Chi Crain was temporarily marooned on Niophus halfway into his wanderjahr through the outer rim systems. Middle-aged and an apparent wastrel, he mused to himself that the Anonymous Saloon on the outskirts of Wastacarro City wasn’t such a bad place to hang out. He still hoped the repairs on his ship would be done soon. Chi was boozing it up too much, even for him.
He had just ordered another pint of ale to chase down his shot of Aldebaran whiskey when she walked in. She was human, like him, but the redhead’s beauty left him breathless, something he thought only happened in pulp fiction novels. She wore a common one-piece jumpsuit, but it hugged her well placed and amply proportioned curves like a second skin.
Sitting on the stool to his right at the bar, she parted full, luscious lips and said to the barkeep, “Random Revolver, please.” She produced her payment disc, and once “just call me Al” produced her drink, she transferred the cost. “Keep ’em coming.”
He grunted and nodded.
“You suck down more than one of those, and you might as well lay out a sleeping bag on the floor behind you ’cause you’ll be spending the night.”
“I know what I’m doing, including how to mind my own business.”
“Suit yourself. Name’s Crain, Chi Crain.”
“Did I ask?”
“You an Earther or Colony Brat.”
“Why do you care?” She sipped at her Revolver and winced. They’re 50 percent pure grain booze, 110 proof. Chi was surprised her eyes weren’t watering.
“Just making conversation. We’re the only two humans in the bar, maybe in the whole city.”
“There’s a human settlement on the Pierus continent in the Northern hemisphere. If you want company, try there.”
She finished her drink and Al dutifully brought another, taking the fee out of the token she’d left on the bar, then he brought Chi another ale. He watched her taste from the glass, and this time, tears streamed down her cheeks.
She turned toward him too fast, and Chi had to catch her so she wouldn’t fall off of the stool.
“Hands off the merchandise.”
His arm lingered a bit and then he removed it from around her waist. “Sorry, but if I hadn’t grabbed on, you’d have been kissing the floor by now.”
“You made your point.” She looked at the glass sitting next to the token but didn’t pick either one up.
“I’m guessing that’s your name.”
“You wanted to know it, right?”
“Sure. Are you okay?”
“You’re a crummy liar.”
“Actually, I’m a great liar, but only when I’m sober.”
“One full glass and a finger of Revolver would knock me on my ass. I’m stunned you’re still conscious.”
“Bet I could drink you under the table. I’m worth my metal, uh…mettle.”
“Sure you are.”
“You look pretty good with your fists.
“You need somebody worked over? I don’t do that.”
“Not what I meant.” She fumbled for her token and put it back in her jumpsuits top, left pocket. “I’m looking for protection until I can book passage off this rock.”
“What is it? Some sort of local problem?”
“Let’s just say I want to avoid any Consortium entanglements.”
Chi raised his eyebrows. “So would I. No thanks.”
“I’ll pay you.”
“That token better have a fortune loaded on it.”
“I can supplement with…” She ran her index finger down from Chi’s jaw line to his throat. “…other services.”
“Not happening. I make it my business not to give the business to drunken flails. Why the change of heart, anyway? Five minutes ago, you wouldn’t have given me the time of day.”
“I wasn’t drunk enough five minutes ago.”
“You were as sober as a judge five minutes ago. What’s the problem?”
“Not here. Too many ears. You got a ship?”
“Yeah. Under repair, but should be ready to go in another day or less.”
“Still sleep on board?”
“No safer place, at least for me, but why would you trust me more than anybody else in this joint?”
“That guarantees exactly zip.”
“Okay, I’ve heard of you, heard you were stuck here.”
“Heard what? I’m only a bum hauling my ass across space just because I can.”
“You weren’t always a bum.” She was weaving on her stool and grabbed the edge of the bar to steady herself.
Chi looked around, but one of the advantages of the Anonymous was that everyone kept to themselves. You could kill someone in here or have rough gorilla sex on the bar, and the customers wouldn’t bat an eye or wiggle a tentacle.
“I don’t do that anymore.”
“Not even if the price is right?”
“You couldn’t afford me.”
