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Hathno Paige is a science fiction poet.

 

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Jack Ripper's Church of Liquid Sin

by Hathno Paige

 

"Yes, yes," said the Hoag from the hole on top of his alien, barrel-shaped body. "One thousand. Very good price for you."
I almost choked. A thousand? A semester's tuition for a cigar? But of course that wouldn't matter to my fraternity brothers.
Trets took the cigar and drew it lengthwise under his nose with a long, deep sniff. The Hoag gurgled and said, "The best. Hand rolled against thigh of Thuban virgin."
Trets laughed. "Where the hell did you get that one, Hoag?"
The Hoag gurgled again. "I take lessons Earth-speak."
"Lessons huh? Why? So you can sell more bullshit to us stupid college kids?" Trets opened his mouth wide and bit the cigar in two.
The Hoag slapped at his body and made hissing sounds. I got scared. Trets could talk tough, but the Hoag sported some pretty serious claws. And Ron and Kullimey were pretty much wimps.
Trets spit a brown lump onto the floor, swirled his tongue around his mouth and spit again.
"Those Thuban virgins Hoag, what do they smear themselves with, rotten fish? Bring us the good stuff you overstuffed garbage can and bring it fast. We've got dinner reservations."

 

We got the cigars, but were a little late getting to the restaurant, not that my brothers cared much about punctuality. Trets, Ron and Kullimey came from the kind of families that did what they wanted, when they wanted. I, however, came from the kind of family that said, "Lick your boot? Why of course sir, anything for a dollar sir." If not for my scholarship, I'd never even have met guys like them.
Ron picked up the menu. "Hmm. I don't believe I see what I'm after. How about you, Books?"
I just stared at the prices.
Trets said, "Books, I'm buying, so order up. And remember, it's not a gift, it's an investment. You're the smartest of us four and when we all lose our family fortunes we're going to come live off the one you're going to make." He paused, pursed his lips and said, "The old-fashioned way." The three of them cracked up laughing.
I laughed too, which some psychologists might have diagnosed as "identification with the aggressor". I preferred to think of it as survival instinct. It was connections with guys like them that were my future.
Kullimey put his hand in the air and snapped his fingers. A waiter in a white dinner jacket came running over. Kullimey said, "My good man, there's a special dish we've come here for, one that's not on the menu."
The waiter said, "Why of course sir, what is it you wish? Our chefs come from all over the galaxy and can prepare most anything."
Trets peeled two one-thousand dollar bills off the roll he kept in his pocket and threw them on the table. "You know what we want. Just go get it. But bring us some onion rings first."
I looked at Trets. "What'd you order?"
He smiled, that huge mouth of his opening almost to his ears. Ron and Kullimey giggled.
Trets poked my ribs.
Clearly I was missing something again. But of course that was my contribution to our spring break vacation, wasn't it? Kullimey got us free rides to the station with his father's shuttle line, Ron arranged for us to stay in his mother's condo, and Trets, well, he was the alpha-male, so all he had to do was be himself. But being that I was the court jester, I guess that was all I had to do, too.
Trets lowered his voice and said, "we're being cannibals tonight."
"What?" I was still confused.
Trets just nodded at me while Ron and Kullimey giggled again. Kullimey said, "You know the old saying, eat the rich? Well tonight, we do the opposite."
The back of my brain said, "What? Vomit on the rich?" But of course my mouth wouldn't say that, not to a fellow gentleman brother of Sigma Gamma Epsilon.
Ron said, "Didn't you notice the conspicuous absence of homeless people in the walkways?"
I had, but I just assumed it was because shuttle flights cost about ten grand a piece. Not many homeless people with that kind of money.
I looked at Trets. "You can't be serious."
"Oh, but I am, Books. Think of it as a lesson. It's a dog-eat-dog world out there. We're top dogs and we're going to eat a bottom dog tonight. Remember last month when you momentarily considered majoring in education instead of finance? Well that's when I got the idea for this spring-break trip."
I was saved from responding by the onion rings. They were set in a meter-sized tower, narrowing as it went up, the bottom ring big enough to wear as a life preserver. They tasted great, too, and by the sixth one I'd forgotten all about the joke I'd been the brunt of. But then the waiter came back.
"Gentlemen, if you will follow me to our private dining area," he said.
Ron and Kullimey looked at Trets and grinned.
We got up and followed him through a small, green-curtained doorway into a dining room with a single table in its center. One whole wall was transparent. I ran over and gaped at the Milky Way streaking across the view. So bright! How many nights had I strained my eyes trying to find stars in the earth's light-polluted skies, dreaming about travelling to them? Suddenly I felt keenly aware of my position amongst the privileged now, the less than a hundredth of a percent of earthlings who had the money to get off-planet.
Trets said, "Books, look at this."
I turned and noticed the table for the first time. Metal bowls levitated above its surface, each twirling full with a colorful food I'd never seen before. In the center stood a huge dish domed over by a silver cover.
We sat down and the waiter installed napkins on our laps. Ron and Kullimey tittered away about natural selection and the survival of the fittest, playing it up for my sake I figured.
When the waiter finished, he said, "Gentlemen, our main course," and whisked away the dish cover.
Up to that moment I still thought it was a joke, but when I saw those ribs with their red-glazed meat jutting up into the air, I flashed back to my fat cadaver from second term anatomy. My stomach couldn't take it. I sprinted for the bathroom to lose the onion rings.

