Interlude on Sihnon

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Character name: Det McNally

Post Wed Nov 27, 2013 4:28 pm

Re: Interlude on Sihnon

It was still early when Alisha went to check on McNally, stunned to find him dressed and attempting to get up. She reached him as his legs almost gave way and he gripped the side of the infirmary couch for support. ‘You’re supposed to be resting,’ she muttered as he swayed. ‘You should be flat on your back while your spinal arc reflex recovers.’

‘Flat on my back?’ he remarked with a chuckle. ‘Well, don’t tell Mei or she’ll be in here lecturin’ me on tryin’ to muscle in on her trade.’

Alisha shook her head as the stubborn man, through sheer force of will, straightened his legs and stood up at last, looking down on her. She had kept hold of his left arm and said, ‘Okay, you’ve proved you can stand, now lie down before you fall down.’

He shook his head. ‘No way, if I can stand I can walk and if I can walk I’m damn well goin’ to get some breakfast. Now, where’ve you hidden m’boots?’

She frowned at him. ‘I was going to bring you breakfast,’ she said softly. ‘It’s my fault you’re... like this so I should take care of you.’

He swayed once more and slowly rotated, resting back against the couch, breathing deeply, the exertions sapping his strength rapidly. ‘Ain’t no fault o’yours,’ he said, lowering his head. ‘I told you, already, Li did it to try and break me.’ He looked at Alisha pensively. ‘An’ I don’t reckon you’d’ve been minded to take my place had she offered.’

Alisha felt tears threaten. ‘That’s not fair,’ she hissed.

‘No, it ain’t, but it’s a truth,’ McNally said, a slight edge to his voice.

She turned away, leaning against the side-counter, eyes scanning the confused arrangement of medicines. ‘Damn Burton,’ she hissed as a single tear ran free, a glint in the reflection on the cabinet glass. McNally was right, of course, her stomach churned at the very thought of being in that woman’s presence, never mind being at her mercy and under such a brutally effective torture. ‘She shook her head slowly. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said at last. She heard him sigh heavily.

‘Yeah, you keep sayin’,’ he replied. ‘Well, now’s the time to stop sayin’ an’ bein’ sorry.’ She turned to him as he took three unsteady steps and reached the counter next to her, holding onto it as though the deck was shifting constantly. ‘You need to stop regrettin’ such as has happened. What’s done is done an’ as angry as you might be, regrettin’ changes nothin’. Take it from me, I used to regret all the harm I done when I was an enforcer on Athens... then I learned to not regret. Either I’d make a difference to folks or I wouldn’t, but that whatever I did, it would be done without regretin’.’

She reached out to him as he steadied himself, standing upright without the support of the counter. ‘What was it you told Chang Li?’ she asked. ‘ At the end, what did you say?’

He smiled crookedly. ‘If you ain’t figured that out yet you an’ Li are more similar than you reckon.’

Alisha scowled. ‘I’m nothing like her, Det,’ she snapped.

‘I’d be disagreein’,’ he muttered, starting to pace slowly to the couch and back. ‘You both pretend to know what you’re doin’, you, Dr Corbon, are trying to escape somethin’ you feel responsible for and Chang Li’s fightin' to control somethin’ she feels responsible for.. but the simple truth is you’re both just little girls lost in the black.’

She stared at him, seeing a twisted logic to his words. ‘I still don’t like the comparison!’ she grunted.

‘Oh, I ain’t comparin’,’ he said, taking a moment to rest against the couch and regarding her while he flexed his arms. ‘No offence, but I ain’t never gonna be tempted to take you to bed.’ She frowned, unsure whether to be honoured or hurt. He caught the uncertainty in her expression. ‘I’m old enough to be your father, remember.’

‘I doubt she’s that much older than me,’ Alisha countered. ‘At most three or four years.’

He opened his mouth to speak but hesitated, suddenly perturbed by the implication. Finally he said, ‘So you’ve stopped bein’ sorry yet?’ He pushed away from the couch once more and crossed to her, his gait slightly stilted but each stride becoming more assured. ‘Cause I’m gripped with a terrible hunger... an’ I reckon I owe some folks a thank you... someone brought be back here and I doubt it was Chang Li feelin’ all regretful an’ returnin’ me to you all safe and sound.’

