Astroid Gambit: A look Inside
Casablanca in space with asteroids.
Ellen walks into her ex-lover Jack’s bar on Ceres and back into his life. She wants his help, not his heart.
He’ll give her the help, hope for her heart later.
As the noise level in the Black Rock Bar on Ceres died to a whisper, Jack turned toward the door and saw Ellen walk back into his life. Even in Ceres microgravity, her cinnamon hair still fell gracefully to her shoulders. But her blue eyes were wary in a way he’d never seen.
Jack stood rooted to the spot as she approached, threading a graceful path through the half dozen scattered tables. He couldn’t look away. He could barely breathe.
She came closer and the faint scent of her perfume, peach blossoms with a hint of vanilla, transported him back to their time together as partners and lovers, alone in a tiny ship deep in the Belt. She’d been gone over a year, but he’d never given up hope she’d return. As he touched her hand, its delicate bone structure almost took his breath away.
“Hello, Jack,” she said.
Oh, no. Where had that come from? He’d always said it when they woke up together. The intimacy it claimed was long gone.
She stiffened, drew her hands back a few millimeters. It felt like a mile. Only the ghost of her smile remained.
“How have you been?” she asked.
Jack spread his arms, palms open, taking in customers, tables, booths.
“I’m all right. The bar keeps me going. No more dirt-poor grubbing for mineable asteroids. You?”
“It’s complicated,” she said, unable to meet his eyes. “Harry’s been a good partner. We’ve been successful overall. Until now.”
“Partner, huh?” he sneered. Nothing else had registered. “We were partners once.”
This just kept getting worse. If only the floor would open up and swallow him.
“Jack,” she said, her smile disappearing entirely, “I didn’t come here to fight. We meant something to each other once. Doesn’t that count for anything?”
He had to get a grip. Lashing out at her for leaving wasn’t going to bring her back. Nothing would.
“Ellen,” he said, “I’m sorry. It’s good to see you again. Can I buy you a beer?”
“Sure.” She relaxed her arms, dropped her hands to her sides. Maybe he could find a way across the chasm between them.
“Billy,” Jack said to his co-owner standing behind the bar, “watch the bar, would you? I’m going to have a drink with my friend. Bring us a couple of beers.”
Billy scowled at them both. His broad, square face and huge mustache gave the scowl intimidating authority. A scowl was the only expression Billy had. But a twitch of his mustache told Jack he didn’t mind. Jack had found it vital to learn Billy’s nuances; Billy seldom uttered words to communicate.
Jack waved Ellen into a booth. Music was playing, a low murmur of conversation resumed, giving at least the illusion of privacy.
“You’ve done a lot with the place,” she said. “I remember the first time we were here. It was pretty awful.”
“There are two bars on Ceres now. I had to go upscale.”
Her mouth curved up in a momentary grin. “Upscale is a fresh coat of paint on the walls? Or is it the two kinds of whiskey on your shelves? Bad and worse?”
He returned her smile. “United Nations of Sol bureaucrats and company bosses stay at the Hilton Hotel downtown. They can afford the pricey booze there. They wouldn’t come to the Black Rock on a bet. Out here where the prospectors and contract workers live, I have to keep my prices low if I want customers.”
“I was surprised when I heard you’d bought the Black Rock. I thought you were headed downsun to Earth as soon as you could afford it.”
“Things change,” he mumbled. Heading back down the gravity well to find a life on Earth never beckoned for very long anymore. His bank account was comfortable, but he’d been gone from Earth too long. Besides, what he wanted wasn’t there.
Billy glide-walked to the booth with two beers in lidded container, gecko boots gripping and releasing the floor without conscious thought. Billy seemed almost as wide as he was tall, his blond hair wavy behind his receding hairline. He wiped the tabletop with a damp towel, set the two beers on the table, and left. A slight lift of his right eyebrow as he headed back to the bar suggested he found Ellen attractive.
Jack studied Ellen while she took a sip of her beer. Her fingers on the table were restless. Her eyes were haunted, darting around the room, looking anywhere but at him.
“Ellen, what’s wrong?”
“I’m in trouble,” she said in an almost inaudible voice. “You’re the only person I can count on.”Steven Fritz, Chapter 1
Like I said Casablanca in space with astroids.
Steven Fritz has been many things: firefighter, Naval Aviator, medical school professor, university research administrator, seed stage venture fund manager, entrepreneur. Now that he’s retired he uses this background to create alternate futures for humanity. He lives in Columbia, Maryland with his wife. https://www.inigopress.com/