"Good Lord, it's the Star Wars cantina."
Malcolm winced at Trip's comparison, but he had to admit it described the pub to a T. He'd never seen so many different species congregated in one place before. An oval-shaped bar counter sat in the center of the pub, with tables arranged haphazardly around it like broken satellites. Dark, smoky booths ringed the perimeter. It reminded Malcolm uncomfortably of the kinds of places he'd worked in during his foolhardy days in Section 31.
A Tellarite female reached over and touched Trip's arm. Trip jumped, bumping into Malcolm, who stepped into the path of a drink server. Malcolm's reflexes saved several drinks from crashing to the floor, much to the amusement of nearby patrons. As he straightened, he caught the adoring look of the waitress.
"Thank you ever so much," she trilled in accented English. She accepted the drinks from him, holding on to his hand longer than strictly necessary. The low light reflected off her cherry-colored polished nails and made her pale skin ghoulish in comparison.
"You're welcome," Malcolm replied. He thought the woman seemed pleasant enough: long reddish-gold hair; slanted, cat-like eyes that glimmered amber in the low light, and cute dimples in her cheeks as she smiled. Suddenly, Malcolm shuddered at the sight of four-inch canine teeth in the waitress's mouth, like a hungry wolf's.
Her grin became more predatory. "I get off-shift in a few hours. Perhaps, if you're still here, I can thank you for your help in a more...appropriate manner."
He swallowed hard and plastered the smile on his lips. Not bloody likely. She'd probably do more than just 'thank' me. "Perhaps," he replied in a noncommittal tone.
She bobbed her head, and with a definite sashay of her hips, disappeared somewhere near the outer booths. Malcolm sighed and shook his head as loud voices to his right caught his attention. He tried not to smirk as he saw the Tellarite female trying very hard to make Trip's acquaintance. She had ordered them both a reddish-brown glass of vinna and was trying to pour the Tellarite alcohol down Trip's throat. The panicked look on the engineer's face threatened to completely scuttle Malcolm's composure.
Privately, he knew who would win the fight: a drunken Tellarite, or a peeved-off Vulcan? The Vulcan, surely.
"...I really appreciate the offer, ma'am, but I'm waitin' for someone, and that someone would be really mad if-"
"But you must relax and enjoy the scenery," the Tellarite cooed. She tried to wrap an arm around Trip, but Trip's nimble reflexes surprised even Malcolm. "You are as tense as a kitarra string. Come, make your friend Treshha happy and have a drink with her. This Treshha is lonely."
Malcolm took pity upon Trip and raised his voice. "Ah, there you are! You vanished on me. Shame on you. I see you've picked up an admirer."
If looks could kill, Trip would have sent him six feet under in a matter of three seconds. The Tellarite-Treshha-glanced at Trip, then at Malcolm, then sputtered, "This...this...you were waiting for him?" She peered at Malcolm through vinna-goggled eyes. "Hmm...a little short, but he looks sturdy enough."
Malcolm tried not to roll his eyes as Trip turned bright red and sputtered helplessly. Malcolm sighed and said,"We're going to be late meeting the others. Come on, you can play later."
"Malcolm!" Trip groaned, but the relief in his eyes were obvious. He turned back to the Treshha, shrugged good-naturedly in a 'Sorry, what can I do?' gesture, then hastened to follow Malcolm back through the crowd.
The Tellarite didn't seem upset. Instead, she hollered, "I will be here when you return, mark my words! Perhaps we can get better acquainted after you do...whatever you must do..."
Trip sighed as they reached the far corner of the bar. "Thanks, Malcolm. She was about to manhandle me and force that awful Tellarite wine down my throat."
"Anytime, Commander." He couldn't help but smirk widely. "That's probably a first for you, being hit upon by a Tellarite."
Trip gave him a sour look. "First time for everything, huh. Just see if I save your bacon when a drunk Saitian female decides she wants to take you home with her..."
Malcolm chuckled and signaled the barman for a drink. "At least she'd be less obvious about it, instead of going at it with the force of a galvanized brick."
"Ha, ha." Trip slid onto a stool and surveyed the various bottles and decanters on the shelf behind the barman. "Wonder if the rumors are true, that you can find every kind of mixed drink in the universe here."
