Weekend Wind Down – The Open Road

From 'Iconoclast: Not To Be' an upcoming book in the Fortune's Fools series

Loralea did not know the ‘City but she was sure there would be a Clan community there and she didn’t even have to go far to find it. According to the local link network, there was a bar called ‘The Open Road’, which sat hard by the spaceport. The name and location gave it away.

“You Lastas?”

The man was grey haired and bearded but wore a look that said he was not much slowed down by it. He had joined her as soon as she sat at a table with her drink – but then she had ordered a dish only Clan would eat, the bitterleaf herbs being very much an acquired taste. He had come from the staff area behind the sleek counter, so he was not just a visitor like she was. Loralea nodded cautiously, making it a slight, brief, movement. She was not surprised he had recognised her, her heart shaped face with its high cheekbones would always give her heritage away to other Clans.

“My grandpa was too – on my father’s side, you understand,” he said.

She did. It also meant the connection between them was very loose, not like he was related on his heritage side – the maternal side.

“Nice to meet you,” she said, her tone rising into a question.



“You here alone?”

Never let them think you’ve not got back up.

“Uh – no. Well right now, yes, but I have family in the ‘City.”

The eyes as grey as the hair and beard widened very slightly.

“Strange. I think I’d have heard if any Lastas hit town. Stranger still, I heard you’d parked a ship on your own.”

Loralea met his gaze with a slight shrug.

“You didn’t hear right this time – but don’t let that bother you.”

“I don’t,” he said, his expression caught between amusement and something else – something Loralea was not sure she could recognise. “Let me get you a drink – on the house and you can tell me what you need. A place to stay? Work?”

“Information. I was trying to find someone.”

Lienz leant back and looked suddenly appraising as if her admission had changed something very fundamental in their relationship.

“Well, you have come to the right person for that. I know just about everyone worth knowing in the ‘City. But you need to be careful who you go asking about, Loralea – and who you ask. This is not a good place to be asking questions about some people – if you get my meaning.”

She finished eating and pushed the empty away.

“Thanks. I’ll have that drink.”

Lienz made a gesture and a young man came running from behind the counter, a tattoo clear on his forearm. A Clan tattoo. Mendive. Loralea felt her heart pick up a little and wished she knew more about current clan politics. She had no idea if Lastas and Mendive were on good terms or not. There had been a feud, she knew, but that was when she was still a child. A lot could have changed since then. She let Lienz order the drinks and wondered if she had been as clever to come here as she had thought. The older man might have read her thoughts – or perhaps he had seen her react to the clan mark on the youngster who served them.

“In the ‘City we have enough other problems than to go fretting around over Clan history, you know. We’re all blood if we go back far enough and here, well, that counts for a bit more than any daft family feuds.”

His smile was reassuring, but she wondered if he was just saying the words or if he really meant them.

“Even if so – I -“

“We’re cousins, Loralea – I’ve Lastas blood in my veins.” He smiled at her and raised his drink in a silent toast. Outsider style. She felt a release of tension she had not realised she held. He had claimed her as kin – family. Clan. Despite herself, she returned his smile.

“Thank you,” she said.

“Welcome. Now, what are you doing here on your own, lass? I had heard your people had pretty much settled in the same place the last thirty odd years or more. “

“Like I said. I need to find someone.”

The steady grey gaze seemed to harden slightly.

“Someone hurt you?”

She shook her head quickly, annoyed he could see.

“No. This is a friend. He may be in trouble.”

Again she felt the weighing judgement of Lienz eyes. It was as if for every word she spoke he was reading another half-hundred behind.

“This is not a good place to be in trouble,” he said, after a few moments. “I think you don’t want to get this man of yours into any more so won’t tell me his name until you trust me some. Which is a shame as trouble often moves fast in the ‘City.”

“I don’t even know for sure he is here,” Lorelea could hear the defensive protest in her own voice. Lienz was right though. Both that she did not trust him and that she needed to.

Lienz sighed and offered a wan smile.

“Some people make life hard for themselves,” he said. “Alright, lass, You need a place to stay and I have an apartment needs someone to live in it. No charge. I can get you work too, if you want. Decent pay. Or if you are willing to hire out your ship, you can sit back and count the credits.”

“It’s Clan property,” she lied. “If it flies, I’m aboard.”

“Fair enough,” Lienz conceded easily, “but what about the rest?”

Lorelea hesitated. She had planned to live on her ship. The running costs of doing so would be cheaper than most accommodation – or at least most accommodation she would care to live in. His offer was generous and if the search took more time she might be glad of any work he could put her way. With a strange sense of reluctance, even though it made solid sense, she gave a brief nod.

“Alright. That is kind.”

Lienz smiled again.

“You are Clan. And you can owe me a favour for it.”

E.M. Swift-Hook


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