Space Team One Walk Into A Bar
Space Team One walked through the desert, the town directly ahead of them. The sandy ground was starting to give way to a firmer form of dusty dirt, a trail having been worn through years of use.
“My feet hurt!” moaned Martin, as Agamemnon napped on his shoulder in the sun. “Why do we have to walk the rest of the way?”
“We don’t want to drive EVIL CAR right into the main street of the town,” explained Robert. “Who knows what level of technology they might be at? Besides, his tank must almost be empty by now, after all that running with wolves on Venus.”
Safety Ninja, who was shaking dust out of his fluoro vest as he walked, made a questioning gesture at this.
“I don’t actually know how he ran for that long,” said Robert. “All that was in his tank when I checked it were a bunch of these rocks.”
He held up two small rocks, one blue and the other pale yellow.
“Oh!” said Martin. “I know what those are!”
“Yes, Martin?” said Robert, expecting Martin to claim that they were petrol eggs or something.
“They’re the exploding rocks of Venus,” said Martin. “The Velurans try to keep their herdbeasts away from them, because they explode if they’re rubbed together.”
“…thankyou, Martin,” said Robert, genuinely surprised.
“I guess you’re learning after all, baby-man,” said Aleya to Martin.
“I’ve always been learning!” said Martin. “Only, I had to stop for a little bit because I left my encyclopedias at home.”
He suddenly looked downtrodden.
“What if they’re getting all mildewy, under the ruins of our house?”
“It’s okay, Martin,” said Robert. “We put them in ziplock bags and gave them a full burial, remember?”
“Ah! So humans also practice book-burying!” said Space Dan. “Back home, when books get old and torn, we put them deep within the dirt, so the planet can discover new things! Well, old things, since the books are old.”
The front gate to the town slowly resolved into vision as they got closer on the dusty track – a large, rusted iron archway with a low, wide, gate beneath. This gate was presumably largely symbolic, as it had no surrounding fence to it, or perhaps Martians simply had the houseguest manners of impeccable vampires. To the right of the arch was a tall wooden post with a horse’s skull sitting at the top, a sign hanging from its side.
Robert squinted as they approached, and saw that it read:
562 558 562
“Wow,” said Martin, “five hundred and sixty two grandfathers!”
Robert pushed the gate open to step through, and found it swung back and forth like a very wide saloon door.
If everyone in the town was a grandfather, they sure didn’t look it. There were bright-looking lobster people, out in bonnets and straw hats, taking their daily constitutionals. There were more humanoid folk, arguing and haggling, paying and kicking dust, and shovelling away manure on the ground. A fair few had only one leg, and they hopped elegantly about their business. There were squat, froglike people in big white suits, casually chatting over their verandas, and nervous-looking praying mantises that reedily huffed as they heaved their baggage about.
“Wow,” said Space Dan, “aliens!”
Space Dan’s walky-talky crackled into life in his ceremonial spacesuit’s pocket.
“…Space Dan,” said VAL, “we’ve been travelling with and working alongside aliens since the battle with the Faeries on that grey planet.”
“They don’t count,” said Space Dan, “I’m friends with them!”
“Ssh!” said Aleya. “Let’s find a bar.”
“Good idea,” said Robert, “there’ll be people with information in there.”
“…yeah, that’s why,” said Aleya.
Space Team One walked down the main road of the town, each sight a marvel. There was a blacksmith’s, with an old, leathery looking frog-person mending very long, very thin horseshoes. There was a one-legged humanoid pouring dirt onto white pigeons – it wasn’t clear what for – and a great mass of people were watching a grasshopper-man extol the virtues of his Patented Elixir of Tonic, which would supposedly ‘Forestall Aging! Increase Vigour! Restore Colourblindness!’ There was a sunken ruin of what looked like a clock tower in the centre of the town, although it still managed to tower over all of the other buildings. There was also an ice cream man.
“Bar’s there,” said Aleya.
She pointed to a sign that said ‘The Millstone Saloon’, which had several prominent holes in it.
Approaching its veranda, Space Team One noticed that there was a sleeping man sitting in a rocking chair, holding a shotgun.
Robert took a step onto the veranda, carefully so as not to wake the sleeping man, but the floorboard squeaked, and the man muttered a mumbled oath into his dark grey moustache, then pointed the gun at Robert’s face.
“Heyurr,” said the man.
“What?” asked Robert.
