With a sigh, I slid into the comfortable embrace of my booth. It was really ‘my’ booth for two reasons. First, I’d never seen anyone sit there but me. Second, I was there so often that I’d worn a groove into the thinly padded seat and knew the stains on the table not only by size, color, age, and substance, but also by name. My glass was sitting in ‘Bob’, which it should have considered holy ground–countless other glasses had met their fate on that spot.

I sank back into my groove, and leisurely took in the surroundings. Not much to see–Chum’s wasn’t known for its romantic atmosphere, but there were worse places. Aside from Chum himself, the bar was populated with the usual human flotsam–pilots and crew of various spaceships docked at the station, mostly. Guys who had been across the galaxy and back twice but had only seen the insides of a bar at each stop. At least I had seen some of those sights before choosing to haunt the bars.

A moment later, I heard laughter and shouting at the other end of the room. There isn’t ordinarily a lot of noise in Chum’s–anyone who gets too rowdy is usually politely asked to leave at the point of Chum’s gun. I turned my head and craned my neck to see what the commotion was about.

An older man was up against the far wall, surrounded by a group of drunken bar patrons. The crowd was so large that Chum’s usual method of crowd control would have been ineffective; he just slumped behind the bar, eying the group warily. The man in the middle of the bunch was speaking, but the barflies buzzing around him drowned his words out.

“Tell another ‘un!” one said.

The older man’s lips moved, but I still couldn’t make out what he said.

“Listen to him–the bum’s out of his gourd!” a second barfly slurred. He deftly reached out and tweaked the surrounded man’s nose.

“Denial…expected…face of hard truth…” I was able to catch snatches of the reply.

This seemed to rile the crowd even more. “Deenyle?” The first drunken mariner replied “What the hell izzat?”

I snorted to myself. Pickled space trash. Then again, I only knew what the state of denial was because I spent so much time there I could claim it as a second residence on my taxes.

“The geezer’s freakin’ crazy, man.” the second guy said.

The older man spoke again, but was overpowered out by the rising wave of insults and profanity.