The K'chupee was a bar, a fairly upscale one by most standards. The lavatories were clean, the tables bussed regularly by well-dressed waiters and waitresses. But its location-- near the bustling Sh'emerov Spaceport-- made it home to some less-than-savory patrons. The smells of a hundred different kinds of liquor, cigars, and sweat, drifted about on the air.
Andros came here to escape. He didn't smoke, didn't get innnebriated, didn't slip into the back rooms with the aforementioned lovely waitresses. He just liked to sit in a corner, his back to the wall, and let time go by.
Tonight he nursed a Teonta Cocktail, a mixture of several spicy fluids that left a trail of flame on its way down your throat. The glass was small, only the size of his fist, since it was meant to be drunk slowly. The only after-effect was a renewed sense of one's place in the world-- it seemed to take you back in time to when you last felt strong about yourself. Andros came to the K'Chupee for a Teonta whenever he felt lost or lonely or uncertain. Tonight was one of those nights.
He took another sip and dedicated it to Zhane. The Silver Ranger was gone again, after little more than a week back at Andros' side. Zhane would do well where he was, helping the survivors of the Kerovan War, but that thought couldn't fill the hole he'd left in Andros' heart. Andros missed him already-- there was so much Zhane had missed, and Andros wanted so badly to tell him all about his life since they were torn apart.
But Zhane's Destiny was to be with his people. Andros' was to travel the stars, searching for people who meant something to him. He had already found four...did he mean as much to them as vice-versa? Did he trust the friendship they consistently showed? Could he really have found love in the eyes of one of them...?
Whatever the case, tonight wasn't a night for revelations. Tonight was a night to run through every sorrow he had in the world, finish his drink, and go home to his lonely cabin on the MegaShip to sleep it all off. Tomorrow it would be gone-- the loneliness, the heartbreak, the burning Teonta in his stomach. It would be as if nothing ever happened, and in a few months he would start the cycle all over again. He always came back to the K'Chupee eventually...
His lamentations took enough attention that he didn't notice the newcomer. Someone had entered the bar while he wasn't watching, someone who threw a curious glance in his direction, then found her way to the bar and ordered an equally fiery drink.
Andros sometimes wondered if there was a metaphor hidden in his patron ship here. He always watched the door as if waiting for someone-- Karone maybe? Old friends from home? His father? It was as if he were giving up for a time, hoping these special people would just walk back into his life for once without him having to work for it. No one ever came of course, not even his new friends who weren't old enough to drink on their planet. On one hand he wished he could bring them here, but on the other he needed a place he could retreat to when company was unwanted. The MegaShip was no longer that place since they arrived.
In any event, he didn't notice the newcomer to the bar until her drink was almost gone. When he spotted her, he could only see the back of her head (she had tumbling, red, waist-length hair) and her long black coat hanging off the back of the stool. But she had stopped moving since he looked up. Now she was staring intently at something behind the bar. It took him a minute to locate the mirror there, and realize she was staring right at him through it's reflection. He nearly upset his drink.
The woman was humanoid if not human, very pale, and slender. Her eyes were bright green, her lips full and crimson-red. High porcelain cheekbones gave her face an elegant look, which was also evident in her gently tapering jaw line. Her chin was narrow and dainty, and creased a little with a smile when he finally caught sight of her. She swiveled on her stool to look at him. Then she slid off and started over.
"So who won?" she asked as she approached Andros' table. Her voice was high and lilting.
She nodded to the empty Teonta glass. "You two were having a staring contest. I was just curious who finally won."
She then stood there waiting for her answer, as if she really believed that's what he was doing. Perhaps it was the Teonta talking, but he surprised himself by coming up with a witty reply.
"It did. But I was just about to find somebody else to play with."
The crimson lips stretched in a smile. "Well let me buy your next friend for you. I need a new playmate myself."
So the woman bought him another Teonta, and a different drink for herself. Something thin, in a goblet, something the color of her mouth. She sat down in the chair next to him and looked out at the bar as well.
