By Mark E. Cotterill
A Mare Inebrium Story
Mare Inebrium Universe created by Dan Hollifield
It was a quarter past thirteen and the Galactic Express Passenger Service to Lave was late; very late. It would take two hours for it to dock, unload, refuel and load and the Reorcian named Zelana decided that she would not spend that time sitting in the damp and cold of the Bethdish spaceport. Instead she opted for a visit to a place she had heard a lot about, but had never previously had the chance to visit.
Larrye was serving the quiet end of the bar that night. Business was steady and he was not so busy that he did not notice the feminine alien form approaching him. She wore the kind of dull grey suit that seemed to be the uniform of business and authority employees across the Galaxy. She stepped up to the bar and Larrye noticed that her smooth orange skin glistened slightly with a secretion of mildly fluorescent oil.
"What can I get you?" Larrye asked, making sure to sound polite, just as Max had trained him.
"The Manager," said Zelana, her elongated jaw forming the words clumsily. She did not use a translator. Larrye wondered for a brief second whether this was a drink he hadn't heard of, but then realised. "The Manager of this establishment," Zelana clarified.
"Max," Said Larrye, "you want Max," turning to his boss at the busier end of the bar, "MAX!" He called above the noise.
The Bartender looked around, expecting to see Larrye in the grip of some carnivorous beast or at the end of the weapon of some disgruntled customer, but it was something worse. Though well known for never ignoring his customers, Max suddenly dashed over to the female at the end of the bar, abandoning everyone who had been trying to get served. His worst fears were confirmed, as Max rushed towards the woman he saw the card she was holding up for Larrye to inspect.
Max whipped the ID out of Zelana's hand and checked the name, expiration date and holo-image, inwardly begging that something would invalidate the card, but it was all in order; the Environmental Health and Safety inspector was fully entitled to spend as long as she liked looking at every aspect of the Bar's operation.
EHS inspectors were notoriously thorough and had immense powers, they were feared throughout known space for their diligence. They had powers to suspend trading licences, seize equipment and stock, and even arrest or execute staff. With great resignation, Max walked out from behind the bar.
"Where would you like to start Ms. Zelana?" Zelana stood and took in the scene around her for a moment, noticing the many doorways off to other parts of the Bar. If half of what she'd heard about the Mare were true, she would have plenty to occupy the next hour or so.
"Let's start over there, Mr.?" She queried.
"The main bar, all right." Max waited for the Inspector to lead off.
"What is your name?" She asked again, more directly.
"Max," said Max. "You couldn't pronounce my given name. No one can, so I go by 'Max'. I've been called worse things."
They walked over towards the dance floor, and the machinery that constituted the jukebox. It was playing five 'songs' at once; one audible to humans, a couple in separate humanly inaudible bands and two more in ways that only certain alien species could detect. Zelana stood a measured distance away and took a small device out of her jacket pocket. She watched the different outputs of the jukebox being registered on the display of her detector at numerous distances and spent some minutes examining the readings.
"Everything okay?" Asked Max. Zelana made no comment, but walked over towards one of the tables.
Max took up behind Zelana and wondered how long all this was going to take. This wasn't a full inspection, he knew that much. The Inspector wouldn't be able to see everything and chances were that she would miss the few things that Max knew would get the Mare closed down. Max suddenly remembered something and looked around the bar but couldn't see Chance anywhere.
Zelana stopped at the table and took out the instrument again. The two Miltobians who were enjoying a drink and a chat were interrupted by the hissing and clicking of the multi-sensor sweeping over the table, the drinks and them.
"EHS inspection," explained Max apologetically. The Miltobians stared at the orange woman as she carefully examined everything in the booth. She finally turned to Max.
"Luminance in this area is 0.4 points below minimum lux," she announced sternly. Max immediately signalled to Larrye, now struggling on his own behind the bar, to turn up the lights. The tiny emitters above all the booths changed by the smallest degree.
Zelana continued probing the area while Max waited nervously like a flashing cursor on an old computer screen. Seemingly content with conditions in the area, Zelana turned back to walk towards the main bar. Max allowed himself a smile under the notion that perhaps she had finished her inspection tour, but his elation was premature. Zelana looked at the timepiece on her wrist; still over an hour until the Galactic Express began boarding.
"You have a store room?" Zelana asked; a rhetorical question. Max replied with a rhetorical answer.
"Every bar has a store room."
The pair proceed to a door behind the bar that concealed some steps leading down into the basement. All visual receptors were on the Inspector now, each customer wondering for how much longer they would be permitted to enjoy the hospitality of the Mare Inebrium.
