The colony of jagged crags situated at the edge of the Kepler Crater swarmed with people. Herman Russ, the proprietor of the only bar in this quadrant of the moon, directed one crew of men to unload building materials while another continued framing a skeletal structure of miniscule cubicles. Pristine resin girders speared the sky, solar collection grids already functioned, and the snap-together rooms were half completed.
Russ shouted a greeting, muffled by his re-breather, and jounced over to smack Jake on the back. The blow knocked him off his feet, sent him reeling in a backward float until Herman wrapped one massive hand around his bicep and hauled him upright.
Inside, elbows planted on the bar, Jake cradled his aching head. Too much of the local lager from the new brewpub on the eastern surge of the Plato uplands led to this misery. He pushed his belly into the old-time wooden bar, propped one boot on the chair rung and braced the other against the brass rail. Stabilized, he focused on the tall narrow cylinder of fizzy green glop with his bleary vision.
Something viscous swirled inside, slid a trail of yellow scum across the interior glass, and coiled away.
He’d tried this same cure before and knew the volatile chemistry worked, sobered him up quick, if he didn’t hurl. Right now he needed sobriety to worry out the implications of the rumors bounding over the lunar landscape. He swiveled the glass, caught another glimpse of the caldera worm, and wrapped shaky fingers around the warm tumbler.
Experience told him to slam the fetid liquid and guzzle the contents. If he ignored the buzz of carbonation oversaturating the mucus lining of his mouth and just swallowed the stringy occupant, he’d feel instantly better.
Jake closed his eyes and tossed down the foul concoction.
A gag reflex brought part of the slurry back up. A rubbery smooth body flicked his tonsils. The slick ridges slipped over the flesh of his throat and one panicked swallow washed the slushy mass past his esophagus. The non-arthropod invertebrate hit the cauldron of acid in his stomach and exploded. Jake fought a visceral rush of nausea, tried to distract his mind by searching his memory for the term biophysicists used to explain the effect, and kept the vile sludge down.
The threat of vomit passed. A ripple of heat spread through his belly and immediately Jake sat up straighter. His vision improved and his headache waned.
Bar medicine was a public damn miracle.
Raised voices clattered above the suction of induction pipes. The susurration of the filtering system refined particles of nebula dust, cast them into a reservoir of oily suspension, and infused the thin misty content with an oxygen rich mixture. The whine of vacuum vapor locks sighed as the door opened and closed again.
The sound comforted Jake.
Lunar residents lived under constant threat of power failure and atmospheric starvation. Five minutes without air and hypoxia takes the brain. Jake hunched his shoulders but the memories came anyways. Six months ago an unexpected radiant spike overloaded the energy grid at the Mount Blanc colony. Solar arrays had ruptured under the direct intensity of the column of sunlight and resulted in systemic failure. Hundreds died.
The territorial representative sent Jake to collect the bodies.
Per protocol, his team found each resident strapped to a grounding hook, their torsos bobbing gently above the surface, tethered to the terra luna. The greatest fear was imagining your corpse floating off into the great blackness of the universe, drifting through eternity.
The dead had been retrieved, strangled faces behind thin polypropylene emergency masks shoved aside so limbs contorted from seizures could be untangled. At least he’d found no kids.
The moon was strictly an over eighteen population.
The destruction of the energy production plant was a catastrophe, the loss of the brothel even worse. The recovery crew held a moment of silence outside the sizzled ruins. Nothing remained besides a puddle of melted synthetic compounds.
Jake blinked. Construction sounds drifted through the rear swinging doors, the clanging punctuated by an occasional curse in a language not terrestrial in origin. He realized Russ had spoken again, and raised an eyebrow in silent query.
“I said there’s big doings tonight. The highland’s getting another business. I need your official signature to approve the physical changes.” Russ jerked a thumb towards the exterior racket and slapped down a yellow paper on the counter, “you gotta hang around. The sign-up list has some real beauties, there’ll be lovelies promenading the bar tonight -”
Jake interrupted. “Do you know how impossible it is to get zoning approval from the Territorial Office of Lunar Development? Ever since those xenobiologists discovered low-gravity lichen growing on the plains, every request has been shot down.”
Russ flicked his tongue through the gap where his front teeth should have been and winked.
The story of how the bartender lost his incisors twenty years before, biting out a hostile alien’s throat still freaked out the locals. The celebrity of being the singular survivor of that ill-fated interstellar exchange bought him some slack from officials, but surely not enough for this.
“Already got the approval,” Russ swiped the bar with a tattered blue cloth, “just need your signatures.”
Jake skimmed the papers and knew his eyes widened in disbelief. The Hofbrauhaus had been granted exclusivity for a new lunar brothel. He scrawled his name at the bottom of each page. “How’d you do it?”
Russ fingered his missing teeth and offered a sly grin. “You know that old saying, if you build it, they will come.”
He pushed the papers toward the old man with an appreciative smirk “Pour me some earthshine, you lunatic.”
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