The Kitty: From Wives To Wormholes!
The Rocketfeller was unlike most other crafts flying around me. Being a small-sized, intergalactic star-cruiser, it was astonishing I didn’t have every cop in sight chasing after me among the hovercars, jet carriers, and transport frigates in airspace, but that's the Amaron System for you. Thing was almost like a wrecking ball with astro-boosters, gliding through the air with the heaviness typical of something intended for zero-gravity and the subtlety of a brick inside of a dollhouse. No doubt eyes would follow this old, hulking mass of metal, but I still loved her all the same.
The sun was gone now as I flew in the night with the city lights to guide my way. I’ll admit, being this high up would make for a good tourist picture. The adverts were bold and the city structures were as daunting to behold as ever. All of it defied the darkness outside, even if it kept its own within.
“—In other news,” the radio host began, “continuing from last week’s missing persons public service announcement, I have just received word that the police have found the latest victim in the on-going string of kidnappings known as ‘The Altacorp Murders.’ The victim, one Simo Vashta, a young 12-year-old female Volatar who ran away from her parent’s villa, has been discovered dead in a ditch near an Altacorp manufacturing complex on the Western outskirts. Investigators have determined that she had been there for the better part of three-days in what can be described as 'a mostly secluded area,' her body discovered only because an Altacorp employee found her while riding his land-bike on break.”
I knew about this case well before the media did nearly a month ago. Just so happened to be looking for a bounty at the Central Station when the original missing persons call was made, saw cops dash to their vehicles with haste at that time. The one on the radio was the 5th instance within the past couple of weeks alone, always victims relating to Altacorp executives or board members, always found near Altacorp institutions, and always innocent. Pretty soon you couldn’t shop at a store for purified water without hearing the utterance of “The Altacorp Murders.” As for me, I was used to news like this. Then again you could say everyone in the city was.
I always wondered how such a place was built, how long ago, and how it all fell to the feet of the mafia. Some even say this place always existed alongside the beginning of time on the fact that even natives have no idea how this city came into being either. The thought of asking Ricky if they had any interest in hiring third-party wannabe shamuses like me sprung up a few times, but I’d only remember that these murders were the tip of what this place had to offer. It wasn’t my case. I have my own mystery on the plate; a job to do.
Told Celine that I was going to shake some trees, and what better place to do so than The Ender Pub? As I left the metropolis, the industrial district came into view, as well as a wall of smoke building up against my cockpit windows.
I was blinded , though the speed of my ship eventually cleared the stuff out of the way, revealing a landscape of decrepit buildings, dead land, and factories blasting out smoke, gasses, smog like water hoses, and multi-colored flames erupting from the largest smokestacks like a fire sale of pollution.
It was all isolated to this part of the region thanks to air filtration facilities established around the district like a net for dirty air, blocking the stuff from flowing out to the city proper. These strategically positioned giant facilities would then separate the pollution flowing throughout and send it down to the underground slums underneath the land, giving the people down there the time of their life. If that sounds like a great system, there’s something wrong with you.
The only lights came from the factories in the distance, a handful of nearby houses, and a particular little pub that had my eyes centered on it. I began my descent toward the joint. As it got closer, the view became clearer and the sign became legible, the brightly lit sign displaying “The Ender Pub” with some of the letters flickering at random. The building was made of stone and brick, decorated with fancy plants and dimly lit lampposts in what could be described as “European themed,” fitting considering the owner. Then again, one could argue it was all to mask the char, grime, and other cosmetic blemishes that covered the structure.
Its parking lot was stuffed to the brim with cars and crafts, typically belonging to factory workers or… other characters. A few spots were open though, reserved spots, typically given out to notable customers or personal favorites, usually fellow freelancers or high-rollers who frequent. I slowed my descent, hovering over an available parking spot, bringing the Rocketfeller downward in stride. When the ship landed, the spot extended a scanner in front of me and began to verify my ride. Soon, it blinked a green light with a confirmation chime, then slid back into the ground.
