Epilogue | The Master's Call

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There was an uncharacteristic drizzle over Lead Belly that ran the red dusty rock of planet al-Sufi with rivulets of mud. Juri found it unsurprising that Cash Guthrie would choose a day with such inconvenient weather to die. The rumble of the motor-carriage came to a halt just inside the iron gate of Boss's estate. Juri pushed open the door, his expensive boots squelching unpleasantly in the mud as he left behind the cush velour seats. He strode across the courtyard toward the wide white doors of the home. The pallid clouds above rumbled as he pulled the cord on the bell, hearing it chime distantly in the interior of the house.

The door opened.

"Ah, Juri, please come in." July Redcloud stepped aside so that Juri could move onto the plush red carpet, his white bowler cap dripping as he handed it off to a maid. He doffed his jacket and hung it up on the stand beside the door, already full with the outer garments of other guests.

"Good to see you, July," Juri glanced into the foyer mirror. He quickly brushed his fingers over the rain that had collected on his thick chevron mustache, which had already begun to streak with grey.

"I wish it were under more pleasant circumstances, my friend."

Juri turned quickly and caught the young man wiping at his cheeks. July's hazel eyes glistened with tears as he sniffed. The older man opened his arms, and July rushed into them.

"I'm sorry," Juri said, patting July's back with the width of his palm as the young man's arms squeezed tightly about his waist. For a moment, he felt cycles younger, having perhaps just lifted July up into his arms after a scraped knee.

July stepped back from the embrace and nodded. "We knew it would be soon, but—"

He swallowed, unable to finish the thought.

"Where is everyone?" Juri finally asked.

"On the porch."

July turned and began to lead Juri down the once familiar halls of the estate. The two men did not speak, instead sharing a knowing, comfortable silence. As they moved through the wide french doors that led to the sunroom, the clouds began to abate. A hint of a sunset poked through in places and dazzled the raindrops gliding over the glass facade that faced the lush astroturf yard beyond.

"Juri!"

July rolled an old woman toward him in a wicker wheelchair, her once dark curls now a saturated salt and pepper that hung well to her waist in a long thick braid.

"Hey Boss," Juri encompassed his former employer in a tight squeeze.

As he straightened, he glanced around the room of familiar faces. The absence of Cash's scent of tobacco and leather was palpable.

"Boy, it sure feels empty without her, huh?" He observed.

Gideon let out a sound that was half laugh half cry from her place on one of the many chairs, her small furred body shaking until Asimov placed a comforting hand upon her shoulder.

"She wouldn't want us to be so gloomy," Boss said, folding her hands carefully in her lap over a quilt that covered her knees, blinking back tears from already red-rimmed eyes.

"You're right about that," July said with a sincere if slightly wilted smile.

"Well then," said Csy, striding toward the liquor resting on a lazy-susan in the middle of the table. "Let's celebrate the way she would have wanted, eh?"

The therian was the only sentient in the room who hadn't aged a day, their visage still as crisp as ever. They were dressed as an androgynous human. Tight purple finger curls had been carefully arranged over their head, and a loose jumper of pure white satin rippled as they poured out generous fingers of moonshine. Two glasses short.

"I wish Tate were here," Gideon hiccuped after they had all lifted their glasses in a toast and solemnly swallowed the burning booze.

Every head in the room nodded in agreement, even Asimov's face turned down in a frown.

"He would say something like, 'Cash not gone, Cash here'," said July, placing a hand over his heart doing a poor impression of the former jontar.

"And I call myself an actor," teased Csy.

"I thought you were a director," Gideon said slyly, and the therian rolled their eyes.

Boss laughed. "So Juri, how is the new bourbon line fairing?" she asked.

"Mother," July chided. "Business? Now?"

Boss flicked the comment away with one hand. "Cash would ask the same thing if it were me in the grave."

July considered this and then nodded in agreement, taking a long drink of the liquor in his hand.

"It's doing well. If interest keeps steady, I might try my hand at gin."

"Ambitious," said Boss with an appreciative tip of her head.

"Once I opened up the contracts outside of Sweetwater business boomed," Juri pointed out. "The reputation Dead Ridge Moonshine made at the casino had quite an impact."

Boss smiled in satisfaction.

"Csy, I saw that your production of Tartuffe made headlines," Juri shifted the focus of the conversation on to someone who appreciated the attention.

Csy sank dramatically into a chair, crossing their legs and swirling their glass. "Yes, I've had to extend the run by several performances."

"I'm surprised you stepped back to direct," Juri pointed out.

"I'm tired of the limelight," Csy sighed.

Asimov snorted into his glass.

The therian leaned forward and slapped their cyborg partner across the thigh.

"Csy pays their cast and crew a living wage," Gideon added excitedly. "That brings the best and the brightest to their theater."

Csy leaned their head to one side and blinked appreciatively at the vox with a warm smile.

"If you want to be the best, you have to be the best," Csy said primly. "My program is rigorous, I don't need my performers stretched thin between multiple shows and jobs."

"And what about you two?" Juri gestured with his glass toward the vox and cyborg.

"Messier-2 just awarded us with the ribbon of scientific progress," said Asimov, without any inflection, his feelings on the matter completely unreadable.

"The cyborgs there were very grateful that we made our improved IOS free," Gideon added with a beaming smile. She named off a number of other awards the pair had earned for their scientific achievements and philanthropy.

"July, you running Sweetwater yet?" Juri asked with a grin as Gideon finally ended her ramble.

July smirked. "Naw, but Mom is starting to slowly hand over the reins, aren't you?" He glanced down at Boss, who tossed her braid over one shoulder.

"You in a rush for me to die too?" she snipped.

"Of course not." July leaned down and kissed his mother on her wrinkled cheek.

Juri studied the young man for a moment. He had his mother's features, but something in the way that he carried himself, the tick of his lips into a crooked smile, these mannerisms he had garnered from Cash.

There was a long pregnant pause in the conversation as everyone gathered stared into the bottom of their empty glasses. Csy waltzed back to their feet and poured another round of moonshine.

"I just can't believe she's gone," Gideon murmured. "She seemed larger than life."

"She was," Boss said softly.

"What were her last words?" Juri asked, his throat choking slightly on both emotion and booze.

"Asking for a cigar she never got the chance to smoke," said Boss with a laugh that brought more tears to her eyes.

Csy poured their refill last and lifted it in the air.

"To Cash," they said with dramatic fervor.

"To Cash," came the chorus of voices, the moonshine in their glasses glistening in the setting sun.

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