Zorgeous nursed a virgin cocktail between his claws, a Sagittarian Snap. He stirred the ice cubes with his left antler and they bounced gingerly on the surface of the syrupy mixture. He didn’t expect to see too many people at the Quasar Bar on a Monday and that’s why Marley had sent him. They were having no luck stabilising the Fooolzian Trawler in Marley’s quarters. A change of scene would do them good.
Many things had been conceived in bars: hit songs, era-defining inventions, religions. The Quasar Bar, with its angular ceiling and concave walls, gave the impression of being bigger than it was. It could comfortably fit about thirty persons, fifty rowdy persons, or five million Sentient Snails.
At the moment there were three: Zorgeous, the bartender, and a Sentient Snail trying to initiate conversation with the bartender.
Garibaldi turned to Zorgeous. “I can’t understand why these slugs are a protected species. I can’t see how they are different from regular snails. Just as slimy. Look at the trail on my bar!”
Zorgeous placed a claw on Garibaldi’s forearm. “All life is sentient. Sluggish and non-sluggish.”
The snail raised itself towards Garibaldi. It pointed at a flask of low-grade tequila on the bottom shelf. Garibaldi reluctantly poured a shot and slammed it down. The snail crawled up the side, curled and sniffed at the spirit. It toppled over into the shot glass, writhing around in bliss.
Then it stopped moving. It had either passed out or was dead. Garibaldi made no distinction. He poured some of the clear mixture into four shot-glasses and returned the remainder to the shelf.
Little did he know he had created one of the best tequilas ever in the Outer-Rim.
Zorgeous would normally have protested against this sort of behaviour. According to the League of Worlds, Article 56 of the Charter for the Protection of Life and Pseudolife, Garibaldi had just committed slugslaughter. Article 56 said it was an offence to harm anything listed in the Second Schedule, which included all life forms that were possibly sentient, or may one day become so. The Sentient Snail was possibly sentient. It created slimy trails that looked like writing. Its genetic sequence was unique among species in this quadrant of the galaxy. And Garibaldi had just used one to create high-end tequila.
“Yeah, what?” Garibaldi glared at Zorgeous.
Zorgeous wiggled his antlers in a tut-tutting sort of gesture.
Soon he would have to go back and rub skin with his own species. He had business to take care of. He should go back unseen, and avoid the capital, Goramus.
A slap on the back gruffly roused him from his daydream.
“No one here, just as I thought!”
“Master Marley,” said Zorgeous slowly.
“Call me Chuck.”
Within seconds Garibaldi poured him a Strangbrew, Marley’s favourite medicine.
“Make the next a supersonic gin and tonic.” Marley was feeling classy. Soon, like James Pond, he would be pulling the ladies like the moon pulls the tides.
Garibaldi harrumphed. “Heard you’re making a souped-up station-wagon.”
“You mean spacecraft? I’m not making one.”
“We have one.” Gaston Dimble strode in, as confident as he’d ever been. He shoved a printout under the nose of Garibaldi.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Marley said into his sleeve.
“You won’t be able to dupe anyone with that thing.”
Marley bristled. “We’re going to trade all sorts of commodities. Vegetables, fungi, spices,” Marley took a sniff of the snail tequila on the bar. “And alcohol.”
“And rare manuscripts,” said Gaston.
Marley jabbed the academic in the ribs.
Garibaldi snorted. “And I suppose it juices on alcohol.” He drunk one of the tequilas. Rules prohibited bartenders drinking, but they were rarely followed.
Marley shook his head, then changed his mind, transforming the shake into a nod. “As a matter of fact, it does fly on alcohol. Strictly as a backup measure.”
Garibaldi chortled. He wheezed and doubled over. He recovered with difficulty. “If that thing flies on alcohol then I will give you every single spirit I’ve got.” He drank another tequila, really appreciating it this time.
“I’ll hold you to that,” Marley snapped. He made fast work of the supersonic gin and tonic; so fast, in fact, that he finished it before Garibaldi had added the tonic.
He turned to the fermenting snail drink and gave it another smell.
“Be my guest,” said Garibaldi. He wanted to test the new drink on his customers. Was it really that good?
“Superb,” said Marley.
“May I?” said Zorgeous.
“I thought you were ethically against this drink?” Garibaldi started at Zorgeous.
“The snail is dead.”
Marley raised an eyebrow.
Zorgeous took a tentative sip. After a few seconds silence, he raised his front hoof in firm approval.
“There’s not much more where that came from,” Garibaldi said sternly. “But I do have an oversupply of Sagittarian Snap syrup. Heard they’re having supply issues on Luhman B. Take that, and bring me back some snails.”