I opened the airlock and a breeze of light ash and dust flew in. Good thing I had an air-filter inside — also meant I could smoke in the ship without it smelling. When exiting the Rocketfeller and stepping to the ground, the airlock promptly closed itself, and it took no time for me to start navigating through this mess of vehicles all around me.
The challenge of wading through the parked traffic was fulfilled at last. I made it to The Ender Pub’s entrance with relief, that was until I smelled the puke on the floor to my right. This was the fullest I’ve seen the lot, which only filled me with some dread as to how the inside of the joint would be. I could hear the cheering, the talking, rumblings, the tumblings, and the bumblings already, many souls getting buzzed and off-the-rocks. Typical night for them, and it would be for me if I wasn’t trying to play professional.
I laid my hand on the door handle, twisted it, and gradually opened it to the full blast of ruckus going on inside that rattled the pub like a train-car. Almost hurt my cat ears as I walked inside. The lights were on blast, a nice warm appearance covering a scene of spilled drinks, litter, wasted food, passed-out patrons, and the smell of alcohol and body-fluids.
The decor would be nostalgic to any being feeling homesick for Earth, with rustic styling of shining wood walls, tables, flooring, tastefully designed gray-and-red rugs, leather seating, colorful ornaments hanging from the ceiling like stars, pictures of Earth landscapes and landmarks placed on the walls, stylish signs, and at the center of it was a painted glass mural depicting ancient bar patrons with The Ender Pub’s logo at its heart. The jukebox was playing a classical tune, ‘Bob White’ by Bobby Darin and Johnny Mercer.
Of course, this was all deliberate, the goal of it all to make you forget you were stuck on some alien planet. The Ender Pub was where those who busted their bodies working in the district would come to get a load off, a respite packaged with music, cheap local booze or imports at a premium, bar fights you can bet on, and a bathroom with more filth than a low-class brothel. A real blue-collar joint with a welcoming interior. It’s a noble kind of business in a way.
It’s also a place where the underground would hang around or hide themselves on occasion. If gangs weren’t wacking each other, they dealt in trafficking galactic materials, items, weapons, or even people of interest. Clients were mostly Chromon, sometimes mega-corps with a vendetta; precisely the type of entities who’d want to kidnap a high-ranking union leader.
I proceeded to make my way to the bar as patrons upon patrons drank their intoxicating poisons and yelled their teeth out, playing sloppy poker matches, drop glasses to the floor with a smash. It really was a madhouse tonight, more than usual. Wondered why.
Near the bar was an entire area blocked off by a large crowd. I couldn’t see what exactly they were spectating, but I’d get my answer when, as I approached the counter, the owner and barkeep known as Deiter Carlsten turned his look to me with the usual serious look.
Middle-aged, late-50s, gray-haired muscle man, his jaw was well defined and chiseled for someone mid-life, with a well-kept manly beard for manly men. He wore his bartender uniform and did so with the air of a pro, that white polo with the gray tie and large black apron kept pressed and clean in a place of chaos. The guy had a stern demeanor about him, his usual look could kill you with the sharpness, partly because he lost his right eye entirely, having it replaced with a gold-colored eye prosthesis, the artificial iris a white dot that would shrink or expand at his mind’s command. Not sure of what the story behind it is, he would never tell me how he lost his eye. Regardless, lord knew I had the mental armor to resist a demeanor that’d put others in unease. Man was good people really, even if he looks like he could strangle you at any moment, and most who’d regular the pub knew that too.
“Hey, Kit,” greeted Deiter, “Been some time?”
“Been some time,” I replied.
I slid back an open stool and sat at the bar. It was full of barrels with taps, organized and stacked next to one another with bottles of different colors and sizes resting on the layers of shelves behind him. Banners labeled each of them, separating the rums from the gins to the tequilas and so on. A random patron was sitting there with a friend, both looking at me. Had a sensation that I should know them, but their names never surfaced.
