© 2011 Dariel R.A. Quiogue
The bone-jarring rumble of a ship coming in to land filled the cantina. Everyone inside stopped in mid-drink, Dep and Con alike cocking their ears to the painfully swelling sound. The cantina’s flimsy, rusting walls of metal sheeting rattled like the chains of the damned.
A Con with rotting teeth and gang tattoos on both cheeks banged his neighbor’s table, crowing, “Meat truck’s in! Hallelujah!”
“First ship in four years,” the once-paunchy publican said wonderingly. “Wonder why they’ve taken so long? But drink up, boys! A round of local mash on the house for everyone! Tomorrow night, you get to drink real Earth booze! There’s a crate of it with my name on it on that ship!”
A roar nearly as loud as the ship’s swept through the smoky interior. Men in a drunken frenzy of emotion pounded each other, poured the sour local liquor down each other’s throats, spilling much of it, shook their guns and blades, or seized and kissed the nearest Dep slave handy. Everyone in the cantina was caught up in a celebratory catharsis, save for one stranger. Staying where he was at the bar, he signed to the publican.
“Another drink. Your strongest, not this watered-down piss,” the stranger rasped.
The publican complied. “You’ve been drinking hard since you came in,” he observed. “I’ve been watching you. You came here alone, something no Con will do, and you’ve no gang markings. That you’re here at all says you’re no Dep, either. I smell a story on you – wanna let me hear it?”
The stranger shook his head and gathered his drink to him. It was obvious he intended to take no part in conversation, but the publican’s attentions had drawn the eye of at least one gangster. “Hey hey,” the Con called out, “here’s a sight! You’re no Dep, but you’re too good to mingle with us Cons, are you? You’re not sharing our joy at the meat truck’s arrival. I say you’re spoiling our fun, stranger, and that’s no good.”
The stranger tossed down a full glass. “I’m just passing through,” he said softly, his voice rough with a weariness that went beyond time and space. “Don’t want trouble. Just drink with me.”
“Ah, now he invites us to drink with him!” the gangster announced, helping himself to a perch beside the man. “That’s better. But I’m not drinking with anyone I don’t know. Got a name, mister? Where you from? Where you headed?”
The stranger fixed his tormentor with hooded gray eyes, a stab of ice in the dark. “My name’s not important,” he said. I’ve been – away for a while. Six years I think. Now I wander. You could say I’m a pilgrim, of sorts.”
“I’ll call you Pilgrim, then,” the gangster continued to bait him. “Wanna tell me why you’ve been drinking so hard? I could get you something stronger, if you want it.” The other Cons began to gather around, sensing sport.
“Don’t need drugs,” Pilgrim said. “Just enough drink to have some quiet in my head.”
The gangster produced a knife. “And I say you gotta loosen up, my man. I’m going to prescribe you something that’ll make you feel real good.” He signed to one of his compatriots. “Give Pilgrim here a pill, and make him swallow it.”
“I don’t want it,” the stranger said.
“I don’t remember telling you you had a choice, Pilgrim,” the gangster hissed. He held the knife to the stranger’s throat. “Take the pill and swallow it.”
“Offal children of the ape! Enough! Now learn to fear your betters!” the stranger roared. But it was not the stranger who had spoken. The gangsters recoiled, shocked by the alien timbre of that voice.
And in their shock, they died.
Before any of them could use gun or blade, the man called Pilgrim had drawn his sword, gutting his tormentor with a vicious upward slash, slammed another gangster’s head into the bar so hard the skull cracked like a melon, took another’s hand at the wrist as he tried to aim a slugthrower. When a Dep slave got in Pilgrim’s way, he hurled her aside with the same savagery he had dealt the Cons.
By the time the cantina denizens had collected themselves, the stranger was gone. But the publican was sitting with his hand over his mouth in shock. “Dammit, I know him now!” he gasped. “Carse!”
Jonathan Carse felt the alien mentality’s withdrawal as a disorienting shock, as always. The cold, deadly rage that had fired his wasting muscles to inhuman speed and power simply evaporated, and one by one he felt his faculties returning to his control. His nose registered a musty fetor, even before his eyes revealed the dim light filtering through a circular grate above. He was in the old sewage tunnels, and the sword he’d found in the Outland ruins was in his hand, a dark red crust hardening quickly in the dry air. At least the sewage tunnels, long unused, were dry.
“Jegar Kan, you bastard,” Carse whispered. “You made me do it again.”
“Your life was in danger.”
“You’ve seen Port Sheol. You’ve heard the ship come in. Let’s go back to the Outlands. We’re not going to do any good here.”
“I wish to study your kind more. I want to know why.”
Ok, now where to go from here? :)