Flotsam in Space, Part II

Author’s note: Part 1.

“I’m sure it wasn’t your fault,” I replied reassuringly.  Tinnesdale smiled back at me, but I could tell he wasn’t convinced.  He returned to his scribbling. 
“We suspect that there are particles called gravitons that are responsible for gravity,” Tinnesdale said, to no one in particular, as he wrote.  I tilted my head to indicate my total attention, loving how academics always lapsed into lecturing.  “Of course, no one has ever found one, or proof that gravitons exist at all.  But they make sense with the mathematics, see?” 
He pointed to an equation, and I nodded and looked enlightened as best I could.  Behind him, I could see Jimmy the Wrecker gliding across the bar.  He seemed to have mastered the art of moving in space, and was hunting down the rogue floating martini olives.
Next to me, Tinnesdale was squinting in confusion at the equations.  “It’s weird, though.  For some reason, it seems as though the gravitons in this area have all switched their spin in unison.  They all should be in spin 2, but if they switched to a different spin, the gravitational effect would vanish.”
I wondered if there was any universe where this would make sense to me.  I’m a bartender, and aside from an encyclopedic memory for drink recipes, I’m not the brightest guy.  “Can we get them spinning again?” I asked.
Tinnesdale had let go of the bar as he wrote, and was currently floating upside down, but I can still recognize a frown.  “It’s not that sort of spin,” he said distractedly.  “This really shouldn’t be possible.  I mean, I can show it with an equation, that it’s impossible.  Like this.”
As Tinnesdale spoke the final word, gravity returned to Flotsam.  And buddy, when I say returned, I mean with a vengeance!  The loud thump as Jimmy hit the floor was audible even over the rain of shattering glassware.  I winced as a rare bottle of 1887 Laphroaig scotch exploded.  The scientist himself came down right across the bar.  I barely managed to catch my martini shaker.
“Excellent work!” I congratulated the man as he crawled back to his stool.  “You fixed things!”
Tinnesdale frowned back at me.  “I didn’t fix anything, though,” he complained.  “I just proved that what was happening wasn’t possible!”
I winked at him. “Sometimes, the world tends to forget what’s possible and what isn’t,” I said sagely.  “It needs brilliant people like you to remind it.”  Now I know, technically, that wasn’t true.  But it was worth it to see that little scientist square his shoulders and sit up a bit straighter.  With a flourish, I emptied the shaker into a glass.  A perfect Manhattan!
It took a few hours to clear up all the broken glass, of course, and Jimmy had to lie down for a while.  In fact, if you look under that table, over there, it’s still banged up from the fall.  But that’s Flotsam for ya.  Anyway, any idea what you’re in the mood for?  Maybe a Manhattan?

Flotsam in Space, Part I

Ah, hey!  You’re new here, aren’t you?  Haven’t seen your face before.  Well, that’s nothing new around here, I’m used to a lot of faces.  What can I get you?  Drink?  We got just about anything a fellow could ask for. 
What, that one?  Oh, that’s just an obsidian shooter.  The trick is to use real lava, you see.  Might be a little strong for you, though.  But you think that’s wild, let me tell you about the other day, when we had a minor little mishap with our gravity.
You see, we really don’t know what’s outside the bar.  Oh, the windows?  Sure, we’ve got them, but they tend to change what they show, and it seems like they show something different to everyone.  Our bouncer says they’re showing the inside of a giant computer, but Jimmy the Wrecker, in the corner, swears that they’re looking out at downtown Chicago.  Of course, most people don’t argue with Jimmy. 
So one day, few weeks ago, business as usual.  Bar was pretty empty, I remember.  Mainly the locals, a couple lizards, some out of work fellows, Jimmy was there.  I’m shaking out another Manhattan for Jimmy when all of a sudden, the olives are floating up past my face.  
A moment later, it’s clear that it’s not just me.  “Oy!  The hell’s happenin’ with my drink!?” Jimmy yelled from the corner.  G27 let out a distressed clank, and I sucked in a breath myself as I felt my feet leave the floor.
A soft wave of glasses drifted lazily over the bar, chasing after the herd of olives.  Holding on to the rail of the bar, I took a quick survey.  G27 had latched on to the floor with his magnetic clamps, Jimmy was thrashing around like he was trying to swim, and most of the other patrons were in various stages of panic.  Not how I like to run my bar, I’ll tell ya.
One guy, though, at the end of the bar, seemed to still be in control, keeping himself in his seat with one hand.  I made my way down to him with difficulty.  “Hey, friend,” I greeted him.  “Any idea what’s happening here?”
The other fellow gazed around the bar with polite interest, as if observing a neighbor’s new minivan.  “Looks like you forgot to pay the gravity bill,” he commented.  I noticed that one hand was over the mouth of his beer bottle, to keep the globes of liquid inside between sips. 
I gave him a short laugh; even in times of crisis, bartenders have to put their patrons first.  “Any idea on how to fix it?”  I noticed that he was a fairly neat fellow, if slightly chubby, in an oxford, a bow tie, and a pair of spectacles. 
He glanced over the bar, his legs floating up off the stool.  “Maybe!  Do you have any paper back there?” he asked.  I found a legal pad and pencil beneath the bar and passed them over.
The man began scribbling down equations of some sort; I was lost almost immediately.  He seemed to be using letters instead of numbers.  “I don’t believe I’ve made your acquaintance,” I said.  Across the room, the lizards were fending off an attack by several floating chairs. 
Before he stuck out his hand, the little man at the bar held down the pad and paper with his other hand, smartly keeping it from floating away.  “Jonathan Tinnesdale, quantum physicist,” he said with just a slight hint of pride.  “Currently disgraced, of course, after my antiproton cage prototype failed spectacularly and blew up half of JPL’s high energy building.”  

