Who remembers that? I have fond childhood memories of hearing that on the radio everyday. Not necessarily because of it, but because of the good times spent when it came on. Childhood is fleeting, but then again so, it seems, are my 40s…huh. Let’s get back to the story.
The Wheels Begin to Turn
The Inferno continued to fill to capacity on a nightly basis since the invasion. A wise man had asked those running away what they’d do once they got to the other side of the river and, thus, had quelled the exodus. Black Tide’s streets stayed crowded, most people believing in strength in numbers. Death was ever lurking, not that many cared. If it was their time, so be it.
Snake Eyes and Nathan tried their best to fit in with the ruffian crowd, but soldiers almost always managed to stick out. Their hunt for the assassin was over before it began. Any hope of finding him without suspicion was dashed by the queer looks folks passed them. Skrapp made a comment suggesting how hard it was going to be finding a man who had no desires to be found and was given dirty looks.
“He may not even be in town yet,” Snake Eyes growled, finishing the last swallow of ale in his mug.
“Relax a little. We’ve only been here an hour.”
Snake Eyes found himself laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
“Listen to us. A few weeks ago, we would have been at each other’s throats.”
“Yeah, well, I’ve learned to stop bitching so much,” Nathan confided. “Besides, I can’t go home until this war is over. One way or another. Hell, I might be stuck here for the rest of my life.”
“And when the Imperium pulls off planet?”
Nathan buried his face in his mug, not wishing to explore the dark possibilities of that. Coming to terms with his present situation proved difficult enough, despite the familiarity of being around a professional army again.
“That’s yer man there, lads,” Skrapp interrupted after setting down another round. There was no mistaking whom he was talking about. The assassin walked through the crowd like a king to take his nightly table. Oddly enough, no one was sitting there. Nathan looked around and saw that it was the only empty seat in the bar. No matter where his jobs carried him, Black Tide was always the fulcrum of his employ. Folks knew better than to take the man’s table.
“The one with the pipe?”
“Aye. That’s him, but ya got to watch out. He’s a cold-blooded killer, that one,” the old man warned. “Just as soon kill ya as speak to ya.”
A blue-gray plume of smoke drifted from his pipe, and he propped his legs on the tabletop. He was more than prepared to enjoy the night.
“Watch yerself with him, boy.”
Snake Eyes thumbed his blaster for reassurance and said, “Let’s go.”
The Viper smiled to himself as he slapped the serving girl on the behind when she turned to get his drink. Such a simple creature, he mused. He wondered how much he could get away with if the tip was bigger still.
“Thank you, darlin,” he called after her.
Then that old feeling crept over him. His body went into defensive mode, his left hand gliding to his blaster. The falcon on his shoulder squawked once, focusing on the pair moving towards them. It was just as a team should be. The assassin continued to casually sip his drink, eyes never settling on one area for too long.
“Can I help you?” he asked without bothering to look up at them. He already knew it was the soldier and his earthman friend.
“Maybe,” Nathan answered. “We need to ask you a few questions.”
“Of course you can understand my willingness to answer depends on if you’re law?”
“Not on this planet, pal.”
He kicked a chair out from the table. “Have a seat.”
Nathan was sure he felt the eyes of death glaring at him but held his ground. The sunglasses worked well enough to keep the suns from blinding him, but Nathan got chills from the assassin’s fire-red eyes behind them. The assassin finished assessing the threat. The older one had an air of authority about him and would be the first to go should anything unexpected happen. The other one couldn’t hide the fact that he was a soldier if he wanted to. Neither was from the Wastes, or Helscape, for that matter, while both carried a small measure of mystery. What they wanted from him was going to be interesting.
“Let’s cut this to the bone, shall we?” he began. “You know who I am, or else you wouldn’t be wasting my time. I want to know what you want from me.”
“Simple as that?” Snake Eyes smiled. His mistrust showed.
“Simple as that. Start talking.”
Nathan spoke up before Snake made things worse. “We need to talk about a friend of yours.”
