Aphelion Issue 291, Volume 28
February 2024
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The Dive

by Dan Rice

Liberty Station isn’t the largest outpost in the vast expanse of vacuum we call space, but it’s my second home after my ship. Electronic music booms in the dimly lit dive bar that, on many of my visits, gives me access to the most avaricious rogues from across the galaxy’s three known spacefaring species. On the dance floor, the mostly human crowd gyrates to the thumping beat (aliens dance, not just to human music). Waiters and waitresses skillfully weave between dancers and pass tables. Usually, I’d be negotiating contracts with starlight missionaries and tentacled drakonusians to ferry their contraband off the station to the upscale black markets of the United Planets where millions of humans are happy to spend small fortunes to sate their fetishes for anything transgressively alien.

“I’m going to kill her, Mona, I swear,” Lizzie, who sits across the rickety table from me, says.

“That’s extreme,” I say, talking fast since I’m anxious for this therapy session to end. I like Lizzie, but if I’m not settling contracts, I’m not pocketing money. “Back in United Planet territory, okay, killing ain’t so bad. You get caught, then what? Five years rehabilitation. But, out here, honey, you get caught, you breathe vacuum.”

Lizzie snags her condensation covered beer bottle from the table and takes a long swig. She is slender despite the beers she chugs by the dozens every time I see her. Makes me jealous. Even twenty years ago I didn’t have the metabolism to match hers.

I pick up my drink and take a sip. Lizzie thinks it’s vodka, but it’s really water. As a rule, I never drink. Starlight missionaries won’t work with drunks on religious grounds. Ironic considering those polka-dot covered freaks are the most vicious criminals I know.

“That ship,” Lizzie says, leaning forward until her face is over the center of the table. “Is my livelihood.”

“Backup, honey. Someone stole your ship?”

Lizzie’s eyes bug out of her head. “You seriously haven’t heard?”

I shake my head. “Should I have?”

“This is unbelievable,” Lizzie says and gulps beer. “It’s Toni, Mona, your daughter. She stole my ship. That’s why I’ve come to you.”

My glass nearly slips from my hand. I quickly set it down. “My Toni stole your ship?”

“That’s right,” Lizzie says and drains her beer and bangs the empty onto the table. She waves to a waiter. “Give me another.”

I rub my temples, trying to get a handle on this revelation about my wayward daughter. I recall earlier in the conversation Lizzie used the words I’ll kill her. Not something you want to say to a mother regarding her child, Liz. A waiter drops off a beer.

“What do you want me to do?” I ask. The truth is I rarely know my daughter’s whereabouts. She likes her privacy, and I don’t pry.

“I want you to help me get my ship back.”

“You said you want to kill Toni.”

“Come on. I didn’t mean it. I’m emotional. Hell, I’m drunk.”

“You sure you didn’t mean it?” I say, smacking the tabletop with a meaty mitt. The table rocks. Lizzie snatches her beer bottle before it overturns. “What kind of mother am I if I allow you to leave this bar alive knowing full well you plan to kill my daughter?”

Lizzie sits up straight and licks her thin lips. She glances nervously around the dive, maybe considering to make a run for it. Given her inebriated state, I don’t think she’ll make it beyond the dance floor.

“Well, Lizzie, what do you have to say for yourself?”

“I’m drunk. I’m pissed. I misspoke.”

“Good. How are your kids?”

“They’re good. Live here with their grandma.”

“Your ma works, right? Legit work.”

“Yeah, she’s a teacher at the primary school.”

I crack a smile. Lizzie looks nervous. I wonder how a schoolteacher ended up with such a screwed up daughter. Not that I can claim to have done much better, my kid steals spaceships.

“I’ll tell you what. I’ll give you a berth on my ship as the third mate.”

“I don’t want charity,” Lizzie whines. “I want my ship back.”

“Ain’t charity. Just so happens I need a third mate. Mine quit yesterday,” I say with a shrug. “Left me in a bind. You signing up is doing me a favor.”

“Okay. My ship?”

“As soon as I run across my daughter, I’ll see about getting your ship back.”

Lizzie smiles, showing yellow teeth. “Thank you, Mona, thank you. I’m so grateful to have a friend like you.”

I stand, and we shake hands. “Come on. We’ll see to the contractual details on my ship.”


“That’s right.”

Lizzie chugs the remaining beer and staggers behind me out of the dive through the labyrinthine hallways of Liberty Station to my ship. The airlock cycles and we enter my cargo hauler, upgraded to have an engine capable of outrunning most customs inspectors. Lizzie is so drunk she uses the bulkhead to steady herself.

“Through here,” I say punching the button to open a different airlock leading out into the vacuum of space.

Lizzie is too drunk to notice and stumbles inside. I punch another button to close and cycle the airlock. When Lizzie realizes what’s happening, she bangs on the door and screams. I can hear the dull thuds of her fists pounding the door, but I can’t hear her cries. When she sucked out into the black, I shake my head, feeling a brief pang of sadness. I can’t help thinking I did Lizzie a favor, she was either suicidal or too stupid to live. You don’t go threatening my child unless you’re desperate to breathe vacuum.

2019 Dan Rice

Dan Rice writes speculative fiction while not slaving away at the 9 to 5 or entertaining wee lads who have a penchant for a bit of the ultra-violence. You can find his thoughts on writing and his complete bibliography at his website https://www.danscifi.com/.

Find more by Dan Rice in the Author Index.

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