Tuesday at a Space Port Bar

Okay, so three people walk into a bar and recognize the bartender. “Here, I know you!”, says one of them. “You’re this joke! I’m your biggest fan!” This Joke is humbled and mumbles something about how nice it is to meet fans and then regales the three people with stories from when This Joke waited tables at the Last Supper because that’s how old it is.

So I’m filling in the blank… but in a different way.

Tuesday night, according to the chronometer; no point in trying to determine night or day in the endless dark of space through which the Kennedy Space Port twirled around New California in geostationary orbit.

Kennedy Verhoeven, who had heard absolutely every joke concerning both her first name and her work place, was tending the bar, wearing a pair of hologram glasses that made her look like Harra Lawrence in Gone Days because when she had woken up for work that day she had found herself disenchanted with both her wardrobe and her face. Not that anyone would have thought she actually was Harra Lawrence, because acclaimed 4D movie stars wouldn’t be caught dead mixing drinks in a third rate space port bar. Kennedy was also not exactly ecstatic about the prospect of sharing the shift with Jessa, who was a nice enough girl and an okay waitress but who had the annoying habit of relating boring pieces of celebrity gossip every time she returned to the bar for orders, as if she had to bargain for her customer’s drinks offering Cynthia Zottegem’s pregnancy rumours in exchange.

The crowd was normal sized for a weekday, two or three early drunks, a couple Earth soldiers breaking curfew (which meant that at any minute now a higher-up from the army might come barging in to verbally cut them back down to size, and Kennedy had already readied her microcam to record it for her blog), a few business people, haggard-looking, waiting for their next flight to be ready for boarding, the rest station workers come in for after work drinks that somehow always got prolonged. There were a couple shady figures floating around or seated in the corners, but that was to be expected.

Three newcomers approached the bar, two guys and a girl, none of them could be even in their mid-twenties yet. So much for tips, she thought as she sauntered over.

“Well, that didn’t work,” she overheard one of the guys say. Then the other one piped up.

“Hey, Harra Lawrence! What’s a guy gotta do to get a drink around here?”

“Say please, for once,” Kennedy shot back.

“Shut up, Drew, Christ, can’t take you anywhere,” the other guy said, evidently the older one of the two. “What’ll twenty credits buy us?”

“Andalusian beer,” Kennedy said and meant it.

“Andalusia on Earth or Andalusia the moon?”

“Moon.”

“Damn. Guess it’ll have to do. Two Andalusian beers, please.”

The young man named Drew meanwhile was busy harassing the girl they had come in with, who was busy checking something on her computer screen. “C’mon, Marnie, you can’t let us drink alone. What’ll you have? D’you have any money left?”, he added hopefully.

“Go away, Drew, busy,” the young woman said, typing something.

“This guy bothering you?”, Kennedy asked, one eyebrow raised.

“Yeah, since birth. His birth that is.” She slipped her computer inside her coat pocket and tapped the bar twice for the drinks menu to light up. “Art, Drew, you guys get a table or something, I’ll be a while.”

Kennedy brought their beers, received no tip, and watched them disappear to a table near the stairs. “What’ll it be?”, she asked the girl, idly giving the bar a quick sweep and wondering why the young brunette was hanging out with two idiots like that.

The girl, Marnie, looked around quickly, then back to the menu as if indecisive. “I got a hundred.” She slipped a credit chip out of her pocket.

“Coma’s not on the menu.”

“Is enlightenment?”

Kennedy started polishing a glass as if she wasn’t even talking to the other woman. “Maybe. What d’you want?”

“Know anyone in here interested in some merchandise? Tax-free, y’know.”

Kennedy glanced to the side. “Leather jacket at the other end of the bar.”

“What’s their drink? Can you send them one from me?”

Under the dish towel Kennedy rubbed her thumb and forefinger together in the international sign for ‘motivate me’.

“Christ. Twenty.”

“Seventy.”

“Fifty.”

“Done,” Kennedy said, pocketing the credit chips.

Kennedy knew the drinker with the leather jacket, came in here most nights, nursed her gin for an hour at least, tipped regularly if not exactly generously, but you didn’t work in a bar like this without picking up on some things. She put a fresh glass of gin in front of leather jacketed arms. “Greetings from the brunette,” she said briefly, cocking her head in Marnie’s direction.

Leather Jacket looked at the bartender, then at the girl at at far side of the bar, with a face so nondescript and common it might have been the result of hologram glasses because this level of average could just not be real. “I’m a married woman,” she said, sounding just the slightest bit sarcastic.

“Not that kinda drink,” Kennedy whispered before walking away to the shelves and pretending to be busy with the order screen. She could hear Marnie move over to Leather Jacket and some snippets of quiet conversation between the two business women. She decided that this had probably been the highlight of her shift and it wasn’t even halfway through.

Business was picking up at the bar. A shuttle arrived outside, bringing in a dozen or so passengers waiting for their connection flight, followed by a throng of late-shifters from the docks. Jessa barely managed to get a sentence in about Ron Fischer’s new hair cut which even holo glasses couldn’t fix.

