By Mizu Ash
A Mare Inebrium Story
Mare Inebrium Universe created by Dan Hollifield
Soyer Dannoan walked into the Mare Inebrium, with his diary and his book under his arm. He breathed the air of the bar. It was a strange mixture of a hundred different types of sweat and smokeable substances from all over the galaxy. He hadn’t been here since he retired, a couple of years ago. He grinned to himself: this was the first time he walked into this pub as a civilian, not as part of his job. He smiled wryly. That also meant he’d have to pay for his own drinks. No more expense account, no more running a tab on company money.
He looked around and almost laughed out loud. There were humans in the bar. In fact, the place was crawling with them. He’d recognize their strange flat heads anywhere. Two seasoned space ship pilots, one older, one younger, were sitting at the bar and talking to the barkeeper, who looked human too. Soyer had a sneaking suspicion that bartender wasn’t human, but he looked it, anyway. At one of the tables a couple of humans, clearly first time visitors, were looking around, wide-eyed, taking in all the wonders of this place. One of them was pointing a multi-sense camera around, to film the sights, to record the sounds and smells, and he was even trying to use the little attachment to record the tastes of all the drinks this company had ordered. He was also keeping up a running commentary for the folks back home on earth, later. At a table in the corner a human woman was sitting, a young mum. She was gently rocking a stroller with two toddlers, twins, apparently. Her eyes were glazed over. Soyer smiled. He remembered the feeling from when his own kids were small. No rest for the wicked or for young parents.
Soyer went to a small table and sat down. It felt good to be back. Not that he had minded retiring, not at all. He’d been glad to get out of the service, to be honest. He’d always liked the work, but the responsibility could be overwhelming at times. And leaving Bethdish for the comforts of his home-planet, Goshad, had been a great idea. It had been like a second honeymoon for him and his wife, and being closer to the grandchildren was great too. They were growing up so fast.
“Can I bring you something, sir?” a nice female voice asked. Soyer looked up and saw a young woman smiling down on him. A human young woman, no less! She was quite attractive, apart from that strange flat head. His own wife had a beautiful high head, even after all this time. It hadn’t caved in or anything. And even though his own head had slipped just a bit, it was still nice and high, for his age.
“Er, yes, do you have an earth drink in your bar?”
She looked a bit surprised. “Sure, plenty of them. Did you have anything particular in mind?”
“No, not really, just bring me one. Nothing intoxicating though, please.”
“Sure, I’ll see what I can do for you.”
She left, returning quite soon with his drink. It was a fragrant black drink, very hot, by the look of it. She poured a white liquid in it. On the little saucer were a few white crystally lumps lying about. She smiled at him and left him to it.
The last time he’d been in here, there hadn’t been any earth drinks to be had. There had been beverages from all over the galaxy, but not from earth. He’s sat at that table over there, in the middle of the room, with his last interviewee. Yes, that had been that young Bo’hol, hadn’t it, whose white and pink tentacles had been swaying softly around his head. This was the place where he always talked to them before they left. Those unsung heroes.
He opened his diary. He hadn’t recorded all the conversations with them, there had just been too many. He’d sent hundreds, no, thousands of them to their destiny, but only a few stood out in his mind. The first one ever, a strapping young male from Klhyo. That energetic female from Nabuif. The small Jellger who panicked at the last moment and didn’t go. And that last one, so eager to go. He looked at the last entry in his diary. Yes, that was the picture of that Bo’hol all right: tentacles swaying from his head, the lovely purple skin, the multi-faceted green eyes bright and shiny, the orange waddle hanging from his neck. He pressed the picture and listened to that conversation from five years ago.
“Nice to meet you, young Bo’hol.”
“And you, sir.”
“And your name is?”
“Hmmmmph Grmmmmph Harummmmmph, sir, but please call me Hmph.”
“Right, Hmph. So you’ve finished the training?”
“Yes sir, all 24 months.”
“Got good grades, did you?”
“Yes sir, I came fourth in the interspecies league table at the Institute.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“And you want to do the job?”
“Yes, sir, it’s all I ever hoped for.”
“You realise what it entails?”
“Yes sir, we were fully briefed even before we went to the Institute.”
“It’s basically a suicide mission minus the suicide part.”
The kid had winced at that. That’s why he had said it. They had to know what they were letting themselves in for before they signed the contract. He listened to the small pause in the conversation on the diary.
“You realise you’ll never be able to get back.”
Strong again, and confident. Good for him.
“So tell me, why do you want to go?”
“Because it’s, well, it’s necessary, isn’t it? That planet has a sentient species, but they’re one of the few species not to have developed a space programme. So we need to change their timeline.”
“Why is that? Why don’t we just visit them now and give them a few spaceships?”
“That is what we did in the original timeline. But they couldn’t handle it and finally the Interstellar Agency had to blow up the planet. It was a perfectly good planet, too.”
“True, true. So what did the Interstellar Agency do then?”
“They sent down a first wave of agents to the beginning of their 20th century, to promote imagination and science. They paved the way, so to say. That’s when their timeline changed for the first time. Then the second wave of agents was sent to about 40 years later. That was the second big change. They got this species on their satellite.”
