There are different kinds of drunks. You’ve got your aggressive drunks who like to throw around their fists, your amorous drunks who like to, well… you know and there are sad drunks who just sit and stare in their glass,… You’ve got about as many kinds of drunks as you’ve got different kinds of people. So about a dozen I’d say. Me? I am a sleepy drunk. Give me a couple of shots of Greenleaf Tequila and I’ll get comfortable on my barstool while I’m off to never never land. And that’s when the dreams come. I reason I don’t drink much because I don’t like to be reminded of the past. The past is like a three week old dead dog. It best stay buried. It’s too bad too. Many people drink to forget. When I drink, I remember.
So as I am sitting here, my lazy ass comfortably nestled in a stately chair in a darker corner of the saloon, a double whiskey in my hand (my third one already), watching my crew enjoy itself after a job well done, I can’t help but fear the feeling of exhaustion that is rising through my legs. I sigh. Can’t be stopped. I put my head against the fake velvet cushion of the chair’s back and close my eyes. The music and laughter fades, as does the fear. The first part really isn’t that bad.
“I think it looks like a coffee stain. Hope you didn’t pay too much for it. Well, hope you didn’t pay anything actually. ‘Cause I believe neither nor the men have seen a ruttin’ credit for our services past month. Might have a mutiny on our hands should they find out the captain squandered their credits on fancy drawings.”
I look at Webb who’s grin is as infectious as always. I can’t help but smile back.
“A coffee stain? You should get your eyes checked. Gorram Pilot with lousy eyesight. It’s the outline of the sun, and inside there’s a shamrock with the symbol for luck. It’s perfect, just as I wanted. Private Malloy painted it for me. Can’t have a good looking bird like the Lady here fly without any kind of mark, now can we. She might just take it personally. “
Webb laughs out loud now and gives me a couple of pats on the back as we walk away from the Lady Luck.
“Thorn, that ship is the ugliest bomber in the entire ‘verse. The only reason we haven’t been hit yet is because no self-respecting ammunition wants to touch it. And your coffee stain only adds insult to injury.”
I put my arm around his shoulder and we walk on back to camp.
“Her, Webb. Lady is a she. And she may not be the best looking ship in the fleet, but she’s the luckiest one. Didn’t your mother ever teach you that beauty is on the inside?”
I see Webb reach for his pocket. I know what is going to come next. The same thing that always happens when anyone mentions Webb’s family.
“Nope. Only ugly people say that, and my old mom was a looker. All of the women in my family are. Have I shown you my pictures yet?”
“Not in the past hour.”
Despite my objections Webb pulls me down next to him on a log that we use as a bench. Aint exactly got much comfort out here. His wallet is empty of credits but full of old grey pictures. Webb’s from Triumph, not exactly the most advanced world in the ‘verse. He’s probably one of the few lucky enough to have pictures and not drawings of his loved ones. I cycle through each of them and give them a quick glance before handing them back to Webb. His parents, his wife, his children. They are all there. Webb is about 10 years older than me. He’s a family man, like me. But unlike me he had the fortune of actually seeing his children grow up in front of him. I haven’t seen my wife and son in about 5 years. Gorram Whitefall blockade. I don’t have pictures either. Not even mail gets through. It pains me that I would recognize Webb’s daughter if she stood in front of me, but not my own son.
Next to me Webb is still rattling on about home.
“…and the horse simply fell down. I’ve never seen a dog run so fast in his life. probably thought the sky itself was coming down. But it just goes to show that you can always count on family.”
He looks at me and gives me another pat on the back.
“You’re a decent kind of fella you know that Capn’. You should come and visit Triumph when the war’s over. Bring that wife and son of yours along. We’ll tell old war stories and really impress our women with tales of bravery and heroics.”
One of the other men around the fire stands up and walks over to Webb. He grabs the pictures out of his hands and tosses several on the ground. He keeps one in his hands and walks on back to his buddies. Webb gets on his knees and starts to pick up the fallen pieces of paper. His head turns red as the soldiers call out to him.
“Hey Webb, can I come too. Wouldn’t mind impressing this one.”
He is holding the picture of Webb’s teenage daughter. Cheryl I believe she’s called.
“And why wait till the war ‘s over. This sweety needs me now.”
They push further. Some of the things they describe they’ll do to the girl are even new to me. I can see Webb reaching for his pistol.
“Don’t, Webb. They aint worth it. Just let it go. It’s just words anyway.”
Webb lets his pistol rest in the holster. He turns towards the men and simply asks for his picture back. They won’t give it off course. I wonder if I should intervene yet. Webb can take care of himself, but I’m an officer, even if these men aren’t under my direct command.
I notice one of the assholes walk over to the campfire.
“You’ve got one smoking hot girl here pop. Let me show you how hot.”
They are taking it too far. I won’t let them destroy one of Webb’s foto’s.
They laugh. They continue on as if I never said a word. One of them even has the nerve to wave at me, as if to make sure I know he heard me but just won’t follow my orders. Their mistake. I shoot the wise-ass that is waving through his hand. The one with the picture gets a slug through his shoulder. I make sure it’s a clean wound, nothing too bad.
They both drop. Everyone stops laughing. The camp is so quiet I can hear an owl’s call echo through the nearby forest. They are all looking at me.
“What? They were out of line. When I give an order you follow it. That’s the only way we are going to win this war. Discipline people. Discipline. Now carry on.”
