Chapter Thirty Two

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"It's kind of amazing," Ayna said.

"What is?"

"Almost every stop I've ever set foot in has had a bar."

Golga 3 was no exception. Sure, the bar had been stuffed into a disused and partially disassembled engine room and only served bland auto-brew, but it was a bar nonetheless.

"It's like a universal law of human nature," Twana said, and had herself yet another sip. "The... the desire for mind-altering substances."

The woman was thin, dark and clad in a worn mechanic's jumpsuit. And a friendly smile and an offer to buy drinks had been all it took to make her friendly.

"I mean... only places dominated by the Holy Union don't offer at least... at least plain old alcohol," Twana went on. "And even those supposedly have hidden little dens of sin."

"Yes, well, ban something and you're only creating a black market," Ayna said.

"That is the absolute truth."

Ayna looked the place over once more. It was pretty stuffed, and clearly used as a coping mechanism rather than as a place of any actual fun. But it was old enough that various nods to aesthetics had sprung up over time, such as wall hangings made of repurposed metal. Also, contrary to the stock image of dinghy bars the music playing on the speakers was symphonic. There was probably an interesting story behind that.

"So, what are you doing south of nowhere?" Twana asked.

"Oh, just... wandering, really. Seeing different aspects of the galaxy, getting away from the bustle, seeing new places, experimenting with food and neckwear..."

"What?"

"No subtle calls for help," Kavia Sari told her through the earpiece.

"I'm just chattering," Ayna said to both of them. "But really though, I needed to get away from civilised space for a while. What are you doing here?"

It was a good policy, Ayna had found, to show an interest in people.

"Oh, I fled that whole mess with Volkan Vol," Twana said, her face drifting away from Ayna's, gazing at some sad memory. "Like so many others. And, I mean, the war technically ended when his head bounced off the floor, but my home town is still a pile of debris. And I'm not welcome back anyway. And I have practical skills, so I can make a living here."

"I'm sorry," Ayna said, and stroked the woman's arm comfortingly. She did mean it, too.

Twana accepted the gesture with a nod, then visibly returned to the present.

"Here's to beheadings, and the people who make them count," she said and raised her glass.

They toasted.

"But speaking of making a living, I do need to... concern myself with that. I was hoping to find some work here."

"What kind of work?" her new friend asked, and touched Ayna's fingertips. "Not engineering, I take it. You're way too soft."

"No no, I'm no benefit to society at all," Ayna told her through a self-deprecating grin. "I just have nimble hands that people tend not to notice."

Ayna wasn't sure whether the woman's exaggerated raise of an eyebrow was intended for comedy of if it was the alcohol.

"So you're a stereotype?" Twana asked.

"Ab-so-lutely!"

The woman smiled.

"Oh, you rascal."

"That's me. But, ah, I know what kind of place this is. Is there an outfit here that could use someone like me?"

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