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Hardcore

By Alice C. Aldridge
Page 2 of 27


Travis felt the hackles rise on the back of his neck at Chandra's aggressive response, somewhat surprised at the two women's fierce reaction to the Scanthi's ploy.   Most females didn't have that testosterone fueled instinct for violence.  Of course, they were still outnumbered and possibly outgunned, so though he wasn't anyone's idea of "knight in shining armor", Travis still felt an obligation to come to the aid of another free trader. Even one who wasn't part of the Enclave.

Pushing out of his chair, he took two long strides into the middle of the brawl and snatched up the gurgling slaver by the throat with his cyberhand and hurled him across the table.  The second bodyguard had pulled out a wicked-looking scimitar and was slashing at the burqua-clad individual as she tried to evade his reach with stumbling haste.

Meanwhile, the first bodyguard, bloodied and momentarily stunned by the chair Chandra had broken over his head, shook off the effects of that blow and charged the pilot like a maddened bull.  She tried to dodge out of his way while smashing him again with the broken leg that was all that remained of the chair, but he was surprisingly quick despite his bulk.  Snaring her by the waist, he enveloped her in a smothering hold, determined to crush her ribs.

Turning away from the blubbering slaver, Travis quickly recognized the pilot's danger.  Lunging across the room like a panther, he delivered an open-handed blow to the back of the bodyguard's neck with just enough force to paralyze his arms, but not break his neck.

Breaking loose from his bearlike grip, Chandra attempted to tackle the bodyguard with the scimitar who had cornered her companion and was about to rip through her voluminous robes with the tip of his blade.  He slapped her aside but before he could use his blade, Travis delivered a straight arm blow with his cyberfist that smashed the guard's jaw askew and sent him crashing onto a table that collapsed under his weight.

There was a brief shocked silence, then Travis strode over to where the slaver was trying to crawl out of the Redoubt's door without being spotted.  Dragging the quivering mass of flesh upright, he snarled, "Empty your pockets now . . . or do I have to turn you upside down and shake?"

The Scanthi whimpered, "I meant no harm . . . just expressing my admiration . . . for their beauty.  Females are so touchy nowadays. You can't even compliment them anymore, without being insulted and abused."

"Save it for someone who cares, flesh peddler.  Just hand over your purse . . . and those earrings too."

The Scanthi hastily pulled out a money pouch and tossed it on the table where it spilled out a small pile of silver along with one or two brass pieces.  Then fumbling at his earlobes, he added their shimmering color to the pot as well.

"Now, get these two goons on their feet and out of here, before I lose my patience and hang your sorry arses up for sale at the local meat market."

The Scanthi waddled between his two bodyguards, kicking and cursing until they finally lurched to their feet.  After much muttering and complaining, the threesome wobbled out the door, the guards leaning on each other for support.

Travis turned back to Chandra, ready to gallantly shrug off her gratitude and admiration, only to be surprised by a ringing blow to the head.  He clutched his bruised cheek and stared at her in disbelief, "Wot' th' hell . . ."

<>"If I'd wanted your help, One-Eye, I'd have sent up a flare. The Captain of the Sabre is able to protect herself . . . and her passenger."

"Pip, pip for the Captain of the Sabre," he sneered in a disgusted tone as he headed for the door, only to find Cub-Killer and his nasty three-pronged weapon blocking his way.

"Tables three broken are, chairs two smashed, assorted glasswares, bottles of fine whiskey and other high-priced potables are on floor dripping and not insides filling of customers paying," the Kyrenian snarled, his scarred lip showing one of an intimidating set of fangs.

"The hell you say," Travis exploded.  "If there's any 'fine whiskey or other high-priced potables' on those shelves, I'll drink them myself."  He reached inside his jacket and pulled out the cash that the slaver had reluctantly deposited on the table. "That should cover my share of the damages.  Try squeezing the rest out of that hard-assed Captain of the Sabre."

Cub-Killer tucked the coins into a pouch he had slung around his middle then motioned for Travis to join him at the bar. Tucking the nasty looking triple-pronged weapon away, he gave a half-hearted hiss, "No more true claws have I, only man-made claws to depend on."

Travis arched a rueful brow, "They seem to get the job done."

Cub-Killer spat to one side in contempt, before reaching down and pulling a dusty looking bottle from under the bar.

"Not fine whiskey is, but better than slop you drinking have been." He curled his upper lip in mock disgust, "Vitazade fit for unweaned cubs only is, not tough fighter who all alone two slaver bodyguards made short work of."

Travis took a cautious sip of the proffered drink, rolling it around in his mouth slowly. Cub-Killer was right. It definitely wasn't fine whiskey, but far better than the slop he'd been tossing down.  With more of a kick too.  He'd have to watch himself and not let anything slip.  Bartenders were very good at uncovering their customers' deepest secrets then selling the information to the highest bidder.  Travis intended to make sure he was on the receiving rather than the disbursement end of any information exchange.

"Not that big a deal anyway, seeing how the 'Captain of the Sabre' and her mysterious passenger did their bit."

<>"Good fighters they were . . . for females."

"I've seen better," Travis muttered, taking another small sip of his drink while he got a long sidelong view of the barkeep, looking beyond the ragged ears and scarred features.  The faded areas on his broad forehead resembled certain Kyrenian high clan markings, along with what appeared to be healed over scars from chieftain's rings at the base of his ears.

Cub-Killer paused for a moment, then poured himself a small jot from the dust-covered bottle before putting it back under the bar.  He took a sip and gusted out a slow breath, "High class whiskey it may not be, but good enough for pain-killer, yes."

He wasn't as familiar with house colors as Jenna was and knew little Kyrenian history except the sagas that Phrath sometimes recited on long nightwatches.  But there was one name repeated often, though whether as hero or villain depended on Phrath's mood when telling the tale.

Travis rolled the class between his hands, staring into its depths, wondering whether he should speak up or not. Whether the barkeep truly wanted his past forgotten or if he still hungered for the dregs of recognition that could come from mention of those old stories.  He took a deep breath and gusted it out again.  It was a gamble either way, but he desperately needed the information that Cub-Killer supposedly had.  Might as well throw the dice and see what came up.

He took a final gulp of the drink then looked into the bartender's emerald eye.

"I imagine that the battle scars of Cort Deadlyclaw of Nightsinger Clan would be painful indeed."

Cub-Killer froze and then tossed down his drink saying in a harsh rasping voice, "No legend here lives.  Hero dead now, shamed now.  Cub-Killer they branded me, Cub-Killer all that remains."

Travis stared into his glass for a long moment, fighting down his misgivings before he continued in a low bitter voice, "I knew a man once, branded a killer, a butcher - the Butcher of Zircaster- when he was just a soldier following orders.  Names like that
. . . they're what you did, not who you are."

There was another long period of silence and Cub-Killer got the dust-covered bottle out again to pour another round, but Travis covered his glass.

"No more for me.  It's been a long night."

"Information sniffing you are, One-Eye.  Seeking what, at this end of docks?"

Travis hesitated for a long moment, knowing that he was putting not only his life on the line, but possibly Jason and Mikhail's as well.  Still, sometimes all you could go on was instinct.

"Information about one of Lucan's 'guests', a Free Trader spacer -- Jason Stannis."

Cub-Killer gave him a scornful, almost pitying look, " No further should you look, One-Eye.  Better odds of escaping black hole have Lucan's 'guests', than the depths of Malbolgia cellblock."

The Kyrenian began polishing his bar industriously, ignoring Travis as though he was no longer there.


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