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It's like I always say... a barman sees the joys and sorrows of the galaxy. Even in a backwater bar on some clapped-out, used-up colonial planet he finds his world brings their triumphs and troubles to him. Here at Starbase 12, at the hub of the Federation so to speak, the ups and downs are much the same, give or take a tentacle here, a third leg there. People are basically alike in spite of their personal idiosyncrasies... My wife, girlfriend, soul-mate, bedfellow, whatever, walks out of my life and I cannot function any more... I meet this blonde, this angel, this perfect companion, no-one ever has such a perfect female... Hey, Mac, let's wet the baby's head... I get promoted, demoted, upgraded, downtrodden, misunderstood, fulfilled, emptied, freed, captivated, lost, found... You pour for them all, all day, every day.
Take last night. These three guys walk in, sober-looking fellows two of them; the third one is not only sober-looking, he's Vulcan. No sale for my own particular speciality with that one. The stocky one of the three is wearing a Captain's stripes so I pull a quick salute. The older fella gives a grin and bets me it is a long time since I flunk my entry tests. It is, but I am not about to tell him that - I'm here to listen, not to talk. Not that I don't pour out my woes into a sympathetic ear at the time, yessir I do, and drown my sorrows while I do it. Life's not so grey while the barkeep has his eye on his job, but that's enough of my problems.
"One drink," the Captain says, "just one drink, Spock, that is all we ask. Give us the simple Human pleasure of buying you a drink."
The Vulcan doesn't flicker an eyelid but looks at them both with a face as friendly as an Arcturan skrill, but the Captain clearly reads more into it than I do for he orders Saurian Brandy - doubles. I'm about to shake my head - after all, I do not keep unlimited supplies of that delectable, high duty, liquid gold - when I catch sight of his insignia. Kirk of the Enterprise, no less. Well, it isn't every day you get to serve a legend, so I pull out my under-the-counter supply and serve 'em each a treble and wave aside the credits he holds out.
"My brother is on Deneva," I say. "The first one is on me!"
He smiles a smile no sourpuss should try to fight, and who is fighting? I ain't no sourpuss, I love my fellow-beings in whatever shape or form. They lean against the bar and sip the stuff like old hands; they say these Starship crews get some perks in their job and they certainly taste the stuff before. The older guy sighs a lot. "Well, Jim," he says, "that is not a bad year!"
The Vulcan raises an eyebrow in a chilly kind of way. "There is no vintage system in Saurian Brandy, Doctor," he says in a damn-your-ignorance sort of voice. "The grapes grow under perfect conditions at all times and each year is as reliable as every other."
I wait for some slight trouble - I see guys pick a fight over an expression like the one on that Vulcan's face, let alone his high-class way of talking, but the Doc simply rolls his eyes and mutters something about, "This is no time for lectures." They finish their drink and the Doc calls me to set up three more and one for myself.
"We're out to celebrate tonight," he tells me, as if I cannot guess that for myself. But I pour out four more and pass them theirs over, enjoying my own. It is a long time since I last have someone offer to buy me one and I am not about to refuse.
"Down the hatch," I say, friendly-like.
"Mud-in your-eye!" the Doc agrees.
"Cheers!" the Captain tells us all, but I see his eye fixed on that Vulcan and it is not so cheerful at that. Ho ho, the philosopher in me thinks, a secret sorrow unburdens itself before the night is out, or I am no judge of my customers.
"Skin off your nose," the Vulcan says carefully, and I nearly drop my own glass, never mind the open mouths of the other two guys.
"That's not a logical statement, Spock," the Captain protests, his grin spreading from ear to ear and then some.
"Drinking is not a logical pastime," the Vulcan tells him, sipping at that brandy like it might climb out the glass and bite him. Not that it mightn't if the circumstances are right, but I do not expect a Vulcan to appreciate its subtler effects. I always hear they are totally immune to alcohol, but I do not believe all the bad I hear, however this one looks from the shallowing contents of his glass to his two pals and I catch a sudden gleam in his eye I can't quite fathom. He puts his empty glass down and watches the other two drain theirs and I guess he has enough of drinking for one evening, but it is clear that the Captain and the Doctor feel the night is still young, for the Captain suddenly remembers he has not called the shot yet, being baulked by yours truly on the first attempt - well, I know I ain't no charity-giver, but these folks earn their drinks the hard way, or so my brother tells me - and he signals me to get the bottle out again.
