A visiting Zangali gets a lesson in life on Tomin Kora from one of his own kind…(Editor’s Note: This episode also puts paid to the common misconception that Zangali are total morons. They aren’t. They just don’t speak everyone’s language.)

Last Call Tavern

A place like this makes a person wish every chair sat with its back to a wall.

The tavern is a dark and shadowy place, the outside glow of the nebula filtering in weakly while pale blue plasma lanterns gleam in the center of most tables (some seem to have run out of juice, but the complaints department doesn’t care and the maintenance crew doesn’t get paid enough to intrude on conversations better left in the darkness).

The room stinks of sweat, cigarette smoke, and spilled alcohol and blood.

Fifteen tables and six booths are arrayed around a central C-shaped bar counter, which has eight stools in front of it.

“Well it looks like a dummy.” Jasra chuckles and picks up her scotch to take a long sip, hiding her smirk.

Knuckles thumps into the tavern, and swings his snout around to take in the occupants. His eye membranes nictate and the spines bristle atop his head.

Falkenberg is sitting at the bar, as are Kendrick, Tkagorth and Jasra. Cesca stands behind Falkenberg.

Tkagorth spots to other Zangali and quickly goes about scanning other patrons of the bar.

Knuckles walks to one of the tables with the blown plasma lamp, off in a shadowy corner, and settles into a creaky chair.

Falkenberg gestures to the seat next to him and looks to Cesca. “Sit,” he says. “I’m not sure they serve any wine you’d like here, but you can ask.”

Kendrick chuckles slightly, “I don’t think they even serve wine in this place. Something about the clientele gives me that feeling.”

Jasra puts down her glass with a little thump and nudges Tkagorth slightly with her elbow, her voice lowers and a wicked smile touches her lips, “Who Tka bash?”

Tkagorth shrugs, “Tkagorth no decidedededed yet. Tkagorth think stupid softskins. May bash new Zangali.”

Cesca slides her hip on to the indicated stool, negligently perching herself upon it as she leans one elbow upon the bar. “They have what you ordered?” she asks Falkenberg with a small smile. “I could have one of those.”

Falkenberg nods to Kendrick. “Yeah.” He looks around the room again, seeming a bit edgy. “I wonder if they built this place on the site of old Freewheeling. I don’t recognize anything…”

Jasra leans closer to the Zangali at her side, having to reach a little to whisper in his ear.

Tkagorth grunts, “Floozy softskin?”

Jasra drops her face in her hands.

Falkenberg holds up a dirty glass filled with clear liquid. “It’s vodka,” he says. “I usually prefer scotch, but…well, let’s just say something seemed appropriate about ordering vodka here.”

Kendrick takes another swig from the bottle and slams the bottle down onto the bar.

Falkenberg glances at Tkagorth.

Jasra grumbles at Tkagorth, “Tka no secret keep.”

Knuckles swings his snout to the sound of the other Zangali, particularly intrigued, it would appear, by the pondering about “bashing” him. He begins to scrape his spiked knuckles on the table.

Kendrick chuckles, “Tka, you need to learn to be subtle.”

Tkagorth looks around still quite confused, “What? Tkagorth want know.”

Cesca cuts her gaze toward Tkagorth and Jasra, one imperious eyebrow twitching upward. She leans just a little closer to Falkenberg and announces, “Your pilot does not like me. I wonder why? There is no reason for her to be jealous, is there?”

Jasra gives Tkagorth and evil look, “Nevermind, Tka.” she looks over at Cesca having over heard the comment and just cracks up laughing at her. She looks over at Kendrick and winks.

Falkenberg looks to Cesca and grins. “Jasra is just being loyal. She’s engaged to some martian fellow,” he says.

Kendrick’s gaze turns to Cesca, “Could be she follows the same philosophy as I do. DTA”

Tkagorth stands up from the bar and starts to make his way towards Knuckles, cracking various joints as he goes.

Falkenberg turns to look at Tkagorth as he moves. “Well, glad I got that health plan set up for the crew,” he murmurs.

Cesca turns her chin a little toward Kendrick, gifting him with a slow perusal that almost seems to find him lacking. “Si?”

Kendrick nods slightly, “DTA…Don’t Trust Anyone.”

Knuckles snorts fetid air through his nostrils and gnashes his fangs as Tka closes on his table. His scalp bristles flatten and a low growl rumbles from his throat.

Falkenberg sips his drink. His eyes are still on the Zangali. “Friends, Francesca is our guest until we can take her home to Sivad. Play nice,” he says in Jasra and Kendrick’s direction.

Tkagorth grunts, something in Zantra at Knuckles, “Tkagorth wishes to challenge you to a battle of strength.”

Jasra picks up her glass, glancing at Falkenberg through lowered lashes, her green eyes gleam as she smiles sweetly, “Aye Aye, Captain.” she says and makes it a toast by lifting her glass in a salute to him.

Kendrick grins slightly, “I’m playing nice.” He looks over to Jasra for a second before turning his attention back to the bottle of scotch. As he takes a drink, he tilts his head slightly towards Tka, “What’s that lizard up to now?”