Flotsam’s First Pong Tournament, Part III

Author’s note: Part I and Part II.

My regulars murmured to each other as the game progressed.  We rarely had anywhere near this much energy in the bar.  I kept Tommy supplied with fresh beer, and before long he had the teddy bear down to a single remaining cup.  Several other patrons were already jostling and queuing up to take his place.
“If your opponent makes the last cup, you get two shots for rebuttal,” Tommy announced to the surrounding patrons.  “You get your ball back for each shot you make, but after two misses, you lose.  If you clear your opponent’s cups in rebuttal, it’s sudden death mode – one cup each.”  Tommy’s second shot landed in the teddy bear’s final cup with a splash, and several patrons cheered mildly.  The bear missed both his rebuttal shots and dejectedly gulped down the remainder of his vodka and honey. 
Tommy intercepted the bear as he waddled away across the floor.  “Good game, bro,” he said, holding his hand down towards the top of the bear’s head.  After a moment, the teddy bear reached up and shook the proffered hand.  It seemed less glum as it ordered another drink from me. 
The next hour was one of the busiest I have ever seen at Flotsam.  As I poured and shook out drinks for those standing in line for pong, I watched the grin on Tommy’s face grow as he defeated challenger after challenger.  A second table quickly opened up to accommodate the rush of interest.  Ten minutes later, Tommy had wiped down the old chalkboard on one of the walls and had a tournament organized.  There was one tense moment when several warty amphibian mercenaries almost came to blows with a battle droid that refused to disable its automatic targeting software, but Tommy cleverly solved the issue by setting up a separate bracket system for electronic patrons.
Three hours later, my arms were sore from shaking and muddling and Tommy was draped over a bar stool.  Most of the patrons had happily filed out of the bar, chatting excitedly in various tongues about the new game.  A plastic crown was perched precariously on Tommy’s head and a half-full can of beer was resting on the bar in front of his head.  I took the opportunity to duck around from behind the bar and clean up the scattered red cups.
“Fun night?” I asked when Tommy finally raised his head from the counter.
Tommy nodded groggily.  “I was on fire, man,” he said wonderingly.  “I’ve never played so well in my life.  Even against those blobs that could bend their arms any way they wanted.  Seriously, best night of my life.”
I smiled.  “It sounds like you accomplished your goal,” I said.
Tommy gave me an utterly confused look.  “You were looking forward to this night because you wanted it to be the best thing in your life,” I explained.  “From the sound of things, it was a pretty good night.”
After a moment of consideration, Tommy nodded to himself.  “You know, I think you’re right,” he said, the realization doing a much better job of sobering him up than any number of cups of coffee.  He reached up and straightened his baseball cap.  “I actually feel way better than I did earlier today.”  He turned to look over his shoulder at the door.  “I think it might be time for me to head out.  Can you call a cab or something?”
“No cab necessary,” I replied.  “Once you step out that door, you’ll be right where you need to be.”  I tucked his beer can away under the bar.
Tommy stood up from the stool, but paused before he strode towards the door.  Bittersweet realization bloomed on his face.  “I’m not going to ever come back to this place, will I?”  he asked, glancing around at the few remaining patrons still nursing their drinks.
I shrugged one shoulder in a well-practiced motion.  “If we don’t see you again in here, it means that you’re on the right track,” I replied, dodging the question with the ease of years of practice.  “Flotsam is always there for those who need it.”
I saw the young man’s lips twitch upward, as if the evasive answer was nothing more than what he had expected.  “Until the next pong tournament then,” he said, stepping out through the door.  For an instant, I saw another bar on the other side of the open door, this one filled with similarly attired men swinging bottles in their hands and singing.  A single bar drifted through the door as Tommy left, only to be cut off as the door closed.  I knew if I rushed to it now and opened it wide, I would see nothing.
Picking up my rag, I started wiping down some of the empty glassware.  One lone ping-pong ball drifted slowly towards me on the counter, carried by a spreading puddle of gently fizzing beer.  I picked it up and casually tossed it over my shoulder, towards the other end of the bar.  I didn’t have to turn around to know that it had landed perfectly in the last remaining red solo cup.
Ah, just another evening in Flotsam.  And that one wasn’t even the wildest.  In fact, it was pretty tame compared to that time when the priest- but that’s a tale for another time.

