Saloon of the Damned
“And stay out!”
A burly, thick-set individual flew through the saloon doors, crashing heavily to the floor with a yell of desperation. Several passersby glanced at the crumpled drunkard, before resuming their business unconcerned. Just another feck-wit who couldn’t handle his grog. The doors slowly swung still, un-oiled double-hinges creaking loudly. The anonymous drunk, embarrassed and dazed crawled to his feet. Swaying like a weed in a breeze, he gazed up at the saloon with unfocussed eyes, foolishly attempting to remember the establishment for future reference. Stepping into a bar you’ve previously been hurled out of never ended well no matter who owned the place. And in “The Decree”, the odds of you leaving with the use of your thumbs were not good. A large, plasma lit sign hung above the saloon doors, drawing drinkers to the building like moths to a flame. Squinting, the drunk tried to translate the blurred jumble of letters above him. Years of working in the gloomy mid-decks of the Quaestus Questus had left him with poor eyesight as it was; throw in a deadly cocktail of sacra, amasec and obscura and a fruit bat probably stood a better chance of deciphering the bar’s name. Finally admitting defeat, the slobbish drunkard, drool trickling down his chin, stumbled off down the strip. The green plasma-sign flickered gently, inviting other patrons to its lukewarm embrace.
The lummox had weighed far more than he had expected. Massaging the small of his back, Conrad Riley retreated back behind the bar. He wasn’t as young as he used to be, the diminishing nature of old age slowly but surely becoming more noticeable. There was a time he could have vaulted the bar and thrown two men out simultaneously, but that was just a memory, nothing more. Picking up a dirty rag, Riley set to work wiping down the bar, ridding its chrome surface of the spilled beverage the recent scuffle had produced. Reluctantly disposing an upturned and thoroughly cracked glass decanter, the weary proprietor caught a glimpse of a reflection in the polished. Looking back at him was a creased and sagging face, weathered by decades of living rough and skirmishing across the sector. Once upon a time, a handsome, chiselled visage had stared back at him, with a boyish charm. He often wondered what had happened to that young man, so full of dreams; dreams of grandeur and glory. Foolish dreams, lost to a lifetime of plunder and piracy.
“When you’re ready Con’.”
Pulled out of his existential daydream, Riley looked up at the man sitting at the end of the bar. Perched on a high stool, he held his empty glass up high, ready for yet another drink. Throwing the rag over his left shoulder, Riley glided over to the waiting customer.
“Same again Syd?”
Traver Sydal belched loudly before replying.
“Aye, you know me mate. Make it a double though will ya. Got a feckin’ monster shift tomorrow.”
Riley smiled, uncorking the bottle of RedRum already in his hands. Sydal was a regular and any barman worth his salt always remembered his regulars’ poison of choice. The cork gave a satisfying pop, promptly accompanied by the sweet, sweet smell of the potent liquor. Sloshing a generous measure of the liquid into Sydal’s glass, Riley noted,
“Nothing like a sore brain and splitting headache to get you through the day eh?”
Both of Sydal’s chins wobbled as he chuckled heavily. “You know what it’s like in the engine bays; I’ll be fecked if I’m pulling an eighteen-hour sober.”
As if to emphasise the point, he knocked the double back in one gulp, slamming the glass back down to the bar.
Riley plugged the spongy cork back into the bottle, replacing it in the long line of liquor bottles behind the bar. Amused at his customer’s increasingly tipsy behaviour he mocked,
“You better not let Suki catch you wasted; otherwise she’s gonna kick your ass back to Maccrage.”
He left Sydal sniggering away to himself on the stool. Looking around the saloon, Riley felt a quiet pride. Often credited as the finest establishment in The Decree, there was rarely a night he didn’t have at least a few dozen punters. Large tables were scattered about the expansive room, several of which were occupied, late though it was. Plinky plonky music echoed from concealed vox-boxes, providing the bar with a casual ambience. The elderly bartender wandered over to a nearby table, a heated game of Deadman’s Dice in process. Not one of the four men spoke, each too engrossed in the current hand, desperately trying to read one another’s expression. Besides alcohol, gambling was the greatest source of trouble in The Decree. Riley had lost count how many times he’d seen fights break out over a dice-table. Just last week, the First Mate himself had been forced to come down here, and Riley still had the image of him blowing a disgruntled gambler to bits firmly in his mind. So, with the well-being of his saloon in mind, Conrad Riley made sure he kept a watchful eye on anyone throwing dice. Using his filthy rag to wipe down an adjacent table, he spoke to the gamers.
“Any of you lads be needin’ anythin’?”
None of them looked up, grunting incomprehensibly. Taking that as a no, he picked up an empty bottle and returned to the bar. Without a moments warning, the floor started to tremble violently. The bottle slipped from Riley’s grip, shattering on impact with the dusty floor. Throughout the saloon, glasses fell off tables, spreading jagged fragments skittering across the deck. The table of gamblers roared in rage as the dice were disturbed, wrecking the hands. On his stool, Sydal neatly caught the bottle of RedRum as it tumbled off the bar, his inebriation apparently having little effect on his reflexes. As suddenly as it had started, the vibrations ceased. A moment of silence in the bar was soon broken, excited murmurs and a surge in conversation filling the room. Each of the corsairs knew that what the rumble had signified. The Quaestus Questus had surfaced from the warp-dive. For the first time in months, the infamous vessel was in real-space, and that could mean only one thing.
Everyone in the saloon, everyone in The Decree, everyone on the ship, rejoiced. It appeared Captain Xotuxo had acquired the vessel’s next victim. “May the God’s have mercy,” thought Riley, for the Corsairs of the Quaestus Questus never did.
A grin spread across his wrinkled face. He had a feeling The Decree would be busy tonight.