By Jonjack

A Mare Inebrium Story

Mare Inebrium Universe created by Dan Hollifield

"Just another dirty spaceport, boring beyond description", I thought to myself as I stepped off the loading ramp of the tramp freighter. I had just been paid off and had some credits in my pocket, but the spaceport for the city of Bethdish itself did not look like the place to spend them. Small freighters like the one I had come in on and the landing boats from larger cargo ships and passengers ships came and went in a steady stream. The noise level ranged from annoying to ear-splitting, depending on what was taking off or landing and what race you were.

As far as I could tell, the noise was above the annoying range, and just slightly below doing any permanent damage to me, so I shifted my carryall to my left hand and took my battered passport chip out of a vest pocket and handed it to the Customs official. He slid it into his reader, glanced over the information, and then looked up at me.

"Staying long, Mr. Jones?" he asked, a greasy, professional smile pasted on his face. He was a human and I risked a quick look at his shoes. I had found that to be the fastest route to figuring out who was on the pad and what their expected level of payment was. Uniforms were a constant in government service, and fancy wrist chronos and jewelry were too obvious, but most of the officials could not resist a fancy pair of shoes. Fortunately, it looked like this one was wearing the standard issue work boots

"No, not staying long. Thought I take in the sights, relax for a few days, then come back and have the guild hiring hall find me another freighter to ship out on. Shouldn't be here more than three, four days tops." I smiled back at him and tried to project the air of a man looking for a good time. He nodded, probably having heard the same basic story a hundred times and punched his authorizing code into the reader. My passport chip popped out and he held it out to me.

"Taxi stands are just outside the main passenger gate, though sometimes you might find one cruising near the cargo gate.

I looked out the windows, and the cargo gate was only 100 meters away, while the passenger gate looked to be at least 700 meters. There were slidewalk strips buried in the surface of the spaceport, but none appeared to be working. I looked into his eyes for a second, then took my passport chip back. The exchange of the 5-credit chip I also seemed to have in my hand was quick and professional. The official played with some controls on his pad and the slidewalk nearest to me started moving. I nodded and started towards the passenger gate.

There were six taxis waiting outside the passenger gate and room for a dozen more. According to the schedule posted outside, three landing boats from a luxury cruiser would be down in less than 15 minutes, so I knew I had to grab a taxi and get out of there, unless I wanted to walk into town. I flagged down a hover cart that was being driven by a little Quink and told him to take me to the best bar in town. All three eyes swiveled around and appraised me for a few seconds.

"Best as in what terms sir?" he rasped out. The translator either needed to be adjusted, or this particular Quink liked sounding like two pieces of sandpaper being rubbed together.

"I want a place where the price of the drinks are reasonable, the location is not dangerous to my species and interesting things happen."

The Quink didn't pause more than a second before taking off. He seemed to have a definite destination in mind, so I ignored him and looked around.

It was called the City Of Lights, and I suppose in the evening, it might live up to it, but I'd seen better on a dozen planets and moons. The only thing I noticed that was unusual was the sheer variety of species that seemed to wander the slidewalks and race up and down the streets. I counted seven just in the first couple of blocks after we left the spaceport, including two that were officially at war with each other. However, things seemed peaceful enough and there were no bodies lying around that I could see. Of course, that could have meant they had quick and efficient clean up crews, but I didn't sense any violence in the air.

The Quink pulled in front of a large establishment and popped open the door for me. "What payment type?" the translator on its chest ground out. Sounded like sand being poured out of a metal drum this time. Maybe he could control it.....

"Denebian credit chips", I said, pulling a handful from my pocket. The driver fiddled with his comp for few seconds.

"That will be 3 credits, human sir"

I handed him three, then tossed another into his paw. "For the service you have given me, please add this extra credit to your band's emergency fund." The Quink bobbed its eyestalks in appreciation, and then after making sure I was clear of his taxi, started back to the spaceport.

I looked over the bar I had been dropped in front of, and my first impressions were not all that good. The sign said 'Mare Inebrium'. I paused for a few seconds, not sure the name was right. 'Sea of Drunkards', I thought to myself? The only positive factor so far was that there were no fights going on as far as I could tell and there were nobody laying in the doorway, drunk, dead or asleep. If this was the best this city had to offer, I might be back at the hiring hall tonight or tomorrow morning. I slung my carryall over my shoulder and went inside.

I was pleasantly surprise by the interior, clean, dimly lit (but not dark) and smelling of a dozen pleasant odors, including some I hadn't smelt in years. I slid up to the half empty bar and dropped my carryall at my feet. The bar tender turned from a game of tri-chess he was playing with one of the barmaids.

"What's yer poison?" he said with a grin. The bar behind him had more bottles, bags, boxes and spigots than I could count, but I knew what I wanted right away.