“How’s the pay been goin’?” He asked.
“Bit slow in the mud lately, but I just got a break.”
“Good pay?” Deiter inquired.
“You can say that, but uh… hey, if you guys leave me with Deet for a beat, I’ll pay your tabs.”
Both of the random patrons looked at each other before looking back at me. “Again?!” They exclaimed in surprise.
The randos looked at each other again, then looked back at me again. “Okay, but just know that I’ve had quite a few as it is.”
“Me too,” said his friend.
“No problem, I’ll cover it.”
The two randos looked at each other… again, then looked back at me… again.
“Well alright then.”
“Must be quite the pay.”
The two randos get up from their stools and walk off, never bothering to look where. What mattered was I had Deiter to myself at last.
“Place is ridiculous tonight, Deet. What’s up with that?”
“Kobak and Amaduk are fighting right now,” Deiter answered.
“Really?” I turned to look at the wall of people crowding the two fighters.
“Who’s your pick?”.
“1,500 credits on Kobak!” I shouted, directed at the fighters. “Don’t you dare lose, Kobe, or I’ll shove your favorite plush toy right through you!”
“I WON’T!” Shouted Kobak.
Turning back to Deiter, I chuckled. Kobak was good people, but a hit-and-miss barfighter. That said, when he had his moment, fellow made sure his opponent would never forget him.
“The usual pint?” Deiter asked.
“No dice. I’m on the job, Deet.”
“It’ll be on me.”
Needed a brief moment with that one. The half that played professional wanted to reject the offer. But then again, who in their right mind would want to turn down a perfectly fine lager simulated with alien ingredients?
“Alright if it’s free, but only one. I gotta remain proper.”
“You got it.”
Deiter grabbed the closest pint glass from under the counter. Clean and sparkly was how he liked to keep it. His discipline, his yearning to keep an orderly appearance for himself and his business (usually) came naturally considering his background.
As he positioned the glass under a tap and began to pour a drink, I couldn’t help but recall the stories of his past life that often intrigued me. The man is one of The System’s rare humans. The guy was more distinctive than his facial hair and, aside from the eye prosthesis, he wasn’t augmented anywhere else, making him a prime target for fat-heads looking to be clobbered, ignorant to what he’s actually capable of. Humanity ain’t exactly considered a powerhouse in this galaxy — the fact he was so far away from Earth and its colonies said much about him.
Deiter was a galactic ranger in his youth. Joined at the age of 19, had a lengthy, though mostly unexceptional 20-year career; quantity over quality. Simply put, he has the guts most humans don’t have and realized a sort of gift to hear things, learn secrets, to listen like no other man can. This made him quite useful in the rangers for scouting, even more so as an informant for people like me.
When the glass was nearly full, the tap ceased and he placed my lager on the counter in front of me with a nice clink that sounded not too soft, but not too hard. I grabbed it and drank it down halfway. The taste may have been bitter, combined with the spice from the artificially engineered yeast, but the alcohol was there all the same. You didn’t drink this for the taste, and the refreshing post-effect was enough to make you forget that, since it wasn’t actually made on Earth, one could only speculate what it was actually made out of. All I knew was that according to Deiter, the real stuff was better.
I put the half-empty glass down and let out a satisfied sigh with my eyes closed. Opening them back up, however, provided the look of Deiter raising a brow at me. This was… somehow strange.
“What?” I asked.
“You know those two bucked down a couple of diamondback rum shots, right?”
Then, in that moment, the raised brow wasn’t so odd anymore as I reeled back with my eyes wide.
“Their tab will be quite the bother, Kit.”
“Can we pretend I never made that offer?”
“Just because I know you like I do doesn’t mean I’ll let you off after a bad move. Cough up the dough, cat-head.”
I sighed dispassionately. “Swell,” I muttered.
“You ought to stop this practice. Gonna be bad for that precious freelance business of yours.”
