2010.11.12 "I feel naked."

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"I feel naked."

Questioning my memory for a moment, I glance a beady red eye over at the surprisingly-large Felinid. "You are naked."

"No swords, no thug beams, not even any zarking knives. They might as well have shaved off my fur."

Ah. He's being metaphorical. And histrionic.

He pivots his head and levels a tawny gaze at me with the belligerence of a predator that sees only prey. "How in the hell are you handling it so well?"

He's mostly referring to the well-maintained filament rifle he has seen me use regularly for the past few months. And it's true, I do have an instinctive pang of worry because it is not safely holstered on my person. Though he probably doesn't appreciate how I have identical pangs for the battered old NST blaster and nearly-ancient force blade I also relinquished to Planetary Security as we left the spaceport. But on a planet with a ban on weapons and a capable police force, anybody capable as a hand-to-hand combatant has an advantage, so I don't feel too vulnerable. And so shouldn't he, the whiner.

I shrug my hunched shoulders covered in black spines, and reach for the mug of ale I'm nursing while we wait.

"How long has he been in there?"

I don't answer. His body is filled with millions of robots, each part of a network with his brain, and each with a functioning chronometer. He's only asking to vent his nervousness, which his psyche is poorly-adapted to accommodate. Either that, or he's trying to make me kill him.

The denizens of the pub can't help but to regularly glance at us. I imagine that we're merely the latest iteration of a fairly-common sort in this establishment - escort goons of a visiting "dignitary". Using only my tactical sensors, so as to not belie my attention with my eyes, I regard the goon of the local criminal asshole our criminal asshole employer is visiting. A Groten. A big one, too. Big enough that I'm pretty sure it almost never rides in vehicles seats, but instead has to squeeze into the back of a van. An open-handed slap from that thing would crush a hopper. Sort of makes for an ugly loophole in the whole "weapons ban" idea, but that's where the police are supposed to factor in.

My ears perk - and so do the Felinid's. And the Groten's. Negotiations are not going well, according to the angry voices leaking from the well-insulated back room. The shaggy 3-meter-tall monster lifts itself off its stool and settles into an air of readiness. The Felinid is so tense I worry that some part of his barstool might be at risk of being transformed into diamond. My inner demons flail at my calm, threatening to revert me to my instinctively furious normal state. I put down my mug.

Shit - jamming starts. My spines tingle and I can't help but curl a lip into a snarl as everybody else in the bar jumps up from their tables. But they just make a hasty exit. Soon it's just the three of us - if you don't count the robotic bartender, but he seems to have retracted anyway. The Felinid's ears twitch and flick as it checks and re-checks every corner of the pub. The obsidian eyes of the Groten just take us in.

"SLAM" I flinch as the door to the back room leaps out of its frame and tumbles to the floor - seemingly kicked open by the old Hylosus.

"GET THE FUCK BACK HERE!" The nasty Human slave trader's eyes are almost popping out of his head with rage. It's actually kind of disconcerting.

"Get zarked." The Hylosus has no difficult being heard even at normal tones due to the stentorian timbre of his voice.

So much for this deal. My cut has dwindled to exactly nothing. I really should grow enough brains to insist on a base wage for jobs like these.

The Human's face contorts to be even more unsettling, if that's possible. "KILL THEM!!!"

The Hylosus sneers as the Groten starts to move forward. "Are you serious? On THIS planet? You're insane."

Then the only exit snaps shut by virtue of some unseen mechansim. Zark.

"No witnesses"

"Try to tamper that door open." The Hylosus sends to me via tightbeam, and let's me hear his transmission to the Felinid. "Slow that big bastard down to get us time to get out of here." Sure; it's worth a try. I charge to the doorway and see what I can do. I let my tactical sensors watch the action behind me while I focus on my work.

The fur on the Felinid ripples, then he lets himself fly at the towering monster in a blur of speed. It bats him out of the air, and continues unabated towards the Hylosus. Not good.

Landing with an angry arch to his spine, the Felinid rebounds to try another athletic swipe at the Groten's face. I feel my eyes go wide as I realize the huge fiend has caught him by the leg. The Felinid's tail goes very poofy, and it inflicts some grievous rents in the Groten's forearm. The Groten places the writhing Felinid on the floor and delivers a single hammer-like punch with the other fist. His chest is partially flattened, and ropey gore is arrayed radially from the strike. That's definitely the kind of wound most beings don't recover from.

"STOP!" The thundering command from the old Hylosus actually does cause the Groten to pause. It's possible that he knows better than I whether it might be possible to save the Felinid, but I suspect he might be more interested in saving himself.

When the Human gives a sneering nod, the Groten splatters the Felinid's brain with another pile-driving punch.

"OK big fella." The Hylosus is tightbeaming me again. "I think it's time to kill them." His bloodshot eyes implore me better than anything he might try to say.

I'm conflicted. I'm almost done tampering the lock; we could get out of here. I could pretend he hasn't guessed too much... I ruin the lock so that it won't open again easily.

There's a paradoxically dainty "clip clop" sound as the heavy old Hylosus trots backwards away from the advancing Groten. I leap over to be beside him, glowering at the monster. "You know, I didn't really like that Felinid very much."

"No, I suppose not."

"And I was almost through that lock."

"Yeah, I guessed you might be."

We both dart backwards as the Groten threatens a lunge towards us.

I look at my employer hard. "To be continued."

A huge furry hand makes a swipe at us, sending the Hylosus leaping to the side. I duck forward, then run up the Groten's leg, scurry up his torso, and shove my talons into his throat and feel the tips slide up and into his brain stem. The great beast spasms; I rip my talons out sideways with a gout of steaming blood and launch myself off its gigantic shoulder as it begins to tumble face-first.

So stricken with disbelief at the sudden turn of events, the human doesn't complete a single step as I charge across the room and bowl into him. We tumble through the air together, and before he hits the ground I've twisted his head around 360°. I roll up to a crouch, panting, only semi-sentient now, and intuiting the best way to get to the old Hylosus' throat.

"His slaves weren't voluntary."

What? I blink, and find myself taking a breath such that I can begin to reason again.

"That's why the deal went sour."

The Hylosus must die.

"I can take the blame for this, so that you can get back off planet with your gear. As payment for this."

Zark.