Chapter Two – Lost and Found

Morgan lashed out sideways, knocking Jakel off his feet before he could draw his weapon on her. Out of the corner of her eye she spotted Merick, ready to take on Jakel and cover her back. Bray backed away, pushing his way through the sporadic, erupting fights toward the door. Morgan felt a slight twinge of relief; she didn't want to have to hurt him—he was just a kid, after all.

Paeke, now recovered after Morgan's blow to his nose, faced her and grinned. Blood dripped from one nostril and into his mouth, dyeing his canines a fierce crimson. He jerked his neck once and rolled his shoulders. "Hell of a punch there, Lanell."

She smiled grimly. "I practice everyday, just for scum like you."

He growled and swung at her, his blaster lying somewhere on the floor under the table. She danced to the right, barely avoiding his thickly knuckled fist. He brought his other fist up in a sharp jab that took her by surprise and caught her in the ribs. She stumbled back, knocking into another pair of bar denizens locked in their own fight.

She briefly toyed with the idea of drawing her blaster, but that would likely bring more trouble than help. For one thing, she didn't really want to kill anyone; hurt Paeke and send him home licking his wounds, yes, but to kill him? No, she wasn't a murderer. Besides, should she loose control of her weapon, she wasn't entirely sure that Paeke had the same qualms about killing. Definitely much safer to leave it holstered.

She dodged another of Paeke's wild swings and thrust her elbow sharply against his sternum. His eyes widened and he exhaled in a short gasp. Pressing her advantage, Morgan kicked her boot at his kneecap, not hard enough to break it, just enough to leave some serious bruising.

Paeke howled and cursed, snatching a mug partially filled with some sort of blue-green liquor off a nearby table and hurling it at her. Morgan tried to deflect it, but was only partly successful as the thick liquid spattered the front of her jumpsuit.

She grimaced. "That better come out, Vernam." She ducked his attack, snapping off one of her own. "This is my favorite jumpsuit."

"I'll ruin a lot more than that pretty little jumpsuit of yours," he taunted. "How about I start with that perfect nose?"

He picked up a stack of cards from the table they'd been playing at and started throwing them at her. She dived behind another table, putting other fighting men between her and Paeke, keen to avoid the cards' sharp metal edges. She heard a holler somewhere in front of her and knew at least one of the cards had found a mark.

The first ring of blaster bolts told her that other patrons had different ideas about using weapons. It was time to get out of there. Fast.

***

Merick cradled his fist in his other hand, wishing he hadn't punched the man with the black eyes quite as hard as he had. At least the man—Jakel, was it?—seemed to be out for the count.

Quickly scanning the surrounding area, he spotted Morgan behind an overturned table, Paeke a few yards away, throwing anything he could get his meaty hands on. Morgan seemed to be getting on all right, he decided.

He ducked as he heard the whine of blaster bolts. They seemed to be coming from somewhere near the back of the bar, but he knew that once they started, the whole place would soon erupt in gunfire.

"Morgan!" he shouted, making his way as best he could toward his co-pilot.

She craned her neck, peering through the flurry of fighting, finally catching a glimpse of him. "Merick!" she called back. "I think we should get out of here!"

He reached her, crouching down next to her, careful to avoid the wrath of any nearby combatant. "Exactly what I was thinking," he agreed.

They watched as the rest of the bar was embroiled in fiercer and fiercer fighting, all the while waiting for an opening so they could make their escape. Occasionally Merick landed a blow on anyone who strayed too near or took an interest in them. Paeke seemed to have given up on Morgan for a minute and had turned his attention to someone else, now thoroughly engaged in a painful looking brawl.

"Now!" Merick shouted suddenly, grabbing Morgan by the wrist and pulling her upright.

They darted forward, squeezing through a gap in the chaos and toward the front entrance. Blaster bolts whistled past them; one scorched the wall not a foot from Morgan's head.

They were nearly to the door when Merick crashed into someone, losing his grip on Morgan's arm and tumbling to the ground with a grunt. The man he'd run into, a wiry-looking man with a graying, black beard and hair, rolled his eyes wildly and rocketed a fist toward Merick's jaw. Merick intercepted the blow with one hand, but the man caught him in the shoulder with a surprisingly painful jab. He reeled back, and in the space of an instant the wiry man was on his feet and charging out he door.

"Merick!" Morgan called from somewhere above him. Then he saw her, leaning down next to him, helping him to his feet. "Are you okay?"

"Yes," he replied, shaking his head to clear it and glancing about for the mysterious man to no avail.

He and Morgan slipped out the front door, leaving the skirmish and destruction of the bar behind them. Merick glanced around quickly, trying to catch a glimpse of the man he'd knocked into; he thought he saw a flash of grayish black hair disappear around a corner up ahead, but he couldn't be certain.

When they had made it a sufficient distance from the bar, they slowed and Morgan turned to Merick. "Who was that guy?" she asked.

Merick held his hands up, shrugging. "You've got me. He seemed in an awful hurry though. I wonder what he was so upset about."

Morgan nearly laughed. "Oh, it's probably only the fact that we just instigated a major war back there."

He raised an eyebrow. "We? You, I believe. I didn't resort to calling my gambling partners names."

She nudged him good-naturedly in the ribs. "But at least he deserved it." She cocked her head, pointing as she noticed something. "What's that?"

"What's what?" he asked, looking down at his sleeve. Clinging to the sleeve of his flight jacket, just beneath his Captain's patch, was a thin chain with a little silver ornament. "Huh," he said, picking it off and holding it up to examine. "Looks like somebody's necklace." A thought struck him. "I wonder if it belongs to that man I nearly trampled."

He handed the trinket to Morgan. She turned it over in her fingers, rubbing it between two fingers. "Good luck charm, maybe," she muttered, frowning. "Seems kinda familiar."

"It's not yours, is it?" he asked.

"No, no I don't think so." She shook her head and handed it back to him. "I bet you're right. It must've belonged to that guy and it just got stuck to you when you crashed together."

"Do you think we should track him down and return it?"

Morgan scoffed. "Are you kidding? We'd never find him, for one. And anyway, it's only a lucky necklace or something. I mean, how much could it really mean to him?"

Merick shrugged. "Maybe his wife gave it to him. You wouldn't want to be the cause of an otherwise happy marriage splitting up just because you refused to return a simple anniversary gift, now would you?"

"I'll try hard not to lose sleep over it," she shot back.

Merick laughed. "That's my girl. Now what do you say we head back to the ship? I think we're done with all our business on this planet. Besides, I don't think we should chance renting a room here, just in case someone's got a good memory."

Talk gradually turned to business affairs as Morgan and Merick headed back for his ship, affectionately named the Sky Claw. As he walked, Merick unconsciously rubbed the necklace between his thumb and forefinger, wondering in the back of his mind what exactly that little silver trinket was and what it meant.

***