“Cersei,” TX10 yells to be heard over the pounding synth music and the sounds of the crowd. “Do we have anymore Axila Blue?”
Glancing under the bar, I spot a bottle with one pour left in it and hold it up for the android to see. When he nods I toss it over. The bottle spins through the air, catching the flashing laser lights bouncing around the club, and makes a rainbow of its own. He grabs it mid-spin, salutes me with it before turning and pouring it into the drink he’s mixing.
“Bartender!” a nasally voice calls.
“What you want?” I ask, turning to face the Jaxon.
Jaxons are silver-blue walking sticks. Its twig-like upper arms wave above its head, keeping time to the music, while its lower arms rest on the bar in front of it. Black eyes stare out of the bark-covered face.
“Head Games,” it says. I’m never sure if Jaxons are boys or girls.
I fix the strong drink and slide it across the bar to the Jaxon. It picks it up and heads back to the dance floor. That bastard is going to be totally messed up before it reaches the bottom of the glass.
I’m going to miss this place. Sighing, I grab a cloth and wipe down the bar once more. I’ve been here long enough though. Can’t stay in one place too long, even if I don’t know why. I used to know, and not knowing it now only reaffirms that I have to keep that rule in place. It’s one of the few things I know from before.
The bar is hopping tonight, full of patrons dancing, indulging, or looking to forget themselves, at least for one night. I suppress a snort. I’ve done more than forget myself for one night. An empty hole throbs in response to the thought. It’s almost an ache, but there’s nothing physically there to hurt so that doesn’t really describe it.
An empty blackness where my memories used to be. Whatever I was before—it was awful. So bad that I paid good money to have it wiped. Wipes aren’t cheap in the best of circumstances, and I’m sure mine weren’t when I did it. People in good circumstances don’t pay a shit-load of credits to have their minds wiped.
A sense of melancholy settles over me as I work my way through the night. I wish I could say goodbye, but that would kind of defeat the purpose of leaving. It’s been a nice few months, but I can’t stay any longer. It’s too dangerous. I don’t know what ‘it’ is, and I don’t care. I know with bone-deep certainty that staying in one place is bad.
The music crescendos, and the bar goes silent for an instant before the AI starts the next song. In that instant of silence something catches my attention. A buzz that shouldn’t be there. My chest tingles, and then I’m dizzy.
It passes as soon as the music starts again, but it leaves behind a sense of dread. Something is off.
I scan the patrons of the bar. Nothing seems out of place, but how do I judge that? Zerix 5 is ‘in the light’ so the tourist season is in full swing. The two nebulas it’s nestled between create beautiful lights that the idle and rich want to blow credits getting close to, and we’re the perfect jumping-off point. The bar also boasts several observation stations.
There are so many strange and alien beings here. I can’t be sure one of them isn’t here for me instead of the entertainment, can I? It’s particularly bad right now because it’s the tail end of the ‘light’ times. A couple of turns and the nebulas will go dark, drying up all tourism for another season.
I go through the motions of mixing and handing out drinks. Most of my attention is on the crowd and scanning over them. Something is off. The hairs on back of my neck haven’t gone down. As I walk down the bar serving patrons, I listen and watch.
“The nebulas are bright and shiny, like dark diamonds sparkling.”
Everything stops. The ground opens up, and I’m falling inside my own mind. The black hole where my past used to be grasps out with dread fingers. Fragments of images fly out of the black, assaulting my consciousness as my heartbeat pounds in my ears. Numbers. Memories that make no sense. And blood, so much blood.
That son of a star-sucker who did my wipe is going to pay if I get my hands on him. The mind wipe is caving in.
The buzzing sound is there again, riding below the music, and then I realize what it is. A crypto-beta frequency. It’s an activation code. The mind wipe caving in isn’t an accident. Someone is trying to activate me.
I can’t go back. There’s no way I’m returning to service.
