Aphelion Issue 222, Volume 21
October 2017
 
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Flash Crowd #1 - Points of View

Presenting the first ever Mare Inebrium Flash Fiction Challenge from the Aphelion Forums.
The challenge was to retell the example story from the point of view of one of the other inhabitants of the bar.


The Challenge Example Story:

Many Happy Returns

A Tale of the Mare Inebrium

By Dan L. Hollifield


"Congratulations, Max," said the Reever as he raised a tankard of ale. "Happy anniversary!"

"Thank you," Max replied as I took a seat at the bar. He saw me and smiled.

"Andrew Huntington-Smith," he said. "It's been a while since you were last here. You're looking well, old man. Here, have one on the house. We're celebrating tonight."

"What's the occasion?" I asked as I accepted the frosty mug from Max's hand. A thin stream of cool fog seeped over the rim of the container, puddled momentarily on the bar, then ran off the edge to waft across the floor. The fog swirled playfully around Trixie's feet as she walked up, set her tray down, and leaned over to prop her elbows on the bar top. Resting her chin on her hands, she gazed lovingly at Max, who grinned and reached over to brush a stray wisp of hair from her forehead. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a humanoid customer trip over his own feet, nearly falling as he took in the sight of Trixie's long legs and short skirt. A skirt that was rising a bit higher than normal, I saw.

"It's Max's anniversary," she said. "He was hired here exactly a century ago, today." She stood up and stretched like a cat, then picked up her tray. "I've been here thirteen years, myself. Be right back, I need to go see what that Lashensin couple at table four want. The indicator light for their table is on, I can see it in the mirror." She walked away, tray under one arm as she tugged the back of her skirt down with her free hand.

"Well," I said, turning back to face Max. "Congratulations." The Reever and I both hoisted our drinks at the same time, drained them, and set the mugs down. The ice-cold tartness of the drink turned to a rush of warmth inside me. Max stepped over to my right to take an order from a heavy-set blue-skinned alien in a silver coverall who had just slid onto a bar stool three seats over. I think he was a Tescardi, but there are many species who look like that.

I heard a single, quiet, bell-like chime. "Excuse me," said the Reever, raising one hand to his ear. "I'm getting a call." I could see his lips move, but some sort of hush field prevented his words from reaching me. I looked away, to give him more privacy. Glancing out across the room I could tell the bar was doing good business today. Well over half the tables and booths were full. Solitary customers were scattered down the many stools along the bar. It looked to be a quiet evening for Max's anniversary. In the distance off to my left, I could see Larrye working in one of the side rooms, through its open doorway. Blanche was making her rounds from table to table near the front entrance, and Trixie was still at table four, demonstrating the menu computer to the alien couple seated there. The crowd in the bar was about equally split between humanoids and more otherworldly species. The subdued babble of voices in dozens of conversations murmured in my ears. Absentmindedly rubbing my fingertip across the polished wood of the bar, I took a deep breath, then sighed contentedly. The familiar lemon and Jasmine scent of the Mare Inebrium tickled my nose as I relaxed even more. There was always something about the Mare, something that felt almost like coming home. The Reever concluded his call with a satisfied nod, took his hand away from his ear, and smiled at me. "Sorry about that," he said. "But business follows me everywhere. At least it was good news this time. One of my Peacekeepers located a witness we need for a case that is coming to trial next week. Their testimony will allow me to put a minor con-man behind bars."

"I'm glad it was good news," I said. "I'll bet you don't get enough of that in your job."

"Absolutely right," he replied. "A policeman's life is thinly sprinkled with the spices of joy. Protecting people from predators is one of the better rewards I get. Speaking of rewards, excuse me again!" He got up, took three quick, long strides, and wrapped his left hand around the upper arm of a tall, green-scaled patron that had just walked past us.

"This must be my lucky day," said the Reever. "Kakartouload, isn't it? You Ibeesan smugglers must think I can't get DNA traces off a gemstone. You're under arrest. Come quietly and no one will get hurt." The Ibeesan native looked startled for the barest instant, then slumped into a resigned acceptance of its fate as the Reever clicked a restraining cuff onto its wrist.

"You win," it said. "Please, no hurt I. Should have known better than to celebrate a sale in this place. Same sentence as last time, maybe? Cell was comfortable, thought I. Clean, too."

"Yes," said the Reever. "That sounds about right. Ninety days in my jail, then I'll put you on a ship going off-world. If you come back in less than- oh say, five years this time -I'll ship you off to your home world. I know they'll be less than gentle with you."

"Not be coming back for ten years! Ibeesa Lawmen too hot for me! Chop my head off! You good Lawman, not chop. Will miss jousting with you. You play fair."

