Mare Inebrium Universe created by Dan Hollifield
The first time I ended up in the Mare Inebrium, a spaceport bar on Bethdish, about sixteen secs outta my usual stomping ground, it was to celebrate the weirdest event of my life.
You've probably heard about people who find things by lucky coincidence, but let me tell you right now, there ain't no such thing. Everything has a cause and is an effect, and if you don't believe me, ask any quantum physicist you know, except maybe Tom Wilcox, whose ideas are so far out that the Quantum Physics Guild is thinking of branding him a heretic, a particle physicist, and throwing him out. But that's another story.
Anyway, I used to run a contract shuttle out of Mare Tranquillitatis on the Earth's moon. This was years ago, way before interstellar contact. Hell, we had just had our first interplanetary contact in those days, and set up a few Mars colonies just for the profit. When the Outside finally broke through our defenses and made what Earthers refer to as "First Contact," it was a jolt and a half to discover what all was out there. Who all was out there.
My shuttle, the 'Linda Rae,' was a rusted out bucket of wire and stray electrons, but I kept her running and even managed, through shrewd business and even shrewder smuggling, to save a few credits and buy a larger, newer craft. This I also named the 'Linda Rae.'
I guess I'm telling you all this history because I want you to know that as far as my piloting skills go, I was a shuttle rat long before most of you were hatched outta your egg sacs, or whatever.
Anyway, I was on Mars when the Outside contacted, and I signed on immediately with the first exploration/diplomatic crews, not as a diplomat, of course, as a pilot. In exchange, I got a fancy uniform, a fancier spacecraft and a course at knife and fork school so's I could figure out how not to cause an intergalactic incident with my big mouth.
I stayed on as a pilot in the Diplomatic Corps. I didn't do so bad for the first few years, you know, saw the universe and everything, managed to keep outta trouble most of the time.
Then I met Her. She was unlike anyone, anything, I had ever seen before. At first, she was just another high-ranking passenger, a diplomat, an ambassador on home leave. I kept away from my VIP cargo, mostly 'cause they usually gave me the willies. We're talking creatures from Out There and Beyond, know what I mean?
But there was something about her. She was all swathed up in a protective suit, and I couldn't tell at first if she was actually as big as the suit or if it was a complete habitat or something. I mean, it was about ten feet long and six feet tall. That would be one big female, you know?
Anyway, she could talk to me through a translator, and her voice was all silky and slippery and sweet, like a peppermint after it's been in your mouth for a while. We had a long way to go, all the way back to her home planet, and since she wanted to talk, I thought why not? I should have known better.
She told me stories of a place of unimaginable beauty, where the sands glowed in the protected city, and of the rest of the planet, open to offworlders like myself. She spoke fondly of her father and how she had followed in his footsteps to her present position as ambassador. I guess, old and foolish as I am, I musta fallen in love with her.
Knife and fork school had not prepared me for that. I spoke plainly to her, confessed my feelings, and waited to see what would happen. I was so far gone, I didn't even think what she must look like under the protective suit. I guess I didn't even care. I was already making mental plans to retire from the Corps and go to live with her in that sacred city, if her family agreed.
She was quiet for the rest of the trip. I sweated it out, hoping I hadn't insulted her. I tried to speak with her, maybe apologize or something, but she wouldn't see me. I spent the rest of the flight with my stomach twisted up like a Brashqueath's hairdo.
When we touched down outside her sacred city, I tried once again to speak to her, but I was dismissed curtly. I lifted off with tears in my eyes, the white form of her protective habitat like a royal tent shimmering on the sands below me.
Since I was on Bethdish, I flew to the big spaceport and blindly stumbled into the nearest bar. It was the Mare Inebrium.
There was a celebration in progress when I arrived. Creatures from all over the universe were imbibing and Max, the bartender was busy. A pretty waitress who turned out to be Max's girlfriend Trixie recommended the house specialty and I was too heartbroken to protest.
