Aphelion Issue 238, Volume 23
April 2019
 
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Ethiralz . . .

by Sergio "ente per ente" Palumbo
Edited by: Michelle Dutcher

A Mare Inebrium story
Mare Inebrium Universe created by Dan Hollifield




There was some recent news in the space bar. It had only been two months since Max had chosen to add a new room to his venue, and everything was ready now. This new addition was meant to welcome only certain special customers. And those were some weird customers, truly!

Max, the famous manager of Mare Inebrium, probably the most renowned bar on Bethdish situated near the Spaceport field -- and one of the most well-known in the entire space sector -- had harbored some intense doubts about it before the room's opening, but finally he had been convinced - after all, the profits promised to be substantial and that was enough to start the renovation and let it proceed. . . .

However, every time he looked at those strange aliens called Ethiralz (plural) who were the special customers he had built the room for, he was very doubtful. Their features were dissimilar from everyone else he had come into contact with, and this was the reason why he had given those a separate room, to allow them to spend their free time at the bar far from curious eyes. When they did come, they drank those strange electric beverages that looked really unfashionable as they went from the top of their transparent bodies down to their toes, like energy bursts that looked brilliant although the jolts were just temporary.

This was also why he preferred to keep them away from the common customers -- though common was an inappropriate term for this venue probably, given the many alien species that came here every day and night. Some of the usual clientele was such that you could truly question if they were as intelligent as humans, at least. Max also knew that since the first diplomatic representatives of this peculiar species, the Ethiralz, had now been appointed to this world, everyone would be seeing them around more and more frequently. Though, there was no reason to hurry things here and force untimely contacts that might result in some very unexpected consequences, especially if problems could arise inside his own beautiful bar. . . .

Still, as the uncertain Max watched those drinks going down their bodies, it seemed like he was seeing an electric discharge swallowed that was then dissipated as it went along the partly visible tissues of those creatures. This was something that usually didn't happen even in a peculiar bar like this, for sure. You could also say that looking at those creatures drinking was like staring at some impalpable ghosts that lived on another level of reality, in a way. . . .

Four thick legs with no hair supported their bodies that were as thin as they were tall, about two feet more than a common human. Ethiralz' wide hands, being much larger than their feet, strangely appeared at the end of arms that stretched to their lower knees. Two eyes whose color seemed to be an unending changing of shades and brilliance always left the viewer speechless. But it was not their build that looked so unusual, as it was the incredible and almost transparent appearance itself of such alien bodies that made you stare at them in surprise.

The personality they displayed, at least that Max had noticed in the few Ethiralz he had met so far within the walls of the Mare Inebrium, seemed to be deeply loyal to their traditions, and their world, too; you might also say that they were very proud, maybe considering themselves much better than all the others, though inappropriately at times. The bar manager didn't find them to be the most likeable of all customers he had, but they paid well, and they came in every couple of days, every week. "No rays, no gains . . . " Max reminded himself of that funny saying that had begun spreading among his employees and experienced countermen over the course of the last few months, noting that these new aliens -- buying luminous electric drinks -– also left the best tips here.

The clothes the Ethiralz wore were almost non-existent, though they were members of a species that was certainly wealthy. And their rank as diplomatic representatives would also allow them to buy whatever costly garment they wanted in any shop on the planet. Though, the bar manager wasn't here just to judge how they decided to get dressed eventually. . . .

The night had started off in the usual way, with a lot of customers ready to crowd the bar's main hall and the many rooms still available. There were a few rooms on the upper floors that had been reserved in advance for some groups of aliens who were still expected. Several regulars were busy operating a few keys at the screen of their console to send their orders for different meals or drinks to be chosen among the brews specified. There were other customers sitting alone at their table with many thoughts on their minds, looking in silence at the course below made up of a strange mix of fruits and vegetables coming from various planets. At a far corner Max was able to spot three Furr-Iel-Nms on their chairs with hairy pointed tails wrapped around their fat bodies, the tails measuring five times the length of their thin legs. There were others dressed in long bluish formal robes, each with four diamond-like gems on their forehead, who were entering the venue at that moment and were quickly settling in on the colorful cushions placed next to the left wall, though their giant size doubled that of the alien newcomers themselves, who looked like small children stretched on huge mattresses, actually.

