Saturday, April 12, 2008

Fortune's Fool Anthology

From "King of Swords" by Bianca D'Arc

Adele Senna re-read the address on the comm from her Aunt Della. The message had come from a small tavern near the mech section of the station, called The Rabbit Hole. Adele was new to Madhatter Station and had reserved living space on the other side of one of the giant rings. She hadn't ventured too close to the core yet, but was learning her way around as she sought out her beloved aunt.

The Rabbit Hole looked nice from the outside. Not upscale, but not a dive either, which was a relief. Aunt Della wasn't known for her judgment. Aunt Della was only a decade or so older than Adele, being her mother's youngest sister. With normal human lifespans now reaching well past the century mark, Aunt Della was still considered a bit flighty by the rest of her large family, but Adele loved her Bohemian ways.

A brilliant woman, gifted with a strong ability to see the future, her aunt sometimes didn't display much common sense. Or, at least, it seemed that way. Ultimately, her odd actions always had some purpose, but only in retrospect.

Adele wondered what Aunt Della was up to, setting up shop as a dealer and reader of cards for patrons of this middle-class tavern. She must have some reason, but Adele was hard-pressed to understand it, even though she had--at times--seen glimpses of the future, just like her aunt.

The psychic gift ran in the family. As far back as they could trace, the women of her family had been blessed--or perhaps cursed, depending on your outlook--with varying degrees of foresight. Aunt Della was truly gifted, but she insisted Adele hadn't yet grown fully into her power. Adele wasn't sure she wanted to. The few flashes of the future she'd received to date had scared the bejeezus out of her. She didn't know how her aunt dealt with it day to day.

Adele pushed through the portal and waited a moment for her eyes to get used to the gloom inside. What she could see of the place was clean and well kept. The atmosphere was dark, quiet, and relaxing rather than sinister, as she'd half expected. She saw a couple of big men at the bar as her eyes adjusted slowly, scanning the room for her aunt. The place was set up with small private booths and one long bar area where the men were clustered. Soldiers, they had to be, though they were all in civ clothing. On leave or perhaps retirees, she guessed, and the bartender was built on the same grand scale. Soldiers were just bigger than regular human males. It had something to do with their diet and training, she knew, but other than that, she hadn't paid much attention.

Unlike many civilians, Adele had no real opinion about soldiers. Oh, she appreciated the sacrifices they made trying to keep the Milky Way Galaxy safe from the jit'suku threat, but she'd never really had any dealings with them on a personal basis. She knew many civ men discriminated against them--probably because they felt small by comparison.

She'd seen soldiers here and there throughout her travels, and they were all huge and rather intimidating. She supposed a civilian male would feel a little threatened by their towering height and imposing brawn, but she felt somehow comforted by their large, protective presence. Surely, if men such as these were fighting the jit'suku out on the rim, the rest of humanity would always be safe. They inspired that kind of confidence with their silent, somewhat menacing ways.

Adele swept the room once again but didn't see her aunt, so she decided to brave the quiet crowd at the bar to ask. She walked to an open space, feeling enclosed by the heat of the big men sitting on either side of her, but she refused to acknowledge the sort of tingly reaction that skittered through her body. It wasn't fear exactly, but it was definitely something that surprised her.

"Pardon me," she said in a voice that carried to the bartender. All eyes turned to her and she found herself the unexpected center of attention. "Can you tell me if Della Senna is here? I understand she's dealing here now."

The bartender slung a towel over his shoulder and walked toward her with a rolling gait that oozed sex appeal. She'd never been this close to a soldier, much less half a dozen of them, and each and every one was solidly built, and handsome as sin. This bartender was perhaps the prettiest of the bunch, with perfectly chiseled features and a confident, friendly expression.

When he smiled, she felt the bottom fall out of her stomach. He was definitely what her old friend Mary would label DDG--Drop Dead Gorgeous.