|Stop Me If You've Heard This One, But A Man Walks Into A Bar
||[Jan. 22nd, 2006|07:22 am]
There’s a little saloon, out by the Wall, that’s packed tight with patrons before most are ready for their morning coffee. It’s stuck face first between two housing districts, but you could walk right past it and you’d never know it was there. There’s no conspicuously placed alcohol permit, there’s no drearily painted sign. The doors wedged into the wall in the back corner of a dark alleyway and it never looks quite friendly enough to kill you quickly.
It’s a long walk.
You can get a stool there, if you wait long enough. And if you suck back enough sauce and buy enough drinks for the grizzled fuckers beside you they’ll get to talking. And if you’ve got an ounce of warm blood in you you’ll listen.
These guys, they’ll talk about the old days. They’ll talk about how it felt to hold a man-made semi-automatic. The rumble of the ground as explosives detonate. They’ll speak of Machines and Men, oil and blood, and how a good sharp knife and the right angle can get you out of any situation.
Stick around long enough and they'll get very quiet, and tell you what it was like to believe in something.
They’ll get real quiet, as if remembering takes some little fight out of them, and they won’t speak long. They’ve learned not to dwell on it. It hurts a bit to remember hope, and with that the memory of losing it.
That’s why the bar turns deathly quiet when I walk in. I don’t try to ignore the attention everyone lavishes on me. I’m not here to deal with these has-beens. Lionel comes in behind me and quietly clicks the door shut. I try my best to summon up some sort of image that will live up to their expectations, but all I can muster is a look of disappointed boredom. These guys never made a difference. They’ve got their stories and maybe collected a few pieces of shrapnel, and rest easy on their moral high ground. Well, here I am. She called me to this dank pissashit bar and I came. I look for her in the crowd. They’ve started the noise up again, but this time I know what they’re talking about.
In the escalating noise I hear a couple of chairs scrape as three men leave a round table, set far into the corner. I finally catch a glimpse of Sara, decked out in her flowery shawl and faded dress. I’ve got a lot of history with her. Thing about history though, it’s always in the past.
“Wait for me here.” Lionel mutters his acknowledgement and I stride over to her, all the while feeling their eyes shift and follow me to her table. She smiles, looking up from her drink. “Took you long enough, Xin. How are you doing?”
I cock a smile. “Security cams to black.”
“What did you call me here for, Sara?” I try so hard to play it cool around her. All these years and all I can think about is her approval. But she’s not falling for it. “Straight to business? Xin, I haven’t seen you in months, I just want to know how you are.”
“Sara, I’m in danger every second I spend outside the sewers. I’m fine, you’re fine, neither of us has died yet. Please get to the point. There was a Matthias Zagy killed near Regent Park a while ago. I know you still keep in touch with Nielthunn, so tell me what you know.”
She started. “I didn’t know about Matthias! Oh, Ancestors! Xin, I just wanted to ask you about Niel’s new assignment… Please, Xin, tell me what happened.” She looked genuinely shocked.
But I just roll my eyes. “It’s Nielthunn, Sara. Why do you think? Matthias probably came looking for the Ancestor’s vengeance or some other idiocy. I’m still having my people look over it, but it seems pretty obvious to me.”
She slumped in her chair. I curse myself for being so insensitive. I knew Sara had played midwife to many a Zagy child before she came to Dome 9 with us, and I knew she cared for most of them very dearly, but Matthias was always a vicious little brat. He beat me every time he saw me. I couldn’t have been happier that he was dead… But I guess Sara had a place for every one of her babies, bigoted psychopaths or not.
I glance at Lionel, standing alone at the bar entrance. He’s getting nervous. That’s a sure sign to end this quickly. “Sara, I’m more than willing to answer your questions. Just tell me what Nielthunn’s up to.” She looks at her drink, untouched and warm now. She picks it up, and tries to take a sip. I can’t help but smile when she grimaces. “There’s an Abnormal loose. Niel and his partner have been tracking him for a bit, but it seems he’s…” Sara looks at me, dubious. “It looks like he channeling a powerful sort of magic, a—“
“Sara.” God, I hate it when she goes on about the Powers. “You know I don’t buy into that crap.” How many times has she tried to sell me this herbs and incense bull?