Alisha nodded. ‘Regan mustered a rescue mission... and Kid came after you on her own. Got her fingers burned, literally.’

‘Well then,’ he said. ‘I oughta go say my thank yous,’ he said. He regarded her quizzically as she frowned at him again. ‘What is it?’

‘You are scarier when you’re being nice,’ she said, her head cocked on one side.

He grimaced. ‘You’ll see what scary is unless you give me my boots back!’ His expression held for a few seconds before his lips twitched into a smile.

Alisha shook her head. ‘I put them back in your cabin. Wait here and I’ll go get them, and get you a shirt too.’ She went to the door. ‘Don’t go anywhere, doctor’s orders.’

‘And thanks, by the way,’ he said suddenly.

She stopped. ‘What for?’

‘For lookin’ after me, I truly appreciate it.’

She smiled, feeling an unexpected swell of warmth. There was something in his tone and in his manner that she had only seen flashes of before, moments when his guard had slipped on Zenith, but the warmth in his gaze remained. ‘You’re welcome,’ she said softly and headed for the cabin-deck.
Captain Det McNally
‘If you can’t do somethin’ smart, do somethin’ right... if you can’t do somethin’ right, do somethin’!’
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Post Thu Nov 28, 2013 5:54 pm

Re: Interlude on Sihnon

‘Mornin’,’ McNally said as he reached the mess deck. The conversations that had been occurring just a moment before were silenced as all eyes turned to him. ‘Not too late for a little chow, am I? S’funny but I didn’t eat much at all yesterday.’

Alisha followed him in, a broad, knowing grin on her face as he walked towards the table as if the previous night had never occurred. Her father had taught her a word for that kind of person... indefatigable. There was only the momentary twinge and he hid his various aches and pains so well she even wondered if he should be upright at all, never mind walking about the ship.

Lock broke the silence in the room. ‘How’re you feelin’ McNally?’

McNally chuckled then, his demeanour no longer so grave or reserved. ‘Like I got run over by a land-mule... twice.’ There was soft laughter around the table and his eyes went to Kid. ‘Sorry to hear about your hands,’ he said nodding to her.

‘Worth it for my teacher,’ Kid replied brightly. ‘You still need to be finishing those lessons in... what did you call it?’

‘Tai chi,’ McNally replied. ‘Don’t worry, once I get some chow, I reckon I’ll be feeling more like teachin’.’

Regan pulled out a chair and gestured. ‘What’re you waitin’ for?’

McNally stood still, the silence seeming to emanate from him. Finally he cleared his throat. ‘I just wan’ed to say thank you... to all of you... for comin’ after me. I honestly appreciate it!’’

‘It’s just what you’d’ve done for any one of us,’ Lock remarked. ‘In fact, between you and Kid, I don’t know which one of you would move the fastest if anyone of us were in trouble.’

‘And good pilots are hard to come by,’ Regan muttered. ‘Now siddown and eat, my coffee’s gettin’ cold.’

Alisha hung back a little and watched McNally sit down slowly, betraying a little more pain, but his face was slightly flushed. She took a seat between Poppy and Chai, studying McNally carefully. As she ate, she wondered why he seemed more open, ‘nicer’ to everyone. Perhaps that woman hadn’t broken him, but maybe something deep inside had fractured... no, she shook her head reflexively, that wasn’t it.

A moment later she caught his eye, seeing the same grim determination to see through the pain. He raised his coffee mug to her and smiled slightly. She recognised it then, the glint in his eye. She remembered what he had said... no power in the ‘verse controls me... and then realised that, whatever he had told Chang Li that convinced her to end his torture, it was like a coat of armour. He was more open now because he was more assured. He was still strong, in spite of the torture, and he was confident also of the camaraderie of the crew. He might have been a tough man to like, but they all respected him in their own way and he had begun to accept that.

Chai leaned in then. ‘What’ve you given McNally?’

‘Nothing, why?’

Chai swallowed a mouthful of beans. ‘He seems... friendly.’

