Last time on Closing Time, both the main character (Joe Eschaton) and the author (myself) lost all memory of what happened. It’s a good thing there’s an archive here that you can go find out how the problem of the song-that-wouldn’t-go-away got solved.
The Klyth-Nephri War (Part One of Three)
It’s high noon when the robot walks into the bar. Fortunately it’s late enough in the history of the universe that no one even bothers to make the situation into the beginning of a joke.
The robot is an old thing, all metal and gears and things that go pop. What was once shiny is now cratered with rust. It looks like it originally had four arms but one of them has been broken off at the joint and another hangs limp, wrapped in peeling grey tape. It also wears a brown hat with a segmented brim and a faded red hatband.
“Howdy,” Joe says. The bar is still pretty empty after last week’s song-that-must-not-be-named debacle, so Joe is pretty happy to see a new customer despite the fact that it’s just one more person he’s going to need to get rid of before the universe runs out of time.
“Nice clock,” the robot says, one of its working arms reaching up to nod the hat at Joe.
Before Joe can say any more, there’s a burst of light that shoots in the front window, bounces off the mirror behind the bar, refracts through a decagonal glass tumbler half filled with Thomas Boy whiskey, and illumines the Last Clock with an arc that looks like a taunting smile.
“Oh, no you don’t!” Joe yells, apparently at the clock, and he jumps over the bar, running towards the front window. Before he can reach the rarely-used window shade, though, the light is observed from some point in the outside universe and it’s gone again as quickly as it came.
“Sorry,” the robot says. Despite its age, it’s obviously operating at a high enough intelligent quotient that it can figure out when a bartender is trying to capture a beam of light.
“Eh, you didn’t know,” Joe says. “It’s not like it’s some usual thing. Just some stray light leftover from the Big Bang I need to mop up that keeps getting away. I’m Joe.”
The robot shakes Joe’s hand.
“I am Nephtli cultural storage and projection unit zero-MN-one, following protocol sequence designate LASTDANCE for imminent universal shutdown. Do you serve beer? I am very fond of beer.”
“Bottle or tap?” Joe asks. Zero-MN-one makes a metallic tapping gesture on his brow. Joe decides that he likes the robot, even though there’s something about it that makes him nervous.
Don’t worry, the suspense is going to be short-lived, because just as Joe starts to pour the robot a pint of authentic Guinness (or at least the current world record-holder for “closest substance to authentic beer”) Terri arrives.
Terri’s been coming in to work with Kharnyvor the last week or two. She says it’s just easier to carpool but Joe suspects that maybe the last deity of the dead Klyth race has a thing for his waitress. Joe also isn’t entirely certain how he feels about that. He’s not jealous; there’s no more attraction between Joe and Terri than there is between magnets and a list of things not attracted to magnets (assuming said list is written on paper or magnesium or human flesh or something similarly not attracted to magnets.) There’s just something about Kharnyvor that makes Joe nervous.
Normally after dropping Terri off, Kharnyvor hangs out a little, absorbs ambient radiation from a particularly toxic meteor someone left in the lost and found, compares armageddon plans with the twelfth Imam, shoots some darts and finally leaves before Joe starts browsing the Loose Ends notebook for something to do.
Today, though, before Kharnyvor takes his third step into the bar, he sees the robot.
It isn’t hyperbole when Joe refers to him as a war god. If there is any question about that, it’s rendered moot the moment the robot catches his eternally burning eye of conflict.
“Nephri,” he says, every letter of the word more distasteful in his mouth than the two surrounding it. His eyes somehow start glowing an infernal black and his breath changes from air into the gaseous form of literal and eternal hatred.
The robot turns around at the sound of his voice and pushes the worn hat back an inch on his rusty brow.
“Klyth,” he says with deceptively realistic robotic indifference. “We meet again.”
That’s the moment when Kharnyvor blows away half of the bar and the asteroid beneath it.
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.