There were five of them. There were always five. As he wiped down the bar with a sponge and began setting up shotglasses, Fawkes wondered if his bar could be emptied in sets of five.
This group were only slightly different from the usual friday night escouade-on-the-town, and that wasn't saying much. In Marabou, with a third of the MILICIA and god only knew how many SRA troopers in town at all times, you could get everything from Legion Noire infiltration squads to a bunch fresh from some backwoods Okavango MILICIA garrison.
Well, he considered, at least these were Hellfrogs. Parachutists 'Infantrie Maritime, just like he had been ten cycles before- men and women who, if they didn't frighten the Legionaires, at least got treated as equals...
They were almost to the bar now, lead by a huge blond weapons specialist the size of a Mordred. He was shirtless, clad only in fatigue pants, greaves and boots, and a 'frog bandanna wrapped around one bulging bicep. But the calluses and muscles showed he was used to a twelve-kilo weight hanging from a web strap and resting against his right hip, plain as day to an ex-operator.
Not to say the others weren't bad, bad people, just like Fawkes had been once upon a time. Before the War... As a matter of fact, the two in the middle were probably a lot scarier in combat, no matter how much their SAW operator massed. A man and a woman, both about one-seventy and eighty kay, with that wiry toughness that said the only thing they had to fear from water vipers was indigestion. The big guy probably was no different, but he was a bigger target. As he settled onto a stool and leaned against the bar, Fawkes was sure he heard the solid mahogany planking creak under the pressure.
Ah, the joys of youth...
"Good evening, Caporal." The short one intoned solemly, taking no note that his enourmous comrade stepped aside automatically, even though he doubtless had rank.
"No need for that, trooper. Unless you'll end up doing it anyway, once you're plastered. Name is Fawkes. " Fawkes replied genially, making a gratuitously intuitive mental assay of their individual alcohol tolerances. "What can I get you?"
Deferentially, the spokesman passed the request back with a vague "Snarks?" in the direction of the woman. While she considered, Fawkes allowed himself a bit of private amusement at how the two nondescript ones in back were setting up overlapping cover positions for the group, though they were tagging potential partners rather than threats.
"Half a liter of Bethanny Reserve." The woman decided after a moment's consideration, setting everyone but the small fellow aback slightly.
"Mahmoud, Snarky..." He muttered, apparently unsuprised but dismayed.
"It's her liver, Kzyn." The big man interjected, gesturing for a draft beer.
"But you aren't the one who ends up holding her hair while she pukes, asshole." Kzyn replied impertinently, utterly unfazed by the fact that even sitting, the gunner was well above eye-level.
A small subsection of Fawkes' mind noticed the utter falsehood of that statement. Like all female PIMs he'd known or encountered, her dirty blonde hair was cut short on the sides, and the raggedy top was firmly coralled in place by a camoflauge bandanna.
Everyone in the squad noticed, of course, but it was part of the culture. Even with defined ranks, you always had to be proving yourself. Against other escouades, other sections, other regiments, and even other branches of the military. You never proved anything to //them//, but you made yourself sure you were still the toughest thing anywhere, anytime but of when locals roused the MPs and their Gears.
"Doc, Leech?" Kzyn continued, eventually tapping one of them on the shoulder to break their concentration on a passing Ashanti.
"Beer." They replied in unison, half paying attention as they remained vigilant in their surveilling.
"And for yourself?" Fawkes finished, handing over two brimming mugs and eyeing the leader critically. Not a big one, but the reddish hair that escaped over his bandanna bore dyed-in tiger stripes, and the three horizontal lines tatooed on the sides of his neck were definite signs of a good operator. Hell, he let the other squaddies drink up first. Either he was one of those scary but polite quiet ones, one of the typical-seeming but even-scarier ones, or he just wanted something strange from the rack on the back wall.
"Cranberry juice, for now." He replied, watching the woman, Snarky drain a significant portion of her bottle with a grimmace and a wheeze.
Fawkes simply filled a tumbler as he's been asked, with a murmurred "Right." punctuating his delivery. Kid was probably the second type. Either he wanted to raise hell uninterrupted, and was waiting untill the MPs'd scraped the drunks out and left, or he was just pacing himself.
The SAW on the barstool thought differently, a strange grimmace contorting his features as he looked upon his comrade like he'd devolved into some kind of lower life-form. Like a Marine.
"Harik, you pussy." He grunted, draining his beer and motioning for another.
Pausing from her fuel-tank impression, Snarky knocked back her fifth or sixth gulp of hundred-proof, wheezed, and responded defensively "He's payin..." while she cradled the now half-empty bottle.
Meanwhile, however, the short guy had made an incredible flat-hand upwards chop at the sitting guy, callused knuckles streaking for the SAWs' throat.
