GTC Book 1 Ch1: McIvor’s Bar

NOTICE: This chapter is a working draft. It’s your insight into my monkey brain as it creates, not a final work. There are typos and I make no promises the book I publish will be the same.

The hooker looked familiar. 

McIvor’s Bar was no different to any backwater bar on every other shit-hole mining rock. Dusty, noisy, full of smoke and smelling of booze and the assorted piss, sweat and puke of the variety of life-forms that evolution had cursed with sentience. 

But to Joe Smith, McIvor’s was home—his daily escape from the boredom and crushing despair of eking out a living on the frontier.   

Joe sat in his usual spot in his usual booth, a near-empty bottle of whiskey and two glasses the only adornment to the polished ebony tabletop in front of him. The booth was conveniently close enough to the exits, but far enough back to have a clear view of the entrance to the main bar without being easy to see by those entering McIvor’s.  

Scattered around the bar, humans of various sizes and persuasions outnumbered the Races five to one, which was normal for the shitty end of the frontier. A weird bunch, but they were familiar.  

Which is why the hooker was bugging him. He couldn’t shake the nagging feeling in his gut. Why did she look so familiar?  

A group of Binati stood just inside the door. With their big heads, almond eyes and spindly limbs, the Binati were very much like the aliens in the ancient Tubes that Joe was fond of watching. Except you never saw the Binati outside their grav-suits—even relatively light G would crush their twig-like skeleton into powder. They fell silent and looked at the hooker as she walked past, turning back to their conversation a moment later, babbling at each other in their own language. 

Joe was no stranger to the occasional dalliance with the more carnal pleasures of La Hoya, but this woman was not a regular. Nor had any GTC escort shuttles arrived lately.  

As she approached, her shiny black plastic mini-skirt flashed in the bar lights. Her matching FM boots looked too big and her revealing top showed nothing worth revealing. In the stark overhead lighting Joe could see her heavy makeup doing a bad job of hiding the dark circles under her large, almost colorless eyes—Joe suspected that she was an addict one happy miner away from her next fix. 

The hooker walked up to the bar, and stood beside a prospector who hunched over his drink, face hidden behind a respirator. 

The bartender was Drexian—massive square jaw, jutting brows and swept back forehead affixing the permanent scowl characteristic of her species. She had long red-brown hair braided and beaded in her tribal colors. Her name was something unpronounceably Drexian, so Joe had nicknamed her Sue, which to Sue’s consternation, had stuck.  

 Sue hovered to the left of the hooker and the prospector, pointlessly polishing the filthy counter with a rag, trying and failing to look disinterested. The prospector turned and said something to the hooker. She said something back and smiled.  

She had been beautiful once. The smile told Joe that much.  

Shaking his head in puzzlement, Joe turned to his long-time drinking buddy, “Hey Bri, what do you make of the hooker that just walked in?”  

Brian shuffled around the booth, dragging his arse to the cushion opposite Joe as Joe tipped the last of the whiskey into their glasses. Brian turned to look at the bar, “What about her?” He said. “You lookin’ for a bit of action tonight Joe?” 

“Not tonight, no. She just looks really familiar. Have you seen her before?” 

Brian paused for a long moment. “Not that I remember.” He grinned. “But I reckon I might try to get to know her later.” 

Joe laughed, “Not likely, you couldn’t afford a five dollar fondle at Foxy’s.” 

“You are right, I suppose.” Brian shrugged, “On that sour note, I’m going for a piss. You order another bottle.” He stood and walked towards the bathroom at the back of the bar.  

The empty lounge stared back at Joe as he sunk into his thoughts—staring at the silhouette of Brian’s sweat on the cushion opposite him, watching it slowly trickling down the leather. 

Joe downed the last of his whiskey and waved at a server. She nodded and gave Joe her best smile. The serving girls in McIvor’s were paid a percentage of the take each night. Joe reckoned he had drunk enough booze to put all of their kids through the Academy. No wonder they were friendly. 

A hush settled over the room. Joe looked past the server to the front door of the bar. His whole body froze as he saw the familiar black and purple uniform of the three GTC security troops that now blocked the door. He tensed, ready to run but realised it would be a bad idea—there was too much clear space between him and the back door for a quick escape to go unnoticed. 

Joe stared down at his drink, sliding as far as he could into the booth while still keeping an eye on the three men. The GTC Captain, barely out of nappies and with confidence borne by the 500 pounds of muscle standing behind him, turned to the Binati by the door and thrust what looked like a personal dossier at them. The Binati were all shaking their heads. A dark ball of fear lodged in Joe’s throat, suddenly sure it was his face in the dossier. 

The GTC captain turned to the prospector as Joe started looking desperately to the crowd for a distraction, but they were all looking at the drama unfolding at the bar. The captain was gesturing angrily at the prospector to remove his mask. The kid was a fool. A prospector was no more able to remove the mask and breathing tubes that protected his lungs than Joe could pull off his own nose. 

