Authors: Jim Munroe
Angry Young Spaceman
by Jim Munroe
Originally published by No Media Kings in 2000 and Four Walls Eight Windows in 2001. This e-book version can be purchased by a donation to the author at
, where his other books, graphic novels, movies and videogames live.
Bubbles over Plangyo,
Where did you go?
—Octavian folk song
I had a massive suitcase dragging down one fist and my Speak-O-Matic case in the other.
“Let me help you with that,” said Lisa. I pushed my suitcase at her, but she reached around it to snatch the jet black translator.
I let go reluctantly. “Careful,” I said, lurching on with my suitcase.
She swung it jauntily as she walked, smirking back at me from under her messy mop of brown curls. I set the suitcase down and picked it up with my other hand.
“‘What do I need antigrav cells for, Lisa?’” Lisa said in her stupid-guy voice as she watched me struggle. “‘What a total waste of money!’”
I looked at the spaceport ahead and picked up my pace. “You deliberately parked the floater far away to —” A guy with a jetpack touched down between Lisa and I, cutting me off. I scowled at him as I walked through his purple exhaust, my nose burning from it.
She watched me with a smidge of sympathy. “How’s your head?”
I shrugged. “Not bad, considering.”
“Yeah, it was quite a party,” she said with a crooked smile. “Were you surprised with how many people showed up?”
I nodded. The rooftop had been packed, new people landing every minute it seemed. I felt, again, a bubble of doubt rise, as I thought about all the good friends I had on Earth. I could feel Lisa watching me. Ahead, a rocket launched, its ignition-plume predictably lighting a burst of excitement in my chest.
“It’s gonna be good,” I said, staring at it as it rose. I suddenly worried about my boxes. They had been sent ahead and (hopefully) already sat in the belly of my rocketship.
We reached the whisk-away and it slid us into the spaceport. I was able to put the suitcase down for a minute and flex blood into my hand. We passed through the field and stepped off near a bunch of shops.
Lisa checked her watch. I took my Speak-O-Matic back from her, saying, “I’ll take it from here.”
“Sorry to get you here so early,” she said. “I gotta get to work.”
I smiled at her. “It’s not that early.” I thought about last time we were in a spaceport together, back when we were going out.
“Well, I guess...” she said, folding her arms and looking at me.
“Thanks, eh,” I said at the same time.
“Oh, yeah,” she said. “Skaggs wanted me to give you something to remember the gang by.”
I put up my fists.
She laughed and fished out a moviedisk. I took it and tucked it in a side pocket of the suitcase, then picked up both my bags.
“See ya,” I said, and she lifted her hand.
I turned away, trying to decide if I should go to the bar or check in first.
“Oh, and here’s something to remember
by,” Lisa said behind me, and I reluctantly turned around, hoped it would be a hug rather than a kiss.
It was a perfectly-aimed right hook, and it knocked me cold.
“Lead the way, sir!” said the luggage-droid hovering above me.
I sat up, rubbed my jaw and neck tendons. My head was really pounding now. There were a few curious onlookers, but as soon as I stood up they lost interest.
“Where would you like me to carry your bags, sir?” chirped the luggage-droid. It made my massive suitcase look infuriatingly light, bouncing there in mid-air.
“Nowhere! Drop them,” I growled.
It set them down. I picked them up.
“Please deposit zero credits,” it said to my back, then buzzed away as it realized the stupidity of that request.
I headed into the washroom. There was a medvac installed on the wall, which was great — it meant I didn’t have to go rooting through my suitcase. I set it to medium and stood in front of it as the healing rays swept over my face. I shut my eyes (one hand on my suitcase) and smiled, thinking about Lisa. She couldn’t resist giving me a pug send-off. So sentimental.
I spat in the sink — no blood — and felt my head. There was an egg under my crewcut where my head had hit the ground, but it wasn’t leaky. The medvac had snapped off so I turned it on again, crouching awkwardly so it could reach the back of my head.
A Yenatian sprung suddenly over the door of the toilet stall and made me jump.
“Do not move,” the medvac chastised with the voice of a grumpy nurse.
The Yenatian bounced to the door and out, his characteristically innocent eyes looking me over. I tried not to glower at him. It wasn’t his fault that most of the universe was engineered for people with door-opening appendages.
The medvac switched off. I checked the spot on my head, and other than the residual numb tingle it was back to normal. I picked up my suitcase and left for the bar, with a plan to make the rest of my head numb.
“Could you stop that?”
The charliebot continued polishing the shot glass. “What?”
“The polishing. You weren’t doing it when I came in.” They have some subroutine that gets them doing some pointless busy-work. It’s irritating. “Just stop the polishing, willya?”
“Uppity human,” he growled as he rolled away.
That was a bit extreme. Someone had been in here talking revolution, or at least bitching about Earthlings. The idea was that it gave each carbon-copy bar its own character, for better or worse: the bar near my place had a charliebot that spouted the annoying pretentious witticisms of its lunarian regulars.
I resisted the urge to ask what species had used that phrase — it’d just feed my own prejudices, after all. It
odd, though, ‘cause bars were mostly a human thing. I looked around, a little paranoid. I couldn’t see anyone, but that didn’t mean anything.
“How many people in the bar, Charlie?”
Charlie’s head extended about a foot on a thin metal pipe neck... turned one way
.... turned the other way...
then turned his jug-eared lump of a head back to face me. From on high, he reported: “It’s just you and me, buddy. No other patrons present.” His head dropped down with a hydraulic hiss and he asked: “So who owes who a drink?”
