Sister at the Bar
Sister at the Bar
By Kate Thornton
A Mare Inebrium Story
Mare Inebrium Universe created by Dan Hollifield
There wasn't a woman in the Mare Inebrium who didn't gasp when Michael walked into the room, and I use the term woman loosely, as there were other, less humanoid female entities who gasped, too, or did their species’ equivalent. Except me.
See, I knew him already, knew what was under that good-looking exterior, all six foot something of him, those eyes, that hair, the voice like gravel and silk. I knew that when the fitted uniform jacket came off and the handmade tie with the Company’s shiny gold logo got loosened, it wasn't a prelude to a fantasy romance. It was a trip to hell without a return ticket. I had already been there and done that and I was lucky to have survived it, lucky that a high collar and long sleeves now hid the scars left from his twisted and sadistic little games.
"Jeeze, Sister, will you look at that!" The girl beside me at the bar gazed at him with near-reverence - a Company Space Captain highly decorated. There had been a time when Captains in service to the Company had been celibate, but that was way back.
I smiled primly. "Yes, he's very good-looking, isn't he?"
She took in my outfit and my sword – the only weapon permitted in the Mare Inebrium - then flushed and looked away from me. "S-sorry," she said, "I don't know what came over me." She picked up her drink and slithered off to a corner of D’rrish salesmen, neatly avoiding the scorpion stinger tails and the waving antennae of the large creatures
. But I knew. The sight of Michael's handsome face and perfect smile could melt hearts, and what passed for them in different species. Only it couldn't touch mine anymore.
I sighed. I had once been one of those cute little Port Authority inspectors who frequented places like the Mare Inebrium, looking for a fizzy intoxicant and chance at romance. Now I was there with a different purpose in mind, a higher calling, so to speak.
I motioned to the waitress, a pretty girl whose nametag identified her in Chinglish as “Trixie.” She eyed me suspiciously, but brought me the drink I ordered before disappearing into the bowels of the place to quell a disturbance. She could tell what I was there for, and I guess she didn’t much like it. You never know with people – sometimes they smile and seem encouraging and other times they can be downright hostile. Most of the time, though, they just look at me like they wished I’d just go away.
It was on my second date with Michael that it happened. We had drinks in the lobby bar of the Bethdish Ritz. I had never been inside the Ritz before, although I had peeked in through the polished brass doors, past the disapproving stare of the liveried doorman and mechvoice of the sleek robotic luggage craft.
When Michael took me up to a room right out of a D’rrish fairytale, I could have cried from delight.
I did cry that night, sitting alone in that fancy hotel room, too scared and too embarrassed to even call my mother on Triton II or my sister Nancy who lived nearby.
I never saw the first punch coming, but I saw and felt the rest of the beating. He was methodical, and smiled through the whole thing, hissing obscenities but careful not to touch my face. He was careful of his hands, too, and wore gloves. The leather cut my skin to strips. I won't tell you what else he did to me. The frailty of human anatomy is well known in this sector.
After he left, I sobbed as I cleaned my self up, then took a hovercraft back to my
cubicle and called in sick the next day.
And I was sick. Sick with shame over what had happened. How could I have been so stupid? I know it wasn't my fault, that he was really the sick one, but the sense of humiliation overcame me. My shame protected him, as it had with the others he had abused for his sick pleasure.
It's ironic that I have him to thank for what happened next. I lost my job – the Port Authority couldn’t trust the judgement of someone who cried all day. I was so depressed and upset over what he had done that I finally had to seek help.
I will always be grateful for the help that changed me in so many ways. I found a whole new way of looking at the world, at everything. I literally found a new life. The Company offered me a second chance in life, a permanent change, and I took it.
At first it was difficult, and learning to forgive, well, that was the hardest part of all. There are times when I'm not sure I have really mastered that lesson, although I do try hard, sincerely, and with all my heart.
You know, you can never tell what is hidden under peoples' exteriors, be they smooth and handsome or scaled or hairy, just like you would never guess the kind of monster Michael is from his angelic looks.
For example, the strong human race can have some pretty fragile specimens, and under some young girls' healthy good looks there can be hidden defects, high blood pressure or something. I know that some medical defects can go undiscovered for years.
On the night I saw him pick her up, I was new at this and still in pretty bad shape. I was just watching him, trying to think of a way to get through it all. I was horrified when I saw who was clinging to his arm, who it was that he ushered into a shiny new craft.
There was no chance of him recognizing me, so I followed them. I try to be inconspicuous, but that isn't always possible, of course, and most people are very kind to me. Bethdish isn't all bad, in spite of what you might think.
So I watched him ply his charm, impress her with his looks, his manners, his ease and obvious wealth. I wanted so much to warn her, to tell her what happened to me. But I couldn't.
Oh, maybe he didn't really mean to kill her. But I saw his face when he was hitting me,
and I know what a murderous rage looks like. I want to think he was insane, that free will had nothing to do with what he did. I want to believe that these things don’t happen. But I know better.
Her face was pretty and unmarked when I saw her. So beautiful. And her death was unexpected. One moment we were on the phone talking about a lunch date, and the next thing I knew, Mother was calling me, hysterical, from Bethdish General where Nancy’s body had been brought by a mechserv from a hotel. Nancy, my sister.
The doctors said she had a massive heart attack, that a tiny defect in her heart had probably contributed to it. Her death had been hours before, far too late for resurrection techniques. Only her organs were salvageable. The medics noted her recent bruises and concluded that the stress from whatever accident she had suffered probably brought on the attack that killed her. They concluded that she must have been alone when it happened– otherwise, it would have been a simple procedure for someone to fix the defect and save her.
