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Rated: ASR · Short Story · Sci-fi · #2258558
Jesse Forster stopped in at the bar for some information. What he got was a new ally.
The following story takes place approximately eighteen months before the events in Book I of The Starhawk Chronicles.

Half an hour late. I swear if Nichols wasn't the best informant around, I'd stop paying her. Jesse Forster grumbled to himself, checking his watch for the fifth time in as many minutes. Raising his glass, he downed the last of the whiskey he had been nursing since he arrived an hour before, and scanned the bars patrons again, for lack of anything better to do.

The bar, a location chosen by Nichols for their meeting, was surprisingly upscale, especially for a spaceport with the not-so-affectionate nickname "Rotgut Station". It was fairly clean, fairly well lit, and the drinks were not as watered down as one might expect. It was also surprisingly quiet for this time of night, with no more than a dozen or so patrons milling about or seated at scattered tables.

From his table near the bar, Jesse had a good view of the doorway so he could watch for Nichols. If she ever gets here. Just then, the door opened, and he sat up a little straighter, but the informant was not among the group entering. Disappointed, he slouched back into his seat, resting his hands on the butts of the twin Colt Seventy-Seven laser pistols on his hips.

Though not who he was waiting for, the newcomers did stir enough interest for him to keep watch on them. There were three, ranging in age from early twenties to about twice that. They looked a little rougher around the edges than the rest of the clientele, and from the raucous way they were carrying on, Jesse knew this was not the first watering hole they had visited this evening. All were human.

A curious thought occurred to him at that moment, and he made another survey of the crowd. Not a non-human among them. Pretty unusual for this side of space.

The newcomers let out another burst of garish laughter as they took a seat a few tables away. They paid Jesse no mind, but something about them told him he should be on his guard. As inconspicuously as he could, he reached under the table and undid the snaps securing his weapons in their holsters. That done, he settled back slightly.

The door opened, but again it was not Nichols. Like the previous three newcomers, this one made him take notice. Wow, a Vor'na'cik. Don't see too many of them around anymore.

The alien stood in the doorway a moment before slowly making his way towards the bar. It was then that Jesse came to realize that he never actually had seen one of these beings up close before.

So tall that it had to duck to avoid the low-hanging chandeliers, the green-skinned Vor'na'cik moved among the tables with surprising grace for being of its size. Its armored scales and piggish face with oversized ears made it about as alien-looking as they come. It glanced at Jesse as it passed–Jesse assumed it was male—but the look was one of mere observance, nothing more. There was nothing about its demeanor that suggested hostility of any sort, so Jesse relaxed once more.

The rowdies, on the other hand, had stopped their carousing to watch as the being made its way through the bar, and their conversation became hushed. They rose and began passing through the tables making for the bar as well. Spreading out a few meters apart, they formed a shrinking semi-circle around the bar and the newcomer.

The Vor'na'cik seemed oblivious to their approach, reaching the bar and gesturing to a bottle on the back shelf. It took several attempts before the bartender caught on to what it wanted, finally pouring a large glass of ale from a green decanter. That's right. Vor'na'cik are bound by their religion not to speak to anyone not of their race, Jesse recalled. Must be good at charades.

The three rowdies moved in closer. When they had the being pretty much encircled, the youngest, a short punk with tattoos across half of his face said, loud enough for the entire establishment to hear, "Hey Greenie, they don't serve your kind here."

To its credit, the Vor'na'cik casually finished its drink, gesturing to the bartender–who was looking more nervous with each passing second–for another shot. It then slowly turned to face the young loudmouth, the expression on its face saying, Are you talking to me?

"That's right. You. We don't want your kind in here."

Jesse listened to the decidedly one-sided exchange while glancing into his glass. Time for a refill. With practiced leisure, he rose and sidled up to the bar, passing through the ring of taunters. His actions drew a glare from the one standing to the Vor'na'cik's immediate left, a bald, heavyweight plug-ugly with a broken nose skewed to one side of his face. This one spoke up as Jesse gestured to the now visibly sweating barman.

"You alien slime think you can just walk in here and get what you want? We know all about your kind. Vor'na'cik drifter. Worst kind of space trash." He spat on the floor for emphasis.

Hearing this, Jesse let out a soft chuckle. but kept his gaze on the mirror behind the bar. Ugly glared at him again. "Something strike you as funny?"

"Seems like the only space trash in here is doing all the talking."

The air around the bar took on a distinct chill as Jesse's words silenced the trio. The bartender took several cautious steps away, looking ready to bolt at any second. Jesse took another sip from his glass.

"You keep your trap shut, or we'll deal with you next, boy," Ugly growled after regaining his voice.

Now Jesse turned, slowly. Instead of looking at his accuser, he looked to the Vor'na'cik. "Did he just call me boy?"

The alien gave a slow nod of affirmation.

Jesse moved to stand toe to toe with the grotesque one. This close, he could smell the alcohol oozing from the man's every pore. Jesse narrowed his gaze, repeating his question. "Did you just call me boy?"

Ugly glowered. "This isn't your fight."

"It's not a fight. Yet."

A hesitation before the man spoke. "We don't want his kind in here."

