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Aftermath (Tye Graham's Story)
#1
PROLOGUE
  
  When it rained in the desert, it was a monsoon. The rains were few and far between, but when they happened, they happened all at once. And for the desert planet where civilization was separated by long stretch of asphalt roads, traversed by whatever vehicles were available, it meant you were stuck wherever you were until it dried up.
  He was unfortunately caught in the rain, the sound of his motorbike's engine and the downpour hitting his helmet competing to be the loudest. The bar finally came into view, several other bikes lined up outside. He didn't bother wasting time with parking, kicking up his kickstand before he came to a stop and rushing inside.
  Eyes turned to him as he stepped inside, flicking off the rain from his jacket, his helmet still concealing his identity. His tattooed arms, however, gave him away.
  "Tye Graham," said the figure from the bar, "You're late."
  "Yeah," Tye agreed, dropping his helmet on the ground and stretching his neck from side to side, "Slept in. Sorry."
  Rock music dully played in the wooden bar, populated by storybook bikers sporting leather jackets and bodies full of tattoos, telling you everything you need to know without so much as a word. Especially the one at the bar. He was tall, a hulking mass of muscle and ink. Glasses fit awkwardly in his hand as he scrubbed their insides with a rag dirtier than the used containers. His coral colored eyes locked onto Tye from across the room.
  "So are the bosses, you're in luck. C'mere, siddown."
  As eyes left him and returned back to their conversations, Tye obeyed, striding across the room, fixing his sleeveless camo jacket and dusting off the remnants of water, as if it would dry any faster. The bar was absent, all the bikers having already received their drinks, typically of beer or bourbon, in some cases a mix of both, and already sat down elsewhere.
  "Sorry, sir." Tye said as he sat down on an uncomfortable stool, "Didn't expect to be caught in the monsoon-"
  "Told you it's fine. And I told you quit callin' me sir. Ain't your sergeant anymore, you ain't a soldier anymore."
  "Right..." Tye silenced himself.
  "Drink?" the barman asked.
  "Yeah. Gimme that sour you make. Gotta teach me that sometime." Tye said, flicking a cigarette out of his packet.
  As the cigarette landed in his mouth, he shook the pack at the barman, who nodded. Tye flicked another one loose, and drew his zippo lighter from his pocket, first lighting his old sergeant's smoke, and then his own. The lighter clicked shut as smoke filled the space between them.
  "God, you smoke a shitty brand." the barman coughed.
  Tye grinned, "And you drink shitty whiskey. C'mon," he knocked the table, "I ordered already."
  "Sour's comin'." 
  Tye spun around on his stool, resting his back against the bar as he blew a cloud of smoke into the bar, looking around. Many familiar faces met his, and responded with a nod, middle finger, or sometimes both. Some saluted, though most avoided the gesture. He returned most of them, excluding the salutes.
  Another engine revved outside as a headlight filled the room before cutting off. The barman stomped over and set down a glass before blowing smoke into the back of Tye's head.
  "The wicked bitch arrives." the barman said.
  "Hey, knock it off. Amber's a great girl, you'd like her if you could talk about more than booze and 'good old days', you fuckin' maniac."
  "Must be great in bed, she's got you that fooled."
  "You got a one-track ass mind, Sarge. It's why you're still single." Tye blew another exhale of smoke.
  "Hm." Sarge chuckled smoke through his nose.
  Tye sipped his sour whiskey as the engine stopped. He wasn't much of a drinker, until he and the sour were introduced. A good enough blend of lemonade and bourbon that the sugar and sweetness masked the kick of alcohol, but the bourbon surely came through in the end. He nodded his head to the rock music as the door opened.
  And in strolled Amber, her namesake poking through her helmet, even before she took it off. A full head of amber colored hair contrasted against pale skin and two warm brown eyes. Those warm eyes met Tye's, and her red lips smiled at him.
  She made her way to the bar and sat down on Tye's thigh, leaning in for a kiss. Her lips tasted like her cherry lipstick, though masked from the layer of water covering them. That taste calmed him, always.
  "Hey," she said casually, followed by a chuckle.
  "Hey." Tye echoed, puffing on his cigarette.
  "Both of you are late." Sarge interrupted them.
  "Forgive me if the bosses don't know we've got other shit to do than bend over backwards on command. Lucky I'm here at all, cause I sure as shit didn't wanna be." Amber locked eyes with him, "Besides, how are they gonna know we're late? Cause I don't see 'em here. You ain't gonna tell 'em, are you, Sarge?"
  "Nope," Sarge said, "Forget I said anything, then, Miss Amber." he used the title with audible ingenuity and sarcasm.
  "What's this about, anyways?" Amber asked Tye.
