Even though Jayna had departed, word had gotten around that Ash and Mari were her guests, and they were ushered into the club immediately.
Ash looked around for a bit and found them a VIP corner that was a little further away from the dance floor. And then he looked around for a moment. “Okay, so… Mari, listen to me. There’s something that I want to–“
Before he could get the full story out, he saw a drink placed in front of her. “Welp, that didn’t take long.”
Mari looked down at the drink, then over at the swarthy, well-cut man at the end of the bar. The man winked at her.
“…what?” she said, blinking.
Ash settled a little closer to her. “So, remember how every woman on the island is… Jayna shaped?”
“Yeah?” said Mari. “What does that have to do with–“
She was interrupted as another drink was slid over to her. She looked over to the other side of the bar. A blank expression unrolled across her face as realization dawned.
“You mean… I’m…”
“Yeah, you’re the only girl on the island that’s under six feet tall. And… you know how counterculture works. Look, let’s not lie. You’re really pretty Mari. But here? It’s bad enough you’re a fresh face, but you’re also…” Ash grabbed one of the drinks and took a sip. “Petite.”
Mari snorted as she took the other drink and sniffed it. “Huh,” she said. “…I’m not sure I like it. And I’m not sure I want to drink something made for a liver the size of Jayna’s.”
“So take a sip, and then let’s go dance,” Ash said, standing up. “I can give you a stealth smooch, knock some of the guys off of you, and we’ll have a great time.”
Mari grinned. “You’re on, greasemonkey,” she said. She took a bit more than a sip. “Dance floor, ho!”
Ash took a sip himself, and headed out to the dance floor with Mari. Ash’s eyes darted over the dance floor, making a mental notes of who was watching Mari a little too closely. They soon reached a corner of the floor not too close to the giant speakers.
As the songs switched, she took a deep breath and pulled him close, moving along to the rhythm. It quickly became clear that he had only the vaguest idea of how to dance, but he kept up with the music and didn’t step on anyone’s feet. She had certainly seen worse.
The two danced for a few more songs and then Mari felt another pair of hands on her hips tugging her in the opposite direction. Ash looked up to see another guy trying to dance with Mari. He groaned, and headed that direction.
“Excuse me,” said Mari, looking up at the man. “I was a bit busy.”
He gave her a warm smile. Most of the guys she’d seen on the island were tanned, athletic, and classically good looking. It was kind of disarming that guys that looked like they came off the smutty books she used to read were just as douchey as the guys back on Raulin.
Mari narrowed her eyes at him. “Do excuse me,” she said, turning around. That was when she felt the hand on her arm.
“Hon, don’t leave so soon,” he murmured, raising his hands in a mock surrender pose. “Just wanted to get to know the girl everyone is talking about.”
Mari’s face turned from indignation to confusion. “Everyone?” she said. “Really? Me?”
He nodded, and then held out his hand. “Yeah. You’re gorgeous, hon. I’ve got a really nice vintage bottle of Tallen I’m trying to get through tonight. Want to join me?”
“Thanks, but no thanks,” said Mari, turning the hand aside and making her way back to Ash.
Ash pulled her a bit closer, looking off at the guy. “You okay?” he said, raising an eyebrow.
“Ten more seconds and I was about to pump that guy full of tranquilizers until he couldn’t tell which way was up,” said Mari, grumbling. “I’m not sure what’s worse, being invisible or being in everyone’s sights.”
“I was keeping an eye on him,” Ash said, pulling her a little closer. “He looked tame enough. I’m pretty sure you could take him on,” he said.
“Oh, I’m sure,” said Mari. “It’s not the first time I’ve been hit on, and I’m at perfect crotch-punching height. But I’m not sure Jayna’s family would be happy about bailing us out.”
“I mean, I don’t think they would blink. But I don’t want tonight to end in prison. That’s happened to me too many times already. Maybe we should go upstairs? They have a sky bar.” he offered.
“Sounds good,” said Mari. “I think I want a drink with a bit more kick.”
Ash grinned. “My pleasure. What do all of these rich kids know about clubbing anyway?” he said. “I’ll meet you up there, give me five minutes and try not to get kidnapped.”
The sky bar was a lot quieter than the club floor below, which suited Mari just fine. There was a nice view of the city, as well.
Ash came up a bit later, and was holding a vintage bottle of Tallen.
Mari eyed the bottle suspiciously. “Do I want to know where you got that?” she said.
He cracked open the bottle, unable to keep the grin off his face. “I think you already know where I got it,” Ash said, pouring her a glass.
Mari snorted in laughter as she took a sip. “Tastes like spite,” she said. “My favorite.”
“Do you mind if I join you guys?” Mari turned, ready for more potential crotch punching, to see a woman maybe seven and a half feet tall, and probably taller in the towering stilettos she was wearing. Mari felt herself grow warm despite the cool breeze.
“Sorry, all the guys down there are a drag,” the newcomer sighed.
Ash shrugged. “Sure. Our sky loft is your sky loft,” he said, and looked at Mari. “You don’t mind, right?”
Mari had frozen with her glass halfway to her lips. “Huh?” she said. “Oh, sure, absolutely. I don’t take up much space.” She emptied the glass.
She looked her over for a moment, and then gave a small smile. “That’s true. Stay down on the dance floor too long, you might cause a feeding frenzy,” she giggled.
