“Hey, Vince, whatcha doin’ tonight?” Bobby asked when I answered the comm.
Those words usually mean one of two things: either Bobby’s got an idea that could get us both killed if we weren’t the exemplary specimens of warriors that we are, or Karen’s pissed at him and he needs a sympathetic ear – why he thinks I’ll be that, I’ll never understand. Hell, if I was Karen I would’ve kicked him out years ago. He’s my best friend and always will be, but I can’t understand how any otherwise sane person could stand living with him.
Anyway, I answered with a shrug. I’ve never been one for planning ahead.
“I heard about this great new bar down in Lannik and was thinking we could go try it out.”
I looked at him like he was crazy. “Bobby, I know you’ve suffered a few head injuries in your life, but, damn dude, I didn’t think any of them were that bad. You own a bar, dumbass.”
“Not one like this I don’t. This place has gambling and dancers. Not just kista . . . real gambling. C’mon, you know you want to go. The Sword and Scroll’s fine, but it’s a respectable place.”
He said “respectable” like it was something you’d scrape off your shoe. He was apparently in one of those moods. Now, being someone with a brain and having seen the inside of more jail cells in my life because of Bobby’s ideas than in twenty years as a Dagger, I should have said no.
I knew this, but I thought about it anyway. I didn’t have anything to do. Kanji and the kids were going to a play I’d already seen and hadn’t liked enough to see again, and Walter was studying for an important exam. But, on the other hand . . .
“Remember what happened last time?”
“Don’t worry. Damn, you’re starting to remind me of Vik lately . . .”
I cut him off. That was the magic phrase. Don’t get me wrong, I love my brother. But he’s been a boring old man for . . . hell, decades. Since before his hair started going gray, that’s for sure. “I’ll go. Gimme a few to get ready.”
I scrubbed the paint off my hands, put on my best old jeans, and added my Dethi holdout blaster to the guns I was already carrying – my antique Colt and a cool looking pistol I’d liberated from someone in the Vorton Galaxy ages ago who no longer had use for it, if you care – and headed to Bobby’s.
Bobby was waiting on his porch looking impatient. I took a second to study him, wishing for, I dunno, maybe the ten thousandth time, that he was interested in men. He was wearing a plain black t-shirt that was tight enough to show off his muscles and a pair of jeans that hugged his ass perfectly. That plus his cocky grin and disheveled hair – I began to understand why Karen kept him around.
“You gonna stand there drooling all night or can we go?” he asked. I made a rude gesture and went to his speeder.
When I got my first glimpse of the bar, I began to regret having gone along. It looked like a slightly more up-scale version of the typical cheap starport town bar. Really slightly. And the clientele . . . let me put it this way, compared to them, I look like as much of a dandy as Vik.
I was about to ask Bobby if he was sure he wanted to go in when I noticed that he had a huge smile. “C’mon,” he said. “Quit standing there like an idiot. Let’s get inside and have fun.”
I sighed softly, said a quick prayer, and checked the charge on my blaster. I had a suspicion, born from a long friendship with the lunatic walking beside me, that I’d need it before the night was over.
The night started off well enough. I mean, the beer was godawful, the gambling was so obviously rigged that you would’ve had to be a moron to have played, and the dancers weren’t that good (but they were sexy, which I guess makes up for a lack of talent to some people), but I wasn’t expecting different. Bobby seemed determined to relive the sort of youthful stupidity that I’d outgrown sometime in my twenties, so I appointed myself the Responsible Adult and didn’t drink much and tried to keep Dumbass out of trouble.
Somehow I got talked into joining him and some other guys for a game of hanjar. A few rounds in, it became clear that one of the other dudes was cheating. I, not really wanting to start shit, kept my mouth shut. Bobby, however . . .
“You cheating bastard!” he yelled at the guy, jumping to his feet and decking him. Even drunk, Bobby’s fast. The crack of his fist across the hurnith’s face was immediately followed by the sound of about one hundred people – damned near everyone in the place – pulling a weapon. Including me. This, as surprising as this may be, was not the first time Dumbass had gotten us into a situation like this. Though this was the most people we’d ever had pointing weapons at us.
Several fired at once. Again including me. Bobby, due no doubt to some sort of mystical ninja shit, was able to avoid getting shot despite being really fucking close to three of the guys shooting. I avoided it just by being motherfucking lucky. I tossed him my holdout blaster, while yelling “I ain’t fighting my way out of here alone!”
