Just in after a trip to the Lieban system, a round trip of a couple standard years, Captain Ystem Aver, a large, broad-shouldered, barrel-chested Celian stepped out of the hover cab and eyed Beckin Pub, his favorite watering hole on Celi.
The street’s lights and multi-colored digital animations glittered in the evening rain’s fallen droplets giving the pub a more cheerful air than usual. Boisterous men and their women strolled; some ducking into a nightclub a few doors away, others into a nearby restaurant. Security robos, marked with the Herrigton Defense Systems logo, mingled amongst the crowds, their very presence reminding the group that this neighborhood, on the edge of family controlled lands, was enforced neutral territory.
Ystem’s sea-blue eyes framed with his tribe’s black tattoo eyeliner under short, purple tinted, curling black hair scoured the vicinity for unfriendly faces or signs of trouble. Ystem’s close protection man, Rissean, a full-blooded Ephonian, covered with white fur, stepped out beside him and the two men strode toward Beckin Pub.
Ystem wore a white silk shirt, open at the neck, with billowing, full sleeves ending in wide, close fitting cuffs. His black leather belt was fastened with a silver belt buckle in a design reminiscent of Earth’s Celtic style. On his belt was clipped his Kaildescope, a standard fixture for starship Captains, and on his shirt was pinned the Celian Eagle, Celi’s highest rank given to civilian flyers. His wide leg pants were stuffed into knee high, black leather boots, each decorated with silver buttons up the side.
Some, perhaps the envious or the judgmental, called him “Pirate,” but he was no pirate, though he dealt in transporting exotic, hazardous and secret cargoes. Ystem had created for himself a specialized niche in the Merchant Trades and filled that niche to perfection, though occasionally he did walk the razor edge of legality. It was a necessity of the business he’d chosen for himself and the way he preferred it. “No-thing like danger, always in the offing, to bring a man to life,” was Ystem’s motto.
Stepping from the night into the dimly lit pub, Ystem paused at the doorway and scanned the room. Bekin Pub was also situated on the edge of a large shipping district and was frequented by space fliers of all types. It was a place ship captains could come to meet clients, a place where deals between opposing groups could be made, and a place where a man could relax.
Ystem’s burly bodyguard peered over his shoulder, the laser pistol he always carried loose in the holster hanging from his wide leather belt that cinched loose fitting, black silk pants tucked into his brown calf-high boots to his muscular waist. Ystem moved to the side and allowed Rissean to enter. Both men lingered at the doorway a moment more before finding seats in a booth behind an exotic, orange tinted Ephonian lady glowing under the lamp hanging over her table.
The lady, wearing worn, but well-fitting denim jacket and pants, was of course, only part Ephonian, the rest being Areban as revealed by her pale orange hue. Ystem admired her lustrous hair that began on her cheekbones and swept back from her forehead in undulating waves. Eeee, she be a fine one, Ystem thought with pleasure. What passed between ‘er parents possessing ‘em to meld I wonder? Hot and cold borne into one luscious beauty! Eeee…. Ystem adjusted his position in the bench seat.
Arebans as a group, never serious about finding a planet to call their own, still resided on Lieba, the home planet of all Marsupian races. They were the hot-blooded, orange race, most with darker hued burnt-orange or burnt sienna hair, living in the semi-arid lands of Lieba. Ephonians, the white and blonde furred race with blue or green eyes preferred to keep to themselves, by nature unwilling to associate with the more gregarious races—such as the Arebans. Moving away to another planet had only aggravated those tendencies. Yet, here was an example of a union of opposites, the glowing lady under the light.
Rissean fleeing trouble, had found Ystem unloading cargo at the Ephonian Space Port and asked for a job. He’d persisted for weeks while Ystem’s cargo was completely emptied and a new one loaded. He visited the dock every day, every hour, it had seemed to Ystem, until he had worn down the Captain and achieved his objective. Lacking anything better for him to do, Ystem had hired him as Bodyguard based on his assertion he’d been thoroughly trained in the Warrior/Poet Way. Adepts of the Ephonian Warrior/Poet Way had no rivals. Wise choice that were, aye, it were, Ystem thought again conveniently forgetting it had been his crew who’d advised him he needed a bodyguard to start with.
