Chapter three, part two
The only other human on board Space Station Regulus II had a cramped room not far from the noisy halls of the first hub. He could hear the dance club through the walls, but he did not care in the least. It had hardly been much different back home. Really, the biggest difference was that the space station smelled better, and it was much cleaner. Rastifari’s favorite part about the place was that he did not run the risk of being shot at a moment’s notice.
Being granted asylum from his war-torn country had not been easy. While most of Earth’s other country’s settled down into peace, his had only seen the tension grow. The more peaceful the other nations became, the more stressful it was that his had yet to figure things out. He had never understood how something so backwards and hypocritical as, “Sign the peace treaty and ratify the new constitution or DIE!” had become the motto of the rebelling forces; all that mattered for a while was that he keep his head down and survive. When the day came that the boat finally took him off of the island, he was so relieved that he would have honored the old religions and fallen to his knees in prayer. But then again, the old religions had been given up for their part in the chaos that had taken the world.
Not long after he was off the boat, he had been surrounded by volunteers who wanted to give him and the other refugees medical care, food, a bath, a place to lay his head for the night– even an education. It was such a crowd that he hardly knew whom to follow first, except that he had no interest in sitting in a boring university classroom; in other words, he knew who was worse than last on his list! Rastifari thanked everyone, and spent enough time with them to fill his belly and get the stench off of himself, but was soon ready to move on. What he really wanted—more than anything else in the world– was to get away from Earth. Too many problems, too much history, too big a risk of falling back into the old ways. If he could not live safely in his own country—if they would not make peace, even with help from representatives from various other nations – he did not want to be on the planet at all.
The other aliens on Regulus Station II had looked at Rastifari in awe; he was a human, but that hair? It didn’t bother him, the way they stared, or when they stopped to ask him all manner of questions. After taking three bullets– stray bullets and ricochet that he had been unfortunate enough to be in the way of– nothing seemed to bother him anymore. He had lived through several infections, as well as a loss of blood for which he could not get to a hospital to replace because it was being occupied by aggressive rebel forces, and had watched peace spread over every other land besides his. If space was so dangerous, he preferred to die to exploring it and not in some reeking hovel where squatters and rebels would come to hide at a moment’s notice.
Luckily for him, he had no criminal record, had taken part in no rebel activity, and had thus been able to obtain his galactic passport with far less wait time than he had feared. Waiting for his medical clearance had been the biggest hurdle, but in the end a week in the hospital, where he received vitamin supplements and various immunization updates, had taken care of the matter. At least in New America, he had access to modern medical care, and the facilities weren’t being attacked by rebels as a show of defiance towards the old powers. Refugees had no worries about medical fees, and shared the same benefit as the rest of the country, meaning that health-care costs had become the domain of government reprehensibility rather than the burden of the people. After all, healthy citizens served the nation better than ill or impoverished ones.
The cheapest way for him to travel across the galaxy was as a temporary worker on whichever random spacecraft was willing to hire a human to clean their floors and dining halls and let him off at a time of his choosing. He had free transportation, a cramped room to sleep in, and usually had free meals (especially if they let him serve in the kitchen), or else deeply-discounted prices. The pay for a temporary worker was rather low compared to what many galactic-level employees received, mainly because the captains knew that the temporary laborers were in it for the free transit more than anything else. They had no contractual obligations, but expected little in return for the work they did; they had no interest in the benefits packages that signed workers received.
There had once been a time when many space captains wanted to withhold information from the applicants for short-term employment. It was difficult to find workers when the ship was scheduled to pass through dangerous territory, and the captains wanted a take-it-or-leave it policy when it came to letting anyone apply to work temporarily. That idea was quickly done away with by the Greater Galactic Union, which decreed that all travelers, whether paying or paid, had to be made aware of a ship’s planned route, and that if non-peaceful territory was to be entered, all sentient life-forms aboard had to be made aware and give their acknowledgement of and consent to the risk. Rastifari was relieved to find this policy in effect, for he wanted nothing to do with any kind of hostility. He’d experienced enough of it in his homeland, and by leaving it he meant to enjoy the rest of his life exploring the vastness of space.
Some of his stints as a temporary worker had been long, and some had been quite short. If the ship came to a station that had cheap room and board, or if he simply wanted a change of pace, he would collect his pay and take the shuttle to the space station with the other passengers. Now and then, he was able to find temporary work on the station, but usually he was only able to stay until his funds became low enough that he had to get back to cleaning ships. He had been traveling back and forth from all number of stations for about a year when he came to Regulus Station II. It was one of the nicest stations he’d ever been to, even if the security there was a bit overboard. He was used to humans being scrutinized and less trusted, but being watched and followed really bothered him.