Kennedy spent a good ten minutes trying to divine the order of an attaché to the Andalusian ambassador, but they managed, communicating mainly through the use of gesture, two arms on one side of the bar and five on the other. Jessa chimed in with news about Esla Chang and her plans to adopt all the poodles on Mars according to The Star, a newspaper which wasn’t what anyone with a functioning brain would call a reliable source and which Jessa read religiously.

The crowd thinned again with the next ship announcement. It left in its wake a the regular scattering of people. A small man in a suit was leaning against the bar on one elbow and started to snore; the army boys were still at their table and disappointingly no one came to rouse them and drag them back to their barracks ship; a woman with a briefcase and black tie was drinking like the world was going to end without showing any sign of the effects of alcohol.

“You sure you want another?”, Kennedy asked cautiously.

“Yeah, one for every idiot I had to meet today,” Black Tie said, sounding so sober it was scary.

“Riiight.” Kennedy delivered the drink and fled to the other end of the bar where Jessa nattered on about the many love affairs of New Punk idol Jimmy Phan. Kennedy nodded absently; that just wasn’t right, being sober after six whiskeys. Did this woman have the implant or something?

At this point, Marnie’s brothers came trudging back to the bar and joined the girl; Leather Jacket had apparently left. “… that’s how you do it, you idiots. I swear, if we didn’t share genetics…” Kennedy heard her say, with the tone of someone who knew all too well that they were the one who inherited the family’s supply of brains.

The chronometer chimed to let Kennedy and Jessa know to get their tails out of the place and clock out because the boss would rather get bitten by an Andalusian than pay overtime. Parvati, Jo, and Luke arrived on time to take over and after some polite small talk Kennedy was out on the halls, pursued by Jessa.

“What says we drive into town tomorrow?”, she twittered cheerfully. “Do a real girls’ day! Brunch and all.”

“Sure,” Kennedy said, knowing she would regret it, while planning out her next Confessions from the Space Port blog entry in her head. “Your sister coming, too?”

“I’ll message her. Y’know, you should really upload Yvette Coa on your glasses, she’d suit you.”

“Uh-huh.” Maybe a good way to spend some of her new hundred-and-fifty.

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Long Live Evadne Pauley

The neighbourhood has seen better days, but Mrs. Pauley has lived there since before anyone can remember. She raised a family of six boys, who’ve all grown up and moved away. Since Mr. Pauley died three months ago, she’d had no income. She’s fallen behind in the rent. The landlord, accompanied by the police, have come to evict Mrs. Pauley from the house she’s lived in for forty years.

Mom says Mrs Pauley had always lived here. She says always like it’s an actual eternity, but the records say forty years. Mom also says I’m not supposed to dig around the Altersgate Community records, but it’s not my fault they don’t have decent ICE around them.

I’ve seen Mrs Pauley for as long as I can remember and she was always pretty annoying, bustling around at baking sales, harassing people to join the community crafting circle, babysitting pretty much every child in the neighbourhood, never being quiet in the library, because her hearing was going and she didn’t have the money for implants, and generally she was just there, so much I thought she didn’t have a home at first, and then I thought she didn’t want to go home because she was just never in there. She was there like the trees along main road, just sort of there like Henrik’s Waffles, you don’t notice until they’re not there anymore.

But I’ve only ever really met her twice, once when I was seven and she patted me on the head and called me a “strange little thing”, and three months ago when mom and dad dragged me along to give our condolences. I had only known Mr Pauley as the slightly grumpy old man smoking like it was the last of days every time you saw him. Mom told me to keep away from him. Because of the smoke, she always said, smoking’s bad. Apparently, he didn’t trust the new cancer meds and then it was too late. So he died. Kind of like grandpa, only Mr Pauley was cremated. I think he would have liked that, old Mr Pauley.

They’ve been standing there arguing for a good ten minutes now and it’s getting heated. Mom always says not to shout when I’m angry. You shout, you lose. Adults shout all the time. They’re probably going to shout all weekend long.

Mom and dad pass me on the steps and tell me to go inside, they’ll see what they can do. They always try to see what they can do, sometimes I think they need glasses. I hurry upstairs because I can get a better look from the hallway window anyway. I hear the front door lock automatically. Mom and dad do that sometimes because they’re afraid I’ll run off and do something stupid. That’s what they say, anyway. So I just watch. The landlord is red in the face, a face like beetroot. I snap a picture. His face is funny. The police officer is just sort of standing there, like he doesn’t want to drag a little old lady into his car, hovering by the sidewalk. Mrs Pauley is really kinda small, about as tall as I am now. Her hair is all grey, like she has no time to dye it like Mom. I see mom and dad getting nearer now. The police officer seems very relieved somehow. The landlord is going to explode.

I sleep in the living room today so Mrs Pauley can sleep in my room. I knew mom and dad would do this. I already took my computer and a spare blanket downstairs before they even came in. Mrs Pauley is in the kitchen sobbing into her tea. I hear mom shushing the teamaker because it’s asking if the tea is really that bad. Mom is trying to comfort Mrs Pauley. Dad is pacing, asking a million questions. What about her boys, he asks. Isn’t there anyone she can ask for help? Why is she not eligible for benefits anyway? She should at the very least be receiving a widow’s pension. There must be something wrong with the automatic system, he says. He’s going to call the bureau in the morning, he says.

