This is the second installment of one of my WIPs, a space opera re-telling of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. You can catch up on the first chapter here!
Lysander Jackson used to love the Wreck until he had to patrol it. The messiness and freedom of what was officially known as the Recreation Deck had since become his bane as a security guard. Three months into the assignment, he now knew every back alley and shady meeting spot intimately, and looked at every shifty flick of the eye or twitch of the fingers with immediate suspicion. Anyone or everyone could have ulterior motives.
It had not always been that way. He had walked the Wreck with Hermia and his friends, enjoying good drink and idle conversation. They had enjoyed games and films, and even holographically candlelit dinners on occasion when he had saved enough credits. And then he graduated and was shuttled into the security school, while Hermia and the rest of his friends started various trade schools. He learned the truth about the Wreck and its empty but all too tempting promises.
And he hated it. Hated hunting down the hollow-eyed and broken-hearted. Hated plunging again and again into the dark heart of the Wreck. Hated the cynicism and suspicion that grew up around his own heart, only to be confirmed with each patrol.
Hermia had been the first to feel the difference in him, and it tore them apart. She had always been kind, always hopeful. Time and again, he wished be could go back and change things, to unsee the dark heart of the Wreck and become anything but a security officer. But on an enormous arcship traveling through space there was not much freedom to change careers. Finite resources and finite space required order. Every person’s course in life had been plotted out from the moment of their birth, including his own. Maybe the cynicism was included.
Tonight the Wreck was especially rambunctious as it celebrated Captain Hippolyta’s announcement of the treaty. This deck of the arcship was laid out in haphazard fashion, each new addition tacked on like a a drunken afterthought.
The central avenue ran the length of the ship, several stories high and hundreds of feet wide, emptying out into countless stores, bars, holo-ring establishments, and even more disreputable places. Kiosks and carts took up even more space within the avenue, pressing the crowd ever closer together. Neon signs flashed enticingly, promisingly relief from the monotony of arcship life for a handful of credits. Treaty revelers leaned over the upper level balconies, shouting and singing, and more than a few failing to hold their drink.
His patrol became rote as he wove through the crush, eyes peeled for the worst offenders. He wondered idly if it finally meant full communications with the Oberon and other arcships. Most contact was reserved for navigators and traders, but he wanted to know what life was really like in the bowels of those other ships.
Were their courses as set as his? Did they have their own wondrous and intoxicating form of the Wreck? Were there other girls as infatuating and maddening as Hermia Inez among their passengers?
His musings halted the moment the window of the nearest bar shattered and a body went flying out into the middle of the grimy and well overcrowded walkway. People screamed as they scrambled away from the drunk’s flailing limbs and luckily, for the others at least, he hit the ground in a lone thump. A few onlookers immediately buzzed toward the drunk but most others continued on in their revelries as if nothing had happened.
Lysander pushed through the crowd toward the the drunk, still huddled on the ground amid broken glass and empty cups that smelled overwhelmingly of alcohol. “Security’s here! Show’s over, people. Move along now.”
The tone of his voice brooked no argument, and while some cast him a dirty look, they did as instructed. He hated how much they hated him on sight alone, but there was nothing he could do about it at the moment so he focused on the drunk at his feet.
“Party got a little out of control, huh?”
The drunk grunted as he tried to sit up, but was clearly too disoriented to find his feet alone. Lysander rolled his eyes and pulled the man up by the back of his grungy jacket. “Heyyy thanksss,” he slurred, still unsteady.
“I’m going to need to scan your chip,” Lysander said, trying not to breathe in the awful stench emanating from him.
“I’s only celebratin’ the treaty, same as ev’rone,” the drunk moaned, trying to disentangle himself from Lysander’s grip. “It was a mis-uh-standing, ask the barkeep!”
“I scan the chip now or you spend the night in a cell, understand?” Lysander set his jaw as he tried to keep his patience.
The drunk cursed but dejectedly held out his left wrist. Lysander took a black rectangular device from his belt and waved it over the man’s skin, scarred over from multiple past attempts to extract the identification chip. Clearly, he had frequent troubles with the law.
The scanner relayed the chip’s information to Lysander’s protective specs so that he alone could see the information: Kellan Grange, 36. Passenger-Class, engine deck custodian. 18 counts disorderly conduct. 9 counts heartsease possession. 3 arrests. Bank account 437 chips.
Lysander schooled his face into neutrality as he read. Life aboard the arcship had not been kind to Kellan Grange. And yet he had made his own choices and the law was still the law. The fine for disorderly conduct would take the majority of what little money the man had to his name. Lysander watched on his specs as the bank account numbers dropped to 12 chips, then he dropped Kellan’s wrist and returned the scanner to his belt.
“Try to stay out of the bars for awhile,” he advised. “One more incident like this and you could lose your job.”
“Wouldn’t change much,” Kellan muttered, not looking Lysander in the eye and he straightened his jacket and shuffled off into the crush of the still-celebrating crowd.
Lysander sighed and shoved his hands through his hair in frustration, alternately imagining the snide comments of his fellow security officers and the ever-kind expression of Hermia. But the law was the law, right?
