Grif Vindh, captain of the Fool's Errand, was very, very drunk.
They were in Dyorbid's, waiting out the repairs on their ship and celebrating the fact that they had, when all was said and done, not been killed.
By the time they reached Trade Baron space they all had their original faces back--Cutter even had his scars, much to Vod's satisfaction. They were greeted at the edge of the Tylaris system by an Alliance warship carrying none other than Alef Halge. The cargo was transferred quickly, and Velis left without so much as a goodbye, which suited everyone fine. Some of her people nodded briefly as they left, more acknowledgment than Grif had expected, and Bennet actually shook his hand.
"It was interesting serving on your ship," Bennet said. "On the whole. Despite the... ah... awkwardness."
"You'd be a good crewman," Grif replied. "Under normal circumstances. But I trust you won't be offended if I say I hope we never meet again."
Bennet grinned. "No offense taken," he said, and left.
Alef Halge was true to his word. As soon as he'd confirmed receipt of the artifact, he transmitted confirmation that Vindh was the owner of a freshly minted charter to trade within Alliance space.
"I trust," Halge said, "that such a valuable gift will be used properly."
"Of course," Grif said, voice non-committal. "Enjoy your, uh, alien thing."
After that, they took a week floating in deep space to take Ebur Tosk out of stasis and put him back on his meds. Ebur was more than a bit cranky to have missed everything, but he felt much better after taking a proper shower, getting a decent meal, and confirming that he had been paid.
All that was left to do was to repair the ship. Grif chose the Tyrelos system for that, since the Fool's Errand wouldn't be able to land on any planet with an atmosphere until the breach in their hull was repaired. That led to Vindh and his crew sitting in Dyorbid's, getting progressively more inebriated as the hours passed.
Eventually all their bragging and self-congratulation gave way to drunken speculation.
"I wonder what that thing was," Morgan said. "I would've loved to take a closer look at it."
Grif peered at Morgan over his drink. "What, the mysterious piece of alien technology that potentially proves all your views about the origin of life in the universe?"
"Yeah," Morgan said defensively. "That."
"I wouldn't waste too much time thinking about it. Let it go. It's probably sitting in some high-security scientific facility in Alliance space, waiting for the Radiant Throne to steal it back."
"But what is it?" Morgan persisted.
"It's the kind of thing that makes my sister show up," Grif replied.
Morgan thought it over. "Never mind," he said.
The crew laughed.
"I, for one, am happy to be rid of it," Grif said. "It's nice to pull off the impossible, but it's a lot more trouble than it's worth. Entangling alliances, and all that. The less I'm involved with politics the happier I am."
"The further away from your sister I am, the happier I am," Amys added, and there was a general round of agreement to that.
Grif stood and raised his glass. "A toast," he said. "To staying away from my sister."
The crew responded with an enthusiastic "hear, hear!" and everyone drank.
"What about you, Cyrus?" Grif asked. "What are you going to do now? Are you going to buy that ship?"
Everyone fell silent and looked at him.
Cyrus sighed and shook his head. "If it's all the same to you, Grif, I'm going to stay on for a bit."
Grif raised an eyebrow. "Why? Captaining a ship is what you want to do."
"I know," Cyrus said. "But you heard about Tylaris, right? Joining the Alliance?"
The rest of the crew grumbled at that. The official announcement had been broadcast just after they'd arrived at Tyrelos Station.
"Yeah," Grif said. "I heard."
Cyrus shrugged. "Well, the ship I had lined up to buy is on Tylaris, and I won't be going back there to do any business any time soon. The Baronies are going to be a rough place for a while, and anyone who goes into that system will be seen as taking sides. Anyway, a few more years on a ship with a charter to trade in Alliance Space and I'll be able to buy something better. Er… assuming you'll have me."
"Oi!" Grif protested. "Of course I'll have you on this ship. What do I look like, an idiot? You don't turn away one of the best gunners in the Baronies just because he has future plans."
Cyrus grinned. "Well some might."
"Hey Grif," Hari, said, facial spines settling into a pattern of curiosity. "Speaking of money, how exactly are we paying for the repairs?"
"Sorry?" Grif asked.
"Well we got pretty burned up in that fight with Centurion," Hari said. "And it's being fixed as we speak… but they didn't pay you in money, they paid you with a charter. Which is good! Don't get me wrong! But it's long-term good, not short-term good. So how are you paying to get the Fool's Errand fixed?"
"Now that you mention it," Cutter drawled, "that's a good question. Are you payin' for it out of pocket, Skip? Or did Alef give us some money to cover expenses?"
"Well…" Grif looked up at the ceiling. "I may have agreed to a job after the repairs are finished on the grounds that we were given an advance…"
The table fell silent. Grif looked at his crew and grinned.
Cyrus threw back his head and laughed, then reached over and hit Ktk on its carapace. "I told you, bug! It wouldn't be a month before he got us into something else!"
Ktk sighed and said it would pay Cyrus tomorrow morning.
They drank through the night, laughing and telling stories. As the night grew to morning, more and more of the group fell away, until eventually only Amys and Grif were left.
"I'm glad Cyrus is staying on," Amys said. "He's good for the ship."
"He is indeed," Grif agreed, raising his glass in a toast. "It'll be a bad day when he actually leaves for good."
Grif stared at her in silence. Amys grinned, then frowned, then finally, in an agitated voice, said "what?"
Grif took a drink of Stellis, cocked his head to one side, and asked "so when are you leaving?"
Amys blinked. "When am I what?"
"I'm serious. Some day Cyrus is going to be the captain of his own ship. And he's going to be a good one. But why aren't you one already?"
"Trying to get rid of me?" Amys asked, smiling slightly.
Grif leaned forward. His expression was serious, mixed with curiosity, mixed with… something else. "You should do it. Why haven't you done it? It doesn't make sense. I'm not complaining… but it doesn't make sense."
Amys didn't reply.
"There's no reason you should be stuck in the number two seat, Amys. You keep your cool, you're an excellent pilot… you'd be hell of a smuggler captain. Or pretty much any kind of captain you wanted to be. Bottom line? If I had my way, you would always be XO on my ship. But why should you? Buy your own ship. Get your own crew. I'll help if you need it, but you won't--you've done it all before, only for me. Now do it for yourself."
Amys stared at Grif, trying to think of something to say. Grif stared back, afraid of what she would. Finally Amys smiled.
"You know I never take your advice," she said.
And that was it.
Grif grinned, relaxed, and settled back in his chair. "All according to plan," he said. "Reverse psychology. Works every time."
"You're a liar," Amys said.
Grif pretended he didn't hear.