Kadi was used to serving a bar full of aliens. A galaxy of fake aliens passed through her doors each day, and she enjoyed every one of them. Well, almost.
She'd traded in her high-pressure Silicon Valley financial manager job for a '50s chic waitress uniform: a blue pleated dress that swirled just above her knees, slouch socks, tennis shoes, and a world of creativity and play.
She loved getting up in the morning and letting the makeup artists turn her brown skin blue. She tolerated the blue wig and tights. After all, everyone who worked at the 'Port had some sort of costume, and being the owner of Blue's Bar was a treat for anyone who loved people.
And most days she liked people. She liked them a lot more than Cookie did, for sure.
Of course it wasn't really a bar. More of a '50s diner, complete with the cranky short-order cook. She ignored the animatronic tentacles he used to put the plates up in the window. Atmosphere!
Today she was annoyed at one particular guest, a kid in a green owl costume sitting on a bar stool. His improbably large eyes peeked over the polished marble bar top. He chirped at her whenever she glanced his way. She pushed the eraser end of her pencil into the spot just above her left eyelid where her stress headache was starting to form. Not good. She was supposed to avoid stress.
She stuffed the pencil behind her ear, and stared at the owl. Her index finger twirled one of her spiraled blue tresses as she paused to think of how to handle the little pest. Distracted, she snapped a bubble with her gum.
The snap echoed through the diner like a shattered plate, drowning out Cookie's clatter from the kitchen and the laughter and chatter that drifted in from crowds outside. A couple of patrons at the far end of the bar clapped. She curtsied and smiled, playing to the crowd. Happy. Cheerful. Exactly what customers wanted from the owner of Blue's Bar.
Just another day at the Spaceport, the number-one science fiction attraction in Silicon Valley, sort of a cross between an amusement park and a science fiction convention.
Blue's Bar was her own little haven, especially after the stress of her last job. In this quirky wonderland, she could play all day, and make a living doing it.
One customer at a time. That was her mantra, and the owl wasn't next.
She dropped a fizzy tablet into a sweet drink and watched the multicolored layers swirl. "One rainbow storm," she yelled and slid it down the bar toward the guy dressed like a Stormtrooper.
The drink swooshed past the kid. Okay, time to try again.
"You want something, sweetie?" she asked.
The owl chirped.
Amazing costume. Must be some rich Silicon Valley executive's kid. The eyes looked so real. The amber-surrounded irises focused to slits and occasionally the green eyelids would blink, slow and deliberate. Creepy.
"Well," she said, gently slapping her hand on the counter in front of him, "you think about what you want." She turned to the two businessmen sitting next to him. "That your kid?"
They must have come in just for lunch, because they were still dressed in suits. Not the classic men-in-black suits some people wore with dark sunglasses, these were modern and stylish. Boring. One had at least made an attempt at a costume and put on elf ears. The other twisted on his stool and looked at the owl. "No," he said, and then looked back at the menu. "What's Andorian Ale?" he asked his friend.
"Ginger ale with blue food coloring," the faux elf said.
"So... not a bar?" The patron sounded disappointed.
"This place is better than a bar. It's cool. Just look at the costumes!"
Since they were ignoring her, she turned back to the owl. "You want the special?"
"How about the fried worms?" Deep fried, twisted clam strips. Delicious. Addictive. She'd take some up to her apartment for dinner tonight. Fried comfort food sounded perfect.
The owl cheeped.
She tapped her pencil on the bar.
The businessman seemed to notice Kadi again. "What's the special?"
"Today we're doing local fare: mashed potatoes with spaceship-shaped sliders crashed into it. It's coated in a mushroom and spinach gravy."
"We'll take two of those," the business elf said. His friend didn't look convinced, but nodded.
"Two Area 51s on a Plate," she yelled over her shoulder into the kitchen while collecting their menus. "Drinks?" Her gum popped and she glanced at the owl. It continued to tweet and chirp in her direction. It was beginning to annoy her.
"Martian Whiskey for us both."
She nodded at the elf and went over to stir rose water syrup into iced tea. Kadi plunked the drinks in front of the businessmen. The guy who couldn't quite get into the spirit of the place sipped it cautiously, and then nodded.
"You'll love this place," his friend said. "The people who work here all stay in character. I've never been able to get one to break the act. It is so real!"
Kadi wasn't in the mood to deal with either of them. Normally she loved teasing the non-geeky visitors who got dragged in by their friends, but the incessant tweeting from the kid was driving her mad.
Her mom used to say owls were bearers of bad news. She'd swear that if you heard an owl, someone was going to die.