“And you’ll be part of …?”
“The third wave! We are going to finish the job and finally get them into deep space!”
The pride in that voice was clear, even after all those years. My stars, how young that voice sounded. Kids. That had been his job. Sending kids to the past. He suddenly felt so very old.
“Isn’t it dangerous, tampering with timelines?”
“Yes, sir, it is. That’s why the Interstellar Agency has very strict guidelines on their use. It doesn’t happen very often. Altering timelines is only allowed to save a planet from annihilation. The lives of the other species are not to be affected too much, except for the volunteers who sign a contract, of course.”
“That is known as…?”
“The Impact Rule: maximal impact on the target world, minimal impact on the universe.”
“So, whose lives are going to be affected by this third wave you’re part of?”
“Mine, and the other volunteers’, and the lives of these humans on earth. It doesn’t much matter if some of these earth people are not born or die at another time or whatever, because they’d be wiped out as a species in a few hundreds of years anyway.”
“And that is known as …?”
“The Rule of the Greater Good.”
“Good, fine. You know your stuff.”
“I wrote a paper on it in my senior year, sir. Very interesting.”
“I’m sure it was. Now, why did we choose their 20th and 21st centuries to change, and not, for instance their 23rd century or their 27th century?”
“It’s very important we change their timeline so that in the end they come into contact with us close to our time, so that the impact of having them all over the galaxy starts relatively recently, and not too much in the past.”
“Yeah, we are allowed a little latitude, though, a few centuries. That is necessary, too, because it is difficult to calculate their progress through the centuries. It doesn’t violate the Impact Rule, because at the beginning of a planet’s space travel there isn’t that much traffic between the worlds anyway. But what I meant was: why do we go back so far for this species? After all, it is the year 3765 for them, and before the first wave went in they were zapped out of existence in their year 3697. Why go back more than a millenium?”
The kid had seemed lost for words for a moment here.
“I’m not really sure, but is it because they need that much time? Because they are so slow?”
“Yes, indeed, they are an incredibly slow species, very, very backward. You guys are the last batch, as you know. In that period they have already started space travel, but my stars, they are taking their own sweet time figuring it all out. The time it took them just to reach their satellite! They thought they did great, they celebrated! Other planets took about a long afternoon to reach their satellite. The Lakdarr Linak had a hop-on tourbus installed around their planet over the first weekend they had space travel, and they had fourteen satellites!”
You could hear the soft gurgling sound of the boy’s laugh at this on the diary.
“Even with the help of our agents this species took a few decades to reach their satellite, and then they froze completely again for another couple of decades. Thick as two short planks, that’s them all right. With the help of one of our brave agents, a janitor, at the end of that 20th century they now know about singularity, finally, I might add. And what are they doing about it? Nothing! They don’t know what to do about it. On Ohohojong they were selling singularity toys for toddlers within a week of discovering it. I went there once on a seminar, and I bought a singularity yoyo for my little boy! And those cute little black holes they sold! Wonderful entrepreneurs those Ohohojong.”
“Yes sir, I know what you mean. I went there with some friends once. They had a entropy theme park with some great rides.”
“Yes, I took my grandkids there last year. Great, weren’t they? My granddaughter threw up all over her mom and then went back for more. But oh no, not this species. This earth species is so slow you wouldn’t believe it.”
“Yes sir. At the Institute they told us that they don’t even know about parallel universes!”
“That information is a bit out of date, I’m afraid. They do know about them at the time we’re talking about, but they’ve got completely the wrong idea, as usual. They have this strange idea in their popular fiction that every small decision you make splits the universe in two: one in which you blew your nose and one in which you didn’t. And you know, it took the courage of one of our agents of the second wave to even get them there!”
“So they honestly don’t know about the universe I’m travelling to now, before I go to them?”
“The latest information is they are starting to get the idea. They have this school somewhere, Herbert or Harferard or Aardvark or something, not up to scratch, of course, not like the Institute, and there they finally seem to have got hold of the right end of the stick, so to speak. We have an agent who is a cleaning lady there, and she surreptiously changes their calculations on the blackboards a bit. So they are starting to see there are multiple universes, all with different laws of physics.”
“So they don’t know about the universe I’m using to travel to their time, the one where time is slower?”
“No, the stars forbid. They’d be in that universe so fast, to go back to their own past and do all sorts of disastrous things! This species is not exactly known for its rational approach to history. No, I’d rather they didn’t find out about that one before they’re halfway civilised. And believe me, that will take a few centuries.”
There was a small pause on the diary. Not uncomfortable, no, just the friendly quiet between two people who like each other. Soyer had been the first to speak again.
“So, are you nervous about going to the slower universe?”
“No, sir, at the institute they assured us there is nothing to it.”
“No, it’s not the going there, it’s just, once I get there … I must say I am a bit nervous about the operation.”
“It’s necessary, though, you know that.”
