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FREELANCERS #24 - 02/15/24

Hello! I'm sending this from a new email address Hope it reaches you, but please whitelist it if it landed in your spam. Enjoy this spicy Valentine's themed newsletter!

Aj Atherii. Well met, Freelancers.


Captain Davius Tolvaren here with a spicy tale for the hopeless romantics out there.


Though many embrace the camaraderie we share in our dangerous profession, life as a soldier of fortune will invariably lead to conflict with other freelancers. Be it professional, personal, or a bit of both.


An Octopan medical researcher by the name of Dr. Quazl recently made a splash when he discovered a treatment for kesh rot. He cemented his place in infamy when he refused to release the treatment until he received an exorbitant amount of credits. With threats pouring in and many meetings to attend, the good doctor enlisted the services of an ace security specialist, Raj “Anvil” Anvati. Claiming Quazl broke contract and absconded with their property, the company that funded his research hired the luscious bounty hunter, Jeryn Rose, to bring the Octopan back and answer for his dubious behaviour.


The now competing professionals had only met in passing prior to this, exchanging cool quips and frigid glances. Over the course of the last month, however, their clashes over Dr. Quazl became legendary. A chase through a bustling starport, a gunfight falling from a skyscraper, hand to hand combat in a sauna. With a deadline on the contract looming, both professionals squared off for one last duel on a moon outside an Ancient portal sphere.


After a duel that cleared out a hotel floor, their contest ended with them in a broken fountain, wrapped around each other in the throes of passionate lovemaking. Over the past month of headline grabbing battles, Anvil and Rose grew to know each other. As many warrior cultures will tell you, combat can be a telling, rich, intimate experience for those involved.


They were so enthralled with each other that they lost track of Dr. Quazl, who got black bagged by some shadowy figures outside.


It all reminds me of a parable from my loquacious elven cousins. I won’t sully the verse by translating it in full, but it loosely paraphrases into a sentiment that taking the plunge and letting emotion drive your actions always costs more than it gains. The sea-obsessed Alathan used the metaphor of drowning in this case.


I say: life is short, even for those who lifespan reaches into millennia. So get yours while you can. If some fool has to get disappeared for it, that’s their problem.


Speaking of getting yours, all of you send your best wishes to my esteemed co-host, Lina. I overheard our assistant scheduling her on a singles event for intellectual professionals. It is my sincere hope she finds the contrived cerebral foreplay as stimulating as the awkward makeout sessions with self-obsessed dweebs that will no doubt follow.


Bazh Ashal, freelancers. May you hunt as fiercely as you love.

All Of Me


Bright red and orange swirls of the Flamewisp nebula enveloped the sprawling asteroid city of Firewatch Station. Light from a nearby star diffusing through the celestial gases illuminated a glass-walled elevator as it ascended one of the station’s glittering spires. Inside, the famous freelancer, Fhenriss, inspected herself through the camera on the holopad in her watch. Wearing heels and dressed in the latest fashion her manager recommended, she fiddled with her hair to make sure it covered the burns and red cybernetic eye on the right side of her face.


Her manager’s voice spoke up through the holopad. “I can’t believe you got a date with Ben Vibes! Can you imagine the publicity if you two become a couple? You can be FhenBen, or Fhen Vibes! If this pans out, we might not even need to do freelancer work anymore.”


Fhenriss shifted uncomfortably. “Glad to hear you’re counting credits already. My skin feels like it’s covered in acid. Is it supposed to do that?”


“That’s just the treatments doing their work, hun. It’ll all be worth it. Trust me. This man’s an artist and a rock star, not the gassy, beer swilling ex-military types you’re used to. I’ve seen the kind of people he usually dates. You gotta step up your game and focus. Take a breath, girl. Don’t want to be sweating like a Bosvin sprinter when you get close to him.”


The freelancer paced back and forth. “I can’t help it! Feel like I’ve been in love with this guy for the last fifteen years. I only get one shot at this. Don’t want to mess it up.” A voice in the back of her head added, “Like you always do.