A familiar laugh came from Trip's left. "Not quite, but the list is pretty impressive, Commander. I'd suggest the Icy Andorian Slide; it's pretty good."
Trip grinned and nodded at the barman. "Glad to see you made it, Johannes."
Ensign Johannes Birkenwald leaned against the counter next to Trip, while Ensign Bernhard Mueller appeared with his usual stealth on Malcolm's right. Both Armory men seemed sober enough, although the tall stein in front of Bernhard was only half-empty. Malcolm noticed that foam took up most of the stein; the alien beer seemed to change colors in the light.
"From Sarsparilla Three, Lieutenant," Bernhard answered his unvoiced question. "Not as good as a good Bavarian brew, but it's palatable enough."
"Looks like it's mostly foam, Bernhard."
"The foam's good too. The barman said it's laced with some good flavorings."
Malcolm shrugged as the barman slid what looked like a good English stout in front of him. If an English stout was dyed Irish green, that is. He eyed the concoction and tried to decide whether or not to risk it. He shrugged again and took a sip. It had a strangely bitter aftertaste, but it really wasn't half bad. After confirming it wasn't going to kill him, Malcolm sat back, sipped his beer, and casually looked around the bar.
I must admit, Trip wasn't too far off in comparing this to the Star Wars cantina. All we need is a band. Malcolm watched as a pair of Orions huddled together in a booth as they made a business deal with two Yslanderins. Three female Phorians laughed as their male counterparts spun a gaming wheel. A tall, blue-skinned Andorian leaned against a pillar; Malcolm recognized the sharp gaze of a fellow security officer. They met each other's gaze, then the Andorian gave him a cordial nod. Malcolm nodded back.
To Malcolm's surprise, there was even a pair of Vulcans sitting in a booth, farthest away from the crowd. Malcolm recognized the brightly-colored liquid in their glasses: saya juice. He'd never seen a Vulcan drunk, and hoped he never would. T'Pol had described saya as a kind of fruit, but it was an acquired taste.
Finally, he spotted some other Enterprise crew members at a nearby table: Travis Mayweather, Philippe Trieste, Tyler Petersen, and Antoine Desgauld. The four of them seemed to be having a good time; Malcolm resisted a grin. The last few missions had been difficult for all of them; they all needed to relax.
The barman quietly slid Malcolm a second "stout" and took the empty glass away. Malcolm nodded his thanks. He seems rather quiet for a barman. Most of the ones I know have the gift of gab.
He watched as the barman served a tall, stocky alien at the corner of the bar. Neither spoke a word to each other, but Malcolm felt the affectionate communication between the two. The taller alien seemed rather mournful as he contemplated his drink, but didn't hesitate to drain it to the dregs.
Despite the jovial atmosphere, Malcolm found it hard to relax his guard. There was some sort of tension brewing in the air, something that he couldn't quite define. He listened to Johannes's and Trip's stories about previous shore leaves, and moved on to a third "stout", but instead of relaxing him, the drinks only served to heighten his nerves.
Then, like a storm breaking, trouble arrived in the form of four burly Klingons making a beeline for the bar. Patrons scattered in their wake, fleeing in the opposite direction. Malcolm narrowed his eyes as the Klingons swaggered up to the bar and the lead one dumped a sack on the polished counter. They all heard the clink of coin as the barman took it.
"Blood wine, and lots of it!" the Klingon boomed.
The barman hefted the sack in one of his four hands, as if testing its weight. Then he nodded at the Klingon and quickly went to a sealed cask behind the bar. With an effort, the barman pried it open and the strong smell of alcohol exploded into the air.
"Whoa," Trip said in a low voice, as he took a step backward. "Watch it...the fumes are strong enough to melt solid duranium."
"Trip," Malcolm hissed, but one of the Klingons had overheard the engineer. Instead of being angry, the Klingon merely laughed again and waved a dismissive hand.
"That is how you can tell it is fresh! Our friend Kurus here has the finest blood wine in the sector. Do you not, Kurus!" The barman only nodded as he distributed mugs of the stuff to the Klingons.