By his third day on the station, Rastifari had explored most of the first hub, and had seen one man in particular so many times that he had no doubt that he was being followed. The man never came near him or spoke to him, but he was there, pretending to being doing something else, pretending that they were in the same place only by coincidence. He asked the employment office if he could apply for work once, but was told that he needed a higher level of security clearance, which was still pending. He spent the rest of that day wondering why it was pending– why the process had been started at all– if he had yet to apply for it. Their level of caution seemed terribly extreme.
The first hub was all right– excellent, in fact, if he compared it to his homeland– but he wanted to see luxury, too, if he could. With that in mind, he took the elevator up to the third hub, and explored that area for a while. The dance hall there had music playing that caught his attention, with a slow, deep beat and lyrics that flowed with a passion for change and liberty. He could just scarcely understand the words, even with his translator set to diverse language recognition, but he entered the hall anyway in order to see who was singing. He sat up front and nodded his head to the beat, loving the sound, until the singer told the DJ to switch over to recorded music and stepped off the stage.
Rastifari was so lost in enjoying himself that he did not see the alien man walk over to the bar; nor did he see him return with two glasses in his hands.
“You look like you have a taste for good beats,” the singer commented as he set the tall, wavy glasses on Rastifari’s table.
The human nearly fell back when he opened his eyes, having been thinking out his own song in his mind, and saw the seven-foot-tall, dark-skinned alien standing above him. He looked at the two drinks, then up at the alien’s golden eyes.
“Do you mind if I join you?” the singer asked. A long, striped tail swirled eagerly behind him, giving him the air of a cat, though his stature was more like that of some kind of gray-furred kangaroo standing on tip-toe.
Rastifari saw no reason to refuse him. “Go right ahead.”
“I brought you a Quer’Ma’hil,” the alien stated. “It is my favorite drink here, and they mix them strong. You are human, yes? You can have alcohol.”
“I never refuse a good drink,” Rastifari replied with a wide grin. He pulled the glass closer. The drink inside swirled with spirals of glittering yellow and a bright cosmic blue that reminded him somewhat of cobalt. “They call me Rastifari, by the way.”
“Krral-zar Faharian, galactic performer and singer extraordinaire, at your service,” the taller creature replied, taking a bow before he sank into the wide metal chair.
The human raised his glass and toasted with the other man. “To traveling the cosmos.”
“To good music,” the singer added, then took his own drink.
“Wow!” the human said after his first gulp. It was indeed strong, a mixture of sweet fermented alien fruits and rich, mellow flavors that reminded him of his favorite rum back home. At least, that was the best that he could have come up with for a description of the Quer’Ma’hil; surely the bartender could have described it better. “I haven’t had a drink that strong since I had to be pinned down to have a bullet yanked out of my leg!”
“A bullet?” the alien asked, his eyes going wide. “Is your world at war, human? I thought that Earth had made peace decades ago.”
“Most of Earth did, starting at the beginning of the twenty-second century. But my mother country is Jamaica. For some reason, they still have not been able to figure it out.”
“That is terrible, I say! I sing for peace all over the galaxy; I should go to Earth and sing for Jamaica.”
Rastifari, took another drink, chuckled, and shook his head. “Jamaica has been singing for itself for a long time already, and still peace if difficult. The old powers will not give way for any kind of new laws.”
“Sometimes you have to put the new in place by force,” Krral-zar Faharian suggested.
“They have been trying to do that, too… The problem is, the old power is strong. But I do not want to talk about Jamaica; it is nothing but bad memories for me.”
“What about music, then? You seem to know a good beat when you hear one.”
“Have you heard of reggae?”
“Is that Earth music? I have not had a chance to hear any yet. Usually humans do not get approval to go where I go, and who else is going to show me any Earth music?”
Rastifari took another long drink of the Quer’Ma’hil, patted his chest as the burn went through him, and then reached into his pocket. He pulled out a small case, unzipped it, and slid a memory chip no longer than his finger across the table. “Can your equipment read the music files on this?”
The alien singer sipped his drink, then picked up the data chip to examine it. He turned to his DJ on the stage and called out to him. “Mahl-Arr! Catch this! Play the music on this chip for us.”
Rastifari nearly gasped as he watched his data fly through the air. Relief came when the DJ leaped up to catch it, saving it from hitting a wall and shattering. After only a few minutes of fidgeting with his equipment to prepare it for the foreign technology, the room switched from the ambient alien music to the complex, deep beats of reggae. The singer was impressed right away, and was soon bobbing his head with the rhythm.