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He made no pretense at being fully human. He had probably been born human, but now mechanical limbs--obvious prosthetics with no skinlike cover concealing their artificial nature--replaced his right arm and both legs, and the upper-right portion of his bald head was a shiny metal surface with a standard computer interface.
He made no pretense at being friendly, either. He approached the members of Wraith Squadron as they sat, crammed into their booth, and with neither threat nor comment he snatched a wine bottle from the next table over and brought it down on Runt Ekwesh's head.
The bottle didn't break. It offered a musical toonk sound and coughed up a little wine from its open neck, and Runt, the furred alien with the long, big-toothed face, slumped in his seat, his eyes rolling up in his head.
Most of the members of Wraith Squadron were pinned in place--with nine pilots crammed into a circular booth built for five, they had little room to move. But Kell Tainer, seated at the opposite end of the ring from Runt, scrambled to his feet.
Instead of diving toward his wingmate's attacker, instead of charging with a fist cocked back to punch the man, he slid sideways toward his target, then came up in a side kick that caught the cyborg under his chin and lifted him clean off the floor, slamming him to the bar's floor.
Most of the members of the squadron slid out of the booth in Kell's wake. Other patrons of the bar, human and otherwise, also rose, their expressions suggesting they were unclear on whether to join in this traditional form of bar entertainment.
Commander Wedge Antilles, the squadron's leader, stayed put. He turned toward the squadron medic, Ton Phanan--the man with the mocking manner, well-trimmed beard and mustache, and prosthetic plate over the left side of his head. "How is he?"
Phanan shook his head as he delicately moved his fingers across Runt's skull. "I don't think anything's cracked. He's probably just concussed. You knew he had a hard head."
The cyborg was up now. He and Kell were an odd contrast. The cyborg looked like a fatal skimmer-and-pedestrian accident whose remaining parts had been cobbled together by an insane mechanic, while Kell, with his classic blue eyes and sculpted features, his formidable height and obvious conditioning, looked like a holoposter for military recruitment. But their smiles were identical: humorless, cold, threatening.
The cyborg reached into the next booth, past bar patrons who shrieked and ducked away, and yanked free the table bolted to the floor. He hauled it backward, then swung it faster than any human could manage, but Kell ducked forward, rolled under the table, came up on his feet a mere hand span in front of the cyborg, and planted one-two-three blows in his attacker's gut. The cyborg staggered backward and Kell lashed out with a foot, kicking the table from his fingers with an ease that made the move look casual.
The other bar patrons seemed to settle on a consensus: They held back and began putting down bets. Wedge nodded over the wisdom of that choice. Though the Wraiths were in civilian clothes, it was obvious they were in good condition, and for all the patrons knew, Kell might be only typical of their fighting skill rather than one of their best hand-to-hand fighters.
Piggy, the Gamorrean pilot, leaned back against the Wraiths' table to watch the proceedings--to the extent that the semipermanent smoky haze hovering at chest level and above permitted easy viewing. He glanced over his shoulder at Runt. "Is he hurt?" His voice emerged both as incomprehensible grunts and as electronic words, the latter being emitted by a nearly invisible speaker implanted in his throat.
"Everybody asks that," Phanan complained. Through with his examination of Runt's skull, he now shone a small light into Runt's eyes one by one. "Nobody ever says, 'What a mess! I hope the doctor is not emotionally harmed by having to deal with it.' He's coming around. He'll probably be dizzy for a few days. I need to look up information on how his species deals with concussions."
The cyborg's next punch, the second part of a skillful one-two combination, connected with Kell's midsection. The big man spun as he was hit, diminishing the punch's power, and used that spin to add force to his reply, a snap kick. The cyborg took it in the sternum and staggered back, looking outraged. Kell bent over, holding his stomach where hit, and then straightened, obviously in pain.
Then the bar was filled with uniforms--a stream of men and women pouring in the main entrance, dressed in the distinctive outfit of New Republic Military Police.
Wedge sighed. "As deep as we are, they arrived pretty quickly."
Phanan held a small rose-colored vial full of liquid under Runt's broad, flat nose. The nonhuman's nostrils flared and he jerked, reflexively trying to get away from the smell. "Easy, Runt," he said. "We're about to go somewhere you can relax for a few hours. In the company of some charming people, too, I'll bet."
The military police led them out of the smoke-filled bar into the only slightly less oppressive atmosphere of street-level Coruscant. It was raining, a steady spray of liquid that felt like three-quarters rainwater and one-quarter vehicle lubricant. Wedge looked up, trying to spot some distant speck of color representing Coruscant's sky, but all he could see were clifflike building sides rising to infinity. Awnings, high roads, bridges between skyscrapers, and other obstacles blocked out any glimpse of clouds far above, yet still the rain came down, much of it probably runoff from rain gutters, vents, and flues far above.
Tyria Sarkin, the slender woman with the blond ponytail, grimaced. "It would be nice to be posted to a clean world next," she said. Then she saw the military policemen gesturing toward the waiting skimmer, a slab-sided model without viewports, used to transport prisoners, and she obligingly followed the other Wraiths in that direction. Phanan, supporting the still-dizzy Runt, fell in behind her, and Wedge and the cyborg who had caused all the trouble brought up the rear.