It helps to have chance on your side.....
Mare Inebrium, the name conjured up all sorts of images. To the man standing just outside the bar doors, taking a moment to survey the neon winking on and off over the portal into a world of infamy, it meant excitement, danger and above all, destiny.
To say that the bar was famous would be the grossest understatement possible. There was no-one walking, crawling or sliming, that didn't at least know of the bar's existence. The man darkening the doorstep this evening knew a great deal about it. But until now, he only knew of it second hand, this was to be his first real venture inside space's 'Black hole of Calcutta'.
The doors swished quietly closed behind him as the plainly dressed man made his entrance. Few noticed. The arrival of a small, drably clothed and obviously unarmed man, would not have merited notice in any bar, much less this one. He glided silently across the main room towards the huge bar at the far end. It was still early so the bar was poorly patronized and the atmosphere subdued.
A pair of troll-like creatures sat gaming with large dice at one table, glanced his way before dismissing him entirely. Their dark rangy hair and bark coloured skin, caused them to blend in well into the dark nook where they sat. Knobby hands, corded with muscle, nursed murky drinks that swirled, almost as if something alive moved within the glass.
Blue whiskered females from the swamp world of Chambi-I reclined on couches, obviously waiting for customers. The man had traveled enough to have sampled their wares before, and the sight of their beauty in this den of inequity was somehow disturbing, and yet alluring. He decided that once this evening's business was concluded he would seek them out.
The other occupied tables boasted customer's more human in appearance. The ever present drunks and dealers. Private eyes looking for contacts, and adventurers too long in the tooth to be out there 'doing it' any more. They idled their hours and fortunes away, reliving past glories with any poor sod unlucky enough to be within earshot.
The man reached the bar and quietly called for a drink. Max the barman, finished wiping a glass and strolled casually to stand opposite him. The large bartender raised an eyebrow questioningly. "A beer please" said the man.
With oiled ease born of years at his post, Max pulled out a bottle and opened it, sending the cap spinning into a rubbish can at the far end of the bar. With a nod the man acknowledged his skill, and the proffered beer, then sat at a table near the bar. Max went back to wiping his glasses and mugs.
The man's name was Chance. It was also his nature. There was nothing special about him. He had no awesome powers, or neat gadgets. He was not a hero in many parts of the universe. Nor was he a villain with a reputation to chill your blood. He was simply a small, plain man with a knack for making things happen.
There was something about him that made the impossible possible. Wherever he was 'things' happened. It did not usually happen to him, for Chance was a catalyst, and by definition he remained unchanged. But others changed much. Someone would say, "Oh if only they had a chance...." And there he would be. Fate would bend itself slightly around him, and the possibility would be presented.
Chance rather liked his role in the scheme of things. He went to interesting places, saw interesting things, met interesting people and sometimes watched them die. He had survived two inter-galactic wars, various plagues, famines and stock market crashes. He had few enemies, because most of those who would hate him were either dead, or too slow to figure out that their demise hinged on his presence. Chance always worked in the background, never where the spotlight could fall on him. It was not his fate to be a hero, and that's the way he liked it.
Patrons began wandering in as the hour grew later raising the hubbub of the bar-room and increasing the atmosphere. Chance had to move to a stool fronting the bar as the 'atmosphere' from a group of Necralites began invading his nostrils. He sat next to an old adventurer regaling Max with tales of the Eupheain war. Chance knew all about that inter-galactic conflict; he had been right in the centre of it.
The adventurer drained his glass, and as the amber liquid beaded on his bushy black moustache, he slammed the glass down on the bar. Max unperturbed as ever, reached under the bar and re-filled the man's glass."They didn't have a chance" he drawled, nodding his thanks for the re-fill. Chance smiled to himself. It was true they didn't have a chance. But the Andromadeans did; him.
Chance had managed to get himself a job on board the Andromadean flagship. It was a small, tech job, servicing vending machines on board. But the type of job didn't matter, all that mattered was that he was there. Chance did his job quietly, and well enough to avoid notice. He made no friends, but on a battleship in the middle of a war, that was not unusual.
The Andromadeans were taking quite a battering from the raiding Eupheain war cruisers. Much of the Andromadean fleet had been damaged or lost. In a desperate bid to save resources, the Command Group had decided to re-locate the fleet to another area of space, less prone to attack. There they would re-group and repair, and plan what to do next. This was a gamble, as it would leave much of Andromadean space unprotected. But gambles win wars, and this one was to pay off big.
All ships in the fleet capable of hyperspace formed up on the flagship, carrying as much in the way of weaponry and supplies that they could. Then on command, the battle group jumped into hyper-space. Things would have run their normal course, but for one insignificant passenger; Chance. On a ship that big and complex there are many things that can go wrong. Small things. Small things that can make a big difference.