"Got a new Captain to drink to," he whispers in a sort of moaning bellow across the bar, and again I see that miserable look like a Sirian tracker wolf with its ears laid back. He claps that Vulcan on the shoulders with a friendly buffet I am personally grateful not to feel. "Must buy you one drink, Spock."
The Vulcan studies his face like he knows it better than his own and nods at me. I shrug my shoulders. After all, it is not my affair if Starship Captains have secret sorrows to drown, and I set up their glasses a third time, though this time I restrain my pouring hand to doubles. Well, the bottle is getting kinda low and it may be I need another myself before the evening is over. A barman has to look to his own future in this business, everyone else is too busy with their own. The Captain straightens up with hardly a stagger and my respect for this living legend goes up another notch. Not only is he the hero my brother personally tells me but he can hold his liquor as well. I like a being who can hold their drink, it makes my own job easier to do if only everyone can carry their share like a gentleman and not act like a slob the minute he gets a slug or two of 120% proof under his belt. He lifts his glass with a pretty steady hand all things considered and calls the Doe's wandering attention - but, hell, our resident song-bird stripper deserves a little attention and she usually gets it all the way to the last hook and zipper - back to the matter in hand.
"C'mon, Bones," he says, "let's drink a toast to an old friend who finally gets what he deserves after all these years, a ship of his own and a darn good ship, too. The Commodore tells me she is as good as the Enterprise when she is complete."
But my professional ear tells me this statement is so much hogwash, from what I hear these Starship crews are one ship people. However, he drains his glass and blinks owlishly at his pals. The Doctor drains his, too, and the two of them study their friend like they'll never see him again.
The Vulcan hands me a stack of credits and says, "I believe these cover the cost of another glass of Saurian Brandy each, bartender."
Well, I can analyse a statement with the best of 'em, so I pour out three more and sling 'em over, but the bottle is dangerously low now so I hide it back under the counter and wipe the wooden bar-top - oh, yes, none but the best at Starbase 12, none of your cheap plastic imitation stuff for us - to indicate it is time they think about slowing it down a little.
"Well, Spock, you decide to go out in a blaze of Human glory do you?" the Doc says, digging the Vulcan none too gently in the ribs, a liberty I guess I think twice about before I take. "We never buy each other a drink before, it is a pity it has to be the last time."
The Vulcan grins, at least I think he does at the time, but that Saurian Brandy is potent stuff at that and certainly affects one of us, I realise.
"Better not count on that, Bones," he says solemnly, "for maybe I learn to acquire the taste this evening, and this afternoon I tell the Commodore I do not want the Lincoln but I stay where I am."
The stillness after that remark is something like I never see before, they freeze like Denebian rock iguanas waiting for a passing neolope. The Vulcan puts his glass down kind of slow and looks as though he may just be uncertain of his welcome, "I think this news will please you," he says, "I am afraid it is too late to change my mind this time."
The Captain never takes his eyes off him, but finishes his glass like it is medicine. I wince at that, for up to now they give my brandy all the respect that it is due. The Vulcan eyes him up and down and the moment stretches out until I get impatient for something to happen. Then with a yell like a Klingon invasion battalion that Captain chucks his glass down any old where and hugs that Vulcan there and then with the Doc leaping up and down around them like a pup that finds its mother. I watch the Vulcan's ears go bright green at the tips and I swear as sure as I am standing here he winks at me, although I do admit that after all that brandy it may be that his eyes are watering more than somewhat. Then the three of them link arms and go right out the door together like three cadets on their first visit to Wrigley's Planet.
It's like I say, a barman sees the joys and sorrows of the galaxy, although he does not always understand just what and why!
Copyright Meg Wright