Tales from the Hole: Right Between the Eyes

by Helena Khan

The bar was perfect. Dark and dingy. On the lower decks and out of the way. A pervasive odor clung to the faux blackwood panelling. The kind of odor redolent of old whisky, cigarettes, and no doubt a fair share of blood. The kind of deeply ingrained smell not even the station atmospheric scrubbers could overcome.


The capsuleer smiled quietly to himself as he made his way between the tables and benches towards the bar, deliberately noticing as little as possible. Despite his best intentions, his jacked up perceptions picked up hostile intent written in poorly disguised body language and the careful way people moved to hide the weaponry concealed in various pockets and holsters. Slightly uneven footfalls in one case giving away the extra weight of something offensive strapped to a lower leg.

He’d barely ordered his first single malt when the insult hit his ears.

“We don’t like your kind. Podder”.

The capsuleer smiled again. Less than 30 seconds. A new record. Better and better! He turned his nearly flawless face towards the hostility and gave the man part of his attention for a moment, the rest focused on the warm complexities wafting up from the glass just placed in front of him. Then he spoke in a way pitched to carry to the avidly watching bystanders.

“Judging by your autonomous reactions and adrenaline levels, you will likely resort to physical violence within the next 15 seconds. However, you will not impress the focus of your attentions. Not only is he a better fighter than you, he is also not gay”.

“Gravity in this station is a slightly non-standard 9.65 meters per second squared. The fall of your jacket on your right hand side, indicates a weight and mass in line with a polyglass shiv. Likely made by yourself in shop. Blade length in the 10cm range. Given you are left handed, most likely used in an ice-pick grip”.

He turned to the bartender for a moment. “By the way, did you know the grav plate below the bar is oscillating almost imperceptibly? Likely a fluctuation in the power feed. Might want to get that checked”.

“Now, where was I? Oh yes, I was about to start on hygiene and parentage…. Wait, hang on! Come back! I haven’t finished!!”

The capsuleer sighed as a wave of amusement followed the unfortunate out through the slamming door. “Again please bartender”.

“Ahhh. Again. Please”.

“Again. Thank you”


The bartender (Female. Mixed Sebiestor/Khanid heritage. Unusual. Accent indicative of the spaceborn. Likely new to station. Less than 2 weeks. Slight clumsiness in body positioning and overall kinesthetics. Overcompensation t0 local gravity. Healthy though some malnourishment. Lack of sleep evident) raised her eyebrows and asked what he was doing.

“Um? Oh. I’m waiting. Again please”.


“Waiting for the headache. Given current ethanol toxicity levels, uptake and conditioning of this clone body, I would expect onset in approximately 20 seconds”

“A headache…?”

“Again, please. Oh yes. A headache”. The man smiled a sad smile, then winced. “You see, I’ve been a capsuleer for five years now. And I’ve come to look forward to them. These headaches. Technically, vaso-dialation of the areas of the brain supporting my various cranial implants. The more drunk I get, the more power they consume to compensate – hence the headache”.

“Uh. Again please”. The capsuleer wobbled ever so slightly on the bar stool he was partially leaning on. The sonic algorithms his brain insisted on translating into mathematical formula gave way to music. Good. That was always a good start. Music. It had been a while.

“The headache will ramp up severely over the next minute or so. If I happen to fall over, please don’t worry, it will pass. Though I apologize in advance if I make something of a mess. The headache can be worse than the alcohol poisoning”.

Slurring slightly now, the capsuleer continued “Once the implants start drawing sufficient power to be a medical concern, their automatic cutouts kick in, and voila! Music!” He smiled a big smile as he tapped out a syncopated beat in counterpoint to the bass line throbbing in the dark.

The man paused for a moment and looked at the bartender through owlish eyes, pausing mid beat as if stunned “I can see why they hired you. You’re beautiful! So sorry I didn’t notice before. It’s the implants you see… the damn implants. Sorry. But you really are. I’m not just saying that. Acutally I am. Not me and them. Me. Just me. Um. Do you understand”? The man had begun to obviously slur.

Bemused, and not a little flattered, the bartender leaned forward onto the bar giving the capsuleer the suggestion of some fascinating curves hiding behind her uniform. “What can I do?” She asked.

The man paused for a moment “Two things. Can you make sure I get enough of these to keep me here”. He tapped the empty shot glass sitting in front of him “I mean, like this. Not too much. Not too little?”

“Sure. And the second thing?”

“Talk to me. Please. Just talk”.

“How long do you have?” She asked.

“Balancing act. Alcho >hic< hol. Implants. Implants. Alcohol”. The man waved a vague hand about. “Issa race. Several hours. I hope. A few at least”.

The bartender took her time pouring the next shot as she considered the man sitting at the bar. Right now he was just that. A man, not a capsuleer. Good looking too. And this was the strangest non-attempt at seduction she’d ever come across. Curiosity piqued, she made a snap decision.

“You know, I finish in about 20. If you’d like to talk some more…?”

The man smiled his slightly lopsided grin


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