The noisy little pub reminded me of a place I used to visit back in the Solar System. Of course there were fewer humans out here at the edge of the galaxy, but with the jukebox playing one of my favorite tunes and a mug of creamy porter in my hand, I could close my eyes and almost feel at home. All things considered, I figured there were worse places for an out of work bodyguard to get stuck waiting for a hookup. The pub was full of smoke--it seems just about every species likes to smoke something or another, and the patrons of this joint tended to be heavier smokers than most. Heavier drinkers too, I noted, observing a nearby Sniklrath clinging shakily to her stool with all six of her long blue tentacles. There were already seven or eight empty shot glasses in front of her and, while I watched, she drained another one, swallowed hard and rapped the glass on the counter. She looked over and winked three of her eyes at me, so I acknowledged her with a nod and signaled the bartender that Iíd like another drink myself. "Finished the last one pretty quick, didnít you?" He asked me. He was a Klognot--a bipedal reptile--and his English was superb, but he seemed to have bought into the stereotype about humans being lightweights. "Trying to cut me off already?" I asked. "Oh no, Billy," he answered smiling, "we donít do that here." (Billy is what they call every human male unless they know you. If I were a girl Iíd have been Betty.) "You can call me Jason," I said, "and Iíll take another porter." "You sure about that? I could mix you a drink I bet youíd love." "No thanks," I said irritated. "Beerís fine." "All right, but I really think youíd like it." I shot him an angry glance, but he was already turning to get my drink. Boy! What did it take to get a couple of brews in this place? Suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned to see who it was. "Hi, stranger," said a beautiful pair of green lips just a few inches from my face. "You waitiní for somebody?" I had to lean back a little for my eyes to focus, but when they did I saw that the face matched the lips pretty well. She was a punky red-head in her early twenties with heavy eye make-up and short, ratty hair. Her breath smelled faintly of spiced liquor, but I guessed from her wide, bright eyes that she hadnít drunk much tonight. "Hello," I heard myself respond a little dazed, "I--uh--are you Maureen?" "Thatís me," she said, taking the stool next to mine. Then she continued, addressing the bartender who had just come back with my beer. "Iíll take a rum and coke." "Cominí right up." "If Iím Maureen then you must be Jason," she said as the bartender turned away. I nodded and said, "Sorry, you caught me off guard there. I was expecting someone a little more. . ." my voice trailed off as I gazed into her huge green eyes. "A little more alien?" She offered. "Well frankly yes," I said. "I get that a lot," she conceded. "Ever since I had the transmutation done no one ever recognizes me. But then that is the point of a transmutation." I nodded my agreement, recalling from her dossier that she had changed her identity to evade her ex-husbandís hired assassins. I guess I just hadnít expected her to go human. Just then the bartender came back with her drink. "You wanna start a tab, Betty?" She answered him with a three dollar bill and said, "Keep the change." He thanked her and turned to me. "Say, Billy," he started, apparently forgetting my name, "hereís a little something from the Snikl at the end of the bar." He nodded toward the blue-tentacled lush I had been watching a minute earlier and plinked down a tiny black bottle with a long neck. The bottle made a clunk when it hit the bar as if it weighed a ton and when I tried to lift it, it wouldnít budge! "Thatís what we call a Ďblack hole,í" the bartender chuckled. "Itís a house specialty." I glanced down toward the Sniklrath who had climbed onto the bar and was now weaving her way toward me. "I donít get it," Maureen said, obviously confused by the bizarre joke these two seemed to be playing on me. I was a little confused myself. The Sniklrath sidled up to me wrapping a long blue tentacle around the back of my neck while picking up the bottle with another. Either this was some kind of amazing magic trick or she was one strong Sniklrath! (I discovered later that all Snicklraths are strong.) She made a motion as if to bring the drink to my lips, but changed direction at the last minute extending her tentacle over my right shoulder toward Maureen. The young womanís eyes went wide, her head jerked forward and for a moment it looked as if she was going to swallow the whole bottle, but instead the bottle swallowed her. Just like that she was gone and that was the last I ever saw of those big green eyes. You can imagine that I was pretty terrified right then, but before I had a chance to wonder if I was next, my tentacled assailant set the bottle down and kissed me. (I found out later this was a traditional greeting not a come-on.) "Jashone, Shleezle shnikka--Mowreeen," she said in a low, feminine voice. Iím sure my face was whiter than a Kralean pina colada when I glanced fearfully at the bartender and asked him to translate. "She said, ĎGreetings, Jason. My name is Maureen.í"
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