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`A Tale from the Lost Horizon, by Loxxibana Flauccivana`

by Father_Rat 

Posted: 01 March 2006
Word Count: 6557
Summary: A short prequel to a full-length science fantasy trilogy collectively entitled 'Galactic Revelations'. A major character in these books is the large, reptilian alien Ssorg Ethdril Kthorn. The storyteller, Loxxi, is a close friend and associate of Ssorg in the first book. What follows is the story of how these two met for the first time and offers a glimpse into the past of one of the most important individuals in the 'Galactic Revelations' mythos. Words: 6557.

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The 'Lost Horizon' club on the west end of the city of Lavoon was the closest I'd had for a long time to a home. When I wasn't sleeping, working or out looking for somewhere to perform either of the above I'd be in there, catching up on news, looking out for new openings, still searching out a way of getting together enough capital to get myself out of the place and out into the big real world, where it was all really happening, or so it seemed from where I stood.
Zooky was the head barman, also the owner of the 'Horizon'. It wasn't really much of a joint, but it had
pretensions to be something special, and Zooky was very conscientious about his place; every couple of months
there'd be a whole new decor, or a different mural around the dance floor. A different theme, new colour
schemes, new imported music, exotic live acts; anything to attract custom from the grey huddles of colliers and factory engineers. He poured thousands into that place regularly, keeping it looking smart and bright, a beacon amidst the drab grey industrial living-space. The way I heard it he just about broke even.
The doorman was a Karityldian, a huge green specimen in a collarless black leather jacket and size 25 boots. He
didn't speak much to anyone and when he did it was fairly incomprehensible. I reckoned that he hadn't been away
from his home world for very long; certainly not long enough to get any kind of grasp of Standard. But he
didn't have to speak. One wrong look from those eyes and almost anybody would be backing down, unless they were either stupid or extremely ignorant of the Karityldians' reputation for excessive physical violence.
Every time I went in, he'd grunt at me and bare his teeth, presumably in some kind of greeting. He always
hurried to hold the door for me, even if the other door was already open. I thought that kind of quaint. There
were very few people I'd met who knew how to treat a lady, albeit one covered with hair and sporting a long wavy tail.
And there I was, wasting my time, squandering my talents, rotting away on that lousy old dump of a city, from anywhere this side of Pfeifenhall's Sea, waiting for opportunity to knock. And eventually, in its own inimitable style, it did.

It was a quiet night, that much I remember.
A couple of Vribian females were making out like crazy with a big guy in a side booth, all legs and hands and
flying red hair. The usual flock of indeterminate types were gaming, trading cards and the like, and a few
solos and couples occupied inconspicuous corners. I was bored, and looking for some action; something to do,
something to bring in a few Mooz. Even someone to talk to. I wasn't fussy.
There was a Soothra at the bar, a new face to me. I walked straight up to him with all my usual glowing confi-
dence. Soothra respect that; if they catch one whiff of doubt from your pores, they'll be wrapped around you in
no time flat and the next thing you know you'll be just another scam victim. But if you can show them that
you're on equal terms with them, then they treat you as partner and that's always a plus.
"New in town?" I enquired as I made myself comfortable.
The red-skinned glamour-boy smirked widely and held out a hand. "Ked Nostro, if you please. What brings you to
a place like this?"
"That's my line, buddy. You go first."
He cocked his head, sizing me up on the spot. He placed his hand down on the bar. "This and that. Y'know what
it's like."
"I don't." I said as I turned to face him. "Tell me what it's like."
He chuckled softly. "Sorry, I didn't quite catch your name, Miss-?"
"You're right, you didn't. You were saying?"
He hesitated again. One of the Vribian women, wearing a black net bodysuit over very little indeed, brushed
past him deliberately on her way to the females' bathroom. He caught her backward glance, but offered only a
shrug in reply. "Yeah." he went on. "I was saying." a multicoloured drink in a spiral-shaped glass was placed
on the bar in front of him, and he paid the barman with a 100-MU bit. "Sorry. You would care for something, Miss...?"
"Thanks. I'll have a Decaying Orbit."
A Soothra had just offered to buy me something, so he had to have some kind of scam up his sleeve. I waited patiently to find out what, and how far I could twist it to my advantage.
