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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

When You’re Alone You Ain’t Nothing But Alone

“Keep ‘em coming,” growled Asinus, shoving his whiskey glass back across the bar. The bartender, a serene blond woman in khaki pants, seemed unfazed by his surliness. Some other year, Asinus might have hit on her, or at least tried to figure out who she was or who she was going to be. Right now, he really couldn’t care less.

So of course, a redhead immediately came over and sat down next to him at the bar. Always that way for some reason. When you wanted female company, they were all off chasing some damn hunk or other. When you wanted them all to piss off was when you couldn’t beat them off with sticks. “Hi,” she said. Asinus had seen her before; friend of Robinson’s, a local pirate girl. Palled it around with Caimen for a few years after he declared war on the Slavers’ Guild. Kyber, her name was, but Asinus couldn’t remember her first name. “Is this seat taken?”

Asinus threw back the whiskey. “I thought you were dead,” he said.

“I get that a lot. Hey, bartender, I’ll have what he’s having.”

“Double scotch straight,” he warned without looking at her.

“I’ve had harder. Girl troubles, huh?”

“Any other kind?” Asinus muttered.

“Well, there’s boy troubles. Basically the same thing though.”

“So switching teams wouldn’t help. Nice.” Asinus drained the rest of his drink. “Is she going to remember what I told her in here once we leave?”

“Probably,” Kyber admitted.


“Why, did it really feel that much better as a secret?”

“Nothing so bad a little pity can’t make it worse. Hey, bartender, I said keep ‘em coming!”

“Coming right up,” she said, in a calmly aristocratic voice. Whoever she was in real life, Asinus suspected, it was not a bartender.

“It gets better,” Kyber said.

“Yeah. Eventually you die.”

“Or not,” she said, and shrugged. “Hap a di fon.”

“Don’t start with the ghetto kid talk, chippie, I ain’t in the mood to translate.”

“You’re not the only one who’s had your heart broken, Asinus.”

“Yeah, I know it. Life’s rough all over.” He sighed and took the next whiskey from the bartender. “Don’t make it hurt less when it happens, does it?”

“No,” she agreed.

“I should have tried for her when I had the chance. That’s what she was telling me, isn’t it. She thinks of me as a friend now. Wouldn’t matter if she was single, because now I’m the friend. Kiss of flarkin’ death. I should have pushed it. Edmund H. Paris, the one time this decade I have to be the nice guy and it flarkin’ cost me everything. I should have pushed it.”

“There’s no point second-guessing yourself,” Kyber said, and sighed. “Sometimes things just aren’t meant to be, and there’s nothing left to say except it fucking sucks. The same thing happened to me and Max Silverhammer--”

“What the hell is it with Max Silverhammer?” Asinus demanded irritably. “Are there any women on this damn planet he hasn’t laid?”

“Well, there’s me,” she said quietly.

Asinus was in too bad a mood to be sorry he’d said it, but he did refrain from pushing the complaint any further. “What happened?” he said instead, trying to look like he cared more than he did.

“Nothing, of course. I fell for him while he was falling for someone else. Oh, there were the usual complications--a doppelganger, an alien abduction, an alternate-universe affair in a past life. But basically he just wasn’t in love with me, and there’s nothing anyone can do about that. Not you, not me, not Khyrisse.” Asinus sighed bitterly. “And it fucking sucks. But it does get better. Life goes on, Asinus.”

“That’s what my sister says.”

“She’s a wise woman.” Kyber put her hand on his arm and squeezed it. “Let’s get back to her.”

“Yeah,” he sighed, and pushed the half-drunk whiskey across the bar. “Put it on my tab,” he said over his shoulder.

The bartender just smiled, a still, quiet little smile.

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