The basement store was as large as the main bar area above. The assorted machinery and pumping equipment took up one whole wall and was as much of a grand spectacle, in its own way, as the bar it served. Huge tanks of liquid sat next to refrigeration units, boilers and hazardous chemical containment canisters. Interconnecting pipes trailed around the floor and into dozens of holes around the room, some leading up to the main bar, some to other bars and some to the Mare's legendary lavatory complex. Noticing this latter arrangement, Zelana looked to Max, her facial expression, though alien, seemed to ask for some sort of explanation.
"Is it my fault that some of my customers produce waste materials that other customers want to buy?" Zelana offered her own opinion.
"An efficient use of resources, well within the regulations" she said, to Max's surprise.
Zelana surveyed the rest of the store room, realising that this should have been her starting point; there just wasn't enough time. Shelves of stock stretched off into darkness in almost every direction. She scanned one corner and worked along a rack of bottles. Some she recognised, some she didn't, but all appeared to conform to the health and safety standards that she had committed to memory in her years as an inspector. The rest of the store room would have to wait for another visit, Zelana realised, and she turned to go back up the stairs.
It was in that one last moment that she happened to notice a small, innocent looking cylindrical object standing on its end apart from the rest of the things in the storeroom. The cylinder looked insignificant next to the large array of machinery in the basement, but something had made her stop and look at it; she did not know why. It was out of place, like a rowboat in a starport. Zelana walked over to it for a closer look.
"That's just my garbage disposal unit," Max told her, eager not to have her look too closely. The unit was just as he had described, but it was more than a simple trash-can. The cylindrical exterior housed a quantum level wormhole that itself contained a quantum level black hole. The result was a 'garbage disposal' system that could contain any amount of material, of any kind, indefinitely and with complete safety. It allowed Max to dump all the hazardous waste that he couldn't sell or recycle without paying the outrageous handling fees demanded by the Bethdish waste commission. Zelana peered cautiously into the hole atop the unit.
There was an odd tutting noise from the alien as she tried to find out what was in the container. She took out her scanner again and centred it on the unit. The scanner showed nothing; very odd; everything had a reading. There was a blankness about the thing. Zelana re-tuned her equipment and probed closer, still nothing. Struggling to think of a regulation that this item violated, Zelana put every output of her sensor to maximum, sure that she would find something wrong here if only she could detect it.
With a sudden surge of energy a powerful but unseen force seemed to shoot from the cylinder and everything went unusually still and quiet. Max tried to speak but founded his voice muffled, as though submerged in hundreds of metres of water. Max knew what was happening and knew they both had to get out. The room started to bend, the walls billowing like sheets left in the wind, and Max could feel his whole body sagging, being pulled towards the garbage disposal unit. He waved frantically at Zelana to move, not knowing if she could even see him. Either way she was on the stairs with Max in seconds. The two escaped just as the basement disappeared in a twisting blackness.
The bar was already being affected as they emerged from the stairway. Strange things were happening. A section of the floor was bending and buckling and the light seemed twisted in odd ways. People near to the effect were moving in slow motion and those caught completely in its grip appeared absolutely still.
"What's happening?" Muttered Kazsh-ak Kazsh-ak Teir, sounding as alarmed as his translator would allow.
"The waste disposal unit's gone wrong and the Universe is collapsing," said Max solemnly. Zelana made an observation.
"Well it doesn't seem to be affecting us." Max smiled at her naivety.
"Those people over there, frozen in time, are probably saying the same thing," he said, "outside of this bar millions of years might have gone by, without us even knowing it." Zelana wondered.
"You mean I've missed by transport?" Max didn't bother to make a sarcastic remark, things had become too serious for that.
The weird twisting of space and time was growing more obvious, several people standing near the bar looked distorted, more so than usual, and the long flat surface of the bar itself wiggled off to infinity. Max picked up an empty glass, placed it on the bar-top and slid it forward towards the other end. It moved away at the customary speed then, after it had moved a metre or two, it slowed and stopped, stretching out as it went until it was nothing more than a coloured blur. Then a couple of seconds later the same glass skidded into view from the other direction, covered in a thick permafrost. Kazsh-ak Teir, Zelana and Max moved a little closer together.
There was an odd kaleidoscope of events panning out before them. At various states of movement Max could see visions of previous events; Adric rushing through the bar, looking for Larrye; a tall, silver, thin-limbed droid holding a large gun; the kilted redhead holding up his bottle of whiskey.