The lady laughed, a delightful sound that snapped him back to the present and quickened Ystem’s previously still heart. That be a new sensation, he decided with a little astonishment. Her voice seemed to crawl under his skin and release some peculiar infection infusing him with a single objective, Ah, to be with the lady…
Despite his better judgment, Ystem plied the waitress with a few credits to learn the lady’s name.
“That’s Simona Avaz, Gand Tren’s ex-wife,” the woman whispered, and signed into his hand, “(You’d better not mess with her—the rumor says she’s under Eustace Mentone’s protection.)” Waitress nodded to Ystem, then turned and walked away, her full skirt swishing.
Ystem backed into the corner of the booth improving his view of the bar and his ability to eavesdrop on the Lady. Rissean, already backed into his corner, his head touching the wall in apparent ease, studied the scene carefully. He adjusted his holster freeing the weapon from the confines of the seat back and allowed his eyes to partly close.
His boss smiled, knowing it was a ploy. Any enemy might think Rissean was relaxed, but the truth was, he was now more dangerous than ever. Numerous loud conversations dominated the mid-level background music. Smoke wafted in the upper regions of the atmosphere and chairs scrapped the wooden floor.
“Shame there be no band a-playing this evening,” Ystem commented to Rissean.
Rissean’s response consisted of opening one eye to avoid being rude to his Captain.
Hearing only snatches of conversation from the nearby table was too much for Ystem, when Waitress brought coasters and fresh snacks, he loosed a snooper robo. The thing whizzed around the edge of the bench seat and stopped under the Ephonian lady’s table. Next, he touched the ear hidden in the shadows near the wall, pretending to scratch it as he placed a receiver. Now he could hear everything.
Simona laughed, a bright laugh like sun on the melt. “…. Really? What could I possibly know that would interest him?” Ystem couldn’t see her hands, hidden on the other side of her body. Unconsciously he adjusted his position, producing a slightly better view of the table where Simona sat.
“You’ll be well compensated,” the man at Simona’s table said, his thin nose seeming to twitch. The light above the table shown softly down upon the pair.
“You might as well give up,” Simona repeated. Her arms moved, obviously signing.
She be overly polite with the fool, Ystem thought, feeling his dander rise. Unconsciously he growled and crushed a handful of chips.
Rissean’s eyebrow nearest Ystem raised a fraction and that eye focused on his boss for a moment, but his expression didn’t change.
Waitress returned with their drinks and pivoted to leave, but Ystem’s hand stayed her. “(Begging yer indulgence, Miss, would ye please be so kind as to tell me, who be the fool attemptin’ to ply Miss Avaz?) I perceive ‘im a nuisance.”
“(That’s Meetal’s flunky,)” Waitress answered, signing into his hand. Her eyes flicked toward two Celians hidden in the shadows beyond Simona’s table and the across the room in different direction at another couple of observers.
“(And those?)” Ystem asked, his eyebrows rising. “Do the Lady lack an end of admirers?”
“(Bodyguards, two of them—Mentone’s men.)” Waitress signed into his hand. She seemed anxious to leave the scene.
“(And?)” Ystem asked, his eyebrows cocked and his eyes bright with interest.
“(Gand Tren’s men.)” Waitress glared at him and slapped him, yanking her hand free.
Rissean’s laser pistol’s red laser sight shown on her chest. Ystem laughed heartily, “Aye, Miss ye’re a gleg one, yea and so ye be.” Turning to Rissean he signed, “(As ye were, Rissean. It’s a fine distraction, nothing more. Let it pass.)”
Rissean’s eyes, cold as a reptile’s, were once again hooded as he resumed his previous pose. Waitress stalked away.
“…my boss is willing to pay you handsomely, get you off-planet, if that is your wish,” Flunky said quietly. “(Scat says you’ve been trying to get out of this miserable town for quite awhile now.)” Ystem had a clear view of Simona’s companion, the ill-repute Areban.
“Your boss cannot protect me,” Simona answered adding something in sign language. The snooper robo could not help Ystem see what Simona was signing, yet he itched to know, his curiosity burning.
“Rissean, what do ye suppose the lady be signing?” Ystem asked, tugging on Bodyguard’s sleeve.
Rissean frowned. “Does it make any difference?”
Ystem grimaced and returned his attention to the nearby table.
Flunky growled and straightened his posture. “What do you need? We can supply you with a new identity, get you passports and off planet…what more could you desire? (It’s your chance to end this miserable existence.)”
