The Red, The Black, and The Gold
holo-imagers flicker in and
a brief second, I see the
grim-gray of the bar. The
collecting dirty glasses from is also flickering a little. I give it a good whack
before it turns back
to the polished image of a handcrafted wooden piece of furniture. Looking up, I check to
make sure the vid is
still working too.
news is on.
are a few static-ridden images
of expanded bodies enveloped with crystalized blood.
A voice in the background comments on
fundamentalist neo-theists. Terror
that plague the system. War
on between the Martian fundamentalists and the UN loyalists on the red
Earthside, there are
reports of UN agents arresting a mass of neo-biblicalists and
down on the tyranny of
never gets this heated.
been a pretty slow night and I’m
thinking of hitting my bunk. Third
shifters won’t get off for another three hours so I can get some sack
still here, Jax?”
hear a groan.
just don’t freak out my
a joke and I’m the only one who
laughs. Not much of
a rush hour on a
place like this. Ceres
has about twelve hundred people on it at all times.
Two-hundred and fifty people if all of the
liners happen to disembark at the same time.
Most of the travelers don’t stay longer than a few hours
to their next venture. They
even leave ship unless there’s a problem with the loading drones.
Ceres Station has a life
support system that can sustain five-thousand-two-hundred and
people, with a possibility of five extra children below the age of five.
never gets that busy anymore. Not
with the mines hollowed out.
a cold point of harbor between
the Jovian planets and the two “civilized” worlds.
I hear it. The
automation of the hatch doors sliding
eyes turn to the entrance and see
what stands there. A
lady in blue. Her
skin-tight pants connects to her blouse
by a waist-zipper that has a miniature chain to pull on. The teeth of the zipper
curve up from her
right lower hip to wrap around up to her left ribcage.
Her figure is fine with those classic
someone who doesn’t
live in the black. She’s
tall enough, I
suppose, but her hour-glass figure is still a bit too lovely to make
folks living in space
are rather slim and even fragile.
woman is not fragile. Planet
her neck is a silver necklace
that holds an emerald orb at the end.
It’s one of those patriotic charms that politicians seem
to wear. In this
particular case there’s something
inside the transparent orb. Something
like a plus sign. Or
definitely the type of woman
you never dare call girl. Even
would be rather insulting. Woman
word for her. And
ma’am if you’re
looking to rain down flattery.
I realize my jaw I still open.
is this place open?”
sure. Yep. I
mean, I was about to sneak out for a bit given the absence of my
but, uh, yeah, we’re open.”
she keeps walking in and
takes a seat on a stool.
get my rear behind the bar as quick
as possible while pressing the power button on the dreary news, “What
and tonic,” she says.
silently thank the cosmos I had Gin
on the last order list. New
usually takes two years to get in, unless I find a shipmate willing to
own stash, “I guess it’s nearly four in the morning Ceres time. You on that time or
huffs, “Almost midnight for me. They
have me surfing the vacuum so much, I’m
gonna get seizures soon.”
take it you don’t haul freight
almost giggles, “No, not really.”
uh,” I finish mixing her drink
and slide it to her. “What
do you do?”
guess you can call me a UNi,” she
lifts the glass.
ignite an e-cig and pour myself a
glass of club soda, “Government stuff, huh?
Like a Federales?
Federales. It’s an old Mexican cop. Cowboys would fight them
in what was called
the Wild West. A
ancient Mexico and US. Lots
of interests. Wars
for settling the area
were fought. More
criminal stuff as
besides a barkeep on an asteroid,
you’re a historian?”
well, not really. This
place is called Gold Rush to give
that old cowboy tavern type of feel.
I had to look up quite a bit of historical
sims to get the holo-images programmed just right.”
“Interesting. So why call it Gold Rush?
Why not just Ceres Bar and Grill?”
I puff out a stream of
vapor. “One, I
don’t grill anything. Meats
and veggies cost an arm and a leg out
here. And two,
Ceres is the direct
metaphor of the Gold Rush.”
I’ve seen a lot of engineers,
scientists, miners, all rushing out in these parts to make a fortune. But what they generally
tend to find is that their
golden opportunity was only worth just slightly more than the whole
trip. I mean, sure,
these people plan and budget as
much as they can, but sometimes a ship hits a micro-meteor. Every now and then
they discover that
their precious mineral is found on a closer moon and suddenly the
floods the market bringing the price of their loot down to nothing. That’s kind of what the
place pays homage
to. The Gold Rush
was full of empty
promises and broken dreams. Settlers
would spend their fortune moving west and never find an ounce of gold. They would get robbed and
shot just for
giving the wrong look. Native
were slaughtered so that profiteers could simply have a crack at
precious metal. Ceres
is the embodiment
of human greed. I
can think of no better
name to call this place. It’s
that dines so many broken dreams.
it’s kind of a broken dream in itself.
