Chapter 23

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The universe is full of people waiting to give you advice.

They can be the most closed-minded, brain-bent, unsuccessful, insular, hypocritical bastards in the seven sectors - but they still know how to make you a better person.

I'd built an automatic reaction to these people. Which was why I was mashing the barman's face into his bar counter for the fourth time before I realised that he may have had a point.

I held his head up out of the pool of blood. "Wait. What did you say?"

His eyes were rolling about in his head. I shook him. "What did you say?"

"I fhaid buy yer own fhip den. Fhorry."

I released him and he slid down behind the counter. A group of men were observing from one corner of the sad little bar, but were too wise to intervene. They ducked their heads and averted their eyes when I looked over at them. They recognised controlled rage when they saw it. Mostly controlled rage.

'Buy your own ship, then.' I'd been complaining about the inconvenience of travel to the outer sector when he had offered the comment as a sarcastic rejoinder. But he had a point. It was wildly extravagant, but if Smooth-face came through on his offer, I'd have 240 million creds in my account, on top of the 120 million payment for the contract on the girl. Plus whatever was left of my original 600k. With that sort of cred, I could buy whatever I wanted - a private corvette, even. Much faster than the big public cruiser, and without the hassle of boarding security and set schedules and all that crap. And I could leave a planet or orbital whenever I wanted to.

I could probably get Smooth-face to provide me with some kind of private transport. No way I could trust it to be free from all sorts of surveillance equipment. And other surprises. And his own hand-picked crew. Which would no doubt include Hrna.

I rubbed my temples. I'd had a splitting headache since my interview with Smooth-face that afternoon. I'd visited a Med-cent to get my throat repaired, but the pain-blockers hadn't done much for my headache.

I sipped my beer. Being in possession of a corvette wouldn't solve all of my problems. For one, I couldn't pilot it. I could fly skimmers and hoppers, but was no inter-sector pilot. I also had no idea how to arm and outfit such a vessel. Or where I could even buy one. I mentally rearranged the problems into order.

I leaned over the bar. "Any idea where I could buy one?"

"Wah?"

"A ship. Any idea where I could buy one?"

"Mebbe."

"Want me to come over there and ask again?"

"No."

I poured myself another drink and waited.

"Therfh a gal. Fhufhann. Connected."

"Fhufhann?"

"Fhufhann!"

"Where?"

"Dockbar Fhix."

Figured. Compared to Dockbars, dives like this one were gold service. There were seven Dockbars scattered around Melchi Prime. I pulled out a handful of credchips and tossed them over the bar. He'd given me something to think about.

"Fekk you."

Charming. I sent the bottle after the credchips. I hate that word. The mindless refuge of those with insufficient brain cells to arrive at a real and meaningful response.

I rose and left. It was time I had a serious talk with Partridge.

***

Partridge was standing in the middle of the lab, head tilted to one side as she regarded a projected schematic. It looked to be of a mechanical arm, or claw.

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