The unending orders kept coming and going and you could already see on most tables several large pots or mugs with colorful blends made up of layers of coffee, cognac, orange juice, scotch, soju, sweet beer from Earth, and varied ingredients coming from Ivkd, Kle-behl and other very distant planets, that stood visibly on show and were eagerly sipped by the customers. Though the night had just started, you could say that things were going very well, as usual. . . .

While Max -– dressed in his medium brown clothes with his customary whitish colored apron - was busy checking to be certain that everything was okay, hoping that there were no problems in sight, his attentive eyes noticed something, or better somebody, who was just coming in the door. Max certainly had never expected a guest like that to appear one day at the entrance to the Mare Inebrium.

It was a Vrke-m, and a very tall one!

Aliens of that beastly species were incredibly territorial and fights inevitably broke out when anyone tried to sneak into areas on their home planet they considered to be theirs since ancient times. Their huge hairy heads were nearly as wide as their shoulders and rested atop really broad necks. The skin, ranging in color from dark gray to beige, was usually the same shade as their large eyes. These aliens were typical, capable predators, or skilled hunters, if you preferred to consider them that way. . . . Their appearance was unsettling, at least according to most humans -- that many other aliens turned white when they stumbled into them. And Max could confirm that to be true at the moment. Usually dressed in garments that resembled showy animal furs, as if they sewed together of prey they had killed before, they favored high waders on their long feet, just like the one that had just come in, though it was known that many of the Vrke-m went without footgear while they walked about on their forested birth world. They undoubtedly were great warriors though not too fast, and maybe too bound to old rituals which were now of no use, but which they practiced every time they went on a hunt, as a matter of fact.

As the bar manager -- uneasily touching his short, dark hair -- was already thinking of, well, many things that might soon happen, he truly was surprised when he saw that the Vrke-m didn't seem aggressive or wild at present, although you could never say for sure what might be next. . . . He, in fact, simply chose a table and sat alone, ordering a non-alcoholic drink. This surprised Max even more deeply, as such a species was known to indulge in heavy beverages that might easily knock anyone else off their chair, and were also known to become very disruptive people when they got really drunk. . . .

Whatever the reason was that the alien had entered here, he couldn't see anything good coming from it. Though, he might be wrong, anyway. It rarely happened, but it did at times. . . .

Max tried to remember if there was any diplomatic mission on Bethdish that could help him understand why the Vrke-m was on this planet, but he couldn't think of any, at least so far. Other than that, he also knew that only a very few spaceflights came from -- or went to -– the distant world such species called home. And this made it all even weirder, undoubtedly.

He put his nosiness about that Vrke-m into a secluded corner of his mind at the moment, as there were many other things that had to be attended to at the Mi>Mare Inebrium, duties that required his immediate attention, and he almost forgot about his unusual customer for the subsequent three-hours. When he turned his eyes to that alien again, he was surprised to discover that he had ordered six other non-alcoholic beverages, and nothing more. Just that? How was it possible? There should be something Max was underestimating, possibly . . . Was the Vrke-m trying to remain clear-headed maybe? And for what purpose?

The answer came as soon as other aliens exited their room in the venue and approached the main hall, which was exactly where the table of the Vrke-m stood. Three Ethiralz, who had been enjoying their stay and were certainly still under the influence of the many electric drinks they had savored, walked to the entrance of the Mare Inebrium, and it was at that time that the beastly alien moved away from his table and headed straight for them.

Bad news . . . Max told himself, but there was nothing he could do at the present moment. Just stay and look at what is going on, was the best he could do right now.