“Shajn Juron, I will tolerate your disrespect for the dead, I will tolerate your rudeness, and even your arrogance on occasion, but I will not have you ridicule my faith. Especially when it was those magics that saved your, and your mother’s life in the first place!”
“Sara, I’m not disrespecting or ridiculing anything! I’m just saying I. Don’t. Believe. In magic! How can you accuse me of ridiculing your faith when that is exactly what you are doing to mine?”
Oh no. That’s it for me. She’s giving me her evil eye. Man, just give me a Machine to fight ‘cause that’d be preferable to the scolding she’s going to give me.
“Shajn. If you’re going to continue doing what you’re doing, you need to realize there are forces that can help you. There are things out there that are more powerful than strength of will and a great big helping of luck. There are giants walking, and if Niel is on to something then it well may be that these giants are walking amongst us.”
“Then go and climb your beanstalk, Sara. But I doubt you’ll find anything more than a few clouds.” I rise to stand up, and she glares at me. I feel a little guilty. “It was good to see you, Sara. Tell Billy I said hello.”
She didn’t say anything, and I sighed and turned around. I almost jumped when Lionel was there. I hadn’t noticed him coming up to me. In fact, I had been pretty distracted by Sara’s tirade. I suddenly realized there was a huge tension in the room. And something, flickering in my mind. Something like a spark. Some like a… Like a…
The bar patrons were standing up, muttering and yelling curses and jeering at the figures at the door. Three OIS officers had come in, brandishing their softblades. The two metre Drone standing outside the door was clearly visible. It was pretty obvious what they were here for.
“Calm down, people. Your security cams have blacked out, so we’re going to check it out. You know the procedure; we’ve been here countless times before. No one has gotten hurt yet, and let’s keep it that way, all right? Everyone just slowly come up to the Drone and it’ll run you up. After that you barflies can go back to your drinks.”
Well, not so obvious, I guess. It made no difference, they were going to find me out. Lionel was stiff with panic, but you could barely see it on his face. “There's a situation here.” I gave him a look. He shut up.
Sara looked nervous. I surveyed the area looking for a way out. This place was a few beers away from being a rebellion outpost, damn it. There had to be some sort of backdoor!
Somebody tapped me on the shoulder. I figured Lionel had found something, but it was the bartender. Grizzled, apron’d, and still holding his glass and rag, he muttered close to my ear. “Behind the bar, there’s a small trap door.” He slowly walked past Lionel again, and after exchanging looks, we followed. I grabbed Sara by the arm as I passed her, and she held onto my arm as we made our way slowly across the floor.
“Hey! You! Line’s over here!”
“Hey you! With the brown hair! And you, in the shawl! The scanning is over here. We want to get this over with. We know your history and we know your sentiments, but we’re not going to hurt you unless you give us a reason.”
That’s not very compelling...
The bartender looked at me. His eyes ran over my face, then moved to the group of old men, lining up to pay tribute to their Machine master.
His voice got real quiet.
“There isn’t a man in this bar who wouldn't give their life for you. Sir.” He reached into his apron and gave me a pistol. A six-shot revolver. “Run. And make sure you get farther than we did, long ago.” I must’ve made googly eyes at him, because he pulled me and Sara by our collars and flung us toward the bar.
There was probably automatic gunfire as decades old stowaway weapons were pulled out, and the thump of limbs as they dropped to the floor, severed at the molecular level. Most undoubtedly there were old dreams firing up again, ancient passions rising to the surface. Maybe there could've been a glimpse of freedom there, in that dank, pissashit bar.
But I couldn’t see any of it.
I was too busy running.