Lazarus

A Story


The night had ended with pain. Of that he was certain. Probably because he woke up with pain, the kind you feel after the main pain is gone and its annoying baby cousin lingers behind to kick at your discarded body. Easily kicked back, in other words, especially if you have some of the painkillers the dealers in the back of your own bloody bar sell. They worked well. Almost too well. The only problem was…

"Where the hell's the stuff?!" he exclaimed, fumbling around his night desk – or bar, whatever he wanted to call it, it varied. "My head is bloody killin' me!" He accidentally knocked over a glass that crashed to the floor, spreading broken shards all over the floor. He stepped on one. More pain, bloody great. He howled as a sharp piece of glass slid effortlessly into the bottom of his foot. He stumbled as he tried not to step on the impaled foot and hit one of the taps, causing it to spill –no, spurt highly alcoholic liquid into his face and then onto the floor, mixing with the blood that had spilled from his foot.

Finally having enough, he let forth a string of curses that could put one of those sailors on the military ships to shame. He belted them out with such force that he could feel his throat being ripped apart, but that didn't matter because it was in pretty bad shape to begin with from the night before. What exactly had happened?

First things first, he thought and ripped open a cabinet he had just remembered he had for one of these mornings – which happened surprisingly often, he remembered. He was remembering a lot today. Inside the cabinet were three things. "Painkillers", as the dealers liked to call them, bandages covered in healing gel and finally, the most important thing of all – a bottle of whiskey so old he'd be surprised it didn't all vaporise when he uncorked it.

Looking at the label, he wondered if he really should open it, thinking of the money some would pay for the bottle. Then a fresh wave of pain flared in both his head and foot, and he pulled the cork out before he could think about it and downed several gulps. The oh-so-wonderful alcohol burned in his throat, but the familiar taste – the label was lying, obviously – of barely ten year-old whiskey. I'm gonna kill that bastard who sold it.

After several more gulps – no, you sip whiskey, don't guzzle it – he pulled out the piece of glass stuck in his foot and wrapped the foot in the gel-bandages, grumbling at the price the damn things fetched on the market. And buying them at the apothecaries…ha! Finally, he took a bunch of the painkillers and downed them with the remainder of the of the whiskey. The more rational part of his brain might have, at this point, suggested that downing such a large amount of alcohol and painkillers – along with the known-to-intoxicate gel-bandages – in such a short amount of time might not have been such a good idea. Not that he cared. He did have the synth-stomach for a reason, after all.

Sitting back on his cot, he closed his eyes and waited for that wonderful haze to lower on his mind as the drugs, alcohol and dizzying ingredients mixed and worked their magic.

A few minutes went by, until something inside him said "pling" and his eyes opened, sight clear as crystal and head as…well, he was not one to argue that his head was filled with important thoughts and deep debates with himself, unless they were about how to get enough cash to earn enough to keep his business open or how to procure enough alcohol in order to sustain the thirsty marines and sailors who kept coming in every other weekend. Why couldn't they find another place to drink, just once?

"Because I like their business, of course," he replied out loud. That's how he made most of his money to begin with, anyway, being so close to the docks and all. "I just wish they didn't have to be so bloody many at the same time." Keeping over fifty individuals drunk and happy in an establishment with only two people on the payroll – himself and a cute little thing he had hired to attract other customers (it didn't work) – was a challenge worthy of Ira Okin himself. Though, when it came to Ira Okin, all he would do was probably to pull out a gun and tell everyone to shut the hell up.

"Well, no use to sit here all day. Better clean up—"he cut himself off as he saw the mess the previous night's escapades had left in his bar. My beautiful bar! The thirty-or-so tables were more or less okay – one of them was missing a leg, and the floor wasn't too covered in vomit and up-chuck. But there were plenty of other liquids on the floor – alcoholic and non-alcoholic – and enough bottles to hold it all, he was sure. And the walls…they were starting to rust. "I think I'll leave the cleaning for Lyra," he said and fumbled after his cigarettes. They weren't in his pocket.

"Goddamnit," he said and spied around his bar for them. They were nowhere to be found. Then he remembered he'd gambled them away the previous night when a couple of men had decided to play poker right on the bar – very close to the taps. Who was he to resist a challenge when they threw one his way?

"Damn foolish, that's what I was," he grumbled and made to change his clothing, but thought of something and abandoned the action. "Laundry day tomorrow, gotta have at least one clean change of clothing," he reasoned and pulled on his boots and put on his coat, all stashed conveniently under the bar. He had everything in the bar. He loved the bar. Opening the little slot made for the staff to go back and forth between serving guests and taking payment, he surveyed the back room, wondering why he hadn't slept there last night like he usually did. The answer came to him as an ominous creak from the roof above him. Oh, right, they're using that roof for storage now… The business above him, a mechanical workshop, had started using that room for storing their engine parts, threatening to crumble that floor to hell any days now. He had decided not to use that room anymore for anything else than somewhere to throw drunk guests, a perfectly respectable and non-incriminating way to get rid of bad customers, in his mind.

Stalking across the floor of his tavern, he minded the bump that had suddenly appeared one day in the steel grating. It had something to do with static electricity and the way atoms arranged themselves when an electrical current was introduced through a liquid like water or something, he'd been told by one of his patrons. Not that he cared, it only added to the charm of the bar. He kept to the grating after the bump, though, for the steel plates were all covered in…well, he'd rather not step in it, anyhow.