He received his change and quietly gave my order. He sipped quietly on his concoction while mine was prepared,
no doubt trying desperately to work out what my line was. "I think she was trying to tell you something." I
said with a nod to the bathroom.
"Yeah, right." he retorted. "All over you until they see someone else they like the look of better. Gets a bit
boring after a while."
The last sentence derived clearly from experience, or hurt pride. "I thought all you Soothra liked to flirt?"
"Hey! Don't go shoving stereotypes at me, okay?"
"Sorry, but I think I just heard you go shoving a bit of stereotyping there yourself, Kid."
"Well, what d'you expect? They live for it. I'm amazed they haven't colonised the entire Universe. There
oughtta be enough of 'em around.” Adding after a pause; “And it’s Ked."
"Forty percent of all Vribian females are sterile."
He regarded me with a new-found interest. "That a fact?"
My drink arrived just then in a round glass with a long, twisting stem. This was three-quarter filled with a
black transparent spirit, and on the accompanying saucer was a small yellow ball, big enough to fit through the
hollow tube.
He picked up the ball from the saucer. "May I...?"
I indicated the glass. "Feel free."
"I've always loved seeing these go 'whoosh'..." he dropped the sugary ball onto the surface of the liquid, and
at once it began to fizz and froth, spinning wildly as it did so. Then the ball turned white, and, still froth-
ing, it began to rapidly spin downward to the bottom of the glass, whereupon it disintegrated in a cloud and
pushed up a two-inch head of foam to the top.
"Well, cheers, Ked. Here's to 'this and that'."
We chinked glasses and supped deeply for a few seconds. Then he said, "Okay. So what's your line around here?
You a meat-monger, yeh? Well, no-go. Vribians, negato, thank you all the same. No challenge to a lover of the
chase such as I. I mean, where's the fun?"
I was becoming somewhat impressed. A Soothra who was not utterly shallow and obsessed with material aesthetics and personal gratification? Perhaps I had stumbled on a true anomaly here which demanded further investigation.
But first I had to put the record straight.
"No, Ked. I'm not a meat-monger. That's one line I truly despise."
"Okay. Then let's work this out. You're Sh'zhu, and you come up to straight to this Soothra. You don't give me
a name, but you talk smart, and you're on my level, respect due. Are you putting together a team?"
"Maybe I'm only getting to know a new face in town." I said frankly.
"Well, that's not strictly true. I've been about the city for a couple of months, but it's my first time in
this quarter."
I slid out of my jacket and dumped it on the floor at my feet, giving him the impression I was loosening up a
little. Now would be the time for him to start working on me. "What you been up to?"
"Like I said. This and that."
I laughed into my drink. "What're you hiding, Ked? You got a problem with the Feds?"
"So why so cagey?"
"Cagey? Me? Don't worry about me. Let's talk about you now."
"Uh-uh. You haven't told me about you yet."
"Well, my mother told me never to talk to strangers."
"Sorry. Loxxibana Flauccivana."
"Cut it to 'Loxxi'. Everyone else does. Saves time and heartbreak."
"Ahh." he sighed with a distinct sense of satisfaction. "Well, nice meeting you, Loxxi. You come here a lot, I
take it?"
"I'm known."
"Good. I've been looking for someone to show me around this area. I'm trying to find a guy named Thill."
I shook my head. "Forget Thill. He's on the way down, fast. You don't want anything to do with him now."
"Why not? I heard he was one of the biggest juice 'leggers around?"
"Not big enough. Slyyze is buying him out. He wants control of all the liquor in this quadrant."
"And what if Thill doesn't go with that?"
I spread my hands wide. "Pow-pow. Pistol party, open invitation. Slyyze’ll hit him with enough firepower to take on the Fed navy. Why?"
He hugged the bar and peered down into his glass. "A nice little contract lined up, middleman's 15-per
cut...nuts." He finished his drink in a single gulp and sat back to face me. "Well, I think I've found your
line, at least. Information?"
"I'm just well-informed."
"No cheap talk?"
"No cheap talk. 'Round here, that'd cost you dear. People don't like talking unless you're giving them some-
He shrugged. "How much?"
I laughed at his honesty and drained my glass. "Keep it to yourself." I nodded to one of the spare corner
tables. "Care to migrate?"
