Raucous laughter, human and alien body odors combining in the heat, and the smell of stale liquor assaulted Slap's senses as he walked through the open door of the Rocket Wash Bar. Paint flaked from the adobe walls. Off-world aliens aside, it wasn't that different from home.
Pack over his shoulder, he picked his way through the crowd, looking for a table. The few empty chairs didn't seem good choices considering the glares from those seated nearby.
Slap muscled through to the bar and after calling twice to get the barkeep's attention, he banged a hand on the counter. Two eyestalks swiveled to stare at him. Slap gaped for a second before saying, "Something to eat. And a drink. Anything."
The bartender turned around, his mouth twisting as he spoke. "Ten quel. Cash. No credchits."
Cash! Slap gulped and fumbled in his vest. If a meal and drink cost that much, what would a room cost? He put the money on the bar and glanced around as the bartender turned to the wall tap. A motion on his right caught his attention but something told him not to move his head or look down. Cutting his eyes, he saw a hand sliding a thin stim-blade out of a sheath sewn cleverly into a black vest.
Brago's Bands, what was this guy up to? A glass thunked the counter in front of Slap, and he wrapped his hand around the handle, while keeping attuned to the man next to him. He felt a slight tug at the pack on his left shoulder—a thief trying to steal? Without thinking, Slap swung around, and his glass impacted with a face. The 'thief' hit the floor, a needlegun clattering out of his hand. What the—?He stared at the unconscious man for a split second, but the sounds of a fight behind him made him turn. The man in the black vest thrust his stim-blade into a man's gut. The attacker screamed in agony. Black Vest then kicked a second—right into Slap's chest.
Slap threw an arm around the man's throat and tightened. As he waited for the struggling man to pass out, he watched in awe as Black Vest continued to fight two more men. He looked like a dancer—leaping, spinning, kicking. Before long his opponents all lay on the floor.
Slap realized the man in his arms had gone limp and dropped him. Black Vest turned, regarded the two men at Slap's feet, and gazed up with coal black eyes. "Thanks."
"Don't mention it."
People crowded closer, gawking at the bodies and muttering. Black Vest's gaze darted about as he sheathed the deadly knife. "I think we'd better leave."
Slap agreed and followed him outside. The night air felt fresh and cool. "Why were they all fighting you?"
"Quiet. We have to get away from here. Come on."
Slap shrugged his pack higher on his shoulder as he rolled his eyes, then followed Black Vest through the narrow streets. As hot as the days could get, the nights got cold, and Slap found himself shivering in his sleeveless vest as he peered ahead at the dark shape of his companion. Once he stumbled over a body in an alley and got a mumbled snarl as the person woke.
Finally they entered the gate of an inn. Slap blinked at the faux torches glowing at each side of the arch. Wouldn't real fire be cheaper? But then most of the lighting he'd seen hadn't been natural. He shrugged. City ways.
They took a flight of curved stairs to the left of the courtyard, barely illuminated by sconces dimly flickering with—yep, artificial light. Slap's hand ran along the rough-plastered wall to keep his bearings as they ascended. Once inside a small room, the man closed the door and turned the light on low. He faced Slap. "Now we can talk."
"Why were those men trying to kill you?"
"They were assassins." He ran a hand through his hair. "I think."
"Assassins? Who in the world are you that assassins would want to kill you?"
"Never mind." He walked to the bed and grabbed a small satchel from the foot of it. "By jumping in to help me you might have made yourself a target." He straightened and stared at Slap. "I'd advise you to get as far away from here as possible. Jump planet if you can."
"Jump planet? Brago's Bands, I don't even have money for a place to sleep, or food"—he thought with regret of the liquor lost when his glass hit the one assassin's face—"much less enough money to get a ticket off this rock."
The man eyed him for a few moments. "I can help with that. But right now, let's see if we can get something to eat." He rummaged in the bag and pulled out a small item. He pocketed it in his vest, but Slap didn't see what it was. The man headed for the door. "There's a boarding house not far away that has a decent cook."
"What's wrong with this one?"
"It's known I took a room here. Too dangerous. Let's go."
Slap wasn't going to argue at the mention of food.