Fantasy/Science Fiction
ML Hollinger
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The Adventures of Regen the Bremen

There was nothing that remarkable about the tall Bremen, but the Space Witch Saloon grew suddenly quiet as he walked in the door. Bremens have a reputation for being tough guys, but the thing that silenced the crowd and attracted all eyes in the room was the animal skulking along behind this one, trying to conceal itself in his shadow.
It was a skeen, and few there had ever seen a live one except in a very heavy steel cage. It ambled along on large, fur-covered hind legs with its rat-like tail tucked safely between them. The usually fearless patrons parted respectfully as the Bremen walked up to the bar.
“You can have anything you want in here, but that thing has to stay outside.” The bartender nodded toward the skeen.
“He goes where I go. Gimme a double Gordian bourbon and a menu.”
“You don’t get nothin’ ‘til that piece of shit’s out o’ here.”
The Bremen turned to the skeen and spoke almost lovingly.
“Hear that Hitler? This guy don’t want to serve us.”
As if in response to the insult, the skeen jumped up on the bar and glared at the bartender with beady red eyes. It opened its mouth to reveal an array of stiletto-like teeth and sat back on its hind legs, front claws extended. A low, hissing sound came from somewhere deep inside its leathery chest.

"Get that bastard away from me, or I’ll call security.”
“Now you know Hitler, here, would be eating your liver for dessert before they could gun him down. He does exactly what I tell him to do, and he won’t hurt a fly ‘less I give him the word. Right now we’re both hungry, and I’ve got a mighty mean thirst. We were planning on spending some dough here, but if you ain’t interested, there’s plenty of other bars in Loba City.”
“Okay, just get him off the bar.”
“Git down, Hitler.” In response to the Bremen’s command, the creature hopped back to its place near the big man’s feet and curled up into a ball.
The bartender placed a dog-eared menu in front of the man and poured the whiskey out of a tall bottle. He was about to put the bottle back in the rack when the Bremen spoke.
“Leave the bottle. Hitler might want a drink too.”
The Bremen perused the menu while he gulped down the bourbon then shoved the greasy paper across the bar.
“I’ll have three smurgers, well done, and Hitler’ll have the gartog special, very rare.”
“Whatever you say, mister.” The bartender scribbled the order on a computer pad and left to serve other customers.
Now that the confrontation was over, the bar returned to its previous condition of joyous chaos. The short, fat Aandie on his left was the first to comment on the skeen.
“I’ve seen a pack of those things eat a whole cow in a matter of minutes. We had them on the Belarius. How did you ever get one to follow you around like that, especially one that big?”
“I raised him from a egg I found in the hold of the Honida Maru. I always wondered if you could tame ‘em, but I knew it was no use startin’ with a baby. I seen guys try it and get torn up for their trouble. I thought you might have a chance if you hatched one and he thought you was his mama. You gotta feed ‘em good, though. If they get hungry, they’ll eat anything, ‘cludin’ you.”
“Where have I heard that name ‘Hitler’ before?”
“I found it in an old book I read while doing some time in the penal colony on Gaba 3. From what that book said, this guy Hitler was a real bad ass. I figured it was a good name for a skeen.”
“I remember now. Hitler was a man of 20th century Earth. He killed a lot of people in ovens or something. Yes, he was a bad actor. Can the skeen do any tricks?”
“Sure, but he has to have a treat after each one, and our food ain’t here yet.”
“No problem.” The Aandie reached over to a nearby table and lifted a chunk of meat from the platter in front of a small Tumeg. The victim protested loudly in his shrill, whiney language, but made no move to stop the theft.
“Here, Hitler, roll over!” the Aandie commanded as he held the morsel out in front of the skeen. The patrons near the animal watched enthralled as the hideous creature rolled over several times and sat up with its mouth open in anticipation of its treat.
“That is remarkable!” The Aandie lowered his hand to the skeen.
“Look out fer yer…” Regen didn’t get to finish his sentence. Hitler jumped to grab the meat and took two of the Andie’s fingers as a bonus.
“…fingers,” Regen finished.
