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Whiskey Storytime

Posted on Sun Jul 5th, 2020 @ 7:46pm by Executive Officer Kenneth McTigue & Commanding Officer Mickey Serendipity & Comm Tech Wulf Edevane

Mission: The Forgotten Arm
Location: The Broken Airlock Bar - Amstrong City - Luna
Timeline: About a ~month since Wulf joined up with the Tross (continues immediately after Fists of Fury)

Top shelf whiskey was definitely a fair price when wishing to avoid the wrath of Mickey Serendipity, that was for sure. Wulf didn’t need to argue, barter or complain on that score. The comm tech followed in Ken’s wake, noting the bruises on the Tross engineer’s throat as they stepped back into the bar and uncomfortably conscious of his own black eye. He hadn’t expected that - the brutally stolen rescue - and Wulf was more than happy to make thank-you payments in hard liquor.

So, he gratefully took the expensive bottle and shot glasses from the barmaid’s hands then scooted swiftly back across to join the two older men at the XO’s table. Guilt skidded through the tech’s brain as he noted Ken’s scuffled knuckles and he avoided Mickey’s gaze as he took a seat beside him and poured three drinks. He kept his head lowered, and his mouth closed.

Ken's knuckles itched, the skin had scraped off and the raw flesh underneath didn't like the air. But a proper shot of Lagavulin compensated for that. Another glass appeared before him holding the amber brown liquid. Ken took the glass and sniffed it. The smoke, the sweet spices, the hint of vanilla. It made him wonder, just for a moment, how much a ticket down the well to Ireland would be, to drink again with people from the Old Country. But he dismissed the thought and took a sip. It burned ever so slightly as the liquor went down, but it gave him a satisfying warmth.

Making a classic rookie mistake, Wulf picked up his shot glass and downed it in one gulp. He came up with a gasping shocked look of surprise plastered across his face and a definite struggle to stop sucking in air.

"Respect," Mickey said and took his glass and sipped it slowly, savouring the burn and the smoke of it. It mingled with the Luna fines that permeated the atmospheric processors of Armstrong City. Closing his eyes the smokiness on his lips, the scent of gun powder from the lunar regolith. He set the glass back down, and tapped a finger next to it. "This is something you consider, you understand. Knocking it back like it's aqua is sure sign of disrespect. Like brawling in a UN flagged port."

Wulf nodded, as he finally caught his breathing back into a healthy rhythm. Lesson learned, he decided, as he quietly scoured those two faces. Ken and Mickey, both briefly serene in the presence of this seemingly magical liquor. He didn't get it, but he definitely appreciated now that they did. "Yessir," Wulf said, still new enough to not want to literally rock the boat. But he didn't stop there. "Wasn't so much a brawl as an arse-kicking," the tech added, with a begrudging grin in Ken's direction.

"Oh come on, Mick. Couldn't let them take the kid. Wouldn't have seen him again." Ken said soothingly before inhaling the whisky's scent again. "Besides, I didn't kill anybody, barely hurt them. Just some broken bones." And the other half of the amber liquid disappeared down the gullet. "I've given worse beatings over the years."

"Broken bones heal, broken pride does not," Mickey mused thoughtfully. "Folks have long memories."

"What would you have me do, Mick? Should I have taken the beating and hope I come out alive?" Ken felt the adrenaline slide back into his blood. His temper had not cooled as much as he had thought.

Quietly, Wulf refilled the empty glasses, shot Ken a look of minor awe, and then quietly spoke up. "Next time I'll help," he promised.

"Preferably? I'd rather arseholes like that didn't get a second chance to screw us over," Mickey said and took a sip from his drink. "Dead don't much care for vengeance."

At that, the tech choked on a mouthful of whiskey and came up with a wide-eyed and worried look cast straight at the Tross' XO.

"No. But bodies raise questions. This isn't Pallas, this isn't even Ceres. The dead might not come for vengeance, but bodies bring police. If they come for round two I'll put two rounds between their eyes and claim self defence". Ken retorted, his body already tiring from the second wave of adrenaline.

"I don't think we need to kill anyone," Wulf said, his voice very low and coloured with trepidation. He took a very small sip from his glass and tried to savour the flavour, but it just tasted like smoke-soaked whiskey.

Ken emptied his glass and looked at it pensively for a long moment. "Probably killed too many people anyway." The engineer said dryly.

Wulf didn't skip a beat before he refilled the engineer's glass once more. He owed Ken way more than a bottle of whiskey, but the tech intended to make sure at least that part of his debt was paid. "I guess," he said, steeling himself for a rebuke, stony silence or some horribly brutal truth. "In a real war, you have to kill some of them before they kill you, huh?"

