“Three more, Barkeep!”
The barkeep waggled his antennae agreeably. “Very good, sir,” his voice crackled and popped. With three of his six hands he grabbed shot glasses from beneath the bar. With his remaining hands he grabbed three crystalline bottles of impossible shapes from the uppermost shelf, and tipped them to fill the glasses with a sparkling blue liquid that seemed to disobey the laws of gravity in order to escape the complicated bottles. He slid the full glasses toward the man who had ordered. That man, the barkeep and everyone in area knew, was Jack Blastwave. They knew because he had announced it loudly as he strode into the hotel bar. His grin was shining, as were his cobalt blue eyes. His black and grey jacket hung open revealing a laser pistol strapped to his side.
“Thanks again, Chippy.” Jack swiped his tattooed wrist over the laser scanner on the bar’s surface, subtracting the appropriate amount of credits from his account, plus a hefty tip.
“It’s Chit, sir,” The barkeep clicked.
“Right, well, here’s to you, Chip,” Jack raised two of the small glasses toward the insectoid bartender, and poured them into his mouth one after the other. He swallowed and slammed them to the bar, then picked up the third. He took a small sip from it and held it near his mouth as he surveyed the other patrons. They were dressed as bizarrely as one might expect on Planet Vegas. It wasn’t easy to tell what species anyone was, let alone if the face they wore was their own.
“Hmm,” he said. He was supposed to kill one of them, but no one looked like the rather plain-faced human in the picture he’d been given. And no one had taken off running as they usually did when he shouted his arrival, so it seemed he was left to identify the fellow on his own. Jack took another sip and let out a sigh at the thought of having to think up a plan. He said “hmm” again. It didn’t help.
Several minutes later his drink was gone and he’d counted seven other patrons in the bar with him. He couldn’t be sure how many there actually were because the seventh person he’d counted had really amazing blond hair, and was leaning forward intense in her conversation, with some important chest parts just barely staying in their assigned locations. Jack stared intently, hoping for a mishap.
“Hey… um, hey there…. hi,” someone next to Jack said. At the third greeting Jack finally managed to tear his eyes away from the beautifully curved landscape across the room.
A tall, thin man with large, shaking eyes and a crooked mouth stood to Jack’s left. He wore a long brown overcoat and gripped a small, black suitcase in one hand. His left arm hung oddly away from his body, Jack’s keen warrior eyes noticed and suspected it was injured, perhaps in an arm wrestling match. “You’re Jack Blastwave,” the man said, leaning forward and lowering his voice.
“You know me!” Jack grinned broadly and motioned for the man to sit. He didn’t.
“No, not really.” The man’s eyes flicked around the bar. “You’re an adventurous type though, yes? A soldier or something?”
“I’m a gun for hire, my man.” Jack tipped the empty glass toward him. “I’ve got the fastest ship in the sector, The Real Fast One, maybe you’ve heard of it?” The man stared blankly and Jack continued. “I fly around the galaxy kicking the shit out of, and/or killing people who’ve wronged folk like you.”
“Yeah, you know,” Jack looked him up and down with a grimace, “the kind that get bullied.”
“Look, that’s all well and good, I just want to know if-”
“Three more, sir?” the barkeep appeared, rubbing a rag over several of his hands.
“Yeah, yeah sure,” Jack said, then turned to the tall man, “you want one?”
“Better make it six, Chippy.”
The barkeep nodded and began grabbing the shot glasses. Jack patted the bar stool next to him and this time the man sat down. He set the case he’d been holding down at his feet on the floor, and sat stiffly with with his back straight and his left arm hung awkwardly over the backrest of the stool.
“So, whats your name?” Jack said. “It’s always good to meet a fan.”
“My name is Shrim Oxtail, and I’m not a fan, really I just want-”
“No, Shrim, it’s Martian, my parents were-”
“Your name is Shrimp Cocktail?”
“Oxtail! As I was saying, ‘Shrim’ is a traditional Martian name, as I was born there, but my parents, being immigrants from Earth-”
“I’m from Earth! Imagine that. I wonder if I know your mom. You’re, what? Sixteen, seventeen? It’s possible.”
