Lauren and Herrigan had gotten half way out the door of the Third Ward offices when Lieutenant Holly Newcastle, Australian Army, caught up with them.
Herrigan managed to suppress a disgusted sound. Not because he disliked the Lieutenant or had really wanted to go somewhere alone with one of the Australians but because the young woman – more of a girl in his mind – kind of creeped him out. In spite of a month plus of reminding himself that a lot of the ideas trenchmen had about the surface were based on hyperbole and out of date information there were some things he hadn’t gotten past. An intense dislike of professional armies was one of them.
Oscar had pointed out the irony of that coming from someone who was a Deputy Justice and a militia officer and so, technically, in the same line of work. But in Herrigan’s mind fighting wasn’t his job, it was something he did to keep his job. In theory, fighting was Newcastle’s job.
“Lauren?” Holly poked her head past Lauren’s shoulder, a quizzical look on her face. “Are you going somewhere? Ambassador Sudbury doesn’t want any of us wandering alone.”
She sounded more like a schoolmarm than a soldier to Herrigan’s admittedly untrained ear. Lauren didn’t seem to mind because she smiled back and said, “Herrigan just thought we should take a break and grab some refreshments. We’ll be back in a little while.”
“Forty five minutes, tops.” Herrigan put in.
“What kind of refreshments?” Holly asked, clearly skeptical.
“Well.” Lauren gave him a questioning look and said, “If there’s any kind of civilization left down here hard liquor will at least be on the menu.”
Holly clasped her hands together and said, “Take me with you! If I have to listen to one more word about the complexities of getting all your stupid Chiefs in one place and I’m sober, someone’s going to get shot.”
“Wait.” Herrigan’s brow furrowed. “Who gave you your gun back?”
“My sidearm hasn’t been returned yet. That’s another thing that bugs me.”
It wasn’t going to get fixed any time soon, that he was pretty sure of. But mentioning the fact probably wasn’t going to be helpful so Herrigan ignored the issue of arming her for the moment and considered her request. Ultimately, he didn’t see what it could hurt. “Well,” he said, “you’re probably not getting your gun back until you’re sober again but I’m not one to take booze from someone who has to deal with the Chiefs. Let’s go.”
The sign said that the bar’s name was Orpheus. Holly gave Herrigan a skeptical look. “Orpheus?”
“Third Ward’s very own roving bar,” He said with a grin.
It was Lauren’s turn to look skeptical. “Does it move places?”
“It did in the past.” Herrigan waved at the circular hub room they stood in, ringed with what she guessed were store fronts and other public buildings. “This plaza only opened a couple of years ago. Before that, Orpheus was located one floor up. Whenever the Ward built a layer down into the Trench then the owner would buy up a business plot there and move shop. Orpheus is always as close to the underworld as it can get.”
Holly snorted. “Figures. Randal mentioned that one of the other Chief Executives was named Dante and from Inferno Ward. Are all the naming conventions down here so cheerful?”
“Most of ’em. It fits a place like this, don’t you think? Besides, Inferno Ward is where the Geothermal plant is, so it fits.” Herrigan stepped forward to open the door for them, then turned back and said, “By the way, until we can officially announce that we have Australian visitors to the public you might want to save those kind of questions for when we’re alone.”
Lauren took a quick glance around. Fortunately the plaza was fairly empty at the moment and she didn’t think anyone had overheard. “Good point. Lead the way, oh native guide.”
They pushed through the doors of the bar and in to the dimly lit interior. So far she’d mostly experienced the inside of a salvage sub and the docks and stairwells of the colony itself but even that small sampling had been kind of alien. But pubs were apparently a universal constant. Orpheus was just a big room with booths, tables and a bar along the side wall. There were a few new wrinkles. Alcatraz itself wasn’t as humid as Erin’s Dream had been but humidity was still higher than she was used to and the near ubiquitous Spanish lace dangled from a number of supports throughout the room.
The people there were about what she’d come to expect from the trenchmen, dozens of men with close cropped or shaved heads, women with bobbed hair, all dressed in brightly colored jackets of various lengths. Between the unusual colors the people wore and the plant life trenchmen scattered everywhere the room felt a bit like a tropical rainforest that had somehow gotten lost and wandered down to the bottom of the ocean.
Herrigan led them to the side of the room, towards the bar. They’d gotten most of the way there when a loud, clearly inebriated voice called, “Hey, Harry! Over here!”
Towards the back of the room an arm clad in bright blue was waving lazily. Lauren vaguely recognized some of the people at the table as faces of the crew they’d come in with, although she probably couldn’t have put names to faces. Herrigan muttered something under his breath and said, “Be right back. I need a word with them.”
Lauren and Holly shared an amused glance as Herrigan hustled away, leaving them by the bar. Almost at the same moment a tall, gangly fellow stepped over to them and asked, “What’ll it be, ladies? Any preferences? Or did Cartwright promise you a drink from his stash?”
“Harry said he’d let us sample some of the best drinks in the Ward,” Lauren said, hoping to avoid ordering anything by name.
“The stash it is,” the barkeep replied. He pulled out a fairly normal looking glass bottle and set it on the counter, followed by three shot glasses. “You’re welcome to sit here at the bar until he gets back to you, or his favorite table’s open if you’d like some privacy.”
“Thanks,” Holly said as she took the bottle and headed towards the table he’d pointed out. As they got away from the bar she dropped her voice and asked, “How often do you think he brings ladies here for privacy? That sounded like a pretty practiced spiel to me.”
Lauren shrugged and made a noncommittal noise as she looked the bottle over. The label announced the drink was Selkie, which she’d never heard of, and it was mostly full. As soon as they got to Herrigan’s table, a booth near the back corner of the room, they poured half a glass in each glass and studied the result.
Holly turned her glass slowly in one hand, then carefully sniffed at the beverage and pulled a face. “It’s… I don’t know.”
The liquid sloshed in the glass but didn’t cling like wine or brandy would. Lauren didn’t smell much from it either, beyond a vague hint of the sea that could easily have come from the room around her. “It’s green.”
“Yeah.” Holly nodded. “Green.”
“It’s Selkie. Distilled seaweed and other flavors.” Herrigan slid into the booth on the other side and scooped up the third glass, downing its contents in a single gulp. With a grimace he set the shot glass down and refilled it, then looked at the ladies. “Not going to try?”
Apparently unable to back down from the challenge, Holly downed her glass with equal speed, then nearly fumbled it onto the floor as she half-choked swallowing. Curious, Lauren took a much more restrained sip of her own drink. It didn’t burn like some well aged whiskies she’d had but it tasted a lot more like grass than she cared to think about. “Must be an acquired taste.”
“I think all booze is, to be fair.” Herrigan downed a second glass but didn’t refill it. “We brewed with what we could spare, back in the day.”
Holly wiped her eyes and swallowed hard, then smoothed the front of her shirt and exhaled sharply. “It’s certainly unique.”
Herrigan smirked. “Suits its makers.”
She bristled at that and pulled herself up a bit in her chair. “Mr. Cartwright, could I ask you a question?”
He shrugged. “Sure, why not? I’m probably not going to give you the best answer, but if you wanted that I’m sure you’d have asked Sam or Randal.”
For a moment Holly paused to gather her thoughts, perking Lauren’s interest. The lieutenant wasn’t an airhead but she didn’t give the impression of a deep thinker, either, and Lauren couldn’t figure out what in the last few minutes could have prompted such a serious attitude from her. Finally Holly looked Herrigan in the eye and said, “Why -”
And all the lights in the bar went dark.