"I knew you were here!" the alien said, staring at the three Ethiralz, the terms he made use of were closer to noises and grumblings than some real words. He didn't even introduce himself, as he just launched into his unpleasing behavior and didn't try to keep his anger hidden.

Max approached, too, leaving his previous position behind the bar and hurrying to the place where the four customers stood at that moment. On the way, he almost fell over the hairy pointed tails of two Furr-Iel-Nms. Better late than never, he considered.

"When you came to our world, you came to hunt . . . " the beastly alien cried out in anger. "You killed my next of kin!"

"What is going on here?" Max asked the alien newcomer, while looking at him very seriously.

"Exactly what I said . . . " the Vrke-m insisted. "These Ethiralz must pay for their bloody crimes!"

The space bar manager turned his eyes to the three semi-transparent customers and he seemed to be waiting for an explanation from them.

"This is a matter that was settled long ago . . . " the first one of them recklessly replied, making a move to walk away.

"Not so easily . . . " the Vrke-m cried out.

"Dear customers, I don't know what your matter of debate might be . . . " Max intervened. "However, this is not something I can allow to take place in here. Mine is a very highly-reputed venue, as the entire planet knows. Other than that, we have regulars from all over the inhabited places in this world, and from abroad. We also have some very good customers that don't want to have their enjoyable night perturbed because of your disagreement, whatever the reason . . . So, if you can follow my reasoning, please let your different points of view be settled outside of the Mare Inebrium, or just sue each other if you have charges against each other . . . "

"Exactly, Vrke-m, go your way now . . . and leave us alone!" one of the Ethiralz ordered.

"Don't think you can forget about my visit so easily . . . I'll be back tomorrow, and you won't be able to stop me then!" he said, and grinned an angered look at the three.

At that point, Max turned coldly to the one who had so unwaveringly spoken and asked him where his hatred came from.

"Those Ethiralz once came to my world, some years ago. They came to hunt, and to spend some time in the wilderness, though they did much more than that! They killed my next of kin, my only surviving relative in my clan! They also made use of his dead skin as a fur to be sold . . . " the beastly alien said.

The bar proprietor looked again at the three and waited for a reply that did not come. "I know that this is not my fight, dear customers, but is what this Vrke-m said true?"

The Ethiralz didn't seem to be willing to confirm anything, and this left Max a little bewildered.

Anyway, it was the Vrke-m who spoke again. "You didn't give us any explanation, you simply took that fur and moved away!"

"If this is all about a murder, I think that a policemen will be ready to hear what you have to say. However, if you don't want to press charges. . . . " Max made his position clear, nodding towards the door.

"You don't understand why that killing is so serious, so unforgivable . . . " the Vrke-m added more, trying to explain his actions. "The damage these three did is far worse than you could ever imagine. . . ."

"I'm sorry to hear this, but this world is full of murders, unfortunately, the same as many others, probably all the others, that exist here and there in space. It is not up to me to stop them all, and I can't be the judge of all the cases, but what I can do is prevent you from killing each other here, in this place, tonight, and that's exactly what I'm going to do. . . ."

"Listen to me, please!" the Vrke-m continued. "You must know why their actions are so serious, and unforgivable! It's terrible the outcome of what they did there. . . . Every single member of my species has a personal duty, which is to preserve and pass on the memory and the deeds our ancestors accumulated, the same as those who came before us always did. All of us Vrke-m have to share their personal recollections by means of our oral traditions. These oral traditions make a whole from all the many parts each one knows, as we don't turn to written texts for collecting such details, differently from what we do in science and common notions."

There was a brief pause, and other strange beastly noises coming out of his mouth, then he continued "In fact, every member of a clan like mine is the only one with the knowledge of deeds and the correct name of our ancestors and their descendants, both from their father and mother, and by using such communication this material is transmitted orally from one generation to another, as a common library that is based only on the spoken word. The next of kin those Ethiralz killed was the last one of my clan, except myself! When he died, he had no one left with whom to share his memories, as he was very young and he still had no children to pass his partial knowledge on. The part of our past only he had been appointed to preserve was gone . . . what else was up to me if not a search for justice here? Nobody in my species will ever remember any details of our ancestors regarding his previous lineage now, only the few things I knew will be known next, but part of our past, of our oral traditions that relied upon him is lost forever!"

