Across the Sea of Stars

Really Really Really Big

History repeats itself. That's one of the things that's wrong with history.

Clarence Darrow

There is a big red button that hangs behind the bar at F'nordalp'leen's, within easy reach of any of the twenty or more tentacles that make up the bartender. It hangs there, usually unnoticed, underneath the big sign that says "Patrons are responsible for their own biology" in quite a number of languages. It's the sign that draws the attention of most beings' visual sensory organs. The button hangs there, ignored, in the midst of all the rest of the clutter needed for a bar that tends to just about every one of the thousands of known races in the Coterie. Given the spectacular, intense view of McCutcheon's Nebula, given the dozens of regular and some highly irregular species sitting, perching, hanging or floating about, given the colors, odors, and textures of the beings and the things they like to consume in a place like this, you wouldn't be remiss if you didn't notice a small red mechanism behind the bar in one sector of a popular galactic waystation.

Tonight, however, the bartender picked up the button, a green and black flutter of cloth around the tentacle marking it as the seventh of many. The nimble tendril held the control aloft, visible to those standing in the room, slithering along the floor, or floating near the ceiling. Ro#chon, the avianoid seemingly always perched at the bar, raised a golden-hued talon to peck at a computer tablet. The crowd in the cavernous chamber watched expectantly, ignoring the chromatically turbulent vista in the blazing diamond-glass viewport behind them.

A single icon appeared on the screen, identifying one of the patrons in the bar. Dugar, the large retired Goshan Imperial Marine, turned to one of his drinking companions. The others at the table nodded in agreement, except for Walder, who was snoring.

"It's a good thing I bet on you this time." His voice was deep and resonant, cutting through the din.

Captain Maggie Gale smiled, her hand raising an almost-emptied glass of port in salute. Someone frothy and lime-colored oozed into the space next to her, stretching an amorphous appendage towards Dugar. The end of the pseudopod flowed open, a jellied blossom of pale green. From a protected vacuole inside the extended tendril, a collection of crystals dropped into Dugar's large, leathery palm. With the payoff complete, the being receded from the group at the table.

Waiting for the transaction to complete, Maggie sipped most of her remaining wine. She gently swirled what was left, watching the deep purple liquid vibrate in gentle spirals. She raised the glass to her nose, so that she could try to isolate the wine's gentle, fruity bouquet from all the other odors wafting through the bar.

"You would think," she said, her nose wrinkling, "that after all this time, you would know better. What was that, six drummi crystals?" Maggie set the glass down onto the table. The bartender's tentacle lowered the button into her hand.

"Eight," Dugar replied, "but who's counting?"

"I am. After we're done with this, you're buying." She pressed the button.

Lights flashed over all of the exits from the bar. The unmistakable scent of wet dog fur drifted from small vents over the doorways. A dozen voices boomed from sound emitters, each clear and distinct in their own frequency range and modulation.

"This is an evacuation drill. Please report to the nearest lifepod station. Do not panic." The voices were calm, collected, methodical, and only barely mechanical. They were designed to catch the attention of everyone in the station. Those in the bar were filing quietly through the exits into the main corridor. The tentacle of the bartender retrieved the button, hung it back on the wall, and then vanished beneath the bar.

Dugar pointed towards the exit. Maggie pointed to the still-sleeping Walder. He was not responding. She reached out and shook his shoulder. He woke, with difficulty, looking up at her with bleary eyes.

"Didn't we do this last month?" he groaned, his voice rough from a dry throat.

"You know the regs. Move it, or I'll have Dugar carry you." Dugar didn't wait.

"We're behind schedule." He tossed the semi-conscious human over his shoulder. From somewhere in the small of Dugar's back, Walder just groaned.

Continued in Part 2...