Simona only laughed.
At that moment, Meetal himself, a heavy-weight Celian wearing a single gold earring and a vest over wide-leg pants, stepped through the pub’s entrance, folded his arms across his chest and made his perusal of the contents. After a moment, he lumbered slowly toward Simona’s table, keeping his eyes moving. “Ah, Gerban, how are you? Hello Miss Avaz. (May I join you?)” Meetal’s voice was pitched to reach Simona, but no further.
The pinched looking Areban who’d been pestering Simona leaned back in his seat and toyed with his napkin. He shook his head and folded his arms across his chest. “I’m all right.”
“Mind if I sit?” Meetal asked, taking hold of the chair nearest him.
The Areban shrugged.
Glancing up at Meetal, Simona replied, “You are free to sit where you like.”
“Thank you Miss. (Would you care for a drink? Perhaps one of those icy Ephonian drinks?)” Meetal said genially, rapping his knuckles on the wooden tabletop.
“(No thank you, I still have this.)” Simona signed and then held up the glass of sweating iced tea.
Meetal smirked. “(Not given to imbibing in the spirits?)”
“(One shouldn’t when one is in uncertain company,)” Simona answered, her eyes twinkling, her mouth firm.
Meetal laughed a great, humorless guffaw. “(That’s a good one.)”
Simona’s eyes narrowed imperceptibly. O, Eternal, get me out of this one. You’ve gotten me out of everything else…
“The weather has been a bit dry, don’t you think?” Meetal commented, glancing up at Waitress who had just arrived, “I’ll have a beer.”
“You’re not here to discuss the weather,” Simona said bluntly as Waiter placed her food on the table. “Thank you,” she said glancing up at him.
Waiter smiled and bowed before turning and walking to another table.
“You’re a presumptuous one,” Meetal growled. “(You have no inkling as to my intentions.)”
Simona laughed taking a bite of her food. “(Makes no difference, you’re not here to discuss the weather!) Your man here has already told me what you want.”
Meetal shifted uncomfortably in his seat and glared at Gerban who threw his napkin onto the table, frowning. “And what has “my man” told you? (He’s not authorized to discuss my business.)”
Simona quickly took a bite. “(O really. I suppose that’s why you’ve managed to arrive at just this particular moment?)” With her mouth full she continued, “You want information.” She signed, “(Specifically, you want me to betray Gand Tren.)” She swallowed and took another bite.
Meetal growled and folded his arms across his chest, then freed a hand to sign. “(Naturally I expect you to look after your own best interests, that’s why I’m offering you the help you need to get off planet and into a new life.)”
“(Take a look across the room, east.)” Simona signed again and Meetal glanced in the direction of Gand’s men. “(But even if they weren’t here, that wouldn’t change anything. I’m not afraid of them and I’m not afraid of you—but perhaps you should allow yourself a little caution.)”
“Would you like to go for a walk? (There’s a hopping night club just a few doors down. We could have a good time while we talk a little business,)” Meetal said, then stretched to rest his arm on the back of a nearby empty chair. Apparently he thought this improved his sex appeal given he added a crafty smirk to the pose.
Simona laughed. Try every tactic in rapid succession… “(Night clubs hold no appeal for me,)” she signed. Quickly she consumed the last bite of her food. She edged her chair back a few inches, clearing her knees and turned her cerulean blue eyes on him, making no attempt to mask her amusement. “Why, Meetal, do you think me a fool? (No, I don’t care to join you.)”
Meetal frowned. “I’ve been friendly to you, treated you with respect and this is the way you deal me?” Meetal waved his opened palms in a conciliatory gesture, then pointed at Gerban as he spoke. “My friend here has supplied you with supper, Miss Avaz, I think the least you could do is join us for a stroll. (We’ll go some place with a little more life in it.)”
Simona backed her chair another inch. “As I said before, no thank you. Indeed, expecting me to go with you because this person purchased my meal! I tell you he didn’t, though he tried! (I’ll not go anywhere with you, not in this lifetime.)”
Her voice did not rise one decibel or change in pitch one iota; it didn’t even change in tone. Few of the patrons of the bar seemed any wiser to the rising threat in their surroundings.
