One of the longest running jokes on Lagrange-4 is that when Kai Nazca excavated through the first vein of DeGrassium and revealed the Chondrule Club, Kinkaid was already behind the bar.
Of course the Chondrule Club didn’t actually exist until it too was excavated but the joke gets some funny looks when a newbie first hears it.
Maddison Holtz was not a newbie. It was more than two years ago that she accepted her job with Off Earth Salvage and moved here to Lagrange-4. She was a quick study and learned early that you don’t ask Kinkaid questions and if you ever hope to enjoy a cocktail you avoid pissing him off like you avoid the airlock.
Suddenly Maddison couldn’t remember if the joke was because of how old Kinkaid was or the fact that he never seemed to leave the bar. Probably a little of both.
“Hey Kinkaid how is everything in here?” she leaned through the door.
The Chondrule Club was technically closed, but as the operations manager for the whole rock Maddison had business being just about anywhere. She needed a drink, but hoped she wouldn’t have to ask.
“Fine Ms. Holtz,” Kinkaid studied her face int he dim light. “Come on in and have a seat.”
He read people better than most. Only those that ‘did it right’ became a friend and Maddison hoped that she was one of them.
Maddison walked past the tables with their chairs upside down and on top. At the corner of the bar she bent over and lifted the case of beer off the floor. Placing it gently on the top, she slid it down the entire length and pressed it neatly against the wall. The lessons her parents taught her on Earth served just as well here in space. If you see something that needs doing, do it.
“Thanks. The ore sorting team Mike brought in near cleared me out.” Kinkaid explained his need for restocking beer.
In truth there was always someone new cleaning him out. Maddison almost never saw invoices or cargo manifests for alcohol and didn’t know where most of it came from, but Kinkaid kept the place stocked.
“No problem. Don’t see too many beer drinkers these days.” She couldn’t help but think about the water used in making beer.
“Ore sorters are the greenest of the green. If they stick around they’ll learn. Speaking of, any word on that A.I.? Paying these guys can’t be good for Mike’s bottom line.” Kinkaid wondered.
“Still in therapy. It is convinced that was a human hand it saw. It won’t even sort simple finished pieces.” Maddison smiled at the fact that a computer program wouldn’t work because of an image.
“Well I suppose most of us wouldn’t be out here if those instances always did what they were supposed to.” Kinkaid chuckled.
Maddison sighed deeply. It was unintentional and she hated that it was going to look like she wanted to talk about a problem. Even though she really wanted to talk about her problem.
“You ever been around for a lighting?” Kinkaid pretended to ignore the sigh.
“No, I hear it’s amazing.” She answered quickly.
“Hold on,” Kinkaid disappeared around a short wall.
Moments later the walls came to life. Little bits of color shone in the black stone surrounding it. The glass chondrules refracted and bent light into colors people on Earth could never imagine. It was more colorful than a perfect rainbow and more dazzling than a sky full of stars.
Maddison left the bar and walked to a wall. She gently touched one of the pieces of glass. The elements in this crystal may have been around when the universe was formed. That made them even older than Kinkaid.
Everything glowed. The walls, the ceiling, the floors, even the supports underneath the bar had chondrules in it lighting up. Someone told her that it was all from a single laser beam and somehow each orb was connected by fiber optic strands winding their way through the rock. Different colors came from the bend in the fiber optics, not the chondrules themselves.
Then the room went dark. Not exactly dark, but back to it’s traditional level of dim.
“Can’t leave the laser on too long. One of the structural A.I.’s says it heats the fiber optics and could allow for a fissure in the stone.” Kinkaid explained why the light show wasn’t a permanent feature.
“Thank you for sharing. I’m glad I got to see that.” Maddison replied gratefully.
“But it’s not what you were looking for. Can I fix you a drink?” The bartender always understands.
“You don’t have to do that. I was really just looking to clear my head and this helped.” She regretted poking her head through the door.
“I only offer once.” He shrugged his shoulders.
“Got any vodka handy?” Maddison stopped waffling.
“ZG or terrestrial?” Kinkaid naturally had vodka.
Maddison knew there couldn’t be a difference between vodka distilled in zero gravity and vodka distilled on Earth or the Moon. Still something about terrestrial vodka was better than it’s ZG counterpart.
“Terrestrial please,” she moved to a stool at the end of the bar.
A small glass of clear liquid was placed gently on the bar. Kinkaid kept his hand over the top and slowly slid it in front of her.
“This is distilled in the Mariana Trench. They use nearly frozen sea water and geothermal heating. It is remarkably pure and about as opposite ZG as I could think of.” He smiled.
Maybe if she had gone ZG it would have been a bigger pour. The liquid swirled around the cup and she sniffed to detect a complete lack of smell. Then her lips parted and the ice cold liquor flowed easily into her warm mouth.
The contrast was startling but the purity obvious. Her chest filled with warmth which slowly radiated out to her limbs and the rest of her body.
“Wow,” she acknowledged the quality of his selection.
“Look, I don’t know what you’re looking for, but my advice is to stop. If you’re meant to find whatever it is, you’ll come across it at the right time. If not, looking won’t do you any good.” The bartender explained.
The problem was that she thought she found what she was looking for. When she took the tablet off that freighter captain it matched Mike’s description of his holo-tab almost perfectly. There wasn’t much tech that age filling space on freighters and most of the stuff floating from that generation was already salvaged or burned up in Earths atmosphere.
It wasn’t the looking that bothered her, it was all the effort to repair that piece of crap. Effort that would have been worth it if the display showed Mikes dad. Instead she spent a month working on the thing only to have a series of crude sex acts projected when it finally booted up.
“You’re right. I just wish I could find nothing instead of tricking myself into believing I have what I want.” She explained cryptically.
“If it was found in salvage, it’s not what you want anyway. Most people are looking for a thing when what they really need is a feeling. When you find that feeling it doesn’t matter where you are or what you have, the feeling goes with you.” Kinkaid explained some more.
Of course he was right. She didn’t want the holo-tab. What she wanted was the good feeling she would get from giving it to Mike. That feeling she got when she saw Mike relaxed and happy was what she was looking for.
But even Kinkaid wasn’t going to hear that.
“How much for the drink?” Maddison asked.
“It’s on me.” Kinkaid smiled.
This wasn’t a bad feeling either.
“Thank you. I suppose I should get out of your way though. We both have work to do.” Maddison stood to leave.
“Don’t mention it.” Kinkaid replied bluntly.
“Okay I’ll see you.” She waved and headed for the door.
Facing the door it was hard to miss the massive arch of DeGrassium. Maddison had never seen it in this light before and it looked magical. She wondered what Kai Nazca felt when he first saw this vein of ore curving through his massive rock.
More than that, what was he looking for? She knew that he excavated most of the Chondrule Club by hand while the mining bots were focused on processing the ore filled with oxygen and elements used for fuel. The question she now pondered was why.
He must have been looking for something. And that may be where Kinkaid took his advice. Digging by hand though an asteroid in space is not done to find an object, it’s done to find a feeling. Accomplishment, knowledge, or fear could have driven Kai to dig. And one of those could just as easily have caused him to stop.
Kinkaid wasn’t a fixture in the Chondrule Club because of any material thing he had. He was able to stay in the role as long as he had because of his feelings. It never mattered if it was slow or busy, rowdy or subdued, Kinkaid worked the bar exactly the same. Somehow, he was able to find the feeling he was looking for and by staying here on Lagrange-4 he never let it go.
What was the feeling Maddison was looking for? And what feeling would make her stop?
There may not be one answer to either question, but for now she had to keep looking.