Bars offered anonymity. Anonymity offered security, and survival. That was, if they didn’t turn into all-out brawls and bring down the Enforcers, which this one looked like it might do at any moment. Samuel Hanniford cast a wary glance over the boisterous crowd as it surged around the bar, and tried not to look nervous. It never paid to look nervous in a negotiation.
Eyes on the prize, Hanniford. He returned his attention to the man seated across from him. Baltarians were a humanoid-standard race not noted for being exactly forthcoming, but they owed the Rebellion big time, and Sam’s job was to collect.
“Look, we need to know the TPP patrol route through this sector. We know your people monitor them.”
“For a price.” The tall, reed-thin man’s voice was whisper soft, and hissed with his people’s reptilian roots.
Sam thumped his tankard down on the laser-scarred metal table with a clang that would have drawn attention had everyone else’s eyes not been riveted on the bar — and the women dancing on top of it. “Damn it, Eloyd, we had a deal. We kept those bastards from wiping out every man, woman, and child on your planet. Hell, we even kept them from abducting your friggin’ queen. We already paid the price, and you damned well know it!”
The Baltarian leaned back in his seat, a serpentine smile curving his lips — damned smug bastard. “I cannot act on such a price without authorization.”
“So get it.” He wasn’t about to back down on this one. The Rebellion needed these patrol routes, and fast, to have any hope of making a dent in the armored hide of TPP. And Sam had a personal interest in stopping the TPP’s expansion.
“Give me some time.” Eloyd slithered to his feet. “I will be in touch.”
As the Baltarian slunk from the bar, Sam cursed to himself. This mission was turning out as rank as any. But he couldn’t go back. Not yet. The TPP were closing in on him, and until he had solid information, he couldn’t risk running the patrols to get home. And, after nearly six Sol-standard years, he wanted — needed — to go home.
With another oath, Sam rose and turned toward the door. What he really needed right now was some shuteye…
A woman’s scream rent the air, followed by the drunken howls of the men in the bar. He yanked back to look, just in time to see one of the women being carried across the upraised, pawing hands of the bar patrons as she fought and kicked like a screaming hellcat. And, before he could move, or even blink, she came flying at him, landing with a solid thud against his chest, a spitting, hissing she-cat whose claws were set to tear into his hide.
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