Time froze when the Golem entered the saloon to kill Mark.
The two low, wood-imitation doors bounced against her hips and swung back and forth a few times after she’d blasted inside. Sweet fragrances of aromatic tobacco mixed with acrid, pungent cigars solidified in the air. The smell of grilled meat intensified. Onions, peppers, spices. And the music faded into a loud chatter.
Men focused on the Golem and women forced their eyes away. Mark raised his glass at her. She narrowed her eyes at him, pinched her hat, and lowered it slightly, nodding his way. She then sauntered slowly across the room, eyes locked with Mark’s, her hips swinging left, right, left.
A long, carbon-polymer coat fluttered in her wake, reminding Mark of those capes the old super heroes dragged everywhere. Her eyes, big, black circles rimmed with gold, glinted dangerously under the yellowish lights. Mark smiled. She was a vixen, a deadly beauty. Brown leather pants and eggshell shirt covered her body, two holsters danced on each of her full hips, and black boots reached for her knees.
Mark slammed the glass back on the table when she reached his booth. Condensation dripped from the glass in his hand to the imitation-ebony tabletop.
“You know why I’m here.” The belle had a husky voice to go with the strong build, and an unconscious, sensual tease lurked behind her words.
She swung her wrist before her eyes. “Midnight.”
“Why the delay?”
“Special request from my employer.”
When she didn’t reply, Mark turned away from her and glanced outside. Far away, where the sky met the hazy mountains, the sun, a tiny and pale circle, crept away for the night. Some thirty stories below the saloon, the city was awaking, and artificial lights vomited sodium-yellow. All these centuries since its terraformation, and Mars still felt like a pile of shit in a jar—intriguing from afar but repulsive up close.
“You’ve got until then to attend to your affairs.”
Mark jerked his head back toward her. Too fast. For an instant, she blurred and turned into a mosaic of colors.
She towered over him, arms hanging alongside her body, fingers frozen next to the holsters, eyes squinted as if she were trying to read his mind.
“Attend to my affairs?”
She nodded. “Contact loved ones, say goodbye. That kind of things. Don’t try to run, though. You can call for help if you want, but you only have six hours until midnight; don’t waste them.”
Her eyes rolled in her orbits as if this were a routine, a boring monologue she was used to repeating. Mark chuckled, reached for his drink, and took a long gulp.
“I won’t try to run.”
She shook her head. “They all do.”
“Well, I won’t.”
Her chest rose. She was about to say something but remained silent. Mark raised his eyes to her face, shadowed by a large and dark cowboy hat. Under the hat shoulder-length hair framed an oval face. The orange locks flowed like a waterfall dripping around a cave opening.
“Why don’t you stay with me,” Mark said as she was about to leave. “Stay, keep me company, and make sure I stay put.”
She surveyed the crowd, her eyes fluttering around the saloon. Men hurried their looks away, joining the women in denying her existence. She whipped her carbon coat off her shoulders and wrapped it around the chair opposite Mark. She lowered into the seat.
He raised his hand at the waiter.
“Do you know who sent me?”
Mark smiled. “Doesn’t matter.”
“The reason I came, or what I came to do?”
“Both. Tell me your name instead.”
She removed her hat and set it atop her coat. “Juliet.” She fluffed her hair and combed it with her fingers.
The gesture clashed with the picture Mark’s mind had drawn of a tough assassin.
“What are you drinking?” He asked her when he saw the waiter-boy speed toward them, gliding inches above the floor, launching his left arm forward to give his body momentum, and alternating with the right. Air skiing is what the young called it; Mark found it silly but entertaining to watch.
“Tomato juice, low sodium, with a supplement of vitamin D.”
“Another one of these for me,” Mark told the waiter, shaking his glass. The ice cubes echoed its emptiness. On the waiter’s chest, painted on his shirt, there was a bright smiley face that amused Mark. It faded from yellow to green to purple, and so on until it cycled through all the colors of the rainbow.