Aphelion Issue 293, Volume 28
September 2023
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Numinous Presence

by Sergio "ente per ente" Palumbo

A Mare Inebrium story

(Mare Inebrium Universe created by Dan Hollifield)

"Do you know that Mare Inebrium Bar is haunted?" - an old friend of mine, called Harry, had told me some times ago, while all of us were watching a strip show in an underground pub ( there was no decent joint on the freezing surface there…) on planet Kauha, with three female alien dancers displaying to the customers their splendid bodies entirey naked, eight lithe arms and the four bouncing beautiful… well, that sort of things, you know, what else would you expect from some Delssssh entertainers?

I had understood at once that he was speaking of the famous Mare Inebrium on Bethdish -Haunted…Do you mean: inhabited by an apparition?- I had asked him in return, scratching my curled mop of hair the color of the black table( and of my travel jacket, too).

-Is there something in space weirder than the all sorts of alien creatures gathering here every day to have fun…?- another friend, a greying journalist from Mars, had added soon, smiling softly cause of tiredness.The length of daylight- and average working time…- varied from 22 to 26 hours on Kahua. No one could stand that long period without relying on stims, he should have known…

"I mean really haunted…" Harry replied, as serious as he could look like given the clear inebriation on his face, of course.

At first I hadn’t believed in it, as for many of the things he was used to say while drinking, and he drank really a lot…but some days later, when back to Earth, I made a reasearch on the data bank we had in the office ( at the Space holoTV I worked for) collecting weird facts and strange news coming from the galaxy and such an unbelievable hearsay was confirmed:

"Some customers maintain that Mare Inebrium Bar is haunted."

And besides:

"A mysterious unearthly precence is told to be living into the main room of Mare Inebrium. A local D'rrish policeman simply replies: no comment!"

But there were some interesting news more about that strange topic, just by having a flip through.

"A sort of haunted bar in our high-tech future, all packed with starships, robots and space travel?" I considered. That was amusing, incredible, too, but most of all amazing! Such a thing might be of interest to my holoTV usual viewers, indeed.So, since that funny night on far Kauha, full of drinks of every color, taste and unhealty ingredients from more than ten different systems in space, something good had sorted then out: a new opportunity for me- as a freelancer, best known around as Frank, "the man who makes a good report from every Spaceport" - and my troupe ( five crewmembers in its current structure. )

It had taken four days to manage all the logistics. I confess I wasn’t much used to: usually I gave the details to my travel office and then the employees did all they had to in order to arrange everything for departure/accomodation of the whole team. But this time I was to do everything by myself, cause I had fired all the accountants the day before due to money restraints. So I had to prepare by myself all the permits and pay the custom duties for our huge equipment. Oh my, how high the costs had risen so far! I would have never noticed that if I hadn’t seen ( and paid) myself all the bills instead of making the others just think of it…

Bethdish was located only 65 light years from Earth, but it seemed to be much farther. In fact, there were more than 65 custom regulations to comply with before getting there from here! As soon as we arrived at the Spaceport, we put our bagage in the rooms, took all the devices out and went immediately for a brief inspection on the spot. The Mare Inebrium Bar was on the bottom floors of a beautiful tall building in the big city next to the Spaceport field. There were many aliens drinking cocktails inside, seated here and there, not much a difference in comparison with that place I had been in while on Kahua, but here the customers seemed to be wealthier, richer in a way and there was a great diversity of species, much more than I had ever seen elsewhere, for sure.

Just to set things in order for the next day, we did meet in person Max, the bar manager. Human in appearance, black hair, very well dressed, he stood us a drink -- an old Irish whiskey we really appreciated-- and kept listening in silence to my words. I explained to him that we had to put some of our instruments at every corner of the main room, one next to the entrance, too, but all of us promised that we would have been very unobtrusive when interviewing some of the costumers about that sort of recent "space legend" to be inquired about. Other than that, we needed to place some fittings to record some paranormal activities, just in case…

Max did not object.

