Five Years Ago
Som Len Bar, planet Drosi
Malentar System, Inner Bellus Arm
"I spent half a cycle in that hellhole," Calrose said nursing a drink far stronger than she should be drinking in the middle of the day. She nibbled at a meager snack laid in front of her by the bartender, trying his best to put food in her if she was going to drink like that.
"I'm sorry to hear that. I know quite a few folks who have spent time in lock up. But you seem pretty broken up about something that happened over a decade ago." The Zygoshan knew better than to say something like that, but the woman had been moaning at his bar for nearly two hours. If he didn't push her, he wasn't going to get rid of her anytime soon.
"Prison wasn't really the problem," the woman looked up at him. He always thought humans looked weird, how could anyone find such hairless creatures appealing. But this one looked particularly rough. Her dark features seemed puffy and undernourished. She probably hadn't seen a decent sleep in ages. He had his share of drunks, especially human ones, but there was more to this particular patron.
"Life was somehow worse when I got out," she continued. "Not every choice we make is clear cut. Who's to say what is good or bad? And even if you could decide, do you think life would really make it that easy?"
She was beginning to slur her words. He pushed more food in front of her.
"Every decision comes with a consequence. Whether it is really under your control isn't relevant."
"That is true, not everything is under our control," he agreed. "But sometimes that does make it easier. Why worry about what you can't control. You had some bad luck, it could have been a lot worse. You have been out for a while, you seem to have made your way despite what happened."
She just looked at him silently. Maybe she was hitting the drink a little too hard. She had forgotten she was speaking with a Zygoshan. Her alcohol fueled brain suddenly picturing the bartender, not as the intelligent creature he was, but as the furry barn yard animal he resembled. His horizontal pupils stared at her between squinting eyelids. She straightened up, feeling ashamed, as if he had heard her thoughts.
"Did you ever fly again?" the horned creature asked.
"I have been jumping from planet to planet, taking odd jobs here and there. I have flown haulers, skips, even a few transports between systems. Once I got out of prison, I had to try flying again, even if it would only ever be small craft for the rest of my life."
"Well there you go, drek happens and you still end up on your feet. Nothing to be too upset about." The Zygoshan took her empty glass, subtly pushing the place closer to her. He bared large flat teeth in a smile when she finally took the hint and began eating.
"Flying is my life now. It is all I have left to hold on to."
The bartender was still unsure what had made her so maudlin. There were bumps in the road of her story, but as far as he could tell, she had overcome them.
"So what is it?" he asked, offering her a glass of water.
"What is what?"
"Oh give it up," he said in frustration. "You come in here the middle of the day and toss back three glasses of zell'an with little food. Not many humans can handle grain alcohol that strong. So what has you so bothered today that I am worried I am going to have to drag you off of that barstool and carry you home."
"It's David," she began, but immediately the tears began to well. "I was always terrible at keeping in touch. But when I was in prison, I had the time to try. I kept writing to see how he was after so long. But I never heard back. Over the next decade, as I traveled from system to system, I would try again and again. Just to see if he would respond, or if I could get in touch with anyone who knew him. But nothing ever came to light.
"I had given up hope when yesterday I received word," she pulled out a little packet. "His career at a major tech firm fell through. He went back home. The genius that he was, stuck in a mining colony. Seems his dreams were about as real as mine."
She paused for a moment.
"He was killed when the plasma tank on a mining cart exploded, bringing the entire mine down on top of them."
Calrose nodded. She let the tears flow now. The Zygoshan set another drink in front of her. There was nothing left to say.
- - -
Calrose blinked her dry eyes. Her vision swam as she tried to right herself. It took a moment for the room to stop spinning before she realized she was still in the bar. She was laid out on one of the benches at the back of the smoke filled room. The tavern was starting to fill up with more than the local crowd. She must have been asleep for hours, she noticed the dark sky outside the filmy windows.
"Zarak told me you were having a tough go at it, but you really do look rough," a gentle teasing voice came from the other side of the booth. It took her a moment to lift her head enough to see him.
Sitting across the table was a young man, no more than five years her junior. He had deep olive skin and a distinctive crook to his large nose. A mop of thick black curls lay in a mess on top of his head. The odd match of features weren't unattractive, but resulted in a sort of boyish awkwardness. He was thin with a muscular torso that showed the labors of a hard day's work, despite a lanky frame that wasn't otherwise built for it.