The Viper snorted a laugh. “Odd, but I can’t seem to recall ever having friends. Who might this person be?”
Here’s something new. This came as a surprise, but he was expecting it. Why would the Slayer send for him otherwise?
“Go on. You have my complete attention.”
Nathan didn’t trust the smile, but the cards were already on the table. “I know that he sent a message for you before we left. Unfortunately, he chose to keep his reasons private and gave no explanation why. Kane knew the Imperium was going to fail, which leads me to think you had something to do with it.”
“You two should mind your own matters,” The Viper snorted. “Turn around and walk away.”
The assassin was mad, but that didn’t keep him from ordering another round of drinks. If current events were important enough for Kane to contact him, there just might be a prize at the end of the rope.
“Where is he?” he asked to their backs.
Nathan turned with a grimace. “Not yet. Tell me where you fit in first.”
He laughed. “I’m in the information business. There’s a certain sadistic pleasure in dispatching men and monsters for the right price, but I don’t smell that coming from you two. These are trying times.”
Snake Eyes was fed up. “Look, buddy, I’ve had just about as much of you as I can stand. Either work with us or against us, but quit the games.”
“My, my,” the Viper cooed. “I suggest you keep your voice down and that hand away from your blaster. You really don’t want to try me, soldier boy.”
Snake Eyes jerked upright and stormed off.
“I like his style,” the Viper commented. “It would have been a shame to kill him. You seem pretty reasonable yourself, so let’s talk business. Where is Kane, and why did he send you for me?”
“That doesn’t sound right. A man like that doesn’t need to be kept safe. What happened to him?”
Nathan feigned a smile for politeness’ sake. “He was left for dead during the retreat. A few of us snuck out last night and brought him back. He’s recovering but close to death. It’s going to be a while before I can learn the whole story from his side. Which leaves you. I think he was planning something, and whatever it is involves you.”
The Viper sat in silence, reviewing his options and weighing the choices. He and Kane didn’t exactly part on good terms, leaving no reason for either of them to seek the other out.
“Give me the room number.”
“If I do that, you hold the deck. No deal.”
“And you lose if you don’t. Your choice.”
“Meet me on the third floor of the Sand Dragon.”
“I’ll be there in an hour.”
Satisfied with having the ball rolling, Nathan excused himself to join Snake at the bar. A feat far greater than any of them was just put into motion, without their knowing, and it wasn’t going to stop until it consumed their lives. Nathan looked back, already knowing the Viper had slipped from the room.
“He took off the second you turned around,” Snake Eyes said from the bottom of his glass. “Did he have anything useful to say?”
“Nothing much. He’s meeting us in the hotel in an hour, though.”
“Which means he’s already on the way. We need to get moving.”
Instincts made Xill crouch down and draw the dagger in his right boot. The faint tapping of boot heels set his nerves on edge. The hallway was half-shrouded with darkness due to most of the lights being blown. His suspicions eased when Nathan and Snake stepped into the light.
“Stand easy, it’s just us,” Snake Eyes said. “Everything been quiet?”
“So far, Sergeant,” Xill answered in his usual monotone. “I was starting to worry.”
“A little problem here, bigger ones there. It wasn’t anything we couldn’t handle,” Nathan commented. “How’s Kane?”
“I’ve been out here the entire time.”
“You haven’t seen anyone lurking around, have you?” Snake Eyes asked.
Xill blinked, partially from confusion. “No. You have been the only ones.”
Relief rushed into Nathan. This was the best news he’d heard so far today. “Better than a guard dog,” he chuckled.
“But not good enough,” came a new voice from the shadows behind them. Xill spun, bringing his dagger up. The red tracer pointing at his chest was more than enough to make him drop it.
“Put away your toys, and keep your hands where I can see them. We don’t want anyone getting shot for no good reason, do we?” He waited until they did as he wished. “Good. Now, I want to see Aradias Kane, and I don’t expect no for an answer. Open the door.”
The Viper stepped into the open with a gnarled smile.