by Brian K. Asbury
The bar was poorly lit, which was probably a mercy, as it spared the few patrons present at this hour the dubious privilege of having to look at the damp, mold-stained walls. The short, blue-skinned, stocky Detax barman was polishing a glass with a none-too-clean rag — possibly the same glass he had been polishing for the last couple of weeks. Over to his right, a pair of reddish-scaled Gargs was eyeing up a pair of miserable-looking drinkers hunched over a bottle at a table by the one remaining intact window. The Gargs seemed to be discussing the strangers’ heritage.
After a few minutes, one of the hulking reptoids unfolded himself from his reinforced stool and sashayed toward one of the two drinkers. “Hey, you,” he said gruffly.
The drinker offered no reply. “I say hey, you, humanoid,” repeated the Garg. “You Rimborian?”
The man turned slowly to face the Garg and pulled down the hood covering his features, revealing an orange-skinned, bald head with pointed ears. “Do I look Rimborian, you musclebound scaly cretin?”
The Garg was taken aback. “Uh… no. But hey — you no talk to me like that. You show respect!”
“Go !@#$&! yourself!” grunted the stranger. He suddenly transformed into a spiny, horned, warty monstrosity, compared to which the Garg was a classic beauty. The Garg squealed and scrambled backward, almost losing his footing in the process. He and his companion hastily beat a retreat from the tavern.
The stranger’s drinking companion threw his head back and laughed heartily.
“Glad you think it’s so funny,” grumbled Jall Tannuz as he transformed back into his normal shape.
“Oh, lighten up, Jall,” said Apollo. “The look on that Garg’s face was priceless!” He called for another bottle.
Tannuz slumped back down into his seat. “Here we are, stuck on this bloody backwater slum of a planet, and the only entertainment we have is scaring a couple of block-headed reptoid thugs. Is this what we’ve come to?”
“There’s plenty more potential for entertainment here, my friend, as I’ll show you later tonight if you come with me. I know where to find some very desirable women.”
“I’m not interested in your women. I just want to get out of here. I still can’t believe they just dumped us!”
“Each to his own,” said Apollo, cracking open the new bottle. “In your case I can’t blame them. You did turn on us!”
“Because we were missing a golden opportunity that we’ll never see again!” said the shape-shifter. “Admit it, Obrin. You were tempted, too.”
“A bit, yes. But I’m smart enough to know when I’m outnumbered. Anyway, look on the bright side, my little Chameleon Chief.” Tannuz bristled slightly at the nickname, but said nothing. “Celebrand and the others didn’t just dump us here. They left us with the price of a ticket out to practically anywhere in the United Planets. And after I’ve entertained myself with some of the local women, I’m going to use my ticket.”
“To go where?”
“Tartarus. I hear Prince Evillo is recruiting.”
“I dunno. But I like the rate of pay he’s offering. Look, Jall, instead of sulking around here, why don’t you come with me?”
Tannuz gulped down some of the liquor. “Two reasons, Obrin. First, I can’t stand you, and after we leave this bar, I never want to set eyes on your pretty-pretty mug again. And second, do I really see myself working for some clown with a dumb name like Prince Evillo? No, I don’t think so.”
Apollo grinned. “So he’s got a corny name. So what? For the pay he’s offering, I wouldn’t care if he was calling himself Santa Claus’s naughty twin. C’mon, what do you say?”
“I said no, Obrin!” Tannuz shouted the words, producing a suspicious look from the barman, who was fingering the blaster he kept under the bar. “All right, Detax. Keep your shirt on. I’m going.”
With that, he slammed down his drink and stormed out of the bar. And sure enough, Tal Obrin, alias Apollo, never did meet him again.