Waltz at the Dancing Pegasus
Alixa sighed as she saw the five beings gathered outside her pub. Most were human, but there was one who looked like a halvsie. And they were coming inside. She had regular customers, but these men were strangers.
She glanced down behind the bar to make sure she was ready for anything. Standing two inches over five feet tall and with a small frame, Alixa needed what she called her tools when trouble threatened. Halvsies, the results of interbreeding between the male human mine workers and the Gencoan females, often meant trouble. They tended to be quick-tempered and not overly bright, which is not great when combined with alcohol.
The strangers were having a conference, but entered. The two tallest had a menacing look. She had been hearing rumors that other bars in town had been having some trouble with a group of strangers with a halvsie in tow. She guessed it was her turn now. And she was ready. She just wished that she had some back-up, but it was too early for her regular trade to begin.
“What can I get for you,” she asked in her best ‘mistress of the pub’ voice, staying safely behind the bar. She carefully kept her hands on the counter, and continued wiping the surface with her small towel. “It’s a bit early for drinks, but I have coffee-sub brewing.”
If she had real coffee, Alixa thought, she’d have to beat people away with a baseball bat. The real stuff was too expensive to import to this backwater berg of a planet. Gencoa was only fifty light-years from Earth, but it wasn’t exactly New Copenhagen. Hell, it wasn’t even New Edinburgh. Even with Jones-Drive, most ships by-passed it as too industrial. So coffee-substitute was all that was generally available. Luckily, tea wasn’t hard to procure, which she preferred anyway.
Two of the humans, obviously miners just off-shift judging by the dirt on their hands, approached the bar while the other two humans and the halvsie found seats at one of the round wooden tables placed around the open room. They chose the large table by the window, rather than the large one near the hearth of the fireplace.
“We don’t want nothin’ right now,” the taller and older of the two stated. “We’re waitin’ on someone. Anyone from the mine been in here in the past ten minutes?”
“You’re the first from this shift,” she replied. “Just got off work? The washroom’s over on the side if you want to clean up a bit.” She nodded off to her left at the door plainly marked as the pub’s lavatory. Both men could use a thorough dose of soap and water, even if the water was standard tap – and cold.
“Tank ye,” the other man replied. Shorter by a few inches than his companion, he was stockier. “We will. My name is Leander, and this here is Max.”
Alixa nodded and watched as the two men disappeared into the facilities, then turned her attention to her other three customers. She noted that the humans were not miners; at least they hadn’t worked the day’s shift as the first two had, and they were relaxed. If she had to judge, they looked like old-fashioned goon muscle. Probably about as bright as the halvsie. Speaking of the halvsie, he looked nervous. And that made her nervous. She mentally blessed the training she had gotten from Nyall Prysen when she took over the pub’s day-to-day business.
“There will be times,” he had told her, “when spotting trouble before it starts will save you.” And he had proceeded to teach her what he knew, including how to turn the tables in spite of her size and sex. He also took care to make sure she learned enough to take care of herself. Human women were rare on Gencoa. However, he had also told her, this may be a backwater but that didn’t mean you had to act like Neanderthals. He took great pride in what was proper and taught her correct speech and manners. When she was older and had observed the people around the city, she had stated that humans may be among the stars now, but that didn’t mean they weren’t human – with all the negatives following along. She had learned her manners anyway, along with a lot more.
Gencoa was a rough world; there was no doubting that fact. The only industry, if you could call it that, was the company mine, Quinterium Universal. The quinterium, the solitary asset of the planet, was mined here, quickly processed – but not refined – and shipped off-world where it was used in the construction of energy production plants. The only people getting rich from it were the mining corporate officers. Big surprise. Workers came from Earth looking for jobs and more often than not got stuck on the otherwise barren world. There were few human females around, hence the halvsies. Gencoan males tended to die out quite young; the theory was the male line was genetically weak. Alixa was amazed that the male halvsies managed to live out almost-human lifespans. There were female halvsies, but they rarely reached ten years of age, too young to even consider breeding.