“S’ma name,” said the man. “Heyurr Stone.”
“Nice to…meet you?” asked Robert, nervously looking down the barrel of Heyurr Stone’s gun.
“Y’aint from ‘round here,” said Heyurr Stone.
“We’re from the town over the pass,” said Aleya. “Um…”
She looked to Robert, secure in the knowledge that he could lie about utter nonsense convincingly.
“Dead Stick,” said Robert.
“Yes,” said Aleya. “We’re from Dead Stick.”
“Ohurr,” said Heyurr, “I’ve heard’a Dead Stick.”
“Ah…good,” said Robert. “Well…um…could you put the gun down?”
“Oh, sure,” said Heyurr. “‘M obliged to yeh. I just…don’t get to talk to many folk.”
“Maybe you should take up a hobby,” suggested Space Dan.
“Hrrmurr,” said Heyurr, now mumbling into his chest hair. “See yuh, Dead Stickers.”
He lowered the gun and started wheezing, evidently asleep despite having his eyes wide open. Space Team One nervously filed past him, hoping to avoid any more awkward conversations or shotguns to the face.
The Millstone was reasonably full, given the time of day. Various townsfolk were sitting down with happy sighs for a well-earned drink to slake their ravening thirsts. Others were just alcoholics. Many of the patrons were legless – in that they had only one leg apiece, not that they were drunk, although some fulfilled both meanings. There was a large piano in the corner, which a preying mantis in spectacles was tuning. Stairs led up to the top balcony of the bar, which had mildly dusty pigeons flapping around.
The millstone that inspired the bar’s name sat balanced on the shelf with all the drinks. It would have made the barman concerned for both his own wellbeing and that of the liquor, but the millstone had been sitting there for generations, and had never once moved.
Not even a century’s worth of dust, however, could stop Safety Ninja from constantly glaring at it, so greatly did its precarious positioning offend his refined OH&S senses.
“Let’s get a table,” said Aleya. “If we take up all the bartop seats, we’ll look like dodder-laurels.”
“If you’ll forgive the turn of phrase, this really is your rodeo, Aleya,” said Robert. “You guys all get a table, and Martin and I can order drinks.”
He took their various orders, ending with Aleya’s.
“I’ll have a look around, see if I can pick anything up,” she said.
“Like complementary pretzels?” asked Space Dan.
“We can hope, Space Dan,” said Robert, clapping him on the shoulder. “We can hope.”
He grabbed Martin by the arm and pulled him to the bar, then sat down at one of the chairs. Martin remained standing, because the chair next to Robert’s was kind of icky. The barman, a green-hued humanoid, regarded Martin and Robert with vague interest as he casually wiped down a glass.
“Is your bar called the Millstone because it’s where you grind the flour for the bread roll planet?” Martin asked the barman.
“Don’t worry about him,” said Robert, wanting to avoid the undue attention Martin inevitably brought to them. “We’ve been travelling and he’s got heatstroke.”
“Got jus’ the cure fer that,” said the gummy-mouthed barman.
He reached onto the shelf behind him and plonked some plonk onto the bar.
The bottle read: ‘Angry Trilobite Brewery’s Finest Wood Grain Alcohol: 400 proof.’
Martin looked thirstily at the bottle, which proudly declared that it was ‘over twenty percent nitrates’.
“Ah…no, thankyou,” said Robert, pushing it back. “His heatstroke is merely the exacerbating circumstance of his pre-existing condition, which is that he’s an idiot.”
The barman turned the wood alcohol bottle upside down, to reveal that it merely served as a container for ice cubes.
“Oh, thankyou,” said Robert. “Martin, eat those.”
“But I’ll get brain freeze!” said Martin.
“Eat slowly,” said Robert. “Uh, can I also get a pint of stout, a glass of boiled water with exactly two slices of lemon in it, a creaming soda, aaand…”
He thought about what he wanted.
“A glass of milk,” he said.
Then, thinking about his image on this wild world, he added:
“We ain’t got none o’yur fancy turpentines ‘round here,” said the barman. “In this town, we drink whisky.”
He dramatically slammed a bottle of whisky down on the bartop. Robert made to take it, but then was interrupted by the barman adding another bottle of whisky. Robert started to take this, but then the barman added a third bottle, then a fourth, then a fifth, and kept going until the entire bar was covered with whisky bottles.
