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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
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
"Lessons huh? Why? So you can sell more bullshit to us
stupid college kids?" Trets opened his mouth wide and bit the cigar in
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.
spit a brown lump onto the floor, swirled his tongue around his mouth and
"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
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
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
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.
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
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 waiter said, "Why of course sir, what is it you wish?
Our chefs come from all over the galaxy and can prepare most
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."
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
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.
lowered his voice and said, "we're being cannibals tonight."
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.
said, "Didn't you notice the conspicuous absence of homeless people in the
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
I looked at Trets. "You can't be serious."
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
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
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
We sat down and the waiter installed napkins on our laps.
Kullimey tittered away about natural selection and the survival of
fittest, playing it up for my sake I figured.
When the waiter
finished, he said, "Gentlemen, our main course," and
whisked away the dish
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
to my fat cadaver from second term anatomy. My stomach
couldn't take it.
I sprinted for the bathroom to lose the onion
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
he said in a way that was almost magnanimous, "You missed
finest meal I have ever eaten. Wouldn't you say so Ron?"
looked a little green, but said, "I daresay I agree Kullimey. I've
that the cannibals called man 'long pig', but that chap we've
on was finer than any swine I've tasted."
"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
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
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
Trets said, "What's he having?"
"We call it
Trets looked intrigued. "What's it do?"
kills you for about two and a half minutes, which, it turns out, is
long enough for you to make the pearly gates and beg St. Peter to
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
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
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."
bartender shook his head, and started working his hands behind the
eventually setting out four glasses filled with black liquid. "And
be a hundred a shot, before you do them."
Trets peeled another
key note off the wad and threw it down on the bar.
bartender said, "And remember, lay your head on the bar as soon as
We all picked up the glasses and toasted our beloved
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
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
"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
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
"What made you change my drink?" I asked.
don't look like the typical asshole that visits this
"How could you tell?"
down. I thought my shoes looked just like my brothers'. Of
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
leaned against the mirrored wall behind the bar. "Well, we've got a
while until these jokers start waking up. Tell me your story."
usually tongue-tied guy, I was remarkably eloquent. Probably it was
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
doubled over laughing. "No. Tell me they didn't fall for that.
were you? The Green Room or The Embers?"
then congratulations, your buddies just ate another of the lunar
fine soy products."
I grinned big. "You're kidding?"
your boys fell for the oldest scam on the station. Of course a
other rich tourists also fall for it, so don't let on."
started to moan. I turned to look. It was Ron. I also noticed
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
I thought about it.
"They aren't bad guys, they just don't care about
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."
giggled, but then noticed a nasty smell. "What's that?"
I'd say your friend on the end there just shit himself." He was
about Kullimey. I laid my head on the bar laughing. Kullimey
really was an
asshole. Hell, they were all assholes. What was I doing
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
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
"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."
"Anyhow, the company offered him
a couple of million to ignore his
finding. He took it, and they ate the
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
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
message, crying out in pain." He put the glass down and picked
I looked at the old guy and gulped. Was money worth
He started to wake up.
The bartender said, "How'd it go
The old man shook his head. "Much better, I'd swear I
could talk to them
this time." He started drinking his beer
I suddenly realized that I didn't want to be around when
woke up. Actually, I realized that I never wanted to be around
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
pushed open the door, I looked back and said, "Hey, what was it you
"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.