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When Trouble Finds You

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The pub isn't the typical fare, as pubs go. Sure there's the flowing ale and obligatory Celtic music in the background. Normally pubs are a meeting place, verging on "family friendly". But all the patrons here seem on the rough side, keeping mostly to themselves. The newcomer walking up to the bar feels the wary eyes staring.

"Can I buy you a drink?" she asks the rugged gent, with the lightly striped hair and 5 o'clock shadow, who's standing at the bar nursing the last of his drink. His Aegis uniform says he must be an officer.

He downs the rest and doesn't bother looking directly at her. Though he can see her short blonde hair and full red lips from his peripheral vision. "I don't play with zooies," he says in a terse 'end of conversation' tone and his eyes flash yellow.

"Well, I don't think I want to know what a zooie is by they way you said the word. This was just the first pub I could find. The first thing that reminded me anything of home. Thought I'd spend my last few nights of freedom in somewhat familiar surroundings." She folds her roughed up hands on the bar counter as if to root herself there.

"Do you know what kind of pub you walked into?" he turns to her and demands with a scowl and clenches his glass tighter.

Glancing around with her inquisitive brown eyes she answers deadpan,"Looks like a normal pub to me."

"Tersie, you haven't noticed that every single one of the patrons here isn't human. have you?"

"Expecting everyone in the 'verse to look like me would be silly and boring. What's your point?" she counteracts, starting to feel defensive.

He sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. "The sign outside says 'no humans'. Didn't you see?"

"Oh... If I did, I couldn't read it," her face falls. "I guess I should go then... S-sorry for bothering you." She embarrassedly slinks from the bar toward the door and wraps her jean jacket around her tighter, but a splice with a hint of cobra in him blocks her way. He speaks in a hissing kind of language. She stutters and tries to step around him, "I... I'm sorry I don't understand you. I know now that I'm not welcome, so I'm leaving."

Behind her she hears the officer at the bar swear, "Beeswax." Stomping, heavy sounding boots come up behind her and then he's cussing out the snake splice in that odd dialect. When he comes to some sort of grudging understanding, he gruffly leads her by the elbow out of the establishment.

Only when they reach her lev cycle, does he let go. "You owe me a drink for that, missy. He wasn't going to take no from you. Thought you were a zooie too. I told him I'd already taken you up on your offer. He's a regular there, and I won't be able to go back there without a fight."

"Well, I definitely owe you and I obviously don't know the establishments here. The ship I'm staying on has a well stocked bar. Can I be your barkeep for the evening? Or is there a bar you'd prefer?"

"Your captain won't mind you bringing company aboard?"

"Nope." She puts on her helmet and hands one to him.

"Maybe we should just go to a bar near your ship..."

"I make a mean wild honey buck and they stocked a home brewed mead that is to die for," she casually mentions into the helmet mic and straddles her latest model lev rocket bike.

"Sold. How'd you know what kind of drinks I'd be interested in?" Standing there for a moment, his eyes follow her sharp features and curves. The breeze blows her golden hair through her transparent mag helmet. He questions his motives before he gets on behind her. Beeswax, what did he just get himself into? Not only is she beautiful, she looks far younger and must be several classes above him status wise with a ride like this. Not likely a thief. There's something more to this tersie though. She looks like she's used to hard work - maybe a mechanic. But not likely from her build. His hackles are up.

"Educated guess. Your drink smelled like honey and the mark on your neck is a bee. And I like them too," she shares as she starts up the bike and speeds off, causing him to grab on tightly and lean into her.  She offers, "Name’s Bridget. What's your’s?"

"Stinger. Drinks or bees?" He anticipates the turns with her and helps lean into the turns for efficiency.

"Both, I guess. You're not a dead weight back there, what do you fly?"

"Zeroes and a clipper. How does a tersie know how to fly one of these, let alone have one?"

"Part of the training and perks for my upcoming job. Though, I had a motorcycle back home. Not sure why I need to be able to fly at this point. Since when does a bondservant need to drive? But it's one of the few fun parts. Zeroes huh? Cool. Wanna drive?"

