[personal profile] walk_ins

It's dry as dust in the township of Amesbury, and hotter than the devil's asshole, and Irah Neumann is cooling his anger in a bottle of weak beer. The air-conditioning rattles and judders in its wooden frame, just like it gives a good gorram, and the air goes right on quietly baking the roofs of everyone's mouths. Irah doesn't sweat much - he's used to the heat, grew up right here on Lilac, two towns over, not that that's not three days' ride on a good horse, which there ain't any of round here anyway. His beer does sweat, perspiration trickling down the neck and slowly wrinkling the Blue Sun label under Irah's fingers.

"Bullshit," he says again, thumping the bottle (not his first) down on the warped wood of the bar. "Bullshit."

Behind the counter, Zhou wonders if maybe he should step up, clank around the shotgun on the shelf under the solitary tap just to remind Neumann it's there. Gentle as a ruttin' lamb, Irah, when he's sober, but the last time he didn't get hired he wound up breaking a couple chairs (some of them on people), and Zhou's nose is still crooked from the time before that. Ruttin' Bentley Aeronautics. Still, seems like the general tide is with him, this time; Irah's not the only one who came tramping home today without the job they'd all been promised, a year ago and more. There's Cundall over in the corner, an order of magnitude more pig-drunk than Irah and adding no more'n the occasional "Yeah," to the conversation, and a real ugly húndàn that never did bother to introduce himself. Over from Caine, he'd said. They get 'em often, looking for that bright, shining future with one of our Alliance's premier engineering institutions, working together to defend your homes from the ever-present danger lurking beyond the outer planets. Right. Only the young ones, the smart ones, don't end up in here, pissed as hell in more ways than one.

"Know what I heard?" says the visitor, leaning over his drink. Buddha's balls, thinks Zhou. He looks like his momma fucked the wrong end of a rat. That hat don't help none, either. "I heard they have their own bar on-site. Good stuff, too, not this xióngmāo niào. No offense," he adds, with a sideways leer at Zhou, who simply grunts. He'd have a retort, being the quick-witted sort of barkeep, but he's distracted from an entirely ruttin' reasonable irritation by the man's teeth as he grins, wriggling forward on his barstool to deliver the killing blow. "On tap."

"Like to see any of 'em try to walk in here anyway," Irah mutters, looking like actually, matter o'fact, right now, he'd like nothing better. "See 'em sit their middle-aged Alliance lily-whites on a dirty stool and order up like they ain't shipped out here to be put in the jobs were supposed to be ours."

"Know what I heard?" Rat Face says again - insistently, like a man with a joke he's learnt, practised, beaten all the humor out of until it's flat and dead, and is determined to repeat. "I heard over on Newhall, they crashed it. Waited for the shift change, and walked right in. Made it back with a half dozen kegs, too."

"Didn't nobody - ?" (Irah.)

"Yeah." Zhou doesn't like the glee in Rat Face's eyes. "Sent 'em home with a ruttin' rupture."

Later, when the sound of fighting's still echoing down main street, Rat Face settles down with a grunt on the fèiwù de cot that passes for a bed in most of the town's way-houses. Better than nothing, though, and - insofar as it occurs to him - he's glad of it. He's spent too damn long doing what he came to do (and what is now done) and then lighting out for the territories, town after gŏushĭ de border town. He's overdue a few days' down time. Besides, said the note (he ate it), he's to expect something.

Like a babe in his crib, Rat Face swings his feet up, puts his head back, and settles down to wait for the mail.



November 2009

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