We parted ways after this.
But I met him again, you know. He later joined Janet’s rebellion against the crown, and after I got together with the people I had apparently called friends years before, we joined up with the rebellion. I had no idea that the innocent bartender became a part of it.
He told me that he joined the rebellion because I had shown him that there was more to life than tending to drunks all day and most of the night, and something about fighting for freedom boosted his morale more than cleaning the same wear-worn counters day after day.
He said it jokingly, but I knew that deep down, he really meant it. I could tell.
I shocked awake to the sound of sixteen once-suspended aluminum barstools clattering to the ground all at once. Startled out of slumber, I fell off the couch I had sprawled on, thudding to the floor painfully. Groaning, I rolled over, burying my head in the crook of my arms.
“Hey.” I felt the toe of his boot nudge into my side. “Girl!” His voice came to me sharply and painfully. I lifted my eyes to squint at the boots in front of me.
“Yeah?” I sounded hung over. I felt hung over too. Not like I could easily get liquor with the prohibition underway, and besides, I’m underage.
“You fell asleep on my couch.” The voice tried to sound condescending but it didn’t work.
“I did.” It came out as more of a statement than a question, a self-assurance. “And then I fell down on your floor.”
A fading, “Whatever” announced his retreat, and clang after clang followed. Squinting, I saw him pick up the silver discs from the ground. He seemed familiar, with thick brown hair and a broad-shouldered build. But I don’t even know this guy. Where am I anyway?
Slowly, the day before came rushing back—the arrival in the town, the shoddy bar, strange technology, the slow realization that today’s date lies a good five thousand years ahead of my last memory.
The nice bartender— what’s his name? Right, Vasher—had given me tea and told me to rest on his couch. Obviously, sleep had overcome.
I pushed myself to a sitting position and pushed my blonde curls from my face, the initial fogginess of sleep lifting as I rested my back against the leather couch. The bartender finished picking up the once-floating seats and dropped them into a small bin to get them ready for the next day.
“Magnets, right?” I didn’t know much about science but I knew enough that the aluminum floated not by magic, but by opposite magnetic poles keeping them at once place. “They’re held up by magnets on the floor.”
“Yup. I told you that last night.” Vasher moved behind the counter and started wiping various spills, vomit, and crumbs from the shiny metallic surface.
“Yeah. You were kind of—“ he gestured at me— “confused.” Well, yeah, I travelled five thousand years into the future, of course I’m confused. I bit back the sarcastic comment and stood. I still wore the underpinnings that I had showed up in yesterday, corset and petticoats. My feet, now bare, looked bruised and bloody in some places, the cement floor burning cold against them. I shivered and pulled my arms close to me, rubbing my bare shoulders up and down.
A heavy, fuzzy blanket covered my shoulders and I turned to see Vasher draping it over me, eyes averted. I pulled it around my torso and turned to face him. “Oh, thanks.”
He slouched away. “You should probably leave. You can keep the blanket.”
“Why?” I plopped down on the couch, holding the blanket close. “I don’t have anywhere to go. Or money.” Or anything or anyone, I add in my head.
“Well, the bar is kind of—“ he coughed— “closed.”
I opened my mouth to protest— there had been light streaming in through the windows before, and surely I couldn’t have slept for that long. Then again, why would Vasher be closing the bar in the first place?
“It’s almost midnight.”
“Seriously?!” I had no working watch to compare the time to. “Sorry. I had no clue.” I plopped back down onto the couch. “Can I maybe just… stay here tonight? I’ll be out first thing in the morning.” I have no friends in this city.
But I think I do.
“I suppose…” Vasher hesitated. His tense face reflected inner turmoil. “Just tonight though. And you’ll have to be out early in the morning.”
I leapt up, the blanket falling softly from my shoulders. “Really?! Thank you!” I looked up at him.
“Yeah whatever.” He did a double take, and stepped closer to me, his eyes on mine. “Woah, your eyes… What’s wrong with them?”
I sighed. “I don’t know.” I looked down. They had always looked like this— the entire eye was white, with a slim orange ring around the black pupil, and one line going from the pupil to where three would be on a clock. I pushed past him, head down, eager to change the subject. “Do you want me to help with anything?”
“Here.” Vasher handed me a broom. “Thanks. Oh, and who are you exactly?”
I took the broom. “My name is Zotia.” I held out a hand, which he took, shaking it strongly as I took the broom.
“You didn’t, but that’s alright. Nice to meet you. I’m Vasher, as you know, because I actually introduced myself last night.” He smiled teasingly as he went around the counter and started washing dishes. “How’d you get here?”
I started sweeping. “I don’t really know. I woke up in the river behind your bar and kind of let myself in. I don’t remember much from before that.” I left out the whole “Hey, I’m five thousand years old!” bit. It could be creepy.
“From the river?” Vasher paused in the middle of washing out a mug and glanced behind him as if the river raged on the wall facing him. His eyes went wide and he looked back at me. “That’s quite a walk.”