 

I was leaning against the wall outside the restaurant watching the parade of rich earthlings and alien businessmen strolling by when my brothers came out.
Kullimey had a big red stain on his shirt and was picking his teeth with a toothpick.
"Books," he said in a way that was almost magnanimous, "You missed perhaps the finest meal I have ever eaten. Wouldn't you say so Ron?"
Ron looked a little green, but said, "I daresay I agree Kullimey. I've heard that the cannibals called man 'long pig', but that chap we've just dined on was finer than any swine I've tasted."
Trets said, "Gentlemen, I think the brothers of Sigma Gamma Epsilon are due for a drink. How about that place?" He pointed down the hall to a red neon sign that said "Jack Ripper's Church of Liquid Sin".

 

The interior was 1800-retro, all done up in wood and brass, soft green lights along the walls. There was only one customer, an old guy sitting at the bar on a stool.
As we got to the bar, the man said, "Hit me."
The bartender, a guy about my father's age, put down the shot glass he was polishing and filled it with black liquid from his gun.
"Just remember to put your head down on the bar this time. Okay?"
The old guy did the shot and followed it with a chase from his beer. "Ah."
He looked perfectly fine for about two seconds, but then his eyes rolled away like loose marbles and his body collapsed backward off the stool. The bartender's hand shot out and snagged the old man's shirt, then he yanked him up to the bar and laid his cheek on the polishing cloth.
"They never listen." His hand started feeling around the old man's throat for a pulse. I figured he was worried the guy had had a heart attack, but then he got a satisfied look on his face and said, "Well, he'll be dead soon, what can I get for you gentlemen?"
Trets said, "What's he having?"
"We call it 'Forgiveness'."
Trets looked intrigued. "What's it do?"
"Its kills you for about two and a half minutes, which, it turns out, is just long enough for you to make the pearly gates and beg St. Peter to forgive you all your sins."
Now Trets looked really intrigued. This was clearly something even he'd never heard of on his business trips to the stars with dad. He asked the bartender a few more questions, learning how Forgiveness knocked you out, then slowly stopped and restarted your heart.
Trets said, "Gentlemen, I think we've found our drink."
The bartender shook his head. "Boys, I'm not sure this is right for you. it's pretty hard stuff. Your head's really got to be in order."
Kullimey said, "Barkeep, I assure you our heads are in fine order. Now come, let's have it!"
I didn't know what to do. I'd already wimped out on dinner, and I wondered if my brothers' patience was wearing thin. Then I heard my mouth say it. "I'm in."
The bartender shook his head, and started working his hands behind the bar, eventually setting out four glasses filled with black liquid. "And that'll be a hundred a shot, before you do them."
Trets peeled another key note off the wad and threw it down on the bar. "Keep it."
The bartender said, "And remember, lay your head on the bar as soon as you're finished."
We all picked up the glasses and toasted our beloved fraternity. My brothers downed the foul-smelling black elixir like champions, but I hesitated.
Holding the glass as if to take the shot, I turned and looked at my brothers. Ron fell first, followed seconds later by Kullimey, whose head hit the bar so hard I was afraid he broke something. Trets looked at me and said, "That was noth--" I grabbed him as he fell backwards off the stool. He was heavy. The bartender reached out and pulled him in.
I stared at the glass for a minute. How dumb does a guy have to be to take a suicide potion on a dare?
I set the glass down on the bar and pushed it toward the barkeep.
"I changed my mind," I said.
The bartender laughed. "Are you sure?"
I shrugged sheepishly. "Yeah, I'm sure. Killing yourself for a little while seems pretty stupid."
He laughed again. "Drink up, kid. You got a shot of Wild Dog 151. The only thing you'll get is a little buzz."
Now I laughed. I saluted him with the glass, then tossed it down. The liquor burned my throat and made me cough.
"What made you change my drink?" I asked.
"You don't look like the typical asshole that visits this recreation station."
"How could you tell?"
"The shoes."
I looked down. I thought my shoes looked just like my brothers'. Of course they were cheap imitations, but I didn't have two grand to drop on shoes. "I guess I didn't realize how obvious it was."