  "Dunno. Must be serious, if all the bosses are gonna be here." he replied, shrugging.
  "*When* are they gonna be here, though? Figured they'd be the first ones here."
  Sirens cried out over top of the music and conversation in the bar, silencing everyone within. All heads snapped to the windows.
  "What the fuck?" Sarge whispered.
  The sirens got closer, until unmistakable red and blue lights flashed in the windows. Several police cars rolled into the parking lot, one after another. Armed officers exited from them, at least four to every car, geared in ballistic armor and long, intimidating rifles.
  "It's a fuckin' bust!" Sarge shouted, "Shoot back!"
  Chaos erupted in the bar as tables flipped for cover, lasers precisely piercing through glass as splinters and shrapnel went every which way, a few gunshots firing back. Metal cylinders rolled into the bar, one after another, and then exploded into a blinding light and a horrific screaming.
  He hardly had time to make sense of up or down, stumbling across and over the bar as a vile stinging burned through his back. Tye rested his head against the back of the bar, trying to rub his eyes to allow him sight once more, but it never came.
  When finally he came to, a deafening silence filled his ears, accompanied by a chorus of incoherent ringing. Boots crunched through glass shards as several figures entered the bar.
  "Missing one." said a concealed voice behind a mask, "Tye Graham!"
  "Yeah. I'm here." he bit his tongue after speaking, but it hurt no more than the burn on his back.
  "Start working on the report. I'll take him in." the concealed voice said.
  Boots echoed again, this time getting farther away, aside from a single pair against aged wood, creaking as they stomped.
  "Come on out, hands up, toss your guns over the bar."
  "Don't have my gun on me." Tye's breath was uneven and unsteady.
  "Hands up over the bar, then stand up."
  Tye obeyed, showing his empty, trembling hands before pulling himself up. An officer, clad in black armor over a red jumpsuit was there, aiming a rifle with peculiar lights on the body at him. A sidearm hung by his hip, unlocked from the chaos. Tye eyed it for a moment, before looking at the black opaque ballistic glass helmet.
  "Come out, walk slowly, keep your hands up." the officer demanded.
  Once again, he obeyed, stepping out from behind the bar. Bodies covered the floor, few of them even armed. Among them, there by the bar was the body of Amber, bearing four smoldering holes in her unmoving chest. Once his eyes saw it, they never left.
  His knees felt so weak they gave in, collapsing onto the ground, drowning out the officer's orders as he looked at her body. A constantly growing knot filled his throat as tears approached his eyes. For the first time in years, he felt warm tears flowing down his cheeks.
  He heard the officer shout demands, but made no effort to understand them, nor comply. Instead, he sat there, trembling. Slowly, gradually, his hearing returned to him, a fire growing in his heart.
  "He's in shock, not complying." the officer said.
  "Sir."
  As the second voice began, noises aside from Tye's heart beating filtered out. His eyes locked onto the nearby officer's unlocked holster for his sidearm. The officer turned his back to speak to the second voice as it approached.
  He sprung to his feet suddenly, slamming a shoulder into the officer's back as he gripped the pistol. Before the officer had time to recover, one, two, three, four lasers punched through the ballistic glass helmet. The second officer raised a gun, but not fast enough before another one, two, three shots burned through his chest.
  As the other officers started reacting to the sudden noise, Tye let the gun slip from his grip, his teeth gritting so hard he could feel his jaw popping. He raised his hands and put them behind his head as he kicked the sidearm towards the rapidly mobilizing officers.
  And when they reached him, impact after impact hit him, until he finally slipped into unconsciousness.

  PROLOGUE, PART II

  At least that's how he remembered it. The rest of it felt so insignificant, compared to Amber. He tried to sigh, drawing in an uneven breath through a broken nose, then flinching with a black eye, biting a busted lip. Finally, he opted to let the damn breath out through his mouth.
  "Two elite NT officers. With their own goddamn gun," the officer who sat across from him laughed, "Damn. We ought'a just give you a job. You ever carry a baton?"
  Tye's swollen eyes looked across the cramped compartment to the officer looking at him. Different from the ones in the bar, though still bearing the red jumpsuit underneath ballistic armor. His gear wasn't as heavy, wearing lighter kit, absent of the long, intimidating rifles. Instead, a black stun baton with an orange tip bumped up and down like a pendulum against his knee. It wasn't on, but from the officer's tone, it wanted to be.
  "Don't look at me like that, I wasn't part of that operation. You got Nanotrasen officials, I'm just a lackey. Hell, I don't even work for Nanotrasen proper, I just work for a station they bought." the officer said.
