"As long as the ties that bind us together are stronger than those that tear us apart, all will be well."
--Preamble of the Twelve Traditions of Narcotics Anonymous
The two woo-woo ladies started their morning ritual on Sasha Danchenko's front lawn. Pouring himself a cup of strong-smelling Columbian coffee, he leaned on the porch rail to watch. Sasha waved, friendly-like, but they ignored him as usual.
Fishing expensive Earth crystals from silken pouches, the ladies laid rocks around their feet. Each woman formed a stone circle which met the other in the middle making an infinity symbol. Like the rocks, Sasha's lawn was a symbol--a symbol of resistance or perhaps of recovery.
He could find out for sure, he supposed, but he never bothered to ask. When the women had first started the ritual, months ago, he'd made the mistake of inviting them inside for a cup of tea or coffee. No caffeine; caffeine, they'd admonished, was a gateway drug. Apparently, a heroin addict could get the jones just from a nice hot sip of espresso. Sasha sniffed, rubbed his palm under his nose, and took a deep swallow of his morning coffee.
He wondered if they could smell the fragrant dark roast from where they stood inside their protective circles. Every morning, Sasha brewed the strongest smelling stuff he could afford just to tempt the woo-woo ladies. One day, he swore, he'd get one of them to step over the threshold.
Truth was, he'd had a crush on Toiya A. since she'd first laid those silly rocks on his front lawn. Toiya was the shorter of the two ladies. The dome-muted suns highlighted rich brown curls. White abstract tattoos encircled her large doe-eyes in stark contrast to her mahogany skin. Toiya had been silent when he'd offered coffee that first day. Sasha still thought Toiya might have agreed to come in--had her companion not been so adamant in her disapproval.
From group therapy schedules posted in the town square, Sasha had carefully ferreted out Toiya A.'s first name and last initial only, of course--since the entire planet was anonymous. Sasha thought planet-wide anonymity was a silly tradition, but everyone ascribed to it, at least formally. The last initial was treated the way the honorific "Mr." or "Ms." was in other parts of the galaxy.
Thinking back to the coffee, Sasha wondered, as he always did, which lady used to be into H. He hoped it was Toiya. The tattoos made him figure she liked the needle, but he'd never gotten close enough to look for scars. The other woman looked so rosy-cheeked and healthy, maybe even a bit too plump--like she'd traded a desire for junk for a desire for sweets. Of course, Sasha knew this place wouldn't let you overeat; they had twelve steps for everything on Alpha Three, or, as it was called out in the system, the "Home of the Friends of Bill W."
Sasha could think of more derogatory things to call Alpha Three, but in the post drug-ghetto era public opinion favored a junkie homeworld. "Friends of Bill W." was what those in the know called themselves when they met out in the system, a kind of secret handshake into their private lexicon full of phrases like "value-neutral," "enabler," and "codependent." Bill W. was, of course, the author of the Big Book, the Bible of the famous addiction recovery program, Alcoholics Anonymous. A.A. spawned Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and thousands of other twelve-stepping children, all of whom had a home on Alpha Three.
As the ladies started chanting, Toiya's gaze strayed upwards. Sasha caught her eye, and he smiled as genuinely as possible. Sometimes it was hard for him look sincere, he knew; too many years of false promises and double-dealing made his grin either too hard or too slippery. He must have done okay though, because Toiya blushed prettily and looked away.
Sasha swung his legs over the porch's stone railing. Coffee cup in one hand, the fingers of his other flaked off bits of peeling paint. Seeing him, the other woo-woo lady gave Sasha a sharp glare. She never liked his attention much. Sasha figured she expected him to slink off to the back of the shop whenever they showed up. From her pinched expression, it clearly irked her that he just sat there unashamed of his profession. She glared at the sign above his head: "Dealin' Dano's Drug Emporium."
He'd kept the name Dealin' Dano from his days out in the system. Most of the junkies Sasha knew couldn't keep the whole of Danchenko in their fucked up little heads, so he became known as Dano. It was as good a handle as any, and, in those days, the fewer people who knew his real name, the better. Now he wished Toiya would ask.
