Stars That Laugh
The watering hole—with its dusty plastic counters—was at the end of the known universe. He had traveled to every imaginable star just to come here to see where it all began and it all ended.
Somehow, the Spaceman expected more. The walls were a harsh white, and the rest of the bar was comprised of large opaque panels.
It felt less like being inside a bar and more like being inside a giant vending machine. Besides himself, he shared the room with no one save the Donizetti playing softly in the background.
He looked around the empty, antiseptic room and pressed the only available button, labeled auspiciously—START.
“Good Evening,” the machine chirped at him, “Please answer a few questions in order to begin.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Oh, gotta be 300 by now.” Although it was clear time had not touched him while he was away. His jumpsuit still fit him the same way it did all those years ago.
“Property Consultant for De Beers Mining Corp.”
“First time traveling to the area?”
He leaned in close to the computer screen, “Are we almost done here?”
“Please answer the question sir, we value our customer’s data.”
“I’m sure you do. Yes. It’s my first time this far out on the frontier,” he failed to see what the machine was getting at. His throat was parched.
“Last question sir, how are you today?”
“How am I? I’m sitting here in an automated lemonade stand at the ass end of the universe, ordering drinks from a census machine with a liquor license. I haven’t seen another human in about a decade, how do you think I’m feeling?”
There was a slight pause as the machine considered his answer.
“Thank you. Dispensing drink.”
A small box lifted from the surface of the bar, lifting its door to reveal a chilled glass with three ice cubes. It dispensed a liquor the color of inky dark molasses inside.
He grasped it, trying not to feel insulted by the robot’s choice.
“Cheers,” he said, turning to the empty bar. He pictured it full of people, packed to the gills.
He took a sip for every girl he’d left behind in the scattered stars, whose faces he struggled to remember.
He took a sip for every one of the people who died in his colony back home, when an asteroid ripped through their hull. People he'd spent too little time with, whose faces he couldn’t wait to forget.
“Cheers,” he said again, and swiveled in his chair, turning his back against them all.