Author's Note: Just a little bit of fluff to pass the time and help me figure out why I write Mark drinking a lot when I don't think of him as much of a drinker overall... Set sometime after "Springs in the Mind" (and after the beer runs out) but before "Stay Toasty." Title, of course, from that classic MST3K episode "The Final Sacrifice."


I Wonder If There's Beer on the Sun

The custom for markets on Shn Naing was to pack every square centimeter with shoppers, but maintain complete silence. Apparently the system worked fine for the Naing, who, according to Durandal, navigated and communicated via electromagnetic fields; Naing wasn't even what they called themselves, just the name they'd been given by the Nebulons, who did have a spoken language and traded with them the most. For Mark, it all translated into squeezing through a bunch of shoulder-high, hairless, eight-legged rodent-looking aliens with tentacles for faces while currents of static electricity crackled up and down his arms and the air buzzed in his ears, topped off with the darkest lighting he'd fumbled through outside of the S'pht citadel's basement. The experience wasn't going on his list of favorite ways to pass the time, but Durandal had his logic core set on some kind of fancy sensor upgrades the Naing specialized in, so getting squashed by giant wrinkly green rats it was.

He shuffled a couple inches forward, aiming for a tiny gap in the general direction of the store he needed, and got distracted the hundredth time by the picture of the sensor parts displayed on the left side of his helmet's visor. That was another one of Durandal's "helpful" little improvements to the battle armor, because God forbid he ever left well enough alone, but this time when he got back Mark was going to give Durandal an earful about how goddamn irritating it was to have that shit blinking in his face while he was trying to -

In the grey dimness, something on his right glinted brown.

As he edged towards it, What are you doing? popped up on the visor. Mark opened his mouth to whisper an answer, but more of the Naing crowded up on his left. That was another fucking problem with this upgrade: it might be stealthy on Durandal's end, but there was no way for Mark to send a message back. Yet.

Well, at least this time it might work out. He kept working his way toward the glint he'd spotted, ignoring Durandal's bigger and bolder messages, until he could stretch an arm out over the sea of wiggling face-tentacles and pick up the source off its shelf for a better look. Glass, brown, skinny at the top and a rounded square-ish shape at the bottom, big black label - holy fuck, it was whiskey. He couldn't read the maker's name without more light, but he could squint and recognize just enough letters to figure out the contents. Real whiskey, from Earth. How the hell had it gotten all the way out to Shn Naing?

PUT THAT DOWN NOW AND GET THE SENSOR UPGRADES! flashed in front of his eyes.

Mark raised his free hand with the back of it towards the visor, then closed all his fingers except the middle one, and the blinking letters vanished to be replaced with a graphic of a small angry face. On second thought, maybe this way of communicating had its perks, though Durandal would probably take it out of his hide once he was back on Rozie.

Lucky for him, the Naing accepted pfhari, and he'd brought plenty with him; seventy-five bought the whiskey, and fifteen hundred took care of the sensor upgrades, once Mark had elbowed his way to the right place. He barely had the upgrades - a bunch of circuits in a grey box - in hand before the static curtain of the teleporter grabbed him away and dumped him in engineering.

One of the S'pht who were always lurking around there floated over to him, and Durandal said, "Give it to them. Now tell me, why did you waste my time and my money on -" Brief pause. "- whiskey? Really?"

"I wanted it," Mark said, handing over the box with the sensor stuff and nestling the bottle into the crook of his arm. He could catch a teleport back to the hall his quarters were on, but the chance to stretch his legs and do some real walking instead of shuffling sounded better, so he left engineering and headed for the upper decks.

"I have no records of you ever drinking anything stronger than beer," Durandal said.

"So? I can drink what I want."

It itched at him as he walked, though, that Durandal was right. He'd never been much of a drinker, on Mars or Tau Ceti; on Mars he'd been too poor for more than cheap beer, and Tau Ceti hadn't had much on offer to begin with. They'd had the official licensed brewery churning out weak, lousy beer, two licensed home brewers making less lousy beer when they could scrounge the time, that poor Kellerman woman trying to grow wine grapes that didn't taste like copper, and that was it, unless somebody knew someone who could throw a still together out of spare parts and make some kind of moonshine. It hadn't been against colony law so a few people were always willing to try it, but mostly it was considered a waste of resources for a product with a seventy-five percent chance of killing an entire liver with one shot. Mark had a healthy respect for his liver. It didn't need that kind of shit.

He also had a horrifyingly vivid memory of running across a picture of an alcohol-corroded liver as a kid, which might have had something to do with it.

Once he'd reached his rooms, he settled down at the table and contemplated the bottle's unbroken seal. Genuine Earth booze that hadn't even been opened - it was worth the seventy-five pfhari just for the novelty. Seemed a shame to crack it, but if he didn't drink the stuff Durandal would just get snide about wasting money, so he might as well have a taste.

He wrestled the cap off, took a swallow, and immediately spat it out. "Fuck!" It tasted like he'd split a napalm canister open and started chugging the contents, what the hell. People drank this nasty shit?

"Don't lie to me," Durandal said. "Why did you really buy it?"

"I wanted it." He tried another drink and choked it down, then coughed most of it back up again with the liquid burning all the way. Christ, it was disgusting, but he took a third crack at it and this time could swallow almost all of it.

"You expelled it halfway across the room - charming reaction, by the way; have fun cleaning that up yourself. Do you frequently do that with things you enjoy?"

"Didn't say I liked it." He'd just wanted it, because it had been there, and it was alcohol, and alcohol meant drinking, and drinking was - well, it meant something. It was a thing people did; they went out for drinks together, invited someone home for a drink, got drunk alone because there was no one around. Hell, people had come up with drinking even before they'd invented writing, hadn't they? He remembered reading that somewhere.

The fourth mouthful went down a little more smoothly. Huh. There actually was some taste to the stuff besides fiery liver-death. Still not a good taste, but he could get used to it. And somewhere, hundreds of light-years away, some fresh-faced recruit was getting strongarmed into doing shots, and someone in a lab coat was taste-testing wine from the grapes of an alien soil, and someone else was kicking back with some beers and a friend after work...

"Fine. Be that way," said Durandal. "Waste your money on a luxury you don't even enjoy."

"Hey, replicate yourself a glass and I'll pour you some. I don't mind sharing." It was a big bottle, and after a fifth drink he was starting to get warm and fuzzy on the inside.

"Don't bother; I don't think you'll come across more any time soon, considering our next destination, so you'll have to make this little find last."

"Gotta love living with an optimist," Mark said. He leaned back, resting his feet on the table, and as Rozinante sailed on through the limitless void, he drank again, content to be one among a million other tipsy souls.