  Tye's gaze left the officer, and returned to the window. A wormhole, they called it, a beautiful swirling of blue and purple lights as their shuttle sped through the infinite space, both moving light years, and not moving at all. The beautiful sight and excitement of being in space for the first time was somehow dulled.
  He could see himself, just barely, in the frame of the polished window. His pale skin was blotted in dried blood. His bright, green eyes dulled and swollen. His black goatee was similarly stained in blood, likewise his long, windswept hair. Scars already adorned his body, these would just be a few more.
  The door to the compartment hissed open, revealing a man in a suit of green and gold, all very rich and intricately designed. The officer snapped his hand to his helmet to salute, being met with a casual and dismissive wave from the man in green.
  "Officer, you wanna give us a minute?" a deep, somewhat older voice asked.
  "But, Captain, he's danger-"
  "I don't remember asking a question, officer." the voice quickly evacuated its politeness, replaced with strong authority.  
  The officer hesitated for a split second, before unbuckling himself from the seat.
  "Of course, sir. My apologies for my insubordination."
  "C'mon, you ain't NT, don't talk like that." the Captain said as he nodded to the open door.
  Without a word further, the officer made his way to the door, first offering his baton to the Captain. The man in green eyed it for a moment, before taking hold of it with a slight smile and a nod. As the door hissed closed, the Captain let out a weary sigh, tossing the dormant baton onto the chair next to Tye.
  Tye looked at the black baton for a second with mild confusion as the Captain took the officer's old seat, buckling himself in. He took off his long brimmed green hat, lined in gold fabric and sat it in the seat next to him. A man of darker skin, with black hair turning gray in uneven patches. Gray to white mutton chops sat on his face, connected by a mustache. 
  "Well?" the Captain gestured to the baton, "Now's your chance. Button's on the bottom of the grip."
  Still in silence, Tye looked up at the Captain, then at the baton again. He finally settled on returning to the window.
  "Yeah, I didn't think so either." the Captain took in a relaxed breath as he casually adjusted in his seat, "Captain Wollard. And you, Mr. Graham, ain't in a talkin' mood. I wouldn't be either."
  Tye glanced over at Wollard, who had two knowing brown eyes locked onto him.
  "NT, Nanotrasen, mega-corporation I work for, wants you dead. They want your brain snipped out of your skull, and they wanna use it as a computer for a robot. Serve man eternally with your preset laws, no memory of who you were. They think you earned that."
  Tye kept his silent gaze on the Captain as he spoke.
  "I don't, son."  
  "I've seen your track record. Saw you served. 84th, right? Corporal Graham?"
  Tye gave him a slight nod.
  "Yeah, long time ago. Sergeant Gwynn was in charge of you, right?"
  Tye afforded another nod.
  "Yeah. I was his sergeant, til I was his Second Lieutenant. Stayed his boss until I discharged. Damn heartbroken to hear they got him too. Heard a lot about you from him. Heard you saved your whole goddamn squad from an ambush."
  "I don't like talking about my service." Tye finally spoke, coming out as a gravelly, rough mess.
  Captain Wollard instantly silenced himself to allow Tye to speak, and nodded thoughtfully as he finished.
  "Y'know what soldier likes talkin' about his service?"
  Tye glanced over at him again.
  "The soldier who didn't do a goddamn thing."
  Tye's gaze stayed on him for a moment, before silently returning to the comfortable window once again.
  "I don't think the kinda man who puts himself in harm's way to save others is the kinda man I wanna see killed." Wollard resumed.
  "I didn't save anyone."
  "What, you mean down there?" the Captain asked, "They told me you were unarmed, used the officer's gun instead. The hell could you've done, son? Die?"
  Tye drew an inhale, clenching his fist before releasing it.
  "Listen. I'm the only NT official on the station we're goin' to. Higher-ups wanted to ship you to an NT prison and give you some hard time before they stuffed you in a bot. You don't wanna see an NT prison. I don't want you to see an NT prison. So I lobbied for them to send ya' to me. Had to pull a lot of goddamn strings to get those dumb bastards to hand you over. At first, they wanted me to snip your brain, but I talked 'em down to life sentence. I wanna talk 'em down to lettin' me give you a job."
  "Why?" Tye asked.
  "Because enough good men died in that attack. NT and otherwise. Besides, I don't think you're a killer. I don't think you're a bad man."  
  "Why'd they do it?" Tye suddenly asked.
  "What, bust'ya?" Wollard shrugged, "They want the planet, probably wanna build a goddamn casino on it or somethin'. Your gang were the top dogs, biggest threat to NT acquisition, so they bought your bosses, arrested 'em, then busted the lot of ya'. Your bosses, they're all in metal graves right now. Servin' man, for all eternity."
