Thursday, February 6, 2014

Sweet Regret [Cocktail flash fiction challenge]

Clocking in at 1977 words, I have my submission for Chuck Wendig's drink with a story flash fiction challenge:

That includes both the story and the recipe for the drink, which is only separated from reality by local color and one ingredient. The recipe is found in the body of the story below.

Please enjoy--the story, drink, or both--"Sweet Regret"

            “Hey champ, how’s business?”
            I raised an eyebrow. A girl with a marksman rifle and a safari outfit sat at the bar and smiled at me. Her age and sanguine appearance suggested a field researcher from a graduate school off-planet, maybe even as far off as Earth’s solar system. Not unusual. Frontier worlds like Nephila attracted lots of geologists, biologists, and botanists, and the local wildlife swiftly turned visitors pro-gun. What really surprised me was that she didn’t try to flirt a free drink out of me. She was genuinely friendly.
            “Better than expected for a backwater planet,” I replied. “All thanks to the new Tartarus pit mine they opened. I’m not the only source of entertainment, but I’m the most convenient, and a pretty good value.”
            “I can see that.”
She looked over her shoulder. Tartarus Mining employees and their security contractors were laughing, swearing, spilling beer, and putting new holes in the wall left of the dartboard. They were rough, crude, and sometimes violent, but many tipped well, and the others were bad at math.
“So what’ll you have?” I said.
She scanned the bottles behind me, mouth slightly open like she was just restraining herself from licking her lips. Her eyes darted to me. They were blue, flecked with hazel, warmth, and something that put me on edge.
“Can you make a Sweet Regret?”
A lump formed in my throat. She had said it with enough innocence, without raising her voice, but a group of the security contractors shifted and stared at her, their conversation forgotten. She might as well have ordered an Irish Car Bomb in Dublin.
“Now, why would a…nice girl like you want such a harsh drink?”
“I like old bitter tasting things, they make me feel sophisticated.” That unnamed thing shimmered in her eyes again. “Besides, life is harsh.”
“Miss, you really shouldn’t—”
She placed fifty Apollo ore notes on the bar. “That’s not including the price of the drinks. Make yourself one too, you look like you need to relax.”
Without looking at the other patrons, I pocketed the money and set about making the drinks. The Tartarus employees wouldn’t begrudge me two of the damn things for this much money. If the girl wanted free cosmetic surgery by rifle butt, that was her business.
Two ounces Pandoran bourbon, one ounce Campari, two dashes klixen honey, fill the rest of the glass with Nephilian lotus nectar. The girl folded her arms on the bar and rested her chin on them, watching the liquor and mixers run over the ice, filling her glass. She kept staring into her glass as I made my own drink, contemplating the drink with a sad resigned smile usually reserved for professional alcoholics.
I finished pouring the second drink. Her eyes rolled up to meet mine.
“Drink with me.”
She sat up and raised her glass.
“To innocent souls,” she said. She stared me down until I moved to drink from my glass, then tipped her own.
The bourbon and campari were bitter, but conventional. Then came the klixen honey, diabetically sweet at the other end of the taste spectrum. The lotus nectar brought it all to a head, changing the drink from an odd local cocktail, to a wave of emotional force. In my mind, piano chords from the second half of ‘Layla’ played over images of every mistake I ever made, especially the willful ones. I had plenty of whiskey, a gun under the bar. After closing time, I could go upstairs, soak in the bath—
“Hoo boy!” a voice said.
I snapped out of my reverie. The girl was rubbing her eyes, but they were dry when she pulled away her hands.
“It’s been a while. I forgot how much a trip anything with lotus is. I’m surprised they haven’t made the stuff illegal.” She drank deep from the glass, then set it down. Her cheeks flushed red.
“You must have some good stories if you can make one this well.”
I started to make some excuse, anything to change the topic, but a loud ‘clunk‘ came from the door. One of the Tartarus men had barred the door, setting into motion the exact chain of events I feared would happen. The mercenaries and miners stood, blocking every exit from the bar. The few non-corporation patrons had unsurprisingly drank and dashed. Their ad hoc leader, a big fucker with a scarred face, and a round mark on his hand that looked like the result of an acid coated railroad spike growled at my patron.
“Bug lover.”
The girl smirked, swirling her glass and watching the last of the drink flow around the ice. “Is that really the best you inbred apes can do? I guess so. Real insults take brains for them to sting.”
“There’ll be plenty of those to go around if you keep running your mouth.” He looked at me and held out his hand. “Barkeep, your keys.”
I began to stammer a reply, but the girl cut me off.
“Give him what he wants buddy, then sit down and finish your drink.”
I fished out my keys and tossed them to the big fucker, who locked the chains on the door. “Lock everything,” he said, handing them off to another merc. He looked back at the girl, still facing the bar.
“Now, you get one chance to explain whatever misunderstanding we’re having. Most people know you don’t talk about silk-shitters around—“
“The Rachnos?” she finished her drink.
“The what?”