The whiskey smelled wonderfully, and Ken savoured it for a long quiet moment before sipping some. The taste was complex, citrus notes competing with a hint of caramel underlined with a smokey texture. "War means death, Wulf. And sometimes you don't get the chance to kill someone before they kill you. Artillery and bombing runs are rather arbitrary like that."

"One man's bomb is another man's call to an act of vengeance," Mickey added. "'If they ask me how I died, tell them this: still angry'. A warrior poet from another place, another time. Old man I knew when I was younger was something of a philosopher, liked to impart these kernels of wisdom into those within earshot. But war is politics by other mans. Sometimes a person needs to be killed Wulf, its not something done easily or in haste. And it bares a cost."

The comms tech gulped and adopted a deeply disturbed expression. He hadn't ever killed anyone, and he'd never been in a war. He did, however, know a thing or two about bombs. Things he didn't want to know. He listened to Mickey speak of warrior poets, and both the XO and the engineer speak of killing as if it were a simple matter, something that had to be done. Wulf vehemently disagreed with this philosophy, his ideology built on a far safer existence than the other two, for the most part.

"In a war, maybe," Wulf consented, reluctantly. His eyes went big, worried. "But... not just in a bar fight?"

The second shot of whiskey disappeared from Ken's glass in a swift motion. "In a bar, on a ship, on a piece of shit mining station at the ass end of the system. Sometimes it's because they point a gun at your friend, sometimes it's because your CO says shoot. Sometimes it's called a police action, sometimes it's called anti-piracy. And sometimes it's called a bar fight. But at end of the day, sometimes people die."

Automatically, Wulf refilled the glass, but he spilled some whiskey over the top as Ken kept talking. On a piece of shit mining station at the ass end of the system. That resonated on a particular frequency with the tech and he stared at the Tross' engineer. "Sometimes," Wulf heard himself say before he could stop himself. "They... call it a massacre?"

Ken's eyes locked on Wulf's, and everything in his expression communicated a deep, silent anger. "You don't know what you're talking about, Wulf." The words were clipped, precise, and carried a powerful warning.

"Like I and Soto said way back on Rhea, everyone on the Tross has a story of their own. Doesn't mean that story need ever be told," Mickey said, tapping his glass down hard on the countertop and gesturing to the bartender for a refill. "A tale like that might make you act differently, might make others see you differently. I choose to believe in the way people act towards me and mine. It's the great advantage of the human eye, it has no ability to see context without context."

Taking the bottle from Wulf, Ken poured himself a double measure. While he stared at the slow pour of the good stuff, he locked the anger down, wrapped it in tired old chains, and poured in concrete in the form of mental discipline. Then Ken poured for Mickey. A silence stretched itself out for a short time that felt as an eternity. "When you're a Marine, you get orders. Those orders are to be carried out. Those high up say that you are to disobey orders that you find immoral. But when you're out here, disobeying an order might well get you killed. So you do as you are ordered, and when all is done you pray for forgiveness from the depths of your soul. That day was one such day."

Wulf was silent for the longest time, and he abstained from further drinking for the moment while he let his mind wrap about the two Tross faithful's words. He understood Mickey's point of view, at least with regards old stories, and the way others might regard each of them. Wulf had a few skeletons of his own to keep firmly locked up in the closet, and he doubted he could hold his liquor anywhere near as well as either of these two. He didn't think he'd have been able to follow the orders that Ken had followed, and Wulf wondered for a long moment how that would have played out, but - truly - he'd never know. His hard choices had forged a path in a different way, exiled and forgotten, pushed away by those who had once strived to make him one of their own.

"What happened?" Wulf asked, unwilling in the moment to simply let sleeping stories lie. He wasn't looking to play judge and jury, but Ken had opened this particular box of vipers and now the tech couldn't help but try to look inside. "I mean, I know what the reports said. But... Really, what happened?"

"Wulf...just drink your drink, no more questions," Mickey said quietly.

Slowly and with no words, Wulf cradled the shot glass of expensive whiskey and looked from Mickey to Ken to Mickey and back again. His soulful, curious gaze remained on the engineer, but he didn't ask again, unwilling to go against the XO's request. Taking small sips, Wulf let the fine booze offer up its burn from that long-lost peat fire.

