THE DRINKING CONTEST

THE DRINKING CONTEST

By Rene Steen

A Mare Inebrium story

(Mare Inebrium Universe created by Dan Hollifield)

"In vino veritus" (In wine there is truth)



It was more than usually crowded in the Mare Inebrium. The universal timepiece above the main bar told me it was half past late on Ninth Day as somewhere at the rear of the bar room an Orion Octet began playing. I glanced over in that direction. An Orion Octet is aptly named, for the creatures resemble giant blue squid albeit they have six multifaceted eyes encircling their faces. A giant D'rrish swayed drunkenly in time to the psychoactive music, one claw grasping a large container that sported a bright black and yellow radiation symbol on its side. Every now and then the D'rrish sucked happily at a straw-like protuberance poking up from the lid, supping at the mildly radioactive brew inside.

Max, the inimitable barman, scowled from his position behind the bar as he watched the thirty-foot long scorpion gyrate clumsily, skirting dangerously close to a group of JalDraans seated at a table nearby. Their chicken-like heads bobbed nervously as the bulky D'rrish passed by.

A raucous voice cut through the general hubbub distracting me from the D'rrish's antics. I turned in the direction of that sound and saw a Pyrynian, one arm in the air, haranguing a mixed gaggle of creatures sitting around a table. He stood nearly nine feet tall and his prehensile nose wagged excitedly as he delivered his boast.

'I wager that I can match any species in this bar, drink whatever they are drinking, and drink them under the table.'

The small Venusian seated nearby hissed his reptilian laugh, his two-foot long tongue slithering out from between razor sharp teeth. He picked up a dark bottle from near his elbow and poured a smoking liquid into a plastic beaker before handing it to the boastful Pyrynian.

'What will you wager, long nose?' he hissed as he refilled his own glass from the bottle.

'What are you drinking?' queried the Pyrynian turning the beaker slowly around in his three-fingered hand as he gazed into the cloudy liquid.

'Baal Nishta. An ammonium wine from my home world, Venus.'

The Pyrynian tested the bouquet, sneaking his trunk-like nose over the rim to sniff at the contents. He winced, retracting his proboscis hastily and I thought I saw a tear well up in his eye.

'A hundred solar credits.' he announced.

'Done!' called the Venusian. The two clashed their beakers together and drained the contents in a gulp. Both banged the empty beakers down onto the plastic tabletop where a satyr-like being seated next to the Venusian replenished them from the smoking flask. Again the two saluted each other and emptied their glasses.

I turned my attention back to the dais where the Orion Octet played their weird mind bending music. The D'rrish had stopped dancing and now squatted near the bar still sucking at his radioactive brew. He appeared deep in conversation with Max. I reached for my bottle and took a long pull directly from the neck, enjoying the cool flood as the liquid trickled down my throat. Now several bird-like creatures were on the dance floor and their colourful plumage dazzled me as they bobbed and whirled to the music.

A loud cheer from the table nearby distracted me and I turned to see the Venusian slither down in his chair to land in a heap beneath the table. The Pyrynian held his four arms high above his head in a victory salute, one hand clutching the smoking flask as he turned to look at each member of his audience in turn.

'Who's next?' he bellowed. A lumbering creature, all legs and eyestalks fixed its multiple gaze upon the Pyrynian. Before him stood a large bucket of dark green slop that looked like bile. The lumpy creature's translator buzzed slightly as it projected its words.

'I have two hundred solar credits that says you cannot drink this bucket dry without falling deeply unconscious.'

The Pyrynian slammed the dark bottle onto the table. He laughed loudly, an odd trumpeting sound that came out in bursts, and slapped the challenger on one of his many humps.

'You are on, ZP11. Watch a master at work.' And with that he picked the bucket up and began to chug-a-lug the contents, lifting the bucket slowly as the level fell. A minute or two later he hurled the empty bucket onto the floor making such a racket that both Max and one of the barmaids, Blanche, fixed their disapproving stares on him.

I have to admit I was beginning to admire the large alien's ability to drink like a sponge. He was not even swaying after drinking the two concoctions and now he was approaching another potential punter.

My own drink was severely depleted at this point, so I stuck my credit wand into the table socket and touched an image on the screen set into the tabletop. Max nodded at me from behind the bar, situated across the other side of the huge room, and reached into the drink cabinet. He extracted a new bottle and placed it onto the teleport pad, pressed the button and zap! It appeared on my table. A faint chime reminded me to remove my credit wand.

Twisting off the cap I took a sip of the cold liquid revelling in the pleasant sensation of dancing bubbles on my tongue. My attention wandered once more to the loud alien who continued his drinking challenge. I couldn't believe my eyes when he approached the D'rrish and, after a short conversation that I was not able to overhear, took the large container from his pincer and sucked energetically on the straw. It had been my understanding, up until now, that only D'rrish can stomach the poisonous and radioactive goop which is their favoured tipple but here was a Pyrynian happily imbibing and showing no ill effects.