There was and entire team of us: me myself, that is reporter, art director, location manager and producer at the same time, about forty years, brown eyes, slim but large-built; Eyvind, a Norwegian middle-aged journalist-- formerly from ITV from Jupiter station, whose broadcast spread along four space sectors in 35 different languages ( mostly alien porn interactive videos, but once per day they had some good Newscasts, as well…) -- and an excellent technician, too. Then there were Skuyler, a dishevelled head of blonde hair: she was a skilled interviewer and a very beautiful woman, too, I well knew. Then came Sofronio, the sound designer, Greek-born and always suntanned, and Italo, the Swiss film editor of the group, heavy-set and usually surly. Everyone looked well equipped, so there was no need for a specific camera operator. All of us had our mini-holocamera inserted next to the right ear, manipulated by means of our brain waves via the many sensors around our head, so we were able to shot according to the highest standards of a modern holoTV production. Skuyler wore a valuable HI-RES-HQ-VD-OVER good for long filming in high quality, she was planning to use it when dealing with the most notable guests in the upper rooms just to show off in the best way the ever-hanging colourful designs they had on their expensive clothes, hats and whatnot.

Max wanted us to assure him he would have been given the final word on the filming, meaning that no shot unapproved would have ever been released on holoTV. We agreed. Besides, he asked us not to bother some old customers he was very fond of, and we agreed, too, but with less ardour, as we knew perfectly that everyone could reveal something important, giving us some useful advice or an essential piece of truth. But the manager was very strict about this.

Looking at his deep eyes, in a way, I considered that -- maybe-- that man would have liked most if no reporter at all had ever stepped into his bar accompanied by his own troupe. But, as he hadn’t be able to stop the spreading of the news about the strange ( or legendary ) presence in the bar some regular had spoken about, there was not much he could do by then.Anyway,he well understood that all that interest could turn out to be very good for his business…

Next morning, we started setting up our devices and samplers around. Max always kept looking at us, while whispering in silence, a seemingly disapproving glance on his face, as the Space holoTV assistants were upsetting the main room on the ground floor. The day had passed by very fast and we had kept waiting for the first customers at night. At that time we were ready to start!

In a matter of minutes the bar became very crowded. There were many different alien drinks on the tables everywhere, a lot of them quite uncommon, just the thing you could expect from such a busy and luxury place with great renown: greenish-gold Gniik-Kispha Gwiddon bottles, traditional HYHFHFH beers, Hlti-l alcohol tumblers, Shebeja wines, Amluw beverages and so on… I was able to recognize most of them, especially because they were really poisonous for the common humans and every year there was some dead men somewhere in space cause he had boasted he could have a sip of this or that unusual alien drink-- no matter its toxicity-- which had resulted in a painful death for the drinker himself in the end…

Inside that famous bar people came in search of various things:a cosy joint, a good liquor likely not available -- because rare or even illegal-- on other worlds, maybe a multi-transgender alien guy ( better two of them for someone…), with incredible add-ons that only modern medical technologies could allow, or the like…

But they were there just for another reason, totally different from those. While balancing the sounds of my microphones and putting in order my blue suit, I had a look at Skuyler’s ever-pleasant rear while she was scanning the crowd in search for impressions. It was always something valuable to stare at… I had had an affair with her, long ago, but she had given me a keepsake of her – that is, a painful scar on my back- by means of her copper nails ( the trend in female nails style nowadays for most career professionals…) when I had decided to leave her for another beautiful technician, Rose… well, she looked as tall and beautiful as Skuyler, only ten years younger, but that was another story…

Anyway, my former fiancée seemed to have found a temporary interest in the bar manager. As Skuyler herself had told me, she thought Max was quite attractive, and very rich, too. I didn’t know how many hopes she had, anyway…

There were all those amusing stories around about the so-called "ghost" or "unearthly presence" that more than one alien customer had said he had felt while in the Mare Inebrium over the last months. Certainly, only some individuals from a few species endowed with useful telepathic abilities or some passers by with a lot of fancy ( or maybe simply too suggestible ) could think of such things, some of my crewmembers had considered…

The presence was even told to have been heard by some people from time to time. But nobody had confirmed he had been able to watch it directly… So that had become a sort of legend connaturated with the bar only in a matter of months. And there were already so many tales around about such a peculiar and famous joint so far. Actually, there were many fables on Earth, too, about ghosts, strange creatures returning from the afterlife and so on. Such sayings were available also on many other alien worlds, where presences and mysterious being were told from time to time to be living inside some mysterious place: most hadn’t ever proven true, of course, the Elnl species apart, whose members became really a sort of ghosts when they died and remained in such a state at least for some minutes after their deaths, but this wasn’t to be covered in such a reportage for now.

