Harry F. Rey © 2018
All Rights Reserved
Alone at the space station bar, I checked the screen on my wrist-tech for the hundredth time. The smooth silvery material as thin and flexible as a flower petal contoured perfectly to my bumps and scars. The device came alive, but still no message from him.
He wasn’t late anymore; he wasn’t coming. I sighed and pushed away the plate of imported meat I’d picked through for the last three hours. I didn’t know why I’d even wasted the money on it. When I’d arrived at Baldomar, this crummy little flank-yard station orbiting a dead star, I’d been horny, not hungry. As the hours went by, my anticipation had turned to anxiety, then nervousness, and finally, a dejected state of knowing I’d been right all along. He never was going to come, and I was stuck footing the bill for an expensive dinner I didn’t want and a shitty room I wouldn’t sleep in. Plus, I was at least eight hours away from where I needed to be.
The bar curved around the station’s front edge, the long window displaying a view of a black starless nothing. It was busy, but I happened to be the only homosapien here. Finding someone else to keep me occupied in this array of tentacles and translucent eyeballs was out of the question. Call me a racist, but I was only into humans. Besides, I doubted there would be any humans at all out here, let alone male ones interested in me. This was heterosapien space. They didn’t like that term, but with hundreds of thousands of sentient, space-faring, nonhuman species in the galaxy, there was no way anyone could remember, let alone pronounce most of their native names. So since forever they’d been lumped together as heterosapiens, hetero meaning different, as opposed to us homosapiens.
The dark expanse of the Outer Verge was the most isolated and sparsely populated place in the galaxy. But to be sure, I checked my wrist again. No messages. Again, I conducted a pointless scan of who might be around. As the wrist-tech searched for any homosapien male who’d registered at least a passing interest in the same sex, alerts flashed and danced around the screen. The more annoying ones swerved around the screen to the back of my wrist before I could swipe them away.
Free ship repairs with a room booking on Rastel Station. I saved that; my own one-person transport ship was older than me and held together with little more than hope.
Mineral ore prices continue to plummet. That would hurt those bastards over at Galactic Shipping Co., my ex-employer.
Trades Council rules against Jansen in galinium mining dispute. Jansen was a planet at the edge of the Verge, beyond the slipstream, and a place I couldn’t even pretend to be interested in.
There are no users matching your requirements on this station.
Same as five minutes ago. I dragged my fingers across the screen and expanded the search.
There are no users matching your requirements in this system.
Shit; not one dick in the whole damn system. I sighed again, harder, waving my wrist at the infra-ceptor for another drink of something strong and orange that burned my throat. I turned on my stool away from the crowd of ever-rowdier heteros. I’d entertained their squealing for hours and was beyond sick of it.
“Eat enough of that stuff and you’ll lose your hot body, mister.”
I immediately recognized the fake, sickly sweet voice of an AI. Rent a bot for one night and they’ll follow you around forever.
“Heard that line before,” I said without even turning.
“Well, with an ass like that you can have anything you want. Feel like buying me a drink, mister?”
It slid itself across the bar to get right in my face, flexing fake muscles under a poly casing and fluttering cheap plastic eyelashes over its visual receptors. It disguised itself as a hot young blond guy, pecs poking through a black mesh shirt, thick legs encased in tight shorts showing off a butt big enough to dock a ship in. All this happened to be pretty much my type—well, my conventional type at least. The other things I liked could only be provided by a select few, with Ukko being the only one in the whole damn Outer Verge I knew of right now.
“It’ll fry your circuits. Now buzz off before I shove an EMP up your ass.”
Its elbow lifted off the bar with a faint electronic snap and it slinked away. The bot scanned the rest of the place, no doubt after some leaky data to go code itself into the next unsuspecting soul’s metallic fantasy. Although there’s fat chance with this crowd of heteros. I didn’t even want to imagine what sick sexual thoughts went through their minds.
With a beep, a new message displayed on my wrist. Finally.
Hey Ales, couldn’t make it, had to jump. Something came up, you know how it is. I should be on Targuline next week; maybe we can get a room there instead? See you. Ukko
I waved for another drink and slammed my fist on the bar. Why did I believe him? We’d met once, totally random, in a system I couldn’t remember. We’d fucked in his ship, a security patrol vessel. It’d been everything I’d fantasized about, and the best thing to happen to me in a long, long time. I could get what I needed in any pleasure palace in any major world or even a decent-sized station. But, like renting a bot, it only gave the illusion of gratification. Ukko had given me what I wanted, what I craved.
We’d met, chatted. He’d made me laugh, bought me a drink. His job made it more exciting, more dangerous. We’ve got to use your ship, not mine, I’d told him, as he might’ve arrested me if he’d seen what I had stored in my hold. Of course, I hadn’t been joking. Ukko worked in security, or what passed for it here in the Outer Verge; the loose band of a few hundred self-ruled systems occupying the spiral “arm” that juts out from the rest of the galaxy. We were too insignificant and too isolated to attract the machinations of galactic power. Out here, we operated under our own rules.
Prospering meant being the smartest, quickest, or strongest, and I was none of those. Across the vast distances of the Outer Verge, to venture beyond the atmosphere of your own world was to wrestle with smugglers, gangs, and astronomical phenomenon that wasn’t found in any training manual or weather forecast.