Thought I could make my fortune here, ended up just eking
on by just
like everyone else.”
can’t tell if the woman is about to
frown or give one of those dopy pity smiles.
Stupid self-loathing words, why did I have to go on like
am surprised to find a real live
person tending a pub all the way out here,” she finally says after an
moment. “Every port
typically has a culinary-bot serving drinks.
And grilled food.”
smile is so malicious it’s
maybe on an orbital dock. Or
even on a moon somewhere, where they have
factories and such. Ceres
more like a cast-away island though.
don’t have factories and we certainly don’t have AI techies. I once thought of leaving
this place staffed
with bots, but those machines generally break down every year or so. That wouldn’t matter much
with a warranty,
but that wouldn’t include the shipping.
Shipping a brand new drone to Ceres Station costs nearly
as much as it
costs for my very own life-support here for thirty years.”
why choose Ceres to open a bar?”
she asks taking a drink. Why
open up a tavern on Phobos? There’s
lot of troops there needing a drink, I hear.”
would be something to think
about, sure. I
don’t know. I’ve
been mostly a life-support logistics specialist
for most of my career out here in the black.
I would stock up ships with the proper rations and oxygen
water. Sell entire
hydroponics bays and
ventilation systems. It
paid well and I
got to be under my own management, more or less.
A lot of the time I would be an on-call
emergency logistics transporter. If
orbital or a mothership I was stationed on received a distress call
another ship about to run out of oxygen or water or what have you, I
dispatched on a high-speed rocket to deliver the emergency supplies. Sometimes I would even
deliver a medic to
help out with injuries or severe illness.
Pregnancy even. I
made a lot of
cash on the emergency runs. You
not believe how grateful people were.
The company paid me double when out on a run, but the
ships paid me in
fortune. One ship
gave me nearly five
grand in crypto-coins. One
gave me a cut in their freight haul.
Another even offered up their female engineer as
well did you take them up on
Nah, that was just a little too
weird for me. But I
did take them up on
some whiskey aged nearly two centuries.
It still sits right there,” I point to a bottle behind me
sitting on a
top shelf with a label that read 2125.
“A sip from that will cost you a hundred yuan for a shot
so a life in freight
rescue has made you a liquor connoisseur.”
little bit, yeah. There’s
a lot of time for people to waste in
the void, so liquor is the most treasured commodity.
Pretty hard to come by, too.
After one of my contracts I probably made
nearly five million in any currency you can think of.
Enough to establish any pub I wanted.
Thought about going back to Earth, but when I
went to look at some sights in the high rises…
The people. There’s
just too many. Don’t
get me wrong, working in space can be
one of the loneliest things in the system, but what’s even lonelier is
among twenty billion people and not being able to talk with a single
them over the crowd of other voices drowning you out.
So I went to where I felt most at home.”
take another drag.
oddly it’s on a piece of junk
rock station out in the middle of eternity.
And with the high demand for booze, I thought it was a
maker. But the
booze is more precious
than company I’m afraid. I
look around. Folks
would rather drink in
their bunk or galley than have a little social time in a pub. It could be worse, I
pretty good company right now.”
sip on my club soda, watching her
maybe this place just needs a
woman’s touch,” She says with the most minute smirk.
the devil’s clockwork, my little
drunkard patron groans out of his inebriated slumber.
The lady and I both roll our eyes to the
waking corpse. Jax
stumbles on over to
the bar and I begin to put on a pot of coffee.
let’s take a look at the news,”
I press a power button on the table and the holo-imager brings up the
the hologram resembles a yellowed
newspaper with old press-print around what’s supposed to be a
century black and white photo or sketch.
Instead, we see the perfect clarity of a newsfeed.
reporter is saying something
about the Martian Fundies working off world.
Assassinating anyone connected to the UN Peacekeepers. The last victim was a
Colonel on leave from
red planet combat duty. They
say he suffocated
on his way Earthside when a suspected neo-theist shut down the
systems for his bunk block. The
hitched a ride with forged UN credentials on an orbital dock. All of this
three-dimensional news drama
caught inside a gigantic old west paper hovering against the wall. I
was cute once.
my drunkard patron finally takes
a seat, “How are ya?” he grumbles to the lady in blue.
