If I had a dollar for every time I told a story that started out with, ‘So, this one time in a bar,’ I’d be able to buy … I dunno … a taco or a coffee or something. Shit’s expensive these days. Whatever. The point is, I was in this bar, and a series of bad decisions led to a really lucky break. Isn’t that always how these stories go? I mean, I guess some of them don’t, but those are usually the stories that get told by other people. I’m tellin’ this story, so it’s sort of implied that I didn’t die or anything. Unless you think this story has one of them twist endings, where I was dead all along or I’m in a coma or some such bullshit. No, none of that. This is the story about how the Drunk Pedestrians killed it at their first gig. Literally.
I remember waking up, naked and freezing, laying on this sort of tan-beige carpet in a hallway that Ishityounot reminded me of something out of a sci-fi TV show with ships vaguely resembling genitalia. It’s funny because that’s exactly where I was: a spaceship. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was fortunate to show up on a ship populated by my own kind. Showing up naked on some exo’s ship could’ve ended up kind of nasty. Still, I didn’t know that at the time, and I was more confused than even during the worst drinking blackout I’d experienced. No one would tell me what had happened and I was covered in some sort of weird goo.
Four men appeared and surrounded me, gookkake and all, then waved some sort of scanner over my body. They said I had to rinse off the muck covering me from head to toe and rushed me to a shower. Unlike the sci-fi shows I watched as a kid, this ship had bathrooms. I started dropping beats in the shower because that’s what I do, and when I came out all four men’s mouths were hanging open. One of them even had an erection, but I’m pretty sure that was because I was naked, not because of the beatboxing.
At that point they told me the truth: it was the year 2192, and I was on a luxury cruiser headed to a remote star cluster resort located over one hundred light years from Earth. No human could beatbox after a bio-engineered plague ravaged the population in the 2120s, so they gave me work as an entertainer. Free room and board plus all the booze I could drink. I kept that gig for seven years, hopping from system to system and wooing women with my syncopated mouth rhythms. On the day in question, I was in this particular bar–Seeba they called it–after having just been fired for sleeping with the wife of the ship’s captain. How was I to know? I mean, I had known, but what if I hadn’t?!
The crew talked him out of jettisoning me, reminding him that I was from an earlier, less-civilized time. Instead he dropped me off on Everly Shills, some nogods-forsaken rock in the middle of nowhere, a shopping mecca outside the galactic trade zone. They stocked virtually any product you could imagine, all of them tariff-free. I had a few credits in my bank account, so I asked a local to point me in the direction of the cheapest bar in town. A half-hour pod ride later and I landed at a door that looked like it led into a cellar. Walking down the steps I could hear the thrum of the music beyond the rusted door.
It was 900 local time, so there were more people than I expected when I pulled the door open and stepped into the dark space beyond. I blinked a few times to adjust to the dim blue lights and was surprised to count over two dozen heads in the bar. Most of them sat around tables in front of an empty stage, but one older man–a human by all appearances, the only other one I saw besides myself–sat at the bar nursing a dark liquid in a tumbler. None of them looked up or acknowledged my entrance in any way.
I sidled up to the bar and motioned to the bartender, a seven foot tall Raelian. One of his eye stalks turned in my direction and I said, “Vodka, straight.”
“That’s a stiff drink,” came a voice from my left. I turned to look at the older man. He swirled his glass around in the air and kept his eyes forward. His dark complexion was accented by the coal-colored suit he wore.
“You talkin’ to me, old timer?” I asked.
The old man looked away from me, then turned to face me. Dark sunglasses covered his eyes, but I somehow could tell he was looking at me. “Sure am. Don’t see many terrans out this far. Where are you from, son?”
“Where and when,” I replied. “I’m from what used to be the United States of America. I was born there over two hundred years ago, and ended up in this time after getting caught in a temporal bloop about seven years back. Don’t really remember much from before then besides bits and pieces. What about you?”