But if this one was trying to warn her of something, she wasn't understanding.
Each cheep called to her.
Each peep prodded.
Each screech screamed.
She didn't have time to babysit some rich kid. Didn't have time for the disturbance and the distraction and the freaking nervous energy bubbling and fizzing her blood.
Kids liked the Spaceport. Glancing out the window, she could see a herd of them running through the promenade, dashing between the crowds at the different booths, rushing back to the arcade, probably. She couldn't just go around kicking kids out whenever they were a pain. Kids paid the bills. Kids gave the place life and energy.
The kid was probably only around eight. His parents had to be somewhere close. She looked around, trying to figure out who was responsible for her tormentor.
She glanced around the bar. Bright black-and-white checkerboard flooring, blue vinyl stools, and blue booths were dated, but not otherworldly. Anywhere else, the decor would have been considered quaint and historic. Here... well, it made an impressive set for the playacting of science fiction fans from around the world, one of several functional sets that made up the 'Port.
None of the other patrons seemed to take a parental interest in the little creep. She made a quick round to check on everyone's meal and ask if anyone was missing an owl.
No one claimed the little pest.
She didn't really blame them.
Cookie's deep voice echoed from the window behind her. "Order up!"
She turned her back on the owl and snatched the plates. She delivered the two specials to the businessmen. The one without elf ears asked for ketchup. Tourist.
"Honey, all I've got is Venusian Slug Blood." She snagged a bottle off a nearby table and plunked it down in front of him, amused to see him cringe. "It makes all of Cookie's food taste better."
An impressive growl came from the invisible cook behind the window.
The faux elf assured his friend it was ketchup.
"Squashed the slugs fresh this morning," Kadi whispered and made her rounds again.
The owl was still staring at her. It blinked those unbelievably beautiful eyes and watched her constantly. The color of the eyes seemed to shift. Hypnotic.
It let out a plaintive cheep. Annoyance pecked at the base of her neck, startling her. How long had she been staring at him?
Running Blue's Bar at the Spaceport was usually a blast. It was fun to put on the character of Blue and hang out in the bar chatting up the locals. Each night, she and Cookie created new specials and puns to keep the fans coming back for more. The Area 51 was a hit. Maybe the next special should be Algenubian frog legs.
Maybe Roast Strixian à l'Orange.
The 'Port was a blast. But once in a while, some brat would make her wish she could drop out of character and zap a patron out of existence.
Like the owl waiting for her at the bar.
She walked to her station and leaned back against the wall, her blue arms folded. "You decide what you want yet?" she asked the little green alien wannabe.
After the breakdown, she'd needed this place to recover her sanity. Now, popping her gum and staring across the bar, she was beginning to think she was losing her mind rather than finding it.
This kid was good. He spoke in some made-up language, pointing at the menu and jabbering. She'd heard enough Klingon that she was starting to get it down. She'd learned snatches of a dozen Earth languages and a couple of Middle Earth ones as well. The Live Action Role-Playing, or LARP, community adored the 'Port, and they took their languages very seriously.
But she couldn't understand a word this kid was chirping.
Science fiction and fantasy fans tended to overlap. If someone wanted to order a hot dog in Elvish, she was happy to oblige. She'd make up some dineresque name for the meal and shout it out to Cookie. It always amazed her that he'd sort out the jargon and provide exactly what the customer ordered. Cookie was the real magic behind the bar, and Kadi loved playing Blue.
But this little green twerp was ruining her mood.
She slapped a glass of water in front of the twittering green owl and walked to the other end of the bar to get her head back in character.
Trevor wandered in. He was off duty. She could tell because he was dressed steampunk and sported a purple lip ring that clashed with his green hair. When he was working, the ring was silver and blended perfectly with his red security officer uniform. His luscious chocolate skin was currently makeup-free. Mmm. The scenery at the 'Port was sure fine.
He leaned on the bar and glanced at the green-feathered kid. Trevor had a way of reading people, catching their moods. Or maybe it was just that he walked around with his eyes open. He looked back at Kadi and his eyelids shifted to a lower level. He was locked onto her mood now.
Kadi snapped her gum and glared at the owl.
"You pop another bubble and I'm going to have to call in reinforcements," Trevor said.
She stepped close to him and whispered, "I don't know why, but this kid is getting to me. He's stuck in character, but the character makes no sense." She sighed. "Maybe I'm just tired."
She rubbed at the ache along her hairline. Best be careful or she'd go bald.
