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Stolen Skies – Part One (Nanowrimo 2022)

So there was a guy. There’s always a fucking guy isn’t there? Shouting his mouth off – drunk, obviously. I mean, we were all drunk. Why else would we be in a shithole bar at the arse-end of the space elevator? All the decent bars are up-sky, but they also cost more and don’t usually let you drink spirits by the half pint. Who the fuck drinks 25 millilitres of something? May as well measure your drinks by tablespoons. Anyway. Plainly the half pints had progressed to pints some time ago, and this big guy with a massive face (You know the sort: unnaturally large teeth, nostrils that swallow space and pores you could walk through. Fuck knows where they come from, emerging at twilight from a scabby old concrete bridge to piss people off who are quietly drinking in bars. That sort.) was sitting with half his body draped over the bar – a rare gift of being properly boozed up is that your bones don’t obey the laws of physics – massive fist making his sloshing pint glass of brutal moonshine look like your nan’s thimble, voice cranking up from loud to bellowing in the face of the luckless bastard sitting next to them. Guess who that was? Yup. Lucky me.

I’d only just returned to the bar for a round of drinks, stupidly failed to clock this prick meshing his ribs with the knackered wood of the bar, and placed myself right next to him. Now, I’m in no way saying I had not also had my fair share of moonshine (quite a decent greenhouse gin, actually, with overtones of radish and turmeric, very much the connoisseur’s choice), but I really was not expecting anything more than a refill of my glass and an extra couple for my mates. Instead I get this odious twat breathing hellfire over me, apparently not noticing that I was not the person whose ear he’d been bending moments previously. I assumed that poor fuck was bleeding from all orifices, dead in an alley. Lucky sod. So yeah, I got an earful of, “Them fucking Vaunted, fucked up our fucking everything, fucking alien bastards.” It wasn’t the swearing I objected to, obviously, I’m not nine. No, it’s the utter weary tedium that it shot through me. Like, I know. We all fucking know, mate.

I made my best effort to twist my own supple alcohol-sodden spine out of his path. And of course he leans in to press his point home, worrying that I’m perhaps one of those miraculous folks who somehow skipped the last twenty years, and I probably really need his revelatory bellowing. Now I’m not a big person; this guy’s easily twice my body weight, so you’ll forgive me for being somewhat physically intimidated, on top of being increasingly irritated with this fuckstick. Further twisting out of his grasp and the toxic exhalations singing my eyelashes I offered a gentle, “no fucking shit Sherlock”, with a fairly companiable nod to break the back of the sarcasm since I wasn’t actually looking for a fight. Or a conversation. Still, I got both. In my twisting, my jacket had pulled open, inadvertently revealing the service tunic underneath, which immediately identified me as “a fucking alien-loving motherfucker”. Cool, and in retrospect I should have changed out of my work clothes to properly immerse myself in this shithole environment. Only, it had been a very long month and me and my two mates had hopped off the elevator and straight in here, to maximise our chances of getting fucked up enough to forget that very long month I mentioned. Well, you live and learn.

Inevitably the tame ogre I was now saddled with took some exception to either my tone or the cool violet bar across the left breast of my tunic. Assuming the fuckwit could even see colour, of course. He might just have horrified that there were more colours than grey and the bloodshot red of his eyes. That was the first time he laid a hand on me, and not really wanting to make anything of it, I let him have that, since it was just a meaty paw on my shoulder. “You’re one o’ those fucking collaborator bastards aren’t you – fucking people like you make me sick. We’ve lost everything because of you lot. My mum died in the fucking dark and now you just do whatever they say.” Now, about a quarter of that was basically accurate: collaborator? Well, it’s complicated isn’t it. I guess, if “collaborating” makes you part of the Vaunted, and everything is the Vaunted’s fault, then sure – all my fault too. Since I take the view that actually the Vaunted’s actions are quite a bit more nuanced than that, I didn’t feel that explaining my own views to a drunk steroidal bear would be either productive or likely to end this unwelcome chit chat as soon as I wanted. Instead I made another mistake, and quietly said “I’m sorry to hear about your mum”. I genuinely meant that, but sometimes, after I’ve had a few drinks and some wanker is yelling in my ear, my tone can verge on the sarcastic, or so I’ve been told. He went quiet for a moment (it felt like an utter blessing – imagine if you could silence all such pricks by just expressing solidarity for their losses), and I took my eye off him because the nice barlady was returning with a small tray of glasses replenished from the bathtubs of gin out back. That was definitely a mistake, but looking back this was inevitable from the first drink this arsehole had taken that day, presumably as he rolled off his greasy sofa, one hand down his pants, with a burnt out cigarette dangling from his lip. I was literally about to buy this fuckwit a drink in hopes of maintaining the peace when it all went sideways.