“Quit worrying, Fhen. You got this. After all the work you put in, you’re gonna blow his mind the minute he lays eyes on you. As I’ve learned, feeling good about yourself starts with looking good naked.”


Fhenriss adjusted her underwear through her tight, form-fitting dress and winced. “He better. I’d rather get my arm blasted off again than deal with those witches at the beauty clinic you sent me to. I’ve been shot by lasers plenty of times in my life, but not in the places they hit me.”


She heard sniggering behind her. Looking over her shoulder, she noticed two well cologned men looking at her and whispering to each other.


The veteran freelancer turned on her heel and stepped into their space without hesitation. “You clowns got something to say? Come on. Speak up.” They backed up against the glass and avoided eye contact. She continued, “You two would be in tears crying for your mommas if you went through the shit I did today. Tell me I’m pretty, bitches!”


They tripped over each other, showering her with rapid fire compliments.


“Yeah, that’s fuckin’ right. You wish you could get a piece of this.” She smashed the elevator controls to stop on the next floor. As the doors opened, she blew them a kiss and said, “Looks like your stop, douchebags. Sweet dreams.”


Not giving them much room to maneuver, they slipped around the imposing woman and dashed out of the elevator. A couple in the lobby going up opted to catch the next one.


Once the doors closed, her manager piped up on the call. “Oh, yeah. Ben’s gonna love that energy.”


Fhenriss rested her cybernetic arm on the glass. She went to put a hand over her eyes, then realized she shouldn’t smear the makeup the aesthetician spent an hour applying. Knocking the side of her head on the glass, she looked out at the swirling fiery nebula and let out a groan that turned into a bit of a nervous whine.


It felt like kismet that she bumped into her favourite musician two days prior. Despite her stardom, she viewed him as someone on another level. But they got to chatting anyway, and it seemed so natural. Even though they were both passing through the station, soon to continue their travels across the galaxy, there was enough a spark to arrange this date. The woman who regularly ran headfirst into machine gun fire felt her stomach twist into knots. This had to be perfect.


After a moment, her manager’s voice came over the call, “Hey, Fhen?”




“Who’s the boss?”


She rapped her metal knuckles on the glass. “I’m the boss.”


“Hell yeah you are. Go get yours, girl. Just don’t freak out and make a huge mess that I have to clean up. Kisses.”


As the call ended and the elevator came to a stop, Fhenriss took one last look at her reflection in the glass, straightened up, and took a deep breath. The doors opened with a ding, and the glammed up freelancer strutted into the restaurant lobby with a confident smile on her face.


The striking woman turned heads as she strode into the marble lobby of the restaurant. Another recommendation from her manager, this establishment took the fixings of a rock bar and refined them to be much more pristine and expensive.


With her hair obscuring vision on her right side, her unwavering stride made her bump into someone admiring a fine art piece on the wall.


Without missing a beat, Fhenriss said, “Hot stuff coming through. Move it or lose it —“


She froze and gasped as she looked down at a human man with dark reddish brown skin much like hers on the floor. Wearing a jacket with no shirt underneath, his bohemian style seemed understated compared to everyone else in here. But he had the charisma to make it work. Propping himself up on his elbows, he flicked his decorated locks out of his face, revealing several piercings, sunglasses, and a five-o’clock shadow.


Ben Vibes smiled. “Man, they weren’t kidding when they said you’d be rough.”


His laughter gave her an opening to join in instead of dying from embarrassment. She reached a cybernetic arm down to help him up. Losing a bit of balance in the heels she barely ever wore, they held each other close.


With their faces only a few inches apart, she said, “Sorry. Didn’t see you there.”


He smirked. “That’s cool. I see you now. Lookin’ good, mama.”


“Thanks. Right back at ya.” Her eyes wandered to his very kissable lips so close to hers. Behind his shades, he did the same.


He said, “I take it by how hard you marched in here you must be hungry.”


She laughed, “You have no idea.” Her stomach reminded her she hadn’t eaten anything all day. “Think they serve estrian boars here? I feel like I could eat one whole. Or three.”


