It wasn’t until late in the night, after the thunderous cries of derision had long given way to silence, that Dan Skeevy emerged from his dressing room. Clad in a heavy coat that masked his dwindling figure, he slunk his way through the Jodorowsky until he reached the docking station near the bow. The gatekeeper’s eyes narrowed as he scanned Skeevy’s identification and when he opened the door to Maxson Station he told the actor that the vessel would be leaving at eleven the following morning, and that if he was smart, he wouldn’t be on it. Skeevy might have let that fester, let it pry at his fresh wound, had his attention been diverted immediately after stepping onto the station.
“Mister Skeevy!” shouted a young man from just beyond the gatehouse. His arms were overflowing with posters and old VR disks that Skeevy recognized all too well. He pulled the collar of his coat up around him and tried to pretend like he hadn’t heard, but it was of little use. Within moments of stepping outside the gatehouse the lad was upon him. “M-m-mister Skeevy,” he stuttered, keeping pace as Skeevy started quickly toward the station’s center tram-rail. “I was in a production of Binary Soul last year and I couldn’t have done it without that old recording of your performance. It’s just, you’re such a huge inspiration and—if—if I could just get your autograph, well, it would mean the stars to me.”
“No it wouldn’t,” said Skeevy, not straying from his course. “You were at the show tonight, weren’t you?”
“Everyone has bad nights,” said the kid. “Besides. You’re the reason I became an actor.”
Skeevy stopped and stared at the young man. “I’m the reason you became an actor?”
“Then get better taste,” Skeevy snapped. He ran for the tram then, sneaking past the doors just as they were closing. And when he turned to find that the kid was on the other side of them, warm relief washed over him.
He rode down until he was in the lowest habitation ring. It was a dingy place, not nearly as colorful or bourgeois as the Mezzanine, where the Jodorowsky was docked. But not a soul this far down could have afforded a ticket to that night’s performance and that was enough for Skeevy. After walking nearly a quarter of the ring he found a dive bar, Elmo’s. It was small and save for the few ruddy-nosed soaks at the counter’s far end, empty. Skeevy kept his distance and perched on the stool closest to the door, he wanted a drink, not company.
“Not sure I seen your face ’round here before,” said the chipper, balding man behind the bar. “You from off-station?”
“Aye,” Skeevy said flatly, keeping his eyes down. “I’ll take a veerfruit and tonic.”
The barman scoffed. “Veerfruit? You might want to try the posh clubs a few rings up.” He shook his thumb toward the ceiling. “All we got down here is beer and broo, but if you’d trust my humble opinion, it’s the finest in all the station.”
“Any other bars open on this ring?”
“Not this late, I’m afraid,” said the barman.
“Your best broo then,” said Skeevy. He pushed his bit-wallet across the table. “Just don’t let me see the bottom of it.”
The barman’s hands began to dance behind the counter and when he set the glass of steaming red liquid on the table, he grinned proudly. Skeevy passed the man scanned his payment cube. The man’s eyes flitted over a display of Skeevy’s ID, and for a moment he worried whether his name might betray him. But when he handed back the cube, his eyes didn’t treat the old actor any different. “I’ll do my best, Mr. Skeevy. Trying to forget a thing or two?”
Skeevy didn’t answer, but began to nurse his drink immediately.
“No need to say if you’d rather keep it to your lonesome,” the barman said, raising his hand. “I just fancy yammerin’ with the off-station folk is all. Don’t get many travelers down here in the lower ring, y’know? Most nights it’s just me and these clowns.” He nodded over to the rosy-faced geezers at the other end of the counter. “Had an alien stop by once, Primian, I think. Fella got so lit his fingers started drooping like putty.”
Skeevy brought down an empty glass and studied the barman for a moment. “You really don’t know who I am,” he said.
“Am I supposed to?” He fixed another glass of ruby liquid before the flavor from the last had left Skeevy’s tongue.
“I guess not,” said Skeevy. “And if we’re being honest, it’s sort of nice you don’t.”
The barman laughed. “What makes you say that?”
Skeevy sipped at the thin layer of foam on the drink’s surface. He could already feel the first one making it’s way through. A warm wave spreading from his center and crashing at his fingertips, loosening his neck, his limbs, his lips. “Are you Elmo?” he asked.
“Third one,” said Elmo.
“Well Elmo, when you were just a pup, what did you want to be more than anything else in the world?”