During the flight the guidance computer on the flagship developed a minor problem, deviating the group from their flight path by two degrees. It was not much in the scheme of things, but in space a two degree discrepancy can put you in the wrong galaxy, and it did.
During routine checks the deviation was detected, but not before the group was way off course. The technician whose job it was to monitor the guidance systems had been delayed trying to get his lunch from a malfunctioning vending machine. The over-heated food spurted out and onto his trousers, burning the man's mouth and doing other minor damage. This caused an even longer delay in rectifying the problem as the technician danced about the flight deck cursing and flailing hot food everywhere, much to the amusement of the flight crew.
After much discussion, and recriminations against the errant officer, it was decided to leave hyper-space and re-set the guidance computer. So it was that the fully armed and fuelled battle group jumped out of hyper-space in battle formation, right into a nest of Eupheain war cruisers.
As in all wars, information is the key to winning. The Eupheains had secured the most vital information of the war; the Andromadean fleet was relocating- Andromada space was ripe for the taking. All the war cruisers had gathered to arm and prepare for the final rout of the Andromadeans.
Shuttles worked tirelessly to load armaments and supplies. Great temporary space stations of interlinked ships hung amidst the stars. Sitting ducks for the incoming fleet.
In his mind's eye Chance re-lived the short and vicious battle, as the old timer drawled out the details for Max. Caught unarmed and unprepared, the Eupheains had no time to react before the fleet ripped though them. This was no even fight fought with honour, this was slaughter of the helpless.
Even the unarmed freighter ships were targeted and destroyed as the fleet proceeded to decimate the Eupheains.
They say in space no-one can hear you scream, but that day Chance was sure he had heard screaming. It echoed around in his head for hours after the Eupheains were blasted to spinning fragments of molten plasteel and flesh. It was one of the few times the catalyst was affected. He spent the next few days in a stunned stupor, and when the ship made it back to port, Chance left without looking back.
"They never had a bloody chance" repeated the old man draining yet another glass.
With a visible shake, Chance banished the memories back to where they could not haunt him, for a while at least. It had been a long time ago and the war didn't matter now. What did matter is what would happen in this bar.
Chance always had a feeling when things were going to change. It was like the build-up to a tropical storm; all tension and heat. He never knew what it was that would cause the change, or what the change might be. That's what made it so exciting. He could feel that tension bubbling up inside him now, like lava searching for a vent.
Two figures sauntered through the main doors and casually wandered towards the bar. Chance tracked their movements while sipping his beer. There was something familiar about them, the lava bubbled higher.
The pair reached the bar and ordered drinks. Neither looked his way, nor acknowledged anyone but Max, the bartender.
A group of three moved from the far corner of the room to stand at the bar also. Chance recognised two as being Andromadean while the third was Eupheain. They passed hostile looks at each other, but were clearly a group by choice.
Chance felt the lava pushing and gurgling. The pressure had already built up to a level where he felt pain. Whatever was going to happen, it was going to be a major event.
A third group moved to stand directly in front of Chance, effectively pinning him to the bar. Realisation began to dawn in the murky depths of Chance's mind. Slowly, carefully he put his glass down and looked up at the faces ranged against him. None of them knew him personally, of that Chance was sure. But they knew what he was and where he had been. His past had finally caught up with him.
Survival instinct told him to fight, to flee, do anything but just sit there. The bar by now was quite packed with people of various kinds. The band had been playing for a while and the bar had slowly metamorhesised from a sleepy drinkery into a jumping night club. If he dived into the crowd Chance could use the unsuspecting bodies as a shield while he made a getaway.
Flinging the half empty beer at the nearest of the Andromdeans, he leapt for the dance floor. His booted feet were still pressing down on the floor as the first high energy rounds tore through his chest and exploded. More followed as his body, carried by momentum, continued towards the dance floor. By the time his battered frame came to rest against the raised section of flooring, Chance was barely recognisable as human.
The group quickly dispersed into the startled crowd, and was never apprehended.
At the bar the old timer gulped another drink down and motioned for Max to fill him up.
"Poor bugger" , he said. "Never had a chance".
© 1999 by T. S. George
I have been writing for several years now (because I am too broke to buy books) and have several "marines" stories as well as a fantasy novel. When I am not writing for pleasure or work (I teach at a secondary school) I climb rocks, or try denting them with my head by jumping off my mountain bike at high speed. I would love to hear what people think of my writing, good or bad. Any criticism can only make me better, so post a comment or e-mail me
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