None of the low-lifes in the bar knew that from the moment the old man came in, the Destroyer walked among them.
On first glance, a stranger to The Smiling Targ, not exactly the social hotspot of Farius Prime, would have surmised that the inhabitants of said bar customarily ignored the random stranger just sauntering in off the sweltering streets. Actually, that assessment would have be wrong; the bar's inhabitants were well paid to scrutinize, albeit as surreptitiously as possible, everybody who walked in who didn't belong...which was, of course, everybody but them. From pre-determined locations at the tables, the four humanoids, the Flaxian, and the Nausicaan all scanned any and all who wandered in.
Farius Prime itself was not quite a vacation spot, being among other things a virtual safe haven for the Orion Syndicate. The planet was outside the sovereign space of the United Federation of Planets; however, it was situated along several trade routes that made it fairly unfeasible to simply bypass.
So they all gave the old man the quick once-over, saw the white hair tied back in a tail, noted the white beard covering the lower half of the wrinkled face, and snickered at the walking stick the old man used as he made his way from the entrance to the bar stools on the other side of the dim room. None of them saw how the oldster scrutinized them in turn, a mere glance taking in their every detail; nor could they tell that he could feel every vibration in the air, smell the musky odors that emanated from each, tasted every drink from across the room. He walked straight and easy, the gait of a much younger man, the walking stick apparently no more than an affectation.
Actually, it was far more than merely that.
The bartender glanced up as the old man parked himself on the stool directly across from him, laying the walking stick across the bar with a loud clatter. The bartender hardly bothered to hide his annoyance. Given that most of his trade was transient, or lost, he never cultivated an air of hospitality. "What do you want?"
The old man smirked slightly, the wrinkles lifting slightly upward, cheerfully ignoring the bartender's briskness. "Altair water, if you please."
The bartender rolled his eyes, reached for a semi-clean glass and the appropriate bottle, and poured an amount that only the most miserly of souls would call generous. The old man slid a slip of gold-pressed latinum - the modicum of exchange for many non-aligned worlds - and gingerly sipped the effervescent liquid.
Seeing that he had accomplished the minimum expected of his job description, the bartender decided to see if he could take care of some business at the other end of the bar. The old man nonchalantly slid his walking stick forward, blocking the bartender's way. The ancient face wore a sly smile that didn't quite touch the slightly almond-shaped eyes.
The bartender was about to snarl something about being busy, when the old man asked in a deceptively conversational tone, "Where is Muldoon?"
Even though the bartender kept an admirable poker-face, he need not have bothered. Eyes that could discern the minutest change in body language registered the negative reaction the enquiry generated. His only slightly choked "I don't know who you're talkin' 'bout, gramps" did nothing for his credibility.
"Don't lie to me, and don't call me 'gramps'," the old man replied, the steel edge in his voice sharpening by the syllable. "I have it on very good authority that Kaiser Muldoon has at least a minority interest in this upscale cesspool. I have business with Mr. Muldoon, long-delayed business, and I dislike having my time taken up with..." he paused, searching for a somewhat polite pejorative. "...flunkies. Especially the ones gathering behind me."
The bartender blinked in surprise, then looked past the old man to the four guys who had risen from their chairs and made their way quietly behind where the old man sat...so quietly, in fact, that the bartender had not noticed before now. Not so quietly, on the other hand, that the old man was unaware of their presence.
The nearest one, a wiry, medium-sized Tiburon with gold eyes and blue-black hair, the extra-large outer ears adorned with multiple jewels, took a half-step forward. "I think it's time you left, old man," the Tiburon snarled with a good deal of menace.
The addressee of this pronouncement drained the last of his Altair water and set the glass down on the bar. "Hmmm...actually, I think what's on the menu now...is the four of you make a pathetic attempt to kill me." Even those to whom the old man had his back turned to could tell the twinkle in his eye as he said this.
The Tiburon lunged forward and grabbed the old man by the shoulder, pulling to spin him around on the bar stool. However, he still had his left hand on his walking stick; as he was spun around, the wooden shaft was propelled neatly into the Tiburon's crotch with incredible speed. The large-eared alien would have cried out or at least whoof!ed in surprise if the pain had not caused his throat to constrict to a fraction of its usual size. A feeble gurgle was all he could utter as he fell to the floor.
"Whoops! Terribly sorry about that, mi hijo," the old man said, in the most unconvincingly tone possible.
Two of their other thugs, both virtually pass-for-human, charged forward to avenge this slight on their comrade's honor (and his ability to reproduce). The one on the old man's left, clad in a dirty green coverall, threw a punch towards the ancient face. With incredible ease and swiftness, he deflected the blow, causing his attacker to move himself off-balance. As to his partner, a straggly individual in an pseudo-leather jacket and breeches, the old man aimed a kick to the nearest knee with inhuman precision. The bartender winced at the audible crunch of cartilage. Leather Jacket crumpled to the floor, holding his knee and, given the whines he was uttering in an unfamiliar language, calling for his mother.