"After you." he bowed extravagantly. We settled ourselves down in a shady spot dimly-lit by phosphorescent fish which swam in the tank above us.
"So," he whispered, "Is it true what they say about you folks? About the things you can do with your tails?"
"Care for a demo?"
He shrank back in his seat, his bluff called. "I'll pass, thanks."
I looked up, about to say something, when I saw a heavily-built 'trelle appear at the bottom of our table,
grinning nastily through his beard. He put down his drink and swayed a bit, but otherwise his motives remained
as misty as his tiny piggy eyes.
"Yeh?" I said, "Need a hand staying upright, pal?"
He pointed at Ked. "Hey! You, slosh head. Yeh, you. Filching tonight? Wanna come try your luck on me?"
The Soothra tried to look confident. "Leave it, pal. Do I look the sort?"
Part of me wanted to intervene on Ked’s behalf, just to shut this loudmouth up. But as it was, I was quite willing to sit back and see how this little situation would develop. It would give me some idea of the Soothra's true talents; if he really was as green as he was making out, or if he was just putting it on as a soft-touch scam.
"Sooth scum. Y'all the same. Show me one who ain't."
"You're looking at him." I said loudly, but got ignored. For Ked had now launched into the Soothra lip-shoot
style, the old smart-talk rhyme lingo they commonly used to amuse, confuse and generally abuse others, usually
to keep the victims' minds off the fact they were being rammed for everything they had.
"Keep it to yourself, jack. Keep your back covered and I'll keep the black slack, okay? No trouble, no rubble
shuffle. You catching, or am I dispatchin', scratch-patchin'?"
I couldn't have put it better myself. I always found their folk-talk fascinating to listen to for its sheer
ingenuity and inventiveness, but our new friend was in no mood for similar appreciation.
"Sure, sure." he drawled. "So you talk the jing-jing real good, but let's see how well you stand when you catch a left straight."
He had already started into his swing when the Soothra was on his feet, shoulders pumping, ducking for the
expected straight. I must admit I was almost as surprised as he when the left turned into a right cross and Ked
noisily collapsed through the chair behind him.
"Two-chip grab-boy!" the slob snorted and made ready to turn away. Bad idea. Obviously didn't think I was
worth consideration. He wouldn't be the last one to make that mistake. Humans, 'trelles especially (since when
did they start considering themselves the master race!) tend to look on Sh'zhu as big skinny cuddly dogs on two
legs. I was never cuddly and I left silly behind in the nursery. (Growing up with only your half-senile grandaddy as a role-model kind of puts certain pressures upon you, chief of which is to get the hell out of it and better yourself before you too, become a slobbering juice-soaked wreck. I was once told Granddaddy had been the product of a rape committed on his mother by a Thraxian, an all-too-believable explanation for the vacuum which existed in him where most other people had a moral sensibility.)
"Hey, flop-gut," I yelled after the sniggering pile of human detritus, "You spilled my drink."
That got him. He threw himself around, and I expected a racial insult. Instead I found myself looking down the
extended barrel of a '99 buckwrekka; old, hardy, and at that range, messily fatal.
"You talkin' to me? Back off bitch or your butt'll be bitin' the highline."
Personally, I've never really had much time for the old Passion of Immus, the Sh'zhu code of making sure that
you died in some useful, purposeful or spiritually wholesome way. A racial obsession, usually outsiders took that as being a kind of sacrifice, but it didn't have to go as far as that. It just happened to be one of the major taboos of our society that you did not die peacefully and selfishly; or if you did, Immus' Passion became Pain. Even if your life had been a complete mess, you could always redeem yourself at the last minute - a kind of contingency for the plentiful community of sinners. Nor was I much in the mood that eveving for celebrating eternity with my ancestors, so it must have been something pretty deep that inspired me to stick my neck out for this atypical Soothra whom I barely knew.
"Rest it, fool!" Ked yelled. "You're down for a black one in my book. Right hook, donnybrook sook bog-pool."
Piggy-Eyes turned to laugh at that comment, coming as it did from a man sitting amid a pile of splintered matchwood and sporting the birth of a rather fine black one himself. Sh'zhu like me don't stand much on ceremony in situations like these. Young as I was, I was also confident enough to take the sucker right down where he stood.
