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by Bill Brennan
My name is Adlerr, I own the joint. I'm there, behind the bar, the balding tall guy with the white beard. You can't miss me. Like I said, tonight was a packed house. It was only me and the two waitresses - Asia Rose and Ruth. The two worked for me for free, interning for school. Now that we knew that we weren't the only race in the galaxy, there was a big call for Xenobiologists and such. Both Asia Rose and Ruth were comfortable with ET's, and I liked not having to pay the staff. Plus, I had the hots for Asia. She was a beautiful young woman, and would make some lucky man a great wife one day...
My musings were interrupted by the soft hooting of a Resht. The squat little blob of a semi-lizard pressed his "thumb" to the ident-plate, indicating what he wanted, and the cost was deducted from his Earth account. Ugh, it smelled, whatever it was. But I added the indicated amounts in the correct proportions, and it hooted again, gave me a nice tip, and waddled away.
I must have gotten it right. And another customer, a human, ordered a vodka. Asia Rose and Ruth were busy as well. Ruth was serving sparkers to a table full of Chirps, and the made happy "sssssssss" sounds as they touched fingers to the battery terminals, getting a buzz from the small current that passed through them. Asia Rose was coming back from giving a huge plate of raw meat to two Kzinti ... and then she stopped and stared. That wasn't like her, and I turned to see who she was staring at.
He was a Transylvanian, that much was obvious by the build and the uniform: thin frame with high-gravity muscles stretched over the skeleton. He looked thin, almost frail, but the dense muscles made him more than a match for most humans his height. And the uniform: Transylvanian Military. An Officer. you could tell by the glossy black anti-gravity wings, the gold tunic/skirt, the boots, the stockings and garter belt, and the Lightning Bolt insignia worn on the chest. The crest of hair swept up over his balding head was quite fashionable.
Now, Transylvanians are the life of the party. Everyone knows that. Even the most lowly Tranny likes his wine and his music and his dancing and his sex, in any order and any kind. Get a Transylvanian in a bar and forget it - he or she will Time Warp the night away. But not this one. He sat bent over, alone, quiet ... almost sad.
"He looks sad," said Asia Rose. That was something she would say, having just a bit more empathy with ET's that even I did. "So? That's his problem, mine's making money," I snarled, because I knew what was coming next. And I needed Asia on the floor, serving drinks, and NOT playing psychotherapist to a depressed Transylvanian. "Please let me talk to him, Lou? Just for a second?" she smiled and gave me her "big sad eye's" look. "Puuuuuul-eeeeeezzeee?" she begged. "Just for a minute. Let's go." The man had his eyes closed, deep in thought. He drank a gulp of his wine and placed the glass down. He never opened his eyes. "How about one on the house, friend," I said, and poured a bottle from behind the counter. I made the customary sign of respect by spilling a bit of the wine on the table in front of him, and throwing a napkin at him as if it were a frisbee. He flickered a smile and nodded, pleased that at least one or two humans took the time to learn the customs of their customers.
"Are you okay?" asked Asia, tipping her head to get a look at his eyes. His face was pale, his eyes sunken, almost like a deaths-head. A perfectly healthy specimen of his people.
"Let's not talk. Let's drink. This is my Last day," he said in a high, reedy voice. He gulped half the glass I gave him. "Last day?" Asia asked. "For what?" "For anything. I am Fulthulmungth. Tell me, why do humans no longer fight wars?" "My translator didn't catch that," said Asia, "what's 'Fulthulmungth'? she asked, trying to say the word correctly. The man smiled wide, took in a breath, and said,
"When humans go broke they have bankruptcy laws, you call it "filing a chapter eleven" I believe. My people have no such laws. Fulthulmungth is an obligation. When a person borrows a large sum of money and then cannot pay it back, he is required to be fulthulmungth - to "pay-back-the-debt-no-matter-what, unwilling-but-obligated." I have borrowed much, and cannot pay it back. Me and my sister, we are fulthulmungth. When we get home we will be spilled into the organ banks, and we will both wake up one bit at a time, in several different people. Thus our obligation will be fulfilled. So I drink. My Last Day." He gulped the wine and slammed the glass down, breaking it, and stared right into Asia's eyes.