I take strongly against people trying to glass me, even if their arms have the articulation and precision of a massive noodle. I may not be big, but I am quite nimble. Alas, since I was not looking at this fuckwit (I truly hoped they’d just ignore me and go back on with murdering their brain cells, but it’s a fond hope, and frankly, long experience of dealing with absolute morons should have taught me better), so I did catch a pint glass in the side of my head. It’s the shock that hits you more than the pain – or the blood, and for a half-second I couldn’t quite believe what was happening. By then, his toilet vodka was down under my collar, diluting the blood cheerfully dribbling out of my face. Absolute wanker. I avoided the follow-up fist, stepped backwards and kicked the guy’s stool backwards. That was mostly the end of the fight: the giant bell-end’s teeth stayed on the bar while the rest of him bounced off it. I was restrained from more than a couple of good kicks in his nuts by my mates who had leapt to my defence (gotta love a comrade in arms), and they took over so I could sit down and start pulling slivers of glass out of my scalp.

So that was that. We did at least get to finish our drinks and smooth things out with the landlady. She seemed a decent sort and was mostly grateful that the big-headed moron had finally shut up. We bought a round of drinks for the other luckless bastards near the bar who’d had to endure both the yelling and having drinks spilled over them. I prised one of his upper canines out of the bar as a souvenir of sorts and popped it in my pocket. The landlady was kind enough to dig out an old first aid kit. The antiseptics were all out of date, but barring something vile in the backwash I was pretty confident the moonshine would sterilise the wound. There was no point rushing off – as soon as the landlady had clocked we were “volunteers” she’d put the call in to the local garrison who’d be round shortly. No one messes with the Vaunted, no matter how gobby they might get when drunk, and consequently no one intentionally messes with us either. The downside of that is that we can’t really get into trouble without also getting into trouble with work. I was fairly confident this one was open and shut though – plain self-defence with a side order of putting the boot in to prevent further trouble.

The garrison detail were very polished and precise, expressing the exact right amount of regret that such incidents occur, ensuring the landlady had the appropriate details for putting in a damages claim, and equally conscientiously gathering the personal information about my newly toothless pal who was quite unconscious on the floor. It’s really not a bad outfit to be part of, even if some folks do consider us to be treacherous backstabbing bastards. I guess if your skillset is limited to fantasising about your sister and washing your hair with bacon fat (these are just guesses since our conversation hadn’t been long enough to establish this for sure, and it was highly unlikely this guy would ever be in the same timezone as me again), having a limited grasp of the new state of affairs was only to be expected. The detail ushered the three of us out of the pub. Scoro and Gex were permitted to continue their evening elsewhere, and they threw me a cheery wave as I got packed off back to the garrison. Something about still bleeding… The drunk got taken off in a separate vehicle, and it was some consolation knowing that their hangover would be easily matched by broken jaw and shattered teeth. That, and they’d probably be waking up on a one-way flight to a prison centre. The Vaunted really don’t like it when people fuck with their toys.

So that’s why I’m in medical, talking to you, my nice new friend. I haven’t introduced myself have I? I figured you’d probably read it upside down off the medical notes, but you do seem considerably more fucked up than I am. I’m Evanith, pleased to meet you. I’ve never met one of the Alometh before – big fan of your warships, by the way – they don’t usually let us plastics mix with the others. Since we’re waiting for a nice nurse to come around with some tweezers and tug out the remainder of these shards of glass from the side of my face, let me fill you in on what this massive clusterfuck has been like from our side. That good with you? If you can talk, I’d love to hear what you Alometh make of all this too.

I’ll start at the beginning: I was twenty years-old when the sky went dark and the Vaunted stole our whole world.

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Stolen Skies

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