Before Green Coverall could recover his balance, the old man shot out his free hand at incredible speed, seeming to lightly touch his attacker just below the armpit with the tipped of his bunched fingers. With a guttural cry, Green Coverall dropped to the floor, his body wracked with spasms as his nervous system tried unsuccessfully to cope with a powerful, precise impact. At this point, Leather Jacket, trying to use his fractured knee and not succeeding too well, was propelled into the lower part of the bar by an incredibly forceful shove from the old man, who was clearly stronger than he looked.
The fourth humanoid, who seemed to be the cleanest inhabitant of the bar (not excepting the bartender), stood stunned at the incredible swiftness of the old man's moves. Three of his men had been downed in a matter of seconds. Unbelievable. He clawed for the miniature disrupter at his hip...
"Catch!" The old man suddenly threw his walking stick sidewise at Boss Man. Reacting instinctively, he just managed to catch it... which naturally left him vulnerable to the palm-strike that caught him on the chin and knocked him into the table and chairs behind him. He barely had time to be disgusted with himself for falling for such an old trick before unconsciousness claimed him.
The old man had scarcely retrieved the stick when the Nausicaan, dressed in the metal-and-leather outfit that made him look like a low-rent Klingon, stood up and uttered a string of consonants and fricatives in his native language. The bartender did not understand a word of it, but the old man apparently did, for he chuckled and said, "My goodness... do you kiss your mother with that mouth?" Then he glanced meaningfully at the Nausicaan's rather long and fearsome teeth and quipped, "Probably not... you might bite her face off." Then he pulled a chagrined face and shrugged at the bartender. "Cheap joke. Sorry."
The Nausicaan snarled, reached to his waist and pulled out a blade, a short sword or a long dagger, the bartender had trouble telling which, with a serrated edge. The old man hardly seemed threatened, although he prudently moved away from the bar and his downed opponents as he scoffed, "You call that a sword? That's a bread knife with delusions of grandeur! Now this..."
He grasped the head of his walking stick and pulled, drawing out a long smooth blade at least a meter long. "...is some serious cutlery!" He let the other half of the walking stick drop to the floor and, with dancer-like grace, assumed a defensive posture, holding the handle of the zatuichi with both hands.
The Nausicaan charged, swinging his blade towards the old man's neck. With deceptive casualness, he deflected the strike, then assumed his ready stance without making any sort of counterattack. Again the Nausicaan swung, and again the old man knocked aside the blade almost lazily.
This continued for nearly a minute, as the Nausicaan's thrusts became more and more frenzied, before the old man grew weary of the exercise. After deflecting one particularly inept attack, he swung his sword around and sliced across the front of the Nausicaan's torso. Spinning around faster than the bartender would have believed, he sliced again, this time making a long laceration from the Nausicaan's left shoulder almost to his right hip.
The large brute staggered, looked down at the blood flowing out of the two cuts, and fell his knees, his sword dropping as he instinctively tried to staunch the flow. The old man walked slowly around him, keeping his sword in a ready position; from his vantage point several meters away, the bartender made a silent bet with himself that the Nausicaan's head would imminently be forcibly separated from his shoulders. After a moment, the old man then shrugged, and with a lightning-fast movement tapped the Nausicaan just behind his ear with the wooden hilt of his zatuichi. The big alien went down on his face with satisfying swiftness.
Striding towards the bartender, the old man, barely slowing his pace, toed the wooden cane-sheath of his sword, which had been dropped to the floor, and flipped it up to catch it with his free hand. He twirled the hollow staff absently as he approached the shaken bartender, the whoo-iss whoo-iss as the ends of the staff cut threw the making the man extremely uncomfortable, even as it sank in that the old man had subdued his colleagues in less than two minutes, without even breaking a sweat.
"Now then," the old man said in a conversational tone, as if he had not been rudely interrupted, "we were discussing your employer. Kaiser Muldoon." The razor-sharp point of the sword stopped half a meter from the bartender's throat, not wavering an iota. "Where is he?"
Across the room, half-hidden in the shadows generated by The Smiling Targ's inadequate lighting, the Flaxian decided it was time to end matters. He decided, as he drew the small Rigelian phaser, to shoot the bartender first, to keep him from talking and to set an example to anyone else who might betray their employer. Then the old man would die.
His finger tightened on the trigger... as a flash of silver coming from his right made him blink involuntarily. When he recovered, he saw that the muzzle of his phaser had been sliced off, rendering it inoperable. He glanced down at the floor, looking for the end of his pistol.
He found it... along with about half of his index finger. It was right about then that his nervous system recovered sufficiently to tell him, yes, he was in excruciating pain. He dropped what was left of his weapon, partly from shock, partly from the tip of the sword now hovering about five centimeters from his neck. He clasped his free hand around his bleeding digit as he cried out.
The bartender jumped, startled. The old man, however, merely rolled his eyes, as if yet another bothersome interruption had manifested itself, barely sparing a glance at what the bartender now gaped at.