They held each other’s arms as they strode into the restaurant. When they approached the host to be seated, someone nearby took notice of the newcomers. Dressed in a similar uniform as the other employees, the restaurant’s maître d’, a Sahalan woman with makeup accentuating the natural bright lines on her scaled head, peered around the corner. Tasting the air with her forked tongue, the snake-like humanoid narrowed her slit pupils at Fhenriss. The end of her tail rattled in anticipation.


Slithering with haste up to the couple, she snatched the holomenus from the waiter and declared she’d handle their special guests. As they left, the scorned host grumbled to another coworker since they wanted to serve the famous rock star.




After getting settled near a wall where lights painted animated pictures in a stream of water running down from the ceiling, the couple ordered their drinks. The live band shouted out Ben Vibes after playing one of his ballads. He waved politely as the other patrons applauded. More than a few took several clandestine pictures of the two of them.


As their conversation drifted from fame to music, Fhenriss said, “I don’t mean to fangirl or anything, but I have to say your music got me through some rough times.”


He leaned in. “Oh, yeah? Any tracks in particular really move you?”


She didn’t have to think too hard about it. “All Of Me.”


He sat back and whistled. “Damn, girl. A b-side on one of my solo albums? You’re probably one of five people in the whole galaxy who listened to that. People usually just want to hear the hits. I had a feeling you were a real one. Why that track?”


She looked at the flowing design in the water wall next to them. “It’s hard to explain…”


He tapped her foot under the table with his. “Take your time. I’m here to get to know you. Whatever’s on your mind, hit me.”


After a moment of biting her lip, she said, “Things don’t always go the way I plan. Compromises to get by start piling on top of each other. Especially after I made it big, those compromises turned into masks that I got a little too comfortable wearing. Especially with some of the shit that…” She bit back opening up completely with gory details of her violent and sometimes unscrupulous line of work.


“I don’t know. The song made me believe that the old, hopeful me’s still in here and hasn’t been suffocated under all the… baggage.” She almost said bodies, but once again refrained.


He reached his hands over to hold hers. “Hey, thanks for sharing that. I mean it. It’s not fangirling or whatever. Interactions like this are a big part of why I make art. I belt out my truths and send them into the cosmos, hoping they resonate with people. Hearing how it made you feel means someone heard me. And that’s beautiful.”


Ben told the story about his own experiences with writing that tune, and how it traced back to important lessons his mother taught him. She knew all that trivia already, but listened as he told the story with a smile on her face.


A waiter arrived with their drinks. Fhenriss raised her glass and said, “To our truths.”


He clinked his glass against hers. “Right on, mama.”


Over the moon at how well this was going, Fhenriss took a big swig of her favourite whiskey. It’d been so long since she’d been around someone she could be this open with. Her mind raced with the possibilities of where the night and beyond might lead.


Then it hit her. The sensation crept in slowly at first. A gentle numbness on her tongue. A swell of warmth down her throat. The heat intensified with every breath. Hotter and hotter until it felt like her head was aflame.


Ben raised an eyebrow at her as she’d gone quiet with concern. She looked with interest at something over his shoulder. When he turned around, she reached a hand into the wall of water beside her and tried to rub it on her tongue. It didn’t help. When he turned back, she stifled a cough, then raised a finger to excuse herself.


Her mind raced as she shoved her way into the washroom. She tried running cold water over her tongue, then added soap when that wasn’t working.


Fhenriss was a warrior. She’d been poisoned more than once. This wasn’t an assassination attempt. It was just some Infernal hot pepper infused into her drink. Which made it even more confusing, because who the hell would try to sabotage her date?


She heard the door hiss open, then someone with a forked tongue whispered into her ear, “What’s the matter, ‘hot stuff’? Can’t take the heat?”


The restaurant’s maître d’ dodged the swipe from Fhenriss’s cybernetic arm, then flashed a wicked smirk. Careful not to get her hair wet, the freelancer spat out a wad of bubbly liquid and spoke in a harsh whisper, “What the fuck is this? Who are you?!”