  Tye shook his head, frustration building in his heart.
  "I don't want you to die like that. So I'm gonna take a chance on ya'. Either do a bit of time in the brig until I can convince them to put you on house arrest, or I can call in the medics and we can do the procedure right now. Your call now, son."
  Tye looked himself in the eyes in the frame of the window, the two green orbs blending with the swirling blues and purples of the wormhole outside. He drew a final breath, until he finally gave his answer.

  CHAPTER I

    The bar was cheap, with little mistake. An old, tacky carpet stained in generations of drink and other filth since the dawn of spacecraft. Wooden ceiling fans, swirling around the stuffy air from the collection of humanoid musk. An old, once nice bar, the once luxurious wood a shadow of its former self, losing its polish, and the gold lining revealing to be not so gold, as it fades to green and rust in some parts.
  But it was now his. From dawn to dusk, then dusk to dawn, Tye worked behind the bar, mixing drinks to all manner of folk, alien or human. They asked no questions, and neither did he, aside from what they wanted in their cup.
  Tye looked at himself in the mirror of his small room, attached to the bar room itself. He fixed his black waistcoat, buttoning the cuffs of his white button-down to obscure his gang's tattoos. For the first time in years, he wore decent suit pants, and proper black shoes. Seeing himself in dress attire at least gave himself a slight smile, a rare glimpse of confidence.
  He exhaled through his nose, looking himself in his green eyes. He fixed his hair over the back of his head one way, then the other. 
  "Tch." he clicked.
  Instead, Tye rustled his hair altogether, then pulled it all straight back, letting the overgrown hairs curl over the back of his shoulders.
  "Whatever. I don't get paid to look good. You'd be out of a job, then." Tye said to his appearance.
  The lights on his door flashed green as he presented his ID to the scanner, the mechanical airlock pulling itself open to reveal the bar, and a figure sitting at it.
  Lavishly dressed in a fine blue suit inlaid with golden fabric, quite similar to the Captain's attire, if a bit more pompous. An admiral's bicorne sat on his head, with an array of metals on his right breast.
  To say the figure's hair caught Tye's eye would be an understatement. Extremely long and luscious coral colored hair spilled out of the figure's head, falling down to its lower back, with a ponytail falling down behind it. Some thick strands wrapped themselves around the figure's shoulders as well.
  Two dark blue eyes moved to the sound of Tye's door opening, and the authority they wielded froze Tye in place. The figure's face appeared to be male, and the voice followed suit.
  "Should I be saluting?" Tye gestured to the medals.
  "If it pleases," the man shrugged, "I never much cared for the gesture. Those who command are judged by their deeds, not their rank, anyhow."
  "Wise words, uh..."
  "Oh, my apologies, of course you don't know who I am." the man stood, extending a hand to shake Tye's, "Arturo Constantin, the Head of Personnel on this station. In other words, your boss."
  "How many of those do I have?" Tye joked, shaking the man's hand, "It's a pleasure, Mr. Constantin. Tye Graham, the...bartender. Less impressive introduction."
  "Mr. Graham? I've heard of you, the heads are abuzz about you lately."
  "I bet. Can I...get you anything?"
  "Of course, of course, I keep forgetting my manners. You must accept my apology, Mr. Graham, I'm all frazzled out today." Arturo chuckled, "Please, a sweet tea. Spiked."
  "It's 8AM, Mr. Constantin. Spiked? I'm not even open yet..." Tye looked at the clock as he made his way around the bar.
  "Don't make me remind you that I'm your boss, Mr. Graham." Mr. Constantin said with audible sarcasm.
  "Alright, alright." Tye chuckled, "Rum?"
  "Whiskey, please."
  "Real bad morning, huh?"
  "Oh, don't let me talk about it, I'll fill your ears." Arturo pleaded.
  "I've got time, sir."
  "Are you sure, Mr. Graham?"
  "I'm as sure as I'm sure I'm not a sir." Tye said.
  "...What?"
  "That came out weird. Yes, I'm sure. And I'm not a sir, there's no need to call me Mr. Graham." Tye corrected himself.
  "I don't like operating on a first name basis until I know someone. I insist, Mr. Graham."
  "Alright, sure. Sorry, continue."
  As he spoke, Tye poured tea and sugar into a shaker and shook it as quickly as he could from side to side, mixing the two together, eventually splashing in some whiskey to the mix. The mixture came out as a darker tea color, with an even stronger kick to its already earthy smell, into a tall drinking glass. Arturo took it with a nod and sipped from it.