“Um…I’m not that thirsty,” said Robert.
“No, choose a few,” said the barman. “We’ve got Old Mouse Hill, Church Steeple, Church Refectory, Wild Graveyard, Turkey Hold, Partially Blind Duck, Ochroleucous Label, Teacup Mile, Saber Dropsy, Missing Eye, Windmill Road and Johnny Jackie Fitzy Cork.”
Robert looked carefully over the bottle of Johnny Jackie Fitzy Cork, which depicted a man in a top hat and tails juggling swans.
“Are you sure you don’t have anything else?” he asked.
“We’ve got dessert wines,” said the barman.
“…whisky it is,” said Robert.
He picked up a random selection of bottles, and handed them to Martin.
“Take these back to the others,” he said. “Tell them I’m sorry that they contain no lemons, cream, or stoutness.”
He looked back to the barman.
“Can you put them on my tab?” he asked. “I left my wallet back in Death Stick, because I was concerned about getting robbed by desert scorpions.”
“They’re vicious,” acknowledged the barman. “But I’ll need yur name, and some kindur collateral if yur gonna start a tab.”
“My name is Chromos McAllen,” said Robert, slipping his driver’s licence out of his back pocket and handing it to the barman.
The barman squinted at it.
“This says ‘Robert Island’,” he said.
Robert mentally cursed, having not expected that Martians would also speak English.
“That’s a typo,” said Robert.
“Fair ‘nuff,” said the barman, pocketing it.
Robert took a bottle of Wild Graveyard, opened it, and leaned in to speak with the barman.
“So,” he said. “Anything new around here, in Pequod’s Albatross?”
“Not s’far as I can say,” said the barman. “Death Stick’s out East, right?”
“Mhm,” said Robert.
“Clear skies’n fresh water there,” said the barman. “Nothin’ new in town. ‘Cept for ol’ Thorax McGill peddlin’ his Elixir of Tonic, like he does er’ryear.”
He paused from wiping his glass.
“Now yer mention it though,’ he said, “there’re been new folk round here recent. In th’ corner, keepin’ to ‘emselves. What their right names are, I don’t know, but ‘round here, we call ‘em Th’ Corner Strangers Who Keep To ‘Emselves.”
Robert followed the barman’s eye to said Strangers Who Kept To Emselves, and narrowed his eyes.
In the corner of the bar, two men sat in the shadow of the staircase. One wore a triangular poncho, flashes of bronze armour sometimes glinting beneath it. Orange furry arms he had done little to disguise, although an akubra hat declaring “Welcome To Woolongatta!” had been jammed aloofly over the top of a sleek centurian-style helmet. His companion wore a brown travelling cloak, the hood pulled up over his head, although given his great height, he probably would have greater success pretending to be a marble column (or perhaps a tree). His beak stuck out of the hood like a sore thumb, and his legs stuck out the bottom of the cloak like a beak sticking out of a hood.
“Drink-man!” shouted Ogtol. “Another toast for me and my honourable battle-companion!”
“Comin’ right there, sir,” said the barman.
“Birdy, we are all but invisible,” said Ogtol loudly to Birdy, as he conspicuously sharpened his swords on the table.
Birdy remained silent and still, which would have made him stealthy, were he not a giant blue bird person.
“You know’m?” asked the barman, as he came back from bringing Ogtol and Birdy their order, which was served in large ceramic mugs.
“No, no,” said Robert. “Ah, why does your population sign say 562, then 558, then 562?”
“Four folk moved away,” said the barman, “but then came back.”
“And that was worth changing the sign for?” asked Robert.
“We really missed ‘em!” said the barman, defensively. “‘Could’a been hurt by the oni.”
“The oni?” asked Robert.
The barman stared at him.
“Were they in particular danger of being attacked by that…those…that deadly force that every Martian knows as the oni?” asked Robert.
“Hrrmm,” nodded the barman. “No warning, like always. Invisible they struck, and carried off in pain and misr’rry.”
Robert stroked his chin, as an alternative to having to drink more Wild Graveyard.
“Pardon, stranger,” said somebody behind Robert.
Robert turned around without having to get up off the seat, since it swivelled. A broad-shouldered purple humanoid in a flat-brimmed hat wearing a dark leather jacket and chaps stared down at him.
“That’s my chair,” he said. “I do say I did declared dibsies on it, long ago.”
