ark! I haven’t seen you in two years!”
“Haven’t been to Mars. Been carrying ores from the belt to Earth. I heard you got married?”
“Yeah, Destiny’s the best thing that happened to me. Met her on the trip here, she’s an astronomer. She’s building a new kind of telescope right outside the dome. What are you drinking, Mark?”
“Beer, I guess. Been a long damned time since I had a beer.”
John was already filling a mug from a tapper. “Have one on me. I’m making my own now even though I sell import. Best beer on Mars, I think. I’m pretty proud of it.”
“Where’s all your customers?”
“Where are my customers?? Hell, Mark, it’s nine in the morning! The hard core alcoholics don’t start showing up until ten.”
He handed the mug to Mark, who took a sip. “Damn, John, you’re right, this is some damned good beer! Hell, your lager is better than Guinness!”
“Well, thanks. I have pilsner, ale, and wheat beer, too. Took some chemistry and beer making classes, and brewed a lot of real crap before I got any good at it. Since I brew it here it’s the cheapest beer on the planet.”
Mark looked at his mug and laughed. “Can’t get much cheaper than free.”
“That’s a two dollar beer you’re drinking. Guinness is ten bucks, fifteen for a can.”
“You won’t find much bottled beer on Mars, and if you do it will be expensive as hell. Bottles break too easy; I’m sure glad the beer I brought when we came here was in cans, I’d have had a hell of a mess on my houseboat!”
“Pirates were after us, more than even exist now, I hear. The maneuvers I had to do to stay alive would have popped every damned beer in the boat open if it had been in bottles. How is the pirate situation these days?”
“I haven’t had pirates mess with me in a couple of years. They’re sure to try to regroup, though, but Ramos’ fleet is doing a damned good job.”
“Yeah, Dewey told me last week that even though the fleet was to cut losses, we’re making money on it. Every boat Ramos captures from the pirates is a huge recovery fee from whatever company owns the boat, and the other companies are paying us to guard them now. Ready for another?”
Mark looked at his mug. “Yeah, fill ‘er up. Damn but you make good beer! Tell me, what’s that huge poster on the wall about? A guy with a peg leg and a guitar wearing a funny costume, an eye patch, and a green bird on his shoulder?”
John grinned. “That’s John Lee Hoo... uh, oh, watch your language, Mark, she’s mean.
“Good Morning, Mrs. Ferguson! The usual?” he asked, reaching for a gin bottle.
“No, my pension check doesn’t come in for another week and I’m almost broke; that damned Earthian gin costs way too God damned much and I can’t afford another martini. I’ll have one of your pilsners instead.”
John poured a glass and handed it to her and turned back to Mark. “Like I was saying, that’s John Lee Hooker. Hear that music? That’s him.”
The jukebox was singing “You’s a dirty mother, babe! Ain’t no... no ugly good...”
“He was an old blues singer from the twentieth century, one of the greats of classical guitar.”
“He had one eye and a peg leg? And what’s with the bird?”
A sloppily dressed man in need of a shave came in, his hands shaking badly. John poured him a beer and grinned. “No, that was put in by an image manipulation program, he had two good eyes and two good legs. He’s dressed as an eighteenth century pirate.”
“The trip here. I had two hundred drug addicted hookers on board and we were attacked by more pirates than anyone had seen before; the hookers saved us. A thought hit me on the trip that I was Captain Hooker with two hundred peter panhandlers.”
The old lady laughed. “Nice story, John, but it’s bullshit. You aren’t old enough to have been a shipping captain.” John and Mark looked at each other and laughed.
“What’s so funny?” the woman asked, with a glare.
“Private joke,” John said. “Only funny to us. Nothing to do with you.”
She said “This beer isn’t doing it, you have anything stronger that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg?”
“Well, yes, but you might not like it. This is really strong stuff; white lightning. When a batch of beer turns out to not be very good I distill it down to nearly pure ethanol. Want me to make you a martini out of it?”
“What’s it cost?”
“Buck a shot.”
The shaking man said “I’ll have one, too. Make it a double. Not a martini, just two shots.”
John poured “Mister Shaky” a drink and mixed Mrs. Ferguson’s martini, and handed it to her as the man downed his shot. He stopped shaking. Mrs. Ferguson sipped her martini.
“Whoo-EEE! Whoo! Wow, John, now that’s a martini!” She shivered and grinned, and took another sip.
“While you’re pouring, I’m empty,” Mark said. John poured him a beer, and a beer and a shot for the formerly shaky gentleman.
“Be careful,” John said, “You’ve been traveling. How long since you had a beer?”
“I had one on the station on Titan maybe six months ago.”
John laughed. “Ship time or planet time?”
“How the hell should I know? Anyway, what difference does it make?”
“It depends. Can you afford to get drunk today?”
“No, I plan on passing out by noon. That last trip was hell.”
“Why? What happened?”
Mrs. Ferguson and the other man were drinking silently. Mark said “That asshole drunk fuckhead Jones.”
“Of course, Bob Jones and Roy Jones are good guys. Larry’s a stupid asshole. Could have got me killed. I think he tried to kill me.”
Mrs. Ferguson started giggling and asked for another martini. John poured it while Mark continued.
“He was drunk, of course, and piloting a ship that was on its way in to Titan when I was on my way out. Damned drunken idiot thought I was a pirate; at least, that’s what he said, anyway. Bastard launched an atomic at me.”
“Did it do any damage?”
“Hell yes, it was only a hundred meters away from my boat when it went off. There was only a little physical damage to the starboard dock, but the EMP killed a generator and six engines. They ought to put spare circuit boards for those things in storage, I came to Mars on one generator.
“The blast moved the whole damned ship and threw me across the room. Broke my left arm in three places and four ribs on my left side. God damn but it hurt! If I ever see that asshole Jones again I’m going to...”
Mrs. Ferguson started laughing riotously, slipped off her stool and started to stagger out. “Those two young boys piloting space ships for decades!” she said, and started laughing again as she went through the door.
The thirsty fellow asked for another beer and said “I don’t know, guys, you do look awful young.”
“I’ll explain it in a minute,” John said. “So the asshole broke your arm and ribs?”
“Yeah, the stupid son of a bitch. He should know there’s no pirates there. I think he was lying. I won a shitload of money playing poker with the stupid drunk six months earlier and I think he was trying to kill me. I was hoping he’d get prosecuted, but they just fired the lucky bastard.
“Now, Mister... what did you say your name was?” he said, turning to the stranger, who grinned.
“I didn’t. Rob Black. You’re...?”
“Mark Wilson. I saw the playbills, are you the guitar player from Earth?”
“Yeah, that’s me. So the bartender here said he’d explain...”
“John Knolls,” John said. “Look, Mister Black, they knew about relativity hundreds of years ago.”
“They may have, I don’t.”
“Okay, it’s easy. The faster you go, the slower time goes.”
“Hell if I know, my wife might. But that’s how it works.”
“It don’t make no sense to me.”
“Well look, suppose you could go at the speed of light...”
“Yes, of course you can’t but suppose you could. If you could jump up instantly at the speed of light towards a planet around Alpha Proxima...”
“It has planets?”
“I don’t know, you’d have to ask my wife. Suppose it does and you could jump there at the speed of light. Well, it would seem to you that the trip took less than a blink of an eye, but to people on Mars it would take four years.”
“You guys are a riot!” He said laughing, left a ten dollar tip on the bar and left, still laughing.
“Dumb tourist!” Mark said. “Fill me up!”