"What's happening?" Zelana asked. Max wondered why everyone was expecting him to have all the answers.
"The black hole must have somehow escaped the wormhole, it's distorting time," Max reasoned.
"Or the wormhole has expanded," offered Kazsh-ak Teir, who knew a little about such things.
"Either way, we have to fix it," suggested Max, though he didn't know how this could be done. Black holes were tricky things to get rid of; anything you did to them was nullified by the event horizon.
Max saw something from the corner of his eye and heard an odd wheezing and groaning noise. When he looked he saw another vision from the past; a blue, square booth, much like an old phone box, with the words 'Police Box -- Public Call' on the upper beam above each side panel. Max couldn't remember the last time he'd seen the box, but it had been a very long time ago, whatever meaning time had. The door of the Police Box opened and the occupant emerged, apparently unaffected by the temporal distortion effects. Perhaps this was a scene from the future, Max wondered.
The man was dressed in a long brown coat with a wide brimmed hat and the strangest and longest multicoloured scarf Max had ever seen. He looked in Max's direction and strode directly towards him.
"Max, my dear friend, how are you?" His accent seemed familiar but the face was not, "you do remember me don't you Max?" The stranger smiled warmly. It was a wide toothy smile that spread itself among the small group. Max did remember,
"Who?" Said Zelana, losing her grip on the situation more and more by the moment.
"I guess you already know what's gone wrong," Max supposed. Why else would he have come? The Doctor looked on at the Bar, its state becoming increasingly unstable.
"Oh yes, it is quite a problem isn't it," The contorted figure of a starship captain drinking a Zombie at the bar formed at his side. "I was just visiting Polios and he asked if I'd drop in here. Said you'd be having a bit of trouble about now. It looks as if he was right."
"The boss knows?" Max said, looking pale.
"My boy, doesn't he always know everything that happens here?"
"If we don't do something we'll be trapped inside this bar forever," muttered Kazsh-ak Teir, unsure whether what he had just described was a problem, "and anyone who comes in will be trapped here," he concluded.
"The Mare Inebrium will become a hazard to shipping and the authorities will have to shut down the entire planet," warned Zelana, her secretions had increased during the last few minutes and she was starting to radiate her own light. The Doctor looked horrified at her suggestion.
"We can't allow that to happen, the Mare Inebrium is too important. It's an anchor point for the time lines," the Doctor extended his arm at the end of which was a brown paper bag of multicoloured and vaguely infant shaped confectionery, "care for a jelly baby?" Max declined. "Besides," the Doctor went on, popping one of the sweets, a green one, into his mouth, "there are so few really good bars in the Galaxy, don't you agree?" The stranger was speaking in between chewing on the jelly baby and had turned to Zelana for this last query. Zelana didn't get the chance to answer. "That instrument, may I look at it a for moment?" He asked the inspector.
Zelana handed him the sensor. The Doctor took a thin silver tool from his pocket and poked it around inside the device.
"Hey, that's government property," protested Zelana, but the Doctor ignored her.
"Ah, I've got it." He suddenly announced. He ignored any questions from the small group surrounding him and walked towards the stairs to the basement, disappearing in a similar fashion to the glass that Max had experimented with earlier. There were several tense minutes of speculation while Kazsh-ak Teir, Max and Zelana debated whether the Doctor had been successful, or had fallen prey to the effects of the black hole, then he reappeared.
The Bar was back the way it was, without anyone having noticed the transition. Max couldn't believe it, according to the wall clock, only a few minutes had passed and Zelana had disappeared. The Police Box remained where it had first appeared. Max glared at Kazsh-ak Teir, but he seemed just as confused.
"What did you do?" Said Max. The Doctor tossed the sensor device in the air.
"I rescheduled the Galactic Express Passenger Service to Lave so that it would arrive on time, your health and safety inspection will have to wait."
"You mean all that never happened," Max was already being bothered by impatient customers, who had been waiting an undeterminable amount of time.
"I won't bore you with the details," the Doctor affirmed, "just remember Max," he continued, opening the door to his home and transport, "from now on you have to take out your own trash."
Copyright 1998 By Mark E. Cotterill
Mark can be reached at: email@example.com
Bio: Mark E. Cotterill lives in England and has written two previous Mare Inebrium
stories and novel called Dry Run, both of which can be found in Aphelion's archive. He
is a regular at #the_writersclub on Dalnet and invites anyone with half a mind to log on
Return to the Aphelion main page.