"Qua'pla!" the Klingons saluted as they downed the blood wine as one. Malcolm didn't have to turn around to see the worried look on Travis Mayweather's face; Malcolm could feel it. He could also feel the other patrons backing away a safe distance.
Bernhard pitched his voice low. "Tactical retreat, Lieutenant?"
"That would seem a wise decision, Bernhard," Malcolm whispered back. "We don't want to have any trouble."
"Jawohl," Johannes agreed.
The Starfleet contingent slowly began to drift away, but then a heavy, muscular arm shot forward and snagged Malcolm by the shoulder. The unexpected movement caused him to stumble forward and nearly crash into his assailant. Malcolm found himself face to face with a highly intoxicated Klingon woman.
Oh, bloody hell, he thought. Of all the pubs in the universe...
"My name is Grisas," the woman purred as she tossed her unruly black mane over her shoulder."Come, have a drink with me."
"Ah-" Malcolm stammered.
"Leave the weakling alone, Grisas. He's not worthy of you," snapped her leader. "He could barely hold a tankard of blood wine."
Grisas hissed under her breath. "You are just jealous, Krath," she shot back. Before Malcolm could politely extricate his way out the situation, she clamped a gloved hand around his upper arm. "There is strength, here. I wonder if you would last a few rounds with me, eh?"
"Oh, crap." Trip's exclamation was quiet, but heartfelt, and Malcolm agreed with it completely. He was trapped within Grisas's iron grip. Malcolm thought, Maybe the Tellarite wouldn't be so bad...
"He would die in the first fifteen minutes, Grisas," joked another Klingon. "Die of exhaustion, if nothing else." That caused a roar of laughter among them, and suddenly Malcolm felt pretty sick to his stomach at the implication.
Krath glowered at him from under heavy brows. "He is not a Klingon, Grisas. Don't act like a besotted fool. He can hardly hope to withstand any challenge you can give him."
All right, this is beginning to become quite irritating. If there was one thing that irritated Malcolm, it was being called a 'weakling'. He'd put up with countless bullies in his time, and that was what this Krath was, a bully. It was time to put the bully in his place.
Malcolm said nothing at first, only lifted a brow at Krath's words. Finally, he asked, "A challenge, then?"
There was silence for a moment, then Krath bared his teeth into a sneer. "You dare to challenge me, Human?"
"Malcolm," Trip murmured. All sorts of emotion was packed into that single word, all of them not good. "Let it go."
"What do you propose?" Malcolm asked, ignoring Trip's warning.
Krath glanced at Grisas and the others, temporarily at a loss for words. Obviously, Krath hadn't thought what to do beyond the bluster. Then the Klingon's gaze fell upon the keg of blood wine behind the bar, and he grinned again. "A toast, to the Klingon Empire! Kurus, fill our glasses, and give one to the foolish Human! We shall see what kind of stomach this one has!"
The barman refilled Krath's mug with his trademark efficiency, then dipped a mug into the barrel for Malcolm. Malcolm accepted it with a nod of thanks. He raised his blood wine, matched Krath's toast, then knocked back the blood wine in one shot.
The alcohol hit him like a freight train and made his eyes water, but he held his liquor. Malcolm felt it burn a path to his stomach and leave a pleasant buzz behind. He inclined his head at the blood wine in newfound respect. "Good stuff," he managed to say.
Krath laughed. "And this is just the beginning. Kurus, another one!"
Half an hour later, Trip and the others stared at the sight in dumbfounded disbelief. Malcolm still sat on his stool, even as the empty mugs collected all around him. Two of the Klingons were already on the floor, and Grisas was nearly there herself. Krath and Malcolm had had several mugs of blood wine, and when that failed to knock Malcolm out, Krath suggested a powerful Orion brew. They'd had two mugs and had started on the third.
"How is he doing that?" whispered Travis. He and the others had joined Bernhard and Johannes at the bar. The Boomer stared at the two drinking companions, slack-jawed. "Blood wine isn't something you just toss back like lemonade."
"Neither is the Orion brew," Tyler Petersen added, his voice in awe. "And they're on their fourth."