“It really is not that bad. Only a mile or so.” I pulled the broom along the worn floorboards, piling a day’s worth of dirt and crumbs. I hated talking about myself, so I changed the subject. “Do you run this bar all by yourself?”
“Yeah, my parents are off running the bar’s counterpoint in Demeda. I’m supposed to run this with my older brother but—“ he shrugged. “He joined the army and was killed shortly after, about three years ago.”
I stopped in the middle of sweeping, looking up at this boy, bent over the sink, soft brown eyes hollow with grief, full of unshed tears, calloused, angry knuckles white with frustration. I stared at his reflection in the wall lined with mirrors. Pity and a strange empathy came over me. I know this feeling. I know his pain.
I opened my mouth, sucking a breath to transform to apology, when a knocking came from the door.
Rap rap rap.
“What was that?”
I leapt up from my barstool as Vasher dashed around the counter and grabbed a hidden six-shooter from the drawer. “I don’t know but he— or she— could be dangerous. This isn’t a safe town.”
The gentle knocking increased in tempo. “Anyone there? I missed the curfew and— ah! help me!”
Vasher slowly undid the locks as I ducked behind the counter. He whipped open the door till the chain jerked it to a stop. “Who are you?” His voice held a quavering but strong ferocity.
“I’m Aedan, help me!” I couldn’t see much of the boy whose voice edged between ‘frantic’ and ‘crazy’, just a shock of bright red hair that never stayed still.
The name registered.
I know this kid.
A sudden rush of disjointed memories: The red hair bobbing through a forest.
C’mon Zee! Betcha I can’t get there first!
A strange camraderie revolving around… thievery?
“Vasher!” My harsh whisper. “Vasher! Let him in!”
He turned and gave me the ‘Are you crazy?!’ look. “Why?!”
“He’s okay! I have a feeling.” I smiled reassuringly.
“So I should let him in on a whim? On a feeling?”
“He seems safe enough!” I mean, he seemed like a hyperactive redhead. How much trouble could he bring? “And I know him!”
‘HEY! Let me in! They’ll kill me!” The red head was bouncing up and down.
Vasher sent me a wide eyed ‘SEE?! HE COULD BE DANGEROUS,’ look.
A mouthed back: “Hyperbole, Vasher.”
“Fine then.” He slammed the door, undoing the chain and opening it again, the redheaded boy slipping inside.
“Gosh thanks!” The boy leaned against the door, hand over his heart, sucking in deep breaths. “That was close!” And that’s when I knew. I know him.
“What was?” Vasher re-locked the door.
“Aedan?” I came around the counter. We are dangerous.
“Hey, don’t I know you? Zotia, right?” Aedan leaned forward and skipped towards me. “You seem—“
“Familiar…” We finished in tandem, and that’s when I realized his eyes were exactly like mine, just in a fascinating shade of chartreuse.
“Your eyes are just like mine…” I barely whispered the words. “Have we—”
And then chaos interrupted.
I’ve replayed the next few minutes over and over in my head, and to this day, I cannot pinpoint what exactly happened. I remember screams, shattered glass, gunshots.
They’re after us. Me and Aedan.
There was biting pain and something about blood and bullets, a panicked screech from Aedan and yells from Vasher. I ducked behind the counter but could not miss the first rain of bullets screaming in from the window and shattering the mirror-lined wall opposite. Glass flew everywhere, glinting in the cold moonlight. With the light glancing off the shards, there might have been beauty, but it lost itself in the chaos of the moment.
There’s only one gun. Machine, automatic.
And then, just as abruptly, the loud reign of silence.
Are we the targets? What do we have?
“ZOTIA! They’ve come for us! Run run! Go!” Aedan, dragging me through the rubble, screamed, shouted, frantic.
“What do they need us for?”
“It’s best you don’t know!” Fear widened his eyes as he pulled me to my feet. He set his hands on my shoulders. “Now go!”
And with that he pushed me out the door.
“Don’t interact with anyone! If you’re still alive tomorrow night, come back here!” With that comforting advice from Aedan, I stumbled into the street, scanning left to right, hesitant. The door slammed behind me and I jumped, all senses hyper-alert. I glanced a shadow shifting at the entrance to an alleyway. There! I took off running, flying down the street away the dark blot that I saw, when a hand appeared from nowhere and grabbed my shoulder, clapping over my mouth, trapping me. I flailed and kicked, but the efforts grew futile in the heavy skirts and restraining corset. Heel met shin, evoking a sharp yelp of pain, but the iron grip didn’t let up. “Stay still!”
The cold circle of a pistol met my temple and it sent a shot of cold fear through my spine, straight to my toes. “Don’t. Move.”
I went limp, rendered helpless, hopeless. I doubt Aedan or Vasher had followed me out or seen me taken. A thousand scenarios for escape flashed through my mind but none of them seemed likely or very optimistic.
I felt searing pain through my temple, and then all spiralled into black.
Duct tape around my wrists, ankles and mouth.
I opened my eyes, but my head hurt, aching dully.
