Chelik Housing District
2752 Local Time
“Ready for another shot?”
The bartender stands in front of a wall of assorted bottles, giving the illusion that not much has changed in the generations since humans left Earth. I’m not quite drunk enough to buy the charade. These bottles all contain the same swill, meticulously designed by scientists and engineers to deliver the same dulling sensation in less time and for less money. Minor changes in chemical structure give us pseudo-whiskey and quasi-tequila from the same parent concoction. I can’t quite remember what I’ve been taking shots of for the past thirty minutes.
The bartender clumsily pours a liberal amount of liquor into my shot glass, allowing a small amount to splash onto the counter. As he takes the bottle away, I start to reach out to convince him otherwise. Thankfully, wisdom kicks in momentarily, and I awkwardly move my hand toward the shot glass instead. The bartender is cute enough, but a bit weathered by life. Middle aged, but probably not yet old enough to be my father. The next thought that enters my head lets me know the alcohol is beginning to numb my inhibitions.
“How about another?” I hear from behind me.
I don’t bother to look round since I have decided that my breasts are much more interesting. I think I’ll name them.
Janine is the left one. She is the bigger one. She’s my favorite.
Even in my current state, I can sense the barstool on my left has become occupied in an inelegant fashion. I deliberately chose this bar because it is in the middle of the Chelik housing complex, well away from the Counsel and their subordinates. I assumed the only patrons of this bar would be locals. Outside of an older man in the back-right corner, the place has been empty since I showed up a half-hour ago.
“Not interested.” I say to the faceless stranger.
I still don’t bother to move my head, and instead decide to close my left eye to help focus my attention on Charlie. Ah, Charlie. You may not be as impressive as Janine, but you have spirit. You’re sassy.
“You really should stop staring at your tits in public, it’s unbecoming of an officer.”
The voice is distinctly female and oddly familiar.
As I prepare to launch into what would have undeniably been a scathing retort to the woman who rudely interrupted my time with the girls, I realize that I’m no longer the only Ironsides crew member in this bar.
Sergeant Darden looks like someone who spends her free-time exercising her muscles in the gym rather than her liver in a dive bar like this. She is shorter than me by twelve centimeters, but has arms as large as missile casings, legs like tree trunks, and can probably throw a punch with the best of them. Best not to get into a fight. She’s the kind you have to shoot.
“Sergeant, good to see you survived the attack,” I say, genuinely pleased to see a fellow crew member not in sickbay or a body bag.
“You too, Lieutenant, although trust me, I just barely made it out. Be thankful you were floating around in space, and not in the corridors fighting Ralgoths who were ripping everyone around you to pieces.”
I pour us a round as I formulate my response to that bullshit.
“Oh, please tell me about how hard it was to babysit two Ambassadors in a safe room while the XO did your job for you.”
She visibly bristles but bites her tongue. At least she knows I’m not intimidated by her Marine bravado.
“I didn’t come here to argue, Klingseis. I came here to drink.”
“That’s still Lieutenant to you, Sergeant. Until you buy the next round, anyway. We’ll probably both be court-martialed at the end of the hearings. Might as well add fraternization to the list of offenses.”
Darden convinces the bartender to bring us an entire bottle by throwing a stack of credit chips onto the counter and pointing her finger towards the top shelf.
“You planning on drinking everything in the bar tonight, or are you just trying to impress me?”
“I usually only drink with my favorite people, which means I drink alone. But, I felt like celebrating tonight.” She takes a shot and continues on as she pours another. “So, what do you think you’ll do after all this goes sour?”
I’ve never known Darden to be much of a talker, so I’m now slightly skeptical of her intentions.
“Well…. Darden…” I have no idea what her first name might be. “…this vodka appears to have already gone sour, so I’m assuming you’re talking about the hearings.”
“This is gin.”
Not a good sign.
“…..whatever. I suppose I’ll try to get on with a civilian ship, maybe haul cargo for the Hycains. That’s assuming I’m not locked up in Wilkes after all this.”
“Oh, stop the pity party, bitch. It’s not as if you disobeyed a direct order. Some of your pilots died. I lost my entire fucking team. We move on. Just consider yourself lucky that your family wasn’t on Portway.” She takes another shot and grimaces. “Plus, you’re a pilot, they don’t send your type to military prison, no matter how much they need a scapegoat. You’re too valuable. I, on the other hand, may be lucky enough to be assigned to a security detail for some politician, maybe a Counsel member, but they wouldn’t think twice about dropping me in a holding cell for the rest of my life.”
I believe that’s the most I’ve heard Darden speak in the three years I’ve known her. I wasn’t expecting us to be wrapped up in such a somber contest, but it’s a pleasant diversion. I pour her another shot and raise mine for a toast.
“Here’s to no longer having to put up with the government, the Hycains, or any of their bureaucratic bullshit again.”
She politely taps her glass to mine. We knock back the last shots and I instantly regret all the decisions in my life that have lead me to this point.
As I bite back the nausea from what I just realized is one-too-many drinks, Darden turns toward me and lowers her voice as if she is about to relay some monumental secret.
“Speaking of new career paths, I have a proposition to share with you. I think you’re going to love it….”
I think I’m going to throw up.