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The Europa Goodbye: Chapter 7

The first thing Darius noticed upon stepping off the elevator onto the streets of Ward Seven was a dead rat. The first ones like it had come to Europa not long after the first colonists did, but this one was pretty much used up. All that remained was the outer shell of rotten fur, propping up the remains of a decaying organism. That summed up Ward Seven, one of the newer sections of Port Midas. Around here, if you pissed off the denizens you might wind up vanishing without a trace.

Port Midas consisted of seven wards sunk into the surface, in this case into the Conamara Chaos, each of which was a centrifugal “bowl city” which spun around its central axis to provide artificial gravity. Each one housed around a hundred and sixty thousand souls each, on average. In Ward Seven, which housed over two hundred thousand, at least one in five of them was under the poverty line.

Darius reached up and nonchalantly patted his jacket near his left armpit. The familiar bulge of his sidearm was there, thankfully hidden from any onlookers in its shoulder holster. He prayed that he wouldn’t have to use it, but he knew damn well how far prayer got you in the Seventh Ward. 

He strolled up the arc of the Ward Seven centrifuge, trying to look like he belonged there. Two men stood outside the bar across the street, arguing. One was seven feet tall, with scars on his face from radiation burns. The shorter man trying to hold him off had a black eye. Darius recognized the tune of their argument, even if the notes were new. The story they told was as old as Callisto, and every bit as dirty as its politics.

Elsewhere in Jovian space, the Alliance of Free Worlds was doing everything in its power to instill a modicum of order. But here on Europa, the old ways still held sway. The ERA allowed things like what was unfolding across the street to happen, so long as the wheels of commerce stayed greased.

As Daruis walked, he saw a metal and neon sign for the “Rockhopper's Pride” rising out of the sea of low-slung, ho-hum buildings like the prow of a viking longship, and knew he was at the point of no return. He straightened the collar on his jacket, and soldiered right on ahead.

The front of the bar was as loud as it was brightly lit. The particular breed of neon sign that this building used had been illegal on Earth and Mars for the better part of three centuries now, but even that precedent couldn’t stop a libertarian stronghold like Europa from hanging onto nostalgia. Darius looked up at the gently buzzing sign towering over him and smirked at the thought of the price the owners must have paid for it. Probably imported straight from some Gaian scrapyard for a small fortune.

He walked up to the entrance and was stopped by the two hulking bouncers standing on either side of the door. The one on the right, the slightly larger of the two, put out a hand and physically held him back.

Darius looked up at the man, then over at his sneering partner. They certainly had the muscle to pose as strongmen, but Darius knew that having muscle and being able to use it were two different things. Then he noticed the tattoo on the underside of the smaller man’s arm. It would have remained hidden had his sleeve not ridden up when he cracked his knuckles. The design was simple but unmistakable, with the orbit rings of the ICA crossed by the sword and missile of the Interplanetary Defense Corps emblem.

“Hey brother,” he said, deftly changing tact. “Did you drop on Titan?”

The bigger of the two bouncers looked askance at his partner, then back at Darius. Something about the perplexed look in his beady little eyes told Darius that he was on the right track, and a moment later the smirk he gave Darius confirmed that suspicion. “No,” he said, absently rubbing the underside of his arm where the tattoo was. “But I did do two tours on Ganymede with the 735th A.I.R.”

Darius smirked. “And lemme guess: when the war ended you just stuck around right?”

The other man nodded. “Guess you might say my skills are more marketable here.”

Darius was busy recalculating how to neutralize the smaller of the two doormen, based on the possibility of his having served during the war, when his partner cut across their commiserations. “Enough of this shit.” He pointed at his partner. “You never told me you did time in the Corps.”

The other man looked at him, smirking. “What, you think I wanna go spouting off about that kinda thing around here? People go missing for shit lots more simple than that these days. Hell no, man. That’s a really dumb reason to get the Europa Goodbye, my friend.”

