Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

The Nighthawk café is quiet. In the dim light cast by grimy neon tubes, two men sit nursing mugs of coffee and shot glasses of whisky.

“Looks good, Crow. Looks good.”

The older of the two waves his hand, encompassing the café and buildings nearby.

“Thanks, Jonah. The ‘Nighthawk’ is the heart of this. People have so much to talk on, since the war.”

“Yeah, every man and woman served. Makes for some deep common ground. Conversations go better when you’ve got shared experience. And, if the experiences are grim enough, truths come out.”

Crow coughs and grins: “Ain’t that a fact. But, the truth that built this came from my old man. He always said ‘when everything changes, take time to watch how people change in response, before you make a move’.”

“That’s why you didn’t reopen the bar straight after disarmament?”

“Yes. Looking after a bar was a good game for lively types before the war. You should know, you were one of my regular bouncers. But, the war changed the game. So, I took the old man’s advice. Let every other joint open up, thinking business was back to normal.”

“How could it be, after ten years of hell-on-Earth?”

“Spot on. The new bars got torn to pieces, restaurants demolished, concert halls razed. Everyone knew how to fight: every brawl became a battle when you threw in PTSD and other lingering souvenirs. That’s when law enforcement resorted to simply holding perimeters until the fighting died out.”

“But you learned.”

“I did. The new place has a stage with force screens to protect the band. The arena is a single piece of cerasteel – nothing that can be torn up for use as a weapon. The bars are shuttered and all drinks come in paper mugs.”

“I miss pint glasses at gigs.”

“Levels of violence change things.”

“Sadly. So, I understand the Nighthawk, and ‘Fortress’: the arena. But a hospital?”

“The bands I host are energetic. The audience is always violently enthusiastic. Seems only fair to offer to patch-up to my patrons after the event. Fun shouldn’t leave you unable to work the following week.”

“I know a few who’d disagree, but no matter.”

“I bought an army surplus field hospital. The volunteer staff just turned up, almost overnight. This area is rundown, services are scant. Free care for all stabilises the area and makes my enterprise immune to criminal pressure: they like a place that fixes combat wounds without questions.”

“I think your new generation security team might have a little to do with that immunity.”

Crow chuckles: “You could be right. They’re all former assault troopers, the fully enhanced kind. They have difficulty fitting into society. I’ve given ‘em a job where hopped-up lunatics try to kill ‘em every night. The challenge of restraining without killing works off the assault kids violent drives. Keeping the whole place safe from criminals eases their hypervigilance issues. I get top security and they get therapy – it’s a win-win situation.”

“It’s nice to be part of the audience instead of watching it, I’ll admit.”

“You should come along for the assault trooper family gigs. It’s all acoustic stuff, with throat singing and mad-ass breakdancing. It’s so strenuously peaceful, it’s insane.”

Jonah sighs: “I like the idea. Something new under this tired sun would be nice.”

“Amen to that. So, you want another shot to keep the last of the coffee company?”

“I’d like another coffee to keep the next pair of shots warm.”

Crow waves to the counterman: “Jimmy! Two more coffees, two more shots, and leave the bottle.”