The maître d’ hissed. “What and who don’t matter as much as why. Does Evercorp ring a bell?”


Fhenriss pushed past the burning to rattle her brain. “The security gig six months ago?”


“Ahaa, not a complete moron after all. A member of my clutch ran that business venture. We hired you to protect them, instead you sold us out.”


The freelancer finished rinsing out her mouth. “Sold you out? The company was into some dirty shit, and the Vigilant Shadows told me to step aside or go down with them.”


The maître d’ slithered closer. “We were developing technology to prolong life!”


“You were necromancers! I had to waste a horde of zombie test subjects underneath the facility.”


The Sahalan snarled. “Pithy details! You’re a mercenary. You were supposed to do what we paid you for and you failed. We lost everything!”


Fhenriss held out her hands to the side. “So what? Are you holding my date hostage for credits?”


She slithered close and hissed. “I don’t care about the rinn. I’m going to make you suffer, just as we have. Do you think you’re the first lover Ben Vibes has brought here? He typically favours a more delicate, sophisticated type. What chance do you think you have of mating when he sees what a sweaty ape you are?”


The freelancer’s eyes went wide. “You clearly did not do any research on whom you are fucking with.” She moved forward to attack, but the slippery Sahalan shifted back against the wall and opened the door with her tail.


Putting her professional smile back on, the maître d’ tutted. “Best behave, ape. Wouldn’t want Mr. Cool Vibes to see who you really are.”


The two ladies looked across the restaurant at Ben, who made a peace sign at them.


Determined to overcome this obstacle, the freelancer took a deep breath, forced a smile, then marched back to the table.




The next forty minutes were hell. Fhenriss always struggled with complications she couldn’t punch or shoot. But she cared enough about this chance to spend time with Ben Vibes that she sucked it up and endured. The fighter in her refused to accept defeat. She was going to enjoy herself, even if it killed her.


The hits just kept on coming, though.


After sitting down and biting back a rude joke about why she was in the washroom for so long, Fhenriss noted a holoprojector near the bar showing novaball. As a former champion of Rakuur’s league, she brought up some expert observations about the game to Ben. He shrugged, saying he never got into sports. She kept her cool and said she didn’t have time for it anymore. Seeing her deflate, he shifted the conversation to ask about her homeworld.


After a few minutes, before she could ask, a waiter passed with a plate of drinks. The maître d’ deftly slithered by and nudged the drinks to spill on Fhenriss’s lap. The alcohol soaked through her tight dress to agitate the already sensitive skin around her groin. While her cybernetic hand squeezed her chair so hard it deformed, she gritted her teeth and waved the poor, apologetic waiter off, saying it wasn’t a big deal.


Compounding with the agitated skin and burning mouth, Fhenriss hadn’t eaten all day and their food kept getting delayed. Despite her stomach eating itself, she didn’t complain or raise her voice. She wondered if she was losing it as people kept stealing glances at her and whispering.


Her eyes went wide as she noticed the holoprojectors near the bar showing footage from her infamous interview on Freelancer. The one where she trashed the set and punched Davius Tolvaran in the face.


Before Ben could spot it, Fhenriss yanked him out of his chair and dragged him to the balcony for some air.




Approaching the railing on the balcony, she leaned over and took a deep breath.


Ben did the same to her right and said, “Beautiful view.”


She regarded the celestial ocean of the Flamewisp nebula beyond the station’s dome. The slow, shifting ballet of red and orange made the fires in her mouth burn hotter.


Trying not to drool, Fhenriss said, “I can see why they built this city around the station’s observatory. It really is something.”


He nudged her shoulder with his. “I wasn’t talking about the nebula.”


She smiled. “This is giving me flashbacks to a festival I saw in the Solar Illuminate. You ever toured up in Daemar space?”


He shook his head. “Not yet. Don’t they live around volcanoes? Might be a little too hot for me.”