“I’m twenty-seven! And if you would please-”
“Your drinks, sir,” Chit rattled, sliding the six sparkling blue drinks toward Jack. “Swipe please.”
“Yes, yes, thanks Chippy.” Jack swiped his wrist absently and punched his finger on the up arrow next to the ‘tip’ option on the display until it was somewhere near 50%. Shrim stared with his mouth agape as he watched Chit put the confusing bottles back on the top shelf.
“You just bought six… six! Jimm & Swiff© Needleberry Gin’s? At a hotel bar? On Planet Vegas?”
“Well three are for you, Shrimpy!” Jack pushed the glasses toward Shrim and picked up one of his own, swallowing it down. “Now, I know what you’ve been trying to say, and I know you’re nervous. It’s ok, it happens to everyone. Now if you just… Shrimp? Buddy?”
Shrim held one of the glasses near his face and stared at the sparkling blue liquid. He thought he could almost hear the tiny bubbles bursting. He imagined they must sound like tiny crystal bells shattering as they rang out their perfect notes. His large, dark eyes quivered more than usual, and beads of sweat began to form on his forehead, just beneath his mop of black curly hair. He tilted the glass and the fluid rolled over his lips and onto his tongue. A thousand minuscule hands massaged his taste buds, squeezing and pulling them in all directions. Another, different thousand hands lit them on fire, and a third thousand hands put out those fires by rubbing them with chips of sharpened ice.
Shrim’s eyes were wide and his face blank. “I… I never thought I’d be drinking Jimm & Swiff-”
“Here, with me, the Jack Blastwave, yes, I know. Now just ask will you?” He threw back the second glass.
“Ask… what?” Shrim said, still recovering the use of his tongue.
“For my autograph, come on!” He nudged Shrim with his elbow. “I know that’s what you’ve been trying to say.”
“No… I don’t… what?”
“Oh, I get it. It’s for your friend, right?” Jack winked. “Well, what does he want signed?”
“Look, um, thanks for the drinks and all. Like, really, thanks a lot, it’s amazing. But, what I really wanted to ask you was about your, uh, job. Do you get shot at often?”
“Oh yeah, all the time.”
“And have you… well, do you know anyone who’s ever had an… uh, a limb shot off?”
“Sure, it happens.” Jack finished the last of his drink. “Fellas usually get cybernetics, or regrowth, no big deal.”
“And, if you were to get hit with a laser blast in the, uh… arm, say. Does it cut it clean off? Or… explode it off?”
“Are you…” Jack squinted at Shrim. “Do you want me to sign your arm?”
“No. No! I want…” Shrim looked around the bar, then his shoulders squared and his eyes grew still. “I want you to shoot my arm off.”
Jack leaned away in his chair. “What?”
“I just don’t like it, ok? I just want it gone. And it’s my arm, I can do what I want with it!” He started to take off his jacket. “Look, I’ve marked the spot where-”
“No no no, I’m not shooting some weirdo’s arm off.”
Shrim pulled his coat back on. “I figured you’d say that. Against your code of ethics and all.”
“No, it’s just weird. Why don’t you get a surgeon to cut it off, or shoot it off yourself?”
“No surgeon is going to cut off what they think is a perfectly good arm. Plus it’s expensive. And… well, I don’t have the stomach to do it myself.”
“Hmph. Of course, you wouldn’t. You’re not like me.” Jack ran a hand through his close cropped black hair.
Shrim sighed and took another delicate sip of his gin. “I don’t suppose I could pay you, you must have loads of money already. Is there any way I could help you? Maybe we could exchange favors?”
“Look, I’m not going to do it. And what could you possibly do to help me anyway.”
“I know things.” Shrim nodded meaningfully.
“Uh… what kind of things?”
“I know people, I know places… I know all kinds of things.” He leaned forward and smiled. “I’m good at learning secrets. People feel comfortable talking to me.”
“Hmph. Can’t imagine why.” Jack thought Shrim looked like a drifter with that long, crummy coat and scraggly hair. His odd posture didn’t help either. His face was friendly enough though, the big quivering eyes did help to give him a young, safe appearance.
