They wait for him. They deny it, but they do. They sit with their alcohol and they wait for the man called Ironwine to walk in and regale them with tales of his latest adventures. Ironwine, who they say hears the buzz and modulation of the galaxy. Ironwine, who they say feels the stars and crackle and is aware of the turn of every planet he lands on. Ironwine, the man for whom the universe waits for.

For when he arrives, he makes it worth the wait.

”Naoki Anzai had bioluminescent tears embedded into the flesh of her cheek and down her neck. ‘One for every year Rajeev’s away,’ she said. ‘One for every year he’s away.’ I could see the light from the glowing trail peek out of her collar and bleed through her blouse.”

“A year isn’t that long on Kesh, is it?”

“Are you telling this story? Because if you’re telling it, I’ll shut up and let you tell it. I can wait.”

“No, no, continue, Ironwine. We’re all anxious to hear.”

”Very well. Naoki said she had asked for my help because she heard I got things done—I heard that snort—that I got things done. She gave me a holographic image of Rajeev, and asked me to find him. She said that my legend spoke of amazing deeds and grand adventures, and that she knew I could do it.”

“You sure she had the right man?”

“Indeed, you may say that. I thought she had the wrong my own self. But I smiled politely and suggested she not put so much faith in legends.”

“Waste a’time. Bloke’s prolly dead.”

“I brought that up, but Naoki shook her head, and showed me the slowly blinking light on the inside of her right wrist: Rajeev’s pulse.

“On Kesh, the trail was brief. I managed to cheat better than a couple of slave traders at game of brocco, and won the last hand right when my own freedom—and, more importantly, my wardrobe!–was in the pot. The slave traders, naked and shivering the harsh Kesh rain, were so polite about where to look next that I gave them back their clothes.”

“Why would you keep their clothes?”

“Spite, mainly. They were going to keep mine.

“As you gentlemen know, Rimjar is not so much a world as it is a way station for people who liked to be kept under the radar. Obviously, my usual subtly is wasted there. I found myself in a bar near Rimjar’s tiny equator, engaged in what started as an innocent dance but escalated into all-out mayhem.”

“Pretty standard for Rimjar.”

“Too true, my friend. Though this is only the fifth bar fight I’ve been in where the establishment was leveled in the process. But it was in the bar’s remains, drinking the last of the Tarkellian whiskey from broken glasses, that the proprietor let slip that he had seen Rajeev sold.”




“Yes! And on Gumgigobella, I was forced to duel the magistrate’s daughter in order to gain entrance to the Sacred Library of Trade Dealings! I’ll have you know, she had a wicked left hook and knew her way around a trident, and I would be lying if I said the way she whipped around the net with her third arm wasn’t monumentally attractive. I could tell in her eyes that she felt similar about my fancy footwork. I almost stayed. I almost did, until I felt the holograph generator in my pocket. I was able to persuade the magistrate’s daughter to grant me admission to the Library, even though I had let her win the duel. She was voracious, and with good reason; Gumgigobellian females tend to eat their mates. I have teeth marks to prove it.

“It was on Xiuxiraboheres that I was captured and interrogated by the Galactic Inquisition, and their viscous tentacles oozed over my skin and mind.”

“Pffft! Now you pulling my leg. No one escapes the Galactic Inquisition.”

“So it is said, so it is said. However, while the Inquisition had searched me thoroughly, they did not check every orifice, and I had more than one gadget available to me as a means of escape. The Inquisition’s tools proved more effective on the Inquisitors than they had ever been on the inquistitees, and I was able to discern exactly where Rajeev was. On Alkalinella.”

“On Alkalinella?”

”I was surprised too. Luckily, on Alkalinella, it was just a matter of haggling. I was reluctant to give all three shriftgeg seeds for Rajeev, but his current owners would not let him go for any less. The journey back was uneventful.”

“Then what happened?”

”I returned Rajeev to Naoki in the tiny hovel on Kesh where she had first asked for my help, of course. They embraced awkwardly and passionately, engaging in motions and sounds they probably wouldn’t have if the separation of years hadn’t bereft them of their inhibitions. Forgotten, I left them entwined and ambled back to my ship.”

And they buy him another round of drinks and ask to hear it again and he tells it again, and few more times after that. The details omitted and details remembered, but the story ends the same way. He does not speak of what happened after he left the lovers.

For the man called Ironwine, who hears the buzz and modulation of the galaxy, who feels the stars and crackle and is aware of the turn of every planet he lands on, the man for whom the universe waits for, sat alone in his ship and wanted very much to be someone else being embraced in dirty hovel on tiny planet. It is not an uncommon feeling.

But he knows he has to wait.

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