"What you say is nonsense!" the tallest among the Ethiralz exclaimed, making fun of him. "That young member of your clan could have died for any number of reasons, as an accident or an illness, and part of your previous history would have been lost all the same. . . ."

"Yes, but he didn't! He didn't die because of an accident or an illness . . . it was you that killed him! Nothing or no one else!" the other retorted, unsheathing his very pointed teeth.

"Enough!" Max bellowed, and his cold eyes were looking at the Ethiralz more than the harassed Vrke-m. "I will not let your disagreement turn into a fight inside my bar. So, I must ask you to leave and arrange a better time and place to settle your dispute. Please. . . ."

"I won't allow these three murderers get away without punishment. . . ."

"In this case . . ." the bar manager said, and gestured to some of his bouncers who were close at hand. "I must insist that this matter be taken outside."

The Vrke-m had a look at the massive men who were approaching, the equipment they had and the cyber-adds-on connected to their bodies, and had second thoughts, apparently.

"Do not think this is over!" he cried out. "I'll be back here tomorrow night, and the day after tomorrow! You would also be wrong to think that your embassy can protect you! I'll find you wherever you go here on Bethdish!"

The tall bouncers accompanied the beastly alien outside, with no need to turn to bad manners. Once he was gone, a perplexed Max stared at the Ethiralz and told them: "Sorry about that, my dear customers. At times someone seems to be unable to wait to settle his matters in an appropriate place . . . " He paused for a brief moment, and then added - "As I explained before, I don't want to meddle in your conflict, but . . ."

"The same here. Nobody among us would ever comment upon your fabled origin, as an Immortal, I mean . . ." This was said by the tallest of the Ethiralz, who always seemed to speak on behalf of the others, as if his taller height was something that entitled him to do so in their strange species. The speaker then scratched at his transparent skin.

Max made a face and went on. "Anyway, I must ask you: is there anything true in what that furious Vrke-m was shouting?"

The other finally replied. "It only happened by chance. We went to that planet just once and got involved in a hunt. It was completely by mistake that we took the life of the next of kin of that Vrke-m. How could I know that the creature we killed would be a family member of his?"

"The creature we hunted was the prey, nothing more," the fellow on his left made clear.

"Yes, exactly . . . we thought he was big-game, not different from many wild animals a person could stumble into on that perilous world. . . . So, it was an action done unwillingly. . . ."

"Given their beastly appearance, how could we have known that he was an intelligent being and not just one of those wild creatures of the forest? We had never seen a Vrke-m close-up before . . . " the same fellow added.

Max lowered his eyes, then asked them. "I imagine the matter wasn't settled at that time and that no punishment was dealt to you. . . ."

"Well, that death raised some diplomatic issues, but our families are very important on our home planet, so a sort of peace was soon reached with the help of our government . . . and the case was quickly dismissed."

"The Vrke-m doesn't seem to think so. . . ." the bar manager considered.

"Those beings are violent and fierce. As I said, you can't easily tell a Vrke-m from a common beast . . ." the same alien reaffirmed in a sense of superiority that was being to become a little offensive.

Max took those words into account, and left the three Ethiralz after explaining that he had many other things to do. And the three went away, on their way back to their embassy. However, a bad aftertaste remained in the bar manager's mouth for the rest of the night. . . .

***

Just as the Vrke-m had promised, the following night he returned to the Mare Inebrium and the same scene took place, more or less. Again on this occasion Max prevented the two opponents from openly starting a fight, as the beastly alien was sent outside -- but he didn't have the right to make him move away from the vicinity of the venue itself, and so he wasn't really surprised when someone asked for his help when an argument was reported to be happening near the parking lot outside.

