Aphelion Issue 281, Volume 27
March 2023
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Never Friday

By Greg Barozzi

A Mare Inebrium Story

Mare Inebrium Universe created by Dan Hollifield

Max the bartender cleared his throat. He almost spat. Caledon and Reno owed a big bar tab. The tab was unauthorized. Last week they had pulled a drink and dash. They had ordered a round for the house. They had slipped out while Max and the girls were busy serving booze. They had split, and Max felt suckered. Max held a grudge.

Max bellowed, "You two ain't welcome in this bar!"

Max wiped his large hands on his clean, neatly tied bar-apron. Max had working class hands. He'd been a permanent fixture behind the bar for as long as anyone could remember. He made drinks with a fair pour, not skimpy. Max was respectful of others and he demanded respect in return.

The bar was the Mare Inebrium. It was a spaceport bar. It was an interspecies crossroads with booze as the common ground. That night, the bar was almost empty. A half dozen patrons nursed budget beverages. The lights were low to conserve current. Music played softly through the juke-box as an Octalian broad wiggled a mournful Octalian dance. The chitinous, scorpionoid D'rrish Ambassador sipped mildly radioactive sludge through a straw at the bar. A vaguely lemon-vanilla scent permeated the air. Produced by the different smells of alien drinks, or by the aliens themselves, or added by the Mare Inebrium's air recirculation system- No one knew for sure. And a quartet of overworked wage-slaves sadly celebrated surviving the latest round of layoffs.

Caledon and Reno were co-captains of the starship Silver Moon. Their M.O. was the quick score. The long odds. The quick payday and the fast getaway. They made and spent more credits in a solar year than the GNP of most small planets. But times had been lean. It was a common theme. Economic downturn. It was infecting the galaxy like a venereal disease. A scorcher.

Bruce came from out of nowhere. Bruce was the bouncer. Bruce was thin, fast, and combat ready. Bruce had Caledon and Reno both by their collars. People knew better than to struggle against Bruce. Bruce took steps toward the exit. Cal and Ren's heels scuffed the floor on their way to the door.

Caledon pleaded, "Max! We can explain."

Reno pleaded too, "It's not what it looks like, Maxie!"

Bruce didn't slow. Max's resolve didn't waver.

Cal and Ren said in unison, "We have your money!"

Business sense overrode ego. Max motioned Bruce to stop. Max waved them over. Bruce didn't let go. Bruce dragged the two pirates to the bar.

Max said, "I had a lot of aggravation to work through since your last visit. I'm in no mood for a repeat performance. You two pay up. Then scram."

Cal and Ren shared a worried glance. Caledon shrugged. The blue-skinned Antillian, Reno, nodded grimly.

Reno said, "What time is it, Max?"

"We don't want to cause you any extra trouble, Max," said Caledon.

The bar clock showed official bar time. Official bar time was incontestable. When patrons argued high and low over the timing of last call, Max pointed to the bar clock. When overdue employees protested their tardiness, Max pointed to the bar clock. Chronographs of incalculable precision had been produced in rebuttal only to be shrugged away. Once a humanoid entered the bar, the bar clock showed the official time. Period.

Max pointed to the bar clock. The bar clock read a quarter till midnight.

Caledon slid a yellowed credit chip onto the bar. It held three thousand, the quick sale value of a thirty kilo lacto-matter cube. It was all the money Cal and Ren had left.

"There is three grand on that," Caledon said.

Reno said, "It's all we've got. Does that settle us, Max?"

Max took the chip and ran it. The color was good. "I'll figure your change. Then you two get out."

'"Will the remainder buy us fifteen minutes of grace?"

'"Please, Max. Our past is catching up to us. When the clock strikes twelve, one way or another ... we won't be around to cause you any trouble."

"Is there enough left to buy a round for the house?"

'"A legitimate one this time."

Max looked across the bar at the pair of pirates, one tan and the other blue. He'd seen them in the Mare Inebrium dozens of times over the years. He'd listened for hours as they recounted incredible tales of brash bravado, cunning guile, and merciless maleficence. He'd seen them on highs and he'd seen them on lows, but Max had never seen them scared. This time they looked truly scared.

