Shifting Ice - Chapter 17: Ghost That Lingers

By Jared Vaillancourt

“Evening,” Vintis grunted as it entered the ship’s lounge. The tall Jukkopo barkeeper smiled at it as it sat at the counter. “What’s the strongest you’ve got on this barge?”

“Well, this is a cruiser,” the waiter smirked as he reached under the counter for a fresh glass, “and I’m afraid I don’t quite remember the rule of tendril for serving Zwitii.”

Vintis looked up at the waiter as he smiled and pushed the empty glass towards it. Vintis accepted it.

“It’s an easy rule,” Vintis muttered into the glass, “We can only drink things named after a color and a natural formation.” It smirked up at two of the Jukkopo’s eyes.

“Amber mist, yellow moon, green mountain, purple star…” Vintis picked up the glass and sighed. “Clear atmosphere.”

“Well, I have amber mist,” the waiter rubbed a tendril with its tentacle, “but nothing else with that kind of nomenclature. What will the other types of drinks do to you?” he asked as one of his eyestalks turned to follow a tentacle as he reached behind him into the sub-zero shelf. Vintis let out a humorless laugh and tossed its empty glass back onto the counter.

“I’ll get sick and die!” Vintis exclaimed. The barkeeper chuckled as he poured Vintis’ drink, the amber liquor literally puffing out in a mist as the cold liquid met the ship’s warm air. “Hey, hey. Leave the bottle,” Vintis ordered as the Jukkopo turned to place it back on the shelf.

“Ah, planning to make tonight a mystery, I see?” the barkeep asked as Vintis passed its credit coin over the counter’s reader. Vintis tossed the drink back, gulping as it finished off the liquid without pausing to enjoy it. It had had so many amber mists in its day that they all tasted the same. Vintis sighed as it placed the glass back down onto the counter.

“I’d just be happy if the last year would go the fuck away,” Vintis grumbled. The barkeeper nodded his eyestalks as he refilled Vintis’ glass. “I mean, just the bad parts. Meeting Klezyp was all right, but great stars…” it chuckled as it took a generous gulp from the liquor.

“Oh – then you’re Vintis,” the barkeeper exclaimed. “Sorry, I…”

“Can’t tell one fucking Zwitii from another,” Vintis waived him off. “I get that a lot.” Vintis gulped back the last of its drink and waited for the barkeeper to refill it. The barkeeper smiled.

“Well, you are a very uniform species,” the barkeeper replied. “It’s hard to tell your males from your females, and I haven’t seen any indications in racial differences from the few Zwitii I’ve met.” Vintis scoffed and downed its drink. The barkeeper hesitated before he refilled it.

“Races?” Vintis laughed. “Give me a fucking break. You don’t know fuck-all about the Zwitii, do you?” it demanded. “All our races bred together long ago into this.” Vintis eyed the Jukkopo as it finished the glass again. “And the only reason we could do this is-”

“Vintis?” Klezyp’s voice called from the doorway. Vintis turned and spotted that worthy standing there, a concerned expression parting its mandibles.  Vintis turned to the barkeeper and grabbed the bottle as it stood up.

“I’ll tell you later,” Vintis growled. The barkeeper smiled humorlessly as Vintis turned and started over towards Klezyp, its last few steps turning into a slight stagger. “Yes, dear?” Vintis asked.

“I thought you’d want to know,” Klezyp said in a low tone, “the first officer called our quarters. She said the Captain’s detecting what looks like another ship shadowing us at extreme range.” Vintis narrowed its eyes and clutched the bottle tight.

“Looks like a ship?” Vintis echoed. Klezyp grabbed its shoulders.

“Looks like an Izraal design,” Klezyp said worriedly. Vintis scoffed, causing Klezyp to rear its head back. “Great stars, Vintis – how much have you had?” it asked. Vintis shook Klezyp off.

“Just a couple,” Vintis hiccoughed. Klezyp crossed its arms.

“Four,” the barkeeper raised his voice from behind them. Vintis shot the Jukkopo a dirty look.

“Vintis!” Klezyp exclaimed as it grabbed the bottle from it. “Great stars, I know this is hard on you, but if you have a problem it’d be better if you just worked it out with me!” Vintis sneered and grabbed the bottle back, staggering a step as it did so.

“Work it out with you?” Vintis slurred. “You… you’re old, Klezyp.” Vintis popped the cap off of the bottle and took a swig. Klezyp gasped. “You can’t relate to someone my age.”

“Vintis, you don’t mean that,” Klezyp said levelly. Vintis took a step back.

“You know, I bet its Kyraa,” Vintis announced for everyone’s benefit. “She’s stalking me.” It took another swig. “Wants to fulfill some fucking zealot honor… thingy.”

“Vintis, please,” Klezyp took a step forwards, panting the beginnings of liquid tears as it did so, “don’t do this.” Vintis turned and chucked the bottle at an empty table, where it shattered against an all-species stool. The Jukkopo made a noise in surprise.

“I had it all figured out, eh?” Vintis said slowly as it turned slowly back to face Klezyp. “I had a nice life. Nothing fucking glamorous, great stars, but good!” It advanced drunkenly on Klezyp. “And then this fucking blood feud breaks out, and the whole fucking galaxy gets sucked into a massive, great star-fucking singularity.” It stumbled, and Klezyp leapt forward to catch it.

“Vintis, you’re scaring me,” Klezyp whispered is it held it. Vintis shoved it away.

“Leave me alone!” Vintis roared as it stumbled for the door. “Izraal’s fault. All Izraal’s fault.”

After the door hissed shut, Klezyp slowly fell to its knees and cried.

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