He knew that the Ethiralz had already left their room and exited the building, and of course it was there that he found the three, shouting at the Vrke-m who had been outside patiently waiting for them to come out, as a matter of fact.

Their words were already turning to curses spoken in a lather and the bar owner doubted that things could be stopped before it was too late and someone raised his hands against his opponent, or worse. But there was no time to do anything. It was too late to calm them all down or to call the local policemen. Anyway, the situation unexpectedly followed another turn of events. . . .

There was a whizzing sound that came from a distance, and the Vrke-m grabbed his chest and cried out before immediately dropping to his knees, falling dead on the hard ground of the parking lot. It was a second, nothing more! For sure, the whole drive-by had not taken long enough to get a lot of details on the impulsive minds of the ones who were standing around. The high-powered shot that hit him on his back had apparently come from a bluish vehicle that was moving fast along one of the opposite lanes, and nothing might have allowed anyone to foresee what was going to happen. . . . Then, everything stopped at once, the same as that local economy flying vehicle that disappeared into the distance, under cover of darkness. And the corpse of the targeted alien lay on the ground, not far from the entrance of the space bar.

"What was that?" It was one of the two bartenders who had followed Max out who spoke.

"Someone killed the Vrke-m, apparently." Max was the first to figure out what had just happened.

"The beastly Vrke-m is dead, you're right . . ." the tallest one among the three Ethiralz said, his body taking on an unusual shade of orange-ish color.

"And this leaves you unharmed, and not needing to fear his constant ramblings any longer," the bar owner pointed out, making a face and scratching at his chin in a perplexed gesture.

"Don't believe we're involved in all this! Our people made peace with that alien species . . ." added the one who had previously spoken.

"Other than that, such a beastly creature certainly had other enemies, who knows how many! Warlike and hot-headed individuals like him always cause problems whenever they go, and they reap what they sow . . . how could it be different?" the second among the Ethiralz uttered.

"It might be a coincidence, or it may not . . ." a wary Max retorted in a cold way. "I have heard something about that peace you once made with this species, and about the mind of those beast-like aliens. Apparently, not all the clans of that world wanted to let you off scot-free. . . . "

"But he was the last living member of that clan, as he said last time, don't you remember? Would anyone have prevented us from making peace with a planet only because of one single individual? Would anyone endanger the diplomatic affairs maybe just for that . . .?"

As the man thought again about that vehicle from which the deadly shot came, he wondered if the local police would find possibly the killer . . . or maybe not.

"This is a matter to be dealt by the local law enforcement agencies," Max concluded. "I'm sad to point out that this is the second time I have been forced to intervene to try to settle one of your disputes. . . . I hope there will not be a third, anyway."

***

The following night at the Mare Inebrium was going to be calmer, though probably not as quiet as many hoped, and Max knew why.

It was about 1:00 AM when he was summoned, as there seemed to be some problems with the Ethiralz again. The bar owner rushed to the room reserved for those three aliens, and what he saw made him go silent for a while.

It was strange to see that those had stumbled into something that seemed to force them to stay in place. One of them, the tallest one, was now trying to stand up, but he clearly had many difficulties in doing that. Then, as he was on his four thick feet, he also had trouble while trying to speak. "I can't . . . move . . . I can't . . . position my body . . ."

Also the fellow next to him looked slow and very strange, his speech appeared to be remarkably confused. "What is . . . going on . . .? The same here . . . "

Max raised his head and showed off one of his most surprised expressions. "Oh, this is what I feared it might happen. . . . It's because of your peculiar build, which is very different from common humans and aliens that come to my bar, and because of what you drink . . ."

"Are you . . . saying . . ." one of the Ethiralz found the strength to ask the Mare Inebrium owner, "that you gave us . . . something poisonous . . . to drink?"

"Of course not, my honored and dear customers . . ." Max immediately replied. "What I meant to say is that your body changes when you sip such powerful energy beverages, and this alone is not bad. However, this interferes with the properties of the powerful Magnetic Field of this planet. Once you have drunk so many electric liquids, it seems that your build is affected, and other troubles can occur."