"I see you found a friend," said Max as the Reever led his prisoner back to the bar. "Shall I send for an officer to take him in?"

"Yes," said the Reever. "But give Kakartouload a drink first. He's not a bad sort, just greedy."

"Well, he's not going anywhere with that cuff on his arm," said Max. "I've got a bottle of Denkomet here somewhere... "

"Denkomet! Not afford that," said the prisoner.

"My treat," said Max, smiling. "Happy Anniversary!"

The End


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to my Second Grubling's Bar Mitzva

By Bill Wolfe


Go ahead, already. Your drink you should finish. We're on anexpense account, after all. Perhaps a smallnosh, to hold us until dinner? Okay, as you wish.

Don't let the large proboscis and swarthy integument fool you. Many who look like me have a reputation for business matters. But what am I, a meshugener, that I take no time for pleasure, and the getting-to-know of my newest pilot?

The green scales, I admit, are a sign of youth. But I'd bemishegas not to offer you all that the client is willing to pay for.

No? What are you, aschlemiel?

Once even, on the expense of my client, of course, I bought the Creator of Bethdish two bottles of Krupnik. Yes?. . .No. . .not the Planetary Administrator, theCreator! A small party in his particular dimensional plane,Casa Vila. I've found that alcohol makes business, and everything else, go more smoothly. Especially when I'm on someone else'sshekel.

I'm so very happy that your species does not find alcohol toxic. Bad for business to kill a customer or partner, don't you think?

Agreed? Yes. Good.

Well, at the risk of getting a littleschmaltzy, I should tell you of the last time I was here. Yes, of course, have another, by all means.

What? From where comes thiskvetch?

Why would I try to get youfarshnoshket, when you're already sending my poor children to the orphanage with your astute bargaining? The little things are crying in the night for the food you are taking from their gastronimetrical orifices.

Yes, of course. Butthis girth is needed for making me look more successful, more formidable to the less-aware. It is not meant to fool one such as yourself. No, my good friend, I am at your mercy in this transaction. I'm sure that once you agree to the price we discussed, one of my children will surely starve. Yourspiel, when we spoke last, was very good. Tonight is merely to formalize our transaction.

Would I lie?

Itis good, isn't it? You'll never be served anythingschlocky atThe Mare.

Why, of course! All you want.

Tell me when, and I'll signal Blanche.

Ah, for ashikse, she's really something, isn't she?

Let'sschmooze, while we wait. Shall we?

A few nights ago, I am sitting on mytuches in here, minding my own business and discussing certain customs irregularities with another client, when who should come in, but the Reever?

Him? Ah, a truementsh, but still the highest law officer in Bethdish. You should know this man already, no?

This tells me much about you, friend. A man who does not fear the law is eitheryiddisher kop, or perhaps a bit of aschlimazel.. You are the former, of course. I notice that your record is clean in this part of the galaxy, by the way.

Nothing recent, of course? Nothing? Good.

In any case, It was here that the Reever detained my previous pilot, for a minor docking infraction, I'm sure. He was an Ibeesan named Kakartuouload. Ahh. . .you've heard of him, I see. Good.

He was on his way to meet me and my contact about shipping the. . .baubles. . .we discussed off of Bethdish without. . .how should I say this?. . .without undueattention from the authorities.

Kakartuouload didn't seem to mind that he was picked-up here. Had he been charged on his home planet, they would have chopped his head off. I hear it takesweeks for an Ibeesan to grow it back.

It was simply ill fortune that we scheduled our meeting for the one hundredth anniversary of Max's tenure as bartender here at theMare. Max and the Reever go a long way back, more than a million years, if the stories are true.

Yes, I said a million.Million. Yes.

Of course they're both Immortals. You knew? Not? Interesting.

Your glass is empty? How embarrassing, as I am your host. I'll signal Blanche for a refill, immediately. I'll tell you, if I were a thousand years younger, or if the Harem were a little less vigilant...

Who? Trixie? Yes, of course. But such a tiny thing. Nothing to sink your grappling tentacles...ah well...a gentleslug does not discuss such matters.

"To each, his own." I've heard some say.

That one, that Trixie was here when poor Kakartuouload was detained. Now, I don't know much about her species, but from the way she was looking at Max, I am surprised he is working now, behind the bar. I swear, from her body language and the hungry look on her face, that night, I wouldn't have been surprised that she would have made a meal of him. Suchappetite, I saw.

Oy vey iz mir, had she had her way with poor Max. Who else would mix such a perfect Alter Kaker? The prune juice alone, he must pay handsomely to have smuggled-in from wherever those luscious tidbits are grown. Perhaps she is on a diet, and so he still lives. It would explain both her small size and how Max survived the evening.