Mrs Pauley doesn’t know. All addresses are in her computer and she doesn’t know how to use it, it has a password, her husband used to do all the computer stuff, and now she can’t get in her house anyway and it’s in there. A grown woman who can’t use a computer, I think, sighing. They teach us that since preschool. But Mrs Pauley really is old. Mom says when she was my age her computer only had about 8 GB RAM, and Mrs Pauley is even older.

I’m in the living room doing the maths exercises mom uploaded to my laptop before she went to make tea. Sometimes I wonder if mom thinks I’m stupid. Like the exercises somehow stop me from hearing. Like she doesn’t want me to hear. Like she thinks I don’t understand, but I’m not a child anymore, I’ve had my period last fall, I’m practically grown up. What I don’t understand is why no one does anything useful. Adults just don’t think right.

They all trudge to bed, finally. They don’t know I’m still up, and I don’t want them to. I throw the blankets off and reach for the laptop. Audio mute, going around the security protocols mom and dad had installed. They still run this child safety program on my laptop like I’m five, no access after 9 pm, no access to adult content websites, no this, no that. Any idiot can disable it, and I’m not half an idiot despite what Mr Hodgins, our computer science teacher, thinks. I just don’t want to let him know what I can do because he’ll go blabbing and then they won’t let me do anything.

Getting into the city records is so easy they should be sued. Mrs Pauley actually has a first name, it’s Evadne, and she had a lot of children, six of them, all boys. I don’t know how she could stand that. The youngest is twenty-four, twice as old as I am. I find him first because he moved last. Two of them are still in the city, the other four moved across the country. I can find four of them. That’s enough, I guess. They stopped all contact with their parents when they moved out. I’m guessing it was because of Mr Pauley. Mr Pauley wasn’t very nice, and not just because of the smoking. Not sure I can convince the boys to contact their mother again, but I’ll try anyway.

Four mails later, all with the picture of the semi-exploding landlord in front of Mrs Pauley’s house, I go to sleep. It’s up to the adults now. That’s what’s wrong with the world.

We’re having lunch with Mrs Pauley when the door announces we have unidentified visitors. Mom goes to see. Mrs Pauley hears their voices and rushes out. Dad follows. I give it a few seconds, stealing some of dad’s lasagne, then go to see.

It’s two of them, and both are hugging their mom. They came by magnetic rail as soon as they got the message. Mrs Pauley cries, people do that a lot when they’re happy, it’s really kind of confusing. Mom starts hugging me, because mom gets emotional like that. Dad is baffled, but that’s his usual state. How did they know, he asks, he was trying to find their numbers. One of them shrugs. This is the slightly-not-so-youngest, I think, he looks like late twenties. The youngest son looks at him, then at me. He looks almost exactly like Corey Nover in Lost in Time, all sparkly eyes and wild hair, just missing the spacesuit. He has three days worth of hair on his face and looks at dad and says, the community board e-mailed them. Then he looks at me again and winks. At least I think he winks. I blush. Why am I blushing? He was probably just blinking. I don’t think he knows, I hid the IP trace. It should have looked like the community board. My face is burning.

The adults go to the kitchen, the situation is under control, and I can probably have my room back tonight or tomorrow. I trail behind. They’re doing conversation now, dad is prepping more lasagne and mom does the usual so-what-do-you-do with Mrs Pauley’s sons. The Corey Nover clone looks at me for a split second before he says applied informatics. He winks, this time he definitely winks.

I excuse myself smoothly and run upstairs and hide in the bathroom. My face is red as beetroot. I can never leave this room again. Not even to see how these idiot grown-ups are going to sort out Mrs Pauley’s housing problem. I’ll just stay in here until my face goes back to normal, which is never, so I’ll just stay in here until I die.

Mom knocks and says to stop being rude and come downstairs again. I leave the bathroom but my face is still glowing like a traffic light. Mom asks what’s the matter with me like she doesn’t know.

I pass the rest of the day in silence, which mom comments on and I hate her for it. They boys are going to look for a hotel and come back in the morning to help Mrs Pauley with the bureaucracy stuff, they say. They thank my parents about a thousand times, and so does Mrs Pauley.

I sleep on the sofa again. When mom and dad finally leave, I switch on my computer. I’m sure I did a good job on the IP erasure. No way Mrs Pauley’s Corey Nover could have known. There’s one new mail in my inbox. Probably Kate from English class, she always asks me a million stupid things because she can’t get any assignments right. But it’s not Kate. It’s a mail telling me in detail where I went wrong and how to completely mask an e-mail. He covered the trace for me and won’t tell anyone I hacked myself into the community board but next time I’m on my own, he writes. I should consider computer science when I’m done with school, he writes. There’s no name, but I know it’s Informatics Corey Nover. I already hate him, thinking he’s so smart with his computer science degrees and his eyes twinkling like stars and his gorgeous hair.

I switch the computer off and hide under the blanket. I’ll just stay under here until I die.