Author : Jeromy Henry
A spacesuit entered the bar. It wobbled a bit, then reached one white-mittened hand to grab a stool. The cracked, black vinyl of the stool seat spun, making the figure lean over briefly. It finally found its balance, and stiffly swung a leg over and sat down. With the black visor down on the round helmet, the other patrons could not see who– or what– wore the suit.
A tinny voice from the speaker on the chest said, “Dark beer. House.” That kind of flat voice only came from the inner computer unit of a suit like that. From the dangling, broken white machinery on the suit belt and a few busted seams and dirty spots, anyone who looked could tell this spaceman was down on his luck. No one let their suit go like that if they really intended to ship out. In space, a suit meant your life.
A grey-haired man two stools down nodded his head and took a pull from a glass stein. He wore the grimy blue of a mechanic, confirmed by the “Mars City Spaceport” tag on his front pocket and the streaks of black oil on his sleeve. Foam darkened his moustache as he tilted the glass. Barley lubricated his neurons and caused them to fire.
“He can’t talk. Must be a vet, like me,” thought the mechanic. A vein-covered hand thumped the heavy liter mug on the cracked blue plastic of the bar top. “Must wear the suit to hide his injuries,” his dizzy brain reasoned.
In fact, most surfaces of the bar were made of cracked, decaying plastic, the remnants of the ready-made building units brought by the first settlers fifty years before. Despite the garish blue, pink, and green squares, the grease stains and dim light saved the bar from looking like a preschool playroom.
“A round for my friend!” roared the mechanic suddenly, crashing his mug on the bar.
“Thanks, friend,” said the suit.
A waiter in a white apron and black jumpsuit brought two steins of dark, foaming beer and thumped them in front of the suit. A mitten dumped a plastic chit on the table, and slowly reached for a mug. The visor lifted a crack. With a tilt and a slurp, a third of the beer vanished. The waiter snatched the chit almost faster than the eye could follow, and turned away.
“Ah, good,” said the suit’s computer.
Inside, a different set of voices spoke, unheard by the patrons.
“Charles, you’re stepping on my head!” complained one voice.
“We take turns, Roy. It’s your turn to be the left leg!” growled another voice.
Panting broke out in the wet, hot darkness. It sounded like some animal, trying to cool itself on a summer day. Another voice, and then a third joined the panting chorus. Someone slurped, a wet and sloppy sound.
“It’s hot in here,” said a thin, high voice.
“Quit your complaining, Rita. It’s your turn next week,” Charles growled.
“I bet owners wish they’d never made us dogs smarter, and fixed us so we could talk,” said a low, mournful voice from the right leg.
The others chuckled.
The down-on-his luck vet slurped the last of his second beer, then stiffly rose to his feet and staggered to the door. On the way, he clapped the mechanic on one muscled shoulder.
“Next time it’s on me, pal,” said the tinny voice of the suit. “I come here every week, the same time.”