“A trader, of course,” said the barman. “Same went for all boys my age. Jump from station to station, get to see planets, moons, breathe something fresh once a cycle or so. That or the Exo-Corp.”
Skeevy nodded. “Yes. I’m sure all of my friends would have said the same.”
“And what about you?”
Skeevy’s eyes grew distant as he watched the small bubbles ride from the bottom of his broo to where they popped on the surface. “For me, it was always acting,” he said quietly. “I can’t remember wanting anything else.”
“An actor? Like those Troubadour fellas docked up on the Mezzanine?”
“No,” said Skeevy. “I was hungry for more than backwater Troubadour work. I wanted to be a VR man, to be a household name like Casio Bronte or Bruce Vegas. I wanted to be as big as the movie stars back in Old Sol had been, really leave my mark on the galaxy, you know?”
“Sol-be-spared, that’s a lot for a little kid to think about.” He grinned but when he noticed the ribbing hadn’t spread the smile to Skeevy’s face, he stopped. “So what happened?”
“What happened? I got everything I’d ever wanted,” said Skeevy, his eyes still far away. “And I wasn’t just a VR man either. I played the stages across the whole inner-system circuit. Arcturus, Centauri, even the Opera House on Luna, if you can believe it. One critic even wrote that my performances shone brighter than Old Sol herself.”
Elmo leaned on the bar, listening intently. “So then why are you out here in the Verge?”
Skeevy ran a hand through his hair. “What happens to any star? They got tired of seeing me everywhere, moved on to the next big thing.”
“Yeah,” said Elmo. “But what happened to you?” He slid another glass in front of the man’s face.
Skeevy waved his hand. “Parties, women, you know the drill. When people stop loving you for who one reason, you try and give them something else. But soon that reason dried up too and all I had left was an eight by eight box on some rim-world station.”
“Well things must have gotten better, right? How did you make it out here?”
“Didn’t take me long to drink even the box away,” said Skeevy. “Got lucky, really. I was only a station-rat for three days before the captain of the Jodorowsky recognized me from the old VR’s and offered me a job.”
“So you are one of those Troubadours?”
“That’s putting it kindly. Rest of the cast and crew don’t think much of me. But my name still has pull with the older crowd, so Cap keeps me around. Better yet, he pays me enough to drink myself dumb.”
Skeevy stared down at the final mouthful of broo that covered the bottom of the glass. “How does a man do it, Elmo?” he asked. “How do we go from burning bright as a sun to flickering like a worn-out light bulb?”
There was a long silence, then Elmo spoke. “Are stars meant to burn forever?”
“What?” Skeevy perked up.
“I mean, look what happened to the Jericho colony a few years back, or the Nostromo system. Stars don’t last. They burn, wild and bright, but eventually they all fall fallow. It’ll even happen to Old Sol someday.”
Skeevy sighed. “You might mix a hell of a broo Elmo, but your bar side manner could use some work.”
“But stars don’t just die,” said the barman. “They spread their dust, sow it far and wide throughout the Void. And when it meets the dust from other deaths, something new is born. A star’s legacy isn’t just their own shine, its the shine of those that follow.”
A small smirk flashed on Skeevy’s face before he downed the last of his broo. “I’m afraid that’s it for me.” He gave his payment cube a few taps and pushed it across the bar top again to close his tab. When Elmo scanned it his eyes grew wide.
“Mr. Skeevy this is–”
“The least I could do,” said the actor as he snatched the cube back and rose from his stool. “Take care of yourself, Elmo.”
When Skeevy stepped off the tram, the lights on the Mezzanine Ring were just beginning to glow with the cornucopia colors of a simulated sunrise. He walked quickly through the quiet halls, making his way to where the Jodorowsky was docked. And when he turned the corner to the gatehouse he was relieved to find that the young man was still waiting outside. He’d nodded off on his watch, slumped against the wall, his abundance of memorabilia strewn across his lap.
Skeevy grabbed one of the posters and unrolled it. On it, a man twenty years younger stared longingly at his mirror image across a field of stars, the words “Binary Soul” appeared in a large font beneath them. Skeevy took a pen from his pocket and scrawled his name and a message across the bottom.
Skeevy rolled the poster back up and tucked it between the folded arms of the sleeping kid. Then with a smile, he stepped back aboard the Jodorowsky.