Authors: D. Martin
2015 D. Martin
Cover Artist: Jay
WARNING: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this
copyrighted work is illegal.
No part of
this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written
permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are
fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or
persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Heartfelt thanks to my family and friends who encouraged me to keep on
writing. Special gratitude also to
Publishing and Tricia
for the life raft
when I thought I was sinking. Special mention goes to Jay
for the beautiful cover art that captures the imagination. And thank you, too,
Las Vegas, for all the inspiration.
THE DARK PLACES
The Lilith, our portside bar, was crammed
tonight. It was a conjunction day, the time when Harnaru’s planetary alignment
in the Manning System best allowed vortex-leap travel in a pattern that
consumed the least energy and fuel. All trader ships and merchant vessels
seemed to convene within the only interstellar port in Marnu at times like
My feet ached in the low-heeled,
ankle-high city boots that were normally comfortable. My eyes burned from the
persistent layers of rank smoke rising from wood pipes and cigarillos. Tonight
the smoke lay heavier than usual, despite the frequent opening and closing of
the entrance. The hovering smog defied the bar’s air-conditioner, cranked on high
to combat another typical, sizzling Marnu day.
The music box blared, the recordings
sounding much more discordant than other nights due to the monthly selection
change earlier in the day. And the patrons’ loud conversations made my
professional smiles more forced with each passing hour. Everyone bellowed at
top volume, like they’d all existed their entire lifetimes inside rock-blasting
mining operations or metal stamping plants.
I wanted to flee to the cheap portside
room in a nearby transient hotel that had been my home for eight standard
months. But it wasn’t possible to leave purgatory yet. Two
, noisy standard hours remained in my shift, according to a distant
LED clock on the Lilith’s dark wood-paneled walls.
“Hey, beautiful—gimme another
Smasher,” a patron bawled from across the black marble counter.
I nodded and punched in the drink order
on the bar comp’s gleaming panel. The machine crunched ice, which it made
itself, and emitted whirring sounds. A few seconds later, the spacer had his
Smasher—a cheap combination of five different low-volume alcohol spirits, and
all off-planet specialties. No extra garnishes or flaming special effects
accompanied it. The Lilith didn’t do fancy drinks, and our patrons didn’t want
The spacer paid up and sauntered
off, in what I chose to interpret as contentment, to a table where a rowdy
betting game—complete with much swearing capable of blistering the wall paint—was
conducted by Harry, the grizzled, proud owner of the Lilith. The place was his
lifelong dream, and Harry normally tended bar. His sharp eyes missed nothing,
but when I was there, he let me operate alone. I think it was the big, gruff
man’s way of showing he trusted me.
Gambling was legal in Marnu, and
gleaming credit tokens formed neat, high towers on Harry’s side. My eyebrows
rose. From the looks of things, the house was raking in big profits on this
conjunction day, but the losers at the table didn’t appear heartbroken, despite
their torrid, cursing outbreaks. Instead, they roared with laughter.
I pulled my gaze away from Harry’s
fun-filled table. Too bad I wasn’t having much fun. I rinsed my hands in the
tiny bar sink and glanced along the gleaming counter.
All my more boisterous customers
sitting at the bar still nursed amply filled glasses. A quick check on the
status of my less vociferous customers showed they were okay also.
Which left the Real Quiet Ones.
There were only two tonight:
a regular customer, and one I’d never seen before. I called patrons like them
Real Quiet Ones because they were the kind who waited patiently for the
bartender to notice them when the other kinds had stopped shouting for drinks.
I liked the Real Quiet Ones and tried to keep a regular eye out for them.
However, I’d gotten so caught up
with the boisterous customers that it had been a while since I’d checked on my
Real Quiet Ones. One of them had fallen into a glazed-eye stupor. The other sat
on the opposite end, partially hidden in the unlit corner’s shadows. The two empty
glasses before him showed he’d run dry some time ago. He stared at me, but it
was an unthreatening stare and didn’t unnerve or set me on edge at all. His
dark eyes seemed to smile. I held up two fingers hand to let him know I’d get
to him in a few.
