartarus and he turned off his course, pausing in a corner to check the incoming message, frowning at the orange screen. An email from a blocked sender, to his Charlatan address, was cause for concern; the fact that it was flagged URGENT and blinked ominously at the top of his inbox only compounded it. Only his highest-ranking agents and Sara had ever received messages from that account, or had any way to contact it, for that matter. Incoming messages bounced through several layers of encryption and a myriad web of front addresses before reaching his inbox, no hacker could find the direct address. He sucked in a deep breath and opened the message.
The Pathfinder is in danger. Immediate intervention is required. I have attached her omnitool frequency; please track it to her location. Time is of the essence.