“So you see,” Bigsby slurred, “So you see, that’s why we’re better than you.”

“No,” Jack replied, “I don’t see at all.”

“Okay. Okay. I’ll explain it again. It’s like this. The beer, see–” He held up his own glass for demonstration. “The beer is the Earthmen. And these pretzels, well, the pretzels and the wings and the soda, those are all the colonies.”

“So the colonies are the substantial portion of the menu.”

“But the beer is why people come to the bar. Ya gotta have the beer to spice it up a bit.”

“But that’s why people eat the pretzels,” Jack pointed out blandly. “Because they don’t want to feel the effects of the alcohol. Most of the colonies have outlawed beer entirely,” he pointed out, sipping his own Coke in quiet superiority. He hoped immigration would be next on the list.

“But that’s my point! That’s exactly my point.” Bigsby leaned forward, his watery eyes sparkling. “Back here on Earth, why do people drink alcohol?”

“Because they don’t know any better and they don’t want to change.”

“Wrong. That’s not it at all. They do it because they want change. Thank you,” Bigsby added to the bartender, who had just refilled his glass.

“Now you’ve lost me.”

“It’s true. Listen. Why do frat boys drink beer at parties?”

“What do you do for a living?” Jack cut in. He regarded Bigsby like some kind of rare bug specimen.

“I’m an out of work politician.”

Jack sighed. That meant he wouldn’t get out of this without hearing the whole lecture. At least it would make a great scathing editorial when he got back to Mars. “All right, go on. Why do frat boys drink beer at parties? Aside from the obvious answers of immaturity and poor upbringing.”

“Forget the frat boys, then. Why does anyone drink alcohol? Why does a perfectly sane, well-kempt, mature Earthman go out for a pint with his mates? Because he wants things to change. He wants to push the boundaries, wants to test the limits of himself. He wants to put himself in an abnormal situation and see if he gets an abnormal response. In short, he wants stimulus, and that’s something the colonies are never going to have.” Bigsby gestured widely with his glass, sloshing a respectable amount of beer onto the bar. “What’s the last innovation the colonies have come up with? The latest invention? Have there been any?”

Jack glowered at the increasingly annoying Earthman. “You can’t possibly be saying that an era of peace, prosperity, and enlightenment is a bad thing. Our laws are the best in the universe. They promote the way of life that we want to live.”

“Conflict is a catalyst,” Bigsby replied, eyes widening in an attempt to look wise. Jack remembered it as a catch phrase on the cover of the latest USA Today.

“Don’t go looking for work on Mars,” he told Bigsby shortly, setting the money for his drink on the bar.

“Stay on Earth a while,” Bigsby called after him from the barstool. “I’ll take you out. We’ll go watch pro wrestling!”

Jack was already writing the editorial in his head.

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