Alisha allowed herself a knowing smile. ‘Yeah, scary, ain’t it!’
Captain Det McNally
‘If you can’t do somethin’ smart, do somethin’ right... if you can’t do somethin’ right, do somethin’!’
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Post Mon Dec 02, 2013 12:03 pm

Re: Interlude on Sihnon

The ship was fairly quiet as Soc padded onto the cargo deck. The ginger cat leapt onto a crate and surveyed the area. The silence was barely broken by the sounds of steady breathing as Kid mirrored McNally’s movements, slow, progressive arm sweeps and deliberate foot movements. For a moment, McNally balanced carefully on one foot, the other elevated underneath him. Kid followed suit, wobbling slightly. ‘Don’t look at you feet,’ McNally said softly. ‘Feel where your limbs are.’

‘This ain’t that easy,’ she whispered.

‘No, but it’s no different to when you’re using a wrench. You look at the head of the wrench... not your hands. Your hands know what to do, so do your feet.’ He was almost motionless, only the slightest shift perceptible. ‘Remember to breathe,’ he added.

Kid wobble a little more, then took a deep breath and slowly exhale. As she did, her balance seemed to settle and the tension in her foot eased slightly. ‘Weird,’ she murmured.

At last McNally extended his elevated foot and brought it down silently. Kid followed suit adding the expansive arm gesture as the exercise came to an end. ‘Can’t remember what the form is called, but it trains balance and awareness,’ he said, grabbing the towel that dangled from an overhead stanchion.

‘When you’re better you can show me some faster moves,’ Kid remarked, flexing her slowly healing fingers. Individual digits were will taped, but at least now she could manipulate a knife and fork. It still hurt to grip tools though and the distraction of McNally’s training was a welcome respite from enforced inaction.

McNally smiled slightly. ‘I’m fine,’ he said, stretching. ‘I’m just a little sore in places.’

‘She did work you over.’

He turned to her. ‘Looks like she came close to doin’ a number on you.’ He stiffened slightly. ‘No one... molested you, did they?’

She shook her head. ‘No, I just got jolted with juice and knocked cold. Woke up tied to a chair with sore fingers. Triad’s tend to do what they’re told, especially when the Dragon is a Dragon Lady. I figure your lady friend didn’t want me interfered with.’

McNally nodded, listening to her and considering her words carefully. So she had experience with Triads herself, it seemed. ‘Yeah, Mama Chang holds to some traditions closer than others.’ He plucked an enamel mug from a nearby crate and slowly stepped towards the open ramp, the cool breeze washing in from the landing field. ‘Smells like rain,’ he said.

Kid stood at his side, refilling his mug from a water-flask. ‘What happened to make her do that to you?’

McNally felt tension clench his spine. ‘It’s complicated.’

Kid simply nodded as she stepped out beyond the shadow of the ship’s tail and gazed up. ‘Looks like you’re right.’ She grinned at him as the first droplet of water began to fall, rapidly turning into a downpour which started to soak her. She dashed back under the tail giggling like a child. ‘You’ve got a nose for weather,’ she remarked.

He sipped from the mug, about to answer, when his eyes caught a large land mule approaching between the landing stages. ‘Kid, you got your knife?’

She frowned. ‘Always, why?’ She followed his gaze. ‘What the gorram? What do they want?’

The mule pulled up and several Chang enforcers emerged, holding umbrellas to stave off the deluge. Then Fung stepped out, sheltered under three canopies while the small feminine figure was protected by only one. Fung came forward into the overhang of the tail, the woman at his side while the enforcers, armed it seemed only with umbrellas, retreated into the rain and looked on sullenly.

McNally gulped the water in his mug, swirled it in his mouth and then spat voluminously to the side of the ramp. ‘Wha’d’ya want?’ he growled.

Fung bowed slightly. ‘I bring greetings from Mama Chang.’

McNally was singularly unimpressed. ‘And?’

Fung glanced to the woman, shrouded in a waxed green rain-cape with a large hood and tied at the neck. ‘Mama Chang hopes there is no animosity between you and her,’ he said. ‘She also wished to honour you with gifts.’

The woman took her cue from Fung’s words, stepping forward to the foot of the ramp, square in front of McNally. She pulled back her hood and regarded him confidently. ‘Greetings, McNally shian shen,’ she said with a bow. ‘I am Eva Nightingale... and I am at your service.’

McNally’s eyes widened. ‘You’re a wh... a Companion?’

‘Very... astute of you McNally shian shen,’ she replied. ‘I trust you’re not displeased?’

He glanced past her to Fung. ‘What is this?’