Fhenriss chuckled. “I’m used to the heat. After a job years ago, the head priest invited me to watch their Festival of Fire. Can’t remember what they called it, but it lived up to the name. Normally, it’s only for believers in their gods, but I stopped some insurgents from blowing up their temple, so they let me experience it.


“There was a shallow lake at the base of the temple we stayed at. One night, after local critters excreted this oil across the water, the head priest dropped a lit torch. The entire lake ignited in flames. It was amazing.”


He raised his eyebrows. “Oh, damn.”


She continued, “That was just the start too. The people sang and hammered away at these huge drums that rumbled the earth. Priestesses with special skates went out and danced across the water.”


He leaned in even closer. “Oh, damn.”


“Then chanters summoned fire sprites to join in the dance. It all ended with an intense reaction across the lake. All the flames flared up, then extinguished all at once. It left only smoke and thousands of burning butterflies that flew into the sky. There are holos of it, but being there and feeling the heat, the music, the people is… indescribable.”


Now, with their shoulders touching, he said, “I envy you. I used to get into some trouble, but these days, my managers don’t let me go anywhere they didn’t vet. Keep complaining about the insurance costs. I know it’s not all singing and dancing, but you seem like you’re out there every day living and going on adventures.”


She laughed. “That’s one way of putting it. Let’s just say there are several responses to the phrase, ‘what doesn’t kill you…’”


He stole some glances at the side of her face she tried to hide, then held her cybernetic hand. “Our scars make us interesting. It’s not the same as what you’ve been through, but my right hand got smashed while shooting a music video in this factory. The director kept saying he wanted it to be raw and have everything running. Then my hand got caught in the press.


“As a musician, you can guess how terrifying that was for me. Thought I’d never play instruments the same again. I’m allergic to mechloparen. So cybernetics were off the table. Everyone warned me not to, but I took a chance on a mage who said they could try healing it. That stuff is scary for everyone involved. They have to know how to will every piece of flesh and bone back into place. Any slip in focus could be disastrous.


“But it worked. Despite some aethereal… side effects, it’s never been better. Sometimes long shots pay off. I was in a pretty dark place after the accident. It was worth the risk.”

She gave his hand a squeeze, then turned to wrap her other hand around his waist to hold him close. “If you’re interested, we could explore each other’s scars later… at length.”


They closed their eyes and moved in for a kiss.


“Sorry for the delay, folks! Your food’s ready.” A busy waiter interrupted from the door. Two slit pupils peered at them from behind a plant.


Ben cleared his throat and Fhenriss let out a low growl before they returned inside.




Moving to their seats with some haste, Ben said, “I’m starting to get what you meant about devouring an estrian boar.”


As he sat down, the rock star forked a piece of his meal into his mouth. He tilted his head back and his face glowed in exultation. The man caught Fhenriss off guard with the detailed description of his experience with every bite.


Coming out of his trance, he noticed the look of surprise on his date’s face. “Sorry. Food is a passion of mine. I took up cooking a few years back and it just… Mmmm.”


With her mouth watering at the scrumptious plate in front of her, she got caught up in his enthusiasm and hunger took control. Before she remembered what had been happening to her all evening, she was already swallowing a large piece of meat.


Expecting escalation, she braced for the worst. But nothing came. No scorching spices, just well seasoned and immaculately prepared food. Maybe her arch nemesis got busy, called away, or rounded up by security and locked away forever. Maybe there was hope.


Ben asked about her meal, expecting a description as rich as the one he gave. Fhenriss went to speak, but her tongue laid at the bottom of her mouth like a wet stump.


That foul snake fed the freelancer some of her paralytic venom.


Trying to stay calm and not trusting anything on her table, she grabbed a glass of water from a passing waiter’s tray and took a swig. The parts of her mouth that weren’t numb immediately ignited with a stronger dose of the burning spice from earlier. It was a trap.


Unable to wait any longer for his date to tell him about her food, he reached across the table with his fork aimed at her plate. Without thinking, she swatted the cutlery out of his hand and sent it clattering across another guest’s table.