Both feet went into his flabby guts before he had a chance to aim, and the rod went flying through the air. I
flipped away sideways across the table, slipped a bit on some old beer on the floor and skidded to an unglamor-
ous halt, coming to rest on my butt. But the trick had worked; the twerp was disarmed, and the doorman was now
rumbling up in our direction, a black thunderous shape against the barlights, and I knew then that all hell was
about to break loose. Hell, he put the wind up me sometimes, and that was him being friendly.
"Down!" the bouncer bellowed as he brought up his hands for a wrestling manoeuvre, "Yo' down, hey!"
The slob on the floor looked up just in time to wet himself at the sight. The Karityldian grubbed his collar
and heaved him up into the air. He dangled there for a second, a clear metre off the ground, and then went
soaring headfirst in a graceless dive towards the nearest table, which luckily happened to be clear at the time.
Shattered bits of table went everywhere as the bouncer picked him up by the hair and flung him clean through the
main door, where he finished up playing roly-poly with a line of garbage cans.
The doorman slapped his hands together, congratulating himself on a job well done, if somewhat over-
energetically. I spotted the two lanky Vribians legging it for the side door with their catch between them, trailing
like a half-filled sack of contraband.
The bouncer turned his attention to us, me in particular. "Hey, girlie. You good?"
"Huh?" I didn't quite have the wit to figure out the verbal shorthand at that moment, being still slightly
stunned at what I had seen.
"You good, eh?" he brushed me down and checked me over for damage.
I nodded quickly. "Yeh. Yeh, I'm good. Thanks. It was Ked who took the knock-"
"Hoi!" Zooky had been hollering his guts out for the past minute, trying to get our attention, and now he was
racing up to us, not happy. "Right." he snapped as he squared up to the four foot wide doorman with
almost comical gusto, "What were you playing at? Huh? What's the idea, trashing my furniture like this? Why
d'you think I pay you, you big dumb-"
I intervened. "Leave off him, Zooky. Unless you want this joint bust up even worse." Some people just did not
realise that you treat a Karityldian the way you treat a primed nuke. With lots of respect, and leave yourself
enough space to get clear out of the blast radius. True, the doorman may have been big and dumb, but that was
no reason for treating him as such. But Zooky wasn't really listening. He continued to wave an accusing finger
at the chest of the bemused bouncer. "That'll come outa yer wages, sunshine. You understand me?"
The bouncer shook his head, clearly understanding every word.
"No. No come wages o' I. No come, Zooky sunshine. Good?"
Zooky was about to protest, but he found that rather hard to do with a massive hand locked around his throat.
The bouncer lifted him clean off the floor and set him down on the edge of the bar, his legs dangling down like
a kid. He released him, and Zooky spluttered violently, his eyeballs straining at the lids to flop out onto
his cheeks. "Don't do that again." he wheezed with clutching motions at his trachea. "Don't ever do that again.
But I'll let it go this once. Just because you're good at what you do, OK?"
The bouncer nodded. "Yeh, good. OK. No come wages. Wages mine. I work wages, tonight I do good work..."
Zooky slid himself sheepishly down behind the bar and began hurriedly serving someone else. I sat down on the stool nearest the bouncer. "Let me get you something.” I said. “Drink?"
He nodded. "Drink, good. Yeh." he leaned his mass against the next stool. "Name is Ssorg Ethdril Kthorn of
Father Ssregnak. Karityldiakka, of Garuda. Homestead Palabado."
"Pleased to get to know you properly at last. Pity it had to be under such duff circumstances. I'm Loxxi. This
here is Ked." I indicated the hovering shape of the Soothra behind me. Ssorg acknowledged him with a curt bow.
"Hey." Ked mumbled, his pride stinging more than the bruise under his eye.
"Good." Ssorg responded. When he spoke, it was in short staccato bursts in a voice which almost drowned out the music. I could see that Ked seemed less than impressed by this, but he took himself a seat at the bar anyway.
"Nice moves." Ked told me. I laughed it off. So, he owed me a favour. The way things were going, I'd be look-
ing to trade it in as soon as I could. The Soothra had already proven himself to be every bit as inexperienced
as he appeared; losing a punch to a juiced-up 'trelle is probably about as low as one can go without
being obliged to commit suicide.
"How much d'you make here anyway?" I asked Ssorg who had since made himself comfortable at the bar.