Fung smiled slightly. ‘She is a gift, to you, from Mama Chang. She regrets having put you through such a hardship and hopes that this Companion will soothe away any remaining pain you may have.’

‘I also have other gifts I have been instructed to give to you, McNally shian shen,’ Eva continued. ‘But it must be in private, with you alone.’ She gave a momentary glance to Fung who frowned back at her. ‘Chang shao jeh instructed me personally... last night.’

McNally looked at the girl, then at Fung. He wanted to refuse, to send the girl away but... he couldn’t refuse a gift from the Dragon Lady. He had to play this just right. Other boots tramped onto the ramp and he glanced back seeing Chai, Marshall and Alisha. ‘Perfect timin’,’ he remarked softly. ‘Alisha, do me a favour and escort Nightingale shao jeh to my cabin.’ He waved the girl up the ramp. ‘Make sure she don’t touch nothin’.’ Alisha bit her lip as she escorted the girl aboard leaving Chai to move to McNally’s shoulder.

‘There anything we need to worry about?’ he asked.

McNally shook his head slowly. ‘What are the terms?’

Fung smiled slightly. ‘Return her to the bar when you are... satisfied with her, McNally shian shen.’ With a curt bow the hulking Oriental turned on his heel and rain-soaked enforcers raced forward, raising the canopies against the rain as Fung strode back to the mule. McNally’s fingers flexed and clenched into fists as the vehicle rumbled away, then he turned on his heel and headed for his cabin. 'Time to figure out what she's up to.'
Captain Det McNally
‘If you can’t do somethin’ smart, do somethin’ right... if you can’t do somethin’ right, do somethin’!’
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Post Mon Dec 02, 2013 2:37 pm

Re: Interlude on Sihnon

McNally found Alisha at the opened door to his cabin. Glancing inside he found the Companion seated on the small chair facing the bed. Staring back at her was Soc, the ginger cat appearing unimpressed by the intrusion. Behind him Chai was issuing instructions to Kid and Marshall before looking to McNally. When he gave a firm nod, McNally smiled slightly, making to enter the room.

Alisha stopped him. ‘I don’t trust her,’ she muttered, eyeing the pretty girl. ‘This could be a trap.’

McNally frowned slightly but nodded. ‘A trap? No, but it’s certainly... unexpected. And as for trustin’... you know how I am with... Companions.’

Alisha felt a pang of humour suddenly, McNally somehow able to make the word ‘Comapnion’ sound worse than ‘whore’. Her gaze returned to the girl in the cabin.

‘Why is your cat staring at me?’ Eva asked.

McNally stepped up to the bed and ruffled the cat’s head gently. ‘Him an’ me have a kind of similar viewpoint on a few things. Truth is I’m not approvin’ of your line o’work, xiao mei mei. Seems old Socrates here is havin’ the same inklin’. Added to that you’re here ‘cause Mama Chang sent you, that kinda puts my nerves on edge.’ She glanced to Alisha still standing in the doorway. ‘An’ my nerves have taken somethin’ of a hammerin’ in recent days.’

Eva nodded slightly. ‘Chang shao jeh informed me you had suffered due to some minor infraction, but she did not elaborate. She merely hoped I could soothe any remaining discomfort.’

‘Minor infraction?’ Alisha grunted. ‘When are you going to throw this jien huo out?’

McNally raised his hand to quiet Alisha as Eva looked uncertainly from Soc, to Alisha and then, finally, to McNally himself. ‘I am here to serve, McNally shian shen. I am a legitimate Guild Companion, not just a jien huo from Chang shao jeh’s establishment. I am under contract to Chang shao jeh for the duration and, as such, I am honour-bound to fulfil my obligations. Still, I have my principles and protections under the Guild.’

‘And the Chang triad?’ McNally asked, already seeing the answer in the girl’s eyes. ‘An’ principles of a Companion’re about worth squat as far as I’m concerned.’

Eva lowered her head slightly. ‘If you wish to dismiss me, you need only say. But I volunteered my services to Chang shao jeh last night. I am here with her explicit permission.’

‘Well, that just proves this is a trick,’ Alisha growled. ‘Hu li jing.’

McNally’s frown deepened. ‘Shi ma, Nightingale shao jeh?’

