Author’s Note: The title on this one basically speaks for itself, I suppose. Sometimes when you seek an answer, you get the one you don’t want.
“I have heard it said that there is a universal truth about bartenders—that you are very wise.”
The corpulent being behind the counter laughed, lifting his hands up and wiping all six of them on his apron. His species worked in plenty of these sort of positions, almost always kept to the less sterile portions of the spaceports where they could not offend anyone with their means of transportation—walking on their hands rather like what humans would call spiders. “You need advice, kid?”
That made him frown. “Why does everyone seem to call me that? I do not resemble a child, do I?”
“Children ask more questions than those grown. You do appear young.”
“That is deceptive.”
The bartender laughed. “True. Hard to tell with most of these species, not that one has much of a time to look when they pass through the area. You wouldn’t look like someone I’d expect in this section of the port or to speak my language.”
He would have explained that the vortex spoke all languages, stole them from the worlds it consumed, but he could not do that here. Humans would be amused but would not believe him. They could be explained to—he had told Luna more than anyone in the past—but not this species. “I seek knowledge.”
“I’ve got some to spare. What would you like to know?”
He hesitated. This was an awkward subject at best, and he did not know what to do about any of it—Luna or his curiosity or the books. “It was… suggested to me that someone might think I—”
“Just a moment,” the bartender said, his arms extending toward the news feed, turning up the volume and increasing the screen size all at the same time. The other patrons hushed, their conversations dying out as commentary about the story came instead.
“Monsters, all of them.”
“Impossible. They could not have caught one of them.”
“I heard that it was hibernating after it destroyed that solar system.”
His eyes went to the screen, watching the demonstration outside the legal center. The advanced species of the world had become much more like humans, demanding one thing and one thing only for the prisoner’s fate.
“Those things are too dangerous to live. They’ll never hold it for long. Putting it through a trial is pointless.”
“It killed billions. The sentence is clear. Just kill it already.”
He was not capable of being ill, not unless he had forced his hunger onto himself, and then it was pain and not illness. Still, he did not feel well at all. He could not deny what they were saying, but these comments condemned him just as much as it did the other child of the vortex—the one captured while digesting—and now he could not help but feel that if anyone in that room knew what he was, he would share that same fate.
“Such a shame. So many lives destroyed. Every time one of these things surfaces, there’s always a massacre.”
He looked over at the bartender. “Perhaps they are only seen when they have made a mistake—”
“You want to call that solar system a mistake?”
He lowered his head. “No. It should not have happened. I don’t mean that. No one should have had to suffer for the hunger of the vortex.”
“I thought they were going to announce when the execution would be,” the bartender said, returning the display to its former volume and size. “A shame. You going to watch?”
“I… It will not bring those dead back to life.”
“Yeah, suppose not. You said you wanted advice before. You still have a question to ask? I can pour you some of my best—”
“No, no, I think I understand,” he said, backing away from the bar. The only solution to the problem of a hunger like his was death. That was the opinion of all. That meant that whatever false impression the old man had suggested he’d given Luna—that did not matter. His kind were monsters. That was all they were. He could never go back to her, not even for the sake of his curiosity.
Managing his hunger would never be enough.
Someday they would demand that same death of him.
He already deserved it.