Ahh, the lovely Blanche brings us a reprieve from a slow, parched death in the barren desert.

You flatter me, mistress. What they sayis true. A direct relationship, since you were kind enough to ask. Yes, it's quite proportional, and also prehensile, as well.

Come friend, let us toast to such a divine creature. Just watching how she walks away, I couldplotz!

And now to our business arrangements, we are in agreement, yes?

And finally, let us toast toThe Mare Inebrium, may its taps and the stories to be told here, never run dry!

Mazel Tov!

The End


To Boldly Wait

By J. Davidson Hero


"So, what're you fellahs having?" I asked assuming a place at the table. The stocky one seemed a little irritated with my intrusion at first. His large buddy, not really having much of a face to emote with, fluted a series of reedy staccatos. K80, my robot dog, obediently chose a spot a few feet from the floating table where she could keep an eye on the situation.

"Errr… ale for me. Stygian firewater in a pan for him," the short one barked at last through his translator. "He has a case of Muphridian mealybugs and he needs to soak his roots." I waved down our waitress, Blanche, and ordered my new ‘friends' their drinks as well as a Rusty Nail for myself.

"Anything for Katie?" she asked with a rosy-cheeked smile.

"No, she's fine," I said winking. The red light on K80's scancorder module blinked on as if in agreement. Blanche walked off toward the bar where Max was talking with the Reever. I watched as Max's girlfriend, Trixie, leaned against the bar. Oh man! What a pair of legs. K80 chirped with annoyance to break my trance. I heaved out a heavy sigh to end my futile pining and tried to get my mind back on the business at hand.

"So where do you two hail from?" I asked.

The stocky one was humanoid, but shorter than my own species and heavier-set. He had blue tattoos all over the pink skin of his piggish face and was originally from one of the Hemalian moons where they obviously didn't believe in dentistry because his teeth were crooked and his breath smelled like Limburger. He wore a dingy white pressure suit bearing the markings of a free trader; his type was all too common in this sector of space.

His partner's species, however, was completely unfamiliar to me. He was very large, maybe eight feet tall, five wide at the shoulders. He was also wearing a pressure suit with only his head exposed which resembled a brownish-gray, up-rooted tree stump. As I said, he had no face, but where a mouth and nose would have been were a number of small holes with shoots resembling bamboo growing out of them. This was where the music seemed to come from. On his forehead there was a depression with a thick clump of leaves and about a dozen stems, each with a closed flower blossom on top.

By the time Blanche returned with our drinks I was already taking copious notes. I had learned that they were working a job that brought them close enough to Bethdish to warrant a stop at the galaxy-famous Mare Inebrium. The Hemalian, who was named Grok, explained that his partner, Whooth, was actually a plant-based life form from a planet circling distant Tarazed and uncommon even there, as far as he knew. They had struck up a partnership when Grok lost his Hemalian crew in a bad situation and Whooth came to his rescue. Grok realized that not only could the Tarazedian's strength replace his missing crew, but he would do wonders for the shipboard atmosphere. "He breathes out what I breathe in," Grok explained, "and he smells nice."

"He certainly does," said Blanche carefully setting the pan of firewater on the floor. Whooth was already removing his boots and set what passed for feet, but resembled two masses of tangled roots, into the fuming pan. He doodled a happy tune that made him sound like a clarinet.

Grok accepted his drink from Blanche, and leaning forward grunted, "You like the smell? A special thank you for you then. Go ahead… run your fingers through the flowers on his head."

Blanche looked at me. I nodded, but secretly tapped a key on my wrist remote that unlocked K80's stunner and activated her defense protocol. Blanche reached up and ran her fingers through the small stalks on Whooth's forehead. Slowly the flowers started to open up. They were beautiful dark purple flowers, each with five velvety petals and a bright center of tiny yellow hairs. The sweet perfume that had previously mingled subtly with the bar's normal lemon and jasmine aroma now intensified and started to fill the air all about the table with a penetrating thickness. It reminded me of lilac and vanilla. Blanche leaned forward and inhaled deeply; she suddenly had a drugged look on her face. "So sweet," she said. The Tarazedian began to trill like a piccolo. Then he added the dark baritone hum of a bassoon: thum, thum, thum. Realizing then what was going on, I reached over and grabbed Blanche's shoulder and pulled her back forcefully, just as a cloud of pollen puffed into the air.

The Hemalian snorted into his ale, then nearly fell off his chair howling. Whooth chucked away in short low notes that could only be interpreted as laughter. Blanche looked displeased but then rolled her eyes with a smirk and walked away.