‘Please, McNally shian shen, this is no trick. There is something we must discuss, in private. I can speak to only you alone.’ Eva looked to Alisha. ‘I must insist, my business is with you and you alone.’

McNally rubbed his chin ruefully. Something wasn’t adding up. If this was a trick it was an elaborate ruse for no real purpose. What did Chang Li have to gain anyway? He glanced to Alisha. ‘Give us a moment,’ he said softly.

‘What?’ Alisha blurted. ‘Det, she’s a wh-’

‘Alisha, what’s she gonna do?’ He gestured to the belt-rig lying on the bed, the black and brass Vulcan within easy reach. ‘Anyway, you can wait right outside.’ He ruffled Soc’s head again. ‘An’ you can scoot too, cat,’ he murmured. Soc yawned and yowled in irritation, leaping from the bed and darting between Alisha’s feet. He crossed to the cabin. ‘I’ll be fine.’

‘I’ll be right outside,’ Alisha replied, eyeing the girl as McNally pulled the door closed.

He turned to the Companion, his hand taking up the belt rig and drawing the hulking pistol from it before sitting down here his cat had sat. ‘So, I’m listenin’?’ Eva eyed the weapon nervously and slowly rose, tugging the ties from her rain-cape. The clack of the weapon’s action froze her as she looked down the barrel. ‘What’re you planning on... revealin’? he asked.

‘I’m taking my cape off,’ she replied, keeping the tremor from her voice. She watched him ease the tension from the hammer and lower the weapon but he kept it on his lap as she slipped the heavy waxed garment from her shoulders. She sat down again and slipped a small cloth bag from her belt. ‘I was instructed to give you these.’ She offered him boxes, one a small black velvet, the other a metal container. ‘They are gifts from Chang shao jeh, tokens of her affection.’

McNally took the velvet box and opened it slowly, away from his face in case some sophisticated device was about to release gas at him, but there was no tell-tale hiss. Somewhat disappointed he reached in and drew out a fob-watch, bronzed metal showing a dragon motif. Holding it up he looked past it to the girl. ‘What’s this?’

‘Chang shao jeh hoped you would find a formal occasion and it would be fitting for such a purpose.’

McNally shook his head slowly as she placed the watch down and regarded the other box. ‘And this?’

‘Something more practical,’ Eva said.

He took the box, opening it with equal care, again with no surreptitious mechanism. This time he fished out a heavy-duty wrist chronometer, a leather-backed affair that was a marvel of engineering and design. He held it in his hands with some reverence, obviously impressed. ‘Okay, she’s got my attention,’ he said, raising his eyes to her. ‘So what’s the deal?’

Eva frowned. ‘I’m under contract to Chang shao jeh... and I want you to get me out of it.’

His frown returned. ‘Wait, what?’ He shook his head. ‘Run that by me one more time.’

She sighed. ‘I’m here because you have obvious influence with the Chang triad and with Chang shao jeh herself. If anyone has a chance of getting me off Sihnon, it’s you.’

‘Woah, back that mule up a ways... you want me to do what?’ McNally was on his feet, his voice becoming hushed. ‘First of all, why do you think I have such influence?’

Eva lowered her eyes. ‘I came here from Ariel under Chang Li’s wing, you might say. I have a particular vocal talent that she found pleasing and I felt a connection. She promised me exceptional clients and absolute security and now I see to the demands of the Dragons and Red Poles of the various triads in Sihnon City, or those officials who need bribing. I want for nothing, you might say, but I left Ariel in the hope of travelling elsewhere eventually... and I have found myself trapped here for eight months. If I become jaded and fall out of favour not even the Guild could protect me from triad retribution.’ She sighed softly. ‘When I was with Chang Li last night I overheard her speak about these gifts. I asked her about you and she said you were wo hu chung long. She respects you McNally shian shen, perhaps even fears you. She spoke of you before and even declined my company for a few days a couple of months ago. I understood that you and her were intimate then?’

He looked at her, trying to fathom the lie he was listening to, knowing that as a Companion she was spinning a story so that he believed her and walked into... what? ‘What gorram business is it of mine that you’re in the place you’re in?’

‘I was promised a future away from Ariel,’ Eva said, examining her perfect manicure. ‘I just expected to be travelling further than Sihnon City.’ She looked up at him. ‘I’m not about to beg or offer myself to you... but if you help me I’m sure we can come to some arrangement, perha-‘

‘There’s no arrangement to be made,’ McNally snapped. ‘You’re playing a nice tune, xiao mei mei, but I ain’t dancing, not this time.’