Trevor looked deep into her eyes, and she got lost in that purple gaze. His eyes were probably brown beneath the contacts, but the nightshade purple was enchanting, giving her a sense that her own personal genie had come to the rescue. He knew her history, knew she didn't react well to stress. "You want me to talk to him?"
"Unofficially?" she asked.
Trevor was head of security. She didn't want the kid to get in trouble. After all, he was a customer. He hadn't done anything other than be annoying.
"Okay, yes. See if you can get him to tell you what he wants?"
With a smile that could rival the brightness of a full moon, Trevor nodded and wandered over to the little green munchkin. The kid's costume was kind of cute, just over three feet tall. Kadi hoped the kid's parents were enjoying the show.
"So, sir, can I help you with anything?" Trevor asked.
The creature tweedled.
"I see. Your universal translator seems to be malfunctioning."
More tweets and chirps. The sound effects were lifelike. She shuddered. That costume must have cost a fortune.
Trevor glanced over his shoulder at Kadi and shrugged. "Tell you what, sir, let's go and see if we can't find a technician to help you with that translator before you drive my friend Blue here to start drinking her own wares?" He placed a hand on the kid's wing and gently steered the little terror towards the door.
The bar was close to the entrance to the 'Port, built into the concrete side of the building, with the interior-facing wall made of glass. Exterior windows were part of the original decor, built to resemble oval train-car viewing ports.
The view outside was a normal city street, with a few humans staring in at the costumed patrons.
The little green monstrosity allowed itself to be led only halfway across the room before pulling away from Trevor and rushing back to the bar. It climbed back up onto the barstool and tweedled at Kadi again.
Maybe it was something about the pitch of the creature's voice that grated on her ears. For the first time, she almost broke character. She certainly broke her patience. "Look, kid, I don't have any tweeting whatever it is you want. We're all out. We may even close early. Go ride the shuttles, will you?"
The palm-sized insect-like eyes looked at her in an almost sad-kitten expression. And blinked.
It was the most lifelike costume she'd seen. Ever.
She sighed and plopped a pictographic menu in front of it again. She pointed at the first picture. "This?"
"Look, can you at least say 'yes' or 'no' so I can know if I'm getting warmer?"
She slapped her hands down on the menu and pulled it away. "I'm all out of birdseed," she said, tossing the menu back in the rack.
She glanced up at Trevor and blew an enormous bubble, snapping it with a gesture of finality, lest he miss her "rescue me!" signal.
Trevor laughed and walked out.
She saw him cross the bright and airy promenade, flipping out his radio to call for backup.
A red-shirted pair of security guards met him a few moments later and he led them back into the bar.
The handful of patrons who had been eavesdropping now turned to watch openly as the three came in and surrounded the little green annoyance.
Trevor spoke up. "Sir, we've asked you to leave politely. Now we're going to ask a little more forcefully."
The two guards helped the kid down off the stool and escorted him across the room toward the door.
The owl became more agitated, its head swiveling impressively. How did he manage to turn it 180 degrees around without breaking his neck? The whole headpiece of the costume must be on rollers. Neat effect. She'd have to remember to tell Wardrobe about it. Tanner might want to add "owl neck" to their list of costume options. The tweets took on a tone of entreaty, as if he were calling to her.
She shook her head and waved goodbye.
The owl pulled one wing from a security guard's grip and produced an impressive looking little blaster pistol from somewhere in its feathers.
"Now THAT is supposed to be peace-bonded," Trevor said, reaching for the toy.
With a whine and a flash of light, Trevor crumpled to the ground, followed by each of the security guards.
A patron clapped and got zapped for her trouble. Her head made a terrible squishing thunk of a sound as she hit the floor. She didn't get up.
The kid had to be in the cast. Trevor and the patron were just playing along. She walked closer and noticed a small pool of blood under the patron's head.
Her internal alarms went off, clanging warnings of liability claims and lawsuits.
Kadi felt the universe pause as she took in what she'd just seen happen.
The gun-waving little green alien reached out and grabbed her arm. The moment its skin touched hers she felt a gentle spark like a shiver run over her body. Then a stern voice spoke in her head. "I do not want to harm anyone. Can you understand me?"
The clicks and whistles sounded far off, while the voice in her head felt rich and reassuring.
She nodded, and kept nodding like a broken humming-bird feeder or a drink dispenser filling cup after cup after cup, long after all the cups were gone.
There was a long pause and she felt the creature searching for something in her mind. "I want to speak to..." again, a long pause. A very realistic crease appeared on the creature's feathered forehead. "Cordell Klakowicz. He is your leader."