(I can’t get the last part to show paragraphs – sorry)
“I believe the English idiom for this is a dive,” Born said.
“The Badger expression translates barn but that doesn’t really convey the full feeling,” Musical said. “We have different words for different kinds of barns and that one is for a stinky animal barn.”
“Nick’s. A working Spacer and Beam Dog bar with traditional bar food,” Born read off the guide on his pad again. The door was steel faced with modest painted lettering on it the only signage and had no windows. It would have eased their minds to see inside. The place was on the half g level which was semi-industrial.
“We can always leave if it’s too pricey,” Musical said. “I had no idea we should bring snacks. One of the university cafeteria sandwiches sounds pretty good now, even a little stale.”
“Yeah, especially since I usually get to finish two-thirds of yours. Follow me,” Born said with sudden resolve.
The bar was so dark they had to stop and wait for their eyes to adjust or risk walking into things. The only thing he could really see was a massive table in the back with its own long light hung low over it. It had a translucent shade over it bright with art that Born would have never expected in such a place. The two Humans standing by that table with sticks looked at them and turned back to what they were doing indifferently.
Musical recovered first being able to see the long bar that had lights low behind it to allow the bartender to work. There were more bottles on tiers behind it than he’d ever seen in one place. The man was sitting on a stool not busy at all at the moment, regarding them with interest. He was dark enough to blend into the dark but had on a brilliant white apron. The light from below the bar made his face grotesque from the harsh shadows. Two other Humans were seated at the bar hunched over their drinks. Only five people were in a space that would hold fifty easily. Business must be as slow as the hotel. There was no music just an occasional tock, tock, tock, from the table in the back.
“Put your hand on my shoulder. I can see well enough to guide you. I see a little table by the wall where we’ll fit nicely. You can sit on the floor and the table will be plenty high for you.”
“I can see the outline of other tables now, I’m just not getting much color yet.” But he did let Musical guide him.
The bartender took his time coming over with a couple of single sheet menus.
“You guys speak Standard?” he inquired.
“No sir, English, Derf, and Badger,” Musical said.
The bartender gave a forced little laugh.
“Local hab idiom, I guess. Standard is English with a little Japanese and Spanish tossed in.” He paused like he was thinking about it. “A bit of Tongan and Yiddish too for that matter. We’re a real mix. If you hang around very long, we’ll probably steal Derf and Badger expressions from you without compensation.”
“Oh good. We’re both proficient in English, at least enough to deal with our English-speaking patron.”
“That’s interesting. You work for Humans?”
“Yes sir. We’re researchers for Lee Anderson, though she went back home to Derfhome. We’re here with April Lewis and Jeffery Singh. They have business to do and cut us loose to be tourists while waiting on them.”
“Homies,” he said. “I know of them. Seen both stand up in the Assembly and they show up in the gossip boards. You don’t have to sir me. Nick is fine.”
“Nick, we are finding everything expensive here. What do you suggest to fill my Derf friend here without busting our budget?” Musical asked.
Nick regarded Born’s size dubiously.
“A pitcher of beer should be a decent mug for him. Maybe four double burgers and I’ll throw in a big bowl of chili at the normal Human serving price.” He pointed to them on the menu and both managed not to whimper at the price. “You mind spicy stuff?” he asked Born. “The chili is kind of hot.”
“You are obviously unfamiliar with our Devil’s Horn peppers,” Born said smiling. “The recent influx of Humans from Home found them hot enough to seek medical attention.”
“I’ll have to get some of those,” Nick said interested. “They might make some of my usual customers shut up who always complain our chili is too mild.” To his credit, Nick wasn’t bothered by the smile.
“If one may inquire without offending, those usual customers seem to be absent,” Born said. “Your establishment seems sized for a larger clientele. We noticed the same thing where we secured a room for this evening. Is my assessment correct? Has this move to Fargone disrupted business?”
“You’re so carefully polite,” Nick said, amused. “Yes, business is shot to hell. The pilots and maintenance guys are all laid off until they get more work and afraid to spend much until they see what shakes out. Quite a few went over to the Fargone station to set up routes and businesses between the stations or find work there. Some of the beam dogs and fabricators are working so much overtime they barely have time to sleep much less come spend money here.”
Nick did an exaggerated shrug.
“Eventually they’ll all have either time or money again and the pent-up demand will be awesome. You don’t have to be so careful of my feelings. With all the careful precision and disclaimers, you sound like a college professor.”
When Born and Musical both broke up laughing Nick got the joke too, smiling.
“You are quite perceptive,” Musical said. “What you suggested for the professor here, but just a beer, a single burger, and a normal size bowl of chili for me.”
“Coming right up,” Nick said. He retreated to the bar so there must be a kitchen somewhere out of sight. But he saw to their beer himself.