Late at night, they hadn’t found so many new data about that strange creature, apart reports made from several customers, like a young green Hti-l who confirmed he had seen a mug flying in the air for a while before going down to the ground ( but it could have been even a jest made from some psychic regular, as far as they knew…) or another one, an old crabbed D'rrish who happened to have heard many words coming -- apparently -- from nowhere, addressed to a group of newcomers some days ago.

Frankly, I hadn’t got the picture of all that thing yet.

During a break, I took the opportunity to revise some footage with a lot of interviews done so far, with some breaks already inserted in. There were such curious beings there, indeed…I saw myself on my little screen going around and asking the usual questions:

-What do you think about such a presence?-

-"It due to the influence of the planet’s two small moons, neither of which seem to be natural satellites, that were moved from Antuth's asteroid belt many years ago. They shouldn’t ever do that way! This is the real cause of what someone sees-- or better, what he thinks he sees -- that doesn’t really exist…" -- a nitpicking Man-Bear from the Dangerous Moons had told me, as if he was repeating a lesson.

-I see…-I had replied.


-Have you heard of all those sayings about the mysterious ghost living in the bar? Do you think that is there anything true about it?- I had been plying a stylish beaked Jjjj-j.

-Not that I know of…- his twin mouths had confessed at the same time, while his one-handed bust was trying to find the desired icon for ordering.

Overly simplistic, but at least a sincere comment…


The inquiry continues...STAY WITH US!


A wide cup of disgusting corpse-like WWWWWHm was laying nearby the next customer I had addressed, a sort of TTTTdddd old businessman from Sector 8-Sir, may I…?-but there was no answer.

I insisted. So the alien finally looked up at me, then seemed to think about it for a moment, tried to speak but what came out of his furry mouth was less intelligible than a whisper in a snowstorm. I tried again to force him to speak, but the customer fell down on the table and began snoring… the other – horrible--customers nearby ( I don’t know where they were from…) had told me it was a bit frequent, at times someone from TTTTdddd species had unfortunately drowned cause of his head ended in the wide cup he was just sipping when nobody was around to wake him up before it was to late!

So I had left and hurried along…


Keep watching…soon the true identity of the presence will be revealed, be it really inside this bar or not!


Afterwards, I had approached a shy Ullll-xelllll. After my question, the slim red elvish alien had whispered in my ear, probably unaware he was speaking to a microphone- "I think that all this is due to the bar manager's scheme… Everyone happens to be pliable to his mind control, but that thing never existed, it’s only a commercial for business…"

I had been just informed later that he was an unsatisfied customer who had had some complaints about the service before. Further inquiries around confirmed such a conjecture…


After reviewing my reportage, I approached Skuyler, waiting for her insightful comments about- Anything interesting?-

-Do you think this may please you? - she replied, showing me some pieces of her footage just assembled.

The woman had chosen a company present in the hall and grouped with two colleagues, Sofronio and Italo, to go meet them. They sat around a wide table, laughing and jesting. Skuyler had begun questioning the youngest one -What do you think such a mysterious presence could be?- and the man ( strange fact, he was an human from Earth, and a tourist, too-- not an adventurer, a salesman or a traveller…-- that was more than a rarity! ) simply said in return- "Well, for me it’s a creature which came out of an experiment…something gone bad, very bad…"

Everyone in the team looked at each other, in a nod of assent "He is a complete idiot!" Sofronio had whispered, but his opinion had to be put out of the records, as he himself had agreed afterwards.


Another customer, another opportunity. This time the blonde interviewer came near a tall grey-red-yellowish B-l-l-b-l-b ( or so I remembered the name of the species was…) from the far and icy world of B-l-l-b-l-b ( of course ).

-What about this strange ghost of Mare Inebrium?-

"-Well…" -he stopped speaking at once and meditated. The reporter looked at him, waiting for an answer, but the alien just began saying something, then stopped again and kept meditating. That species was famous for not being too smart, I knew…"What the B-l-l-b-l-b really think of you never know, as they won’t ever put their minds out of the snow…" The old funny rhyme jingled on instinct through my cabled head.

There was no answer in the end.


