Mare Tranquillitatis

Mare Tranquillitatis

By Mark E. Cotterill

A Mare Inebrium Story

Mare Inebrium Universe created by Dan Hollifield

One of the barman in the Mare Inebrium was a telepath. It was a skill that was invariably a most useful one for a barman to have; Cade knew exactly what you wanted before you had ordered it. It did, however, create almost as many problems as it solved. For one thing, none of the creatures that waited the tables would work with him, on principal. They believed that they should be there to take the orders from the customers and deliver them to the bar, not the reverse. So Max had a clear choice, he had to either issue Cade with his termination papers or hire a robot to work with him. Max hated paperwork more than he hated robots, so Cade stayed and Max started looking for a mechanoid.

He had found Boolia, an antique multi-purpose unit, giving electric shocks to anyone who wanted them in the seedier part of Bethdish Spaceport. Disregarding any questions as to what he had been doing in the seedier part of Bethdish Spaceport, Max brought the robot back to the bar and started cleaning it up. It had the outward appearance of a female humanoid and was, beneath the many lairs of dirt and grease, plated with a lustring chrome.

It was efficient, could never complain, wouldn't need nights off and, being an adaptive robot, learned at an amazing rate, negating the need for the extensive staff training that most newcomers to the bar required. Boolia's main advantage though was that she was quiet, which meant that she was welcomed by all the regulars to the Mortuary, who had always found the repetitive breathing of the other waiters and waitresses something of a nuisance. That was the whole point of the Mortuary side-bar, it was quiet, or, as the promotional brochure that had once briefly been published put it, 'As quiet as the grave, for those who value their silence'. But it seemed that this favourable situation was not to continue.

I had been called to the Mare Inebrium on an emergency repair; a scouting party of Borg had hit the gaming hall and had immediately been attracted by the cube-like objects on the craps table. Some confusion had arisen when the dealer running the table had had trouble determining which Borg had placed which bet; two of six betting on four, three of six betting on double three and one of six betting on a seven-before three and four before seven combination not being the easiest sequence to remember. A disagreement had arisen, which had resulted in a fight, which had resulted in one of the Borg trying to assimilate a slot machine. Max had closed the gaming hall and called for me.

It didn't take me long to sort out the mess, I hadn't had much experience of the Borg but I could field strip a four-reel, lever operated in three minutes. Unfortunately the machine's control chip had already been integrated into the Borg collective, but I figured that a Borg with a 'Hold' button wasn't such a bad idea. So when I'd finished Max asked me if I wouldn't mind taking a look at this new robot, which had been acting strangely for the last few days.

"Robotics isn't really my field," I insisted, not convincingly enough to put him off, but with sufficient persuasion to allow me to increase the size of my fee.

"You sorted out the Borg," said Max, marching me towards the passageway that connected the Mortuary to the main bar.

"The Borg aren't so bad if you know where their battery terminals are," I said, as we passed by the slab of carbonite with the body of a man suspended in it hanging on the wall.

When we arrived we were greeted by a woeful scene. Cade was standing over the prone robot and muttering, he looked as though he was trying to remember whether he'd left the iron on. The band, which the Bethdish Musicians Union rules dictated must be present in any drinking establishment on a ratio of at least one per bar area, was a fine group of some of the most famous dead musicians, which was in-keeping with the ambience and the noise level of the room. As we walked in they were playing 'Not Stompin' at the Savoy', a particular favourite of mine, but I wasn't here to enjoy myself. I set down my toolcase and tried to find the panel that every robot seemed to always have in its back.

I had the casing off in no time and peered into the ancient circuitry and mechanisms inside.

"Ah, I see the problem," I said, poking a sonic-screwdriver into the robot, "the phase ratio transformer lock's been reset."

"Yes, I thought it might be something like that," said Max with poorly concealed ignorance.

"Shhh!" said one of the customers. I put the switches inside back into their correct position and turned Boolia back on. She rose unsteadily and started towards the, now vacant, table that she'd obviously been heading towards some minutes before. "She seems to be working okay now," said Max, turning back to the exit.

"Be quiet!" said an impatient patron, trying to listen to the silent band. I reminded Max about the ocean of free drinks that he owed me and was just about to fill in my service report card when, hearing a scream, we both turned around.

This time it seemed it was Cade's turn to lie on the floor. We rushed over to see if he was alright. He was old cold. The band went into their rendition of 'Don't Take the A-Train'.

"Before you ask, no, I can't fix him," I said. Max looked around to see if the assailant was within arms reach, but then realised that there was no one who could have attacked the Barman.

"Something's going on here?" Max sounded puzzled.

"He's passed out," I said, "have you been serving your staff with D'rrish cuisine again?"

"Not this time, this is serious," said Max.

"Please, this room is supposed to be silent," protested another of the customers.

I suddenly realised something,

"This wouldn't be an adaptive robot would it Max?" I asked, already half knowing the answer.

"You said you didn't know anything about robots," Max replied.

"No, but I've set up enough sound systems to know feedback when I see it."

"Feedback?" Max, as was usual, clearly had no idea of what I was talking about. I walked over to the robot.

"Psychic feedback, it can be quite hazardous," I said, turning the automaton off again. Cade, the psychic barman, murmured and started to regain consciousness. "As an adaptive robot in a new environment, Boolia has learned everything since she's been here, including Cade's ability read minds." Max looked back at the robot.

"A robot with a sixth sense?" Max didn't look completely convinced.

"Sure, why not, it's got the other five."

"So what's with the feedback?" asked Max, as Cade rose to his feet unsteadily.

"Cade, on a sub-conscious level, was reading everyone else's mind, including the robot's, and the robot was reading everyone's mind including Cade's," I explained.

"So they were both reading each other's minds," said Max.

"Both at the same instant." A look of realisation was visible on Max's face.

"If you don't shut up I'll call the manager," another customer threatened.

"Resulting in a shut down, in both cases," I finished.

"A psychic robot, feedback," said Cade, eying the robot suspiciously, "it all sounds rather implausible to me, impossible even," he took on a mocking tone. Max laughed.

"You'll quickly learn," he said, "that at the Mare Inebrium the impossible is a regular occurrence."

"So what do we do now?" I said, wondering if I really had done Max a favour after all. Max considered for a moment.

"Well," he said, "we need someone to work the bar." I didn't see where this was headed. "Someone, something, without a mind," he added. I considered all the people I knew that fit the description.

"Well, are you thinking of anyone in particular?" I asked. Max looked as though he did.

"You still got that Borg hanging around somewhere?"

Copyright 1998 By Mark E. Cotterill

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