“Nothing breaks the enemy morale quicker than an armor charge,” the koala said, slurping noisily at the amber spirit in his glass. His paw slipped as he put it back on the table, and the liquid splashed over onto the scarred tabletop. Around him, heads nodded in agreement.
At her own table, Jinx nodded with them and quietly sipped from the drink in her glass, hissing slightly as the alcohol burned the back of her throat. She was watching the others in the bar, but the koala and his friends had made enough noise since arrival that they drew the attention of most everyone present.
Like this is how I wanted to spend an evening, the serval thought. Her eyes, hooded by half-lowered lids, scanned the parts of the crowd she could see. Most of them are here already, though.
“Let ‘em see the bow of a Ravager hop over the hill and they’re shitting their pants,” continued the koala in a slurring voice. He downed the rest of his drink and waved a paw for a refill. A lanky coyote with white rings tattooed on the back of his left paw hefted a bottle that was nearing empty itself. A quick tilt added a measure to the koala’s glass and the ‘yote continued with the other glasses at the table. He raised the bottle overhead and wagged it back and forth until he caught the eye of the waitress. She nodded and ducked behind the bar to retrieve another.
A lean dog stood from the shadows in the rear of the bar and approached the table hosting the koala and his associates. The Doberman’s blue and gray jacket, loose as it was, did little to conceal the heavy pistols beneath his arms. His eyes had a glassy sheen to them, and his lips were peeled back to expose his teeth. When he spoke, his voice had a thick accent that Jinx had been unable to place, and the dialect was troubling, but the tone had the air of someone used to Folk listening to it.
“You Folk to be with Chay’s Brigade, yes?” he asked.
“To Chay!” the koala cried in response, hoisting his glass in another shower of liquor. This one sprayed over a few of his companions and they instinctively jerked back from the alcohol. Two of them did, however, raise their glasses in toast as well.
“Lecton is up. Here it comes,” Jinx muttered as the drunken Doberman stepped forward another pace and leaned his muzzle down toward the koala. Beneath Jinx’s ear, the tiniest of vibrations in her mastoid bone told her that her transmission had been received. In his communications suite, Factum would be coordinating the strike, and she had perfect confidence in the octopus to handle whatever arose. If all else failed, he had a small squad of rocket-bearing troops ready to raze the building and all within it, either at her command or his. There were certain advantages to working for an outfit as well-funded and organized as Lascelle’s. The mastoid implant, for instance — an item she would have killed for back when she was humping iron on one world or another. The instant communication might have kept some of her squadmates alive.
“Chay is piece of shit,” the Doberman declared. His voice echoed in the bar, and conversations stopped all over the room as heads turned to see what was unfolding.
“What did you say?” demanded the big tiger at the end of the table. His arms were covered in spray seal dressings — a souvenir of his most recent injury — but his eyes gleamed with fanaticism as he stood and slammed meaty paws on the synthetic oak tabletop.
“In three,” Jinx said. She looked at the ounce of liquor in her glass with a forlorn sigh. There would be no time to enjoy the taste.
“I say your great leader is shit,” shouted the dog. “Selling his loyalty to enemies of the People!”
“Two.” She wished she had thought to put more failsafes in place, but getting any of the contacts to come together at once had been hard enough. It was all in the hands of the locals and their raid team now. Shedrach wasn’t going to make it in time, but with luck they could pick him up later. She snorted at the thought. Luck.
“Fuck you,” the tiger grunted, pushing back his chair and stepping out from behind the table. The koala was struggling to do likewise, and the other four Folk at the table were beginning to follow their example.
“One,” Jinx said. She shrugged and threw back the shot anyway. As the tiger closed space with the Doberman, she flicked the glass with a practiced wrist. The vid player behind the bar exploded in a crash of glass and sparks as the glass impacted. All eyes flicked that direction, even those of the two soon-to-be combatants.
“Take it,” Jinx said, dropping to the floor. She curled into a ball and covered her sensitive ears with her paws.
The door to the bar crashed open and half a dozen flattened disc shapes sailed through the air. The lucky few who recognized them for what they were had a second to take some form of action, but the vast majority of everyone in the bar was caught unaware as the grenades detonated.
Sun-bright flashes of light seared the eyes even as thunderclaps of sound erupted, the force enough to shatter bottles behind the bar. Dust rained down for the briefest of seconds from the ceiling before the antiquated fire suppression system chattered into life, raining filthy, brackish water onto the stunned bar-goers.
A line of armored Folk drove through the door of the bar in response to the grenades, submachineguns and pistols in their paws. They wore the deep green fatigues with white-lettered black banding on arms and chest common to the local militia. They entered in a staggered line, splitting to either side as they did and setting up defensive positions for their partners. Four of them marched at speed to the Doberman. He was bent at the waist, trying to recover from the concussions of only a couple seconds prior, when they reached his sides. His legs were kicked out from under him and when he hit the floor, two of the militia were on him, cuffing his paws behind his back and hobbling them to his ankles in seconds.
A string of additional enforcers powered through the doors, pairing off to approach others inside the bar as the initial four dragged the Doberman.
Gunshots rang out from the rear of the bar, their reports muffled following the ear-shattering explosions, and the militia crew began to fire in response. In seconds, the room was lit by strobe-like muzzle flashes and screams rent the air. Additional guns fired from within the shadows of the bar, and the militia saw more than one of their own fall.
A hellish volume of fire was directed toward the corner of the bar from which the gunfire had initially erupted, the militia opening up with every weapon they could bring to bear. Magazines were depleted in seconds, and the room became a haze of gunsmoke. The fire suppression system kept up a steady deluge of stinking water.