  "Very good." Mr. Constantin said, clearing his throat, "As I was saying. I'm a believer, Mr. Graham, that rather than our pre-written destinies being penned from the day we are born, that we create our fate with our words and actions. Wouldn't you agree?"
  "Sure, I can agree with that." Tye nodded.
  Tye pulled his pack of cigarettes from his pocket and flicked one up into his mouth, lighting it with his old zippo. He offered one to Mr. Constantin, who waved a hand dismissively.
  "I prefer cigars," Arturo said, "Have you met Dr. Ayaka yet, Mr. Graham?"
  "No, sir," Tye shook his head, "I've only been here a week or two."
  "That woman, she breaks my heart." Mr. Constantin said with a sigh and sad chuckle, "Truthfully, I shouldn't be sharing this, but, barman's confidentiality, right?"
  "Won't leave this room." Tye reassured.
  "She's a lovely woman, but her plight is just that. She's a woman. And it's a tragedy on this station that they're treated unfairly. I've fought tooth and nail to end the injustice, but alas." Arturo took another sip, "I'm getting ahead of myself."
  "She completed med school somewhat recently, within five years or so," he continued, "And is a doctor here with us. Very talented, outclasses a few of our old veterans. And she works very hard for respect that she's earned. But unfortunately, she works too hard. The Medical Director, bless his heart, he means well, has come to me several times asking to give her extra days off, which I have, but she doesn't use them."
  Tye nodded as Mr. Constantin spoke, inhaling and exhaling his cigarette idly.
  "The Director, at some point, decided he could fix the poor woman. For some crazed, insane reason, workplace relations aren't banned on the station. And it's hard to lie, she is easy on the eyes, but that doesn't make it any less inappropriate."
  "Sure," Tye agreed.
  "And her quest for respect landed her as the boss' little pet." Arturo shivered at the word, "The woman works in her own private hell, and it breaks my heart."
  "There's nowhere else for her to go?" Tye asked.
  "No. She has family on this station and refuses to be transferred elsewhere. She says she likes the Director, but I've known her for quite some time, and I think she tells me that to ease my concern. Which doesn't work."
  "How far do you two go back?" 
  "She did my gender reassignment surgery." Arturo said, "And after that, we slowly became friends. It's a small station, after all."
  "I can imagine you make a bond with someone who does something that big for you." Tye nodded.
  "Something along those lines, yes."
  "Back on topic, can you not report the Director? That sounds to me like an abuse of power." Tye asked.
  "It's not," Arturo shrugged, "At least within the laws of the station. And the Captain, he's far too busy to hear the plight of a single doctor. I don't fault the Director, I believe he means well, but, it's highly inappropriate and dangerous."
  "I agree." Tye shrugged, "But maybe she's happy like that. Heartless as it sounds, money can be hard to come by. She's not earning enough to get by for her and her family as a doctor, maybe it's what she's gotta do. Like you said, sir, we write our own fate. It's not an outsider's to mess with."
  "You may have a point, Mr. Graham. I suppose it's inappropriate for me to be so closely invested in my employee's lives too."
  "I wouldn't go that far, sir. You care." Tye shrugged again, "Nothing wrong with that. So long as you recognize that you're their boss, not their friend. At least on shift." Tye winked.
  "Thank you, Mr. Graham." Arturo took in a deep sigh, "And let me assure you, I am not the type to drown my sorrows and relay my woes onto a barman, especially one under my employ. But this was a breath of fresh air."
  "Don't think twice about it." Tye gave him a small smile, "We've all got our days, sometimes we need to be heard."
  "That we do, Mr. Graham. That we do.” Arturo took the final sip of his spiked tea, “And what about you, Mr. Graham?”
  “What about me?”
  “Your ‘days’. What are those like?”
  “Ahh… I don’t think I’d like to get into it. I got my days too, some worse than others. Haven’t seen the last one, and I’m smart enough to know I never will. That’s life.”
  “How old are you, sir?” Mr. Constantin asked.
  “What does that matter?”
  “Curiosity. If you don’t wish to answer, I understand.”
  “Nah, don’t mind it. I’m thirty-one.”
  Mr. Constantin raised an eyebrow, “I’m thirty-four.”
  Tye said nothing, just smiled slightly and puffed on his cigarette.
  “Yet, you seem so much wiser than I am. So full of wisdom and experience.” Arturo continued.
  “Different fates, I suppose.” Tye shrugged.
  “Maybe...maybe.”
  Mr. Constantin drew a few credit bills from his pocket and inserted them into a machine on the bar top. The machine beeped happily and informed Arturo that his tip has been deposited into Tye’s account.
  “Thank you, sir.” Tye nodded.
  “Think nothing of it. You’d better open soon, Mr. Graham, you’re late.” Arturo said with sarcastic authority as he got up from his stool.