"Earn? You know? Wages." I slapped the bar.
He slapped the bar in reply and held up a hand, four fingers plus residual thumb.
"Five Mooz an hour?" I guessed.
"Fifty for day. Plus home bed."
Reasonable, I thought. "Been here long? Lavoon, I mean."
"Lavoon come first. After Garuda."
"Dull, isn't it? Boring kind of place."
"Garuda boring. Come Lavoon for fun." he swept his gaze around the wall-paintings above us. "Fun!"
"Well, if this is your idea of fun, you're welcome to it."
Ssorg was served a two-pint tankard of frothing green stuff which he grabbed and immediately started to drain.
I caught Zooky's attention. "Same again." I said.
"On the house," the barman said hoarsely. "I'm not used to gun-packers down here. You did me a favour with
"Get used to it, Zooky. It's a nasty place out there. All sorts of flotsam makin' its way across from Fed
centre. Eighteen million refugees from Kethos alone. How many of them are gonna stick to the straight an' narrow
when they settle in?"
"You try so hard, trying to build up something worthwhile, somewhere decent...a place where ordinary people
can come to relax. I shouldn't have to worry about fools like that."
"Maybe you should tell Ssorg to frisk your customers in future."
"Frisk?" Zooky gasped as he served me my second Decaying Orbit, "I don't want my customers maimed, Loxxi!”
"Then install a scanner or something. Face it, Zooky. With the Fedz doing what they're doing, it's getting to
be a pretty lawless place. Civil wars, outlaws and Fedz. The Legion stirring up mayhem everywhere they go. Look
at me! Twenty thou for the first lucky boy who can bust me. And what am I? Nothing."
"Bust you? What you talking about, Loxxi?"
"Ah, there's a lot of things you don't know about me." I smiled. Zooky shook his head and wandered off into
the backroom. I dropped the fizzball and watched it go, then turned to Ked who I sensed was about to speak.
"Are you serious?" he whispered, "About that bounty...?"
"Renegade to the core. Born on the bad side of the hemisphere, Taltros City. The Federal Union imposed
the death sentence there three years ago. So, guess who had to do a quick jump across the lake."
"What'd you do?"
"Self-defence. Four of them thought it'd be fun to hit on me one night. I turned them down. I got bust for assaulting their rifle butts with my head."
Ked leaned in closer. "Then what?"
"Then I awoke, found myself locked up in a downtown cage, pending sentence. I bust clean out. So the charge
got stepped up, and I had to jump. Figured I'd blend in pretty well over here, with everything that's going down."
"Twenty thou, though! Just for that?"
I shrugged. "Criminal damage, assault and battery First Degree. Usual lie sheet."
The Soothra smiled silently. Then he said, "I give up, Loxxi. I give up. I have no idea what your angle is. If you're mouthing off about that bounty, you tell it well. If you ain't, why tell it to a total stranger?"
I looked around myself. "Stranger, where?"
That made him laugh. "Okay. What's the deal? You got me. Whatever it is, I'm in. I like your style, I like your moves. I like the pretty 'gram on the back of your jacket." he held out his hand to me again. This time I took it and we shook. He was on the level all right, and now I could come clean.
"No big master plan, Ked. Just a little help in getting out of this city. Then we'll take it from there."
"Yeh, there ain't much here I can be a part of now, if what you say is right. At least in this part of the Globe."
Ssorg prodded me in the back of the shoulder and almost put me through the bar. "Huh?" I spluttered, "Take it
"You work wages, eh?" he growled.
"You, girlie. You work for you?"
I shook my head. "No, I no work. I not get wages at all, that's why I so bored and cranky. Why, is Zooky looking for new cabaret talent? I do a pleasing retro-buzz song-and-dance routine."
"Uh-huh," Ssorg replied, "But I not work wages here 'til Restoration Day, hey-no. I plan wages, big wages. I save wages, I make wages for I soon, with ship of I."
I was listening. I was impressed. The big guy had a serious head on his shoulders, and he wasn't letting his lack of communication skills stand in his way. In fact, he seemed to know exactly what Ked and I were getting at.
"Ship, eh?"
"Ship o' sky. I make wages with ship o' sky." he threw his extended hand around in the air. "Zoom-zoom.
Soon I go zoom-zoom in ship o' sky."