“Come on.” Shrim arched an eyebrow. “There is nothing you want to know?”
“Well, I dont suppose you’d know this guy.” Jack pulled his tablet from his inside jacket pocket and opened the set of blurry pictures he’d been given. He handed the tablet to Shrim.
“Oh, yeah, “ said Shrim, scrolling through them. “That’s Blue Mistake, known for being a ship thief and small time con.”
“Blue Mistake? What kinda name is that?”
“There was some error in the processing of the birth certificate, and his eye color was put in place of his first name.”
“That was supposed to be his first name.” Shrim handed the tablet back. “His parents weren’t exactly excited for another child.”
“Huh. Well, I was told that our pal Missy usually hangs out here, that true?”
“Yeah he was just here. He left right when you came in.”
“Yeah he walked out right behind you.” Shrim pointed at the door. “He usually sits near it.”
“What!” Jack stood up, knocking the stool over. “Do you know where he’d be headed?”
Shrim picked up his case and stood up. “There are a few possibilities, but, are you going to help me out or not? This info isn’t free you know.”
“Right, right, sure. We’ll work something out. Let’s go.”
“Wherever you say, Shrimpy, I’ve got the fastest ship in the sector, remember?” He stepped out of the bar into brisk night air filled with sounds of traffic. Shrim followed close behind. “Got the newest hyper drive engines on the market, with special Sirian alterations,” Jack continued, a proud smile on his face. “Yeah, you can hear those baby’s humming from a mile away. I can almost hear them now.” He paused and narrowed his eyebrows. “Wait a minute…”
Jack looked up to see his own ship, The Real Fast One blaze over the hotel and launch out of the atmosphere.
“Hey! What the… That’s my ship!” He pointed up at the sky. “Hey!”
“Wow, that is a nice ship.” Shrim nodded. “Looks like Blue is a fan of you.”
“But… but I’ve got voice recognition locks on everything! It only works when I say ‘I’m Jack Blastwave’ to it. Only me!” Jack was still staring at the sky, looking at the neat hole in the clouds that his ship just blasted through.
“Well, you did say that pretty loudly when you entered. If anyone had been recording…”
“Excuse me, excuse me.” A high voice and the clacking of heels on pavement came from behind them. Jack turned around to see the blond with the curves hurrying up to them. “Did I hear you saying you had a hyperdrive ship just back there?” she said. “I’ve always wanted to ride in one. I bet it would be soooo fun.” She wiggled and grinned.
“Oh dammit.” Jack slumped his shoulders and dragged his feet back to the bar and plopped into the same stool. “Barkeep! I’m going to be doing lots of drinking tonight.”
Chit ambled up and leaned over the bar so his mandibles almost brushed against Jacks face. “I’m sorry, sir,” he whispered. “But there was a warning on your account after that last purchase, I’m afraid I cant accept your credits here anymore.”
“What! I’ve got over fifteen thousand in there!”
Shrim let out a short, loud laugh. “How many of those Jimm & Swiff’s did you have?”
“Three plus three… plus six… just twelve.”
“Just!” Shrim laughed again. “I bet those drinks were eight or nine hundred credits each.”
“Nine hundred fifty-five.” Chit nodded. “And sir tips very well.”
“This is a scam!” Jack slammed his fist on the bar. “How could you charge that much without telling me!”
“Well, you did ask for the best gin in the house,” Chit clicked.
“And when I asked if you were sure, you said you ‘had money.’”
“And when I asked again, you said you ‘weren’t no rube’ and to ‘pour the drinks, Clicks.’”
Jack groaned and thumped his head down on the bar. Shrim laughed and picked up one of his drinks. Patrons along the bar and at tables nearby glanced over their shoulders, chuckling and shaking their heads.
“I do appreciate the very generous tips though, sir.”
“No problem, Chippy,” Jack groaned.
“It’s Chit, sir. And what was your name?”
Jack wrenched his head up from the bar and gave a half-hearted salute. “I’m Jack Blastwave.”