by Michael Penncavage
The hot water from the bath felt good against Agamemnon’s aching muscles. Steam drifted up, collecting into a thick, comforting mist in the small chamber. He pressed his back against the stone wall of the tub and settled further down into the water until his beard was bobbing gently on the surface. So comforting. He forced himself to stay awake, at least until he had removed himself. To survive the Trojan War, only to drown in my own bath. His thoughts drifted back to the war from which he had returned just days prior, and to those who would never be returning. The death of Patroclus by Priam and subsequent killing of Achilles by the scoundrel Paris felt as if his own brothers had been slain.
So much death.
He had seen enough to last a lifetime.
A sandal scraped against the marble floor behind, rousing him from slumber. He was supposed to be alone. Before he could reach for his sword that lay on the bench alongside the bath, a coarse net of bulls-hide, dropped into the water around him. He flailed his arms in an attempt to free himself and reach his weapon, but his struggles only entangled him further as the intercrossed ropes wrapped around his body like a snake, pinning his arms and legs.
Realizing if he continued to resist, the ropes would constrict further and drag him under, Agamemnon relaxed and steadied himself.
At the far end of the bath a tall, slender woman stepped into view. Her golden hair tumbled carelessly atop her shoulders as she stepped through the doorway. “Very wise, dear Agamemnon. I was expecting the snare to have finished you.”
“What is the meaning of this, Clytemnestra?” he said, glaring at her. “Release me from these bindings immediately!”
Clytemnestra looked at her husband with amusement. “Oh, such a sour look, Agamemnon. I suppose you wish you were back on the battlefield, vanquishing the Trojans and taking their women!”
“How dare you!” he roared. “It was because of your letters that I rushed back so soon after the war’s end!”
Clytemnestra chuckled briefly as she walked up to the edge of the bath. “Yes. The letters. Quite convincing, weren’t they? You cannot fathom how many nights I stayed up writing and rewriting my slates until I was assured that the words were so precise, so perfect, my tales of sorrow so compelling, that your only reaction would be to come racing back as quickly as possible!”
“But why? For what purpose?”
The smile blew away from Clytemnestra’s face as quickly as it had appeared. “So your return would be on my own terms! You have been gone quite a while, dear husband. Did you think I have been spending my time simply pining for your return? No, I have grown quite accustomed to my freedom—to be able to do what I please, when I please, and, most importantly, with whom I please.” She paused for a moment to regain her composure. “So, to ensure your return would serve my needs, I released the letters.”
Never taking his eyes off his wife, Agamemnon managed to free one of his hands beneath the water. Moving slowly, he began to unbind his other hand. Suddenly an ivory-hilted knife came into view. He managed to grab his attacker’s wrist with his free hand, but his opponent had leverage and Agamemnon watched as the knife slowly slipped between his ribs.
Looking up at his assailant, he recognized the man. It was Aegisthus, one of the local businessmen in town. A malicious grin was on Aegisthus’ face and before Agamemnon could prevent it, he was shoved into the middle of the bath.
Agamemnon watched as the clear water quickly turned red. His breathing became painful and laborious. The water was only as deep as his chest, but between the bindings and loss of blood, it was deep enough.
Clytemnestra walked over to Aegisthus. “Do not fight it, dear husband.”
“Treacherous bitch,” he growled. “You will pay for this!”
“Not in this lifetime.”
The bath’s floor was smooth and slippery. Agamemnon tried to shuffle forward to reach the bath’s stairs, but lost his footing, careened forward, and passed below the surface.
He looked up to see the image of his traitorous wife and her lover grow faint and distant through the crimson water, as if they were in another world, another time, away.
Vengeance was in his heart and on his lips.
But it would not be so.
A moment later a black tide washed in, and he was enveloped by its darkness.
* * * * *
The electronic buzz of the doorbell made Gruxal glance up from his computer. Though the faulty monitor made her skin appear avocado and her lips far too red, he immediately recognized the face in the view-screen. “Enter,” he said, and his pod door slid open with a whoosh.
In stepped a slender, shapely brunette with azure eyes and pale skin. She folded her arms and shook her head in dismay. “Why am I not surprised to find you here?”
Gruxal bookmarked the site he was reading and ordered the machine off. “Have you forgotten that this is my domicile, Liandra?”
“But… it’s your birthday!” she said, sitting herself down onto his lap.
“Oh, which you have been reminding me endlessly over the past several days.”
“Well, it doesn’t appear to have done much good!”
“Liandra—if my species does not recognize the birthing process as a significant event, how do you expect me to react any differently to my birthday?”
She began playing with his hair. “We were supposed to meet at The Fuselage after your shift ended.”
“Robson dismissed me early,” answered Gruxal. “For exactly the same reason.”
“Which doesn’t give you an excuse to sit around wasting the day away!”