I figured it was time to see this big bazooka's cards on the table. "Okay, how much wages you saved, Ssorg?" I
asked, "How much you got?"
He slapped both hands four times off the bar. My heart sank. Nice idea, long way to go. Somebody ought to
teach this guy the value of the Global MU.
"Four hundred? Sure. See you in ten solars, maybe you'll have enough by then."
"Nuh-uh." he countered. "Ship o' sky already got. Not got ship o' skye flyer, hey-no. I save wages for flyer o’ ship o’ sky."
That put a different complexion on my face, once I'd worked it out. Ked hissed, "Am I right...? Is he saying
he has his own ship?"
I shrugged. "Dunno. Ssorg, this ship...where'd you get it? You buy ship, eh? You buy? You get ship for wages?"
He grinned at that. "No, no, I no buy ship. I win ship. I win hands down game o' joss." he slammed his hand
off the bar. "Gimme I flyer, I gimme you big wages. Kthorn's deal."
I threw Ked a sideways half-glance. "Can you fly?"
"Fly what? Hopper, skimmer? Deep-space enineering prop, a naval bomber, what? Knowing these guys, he’d probably call a scooter-board a ‘ship’."
"Ssorg, this ship you have. Is it big?"
"Uh-huh! It big. It sit in dock of ship. You flyer?"
I moved out of his line of sight and nudged Ked. "Take it, pal."
"Yeh!" Ked said, "I can fly, sure. How d'you think I got here? You believe I'd swim all the way here from the
Zooky quietly interposed himself between us and cleared his throat. "Ah-hem," he said to Ssorg, "Perhaps it's
escaped your notice, but you're on door duty, and four persons have just entered my establishment without your
consent. Care to resume your position and check them over for possible concealables?"
"Nuh-uh." Ssorg said, smiling widely.
"You gimme I wages for week, Zooky sunshine. I off. You gimme now."
"You can't walk out on me!" Zooky complained, "I need you! Where am I going to find another bouncer at this
"Sorry about this," I apologised, "Some you win, some you lose." I picked up my jacket, drained my glass and
motioned to Ked and Ssorg. "You wanna give the man his wages? I'd say he earned them tonight."
"Why do you have to go now?" Zooky complained. "At such short notice? I'll pay you an extra ten percent,
Ssorg. Stay on a while."
Ssorg elevated himself from the barstool. "Soon, Zooky sunshine, I make big, big wages. Zoom-zoom. Heh."
Zooky looked at me pleadingly. "Don't tell me he's giving you that nonsense as well? About winning a ship and all that guff?"
"It's a chance," I said. "And when chances come up, you gotta run with them, cos it could be long enough
before the next one comes your way."
“I thought you were many things, Loxxi, but I never figured you were desperate.”
I pulled on my jacket. “Congratulations,” I said, “You just met the Real Me. Zooky, it’s been fun, but I gotta get out of this place. If things go well you’ll never see me for dust, but if on the other hand I end up flat on my face, I’ll be back supporting your bar, keeping the dreams alive. Stay steady.” I stretched across the counter and slapped his hand. He offered me a limp smile in return. In one evening he lost one of his best customers and his bouncer. Maybe not the kindest of moves but you can’t go covering for other people all your life. Independent enterprise is what it’s all about, so the legendary Balto assures us.
“Yeh, right.” Zooky sighed as the three of us vacated the ‘Lost Horizon’ for what would probably be the last time.

"That hurt." Ked groaned as we followed Ssorg to the local docking park. "That bit-spit damn hurt me!"
"Of course he hurt you. Silver knuck-rings do that. Something to do with force and impact.”
He touched his cheekbone and winced. "Ow! I'd have killed him-"
"-if Ssorg here hadn't got in there first, I know. Never mind. It'll heal up. Eventually."
Ssorg turned and grinned at us at the mention of his name. "Hey, yo! You want go zoom-zoom, eh?"
"Hell, yeh. I wanna go zoom-zoom the hell out of here, rapido."
"I gimme you see zoom-zoom. You see."
"You're lookin' peaky, Ked." I said as we crossed the precinct toward the docking bay, "What's up?"
"I'd be a lot happier if he'd shut his bug-trap. He's giving me a headache."
"Nah, that's just the after-effect of the whack in the puss. That'll pass too."