‘You think that I’m lying?’ Eva murmured, in disbelief. ‘You think that this is...’

‘A trap, yeah, it’s a nice story, you’re a damsel in distress and Chang Li expects me to get a horse and ride to the rescue.’

‘McNally shian shen, please believe me.’

‘Why?’ he asked. ‘Why should I believe you?’

She lowered her voice to a whisper. ‘I cannot break a confidence, but Chang Li confessed something to me... something you told her. It is something she told me, and she wept for you when she did. I comforted her last night.’

McNally sat down again, looking into the girl’s eyes. ‘What was it she told you?’

‘You must promise the Guild will never know I have divulged a client’s confindence.’

McNally nodded. ‘I’ll tell the Guild nothin’.’

Eva sighed, fighting her own training almost to reveal what she was honour-bound to keep secret.
Captain Det McNally
‘If you can’t do somethin’ smart, do somethin’ right... if you can’t do somethin’ right, do somethin’!’
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Post Mon Dec 02, 2013 3:12 pm

Re: Interlude on Sihnon

Alisha heard the voices, McNally’s and the girl’s, rising and falling in cadence, emotions perceptible. Then it went quiet. She waited, paced a few times, stopped and listened. She raised her hand, fingers at the latch of the door, trying to decide whether to pull it open. She jumped back with a yelp as McNally abruptly drew the door aside. She blurted, ‘I was just...’

McNally frowned at her. ‘I’m fine,’ he murmured. ‘I never let her kiss me!’ He stepped along to the corridor. Chai was in the cargo bay, checking the latest delivery of supplies. ‘So where’d our friends go?’

‘Back to the bar,’ Chai replied. ‘Marshall’s keeping watch, Kid’s on her way back now. You have any idea what’s going on?’

‘I think I need a favour from you and Poppy... and maybe I need to speak to Mei.’

Chai grinned. ‘But is Mei going to want to speak to you?’

‘Tell her I’m helpin’ one of her Companion friends get out of a spot.’

Alisha caught up with him, noting the leather band around his wrist, the bulk-frame of a chronometer. ‘Where’d that come from?’

McNally smiled slightly. ‘It’s a gift from Chang Li.’

Alisha frowned. ‘And you’re accepting it?’

‘Not right to refuse the Dragon-Lady’s gift,’ he said.

‘And what about the Companion?’ she asked. ‘I thought you were refusing her?’

‘She’s asked me for help,’ he replied flatly. ‘So I’m gonna see what I can do.’

‘What? But... she’s from that woman, it’s going to be a trap and you’re going to get hurt. You promised not to do anything stupid.’

‘I don’t think it’s a trap,’ he said softly. ‘And this time I’ll be going in there armed and with friends. Do me a favour and keep her company while I get things organised.’

‘Keep her company?’

‘Yeah, take her up to the mess and get her a coffee... charm her with your bedside manner.’

‘Det, she’s up to something.’

‘Yeah, I know,’ he said. ‘She told me her story and, for once, I’m inclined to believe it, but I’m gonna need to get some proof and then I’m gonna see if I can’t settle this once and for all.’

‘Don’t you dare leave without me,’ Alisha said.

‘As if I would,’ McNally answered.

‘McNally,’ Chai called. Poppy and Mei were with him.

McNally nodded back and gestured up. ‘Meet me on the flight deck, we need to discuss some things, in private.’
Captain Det McNally
‘If you can’t do somethin’ smart, do somethin’ right... if you can’t do somethin’ right, do somethin’!’
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Post Mon Dec 02, 2013 6:15 pm

