The saloon was smoky and reeked of sweat and spilled liquor. The first light of dawn struggled to shine through the grimy windows but mostly failed. Three men sat around a table, a pile of cards and coins in front of each of them. One was an older, gray haired man with a pipe clenched in his teeth. He looked at the cards on the table, then the ones in his hand. He selected one of the worn and faded cards and placed it face down in the center of the table. A match flared in his hand, and he took a few long draws from his pipe.
“A blind to the Drift, boys,” Captain Harrison said as he attempted to blow smoke rings. The man to his right, a burly middle aged man with fair skin and close-cropped hair, nodded. The game was coming to a close and left him with very few choices. The face down card that just landed on the table bothered him. He had a good hand, but not great. If the old man had a great hand…but then he looked at all the coins scattered across the table.
“Well worth the risk, I should think,” the burly man whispered as he dropped a card onto the table. “That is a Zep in the North Wind. A 5 of Zeps to be precise.”
The old man just nodded and smoked his pipe. The third player was a grungy little man that had only kept his money this long through blind luck. He eyed his opponents like they had tricked him into playing this hand. He proceeded to suck at his teeth, a loud and lengthy process that he had performed numerous times in the last five hours. He stared at his cards, then set them on the table. He picked them back up, shuffled through them, set them down again. A gravelly cough came up his throat and the other players shifted away involuntarily.
“Maybe,” the scrawny man said after he regained his breath, “maybe a Fighter.” He flipped over a card with the outline of a single prop ship on it, a red two in the upper right corner. His eyes wandered to the Harrison, as though seeking permission.
“Listen, friend, you’re in a tight spot,” the captain said. “I understand that, but if you play that card, you’re just losing more money.”
“I find I must agree,” the burly man added after a moment of silence.
“Maybe you should take what you’ve got left head home. After a drink, of course,” as Harrison spoke he slid a single coin across the table and left it just next to the man’s hand. The scrawny man picked it up and glanced to the bar. The bartender had long since given up on the game and dozed while leaning on the bar. The gaze of all three players seemed to wake him.
“What? You done?” he drawled. The third player gathered his coins and sought the solace of a bit more whiskey.
“Now then, we’ve got a bit of privacy. We can finish our game like gentlemen, Baggar,” Captain Harrison said. His opponent cocked an eyebrow.
“You have me at a loss, sir. If we have met before, I apologize for misplacing your face,” Baggar smiled as he spoke, but a wary look crept into his eyes.
“No, we haven’t meet, though I’ve heard about you. I fly with an old friend of yours.”
With that, Harrison went back to surveying the game. Baggar waited for more information, but found only silence. Eventually, the old man placed a card on the table, a 7 of Fighters.
“The South Wind, I think,” Harrison said as he slid the card across the table. He picked up two coins from his bank and placed them on top of the card. The pipe smoke covered his tiny grin. Baggar felt his stomach churn. That seven was trouble, but not a game ender. It all came down to the Drift card.
“Santos,” Harrison said.
“I fly with Santos,” Harrison repeated.
“Ha! How the wind does blow! I have not seen Santos far too long. How is he?” Baggar felt sure the old man was playing him, using this to catch him off guard. But was it to hide a bluff or draw him out?
“Good enough. Fit and flying.”
“Always a fine stick was Santos. We served on a trade ship together. A story for another time, perhaps,” Baggar chatted as he laid out his card, another Zep. “To the Drift, I think.”
Harrison nodded as Baggar placed three coins on the new card.
“A bold choice,” Harrison whispered.
“Bold is not a choice, but a way of life. My father was quite fond of platitudes,” Baggar laughed. Harrison chose one of his two remaining cards and set it on the table. The move was inconsequential though, like a bullet tied to a stick of dynamite. The game balanced on two cards: the face down card in the Drift and the card left in Baggar’s hand. The various permutations of victory and failure flashed through Baggar’s mind as Harrison placed a single coin on the last card to even out his bet.
“How about we make things interesting,” Harrison said.
“As though the rest of the night was boring and common?” Baggar responded.
“My crew and I just took a tricky job up toward the Bans. Unfortunately, we recently lost a member of the crew, and I’m looking to fill a spot.”
“I assume that you use ‘lost’ euphemistically,” Baggar smirked.
“No. Lost is about the best way to describe it without going too far into details. He won’t be flying with us again. We can leave it at that,” Harrison almost growled.
“Then you wish me to place my services upon the table as part of the wager? What would you offer in return?”
“My name is Captain Harrison, by the way. You may have heard that name before. In the hangar, I have a fine Heimdurin Harbinger . She’s a beautiful ship, built before the Revolt, too,” Harrison finished with a broad grin.
“Your plane against my flying? That seems more than fair. I agree,” Baggar dropped his 8 of Storms onto the table and leaned back. The chair groaned under his weight as he leaned into a comfortable position.
“That gives me a full Squadron, Captain. Not unbeatable, but surely a dangerous hand to face.”
The Captain smiled and flipped over his Drift card…
Baggar doesn’t like to talk about his past. When the crew trades stories over drinks, he doesn’t stray much further back then the trade zep he crewed before joining the Winds. He’s Heimdurin but never fought in the Horizon War. He’s at home in just about any cockpit since Shift’s first flight but can’t be bothered to repair his own ship. He wouldn’t loan you a Guild Mark, but he’d wager every coin he has on a single hand of cards. The Rogue Winds don’t always know what to make of Baggar, but they know they can trust him.
During his first flight with the Winds, Baggar helped track down a crew of pirates that had “acquired” sensitive documents during a raid on a Paragon outpost. A quick and dirty fight at the pirate camp left Baggar with some a valuable package and his new partners captured. Harrison figured he had reached the end of his luck. Then Baggar showed up a few hours later with a squad of fighters that “owed him a favor.” They tore down the pirate’s base and sent them running to the Drift. He’s been with the Winds ever since.
Written By - Paul Dodson
Art By - Vince Medellin
Story By - Paul Dodson, Dave Shapiro and Vince Medellin