Wayfarers Rest: A Meeting at Dingir.
Wayfarers Rest had always been there. Of course always was a reliative term. What was true was that it had been there since the first settlement. Then it had been a disreputable saloon for belters. Now in the reign of His Imperial Majesty Strephon, it served mostly passing captains but anyone of any rank could come if they had the money or if the innkeeper had some reason to desire their presence, such as their fame for tale-telling. For Wayfarers Rest was known for two things. It's coffee and it's tales.
From the outside it looked unpreposing. It was after all carved into the middle of an asteroid in the mining belts of Glisten. Inside it gave an air of welcome. It had a great fireplace made of uncut stone. Only the more fastidious of sword worlder visitors bothered about the fact that it did not burn real wood most of the year; even in their case a good supply of aromatic woods and herbs were kept in storage for swordies who were away from home on Yule.
Their were a number of rooms as well as a common area. Not all patrons came for a night; some came only for a coffee and a tale. Of which there were plenty as all kinds of visitors came by; Scouts, naval officers, free traders, and all who worked the void. Some were rather secretive about their endeavors; Scouts had the Emperors state secrets to look after and Free Traders had their own. Other's liked to have it thought that they had reason to keep things secret.
"No matter", thought the manager,"It adds to the reputation of my place."
The Manager was Adkhar Anshi. He looked like the stereotypical innkeeper. He was of average height and slightly plump,
of an easy going nature. Beyond that exterior he was a deep thinker. He was a scholar and knew more about the history of Wayfarers Rest then anybody. And he collected tales. Right know he was listening to one of his favorite tale-tellers. For Johnathan and Rachel Whitebow, captain and mate of a passing trader were passing through. And Rachel was well known for her stories. Adkhar looked at the pair. Johnathan looked as unpreposing as Adkhar. He was a small, slight young man who rather curiously wore a pair of spectacles as if medical science had forgotten how to fix nearsightedness. Adkhar would have to ask him about that. Yet somehow he had an air of menace to him. Adkhar knew the story, how he and Rachel had personally formed a band of mercs and volunteers to destroy a Gungnirian warlord who had captured Johnathan's sister. He wasn't someone to triffle with. Neither was his wife Rachel, whom Johnathan looked upon with pride. Not the pride of possession. But the pride of a lover, a comrade in arms, and a friend.
Rachel was a half-a-head taller then Johnathan. She was attractive but not dazzling. She had a merry look in her eyes which seemed to be always there though Adkhar was given to know that when she was angry she could be terrifying. Rachel also was known as a shrewd and witty bargainer; this Adkhar could testify, as he had sometimes been opposite her, bargaining for supplies for his establishment. She had many guises. But she was best known here as a tale-teller and as this she was appearing here.
Rachel began: "It was the days of the Great Intersteller Wars long ago"...
"Another tale of the glories of Solimani aggression?", asked one guest.
"Nonsense", snapped one back,"We were just defending ourselves. It's not our fault we were better fighters. "
Adkhar said,"Hush, no tribal vendettas in my house."
Rachel said, "Thank you. Like I said, it was the time of the Great Intersteller Wars, and whose fault they were does not figure into my tale. For it is a tale of two people brought together and then torn apart by the catastrophe."
She continued, "It was just after the conquest of Dingir. The Terran fleet was thrusting through the Vilani lines and the Vilani were in confusion."
"Weren't they always in confusion?" said one of the listeners.
Rachel looked at him darkly then continued.
"Just arrived at Dingir was one Ensign James Woodwind of the Terran navy. He was, as new officers always are, a cocky fellow and eager for glory. As he took his leave he walked into a small club and sat down."
Rachel said further,"Ensign James walked in to see several officers lounging about. One of them said 'You're a little late in coming to kill Vilani. We've already done that job.'
Another said, 'Well can't say there's not enough of them'. Ensign James then saw the waitress turn away to hide her tears and felt shame in himself.
He went up to her and said,"I am sorry they hurt you."
The waitress said,"Yet you came to hurt my people."
Ensign James nodded,"It is my duty."
The waitress said bitterly,"That is what all say. When my people went out to meet yours they said it was their duty. When the Marines came and took this world they said that too. Now you say that.
Ensign James said, "I am James".
The waitress replied, "I am Inanna. I thank you for looking on me kindly"
Rachel continued, "And then Inanna said, 'Once we were great, spread out amidst thousands of stars.' She led him outside and pointed at a ruined building,'That is the governors palace where my father once worked. One of the greatest buildings of all, it was a place of learning and art before your people dreamed of visiting the stars. Then the Terran marines came and pillaged everything. It is gone now. And now I must wait on tables to them and to you.'
"And Ensign James took out his wallet. Inanna said,'No! I will work but I will not beg'
Ensign James then said, 'I do not ask to give favors. I ask you to dine with me when you are off work. I will pay as is the custom of the one who asks among my people."
Someplace other then this.'
Inanna replied,'My family is ruined but it is proud. I can not have it said of my father that his daughter stooped to being courted by the Conqueror."
James said, "You would scorn me because of where I am born?"
Inanna said,"I would never scorn you. And it is not because of your birth but your uniform. Could I shame my kin by courting the invader while they are fallen?"
James said,"Your kin are your kin, not the Zira Sirka."
Inanna said,"I have heard that argument many times. By traitors who were pleased enough to profit by the Zira Sirka when it was mighty."
James said, "Is that the only reason?"
Inanna said, "Yes, that is the only reason. You are a kindly young man and I might be pleased to be your friend if you wore not that uniform. As it is, well maybe I care about my duty too."
James said, "Yes you do, and I like you better for it. But surely it won't stop one drink?"
Inanna said, "I guess not."
They then had their drink. It was a bittersweet momment. They knew that this was all that they would get so they made the most of it. They talked of each others families, of their lives at home, of anything but the war that had brought them together and then kept them apart. And after that James went on to his duty as a naval officer and Innana returned to her kin.
Rachel then said, "And so James and Inanna left one another and went their separate ways." Johnathan then asked,"And how did it end?" Rachel replied, "Several months later, Inanna was home plugging away on her computer. Suddenly she burst into tears".
Her father came over and asked, "What is it my daughter?"
She pointed on the computer screen on it was, 'Official Comunique, Terran Confederation Navy'
Then down below 'Killed in action'
And farther down:
Commander Edward Blake, Destroyer Reuben James Lieutenant J.G. Bartholemew Clay, Battleship Collingwood
Name after name And then Inanna highlighted,
Ensign James Woodwind, Battleship Salimis...
At that Rachel finished her tale.
Notes: For those who are interested, I conceived this story because I thought the ISW era was a splendid place to put a Romeo and Juliet story. In this case it was a subversion, which I wrote because of the monotony of the star-crossed lovers always getting their way.
Johnathan was a heroic version of my self. Rachel was inspired by Scheherazade the storytelling princess of Arabian Nights(who really ought NOT to have had to marry a psychopathic tyrant), by the gallant New England sailor women of the ninteenth century, and frankly by a lonely batchelor's wish fulfillment. Adkhar was recently created. All characters our my own but I do not own the Traveller setting.