The Dancing Pegasus – named after the ancient human mythological flying horse by the oddly-romantic Prysen – was one of a handful of bars in Quint City, which was the only major city on Gencoa. Alixa herself was Earth-born. Her father had brought her with him after he accepted a management position with QU, following the early death of her mother. Fifteen years ago, when her father drank himself to death, Nyall had taken her in and raised her as his grandchild. Despite her petite size, she felt confident to handle whatever came through the door. She had been running the pub for about a year, and had managed to create a homier atmosphere than the other watering holes in the district. If she was going to live here, she wanted it that way. She had informed Nyall, when he objected to her changes, that it was his fault for teaching her manners. Besides, the atmosphere had increased their business. Now business was as good as could be expected, maybe just a tad better.
She shook her head suddenly to break her reverie. It would not do to get caught spinning daydreams. Life in Quint City was too cheap for that. She eyed her five customers, the first two having rejoined their fellows. No one was talking, no one was moving. They were waiting. Not comforting at all.
“Hey, Alixa!” came the booming voice of Sev Drummond, as he entered the pub. “Start a batch of Rock Pounders! There are three more behind me!” He had a boyish face, powerfully built but relatively short man who looked far less dangerous than he was. He had made it known to her that any time she wanted help – or love – she was to call him first. They were good friends.
“You got it,” she said as she laughed, watching four of her regular customers file in, dirty and damp from the almost constant drizzle outside. “Who’s buying? Jerred, Mako, or Reive?”
“Me,” replied Sev, digging into his pocket as he came up to the bar. “I even washed up at the mine.” He put money on the bar, and held up his hands, which were clean.
“You are buying? This is an occasion!” She smiled as she put the money in the till, and started to gather the ingredients for his favorite drink – the Rock Pounder was a simple recipe, combining off-world vodka with two local brews. Vodka was the cheapest off-world liquor, so it was often used in drinks to add punch. Sev liked the drink because he swore that it makes him able to pound rocks with his bare hands. She didn’t mention that it was early for hard drinks; she was grateful that he and the other three were there. “What are we celebrating?”
“I got a bonus today!” Sev grinned. “They even did a presentation. What do you think of that?”
Bonus wages from the mines were doable, but generally required a lot of extra work, which was not Sev’s style. Alixa opened her mouth to reply, but her response was cut off by the sound of three chairs falling over. Max, Leander, and another human had stood abruptly, the chairs falling in the process. Sev raised an eyebrow at Alixa, who shrugged.
“They told me they were waiting for someone,” she whispered, leaning over the counter. “Didn’t order any drinks.”
The tall stranger, Max, took three long steps to Sev. He topped Sev by over eight inches, and probably 50 pounds. Alixa knew that wouldn’t bother Sev.
“That bonus is mine.”
Sev drew himself up to his full height of five feet eight and tried to glare at the man in front of him. Alixa noted that the halvsie was now on his feet and that Sev’s friends were still seated but exchanging glances.
“Uh-oh,” she thought, “here we go.” She moved carefully and slowly towards the end of the bar in preparation for joining the fracas she was certain to come, figuring that attention wasn’t on her but on the two men facing each other.
“Stranger, I earned that bonus by pulling extra duty and taking extra shifts. There’s plenty of work for all, and no need to get upset. Have a Rock Pounder on me.” Sev gave the man his most disarming smile, knowing it had worked before to get him out of tight spots.
“Nope. Me and my buddies are movin’ in, and what is extra is ours.” The tall man leaned forward, almost pressing his chest in Sev’s face. “We won’t take regular pay, just the extra. Better get used to it. Now hand over the money.”
Behind the corner of the bar, unnoticed by everyone but Sev’s friend Jerred, Alixa bent over, and removed her shoes. She put on her special pair, and came around the bar. She was now a bit taller. Jerred caught her eye, nodded slowly, and winked at her.
“Sev, if you want me to, I’ll go get the constable.” Alixa smiled up at the tall stranger. “I take it that this is the man you were waiting for?”
“Girl, keep your nose out of this,” said Leander, moving to stand with his friend. “And stay put. No cops. We don’t want no trouble, just his money.”