I grabbed a chunky white mug with the
Lilith’s trademark logo—a sultry, dark-haired vixen—and placed it under the
auto dispenser’s separate hot-works section. That vixen also graced the big
blue sign out front, luring the patrons in. Quickly ordering up a steaming
minus the liquor—from the bar comp, I tramped over to
the Real Quiet who was in a stupor and slapped the mug filled with strong, hot
coffee under his nose. “Drink that, Jake,” I yelled over the noise to pierce
through his befuddlement. “Drink it up, and Harry or Bilk will get you a cab
flitter back to your hotel. Okay?”
Jake was a regular in the Lilith. The
staff had become concerned at the increasing number of beatings and robberies he
seemed to incur when he left after drinking himself senseless at our
establishment. Harry worried that the name of his bar would soon pick up some
ugly connotations with the locals and told us to make good and certain Jake
arrived safely to his own front door. After that, our responsibility for the
old man ended.
Old Jake finally responded with a
long blink, and then his rheumy brown eyes focused upon me before he nodded. He
reached for the mug with exaggerated care.
I pushed it closer. “Jake—hey,
Jake, do you have four quid for your cab fare?” I yelled, because his
concentration was starting to slip again, despite the coffee.
He nodded, fumbled in his
none-too-clean gray coverall’s front pocket, and produced the requested credit
As I placed the thin green disk on
the counter before him, I caught the alert, blazing orange eyes of Bilk, our
burly Caltanian bouncer, and gave him the signal to flag down a taxi flitter.
Afterward, Bilk would come back to help the old man out of the bar and into the
cab. Since we’d started doing
three months ago, Jake
had only been robbed and beaten once.
Satisfied all was set as far as
Jake was concerned, I walked the narrow aisle behind the bar on tender feet to
the end where my other RQ sat.
Why can’t all
the Real Quiet Ones sit together to make serving easier?
reason, they seemed to prefer occupying opposite ends at the counter.
The other bar occupants ignored me
while they brayed at each other and sloshed their drinks. Despite the mob, no
one pressed in beside my other Real Quiet or occupied the lone, vacant seat
near him. He didn’t appear muscle-bound or overly tall, but that trim, athletic
frame and those dark, watchful eyes must have given the bar rowdies second
“What will you have?” I asked, out
of sorts myself. It had been so long ago since I’d refilled his glass that I
couldn’t remember what he was drinking anymore.
bad, because he’d ordered the same thing for the past two hours.
“A Crynishan Dawn
and a Zyran Kicker.
No ice,” he said in a pleasant, low voice that
reached my ears with no problem, despite the background music and the bar’s
I nodded in slow, awed remembrance.
He’d ordered five servings of that same fatal combination, and his expression
was still sane and fairly alert. He looked kind of sad and reflective in the
way most of the Real Quiet Ones did, but he didn’t seem anywhere near what Jake
“How many more of those do you plan
to have before you leave tonight, mister?” I asked, also pleasant-like. I added
a big smile because I didn’t want him to think I had no wish to serve him.
“How many more hours will you be
His voice sounded warm and amiable.
He’d addressed me as “doll” when he’d first sat at my bar two hours ago. A
little thrill shot through me at hearing it again. He smiled a little—to show
he wasn’t being obnoxious, I think. Even white teeth gleamed briefly beneath
nice, kissable lips amid his clean-shaven, tanned face. Dark hair lay in thick
waves upon his head, with two intriguing tendrils resting on his forehead,
accentuating his dark eyes. That rich, bronzed tan meant he must have spent
much time in sunny locales.
I hoped, for his sake, it was
somewhere exciting, exotic, and elsewhere beyond Harnaru.
“Two more,” I said, and
looked—really looked—for the first time into his eyes.
“I’ll probably have about five
more, doll,” he said softly.
His answer didn’t connect right
It took several moments for me to remember to breathe. His eyes were onyx black
with tiny reflective sparks of green and gold burning at the center of his irises.
How did I miss all those fascinating
fireworks in his eyes when I served him earlier
? They were different and
compelling, like him, in a quiet way.
