The druggies returned to camp within three minutes of Astoc's return. Astoc was pleased to see they were empty-handed. Eagle-Eyes had been consuming booze freely but at the sight of the druggies looked up.
"So? Where is it?" snapped Eagle-Eyes.
"Where is what?" said one of the men.
"Well, you gotta know how we wait to give you the goods until you've paid," said the taller druggy gruffly. "Can't risk the ching these days, y'see. It's a precaution against double-crossing."
"So? I gave you ching, time for the goods."
"Ah, but the thing is, chief, we ain't got the goods. They been set light to, in the very place we hid 'em."
"What? This ain't happened before," said Eagle-Eyes sharply. A vein in his temple had began to flicker - a dangerous sign.
"Swear down, chief, that's what happened, we haven't let you -"
"Sounds like you're the double-crossers to me," said Eagle-Eyes ominously. He had got to his feet.
"Don't let 'em away, skevvies, not until we got our ching back."
Some of the beefier skevvies got to their feet, and blocked the druggies' escape from the camp. A few of them drew their Plasfirers.
"Now, now, you gotta see, we need that dosh, chief," said the smaller druggy nervously.
"So do we," said the beta, a dangerous looking man called Jenas. Astoc could tell by the furtive glance he shot at Eagle-Eyes that this was what he thought every time the druggies made their business here.
"Give me back my ching, or you'll never be able to sit down properly again," said Eagle-Eyes viciously. "I never got any rough from you guys before but I ain't about to take any of your excuses. Make the exchange. Now! Come on! Out with it!"
Astoc knew what was going to happen. It was something strange about him that only happened at certain times, and that no-one else had noticed or particularly cared about. He had known ever since the druggies had entered the camp. The smaller one took out an old-fashioned pistol and aimed it at Eagle-Eyes' head. He ducked suddenly and a frissonous bang rippled round the camp. At once, the skevvies flanking them started firing and moving in, but the taller one had pulled out a strangely shaped knife about as long as his arm and was scything it about. Astoc was shocked when he saw two, three, four men fall to the bite of the blade. Another two fell to the pistol, but the smaller man was reloading. Eagle-Eyes stole the chance to punch him hard in the face and then he was food for the bolts from the skevvies. His body was soon peppered with burn holes, and blood was pooling on the floor.
His friend was backing away, preparing to flee - once he was amongst the trees the gunmen would never be able to pick him off - he swung the knife again, forcing the skevvies to back off - ducking a salvo, he began dodging around trees and leaping branches. Soon, he was consumed by the darkness.
"What are you doing? He got away, you clotheads!" roared Eagle-Eyes, brandishing his fists at the frustrated gunmen on the edge of the camp. "Check that body, see if he had the ching on him."
There was silence as the blood-soaked body was checked and no credits, notes or otherwise were found on his person.
"So they got away. With all that ching that we worked our arses off to earn. Well done, people."
"Why are you so worried?" Astoc suddenly piped up. "All this affects is you."
Eagle-Eyes' head turned sharply, his bloodshot eyes fixed on Astoc.
"What are you talking about, weasel?" he snapped. "Don't talk unless you're spoken to."
"Everyone else is thinking what I'm saying," Astoc said loudly. He felt Lent's arm on his shoulder but he pushed it away. "Most of the ching we earn goes into your next score."
A quiet mumble started around the camp, particularly in the women. No-one had stood up to Eagle-Eyes like this before - not in their memories.
"To be fair, the squirt has a point," said Jenas roughly. "We don't see one corner of any of the credits we earn, boss."
"Are you defying your alpha?"
Jenas was caught off-guard. "No, boss, I'm only -"
"Yes," said Astoc clearly.
The skevvies were far too shocked to make a noise. So, it seemed, did Eagle-Eyes.
"I dunno about you, but I killed twenty tonight," said Astoc angrily. "How many did you kill? Three? Four? You'd just had a joint, that's why. You were up the weed tree while everyone else was defending themselves."
"It was you!" roared Eagle-Eyes indignantly. "You went and set fire to my commers' produce!"
"Aye," said Astoc openly. "It's time you learned to live without it."
There was no sound in the camp except Eagle-Eyes slowly walking towards him. Astoc could see from his walk that he was either high, or drunk, or both. Hopefully both, for he knew what must soon surely happen now.
He saw Eagle-Eyes' fist swinging out at him from beneath, and he ducked swiftly. The punch sailed over his head and Eagle-Eyes lost balance. Astoc rolled to the side and stuck out a leg to trip him up. He landed hard in the mud.
"Oi, omega!" yelled Jenas. "Show a bit of respect!"
"Sod respect!" said Astoc furiously. "I been omega for two whole years now, I proven myself. I deserve respect."
Eagle-Eyes had got to his feet.
"Go on then, weasel - one-to-one, you and me. Then we'll see who deserves respect."
"Bring it, alpha - you're only going to show everyone what a useless snot rag you are."
Astoc's heart was beating faster than it ever had done, but he wasn't scared. For the first time in his life, he yearned to kill - not for survival, not for self-sustenance, but for revenge - he wanted the wreck of a man in front of him dead.
And now was his chance. The first chance in his life he would truly be able to prove himself.