The Silver Moon was always open, and its doors always whined on their compressed-air tracks.
Shida told Maintenance to leave them be. She wanted to hear when patrons came and went, no matter which shift on DeiStation was on their way home.
Over the clatter of anti-grav roulette boards and the squeak of the glass she was drying by hand—the dryer sometimes left spots—Shida’s eyes were drawn to the whine as two black boots strode in.
“Dalia,” Shida said, lips barely moving, “go on in back.”
The black boots hesitated, taking in the dim room with its light up slots and green felt tables. His eyes measured each person, each station, in a quick and calculating way Shida knew well. When they landed on her, he smiled.
Shida put the glass on the rack and picked up another, never dropping his gaze as the boots strode closer. He stepped between two barstools, sitting on neither; Shida nodded, not needing to speak first.
“It’s been a long time, Shida.”
“Barek,” she replied. “What’ll it be?”
“I’m not here to drink,” he said, traces of false warmth leaking from his eyes. Barek had never been one to dance, always shooting first.
“Come on back, then,” Shida said without missing a beat. “I keep my best bottles back here. Magda,” she spoke down the rail, “watch the bar?”
Shida led Barek through the canvas curtain, rough on her calloused, aching fingers. It was better for this—however it was going to end—to take place away from her patrons.
“Have a seat,” she said, taking brandy down from a shelf.
“This your special stash?” Barek asked.
“Well, it must be my lucky day.”
The amber liquid was a smooth pour into two tumblers, and Barek took his with his left hand.
Barek was not left-handed, but Shida sat down anyway.
“I’ve been expecting you,” she said after a sip.
“You’re not the first to come.”
Barek’s thick brows shot up. Did he not know most of their old crew had come looking already?
“So you know why I’m here?” he asked.
“Then where is it?”
“It’s not here.”
Barek slammed his glass down, impatient as ever, brandy sloshing over the rim.
“Shida, I know you have it. We all do.” And all their old friends had sipped brandy in this room, one at a time. This was getting old. She was getting old.
Shida blinked, just a moment slower than usual, the cheers of winners and groans of not-yet-winners drifting across the wall. Her eyes were tired, and the outline of her phaser pressed against her ribs. “You took your fair share,” she said.
He and everyone else had, or at least they all thought so at the time. The relic she’d chosen—one no one else had wanted—could have bought this whole space station plus the two closest ports on Deimos, with maybe enough leftover to build her own hydroponic vineyard. But none of them had known that until they’d gone to cash in their run from Alpha C-III.
That had been her last run with the Nightingale. It’d had to be.
“You didn’t sell it,” Barek said, trying to draw information out of her. “You wouldn’t still be in this piss-chute if you had.”
“I don’t have it, Barek,” Shida said, steady over the chimes of the slots-array singing. “You made the trip to this piss-chute for nothing.”
Barek shot up then, pushing back from the table, grabbing his hidden phaser with his right hand, and pointing it at Shida. He was always one to rush.
“Don’t lie to me, Shida.”
She stared up at him, hands in her lap, phaser still at her ribs. The chimes in the saloon kept getting higher and higher—someone was going to win big soon.
“It’s not here,” Shida said again, tired. She was tired of watching the door.
“It’s not.” She was tired of waiting for more Nightingale crew members to come through.
“Then where is it?”
She was tired of old friends pointing phasers at her.
Shida didn’t reach into her holster. Shida kept her hands still.
“Oh, Barek,” she said, fatigue straining her voice. “Do you really think I’d ever tell you?”
One more chime, then a chorus of cheers sounded in the saloon.
Shida closed her eyes, and the sizzle of phaser fire—one shot, direct and true—whispered through the racket.
Barek crumpled to the floor.
Shida opened her eyes, looked past where he’d been standing.
“Good aim, my daughter,” she said, voice low and mournful, and Dalia stepped out from behind the curtain leading to the supply closet.
“Were you just going to let him point that at you?” Dalia asked, her face flushed with anger. Shida had never made her pull the trigger before, had never let it go that far.
“No, I wasn’t,” she said.
But she was. For the first time, she was.
“What should we do with him?” Dalia asked, toeing one of the black boots.
“I’ll take care of it.” Shida sighed and stepped back through the curtain. “Best secure your dishonest gains,” she called to her patrons. “Station security will be here any minute.”
Back behind the bar, she took down a glass and picked up a towel as the doors to The Silver Moon parted with a whine. Three uniformed officers surveyed the room, then sidled over.
“What will you be drinking today, gentlemen?” Shida asked.
“Shida. Magda,” Commander Arun greeted them, nodding. “Sensors picked up phaser fire here. Everything alright?”
“Everything is just fine, Commander,” Shida said.
“Mind if we have a look around?” he asked.
Shida held his gaze. Arun, unlike Barek, knew the dance, and he and Shida did so every time Shida had unwelcome visitors from her past.
And for now, three of Nightingale’s crew still lived.
“Dalia,” Shida said, “go in back and get the 2122 for the commanders here. From my personal stores.”