"So is this the regular crowd?" she asked.
"Pretty much," said Andros conversationally. "The place empties out after spaceport traffic slows down."
"Are you a regular here?"
"You might say that."
"Well I'm new." She stuck out her hand. "Call me Samily."
"Andros," he said, and shook the hand, noticing first that she knew the gesture, and second how long and black her nails were.
"So what brings you to this kind of joint?" she asked him. "You don't look like the bar type."
Andros wasn't wearing his flight suit at the moment, nor was he wearing his Earth clothes. Today he had on some of his old things, black tunic and loose belted trousers, and his own long black coat with the high collar. They were some of the few items he had kept from his days living on KO-35.
"What do I look like to you?" he wanted to know.
Samily shrugged and leaned back to gaze at him. "First of all, you're younger than most of the people in here. Second, you're cleaner than everyone at the bar put together. I was hoping you'd invite me over so I could get out of the smog and into the fresh air."
He smirked a little, turning back to the fresh Teonta. He held it in his hand but didn't want to start into it yet. Samily noticed, as she probably did everything that passed in front of those oceanic eyes.
"Sick of those things already?" she asked.
"One's usually enough."
"Want something else? I'm rich tonight, let me treat you."
Andros shrugged, and she took it to mean yes. She ordered him the same thing she was drinking, in the cheap crystal goblet.
"What is it?" he asked, raising it to his face to take a whiff. It was sweet and sharp, like wine.
"Give it a try. They come from my home planet."
"What did you call is again?"
"Sanguine. Don't worry, it's safe."
"Sanguine is an Earth word."
Samily leaned close impatiently. "Drink the drink Andros," she instructed, a bemused smile tugging at her lips.
Andros couldn't think of a reason to refuse, so he shrugged and tipped some of the red stuff into his mouth. It was a strange experience-- first it stung his mouth with sharpness, then softened and became pleasant and sweet. The tang of it lingered in his cheeks, and he raised his eyebrows at Samily, who was waiting for his reaction.
"Very nice," he remarked. She smiled, satisfied.
"Glad you like it."
It was soon approaching midnight, Sh'emerov time. Business at the Spaceport was heating up again as the night shift began. Andros and Samily laughed and chatted over several more Sanguines, and listened to the sound of engines roaring by overhead. Soon the K'Chupee was filling up, and they had more people to watch.
"Ok, there's another Suvriki. Let's see what he orders."
Through their discussions, Andros learned that Samily was quite a connoisseur of other-worldly liqueurs. They were playing a drinking game now, where they payed attention to what each new patron ordered upon arrival. If Samily knew what it was, Andros drank. If she didn't, she drank. So far, Andros had emptied more glasses than Samily by a large margin.
"Kysach, what the hell is that?"
The Suvriki was sitting down with a foamy purple number in a huge glass stein. There was a hollow shard of wood sticking out of it, which the Suvriki used to suck the foam off his beverage. Samily squinted in confusion.
"It looks like a Suvrik ferment of some kind," she mused.
"You gotta give the name," Andros reminded her.
"I know, I know. Hold on..."
The Suvriki laid his straw down, then began to chug back the drizzly violet liquid. Samily snapped her fingers.
"It's a Chepid swamp wine! Nobody can chug Suvrik ferments, not even the Suvriki."
Andros slumped in his chair, then reached for the nearest shot glass. Cringing, he tipped back the sour, fizzy beverage they had chosen for their game. Then he made a long, disgusted noise that put Samily in hysterics.
But she wasn't laughing long, because at that moment a short, stumpy, wrinkly alien came into the bar with a sack on his back. He dumped the sack in front of the bartender and chirped something in a language neither Andros nor Samily could understand. The thing the bartender brought back was even more alien to them.