"Last time I checked, it was a free galaxy. There are no signs by the door stating humans only. Therefore, I suggest you let this gentleman alone and go back to your table and drinks, or do you want this to become a bigger problem than it ought to be?"

Ugly took a step back, still trying to look defiant. He was now standing directly in front of the Vor'na'cik. Jesse's gaze shifted to the alien.

It was the slightest indication–the Vor'na'cik met Jesse's gaze, glanced up to look past him over his shoulder, then met his gaze again with the barest hint of a nod – but it was all the sign that Jesse needed. His hands darted to his sidearms. Without looking behind him, one arm swung back and fired, the sound of a stun blast echoing through the room. In the same moment, the other Colt materialized under the grotesque one's broken nose, before the body of the tattooed one had finished hitting the floor, the knife he had raised over his head clattering from his hand.

Jesse shoved the weapon even harder against the man's face. "I came in here for a quiet drink, and something tells me this big guy here did too. So why don't you pick up your friend over there, pack up your misplaced bigotry, and get the hell out of my sight?"

Ugly took another step back; gesturing for the other man he was with to help Tattoo Boy. Without a word, the man went to retrieve his comrade. Jesse noted with some satisfaction that this guy had gone pale, and seemed to have wet himself as well.

Ugly backed away slowly, some of the haughtiness returning to his eyes the further away he got. "You'll regret this," he grumbled. "We have friends. You'll regret this." Then they were gone.

Jesse did a quick scan of the room. Everyone else had become very interested in their own drinks. The only one looking at him was the Vor'na'cik, which had a distinctly pleased look on its face. Holstering the Colts, Jesse gestured to the barman for another round for the two of them.

"Sorry about the unpleasantness," he said as they raised their glasses in a silent toast. "Name's Jesse Forster, captain of the Starhawk. My crew and I are bounty hunters. Been looking for a few extra crewmen. You maybe interested?"

The Vor'na'cik canted its head as it considered the proposition, then its head bobbed to and fro as though saying I'm willing to listen.

Jesse finished his drink, as did the alien. "Take a walk with me. I'll fill you in."

* * *

"So I can't promise you much," Jesse was telling his new friend as they walked the deserted streets in the early morning gloom. "The jobs pay well when we cash in, but we sometimes go weeks before we make a collar. But you'll have a decent bunk and get to see the galaxy, if that's what you're looking for."

He looked up at the Vor'na'cik, who no longer seemed to be listening. It gave a soft grunt; the first vocalization it had made since Jesse first spotted him. Following his line of sight, Jesse spotted the crowd at the end of the street, slowly approaching. As they drew nearer, he recognized the three rowdies from the bar, accompanied by a dozen others. "Oh, this could get unpleasant real quick."

"Well, well. Look at what we have here," Plug Ugly crowed, gesturing to the crowd around him. One side of his lip turned up in a cocksure sneer. "I told you we have friends."

Jesse looked up to see that the Vor'na'cik was smiling. Jesse smiled back. "Right," he said, turning back to the gang. "Let's get this over with."

* * *

Dozing in one of the control seats on the bridge of the Starhawk, K'Tran Pasker was startled to full consciousness by the sound of the bridge hatch sliding open. "Nichols called in a little while ago," he said as he spun his chair to face the entrance, knowing his captain had returned. "She said she had to skip the rendezvous. Something about trouble at the..."

The rest of the sentence hung on his lips. He was not sure what startled him most, the sight of his captain, bloody, bruised, with one eye swollen shut and his clothes torn, or the hulk that stood in the hatch behind him, equally bruised, one massive hand helping to keep Jesse on his feet. "Trouble at the bar?" K'Tran finally squeaked out.

"No more than usual. Quiet night actually," Jesse replied. He gestured over his shoulder. "This is Morogo. He's signing on with us. He's pretty good in a fight."

K'Tran was still incredulous. He walked over to get a better look at Jesse, shaking his head. "Lohren's going to have a fit when she sees you like this." He moved in closer, putting an arm around Jesse's shoulder and lead him away from the Vor'na'cik. He spoke next in a conspiratorial whisper. "What exactly happened tonight?"

"It's...complicated," Jesse replied. A snort of laughter escaped him, and was echoed by Morogo.

K'Tran gestured at the newcomer. "That's a Vor'na'cik, right?"

"Appears to be."

"Aren't they forbidden to speak to others not of their race?"

"So I've heard."

"So then how do you even know anything about him?"

"I don't. Yet."

K'Tran could feel his blood pressure rising. He hated when Jesse got cryptic like this. "So how do you know his name?"

"He told me." Jesse straightened with a grunt of pain, turning back the way he had come in. "I'm going to go clean up before Lohren sees me. You two get acquainted. I'll be back."

The bridge hatch closed behind him, leaving K'Tran alone with the new crewmember. Morogo smiled down at him, revealing rows of needle-sharp teeth.

Good Lord, K'Tran thought. I think he wants to eat me.

Thanks for reading!

My novels, The Starhawk Chronicles and The Starhawk Chronicles: Rest and Wreck-reation are available through Amazon.com.

Visit my Amazon author page at https://www.amazon.com/Joseph-Madden/e/B00EO95A4O


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