The silence remains.
“I’ve got 4 bullets left before I have to reload here people. Now carry on.”
Slowly they turn away from me. Webb is walking my way. I can see he has retrieved all of his pictures and is putting them away. Good.
He reaches me at about the same time as the messenger. New orders. The Alliance is planning on marching through Serenity Valley. We need to hold it at all costs.
The first dream fades and I can almost hear the music of the saloon again. I try to wake up but the sounds disappear again. I know what’s next.
I am standing on the bridge of the Lady Luck looking at the com-screen. Webb is sitting in the pilot’s chair. Erran is standing next to me. My pilot and my first mate. The war is over it seems, and we have lost. And now I am ordered to allow the alliance to board my ship.
“To take you in too custody captain. You are a war criminal and will be dealt with as such.”
The look on the admiral’s face softens. I can clearly see signs of regret and sympathy.
“You shouldn’t have bombed that supply station Thorn. Not after we surrendered. We have no choice now. We have lost you know. All we can do now is damage control. Try to save as many of our people as possible. By giving them you, we are saving the lives of your crew. They will be released after questioning.”
I look at Webb and think of his family waiting on Triumph. Just yesterday he received a wave from his wife. A rare occurrence as Triumph generally has no cortex access. A trader had landed near their village. He had been so happy.
“Fine, I’ll allow…”
The screen turns to static. I can see Erran’s hand on the comm button. I look at him but it’s Webb that answers.
“We won’t have it capn’. We won’t let you sell yourself to the ruttin’ alliance for us. We are in this together. We’re running.”
“Don’t I have a say in this. I am the gorram captain after all.”
Erran and Webb both laugh as Webb goes to full burn. I can see he is heading back to Hera.
“Then consider this a mutiny captain Thorn.”
We arrive at Hera in one piece. No sign of pursuit. Several ships are still in orbit. mostly med-evacs. They are airlifting the last of the poor souls out of hell.
Webb starts to head for the planet. We have been stationed here long enough to know more than one place to hide. The difficult part will be reaching atmo. I can see several fighters heading our way. Most of them alliance, about a third independents. Webb knows how to evade alliance ships. It’s our fellow browncoats that will be a problem.
Webb gets us through the blockade but two of the independent ships are still on our six. Lady hasn’t taken a hit yet but…
I am not allowed to finish my thought. The fire-alarms all go off and power starts to fail all over the ship. I don’t worry as much about the fire as I do about hitting the ground a mite fast.
Webb is frantically pushing buttons and turning dials. Our life is in his hands now. I know he’ll get us through.
It’s the last part of the dream that I hate. If there is one moment in time I don’t want to go back to it’s this one. And yet it will repeat itself a few times before I am allowed to wake up.
I am sitting on my knees, my hands are bound behind my back. I am still wearing the stolen uniform I used to get on board the Alliance cruiser. Christophe is sitting in front of me. His expression is one of compassion. Not an emotion I would have credited Christophe with during our college years. Still. I am his prisoner. And he is torturing me. He is telling me lies about how he stole my wife and child. How my Desiree fell in love with him while I was fighting for her cause. While my friends were dying for the freedom she valued so high. It can’t be true. She wouldn’t betray me like that.
Then she enters. She is still as beautiful as I remember. She is wearing a fancy dress and jewelry I would never be able to buy her. She looks at me with the same expression as Christophe does. That’s not all they share. Rings. Each of them is wearing a delicate gold and silver wedding ring. I feel a fool for still wearing the copper ring Desiree gave me almost 6 years ago on Whitefall. She has obviously moved on, ended our marriage. She just forgot to tell me.
“I know. Chris told me. I didn’t believe him but the sight of you tells me all I need to know.”
“James, I didn’t plan this. It just happened. You were gone and I was alone. Christophe helped me and Danny. We needed to move on.”
I almost laugh. I had been gone. Indeed, I had been gone. I had gone off to fight in a war I cared little about to impress her. To make her proud. I had fought because she had wanted me to.
“Thorn. I’m captain Thorn. Not James.”
Her expression tells me she doesn’t understand. She tries to explain, to clear her conscience. She has changed she says. The alliance isn’t that bad. It can’t be defeated.
I push the resentment back. I don’t care anymore. Let my subconscious deal with it.
But this is a dream. I am dealing with it. The scene resets itself. I’m on my knees again and she enters. I know this will happen a few more times before morning. It can’t be stopped.
Water hits my face. Cold water. I open my eyes and see Cheryl standing in front of me.
“Wake up captain. We’ve got a problem.”
As I look around the bar I can see what she means. Several armed men are taking strategic positions.
“Good girl. Go inform the rest. I dare say we may have a robbery on our hands.”
I put on my coat, it’s a nice brownish color, and walk over to a table at the center of the saloon. Five young alliance officers are enjoying a game of cards. I stop a few feet away and raise my glass.
“To the browncoats. We may have lost the war but at least our mothers aren’t Lio Coh Jwei Ji Neong Hur Ho Deh Yung Duh Buhn Jah J’wohn.”
As the five officers get up to kick my ass I can see other small brawls starting all over the saloon. It’s hard to rob a place when everyone’s fighting. I start to whistle as I kick one of the feds in his stomach. The fist that hits my jaw only reminds me that I’m not dreaming anymore. Not all days in the black are bad.