It made it three-quarters of the way before a massive fist caught the blow in its' open palm and clasped the half-balled fist in a firm but not crushing grip, before levering sideways and slamming both limbs to the bartop like felled logs.
Meanwhile, the SAW hadn't batted an eye, and his other hand had continued to rythmically transport the beer from coaster to mouth and back in a lazy circuit.
"Webbley! Bad dawg!" The woman barked immediately, even as the short gun seemed to flicker as he struck.
The big man burst into a wheezing laugh, even as the five white-knuckled digits clenched around his throat gently and slowly squeezed against his jugular.
"Whoopass, now in pint size." He gurgled, feigning a lack of concern by taking another sip of his beer around the short guys' arm.
"Damn straight." The short guy snorted, giving a final ungentle squeeze to his comrades' throat before releasing him.
"Webbley, you're a dumbass." The woman muttered at the big man, taking yet another gulp from the severely depleted bottle and yet still somehow remaining upright.
Distracted by the interchange before him, Fawkes was startled to hear the sound of a breaking glass in the far corner, followed by the sounds of an angry scuffle.
"Shit!" he barked, thumbing the MP-call under the bar and quickly moving toward the knot of troublemakers.
Just as he crossed the bar a thick voice screamed "Toyvu maht!", followed milliseconds later by a flying Marine officer. Wincing as the crimson-clad puke demolished a chair in his fall, Fawkes leapt toward the unmistakable sounds of a fistfight.
Unfortunately, with a resounding crack, the fight ended and a crimson-clad body collapsed like a sandbag.
Standing over him, murder in her beady little eyes, was a Morgana. A very pissed Morgana, he noticed immediately, as she brandished a chair leg at a knot of somewhat warier but equally hostile marines.
"Gene engineered freak!" One of them shouted, throwing a glass while his comrades helped their officer off the floor.
There was a creak and a sudden deafeaning silence descended upon the bar, even as the GREL calmly swatted the glass back in the throwers' face with her makeshift bat.
"Aw shit..." Fawkes heard the drunken female PIM mutter, clinking her bottle against the bar as she regretfully set it aside and rose to her feet.
"Ah, well... C'est la vie." The short guy replied, cracking his knuckles and falling in after his friend.
Then the gunner, "Webbley," passed Fawkes and with a slight tensing of his shoulders revealed the origins of his nickname.
From neck to the small of his back, a writhing tattoo of a porcupine anaconda seemed to slither and breathe as the hard ridges of muscles on his back flexed and stretched. But beneath that, the unmistakably synthetic curves and discolored synthetic-muscle patches of an implanted cyberspine were visible through his bronzed skin, and several evenly-spaced diagnostic ports running down his back sported actual lacquered anaconda quills screwed over the protective caps.
"What did you just say?!" "Webbley" demanded quietly with a flat, angry tone to his careful enunciation.
Fawkes had to give the marine credit. He turned to face his newest and largest threat calmly, and his eyes only barely widened in a well-concealed oh-shit look when he saw what was bearing down on him.
The offending marine wasn't stupid, and wasn't drunk enough to try something stupid like repeat his statement. Unfortunately, he'd also had enough already that when he struck, he simply swung for the fences, too close and fast to dodge.
Fawkes had never seen anything move that fast. Not even the GRELs during the War. The big man just seemed to blur to one side without having to move.
Then there was a slap as his fist caught the flat of Webbleys' palm, and then a hideous crunching as the mammoth paw clasped around the fist and constricted, effortlessly rising until the soldier was literally hanging by his hand. Meanwhile, "Webbley" seemed utterly untroubled by the weight and panicked blows of the soldier he was suspending. The gravellike grinding and popping of splintering bones only seemed to lessen as the marines' shrieks of agony began to drown it out.
"Tonight is not your night, mes ami." He growled, releasing the crumpled wreckage of the marines' fist. The semiconscious remnant of the once-proud soldier collapsed like a sack of shit, whimpering.
Unconcernedly facing the knot of other bloodied marines, he calmly asked "I trust no one else wishes to continue this line of discussion?" as he stepped around the sobbing ball of their unfortunate companion.
None so wished.
Calmly approaching the GREL, he intoned; "Soldier, I would suggest you stand down." The GREL seemed bewildered and mildly intoxicated, and the authoritative words seemed to trigger an automatic reflex. Her shoulders relaxed, and she lowered the weapon.
Smiling, Webbly patted her on the shoulder and removed the makeshift cudgel from her grasp.
"Mister Fawkes, if you would, a round for the house, on me." He announced, grinning broadly at his impromptu audience, then tossed the battered chair-leg up into the air like a baton, catching it on the fall and performing a complicated series of twirls as he marched back to his chair, leading the now-passive GREL by her arm and ensconcing her on the stool next to his.
"What's your name, Soldier? Us gene-engineered types need to stick together."
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