“Ahhhhgh! The damned thing bit me! Help somebody!” The Aandie screamed in pain as blood poured from the severed joints, and the victimized Tumeg giggled with glee.
A security man rushed to the scene and applied a dressing to the wound.
“We’d better get you to a hospital,” the security man said. “Those things carry all kinds of germs.”
The Aandie turned to the Bremen with a shocked expression. “What did he do that for? I thought you said he was tame.”
“Ever’body knows skeens like fingers better’n anything. You should’a been more careful.” Regen poured himself another glass of bourbon as the security guard rushed the Aandie to the door.
Another guard approached Hitler with a drawn laser pistol. “That skeen’s had his last meal.”
Regen drew his pistol and stepped between the guard and Hitler. Luckily, the confrontation was interrupted by a woman in the uniform of the royal palace guard.
“Okay, boys, turn down the testosterone a notch.” She turned to the security guard. “I’ll take care of this.”
The guard holstered his weapon and walked away grumbling.
Regen studied the woman. She was almost as tall as he was, and her build, though slender, showed the lines of a powerful frame under the black jump suit. Her hair, nearly the color of the red piping on her uniform, was tied back in a bun, and she wore very little make-up. Emerald green eyes fixed the Bremen in a gaze combining admiration with official authority. She was every bit as beautiful as the last time he’d seen her.
“I’ve got five men looking for you, Regen, but I thought I might find you in here,” she said.
“How’d you figur’ that out?”
“It was easy. You’re a Bremen, Bremens like low places, and this is the lowest dive in Loba City. Besides, I don’t see anyone else in here with a pet skeen. I’m surprised someone hasn’t shot it by now.” She scowled at the skeen, and it scuttled behind Regen’s legs to lick up the Aandie’s blood.
“It’s good t’ see you too, Varda. You must’ve really enjoyed our last meetin’ to come down t’ this level o’ the city.”
“Don’t flatter yourself. I just wanted to see if what they said about you Bremens was true.”
“Well, was it?” He smiled at her with an oily confidence in his sexual prowess.
“I wouldn’t want to shatter that gigantic Bremen ego with an answer. I came to see if you were interested in making some good money.”
At that point, the bartender placed a platter in front of Regen and held another over the bar. “This is for the skeen, but you give it to him. I want to keep all my fingers.”
Regen placed the platter on the floor in front of Hitler who dove into it with gusto. Evidently, the Aandi’s fingers only served as an appetizer. “Want a smurger?” Regen asked Varda.
She looked at the greasy mess on the bar and screwed up her face in disgust. “No thanks, but you go ahead and eat. I’ve got a business proposition for you.”
Regen picked up a smurger and took a large bite. “Go ahead,” Regan said around his mouthful.
“I came looking for you because you’re the only guy I know who’s familiar with the Banguilla region.”
“I been there, and I ain’t interested in goin’ back.” Another bite of smurger replaced the first.
“I got an assignment there, and I need a guide. The pay’s good, and it should only take a few days.”
“What’s ‘good’?” Regen asked. He knew the royal pay scale was not nearly as generous as that of the many smugglers and drug dealers in the bar. That motley group was keeping a watchful eye on the royal guardswoman. They thoroughly distrusted anyone wearing that uniform.
“How does two hundred fifty thousand sound?”
Varda definitely had his attention now. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve and turned to face her. “What’s the job?” Regen asked.
“Bringing back the Prince’s lost dog,” Varda answered.
“That must be one helluva dog.”
“The Prince loves that mutt, and the Banguers took it because they knew it would get the King’s attention. He spoils that kid rotten. They’ve offered to trade it for two terrorists scheduled for execution next month. They say that if their people die, the dog dies. The kid’s been giving his parents a fit since the dog vanished, and I drew the job of getting it back.”
“Why don’t the king just give ‘em the terrorists? That region’s full of tough guys who don’t like the monarchy. What’s two more?”
“These guys blew up the shuttle craft taking the Rillian Ambassador back to his ship. If they don’t get executed, the Rillians will cut off our supply of nuclear fuel. He can’t let them go.”