“First we need to steady the ship,” said Marley. He showed Garibaldi a visual of the Fooolzian Trawler flipping in its bay.
“For starters,” said Garibaldi, “It’s too short.” He fetched a bottle from the shelf and began tossing it, flipping it and catching it on the neck. “Easy.” He placed it on the bar.
Gaston grabbed the bottle, tossed it, fumbled it and it landed on Marley’s foot.
“Ow!” He handed it back to Garibaldi.
“But if I take a longer bottle,” Garibaldi fetched a collector’s edition of Reticulum Rum. It was a metre in length. “I can’t flip it at all.”
“So what we need is another cargo module,” said Marley.
“That would help.” Garibaldi returned the bottles to the shelf. “But first you need to stop it rotating if you want to attach something else.”
The doors to the bar slid open.
“Have no fear Insomniac is here.”
“Where have you been Fluton, we’ve been waiting for you for hours.”
“But we’ve only been here ten minutes,” said Gaston.
Marley glared at him.
“I was having a snooze,” said Fluton.
“That’s news. How did it go?
“I lay wide awake for five minutes.”
“I woke up.”
Everyone looked at Fluton.
“I brought the Chitter as you said.” He retrieved the Chitter from a leather bag. It was sleeping, or shut-down, however you might call a non-active machine-animal. “And from the pet shop I bought some of Sam’s Lightly Salted Silicon Chips, go figure. Not for human consumption, perfect for android puppies.” Fluton placed the Chitter on the bar. Garibaldi prodded it with a finger. It stirred slightly and opened an eye.
It leapt off the bar and ran around the room, skidding under tables and leaping over stools. “Whoa,” said Fluton. He opened a pack of Sam’s and the Chitter began obediently eating out of his hand.
Gaston sighed. “Looks like I’ve lost a friend.”
“You can have him,” said Marley, “If you solve our damn rotating ship problem.”
Garibaldi grabbed the flashkey from Marley, inserted it into the bar and retrieved a remote. The tumbling Fooolzian Trawler displayed on all the screens.
The Chitter ran from screen to screen, leaping under each one.
The onlookers in the bar watched with bewilderment.
Garibaldi leaned across the bar. “It wants to join the circus.”
“Good girl,” said Fluton. He gave the Chitter another chip.
“Girl?” everyone else said simultaneously.
“How do you know?” asked Marley.
“Easy, I looked.”
Gaston couldn’t suppress a chuckle.
Marley wasn’t sure whether Fluton was a genius or a pervert.
“Now go jump again.”
The Chitter jumped before every screen.
Garibaldi took the small bottle and gave it another toss. “It’s flipping.”
“Flipping mad,” said Marley.
“It’s flipping the same way the ship is spinning.” Gaston looked proud of himself.
“Precisely,” said Fluton.
Marley scratched his chin. “Could the answer to our flipping craft rotation problem be right here?”
“Yep. The Chitter has the answer.”
“Then let’s plug it in.” Marley laughed, and laughed some more. Everyone in the bar laughed with him, until the laughing slowly faded and was replaced by semi-serious looks.
“I keep these for the most serious cocktails.” Garibaldi took out six wireless sensors. “The most ambitious cocktails, like the Wall Street Plague, require temperature, pressure and viscosity precisely calibrated.”
“Viscosity, trying saying that when you’re drunk.”
Garibaldi ignored Fluton. “They can tell the difference, those guys. You don’t wanna mess with them. You get their cocktail wrong…” Garibaldi made a throat-slitting gesture.
“Tycoons,” said Fluton. “Alright give me those patches.”
Insomniac Fluton carefully applied the sensors to the Chitter, making sure they were all spaced evenly, lengthwise and vertically.
“Professor Dimble, you know Chitterling. Tell it that we’re going to give it a math problem.”
Gaston made a series of grunts and snorts, then wiggled his hips from side to side.
“That’s it? Alrighty.” Fluton grabbed the sensor control box and entered the rotational data of the ship.
The Chitter glowed slightly. It jumped and pirouetted in the same rate and fashion as the ship.
“Now…stop!” Fluton pushed a button and the Chitter stopped twisting in mid-air. “We now have the thrust settings to stabilise the ship.”
Marley looked at the control box readout. He showed Garibaldi the readout and leant over the small terminal behind the counter of the bar. He punched in the thrust vector settings. The three engines on the ship burst very faintly. The craft almost stopped spinning.
Everyone in the bar applauded.
“The only way we can completely stabilise it,” said Marley, “is to attach more cargo.”
“But will you have enough thrust to haul it? If I’m going to send spirits to Luhman B, I need to know if my stuff will get there.”