Ghosts from the Past
Joeyray wiped the sweat from his forehead using his sleeve. By the Ancients, it was warm. It was not even summer yet, and already Mar Sara was hotter than Char. To make matters worse, the compression coil in the bar’s temp-reg had blown up. Again. He mentally added it to the list of things that needed to be repaired, whenever the funds presented themselves. Like the windows. The glass had been broken in a bar fight many months ago; the wooden slats that he replaced it with did not keep out the flies.
Or the dust.
Ancients alive, the dust was everywhere. There was so much in the air, he could practically taste it just by breathing. A thin sheen of it lay on everything in the bar, from the weathered wood of the floor and counter, to the multicolored Christmas lights and outlandish Zerg skull. He was very proud of that skull, too; he had been the winner of the Zerg hunt a few years back. Even so, he had long given up trying to clean it―clean anything, for that matter. None of his patrons seemed to mind, though. His liquor was good, and they were not sticklers for cleanliness. Dust had become a way of life on Mar Sara.
The dust didn't only effect the bar, after all. The entire town reeked of it, the metallic tinge of dirt. Every day, the sparse vegetation outside became less green, turning more brown. Even the roads looked more brown than black, and the buildings looked like they were no more than part of the ground. Everything was the same shade, the same dismal shade of earth. It made an already desolate town look like a downright wasteland. Which, he admitted, some might argue it was.
He had heard all of the talk, knew all of the dissent. As bartender, he was privy to most of the town's gossip; he found that a few pints always loosened tongues, even among those with uncommon amounts of self-control. Most of the townspeople blamed the Dominion for Mar Sara's troubles. There was talk of them disturbing the ground, digging mines. What were they looking for? Perhaps traces of the Ancients themselves. In any case, they were throwing dirt in the air and covering the entire land with both their oppression and their dust.
Most of the townspeople blamed the Dominion for everything―and for good reason. Joeyray tried not to get involved with politics, but he trusted the Dominion even less than he trusted his temp-reg. They both seemed to break down when they were needed most.
Sighing, he wiped his forehead again. It was a slow day in the bar―empty, save for one patron who sat in the corner by himself. The man was a frequent customer, as evidenced by his impressive tab. Joeyray didn't know his name, but he did know that the man looked familiar. His hair was brown―uneven, too, as if he was accustomed to cutting it himself. He was unshaven, his face rough. The clothing that he wore was simple and well-loved―white shirt, brown vest, dust covered pants. Nothing special. Still, Joeyray gathered that his patron was probably one of those men that women would call “ruggedly handsome,” or some such nonsense.
In all of his years of bartending, Joeyray had learned to read his patrons like old schoolbooks. There were those who drank to find love, there were those who drank to forget it. There were those who came to the bar simply for news and a good time―perhaps because they liked the music on the jukebox. This man, Joeyray couldn't quite decide. He was always polite, but mostly withdrawn. Occasionally he would grumble at the television, his hand on his gun. (Joeyray made another mental note: tape a “do not shoot the TV” sign on the monitor.)
Joeyray also noticed that, when this man drank, his eyes were often clouded with memories.
This man had seen too much, Joeyray figured, and lost too much. Not just love, either; the haunted look on his face was not brought on by a unfaithful lover. It was brought on by something much deeper. The bartender just could not figure out what.
Joeyray shook himself. He realized that he had been staring at the man―well, his image, at least, reflected in one of the bottles on the counter. Surreptitiously studying his patrons was one of the tricks that he had learned from many years of plying his trade. Still, there was no need to get caught up in a stranger's reverie, especially when he didn't know the man's story.
Not yet, at least.
He grabbed a bottle of Benson's Cognac―the brand that this man seemed to prefer. Joeyray approved of the man's tastes; it was not one of the Dominion's special imports that they demanded he carry, but rather local Mar Sara fare. It tasted just as good, if not better. Not that anyone was drinking it for the taste these days.
With the bottle of cognac and a fresh glass, he walked over to the man's table. When the man moved to wave him away, Joeyray shook his head. “It's on the house,” he said. “You look like you need it.”
The man grunted his thanks.
Joeyray took that as a signal, sitting down across from his patron. He was resolved to learn this man's story.
“Tell me your troubles?” he asked, boldly, as he poured the cognac and slid it over to his patron.
The man looked at him askance, then shook his head. “Everyone's got troubles,” he said, noncommitally.
The bartender nodded, undeterred. “True enough,” he said. “And I was asking about yours.”
The man said nothing. He took the proffered cognac, swirled it in its glass.
Joey sat there for a moment, and then shrugged. His patron was obviously not one to readily confide his feelings. “Man, I'm not going to make you talk if you don't want to,” he said, standing.
His patron lowered his head. “Just not ready for that,” he said, barely audible. “Not ready to talk about it.”
Joeyray could almost physically see the burden that his patron was carrying. The past was heavy on the man's shoulders. But, Ancients alive, so was the future. There was so much responsibility hanging around him, that it felt almost stifling. Joeyray could tell that this man was important.
In that moment, the bartender realized who his patron was, realized why he looked familiar. He had seen the man's face on the news, often enough. On the wanted posters, too. He just had not thought to see the most wanted man in the galaxy here, in his bar. And he certainly hadn't expected for Jim Raynor to drink quietly in the corner, facing both the darkness of the past and the uncertainty of the future in tortured silence.
Joeyray surprised himself by putting a hand on the man's shoulder. “Remember,” he said. “Those memories―they're just ghosts from the past.”
The man seemed startled by the remark, and then laughed. It was a sad laugh, a sardonic laugh. Joeyray wondered what was humorous; obviously, there was more to his words than he realized. Then he noticed that the man touched an old photo―he could just make out the picture of a beautiful woman, wearing some sort of gray armor suit. Her hair was red.
“Yeah,” the man said, sadly. In his voice, Joeyray heard a whole gamut of emotions: resignation, anger, longing, grief. Guilt.
“Just a ghost.”