Space Team

By: Barry J. Hutchison

CHAPTER ONE


Cal Carver sat on a tall stool at a low bar, drinking uncomfortably.

He was alone, despite the crowds around him, and estimated he was roughly four-thirds of the way towards being drunk. Which said it all, really.

The sign above the bar’s front door translated as Mishak’s Tavern, which, despite having no idea who or what ‘Mishak’ was, Cal had thought sounded quite quaint. Inside, however, it was anything but.

Hundreds of weirdly misshapen aliens filled the place, flirting and fighting and – in the darker corners – doing other things that may or may not have started with ‘f’.

They laughed, shouted, cheered and roared all around him. He narrowed his eyes and peered over the top of his glass at the mirror behind the bar, trying to take it all in without drawing any unwanted attention to himself.

The bar’s clientele were like the assembled cast of all Cal’s more creative childhood nightmares. There were slug-like things with their eyes out on stalks, rough-skinned green things with nonsensical teeth, and something that looked like a cross between a spider and a fish, but with none of the good bits of either.

There were things made of rock, things that oozed pus from their empty eye sockets, things that took on a ghostly shimmer in the shadows, and faded completely when the light hit them. All it needed, Cal thought, was his second-grade teacher dressed like a clown and he’d have a bad-dream full house.

Voices raised over by one of the dimly-lit booths. There was the scream of blaster-fire, the splat of something wet hitting the wall, then the thud of someone heavy hitting the floor. A sarcastic cheer filled the place, like the kind a group of boorish drinkers might have made back on Earth when a bartender dropped a glass, and then everyone went back to the business of trying to talk more loudly than everyone else in the place.

Cal brought his glass close to his mouth and tried to take a sip, but his arm was swaying and his aim was off and so he sipped at the air, instead. He didn’t seem to notice, and it didn’t stop him smacking his lips together and letting out a satisfied, “aaah.”

With some effort, Cal turned and looked along the bar to his right. A reedy little yellow-skinned guy perched on a stool, nursing his own drink. He had bulbous white eyes that reminded Cal of Kermit the Frog, and a little curled mustache that positively screamed space-hipster.

His clothing, on the other hand, said casual sportswear. It was as close to a tracksuit as Cal had seen this side of Earth’s atmosphere, and made of something that looked like the unholy offspring of velour and nylon. He wore a wide-peaked baseball cap low on his head, although Cal knew it wasn’t really a baseball cap, because they almost certainly didn’t have baseball in space. They probably had something else. Space-ball, or something.

Cal spent a few seconds trying to devise the rules of Space-ball.

That done, he sipped his drink – successfully this time - drew back his lips in utter revulsion at the taste, and turned his attention to far more pressing matters.

“What the fonk is it with these stools?” he asked.

Tracksuit-guy didn’t answer, or even glance Cal’s way.

Cal leaned closer and raised his voice. “I said, what the fonk is it with these stools?” he repeated, shrugging heavily for added emphasis. “I mean… look.”

Cal sat up straight and tried to reach for his drink on the bar. Even at full stretch, he couldn’t get his fingers to the glass. “See? What’s the point in that?”

“I don’t know,” the yellow-skin replied.

“Hmm?” said Cal, pushing his ear forward and closing one eye, in the hope that the reduction in visual input would magically boost his hearing. “What’d you say?”

“Nothing. Forget it,” the guy said. He knocked back his drink in one gulp, shuddered slightly, then moved to get up.

“Wait!” Cal slurred, sliding off his stool in a quite breathtakingly undignified way. He shuffled closer to the stranger, leaning on the bar for support. “I’m Cal.”

He held a hand out for the little guy to shake. The alien looked at it, confused, then shook his head. “Whatever. Have a nice night.”

“Hold on!” said Cal again. “Here, let me… Bartender!” He tried clicking his fingers, but they refused to work for some reason. He glared at them through his one open eye, hoping to force them into making the noise.