"Welcome back. Did you guys hear the news?" asked Harper when Dylan and Beka entered the bar.
"News about what, Shorty?" asked Beka, giving Harper a friendly punch on the arm. "That you've finally got your still working properly?"
`"Ha ha," laughed Harper sarcastically while rubbing his arm. "Very funny. The still's working just fine. You just don't like the flavor of fermented wintun juice."
"Neither does anyone else with more than two working taste buds," quipped Beka. "So what's the news?"
"Rhade wiped out the gang that had been forcing Jeri to work for them. He hung the Hangmen."
"Who's Jeri?" asked Dylan. "Do I know him? And who are the Hangmen?"
"He is a she," corrected Beka. "She's Rhade's child girlfriend. She can't be half his age. He—"
"Beka," interrupted Doyle, "do us all a favor and shut up." Coming from Doyle, the comment was so unexpected that Beka really did cease her tirade. "You have no idea of the realities of life here," continued Doyle. "When you're not delivering cargo, you're either aboard the Maru or Andromeda. You probably haven't spent a month total down here in south-side. The only person in south-side who's going to think their relationship is a scandal is you. Most of the people here are going to think Jeri made an outstanding catch."
"I don't think Rhade's love life is any of our business anyway, Beka," said Dylan. He gave her a stern look to back up his verbal admonishment. "Every planet has its own mores. Just because they don't agree with what you believe is proper doesn't mean that they're wrong. If the residents here accept Rhade's relationship with this girl, you're just going to have to accept it as well." He still wasn't sure who the Hangmen were but decided that if both Doyle and Harper felt that having them wiped out was a good thing, he wasn't going to press the issue.
Deciding that she didn't have an audience, Beka brought up the other subject that had been troubling everyone. "What about his interest in Trance then?"
It was Trance who answered Beka's question. "I don't see why you're all so mad at Rhade," she said. "Harper explained it all to me. He told me we needed to talk about the birds and the bees, but he didn't talk about birds and bees at all. He talked about how most men and women get married and how good a good marriage could be. Then he talked about men and women's parts and how they fit together and how they made babies. And, he talked about how important it could be for a couple to have babies and how it could ruin their relationship if they couldn't make them. Then he used some funny words when he talked about how when a man and woman put their parts together. He said it strengthened their pair bond—whatever that means."
"It means it makes a couple feel more like a couple when they do it," explained Beka.
"Why didn't you just say that then?" asked Trance, looking at Harper. "Anyway, after that I asked if he wanted to strengthen our pair bond—" Fortunately for Harper's continued health, Trance continued her story before Beka could do anything lethal. "—But he said no and that I should wait on sharing my parts until I met a man I loved and wanted to spend forever with and who felt the same way about me. He said it's OK for a man and woman to share their parts when they feel that way about each other, but it's even better if they wait till they get married."
The look on Beka's face when Trance told her the last part became one of stark disbelief. "You told a willing woman that she should save herself until she gets married?" she asked Harper. "Who are you and what have you done with the real Harper?"
"So that's why I don't understand why you're all so mad at Rhade," concluded Trance. "He wants Doyle and me to get married and raise families. I think that's a nice thing to want for a person, don't you?"
"He did say that, Boss," said Harper. "I believe his words were, 'It is time for Trance and Doyle to find husbands and start raising families—not be working in a bar.' Of course, you were busy pointing a gun at him at the time, so you might not have been paying much attention to what he was trying to tell you."
"I guess I owe him an apology then," admitted Beka.
"Owe who an apology?" came a voice from behind them.
Standing in the doorway was Rhade. He was pushing Elaine's wheelchair. Standing close beside him holding her baby was Jeri. They looked very much like a family.
"Jeri," said Rhade, pushing the young woman forward toward Harper and the others. "I told you I'd find you a job. I'd like you to meet your new employer, Seamus Zelazny Harper, better known as Harper. Harper, meet your new barmaid, Jeri."
"Huh? What? I don't need…" began Harper.
"Hire her, Harper," ordered Beka and Doyle simultaneously.
"Uh, welcome to the establishment," said Harper, knowing that he wasn't going to be given any choice in the hiring process. "Why don't you go with Doyle and Trance, and they can start showing you around the place."
As the women left, Rhade pushed Elaine up to one of the bar's tables and sat down beside her. Beka and Dylan joined them.
"I have a couple of things I guess I should be saying," said Beka.
"Oh?" asked Rhade, one eyebrow moved upward in a silent question.
"Yes. First, don't even think of trying to find me a husband. I'd probably end up shooting him. Then I'd shoot you for making me shoot him. And, second, didn't you say that Trance and Doyle should be married and raising families, not working in a bar?"
"They should, and they shouldn't be."
"OK, then my question is, when are you going to be taking Jeri out of this establishment and doing the same for her?"
"Soon, Beka, real soon."
The End - unless of course I decide to do a follow up. Hope everyone enjoyed the story.