Re: Interlude on Sihnon

Chang Li listened to the cacophony of her busy bar, descending the stairs and casting her eyes around. Two of her girls passed her, leading clients to the rooms above, and she smiled politely, nodding as the man and woman regarded her with some awe. She loved the sensation, finding her power and influence intoxicating. There were a few empty tables but the bar was otherwise thronging. There were two new bar-staff recruited to replace Lucas and they had quickly learned the ropes. She felt only the merest regret ion killing him as she crossed the room, her blue cheongsam giving the red-blooded men in the bar delicious glimpses of her thighs. She knew she could have all of them eating out of her hand but not one of them would do. She reached the pass-door and gave a glance to the two enforcers. ‘I’m going to my quarters and I’m not to be disturbed unless absolutely necessary.’ She moved through to the workshop area and then up the external stair to her apartment. She unlocked the door and went inside, the subdued lighting matching her mood. In spite of the intoxication of her influence over others, there was still something amiss. She crossed to her bedroom and went inside, beginning to loosen the buttons on her dress, and standing before her wardrobe. She intended to change into something more practical in case she desired intimate attention later, although it had crossed her mind that her little favourite had yet to return from the spaceport. She considered that McNally might cause the girl harm in a manner of revenge, but quickly dismissed the thought. He was no mere brute and was probably trying to make her jealous.

She selected her much-loved red cheongsam with the shorter hem and allowed the blue garment to pool at her feet. The wardrobe swung lazily, the mirror panel reflecting the light from the bedside... which she had not left turned on. She turned, reaching behind her into the void of the wardrobe for the shotgun. Suddenly, someone on the other side of the room tossed the weapon onto the bed.

‘Looking for this?’ Alisha asked striding from the shadow behind the door.

‘We took the precaution of removing it,’ McNally said, seated shadows on a chair in the other corner. Alisha switched on the other lights as Li held the red dress to herself coyly.

‘How did you get in here?’ Li asked, off-guard and ultimately vulnerable. ‘And what happened to the guards at the alley.

‘I can bypass locks, remember, bao bei,’ McNally murmured, the illumination revealing his Vulcan levelled at her.

‘And your guards are just sleeping,’ Alisha remarked. ‘They looked tired to me, I thought they deserved a lie down.’

Li’s composure was fractured but she showed little fear. ‘What is it you want, McNally shian shen?’

He reached down to his left and brought a riding crop with manacles hanging off it. ‘Well, you did say you were a naughty girl... and I think Alisha owes you a little payback for what you put her through.’

Li couldn’t tell if McNally was serious and Alisha eyes were full of contempt. ‘If that’s what you want?’

McNally shook his head and let the metal and leather drop. ‘There is something I want from you... and I figure you owe me, in spite of everything.’

‘I owe you?’ Li murmured.

‘Your late brother would’ve finished me and you with that shotgun.’ He pointed to it, rising and holstering his Vulcan. ‘You did what you had to to me just to save face with the other triads after Alisha put a bullet through his neck, but I figure you still owe us your life, me and her. And we got caught up in your little scheme to boot. The Gong know and you know... but you wouldn’t want the other gangs to know, would you.’

Li frowned, trying to be angry, but the man’s ingenuity and guile impressed her once more. ‘You wouldn’t dare.’

‘Wouldn’t I?’ he countered.

Li glanced to Alisha, seeing the young woman’s determination as well as her hand on the grip of her pistol. ‘Is she here to kill me if I don’t agree?’

‘You’ll be agreein’,’ McNally said.

‘That depends, doesn’t it,’ Li replied, perching on the end of the bed but keeping the dress pressed to her naked body to hide her blushes.

‘The girl, the Companion, Nightingale shao jeh,’ McNally remarked.

‘What about her?’ Li asked, suddenly sensing her own tension.

‘I want you to dissolve her contract and cut her loose,’ he said calmly.

Li frowned. ‘And why would I do that?’

‘Cause I’m askin’ nicely,’ came the curt reply. ‘Also, she told me that you have influence in the Companions Guild here so you can keep control of her and that you and the other Dragons and Red Poles are really her only clients... a dozen of the most powerful people in the Sihnon City underworld, probably on the planet.’ He stepped over to her, standing over her, stroking her cheek. ‘I must be in good company if she’s worth sending to a go neong yung duh like me. Oh, and Fung said I only needed to hand her back when I was ‘satisfied’.’

‘Did she not sing for you?’ Li asked. He shook his head. ‘You didn’t even lay a finger on her, did you.’ She knew the answer as she looked up at him, her eyes searching his, trying to understand him once more. ‘You’re not the prude that my brother was but, lao tien fu, I have truly underestimated you,’ she said softly. ‘How then did she convince you to help her? If she did not use her extensive skills and talents?’