“I’m sorry,” said Robert, “but the chair next to it is horrible, and the one on the other side is too short for me.”
“Are you sayin’ this bar ain’t big enough for the two of us?” asked the purple man.
“That’s…that’s a considerable cognitive leap from what I said,” said Robert.
“Them’s fighting words,” said the purple man, “sayin’ I’m hot-tempered.”
“I think you’ve misunderstood,” said Robert.
The purple man turned even purpler.
“Did you just call me an ‘amstod’?” he asked.
“No,” said Robert, “I said you’ve misunderstood.”
“He’s callin’ me it again!” shouted the purple man.
The rest of the bar went silent, except for Ogtol, who was still loudly chatting to Birdy about how they had blended in without a hitch.
The purple man looked over at the piano, which the mantis tuner was still looking over.
“It’s done,” said the mantis tuner in a thin voice, sitting down to play. “Better test it.”
The purple man nodded, then looked back to Robert.
“We’ll see who’s the amstod around here!” he yelled, eyes wide, pointing his finger at an increasingly sweating Robert.
“Um…well…uh…look over there!” said Robert, pointing.
The purple man wasn’t born yesterday, so he missed out on seeing Aleya hitting him over the head from behind with a chair.
“Fight!” screamed a patron excitedly, smashing a bottle over his own head in his enthusiasm.
The mantis piano tuner started up an energetic pianee version of Mendelssohn’s ‘Allegro Moderato Ma Con Fuoco’ as the bar erupted into an old-fashioned brawl.
The barman rang a little bell behind the bar, and flipped a number next to it over from ‘0’ to ‘1’ before ducking behind the bar. Somewhat worryingly, there were enough numbers for three digits.
“Yeehaw!” shouted a frog-woman gleefully, as she picked up Robert, spun him around three times, and threw him into the corner with Ogtol and Birdy.
“…you!” said Ogtol, picking up Robert by the front of his shirt.
“I’m sorry, have we met?” asked Robert, with fake confusion. “You’re both complete strangers to me.”
Ogtol looked very chuffed, which was enough distraction for Robert to poke him in the face and scramble away, ducking between brawlers to get back to the table.
He joined Space Dan, who was cowering under it.
“Where’re the others?” Robert asked.
“Martin’s there,” said Space Dan, pointing upward at Martin, who was swinging around on a chandelier.
“Whee!” said Martin, Agamemnon clutching to his hair. “Robert, you have to try this!”
“Safety Ninja won’t like this,” said Robert.
“Oh, he’s been in a daze ever since he saw the millstone,” said Space Dan.
The ninja in question shuddered every few seconds and clutched himself tightly as he stared at the stone, there being no official body for him to register a complaint with.
Robert and Space Dan’s table was suddenly lifted and thrown, by a woman with short hair and one wooden leg.
“Aleya!” whined Space Dan. “We were hiding under that!”
He clutched his walky talky like an electronic Ricey, which unintentionally sent the audio to VAL’s end.
“Space Dan?” asked VAL. “What’s going on out there? Is there another war? Is someone being mean to you?”
“It’s just a barfight, VAL!” said Aleya, gleefully knocking out another patron.
“You’re meant to be gathering information,” said Robert, ducking as the chair-desiring purple man flew over him. “Ogtol and Birdy are here. In the corner.”
“Hmm,” said Aleya, nodding. “I found out from some frogs where we might find the god of Mars. Apparently, she walks around the planet all the time; shouldn’t be hard to track down.”
“Hey there!” said a bright red mantis gruffly. “You all aren’t fighting! It’s ruining it for the rest of us!”
“What?” said Aleya. “No, I was-”
“You were talking,” said the mantis. “Like Th’ Corner Strangers Who Keep To ‘Emselves over there. Out you go!”
Before any of them could object, Robert, Aleya, Space Dan and Safety Ninja were bodily hurled out the front door of the bar, which swung back and forth behind them. Ogtol and Birdy quickly followed, coming through one window each, and Martin came last, swinging out of the upper floor window and landing safely on Ogtol, with Agamemnon the popcorn fly floating gently after him.
“Remove your person from me at once!” shouted Ogtol at Martin.
As Martin scrambled up, he realised who it was that had broken his fall.
“Robert!” whispered Martin. “It’s that Faerie, Ovaltine! And the scary one.”
The scary one in question cracked his knuckles as he folded his arms.