The prospector stood there, arms folded—the hooker behind him, her face turned away from the GTC goons. The captain pulled his stunner as his bodyguards pushed forward and grabbed the prospector. To Joe’s surprise, one of the guards lashed out with his hand and pulled the man’s mask off. As the prospectors face came into full view, the ball of fear in Joe’s throat dropped and slammed into the bottom of his guts—the hooker may have been vaguely familiar, but the prospector’s face was as familiar to Joe as his own.  

Fear of getting caught overcoming all caution, Joe leaped from his seat and charged for the back door. A few of the other regulars appeared to have the same idea, and Joe was slammed sideways into the next booth by a sudden rush of bodies heading for the door. Joe fell forward, the edge of the table catching him in the gut, knocking the wind out of him.  

As Joe tried to regain his breath, there was a guttural shout from the bar as Sue chose that moment to leap into action, her giant arms t-boning the GTC captain and his guards. Sue and the guards crashed to the floor and one of their blasters fired into the ceiling, spraying the crowd with plaster and concrete and dirt. 

At the sound of gunfire, the whole bar erupted into chaos, with the patrons either trying to get out, or leaping into the fray. Panicked, Joe tried to push through the crush, but got knocked to the floor. Boots and bodies crashed around him as Joe dragged himself under the table inside the booth. 

As Joe sat wondering what to do next, a heavy set of boots thumped on to the table above him. “Joe!” a voice shouted. Joe stuck his head out from under the table to see Brian standing above him. 

“Brian, where the hell have you been?” 

“No time. Come with me.” Brian jumped from the table to the booth behind him and headed back towards the bar, “Hurry up.” 

Joe jumped from table to table, wishing he could blame the tables for how wobbly he was on his feet, but they were bolted to the floor. He ran the fifty steps to the far end of the bar, also wishing that he had made some attempt to maintain his fitness since coming to La Hoya. “What now?” He said between gasps. 

Brian grinned and leaped to the other side of the bar, “Ever wonder how Andenu manages to come and go without anyone noticing?” Andenu, the Sarangian owner of McIvor’s almost always hovered at the back of the bar, never far away from the smell of money. The rare exception was when there was a brawl, which was why Andenu was currently nowhere to be seen. Brian pushed a panel on the back wall of the bar and a section of the wall swung open, revealing a narrow slit of darkness behind the bar. 

“How did you know this was here?” 

“I help behind the bar, remember? One night I was coming up from the cellar and just happened to look this way and saw Andenu disappear into the wall. Took me a while to find the door trigger, but knew it might come in handy one day. Now hurry, we need to get out of here.” Brian glanced at the mêlée on the other side of the bar. Given no easy exit, the rabble had resorted to the next best thing—an all out brawl. 

“No argument from me.” Joe swung himself over the bar and followed Brian through the door. As the narrow door closed behind them, the passage plunged into darkness. 

“Wait a sec,” Brian clicked on a torch and pointed it to a narrow passage ahead of them, “this way.” They passed a door on the left. 

“Where does that go?” 

“Andenu’s apartment. I think. But we don’t want to go there. It’s just up ahead.” 

Joe followed Brian to a low flight of stairs, the smell of rot and rubbish assailing Joe’s nose and making his eye’s water. “Shit, that’s foul. Do I even want to know where we are going?” 

“There is a door at the bottom of the stairs. It opens out to an alley behind the bar. Turn right and follow it along. The alley comes out on the block behind us, beside Foxy’s.” Brian turned, “See you later Joe.” 

“Where are you going?” 

“I am going back in. Curious why the GTC showed up,” Brian grinned, “ Plus Sue will need a hand cleaning up once the brawl breaks up. Can earn myself a few free drinks.” 

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.” 

“Why?” 

“Because I knew that guy at the bar.” 

Brian stopped and looked hard at Joe, “Who was he?” 

“Nobody you need to know, but him turning up on the same night as the GTC can only mean one thing—they’re looking for me, may even know I am here.” 

Brian narrowed his eyes, “Who would be after you Joe?” 

“My past is a little … complicated,” Joe gave a crooked smile. Complicated didn’t even come close. “Brian, just be careful OK? I don’t think they saw me, so hopefully they are still searching, but I’m getting off the streets for the night, just in case.” 

“OK.” Brian turned and walked back into the darkness.  

The door into the alley was as narrow as the one behind the bar. It was partially blocked by a pile of garbage smelling of rotten vegetables and long dead flesh. Grasping his nose and squinting at the smell, Joe was glad he couldn’t see any detail in the dark. 

As Joe hurried back to his apartment, he wondered first about the hooker and then about the prospector and how it all related. Except, the man in the bar was no prospector—Luc Rouselette was once Joe’s closest confidant, and more like a brother to Joe than his real brother. 

Joe gnawed on his thoughts all the way back to his apartment, doing his best to stay in the shadows. 

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