Knuckles gnashes his fangs, then nictates his eye membranes and raises his snout as he appraises the Zangali before him. In Zantra – a sound like gravel scraping across steel – he replies: “You are a young fool who must prove himself. A skink that would be a dragon. Go back to your friends. Drink. Live longer.”

Falkenberg shakes his head. “Dunno. Never did learn to speak Zangali. Been regretting that lately.” He sips his drink.

Kendrick chuckles slightly, “I just learned Grimlahdi. Picked it up from the lizard who taught me how to live in this part of the galaxy.”

Jasra sips her drink as part of her toast then turns her attention to Kendrick, “We gotta play nice.” she says batting her eyelashes mockingly at him.

Tkagorth slams a fist down on the table and roars in Zantra, “Tkagorth is not a hatchling, which it appears you have the courage of.”

Cesca eyes the dirty glass that holds Falkenberg’s drink. She starts to say something, but then looks pointedly at Jasra and then at Kendrick. “Your capitano would not have invited me along on this little jaunt if he did not trust me, eh? He surely would have told me to stay aboard his ship.”

Falkenberg glances at Cesca. “Don’t make the mistake of thinking I trust anyone in this room,” he says. “Don’t take that personally. My crew tries not to.”

Knuckles doesn’t flinch at the display of the challenger. In Zantra, he growls levelly: “Courage is not based simply on one’s willingness to succumb to our baser instincts for violence. I am old enough to know when I must fight, and when it is not required. I have not challenged your honor. I have not shamed your house. I simply choose to ignore your challenge. You must understand – this is my territory. It is not your place to challenge. And, if you foolishly insist on challenging, it is not cowardice on my part to decline.”

Jasra looks back at Cesca, smirk on her lips, “And leave you along with the Captain’s silver?” She shakes her head, dancing a few of her loose curls, and turns her back towards the woman and strikes up a conversation with Kendrick, “So, how ya been?”

“I’ve never been much for silver, Jasra,” Falkenberg retorts. “I prefer more valuable commodities.”

Tkagorth gnashes his teeth together, and then nods once, replying in the angry sounding Zantra, “You are correct. May I join you in drinking?”

Cesca’s expression turns dark and brooding as she folds her arms beneath her chest. She doesn’t look at Falkenberg and does her best to ignore Kendrick and Jasra as she lets her gaze roam the room.

Kendrick chuckles slightly at Falk’s comment, “I don’t.” His gaze remains on Tka and Knuckles, “Tka, don’t start anything with the locals.” His eyes flash to Jasra for a second as she speaks to him, returning to Tka, “The same as always, womanless and bored.”

Knuckles tilts his snout and growls in Zantra, his scalp bristles rising again:

Falkenberg doesn’t seem to notice Cesca’s reaction. He sips his drink and breathes in the air of the room. “…feels different,” he says. “Not the Tomin Kora I remember.”

Tkagorth barks a laugh and replies, He sits slowly, keeping an eye out on some of the other patrons in the bar.

Knuckles waves a spiked hand at the bartender, who then rather hurriedly grabs a bucket of some kind of liquid and two tall glasses. The bartender, a human male not even six feet tall, with a belly like a Christmas turkey poking out, waddles over to the table with the two Zangali. He sets the glasses down, then puts the sloppy oversplashing bucket on the table. Knuckles glowers at the human, growling in Terran Standard, “Knuckles thirsty. Knuckles’ new companion thirsty. Leave bucket. We drink.”

Kendrick stands up and glances over to Falk, “Capt, I gotta get an early start tomorrow. I’ll head back and chill on the ship.”

“Boredom is just a state of mind.” Jasra tells Kendrick, following his look to the two Zangali, “Easy thing, just change states.” She takes a sip of her drink, obviously not much concerned about the dirty glass.

The bartender doesn’t seem to have a problem with the arrangement. He goes back to the bar.

Falkenberg nods to Kendrick. “As you wish. I plan on poking around here a bit longer.”

Cesca swivels in her chair to lean her elbows back against the bar as she faces the room. She crosses one leg over the other and settles in for the duration, though her expression is somewhat haughty and none-too-happy.

Kendrick nods slightly and grabs the bottle of scotch from the bar. From underneath his cloak he tosses a small pouch onto the bar. He turns and heads out of the tavern.

Falkenberg glances back at the Zangali. “Well, they seem to be getting on just fine,” he says. “I would have thought Tka would have tried to toss something through a window by now.”

Kendrick heads into Aurora Strand .

Kendrick has left.

Tkagorth takes a glass and dips it into the bucket, he nods to the bartender as he leaves and then grunts in Zantra, “What do you do here?”

Knuckles gnashes his fangs, hissing a laugh at the other Zangali’s civilized behavior. Before answering the question, he reaches his spiked hands for the bucket, drags it toward himself and then picks it up, pouring a splash of it down his toothy gullet. Snout dripping the viscous gray fluid, he returns the bucket to the table. Then, in Zantra, he replies, “I am a security specialist employed by Boss Cabrerra, the proprietor of Shadowheart.”

