Liishi approached the table Trayburn had pointed out and noticed a large Knozrus sitting there, right arm thrown across the back of the seat beside him, left leg extended from beneath the table in a relaxed manner. That leg, and its accompanying arm on that side, was obviously cybernetic, whether completely so or just mostly so, Liishi couldn’t tell. She also wasn’t certain if the placement of those modifications toward the outside of the booth meant the bearer was confident with them or was hiding a deep-seated grudge toward having them. She knew of several veterans of the war who fit the latter type and twitched an ear in irritation. Some of those veterans were among the miners whom she’d pulled from Hess Rock.
Trayburn would get an earful later for bringing that up again.
If the Noz was large, the Bov male beside him was massive. His horns stretched wide to either side of his head and curled up into sinister half-spirals above. He clutched a deck of over-sized round playing cards in one calloused and scarred hand which he thumbed through, cut, then reshuffled. All with one hand.
And a Bov hand at that.
Liishi was quietly impressed. The Bov had a thumb opposing two broad digits. The way he manipulated the deck of cards implied exceptional dexterity. Liishi doubted that she could pull it off with her smaller hands.
When she stopped beside the table, the Noz swung his leg back under the table, the Bov started dealing cards, three to each of them, and three to her.
“Have a seat,” the Noz said. He had a soft voice, almost a purr, a voice that didn’t really fit his build. “I’d ask what a kitten like you is doing in a place like this,” he continued, “but I like the jewels where they are, thank you, and mama always told me to be nice to people who are about to pay you large sums of money.” He flashed toothy smile at her on the last.
Liishi sighed and slid behind the proffered cards. She’d have to watch herself around this one. She glanced at the cards—a three of claws and an eight of fangs sat face up. The third card was face down. She knew nothing of card games, knew nothing of games in general. She didn’t have time for them. She cocked an eyebrow at her table mates.
“Hunter’s Game,” the Bov growled to her unasked question. He smiled when he spoke, as though he knew something she didn’t, and likely did. They were studying her as much as she was studying them. “Passes the time in space—”
“So does a book. Or sleeping,” Liishi shrugged. “Or at least half a dozen other things I can think of.” She studied the Noz, noted a flash of red from his left eye when he cocked his head to one side while studying his face down card. The cards he had face up were a ten of claws and a two of horns. The red flash could be from another cybernetic implant. Could also be from a simple contact overlay which were cheaper than cyber and could be swapped out more readily with a different piece of equipment. They were also supposedly more comfortable.
If you liked poking yourself in the eye.
“Name’s Tariq,” the Noz drawled, “captain of the Iron Hide II, and yes, the left eye is a replacement along with my left arm and leg. Land rover we—” here he indicated the Bov, “were in during the war took an indirect hit from a STAM. I was on the wrong side of the vehicle.Hobbs,” he indicated the bull to his right, “dragged me to safety, and I’ve sworn off riding land-bound ever since.” He flashed that cocky grin again, and Liishi realized the swirling tribal patterns on the left side of his face masked the scarred flesh beneath. Whoever had done the work was very good.
“Iron Hide II? Why two?”
Tariq andHobbsexchanged a glance, Tariq noticeably stifling a squirm. “Long story. Maybe some other time,” he admitted.
Liishi shrugged. “I need you to get me and my partner into Bov space.” She focused on the captain but studied the Bov from the corner of her eye.
His hands stayed on the table to either side of his cards. The remaining deck sat in the space between the three. He ignored his cards, never once even looking at the face down (the face up were a ten of hooves and a five of hearts). Instead, his gaze flicked around the room, back to her, then around the room. The smile remained, had stayed in place with the small exception of her query concerning the name of the ship. Something to file for later, she thought.
“We meet a courier ship, retrieve a package, then get back into Fayeed space,” she finished.
“Ship we’re supposed to meet?”
“That information I’ll pass along once we’re on our way.” She’d been led to believe that the package contained sensitive information. If so, the least anyone knew about its whereabouts the better. Her handler knew his business.
“Half when we leave, the remainder once we’re back in Fayeed space,” Liishi replied. “As my broker probably let you know when I set this meet.”
Tariq studied her a moment, seemed to reach some sort of conclusion and bobbed his head once, scratched idly at the horn ridges along his snout. “Fine,” he said. “Not the way I usually run things, but there’s no harm in a bit of mystery. Ship leaves in six hours. Dock thirty-three.” He casually turned up one edge of the facedown card before him and smiled. “I’ll stand.”
Hobbsnodded, grunting, “Stand as well.” Then he looked at Liishi again, his eyes drifting from their scan of the room. “How ‘bout the lady?”
Liishi looked from one to the other, shrugged, then flipped over the facedown card. It was a queen of hearts. “Twenty-one,” she said. “What’s that mean?”
Liishi casually reached across the table and clawed the face down cards before the other two, dragged them toward her and flipped them over: a nine of claws for Tariq and a 6 of hooves forHobbs.
“We’re all winners here,” Tariq smiled and scooped the cards up, tossing them toHobbswho shuffled them into the deck. “Six hours. Don’t be late.”
Liishi shook her head as she rose. “Boys and their games,” she muttered. “Dock thirty-three. We’ll be there.”
And with that she departed Tangles, nodding a quick good-bye to Trayburn as she reached the exit.
NOTE: The game they’re playing is, of course, Black Jack or Twenty-One. I have tentative ideas for another game but nothing concrete so went with this for now. A later draft will likely include a revised version of Hunter’s Game.