They looked at each other in shock. With spicy agony coursing through her entire being, Fhenriss forced a laugh and said, “Thowy! Uhhh… marthial refwextheth and tharp objecth.”


She scanned the room for anything that could provide some relief. Her eyes zeroed in on the maître d’s slit pupils staring at her. The Sahalan tasted the anguish and embarrassment in the air with her forked tongue and grinned.


As the last straw broke in Fhenriss’s mind, she stood up and said to Ben, “Wait hewe. I need to talk to the thef about allewgieth. I’ll be wight back.”


The maître d’s expression shifted to surprise, then panic as she saw the enraged ape’s eyes boring into her. Panic set in as Fhenriss shed her high heels and picked up the pace in her terminator march across the restaurant toward her target.


Trying to keep her cool, the snake slithered away to escape, but several waiters with questions blocked her path. They moved just in time for Fhenriss to charge in and tackle the maître d’ into the kitchen.


Amping up her rage to combat the paralytic venom, Fhenriss cared little for anything other than punishing her hated foe. But the Sahalan was exceptionally slippery. Sous-chefs dove out of the way of the hectic brawl. They used pots and pans as shields and tried to keep as many knives as possible away from the combatants.


The awkward, enraged tussle ripped Fhenriss’s dress, covered her in flour, messed up her hair, clawed up her arms and earned her bite marks on her thigh. The Sahalan got a buckled nose, a black eye, a broken fang and a crushed trachea.


It only ended when Ben, so enthralled with his food, entered the kitchen wanting to speak to the wizard chef who created it. He dropped his plate when he saw his date in the process of strangling the maître d’.




Thirty minutes later, a clawed and frazzled Fhenriss sat on the balcony step wrapped in a tablecloth with a lit cigstick hanging off her lips. After security arrived, the medtechs did their best to clean up all the scratches, but her leg was still numb from the heavy injection of venom. It would wear off in a few hours, but until then, she had to wallow in her shame. News was already hitting the extranet and her holopad buzzed with calls from her manager.


Glancing over her shoulder, she saw the maître d’ getting chewed out by her boss. Even though Firewatch Station was independent, they still had rules regarding torturing and poisoning people. The Sahalan’s galactic record was about to get even more spotted.


Fhenriss turned as Ben took a seat on the step next to her. He handed her a tub of yogurt to help with the spice and said, “You okay, mama?”


The freelancer popped off the lid and used her finger to eat yogurt in between drags of her cigstick. “I’ve been better.”


He put a hand on her numb leg and gave it a shake before massaging her thigh, trying to avoid the bite marks.


She put out the cigstick and sighed. “Sorry for ruining your night. Disasters like this are kinda my thing.” She gestured to herself in all her glory. “This… This right here… is my truth.”


Ben nodded. “It’s cool. Hell of a story, at least. I’m not mad about what happened. Just a little disappointed. I get why you felt like you had to act a certain way, but I hoped I created a good enough space for you to be yourself. You know what it’s like dealing with phony people who have an agenda all day.


“We really hit it off when we first met. You were fun, funny, vibrant, exciting. I wanted to get to know that person better. This person.” He nudged her.


Fhenriss looked at him and put a hand on his. “Shame you gotta leave soon. Maybe in another life or some shit, I suppose.”


He shuffled closer. “Oh, I don’t know. I got some leeway with the recording schedule. Could miss a flight, find some excuse to stick around a little longer. Maybe we could hang someplace more low-key. Private. Somewhere we won’t run into someone you’ve pissed off.”


She laughed. “I love that you’re so optimistic, but you’re asking for a lot here, Ben.”


They laughed together until their lips finally met for the kiss they wanted all evening. It lingered for a long moment as they breathed each other in. When they finally parted, the pair nuzzled their foreheads together and smiled.


Soon, Ben’s smile faded. He reached for the yogurt as his lips began to burn.

Hope you enjoyed Fhenriss's romcom adventure!


Here's the link to the archive of newsletters in case you missed any.


Talk to you next month. Have a good one!

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