Mari let out a grumble. “I get it, I’m a hot commodity,” she said. “Would it help if I wore stilts?”
“I mean, I don’t think so,” she said, and then offered her hand. “I’m Pheobe, nice to meet you both, It is a joyous time after all,” she said, and raised her glass. “Games are in town and all that.”
“So we hear,” said Ash.
“So I guess that’s kind of a big deal around here,” said Mari, topping herself off.
“It is. It brings in a lot of money to the area. Too bad it brings a lot of whack jobs, too,” Phoebe said, looking over the two of them. “How’d you two hear about it, anyway?”
“Us hardboiled spacers get around,” added Mari, earning herself an elbow in the ribs.
“Our navigator-slash-muscle is a local,” said Ash.
“Ahh, I see,” Phoebe smiled, taking another sip. “Well, I’m glad that some hard-boiled spacers are starting to hear of our traditions. Our government for a long time has tried to be… welcoming to our closer neighbors. With mixed results,” she added, the tone of her voice shifting momentarily.
“Mixed how?” said Mari, looking over the crowds below. “You guys seem to have tourist revenue out every orifice.”
Phoebe looked out over the loft to the world below. “Off-world tourists are fine, they stay in their tourist hotels, go out on expeditions or enjoy the beaches and pools. They relax, they spend money, and then they go home. But the more relaxed our regulations are to invite the tourists in… well… the more everyone else wants a piece of our lifestyle. And they want to stay.”
“Can you really blame them?” said Mari. “This place is lovely. Though if I have to stay much longer, I really need to invest in some platform shoes…”
“Oh no, you can’t blame them. Not much more than you can blame a dog wanting to steal a steak off the table,” Phoebe said shrugging. She seemed to think for a moment, and then got to her feet. “I hope you both have a wonderful evening, but I’ve got another drink to get downstairs,” she said, and then leaned down and gave Mari a kiss on her cheek. “Goodnight, lovely! Oh, and one thing,”
Ash raised an eyebrow as she whispered something into Mari’s ear, and then slipped away.
Ash quirked an eyebrow. “Did you just get propositioned?” he said, smirking. “Do you need a ride to her place?”
“No,” said Mari. “She said to stick to the cheap seats at the Games. Weird.”
Ash frowned, watching her walk off. “Well, I don’t think that’s going to happen, but it’s definitely something Jayna’s mom is going to want to know about.”
“I don’t know,” said Mari. “It could be nothing. But better safe than sorry, I guess. But that’s a problem for tomorrow-us.”
“True–what does tonight Mari want to do?” he said, noting that she was filling up her third glass of Tallen. He did a little mental multiplication. “Besides drinking water.”
“Heeey,” said Mari, as the bottle was wrested from her grasp. “We’re on vacation, right?”
“We are, but I also don’t want you hospitalized for alcohol poisoning. Think how big the needles must be here!”
“Oh, fine, Commander Buzzkill,” said Mari, grinning. “Why don’t we see what else this town’s nightlife offers?”
“Sure–the island’s yours for the taking. Where shall we go?” Ash said, offering her a hand up.
She looked around. Then she woozily pointed in an arbitrary direction. “THAT way!”
Ash chuckled. “Hm, didn’t take you for a karaoke fan–why not!” he said, and threw an arm around her shoulders, steering her gently.
Mari beamed. “Guess we’ll find out!”
Multiple songs later, the two of them exited the establishment, laughing til they cried.
“Well,” said Mari, clutching her sides, “so much for karaoke.”
“I didn’t think I’d get kicked out of a place that gave you cocktail glasses wrapped in plastic first, but there’s a new first for me,” Ash said, rubbing at his eyes with a lipstick stained napkin.
The two of them laughed louder as they walked out into the street. The flow of pedestrians was starting to slow down.
“Hey… Ash,” she said. “How’re you doing?”
“Pretty good, honestly. I had my hesitations about coming back here. Jayna’s family wasn’t particularly, um, happy, about the way we left. But it seems like they’ve come around.” Ash said, fumbling in his pocket so they can call a cab.
“I’m glad,” said Mari. “You’ll have to tell me that story sometime.”
There was a moment of silence as they waited for the cab.
“I’d like to make something clear,” she said. “I like you. You’re handy, and not half-bad looking when you shed the outermost layer of grime. But I’m not looking for a long-term attachment right now.”
“Oh, I know. You’re looking for orgasms,” Ash said, looking her over. At her stricken look, he smiled. “The ship is made of metal. It echoes.”
Mari snorted. “Still getting used to some things about the spacer lifestyle,” she said.
“So… got any?”
“Not for you, not tonight,” Ash said with a shake of his head. “Mari, you’re awesome, and, badass, and… really cute. But you’re also incredibly inebriated. What kind of dog would I be to take you at face value tonight, mm?”
“Am I?” she said, going stone-faced. “She sells seashells down by the seashore. I’m light weight, but I’m no lightweight. And tallen isn’t that strong. Besides, all I had in the karaoke bar was beer, and I was drinking on a full stomach of giant person food.” She smiled again and put a hand on Ash’s shoulder. “What do you say? Bit of fun. Between friends.”
Ash watched as the cab pulled up, and then smiled. “Hopefully more than a bit.”
“Don’t hype yourself up too much,” said Mari, giving him a pat on the rear.