"So what's the party about?" I asked when she brought me a Zombie Cocktail. I took a sip and felt my hormones leveling upwards, easing the depression I had felt since I had left the sacred city.
"It's him," she said, pointing to a giant scorpion about thirty feet long. He wore the sash and insignia of a diplomat and appeared to be dancing with a vaguely humanoid person dressed in feathers. Or maybe growing feathers, I don't know.
"What is he?" I asked. I had long ago learned that just because something looks like a giant scorpion, that doesn't mean it is one.
"He's a D'rrish," Trixie explained. "He's a regular here, knows a lot of really good stories. But today's story is the best. He's going to be a grandfather."
"Wow, that's great," I said, feeling much better and ordering another Zombie. I lifted my glass to the giant bug and toasted him. He came over and waved his eyestalks at me, a friendly gesture, I'm told. "Congratulations!" I offered.
"I thank you," he said in a rich, mellifluous voice that had a little bit of the familiar about it. He peered at me for a minute, then his pincers began to quiver. "It - it's you!" he said. "Everyone," he turned to the crowded bar, "it's him! It's him!" He began dancing around me as I was showered with drinks and good wishes. I finished off a third Zombie and passed out.
When I awoke, it was in an Arabian Nights sort of room right off the main bar. Trixie was standing over me with a cool washcloth and Max was patting my wrist. Kazsh-ak Tier, the D'rrish diplomat, was agitatedly pacing back and forth, his stinger whipping the air like a nervous cat's tail.
"You must save him," he was saying to Trixie. "He is now of my family."
"He's okay," she assured the D'rrish. "He just had a little too much to drink, that's all."
"What's going on?" I asked. My head was a little mixed up, probably the effects of Zombies, aliens and stress.
"Kazsh-ak tells us you're the father of his grandchildren," Max said. "Said you and his daughter made the Pact during the flight out."
"What?" My diplomatic skills, such as they were, failed me completely. "What?"
"Kazshi-annh Tier is my daughter," the giant scorpion said. "She is the one you have just delivered to our sacred city. Did you not profess undying love for her?"
"I-uh, uh," I stammered. "I didn't know her name," I blurted out. "Was she in a large plastic tent?"
"That was her protective suit," Trixie explained. "Kazsh-ak's daughter took over as ambassador when he retired. According to their custom, when one professes love for a D'rrish female, she is then at liberty to release her eggs. The females go out into that desert that surrounds the D'rrish city and find a likely mate, for the physical side of things- D'rrish sex takes too long to explain. What it all boils down to is- Looks like you're gonna be a daddy," she said with a grin.
Max whistled. "You are one brave guy," he said admiringly. "You know, the males runs the risk of being eaten by the females in this courting stuff. She must have really liked you to forgo that particular pleasure."
"Ah, like her dear mother," Kazsh-ak exclaimed. "Well, now that we are to be family, please let me buy you a drink my boy. We must become better acquainted."
I let them all lead me through the bar to a large chair as dozens of creatures applauded and made approving noises.
I learned that Kazshi-annh would not be expecting me to play any role in the conception or development of the young. Someone of her own species would be filling those roles. I felt relief that child support for a couple of hundred young scorpions would not be part of my responsibility.
"When can I see her?" I asked, wondering if she would still have a chance to devour me.
Kazsh-ak set a pincer gently on my back and rubbed it lightly in an affectionate gesture. "I am sorry, my boy. It is not our custom. You will not see her again. I know this must pain one of your species, but it is our way."
I let this bit of news sink in, then did what I knew was expected of me. I embraced my new father-in-law to the extent that our differing anatomies would permit, then I bought the house a round.
Biography: "I write in Pasadena, CA and have enjoyed several successes this year including "Just Like in the Movies" - Blue Murder; "On the Other Hand" Cozy Detective; and "The Chinese Tinker Belle" - Dream Forge; and a forthcoming story, "After the Fall Comes Winter" - Titan.
I look forward to hearing from you."
Kate can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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