But I knew that it was a different attack that had really killed her. And it was no accident.
I blame myself for so many things. Watching Nancy fall for him was just about the most awful thing I ever experienced, worse than what he did to me. That feeling of helplessness - I didn't think there could be anything worse.
But I was wrong. When I looked at her pretty face stilled by death, that was worse.
On my first visit to the Mare Inebrium, none of the local humanoid girls would admit to having been abused by him, even the ones I was sure about. They all just clammed up when they saw me, and I knew I was going to have to do the unthinkable, and confront him myself. The overworked barmaid, Trixie, was blunt. “You shouldn’t be in a joint like this, honey,” she said softly to me. “This ain’t your turf. Leave the rowdies to us.”
It was good advice, but I knew I couldn’t take it. I looked down at the company logo on my snowy white uniform and smiled. “Thank you,” I said. In a bar full of off-worlders, D’rrish scorpions, Barkali sex traders and the smugglers, lowlifes and prostitutes of every description, gender and species, I knew how out of place I must have looked. And I knew that my kind wasn’t welcome in these places, that there was an unwritten law that protected everyone in the Mare Inebrium from me and those like me. It was the reason I was permitted to carry my weapon openly. I knew that most of the place was armed – even those sitting directly under the sign which mandated all arms be checked at the counter, in accordance with Bethdish law. Only the novelty of my presence kept some of those weapons hidden. All who recognized my uniform knew that only an errand of the highest importance could bring into the Mare.
But there was, regrettably, an element of the personal in this case. I finished my drink, walked over and sat down with him. He looked up in surprise and annoyance - I'm not exactly his type anymore.
"I'm here about my sister," I said.
"Sister?" he said with an uncomprehending look.
"Yes," I replied. "Nancy was my sister. She died right after you beat her up. I want you to confess what you did to her and ask forgiveness." I didn't bother to keep my voice down and everyone in the crowded bar was looking and listening with interest. Michael’s eyes wildly swept my sword, my uniform, and finally, my face.
"You must be crazy," he said. "Get outta here and leave me alone. You can’t even be here!" His voice climbed to a high pitch and as he half rose from the table, I knew he recognized me, not as Nancy's sister, but for myself. I saw the panic as he eyed my habit and the gold cross of the Company emblazoned on my uniform.
"You need help, Sister?" Max, the bartender, glared at Michael and put a protective arm around me. Max was from a good Company family, after all. He was sweating, though, and I knew he didn’t want any trouble. Trouble of my sort could be very bad for business.
I shook my head. "No, Max,” I assured him. “It’s just business. You know I can take care of it quietly.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Max replied. He recognized my authority, but it was damned nice of him to be so sweet about it. He went back to the bar nervously and I continued to confront Michael.
“You have committed an offense against The Company,” I said in my official voice.
“Your repentance is demanded by Her Most Corporate Holiness, upon the pain of everlasting death.” I pulled the golden sword from its sheath and held it over my head. It gleamed and glittered in the light of a thousand worlds as the assemblage watch in near silence. My sword carried the authority of the most powerful entity in the Galaxy, she who controlled The Company.
“Get lost,” Michael sneered, bravado winning out over terror.
The sword burned a slash across his handsome face, disfiguring him and forcing a scream of pain and terror. Blood spurted out and splashed the floor to lose itself in darkness and dirt. His knees buckled as he blubbered incoherently, hands clasped before him.
“Louder!” I commanded, still using the clear voice of my authority.
“Please, please,” he whimpered, “I-I’m sorry…please…” He gasped for breath and began to loudly pray the Beseeching Prayer of Forgiveness. As he did so, his wound healed up, leaving an ugly, raised scar, the keloid mark given to murderers of the innocent and child molesters. In future, he would be forced to wear a hood to conceal it, even in places like the Mare Inebrium, where nearly anything else was tolerated. His face would remain contorted in the mask of guilt.
I smiled and said softly in my normal voice, “and I forgive you, Michael, Captain of the Space Cruiser ‘Louise Hoskins’ and murderer of my birth-sister Nancy. Go now to your penitential duty on Dai Wu Station, where you will be given further instructions. A murmur ran through the crowd. Penitential duty at Dai Wu was worse than death, a living torture for humanoids.
He rose slowly, painfully, and walked silently out of the bar, head downcast, hand to the disfigured cheek.
At that point, my service over, I should have left quickly and quietly. I know that. But I craved just one more sip of the house specialty, another Zombie Cocktail. I signaled the waitress and Trixie brought me a vaporous bowl. I smiled indecently to myself. Celebrations of this sort were forbidden, of course - a travesty of the justice I had vowed to represent. But as I mentioned, the forgiveness part was hard for me, and I was still wrestling with my conscience. Surely one more drink and a smug little smile could be excused?
I will always be grateful that my first assignment as a Novice Avenger took me to the Mare Inebrium. I’ll come back one day after I complete my term of service and gain release from my vows. In the meantime, I’ll continue to patrol the streets of Bethdish and remember fondly that last Zombie Cocktail.THE END
Copyright 2000 by Kate Thornton
Biography: Kate Thornton lives outside of Los Angeles and spends a lot of time wishing she could have just one gin and cranberry at the Mare Inebrium. Please visit her at http://sff.net/people/katethornton and drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
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