The man smiled wide. I could feel his eyes peering at me from behind his black sunglasses. “Oh, I’ve been around, but I bet my stories aren’t as wild as yours, synth I’ve never traveled through time. One of my areas of interest is ancient Earth history. Can you tell me more about the things you remember?”
I was mesmerized by his sunglasses, so much so that I barely even noticed the strange way he pronounced some of his words. It was dark in the bar, but the man’s lenses were even darker, like two black holes fighting each other for my attention. “Yeah, sure. I don’t remember much about my own life, but I can tell you what I remember about the world at large.”
I sat and talked to the old man–Charles, I later found when he offered his name– for the better part of the day, him drinking whiskey and me tossing back vodka until I had run out of stories to tell. As I got ready to go, I gave my payment chip to the barkeep and shook Charles’ hand. “Great to meet you,” I told him. I looked around the bar, astonished at how many customers had appeared during my hours of talking to Charles.
The old man was about to reply when the bartender interrupted: “Oy, this got declined. You got another account?”
“No. Try running it again.”
“Already tried three times, mate. Fuckin’ humans, always skippin’ out on their tabs.”
“Whoa, whoa,” I began, “no one is skipping out on anything.”
“So you got cash then? Or another account?”
“Well, no,” I replied. The bartender’s eye stalks trembled. I could tell he was getting testy.
Charles cleared his throat. “I can pick up your tab, Chris. Least I can do for keeping me entertained.”
“No way,” I said. “I settle my own debts.” I turned back to the bartender. “Anything we can work out? Barter?”
“Barter?” The Raelian said. “Not unless you can wash glasses faster than a dishbot–fourteen glasses per second with a 99.99% microbial destruction rate.” I shook my head. “Yeah, that’s what I thought. Only other thing is the battle of the bands happening tonight. Winner gets free drinks until the next annual battle of the bands. Starts in about an hour, but we don’t allow solo acts so you’re shit outta luck.”
“Damn,” I said. I looked at Charles. “Wanna join my band?”
The old man chuckled and cracked his fingers. “How do you know I play anything, or play it well?”
“I don’t, but I know that otherwise I’m gonna end up in a cell for the night over an unpaid bar tab. Worth a shot, right?”
“Well,” the wrinkled man replied, “synth you asked, I just so happen to be a pretty good on the keys. So yeah, I’ll join you. What the hell.”
The bartender huffed. “Charles, you’re great, but I don’t know about this bozo.” His eyes scanned me with a look of disdain. “Plus, you know what happened to the last band who challenged the horsemen.”
“You let me worry about that, Splorg. You’re just worried about having to give me free drinks.”
Splorg laughed. “Nah. With as old as you are, it’ll probably only be another month or two tops.”
I coughed loudly. The two men turned to look at me. “When do we go on?” I asked Splorg.
“Only two other bands are playing: The Whore’s Heads, a punk band from the Horsehead Nebula who have won the past five years in a row, and Bobthwait, a metal band whose lead singer is a clone of Bobcat Goldthwait. I’m surprised they even entered; no one has gone against The Whore’s Heads since they killed the other competitors during the second battle of the bands a few years back.”
“Killed?” I asked, swallowing against the lump that had suddenly formed in my throat.
“Yeah,” Splorg replied, “but only if they think you’re a threat. They take the “battle” part of battle of the bands pretty seriously. I’m sure you’ll have nothing to worry about. The competition starts in about ten minutes,” he finished, then turned and walked to the other end of the bar.
“Shit,” I said, looking at Charles. “The Whore’s Heads sound pretty hardcore. Think we have a chance?”
Charles flashed his smile. “Yes, a chance. But not with just the two of us. I’ll be back,” he replied, then got up and left the bar without another word.