Yeah, I was in service. What service? No clue. That hasn’t returned yet. I do know I carefully planned my exit, removed my chip and had my memories wiped. I ditched the agency I was working for, disappearing, never to be found again.
Except I have been, by someone.
Scanning the room again, I try to spot the agents, but no one triggers a memory. Are they broadcasting wide and hoping to catch me in their net? Are they even after me? This is the tail end of the known Verse—they could be fishing.
Somehow I doubt it, but it’s a thought. Every nerve tingles with electricity as I try and locate whoever’s after me. The colored lights, pulsing music, and noise of the crowd form a cacophony of sensory input. Subconsciously it’s all processed and scanned while I go through the motions of tending the bar. It’s a skill that I must have been trained into at some point, but that training is in the black. Wiped away with everything else from my past, but the ability remains.
Probably another sign of a shitty mind-wipe. Good to know I was ripped off. I’m not going to complain about keeping my abilities however, because right now the danger is too real. That I’m certain of.
“More!” another patron, a Shala, demands, scanning her credit bracelet on the bar monitor and pushing her glass forward.
Reaching under the bar I grab the gargantuan bottle of synth-liquor and pour an Astro-shot to refill her glass. As the orangey-red liquid fills the glass I watch the Shala. Is she the agent?
That’s crazy. Shala are insatiable party-animal aliens. They read fortunes with their ability to see auras and into your past lives, supposedly. Not sure I buy that, but it could be, I guess. Tourists pay crazy amounts of credits to be read by one, which is how the Shala keep up with their drinking and drug habits.
The Shala across from me grabs the glass with three fuchsia-colored fingers and downs it with relish. Her mottled jade-green eyes stare at me as she slams it onto the flashing bar top.
“More,” she says, scanning more credits.
The dark green streaks in her eyes deepen as the alcohol courses through her veins. Grinning as I arch an eyebrow, I pour another. Damn, the Shala can drink like nobody’s business. She slams this one down just as fast as the last and scans yet more credits, demanding more.
“You might slow it down,” I say, watching her and the room at the same time.
The Shala grins broadly and shakes her head. “I’m still upright,” she says proudly.
Well, not my funeral, I think.
The buzz in my brain escalates and a fresh burst of images fly out of the black. Blood. So much damn blood. Bodies, pain, nothing that makes a story, feelings, thoughts, and emotions that don’t add up to anything. Fear and regret.
I stumble forward but catch myself on the bar. The Shala looks at me, something shifting in her eyes. Her mouth opens then snaps shut. She pushes away from the bar, taking her latest glass with her, and disappears into the crowd.
Shit, what was that?
There’s an hour left in my shift. Somehow, I have to make it through. I need the extra credits but if I leave early, the bar’s owner won’t pay me a dime. It’s in the rules, the only way he’s been able to keep bartenders who don’t end up as drunk as the clients.
The minutes crawl by as I mix drink after drink. When the last minute finally flicks over, I rush to the time monitor and scan my credit-bracelet. It makes a satisfying chirp and buzzes against my wrist as my account is credited for the shift.
I take one last look around, doing my best to keep desperation at bay. If only I could spot the agent or agents trying to activate me. Then I’d… what? I don’t know, but I know I’d do something. Instinct isn’t something that can be wiped, no matter what you do to your memories.
Spotting nothing that stands out, I push open the heavy door. Leaving the club, a puff of night air cools my face and tousles my hair as I race down the metal staircase to the street. Ducking my head and shoving my hands into my jacket pockets, I blend into the crowd.
Making my way with the flow of people crossing the industrial-promenade, I ignore the buskers and merchants peddling their wares. Calls for ‘high-tech’ wares and ‘lush, alien foods’ compete for the attention of tourists. It’s all part of the trap, an empty sucking vacuum cleaning credits off the unwary or the uncaring. Fools with more wealth than they know what to do with come here to dump loads of credits on ‘experiences’ they can tell their other rich friends about.
It’s all meaningless. I have to get to my place, gather my flight bag, and run. Again.