“I was reading something that you should find interesting.”
“I find that doubtful.” Liandra glanced at the dark computer screen. “Let me guess—would it be the Genealogy of the Medids or the Horticulture of Dramene?”
“Actually it was on Mythology. Earth Greek Mythology to be exact.” Gruxal said. “What fanciful imaginations your ancestors had.”
“I’ll have to remind you to tell me all about it,” said Liandra. “The first night I am suffering from insomnia.”
“I take it you still want to go to The Fuselage?”
Turning slightly, she straddled his lap and pressed herself up against him. “In a moment. Considering that you stood me up at the bar and made me walk all the way back to your pod, I think you need to make it up to me,” she said as she began to slowly unzip her top.
* * * * *
“Now, the proper way to continue this birthday celebration is with a toast,” commented Liandra as she fastened her belt.
Gruxal motioned to a corner in his pod. “I still have half a bottle of Terruvian Brandy.”
“I was thinking of something that didn’t taste like bath water.”
“You would rather spend two-hours wages on a single drink?”
“Gruxal, we have already saved enough to get us off the ship. Surely we can spend some credits on some frivolity. Think of it as a farewell to the Elsivar. In five days time we will be on a shuttle headed for Volpos.”
Gruxal uttered a command and the cabin door slid open. They walked out into a dingy, poorly lit corridor.
Looking down at the filth that covered the floor, Gruxal said, “We can not be leaving soon enough.”
Taking the lift, they descended three decks to the bar.
The Fuselage was constructed far after the Varipos had been constructed. The vessel’s architect had designed the ship with the intention that whatever war it served in would last no longer than a few weeks—brief enough for its crew to go without needing recreational facilities. No one ever thought the Cilurian War would last over sixty years.
On the Varipos one of the ship’s stores had been converted into a bar. Like the rest of the Varipos, it was makeshift and cramped, but the Fuselage had a charm of its own and was a welcome escape from the twelve-hour workday.
Its tender was Allister Reynolds, a short, plump man with bad skin and frosty, untended white hair. He was wiping the bar down with a towel that was far too dirty when Gruxal and Liandra passed through the doorway.
“Slow day still, Allister?” asked Liandra, noting the barren room.
“Nah,” he answered, glancing over to the wall clock. “Another thirty minutes and the next shift will be getting off. Better grab a seat now while you still can.”
“Two glasses of Molotox,” said Liandra.
Allister’s eyebrows rose up. “Celebrating the end of the war in fashion?”
Gruxal nodded. “As well as an arcane human tradition.”
“It’s his birthday,” said Liandra as she sat onto one of the barstools.
Allister pulled out a skinny azure bottle from underneath the bar. “In that case we’ll have to make it a double, with the double being on me.”
“That’s very kind of you.”
The old bartender nodded. “My pleasure.” Allister looked around the bar lovingly. “Might as well drink it up. Not much longer until all of this is decommissioned. Who knows if these bottles will make it to Xibxis 3 without shattering?”
“It’s almost impossible to comprehend that with the Oxcof treaty signed, the war is over. After so much fighting and so much death, I thought neither the Alliance nor the Unified Front would ever lay down their arms,” remarked Gruxal.
“And unemployed,” added Liandra. “Destined for placement on Xibxis 3, working the mines.”
Allister recorked the bottle. “We’re all like old goats. The government doesn’t know what to do with us. Too expensive to settle us onto any suitable planet. Might as well be plopped off onto a barren rock like Xibxis 3 to finish out our days. I figure the only way anyone is going to get off the rock is if they strike a sizable enough claim.” He laid his callused hands on to the bar-top. “And the chances of that happening are the same as someone having saved enough credits to buy his way off this rust bucket.”
Liandra and Gruxal cast each other a sideways glance.
“But that’s the government for you,” continued Allister, who seemed to be on the verge of a very familiar tangent. “We’re drafted into service aboard these ships, barely paid a pittance, and once the war is done, we’re cast aside.”
Gruxal took a sip from his drink. “At least you’ll have an established clientele when you reopen the bar,” he said matter-of-factly.
“The eternal optimist,” Allister replied. “It must be from all those books you’ve read.”
“Tell Allister about the current one.” Liandra said, sitting up. “I bet the next round that he never heard of it.”
“What’s it about, son?”
“Allister, why do you insist on calling me, son. I’m twice as old as you.”
“Ah—but you still appear half my age, and that’s what matters,” the bartender answered.
“The Trojan War,” said Liandra impatiently.
Allister rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Trojan War… Trojan War. Sure. I’ve heard of it.”
“You have not!” protested Liandra. “You just want to see me pay! What was it about?”
“The Trojan War… that was the war… involving the Trojans.”
Liandra balled up a napkin and threw it at Allister.
