“Surely there has to be something,” insisted my companion.
He was always a little slow to believe me. “There’s no money left, Duff, nothing at all.”
“How did this happen, Colin?”
I tried not to roll my eyes, though I’d warned him many times about this very situation. It wasn’t as if he’d listened. Instead, his spending had continued, regardless of the fact neither of us could remember our last job.
“Money goes out, but nothing comes in,” I muttered.
“We don’t even have enough to eat?” He tilted his head and trained his sad, brown eyes on me.
I shook my head and interlaced my fingers above the table. Duff would definitely think of his stomach at a time like this. Myself, I was worried about the fact we had no way to pay for more fuel for our ship, which currently sat idle at the local spacedock. We wouldn’t have enough to get ourselves anywhere unless we found a way out of this predicament.
I turned and looked out into the darkness, through a nearby window half-covered with snow. The spacedock could be seen off in the distance, a mess of steady and flashing lights, as ships came and went at random. Rief, the city in the foreground, was dimly lit in comparison, its citizens mostly asleep, warm and comfortable in their beds. Duff and I had made our way here through the blizzard just to have a place to sit around for daybreak, since running the heat in our ship would have lasted only half the night, before the fuel ran out.
Duff rested his dark-skinned forehead on the table, while his blonde hair remained plastered to his head. “What are we going to do?”
“I don’t have a clue,” I said with a sigh, turning my stare back inside.
A single counter stretched along the left side of the building, from about the center of the room to the far corner, with a small pass-through at the far end. A handful of round, four-place tables were scattered around us, while tall stools were fixed to the floor just this side of the bar.
We almost had the place to ourselves at this late hour. A lone bartender polished glasses behind the bar, while an old mine worker sat on one of the stools with his gray-haired head passed out next to a black, dented helmet. A half-empty bottle was loosely gripped in his hand, with his dirt-covered face turned in our direction, eyes closed.
A trio of other mine workers sat at a table in the corner, and were the only others present. Unlike the old man at the bar, who seemed a feeble one, they were big burly beasts covered with fur. They’d removed their helmets earlier, which now rested on the floor next to them. Their voices were quite loud for such a confined area and occasionally, the group would erupt into raucous laughter, beefy guttural sounds to throw off an otherwise peaceful evening.
The bartender polished glasses, trading glances between the rowdy bunch of beasts and our table, occasionally watching the passed-out miner for signs of life. None of us were helping his bottom line, even if Duff would have been more than willing to completely finance the bartender’s retirement fund if we had any money.
The front door popped open and snow rushed inside on a blast of frigid air. Every conscious customer turned to watch this new arrival step inside, slamming the door closed and stomping snow off huge black boots.
I finally got a glimpse of the man underneath as he peeled off his white scarf and lowered the matching hood. He also had the added bonus of a patch on his left eye, jet black to match his disheveled hair. A rather vicious scar ran underneath his one good eye, and I idly wondered whether the scar and the patch were related, but only for a moment before I went back to my business.
Duff, unfortunately, was socially inept and continued to gawk. A few moments passed before I smacked the back of his head. He turned to me, eyes narrowed.
“What’cha do that for?”
I mumbled, “It’s not polite to stare.”
“You didn’t have to hit me.” He rubbed his head.
I shot a sideways glance at the stranger as the rowdy group in the corner grew quiet for the first time. They were strangely interested in the new arrival, with each peering over, then leaning back in for a huddled conversation with the others.
I became very uncomfortable as his gaze fell on our table. I turned and scowled, but he smiled, reached inside his coat and pulled out a large cloth satchel. He made his way towards us in absolute confidence as I sat there totally confused.
As he neared our table, he uttered, “I was beginning to wonder if you’d ever show.”
I looked over at Duff, who simply shrugged while I turned my attention back to the stranger and asked, “Do we know you?”
“You, my friends, are to be my guides for the journey.” His smile broadened, eyes twinkling.
His words sank in and I retorted, “Whoa, hold on!”
A big smile appeared on Duff’s face. “Journey? Colin, where are we going?”
“To the farthest reaches of the universe, if need be,” the stranger responded, “as the full extent of the journey has not been revealed.”
“I’ve always wanted to travel,” my dullard of a companion mused.
I pounded my fists on the table. “No, we aren’t going anywhere!”
The stranger was insistent. “The vision has foretold…”
I held up my hand to stop him. “Listen, friend…”
“Gabriel Peters,” he corrected.
“I’m sure you mean well, but even if this vision of yours has merit, we can’t take you, or anyone, even as far as the upper atmosphere.”
“But the vision was very specific that I would find a pair of travelers from a foreign land who would take me on my journey. You’re the first aliens I’ve seen here since I had the vision.”
I rubbed my temples. “Where’d this vision come from, the bottom of a bottle?”
He scowled at me. “My vision came from the only One who can bring the truth.”
“And who would that be?”
“The Creator of all things, the Maker of the universe,” he tried to explain.