“This planet’d be a pretty dead place without nuclear fuel, and I like some of the whore houses. Do you know where they’ve got the dog?”
“Yes, but I can’t talk about it here. Come on back to the palace with me, and I’ll tell you all we know.”
“Hitler ain’t finished his dinner yet, and I could use some more bourbon.” Regen signaled the bartender to bring another glass. “Have a drink and relax for a while.” He poured Varda a double shot and another for himself, then continued with his smurgers.

The pair walked through the crowded streets of the royal city. This particular sector was a vivid contrast to the skyscrapers rising like a mountain range to the West. Here were only dives, brothels and warehouses sitting unlighted in dark contrast to the glowing windows downtown. Only the occasional streetlight or security lamp broke up the sinister shadows harboring some of the vilest predators in the city, but none dared confront a Royal Guardsman and a mean looking Bremen, particularly a Bremen followed by an extremely large skeen. The guards balked at allowing a skeen inside, but Varda asserted her authority to get them past the gate. Once in the courtyard, however, Varda led Regen and Hitler to a sturdy cage.
“Hitler’ll have to stay here. I can’t take him inside the palace.”
“He don’t like cages much, but I can talk him into it if we’re not gone too long.”
“An hour or two is all we need. You can come back to him here after that.” Varda beckoned to a reluctant looking guard who saluted smartly as he joined the group.
“Misha, here, will look after Hitler. He’s even got some treats for him.” Varda patted a leather bag hanging from the man’s belt.
“Make sure you throw ‘em to him,” Regen advised. “He likes fingers real good.” Regen bent down and whispered to the skeen as he opened the cage door. “He’s okay. Just throw one of them treats in there, and he’ll go in after it.”
The guard pulled a human thumb from his bag and dropped it through the bars at the rear of the cage. Hitler salivated as he entered the steel cell and was soon gnawing on the grisly prize.
“We had some punishments to deal out this morning, and I thought Hitler might as well benefit from them,” Varda explained to a smiling Regen.
They left Hitler in Misha’s care and found their way to a briefing room deep inside the palace. The guard at the door looked skeptically at Regen, but accepted Varda’s word the Bremen could be admitted.
Inside, Varda called up a map on the large screen.
“The camp where they have the dog is here.” She used a laser pointer to indicate a spot. “Do you know the area?”
“Yeah, that’s all jungle with only a few good trails. The double canopy is a good thirty meters off the ground. Ya could hide half o’ Loba City in there.”
“We’ve got some photos.” Varda called up a satellite photo of the camp.
“You know you only see what they want you t’ see in them photos, don’t ya?”
“I know, but they definitely want us to see this.” Varda used the pointer to show a large pen containing a huge, furry animal.
“Is that a dog? Looks more like a bear.”
“It’s a Malma, and we’ve positively identified it as the prince’s dog, Cuddles.”
“Cuddles? Malmas are almost as bad as skeens. You didn’t tell me I’d have t’ bring out a Malma.”
“You didn’t ask. Besides, he’s pretty well behaved. He only tore up two of the Banguers who were in on the snatch. The prince seems to be able to make him obey pretty well.”
“Yeah, but I ain’t the prince, and I don’t think his old man’d think too highly o’ me taking his kid along t’ keep the dog quiet.”
“No, the prince can’t go for obvious reasons, but we can tranquilize the dog and bring him out quietly.”
“We? How many’re going in with me?”
“That’s what I want you to tell me. Is there a good way to get a battalion sized force in there?”
“Battalion? No way! They’d have ambushes set up every hundred meters along the trails. You’d loose most o’ yer men ‘fore you got t’ the camp. You need surprise, and there’s no way a force that size could move quietly through that jungle.”
“What about a vertical attack?”
“The double canopy makes any kind o’ vertical attack impossible. This’ll have to be a covert operation, two men at the most.”
“Two people,” Varda corrected. “I’ll be going in with you even if nobody else does.”
“You? Did you see that dog? That monster must weigh 120 kilos! I said two men ‘cause that’s what it’ll take t’ carry out a tranquilized Malma.”
“I bench press 120 kilos sixteen times every day, how about you?”