Antoine Desgauld said nothing, but the ship's quartermaster had a slight smile on his face. Bernhard noticed it and asked, "Was gibt's denn ? Weisst du was, dass wir nicht?" What is it? What do you know that we don't.
Desgauld only replied, "Der Leutnant hat etwas geplannt." The Lieutenant has something planned.
"Mon Dieu," Philippe murmured. "What is that idiot up to?"
That idiot was referring to Krath. He glared at Malcolm, as if taking offense at the fact that the Englishman was still conscious. Then he snapped something at Kurus. The look of utter indifference vanished from the barman's face; Kurus, for once, actually looked frightened. Krath repeated his order, then Kurus ducked beneath the bar. He surfaced with medium-sized keg of the Orion brew, and knocked the plug off with a mallet. Krath snatched it up with a look of utter triumph.
"You shouldn't be doing that," Johannes said to Krath.
Krath bared his teeth at Johannes's warning, then proceeded to chug down the entire contents of the keg. No one in the bar dared to move as Krath gulped it all, then slammed the remains of the keg onto the counter in front of Malcolm. The Armory officer only regarded him calmly, even as Krath's smirk widened.
"See if you can do that!" the Klingon taunted.
Malcolm matched the smirk and casually finished off the drink in his mug. As the patrons watched, tears began to stream down Krath's face and his complexion faded to an uncomfortable pale amber, then the amber became ruddy, with a tinge of green. Malcolm carefully put his mug down with the others, but made no other movement.
The atmosphere was as thick as London fog from the Thames. Someone's stomach rumbled, while one of the Chondites coughed in the silence. Even the Vulcans looked on with appalled, yet fascinated silence. The lone Andorian guard stood fast, his antennae twitching in anticipation.
Seconds trickled past. Krath swayed on his feet, his entire body trembling. His eyes rolled back into his head. Then, with a huge crash, the big Klingon pitched forward onto his face, right next to a snoring Grisas, and the insensate bodies of his fellow crew members.
No one said anything for a full minute. Then Krath began sawing logs so loudly that the walls shook and the tables trembled in its wake. He was completely out cold.
The thunderous applause roared through the room as the patrons cheered the victor. The Phorians at the gaming wheel groaned as they paid their bets to the Rhodians. The Andorian nodded once in approval, while the Vulcans turned back toward their own saya with an air of tolerant disgust. Malcolm blearily looked over at the unmoving form of Krath, then with an effort, tipped his mug on its side with two fingers. Kurus nodded in acknowledgment.
"God, Malcolm, what the hell was that?" Trip said as he caught Malcolm on one side. He shook his head as if he still couldn't believe it. "You outdrank a Klingon?"
"It was a matter of...'onor, C'mander," Malcolm slurred, his accent thickening as he spoke.
"In that case, this bar is full of honor," Johannes said dryly, as he supported Malcolm's other side. "C'mon, Lieutenant. Let's get you out of here."
"Yeah, Phlox would want to see him," Travis put in. "He's drunk enough alcohol to put us all out and then some."
"I still can't figure out how he did it," Tyler said in an awed tone. "He should've been on the floor long before Krath."
The others formed a protective guard around them as Johannes and Trip half-dragged, half-carried Malcolm out of the bar. None of the patrons offered any resistance; in fact, they clapped Malcolm on the shoulder as they passed. Talk had already spread about the Human with the extraordinary stamina to outlast a Klingon in a drinking contest.
"Hate to feel the hangover you're gonna have tomorrow mornin', buddy," Trip said, not without a little sympathy, as they double-timed it to the transport bay down the street.
"It won't be as bad as you think, Commander."
Malcolm grinned and said, "I had Phlox fit me with an alcohol inhibitor before we left the ship."
Trip nearly dropped him on the pavement in shock. The others stared at him for a long moment before they all burst out laughing, mostly in relief. Malcolm sighed and shook his head, carefully.
"Just do me a favor."
"What?" Trip asked.
Malcolm winced; even with the alcohol inhibitor, he was feeling a bit fuzzy. "Don't tell Hoshi about this, all right?"
"Don't worry," Travis promised him with a sly grin. "We won't."