The Prelude: Chapter 11
With nightfall approaching, Drake took a lift back down from the top of the dome to a metro station below. A kilometer underneath Dome Park sat Central Square, the middle of downtown Orbatron City. The place had a carnival atmosphere, packed with rides and attractions and shows and spectacles. The streets were swarmed with mostly tourists, but it was also a transportation hub, so many locals such as Drake traversed the square on their way to and from work. The large open area was one of the few vantage points inside the city where one could see most of the dome overhead, all of which a video screen spanned across simulating the sky above.
Drake cut north down side alleys because too many people clogged the main streets. He made his way to an Irish-style pub called Erin’s tucked away down an alley a few blocks from his apartment. The place was crowded, but Drake found himself a spot at the wooden bar stretching down one side of the skinny-rectangle barroom.
“Drake! My boy! You weren’t gone for too long this time,” said Thiago, a bartender who, despite having grey hair since when Drake first started frequenting the joint over twenty years ago, never seemed to age.
“Yeah, and I’m back for good.”
“I heard they ended Exploration. You alright?”
“I got a fifty year pension to sit on, so I’ll be alright for a little while.”
“Well, let’s spend some of that right now. Whatta you having?”
“How about a stout.”
“First one’s on me,” Thiago said as he shot off to grab the beer.
Drake eyed the busy bar, scanning mostly younger adults who inhabited it today. For a long time, the bar had been a local’s dive, but in recent years, college kids and younger bureaucrats discovered the place and told their friends.
“Here you go,” Thiago said, returning with the stout.
“It’s funny. I used to be the youngest guy drinking here.”
“You ain’t the oldest, yet. I’m still here,” Thiago said, lifting a beer from under the bar and taking a sip.
“Cheers to that,” Drake said, clicking glasses and taking a gulp of his stout.
“So you’re done for good, then? Whatta you gonna do now?”
“I’m gonna sit here at this bar and keep drinking until I figure that one out.”
“Well, good luck to you. We’ll solve the meaning of life as soon as this rush dies down.”
Thiago hurried over to a group of people wanting to order drinks. Drake sat, sipped, and escaped into his mind. He watched the video feeds behind the bar, keying in on one news feed where the President was speaking, but there was no sound. Watching the President’s mouth flap away in silence reminded Drake of his impending disintegration. All of this time he had been so careful not to spend his money, worried he might live for hundreds of years and run out of cash, and now perhaps he’d be a vegetable in six months.
He sipped on his stout and flipped through his pad looking over study after study about wormholes and mental health. As he did, he was sure he could feel his brain dissolving one cell at a time.
Someone leaned over Drake’s right shoulder.
“Sorry,” said a young, freckled, brown-eyed girl, “trying to squeeze in and get a drink.”
“What’re you having?”
Drake nodded and flagged down Thiago.
“Can you get her a cider on my tab.”
“Hey, thanks. But you didn’t have to do that.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“You look kind of familiar to me. Have I met you before?”
“You don’t remember?”
“No, where’d we meet?”
“Right here. Right now.”
“I’m just diuing with you, sweetheart.”
She cut an uncomfortable smile.
“Here you go.”
“Wait a second. You’re that explorer. The one with the weird name.”
“Yeah, of course.”
“Nice to meet you. What’s your name?”
“Tayla. I work over at the capitol, so that’s probably where I’ve seen you.”
“That makes sense. Whatta you do over there?”
“Horribly boring. So what are they doing with you? You getting shipped off somewhere?”
“Nope, I’m out. Sitting here right now trying to figure out what to do next.”
“Well, what do you want to do?”
“I have no idea.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
“Well, it was great meeting you, but I’m gonna go back over to my friends. Come over and have a drink with us if you want.”
“I might do that.”
While she walked away, Drake stared at her curvy shape strutting across the bar.
“New friend?” Thiago asked on his way delivering a drink to another patron.
“I sure hope so. Hey, let’s do some shots.”
“Coming right up.”
The true summer weekend in the city faded away along with Drake’s sobriety. Hours later the crowd had mostly emptied out, leaving an older clientele gravitating around the bar. Drake had intended to consume some more liquid courage and then talk to Tayla, but she had somehow slipped out when he wasn’t paying attention. With the pub slowing down and approaching last call, Thiago spent more time chatting with Drake.
“So whatta you think about everything that’s been happening?” Drake asked.
Thiago took a moment and said, “As long as I got crowds of people coming in here drinking, it doesn’t matter much to me what king sits on the throne.”
Drake laughed. “So how’s the crackdown been going here?”
“Pretty successfully. They arrested a lot of the organizers of the protests and then threatened to kick all the kids out of college. Now they got like three times as many police roaming the streets, and these guys are in special forces gear.”
“I think they made a lot of the Exploration soldiers police here.”
“Crawford ain’t one to be fucked with.”
“Can’t argue with that.”
Someone waved down Thiago, and he darted down to the other side of the bar.
“You’re wrong,” said a man in an expensive business suit sitting to Drake’s left.
“Oh yeah, what about?”
Drake just ignored it and sipped on his stout.
“Would you do what’s right if given the choice?” the man prodded.
“Look, pal, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m just trying to chase a buzz.”
“Drake, you could make a real difference.”
“Do I know you? How do you know my name?”
“You know many secrets don’t you? You could blow this whole thing wide open if you wanted, couldn’t you?”
“You need to shut the diu up right now.”
“I just want to know, if you were given the opportunity, if you could do what’s right without consequences, would you do it?”
“Is there a problem here?” Thiago said as he returned.
“No problem at all,” the suit said.
“Just a drunk talking.”
Thiago flipped his eyes back and forth between them.
“Here, I’ll get his next beer and close out. I wasn’t trying to make any trouble,” the suited man said.
While Thiago walked over to close out the tab, Drake asked the man, “Who the fuck are you?”
“Opportunity, Drake. You looking for one?”
Drake clenched his fist.
“Calm down. I already know the answer. Cheers,” the man said as he paid his tab and left the bar.
“You know who that is?” Drake asked Thiago.
“Never seen him before.”
“Diu, I need a shot.”
For a few minutes, Drake scanned behind him, nervous about the man in the suit, but as drinks and shots continued, he rode his buzz into a blackout.