Flotsam’s First Pong Tournament, Part II

Author’s note: Part 1.

The man shrugged, but he popped the top of the can one-handed and took a long pull.  The thin beer seemed to calm his nerves somewhat, as I find a familiar taste often does.  “I was trying to get to Library bar,” he said after he swallowed.  “It’s the five year reunion for my frat – Xi class,” he added meaningfully.  I hadn’t the faintest idea what this meant, but I nodded understandingly.
After another pull, the man crunched the can in a meaty fist and slid it back to me.  I was surprised by his speed, but I dropped it behind the bar and withdrew a second.  “This was my high point,” he said mournfully.  “I mean, to be honest my life has been pretty much in the crapper since college.  Seeing all the guys again was all I’ve been looking forward to.”  He opened the second beer without asking about the price.
I nodded again, doing my best to appear sympathetic.  He sounded like the classic Flotsam type – someone who didn’t have anything in the world, no ties or connections to prevent him from being swept away.  I had heard variations of his tale too many times before to count.  “What’s your name, friend?” I asked.
“Tommy Bach,” he said, holding out a hand.  He had a firm grip, but I’ve had much stronger fellows stumble into the bar, so I wasn’t put off.  “My bros call me T-Dawg.”
“Tee dog?” I tried.
“Nah, it’s one word, more accent on the w.  T-Dawg,” he repeated. 
“Well, Tee Dawg, we might not be holding your reunion, but you’ve still made it to a bar,” I said.  “Look on the positive side!  What were you looking forward to doing tonight?”
Tommy sat up from the bar and swiveled on his stool to look around.  Now, I’ll be the first to admit that Flotsam doesn’t have a lot of high-tech gadgetry.  Touch screens don’t respond well to claws or paws, and the robots’ circuitry seemed to always interfere with the pinball machines.  We had a few large tables and a couple of dart boards in a corner, but that was about the extent of things.  Most patrons focused on their alcohol.
After a moment, Tommy’s brow furrowed.  “Where’s the beer pong?” he asked, his affronted tone suggesting that I had just kicked a small child. 
I gave him a blank look.  I’ve had a lot of time behind the bar to practice this look, so it was very blank indeed.  “Beer pong?” he repeated, and I carefully didn’t shift a single facial muscle.
“Oh man, you guys don’t have pong here?  No wonder everyone’s so gloomy!” he cried, sliding off the stool onto his feet.  He threw a hand across the counter.  “Red solo cups, dude.  I need about twenty of them.”
After a moment’s rummaging under the bar, I found the red plastic cups he wanted and passed them over.  Somehow, the bar always seemed to have what I needed.  I had never questioned it, just wrote it off as one of Flotsam’s little quirks.  Tommy seized the cups and made for one of the large rectangular tables.  He kept one stack of cups and slid a second stack over towards the sole occupant at the far end of the table, a wide-eyed teddy bear in a booster seat.  Tommy began setting up a triangle of the cups at his end of the table, and after a moment of helpless confusion, the bear began to do the same at the opposite end.
“Can I get a pitcher of water?” Tommy asked once the triangle was complete.  I filled a plastic pitcher from the tap and slid it across to him.  He filled each cup about a third full of water, and then passed the pitcher over to the bear.  The bear was forced to hold the pitcher with both paws, but it managed to fill its cups without too much spillage.
By this time, quite a few of the other drinkers had begun to gather around the table, curiously watching with their eyes, cameras, light sensors, feelers, or other sensory equipment they possessed.  Tommy wasn’t put off in the slightest; he was in his element.  “Balls, dude,” he called out.
I looked down and saw a package of ping-pong balls sticking out from the same shelf that had held the red cups.  I tossed the pack to him, and he removed two of the balls before returning it.  Tommy climbed on top of one of the chairs so he could see over most of the assembled crowd. 
“Rules,” he announced.  “You gotta throw from behind your edge of the table – no leaning, or that’s a cup penalty.  If you get it in their cup, they have to take that cup away, and they have to drink.  Once the ball bounces, it can be grabbed by the other person.  If it bounces off the table, though, and lands in a cup, that counts as two cups they gotta remove.  If you make both your shots, you get the balls back as well as clearing those two cups.  If both shots go in the same cup, you get balls back and they clear three cups.  Two re-racks – that is, two chances to, at the beginning of your turn, ask for them to change the shape of the cups to whatever you want.  Losers need to finish their drinks.  Bear-” he pointed with his beer can at the teddy bear across the table- “-you’re up first!”