"WHY DO YOU NOT FIGHT WARS!?!" he screamed, and heads turned even with the sound dampeners. His face turned bright red, and his temples throbbed.
"Why don't you tell us why you want to know. Im Lou, this is Asia. Have another glass," I said and cleaned up the broken glass and spilled wine. The man was angry, and drunk, and he WAS an officer, which meant that the three-pronged anti-matter laser at his side would be functional, and not just for show.
"Riffraff," he said, and I took that as his name. He calmed down, and explained. "I was a part of the first group of people to land on your planet, almost a hundred years ago," he said.
"You don't look that old," said Asia, in all seriousness. "Time dilation. We warp time, travel from one era to another, so you see I'm not as old as that," he said and grinned. "Anyway, when we arrived on your world in the "late 40's" we were amazed at what we saw - a whole globe at war! Country against country, continent against continent! Planes shot at each other in the skies, great ocean ships blasted each other and the submarines that hunted them, men of all colors and uniforms raged and fought and died in hand-to-hand combat all across the face of your planet! It was ... magnificent!"
Asia snorted, and I kicked her under the bar. Not polite to judge other species and all that. "We filmed it all, of course. World War One and Two were great best-sellers with my people. When I actually landed I was with a team that work on something called the "Rocky project." You humans would certainly wipe yourselves out, we thought, and that would put an end to our holo sales. So we toyed with the idea of making a creation, a superman that would be able to defy all manner of peril and physical trauma. The idea was to let our "Rockys" out to mix in your gene pool, make a better strain of human," he said. "So we could perform for you in your little "floorshow!" accused Asia. "I bet your camera crew flew around in flying saucer shaped ships, didn't they?" "Yes, that is exactly correct," said Riffraff. He didn't seem to notice her fury. Or mine.
"So what happened?" I asked. "Things went well. We stayed a while. There didn't seem to be any World War Three coming up. There was Vietnam, Cambodia, minor altercations between your Russians and your Chinese, a few small wars here in there in Africa and the Middle East, but nothing that would be a blockbuster. We assumed that you fought in cycles, and needed time to repopulate your warriors. So we landed, made contact, and with us came the Chirps, the Kzin, Grogs, Filk, Resht, and all the other races. We gave you access to the galaxy, riches and wealth, and how do you replay us? YOU NO LONGER FIGHT WARS! NOW TELL ME WHY!" he demanded. "Well," said Asia, " we would have been embarrassed." Riffraff was stunned. His eyes bulged. "Explain," he said in a soft, calm, silky voice. "We are the 'new kids on the block'. We didn't want to appear to be savages in front of our new galactic neighbors," she explained. "Plus, we didn't need to fight. The whole planet made a fortune on tourism and trade, so no one was poor. With the agricultural and medical science advancements the Chirps sell us, and the longevity drugs we buy from the Gligs, we all have more life to worry about. We don't NEED to fight anymore. There's no reason," I concluded. Riffraff's face turned red again, and he bristled.
"We did it to ourselves," he hissed under his breath. "Our lifestyle is too extreme," and just then another Transylvanian walked up, a female. She was striking, as most Transylvanian women are: white alabaster skin, blood red lips, eyes so deep and black that a human soul could fall into them and never come back out. She was also an officer, dressed in the same fashion.
"We leave soon," she said, and smiled at us. We smiled back. "We did it to ourselves," hissed Riff, and as he got up he threw the glass on the bar, breaking it, and shoved me out of the way as he staggered away.
"You pushed him. Why did you push him? He seemed to like you," said the woman. "HE SEEMED TO LIKE ME!?!" screamed Riffraff, turning more heads. "NO HUMAN EVER LIKED ME!" and the two were gone. "Wow, that sucks," said Asia. "Glad they didn't think about bribing somebody," she said and cleaned up the spilled wine. "Huh?" I asked. "Yeah, think about it," she said. "All they had to do was offer a small country or a radical country, someone like Iran or Iraq, a small percentage of the profits to start a war every once in a while. With a galactic-based audience, the profits must be HUGE and - mmmmph!"
I had placed my hand over her mouth and whispered, "Well, they didn't think of it, and let's hope no one else does either. Just don't say another word about it, Asia, not another word. All it takes is one wrong ear to hear..." Asia's eyes went wide when she realized the implications, and nodded, and we went back to work.