"You know how to make a Fusion Rocket?" I asked.

"Sure do", the bartender answered back, "but can you handle one? I build the real thing, Stygian Panther Piss, 200 years old, and genuine Icatian swamp water, with a certified bacterial and fungal count, and three cubes of clean dry ice, plus all the other ingredients. Takes about five minutes to make one and they ain't cheap".

He hadn't lost his smile throughout the explanation and was reaching for a ceramic mixing bowl (only thing that can stand up to a real Fusion Rocket). I reached into my pocket and pulled out some credit chips. "Stop me when it's enough". I started to pile chips on the counter. The bar tender put out his hand and stopped me.

"Drink the first one, and if you don't pass out or die, it's on the house. After that, well, we'll talk. By the way, I'm Max. Head bartender, chief bottle washer and dispenser of wisdom." He was smiling again, his hands busy, but watching me closely. "You might want to get a booth before you start on this, in case you're not as tough as you or I think you are."

I stood up and grabbed my bag. "Glad to meet you. I'm Joseph Jones. JJ to those that know me. Any place I can put this, you know, just in case?" Max looked at the bag for the first time, and I swear he paused for a full second before looking back at me, a blank cold expression on his face. I felt a chill clear down to the bottom of my feet and every (very short) hair on my head stood straight up. I was on the point of bolting out the door when his smile returned.

"Yeah," he said softly. "Yeah, put it in the cloakroom. Use one of the lockers, probably 12c would be best. Give the locker key to Trixie there and it'll be fine."

I slowly moved back towards the door, and went into the small room just off the entrance of the bar. There were recharging units for almost any enviro suit imaginable, hooks for hats, coats and other coverings, and against the back wall, fifteen lockers. All were open, but Max had recommended 12c, so I put my bag inside. The walls of the locker were twice as thick as any of the others. Also, the rest had perfectly adequate mechanical locks, but this one had a military issue "don't mess with me" type explosive lock as well as a high tech electronic keypad. I hesitated a few seconds before shutting the door, then took the electronic keycard out of the door and returned to the bar.

The barmaid Trixie had a steaming tray in one hand and was looking around the bar. She headed towards an empty booth in the corner, facing the door. I followed, admiring the view from behind. I heard a throat being cleared behind me and turned to see Max, elaborately cleaning an already clean glass, his gaze fixed someplace in the middle distance. Didn't take a genius to figure that one out. I turned back to Trixie, who was standing beside the table, her hand out. I stared at her for a second, confused, then fumbled with the keycard and put it in her hand.

"Thanks honey," she said, and floated away.

"There ain't no freakin' justice," I thought to myself as I sat down. Her voice had matched her body, beautiful and sexy, but I only have to be slapped with a metal bar on the side of the head once to get my attention anymore. Max had made it clear that Trixie was out of bounds as far as I was concerned.

The Fusion Rocket bubbled gently in front of me, the last dry ice cube bobbing up and down as it melted away. The ceramic bowl was heavily frosted and touching it would have frozen my skin to it. I waited patiently.

Behind the bar, Max was deep in conversation with a D'rrish, while gingerly setting the radioactive sludge that passed for a D'rrish drink on the counter. The giant scorpion-like creature picked the container up and clipped it to a holder on one of his claws. I was fascinated, as I had never seen a D'rrish except on vid-casts. He seemed to be right at home in the bar and no one was giving him a second glance. I looked down and saw that the drink in front of me has stopped bubbling and was starting to turn a deep red. I took the heavy cloth napkin Max had kindly provided and picked up the bowl. As it slowly faded from red to green, I drank deeply. The intense cold of the drink stunned all the taste buds on my tongue and the drink slid down smoothly. I waited a few moments for the reaction.

Suddenly, everybody in the entire room seemed to stop moving and take on a reddish cast. I could see individual motes of dust dancing in the last of the sunlight that was coming through the front door. A pair of Volits came through the door, and even with their four-legged quick gait, it took what seemed like an hour for them to move from the door to the bar. I could see Max watching me closely and Trixie approaching me with a concerned look on her face. Then, at the speed of light, reality came crashing back in on me. Everything returned to normal speed and my mouth started hurting. The remains of the Fusion Rocket was smoking slightly and starting to stink. Trixie suddenly appeared, one hand on my shoulder, holding me up in case I collapsed and a metal cover slamming down over the remains of the drink to hold the stench in. I grinned at her and started to reach out, then remembered Max and jerked it back. She affected not to notice and since she was between Max and me, he didn't see anything. She picked up the tray my drink had been sitting on.

"You okay honey?" she asked quietly, her eyes watching the crowd for anyone that thought they needed her attention. I shook my head and leaned back against the seat.