“They wouldn’t have left us alone if I didn’t. You should’ve warned me at least.”
“Well if you’re not in the position to pay up out-of-pocket right now, Kobak better win then. That bet will be enough. Beyond that, you wanted a face-to-face, right?
I snapped back into my professional mode. “Oh yeah, almost forgot about that. Between you and me, I’ve been assigned a freelancer missing person’s case. Serious pay, serious stakes.”
“You know it.”
Deiter rested an elbow on the counter and leaned toward me. This was his informant mode, no mistaking it.
“What have you got so far?” He asked.
“Only guesses. My client is one Celine Movak, wife of a Beniard Movak, associate director for the C.A.R.P.”
“The government sanctioned Cryptinium worker’s union?”
“Heard of them?”
“It was founded after one of the city’s refinery stations had an accidental leakage of unstable Cryptinium extract, followed by an explosion that killed 35.”
“Never heard of that.”
“This was 20-years-ago, Kit. While you were still slung around your mother’s legs, I was a still a sergeant when my squad was called in to assist the counter-rioting.”
“Well this Beniard fellow went missing, kidnapping most likely. Hired to find him. Considering his position, my guess is the underground is involved. Not only that, there’s no media coverage, and when my client went to the bulls, they waved her off like a fly.”
“I see where you’re going with this.”
“The Chromon. Outsourced his disappearance to the underground gangs and are covering it up through suppression, which leads me to you. Heard anything? New developments or something I can work off of?”
Deiter pressed his fingers on his chin, looking away as if rummaging through a mental storage closet I couldn’t see. After about several seconds he got off the counter and took out another glass from under the counter, except this time he poured a drink for himself. Filling it, the man turned back to me and took a sip. He gave his glass a little whirl with contemplation and cleared his throat.
“I heard a group of hoodlums talking about some massive ‘disturbances’ happening yesterday, Kit.”
“Sounds of explosions, a group of armed goons clearing out sections of the lower-levels, people fleeing as if there was a clearance sale for syntho-fur coats.”
“Not the way I heard it. These goons were non-identifiable and apparently swift. Hotshots and ruffians taken out block-by-block with efficiency like a swarm of Aquanis beetle-wasps, yet most of the non-combatants were kept alive.”
Deiter took another sip. “Holy moly is right. If the underground is involved, it’s probably not the way you think. They might be victims in this too.”
“But The Chromon outsource to the underground all the time. Why would they want to go against their susceptible workforce?”
“Because it isn’t the mob, Kit. There’s a new player on this chess board, with motives that aren’t tied to anyone this city or this whole system knows. They might have bought off the cops or maybe, just maybe, no one around here knows they exist at all; a case of ignorance, not lies.”
I looked at my drink left half un-drunk, seeing my faint reflection with a face I usually don’t see myself in: A doubtful one.
“Your guess, huh?” I said.
“My guess,” replied Deiter. Unwavering in judgement… as usual.
I was not doubtful of Deiter’s words — Even without a solid confirmation, he would rarely, if ever, be wrong in his judgements if given enough information. He’s honestly a more capable detective than I; detective work was never really my primary trade in the first place. I wasn’t doubtful in my ability to fend for myself; if I was an unhinged maniac, I could very well murder everyone in this pub assuming I’m not gunned down first.
The doubt I felt, the face that reflected that doubt, came from the fact that for the first time in a long time, I’d have to try to be what I’ve avoided being ever since I self-exiled myself to this star-system 7-years-ago. I never wanted to be. A messed-up world like this made for a great excuse to start over from scratch among the thugs, hustlers, mob goons, and two-bit wannabe crime lords; an easier and less complicated world than what exists out there. This was already an unusual job, but with the possibility of a threat from the greater galactic map, from outside The Amaron System?