‘She told me how you referred to me... wo hu chung long,’ he said. ‘Very poetic.’

Li took his hand and kissed his calloused knuckles. ‘And just because of that you think you can ask me to allow my favourite songbird to fly?’

He gripped her chin firmly and forced her to look into his cool blue eyes. ‘Does the bird in the cage sing as sweetly and the bird that is free?’

Li chuckled. ‘Now who’s being poetic.’

He grimaced. ‘Cut her loose, I won’t ask again.’

‘What if I refuse?’ Li muttered.

‘You won’t,’ he replied confidently. ‘If you were going to refuse you would have already. You’re just stallin’ in the hope that your boys will get found eventually and then Fung and the others will march up here. Thing is, right now Captains Regan, Dupont and Irving are sharing a few drinks in your bar and they brought with ‘em enough crew and more than enough firepower. Plus another friend of mine, Kid, the one who got her fingers burned up, is on watch for anything untoward and will call down all gorram hell if need be.’

‘You seem to make a habit of underestimating Det,’ Alisha said.

‘Det?’ Li murmured, regarding Alisha. ‘Det, is it?’

McNally grimaced. ‘Names is names, you were about to cut Eva Nightingale from her contract.’

Li shook her head. ‘It will take time, I will need to draw up the...’ McNally dropped a flexi on the bed beside her.

‘I had this prepared, all legal’n’bindin’. I happen to know a Companion already, helped with contacts in the Guild, we got all the details from the Cortex... just needs is your thumbprint.’

Li shrugged. ‘Aren’t you even going to force me... Det?’

McNally shook his head firmly. ‘You to do this ‘cause I asked.’

She hesitated only for a moment before pressing her thumb to the document. ‘You drive a hard bargain... Det.’ As McNally snatched up the flexi she asked. ‘Where does that leave us?’

‘We’re square, bao bei,’ he said, handing the flexi to Alisha who quickly went to the apartment door.

Li heard it open and a brief hushed conversation before Alisha returned to the bedroom. ‘Is that all you want? You do have me at a disadvantage.’

‘That I do,’ he replied.

‘You could always make use of the whip and chains... although I think your friend, like my late brother, would not approve at all.’ Li fixed Alisha with a knowing smile.

‘That is somewhat temptin’,’ he said. ‘But I don’t want to outstay my welcome and I’d like to share a drink with my crew before we ship out tomorrow. In any case, I figured we had a better understandin’ of each other now.’

Li nodded slightly. ‘I suppose we do.’ McNally went to the bedroom door and she called after him. ‘You’re more devious even than my father.’

McNally stopped at the threshold, Alisha at his side, silently urging him to leave, but he paused. ‘Maybe that’s why you underestimate me so much... you learned everything from your mother, but what did you learn from your father?’

Li felt a smile twitch at her lips. ‘Will I see you again?’

‘I ‘spect so,’ he replied. ‘Until next time, Chang shao jeh.’

‘Yi lu shwen fohn, McNally shian shen... and to you Corbon shao jeh.’ Li watched them vanish from the room then felt the cool draught as the apartment door was opened and closed quickly. She considered pursuing them but realised that McNally was truly like her father... a man who would never bluff. She rose slowly, placed the shotgun back in the wardrobe, then slipped into her red dress, disappointed that she would no longer have Eva at her beck and call, but she then allowed herself a smile. There would be nothing stopping her remaining a client of Eva’s and, in any case, she was sure there was a connection... almost as strong as the one she felt with the man called McNally.

On a light tread she returned to the bar, taking a seat on a tall stool and surveying a large grouping of men and women who had pulled two tables together. Among them was McNally, Alisha Corbon and the blonde girl who must have been ‘Kid’. She watched their carousing, fleetingly catching McNally’s eye once, but only once, the recognition instant, and she turned to the bar. ‘Is that group running a tab?’

‘Yes, Chang shao jeh,’ the youngest bar-girl replied.

Li nodded. ‘In that case, tell them it’s on the house, courtesy of Mama Chang.’

The girl nodded as Li sashayed across the bar-room and climbed the stairs to her boudoir. She would seek solace with her own girls tonight and wait for the next time Det McNally graced Sihnon City.
Captain Det McNally
‘If you can’t do somethin’ smart, do somethin’ right... if you can’t do somethin’ right, do somethin’!’

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