Magnus kept one eye on the gang of Martians. Five of them, roaring with laughter in the corner of the bar. They were going to be trouble. Slaughter-tourists up from the equatorial cities, Wells or Bradbury. A few days running wild on the lawless Strip and they could go back home and tell everyone how crazy it had been. It was always the same. The people who actually lived on Möbius were rarely the trouble-makers.
It occurred to him, once again, that running a bar was pretty similar to combat. Long periods of boredom, constant vigilance, the occasional explosion of violence. He scanned the room as he poured Mars Red for one of his regulars. In truth the raucous Martians didn’t concern him much. He could deal with them easily enough. It was the ghost two tables over that really worried him. A ghost from his past, sitting there alone, sipping her drink and studying him. It couldn’t be chance she was here.
Images flashed through his mind as he thought about her. Scraps of memory. Walking with her hand-in-hand through the hubbub of some Earth city. The feel of her body as they embraced. The smell of her hair. The memories were random, disjointed, their sequence unclear. He wished he had more.
With a crash of glasses, one of the Martians tipped their table over. The others cheered. An asteroid-belt trucker drinking nearby stood up, his hair sprinkled with shards of glass. He roared something and strode towards the Martians, pulling hand-held weaponry from a holster.
Magnus picked up the zapper he kept charged behind the bar and aimed it at the Martian. Fifteen metres, stationary target, easy. He could have hit with his eyes shut. He fired, blasting the Martian through the air to crash into the wall beyond. The bar went silent, just for a moment. The trucker nodded, justice done, and returned to his drink. Magnus strode over to the unconscious man slumped in a huddle of limbs on the floor. He’d recover; the shot wasn’t fatal. If people thought they might get killed, they went to other bars.
The other Martians didn’t appear to appreciate his thoughtfulness. They jostled around him, wide-eyed, urging each other on. They were, Magnus thought, little more than boys.
‘You killed Dev!’ One of them held a knife. He lunged at Magnus.
Magnus stepped aside. The knife nicked his bare forearm. It was amusing more than anything. They probably had guns, bought somewhere on the Strip to make them feel dangerous, but he still couldn’t take them seriously. He had fought the Basilisks hand-to-hand for three years.
He nodded to the mech, standing stationary in the centre of the room like some towering metal war-god. Tourists often thought it was decoration, a three-metre prop erected in the centre of the bar to give the place some atmosphere. When it moved and began firing their expressions were always a delight to see.
The mech turned now and advanced on the Martians. Throw them out he instructed it over their tPath link. The mech, towering over the trouble-makers, paused for a moment, as if it savouring the task, then picked up all five of them in one claw. It marched towards the entrance. Customers knocked over their chairs to scramble out of its way. The five men kicked and punched uselessly. At the door the mech hurled them out onto the Strip, then stood barring the door in case they tried to get back in.
‘But, Dev!’ one of them shouted from the floor. ‘We can’t just leave him.’
‘Don’t worry,’ said Magnus, standing next to the mech. ‘When he wakes up we’ll throw him out too.’
Magnus turned and began picking up chairs. Sometimes he wished his bar wasn’t so retro. Such a predictable fucking space-dive. Who used glasses made of glass any more? Still, the customers liked it.
At least the Martians wouldn’t be back. Plenty of other bars on the Strip. Or they would go and work out their anger in some rough house, beating the crap out of whatever virtual unfortunate they wanted to
Lauren Barnholdt, Aaron Gorvine