Falkenberg turns to look at Cesca. “Can I get you anything, my dear? You haven’t touched your drink.” He points to Cesca’s untouched glass of vodka, ordered to match his. He sips his drink.

Tkagorth downs his drink and then scratches his head, “I thought there were no softskin laws here.”

Cesca rather coolly replies, “No,” as she goes back to watching the Zangali and the other patrons.

Falkenberg shrugs. “Suit yourself,” he says. He looks over to Jasra. “So, Jas. Looking forward to the big race?” He keeps an eye on the two Zangali.

Knuckles chortles, his spikes scraping the tabletop. “Who said anything about laws?” he grumbles in Zantra.

Cesca turns long enough to claim her glass of vodka, cradling it in one hand before she puts her back to the bar once again.

Tkagorth shrugs, “I guess I associated security with upholding the law. That is what the softskins call security anyways.”

Knuckles snorts, shaking his head. “There is only one law in Shadowheart, brother Zangali, and it is this: Do not cross Boss Cabrerra.”

Jasra looks at Falkenberg, her whole face lights up, “You bet I am. I can’t wait. LeBeau and I have a wager.”

Falkenberg frowns and glances at his watch. “Speaking of everyone’s favorite obtuse Cajun, he WAS supposed to meet us here.”

Cesca wipes a smudge from just inside the rim of her glass with one fingertip. Then, she takes a drink from it, cautiously.

Tkagorth rubs his snout and fills another glass for himself out of the bucket, “Boss Cabrerra? Where did he get the money to build this place? Or is that something I’d be better off not knowing?”

Knuckles shrugs, his armor clanking. “Boss Cabrerra was wealthy and influential prior to our evacuation aboard Sanctuary. Kept a lower profile than others, however. Perhaps that is why a fortune remained to be invested in such a place as this.”

Tkagorth nods once, and then takes a rather large gulp of his drink, “Well why invest his money in this? Are there no better businesses or things for a softskin to do?”

Knuckles grunts. “Crazy softskins. Can anyone truly explain them?”

“Anyway, Jasra, what was your wager?” Falkenberg asks. He finishes his drink and orders another.

Making a slight face, Francesca nevertheless swallows the vodka. Her expression remains slightly sour as she looks toward Jasra and Falkenberg.

Tkagorth grunts a chuckle, (or the zangali equivilant), “I know that, brother Zangali.”

Jasra shrugs, “Have no idea, Captain.” She glances over at Tkagorth with the other Zangali and smiles, saying, “Looks like Tka made a friend.” Looking back at Falkenberg at his next question she says, “5K Rubles. I know it’s not much, but I don’t want to break him when he loses.”

Falkenberg grins. “Well, I hope you beat LeBeau. Second place would suit you well, and I like imagining LeBeau in at least third.”

Cesca’s husky contralto drifts over from her stool, “And who do you think is gonna win first then, if not your pilot?”

Jasra laughs, toasting Falkenberg again with the lift of her glass, “If I beat you, my Captain, does that mean I’m out a job?”

Knuckles shoves the bucket toward Tka. He growls, “The rest is for you, compliments of Utharg Dablogor of Clan Dablogor, descendant of the wise and powerful Utheg Dablogor and trusted member of the Circle, liberator of oppressed worlds and, most recently, skilled security chieftain on behalf of Boss Cabrerra.” That mouthful stated, he rises and prepares to stomp away.

Falkenberg turns to look at Cesca and smile. “Me, of course.” To Jasra, “No, I could live to losing to you. It’d make me look smart for hiring you. But I’m not terribly worried. No offense.”

“No offense ever taken, Captain.” Jasra smiles charmingly at him, the looks at Cesca and winks, “Besides I just might win. Want my Captain to look smart.” With a chuckle drinks the rest of her drink, placing the glass on the bar and signaling the bartender for a refill.

Tkagorth nods and grumbles, “The thanks of Tkagorth Klangar of Clan Hkraktor, descendant of the mighty and unstopable Gorth Klangar trusted member of the Circle and employee of Boss Falkenberg.”

Carduus arrives from Aurora Strand .

Carduus has arrived.

Knuckles flattens his bristles and gnashes his fangs at the mention of Falkenberg’s name, but then it passes. His bristles rise and he bows slightly. Then he begins to stomp toward the door.

Cesca’s mood begins to warm again just slightly when Jasra winks at her. She drains her glass of vodka and then places it upon the bar as she swivels to face Falkenberg again. Maybe he’s forgiven, too.

Jasra sits at the bar near Falkenberg, leaning on it slightly as she gets her glass refilled with scotch, Tkagorth and Knuckles are at a table.

Tkagorth nods, and watches Knuckles go.

Carduus enters the tavern casually, a long rifle slung over his shoulder with casual ease. He steps slowly, his tightly-squinting eyes searching for someone. Having found that someone in a certain black-clad female, he begins to approach her.

Falkenberg turns to look at Cesca. “Francesca, dear, you don’t seem to be enjoying yourself. Not your style of place, hmm?” he gestures to the surroundings.

Knuckles thumps past Carduus, heading out.

By Brody

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