Paradisio

This week’s flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig is a mashup of two films out of a list of twenty.  I think it’s pretty obvious which two films I drew.  It’s a bit long; but last week’s was short – so they average about right!

I give you…  Paradisio

I was just clearing the bar for the night when Nova Kimtrych, the head of what passes for the police on this godforsaken dirtball of a planet, came in the door.

“We’re closed,” I called, making sure he knew I knew which side of the law I was on today.

“Good,” he hoisted his purple skinned rump onto a bar stool. “I’ll have a Snorcchharr, strictly as a friend, of course.”

“Strictly as a friend,” I echoed, pulling down a vat-sized container, pouring the vile-coloured Snorcchhum and stirring in the harr seasoning that his kind liked so much.  He took it and started glurping.  I turned slightly to avoid the worst of the noise.  You got to appreciate a different sort of polite behaviour in Paradisio.

“There is a rumour,” he said, when he came up for air, “of rebel spies heading this way.”

I shrugged. “Rebel spies mean nothing to me.”

“No, of course not.  After your adventures in the outer reaches of the Fremanoid System, you would have no interest in rebel spies, even if they are rumoured to be in possession of the fastest lightship this side of the Alpha Beatrix Wormhole.”

“So, they’ve stolen a lightship.  Why would they come this way?”

“Why indeed, my dear Ricardo?  Because the second variation of the rumour insists that one of them is well-known to you.  A veteran of the Fremanoid System also.”

“I don’t care if they own the whole shaboodle of Fremanoid Alpha Prime together with the mining works on Fremerrilla.  It’s nothing to me.”  I kept my back to him, but I watched him in the mirror, just as he was watching me.  I’m darn sure a Paradisian couldn’t interpret a tic in a jaw muscle as anything but a grimace but I lit up a tabbooka anyway.

“Oh, sorry,” I said, turning back to him and offering him the cheroot.

“Not while I’m drinking.” He waved the tabbooka away and carried on with the glurping.  I stepped out from the bar and collected a few more vases, vats and the occasional glass from the tables at the back.  It was Larry’s night off. Shirley had done a great job clearing up before her other half had collected her.  Quite a sight seeing them merge together like that.

“You know, Ricardo, sometimes I wonder why you stayed here when you could have left on the StarGazer.  You would have been safely across the Galaxy if you’d taken that ship.  Instead…”  His upper right arm reached over and took the tabbooka from my lips for me.

“Instead, what?” I growled, retrieving it before he stubbed it out on the ceiling.  Ok, it’s a low ceiling.

“You stay here, mind your bar, and expect me to believe you’re not here for a reason?  Come, Ricardo.  You are among your only friend on this planet.  You can tell me!”

Right, of course I could, I thought.  He eased his frame off the stool and burped from multiple orifices.  You have to have a strong stomach and a weak nose to live on Paradisio.  And the smells never fade.

“You know, if I were you, and the rebels came here, I would make sure they did not enter my bar. It could be misinterpreted.”

“By who?” I said, ungrammatically.

“By your friend who would be duty bound to arrest them as soon as they did anything remotely like breaking the law here.”

I showed him to the door. We parted as friends, as usual.  I watched him slide through the shadows of the adobe-walled city, strangely purple from the second moon overhead.  I went round dousing the last of the lights and squeezed through the hole into my back room.  The personal accommodation did not match the opulence of the bar. It had other tricks, though, like a personal blast shelter and two alternative exits.  I unbuttoned my collar and lay down on the bed.

Why would rebels steal a lightship and head for Paradisio?  It was a nowhere sort of a place, just right for deadbeats and loners and people with pasts they didn’t want to catch up with them.  The Imperium had only swallowed it up because the nearest eighteen planets were loyal to them.  They turned that way when the nineteenth planet had been obliterated in demonstration.  The Imperium hadn’t bothered about taking Paradisio, since it was right in the middle of the others.  Good job it hadn’t been destroyed as the demonstration, really.  The other planets would have cheered.

The vibrations of a lightship arriving seeped through my brain. I must have been waiting for it, I thought, but saw it was light outside, so I must have slept well.  I stretched, threw some wakener on my face, smoothed my hair and slipped out up the back stairs, straining my eyes towards the spaceport.  The needle of a fancy and very large craft pointed skywards.  It was huge if I could see it from here.  Unless it had landed on something else.  I couldn’t imagine a superfast lightship being huge.

I went back down and pulled myself some breakfast out of a bottle.  I had nothing to do with rebels. Nada. Nix. Niente.

~~~

Tonight’s band was Superskank and the Asians, and they were punking well.  Even so, there was a slight discord, if you could tell, when she walked in on his arm. Slim, lithe, impeccably dressed, as always.  He was in a well cut travellers’ suit, just the right weight for Paradisio.  If these were rebel spies, they were rich ones.  Or had the gear been in the cruiser?  She whispered something to the second Asian as she passed him and the band changed their rhythm slightly.  I recognised it, as I’d recognised her.  I started to walk towards the band, but the leader saw me, shrugged her shoulders and switched to yet another refrain.  I veered off to intercept the visitors.

“Welcome to Ricardo’s,” I said, steering them to a table which had been cleared with impeccable timing of both impoverished drinkers and the remains of their meagre refreshment.  “What can I get you?”

“A Bourbon and a gin and sarsaparilla, if you would,” he replied.  She looked at me with puzzlement in her eyes, but she dropped them to the table just as quickly.

I moved away, wondering what to do with them.  It was trouble with a capital T, and we all knew it.  I gave Larry their order to fulfil and stepped through to my room.  The safe held a gun, a bottle of whiskey and a pair of passes to anywhere the bearer wanted to go in the entire Galaxy, “free from hindrance or impediment” and signed by the Galactic Federal Imperium President.  A disturbance outside alerted me, and I slammed the safe shut.

“Over by the wall, if you please, over by the wall!”

Kimtrych’s voice echoed through the room and I emerged to a scene of chaos; the spongers and scroungers were falling in supplication at his feet, ten to each.  I slipped through the throng to the band, whispered orders, then took another route to the police chief, who was examining the newcomers’ papers.

“And what about yours, madam?” he said with exaggerated politeness.

Somehow the papers left my hand, entered hers and passed into his without any visible contact.

“Hmm, Mrs Leia Zalo, accompanied by her husband, free to pass.  How did you come by these?” he asked, scrutinising the papers against the light.

“The emperor gave them to us,” she said in that low voice that stretched what was left of my heart to breaking point.

“Well, I surely cannot stand against the will of the emperor,” he said, handing them back to her and looking to me. “But I advise you to be on your way immediately.  These are dangerous times, don’t you agree, Ricardo?”

“Dangerous indeed, Chief Kimtrych.”

He hustled off to deal with his morons who were sorting out the drunks and gamblers. I looked into those deep violet eyes.

“Thanks, Ric,” she said.

“Go!” I said, pushing the pair of them to the door. “We will always have Fremantle,” I whispered in her ear as she left.

The chief was still blustering about, muttering something about hills of beans.  I thought he needed help.

“Why don’t you take a few of them away for form’s sake and interrogate them later,” I suggested.  “Meanwhile, have a Snorcchharr.”

I felt the lightship lift off only a few minutes later.  Kimtrych sighed.

“You’re right, Ric,” he said into his drink; then he called to his security team. “Round up the usual suspects and take them back to the station.  I’ll deal with them later.”

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