When he looked up, he saw an android woman sweeping up the broken glass outside the bar, and then he took in the violet neon name arcing above the shattered window: Bottom’s Up! He let out an audible groan. Of all the people he wanted to deal with tonight, Nick Bottom was undeniably the last. He would rather sell his soul to the devil than deal with that con artist.
He thought again of the sad information on Kellan Grange’s chip and steeled himself. Perhaps the disorderly conduct was not entirely the drunk’s fault. Nick had a notoriously bad temper, and if Lysander could pin him for this, then maybe tonight’s run would not be a complete disaster.
The noise increased tenfold as he ducked into the bar, trying to look nonchalant. Even still, many scowled when they caught sight of the security patch on his shoulder. Without his full protective gear, his uniform was a nondescript black apart from the polished badge, and on the Wreck, that badge always precluded the end of the fun.
Unlike the majority of the patrons, when Nick Bottom spotted him from across the bar, he winked. The barkeep certainly was confident, at least on his own turf. Lysander pushed through the crowd and sidled up to the bar, attempting nonchalance. It clashed with his badge.
“What can I get you tonight, Officer Jackson?” Nick asked with a grin, slinging a towel over his shoulder.
Like the woman out front he was an android, more commonly known as a Mechanical. They were tech relics from the crash of the Demeter, picked up in escape pods along with the human survivors and integrated into the various arcships that had rescued them. Nick had probably done better than any of his human counterparts to survive and adapt aboard the Titania.
“If I order, would you mind answering a couple of questions for me?” Lysander did his best to seem intimidating, but it fell flat in front of the Mechanical.
Nick had a roguish charm, not just in his mannerisms but his very appearance. He had wavy black hair that had been styled with care, a neatly trimmed beard, glittering brown eyes and a smile of perfect white teeth. Even the scar that exposed his metallic interior added to the rakish look, as it tore a jagged path down his face from the corner of his left eye to the edge of his chin.
“Do I get to pick the drink?” Nick drawled.
“I think I’ll stick with coffee, thanks,” Lysander answered. The Mechanical poured him a cup and slid it over the counter.
“You really ought to loosen up some, Jackson. Live a little.” Nick leaned his elbows on the wooden counter. “We’re stuck on this ship for life, after all.”
“Says the one who doesn’t have to worry about dying.” Lysander rolled his eyes and took a sip of the coffee. It burned his tongue but he welcomed the jolt of caffeine.
“So you do have a bite after all!” The bartender looked practically gleeful. “So what is it that I can do for you tonight, Officer?”
“I’d like to know why you threw that man out of your bar window a couple minutes ago. Certainly that caused as much of a scene as his drunkenness did?” He eyed the Mechanical carefully, hoping to catch a hint of guilt in his features. But there was nothing.
“He couldn’t pay.”
“I scanned his chip, Bottom. He had credits.”
“Let me clarify then. He wanted to use one of the holo-rings but was already so drunk off his ass that the computer could not sync properly with his cerebral cortex. Still, he wouldn’t give up his spot to my customers who could actually use the holo-ring,” Nick scowled as he retold it. “The holo-rings bring in triple what my drinks do, and I wasn’t about to lose a night’s profits to someone who couldn’t even hold his liquor.”
The holo-rings were not exactly illegal, but they were all too often abused. Nick’s establishment was an official source, but Lysander had heard plenty of rumors that the Mechanical supplied holo-drugs like heartsease on the side to those he had gotten hooked on the holo-rings. Still, there was no sufficient evidence Lysander could use to pin him for this particular incident.
“Mind if I take a stroll through the back room, make sure there’s no more trouble?” He asked after finishing his cup.
“Sure you don’t want to take a quick turn in the holo-ring yourself? Let off a little steam?” Nick flashed his pearly whites again. Show-off.
“I’m good,” Lysander scowled back. “Thanks for the coffee.”
“On the house,” Nick waved him toward the back room as he took the dirty cup. “See you around, Officer Jackson.”
The back room was twice the size of the main bar, and guarded by two burly bouncers, though they stepped aside without question for Lysander. Beyond was a round chamber, two levels tall, and filled with thirty-two holo-ring pods. Every single one was in use.
On the far wall, in letters nearly half his height, was some pompous quote Nick had no doubt chosen as a joke on his human patrons: Humankind cannot bear very much reality. - T.S. Eliot. It was a little too on the nose, in Lysander’s opinion.
He strolled through the chamber slowly, following the spiraling path up to the second level. Each pod was relatively egg shaped, gleaming black with a window at the top that revealed the sleeper’s face, electrodes taped to their temples and the base of their necks. Their frozen faces sent a shiver down his spine. A computer readout monitored the sleepers’ vitals, tiny blips for heartbeats. It was living without truly living.
Still, he did not find anything that could be deemed suspect or outright illegal. The night was a bust, in more ways than one. Then Lysander came to one of the last pods and froze in his tracks, a wave of nausea washing over him. He recognized the unconscious man inside. It was Egeus Inez, Hermia’s father.