"You'd trust me?"

"Stinger, if you can fly a Zero, this is cake." She slows and parks before getting off and encouraging him to scoot to the driver's spot.

"That's not what I was talking about."

"Listen, you're Aegis and you just got me out of an uncomfortable bind. That's good enough for me. Besides, you have the right to ask if you can trust me too. I've seen some weird shit since I left Earth. It's just common sense to be on guard." Hopping back on the cycle - behind him now, she clasps her hands around his waist.

"Bondservant? You read the agreement thoroughly?" he asks with concern and continues in the direction they were headed.

She groans and thunks her helmet on his back in frustration. "Yes, 'Dad'..." The silence becomes uncomfortable, so she explains, "I would have done anything to heal my son. He's all I've got."

Stinger shakes his head at the memories of Kiza having the bug. "Been there... So who are you contracted to?"

"Titus Abraxas."

"Oh bloody hell."

"What? Everyone knows he's a pompous twit and uses people, but what's that reaction about?"

"I had to make a deal with him too... to save my daughter."

"Oh. Is she doing ok? My ship is at the Helix Temple dock, by the way."

"She's fine. If Titus gets his hands on me, I won’t be."

"Sounds like an interesting story. Will you tell me?"

Abruptly stopping, he powers off the cycle and starts to get off as he removes the helmet. "I knew I should listen to my instincts. Damned entitleds! Sent a tersie who's just barely matured to a woman to do their dirty work. I almost fell for it."

"What are you talking about?!?" she's genuinely perplexed and grabs his coat sleeve.

"Titus sent you after me! That's why you zeroed in on me! Where's your tracking chip? How long until they arrive?" he crosses his arms, brushing off her hand, as he confronts her and his eyes are blazing gold in warning.

"What tracking chip? I don't get that for another two days! Listen you caught my attention, that's all! And I'm 39, thank you. They saw the same gene problem in me, just latent, and put me through the treatment too. That's why I have such a damned long contract."

He gruffly grabs the chin of her helmet and turns her head to look for an implant. When he doesn't find one, he rubs the back of his neck in embarrassment and lets out a breath to decompress from the stress that had slammed into him. "Sorry. I just thought... "

Pursing her lips then looking up at the sky, she grudgingly accepts his apology. "I get it, OK. And I see it won't be safe for you on the ship, just in case Famulus is there. We can go anywhere you'd like. Do you want that drink or not?"

"After what I said, I'll buy," he volunteers, still suspicious but not aggressive anymore.

"Deal. Where're we headed?"

"Across the street." He jerks his thumb over his shoulder. "Best mead planetside."

He holds the door for her and the barkeep greets him by name when they enter. "Who's the lady with ya today?"

Stinger introduces them. "Bridget. Don't let her quietness fool you. She's got pluck."

Bridget holds out her hand to the man behind the bar, who returns a solid handshake and he answers "Jinco. Good ta meet ya, Bridget. So what'll ya have?"

"Stinger recommended the mead here."

"It's all he ever gets, cause of the fire honey. Two pints comin' right up."

Jinco plunks the tankards down in front of them. A dull red glow emanates from the mead inside and she swirls the drink and takes a sniff. "Cinnamon?" she asks hesitantly.

"No, but similar. It'll warm you on the coldest day," Stinger replies savoring his own mug.

Her first sip has sweet tones with that oddly cinnamon like hint and it does feel warm all the way down as she swallows it. "Even on days your only acquaintance grumps at you."

"Ouch," Stinger retorts.

"Well, it's working. And it really is as good as you said."

He gives a little one sided smile and motions with his pint toward a table, "Wanna sit?"

With her nod, he ushers her over and inquires, "So where on Earth are you from?"

"Nebraska. Omaha to be exact. Not that it matters, no one here would know where it is," she laments with a shrug and tilt of her head.

"I do." Stinger gives a cautious reply but leans in toward her.

"Really, now? Do tell." She's skeptical but curious.

"Up until a few months ago, I was a Marshall based outside of Chicago. I drove to Omaha once with my daughter. She loved the zoo there. But that was quite a few years ago."