Stumbling up the small flight of stairs he had in front of the door – I really ought to get rid of it, not a night goes by without someone knocking out a few teeth. That tall bastard – Quaile, was it? – got a few torn out prematurely a couple of weeks ago, I think. Damn stairs – no, damn drunkards! – he wrenched the door itself open and was blasted in the face with the nice, healthy and very refreshing Jupiter air. He almost vomited. It was worse than ever today, it seemed.

He stood there for a moment, surveying the night's damage. A storm had passed through town last night, one of the many small ones that broke away from that red bastard down south and always seemed to aim for the mining cities and towns. Nothing really bad. A few lights had been bent out of shape. A drug-addict seemed to have been thrown off a street and into the abyss below – nothing out of the ordinary. Stepping onto the street-platform, he looked from left to right, making sure no one waited with a bat to knock him out, and continued on his way, intent on purchasing new, refreshing and revitalising cigarettes.

There was a sombre mood over the town today, the population most likely nursing hangovers much like the one he had conquered a few minutes ago. The weather wasn't too much to write home about either. A dull, light-gred – a colour he'd invented to describe the unique mix of grey and red that the atmosphere sometimes took the hue of – hung dreary over the world that had once been famous for its wild weather. Not that it wasn't wild now either, but it just wasn't what it used to be, to quote his father.

He stopped for a moment to curse at a transport ship that roared overhead, undoubtedly on its way on some kind of adventure, he realised when he recognised the old scrap-hauler his friend insisted on being a good ship, despite it proving otherwise on numerous occasions, as the stories went.

Spotting the familiar sign of a dog and cat doing…unspeakable acts with each other, he stepped inside the little hole-in-the-steel that was the exclusive boutique a friend of his had opened and subsequently abandoned when it didn't take off and taken over by an immigrant. The little, fat man behind the counter immediately went and took out a packet of his favourite coffin-nails out form the rack behind him – familiar with his shopping pattern. He thanked the small man and handed over a few credits short of what the cigarettes actually cost and bolted off before the keeper had the chance to activate the security grid in the store.

Hurrying back to his bar, wondering when the little man would finally have enough and just gun him down the moment he entered the hole-in-the-steel, he saw that his sign had been lit, announcing to the town that it was open for business – which it clearly wasn't! He hadn't even had his cigarettes yet! He grumbled and opened the door – and almost fell down the stairs for the hundredth time. No matter how many times he went in and out of that door, he just couldn't remember those five steps that waited just beyond the entryway.

A giggle caught his attention; he looked up to see a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, barely out of her teens-aged girl standing behind the counter, washing glasses and mugs. He looked at the floor and found it – once again to his surprise – completely clean and spotless. How she always managed to do it in those five minutes he was ago always astonished him.

"Same thing today, then?" he asked as he sat on a stool on the opposite side of the bar, absentmindedly staring at the rows of bottles on the wall behind his employee. His cot had been cleared away as well, he noticed, and stowed in its place in the crack between the wall and the bar where the contractor had cheaped out on proper measuring, much to his annoyance.

"Yes indeedy!" she replied with a singy-song-like voice that was far too cheery for someone who worked in a place like this. "You wake up and buy cigarettes, I clean this place up, the customers come in, you get roaring drunk and let me keep all the tip, and then you pass out behind the bar while I shuffle all the guests out."

"I can't remember giving you the entire tip…" he trailed off and quickly looked at the tip-jar he had on the bar. It was empty. He sighed. "I did it again, then."

"Uh-huh."

"Bloody hell."

"You said that too."

"Bloody hell."

"Yup."

"Shut up."

"Right-o!"

It wasn't until a few hours later that he could truly appreciate the young beauty that worked for him, the way she managed to pacify any argument that had erupted or fight that threatened to spill over to the rest of the bar. She really was good at diplomacy, which he kept saying was because she was destined for a career as a diplomat or some kind of politician. Not that he believed in fate, of course, but he liked to encourage the girl to seek better places of employment. A seedy bar with a grouchy cyborg-owner was no place for a girl like her to work.

"Hey, Marty, how's it going?" asked a familiar voice, making him looked up from the glass he was rubbing with a cloth like he'd seen bar owners in the holo-vids doing. The familiar black hair, icy-blue eyes and scar down the left cheek left no wonder to who this person was. His crew was kind of a giveaway as well.

"Zean, thought I saw your ship leaving this morning," he said and nodded in greeting to the others behind him. "I suppose you'll have the usual, then." He made to pull out a large amount of glasses and tap beer into them when Ejil's voice stopped him.

"Nah, we're celebrating something special today, so we'll have some bottles of your oldest wine and some fine old whiskey." The young captain grinned, quite out of character for the old military horse he said he was.

Marty sighed and looked at the backroom door. Ejil's request meant he'd have to defy the gravity-suffering roof. "You're gonna get me killed one day, you know that?" he said and went into the room, finding the crate he had liberated from the docks some years ago. Opening several bottles – and taking sips to make sure they were of quality – he carried them out, gave them to the girl and pointed her in the direction of the party of scrap-haulers seated at one of the covered-up windows.

As he observed a fight about to break out and the girl immediately stilling it with a giggle and a cute look, he wondered if she'd ever get away from the infernal planet. He hoped she would. Standing up, he went away from the bar, signalled for her to cover for him for a while. He grabbed one of the cheap chairs he'd gotten from a friend of a friend and went over to Ejil's table, clutching another bottle of really old whiskey. The Lazarus could handle another night.

Here we go again…