Location: Aleph Station, Barbary system
Time: An unspecified night after the end of Shax's War
“Why not?” Shax demanded, tipping his chair back on two legs as they waited for drinks. “A game would be just the thing.”
“Because any game we play, you’ll find a way to cheat, Cap,” Corny drawled, the corners of his eyes crinkling in obvious amusement.
Shax waved a hand toward his lover. “Ness could be judge and umpire. Since he’s already declared himself designated limiter of insanity this evening.”
“I dare say not,” Ness protested with a sniff. “I said I wouldn’t drink so I could get everyone home safe. I’m not going to be made a fool of when you find some way to…to hoodwink me.”
“Couldn’t we just…drink?” Heckle’s heart sped as he asked it. He didn’t have the right to demand or even suggest here. The captain had been nice enough to include him in a night out so Mac wouldn’t be an awkward fifth wheel.
Mac patted his shoulder, leaning forward over the table. “Here’s a thought. We just drink. But we drink according to body weight to make it fair and try to keep up with each other.”
“How the fuck do we figure that out?” Verin growled on a puff of steam. He sat relaxed, though, with an arm around Corny’s shoulders, so Heckle wasn’t worried about his temper yet.
“Look, I have all our weights in the system for loading calcs.” Mac tapped at his link. “If we start with a fifty gram drink for Heck, which is about right for his body weight, then we figure up proportionately from there. You’re about fifty kilos, Cap?”
“Closer to seventy if you don’t mind,” Shax said with an offended sniff.
Heckle’s brain zoned out during the calculations, more interested in the multi-colored bubbles that wandered around the bar in lazy trajectories. They didn’t seem to pop, so they couldn’t be soap bubbles, and they were shiny, but didn’t change color on their own. A blue one collided with a gold one and devoured it. The new larger bubble was turquoise. Cannibalistic bubbles. Is that a thing?
Shax’s voice brought his wandering brain back to the table. “Heckle, my dear, are you all right with this? Honestly?”
“Oh…um. Sure?” Not that he had anything to worry about. If he drank too much, Mac would get him back to the ship.
“Done.” A little evil crept into Shax’s smile, but he was a demon prince. It was kind of expected sometimes. “Mac, would you like to explain it to the bartender?”
Mac frowned. “Cap, I’m not intimidating him for you.”
“Nothing like that. You’ll simply be better with the numbers.”
That was a fib, of course. No one did better with numbers than Captain Shax. They were like his minions or something. Heckle turned the conversation over a couple of times and figured that maybe Shax did want the bartender intimidated so he wouldn’t say no, but he couldn’t tell Mac that, because Mac would say no.
Trying to follow a demon prince’s thoughts made Heckle’s head hurt.
The bartender, balancing a tray of drinks, returned with Mac. “Normally I wouldn’t encourage this, but so long’s you boys stay civilized, have at it. The wait staff is taking bets.”
“Oh, delightful!” Shax grinned as he took his tumbler-sized drink and handed Heckle the little shot glass meant for him. “Who’s the current favorite?”
“Odds are on your friend with the big horns.”
Verin slapped the table. “Ha! They know the royal runt can’t keep up with me.”
Shax grumbled a bit until Ness kissed him and gently reminded him that there would be no cheating.
“Rules, Cap?” Corny asked as he took a careful sniff of his liquor in its larger-than-Shax’s tumbler.
“We all drink at once. Down the hatch.” Shax sighed. “A bit gouache, but it’s the only way we’re all on an even keel. If you have to excuse yourself to worship the porcelain goddess, you’re out. If you fall off your chair, you’re out. Fall asleep at the table, out. And if you can no longer utter a relatively coherent sentence, you’re done. Ness will call that, if necessary. Fair?”
“Fair enough.” Mac nodded. “Ready? One…two…three.”
The whiskey burned a pleasant path down Heckle’s throat, warming his middle nicely. The first few rounds went by with teasing and laughing in between while they waited for the next set of drinks. Heckle curled his tail around his chair in his excitement at being included, then uncurled it again since hanging on like that might be seen as cheating.
