The Bold Marauder, to date:
‘Take the man alive.’ The more confidently those words are spoken, the more foolish the speaker. In many ways, neutralizing Personne’s valets was the easier task. They were dangerous but known quantities, conditioned to stand and fight while their owner escaped. This made them predictable. And hopefully easier to subdue, in the end; the harm that they did was not by their own wills. Their opponents’ quarrel was with their master, not least because he hid behind other people’s stolen bodies.
But capturing Personne would be the harder task. Special care must be taken in subduing the weak; even a fat, lazy slaver is still a human. Behind him stretches generation after generation of ruthless predators, of a species that now rules over a dozen worlds, and is roundly cursed on a hundred more. The wise hunter of men knows and expects that even the worst of the breed will still bite, when cornered -- and that a human’s mouth is filthy. So careful plans must be laid, when stalking this trickiest of quarry.
In this hunt, Adam and Andy perforce served as the beaters, precisely because their faces were known to Personne. The two slipped through the bar through the back kitchen at a wink and a nod (and a tossed copper selene) from Andy, and placed themselves where they could confront the mass-clones. Adam hung back enough to allow Andy the initiative; any spacer knew how to start a bar brawl, of course, but a wise man let the local expert take pride of place.
Andy’s methods had the virtue of simplicity; a sudden jostle, an ale-canister sailing majestically through the air to eventually smack against the far wall, and a reckless Loonie taking a swing at the obvious earthworm that caused him to lose his drink. That brought in the other mass-clone, and since it was now two-against-one and the one was the aggrieved party -- you do not spill a man’s drink in a closed life-support system without immediately crying pardon -- the other Loonies of course made sure that the fight was fair and square. It spread from that point, naturally: as the odds shifted, volunteers took up on the other side, for the sake of a proper melee. And it was simply a melee, by unspoken agreement and tradition. It would stay that way, too; even a mind-gelded Tashkenti mass-clone understands not to be the first to draw weapons in a Loonie donnybrook.
Step one completed, thought Adam as he sidled around the brawl, hands in pockets like a proper and sacrosanct spectator. His own quarry was watching the brawl as avidly as everyone else, albeit with more fear than the rest of the crowd. Personne looked half-ready to bolt, as it was. The only thing keeping him in the bar was fear of what lurked outside it.
Personne saw Adam. The slaver swallowed, nervously, as Adam’s eyes swept pass his -- then went pale as Adam’s eyes locked back on Personne’s. Then, slowly, Adam began to smile as he advanced slowly on his quarry. The smile would have unnerved a stronger-willed man than Personne; a charitable man would have conceded that Personne’s undignified scramble for the door was understandable. Adam did not feel particularly charitable.
And the man outside is even less charitable towards slavers than me, Adam mused. I look forward to that story with some interest.