"Could you drop it, maybe?"
"Drop what? Sorry, I forgot I kind of saved your life back there."
"Is it a Sh'zhu thing, this continual verbal harrassment?"
"Seems pretty universal in my experience. Maybe we just do it better than most."
Ssorg scattered a little bunch of dealers and their clients as he marched up to the entrance. I was sure one of them flashed a smile at Ked but my attention was diverted by Ssorg's decleration, "Here go! Zoom-zoom!" and proud gestures toward the custom-painted Danforth 6-seater. Loud, obvious, and the kind of souped-up sky machine I would have killed for a bare few years before, and was pretty impressive to my jaded senses even now.
There was a single Quantrelle lounging around inside in the bay, long coat, cheap smoke stick, gaudy waistcoat. I matched him to the style of the Comet-Chaser in front of us in about two seconds flat. Trouble seemed to be following us like a shadow that night. Ssorg passed him with a nod and a smirk of recognition. The ‘trelle pulled himself away from the wall and stepped between Ssorg and the craft. He was quite big for his type, tall and wide with excess fat in all the wrong places, but that didn’t count for spit when your head was being jack-hammered by a one-man assault squad of Ssorg’s calibre.
“Hey, yeh.” Ssorg laughed. “Good, eh?”
“Yeh, great.” the blobby one replied through his weak beard. “Can I have a word?” Ssorg shrugged. “It’s about the ship. Well, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’d prefer to have her back, and could I make her up to you in cash instead? I’ll give you 5K, cash. Deal?”
I couldn’t keep it in. I howled with laughter. It was outrageous. The guy could not be serious. Five grand would barely buy a second-hand landcar, never mind that beauty. Perhaps, like a lot of ‘trelles, he had decided to underestimate the intelligence of our large associate.
“Huh kay?” Ssorg returned, confused.
The character fanned out a wallet stuffed with Mooz. “Five thousand, mister. All for you.” he pointed to the ship. “If I get to take her back, and we call it quits.”
Ssorg shrugged. “Hey, thanks.” he grabbed the wallet and stuffed it in his pocket, then wandered on toward the ship as if nothing had happened. I was beginning to like Ssorg very much indeed.
“Hoi, Large!” the guy yelled after him, “What about my ship, huh?”
“I think you just lost it, pal.” I told him from behind. He spun on me, snarling.
“And who the hell are you?”
“I’m the one who’s telling you that you just lost your ship. It doesn’t pay to try cheating a Karityldian with no grasp of language.”
“You’re starting to annoy me, Missy. I don’t remember you ever being involved in this deal. All I want is my ship back.”
“Well maybe that’ll teach you in future to fold before the stakes get too high. You gambled, you lost. Tough. It happens.”
I had already seen the dim fire of anger in his eyes and then it flared right up. He thought he’d have a go at chinning me, and failed. While he was off balance I caught him across the back of the knees with my tail, and that produced the desired effect. I offered a hand to help him up but he was not in reconciliatory mood.
“Get your filthy Shoo hands off of me!”
“Whatever you say, pal.” I turned and made to leave but before I got two steps I knew there was a gun pointing at my back. I stopped dead and waited for things to get worse.
“Yeh, that’s it. You hold it right there. Hey, Large! I wanna see you. Hurry up. Before Foxy here bites the dust.”
There’s something about a handgun which can confer godlike powers on even the most inadequate of Immus’ creations. Sometime, I thought, I would have to invest in one of my own. Ssorg began to move back towards us. It was a pity Ked was so useless in a fight, because I sure could have used a little back-up then.
“Hey!” Ssorg yelled at us, “You good?”
“Yeh, I look all right, don’t I?” I retorted.
“We’re doing just fine.” the creep replied. “Now gimme the passkey for my ship, and I’ll be gone.”
Ssorg stopped, confused. “Huh?”
“Don’t think you’re getting through.” I sighed, and got punched in the kidney.
“I’m sure we can come to some amicable arrangement here,” Ked said from the sidelines, moving in closer. The creep rotated me so that I was in line between him and both Ssorg and Ked. “If you’d tell us exactly what happened?”
“I want my ship,” came the mantra-like reply.
“Ah, the problems of gambling. You lost it, and now you want it back?”
“Got it in one, colour boy. Don’t forget, I got the gun.”