So, this is all for now! Maybe we did not solve yet such a mistery of this lively and famous bar, but there are many other incredible facts waiting for our reports and examinations out there… See you soon on Space holoTV, of course!


Then Skuyler touched a button and another brief video of hers started.

Next to an alien company another customer stood --seemingly a politician from Earth-- probably in search of a waiter for some infos. The team reporters reached the one and questioned him, too, regarding the same subject. He stayed silent for a while, pondering the thing, then put it plain- "In my opinion he is a sort of mystification, somebody was laughing at all this by now, somewhere who likes jests…"

"-Uhm-" Skuyler nodded. Human politicians were known to be very skeptic in a way, for centuries they had never supposed the existence of alien cultures in outer space, after all…what a mistake!


Skuyler had already gone to another table where a small group of Dwarven Whaats were chatting and drinking many beverages, ceaselessly being teleported to their table.

-What do you think about this recent space legend, the presence?- the question was almost the same.

-"Whaat?-" the taller among the tree asked in return, a soft tone almost ferrous. "-I am Whhaat… I’m not a presence or a legend!-" He thought he had made his point, in a way.

Some misunderstandings in translation occurred at times… The woman went away.

I had already stopped watching her reportage by then- "What could I tell you more, Skuyler? It’s our job, no matter the weird answers we find along…so don’t lose your heart, keep it up! Searching,searching and searching again…-" and I smiled while saying so.

"-Searching for whaat, you mean?-" She replied, in a plain voice.

Skuyler had always had a strange sense of humour…I almost had a laugh, but then thought again at her terrible copper nails and disappeared in a hurry.

In the meantime, the rest of the troupe, that is Sofronio, Italo and Eyvind, chose some other promising customers present in the hall and went to meet them. In the following minutes they collected twenty different opinions or suggestions more. Many deep considerations came from a Dfgftrjhkll, an alien traveller interviewed by our Swiss film editor. Well, dealing with a Dfgftrjhkll was always difficult, as you couldn’t easily figure out what he was really thinking of whenever you just were looking at his four wide heads: one amused, the second with his eyes popping out, the other on the right with some fingers pointed to his nose the size of a leg, and the last one with two closed eyes apparently unconscious. The Dfgftrjhkll said he himself was the presence, or at least he had been that in another life… Italo looked not much convinced. But, in a way, it seemed that almost every regular there had his own opinion, as it happens among the fans when the time comes for a coach to select the players for some seasonal sport tournament in space…According to some Slith everything could be even due to a sort of common hysteria which had begun spreading among the customers with the passing of months, someone else believed that the start could have been what had occurred to a drunken HYHFHFH who died at one table some months ago, maybe the presence was simply his ghost! It’s incredible how great people's fancy can be, indeed…About the HYHFHFH, the common opinion-- I shared for sure-- had that they were very uncouth: according to most of the species around, they were not even supposed to be really intelligent nor to have a mind good enough to think correctly, so how could they ever possess a soul?

At the end of the second day of filming on site actually the majority of the members in the troupe thought this thing had turned out to be a sort of false local legend, in some ways... more irrational, incredible and unlikely than real. In particular, Sofronio had got his own opinion: there were some really curious people in that place, he had been able to have an accurate look at one of the reserved rooms in the upper levels and had had some glimpse of a lot of wealthy, agressive and rich customers, involved in some deprecable activities... how impudent and vicious they appeared, but he didn't doubt they were going to leave every day good tips to the many waiters or waitresses, of course, so all they did had to be forgiven in a way. Probably, that was the truth: such people maybe needed some strong experience, a new event, something which could attract their attention, make them more active, more interested… so maybe all that hearsay was only a way to break up the daily sameness, have a good night, be mind pointed to some unusual activity…

Eyvind, too,had been very attentive, indeed, but in the end he had to admit that they had not found anything which could prove that presence- or better, that legend…- true. No sign of paranormal activies around, too, notwithstanding their devices had kept functioning very well! Maybe another time they would have tried again, likely in some years, when their TV superiors had had enough money or interest to let them manage this kind of expedition out of planet here again…

In the end I shared his point of view. We thanked all the customers for their time, paid the amount due to very kind Max and said goodbye.

The voyage to came back was long, but that way all of us had the time to sober up after all those drinks we had had every night while on location.


