Another Wrong World
By John Conway
His shock and interstellar meandering now behind him, Maxwell nudged through the patrons of the End-Of-The-Line Club, forcing his way to the center bar. It was the seediest tavern he could find--a backwater haven for non-human thieves and drug addicts, a hell-hole carved from the belly of an insignificant asteroid in a rubble-strewn orbit of Arcturus. No respectable sentient would set foot here. Finally Maxwell could lose himself in self pity and loathing.
"Hey!" he shouted and motioned to the tentacled bartender. "A stiff Rigelian Rye."
He slid onto the stool.
How could he have been so stupid? With all his talent and after all his training ... he
was the best pilot in the human fleet. The shining hope! And he'd been proud--cocky really. "Deliver it?" he'd quipped. "I'll shove it down their throat and poke 'em in the eye as they swallow!"
He downed the Rye and asked for another.
An exoskeletal creature perched itself on the stool beside him. It ordered an Ester Sal--a slimy bacterial cocktail favored by arthropods. The creature wafted the stench before slurping the sludge through its proboscis. Maxwell's stomach churned. But he stayed put. He deserved no comfort.
"Nice ship you got," clacked the creature.
"Yeah," he responded. "Best in the fleet. A real planet killer."
Maxwell downed his second Rye.
"Ya think? Take it."
The creature shuddered in a motion that seemed to mimic a bipedal head shake.
"Why not? It's only been used once," said Maxwell.
"Long story. Had one. No thanks."
Maxwell glanced at the bartender. "Can you believe this thing? It compliments my ride, but when I offer it in a gesture of interspecies friendship ..."
The bartender blurted flatulently--perhaps a chuckle. "It's got its reasons." The bartender poured another Rye without needing a cue. "What's your story?" It slid the Rye toward Maxwell adding, "On the house."
"You don't want to know."
Conversations stopped, replaced by groans and creaking chairs.
Another blurt. "Look stranger. Everyone's got a story. And around here, a drink on the house means you spill yours."
Maxwell glanced around. So now he offended the even the lowliest scum. Crap. But did it matter? What did he really have to lose?
"Okay," he said, accepted the house gift. He emptied it with one motion and wiped his lips. "We were at war with the Canopians," he began.
Maxwell nodded. "We built a planet killer to end the war." His hands trembled. His mouth felt dry. "Can I have another?"
Maxwell licked his lips. The sound of his pulse pounded in his ear. Sweat pooled on his skin. "Well--" He drew a deep, deliberate breath and clenched his fist. He could not endure the details. He would have to be brief. "Long story short, I was the gun man, but the Canopians developed a counter-space-warp kind of--"
Maxwell heart lodged in his throat. He couldn't.
The bartender wrapped its tentacle around the Maxwell's empty glass. "They turned you around. You blew up your own world instead," it said, nodding its squishy head.
Maxwell blinked. "Uh ... yeah."
The bartender raised its voice. "Hey, how many here destroyed their own world by mistake?"
Into the musty air protruded all variety of arms, legs, wings, stems, cilia and tongues.
Maxwell felt numb. "I don't ..."
"Yeah, that trick is great for business. Tell you what ... one more on the house. Welcome to the Club."