Every night was the same at the cantina: work, deal with drunken patrons, ignore the pain in her legs, go home. The day-in, day-out boredom was not something Felina had imagined when she left home, but between the indentured servitude she owed Rosa and the alternative, she guessed she really had it okay.
Tonight, however, promised to be different. Felina had received a call that morning from her brother and at any moment expected him to walk through the door. She hadn’t seen him in a year, since he signed on with the Rosebud, a freightliner out of Puerto Nuevo.
She whirled as the door chime sounded, expecting to see him in the doorway. Instead, she fought back disappointment as she recognized Marty, one of the local miners who regularly dropped by.
She plastered a smile on her face and waltzed over. “Evening, Marty,” she said, a touch of Spanish causing her words to lilt.
The miner’s tired eyes lit up at her words. “Buenos noches, Felina,” he said. The rumor behind the bar was that Marty had fallen for Felina and wanted to take her away. Of course, no matter how Felina felt about the prospect, she’d belong to Rosa for another five years.
Marty was not an unattractive man, only in his late twenties. A life in the mines had aged him prematurely, causing gray to show in his light brown hair earlier than it should. He was a simple man – not rich but not poor, a man who worked hard and enjoyed his beer at the end of the day. Felina didn’t mind his attentions, but the indenture cuff around her wrist kept her from daring to dream further than that.
The door opened again, allowing a dusty breeze to enter the cantina. Felina looked up to see the tall, lanky figure of her brother. She squealed involuntarily and ran towards him, causing him to stagger into the door with the force of her embrace.
Frederick was gaunter than she remembered, his frame sharp beneath his clothing. His eyes, however, remained unchanged as he kissed her forehead and murmured words of fond greeting.
Felina knew she’d have no time to visit until the cantina closed and cleanup was finished. Rosa, however, was still human. With a feigned sigh of exasperation, she offered Frederick a beer on the house while Felina went back to her duties.
The night wore on. Marty and Frederick sat at the bar and swapped stories as Felina whirled from one task to the next, willing the night to pass faster so she could spend time with her brother. They had been best friends since childhood, but now rarely spoke thanks to the time differences in their locations. She smiled to herself as she watched the two men talk. Alcohol had loosened their tongues and improved their humors. She even felt her reservations about Marty begin to fade as he chatted. She saw a genuinely caring person emerge in his smile and found herself thinking that perhaps he was rather handsome after all. She even allowed a small blossom of hope and happiness to grow in her mind as she continued serving the patrons of the cantina.
The table closest to the bar was getting rowdy. Small wonder – it was surrounded by space marines. They spent half again as much time in space as other spacers, making their time dirt side that much more precious. Really, no one ever blamed a space marine for his behavior, but most “dirtpounders” (as the marines would call them) would just as soon never cross paths with one.
Even Felina had lost count of how many rounds the marines had already had when she approached the table with more drinks. One of the marines, his blue eyes watery and his red hair mussed, reached out and slapped her on the ass.
“Have a seat with me, babe,” he drawled, to the raucous laughter and hoots of his friends.
She brushed him off with a demure smile and a slap on the wrist. “Work calls, darling,” she murmured, and turned to leave. She sensed both Frederick and Marty watching.
The marine locked an iron grip around her waist and pulled her down onto his knee. His companions started howling even louder as he groped at her breast and nuzzled her ear. She struggled to get away, but his arm was as secure as any prison.
“Please, stop,” she murmured.
“Anderson!” his friends howled. “Show her how a real man handles his women!”
Felina heard movement and the crash of a bar stool. She was flung clear, landing hard on the floor as Frederick’s fist crashed into the marine’s nose. The marine tumbled from his chair in shock, accompanied by jeers from his friends. Frederick stood over him, fists still clenched in outrage as Marty tried to talk him down.
“Stand up, bastard!” Frederick screamed to Anderson, still on the floor trying to catch the blood coming out of his nose. “Stand up and fight like a man!”
Felina saw the marine’s blue eyes go from cloudy to clear in an instant. With a movement so fast it was a blur, he drew his sidearm and pointed it as Frederick. Marty tried to pull her brother backwards but he lost his grip. Red blossomed in Frederick’s stomach, staining his white shirt. He collapsed.
Another shot rang out and Anderson’s head snapped backwards as blood sprayed from his neck. He fell with a crash. His friends froze with shock momentarily.
Felina glanced at Marty. His face was a picture of agony, a pistol still in his hand aimed at the fallen marine. His eyes met hers, full of grief and silent apology. Then he turned and fled out the back door. Felina heard an engine rev and gravel being flung as the remaining marines raced to the front door and their waiting transportation.
Frederick’s eyes were already glazed over when Felina managed to cradle his head in her lap. Gently closing them, she hoped at least that Marty escaped. He’d have her loyalty forever for that instantaneous vengeance enacted, she knew, on her behalf.