I chugged the rest of the beer down, made the reflection disappear like magic. It was then that the sound of a roaring audience sprung high, filled the air with cheers. Deiter glanced at the crowd, saw the winner of the barfight while I kept my head low, pondering, thinking that, even for a little bit, I gotta be that person again.
“Kobak won,” announced Deiter.
“What is this Celine Movak paying you anyway?”
“It’s—” Had to stop knowing the stakes now outgrew the reward. I sighed, put the glass down on the counter. He asked, so I might as well answer. “I’m being given 400-liters of Cryptinium and 5,000 credits if I find the guy.”
“Not good enough.”
“Look, if I were you, I would call Mrs. Movak to meet up somewhere, break the contract, and chicken out. No shame in doing so for this one. If it ain’t too deep, it’s getting there.”
I bet even Deiter himself knew that I knew he was completely right; he read me too well. To have an encounter with inter-galactic threats? It’d defeat the purpose of being the way I am now. Not like I know Beniard or Celine. They mean nothing to me, I’d forget them in a week or two. They’re not my problem, they’re no one’s problem but their own problem, nothing more and nothing less! I wanted that, or rather I needed that to be the reality. I’ll cut this off and continue on with my life. I’ll find a different gig, always do eventually! I want to make this all end and do better things than to find some rich shmoe for a rich dame. They’re a dime-a-dozen, pay better probably. This isn’t my problem!
In a time during childhood, I would see her, a woman with an acoustic guitar, sitting on the roof of the farmhouse I grew up in, the same house she herself grew up in. It was her inheritance and I guess no matter what she’d have done in her past, this house and the farm attached to it was bound to find its way back to her. She looked like I did, but was older, matured, yet pretty, tough but loving, sometimes scary but most times friendly, with many stories to tell.
On her free time, she’d play her guitar and sing by herself. Mostly covers of songs she loved, but other times an original tune would pop into her mind. The woman was a good player too, played that instrument with experience and beauty. She even taught me to play, or tried to. Can’t say I’m good, not as good as her to be sure, but I like to think I’m an okay guitar player.
I was also very agile for a kid, probably in my blood. I would find my way up to the roof she sat on, whether she invited me to join her or not. The woman didn’t mind if I wasn’t. If anything, she’d be glad to have me there next to her no matter what as she sang before bedtime.
One evening, I asked the woman a random question: What’s your favorite song?
“Highwayman,” she answered. “There are multiple versions, but I think the cover by The Highwaymen is my preference. Their name even matches and Johnny Cash is in it.”
I asked her why.
“It’s a beautiful song about reincarnation.”
“Oh… well, it’s basically the concept that, when we die, instead of an afterlife or nothingness, what happens is our soul leaves the body we had and finds its way into an unborn one. In other words, instead of being born into existence at random, we’re simply born into a new body and live life again.”
“Yeah, I guess it would be for someone your age. I love The Highwaymen’s version the best because it’s four separate singers singing four separate verses. Four singers, four souls, four verses! Johnny Cash is given the best and last verse.”
Can you sing it for me?
“Sure thing! I’d be happy too, #&$.”
And that’s exactly what she did, with her guitar skills and her mighty pleasant vocals that, if she was telling the truth, were untrained; a natural singer she was. The woman didn’t bother trying to emulate four people, but her voice resonated with anybody who’d listen, so it didn’t matter. It really was a beautiful song, especially with how she sung it.
After she finished, we looked on toward the sunset of a breezy evening. I leaned against her, feeling somewhat tired and ready for bed as the seconds grew on. It was here that she asked me a very peculiar question.
“Tell me, would rather find a place to rest your spirit, or reincarnate and be a highwayman again?”
What’s a highwayman?
“The song should’ve told you already.”
I guess I wanted a confirmation.
“They are criminals who’d stalk roads and steal the possessions of wandering travelers, maybe even kill them if need be.”
In that case, I’d rather rest my spirit then.
Her response didn’t seem all approving. Did I choose wrong?