“Ah! She’s awake.”
RIP. The duct tape came off my mouth and a swell of pain followed. “Ah, ow!” I stretched my mouth wide, pain receding. Slowly, I opened my eyes, and came face to face with—
Shocking, cold white. It had few imperfections. Splotches of blood—of mine, I decided to assume (not surprising, considering the shoot-out earlier), and one person, my kidnapper. A woman.
She wore all black corset, a short skirt, knee boots. Dark, dirty, straggled hair hung matted to her waist. Her back faced me.
I laid on a table in seemingly, the middle of the room. “Wh-where am I? Who are you?”
“I don’t matter.” She turned around. A torn veil covered her face, but she seemed younger than I’d initially thought—perhaps my age. “You’re safe, and I won’t hurt you.” And cue afterthought. “Anymore.”
“Can you let me go? Why do you have me?” I wriggled on the table, uncomfortable.
“Because you know things.” She grabbed a handful of my hair and yanked my head back. I let out a yell of pain.
“How this town runs. Patrols, what is legal, who comes in and out, trading routes.” She leaned close and whispered in my ear. “And you know the red-head boy.”
“No I don’t! I don’t remember anything past these last 24 hours! And the boy just walked in and I don’t know him—Ah!” I let out another yell as she pulled my hair tight before letting it go.
“You don’t? Oh.” Disappointment lay potent in her words. “Nothing?”
“No! Nothing! I woke up yesterday and remembered nothing, and I woke up this morning and still remember nothing, so if you want information you’ll have to go elsewhere!” Anger built until the last words I practically shouted. I took a deep, calming breath. “So can you please let me go?” I struggled to sit, my headache fading.
“I’ll untie you, I suppose.” She moved behind me and started sawing at the duct tape. “But I’m not letting you out. I have some more… questions.” She moved to my feet as I rubbed feeling back into my wrists.
And that’s when my opportunity came.
I shot my feet forward, catching her right in the nose. Her head jerked backwards and she stumbled over, shoulder hitting the ground. “You have spunk!” She wiped blood onto her sleeve and stumbled up right. I leapt off the table, fists clenched.
“I call it tenacity, but if you want to call it spunk, that’s fine.” I ducked her fist as it whipped above my head. I grabbed her wrist then whipped around, flipping her over my shoulder and slamming her bodily into the ground.
At last, my kidnapper lay still.
“OW.” I gripped my shoulder. “I guess five thousand years of not fighting will hurt.” Rubbing my shoulder, I left.
I walked out of the room and straight into the street I had gotten taken in.
Not one person wandered the streets, being barely touched by the rising sun. I must have been out for a good while. I closed the door to what I now saw as a small warehouse that had served as my prison. I thought of the unconscious body inside, the blow to her head from my feet, the pale, bloody face. Deep down, I felt guilt gnawing at me, but I shook that thought aside, rubbing my shore shoulder.
I turned down the street, spying the bar. I quickened my pace and reached the door. Though I raised my hand to knock, it swung open before I could, and I ended up hitting someone on his chest.
Vasher stood there, broom in hand, my knuckles against his shirt. Blood drained from his cheeks as he set eyes on me. “You’re alive!” His arms wrapped around my shoulders and he held me tight. “Oh my gosh, you are alive!”
I stiffened and gently patted his back. “Um. Yeah…”
Joe let me go and looked down at me with a smile. “That was exciting.”
“I suppose.” I smiled and shrugged.
“Well, it’s more exciting than what I do everyday. Tending to drunks doesn’t really bring as much fulfilment to life as helping out with something WAY more epic. Like Aedan’s rebellion!”
I looked over his shoulder. “Wait, what?! He’s in a rebellion?!”
“Well, it’s lead by a lady named Janet but whatever. We’re just finishing cleaning up from last night’s shoot-out. HEY AEDAN!” For the last phrase, he turned and shouted behind him. “SHE’S BACK.”
“You sound… excited.” I pushed past him, stepping past the pile of glass and into the now-familiar bar.
Aedan rushed out and grinned excitedly, then turned and dashed back to the rooms behind the bar and back again, looking like an excitable puppy. “Sorry about before. There are people who want us for who knows what, and they’ve been chasing me for days now!” He plopped down on the couch. “So annoying.”
I rolled my eyes. “You sound like a diva. I got kidnapped, but I’m fine, thanks for asking.” I rubbed blood from my arms and felt at a goose-egg size bump on my head. “Tell me about this rebellion?”
“We’re taking down the monarchy. Me and some rebel-ish people.” He winked, coming over to me and throwing his arm around my shoulders. “I say you join, and we go kick some butt!”
“But not right now.” I smiled for the first time since I’d woken up that morning, standing amidst red-stained glass, blood running down my face and arms, and blisters and abrasions on my wrists from the duct tape. I’d survived a shoot-out and a kidnapping in the last twelve hours, and knew that whatever lay before me and whatever sat in my past, I could conquer it.
Even if it included joining a rebellion.