The ladies started dancing. Sometimes Sasha wondered who was tempting whom with this ritual. The brown muscles of Toiya's calves jumped seductively. Sasha let out a breath he hadn't even known he was holding with a soft huff. Another month of this and he was going to have to ship out, regardless of the Russo-Titan mafia's hitmen waiting for him just beyond the rim.
Sasha's former business associate, known as Kozka, continually sent him little love notes via the drug couriers Sasha met regularly. Alpha Three allowed him this brief, regulated contact so that Sasha could keep up with the newest drugs of choice. Usually Kozka sent a little warning, "Vazhai na sebe," to remind him that one step off-world would mean the end. Before Alpha Three's Service Committee offered Sasha safehaven, he had Kozka, Earth's U.N. D.E.A., and InterPol all after him. At the time, Alpha Three had seemed preferable to death or imprisonment; after five months of isolation he was beginning to wonder.
Breaking from his reverie, Sasha realized Toiya was looking at him. Her gaze was intense, as she mouthed the words, "Ten o'clock, by the statue."
Sasha stared incredulously. With a nervous glance at her companion, Toiya mouthed the meeting time and place again. Regaining his composure, Sasha nodded. Christ, he thought, a few months out of the game and I've already forgotten everything.
Quickly picking up their crystals, the woo-woo ladies headed into the city. Toiya spared a concerned glance over her shoulder as she moved off with her companion. He saluted her with his coffee cup, and checked his watch. Left over from his highrolling days, the watch conformed to any planet's rotational speed after one full day/night cycle had passed. Ten o'clock, Sasha noted, was an hour from now. Even though he knew Alpha Three's hours were shorter than those of Earth, he suspected this hour would feel like years.
"Each group should be autonomous, except in matters effecting other groups or NA as a whole." --Fourth Tradition of Narcotics Anonymous
At ten minutes to, Sasha checked himself in the mirror one last time. He'd toyed with the idea of pulling his hair back in a pony tail, but that had made his high cheekbones look too sharp, too predatory. Fussing a second longer, Sasha finally gave up. He reminded himself that, despite his wishful thinking, Toiya likely wanted him for one reason only--to fall off the wagon.
Sasha slipped a pouch of heroin into his pocket. Then, looking around his shop, he wondered what else Toiya might like. He had a little bit of everything, of course: uppers, downers, hallucinogens of all kinds, cases of alcohol, porn, and access to the wire. On the dusty shelves of Dano's Drug Emporium was a sample of every substance a person could possibly imagine getting hooked on--as well as somethings Sasha'd never understood, like those crazy role playing games.
Of course, there was little about addiction Sasha understood, really. He had always been tee-total. As a kid, Sasha had his wild nights and mornings after, but once he decided to go into business, he cooled off the hard stuff. It only took one time of not being in full possession of his senses to realize that he wasn't going to be in possession of much else if he kept that up. A fucked-up dealer was an easy mark. Now a days, Sasha tested the quality of his goods electronically, and by whether or not people came back for more. Dealing was business for Sasha, never pleasure.
Sasha picked at a few of the expensive designer drugs, but rejected them. If Toiya wanted something else, Sasha decided, she would simply have to come back to the shop. Maybe he could even convince her to finally have that cup of coffee. Something more intimate would be best, but at this point Sasha would settle for an extended, pleasant conversation with another human being. He had the LINK, of course, but he hadn't had out-loud words without that annoying satellite relay delay since forever. Anyway, the truth was, as a drug dealer, he never had many true friends. All of the "friends" he chatted with these days were virtual. They shared an interest in preserving the Ukrainian language and homeworld politics and not much else.