  “Right away, sir.”
  “Please, Mr. Graham, call me Arturo.”
  “Only if you call me Tye.”
  Arturo suddenly turned. Eventually, a smile crossed his face.
  “Have a safe shift, Tye.”
  “You as well, Arturo.”
  Arturo took his leave of the bar, the windowed airlock hissing mechanically as it pulled itself open. Tye watched him go for a moment, before letting out a heavy sigh. It was time to open.

  CHAPTER II

    The shifts were long. Fatigue and exhaustion clawed at his eyes and his heart alike, but he didn't complain. The alternative was to be brother to the screen that woke him up every morning, and every evening. The AI of the station that enveloped him with a purple glow, bearing a simplistic, black smiling face, before reminding him that he has to work.
  The work got easier, as he learned the various mixes and brands of liquor on the station. His feet begged for more rest, but he could not oblige. Instead, he set another cigarette in his mouth and focused on the feeling of the smoke. It eased him, if only for a moment.
  As he maneuvered his way around the neck of a bottle of whiskey, pouring it into a short glass for a patron, Captain Wollard stepped through the open doors, a hand resting on his hip where his saber hung. Several hands found their way to their head to salute, but the Captain always dismissively waved them back down.
  "Evening, Captain." Tye said, sliding the glass of whiskey to the other end of the bar.
  "How you holdin' up, son?" the Captain asked, giving him a kind nod.
  "Doing okay so far," Tye leaned against the bar, "Can I get you something?"
  "Yeah," the Captain drew a cigar from a small box in his coat, "Gimme a shot of somethin'."
  "Sure."
  As an empty glass was slid back towards him, Tye grabbed it and set it into his glass manufacturing machine. Pressing on the screen, the rectangular machine closed its front, humming as it broke the glass back down, recycling it into raw material. He then pressed on the screen again, ordering a shot glass. The machine hummed once more, radiating heat as it molded the glass together, then letting out a hiss as it cooled the glass in an instant. With a satisfying *ding!*, the machine opened its front again, revealing a shot glass.
  "Any preference?" Tye asked as he played with the shot glass with a nimble dexterity, bouncing it between his fingers.
  "Barman's choice." the Captain blew smoke from his nose as he spoke.
  "Hmm. I've been playin' around with a cherry bourbon mix. Haven't settled on a name yet."
  "Cherry whiskey?" asked the Captain, "You got my attention. Bring it here."
  "Right away, sir."
  With a methodical and well practiced finesse, Tye made a small show of mixing the drink. His mixer flew from his belt, flipping several times in the air as it landed in his other hand. The bottle of bourbon did a backflip over the back of Tye's hand as he flicked the cap off, letting the alcohol pour into the shaker.
  "What made 'ya go for cherry?" the Captain asked.
  "Always liked the taste of cherries." Tye simply replied.
  "Hm. You look like you've done this before."
  "Gang loved their booze. Pays to have party tricks." Tye shrugged.
  As the bottle of bourbon made its way back up to the shelf, Tye carefully searched for the cherry juice, finding it on a lower shelf. As he reached for the neck of the bottle, it fell from the shelf.
  "Shit!" Tye exclaimed.
  With a well practiced gusto, he caught the bottle in the shaker, watching as the neck and lip of the bottle spun around inside.
  "Just kiddin'." Tye looked back at the Captain with a quick wink.
  Finally, he very unceremoniously splashed some sugar into the mix. Then, sealing the shaker, he began flipping and tossing it from hand to hand, hearing the metal ball within clanking angrily as the liquids within merged together.
  At last, liquid met glass as he poured a shot of the mix, setting a small cherry on the rim of the glass. Captain Wollard reached into his green suit, drawing a sealed letter from within. He set it down on the bar and looked Tye in the eyes with a sudden aura of authority and seriousness.
  “What’s this?” Tye asked.
  “Your rent for the month.”
  “Wait- What? You never mentioned that I’d have to pay rent. I barely make enough to cover food-”
  “I know, son. I know.”
  “This...this isn’t fair, you can’t do this.”
  “I know, son.” the Captain repeated.
  Tye took a deep inhale, then a deeper drag from his cigarette.
  “So, what happens if I can’t pay? I get put back in prison?”
  “You’re an essential service on the station, so I can’t shut ya’ down. Protocol is to cut your wages, use that to cover your costs instead.” the Captain said matter-of-factly. 
  “I...barely make any money as it is, Captain.”
  “I know, son.” the Captain said again, “These ain’t my orders. I had it my way, I’d throw this goddamn letter in the trash. But I used all my favors to keep you alive. Outta my hands, NT direct orders.”