“Try me.” She leaned toward him and then lost her balance, planting her face into his chest. When Chi tried to pull Sung back up, he saw she had her teeth clamped around his collar.
“Let go. Come on.” He shook her and she released him.
“See? I can be fun.”
“Hang on a second.” He put his disc on the bar. “Thanks for the drinks, Al.”
“Don’t mention it.” He cancelled the appropriate amount and his eyes momentarily changed from red to blue when he noticed the generous tip.
As an afterthought, Chi grabbed Sung’s drink and drained it in a single gulp. When the burning died down to a four-alarm inferno, he hopped off the bar stool. Then once he got his balance back, he eased Sung to her feet, and the two staggered toward the exit.
“We’ve got to cease meeting like this, uh, stop meeting like this.” She hiccupped and then burped, but even then, it didn’t take away from her beauty in Chi’s blurred vision.
The Revolver hit him full force by the time they were on the thoroughfare heading toward the docks. Fortunately it was an auto-walkway, so all they had to do was hang onto the rail and let themselves be carried with the conveyor strip.
“The Octopus? That’s the name of your ship?”
“I like Cephalopods. Sue me.”
“No wonder you and the bartender got along so well.”
“Meester Kran.” Bob, the dockmaster, was a Craheclite and spoke Standard Intertel with an accent thick enough to slice. “U chip is reedy. Al reepars komplt.” He proffered a tablet for inspection with his left upper appendage.
Chi took it while struggling to hold Sung up with his other arm. Then he scanned down the list of parts used, noting the cost of the hardware and labor. “Done ahead of schedule, but you charged me 20 percent more than the estimate.”
“Kudnt bee hepped.” The dockmaster took the tablet back and consulted it. “C her. Sekonary Framiztat shot. Head to replaz. Al old partz in yur kargo holt for yur inzpekshun.”
“Fine. I’ll have a look. I don’t have departure clearance until tomorrow at 1400 anyway. You transmit a copy of the work order and receipt to my central computer?”
“Of korz, Meester Kran.”
“Good. I’ll transfer your fee once I’ve verified everything. I’m beat. Headed inside for some sack time.”
“Of korz. Half a gud daze.” The Chaheclite looked at Crain and then Sung and then back at Crain. It was hard to tell given the structural arrangement of his face, but Chi thought he detected something akin to a filthy leer. His species enjoyed watching interspecies porn.
The next day, Chi was mostly sober as he finished examining the parts of the Octopus that had to be replaced. Bob was a lecher but he wasn’t a crook. Everything added up. Sitting in the pilot’s seat, he had just pressed the transmit button to transfer the agreed upon funds for repairs when Sung walked into the control cabin.
He turned to see her already pale skin practically albino white, and her flame-red hair a nest of serpents surrounding an angel’s face, albeit with bloodshot eyes.
“You look like you have the mother of all hangovers.”
“Feel like it, too. It’s a matched set.” She slumped into the seat by the engineer’s station. “We’ve got to get out of here. They might have already traced me to your ship.”
“From Anonymous? Not a chance. There’s a reason why the best smugglers, scoundrels, and assassins drink there.”
“Your multi-limbed friend on the docks would probably sell his sister for a nickel.”
“I’m pretty sure Chaheclites are gender fluid, but you’re probably right.” He checked the chronometer over her head. “Coming up on 1130 hours. I’ll have to start my pre-flight soon and then contact dock control to confirm launch clearance. Talk fast. We don’t have much time.”
“Years ago, you served with my Father in the Cievian Wars.”
“Shit. Sung Pennyworth Oz. I don’t believe it. You were fifteen years old the last time I saw you, and nothing but a skinny, freckled brat.”
“I’ve still got the freckles.”
“I’m not a soldier anymore.”
“I’m not asking you to be.”
“Where is your old man, anyway? If you’re in a jam…”
“He’s dead and we will be too if we don’t get off of Niophus.”
“Dead, but I thought…”
“He accepted a discharge after the war, just like you and most of the defense forces did. Now the Consortium is tracking down and eliminating anyone involved in the Whillon Op.”
“You shouldn’t even know that name. It was classified Highest Secret.”