I waited and nursed my vodka as the three members of Bobthwait took the stage and began their short sound check. I could tell they were awful before they played their first song, what with the untuned twang of the lead guitar, the rhythmically challenged drummer banging out disjointed noises on his kit, and the bass player using a pick instead of his thumb. They started their first song and my suspicions were confirmed; I’ve heard more pleasant noises from fucking cats.
Fortunately I was on my fifteenth drink, which made their set more bearable than if I’d been sober. Made it pass more quickly too. Their five song set passed without incident, unless you consider wild shrieking and drumming like a two year old having a tantrum “incidents”.
Charles returned just as Bobthwait finished the third and last song in their set. “Brought some friends, synth I think that’s better than only the two of us.” He hooked his thumb over his right shoulder. Beyond his left shoulder stood a petite girl with a buzzsaw of purple and blue hair sticking up from her scalp at a thirty degree angle. Her outfit had more zippers than my entire collected wardrobe. The hulking frame of a man stood next to her, his angular brow ridge reminiscent of an earlier cousin of Humankind. He wore a Ramone’s shirt, and his pants had so many holes it wasn’t entirely clear how they stayed together. Smart fabric of the future was really something else.
“You play? I’m Chris, by the way.”
I had directed the question at the lady, but the large man spoke first: “I’m Jenkem.” The way he said it sounded like ‘janky-eem’ at first, all drawled and elongated. He stopped and stared at me.
The girl cleared her throat. “Jenk plays the drums. I’m Notkelly, the best cellist in the charted sectors.” She bowed a little.
“Pleasure,” I replied. “I’m Chris. I am the fifth oldest living human if you count from my date of birth, but I can still rock pretty hard for an old fogey. I was transported to the future through a temporal bloo–”
“Synth we’re going last,” Charles interrupted, “we should probably listen to the Whore’s Heads and see what we’re up against.” Notkelly and Jenkem both nodded, and we all turned our attention to the stage, where the band had just finished setting up their instruments.
“Bobthwait sucked taint,” came a voice from behind me. I turned to see Splorg, cleaning a glass behind the bar. Even his eye stalks seemed to be smirking. “You can tell because the Whore’s Heads didn’t kill ‘em,” he said, nodding toward the stage.
Each member of the three-man band wore the same suit, along with matching latex horse head masks. I was impressed by their dedication; those masks probably made things hot as hell. After a minute of checking their instruments, the Whore’s Heads launched into a cacophonous first song, blasting a wave of money-shot audio mayhem across the bar. I could feel my hair moving and the frenzied thumping of their drummer in my chest. Long story short they were really good, but I was also drunk as hell by this point so what do I know. They only played two songs, but the last was seven minutes. Longest punk song I’ve ever heard. At the end of their set, the Whore’s Heads collapsed their equipment into a singularity chest and exited, taking a seat at a table just feet away from the front of the stage.
“Your turn,” Splorg said. “Don’t fuck up.”
I turned to look at the antennaed barman. “Thanks.” I hoped he couldn’t see my anxiety, but the fear on my face was probably plain as day. Usually a botched performance would end with a lack of drinks; tonight it could end in death. Or maybe being too good could end in death? Maybe I should throw the set, I thought. “Fuck that,” I said under my breath. I downed my scotch and turned to Charles, Notkelly, and Jenkem. “You ready?” I asked.
“Synth we are going on after the punk equestrians,” Charles said as he rose from his chair, “we should keep an eye out for them attacking us during our set.” He looked at Jenkem and Notkelly, then turned to me with a wry look and ended with, “If they feel threatened, that is.”
We all walked up to the stage. Charles pulled a singularity pack from his pocket, opened it, and brought out a double-stacked synth from seemingly nowhere. The top row of keys were solid white, the bottom row multi-colored. I was pretty sure Charles was blind, but made a note to ask him later about the colored keys. Notkelly produced a cello from nogods know where, and Jenkem hauled up some kind of improvised percussion rig that looked like a welder and a robot got into a fistfight. Jenkem deftly placed drumsticks between each finger on his right hand, then picked up two with his left. I pulled a black rectangle from my pocket, placed it in the floor, then pressed the small button on its side, which caused it to enlarge into my gear booth. I stepped inside. “Y’all ready?” Jenkem asked. I nodded to him, then turned to Splorg and nodded again.