When everyone had left the main level of the Mare Inebrium, Ktl, the ghost-- or presence, or fabled creature, or the like who many regulars were sure there was inside that place-- chose an empty seat and stayed there for some moments, meditating. It had been really an interesting day in there, a lot of new customers and those strange guys, likely all part of a TV team come here just to discover the truth about his own existence, according to what he had heard about, spying on them all day along…

Actually, he was living in those rooms in that space bar, on the first floor and in the upper levels, besides he was undoubtedly alive… not only a legend as many people said neither a sort of unearthly presence... in fact, he was simply invisible, because the properties of his skin made him easily unseen to most of the drinkers who usually came to that luxury joint to enjoy themselves at night. The only alien species capable of looking at him – and there were some indeed…- were not used to come here around, as far as he had seen until today…

Ktl kept walking around invisibly all day long, his mental shields protected himself from the most powerful psychic individuals, no matter where they were from. In reality, the instruments and the equipment that TV team was endowed with were not technologically evolved or useful enough to get even a glimpse of him or to perceive his figure. He could have decided to show them he was there but simply he didn’t want to… He was an adventurer, and an academician, too, going from planet to planet in the galaxy to study alien species, other planets’ histories, some new way of life and so on. One day he had stumbled on this world, Bethdish, very far from his own homeworld, and on it this beautiful space bar, a perfect place where to improve his studies. The Mare Inebrium was full of every kind of alien from that part of the galaxy, so he had soon decided to stay there for an entire month, at first… But then, one sad afternoon, unfortunately, Ktl had discovered that his starship had been destroyed, while he was following and studying one peculiar group inside the bar. As a matter of fact, it had been one of the strangest accidents ever recorded at the local Spaceport: one landing cargo had been caught in an unpredictable descending path which had caused its own destruction as it had crashed against his starship set into "camouflage mode" ( which he had parked before in the farthest recess of the facility, to be left unseen and invisible…or so he hoped!) Then the cargo had exploded—-the same as his starship-- and even if nobody had really figured out the true reasons for that damage yet, Ktl was sure that many people were still thinking of it…

As a result, by then uncapable of going away from Bethdish to get back to his own homeworld, he knew that he needed to board only a special spaceship in order to accomplish his travel, as no common spacecraft nor any of the vehicles he had seen or examined so far on the surface weren’t equipped with the necessary technology to let him live aboard over the long voyage to the space sector he was from. The species from this part of the galaxy didn’t possess at all the minerals Ktl’s people used to travel safe even though in hybernation during space faring… so he had been forced to stay here, waiting for a spaceship capable –- one day or another-- of taking him back to the world he was from. Ktl was sure it would have happened sooner or later and he’d have succeeded eventually, but at present he was dubious about the day it would have occurred to him…

While staying in that space bar for all those months, he had known almost everything about the food and the drinks which were most appreciated from many alien customers and the way to prepare them, indeed, but that was not useful to let him go away from the planet, anyway. Ktl had been able to have food enough as every time in need of eating he had simply to get to one of the well equipped kitchens of the building to take for himself what he liked most among the huge remains or the many foods unsold every night.

The only thing that was of concern to him was Max, the manager… that man was an Immortal, he was quite sure about that, and he maybe was even capable of sensing his presence around, although he didn’t understand how… Anyway, he had never caused any problem to him, they had a strange relationship in a way… By now, Max seemed to know his tastes, indeed, as every day, at closing time, he left a drink on the farthest table in the main room of the space bar: waiting for him, prepared just for him.

"The hell of an Immortal!" Ktl was sure he had never told Max about that…"So, how did he ever discover it was my favorite beverage?"


© 2010 Sergio Palumbo

Bio: Signore Palumbo says: "I'm an Italian public servant who graduated from Law School working in the public real estates branch. I've published a Fantasy RolePlaying illustrated Manual, WarBlades, of more than 400 pages. Some of my works and short- stories have been published on American Aphelion Webzine,WeirdYear Webzine, YesterYearFiction,Another Realm Magazine, Alien Skin Magazine and on Australian Antipodean SF. I am also a scale modeler who likes mostly Science Fiction and Real Space models, some of my little Dioramas has been shown also on American site StarShipModeler or MechaModelComp, on British SFM: UK site and Italian SMF."

E-mail: Sergio Palumbo

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