By the fifth round, Corny was listing to the right, and by the eighth, their cowboy lurched up from the table and staggered to the facilities. When he returned, he sat down heavily, put his head on the table and promptly passed out face first.
“Coulda gone for one of the other, DeGroot,” Verin said with a surprisingly gentle pat to Corny’s shoulder. “Didn’t hafta to puke and fall over.”
An improbable giggle escaped Shax. “Wanted to go out in style, I suspect. Mac, how are you holding up?”
“I’m fine, your high and mightiness.” Mac hid a belch behind his hand as he took his next boot-sized drink from the bartender. “Worry about your own short self.”
“Oh, have no fear of that.” Shax tapped his claws against his glass. “I’m drinking you all under the table. Heckle, don’t force yourself to keep up at any point if you don’t feel well.”
Heckle startled at that. Did he look drunk? He didn’t feel like he did. “I’m fine, Captain. It’s good whiskey.”
Shax give him an odd sideways look, but chose drinking over talking. After the twelfth round, Heckle was keeping careful count, Mac nearly missed the table trying to put his glass down.
He eased his chair back, got down on his knees, and said with perfect clarity, “I’ll be under here if anyone needs me.”
“Mac?” Heckle tried to lean down to look under the table, but thought better of it when the room pitched and tilted.
“He’ll be all right, Heck,” Ness reassured him. “Probably more room down there for him, even though it can’t be terribly clean.”
Verin leaned his head in his hand as if his horns had suddenly become too heavy. “Didn’ espect that. Big man an’ all.”
“It’s the human genes.” Shax nodded sagely. “Not enough hell in him to keep up.”
Verin wasn’t looking too steady, either, so Heckle wasn’t at all surprised that his head wobbled badly two drinks later. He pulled his cowboy closer, draped his large demon self over Corny’s back, and started snoring. A chorus of disappointed Awww’s came from much of the wait staff.
“Sorry, boys and girls!” Shax called out cheerfully. “Just goes to show that size is no ind… no indi… not a thing to judge by.” He turned to Heckle with a wink. “You and me, little imp. We drank the big guns under the table. Some of them quite liber…liture…literally.”
Heckle nodded, staring in fascination at the lights glinting off Shax’s red horns.
“What?” Shax let the bartender place the next two drinks down rather than taking his off the tray.
“You have such pretty horns,” Heckle blurted out. Horrified that he would say such a bold thing, he still couldn’t stop himself. “I wish I had pretty horns.”
“My dear Heckle.” Shax gave him an awkward one-armed hug. “Your little horns are adorable. And you have wings and a tail besides. I always wanted wings. Rather unfair. Mummy had wings. You’d think I’d get some. Genetics and all.”
The next two drinks went down in relative silence since Shax had become pensive, staring at the table. Finally, he turned to Ness and crawled in his lap, snuggling close to lay his head on his angel’s shoulder.
“Ness has enough wings for everybody, I ‘spose. Big, sof’ gorgiss wings…”
Heckle leaned forward to hear since Shax’s voice had been fading. After a few moments, it was evident that had been it.
Ness shifted Shax more comfortably in his lap with a chuckle. “He’s out, Heck. You win. Do you think you can walk?”
One of the assistants behind the bar whooped and broke out in a victory dance. Heckle’s face warmed even more. Someone had actually believed in him. He tried to put a hoof on the floor, but the floor wouldn’t stay still.
“Um. I don’t think so. No.”
Ness put his demon burden on the table where Shax curled up in a contented, murmuring ball. “Lovely. I’d better call a transport then. And I’ll have to carry everyone back aboard. What a nuisance. Next time everyone can just get themselves home.”
About The Brimstone Journals
Extra treats for our Brimstone readers, Brimstone Journals will post every Tuesday. Short scenes from characters' lives before, after or during the stories.
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