“A war that purportedly took place between the Greeks and the Trojans around 1250 BC…” said Gruxal.
“Greek?” interrupted Allister. “This is some sort of Earth war?”
“Have you ever heard the story of the Trojan Horse?”
He shook his head.
“The wealth of knowledge humans possess concerning their heritage never fails to amaze me. The Trojan Horse was a large wooden vessel used by the Greeks to win the war. The Trojans, mistaking the horse as an offering from the gods, wheeled the gift into their fortress. Little did they know that the Greeks were lurking within the beast. That night the Greeks poured forth from the belly of the animal, massacred the Trojans, enslaved their women, and burned the city to the ground.”
“Wow. Real happy ending you got there,” said Allister.
“Many of the stories from that time period follow that particular theme. Rape. Murder. Betrayal. Revenge. More rape. More murder. Not too many happy endings.”
Liandra finished her drink. “We should get going.”
“What about the second round?” asked Allister.
She glanced at her wristwatch. “Not today. We are on a tight schedule.”
The bartender nodded. “I trust you will both stop by for a farewell drink before the bar closes?”
“A farewell drink?” repeated Liandra. “How can I say no?”
* * * * *
“This is an unauthorized part of the station, Liandra. If security finds us here, we can get a fine.” Gruxal looked around hesitantly at the surroundings. From the busy Fridsok Deck, Liandra had led him down into the belly of the ship, where he had never been before.
“Relax, Gruxal. There’s no one on the sanitation level at this hour. No, wait—I take that back. No one except the rats and the Razirians. And the Razirians are more interested in the rats than anything else.”
Gruxal dodged a plume of steam that shot out from a worn piston. “I don’t see what is so important that we had to come here.”
A rat scurried across the grate in front of them.
Walking to the end of the corridor, Liandra turned to him. The grin was still on her face. “Well, here we are.”
Gruxal looked around. “Liandra, the only thing here is the expulsion chamber.”
“Yes. Where all unwanted garbage is sent into space.”
A large hulk of a man with a shaved head, beard, and tattoos that littered his body suddenly emerged from the darkness. One of the overhead maintenance lanterns caught the glint of the knife in his hand.
Before Gruxal could raise his arms to defend himself, the knife was embedded into his chest. Blue blood poured from the wound, running in torrents down his chest and onto the floor. Gruxal yanked the dagger out and stared at the blood-soaked weapon in horror. He looked to Liandra. The grin was still on her face.
Falling to his knees, Gruxal tried to speak, but found himself unable to breathe a word. All he could do was watch as Liandra walked up and knelt down before him.
“How do you like your birthday surprise, my darling?” She whispered, looking down at his wound. “Does it hurt? Not to worry—the pain won’t last long. Lynceus ran his dagger deep. Deep enough to ensure something vital was severed. Judging from the blood I would say he succeeded. Take consolation that your savings will be spent wisely,” she said as Gruxal heard one of the hatches leading into the expulsion chamber open with a soft hiss. “Lynceus and I are booked on the first shuttle to Volpos.”
A pair of strong arms heaved Gruxal from the floor as if he were a sack of grain. Lynceus heaved Gruxal inside the nearby airlock.
Gruxal would have struck the floor hard if not for the collected heaps of refuse that buffered his fall. He was in the waste expulsion chamber that the station’s various garbage chutes fed into.
Turning over in the filth, Gruxal saw Liandra standing in the doorway. “By my estimates, you have an hour before the purge occurs. Plenty of time for you to wallow in the muck.” Lynceus grabbed the door’s handle and closed it, plunging Gruxal into darkness. “If I were the betting type, my money would be on you bleeding to death before then.”
Liandra chuckled as she grabbed Lynceus by the arm and began walking away. “Our days here are numbered, my dear.”
Back in the chamber, Gruxal lay amidst the refuse, taking in generous amounts of polluted air. Lynceus had been true with his blow, severing a major artery. However, both he and Liandra were unaware that a pair of veins fed his alien heart. It took several minutes for his body to shut down the destroyed vessel and reroute the blood. It took another half-hour for a scab to form over the wound.
Besides underestimating his resiliency, Liandra also underestimated his strength. Though Gruxal’s arms were thin and wiry, they were incredibly strong. The lock that held the door gave way after several minutes of Gruxal banging against its frame.
The garbage hatch opened slowly. From within the darkness a hand caked in dried blood appeared. Covered in sweat and grime, he reached over and gripped the dagger from the floor.
Sitting alone in the darkness, deep within the ship, Gruxal fought to control his breathing and regain his energy.
He had been a fool to fall for Liandra’s trickery. He had been a fool to confide in her about his savings and where he had it hidden.
But that was the past.
Right now all he could do was wait.
Until he had regained his strength.
Until they would not be suspecting.
Then, and only then, would he show himself…
And he would burn the city to the ground.