As the two men started to argue, Darius decided to play his trump card. He raised his hands in a faux gesture of conciliation and addressed the other veteran. “Look, I’m not here to start a debate. I’ve got an old buddy from my SOAR days in there drinking off his own failed marriage. He told me he was gonna be here and I thought I’d come down and save him from himself. So what say you let the door charge slide, just this once?” He put on his best disarming smile, hoping that esprit de corps would serve him well at least once more.

Of course, the other doorman had something to say, as well. “Hold up. You think, what, just because you were in the Corps you get a free pass to come in and screw around without–?”

His partner held up his hand. “Reggie. Shut up.” He turned to Darius and raised an eyebrow. “You get a free pass, just this once. Go in, get your buddy, and get out. I’m not gonna take the heat if management comes askin’ how a duster like you got in the front door without paying out tribute first.”

Darius grinned and nodded at him, then walked between the two doormen just as a fresh argument started brewing between them. As they bickered, Darius wondered just what he was walking into.

He stepped through the doors and into a mystery spot on the carpet that was sopping wet. From the smell, Darius was betting on vomit. He scanned the room, and was accosted by a smorgasbord of color, noise, and human profligation. He saw three tables, each full of barflies. One woman was in the process of taking her clothes off. A man at the table sliding paper money towards her while his friend egged him on.

The table next to them held three people in an intense conversation. One man kept pounding his fist on the table. Another demanded more time. Neither were the man Darius was looking for. 

In between each of the tables were wall to wall patrons, each with a dirty glass and a strong drink. Some had needle marks on their arms. Some had needles still in their hands. The latest batch of the good stuff, up from the hydroponics labs on Ganymede. It had been giving J-Sec headaches for months.

Darius could see why the C.I. had picked this place, now. As long as you didn't involve yourself in someone else's business, no one cared what you did. Or said. The place was too damn noisy for anything he or anyone else said to upset a wayward Draconist sympathizer, anyway.

He’d just started across the room when he noticed someone watching him. He knew better than to let them know he knew he’d been made. He continued his push through the sea of slowly gyrating club-goers, but kept his attention firmly on the man now slowly pushing through the crowd to intercept him. For a moment, he thought it might actually be the C.I. trying to reach him. He’d always been an optimist like that.

Then he noticed a second man moving to intercept from a different angle, and this briefest of delusions faded from his mind like water on Mercury. When a third face found his and began to press forward toward him, he started thinking about what an idiot he’d been to come here in the first place.

It wouldn’t be the first time someone went missing from the Seventh Ward, of course. That’s what he kept telling himself as he pushed for the rear door of the bar, hoping at least to carry the fight that was brewing outside and away from the crowd. Too many onlookers also meant too many chances for a stray shot to kill an innocent, which meant he’d have to rely on his wits if he got trapped inside. That, and the fifteen-centimeter utility knife he kept on him for these kinds of situations.

He neared the exit, only to see a fourth man guarding the door. This man’s face bore two wicked scars, and from the expression this face wore, Darius knew he’d have to fall back on option B.

By now the other three men had converged on him, as well. None of them looked willing to play nice, either. Still, it couldn't hurt to ask. “Look, fellas,” said Darius, grinning and holding up his hands in mock surrender. “I don’t suppose we could just talk this thing over, whatever it is?”

The scar-faced man actually cracked a lopsided smirk as he reached inside his jacket and retrieved a large, curved fighting knife. “You can talk all you like, duster, but it won’t do you much good.”

Darius smirked in spite of the situation. Might as well get this over with, he thought as he slowly balled his hands into fists. “My Lieutenant always said I was a good conversationalist.”

The scar-faced man’s smirk faded. “Suit yourself, pig. Won’t make any difference to us.”

As he spoke, his three compatriots drew knives of their own and started pushing slowly in on Darius. Their faces were cold masks of determination as they steeled themselves for a fight. Darius quickly scanned across each face in turn, gauging the danger he saw there and weighing the options this information gave him. He noticed that the smallest of the four men had a scar on his face, across his left eye, which was milky from the damage it had taken. That might be the only shot Darius had.