It was then that we noticed the small commotion at the bar. The Reever was apprehending a green-scaled Ibeesan. Something about the lawman spooked my ‘friends' and they decided it was time to leave; free traders are a skittish lot. I checked with K80. We'd gotten enough to get paid. A level 2 scan of a newly discovered species and a detailed report on its reproductive habits would keep my salary coming from Earth for a few more months which made life comfortable for a man and his dog in City of Lights.

"Aren't you supposed to be out in some undiscovered country looking for new life forms and new cultures?" Blanche asked when I handed her some credits for her trouble.

"Do you know how far out I'd have to go these days to find a new species? That's dangerous work," I said with a smile. "Besides, why should I go looking for them, when all the ones I'd want to meet will eventually pass through the Mare Inebrium?"

The End

Cold Call

By Lester Curtis

- February 2010 Flash Challenge Winner! -


The boss was out to destroy me.

"Grommiff," he said, "We need to expand our market area. Are your travel papers in order?"

"Yeah...uh, where am I going?"

"Bethdish."

"Bethdish??! But that's -- "

"That'swhat, Grommiff?"

"That'sway outside our territory..."

"Yes," he grinned malevolently, "that's what 'expanding our market area' means. Now, get moving; your ship leaves in two hours."

I sighed and headed for the door.

When I got to Bethdish, I had to wait for my sample case, which had gotten lost in Customs. When I opened it and looked inside, I almost fell down. Someone had cleaned out all the top-shelf stuff; the premium liqueurs and wines were all gone. How was I supposed to make a sale without samples?

I filed a loss claim, got to my room, and flopped on the bed and fell asleep.

When I awoke, I had no idea what local time it was, and was shocked when I found it to be late afternoon already. I thought I might as well waste my time somewhere other than in my room. I took my sample case, hailed a cab, and told the driver, "Take me to the bar."

"Which one?"

"Thebar.The bar, the one everybody talks about."

"Ah, gotcha. That'd be the Mare Inebrium. Interesting place. There's a convention coming up there soon."

"A convention? In a bar?"

"You'll understand when you see the place; it's pretty big." I sunk back in silence for the rest of the ride.

He stopped in front of an enormous skyscraper, certainly big enough to host a convention. I went inside.

The place didn'tsmell like a bar; the air had a faint tangy sweetness to it. There were quite a few species there, but the atmosphere was peaceable.

I found a booth that gave me a view of most of the floor and the main bar, and one of the waitresses came over. She was short and full-figured, with curly dark hair and a playful smile.

"What can I get you, hon?"

"Umm...do you have a menu of all the drinks you serve?"

She tapped a panel in the tabletop, "Right here." She showed me how to work the device, and said, "If you want something that isn't on there, gimme a holler; my name's Blanche." I started searching, and my mood went down pretty quickly; they already had almost everything we carried, and they weren't about to pay the extra shipping to get it from us. I ordered something called a "WMD" and sipped at it while I looked around.

The other waitress had been at the bar, interacting in a friendly way with the bartender, but she then went to tend to a couple of Lashensin at a table. Two other men were talking with the bartender. One of them I took to be a soldier or policeman; he wore a blue and black uniform and had a big sword across his back. As I watched, he reached out and grabbed a green-skinned alien who had just walked past, and escorted him to the bar.

Bored and curious, I picked up my drink and walked over to the bar, just as the cute waitress was coming back with two unfinished drinks and a flustered expression. The bartender said, "What's the matter, Trixie?"

"It's the Lashensin, Max, they ordered this Fahshuhshu through the teleserver, but they don't like it. Can you make a better one?"

Max shook his head. "I tried that before; I haven't got the biochemistry to do any better than the machine, and I don't have another source for the stuff. Credit them for it, and offer whatever they want, on the house."

Trixie headed back, and Max turned to the uniformed man. "I've got to try to keep them happy; they're having that big convention here in a couple days -- seventeen thousand guests, last count."

"I'm well aware; we're having to arrange extra security here and at the spaceport, not to mention traffic control. It'll be a busy week."

Trixie was back. "They're so upset, they've been looking all over for this stuff and can't find any they like..."

"Perhaps I can help..." I said. Everyone looked at me. "Oh...uh, here." I handed Max my business card.

"You sell beverages..."

"Only the very finest -- including Fahshuhshu -- oh! Excuse me a moment." I hustled back to my booth and opened the sample case, and on the bottom tier, there they were, two single-serving samples. I'd quite forgotten them, since no one ever orders it. I took them back to the bar. "Max, let me have two clean glasses, please."