Tucking a stray strand of hair behind his ear, Sasha headed out the door. He paused on the porch and wondered if he should bother locking the shop. Even though the planet was full of recovering addicts, in his mind a junkie was always a junkie; probably best to lock it. For all he knew Toiya could be drawing him away from the goods while her friends cleaned him out. With as little profit as he'd made on this planet so far, the risk was too great. He set the door to lock, and touched the code on his keycard that armed the shop. Long unused defenses sprang to life with a series of creeks and beeps.
"It's been too long," he told himself as he headed toward the town square.
"Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends on N.A. unity."--First Tradition of Narcotics Anonymous
Powerless, named for the first of the twelve steps, was the capital city of Alpha Three. Though the colony had been in operation for nearly a generation, Powerless still had the air of a frontier town. Earth government had begun Alpha Three as a drug ghetto--a dumping ground for its unwanted--consequently, the planet had very few viable exports.
No one had imagined that many of the previous inmates would choose to stay and form their own society. Thus, Sasha had to admire the creativity of the early settlers. The buildings, all constructed from a bluish local stone, made use of the climate-controlling dome, with numerous glass-less windows, verandas, porches, and balconies.
As he entered the piazza, the statue of Bill W. came into sight. Toiya sat at the feet of that famous first twelve-stepper-- literally under the shadow of the "Big Book" held open in the statue's arms. The image brought a grimace to Sasha's face, and he suddenly felt exposed meeting her in such a public arena. People sat all around the square, talking in groups. Eyes noted his presence, and conversation hushed. Sasha considered fleeing, but seeing Toiya reminded him of his own jones.
He strode confidently through the square, ignoring the whispers and stares. Sasha watched Toiya pull at the hem of her skirt. She seemed so preoccupied with her own thoughts that she only noticed Sasha when he stood directly over her, blocking the light.
"Oh," she said, blinking. She was clearly startled to see him. "You're here already."
Sasha shrugged his hands into his pockets. His fingers slipped easily around the smooth plastic bag of heroin. "It's ten, Toiya."
She looked up at the clock in the town square. "So it is." She laughed nervously. "Man, I feel like I just sat down."
"Maybe this isn't the best place for this."
She looked around the square, then she dropped her gaze down at her lap. Her thin fingers traced the pattern on her skirt. Sasha wished she would look at him.
"Are you sure this is what you really want?" he said, looking up into the placid face of Bill W. "Asking me here was a strange idea, Toiya. No one's going to miss the exchange. Are you trying to get caught?"
"I need...." Looking up, she snagged him in her deep brown eyes.
He nodded. He understood need, that's why he was here. He pushed the baggie into his palm, ready to pass it to her. "What do you need, Toiya?"
She bit her bottom lip. "Attention."
Mentally running through his catalogue of new wave drugs, Sasha frowned. Finally, it occurred to him that she meant exactly what she said. "Attention," he repeated.
She nodded, her eyes skating past him to a group of people sitting on the steps of a church.
Following her gaze, Sasha felt a strange sense of loss. "You need attention," he found himself saying out loud, "but not from me, I'd guess."
"You?" Toiya looked up in surprise, as though the idea had never occurred to her. "Oh." Sasha wondered if she could see the need in his eyes, the way she searched them.
"Oh....No," Toiya finally said, swallowing hard. "An intervention. That's what I need."
The scenario fell into place for Sasha, and he laughed. "Help is what you need, girl. You're not intending to make a buy, are you?"
She shook her head guiltily.
He uncurled his fist from around the heroin. This was it then: a two second meeting in the middle of town. "Goddamn it all."
"You wanted to make a sale that badly?" Toiya asked.
"No, I wanted...." Their eyes met again. He could smell the scent of minty soap on her skin. Her eyes encouraged him to say, "I wanted another chance to offer you that cup of coffee."
A ghost of a smile tugged at her mouth. "That would be nice."
...If you want to read more, purchase the May 1999 issue of Science Fiction Age, Circulation, P.O. Box 1654, Williamsport, PA, 17703. Single issue, $4.00; Yearly subscription rate (USA), $16.95; Canada and Overseas $21.95 (US).