Pleasant Valley has one main city – Walton City. It’s supposed to be a rough, tough, frontier type of town.
I felt I hadn’t emphasised this enough, so when I did the second edition of the Perihelix I had Lars and Pete go out on the town.
It’s Christmas, both there and here, so I thought you might like to be reminded of how that night went. (950 words)
Christmas on Pleasant Valley
The beer was flowing in the Irish Bar. Krismas was a festival celebrated in sufficient systems around the galaxy to make it a common cause for feasting. Different customs clashed on occasions, since anyone from over Lyra way tended to treat it as a formal occasion, whereas the New Donegal, Centauri and Praxis systems tended to use it as an excuse to get drunk, dance, and play games involving tests of strength. Pete and the Swede joined some other miners on a bench seat and played some good-natured games of peanuckle before a red-faced humanoid from the planet Grapple took a swipe at the Swede, connected with Big Pete, and promptly challenged him to a duel.
“Duel! Duel!” The chant was taken up by enthusiastic miners who knew all about Pete’s speciality.
Pete reluctantly got to his feet. “I choose arm-wrestling.”
The Grappler roared with laughter, rolled up his sleeves, flexing his biceps in Pete’s face, which involved stooping, since he was a good twenty cents taller than Pete. Then he pushed a guy off his chair at a centre table and yelled at Pete to sit opposite.
Pete stopped for another sip of his beer, wiped his moustache, and took his seat opposite.
“Best of three?”
“Nah—is for sissies! One out, all out!” roared the Grappler.
Pete shrugged and put his elbow on the table. The Grappler raised both arms, stretched, roared a war cry akin to a strangled ox, spat on his hands, rubbed them together, and spat on the floor for good measure. Lars passed Pete a handcloth.
“Wha?” The Grappler looked confused.
“More hygienic,” Pete explained.
“Bah!” He grabbed Pete’s hand, accepting the cloth, dropped his elbow to the surface and squeezed.
Pete squeezed back, arm rigid and ready.
The Grappler strained to push his arm over.
Pete pulled some faces for show, but although his shoulder muscles swelled with the additional work, his demeanour remained relaxed.
A circulatory vessel in the approximate location of the Grappler’s temple started to throb. Beads of sweat exuded from his nose pores. He grabbed the edge of the table with his other hand. The onlookers roared their disapproval and he took it away again. He started to move Pete’s hand across, and smiled. “Hah! Not so easy now, eh?”
Pete watched his hand as it moved into the losing sector. Steadily, slowly, it sank to thirty degrees from the table. Bets were being laid and taken against him. Lars took a few to win several drinks and a couple of hundred credits. He put his head down to Pete’s. “Make sure you win, partner, I’ve got money on you.”
“How long do you need to take some more?”
Lars shrugged. Pete’s hand sank lower. The Grappler’s eyes were bulging. Pete wondered if he had red blood or some other colour.
The barman called over: “Hey, guys, hurry up will you, it’s nearly midnight.”
“Oh right,” said Pete, calmly, his hand less than three inches above the tabletop. He snapped the Grappler’s arm across to his own winning side, with an audible slap on the table, and stood up. “I win, I think.”
Lars grinned and collected his winnings. The Grappler staggered off, strong-armed by his cronies, who made sure he didn’t do anything he would regret.
“Next time pick on someone your own size!” one of the miners called after him. The Grappler lurched back towards him, but the barman stepped in, and let off a shower of sparks.
“It’s Krismas! Happy Krismas, everyone!” The room erupted in cheers and backslapping, hugging and toasts.
“Do you think Zito’s still got some food on? That’s made me hungry.” Pete rubbed his hand and picked up his mug of beer, draining it as the refills came round again.
“Probably. Or we can pick up something at the corner and take it in, he won’t mind. Oh, you won this lot.” Lars handed over the winnings he’d taken from the bets.
Two of the hostesses came over and linked arms with them. “Oh, guys, you’re not going, are you?” The blonde was perky, red-lipped and in a full-bodied costume. Pete happened to know that appearances could be deceiving, and in her case, definitely.
“Fraid so, Sana’a, we only got in today.” Lars said. “Besides, I’m injured—I could never do you justice.”
“That’s not what I hear, Mr Swede,” the other girl put in.
“New around town, aren’t you? Where did Zito find you?” Lars took in her dark sleek hair and brown eyes, the smattering of freckles across her nose with a practised eye.
“Oh, well, it was a sort of fair exchange. Fair for my ex, unfair for me.”
“Ah. Where’s he now?”
“Poof! Who cares.”
They extricated themselves from the girls and sidled back to Zito’s.
“I reckon she’s stayed ten gallons high since he sold her.” Lars looked back over his shoulder.
“Probably for the best. I heard her man got killed on this trip.”
“Before or after he sold her?”
“After. Maybe he actually cared about her. He went solo.”
It was a sobering end to the evening. ‘Going solo’ was a euphemism for going out on a trip on your own simply to end it all. Very few miners worked alone.
They resumed their imitation of drunken, hard-bitten miners by rolling into Zito’s, smashing a few (empty) glasses on their way through to the bar and tipping Zito the eye so that he encouraged them to call it a night. You had to keep up appearances if you were an asteroid miner. Hard, tough, and rich. Or hard, tough, and poor, depending on which end of a vacation you were.
The Perihelix Ch 2
© J M Pett 2018