Strange Loops

I sat up with a gasp, a rush of adrenaline suddenly flooding through my veins as I clenched down at the stained table beneath me, staring around.

All around me, the bar looked just as it always did – shoddy, uncleaned, and with a smell all its own that slowly crept in and pervaded the nostrils.  I’d seen it a hundred times before, had spent more money here than I liked to think about.  I’d gotten drunk more times than I could count, had stumbled out across the uneven floor towards the sliding front door lock enough times to know every rut and pit in the synthstone that covered the ground underfoot.

I’d woken up here many times.

But none of them had ever felt like this.

I stood up, my legs erupting underneath me so violently that the cheap chair tumbled backwards onto the floor behind me.  My hands flew up to my chest, patting at the surface through my thin black shirt and all-weather Flex jacket, searching for a bullet hole that was no longer there.

No, I corrected myself.  Saying that the bullet hole was no longer there was wrong.

The hole wasn’t there… yet.

With a deep, shuddering breath, I forced myself to stop frantically grabbing at myself.  I was already attracting the curious attention of some of the other patrons – and most of them were the kind of folks that one didn’t want noticing you.  Not if you wanted to live for long, at least.

I stifled a hysterical chuckle at that thought.  Living long, hah!  That wasn’t going to be a worry for me, at least!

I turned and, feeling like my movements were almost robotic, I bent over and picked up the fallen chair.  I set it back up on its legs, but didn’t resume my seat.  Instead, moving like a drunken sailor who hadn’t yet acquired his space-legs, I stumbled over to the bar’s counter, looking up at the bartender behind it as he sneered down at me.

“What time is it?” I gasped out.

The bartender, a six-armed and six-legged Ifrit, rolled his eyes before answering – a movement tough to miss, considering that his eyes were on eight-inch stalks protruding from his lumpy little head.  “Eight past planet-set,” he grunted at me.  His voice sounded annoyed, even through the scratchy little crap-quality translator box around his neck.

“Eight past set,” I repeated, collapsing down onto the closest bar stool.  I closed my eyes and pressed both of my palms against the closed eyelids, trying to think back, to remember.

The sun had just been rising over the curve of the planet out the windows when the man had pulled the trigger, when I had felt a giant’s fist slam into my chest and drive me off my feet and down to the floor.

That meant that I had eleven, maybe twelve hours.

The bartender sidled a little closer to me, moving in a way that can only be performed with two extra sets of legs. “Something wrong, sir?” he asked, probably hoping that whatever I had wasn’t contagious across species.

I lowered my hands and opened my eyes, and the Ifrit took a half-sidle back from my thousand-yard stare.  “Twelve hours,” I said, my voice sounding hollow.  “I’m going to be shot in twelve hours.”

The Ifrit grunted.  “Sucks, man,” he offered.  “Give you a little privacy, then.”

The bartender stepped away, and I tried desperately to remember everything I knew about strange bullets…

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