The bartender said, "It's not, but my son wanted those shoes your rich boy friends have. I got him the ones you're wearing on my last trip earth-side."
He leaned against the mirrored wall behind the bar. "Well, we've got a little while until these jokers start waking up. Tell me your story."
For a usually tongue-tied guy, I was remarkably eloquent. Probably it was the Wild Dog working it's magic on my synapses. "I'm a poor kid with a big brain who got a scholarship to a rich-kid college. We're on spring break. My rich frat brothers sprung for this trip. We just went to a restaurant where they ordered human. I got sick and walked out."
He doubled over laughing. "No. Tell me they didn't fall for that. Where were you? The Green Room or The Embers?"
"Green Room."
"Well, then congratulations, your buddies just ate another of the lunar colony's fine soy products."
I grinned big. "You're kidding?"
"Nope, your boys fell for the oldest scam on the station. Of course a lot of other rich tourists also fall for it, so don't let on."
Someone started to moan. I turned to look. It was Ron. I also noticed Trets' jaw moving, grinding his teeth pretty hard. Then I looked back at the old guy. He wasn't doing anything except drooling.
I said, "You didn't give them Forgiveness, did you?"
The bartender nodded. "You got me. But do you think they deserve to be forgiven?"
I thought about it. "They aren't bad guys, they just don't care about anyone except themselves. What did you give them?"
"It's my own special blend of bar-pharmacopoeia called 'Vulnerability'. Mild hallucinogen, but it picks out whatever it is that you're afraid of and amplifies it about a million times. Nothing that a year of psychotherapy can't fix, and hopefully it will help them understand how it feels to be us little people."
I giggled, but then noticed a nasty smell. "What's that?"
"Well, I'd say your friend on the end there just shit himself." He was talking about Kullimey. I laid my head on the bar laughing. Kullimey really was an asshole. Hell, they were all assholes. What was I doing hanging out with guys like them?
The bartender said, "This is sort of a special bar. You order what you want, but I give you what you need. Your friends need to be brought down a few pegs, and believe me, they're gonna be. But you see Mr. Simpson over here?"
I turned and watched another huge dollop of drool slip out of his mouth.
"He needs something else. He made a bad mistake a long time ago and he's still getting over it," the barkeep said.
"What did he do?"
"He worked for some government's bioassessment division. It was his job to check for life on planets targeted for total mining, you know where they process the whole damn thing right down the core? Anyhow, one day he's working on this barren planet and he finds these little lichens underneath some rock. Well that's the kind of thing that will just kill the whole deal. You can't total mine a planet with life."
I nodded.
"Anyhow, the company offered him a couple of million to ignore his finding. He took it, and they ate the planet."
He picked up a glass and started polishing it, turning it in the light.
I said, "And now he feels guilty for not doing his job?"
He turned the glass in the light and inspected it. "Worse. He says he heard them when they died. Says the lichen sent him a telepathic message, crying out in pain." He put the glass down and picked up another.
I looked at the old guy and gulped. Was money worth it?
He started to wake up.
The bartender said, "How'd it go Mr. Simpson?"
The old man shook his head. "Much better, I'd swear I could talk to them this time." He started drinking his beer again.
I suddenly realized that I didn't want to be around when my brothers woke up. Actually, I realized that I never wanted to be around them again. I stood up to leave.
The bartender said, "Can I get you anything else?
"Nope," I said. "But thanks for the conversation. Hopefully I'll see you around."
He smiled.
As I pushed open the door, I looked back and said, "Hey, what was it you really gave me?"
"Do you really need to know?"
I walked out the door. Maybe it was just Wild Dog or maybe it was some special blend of liquid courage. It didn't matter; I didn't need to know what was in my drink any more than I needed to be wasting my time at a college filled with Tretses, Rons and Kullimeys.
I headed back to the condo to get my stuff. There had to be work for a smart guy like me on a station like this. Hell, maybe I could even jump a ship to the stars.

 

THE END