Jinx sneezed as the burned powder smell tore at her nostrils. Her paws stayed clamped down over her ears as the gunfire began to taper off. Inwardly, she prayed silent prayers to gods she knew held her in no favor. Her eyes were squeezed tight and she lost track of the seconds as she waited.
A boot tapped at her ribs and she looked up into one of the reflective visors of the militia Folk.
“You gonna just lay there all day, Jinx?” she heard. “You’re getting all wet.”
“How did it go?” she asked, accepting his paw and standing. Her balance was off, though whether from the alcohol or from the concussion grenades she could not say. She listed to her left and the room seemed to spin and shake. The officer accepted her weight on him.
“Brannock’s down. Two through the faceplate. Shale is on the truck with a bullet through the knee. Four suspects dead, seven in custody.”
Her breath caught. “Damn it.”
“We got them, Jinxie,” he said.
“No. Brannock. He’s got a pup. Eight, nine months, maybe. Somebody’s gotta tell your Captain. He’s too stupid to realize.”
“Aw, shit,” the cop said. His visor retracted and she could see his face. A calico cat with a nose permanently shifted to the left from too many fights. She recognized him as a riot cop named Tane Felder. The big cat had always reminded her of a heavy weapons troop she had known on Richter’s World before her proximity inevitably led to his shipping out in a bag. Felder had a massive automatic shotgun slung in front of his chest. “I didn’t even think –”
She pushed away from the cat’s grasp, swaying slightly before shaking her head to clear it. Definitely from the concussion, she noted as the room began to tilt once again. His paw shot out and snatched at her collar, catching her a second before she lost her balance completely.
“I’ve got you,” he told her. His arm went around her waist and she allowed the support as he gingerly walked her toward the door. She sneezed a few more times as they moved. The militia on scene had applied cuffs to the paws of everyone present. They could all be questioned later. Jinx and Felder stepped over them with little regard.
The night air was noticeably cooler than that in the bar, and the gallons of sprinkler water that had soaked into Jinx’s clothing didn’t help matters any. She felt an involuntary chill wiggle its way down her spine as they stepped out of the bar and started for the mobile command post. Flashing green and red lights lit the area, reflecting off walls and lending the night a surreal feeling.
“Our main contact in there took one in the neck,” Captain Donnes said as they approached, showing as much concern for Jinx and her condition as Jinx herself had for those present in the bar. “I hope you’ve got enough evidence to deal with these bastards.”
Jinx spat onto the ground, noting idly the pink hue of her saliva. At some point she had bitten her tongue.
“I’m not worried about that right now,” she told the bulldog. “Brannock has –”
“You’d better fucking well get worried about it!” Donnes shouted, glaring at her from within the pressed confines of his immaculate uniform. “This was your scene, and we’ve got to have something to show for it. That’s why we hired you mercenaries.”
“And if you’d done it my way, we wouldn’t have this problem,” she countered, narrowing her eyes. She waved a paw in the direction of the armored van where the prisoners had been deposited.
“Toss a fucking frag in there and call it quits. These aren’t shoplifters.”
Donnes bristled at the implication, slamming a closed paw onto the folding table that had been dragged into place for his use behind his command truck. A sheaf of papers in a pale folder rustled and several pages flew free to flutter to the ground. A second later, the entire folder followed suit, scattering surveillance images and fugitive alerts across the pavement.
“We aren’t some kind of babysitting force here!” Donnes shouted. He stood up tall, his jowls flapping at a level that would make Jinx look up if she deigned to give him that satisfaction.
“No, you aren’t,” she said in a voice like silk. It was totally devoid of emotion, but so smooth it drew attention. “You’re the peacekeeping force here, and I’m telling you that to keep that peace, you don’t want to waste time with trials and media attention for those Folk in that truck. They are professional killers and agitators.”
“We took care of them in there,” Donnes sneered. “They can’t be all that impr –”
“In that bar? Gann’s balls, do you not understand that they came there expecting to find a quiet drink? Holdout pistols and knives, maybe, and even then they brought down two of yours. If they had known you were coming, you wouldn’t have made it past the front door. None of you. Correction: none of us. They would have sliced me, too.”
“I thought you were supposed to be good.”
“I am,” she responded, breathing in a slow, deep breath. The scent of gunsmoke was still thick in her nose, but she relished the fresh air. “Damned good. One on one? Two even. Maybe in a stretch against three of them, I’ll put all my money on me. Near a dozen of them in one place, though?”
She leaned in close and Donnes matched her move, bringing their faces near in anticipation of her next words. When they came, they were icy in tone.
“I’d have traded the concussion grenades for incendiaries.”
“There were civilians in there. Innocents.”
“I never claimed to be nice,” she said. “You hired me and mine to get close to these filthy fucks. Did you think you were getting the puppies from Howler’s camp? They would have drawn you pretty pictures and told you how bad these Folk were. Maybe those idiots from Chay’s?” she continued, hooking a thumb over her shoulder toward the bar, where the militia crew was even now dragging out the mercs taken into custody. The koala was covered in a fine film of his own vomit, and the big leopard tasked with getting him out was holding onto one booted foot rather than touch the sticky wetness.
“The department put out the call,” Donnes defended. “Not me.”
“And they came to my boss, who then asked for me, so Folk like you wouldn’t have to mess up your pretty uniforms. You wanted someone who could handle getting dirty, and that’s me. Kind of a specialty.”
“One can only imagine,” he replied, looking up and down her length. His lips curled as he took in her sodden clothing and disheveled appearance.
“Your dog Brannock has a pup,” she said, noting the way he scanned her. “Got a mate and pup waiting at home for him to come back. Maybe you should think about that instead of how dirty you want me to be.”
“That’s not what I was –”
“Deal with your Folk, Captain,” she said, emphasizing the rank with a hiss of pressure from behind gritted teeth.
She pivoted, pushed past Felder and marched into the night.