"No, no, everything's fine. You'll want to ask Max to step over here when he has chance. We needed to discuss a price for the next drink." I burped quietly and settled even deeper into the seat. "Oh, by the way, call me JJ, okay?"

Trixie looked me over carefully. "You sure about that? Max has only made three Fusion Rockets that I know of, and two of the drinkers are dead now. Wouldn't want you to end up the same way."

I just looked at her, and she nodded and walked away, swaying gently in that way that only human females seemed to have mastered. Apparently gravity had little effect in the area immediately surrounding her, as parts of her moved in a dozen different directions at once, all of them gracefully. I sighed and briefly (very briefly) wished Max was dead. Trixie was well worth fighting over, but I knew my limitations. It wouldn't have even been close, and my death wish had disappeared decades ago.

My eyes closed, and I may have dozed briefly, but was immediately jerked to full wakefulness by the unmistakable sound of a military issue blaster charging some place very near me. Max was setting across from me, and both hands were under the table, while an electronic privacy curtain glittered dully, cutting us off from the rest of the room.

"You're a Gray Ghost combat team member" he stated flatly, watching me closely. "That makes you a wanted being on about 1/3 of the planets, asteroids and moons in known space. You're worth about half a million Kanaki gold strips to the government of the Kanaki system, and the ruling council of Farbin'il has declared that anyone that brings in positive proof of the death of a Gray Ghost will be given free and clear title to any of the largest islands in their southern ocean. You aren't human, but you're close enough to fool 99.9% of all the scanners in the universe. You even fooled mine, and it's inventor had assured me that it could specifically detect your kind. You've got to understand I have nothing personal against you or your kind. You had nothing to do with your creation and how you were used once trained. You simply had no idea of what was right and wrong. However, that would not stop about half of the creatures in here from trying to reduce you to a finely divided, sub-atomic ash."

He paused and settled back, but his hands remained under the table. He studied me for a few seconds. "You must be the better part of two hundred years old. You're the only Gray Ghost I've actually meet, and no one seems to have reported one for over 50 years. Still, some races have a very long memory, and with others, the memory never dies, as they pass it on from one generation to another. I still remember the first time I saw the pictures of the massacre of the Kanaki nursery pods. I was physically sick for a full day afterwards and business has never been slower that it was for about four days afterwards. The entire Kanaki race almost vanished, and only the fact that a piece of the roof fell in and blocked off three dozen egg pods from the destruction saved them. As it was, they're still experiencing genetic problems from having such a tiny gene pool. It's the closest that anyone ever came to committing genocide. And then, to make the crime even more horrible, it was revealed that the entire incident was caused by a trade dispute with your masters. Because the Kanaki would not give them unrestricted trading rights on their colonies, your masters had you breed and trained, then unleashed on the Kanaki. Then, to make matters even worse, if such a thing was possible, they abandoned all of you afterwards, leaving you to fight your way off planet. As I remember, there were at least four major battles and about 10 minor skirmishes until your fleet was trapped off of Kroeep IV when a Kanaki battle cruiser converted its hyper-engine into a singularity, destroying the ship and crew, but preventing the Ghosts from warping out."

I sighed and put my head in hands, feeling the unwelcomed beginnings of a Fusion headache coming on. "Yeah, that was ugly. We had no idea why everyone was attacking us and wondering where the men who had created us were and why they weren't helping us." I rubbed my forehead and wished for a couple of pain poppers.

"The battle went on for 35 hours and out of three hundred and ten that started the battle, only five of us survived, that I know of. We got away in a small pod that was magnetically grappled to a hospital ship, near one of the engine exhaust vents. Kreven died first. He was proud of being a Ghost and died within twenty minutes of planetfall. When the customs official asked him what planet he was from, he told him that he was grown in a vat. That was a very vicious fight, and Kreven took about 20 people out with him. Su'an and Ju'an, the twins, died when they found our breeders and destroyed the lab. The local law enforcement trapped them inside and let them burn to death."

Max had one hand up on the table now, and his expression was now interested, not blank like it had been earlier. "The news programs kept harping about how adaptable you were and how easily your kind passed for humans. I know of at least 10 people right here in this city that were mistaken for Ghosts and killed without a trial." He sighed and brought his other hand up, covered by a bar towel. He laid the towel-covered blaster on the table and flexed his fingers. However, I noticed the muzzle was still pointed in my direction and he laid his hand next to it.

"That leaves one other Ghost besides yourself unaccounted for, according to you." Max leaned forward and looked me in the eye. "Ghosts come in both male and female varieties. I know you were bred sterile, but otherwise you're fully functional and completely untraceable unless someone gets a hold of a tissue sample and rips it apart down to the DNA level. You have a life span of about five hundred years. You're fast, strong and short of losing limbs, can survive just about anything. Diseases that would kill a normal human in less than 12 hours, even with modern medical care, doesn't even bother you. You're close to be a superman, yet you're the most despised things in known space."

