Author : Bob Newbell, Featured Writer

The man wearing Victorian garb with what appeared to be brass welding goggles pushed up on his forehead walked into the bar. The look of confusion on his face had little to do with the bizarre menagerie that comprised the establishment’s clientele. The bartender smiled and nodded at him and gestured to a barstool.

“What’s your pleasure, sir?” asked the portly barkeep.

“Uh, brandy, I suppose,” the man said.

The bartender produced the drink for his customer.

“I say,” said the man, “this will probably sound a bit odd, but–”

“You have no idea who you are or how you got here.”

Astounded, the man replied, “That’s right!”

The bartender looked the man up and down. “You’re a steampunk,” he said at last.

“I beg your pardon.”

“Airships and Babbage analytical engines and lots of gears and London in the late 1800s. Sound familiar?”

The man gulped down his brandy and said, “Yes! That’s it exactly! That’s where I’m from. But how did you know? And why can’t I recall who I am?”

The bartender leaned on the counter and said, “You’re nobody. Nobody in particular, that is.” He poured the man another drink. “You’re what I call an ‘archetype’. They’re all archetypes here.”

“I don’t understand,” the man said.

“Take that fellow sitting in the corner, for instance. The guy in the form-fitting spacesuit with the raygun in his holster. Back in the ’30s and ’40s he’d drop by for a drink on a rare occasion. By the early ’60s he was coming in all the time. Now, he’s a fixture. Almost never leaves. He had his time in the media and the pop culture and the collective consciousness. But that time passed. So now he’s here.”

The man was about to speak when a fellow clad entirely in black leather and wearing mirrored sunglasses walked into the bar. The newcomer’s left arm was a robotic prosthesis. He silently walked up to the bar, was handed a beer, and then went to a table and sat down alone.

“Cyberpunk,” the bartender said. “Close relative of yours. Since the 1990s, he’s become pretty much a fixture here, too.”

“Who are you and what the devil is this place?” the steampunk asked loudly.

“Those are very difficult questions to answer. This bar doesn’t exist in any material sense. Neither do you. Think of this establishment as a sort of resting place for the paradigms of speculative fiction. An idea is created in science fiction or fantasy. Maybe that idea flourishes. It ascends through the subculture, perhaps breaks through into the mainstream culture. But then its popularity wanes. People become uninterested and start to forget about it. It never vanishes entirely, of course. There will almost always be some minuscule following. Even if there isn’t, the themes and tropes still exist, entombed in a faded pulp or hibernating in an old VHS tape. And it may even become popular again someday. But until such a day comes, these specimens of speculation get reduced and distilled down to prime examples, to archetypes, and they inevitably end up here.”

The steampunk stood up and backed away from the bar. “You’re barmy! I’m not some archetype! I’m a person!” He turned and ran out of the bar.

The bartender wiped the counter down with a rag. “They all say that when their time is almost up and the culture is ready to move on to something else,” he said to no one in particular. He looked at the steampunk’s half-finished second brandy. He sighed. “Yep, he’ll be a fixture soon, too.”

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