"Here, drink this."
A beaker, cold against his lips, poured a burning fluid down his throat.
Malik coughed as liquid fire coursed through his body, jerking him unceremoniously back to full consciousness.
He sat up, protesting weakly, "What the shit…?"
Crila put one hand—her meat hand; the other one was metal and alloy—on his chest and pushed him back down onto what was, he discovered by squinting through the gloom, the floor of Dhamu's bar. The burly, massive Ferajai barkeep himself, his yellow eyes red-rimmed from the smoke that still filled the air, towered over them, and dangling from one hand was an ancient Dondaro Mark Five blaster, huge, bulky and cycles out of date.
How the hells does he even get charges for it, Malik wondered blearily.
He blinked and shook his head. "What the…?"
"Yeah, yeah, we already heard that one," groused Crila in her hoarse, I've-tried-to-breathe-vac-too-many-times-and-failed voice. "Creative conversationalist you ain't, Malik."
Malik gave it another try, his mind as cloudy as the atmosphere. "Where did…?"
"By Bhagnor's scales, you was laying in the middle of that pile of bodies right outside my door." Dhamu shook his head, the light glinting off the grey-green scales that covered it in thick layers. "Them damn Connies run off and—"
"Tau!" Malik sat up in a blaze of sudden memory…then slumped forward as his head threatened to explode. He took deeps breaths through his mouth, trying not to puke.
"Yes, I saw him run through here, right as that damn riot started outside," Dhamu nodded. "Didn't see what happened to him but the boy can take care of hisself, you know that, Malik. Hells, he's been running the tunnels all his life. Ain't nobody knows the Depths like Tau."
"Yah, he does." Malik coughed, fairly sure he wasn't going to puke in his lap, but not willing to risk any credits on it. "But I gotta go check on him, make sure he's all right."
Malik struggled up, checked to see if his blaster was still in its holster, and tried to summon up his second best grin for his two friends. From their expressions, the attempt was a dismal failure.
"I know some of Tau's secret cribs. If the Connies didn't get him, he'll go to hole in one of them when he can. Thanks for the rescue. I owe you both one."
"You and that boy," Crila sighed as she sprang lithely to her feet.
"What happened here, Cril?" Mal asked, cursing himself for not saying anything earlier.
She shrugged. "Had me a little run-in with a Spacer who tried to leave without tipping." She motioned towards the pile of bodies outside the door. The local residents were busily stripping them of anything valuable. "That's him there, see? The one with the shaved head and the missing ear?"
Mal wasn't really interested in seeing what little Cril had done to the big spacer, but it was only polite to look. "Serves him. Should have known better. That what started everything?"
"Them damn Connies showed up," Dhamu said, in as excited a tone as a Ferajai ever managed, which wasn't very. "Spouted something about keeping the peace. That didn't make anybody too happy. So a fight broke out, a course. Most customers ran or rolled out to have some fun, and Cril threw the ones that didn't behind."
"Cril, we're not as young as we used to be." Mal eyed the cut on her forehead. "You need to be more careful."
"Why Mal, my dear old boy, I didn't know you cared." Crila grinned at him, her purple eyes gazing out of the palest of faces.
"I do." Malik grinned back her. "You practically the only family I have. Want to go help me find Tau?"
"One a these days, Malik, one a these days, that Hu-man boy's gonna land you in a pile of bov-shit up to your eyes…" Dhamu shook his massive head.
The sound of scales rubbing against scales echoed in the low room.
End of UNDERWORLD. Next: SCUM by J.A. Johnson