"Zarak?" she asked, her brain slowly lifting from the fog.
The man thumbed his finger over his shoulder towards the Zygoshan still tending the bar. She looked over at the furry creature, but the act of turning her head so far released blaster fire behind her eyes. A wave of nausea crashed over her and she gripped the table to steady herself while the room settled into place again. She looked up again at the human sitting across from her.
"No offense, pal," she said dismissively, "I may not be real steady on my feet right now, but I am not interested in being hit on by some sketch in a backwater bar."
"Hah! No offense taken," he laughed. His smile was bright and it lit up his eyes. "You're not exactly my type. I prefer to hit on someone who is significantly less...female."
She blushed with embarrassment. "I'm sorry."
"Don't worry about it," he waved it off, "good to know these looks aren't fading yet."
"Can I help you with something?" she winced and squeezed her fingers against her temples.
"Name's Jett. Lazlo Jett," he reached across the table, presenting his hand. She looked at it briefly, but by the time the message got to her brain to let go of her forehead and return the handshake, the moment had gone and the man awkwardly dropped his hand.
"Rebecca Calrose," she eventually replied, he aching head throwing off the entire rhythm of the conversation.
"Zarak tells me you're a pilot," Jett motioned something to the bartender.
"Something like that," Calrose responded.
The Zygoshan came over to the table, each hoof-like hand holding a tall glass of water. He didn't say anything, merely setting the drinks down in front of them and turning back to his bar.
"You any good?" he asked while lifting the drink to his lips.
"I get by," she replied hesitantly. Then continued before her brain knew better, "Academy trained."
She regretted saying it, and was now hoping he didn't pry further. She had vague recollections of opening up to an alien bartender. Grief and a bit of zell'an seemed to be all it took to overcome her tight-lipped demeanor.
"Good," Jett said simply. He nodded slightly as if agreeing with his own thoughts.
"Why do you ask?"
"I have a proposition for you. If you are interested, that is."
Calrose just looked at him silently.
"I just recently lost the pilot to my ship."
"I'm sorry," she cast her eyes downward in empathy.
"Oh! No, no. Not like that. I mean I literally lost him. We ran into some trouble with our ship and he decided to stop here to find us some 'cheap' repairs. He wandered off about a week ago and I haven't seen him since," he chuckled awkwardly. Jett shrugged, "he was never that reliable anyway."
"So why me?"
"Well, err, why not? Do you currently have a job somewhere else? Because, if you don't, I could really use the help. I should have been back to work by now, so I am getting pretty desperate."
Calrose thought about it. This guy seemed legitimate. Alcohol addled brain aside, she was usually a pretty good judge of character and he wasn't setting off too many alarm bells. It would be good to be flying again, she thought. She was tired of feeling sorry for herself. She wasn't going to stop that easily but she was certainly tired of it.
"What kind of ship?" she asked cautiously.
"Why don't I show you."
- - -
Jett had helped her to her feet and let her lean against him as they walked down the dust filled streets toward a series of ship hangers on the edge of town. The alcohol had begun to wear off, but her head was still swimming and her brain felt like it had shriveled up and taken refuge behind her eyes.
She stumbled into the hanger behind Jett as he motioned to a large metallic brick. The ship was little more than a glorified box. Up close she could see a few more features that broke up the rather boring silhouette. Utility ports that angled out from the sides of the box, a large bay door that took up the entirety of the flat nose of the ship, and a hexagonal engine array that pointed out of the tail. It was like a child tried to design a ship out of paper and tape.
She had seen Garbage Retrieval Vehicles before, but thought nothing of them. Their simple utilitarian design let them just fall into the background. The hard geometric design was easy to ignore compared some the beautifully organic ships coming out of new shipyards.
Calrose stepped forward to look closer at the ship. There had to be something interesting and unique about. Every ship had at least something. Maybe it was in the handling. Or maybe Jett had tweaked out the insides, made it his own. Perhaps she could help make this ship a part of her life. Every pilot put a part of themselves into their ship. She tried to laugh to herself. Perhaps this was where she was in life. A chance at piloting her own ship, it seemed to fit that it was a garbage truck. She chuckled and shook her head. The subtle movement sent her vision swimming again.
"I call her 'The Gravy'!" Jett exclaimed, his arms open in showmanship.Calrose curled over and vomited.