“So you do.” Ked smiled. “Very pretty it is too.”
“Don’t soap me up, buddy. I’m gonna count three. If you haven’t given me the passkey for my vehicle by that time, it’s bye-bye baby.”
Ked looked at Ssorg. Ssorg looked confused.
“One.” the creep began. I ground my teeth. Why was nobody doing anything? Why wasn’t Ked talking him down, Ssorg flying into a screaming rage? There was no point in me even considering a smart move if nobody else was going to lend me a hand.
“Oh, I’d look out for the guy with the slicewhip behind you,” Ked said. I closed my eyes. For a Soothra he really was impenetrably green. I was half a click away from being history, and that’s the best he can come out with? Oddly enough, the ‘trelle didn’t bite either. He didn’t waste breath on it. He just laughed.
I heard a high-pitched swish, something hard hit something soft, something large hit the floor and something metallic went skittering off along the ground.
I turned slowly, not daring to believe that Ked had not actually been bluffing. Yet standing there, the ‘trelle at his feet, was a tall and wiry being, rusty orange in colour with a skin that suggested leather. The equine head was elongated and thin, nose and mouth converging at the end of a bony protuberance. The horns gave him away as a Mhar, a minority race found only in the tropical lands of Dartique. I caught a glimpse of something long and very thin disappearing up his sleeve, something which had clearly contributed to the unconscious state of our mutual pest.
“Forgive me, but it looked as if you had a slight problem with this one.” the helpful stranger told me in velvety tones.
“Nothing a sawn-off heavy repeater wouldn’t sort.” I said.
Ssorg was giving this new arrival the up-and-down, eyes scanning for concealed weapons. “Huh?” he growled, but it was probably more a belch than a question.
“Yeh,” Ked replied, “I think our friend here just saved us all a lot of trouble.”
“Nunsuch Pryde,” the stranger announced, head-bowing. A lock of head mane flopped over his eye, dyed black against the natural brown.
Ked grinned, “Is that a name or a personality evaluation?” but I was rather more keen to deliver thanks.
“Nice move, whatever it was.” I said, “Pity I didn’t see it.”
Pryde kicked the body. “I expected trouble from that one. Uncouth fool.”
“You’ve met?” I asked.
Ssorg’s smile was worth a thousand words.
“Mr. Ssorg here has the most amazing beginner’s luck I’ve ever seen.” Pryde said. “I am not averse to losing, however I cannot tolerate those who are. It’s all part of the Game, and you take the rough with the smooth.” He glanced across at Ssorg again; “However, ‘lose’ is one thing I simply failed to do for as long as I was on Mr. Ssorg’s team. This ship; whose designation, I believe, is The Herald of the Eternal Dawn; was won fair and square by the pair of us. We have since merely been searching for an adequate pilot to allow us to take advantage of her extensive capabilities.”
Ked looked down at the unconscious bag of slag at our feet. "We gonna get out of here, before Bad Loser decides to wake up and try to wreck our day again?"
I called to Ssorg, "Hey, big boy. Wanna fly?"
Ssorg laughed, loud enough to blot out the sound of a Firechariot landing across the back of the bay.
"That decision," said Pryde, "is one that I believe has already been made."
The Mhar walked on up to the Karityldian and handed him something, a slim plastic rod which looked very like a passkey to an expensive, souped-up skyship.
"Please, join us." Nunsuch Pryde said with an all-embracing gesture, "I could use the company. And Mr. Ssorg's conversation is somewhat...limited."
I put my hand firmly between Ked's shoulder blades and shoved him in the direction of the Comet Chaser. "We're there, pal." I said. And there was I; a Sh’zhu with an awakening conscience, teamed up with a so-called Soothra with no social skills, a Karityldian with more cunning than some Sh’zhu and a Mhar whose sense of morality was so tight I was amazed it hadn’t asphyxiated him. What a crowd of misfits. It should have been obvious we were going to go far together.
"Zoom-zoom, hey!" Ssorg cried, waving the passkey as though it were a trophy. “Now we go make big big wages, eh!”
"Fantastic." Ked groaned. "I can't think of anything I'd rather do than sit locked up with a delusional maniac like him for an indefinite period of time."
"Oh, I sure can." I assured him with a smile, "But not in this dump."

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