Max wrestled with his better judgment. "You can stay. One drink. One drink all around. Then you leave, right? No trouble? I have your word?"

"You have our word."

"Yes, from both of us. Thank you, Max. You are a true friend."

It was then that the glowing man entered the bar. The glowing man emitted a dingy yellow light. The glowing man himself was absent of color. He wore a charcoal suit and an off white shirt. His tie was knotted loosely, the top button of his shirt undone. He looked like he could use a shave and a good night's sleep.

The glowing man took a seat at the far end of the bar. Reno asked Max to pour the man a pilsner. The man shot a look Cal and Ren's way and Max recognized that they knew each other. But with Cal and Ren that ain't necessarily a good thing.

Max poured the glowing man's pilsner and decided to probe. He asked Reno, "Your glowing friend seems to be keeping his distance. Did you have some sort of falling out?"

Reno said, "His name is Melville Stitch. Caledon and I have been sharing drinks with him all week long."

Max regarded the colorless man who was emitting a soft light and said, "He seems a little down in the mouth."

The large, amber-hued scorpionoid D'rrish said, "Yes, yes, the gentleman does seem a bit sullen. Despite that, he does have a certain glow about him."

Melville Stitch, the glowing man, admired his beer for color, temperature, mug, and pour. It was an excellent draught, he decided. He placed his lips to the rim of the frosty mug, let them linger there for a moment, and then he drank of it.

Reno said, "His is a sad story."

Caledon said, "An indeterminable amount of time ago, Melville Stitch was a scholar in a remote but pleasant planet in a remote but pleasant sector of the galaxy."

"Which planet?" Max asked.

"Bukodu III," Reno said.

The D'rrish Ambassador whistled appreciatively. "That is remote," he said, " ... but pleasant."

Caledon continued, "This planet was ruled by a king whose only daughter was considered to be the most beautiful woman to have ever been born on their planet."

Reno guffawed. "It wasn't a king, it was a Sultan! And she wasn't his daughter, she was his niece."

Caledon didn't seem bothered by his counterpart's interruption. "May I continue?"

"If you're not going to tell it right then why bother?"

"May I?"

Reno rolled his eyes, but finally relinquished the floor to his colleague.

"As I was saying," said Caledon. "The King's daughter was the most beautiful woman to have ever been born on their world. She was so beautiful that she actually gave off light."

Reno said, "Giving off light is an uncommon trait for those lot. Just so you all know."

"It was said that anyone who ever laid eyes on the King's daughter instantly fell in love with her. The King himself was so taken with his daughter's beauty that he decided to marry her."

Reno said, "Father's marrying daughters is not at all uncommon for that system. Even though she was his niece."

"It's disgusting, but true Max," said the D'rrish Ambassador. "In some of these backwater systems incest is even looked upon favorably."

Max chewed the idea over in his head and decided that he didn't like the taste.

"Young Melville Stitch had been hired as a private tutor for the King's daughter. They met every Friday for their lessons. It wasn't long before the embers of love glowed within them both. They fought their feelings as best they could, but finally succumbed to their desires. But there was an unexpected side effect to their love making."

Reno said rapidly, "It made him glow like that, and the glow never wears off, and the King found out, and he got so jealous that he used a rare form of technology to curse their relationship forever, the end." Reno gasped, took a deep breath, and drained half his glass of ale.

Caledon said, "It's true, the King found the young lovers out. He forbid his daughter from ever seeing Melville Stitch again. He told her that one day she would grow to love the King as she now did her tutor. But the King's daughter refused. She vowed that even if she were forced to marry her father, that she would meet her true love as she had always done every Friday."

"Why didn't the King execute his rival?" asked the D'rrish Ambassador.

Caledon said, "When the King threatened to do just that, his daughter vowed to take her own life so that they could be united in death. She said that there was no force in the Universe that could keep them apart."

"But the Sultan's niece was wrong," said Reno.