“Nolan Paris is going to run for Chief President in next year’s election and he wants all evidence of his involvement hushed up. The digital record has already been expunged, and the only evidence left are the eyewitnesses. They killed my Dad four months ago along with most of your old squadron. You’re the only one left.”
“Paris. That son of a bitch was the reason for the op. If he hadn’t been in bed and giving that Cievian hooker intel on our fleet movements, we wouldn’t have had to go in after him. How could you possibly know all this? I know the Colonel wouldn’t have told you.”
“Five years ago, I was recruited by Onyz B.”
“Seven months ago, while researching an Op involving the Pacrorian ambassador, I came across a directory permissions glitch. It contained a summary of the Whillon Op and a confidential memo about Paris and the Echo squadron. I tried to warn Dad, but I don’t think he got my coded transmission. I managed to get off world just after my security clearance had been revoked, and I’ve been planet hopping ever since. Spent the last four weeks in the Pierus settlement, but a former Onyz analyst relocated there and blew my cover. I managed to get a transport here, and when checking the registry of docked ships, I found yours.”
“Crap. How long ago were you outed?”
“Twenty-four hours ago give or take.”
“Consortium’s got a reservist garrison on Niophus, but that’s halfway around the planet. They’ll wait until they can station some heavy cruisers in orbit. Strap yourself in. We’re taking off, Sweetheart.”
“Are you nuts? No pre-flight and no departure clearance?”
Chi initiated the emergency diagnostic routine which would give him a high-level picture of the ship’s condition. “I paid Bob, and he’s cleared the mooring and service lines by now. If we lift off fast enough, no one will be able to stop us. Uh oh.”
“Check the port aft monitor. I was wrong about them waiting.”
“Troops. They’re surrounding the dock. Is that a Flan class plasma cannon they’re setting up?”
“Can you handle the engineering station?”
“Dad taught me how to pilot anything from a skimmer to a destroyer. You remember that.”
“Then dump 1.21 gigawatts into main propulsion, because we’re getting out of here now.”
“You’ll blow the primary power manifolds.”
“The Octopus will hold together. Just do it.”
The plasma wave generated by the ship’s main drive vaporized the thirty soldiers setting up a perimeter around the Octopus, and melted most of docking bay 17 as the light star craft lifted off Niophus. Inside, Chi and Sung were pulling 5Gs on the ascent until they got to the upper atmosphere where the inertialess drive took over.
When Chi could breathe again, “Setting course.”
“The only safe place left. Whillon.”
“That was ceded to the Cievian Alliance. It’s enemy territory. We’ll be shot down on sight.”
“Not everything about the Whillon Op was put in those files, Sung. Paris wasn’t the only one playing both sides against the middle.”
“You have someone on the inside?”
“The last friend I have left. She’ll keep us safe until we can figure out something.”
“She’s not your last friend, Chi. Not anymore.”
He finished the navcomm calculations, and before powering up the starjump drive, looked back and smiled. “I’ll take all the friends I can get, Penny.”
“Shut up and fly. I hate that name.”
“I know.” Three seconds later, The Octopus vanished off of all of the flight control scopes on Niophus, and both Chi Crain and Sung Pennyworth Oz were on to their next adventure.
I wrote this for Wordle #202 hosted at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie. The idea is to use at least ten of the twelve words in the “wordle” in a poem, short story, or other creative work. I used all twelve and bolded them in the body of my story. Here they are:
- sleeping bag
- wastrel (noun). a wasteful or good-for-nothing person.
- wanderjahr (noun). A year spent travelling abroad, typically immediately before or after a university or college course.
When I started writing, I didn’t have much of a vision of how the story would turn out, so I let the wordle words and my muse take me where they wanted to. Yes, I milked a bunch of Star Wars tropes with a little Back to the Future thrown in for good measure.
Oh, there’s no such drink as a “random revolver.” I got the idea from the real beverage the “reverse revolver” (which I’ve never had). “Pennyworth” is the last name of Alfred as in Bruce Wayne’s butler.
Addendum, 7-1-2018: Decided to press this story into double duty for today’s Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie challenge Double Lives.