When the charliebots were being test-marketed, the locals (after they got tired of mocking it and getting it to repeat various naughty phrases) started taking advantage of its sensor functions, usually with a little bet involved. The manufacturers saw this and capitalized on it, adding theatrics — a charliebot doesn’t have to extend its neck to count the people in the bar, for instance — and, naturally, the follow-up pressure sell. Don’t ask me how I remember clavinish facts like this, but the craven and clever tactics of business are in my blood, I suppose.
Of course, I also remembered all the times they had slipped up — asking the one person in a bar who was buying, for instance. An “if barpatrons=1 then...” statement would have done the job.
“Come on, don’t be a cheap bastard. Our house beer is only eighteen credits, buddy!” The charliebot’s hose arm extended, poised above my glass, waiting for my OK.
I sat there quietly. With sales-happy robots, no input is the best input, if you can stand it. Sometimes, they’ll presume consent, and if you haven’t actually ordered it... I sat there quietly.
Charlie started filling my glass. Like beer, silence can be golden.
“Who’s paying?” he said, driblets falling from his retracting draft arm.
“The other guy,” I said, watching as it paused to sense for the “other guy.” There was no theatrical flourish this time, just a quick attempt to get its hose into my glass.
“Whoa, Charlie,” I said as I snatched up the glass. It would have sucked it back up in a second if I had let it. The charliebot has its charms, to be sure, but when it comes to class and breeding — well, it’s no jeevesatron.
It stood there for a second, processing the fact that it couldn’t charge me for a drink I hadn’t ordered, nor take a drink out of my hand. Then it rolled away. When it stopped, it barked a word I recognized as a curse from the ghettos of the most depraved Nebular planets. A word, incidentally, I had never used — even in a joking, over-the-top way with my friends. How was it getting exposed to that kind of language?
Spaceports are weird places.
And then it got even weirder.
Before I even write the next line I want to put in a disclaimer. I can’t stand the thought of someone reading this and thinking “Oh wow, this guy is total xenophobic trash!” Because that’s what I would think if I read the next few lines cold. This is the situation: I was totally paranoid because the charliebot was talking some serious evil-alien shit, and I was worried they were regulars. I wish it wasn’t the case, but aliens often make me paranoid — not because I think they’re all bad, just that I think that they have a genuine beef with us Earthlings. What with the war and all the fucked-up shit that happened. I think if I was a rough-and-tumble Neb, for instance, and I saw someone like me in a bar all alone...
In fact, that was one of the reasons I was headed to one of the most isolated planets in the known galaxy — to see just how non-xeno I was. But if I worried that I was a xenophobe, I soon found out that there are more virulent cases out there.
Halfway through my free beer someone came in. I glanced backwards. Human.
He was dressed in a grey body-suit with a superfluous-but-still-snazzy collar. I wish I was the kind of guy that could just throw out “Cool collar!” to an utter stranger, but the best I managed was a civil nod.
He took a seat at the bar, ordered a gin-and-tonic.
“So,” he said, in a strange scratchy voice, “What brings you to this godforsaken hole?”
Now I had just been thinking about what a creepy place this was, but “godforsaken hole” was a bit bombastic. It wasn’t as if there were acid tests going on at the tables or kids skinning themselves or anything. “Well,” I said, “It’s a little sterile... but it feels like God is here, somewhere.”
He gave me a guarded look.
“Maybe in the beer,” I said.
He went back to his drink.
“I’m here because I’m going to Octavia,” I said, picking up the thread.
He looked at me slowly. “Octavia, eh? It’d be a nice place, except for all the sea monkeys.”
I froze. My grandfather would use that slur, war vet that he was, but I’d never heard it from the mouth of someone my age.
“Not that I’ve been there, of course. Someone like me can’t afford to...” He made jerky hand movements meant to resemble carefree planethopping. “...to
about any time he wants. Some of us have to
for a living.”
I guessed he was a driver or worker at the spaceport. And he had a point. Anyone without money or a university education couldn’t hope to leave Earth. All they could hope for was some lame vacation someplace like Barcelona or Tokyo, while the privileged class got to go ring surfing, or swim in the molten core of a star...
But the bud of sympathy quickly withered.
“Not that I’d go to that fucking... hole. You must be fucked, buddy.”
I shrugged. Oh well, there goes civility. “You seem to know a lot about a place you’ve never been to,” I said, speaking with a mildness I didn’t feel.
“Oh, I know. I know enough. Robot, another for this poor jackass. On me.”
I debated whether it was worth it as the charliebot was filling my glass. I checked the time. Still had a while.
Looking at the charliebot made me think about the free beer I’d just scammed. “Heh, you know if you ...”
I stopped when I saw the way his eyes were locked on the glass in front of him, hovering but going nowhere. I waited to see if he would prompt me to continue and when he didn’t I started to see how quickly I could drink my drink without being completely obvious about it.
Pretty quickly, it turned out, but not quickly enough.
His head swung towards me as if on a hinge. “I know enough. I had something going with one of those cold fish once.”
I nodded. Lifted my glass.
is what they call it,” he said, his face rippling with scorn.
I knew this was going to get nasty. “Remote” is what they actually called it; “digital” had less pleasant connotations.
“So fucking high and mighty.” He pulled at the collar I had admired earlier.
Lifted my glass.
“All that bullshit about mating.”
Thought it might have had something to do with that. What a prick.
“Frigid sea monkey bitch. She had some problems all right. She —”
“Sounds like you’re the one with the problems.”
He looked at me. Nothing in his eyes. I stared him down.
He looked back at his drink. Shrugged a little. “You’ll see. Fuck.”