Flotsam’s First Pong Tournament, Part I

They always tell me that stories should start at the beginning.  Isn’t that the classic line?  But no one knows the beginning of Flotsam, and I’ve been here ages and ages.  Recounting all that history would take far too long. 
Maybe I’ll just start with the new arrival.  Unlike most of our new drinkers, who enter the bar looking like all they’re missing is the gun to put in their mouth, this guy came bursting in through the door filled with exuberance.  I almost dropped the tumbler I was polishing.
“Woo!  Let’s get this party started!” he yelled as he threw open the wooden door with a heavy thud.  “Five year reunion!  I’ll still drink all you under the table!”
The newcomer’s entrance was loud enough to rouse most of the stupefied drinkers, and he was
greeted by a wide range of expressions, from blank stares to homicidal glares.  We get all sorts at Flotsam.  Our newest customer was pretty quick on the uptake, though, and he quickly realized that most of the faces were angry.  Or maybe it was the fact that most of them weren’t human.  Like I said, we get all sorts at Flotsam.
A couple of lizards, who had previously been sipping gin-and-gasoline in their booth, rose menacingly out of their seats and began to sidle towards the new guy.  His eyes wide with shock, he backed away from the pair, raising his trembling hands above the popped collar of his polo shirt. 
I sent a meaningful glance towards G27’s corner, but he had already extended his limbs, and his manipulator arms let off hisses of released hydraulic pressure as he readied his servos.  “Settle down, boys,” G27 drawled in his tinny Southern accent.  “We don’t want any trouble here.”
The lizards gave my bouncer a once-over, but settled back warily into their booth.  They might be six and a half feet tall, even without the tail, and corded head to toe with muscle, but they knew better than to tangle with a robot the size of G27. 
Trying to defuse the system, I gave the newcomer a cheery grin.  “Welcome to Flotsam, sir.  What can I get you?”
The man dejectedly took a seat on one of the bar stools.  He dropped his baseball cap on the counter and ran a hand through his short brown hair.  “I swear I only pounded a couple Nattys before I left for the bar,” he said to me.  “No way am I drunk enough to be seeing giant lizards.”
I think my most common wish is for a standard opening speech – something to explain to each new person how they had ended up in Flotsam.  Every person’s different, though, and it’s damn tough for anyone to hear that they’re part of the unneeded refuse of the universe, swept into the alcoholic equivalent of a dust trap.  “Where were you headed tonight?” I asked instead, opening one of the mini-fridges behind the bar.  I pulled out a metal can of Natural Ice and set it down in front of the man.  
He started to fumble in his wallet for payment, but I waved it away.  “No charge for the first one – just your story,” I said pleasantly.