"You know, serving in the Marines wasn't always bad. I did a stint on the Mikhail Lebedev. It was during one of the big pushes to clear the Belt from its pirate problem. We'd go out in a big cruiser, with a half dozen frigates and torpedo bombers. An airlock full of marines in power armour. You'd find a ship, swoop in with your interceptor, and board. Some days it'd lead to violence. Pirates would think they could stop a half dozen marines in power armour. Those were bad days. But one such intercept we boarded a small tramp hauler called the Ezekiel Pride. Ancient looking thing."

Ken took a quick nip of his whiskey before continuing. "Well, the Pride was a family ship. Four generation of Belter looked very confused at the six marines in gun-scarred heavy armour stepping through their airlock. But they recognised the UNMC logo on our chests and welcomed us in. We quickly confirmed that they weren't hostile and stepped out the airlock, informing them we'd come back for an inspection." Ken smiled a little at the memory. "I got out of my armour, put on some standard issue armour and walked back in with my buddy and the inspection officer. The officer, some young prick an ensign did his fully formal sweep, and my buddy went with him."

Another sip of the drink, a slightly longer pause to enjoy it, "I get to talking with the patriarch of this clan. Turns out that the Pride has been tramping through the solar system since before the old man was even born. Been in the family over a century and a half. Told me the hull is more patches than original metal at that point."

Sipping his whiskey, Wulf sat rapt with Ken's every word as the engineer spoke. His head filled with visions of Marines in power armour - of specifically the rangy man before him all geared up and kicking ass - and the comm tech's mind drifted back into that mental imagery. Pirates. Marines. Belters. He had no personal experience of being intimidated by such potent and powerful forces, but he could imagine the fear and shock in the Pride's compliment on being greeted that way.

"That's awesome," Wulf said, with quiet enthusiasm and a quick look to Mickey to check it was okay to comment. "Not all Belters are enemies or trouble," he noted. "Really cool that you spoke to them like real people. Lot of Earthers wouldn't." He offered a lopsided smile, because he'd seen the shadier side of Belters, but rarely the nicer side of Earthers. "Bet they had some stories."

"And Myths. People go to a place, stay there a spell, they begin to form myths. Ceres has the Mariners Mark, a sign of misfortune. Prospectors out of Vesta place a bottle of spirits in the air lock and vent it out into space as an offering to the Patch Mother for good luck. And then there's the Rag Man of Rhea, always liked that one. A worker from the first colony spike they drove into the ground, lost out on the ice. Using the skin of naughty children to make his space suit whole," Mickey sipped his drink. "Humanity loves playing in Platos cave ya know?"

"For sure," Wulf agreed, nodding enthusiastically to Mickey's talk of folk tales and lore. "I used to have nightmares about the Rag Man," he admitted.

The tech had travelled enough in the last decade to hear plenty of wild tales, and his bedtime stories as a child had been populated by myths and legends dredged from his sister's many contacts out beyond their home. While some would consider the young man to be Belter and others less so, Wulf's Tritanian upbringing had been a mixture of wealth and neglect, and his journey outward into the stars had brought a myriad of myths and imaginings from a variety of strangers.

"Out near Triton and Neptune's rings they talk of ghosts," the comm tech said. "Beautiful, female spirits who wander through the hulls of ships and tempt folk to join them out in the void. They sing, sweet lullaby songs that muddy your mind and make you forget all about a need for oxygen. Space sirens," Wulf said, enthusiasm colouring his tone. "I always kinda hoped I'd see one, until I got out there for real..."

"Back when the Greek citystates were still the beacons of democracy, and the wind pushed ships they said such creatures lived on an island. They would lure men onto the rocks and kill them." Ken replied, "Of course those same people supposedly lead a big wooden horse through their city gift, thinking it was a gift of surrender from their enemy." With a shrug, Ken continued, "And whenever my squad would board a Belter ship we'd punch a particular bulkhead before stepping into the airlock for good luck. We all have our rituals, even in the deep of space."

"The Silent Benefactor," Mickey said softly.

"A big wooden horse?" Wulf asked, tone incredulous. "Why would anyone want one of those?" He sipped the whiskey slowly and sighed, curious now. "And why would you leave a gift if you surrendered?"

Ken shrugged, "If you ever find a time machine and travel back to ancient Greece, do find out." He emptied the dregs of whiskey, "As for me, it's the crucifix that hangs above the engineering hatch. Got to believe there is something bigger than the vast emptiness."

Wulf opened his mouth to say something, then left it open as, for once, he considered the words first. "Time travel into the past doesn't make logical sense," he noted, as he refilled any empty glasses from the expensive bottle and regarded both Mickey and Ken for a second. "Something bigger? Like a god?" He asked, no sarcasm in his tone whatsoever. "Or benevolent aliens? Or both?"