The danger also gave rise to opportunity; no tolls, no tariffs, no taxes. Only Ukko flying around collecting bribe money in between his busy schedule of fucking everyone who wasn’t me, apparently.
I downed my drink, not caring about its cost anymore. As soon as my boss got his tentacles on me, I’d be in major shit. Enough time and fuel had been wasted to end up nowhere near the last delivery or the depot, so there was no reason for me not to get drunk.
All because what seemed to me a solid promise wasn’t even a second thought to Ukko. I meant nothing to him. Was nothing to him. And the worst part was I couldn’t even blame him. It was my fault, trying to turn a sly encounter into a lasting relationship. I considered my response. Sending a snarky message or even showing him what he’d missed, but what would be the point? Stuck somewhere between unrequited and unfulfilled, Ukko was the story of my love life over and over again. Never fulfilling enough to gain any real satisfaction, but never unrequited enough to be able to let it go.
My scalp suddenly itched, probably from this cup of orange engine fuel, which on second thought maybe wasn’t fit for homo consumption. My fingers dug through thick black curls, cursing the fact I kept any hair at all. The thought of shaving it all off frightened me. Perhaps the fear that someone from my distant past wouldn’t recognize me if I did. I shook my head at how ridiculous that was, and I caught the itch. Finally came the soothing sensation of nail on skin.
Where was he, my rescuer? The one who would fight through life with me, make the pain of past dissipate to mere atoms.
Out of the din of unfamiliar languages came a shriek at the other end of the bar. Followed by the sound of a wet and heavy thing hitting the floor. I tried to ignore it. Normally I’d love to watch a good hetero fight. Or even join in. But I couldn’t enjoy the spectacle in this depressed state.
I cracked my neck, the closest thing to satisfaction I’d get now, and it shot through me like a syringe full of Kri. Maybe there would be some of the bright blue drug on the station. I brought my wrist halfway up, thinking about searching for a vial, and ordered another drink by accident from the infra-ceptor. On second thought, Kri on my own was no fun. Without an orgy to go to, all that nano-induced energy went to waste. The bar-bot refilled my glass, and I knocked back the extra drink. I tried to stand. Drunk again. This time, I pushed myself against the bar and made it all the way up.
Shit. Guess I’d be using the room after all.
I stumbled along to the exit, almost holding it together. It was so much easier to fly drunk than walk. I glanced over to check out the fight’s aftermath. A gaggle of blobby and tentacled heteros were huddled around whichever one had gotten injured. I couldn’t figure out if it had lost a vital appendage, but it seemed like they were trying to scoop a blob off the floor and reattach it. Seriously, what was the big deal with losing one glutinous blob if your entire body was literally glutinous blobs? I didn’t know if they were crying or laughing. Damn heterosapiens.
Something beeped, another message. In the hazy moment before my eyes adjusted, a spark twitched in my trousers. Perhaps this trip wouldn’t go to waste.
Ales – get your scrawny black ass back to the depot nows. I gots a jobs for you.
Javer still hadn’t learned plurals. My boss, the dumb-fuck tentacle dick. How did he even know my skin was black if his globby-ass species had sniffers for eyes? There were certain places his type couldn’t even set a blob in, let alone order around a homo. Us skin bags might dominate most of the galaxy, but out here was cold, hard equality. Part of me so wanted to hit back at Javer. I reminded myself I’d come to the Outer Verge to get far away from that sort of oppression, any sort of oppression. Plus, I wasn’t exactly captain of the week. The last job dropped my punctuality rating to less than 50 percent, well below the firing threshold.
The truth was I didn’t want to go back. I was done, beyond done. I couldn’t take another yelling from him, or another job basically smuggling contraband. Javer didn’t even pretend the planetary import licenses had anything to do with the cargo anymore. He didn’t care about the moments of terror I faced while bribing or blagging my way through another delivery. The free-trading worlds of the Verge were his opportunity to sell anything and everything that would bring a profit.
A sudden stab of pain hit my lower back, the muscle memory of my last delivery gone wrong; twenty-four hours chained to a wall in a customs prison on Kerjan. All for what? Another planet; another lonely bar, another fruitless search for satisfaction at the lost edge of sentience. Another message.
Get backs nows.
The elevator took me to the right corridor, and my hands ran along either side of the fluorescent-lit wall, steadying myself while avoiding condensation drips from the ceiling. I tried to figure out how long I might reasonably expect to live if I ever decided to fuck it and run.
The room had a chill, the kind you only get in deep space. I stumbled, still couldn’t figure out how to get the lights on. Ukko wouldn’t have been impressed anyway. Probably a good thing he’d never showed after all. The promise of sex was usually better than the real thing, I’d come to learn. I pushed off my boots and, seconds before collapsing, carried out my nightly ritual.
“I believe in the continuity of existence, in the eternity of our people. That the glory of our past will never be forgotten and the greatness of our future will always be remembered. Oh victorious one, conqueror of the universe, restore us, your faithful army. Oh merciful one, mother of all, deliver us from exile. May your people grow strong and numerous, as in the days before. May we sweep across the stars, and may tomorrow herald the coming of your dominion over all worlds.”
I fell onto the bed, my mind full with the heavy despair of many years and the memory of many deaths, and I was the only one left alive in the galaxy who knew these words.