“No, I’d say both answers are valid, $&#. “
What’s the problem with wanting to stop and rest my spirit then? I don’t wanna be a criminal!
“And that’s a great thing. You shouldn’t. But… I don’t know, I’ve always viewed that line in particular in my own way.”
“Well, to reach the other side and ‘find a place to rest my spirit if I can’ is to imply that one abandons some kind of life or adventure to spend the rest of their time in restful apathy. They’ve had their fill, but now it’s time to stop and be content. There’s nothing more you can do or want to do, even as the world beyond them spins out of control.”
And becoming a highwayman?
“That option is little tricky. I don’t necessarily view it as going back to being a criminal, stealing from traveling strangers. Thing is, actual highwaymen probably did what they did to survive because they needed to support themselves for the most part. They saw no other sustainable option and even if it gets them killed in the end, they won’t crumble to the ground and give up on life. Way I see it, to ‘become a highwayman again’ is to continue taking action and see there is much to be done. Whatever purpose you find in life is not yet over, you must take action for as long as you can because it is how you continue living.”
So in other words…
“Do you choose to be apathetic towards the world you live in, see it as beyond you? Or do you find it in yourself to continue living in it despite the problems it faces?
Hold on, what about the part about becoming a drop of rain?
“I think of that part as becoming something more abstract. Like becoming a memory… or even becoming legend like Johnny Cash.”
I never forgot that night. I never forgot her, the abstract — the memory of my mother.
I clenched my fist and suppressed the tear that almost came through. For some reason, that was the memory that sprang to my mind, as if fated. To find a place to rest my spirit? Or to become a highwayman again? Mom had a weird way of looking at things sometimes, but the fact I suddenly felt the way I did could only mean she was right on some level, even if I was simply responding to this memory with pure instinct just thinking of it.
The irony wasn’t lost on me. Even without serving jail time, for the past 7-years, I’ve become closer to being a criminal than I ever had in any other moment in life. I should be in jail right now for the stuff I’ve pulled, but was never really punished for. That begs the question: Have I been resting my spirit or have I become a highwayman?
That memory made something very clear. People typically have a hard time trying to kill me; suppose I have a hard time trying to kill the old me. As many times as I try to stab that version of me in the heart, over and over, I fail horribly. Something had to be done. I need to do something, or this feeling I have right now will never go away.
I sighed, and looked at Deiter with serious eyes of my own.
“I can’t do that,” I told Deiter.
“Like hell you can’t!” He exclaimed.
“No, I really can’t.”
“That the vigilante talking, or the freelancer wanting that cheddar to go along with her milk?”
“I can’t ignore the reward, but I also can’t ignore the fact a scared wife is missing her husband that’s clearly in danger by a force we don’t know over Cryptinium of all things. So yeah… might be the vigilante getting the final say.” I stood up from the stool. “I’m going to the lower-levels. Whatever I said I’d bet, keep it, put on those two bozo’s tab. I don’t want to think about it.”
Deiter sighed. “Sure,” he said with a tinge of genuine, unmistakable worry. “If that’s the case and those two pairs of ears are deaf to my tongue, you do you, Kitty. Guess I can’t stop someone like you.”
“Greater men have tried. Worse ones too.”
“If you’re really going down there, I’ll give you a tip. You probably wanna investigate the gangs. I recommend checking with The Quantifusers near the sewer sector, they were hit the hardest. Find a man named Corr, he’s the gang’s leader. He might know something I don’t. Watch those whiskers, keep those revolvers close.”
“Always do. Thanks for the drink… and the information, Deiter.”
“Any time… if you’re still alive when this is over.”
I turned around and headed to the exit. As the patrons drank, sang, and passed out all over the place, there I walked, onward to my next destination where I either take action or die trying. Upon reaching the door, it didn’t feel right to leave just yet. There was one last thing to do.
Turning my look to the counter, Deiter stared on. I smirked, and waved at him; he waved back. Satisfied, I exited The Ender Pub.