“Don’t worry ‘bout my end. How far do we have t’ carry this mutt?”
“All we have to do is get it outside Banguilla territory. I’ll have a detachment of rangers waiting for us with transporters so we can make a quick getaway.”
“That’s still about four klicks for us to carry that beast. Are you sure you’re up to that?”
“I wouldn’t ask any of my men to go into Banquilla with a crazy Bremen who keeps a pet skeen. I’ll hold up my end of the deal.”
“I’m still not convinced we’re looking at the real thing here. Have you sent in any crawlers?” Regen was referring to the tiny surveillance devices built to resemble insects or small rodents.
“Seven, but the Banguers detected every one. One flyer got to the camp and took these pictures.” The screen shifted to show the same camp but in more detail. “It also dropped a listening device which they haven’t found yet. We’ll be able to listen in on them before we penetrate the area.”
“That’s good, providin’ they don’t find it ‘til we’re outta there. How many men do th’ Banguers have in that camp?”
“We count twenty nine, but there may be more. There’s a known terrorist camp three klicks in this direction, though. Maybe a whole battalion there.”
“Wonderful! You and me ‘gainst twenty nine Banguers. Sounds fair.”
Regen’s sarcasm was not lost on Varda. “I’m open to suggestions.”
“Well, I kin git in pretty easy. The Banguers know me, and they trust me, but you have t’ be in every computer they got.”
“I’ll dye my hair and the make-up boys’ll help a lot. I don’t think they’ll recognize me in time. They’d have to do a DNA match, and that’ll take a while.”
“You know the only way they’ll believe ya is if yer my whore?”
“That wouldn’t be such a bad assignment.” Varda smiled warmly at Regen. Having sex with him would not be a new experience. They met once before on Waldara while she was on vacation and he was negotiating a drug deal at the same hotel. He looked a lot different then. Instead of the rough dress of a Bremen, he wore the swanky clothes of a Molon Federation representative. He looked like a real gentleman, and she was fooled completely.
“I just hope they make me prove you’re what you say you are.” Regen smiled back at her.
“That’s the only way we’ll have time for any sex on this trip. What do you think?.”
Regen studied the pictures of the camp and looked at several maps before replying.
“The only way I see this workin’ is if we go into th’ camp as drug dealers. We spend a day or two there trading drugs and casing the camp’s operation. Once we know the layout, we can put together some plan fer getting’ th’ prince’s mongrel back to him.”
“If we need any help, I can call in the rangers.”
“We can’t risk any kind of transmission, and you can’t carry anything that might tie you to the palace. You know what the Banguers’ll do if they catch on?”
“I’ve seen their work before. That’s why we’ll take these.” Varda handed him a small pill.
“Wadda we do, ask the goons t’ wait a minute whilst we takes a poison pill?”
“No, we’ll have these implanted inside our cheek. If we need them, all we have to do is bite through the skin. They act in a matter of seconds, and the medics tell me they’re painless.”
“Which one of ‘em tried it and survived t’ give that evaluation?”
“Don’t be a smart-alec, Regen. They work, and no matter if there is some pain, it’s better than what you’ll get from the Banguers.”
“We’ll have to get hold o’ some drugs t’ trade.”
“We’ve got two tons of drugs in the royal police warehouse—any kind you like. We can have all we want.”
“We’ll only take in ten kilos apiece, but we need a stash of a couple hundred somewhere outside their territory. They’ll just take what we have on us, but we can use the stash as our insurance. It’s how I al’ays done business with them weasels.”
“Anything you want in the way of equipment?”
“We can’t take in any GI stuff. What you got in th’ way o’ contraband?”
Varda led Regen to a storage room containing weapons and gear the police confiscated from various felons and terrorists. Regen looked the stuff over with a practiced eye.
“This ’s good,” Regen pronounced as he hefted a laser pistol. “It’s Parsan, and I was on Parsa just a month back.” He found the holster and strapped it around his waist. “Got any energy packs fer it?”
“Over here.” Varda led him to a cabinet holding ammunition for any weapon he’d ever seen.
“What’ll you carry?”