Ystem smiled. Ah, a fine woman she be, aye, yea and aye again. Silently his position had shifted and he was prepared to lunge out of the booth and to Simona’s table in a heartbeat.
Rissean’s eyes were focused in his boss’s direction, his position almost imperceptibly improved to leap free of the booth and into action.
Meetal appeared to relax, “In that case, we’ll stay here and order some food ourselves. (Won’t you join us with some dessert?)”
“I think I’ll head home now,” Simona began, poised to rise. Once again, Ystem could not see what she signed.
Meetal leaned close where his voice and signing were more difficult for others to hear and see. “Home to what? That cardboard box? (I’ve seen where you live? It’s worse than a hovel.) You’re a woman of refinement; I don’t understand how you’ve stood it this long! (I’m offering you a better way. Why wouldn’t you want to take it? Tren hasn’t done you any favors—at least not in a long time!)” He laughed at his sexual innuendo.
Simona’s new position allowed Ystem to see her hands. She answered, speaking earnestly. “My home isn’t under that bridge. (You’ve never seen where I live. My body may be here, on this soil, but my heart resides in a different place.) At first I didn’t stand it very well, but I’m not living for comfort or for luxury in this world. (Betraying Gand to you is hardly a better way. He’s trying to get a strangle hold on you, while you have the same objective in reverse. I’ll not be party to it.)” Simona moved, preparing once again to stand.
“Wait,” Meetal said, his body language indicated increasing distress. “(I want to know—how does Gand Tren anticipate my every move!? You’ve got to tell me—he’s muscling in on me, he’s crowding me out. I’m offering you one million credits for information on how Gand is choking me. I’m prepared to pay you whatever you ask—give you everything I own. Just please tell me.)” Simultaneously, he said, “Miss Avaz, I beg you forgive me and my friend if we’ve offended you. I have no intention of harming you—please believe me.”
Simona’s head came up a fraction, her hands moving once again. “(I have nothing against you, but I’m not going to tell you anything more.)”
Ystem applied his considerable willpower to controlling himself. Get yerself up lady and be done with him, dinna be leadin’ ‘im on with talk. To Rissean, Ystem signed, “(Move yerself to the door, we’ll be beginning a fight.)”
Completely implacable Rissean nodded. He got up and headed for the door.
Meetal’s face showed no sign of the anxiety his hands conveyed as he signed. “(I’m desperate. Here I’ll add the keys to my car—it’s parked just outside. If you accept, it can be yours tonight.)”
Simona replied. “Thank you for your gracious invitation, I’m very tired and I’ll be going home now.”
Meetal lunged for Simona, but she was quick, rising to stand and stepping out of his range before his fingers could close on her arm. He roared as he crashed to the floor, the table slipping away at an angle under him and throwing Gerban from his chair. The friendly atmosphere of the pub imploded.
Mentone’s men were ready, but a fleeing customer tripped one. He crashed into the corner of the bar and fell unconscious to the floor. Gerban, only moments earlier seemingly lethargic and disinterested, scrambled to his feet and punched the other Mentone man in the face. He stumbled backward, then regaining his footing, lunged for Gerban.
Meanwhile, Meetal ran after Simona, his longer legs closing the distance quickly. He clasped her arm and dragged her toward the door where suddenly the shirtless Ephonian and the eyeliner tattooed Celian blocked him.
“Ah, I think ye’ll not be going with the lady. (Meetal, man, dinna ye notice? The lady be not willing. And a man do-na take an unwilling lady.) Ye’ll be going alone, if ye be going at all.” The “pirate” menaced, his arms folded across his chest and his legs planted firmly. His Ephonian companion pinned Meetal with the laser sight of his gun, while powering up the charge.
“This is none of your affair!” Meetal shouted. “(Get out of my way Captain Aver.)”
“Ah, but ye haven’t understood me man, the lady be not willing and I do-na take to men harming ladies or dragging ‘em off when they be not willing.” Ystem leaned toward Meetal, his voice at once menacing and genial.
Desperately, Meetal rushed the “pirate,” pushing Simona like a shield with one arm and his knife flashing out in the other hand, but he fell to the floor screaming in pain in the next instant, the scent of burning flesh stinking the air.
The pub already ripe with agitation, exploded into a brawl, complete with broken chairs and flying glass. In the next instant, the pub’s security robo was on the scene subduing perpetrators with swift electric shocks as police sirens shredded the air.
