Bill Johnson

Motivational Engineers

“Today is our turn to show our products. And today we will discuss beverages.”

Carolyn Sorenson sat at one end of the rectangular table. Urla na’Tydengh sat at the other end. A side table groaned under a rainbow of different­ly sized and colored bottles and cans. Plastic-covered sheets of paper filled with chemical specifications and vol­ume price discounts were pasted to the side of every bottle and can. An assortment of clear shot glasses, mugs, and tumblers were spread out in front of the human.

“I will not discuss our space drive,” Urla said firmly. “That is not nego­tiable. I want to make that clear from the beginning.”

The alien was covered with soft blonde fur, thin and fine on the face and shoulders, thicker and longer and darker on the lower half of her torso and her short legs. Her arms were long and muscular, the hands deft and slender, with two opposable thumbs flanking five fingers. Her feet were wide and long and flat.

Her teeth were omnivorous, with both molars and prominent canines in a wide, thin-lipped mouth. Her nose was a shortened version of an ele­phant’s trunk, and where humans ex­pected eyes there were instead oval shaped black sensory pads. Her facial hair was short and trimmed and a nar­row mane of longer hair ran from the crest of her rounded skull to the tip of her tail.

She wore an equipment belt and a vest with many pockets, each sealed with a hook and eye closure. A gold and diamond necklace hung around her neck.

Imagine a six-foot-tall kangaroo with an extra pair of arms and an atti­tude…

“Of course I understand you can’t negotiate about your space drive,” Sorenson said smoothly. Damn it! “And I respect your position.”

“Then we can discuss your bever­ages,” Urla said, mollified. “Perhaps something there will have value as a trade item.”

“There is no way to discuss them ,” Sorenson said. She reached over and took a dark green bottle and one of the pieces of paper from the side table. She took one of the empty glass­es from in front of her. “Each one is unique, the product of centuries of re­finement in one particular method of brewing or distilling. These are not simple fruit flavors, with alcohol added. These are art. Centuries and centuries of art. You cannot analyze these with a spectroscope and assign them a value. The only way to value art is to experience it. The only way to value these is to taste them.”

“All of them?” Urla said doubtfully.

“All of them,” Sorenson said firmly. “This is one of our original drinks, from a place called the Czech Repub­lic. The category is called beer,” she said. “It’s a fermented product, as you can see from the data sheet.”

She opened it and poured a fine Pil­sner Urquell into a glass. A white foam head grew, then stopped just short of sliding over the edge of the mug. Car­olyn placed the glass and bottle to­gether across from Urla. Urla picked up the data sheet attached to the bottle and read it.

“According to the data analysis, this is safe for me to drink,” Urla said. She stopped for a moment and frowned. “The alcohol content seems rather high.”

“An important part of the taste,” Sorenson said. “And the Comparative Philosophies team reports you do drink alcohol.”

“In certain religious rituals, yes,” Urla said doubtfully. “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anyone drink it for pleasure”

“Then perhaps this will open up new avenues for trade,” Sorenson said. And perhaps I'll get you drunk enough to talk and not know what you're saying. The biochemistry team reported that alcohol affects you the same as us.

“Perhaps,” Urla said doubtfully. She picked up the mug then hesitated, halfway to her mouth.

“It seems so… antiseptic,” she said innocently. “Whenever we use alco­hol it’s in a group religious ceremony. I don’t think I’ve ever drunk it by my­self. Perhaps you’ll drink with me?”

Sorenson hesitated, then turned over a mug and filled it.

“Of course,” she said. “No one likes to drink alone.”

“Leave me alone. Let me die.”

“You told her you never drank?” Detinla na’Tydengh said. “You told her no one ever drinks for pleasure?”

“You’re going to remember this af­ter I’m dead. You’re going to remem­ber how you tortured me and you’re going to regret it and feel sorry for me.”

“Feel sorry for you?” Detinla snort­ed. “I’m locked up with a team of hu­mans who smell like my child after he hasn’t bathed in a week, talking about religion until my mouth is sore and dry, while you’re sampling exotic alien beer. I’m supposed to feel sorry for you? ”

“Not just beer,” Urla said. She smacked her lips together and stuck out her tongue. The inside of her mouth tasted like an old pair of boots and her tongue seemed to be coated white. “Distilled liquors. Vodka. Bour­bon. And something called Scotch.”

“Take a pill and get up,” Detinla said. “Drink some water, wash your face, and I’ll be back.”

Detinla left the cabin and the hatch slid shut behind her. Urla closed her eyes, but that only made the pound­ ing in her head worse. She opened her eyes, tasted her tongue again and made a face. Finally she levered her­self up and off the bed and staggered to the washbasin.

“Hangover cure,” she ordered. She looked at her face in the mirror and shuddered at what she saw. “Make that a double dose.”

Two white tablets slid out of the dispensary. She swallowed them dry, gagged, then threw her head back and forced them down. She sat back down on her bunk and practiced deep breathing techniques.

By the time Detinla returned, Urla was ready to admit that while she felt terrible, she no longer felt quite bad enough to require ritual suicide. Maybe, just maybe, and for business only, she might live long enough to try one more drink. Maybe some of that Scotch.

“You’ll live,” Detinla said after she gave Urla a critical look. “Here.” Detinla tossed Urla a clean dress coverall. Urla looked up at her, puz­zled.

“Word from upstairs,” Detinla said, with a jerk of her head. “It’s time to go faster. Your next session is sched­uled for this afternoon.”

“You can’t hurry one of these,” Urla complained. Her headache was a fad­ed memory now, and more than any­thing she felt hungry. She slid out of her old, dirty coverall with the inter­esting stains and into the crisp new uniform. “They know that as well as we do. To come all this way and then fail because we get impatient is worse than a sin: it’s damned wasteful.”

“And we don’t have so much raw material that we can afford to waste any of it,” Detinla said. “Yeah, I agree. But they’re not really rushing us. Com­parative Philosophies is finished with the humans.”

Urla finished dressing and stood. Detinla opened the hatch and they stepped outside Urla’s cabin into the central dropshaft of the small scout ship. They fell gently to the lower lev­el of the ship.

“What did you find? Can you make it work on them?” Urla asked eagerly.


Detinla shook her head. She looked depressed, dejected. Comparative Philosophies was successful more of­ ten than any other specialty, and Detinla was acknowledged as an ex­pert. To admit defeat was not some­thing she was good at.

“They’ve got everything I need,” she said. “All the old legends, all the old beliefs. Angels and saints and heaven up above in the stars. And the cultural mores fit perfectly, with the ability to make a long term commit­ment to a goal and stick to it, for gen­eration after generation after genera­tion. You remember those pictures of the cathedrals?”

“The big churches over in Europe?” Urla asked. Detinla nodded.

“It took them hundreds of years to build those, back before they even had steam power or any kind of ma­ chine tools. The original architects were long in their graves before there was even a recognizable outline of a structure. And still they kept on build­ing until they were finished,” Detinla said.

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