“Is a game,” Margo squealed and clapped her hands.
Atom ducked his head, trying to see from her vantage point. Between the press of people he caught sight of a busker dancing at the side of the road. As they drew closer, Atom peered over the heads of a crowd that had gathered around the man.
Long haired and bearded, the man sported a belly that hung like a fuel tank above his belt. He capered and gamboled about, all the while flipping an energy bauble back and forth between his hands. With a final flourishing spin he brought the bauble to his lips and blew on it, releasing the energy field.
Craning his neck to see over the wall of spectators, Atom watched as a bullet fell to the ground.
The crowd applauded and hooted.
“As you can see, I am unkillable,” the man called out with theatrical aplomb. “We must give a round of clappery to this unlucky fellow who just lost ten ko trying to prove me wrong. There is no shame in failing at an impossible task.”
The man’s eyes swept over the crowd. As his eyes passed Atom they hitched, jerked back, and then continued on.
“My people, is there anyone else out there who thinks they could somehow kill Malcom the Immortal? Use my weapons, use your weapons, make no difference to me. Energy, ballistic,” he sang out, “blades, or rocks, entertain the masses.”
He paused and leaned forward to stage whisper, “I only draw the line at explosives ‘cause I don’t want none of you fine folks getting’ hurt.”
Malcolm the Immortal stepped back to stand against a bulkhead stretched between two restaurant windows. He stood for a moment, surveying the crowd. He scratched his expansive belly and grinned.
“Who’s next?” he asked, flicking his eyebrows up in question.
Atom and Shi stood mingling with the crowd, watching with curiosity. Only Margo seemed excited by the rippling energy of the crowd. In the center of the spectator ring, the man stopped, stood stock still, and let his eyes wander over the crowd.
“Off-puttin’,” Shi grunted as she scowled at the man’s chameleon eyes wandering about.
“You’ve seen it before,” Atom stated.
“I reckin I have. Ranger snipers have their eyes modded like that.”
“His eyes is creepy,” Margo said in the too loud voice of youth.
The entertainer heard the comment and laughed. “I would have to agree, little one,” he said as he brought his eyes in line to focus on the girl. “They help me see more. They help me stay alive when goodly folk aim to take my head for a pot of ko.
“Fact of the matter is, I don’t like to look at my eyes in the mirror.” Malcolm grinned and pulled his chest length beard into a point. “So, I just look at other things.”
Margo stood up in the pram, forcing the suspensors to hum as they adjusted for the shift of weight. She craned her neck forward and fixed a glare at the man. “Why are they funny?” she demanded. “You look toony.”
The man laughed and the crowd followed suit.
“I was in the legions a lifetime ago,” the man said as he turned his attention to the rest of the crowd. “I learned to kill, but since then I have taken the road of peace. It is my goal to preserve life instead of taking it.
“Now that don’t mean I can’t use the old skills to put feed in my bowl.” He leaned forward with a conspirator’s wink.
“So, who’s next to feed my belly?” he asked and patted his gut.
A hushed moment settled over the crowd. Looks exchanged between spectators. A murmur of traffic wafted over the heads of the thickening crowd. Silence hovered like a blanket. Atom watched the performer. Margo turned to scan the crowd, almost willing someone to step forward. She glanced to her father, but a slight shake of his head turned her attention back to the crowd.
“I’ll take a poke,” said a broad-shouldered youth with a tawny mop of hair.
“Excellent,” the entertainer said with a cordial smile. “Money in the box and choose your weapon.”
The man stepped through the parting crowd and made his way to the busker’s table. He took his time perusing the assembled arsenal before selecting a heavy gauge auto-shotgun. Lifting the gun to his shoulder and checking the sights.
“I don’t know that you’ll need those,” the entertainer said, stepping back against the bulkhead and prepping himself. “And remember, lad, it’s ten ko per shot.”
“What’s the pot at now?”
“Hundred-sixty. It’s all yours if you can take me down.”
“Three shots added to the pot,” the tawny-head said with a grin and tapped the charge.
The young man made a show of rolling his shoulders and neck as he stepped back to the line taped down a dozen pace from where the busker stood. The portly busker stood with a resigned calm, like a man before his executioner who has accepted his fate.
“How do I know you haven’t tinkered with the guns so I miss?” the young man asked.
The crowd groaned.
“That would defeat the purpose of the show,” the entertainer said with a warm smile that told the young man the question had been asked before. “Nobody wants to pay to watch people miss. The crowd wants to see someone who has the audacity to hit.
“Isn’t that so?” he asked the crowd to be met with a rousing cheer. “I don’t know how I’m supposed to take that reply, but I can assure you I have not tampered with the guns in any way. In fact, if you aren’t personally satisfied with your inspection, you are welcome to have any number of folk in the crowd to aid you in your quest for discovery.”
The young man waffled. Part of his bravado demanded he be certain enough of his own knowledge, but some deeper part of him wanted to be sure he wasn’t being taken for thirty ko.
He glared at the gun for a moment before turning to survey the crowd.
“You,” he said after a moment, gesturing to Shi. “Would you check this here banger out?”
Shi seemed surprised to be called out. She glanced from the youth to the Malcolm and back again, pointing to herself in discomfort. The youth nodded. He seemed put off that Shi hesitated, but her surprise slipped to her usual scowl forcing the youth back a step. A furrow clefted her eyebrows as she forced the crowd apart through sheer will.
Malcolm laughed at the exchange and turned his theatrics to the crowd. “A marine if I’ve ever seen one,” he proclaimed. “Our champion has chosen well.” His eyes swiveled from face to face on independent tracks.
“Shut yer jibber,” Shi snapped at him.
With mock surprise he mimed locking his jaw.
Shi stalked up to the youth, snatched the shotgun from his hands and proceeded to run through a quick diagnostic check. She concluded by working the action and sighting on Malcolm. Without a word Shi propped the butt against her hip and keeping her eyes locked on the entertainer, she held out her hand to the youth.
He stared at her, mouth agape.
She stood there for a moment before shifting her glare to the boy.
“Shells,” she demanded.
Fumbling, he managed to hand her the three shells without dropping them. Returning her glare to Malcolm, she slipped the shells into the port, racked the shotgun, and thrust it to the youth.
Malcolm the Immortal bowed his head to her in thanks and she stalked back to Atom.
“And now, the show,” Malcolm called out. “Take a moment, good sir, and allow me to focus my energies.”
Malcolm took a deep breath. In an unnerving waggle of his eyes, he brought them to bear on his assailant. His face locked in focus as he stared at the barrel of the gun. Standing tall he opened his hands, palm up at his sides.
The shotgun barked three times in rapid succession.
The crowd gasped.
Atom, standing with arms crossed, studied the situation.
Malcolm’s hands moved faster than the eye could see. Faster than the heart could beat he flinched his arms up and baubles of energy sprang into existence. He blew out his held breath and grinned in relief as he relaxed the three baubles coalesced into one larger ball of blue light. He shook the bauble and twenty or so steel balls rattled around inside.
With a focused look, Malcolm shrank the bauble until the pellets rested in a small ball in his palm.
“A round of clappery for a valiant effort,” he shouted out, holding the pellets aloft for a better view. “But once again, I remain immortal. No weapon can touch me.”
The crowd exploded in applause and strange fusion of relief and disappointment.