She looked up at me and shook her glass. “Just bourbon this time.” I filled the glass and she continued: “I shouldn’t be surprised. Thousands of years from now, when man’s spread across the galaxy contracts and someone more advanced starts exterminating us, they won’t call us humans, they’ll just call us those squishy pink things.”
“How did so many damn hippies get to this planet?”
The girl laughed and spun on her stool to face them. “I came with you, good sir,” she said, jabbing a finger at him. “I helped you guys. We were told the native species needed to be kept at bay, and as an entomologist I was thrilled to travel the stars and blaze a trail in my field, even if it meant my pay came from inventing a better roach trap. For a while, I was happy to follow orders, happy to observe and dissect new things.
“But I started seeing clues I missed. I saw the most advanced social invertebrate in the history of human biological study, but it wasn’t just cooperation and pack hunting: They used guerilla tactics. You saw that too; why else would something with that much predatory cunning leave so many patrol members wounded, or kill inside our camps without feeding?”
The leader glowered at the girl, but the others looked unsettled. No matter which side you chose, there was no denying that the Rachnos had a gift for cultivating terror.
The girl drained half the bourbon in the glass. “After recruiting a linguist, and after much observation, I figured out how to convey that we just wanted to talk. We were taken to a hive deep in the jungle, and we saw…” Her voice grew hoarse. “They were primitive in many ways, but they had agriculture, architecture, culture—their medicine was far in advance of a race of their technological sophistication. The things we could have learned…”
“What a load of shit,” the big man said. He held up his hand, showing the round scar. “One of those bastards ruined my hand, no weapons, just bit me. What could we have learned from that?“
Her gaze fell to the floor. “We’ll never know, will we? Imagine my surprise during the only peace talk, when I learned that the Tartarus executives knew most of this. Just like when settlers swept across the Great Plains on Earth, the party line of ‘dig, dig, dig’, led to the corollary of ‘Exterminate the brutes’. Why broker and barter when you can steal?” Her eyes rolled up to lock with the leader’s. “You guys know the rest of the story, don’t you Hank?”
            The big fucker growled. “Who are you?”
            “You shouldn’t recognize me, I wasn’t on your radar when I worked for Tartarus, and I was far away when I gave you that gouge on your right cheek.”
            Hank looked at the rifle, then back to her. “Harcheck.”
            “You do know me.” She finished the bourbon, then stood and leaned against the bar. “I guess you’ve read my little file then. I’ve read yours too. It’s no accident you’ve lead every psychopathic incursion against sympathizers on Nephila. The apartment building in St. Louis. The university library in Nebraska. Boulder, Colorado. Coming to a border world with pesky natives was really your only viable career move, huh?”
            “Coward,” he said, ignoring Harcheck. ”Maybe if you hadn’t hid so far away, you could’ve stopped what I did to your friends. Both kinds. Buggers are a lot more fun, I’ve found. That one hive queen from the eastern ridge?”
Hank made a sound somewhere between a hiss, a screech, and a growl. Harcheck’s eyes narrowed.
“Good, I said that right! See, the bugs are a lot more fun because there are more parts. It’s more satisfying to burn someone’s eyes out when you have more than two to play with.”
The glass smashed straight into Hank’s face. Harcheck screamed and tackled Hank, driving her fists into his face and throat. Two of the mercenaries pulled her off him, while the biggest of the miners socked her in the gut. I moved to reach under the bar, when I heard a ‘click’ and a “Don’t”. I held my hands up and backed up until I was pressed against my shelves, my eyes fixed on the gun barrel.
So this is how I die: Torture porn, then a bullet in the head.
Everything moved in slow motion and my vision swam. The commotion over, the group gathered around a table. Two of them pinned Harcheck to it, while Hank struck her, once in the gut, once in the face. He drew a knife with a serrated six-inch blade.
“I’ll start with your tongue, Erin. Any last words to make our hearts bleed?”
“Not really,” she said. “I’d worry more about your stomachs.”
On cue, three of the men began to vomit a mixture of beer and half-digested meat, discolored by blood. I realized things weren’t processing in slow motion, they were actually moving slower, and I was suffering from more than shock.
Hank turned, gaping at one of them and Erin seized her moment. She yanked one wrist free, took the gun off the belt of the man holding her other wrist, and shot him in the face. She rolled off the table and fired three shots into Hank, two into the other man who had held her down. Everything else was cleanup, killing those that hadn’t already died.
I sprawled over the bar, my head feverish and my stomach cramped, watching as Erin approached Hank. She crouched over him. With a quick thrust, she pinned his good hand to the floor with his own knife. He croaked, unable to speak.
“Fun fact: The ‘Sweet Regret’ isn’t just a sympathizer’s drink. The human body metabolizes the ingredients into the only effective antidote for high doses of Rachnosi venom. You can tough through some envenomations without it, but when you do something like gas a bar with enough evaporated venom to kill two bull elephants, it’s not optional. Enjoy vomiting your esophageal lining.”
As Hank lay dying on the floor, Erin walked over and sat across from me. She reached to my right, and came back with the remnants of my drink. She tipped the glass to my lips.

“I told you to finish your drink.”