The bar was on the station’s second level. The furniture was so new that it still had that extruded plastic smell, but the clientele looked like they had already settled in for the long term. Nyx was in a booth toward the back, Xrrt folded in as best she could beside her. Flowers sat across from them, halfway through a pint of something passably close to beer.
They’d taken separate ships back, communicating on a secure channel with details about where to meet up in the station. Flowers had told her that he was working on securing a client, and that he’d give more instructions in person. Now here they both were, just a couple of hours before the Benevolence’s rented space at the dock expired, and Nyx had yet to hear the details of this job.
“So here’s the thing,” Flowers said, “I didn’t suggest we work together just because Buddy sent me out here with the kid. I’ve been hoping we’d have a chance to talk for a while. The kid happened to be a convenient excuse. I convinced Buddy to send me out with Jane, and here we are.”
Nyx settled back further in her seat, folding her arms across her chest. Her beer sat in front of her, almost entirely untouched. Xrrt rested both sets of foreclaws on the table, points down, in a similarly defensive gesture as Flowers continued, “When we first met, you were wearing a Coalition uniform. And you’re still flying a Coalition ship. Well, part of a Coalition ship.” He nodded at Xrrt, a sharp jerk of his chin, and said, “She’s got a Coalition-issue translator, and you’ve got a navigator with Coalition hardware. Two navigators, thanks to me.”
“Your point?” Nyx asked. She’d been fighting a growing unease about this arrangement for the whole trip back, but she hadn’t expected Flowers’ interest in the ship to go in this direction.
“I’ve got a potential client,” Flowers said. “Legitimate businessman. Very high profile. He’s interested in working with a Coalition ship.”
“Like you said, we’re only flying part of a Coalition ship,” Nyx said. “Are you sure it’s the part he’s interested in?”
“It’s not about the ship.” Flowers picked up his beer again and played with the cup, tilting it from side to side so the liquid rolled around the glass. He didn’t seem quite willing to meet her eyes. “It’s about the… idea of the ship. What he needs, specifically, is to work with the Coalition.”
Nyx had to be the one to state the obvious. “The Coalition doesn’t exist anymore.”
“Okay, but let’s get metaphysical for a minute. If you say you’re in the Coalition, then in a sense, it does exist.”
“That’s not how it works at all,” Nyx said.
Xrrt spoke, clicking her mandibles together in a complex pattern. What her translator said was, “The Coalition was a massive bureaucracy. We are a tiny crew.”
“I’m not asking you to send out ambassadors,” said Flowers. He banged his cup down on the table in frustration. Beer dribbled down the outside of the glass and puddled on the shining plastic of the tabletop. “What I need is a ship that’s claiming to be part of the Coalition. Something my client can point to and say, ‘Don’t worry about me, officer, I’m with the Coalition. I’m following their rules.’ And then while whatever government that tried to stop him from going about his business is tied up trying to sort out whether he’s even breaking the law with his unfathomably expensive team of lawyers, he’s free to keep going about his business. And it is a very, very large business.”
“Give me a ballpark,” Nyx said.
“Planets,” said Flowers. “Multiple planets. He owns them. And several moons. In some senses, he’s a government all by himself.”
Under Coalition law, each species had technically been its own governing body, with every member of that species granted citizenship and voting privileges. Each had its own legal system, its own courts, and its own police and military forces. Or at least, that had been the plan. Minervans had for the most part petitioned to be considered members of the species of their host bodies, and had never put together anything close to a functional government represent their collective interests. Dual citizens like Jianyu had their own issues to navigate.
And of course, it was one thing to say that you were a citizen and another to actually submit to governance. There were many places in the galaxy where even the longest arms of the law couldn’t comfortably stretch. Nyx had had some run-ins with those sorts of people in her younger years: company towns as wide as a solar system, families that ruled their own corners of the galaxy like feudal lords, kidnapping and murder treated as a matter of course. Those sorts of powerful men hadn’t much liked the Coalition when it was thriving. She wondered what one of them wanted to do with it now, and said as much to Flowers.
He shrugged. “This guy’s worried about the new laws. Eridani, Centaurians, humans, everyone’s changing their laws about what can be sold in their territory and who can sell it without extra tariffs. The Coalition was more favorable to him, so he’s going to keep operating as if it’s still around. And like I said, his lawyers are really expensive. So what he’s going to do is transfer some money to an account those lawyers have set up, and I’m going to send some of that money on to you, and he’s going to call it paying taxes. And then he’s going to ask you to do some things, nothing too strenuous, just enough to raise your profile a bit. Get a little attention. That’s another thing we need to talk about, for this to work you need to start speaking with the media. I’ll send some press your way, spin it as a human interest story. These people think they can bring back the Coalition, aren’t they such noble souls, don’t we all want to laugh at them tilting at windmills, et cetera.”
“This smells fishy,” Nyx said.
“Of course it stinks,” said Flowers. “If you’d rather keep your nose clean, I’m willing to buy your ship and find a more willing crew. There’s a lot of money on the line here. I could make you a very good offer.”
“Hell no,” Nyx said, before she could allow herself to consider the possibility of life without what remained of the Benevolence. “I’m in.”