He flicked off the privacy screen and signaled Trixie. She showed up in a few seconds, a couple of glasses of water and a selection of poppers, gasses and other assorted pain relievers on her tray. I took one of the waters and a couple of poppers. Trixie looked at Max with a question in her eyes, then at me. Max smiled and slid the blaster onto Trixie's tray, still covered with the bar towel. She walked off again, still swaying like a goddess. Max turned the screen back on and faced me again.

"I traveled with a female Ghost for years, name of Fel'ib. She changed her name to Felicity and we acted like a married couple. We worked our way around known space a couple of times over, traveling on tramp freighters, or else being explorers or pioneers on a half a dozen frontier worlds. We were never rich, but we didn't need much. However, we never stayed anyplace more than a few months. She left me about 60 years ago when I decided not follow her when she got involved in the rebellion on Tau Sigma IV. I think she survived, but I never really bothered to find out. Friends were a luxury I couldn't afford. I've never owned a house or vehicle. The first few years were the worst ones, with everyone looking for us. I was actually discovered on the space station that orbits Green Janus. In the resulting fight and escape, one of the groups that were trying to kill me fired a missile at my ship. It missed me cleanly and impacted the station right on top of the reactor core. You remember that?"

Max nodded, then sat up quickly and glared at me. "Now how would I remember that? It was more than 150 years ago!"

I smiled sadly and looked out at the crowd that was starting to fill the bar. "Let's not insult one another, okay? You already told me you were working the day of the nursery massacre."

Max scanned the bar quickly himself, decided that Trixie and Larrye could handle the crowd still and turned back to me. "Okay, let's say I was around to see the news flash on that one. According to government sources, it was a terrorist attack by rebels trying to liberate Green Janus. Over 2400 beings lost their lives that day, and the economy of Green Janus went into a tail spin it took about 30 years to come out of."

I leaned back into the booth's cushioned seat as the pain poppers took effect. "Yeah, I heard the report too. I was there, and if you're interested, I have the read outs and recorded chips of what happened that day. I had my own ship then, a little modified Denebian courier ship. Nothing fancy, and not too heavily armed, but man, could it go! Turned on a credit and gave nine-tenth pieces change to boot! Between its maneuvering ability and some jammer mods I had made, the missle never got a clean lock. Shouldn't have been fired in the first place."

I sipped some of the water, then leaned forward. "When I picked up my bag, you were suspicious then. What was it that tipped you off?"

Max grinned, "There are several thousand photos, tri-videos, memory cubes, etc. of the massacre of Kanaki. All of them show the Ghosts in their full combat armor, complete with weapons. Only one photo of the Ghosts, just as they're boarding the ship to leave for Kanaki, dressed in civilian clothes, has ever been published. You were all smiling and looked so normal, like you were on your way to a vacation or something, that they never used that one again. Made you too 'human' I guess. However, the point is, every one of you were carrying a bag just like that one, and holding it the same way. I really never thought anything about it until you picked yours up today. You had the same smile as the Ghosts in that picture and was holding the bag by the straps in exactly the same way."

I shook my head in amazement and started to stand up. "I suppose you want me to leave now. There's nothing dangerous in the bag, so I'd like to get it before I go."

Max waved me back into my seat, "No, I meant it when I said I have nothing against you personally. We both know we're not exactly normal humans. It was only sheer luck you picked up that bag so that I noticed you, and I don't really want know what makes you so sure I'm not completely human. My detector didn't spot you when you came in the door, and if you got by that, you're good enough to fool anyone in the city, with the exception of the Reever. I think I can safely say that as long you don't kill anyone, you'll never come to his attention. Leave when you want, come back when you want, there's always room at the bar, and I appreciate someone who can drink a Fusion Rocket correctly."

Max lowered the privacy curtain and stood up. "I'll send over a pitcher of water. Anything else? I don't think you really need another Fusion Rocket tonight."

I grinned and pulled out some credit chips, "yeah, a cup of Crou'dau slime paste and crackers would be good. Add a whiskey chaser to that."

Max grimaced and left the booth. I leaned back, experiencing a feeling of security that I had not felt in decades, if not longer. I thought I'd never find a place that would ever be home for me, but the Mare Inebrium would be as good a substitute. It's not enough to succeed, you have to survive and get home again too.


Copyright 2000 By John Powers

To reach me, please email me at my favorite Email address: jonjack@techie.com

Bio: John works for a well known computer company in their tech support section. He has played most RPG games that have ever been conceived, and especially enjoys AD&D, Price of Freedom and BattleTech.

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