July 2650: The Red Eclipse mercenaries start their hunt for Halffang Whitestar on Ungstir…

Rock and a Hard Place Tavern: A small haven apart the bustle of the crowded nexus corridors, Rock and a Hard Place is a carven retreat from the demands of industry and the harsh pragmatics of the Ungstir day. A small bar runs along the side wall, taking up almost half the long narrow space. Polished steel panels serve as its full mirror, the racks of bottles and rows of taps providing most any drink that one might seek. Here the younger members of Ungstir’s population tends to congregate, leaving the single row of tables are nestled against the opposite wall for the old time patrons. At the end there is a small stage, where a drum kit rests between a pair of tall battered black speakers, a hand lettered sign proclaiming “Live Music Every Saturday”. Between times a jukebox provide the entertainment, stuffed with techish hopperbop and neo-retro tunes. A haze of smoke stains the air, forcing the mechanicalsystem to grumble, a touch overworked. Small sconces, set along the wall, provide the only light, adding a tauch of noir to the tavern’s atmosphere.

Vechkov is hunched at the bar, brim of his fedora tugged down so it shadows his eyes as he grips a battered gray metal mug of beer. An unlit cigarette dangles from the corner of his mouth. The pale, skinny female bartender refills the beer from a brown glass bottle without a word. She goes back to wiping a mug with a grungy yellow cloth.

It’s been an interesting afternoon for Joca. She’s gotten to talk to a whole lot of very strongly built people with -fascinating- accents, interesting stories, and samples of extremely potent drinkables. What she hasn’t found is anything that might lead her to the Demarian heist suspect, which is of course annoying. It is apparently time for a break. “Well, at least always sere is a bar,” she says with some relief, and clomps her jingly way right up to the bar, hoisting one leg over a stool with practiced ease.

Sterling tramps in, peering around at the place. A faint smile curves his lips at the sight of the drum kit, but he follows on after Joca, parking his backside on a stool beside her. “Is everything in this place made outta stone?” he complains, digging a packet of cigarettes out of his inner jacket pocket.

And of course, where goes James, the Limping Moth isn’t far behind. Though it is lacking the usual whimsical music today as it lands on the bar by the pilot’s business partner.

“Toughest stone in the galaxy,” remarks the man in the fedora as he plucks the cigarette from his mouth. He takes a gulp from his mug.

“So I ‘ave ‘eard,” Joca says, swiveling on the stool to give Humanoid Fire Hydrant, P.I. a once-over. “What is good to drink in ‘ere for a dry throat and feet tired of, ‘ow do you say, pounding se pavement?” She dredges a gold plated lighter out of the depths of her cleavage and offers James a light.

Sterling smiles at the Moth as it lands nearby. “What, no music?” He looks around thoughtfully. “In a place made outta rock,” he advises, grinning, “you oughta play … some rock music!” His face splits into a grin and he chuckles at his own rather awful joke. Joca’s movement catches his eye and he transfers the grin to her as the lighter appears. He shakes a plain white cigarette out of the packet and sticks it in his mouth, leaning toward Joca for the proffered light.

“The potato beer’s not the worst thing ever,” Prague replies. “Steer clear of the bamboo wine. It’s not really bamboo.”

Kilroy smirks at Sterling as he climbs out of the ship’s upper hatch and sits down in the inbuilt deck chair. “Too obvious.”

Jocaira lights James’ cig while giving him an internation(and interplanet)ally obvious Look. “Well, it -is- Saturday, maybe sey will ‘ave some live music later.” Prague gets a raised, pale eyebrow in response, followed by a one-shouldered shrug. She orders two beers, and then looks back at the man for a long, thoughtful moment. Primitive mental gears eventually snap together, an initial instinctive dismissal nudged out of the forebrain by any number of long movie nights. “I like your ‘at,” she finally says. “It is like, what is word. Inspector? Detective, non?”

“Pssh, obvious.” Sterling puffs at the cigarette for a moment to get it going, enjoying his increased proximity to Joca’s cleavage, then leans back again, giving a snorting laugh toward Kilroy. “Maybe subtlety’s a thing fer you, but it ain’t fer me.” He glances over to the bartender. “I’ll try somethin’ new,” he says, looking back to Joca as she puts in an order.

Kilroy smirks as he presses a button that causes the sound system to start up some fairly quiet saxaphone music. The sort that spent so much time lurking in black and white motion pictures in the olden days.

“Something like that,” the Ungstiri man grunts. “I’m a private investigator.” He tucks the unlit cigarette back in his mouth, then fumbles around inside his trenchcoat pocket until he finds a wrinkled plastic holocard that he slides across the counter to Jocaira. It reads: PRAGUE PRIVATE INVESTIGATIONS – VECHKOV PRAGUE, PROPRIETOR. “I’m kind of in the middle of a bender right now, though. So, y’know, don’t be sending many clients my way.”

“Vech-kov Prague,” Joca says, after spending a bit of time parsing through the words. “Jocaira D’Agneau. I do not ‘ave a card, and I do not work when I am -sober-,” she adds with a bit of a possibly-staged brainless titter. “We are no staying long enough for referrals, I do not sink… BUT… per’aps I can line up a few more drinks for your bend-air if you can maybe remembair seeing sis man?” She slides the card back, along with a holoprint of Monsier White Star.

Sterling glances at the holocard, then to its owner. He doesn’t comment on either, but frowns at the holoprint. He lets Joca do the talking, dragging over an ashtray and flicking the ash from the end of his cigarette into it.

Kilroy leans back in his ship-mounted deck chair and listens to the proceedings.

Vechkov peers at the Demarian in the image. “No, I don’t think…” His voice trails off as the cigarette bobs up and down in his mouth. “Wait. Maybe.” He taps a stubby index finger on the holoprint, striking Halffang on the snout. “Pretty sure he was a grease monkey aboard the Implacable. Katerina’s ship.” Again, his voice trails off. He yanks the cigarette from his mouth, downs a healthy swig of beer, then settles back into his hunched silence.

Jocaira taps on the bar and holds up a finger, gesturing for a refill for Mr. Prague. “Ahn, I see,” she says, in sympathetic tones. Again she dredges up the lighter, this time flicking an unmarked paper packet of cigarillos out of her sleeve. With almost ritual reverence she lights up. The smoke is potent, speaking more to a pricey strain of cannabis than mere tobacco or other smoking leaf. “…Katerina?” A gentle query, a tiny, silvery verbal hook, is exhaled along with the smoke.

Sterling grunts. “Never heard of ‘er,” he comments, taking a deep drag from his cigarette. He sniffs at the air as the smoke from Joca’s cigarette drifts over to him and smiles.

Kilroy shrugs, but pulls out his PDA to make notes anyway.

Vechkov clenches his jaw. He pokes the crumpled cigarette back in his mouth. Stares straight ahead through the shadows under the brim of his fedora. “The freighter belongs to Owein Panderyn. A few days back, the Implacable left repair dock for Demaria. You want that furball in the photo? Sounds like you’re taking a trip to their sandbox.”

Jocaira nudges the refilled drink in the PI’s general direction with a small, nonverbal noise of encouragement. “It is all right. Sank you very much, Monsieur. Enjoy your drink, ne?”

By Brody

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