“I was just thinking….” I paused,
annoyed at the slight breathlessness in my tone. I took a deep breath to
stabilize it. “I was thinking you could save some credits by just buying a
bottle of Crynishan liquor.” The Lilith kept various bottled, off-world
distillations on display along the wooden shelves behind me. Most of them went
into the bar comps’ auto feeders, but I knew there were two dusty, unopened
Crynishan liquor bottles on the shelf. Most spacers were afraid of that
“Would you still be willing to mix
up the drinks for me, then?” He intently studied me with those intriguing eyes.
“Sure—at no extra charge for the
Crynishan Dawn drinks.” Concerned he would think I proposed that to keep from
serving him, I tumbled into a rushed explanation. “It’s just that—well, the way
you’re ordering this, and by the effect it’s
having on you, you could save a lot by just ordering a bottle
of Crynishan liquor.”
“How much would I save in actual
credits?” His tone was serious, but his eyes sparkled with silent laughter.
I actually began racking up the
cost of the finished drinks versus measured portions of the pure, high, 96
percent alcohol volume liquor in my head. “You would save about twenty-five
credits and still have some of the distilled brew left over to take with you,”
I triumphantly announced, but not too loud, because Harry would have
tongue-lashed me if he knew I was trying to keep twenty-five credits out of the
bar comp’s register. But I liked this Real Quiet One. He looked pensive and
downcast about something, and I wanted to help him a little somehow, even if it
was only twenty-five credits worth—which was still a lot.
I’ll have it the expensive way, doll,” he said with a nice smile. “I feel like
throwing away a few extra credits tonight.”
I nodded, trying not to feel like his
smile had special meaning to it—and that his words contained no personal intimations
for me. The bar comp’s auto dispenser was several steps away, forcing me to
move, verify the reservoirs were sufficient, and then punch up and mix his
request. I set two new, freshly filled glasses in front of him and deftly
removed the empty ones.
An engraved, thick ring gleamed on
his left hand’s forefinger as he pushed forward four silver octagonal-shaped
credit tokens—well over the required amount—toward me, just as he’d done
earlier. “Keep the change, doll.”
you,” I said with heartfelt gratitude.
I watched him as he leisurely
sampled the deep red liquid in the taller goblet, then set it down to pick up
the smaller goblet. He drank the thick, dark brown brew without any visible
change in expression and placed the half-filled glass upon the counter. He then
stared down at the black marble surface in apparent deep contemplation of some
personal problem. Evidently he’d forgotten me.
I moved away to refill the beer
mugs of some boisterous ones who’d started clamoring for service. I sneaked
glances occasionally at my Real Quiet, the only one at the bar since Jake had
been carted out. His expression was as sober as when he first strolled into the
Lilith and sat down. I couldn’t imagine what his physiology was doing with all
that liquor—and what a combination it was too! And he was downing it without
ice to dilute it.
Crynishan Dawns laid lesser mortals
upon the floor after two libations. Zyran Kickers alone could leave men weak
and puking for forty-eight hours after the first glass.
Amazingly, no one sought to intrude
upon him with all that evidence of mind-numbing drinks, screaming,
, here’s an easy victim to fleece and rob!
No spacer had approached him claiming long-ago acquaintance as a route to weasel
free drinks. And no one seemed eager to claim that empty bar stool next to him.
Quick, furtive studies of the man found no outward cause to believe he was a
danger to anyone—beyond those enthralling eyes—but he seemed to have earned
grudging respect from the rougher clientele.
Before my shift headed into its
final hour, my Real Quiet One had downed two more of the same ghastly combo
refills. His eyes didn’t look glazed over, and whenever he reordered, he never
I reached for a tray loaded with
used glassware that Bilk had dropped off. He often saved me from leaving the
bar to scavenge for abandoned glasses. Catching Harry’s attention, I nodded
toward the bar comp before dodging through a door behind me into the supply
room. I laid the tray aside while I dashed around, checking feed lines and
volume indicators on the large kegs and various upended bottles lining the
wall. Nothing needed to be replaced.
I spent the next few seconds feeding
the automatic dishwasher with dirty glasses. I washed my hands at a utility
sink and grabbed a tray of various-sized, sparkling-clean glasses stacked near
the washer. Then I darted back out front, ready for the next customer barrage.