"It's not right." Verin stormed down the corridor toward Ness, his bulk taking up too much space to edge around.
Ness had mantled out of startled reflex and pulled his wings in. "Several things aren't right, I'm sure. What specifically, Ver?"
Verin poked at his comm and brought up a holo display. "The fucking weapons' ratings, that's what. The fuck, featherboy?"
"The—" Ness leaned forward to peruse the numbers with a puzzled frown. "Did I make a mistake entering them?"
Heavy footfalls approached from behind him and a hand the size of a dinner platter fell on his shoulder. "Mind if I squeeze by, boys?"
"Ah." Ness half-turned to offer Mac an apologetic grimace. "I think I have to understand why Verin's having a fit before he'll move."
"A fit? I'll give you fits, you pea brained crappy excuse for a fallen!" Verin stabbed a claw at the numbers. "You can't be that blind. Look at the rankings. Why is that half-pint little—"
"Choose your next word carefully, Hammer," Mac rumbled.
Verin's mouth snapped shut and it took half a heartbeat for him to say, "Twerp. That damn little twerp's rated higher than me." Verin shot Mac a venomous look when he chuckled. "Shut it. This is serious. I can handle any weapon manufactured now or whatever the fuck came before. I've been his rotten sodding selfish highness's bodyguard for how many troll-fucking centuries? And that little twerp—"
"Outscored you on the qualifying course," Ness cut him off softly. "I'm sorry. I know it's unfair, and overall, yes, you're far more experienced and qualified. But for the interplanetary ratings course, these were the scores."
"You." Verin first pointed a finger, then grabbed a handful of Ness's sleeve. "You're gonna sit down with me and explain how in all levels of fucking fuckery this happened."
Too befuddled to protest, Ness allowed himself to be dragged to the galley and shoved onto one of the benches. If he'd known Verin would take the scores so personally, he would have…what would he have done? Hidden them? Tried to soothe an irritable demon's ego? Talked to Shax? He sighed and pulled the scores up on the table's holoscreen for better viewing. The new rating system had come down from ISE, mandatory for anyone who wanted a weapons license and competence level in any planetary city or station. As security officer, Ness had needed to make certain the crew ran through the approved course, a much stranger qualifying course than he'd anticipated.
"You and Heckle have nearly identical scores until we reach this part here." Ness enlarged the scores and expanded Heckle's and Verin's to show each segment.
Verin snorted a heavy, unhappy cloud of steam and sparks. "What in all levels of fuck was that?"
"Let's see…" Ness checked his coding list, pointing to the specific numbers where the scores diverged. "Here's where the wind tunnel test began. And here's where the required dual weapon firing starts within the wind tunnel."
"How did that little runt do better'n me in the cocksucking wind tunnel?" The sparks flew at an alarming rate as Verin's volume reached bellow stage. "It should've blown him over at the first fucking breeze!"
"Well, yes." Ness brushed a spark from his sleeve. "From what I understand, it did initially. But Heckle has extra appendages at his disposal. He went airborne with his tail wrapped around a support beam and was able to navigate the air currents better than a standing shooter could."
Verin stared at him, his expression hovering between shock and fury. Finally, he sputtered, "That should've been a disqualification!"
No cuss words in an entire sentence just highlighted how upset Verin was, and Ness thought he began to understand why. "Well, no. Everyone was permitted to use their natural attributes. You have your enormous strength, Heckle has a tail. His accuracy is a bit better than yours, but your rate of fire is higher than anyone on board. Except perhaps Julian…" He had to stop for a breath to avoid sounding annoyed. "But Julian's licensing isn't something I need to worry about. For sheer mayhem, no one can outdo you, Ver."
Ness dared to reach across the table to pat Verin's arm. "Yeah. Heckle doesn't have the mass or the horns to brawl as you do. Even Mac, who just doesn't have the experience, would stand up to you in a protracted fight. You are The Hammer, Shax knows it, and no one could ever replace you by his side."
"What the fuck ever." Verin pulled his arm away, though only so he could stand. His steam had calmed to occasional puffs. "Stupid touchy feely angel stuff."
Ness kept a straight face as Verin stalked out, shutting down the holo screen, ignoring the muttering. Only when those big, clawed feet had stomped away down the corridor did he allow himself a chuckle. "You're welcome, Ver."
About The Brimstone Journals
Extra treats for our Brimstone readers, Brimstone Journals will post every Tuesday. Short scenes from characters' lives before, after or during the stories.
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