Thursday Fiction: Alien Coin

Inspired by comments at According to Hoyt, June 2, 2015.

Tabi realized that the young man was not staring at her, but at her bracelet. He radiated “scholar,” from his optical lens implant to his scuffed ship-boots. Ah well, newbies.

She turned and walked back to the order processing and dispensing platform, better known as the bar, and logged in the militia men’s requests. She saw two green and one yellow indicator, and acknowledged the caution. They were running low on home-world beer. Tabi pressed her thumb down on the touch reader, acknowledging the message, and tidied the area a little as she waited for the order to finish passing through the combinator. People insisted on setting empty flasks and glasses on top of the platform, stars only know why. “Because that’s what spacers do at bars,” her boss said. Tabi shrugged and opened the access hatch, removing the drinks.

After she delivered three more orders, a lull appeared on her screen. She wiped the top of the dispenser again, then pulled her flask of tayfoy juice out of the cooler and took a big swig. The tart, cold liquid cut her thirst back down to bearable levels. Station air dried her out like nothing else short of getting caught in a duster. When Tabi finished her drink, she discovered the scholar standing by the bar. “Can I help you, sir?”

“Your arm band. It doesn’t exist. It can’t.”

He’d had two synth beers, apparently just enough to cancel his inhibitions without affecting his mind. Tabi studied the young man. He had to be two meters tall and probably weighed no more than seventy kilos, and that in full emergency EVA kit. Yup, he had the alcohol tolerance of a baby. She made a note to cut him off after the next one unless he ordered serious food. “This, sir?” Tabi shook her arm, making the four coins on their chain clatter and dance. She liked the sound.

“Those are Forsali economic markers. But they look new. And that can’t be.”

Tabi gave him a puzzled look. “Forsali? Oh, you mean the FarGonner coins?”

“Yes, those metallic disks.”

An order alert chimed and Tabi hesitated. Then she undid the old-style clasp on the bracelet and handed it to the scholar. “I’ll be back in a moment, sir.” She got the food order out of the warming section and hurried it over to the table of Drushke. She knew good and well that the stuff twitching on the plates could not possibly be alive, but the synthesizer did a little too good of a job replicating residual neural impulses for her taste. Apparently the Drushke thought it tasted just fine, because they never complained about the food. She handed the plates around, checked to see if they needed liquid refills, and hurried back to the safety of the bar. You only watched Drushke eat once.

“These are Forsali coins, but they look new, but the dates are from the second pre-closure phase,” the scholar informed her. He sounded a little lost. “Where did you get these?”

“Oh, they appear from time to time.” Tabi held out her hand and the scholar gave the bracelet back, but didn’t leave.

“Appear where?” She glared at him and he ducked a little. “Um, appeared where, ma’am?”

“That’s better. This isn’t a hot world, for you to be forgetting your manners, sir,” she warned him. “Some of our customers take it amiss.” Bolie would have spaced the kid for that, but then Bolie was a little touchy when it came to etiquette and behavior. ‘Course, if you lived in a long-haul ship, manners were what kept you from killing the rest of the crew and vice versa, or so Tabi had heard. “Here and there.”

“Evenin’ Miss Tabitha,” a friendly voice called. The scholar jumped a little as Bowlie sauntered up, his rolling gait bringing him from the door to the bar in four strides. He carried an instrument case under one flipper-like arm and Tabi smiled.

“Evenin’ Mr. Bowedler,” she said. “The usual?”

“Yes, please ma’am.” He nodded to the scholar. “Evenin’ sir.”

Tabi spoke first, mostly to prevent the scholar from getting spaced. “Mr. Bowdler, this gentleman was just looking at my little coin collection.” She nodded toward the musician as she entered his standing order. “Mr. Bowdler knows a good deal more about the FarGonners than I do.”

Bolie flashed a grin, revealing his baleen. “Not really, but they seem to like my music.”

Tabi hoped the scholar wouldn’t say anything stupid. Apparently he had enough sense to think before he blurted, this time, because the skinny young man said, “That’s fascinating, sir.” He didn’t sound doubting, just very curious. Tabi nodded to herself as Bolie’s drink and a large bowl of krill-chips emerged from the dispenser.

“Some folks think so. Miss Tabitha, could I trouble you to carry those over to my seat, if you have a moment free?”