The barman nodded in return, then leaned into a microphone mounted against the bar. “And finally for tonight’s Battle of the Bands, Seeba is proud to present … “ His voice trailed off and he looked at me.
I leaned forward into the mic in front of me and said, “We’re uh … the Drunk Pedestrians.” Pretty sure we’d walked here, and I know I was beyond tipsy at that point.
“The Drunk Pedestrians!” the barman ended. No one clapped or acknowledged him in any way.
“All right,” I said, turning to my newly found band mates. “Just follow along, slow and steady.” I launched into the opening for Black Cherry Vodka, solo at first but was quickly joined by Charles on the keys, then Jenkem laying a steady beat, and Notkelly with lilting strings above the music. As I worked my magic, I looked up to see the members of the Whore’s Heads looking at each other. I couldn’t read their expressions thanks to the masks, but I could see one gesturing toward us with his hands and another member of the band fiddling with something.
The first song completed without any interruption, but I could feel my focus being split between the music and the table where the punk equestrians were sitting. As I queued up the samples for Summertime Jump Off I could see some kind of motion under their table in front of the stage. What followed was a blur. The next thing I knew the tabletop was vertical, a smoking hole where a drink had been just moments before. The punk equestrians were nowhere to be found.
I stole a glance and looked around. Charles was still laying down a heavy groove, Jenkem was steady on the kit, and Notkelly was … where the hell was Notkelly?
A loud crack drew my attention back toward the front of the stage. One of the horsemen was on his knees, trembling, a few feet beyond where he’d been sitting just ten seconds before.. Notkelly stood before him, the rigid side of her bow implanted in his skull, latex layers of his horse mask covered in grey matter and splayed to each side. “Try and shoot me, asshole? You’re lucky I didn’t have the time to enjoy this more,” she said, dislodging the bow and flicking it to remove the blood. She was back and on the strings before I had even realized she moved.
Note to self, I thought, don’t fuck with Notkelly. The beat dropped for the first time since we started, and I whirled around to see my drummer struggling with a horseman. Jenk was still drumming with one hand, despite the horseman having a thick forearm wrapped around his neck. What a badass. A sound came from my left and I turned to see Charles, his left hand still pounding keys and his right pressed against the forehead of an unmasked member of the Whore’s Heads, lowering him to the ground. The look on the man’s face was blank, mouth hanging open, completely slack. Charles gently laid the man on the stage, then grabbed the latex mask and tossed it into the crowd. It landed with a thud at a table of passed out reptilians. How did he do that? I wondered. Don’t fuck with Charles either.
In all the excitement it escaped my notice that Jenk had stopped drumming. I turned around to see him still struggling with the last horseman, a burly man almost the size of my hulking drummer. Notkelly stopped for a moment and started to swing her bow above her head, but Jenk looked up and flashed her a smile. He closed his eyes, seemed to take a deep breath despite the arm around his throat, and then jammed a drumstick into the head of the horseman. It went straight up the nose, crushing that part of the mask. The arm around Jenk’s neck loosened and the man slumped to the ground as soon as the drumstick was removed.
Forty seconds later and we’d finished the second song. I looked up to see a crowd of almost entirely wide eyes and open mouths. The reason it wasn’t entirely is because not everything the crowd had a mouth. I heard a slow clapping from my left, and turned to see Splorg grinning, his eye stalks bouncing as he shook his head and chuckled. “You guys win for sure,” he said. “The Drunk Pedestrians!” he shouted out to the bar. At least a few of the patrons clapped this time.
Free beer for a year, I thought. Fuck yeah.