Set in front of the short alien was an enormous metal chalice with three goblet heads, spaced one above the other. Whatever was in the tallest head was boiling and bubbling like a hot spring, spilling over into the next head, which then spilled into the last. Andros and Samily watched in fascination as the chemical display took place. Soon all the liquid had managed to reach the bottom goblet, and the short alien finally lifted it to his mouth and swallowed it all in a few quick gulps. Then he tossed the glass aside and ordered another.
Samily didn't even try to argue. She shook her head in amazement and tossed back three shots of fizzy stuff, wheezing a little when they were gone. Andros was grinning in triumph when she sat back in her chair, defeated.
"Ashes of Blyn. How long have we been at this?" she asked quietly.
They both gazed over the forest of glasses on their table.
"Long enough," Andros offered. She nodded weakly, and they were silent a moment longer.
Suddenly, she got to her feet, brow creasing in thought. "Come on, let's go walking," she suggested.
"Walking? Are you mad?"
"You don't 'go walking' near a Spaceport during the night-shift."
"You look like a capable guy, you'll protect me."
"I'm a smart guy. I don't 'go walking' into danger on purpose."
Her eyes narrowed a little, guaging him like she had when they exchanged names. For the first time, her gaze was a little disapproving, and she glanced at the door once more.
"I'm going whether you come or not. I'd rather have company, but you can stay in here and sulk if you want to."
He felt a little rush of anger bubble up inside him. But he realized it was probably the liqueur talking. She had trapped him, having learned enough about him to know he'd never let her walk the streets of Sh'emerov City alone. Whatever the reason, Samily wanted him to come with her, and once again, he could think of no reason to refuse. So she silently paid their bill, and led him out into the night.
Sh'emerov was cool this time of year, the air moist and thick from the nearby river. The streets glistened black under the lights of the city. Breathing in the fresher air, Andros felt the sensation of being washed clean and the effects of the drink drained from his head like water. He was left feeling alert, but still nervous about where they were.
Samily, for her part, walked as if in a dream. Her coat swished a little, her hands shoved in its pockets, and she seemed to be ignoring Andros for the time being. Or simply unaware that he was there.
Finally she took a breath to speak. "This is my daytime..."
"Excuse me?" Andros said.
"This is when I feel the most alive, when I'm walking at night and the stars are looking down on me. This is my daytime. I sleep when the sun is blinding everyone else with its light."
It was an interesting way to look at things. Andros didn't think about the sun that much, knowing only the daytime and nightime modes on the MegaShip for so long. He had to wear protective skin ointment on Earth because of the depleted ozone there. But other than that the sun wasn't a figure in his life.
To Samily it seemed, the sun was a despised enemy.
"Do you like the night Andros?" she asked dreamily.
He shrugged. "I guess I get more work done when everyone's asleep and I'm alone."
"Does anyone stay with you?"
"Not really. I work with my ship's computer, you might call that conversation..."
Samily stopped in her tracks, cutting him off. "I mean, does anyone spend the night with you?"
Her eyes were intense, hungry almost. She suddenly seemed very threatening, and Andros instinctively stepped back (not quite into a stance).
He answered her question as simply as possible. "No, nobody spends the night with me. Why?"
Samily shrugged a little and let her eyes flicker down his body. Then she walked on, saying, "I was just curious."
He followed her along, confused by the advance, but still unwilling to leave her by herself out here. They eventually reached the river, wide and sparkling, and began to cross the bridge.
They were side-by-side again, moving silently, Samily ignoring him again. They had almost reached the peak of the bridge, and could see the dark slum district that lay ahead of them, home to seedier bars and warehouses full of the smuggled and the smugglers. Andros was wondering how to break it to Samily that they had to turn back, when suddenly, he caught movement in the corner of his eye. Her hand flashed out, caught his coat, and clenched a handful of it tightly. Then with remarkable strength, she shoved him towards the rail of the bridge, giving him no time to defend himself.