"I've only driven past Chicago. What's it like?"

"They don't call it the Windy City for nothing. Even an hour away we'd get the occasional lake effect snow. But it's a big city. Kiza and I prefer the country."

"Really? I wouldn't have pegged you for a country boy. Charming" Her surprise causes her to pause and to take a better look at him with the new perspective. Her lips turn up at the edges at the thought of him working on a farm.

"Kiza is still watching over the hives and is likely hiring the neighbor to plant the corn for our bees."

"So she's an adult now?"

He nods. "How old is your son?"

"17. I'll miss him going off to college. He's one of the candidates for a fellowship to MIT. But it kills me I won't get to be one of those moms they have to shoo away from the dorms as the kids are dropped off at school."

"Must be a fine young man." His compliment is guarded, because alarm bells are going off in his head. She seems interested in him and far too open. Why would a pretty tersie be interested in an aging splice?

"His grandparents and I are very proud." She sees the question Stinger won't dare to ask. "And no. No father in the picture. He left before Ian was born. The only reminder we have of him is the monthly check he's required to send. Never even bothers to ask about his son. But I won't fuss, I've known women to be just as bad about kids not in their custody and I've had the support of my parents... And I'm rambling now. What about you? You sounded like it's just you and Kiza."

"Yeah, just the two of us. I paid my splicer to create her, so I'd have family. She's the only good thing I’ve done in my life."

"I didn't even know that was possible. Wow. I know so little about the 'verse. Does she like Earth?"

"Better than other places we've lived. She fits in well enough and has friends in town." Seeing that Bridget has downed a fair amount of her mead already, he guiltily warns, "You won't want to drink that too fast, unless you expect me to drive."

"So noted." She smiles gratefully for the advice. "It's just so good that it's hard to not down quickly... So, if you don't mind, where'd you get the English accent? Did you grow up in England?"

"My drill sergeants had this accent."

"You learned to speak from drill sergeants? Gahds, how young were you when you started in the Legion?"

"Six. We're engineered to mature quickly for the most bang for the credit."

"I can't imagine sending someone off to boot camp at the tender age of six. So you've fought or been an Aegis officer all your life?"

"Aye. What about you? Your rough hands say labor, but your physique, clothes and cycle don't."

''On Earth I was a massage therapist, but I liked working on my cycle. I assume I'll be put to work in massage, but teaching me to fly is still a mystery."

He nods empathetically. "If you can be more independent, it's good. They may be training you for deliveries."

 


 

"Need a ride back to wherever you're staying?" Bridget offers.

"I wouldn't say no... " He's opened up considerably since she first met him. "But it's not in a real good part of town, especially after dark. Maybe you should just drop me off on the edge of the neighborhood so you can get back to your ship safe."

"I'm not in a hurry to go back. It'll be a prison soon enough."

"But... Never mind." In his head he hears, ‘Don’t go there old man.’

"Nah, it's fair. I thought if there were happy memories, then it wouldn't feel so much that way. But I want you to be safe too. And you won't be there."

His eyebrow is arched as he contemplates her words. He tries to dissuade her,"My apartment here isn't much. Just a one room flat."

Shrugging, she's unconcerned. "Would you rather I get a room for the night? All I have is company credit. My employer might ask about that though and I'd have to answer him about ordering breakfast for two."

He runs his hand through his hair, "I guess that's a way to ask yourself over."

"Want me to be blunt instead?" Her face turns mischievous with a toothy grin.

Giving a snort of laughter he declines that last question, "No need to hit me over the head. I'll drive, the directions are complicated."

 


 

He parks the cycle on the roof, so it should still be there in the morning. Bridget stares up at the sky and the immense almost lacy structures that go well into space. "Wow. For a rough neighborhood, it's not a bad prospect. Those spires to the north really add to the view."

"If you want to think of it that way." He shrugs noncommittally. "Usually those towers just remind the folks here that we're the 'have nots'. Wanna stay out here to gawk, or see if there's a view from my window?"

She smiles, amused at his terse manner and follows through the door he opened for her.