Sure enough, a shorter man with different pigmentation but similar black hair came from the back with their food on a big oval tray.
“I don’t know what you guys can eat safely,” the cook said. “We don’t get much alien trade. I’ve never seen a Badger except on video. So, it’s on you to know if what you ordered up is safe.”
“We’re aware,” Musical assured him. “My friend here can eat things you can’t. I can handle everything here.”
“Jolly good,” the man said putting the plates before them. “This is all the condiments for the burgers if you want to experiment.” He set a separate tray down with onion, pickle, hot sauce, mustard, and ketchup.
The burgers were big enough to allow Born to take two bites. That pleased him because he’d had burgers back home that were a scant bite, that he could toss in his mouth whole. He loaded them up with everything.
“Will that hold you?” Musical asked when Born was on the last of his chili.
Born held a true hand spread out palm down and made a rocking motion. He’d picked that up from Lee.
“It’s not going to bust my belly but it will hold me. I could fast for a day after all. I just don’t want to.”
The same fellow from the kitchen came and removed their dishes. Nick looked across the room and made the gesture of lifting a mug.
“You want another beer? Musical asked Born.
“Why not? What else do we have to do? I want to make a circuit of the hab at the one g level and look at everything but how long can that take?”
Musical nodded yes, emphatically enough to be seen from the bar.
The door to the corridor opened and a young woman entered with her spex heavily darkened. As soon as the door closed behind her she set them clear. Musical noted that to copy if they ever came back. She still was a little blind or maybe just cautious assessing the place. She had on the bright clothing and heavier shoes of a Fargoer. Even a badger noted she was dressed differently though. He thought she had to be cold showing that much skin with no fur. She had on shocking-fuchsia velvet shorts that couldn’t be any shorter and still meet in the middle. Her shoes were a bright pink that didn’t match at all and her sleeveless rose top ended so short there was a large gap to the top of her shorts.
Musical looked over at Nick the bartender and his mouth was hanging open and his eyes were wide. He took that as a look of surprise in Humans.
Now that her eyes adjusted, she saw Born and Musical in the shadows. The >Squeeee< shriek she emitted was so piercing one of the pool players jerked and knocked the cue ball clear off of the table. She started babbling to somebody obviously on her spex. All Musical really understood was “Oh my God, Oh my God." The door burst open behind her and four more young women in outrageous outfits entered, one in mincing little steps because she had on very strange shoes. Musical had never been exposed to glitter makeup, green or purple hair, leopard skin, stretch fabrics, or sequins, but even an alien knew this was something different. They all rushed over and surrounded Musical declaring him a real live Badger to each other. “Are you here for the Bode Benjamin show?” the pack leader asked. Musical was embarrassed to admit he wasn’t familiar with it and got glowing reports of how they never missed it and they’d had absolutely wonderful cute pix of Badger cubs when Lee and Gordon were on the show. Another group of Fargoers came in the door, this one appearing to be couples and one of the girls hopped up and down excitedly waving them over. A couple of the men staked out a table of their own. Musical found somebody was holding his left hand and when he looked back at Born a couple of the scantily clad ladies were sitting on each leg coaching him to put his lower arms around them and show lots of claw for pix. When Nick came with their beer he had to push and tell them to make way through the gathering crush. The noise level in the room was way up. “Bring these guys another round,” a girl in red leather leaning over Born’s shoulder called out before their glasses were even empty, “and some finger food for the table. Can you make a pitcher of peach margaritas?” she asked Nick. The kitchen guy went past carrying what Born recognized as pizza. Since the house didn’t have music, somebody set their pad on loud to provide it. Pretty soon a few of them were dancing to it drinks in hand. People were still showing up as their friends called them. The crowd sort of rotated to their table and away, everyone who wanted them getting pix, patting and stroking Musical, and prodding Born to fake ferocity. After three rounds of beer, much calamari, and chicken tenders they begged off that they had to go to their hotel. Born waved down Nick since Musical was invisible seated behind everybody standing. “We’re heading out,” Born said reaching across several people to offer his card. “Your money’s no good here,” Nick said shaking his head and refusing the card. “I don’t understand. It worked just fine at the hotel,” Born insisted. Nick looked at him like he was crazy, then grinned. "It’s just an expression. You don’t owe anything, ever. In fact, you’re welcome here any time. Look at all the business you suck in,” he said sweeping the place with his eyes because his hands were full carrying drinks. “Oh, thank you,” Born said and signaled Musical to go before he changed his mind. Everybody waved goodbye. When he explained the source of their good fortune and Nick’s invitation to return in the corridor, Musical said, “Now, if we could just figure out how to do that with the hotel.”