"I'm Irish Catholic. So I believe in God and his son Jesus." Ken shrugged and pulled a silver chain from under his shirt. On it was a small silver crucifix pitted and tarnished, as well as a small saint's medal for Saint Brendan the Navigator.

"Ah, okay," said Wulf, his tone nonjudgemental in this regard. Religion wasn't something he'd actively considered, or been brought up with, but he didn't have any issue with other people's ideas. Not unless they actively created trouble around him, anyway. He understood the reference of the silver cross - expensive schooling had covered most things in his youth - but the other medal's significance was lost to him. "Looks like you've had that cross for a long time," Wulf noted. "What's the other one mean?"

"Patron saint of Voyagers and Navigators, of the Irish pantheon if memory serves," Mickey commented. "Not as new or exciting as the Patch Mother and her host of vacuum suited angels, but it has an old-world charm. Its said there's a convocation of Brendanites out in the Uranus lunar system, praying over the mournful ghosts of Oberon's court. Every year they comb the silver planes of that world, finding the dead lost there during the last big Out Solar War. They'll never find them all mind you. Oberon is jealous of its dead."

Ken took Wulf's bottle and poured himself another measure. "Did a tour in the Uranus system when I was green as grass. First time we flew near Oberon the comms officer piped the broadcasts through the overhead. Hadn't heard true fear until those ghosts screamed their terror at us over and over."

"There's a reason there are two worlds that take special consideration for shipper's like us. First off there's Mercury, but that's mostly a technical problem. Extra shielding, triple redundant systems, and radiators that's make the ones folded under the 'Tross's baffles look like dragon fly wings. And then there's Uranus," Mickey tapped a finger against the rim of his drink. "One of the only times the Corporates went full bore out here in the void. No MCRN or UNN observers, no rules of wars. Atomics, kinetics, snap cloning and indentured soldiers. Some of the most advanced weaponry in the system got field tested on the moons of Uranus. One of the few things the Martians and Earthers agree on is not to repeat it."

There was a moment of silence as Wulf looked up a word on his terminal - convocation - and a deeper look of now slightly fuzzy-headed wonder as he listened to the two older men talk. Ghosts and saints and angels, and the king of the fairies from those old books they'd read as kids. He'd taken interest in that, particularly because of the names of the moons around Uranus, but then those stories had faded in favour of an online existence and other, more nefarious pursuits.

Wulf finished his whiskey and looked to the bottle currently in Ken's possession. He wasn't sure he wanted more, but he offered his empty glass across the table anyway.

"Were you out there, Mickey?" The tech risked asking. "When they shot up Uranus' moons?"

"Wouldn't that be a thing?" Mickey said with a grin and knocked his drink back. He then slid back on his chair, and turned to the mechanic. "Ken, make sure the kid here doesn't end up slipping into the deep end of his cups."

"That was a long time ago, Wulf. It was a small war, as these things go. But the battle on Oberon would make any single battlefield in any of the wars on Earth feel tame in comparison. When the MCRN finally swooped in and put a stop to it they fired nuclear ship-to-ship torpedoes to take out any and all aggressors. Was the first time the Martians went nuclear. But it sent a message, this war was over." Ken took the bottle and studied it in a moment of silence, consider the less than a third left. "You want another, Mickey?"

The comm tech nodded and focused intently on each man as they spoke. Then he frowned, and waggled his glass towards Ken as Mickey made his point and the engineer ignored him. All the aches and pains of the recent brawl had faded somewhat, and Wulf's mind was focused on thoughts of the MCRN nuking worlds. "They really killed them all?" He asked. Seemed there was never enough death in this system, and yet, he knew with absolute certainty, there was more to come. And when there was, Wulf had an unerring sense that these two would know how to handle it.

"That they did Wulf, the lucky ones are still out on the frozen planes of Oberon," Mickey said, nodding at Ken. "I'm heading back to the ship Ken, got some paperwork to sort through."

"Sweet dreams Mick." Ken said, and eyed the bottle. "How about we finish the bottle and see if we can find someone warm to sleep with, eh Wulf?"

"G'night, Mickey!" Added Wulf, boldly. His gaze followed the XO for few seconds before all the tech's attention shifted entirely to Ken. Bright eyes shone with clear excitement at this newly offered option for evening entertainment and Wulf's head nodded enthusiastically. "Hell, yeah!" He said, and beamed like a five year old on Christmas morning. It had been... well a while.


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