For a successful space pirate, Valentine Arvossio did not seem particularly intimidating at first glance. His eyes, though smug, were a rather peculiar shade of grey that in another context might have been referred to as “soothing.” It was the sort of grey that one used for office complexes and prison lavatories to keep the inmates subdued. His wiry frame was somewhat lacking in the “mighty thews” department, and his crew had mentioned to him on at least three nonconsecutive occasions that the long, flowing red hair was less “pirate” and more “dilettante.” Valentine ignored these complaints.

On the rare occasions when he could be persuaded to comment on his intimidation factor, Valentine insisted that anyone who was named after a type of gun could be nothing less than fearsome. If pressed, he might be magnanimous enough to tell the story of his conception, which occurred shortly after his mother shot his father with a Valentine .45 SXG handgun–precisely the same gun that Valentine kept strapped to his hip waking and sleeping. He claimed that he planned to find true love in the same way his mother had. It was a fantastic story, and all came away from the telling convinced of this fact, if not of the tale’s veracity.

Valentine had most recently related it to his latest mark, a mild-mannered engineer who owned a ship that Valentine would dearly love to get his hands on. The ship itself wasn’t much—without an engineer like Claude on board to give her tender, loving care, the thing wouldn’t make it through hyperspace, let alone a battle—but on board was something Valentine coveted. Bounty on empathic species was high, and the pirate had no doubt that such a creature would sell for even higher on the black market. His informants had managed to locate one of them on board Claude’s ship, and Valentine was not about to let a jewel like that get away. The fact that Claude also happened to be the most delectable morsel that Valentine had set eyes on in some time was naturally beside the point.

Unfortunately, at their last meeting, Claude had been far too miserable to fully appreciate the intimidation Valentine intended to work upon him. The morose engineer had been hunched over Retichken vodka in a bar that Valentine happened to frequent, and once he’d gotten over his shock, the pirate had swooped in—to no avail. In his semi-drunken state, Claude had found the story “romantic” and “heartwarming” and had thanked Valentine with a drunken pat on the back that the latter had been too stunned to enjoy. As he reclined in the central chair on his own ship’s bridge, the pirate’s full lips curled into a frown that came off as more of a pout. He was still cursing himself for letting Claude get away that night, in every sense of the word. At the very least, it had been highly unprofessional.

For the three days since his unexpected contact with the engineer, Valentine’s crew had been scouring space for the plucky little ship to no avail. His bridge officers had made themselves scarce, knowing that it was best to stay out of the captain’s way when his will had been thwarted. For all Claude’s drunken amiability, he was a top-notch engineer, and had somehow managed to elude even Valentine’s sophisticated tracking methods. After punching up a series of patiently blank scan screens, Valentine heaved a sigh and pushed his display away. At this rate, he wouldn’t find Claude again until the man once again decided he was in need of a drink. His first officer had sarcastically suggested to the pirate captain that next time he encountered Claude, he should use his ‘manly wiles’ on the quarry. Valentine had dismissed her in annoyance. “Next time,” he muttered to himself, “I’ll just drug the booze.”