He slowly reached down to stick his hand in his own pocket, and felt the familiar form of his utility knife waiting there for him. “Sure,” he said, just biding his time now. “Whatever you say.”

The largest of the four was the first to pounce. He was to Darius’ left, and he swept in with surprising grace for someone so big. His knife was a flashing matte black blur as it swept in toward Darius' face, but Darius was faster. He dodged and had his knife out and the blade flicked open in half a heartbeat.

“Get this sonuvabitch!” shouted the leader, and the other two lackeys leapt to action, as well. Now Darius was in for it. If he didn’t play his cards right, he would never get out of this bar alive. He dodged a swipe from the third man, then the fourth, and then another from the big man. Scar-face held back for a moment too long, perhaps content to let his underlings do the fighting for him for the time being.

That was all the inspiration Darius needed. He lunged at scarface, swiping quickly but without real killers’ intent. After all, if he wanted to salvage something from this debacle, he’d need at least one of these jokers alive. The big scar-faced man ducked out of the way of his halfhearted jabs, raising his own knife to parry with a sudden desperate ferocity that told Darius he’d made the correct calculation.

He jumped back and let the scarred man’s momentum carry him straight into his big comrade as he came in for another salvo. The two of them stumbled into and toppled over a group of oblivious club-goers who’d been dancing a few paces away, completely unaware of the unfolding drama behind them. As the big man got up and brandished his knife anew, one of these revelers noticed at last and let out a piercing scream that soon had every face within ten meters turning to investigate the cause of the commotion.

The crowd turned to watch as they noticed the fight unfolding. Some were driven to panic at the sight of the massive men and their sinister knives, while others seemed almost to cheer on the developing violence. The latter group had almost grown up during the war. To them, this sort of thing was routine entertainment.

The leader lunged at him again, swiping away with a flurry of surprisingly well-placed attacks that told Darius he’d probably picked up some CQB experience of his own somewhere along the line.

He dodged another blow from the leader, who snarled a stark threat. “Make this easy on yourself, scum. We’ll make it quick and quiet.” His three cohorts closed in, preparing to aid him in the takedown.

Darius backed slowly away, wheeling around as he tried to keep all four of his opponents in view at once. It was a tall order. “C’mon” he said, grinning. “You sure you don’t wanna talk about this?”

He never did know what happened next. You never really do, in those situations. There was a sharp THUMP on the back of his head, which was the last thing he remembered. From there, it all went dark.

The sound of mixed voices and screams, the smell of smoke and sweat, all mingled in his mind as he swam in and out of consciousness. He felt like he was being carried, then like someone was pulling him by the legs. He couldn’t quite bring himself back to awareness, though, so he had no way to know what was real and what was merely his imagination. When he finally came to for longer than a second, it was to see the men who’d attacked him at the Rockhopper's Pride standing over him in an elevator. Headed down, most likely. Down toward the ocean that waited to swallow up every loose end on Europa.

Darius’ head throbbed as he looked around, trying to determine where he was. As if it mattered. Wherever they’d taken him, there was only one way out. The scarred man who served as leader of the kill team noticed Darius’ eyes searching their faces and looked down at him, smirking. His voice was cold but calm when he spoke. “What? You thought we were just gonna give you the blade at a public bar?”

Darius tried to speak but the wave of nausea which swarmed up in his gut told him not to. The scarred man shook his head. “That’s not how this thing plays out. Pigs get the Europa Goodbye.” 

The elevator dinged as it hit the bottom floor. The big man looked down at Darius, and for a sickening moment, he seemed genuinely happy. Clearly this would be the best part of his day. “Last stop,” he said.

Then he raised his foot and stomped down hard on Darius’ head. Darkness fell over the former Spacer again, and this time it was all-encompassing. The darkness that by rights should have been final.

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