Max put the glasses on the bar while I gave the bottles a violent shake. "You have to get the mud off the bottom," I explained, then poured the drinks. "There, try that."

Trixie looked at Max, who shrugged and nodded. She took the drinks to the Lashensin and waited. The Lashensin looked. They pointed. They sniffed, and tentatively sipped, then finished the drinks and started talking excitedly to Trixie.

As we watched their reaction, I said, "Fahshuhshu is a part of Lashensin culture. Each of those guests will want -- at least three of those per day, maybe as many as six." I caught Max's eye. "You can sell it for, maybe, ten credits a serving, and I can get it to you for -- two, plus shipping."

Max stuck his hand out and we shook. "Mr. Grommiff, you just made a sale." I knocked back the last of my drink, and within seconds, Max was placing two more in front of me.

"What's this?" I asked.

"On the house. One's for saving my cookies with the Lashensin, and the other is to celebrate my hundredth anniversary here."

"Well, then -- happy Anniversary!"

The End

Midlife Crisis

By jaimie l. elliott

The following story was submitted for the challenge, but was misplaced by a software failure and unfortunately missed the deadline.

"Oh hell, here comes Charlie."

A collective groan arose from the bugs as they huddled around a puddle of spilled Kaprakian ale. Suddenly, happy hour did not seem so happy, the chair they cowered under not so inviting.

"Now be nice boys," admonished David in a hushed voice. "Charlie's going through some rough times. Let's try to humor him. Charlie!" he greeted loudly, his antennae twitching with false enthusiasm. "Nice for you to make it!"

"Bah," said Charlie as he scuttled over next to them, just barely avoiding the heavy trod of some red-shirted crewman.

"Just an inch more," mumbled Stewart but held his mandibles after a stern glance from David.

"Hey, guys," said Jake, his own antennae quivering with excitement, "take a look at the cockroach over there. I think she's wafting pheromones at me!" He waved a foreleg in greeting.

The cockroach turned her back on him.

"How's life treating you, Charlie?" asked Toni.

"Oh, goddammit," said Stewart as he shook his head. "Nice one, Toni."

"Stewart!" warned David.

"She's got the prettiest carapace," said Jake. "Grrrowllll!"

"Life sucks," replied Charlie, ignoring Stewart and Jake and most of reality in general. "What am I, forty-five? Tomorrow I'll be forty-six. And the day next I'll be forty-seven. What have I done with my life so far?" He shook an angry appendage at them. "Nothing!"

"You're still virile and as fit as a fiddle," soothed David. "You have-- what? Atleast thirty more days to look forward to. You should go out and find a nice lady bug to fertilize eggs with."

"I heard Lisa is available again," said Stewart.

"Poor Andy," said Toni. "She took him for all he was worth. It's one thing to be dumped by your old lady. It's a whole another level when she eats you."

Charlie slapped the puddle of ale. "Is that all we're good for? Scavenge and reproduce? So the next generation can scavenge and reproduce?" He motioned to the towering Reever at the other side of the bar. "I want to be like him! Someone who matters to the universe! Not some insignificant insect!"

"Oh, will you please shut up?" said Stewart. "You bitch more than a cicada with a hangnail."

"Stewart!" shouted David. "Enough!"

"I hope Trixie doesn't stomp on her," said Jake. "That waitress is a notorious cockroach blocker."

"I just want to make a difference for once in my life!" shouted Charlie. "Don't you all understand?"

"Calm down," said David.

"Yadda yadda yadda," mumbled Stewart.

Charlie rushed out to the middle of the floor. He stood up on his hind legs and raged to the heavens. "I WANT TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE! DO YOU HEAR ME? JUST ONCE IN MY LIFE!"

From the very heavens he raged, a green-scaled foot answered.

Squilch

"Ugh. Me just leaving too," bemoaned the Ibeesan smuggler as he grabbed a nearby napkin to wipe the gooey residue off the bottom of his foot. Unable to completely remove the sticky mess, the creature sighed and made its way toward the restrooms instead of toward the exit. On the way, the Reever grabbed its arm.

The bugs watched the Ibeesan native being cuffed.

"Well, I'll be a seven-legged beetle," said Stewart. "I guess he was able to make a difference after all." He raised his foreleg in a toast. "To Charlie!"

"To Charlie!" cheered the others.

THE END


© 2010 Dan Hollifield (Many Happy Returns), Bill Wolfe (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to my Second Grubling's Bar Mitzva), J. Davidson Hero (To Boldly Wait), Lester Curtis (Cold Call), and Jaimie L. Elliott (Midlife Crisis)

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