She giggles. “What’s
Hintz, Jax. Jax
Lieutenant Hintz, Special Void
bring over a cup of coffee, “The
Lieutenant here is a war hero.”
that right?” Miranda says with a
Jax says. “Nothing
bigger than a tall tale. Just
a run-down vet. Did
my time for the UN. Never
plan to set foot on the red planet
again. Or Earth for
vacuum dweller, huh?”
he says without even looking
a Miranda. “Of
course, finding aspirin
in the black is a bitch.”
smiles. I don’t.
I didn’t mean to swear,” Jax
says looking at her.
it’s no trouble dear,” Miranda
says as she brings up a hand-purse I didn’t even notice before. She opens the silver lock
and digs in to
retrieve a pill bottle. “Here,”
slides the unmarked meds over, “always a goody a girl keeps in her
he pops the lid and throws
in a pill. “Maybe
that’s all I need to
do, find a nice space-faring bride and good bye hangovers.”
smiles at me.
grin a little.
got chow here?” Jax asks me.
get a can out from under the bar,
“Just rations. Three
man delicately opens his wallet
and finds nothing, “You take UNi creds by any chance?”
take the can and sit somewhere
I can’t hear you.”
takes the rations and trots off
back to his little booth.
I just wanted to get rid of
him. Besides, I’m
not too sure how long
those rations have been expired. I
feel bad if he pukes.”
to my shock Miranda takes the
e-cig out of my lips and puffs. “Well,
guy as drunk as he is probably going to excrete something.”
the truth. Perhaps,
you would like to finish that drink
somewhere else? Avoid
the vet’s illness
she takes another drag. “Well,
where ever would I go with a drink in
one hand and a cigarette in another on this lonely depot station in the
of the dark?”
station doesn’t have to be all
that lonely. Not
where we’d be going.”
smiles with little intention of
mean, I know what it is to leave
some place for the vacuum. When
finally figure out you’re not making that fortune you set out for and
just alone by yourself. It’d
be nice to
find someone to be alone with. We
be alone just for a little bit. Two
loners in the middle of forever.”
makes a long silent sigh as vapor
drifts out of her nose, “I wish I could.
I really wish I could get a bit of heaven here, but I’m
afraid I have to
be leaving. I’m
sorry. I’ve made
promises and I have to keep
moving. I have work
waiting for me on
the red planet.”
I said in a sad way. “You
have work waiting for you that tells you
to hop rocks and then go to a war zone?”
seems to get upset even though
her face won’t really show it, “Yeah.”
okay. I suppose I
can get that. Tell
me, why did your obligations send you
here? People who
come out here searching
for their buried treasure are usually just running from trouble. Or towards it. Even in a bucket like
this, even that soldier
boy over there, he’s been running from some pretty insidious memories. Since I doubt you’re
running from such
troubles, maybe you’re running towards it.
Is it something you want to be doing?
Is it worth the price of a gin and tonic and a half smoked
silent. I feel mean
now. Cruel, trying
to guilt her into the
don’t know,” she exhales.
sip my club soda and relax my
interrogative tone, “Well, I’m sure it’s for the best.
You’re a Martian girl?”
she hands back the cig. “I
better go now. If I
miss my depart time it will be another
month before I can find a ship heading for red.
Hard getting safe passage to Mars these days. With the civil strife and
conspiracies about assassins plaguing the newsfeeds.”
smiles again, “Well, you ever
want to find roots on a real world again, maybe consider the red. That is, if you can
that, the lady leaves me and my
little veteran friend. She
leaves us for
a world. A world
full of red, and not
just for the rusted iron in the soil.
She leaves us for that hellhole, but it’s still an entire
nothing like a depot station built on empty promises and broken dreams.
put the e-cig back in my
mouth. Still has a
good couple of puffs
worth of vapor in it. I
take a seat
across from Jax. It
looks like the poor
drunkard has passed out again.
with me? Don’t tell
me all those years in the service made
a light-weight.” Still
there. I take
another puff, “Alright,
but I’m gonna take that rice casserole.
And don’t expect a yuan back.”
take the can and am about to dig in
with the spoon I swipe from his chilled hand.
lift up his face. His
eyes are vacant. No
foul breaths emerge from his dry
mouth. Even his
skin is fading into a
bastard. All he
ever wanted to do was take that
war-check of his and drink himself silly out in the black. Now he’s dead for what
reason I cannot fathom. The
deeper mystery is who that lady really was.
why I’m not going to tell
© 2020 Jeremy Zentner
Bio: Jeremy Zentner has published short stories in science
fiction, horror, and supernatural fiction. He has also been the
recipient of the Lois C. Bruner award in creative nonfiction. He lives
in rural Illinois, USA.
E-mail: Jeremy Zentner
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