  “NT directly ordered you to make me pay for the bar out of my pocket?”
  “Yep. They throw a fit when they don’t get their way, and they keep a close eye on folks that they don’t like. That means a real close eye on you, and an even closer one on me.”
  “What a fuckin’ world.” Tye blew smoke out of his nose.
  “They told me they looked at the bar’s running cost, and cross checked it with annual station profits, said the two didn’t add up, and the owner of the bar should put their funds towards running costs.” the Captain chuckled, “Obvious spiteful bullshit. Like I said, pulled all my strings to get you in my custody and away from the scalpel.”
  “Yeah, I owe you a whole lot of fuckin’ thanks.” Tye snatched the letter off the bar.
  “I get you’re pissed. I would be too. But there’s nothin’ I can do. Believe me, I tried, son.”
  The Captain took his shot in one, leaving an empty glass and a cherry stem. He exhaled a final puff of his cigar, before dowsing it in an ashtray. He looked up at Tye, and opened his mouth to speak, but hesitated for a moment. Instead, he closed his mouth and stood up, taking his leave of the bar. This time, as the salutes and greetings came his way, he didn’t react at all.

CHAPTER III
 
 A long shift was finally coming to a close. As though he were magnetically drawn to his bed, he moved swiftly to clean up before heading to his room, with one solitary thought on his mind; rest, at long last. Before he could finish closing up, the doors to the bar opened, revealing a figure.
  “Am I too late?” she asked, looking around at the empty bar.
  “A little,” Tye chuckled, “But I can get you a drink before I close up, c’mon.”
  An undone lab coat stepped into the light, revealing a white and purple jumpsuit underneath it.
  The woman wearing it bore a frazzled ponytail, her dark hair fading into an aquamarine around the tail. Her eyes were of a dark blue, bearing even darker circles beneath them. Her mascara became a smudged mess, obvious signs of someone who had been crying recently. She dropped herself onto a stool with a heavy impact, letting her arms fall onto the bar as she perused the shelves of alcohol.
  “Get me, uhh…” she extended her hum until finally letting her hand drop onto the bar again, “Fuck it, whatever you have.”
  “Okay,” Tye laughed. “Long day?”
  “My brain hurts, my heart hurts, and I want my liver to hurt.” she looked up at him.
  “Understood. Here,” he wet a cloth in his sink and set it down before her, “If you want to wipe your makeup. What’s got you so worked up?”
  “Thank you,” she took it and began to wipe her eyes, “It’s, ah… Well. A lot.” she chuckled.
  “I got time.” Tye said as he began to prepare a drink, “Mind if I get a drink too?”
  “Oh, please do, I hate drinking alone.” she nodded, “Uh, well… How do I start?... Maybe some liquor will get rid of the fuckin’ fog in my head.”
  Tye made less effort to perform for this drink, and simply grabbed a bottle of bourbon, and some already prepared lemonade from a small fridge. As the woman spoke, he prepared a whiskey sour in a tumbler glass for the both of them, setting a lemon wedge on the rim of the glass.
  “You like yours cold?” Tye asked as he worked.
  “No. Less in the cup if there’s ice.”
 “Okay,” Tye chuckled as he set a ball of ice in his glass. “Here.”
  As the tumbler was set before her, she tried to take it down in one, but stopped after the first swallow, coughing as she set it back down.
  “Oh, shit, dude, you gave me some manly shit.” she sputtered.
  Tye laughed, “Don’t like it? I can get you something else.”
  “Nah, it’s good. Wasn’t expecting that much, is all.”
  Tye took a sip himself, exhaling sharply as the kiss of alcohol met his lips, and then his tongue. It settled in his nearly empty stomach with part fire, part nausea. He leaned against the bar with his left elbow, holding his drink in his right hand.
  “Cheers, by the way.” Tye grinned.
  “Oh, sorry, yeah, cheers. Fuck, I’m all messed up today.” she chuckled, holding up her tumbler, “Cheers.”
  The two of them clinked glasses and took another sip, setting their drinks back down on the bar. A moment of silence crossed the two of them as they looked from one another to their surroundings, leaving only the ambient humming of distant engines, and the rattling of fans providing oxygen.
  “Do you think-” she began, and cut herself off, as if second guessing herself.
  “Hm?” Tye hummed.
  She bit her lip, still pondering. “Do you think that it’s okay to want someone to be afraid to lose you?”
  Tye raised an eyebrow for a moment, taking in the sudden change of tone. He was quiet for a while as he pondered it for himself.
  “Sure,” he finally said, “I mean, another way to put that is ‘is it okay to have the desire to feel wanted?’ And yeah, that’s totally fair. Everyone wants to be wanted by someone.”