Gand’s two men waited silently, hardly moving except to sip their beers while the scene unfolded.
“Captain Aver, I have to take you in for questioning,” the Capital Police Sergeant said as he handcuffed the larger Celian.
“Ah, Bosa, ye know I dinna do anything,” Ystem protested.
“Makes no matter, Ystem, you were in a fight—a man’s been injured, another possibly dead…I have to take you in. (You know how it is.)” Sergeant Bosa shrugged as he answered. He glanced at the exotic half-Areban, half-Ephonian female his associate was leading to the wagon. “You know her?” Bosa gestured in Simona’s direction.
“Man, if I did, dinna ye think I be keeping ‘er out o’ a place like this?” Ystem’s hands, frustrated in the cuffs twitched. He growled.
Sergeant Bosa smiled. “Ah, Ystem, ye never coulda keep yerself from protecting the ladies—even from their lovely selves if need be.” Bosa patted the Captain on the arm, seemingly unaware he’d unconsciously slipped into the same dialect. Ystem could speak the “high” Celian, now known as the universal language of the Federated Planets, but he invariably chose to use the “low” Celian language he was born to.
Rissean silently submitted to Bosa and was led away, apparently tame.
Meetal was loaded on a hover gurney and transported to the hospital where surgeons would work through the night to repair his cooked arm. The man who’d struck his head on the corner of the bar was dead. The other of Mentone’s men, along with a handful of pub patrons who had been unable to resist the temptation of a good fistfight, were also being taken in for questioning. Those who’d stayed well back would be questioned on site and allowed to go home.
Police Sergeant Hagin Bosa reluctantly allowed the two Tren men leave. They had done nothing, but if luck had played in their favor, they would have. He watched them walk down the darkened street toward their hover car knowing they were returning to roost to report the night’s events.
Once the hover car lifted into the air and passed overhead, Bosa turned his attention to the odd assortment he’d collected—the most fascinating being the woman, Simona Avaz. He started his motor and fell in behind the van hauling the prisoners.
Tren’s men landed their hover car on the roof of the Tren Brothers’ Headquarters. They entered the key code on the computer pad at the roof top entrance, a rectangular box shape sticking up into the sky. They palmed the lock and entered, the box immediately lowering and the roof closing above them.
Gand was waiting in his secretary’s office, lounging on the divan, watching the small holo unit she kept on the accessory table. The men exited the elevator and strolled toward their boss.
“Well?” Gand asked, turning down the sound.
“Mentone’s men were there—watching. (And Meetal showed up, just like you said…)”
“Yes, they were there, but Captain Ystem Aver and his Ephonian “attachment” walked in and monkeened it all up. (Meetal is an idiot, boss, no style…)”
Gand frowned at the second speaker. “(Assessments of persons’ intelligence is not your job, Weekle.) What happened next?”
The first speaker ventured to answer. “Our snooper robo was hovering above the table in the shadow of the light fixture. (She refused to tell him a thing, Boss! Why Boss, she refused him right down the line!)”
Gand nodded, careful to keep his expression neutral. He quenched the pride that attempted to flare in his grief-swamped heart. “Good. (So, no action required…)”
“Yes. (Exactly,)” Weekle replied. “We just sat back and watched the show.”
First Speaker picked up the story line. “Meetal was desperate Boss, you’ve got him squeezed good! (He tried to capture her, but at first she was too quick for him.) He ran after her and had his hands on her when Aver and his Ephonian attachment lifted their bulk into the picture.”
“Yes, he literally begged her, he promised her anything she wanted. (She turned it all down.)” Weekle swung his hand downward emphasizing his point. “When she got up to leave, Meetal lunged for her. (He finally caught her near the door. He’s a quick one, but if her legs had been as long he wouldn’t ‘a caught her.)”
Gand chuckled. “There was a fight?”
“O, yes, an entertainment,” First Speaker said, smiling. “(Meetal lost part of his arm to the Ephonian’s laser.)”
“(A hunk of meat lying on the floor…,)” Weekle added.
“Then the security robos showed up and finally the police…” Gand finished.
“Exactly,” both men answered at once.
“Very well men, that’s what I wanted to know,” Gand said getting to his feet. “(Why don’t you gentlemen head home.)”
“Good night sir.” The men said, saluted and disappeared into the elevator.