"Unbeknownst to the King's daughter, the King had purchased a rare piece of technology known as a trans-temporal singulobulator," said Caledon.

"A trans-temporal singulobulator?" said Max and the D'rrish Ambassador in unison.

"Yes," said Reno. "A trans-temporal singulobulator, technology so devious and complex that it is capable of irrevocably altering the relationship between a body of matter and space/time."

"Yes, this King was true villain. He could not bear the thought of his daughter and Melville Stitch being happy together. And because they always met on Friday, the King saw to it that for Melville Stitch, it would never be Friday again. And for his daughter, it would always be Friday. And the two would be doomed to spend eternity mere moments apart but never meeting."

"I don't follow," said Max.

"It makes perfect sense, Max," said the D'rrish Ambassador. "Don't you see? By zapping Mr. Stitch and the King's daughter with the trans-temporal singulobulator, the nature of their relationship with space/time was altered. For Mr. Stitch, it is never Friday. While the converse is true of the King's daughter, whenever Mr. Stitch trans-locates, the King's daughter appears through a trans-temporal rift. Is that right?"

Cal and Ren nodded.

"What happens when it's Friday then?" asked Max.

Reno said, "Then Melville Stitch goes to where it isn't."

"What happens when it's Friday in that other place?" asked Max.

"Then Mr. Stitch becomes elsewhere yet again and his true love follows only moments behind," said the D'rrish Ambassador. "How tragic."

Max smoothed his hair back and wiped his large hands on his apron. Max had working class hands. Max didn't like to see bad things happen to good people. Times had been hard lately. Max had heard too many sad stories.

" ... Never Friday," Max said under his breath. Max looked at the glowing man. The glowing man sat motionless. There was no sign of struggle. There was no hint of rage. The man was empty. He was resigned to his fate. Who would Melville Stitch even go to for help with a problem like his? Max almost spat.

Max regarded the man's yellow glow. It was evidence of his continued love. It was proof of his suffering. Even with all the laws of space/time stacked against him, the glowing man still loved. Max wanted to close up early and go see his girl. He wanted to hold her and never let go. But the bar clock read 11:59. The Mare Inebrium didn't ever really close, but his shift wasn't over 'till two.

Max thought about his job. Times were hard and he was lucky to have it. The bar provided for him. It gave him an identity. But it took as much as it gave ... maybe more. Long hours and extra shifts had been taking their toll. He wondered how much time he would actually have to spend with his girlfriend Trixie if she didn't also work at the bar. He tried to remember the last time the two of them went out to dinner and he couldn't. They'd been together for seven years and they'd never even talked of marriage. He wasn't even sure if she'd accept if he asked. After all, she knew about his past.

"I told you it was a sad story, Max," said Caledon.

Max uncorked a bottle of twenty year old whiskey and poured a tall one. "Never Friday," Max said, and he drained the glass. The act was shocking. Max never drank on the job. Not ever. But the story of the glowing man had affected him, or maybe it was the stress of the bad economy, or maybe he was just tired and needed a couple days off. Whatever the reason, the drink loosened a knot of tension in his neck that he hadn't noticed was there.

While Max contemplated pouring another, a noise began in a darkened corner of the bar. It began as a whisper. The glowing man turned his head in that direction. The noise, a soft buzzing, grew louder. The air in the bar sizzled and the hair on Max's neck stood on end. A thunderclap. A blinding flash. And then it stopped.

The girl stood shimmering in a trans-temporal light. She was beautiful. She had sad eyes. She scanned the bar, orienting herself to her new surroundings. The clock had struck. It was Friday. It was a day her true love would never see.

Max shot a glance toward the end of the bar. The glowing man was gone and so were Caledon and Reno. Whatever trouble the pair of pirates had brewing on the horizon wouldn't find them this time.

The glowing girl sniffed the air and followed a sightless trail to the empty barstool where her lover had recently sat. His beer mug was still frosty. She placed it to her lips, as he had done. She drank of it. She placed it down, and then she wept.


© 2009 Gregory L. Barozzi


E-mail: Gregory L. Barozzi

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