The newcomer was a well-dressed human, his clothes elegant although, at least to the bartender's untrained and decidedly unfashionable eye, somewhat retrograde in style, like something copied out of an old cinevid from the turn of the millennium. His straight black hair, tan skin and almond eyes marked him as having considerable Asian ancestry, far more so than the old man, in fact.
His sword, too, was a single-edged blade, obviously made to be concealed as a walking-stick, although the outside was a black onyx-like covering, with gold inlay marking a number of designs.
The old man sighed. "Kids," he muttered, more to himself than the bartender. Then, squaring his shoulders, he addressed the bartender, motioning towards a nearby chair. "Sietese." The bartender stared at him blankly. "Park it," the old man growled irritably. The bartender scurried over and plunked himself down, grabbing onto the chair as if gravity might reverse itself unexpectedly.
The old man strode over to where his companion was keeping watch over the Flaxian, expertly sheathing his sword and turning it back into a (relatively) harmless walking stick. Smiling as if the alien had not tried to give him the Big Zap mere moments ago, the old man genially inquired, "Now then... would you happen to know where I can find Mr. Muldoon?"
"Master, he might have shot you!"
The old man strode through the alleyway, some blocks from The Smiling Targ, with his young companion in tow. The two were conversing in what most people familiar with Terran languages would have identified as Japanese... though the dialect was one of centuries past.
It was the language of the House of Onada.
"Oh, bull cookies!" This expletive caused the old man, the Master of Onada, to lapse into English. "He wasn't even aiming at me. Hell, he probably couldn't hit the broad side of the Moon from New Berlin."
Yoshikiro Onada, the Disciple of Onada, did not deign to repeat that what his Master had told him often enough: that it was not the most skilled assassins and warriors one has to watch out for, but the dumb-butt amateurs who could just as easily shoot their own heads off. Instead, he pressed on with his main concern... "Master, why does this man Muldoon trouble you so?"
"Because he's very dangerous, Kiro. By himself, he's dangerous. Unfortunately, he's apparently beginning to ally himself with the forces that would destroy everything I once spent my life trying to defend."
"Yes, once. But you are no longer in Starfleet. Please, Master, let them handle this matter." Kiro's pleas were tinged with affection for the old man, the one who had taught him his true potential, who had been his virtual father for decades. They were also tinged with concern; although the Master was wise, as befit his age of over a century and a quarter, he still carried in him the recklessness of his long-departed youth.
The Master should his head. "No, Kiro. It's never been my way to shirk responsibility." His pace slowed perceptibly as memory overcame him. "I had the opportunity, once, to put an end to Muldoon once and for all. But I was a different person then. In some ways, a better person." He shrugged off his reminiscence and continued down the alleyway, never ceasing to sweep the area around him with every sense, perceiving the world around him on a level most beings could barely imagine. "Now, at least, I know where he is: Adigeon Prime."
Even as he entreated his master, Kiro too maintained his constant vigil, as he was trained to do from his adolescence. "Then let me go with you, Master. Your struggles are mine. We are Onada. You need never walk alone."
The old man stopped and turned, favoring his spiritual son with a smile. "Gracias, mi hijo," he said, lapsing into another of his many languages. "But one of us is enough. If the worst should happen, then the House of Onada will need a Master." He held up a hand to forestall the inevitable protest. "You are more than ready. Hell, you're better than I was at your age. You will do the House proud." He turned and walked away.
Kiro quickened his pace to catch up. "Then perhaps you should contact your friend from your former days, the one is now a Starfleet captain. The man you call Cassius."
The old man stopped again; however, he did not turn. "He is not a part of this. I will not involve him."
The Master of Onada turned, anger blazing from his eyes. "No. No more discussion." The sharp tone of his voice and his patriarchal authority were more than enough to silence the younger man, who bowed in acquiescence. The ancient one stepped closer to his disciple, deep affection softening the harsh lines of his face. "Go home, Kiro."
"Hei, Sensei," Kiro answered, as he watched the Master of Onada walk away, towards the spaceport that would carry him to Adigeon Prime, until the shadows took him from sight.
Hours later, aboard the transport that would take him back to the Federation core worlds, and eventually to Earth, Kiro meditated in his private cabin. He was contemplating a course of action which, though his master had not specifically forbid, was still a breach of the code of honor they both shared.
And yet, do I do nothing? Right or wrong, that is not Our Way. He would deal with the consequences, if any, when his master would hopefully return intact to the House of Onada, to the ancestral home in Japan where it had stood for three thousand years.
Rising up from the deck where he had knelt in meditation - and prayer for his master's safety - Kiro crossed over to the workdesk with its computer terminal. He keyed in a sequence, requesting access to the communications system for a private message. It took him a few seconds to recall the name that the Master's old friend went by nowadays. The name of the starship he commanded, on the other hand, Kiro could not fail to recall...
MURDOCK, ULYSSES S., CAPT