Here is a snippet from it! Remember, it is unedited and may be different when the story is published!
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The ForceX Bar was having its own Founders’ Day celebration. There were so many people that the building was unable to hold all of them, and tables had been set up outside in the street along the entire block. As was traditional, this day was one when had many roadways in Arkken Port were entirely or partially closed off, and almost every tavern and bar in the entire port took advantage of that.
This was the most popular of the planet-wide celebrations. Typically, the weather was good, and everyone could wander in and out of the buildings without being concerned about too much heat or the dangers of snow and ice. This day was no exception to that expectation.
To celebrate the freedom that the weather had most graciously granted them, the bar’s doors were all propped open so that people in a convivial mood could swirl in and out, talking to different groups of friends without having to juggle their drinking glasses and door handles.
According to Luka, the head bartender, they had planned for double the number of usual customers. The bouncers pegged it roughly closer to ten times the number of people stopping in to chat with each other and staying to drink and eat. Ruth and Pawlik had wondered about the press of people, but when Pawlik pointed out that there were a large number of demobbed Space Force people in the crowd, Ruth understood immediately.
Luckily, Luka had laid on far more food and drink than they currently had customers, although some of the Mage’s security team had noticed that no less than three fast supply runs had already been made.
Bending over to make a comment to Ruth, Margot murmured, “I know that word of the shooting competition has gotten around. It is very seldom that a competition of this sort can be held where everybody can see. Considering how many mercenaries and former Navy spacers we have in the crowd, let alone talking about all the Marines, there are a lot of people here that want to evaluate some of the announced contestants.”
Ruth laughed, murmuring back, “I assume you are talking about how many people want to see you shoot!”
“No, there is such an interesting mix of people that have entered the competition that I have heard that there are even people coming from off-planet to watch. We have noblemen, mercenaries, former Marines, and even people that design weapons for a living.”
“I do not think Pawlik has heard about all the unexpected attendees. I wonder what he would say if he knew?” mused Ruth in a thoughtful voice. Suddenly smiling a gleeful, broad grin, she added, “I do not believe we should tell him. It can be a surprise.”
Exchanging glances, the Mage and the cohead of her personal security detail both wore gloating expressions. Margot fought back laughter as she added, “After all, you are sponsoring a very unusual take on a shooting competition. Not only are you providing a winning purse for the top three ranked people, but anyone entered into the contest will have a chance to fire some of the newest guns from Victin’s company.”
“It is the least we could do, after all the help that Victin has given us. Besides which, I want to make sure that his company gets all the good press that it can.”
Margot quirked her right eyebrow at her liege Lady, saying severely, “You are not fooling anyone. Otherwise, you would not also be demonstrating some of the latest toys that Hiroko Mishi has built for us. That is just going to make some of the people die of envy.”
Ruth smiled transformed into something a lot sadder and somehow harder before she said, “That was the best way I have of warning people in general that they should not be attacking us. Between the weapons and armor, I am hoping that the message gets passed around.”
Suddenly thoughtful, the two women went back to observing the crowd in silence.
A whirring sound and the parting of the crowd heralded the advance of Alan Culhane, the man that Ruth and Pawlik had picked to head up their nascent intelligence and military strategy group. Although paralyzed from the waist down, the vigorous looking man was a real force to be reckoned with and every Marine that Arkken had respected the man tremendously.
“Hi, Alan, have you decided if you are going to enter the contest or not?” asked Ruth.
“I am having problems deciding. Typically, officers do not engage in competition with the troops. It is not a good thing either way. On one side, you could win and make the people who are on the sharp end every day look bad. The other way, someone beats you, and you look less capable. It does not seem to me that there is any way that entering the competition could be beneficial for me to show off my shooting skills.”
Ruth’s voice was a little sharp as she answered, “I do not agree with you. Showing that you are competent will communicate that you have reasonable expectations when you send your troops into something where they have to fire a weapon. If you are less then perfect, it teaches them a valuable lesson that no matter how much experience you have or how good you think you are, there is always somebody who might be better.”
Alan stared at the Mage wordlessly for a few seconds. Ruth was not sure what he was looking for, but his intense stare into her eyes felt like he was trying to pull information out of the depths of her soul. Sliding into an internal calm space, the Mage waited for his response.
“My Lady Mage,” Alan said formally, “I believe that you are right.”
The hover chair pivoted as sharply as the Marine commander that Alan used to be had ever done, before moving toward the sign-up table outside.
Ruth and Margot looked at each other as identical grins grew and broadened on their faces.
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