I cringed, remembering my previous run-ins with his kind. They either wanted money as a tribute to their gods or threatened force if one denied their supremacy. Though the gods and the methods always changed, they all ended up causing problems.
“Listen, friend, we want no trouble,” I told him, holding up my empty hands with palms faced forward while scooting away from the table.
“I’m not here for trouble,” Gabriel complained. “I need you to help me complete my journey.”
“We don’t have the resources to transport you, and have no money to contribute to your ‘cause’, so why don’t you just move along?”
“I would not expect you to do this for free and neither would the Maker.” He tossed the satchel into the center of the table, where it landed with a metallic crash, before a handful of round, golden coins bounced out. I grabbed one and examined it closely.
“Galactic credits?” The blue ring around the circumference denoted the value of ten thousand, which meant the stacks inside the satchel, had to be worth…
I gulped. Who was this Gabriel Peters?
“So, all we have to do is take you wherever you want to go? There’s nothing more required of us?”
“Transport is all I require at this point. As I mentioned before, the full extent of my journey has not been revealed to me.” His explanation was strange, but another look at the coins littering the tabletop kept me too occupied to care.
“You have a deal, Mr. Peters.” I stuck out my hand to bond our agreement.
“Please, call me Gabriel.”
A furry paw smashed down on the center of the table, as a booming, beefy voice echoed above us. “Peters, as certain as I live and breathe, I knew it would only be a matter of time…”
I glanced up at the grotesque face above us. Mighty fangs hung from the upper half of the beast’s long, broad snout, while yellowish saliva dripped down to the tabletop in long hanging strings. He snarled, “I knew you couldn’t keep it hidden forever.”
Gabriel waved him off. “This is none of your concern, Azrael.”
“The hell it isn’t…” Azrael bellowed pale steam out his nostrils. His eyes flickered red in the candlelight. “This money belonged to my brother, and since he’s dead, I plan on staking my claim to it.” A long, deep snarl pushed his point closer to home.
There was no fear evident as Gabriel turned to face the beast. “That was the past. You’d do well to leave it there.”
“No, I think I’ll help myself right here in the present.” The burly behemoth wrapped his hand around the top of the satchel.
Gabriel’s hand jerked out and clamped down on Azrael’s fur-laden arm. His tone was low, but still calm and collected as he stood. “These funds are for the Lord’s work. I strongly urge you to take a different course of action.”
Azrael baited with a mocking tone. “Perhaps I should finish the job my brother started instead? Matching eye patches would suit you perfectly.” More strings of saliva dripped from his bared fangs.
"Do what you think you must, but this money must remain with these two.” He motioned toward Duff and me. Was he trying to get us killed?
Azrael turned to face us. His tongue darted out and slipped from side to side across his lower fangs. “You don’t mind if I reclaim money which is rightfully mine, do you?”
I shook my head as fast as I could. I valued my life, wasn’t suicidal, and didn’t plan on going toe-to-toe with this beast. Whether Gabriel wished to die, or was just plain stupid, remained to be seen.
A hearty, evil laugh passed from the beast’s throat as he turned back to Gabriel. “This is turning into an excellent evening. Not only do I get to reclaim my brother’s money, but I get to finish his handiwork.”
With a quick flick of his wrist, a blade appeared in his right hand, and gleamed in the candlelight. The bartender dove below the counter, while the other furry beasts stood from their chairs, and made their way over. The old passed-out miner still hadn’t moved.
Azrael’s eyes flashed red once again. “I shall enjoy slicing you apart.”
Gabriel made no move of self-defense, from the blow everyone knew was coming. Instead, he merely gave a stern look at his attacker. “Leave us be, before you do something you’ll regret.”
The hairy beast growled in anger. “Defend yourself, fool!”
The sternness continued. “My Defender is all I need.”
“I’ll take great pleasure in gutting you, then.” Azrael’s laugh came from deep in his throat, and made me shiver.
The beast made a fast step with his left foot, just before the strike, then his face contorted into shock. His eyes widened and his hands trembled violently. The knife clattered to the floor, and his body followed a moment later. He writhed and convulsed on the floor. His companions jumped back, unsure of what just happened. They traded glances between Azrael and Gabriel, who shook his head with a furrowed brow.
“I tried to warn you, Azrael,” Gabriel muttered. “The Maker is not to be trifled with, and His plans reign supreme. I only hope He takes pity on your miserable life, for you know not what foolish things you do.”
I stared with wide eyes at the fallen beast. What just happened? By all logic, Gabriel should have been a bloody corpse on the floor. Instead, Azrael’s body jerked around like a puppet on strings. Was it some sort of mind-control? Had he injected the beast with a drug? The last thing I wanted to believe was the most obvious answer, it had been the doings of the One Gabriel spoke of.
Azrael’s convulsions ceased and Gabriel gathered loose coins into his satchel. He lifted his face and looked over at me. “I believe we had a deal, Captain?”