His hip struck the railing hard, and he let out a yelp, fearing he was about to go topping over. But to his surprise, Samily held him back, splaying both hands against his ribs forcefully. Then she rushed forward and covered his mouth with hers, crushing his lips in a desperate kiss.
He was frozen for a moment, breath caught in his throat. He insanely kept trying to back away from her, but he was up against the rail. Her hands continued to grope his midsection, gripping him as though she wanted to reach inside and grasp very core of him. This thought triggered a scream of protest in his brain and he finally found his faculties again.
With iron strength of his own (the strength of fear?) he clamped his hands around her shoulders and shoved her forcefully away, towards the dark side of the river. He stumbled backwards himself, back towards the way they came. He saw no hurt register in her eyes, nor anger, just a calm look of disappointment when she realized he would not submit to her.
"I'm sorry," she said thinly, her voice echoing off the pavement.
"Sorry for who??" he demanded. It had sounded like she was sorry for him.
But she didn't give him an answer. Her eyes just flickered over his body again, and her tongue snaked out to lick something off her lip.
In that second, Andros felt a coppery warmth spreading into his own mouth, and he realized his lip was cut. A small dribble of blood was oozing over his tongue. She had slashed him somehow without him knowing, like a leech bites its host without pain.
Now she stood a moment, tasting his blood, while he watched in silent confusion and fear.
Then, Samily turned and just walked away, descending the curve of the bridge and vanishing into the darkness of the slum district. Andros was left alone, ears ringing, lip smarting, and mind swimming in confusion. What had she been trying to do? Her hands still seemed to grip his rib cage, the tips of them digging into his skin. He bet he'd find bruises there tomorrow. It was like she had suddenly taken possession of him-- body, mind and soul. There had been that moment when he was powerless to react, unable to move or breathe or fight her away. But had that been her doing? Had she actually taken control of him for a time? Or had he just not wanted her to let go?
Something in him, something lurking behind the fear for his life, savored the after burn of her touch. Some part of him had wanted to submit, to be taken away into the unknown, dangerous darkness she loved so well.
But she was gone now, and he was standing alone on a bridge as a cool breeze began to blow. He shivered involuntarily. It was time to go back.
He took the same route he had taken with Samily not ten minutes ago, but for some reason it was all new, like he'd never really been there before. He passed the K'Chupee-- loud laughter, smoke and light pouring from its door-- and went on to the Spaceport entrance not far away. He found his Galaxy Glider, morphed discreetly and took off into the sky, following the twinkling stars back home. When he reached the MegaShip, it was in orbit around a small moon, just as he had left it hours (years?) before. It glowed quietly in welcome.
He slowed and ducked into the re-entry chute, teleporting inside and demorphing at the same time. He found himself standing in the dim common room, still dressed in his Kerovan civvies, listening to the familiar sounds of his ship. It felt tremendously good to be home.
But before he could move, he heard a rustle of fabric and a yawn behind him. He turned in time to see Ashley lifting her head from where it had been resting on the table. Her hair was rumpled-- she'd been asleep-- and a few fabric creases were imprinted on her cheek. But her eyes were alert now that he was there. He squirmed a little, realizing how long she must have been waiting.
"Welcome back," she said, thankfully not sounding angry at him. He didn't want to be lectured.
"I was just taking a spin out--" he began.
"Out to the L'addin belt, I know," she finished. In the dark, she ran a hand through her hair. "I asked DECA."
"Oh." Andros frowned a little, trying to figure out what she thought of that.
"Did you have fun?" she asked neutrally.
"Uh--I guess so."
"Good." She got up from her seat and came around the table to him. She stepped into the light from the hallway, and was backlit magically.
"You ready to get some sleep then?"
"Me too. Come on."
So she slipped her arm into his and lead him towards the door. She was warm next to him, smelling of sleep and perfume and the day gone by. Her scent was becoming familiar to him, unlike Samily's which had been new and unwelcoming. As subtley as he could, he moved closer to the warmth of the girl next to him, letting her lead him the rest of the way home.