“I can do that sir. ‘Scuze me,” she nodded to the scholar as she put the order on a tray and followed Bolie to his preferred seat, a wide, low bench-like spot with an elevated end.

“Thank ye kindly, ma’am.” Bolie tipped his head lower so the translator on his breathing vent faced her and he said quietly, “Is he causing mischief, ma’am?”

“No, sir, not at all. Just a little raw on the edges. He’s new to space.”

“Ahh.” Bolie nodded again and straightened up, then sat.

Tabi put his order on the raised portion of the bench and returned to the bar. After delivering a few more orders, she had a little of her juice. The scholar ordered a basket of cheese chips and a soda. After nibbling a little, the scholar ventured, “Mr. Bowdler studies the, FarGonne, you called them?”

“Not exactly.” Tabi wondered what to tell the young man. Well, he’d hear the story if he stayed long enough, or if Bolie decided to sing one of his songs about the FarGonne. “It started a few years back, here. I know because I was working that night.”

#

Bolie had been singing one of his usual songs, nothing too odd or rare. He has special permission from the boss, since we don’t allow just anyone who thinks they can sing or play to make noise in here. Anyway, Bolie was singing and playing his dulcimer, and a new gal came in to listen. I don’t remember what she looked like, pretty nondescript, but I do recall that she was a long-time spacer. She moved the right way, like someone used to changing Gs and small spaces. She took a seat not far from Bolie, and after he finished a set, she bought him a round.

I don’t know what they talked about. None of my business, although they seemed pretty deep in the conversation. He bought her a refill and had a second helping of krill-chips. Then he did another set, this one mostly songs about the Sea War. She looked, well, not exactly thoughtful, not quite appreciative, melancholy? No, that’s not right either. Deep, I’d say, she looked deep, but I can’t explain more than that. ‘Scuze me. order’s up.

Where was I? Oh yes. One of the newbies, former bureau chief as it turned out, barged into the set. He interrupted Bolie and threatened him, said he shouldn’t be singing things like that, and it’d be jail time. Well, the spacer lady told him that she’d requested the set, and the form-filer backed down, a little. He puffed and huffed and said that nothing good happened to people who listened to or sang that kind of thing, and that the government would keep either of them from causing more trouble. Sir, this is not the sort of establishment where you can do that, and Bolie told the form-filer to mind his own business, that he was a free man and the lady could also do as she pleased, thank you. The government’s reach doesn’t extend this far, whichever government the bureaucrat had in mind. Space is free, like the seas are.

The bureaucrat huffed off. Never heard any more out of him, although rumor has it he got himself spaced from a star-liner for something, or more likely for not paying attention when there was an accident and hitting the wrong switch. He was that sort, or so I heard tell. Anyway, sir, Bolie went back to singing.

After he finished, the lady gave him a coin. I was delivering another round to the next table, and overheard her saying, “The FarGonne touched this. It’s brought me much good, but if you go wrong, they say it will make the night darker. From one traveler to another.” She stood and left, nodded to me on her way out. When I picked up her glass, I caught a glimpse of a shiny piece of metal in the bottom of Bolie’s drink.

Year or so later, he came by early one evenin’ when no one else had come in yet. He smiled, ordered one for himself and one for me, and slid me a shiny piece of metal. It was this one, here, the first one on the chain. “Found it in my glass on Outland Bounder station,” Bolie said. “This one’s yours.”

Since then he’s given me four. I had them made into the bracelet. I like the sound they make. I know everyone says the FarGonne, or whatever it is you scholarly types call them are extinct. The reports and studies swear that the FarGonne disappeared centuries ago or longer, vanished forever. ‘Course they are. But their coins turn up every now and then, here and there. They’re pretty, aren’t they?

 

With that Tabi finished the story and hurried off to collect empties and deliver a few more orders. The young man was watching Bolie when she got back. Bolie had begun a really, really old song, one that made no sense at all it was so old. “Up the airy mountain/ Down the marshy glen,/ We daren’t go hunting/ for fear of little men. . .” Bolie’s voice resonated, a little mysterious, Tabi thought. Maybe he was thinkin’ of the FarGonners.

She smiled and served the scholar a second basket; this one plantain chips. He seemed to be a quick learner.

(C) Alma T. C. Boykin 2015 All Rights Reserved.

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