I should’ve known better than to think he’d be much help. Hell, sober he ain’t much of a shot, only being as good as Special Forces requires. I was shooting as few of them as I could while I slowly worked my way to the door. I really didn’t want to go to jail. But, I really don’t like getting shot at. And if anybody’s going to kill Bobby, it’s gonna be me. It’s my right. I’ve been his best friend for over thirty years, after all.
By the time we got close to the door, we’d gotten it down to about eighty of them versus us, and had managed to avoid more than getting grazed a couple of times ourselves. But, of course we couldn’t get out that easily.
A voice I recognized from my time in the Daggers spoke up from the doorway. “Well, isn’t this a pleasant surprise.”
All the color drained from Bobby’s face. “Fuck,” he said, very quietly.
“Drop your weapons, boys. All of you!” she snapped. I dropped the one in my hand, but left my Colt at my hip. I wanted to shoot her, but shooting the second most powerful person in the Anerix government sounded like a very good way to make my life much shorter and a lot less pleasant. “Why, Taverlot Kavaliro . . . oh, wait, it’s Tafinith Thase these days, isn’t it? How lovely to see you again.” Her grey eyes were sparkling and she had an evil smile as she looked at Bobby.
“Hi, Damera. Should’ve known this place was yours. It reminds me of you: shitty booze, rigged games, and vrisks who don’t know what size clothing they should wear.” Bobby’s got balls, he may not have any sense, but he’s definitely got balls.
“What would your wife say if she knew you were here?” Damera asked silkily, examining a long pointed nail painted a dark blue to match her hair. “I understand she thinks you’ve completely renounced Anerix’s philosophies. Yet here you are at a bar owned by the Chancellor’s most trusted advisor. Oh, certainly you were stirring up trouble . . . but, that’s what you’ve always done best, isn’t it?” Without letting him answer, she finished, “That man you punched was my husband, by the way.”
Bobby and I both swore under our breath.
“That’s why all of these gentlemen got so harsh with you. You punched someone they’re loyal to. But then, loyalty has always been something you had trouble understanding, hasn’t it, Robin?” she asked, quirking an eyebrow.
I really wanted to shoot her now. But not in a bar full of people who were sympathetic to her. I didn’t survive a twenty-something year long Dagger career by being stupid.
“I’m sorry. You must have me mixed up with someone else. Stupidly following along with insanity is what I’ve never been able to understand,” Bobby said, with a grin and a steely look to his eyes. A little bit of backstory might be helpful here: you see, Bobby used to be an Anerix infantryman, then assassin – which, of course, they officially don’t have – and, at the same time as an assassin, a Sweytian Defense Force spy. There are some members of Anerix’s High Command that’d dearly love to get their hands on him since the whole spy thing became known. He seems to think if they ever get ahold of him, he’ll end up Greenbriar’s plaything and come out with his brain washed or something. I think he reads too many cheap sci-fi novels and comic books.
“Hmm. Come along, Tafinith. Oh, and you too.” She pointed at me as she reached out to take Bobby’s arm. When he pulled away from her, she spoke to him almost seductively. “You didn’t used to pull away from me like that. I remember a night on Telnarri when you couldn’t get enough of my touch. I seem to recall you begging for me to never stop touching you, in fact.”
My eyebrows shot up, but really, it wasn’t that surprising. With the exception of his wife and the girl he dumped when he ran away from home to emigrate to Anerix, Bobby’d always had horrible taste in women.
He shut his eyes, looking like he was fighting the impulse to do something exceptionally stupid even for him.
“Now, come with me,” she said, addressing us like we were pets. It took all my self-control not to pull my Colt.
“No,” Bobby said, diving for the gun I’d dropped earlier.
I shrugged. If Dumbass was gonna get us killed, I wanted to at least take the bitch with us. I shot her. Bitch was wearing armor under her shirt though.
Bobby was luckier, he shot at her leg and hit it. He kicked her in the head as she stumbled, knocking her out. Guess that ninja shit is occasionally good for something.
Of course everyone else in the bar started shooting at us again, but since we were already practically at the door, it was no problem for the two of us to vault over Damera and run to the speeder.
We got to the speeder, hopped in, and Bobby overrode just about every safety feature on the thing to get us the hell out of there as quickly as possible.
You know what the really bad thing about this is though? It didn’t stop me from going along with one of Dumbass’s ideas for something to do for fun about a year later. That one ended up with the two of us spending some time as mechanics’ assistants in an undersea arctic ship. Apparently “I didn’t expect to get caught” isn’t a valid excuse to give Tera when she’s sentencing you.