"Did you . . . know . . . about this . . . when . . .?"

"Of course not. It's not customary for me try to injure my regulars, or give them something that would hurt them! Mine is a well-renowned bar!" Max stated in a clear tone. "But I was warned that this might happen, given your peculiarities, being aliens so different from all the others, and because of what is typical on Bethdish . . ."

"Help us! Do . . . something . . ." the tallest of the Ethiralz cried out in a low voice that sounded like a burst of energy without enough power, like an old plug that had been suddenly cut.

"I am afraid that there is nothing I can do now. Once you drink those beverages, your genes change and the conflicting properties of your body are affected by our strong Magnetic Field, and this can't be helped nor modified so easily."

"But . . . you . . . were aware that . . ." the other insisted again.

"All I knew was that some members of your species might be negatively affected, although this is a very uncommon occurrence, believe me. Probably 1 in 2,000,000. . . . It seems that you are among the few Ethiralz that deeply suffer because of this. It must be your genes, nothing else . . . but I couldn't be sure before it really happened."

"What can we . . . do . . . now?" It was pretty obvious that even uttering such words was really difficult for them.

"The effect is usually temporary, but in your case it appears to be more long-lasting. You seem to be greatly impeded in your movements, so there must be something else in your personal characteristics, maybe. I can only suggest that you leave this world as soon as possible. I'll arrange safe transportation for all of you, and I'll call your representative back on your home planet to take care of you once you are there." Max explained making a serious face.

"Call our people . . . immediately . . . please!" the alien burst out angrily, though very slowly.

"As you want" the man nodded. "If there is anything else I may do, please, let me know . . . "

"Can't you do . . . anything else . . . truly?"

"Unfortunately, you must understand that I can't change our planetary Magnetic Field, nor can I put my hands on your genes . . . " the space bar owner added. "Other than that, you are notable members of a diplomatic mission, and no one might ever dare such actions on this world."

"Deal, do . . . so!"

"Okay, well advised. Now, please, don't move . . . I'll be back as soon as I can . . ." and that said he exited the room.

The three Ethiralz remained inside, incapable of walking, like statues made of energy that looked feebler and feebler by the minute. He had never seen those electric bodies staying so still before. Beyond that, they didn't appear so proud anymore as well.

About ten minutes went by. Then, Max entered the room again, with six other men who brought in some medical instruments and a few helpful objects that were meant to haul the aliens away. Now it was time, Max thought . . .

He pressed a button in his pocket, unseen, this way releasing the device he had previously activated.

As soon as he had done so, the Ethiralz started moving normally again, although they were still slow and in pain. In his mind, a clever Max considered that he had made a great use of that gravitational device he had been provided by a friend of his long ago. Though meant to be of help by stopping warlike aliens that might be a problem to the bar itself on certain nights, or to the peaceful people who stayed inside, it had proven very useful given the circumstances. Nor that he had ever turned to it before. Certainly, those customers would never know the truth, or the way he had made use of the instrument against them today . . . Why should they, anyway?

The device had been wisely put under the floor of that same room and left well hidden. He himself had personally taken care of the settings. There was no need to inform others in the venue of his plans. . . .

For sure, the planet of the Ethiralz would probably send soon other replacements as members of their new diplomatic mission recently opened on Bethdish, this was obvious. The newcomers might be hopefully better people than those that had finally gone away, or maybe not, who knows. . . . By all means, it was better to keep that secret gravitational device of his well concealed underneath the floor for the future. Just in case . . .

When it was all over, a smile appeared on Max's features. As the man left the room, he also thought that it had to undergo a complete refurnishing soon, and many deep changes had to be made, of course. It would cost a lot, but there was no choice, truth be told. At times, you had to sadly turn down a good business. But it was better not to have anything to do with such disreputable people anymore. . . .


THE END


2017 Sergio Palumbo

Sergio can be reached at: spalumbo@inpdap.gov.it

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