  She looked at him as he spoke, her dark blue eyes bearing the look of someone lost. She took in his words, listening intently.
  “It’s just-... I don’t know, I got told I was crazy.” she said.
  “Bad partner?” he asked.
  “Well. It’s… complicated.”
  “Do tell. If you’re comfortable.” he took another sip of sour.
  “I wanted… more from him. I mean, he was a good guy, I was pretty happy with him, but he was just a little… I dunno, distant. It was hard to get any emotion out of him. Intimacy was so difficult.”
  “You’re using past tense.” Tye’s tone got a little softer, “Bad breakup?”
  “Worse than most,” her eyes began watering again, “He, uh… he was a miner. He died. Hit a volatile rock, wasn’t fast enough.”
  “I’m sorry.” 
  Tye put his hand on the back of her’s, but removed it as she twitched at the touch. His hand moved back to his glass.
  “He, uh…” she chuckled, “Would tell me that he wasn’t afraid of losing me. That he knew he had nothing to worry about. He’d say that whenever I told him I was afraid of losing him.”
  “I see. That’s… difficult.”
  “I mean, he was right. I’m a good partner, I’d never do anything behind his back. But, I learned that, uh… He wasn’t so good.” her voice began to quiver as tears fell down her face.
  “He cheated on you?” Tye asked.
  “Yeah,” she said, coming out more like a whisper.
  “Must’ve made his passing easier to bear, at least.” Tye let out a soft chuckle for the gallows humor.
  “No, it made it worse. I never got to ask him what I did wrong.”
  “Well, let me tell you, then.” Tye said.
  She looked up at him, her glassy eyes still dripping tears.
  “You didn’t do a goddamn thing wrong. You hear me?” he said, looking her directly in the eyes.
  “Yeah,” she smiled slightly, managing another whisper.
  “You get those kinds of lies out of your head, alright?”
  “I’ll try.” she whispered again, still smiling, “Thank you. I, uh… I never got your name.”
  “Just call me Tye.”
  “Angel. I ruined this cloth, by the way.” she held up the black stained cloth.
  “That’s okay,” he chuckled, “I have plenty others.”
  “So, what about you, Tye?”
  “What about me?”
  “C’mon, I laid out all my troubles, your turn. You have anyone close to you?”
  “I, uh… I did.” Tye hesitated.
  “Oh. Past tense.”
  “Our past partners might be getting acquainted right now.” he chuckled.
  “What was she like? If you wanna talk about her.”
  “She was… beautiful. Love of my life. Name was Amber, we were together… five? Six years? She, uh…” he chuckled, “She loved cherry lipstick.”
  Angel smiled, “I can see it in your eyes, hear it in your voice. You really loved her.”
  “I still do.”
  “Yeah…” she was silent for a moment, “Did you two get married? Ever consider kids?”
  “We weren’t married. I wanted to, though. And kids, uh…” Tye gazed into the distance for a moment, “We tried.”
  “Oh?”
  “She, uh… miscarried.”
  “Oh, Tye, I’m so sorry.”
  Angel put her hand on the back of Tye’s, but removed it as he twitched at the touch.
  “Yeah… it was a while ago now. I… I came to terms with it. It is what it is. Probably wouldn’t have been much of a life for the poor kid anyhow.” Tye chuckled softly.
  “Oh, stop that. You would’ve been an amazing father.” 
  Angel put her hand on Tye’s forearm this time, rubbing a pink scar with her thumb. Tye smiled, if only a little bit.
  “You don’t know me.” he said somewhat dismissively.
  “I don’t have to t’know that you’re a good man. Here you are, past closing time, letting me spill all my shit at you, and I never even met you before. You’re caring. You’re kind. From the way you talk about Amber, I know you’re loving. You would’ve been the best dad that kid could’ve asked for, Tye.”
  Tye’s smile grew, as he felt a lump in his throat choke him up slightly.
  “Thanks, Angel. That, uh… Yeah. Thanks.” he managed.
  Angel smiled, “Thank you. For the drink, and the talk. I’ll let you close up now.”
  “Yeah. It is late. It was, uh… nice meeting you.” he chuckled.
  “You too, Tye. Sleep well, alright?”
  “You get some rest too.”
  Angel nodded, and stood up from her stool, making her way out of the bar. Tye stood there for a moment, as once again the distant humming of engines and rattling of air vents filled his ears. Thoughts raced through his mind, one after the other, never quite settling on just one. Finally, he drew a deep breath, finished the last of his drink, and returned to closing the bar.

will update this as i write more of it! in the meantime, feel free to post thoughts/criticisms/mean-spirited comments!
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