It must have tasted terrible to him though for I saw him purchase four zombie cocktails from Max and, holding one in each hand, down them one after another. Now, I don't know if you've ever tried a zombie cocktail but suffice to say they are not misnamed. Usually four of them are enough to knock any creature unconscious but the Pyrynian slammed the empties down and wandered off looking for another victim.

I sort of lost interest in the Pyrynian's pursuit for fame at that stage. Touching one of the icons on the table's screen I managed to dial up the latest Bethdish newscast and soon became absorbed in the footage they showed of the war against the Slith way out in Pisces Sector. So absorbed was I in the intricate ducking and weaving of our Viper fighters as they engaged the enemy's dreadnoughts that I didn't hear the Pyrynian approach.

'What about it Earthman?'

Startled somewhat, I looked up at the hulking figure towering over me. I am a smidgen over six foot tall myself, so I am no dwarf but this worthy was nine foot tall so I was forced not only to look up at him, but also squint to see his face.

'What about what?' I managed to say.

'I've noticed your interest in my little wager. How about a challenge? I will drink you under the table by drinking whatever you are drinking.' He gestured at the bottle in front of me with one of his four hands. 'Say for two hundred solar credits?'

I dropped my gaze to the bottle. Droplets of dew ran down the side of the glass indicating it was still cold. The level of the liquid inside had only dropped about an inch so there was plenty left.

'Well, is it a bet, or are all Earthmen chicken?'

I winced at the expression coming from the mouth of an alien and I wondered where he had picked it up. Still, I could use two hundred solar credits.

'You sure you want to drink that?' I asked pointing at my bottle.

'I have laid the challenge. I will drink what you drink and drink you under the table.'

I shrugged. My credit wand slid into the hole and my finger poked the appropriate icon. Again, Max took a bottle from the cabinet and teleported it over to my table. Silently I twisted off the cap and handed the frigid bottle over to the Pyrynian. Slowly I picked up my bottle, all the while looking him in the eyes, and touched the neck to my lips. Then, with a flick of my wrist, I tipped it up pouring the cold, fizzy liquid down my throat.

In Australia, where I come from, we call this "sculling". It takes a little practice but once you master it, you can actually pour the drink down your throat without swallowing and that is just what I did. I felt the gasses expanding in my stomach, thousands of tiny bubbles building up pressure. I slammed the empty bottle onto the tabletop and released a loud, resonating belch that attracted approving stares from several patrons. The Pyrynian nodded his head in respect and up-ended his own bottle, downing it almost as quickly. He, too, slammed the empty bottle onto the table.

Once more I touched the appropriate icon and heard the chime as my credit wand was debited. Max obligingly placed two more bottles onto the teleport pad and instantly they appeared on my table. I handed one to my new friend after twisting off the top and helped myself to the other. Again I sculled the drink in mere seconds and again I released a loud, reverberating belch.

The Pyrynian lifted his drink to his lips. I watched silently, noticing that his hand trembled. Was he swaying slightly? I wasn't sure. Again he sculled his bottle though not as quickly as he had the first one. This time as he set the empty one down he knocked it over and it fell, shattering on the floor. I noticed his eyes were glazing as I dialled for two more. Now my companion swayed perceivably in the chair and his eyes were rolling. I saw he was obviously intoxicated and that he held onto the table with three of his four hands.

Twisting the tops off the new bottles, I handed him one and motioned for him to begin. Somehow he mustered himself and the bottle was raised to his lips with a hand that barely shook. I lifted mine and began to drink from it as well. I saw that the Pyrynian was already halfway through his bottle. He tipped it up higher to increase the flow, head thrown back, his body swaying badly. Suddenly he toppled over backward, chair and all, landing on the floor with a crash that shook the bar room.

I lowered my drink while craning my neck to see over the table. He lay on the floor; face up, flat on his back with the bottle still glued to his mouth. My drinking pal was unconscious while liquid from the bottle gushed from the side of his mouth causing a puddle on the floor.

Blanche hurried over to my table and dropped her ample frame into a spare chair, puffing slightly with the exertion. She shook her head slowly as she looked down at the comatose Pyrynian and her tongue clicked with disapproval.

'What a spectacle.' She remarked indicating the fallen hulk on the floor with a jerk of her head. As I lifted the bottle to my mouth she pointed at it and asked, 'What the hell is that stuff you're drinking, anyway?'

I took a long pull at the cold, bubbly liquid before taking the bottle away from my mouth. Holding it at arm's length I focused my eyes and read from the label.

'It's sparkling mineral water.' I replied, smacking my lips.



THE END


Copyright Rene Steen 1998

About the Author in his own words: "My name is Rene Steen. I am a 46 year old man living in Port Lincoln, in South Australia. My interests include writing stories, fishing and scuba diving. I am a police sergeant and have been on the force for 27 years this year. I have two children, now both adults, named Jason and Melissa who both work and live in Adelaide, South Australia. I would welcome any email from readers wishing to discuss my stories or writing in general."

You can e-mail Rene at: renest@terra.net.au


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