After the door clicked, shutting the sun out, she stood waiting for her pupils to pick recognizable shapes out of the black. Red lights are a stupid choice, she thought for the thousandth time. Pissed off for 3 secs and done with that then, too. Dumb bar owners. I could be drinking already.
A voice wafted from stage right. "Stel." She followed the sound, squinting at the faint glow from the back bar. The owner of the voice and The Bar strolled over, reaching for a glass on his way. "Stel. Waddelitbe?"
"Shot. Thankee, Toke. Kh. Make it two."
"Haiye, Stella. Whatche doin?"
"I'm done. Done. Done. Did I mention? I'm done." Stella turned her head to the old hailer on the stool next to the one she slid onto.
"Surly. Ta for the ask. How's it?"
Surly Bugger shrugged his shoulders past his ears. "You'd listen if I said? No. I'm the same. What are you done with?"
"What'll you do instead?"
Stellar clenched her shoulders together front, rotated her upper body twice around, flexed her toes which no one saw because they were exercising inside boots that were, in her toes' opinion, entirely too pointy.
"Well, Surly. I'll just be me."
"There a market for that then?"
"Hereyabe, Stel. Run a tab?"
"Yes, thanks for your interest, Token."
"Stellar Repo!" A hand slapped her hard between the shoulders. "Good on ya for the Black Feather retrieve!" Stella glanced at Surly, who dipped to drown a grin in his frosty beverage. Stella ignored the man and the hard hand. "What is it you know, Surly Bugger?"
"I know nothing. I never claimed to know anything. I am an empty space in a universe of not knowing."
Stellar Repo, newly unemployed again, cranky recollector of lost stuff and such swiveled her stool to the room while throwing back her first shot. She swirled the stool back to the bar, picked up the second shot, slammed, and continued the circuit of the floor she was drilled into.
Back at the bar. "Surly, how do you keep going?"
"When you're not drinking."
"I don't not drink. What's your point? Are you going deep on me?" Surly turned his head toward Stella, a thing Surly hadn't done in so long, Stella imagined a creaky noise.
"I've never been done before. Thought you had some insight on doneness."
"I do. But why would I share? Done. Remember?"
A hard-boiled knee banged into Stella's on the other side. A beefy fist laid itself ungently on the bar rail, and Surly's whole head, eyes pinioned center, took some interest.
"Token Guy, my man!" A drink for the little lady."
Oh deities, Surly moaned, and scrunched his whole body toward an escape route into his glass. Stella squinched her eyes at the hand on the bar, moved her head once to signal no to Toke.
"Pay me what you owe, Clod, and I'll buy my own drink."
"It's Claud actually."
"Whatever. You have my loot?"
The big man turned to The Bar patrons, heartily stalling. "Madams! Gents! Stellar Repo got me my stole frigate back. This little lady right here," patting Stella's shoulder in a way that bordered on groping. Surly shuffled his stool farther to the right, moved his drink to his right palm. Halfway into Claud's exploratory hug, Stella's left foot in the pointy boot landed a kick midway between the man's head and his own feet.
"Watch the hands, Clod. That's not how it is in womanland."
Toke preemptively set another shot in front of Stella, one in front of Claud, and reaching below the bar, pulled a transfer port out and slapped it next to the glasses.
"Drink's on the house, Claud. Pay Stella. Drink. Go. In that order. My man. Now." Claud shakily picked up the port, poked some, threw the drink down his neck, and tiptoed to the exit. A brief flash of blazing light and the door hissed shut behind him.
A breath that might have been ahem drifted between Surly and Stella. "Um. Stellar Repo? I have a situation that -."
Stella flipped a card from her side pocket, extended it over her shoulder. "Office hours on the back. Ta."
Surly bumped his stool closer to Stella. "What?" he asked. "What did you mistakenly think I know?"
Stella grinned briefly. "This Black Feather retrieve. I got a tip. A message in the ether, too wispy, no time to trace. Who tips on this level? It was a joystick, a ride, nothing bigger. Why?" She gestured with her head toward the exit. "For a skidder, no less."
"A minute." Surly stilled. "No, nothing." Stella stared at the side of Surly's bald dome where a flicker above his eyebrow vibrated. All of Surly blinked out in a flash with SIGNAL LOST hovering midthorax. Stella, a drink in her right hand, leaned, reached across her body with her left and palm slapped Surly in the spot his forehead should have been. Surly winked back onto the stool. "Ta," he said.
Toke wandered over, removed the empties and shuffled the trans in front of Stella. She nodded, swiped her wrist over the black wafer, glanced at the unit, touched the screen and moved it back to Toke, who picked it up and stashed it back under the bar.
Stella stood. "Surly, you'll report anything that surfaces, yeah. Token Guy, ta. Use some of that loot to get some human light spectrum bulbs, huh?"
Toke rolled his eyes. "Cheers, Stel."
Back on the blistering sidewalk, Stella paused, eyes slammed shut at the agony of light. She opened one eye a sliver, and whoosh, blackness again as a hood dropped down. She was picked up, tossed over a smelly body, toted four steps and thrown into a hover that shot skyward before she stopped rolling.
The hover landed. Stella draped nose to armpit again, then dropped on a floor from height. Hard. The hood was yanked off by a grinning ugly face too close.
"Get away from me, slick. This is my drinking night. I want to be alone."
Ugly guffawed. "You know where you are?"
"I do, rockabilly." She cold-cocked him. He went quietly.
An unmanly giggle she recognized turned her head.
She sat up, rubbing her knuckles. "A woman likes to be asked, McCloskey. Asked nice."
"Got a gig for you."
"McCloskey's Rule. The answer is never no. If required, it's I'll get back to you."
"Real marks are involved. Clinking coin of the realm," his singsong wheedle made her stomach think about hurling.
"I could kill you now."
Stella stood up, fussed with her hair mashed by the hood. She growled, kicked the downed rockabilly just for fun.
"Later, McCloskey. Next time you want me to beat up your goon, make an appointment. Call first. Ask nice." She pointed a finger at him, stabbed once. Walked out. "You'll get my bill," she shouted from the lift.