“Yes sir, I have to look human before I go to earth, I understand. I can’t very well go to earth looking like this, can I? But, you know, my tentacles will have to be amputated, and my colour will change, and my eyes will have to be operated on… I’ll lose my spiky tail, too. It’s not the pain, they told us it is not very painful, but it’s hard, knowing you will never again look like you did before.”
“I know, son, I know.”
There had been nothing else to say. The sacrifices these young people made were indeed immense. Heroes, that’s what they were, heroes. Soyer had pulled his chair a bit closer to the kid, and put his book on the table.
“Tell you what. I’ll show you some of our agents. It’ll get your mind off the worrying.”
“You have pictures of the agents? That’s incredible!”
“Yes, I started this book before we sent the first batch of volunteers, a couple of years ago. I just wrote the introduction, and from then on the book wrote itself. Every time their timeline changes, with each wave, the book gets fuller. Look.”
On the diary Soyer heard himself opening the book, the one that was lying on the table right now as well. He heard himself explaining to the kid who the agents were.
“That was a young Quinnyel. Became a junior high science teacher. Instill a sense of wonder in the young, don’t you know? Those kids grew up to become engineers, well, some of them did. The rest grew up to become thugs. But the point is, there were less thugs and more engineers because of him. Ah yes, she was one of our females. We always had fewer of them. I remember her sitting in this bar, just like you, spilling her drink because she was so excited. Look here, it says in the book she opened a kite-store. Very important job. Get the kids to develop an interest in flying, in getting higher. No planet has ever developed space-travel without kites.”
“They told us at the institute the jobs wouldn’t be glamorous.”
“No, they aren’t, but they’re vital. Look at him, he was from Puiera. Very different before and after pictures, aren’t they? He bought an old tractor and started putting corn circles all over the countryside. Force them to think about extraterrestrial life. The trick is to get them to think for themselves, or at least to think they are thinking for themselves. Very stubborn species – can’t take advice from other species.”
“I really wonder how you know what to do, once you get there. I’ve been thinking about that for months now.”
“You’ll find out, don’t you worry. You know our goal; any means of getting there is fine by me. This third wave should clinch the deal. That should be enough to get them into space, and I mean space, real space: not that monkeying about around their own planet. They’ll have to find out the rest for themselves: no point in getting them to walk before they can crawl. Getting them on the right track, that’s the ticket.”
“I wonder how I’ll end up in your little book…”
“You and me both, son. Well, let’s get down to business. I’ve got a contract for you to sign, and then I’ll explain about your travel arrangements. You’ll be in the slower universe for a couple of months, and they’ll drop you at the end of earth’s 20th century, probably in their last decade. You have to allow for a small margin of error. And in a few years’ time I’ll see you in my book!”
He heard the rustling of the documents he’d taken out at that time, the contract to sign, the last instructions, the travel arrangements from the last stall in the men’s toilets of the Mare Inebrium (the one with the small puddle, the transmission fluid). He heard the boy say something on the diary, softer, as if to himself. He couldn’t understand what it was. He rewound the diary to hear it again, and held his head closer so as not to miss it this time. Now he heard it, very softly. He wondered if he’d heard it when they’d been sitting here, together, all those years ago. He didn’t think he had.
“I’ll get humans coming to this bar. I will. I really will…”
That was the last sound on the diary. He closed it. This was his first time back in the Mare Inebrium after that last interview. A bit older, a bit wiser maybe, and a lot less stressed: a few years of retirement had seen to that. Still, listening to his diary he felt the excitement again of his job, the feeling you were doing something worthwhile.
And it had worked, he could see the evidence all around him. All those humans, they’d be dead if it wasn’t for his project. His third wave had come through splendidly. And he was going to read all about them in his book in a minute, but first he was going to drink his earth-drink. It looked nice and cold by now. He sipped it. Mmm. Didn’t do much for him, to tell the truth. Maybe it would be better if he threw in the little white cubes. He threw in four, to be on the safe side. No, that didn’t improve matters. The little white cubes just kept on bumping against his teeth, and the taste of the liquid was the same. Never mind, he’d order a nice Goshad blue beer in a minute.
He looked at the book before he opened it. The shimmering title: ‘Unsung heroes’. All those young people he’d sent to save earth. He opened the book to the last page: after hearing his diary he really wanted to know how that young Bo’hol had done. The before picture was familiar to Soyer: the nice tentacles, the beautiful pink, purple, green colours. The after picture was completely different: the flat human head, the off-white colour of one of the human races, and surprisingly, a bit of hair between the mouth and the nose. Dark hair on the flat head, and a strange contraption in front of his eyes. He read what it said under ‘accomplishments’ and started laughing out loud.
Hmph’s contribution to the third wave of this project was impressive indeed. Forced humans to stretch their limited imaginations by making them read and write stories about space. Did so on a primitive human communication device. Used bar ‘Mare Inebrium’ on Bethdish to encourage writing and thinking about space, by pretending said bar was fictional. Human fascination with said bar has continued to this day.
Soyer leaned back and smiled. Ah, he thought contentedly. Unsung heroes indeed.
Copyright 2002 by Mizu Ash
Biography: Mizu has told me that she has no idea what to say in a bio. But her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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