“Yes!’ said Ogtol. “Unbeknownst to anyone until now, this planet plays gracious host to we, the Advanced Invasion Force of the Faeries!”
“What are you tigernuts doing on Mars?” asked Aleya.
“Do not intervene in our affairs, Companion of the Players!” said Ogtol, and attempted to push her aside.
Aleya wound her scorpion-punchin’ arm back and cracked him in the jaw, literally knocking him out of his recently-acquired cowboy boots.
“It’s Player Three, hognut!”
Ogtol quickly picked himself up, and hopped as he put his boots back on.
“Regardless,” he said, “you shall not delay us in our quest!”
“So you’re here for a reason,” said Robert.
“No squash, calabash,” said Aleya sarcastically.
“Well, they don’t always have a point to the things they do,” said Robert.
“…myeh,” Aleya acknowledged, shrugging.
“Now what?” asked Space Dan.
Space Team One and the Advanced Invasion Force looked back at the Millstone Saloon, which was still brawling away, to the apparent concern of no passers by.
“You know how to deal, but not the cards to play,” said a voice from above.
The group looked up to see a brown-cloaked woman standing at the top of the Millstone Saloon.
“Hello! Were you watching us before, in the desert?” asked Martin.
“Yes,” said the bulkily-cloaked woman.
“How do you know that?” asked Space Dan.
“I saw her on a big rock,” said Martin. “And at first I thought she was just a really big crow that didn’t fly, but then, I thought that she’d have to be able to fly if she was going to get up that big rock, but crows don’t get that big, so she had to be a person.”
He squinted up at her, shielding his eyes against the sun.
“A flying person!” he called up at her, impressed.
The non-crow woman jumped down from the top of the Millstone, her clothes fluttering in the wind, and she landed before the group, bring up dust.
The thick brown cloak that the woman wore hung down to her ankles, made from a coarse-looking fabric. It ended in a hood like Birdy’s that covered all but her face, and a long thick scarf made from the same material hung from its neck, part of the garment itself.
She flipped back the hood, and shook out her hair in the sunlight. Thick, jet-black curls hung down to her waist, framing her olive-skinned face.
“Good morning,” said Robert. “We’re a group of various adventurers, set on rescuing the solar system from a god-murderer, although I admit that I’m mostly in it so I can have a new house. And this is Ogtol and Birdy.”
“Their deadliest foes!” said Ogtol.
“You’ve never actually succeeded in any attempt to kill us, stop us, or even slow us down,” Aleya pointed out.
Ogtol looked sad.
“I don’t know of gods being murdered,” said the black-haired woman, “but anyone who knocks out a desert scorpion with one punch, then keeps driving is obviously powerful.”
She nodded her approval to Aleya, who smirked in Ogtol’s general direction.
“And she hasn’t abandoned the rest of you, so you obviously all can do something,” added the black-haired woman.
“Martin trained an army,” said Space Dan. “And Robert can throw a machete handle really hard. And I have a chest expander!”
“I’m sure you do,” said the woman quietly. “I can lead you to Mars, if you help me.”
“The god?” asked Robert. “You know…them?”
The woman hesitated.
“Yes,” she said.
A dull roar came, and shadow passed over the town. The town cast its eyes upward, as a great spaceship hovered above.
“Uh…should we hide?” Robert asked the woman.
“No,” said the woman, “we wait.”
 It was a matter of deepest philosophical concern to Uranians that their planet would only get outdated and slightly incorrect information, so they frequently buried addendums and corrects alongside the books.
 His speech made it unclear whether the Patented Elixir of Tonic would cause the colourblindness to disappear or return, but he conveniently left this information to the imagination of his audience.
 They were not bulletholes; the signmaker of the town was simply very clumsy.
 It was fortunate that VAL wasn’t actually there, since she would have felt jealous.
 This was the name of one of the main character in The Forever Endeavour, whose father Lastrodax was the Admiral of the planet Xelf. Chromos McAllen had been training at the L2 Lunar Academy of Titan when the Raythons had sent him a psionic distress signal. Robert hadn’t worked out what would happen to him next, so he invented other main characters to stall for time.
 The man was wearing this attire, as was his hat, which had a small jacket and chaps around the brim.
 This doubled as a method for her to repeatedly headbutt her current opponent.
 Their hands were decidedly not thrown up.
 She caused dust to be raised by her landing. She did not treat the dust as her child.