As its historian, I can tell you a few secrets about Joe's Bar.

First, no matter where you might be in the universe, all races can understand each other. No one has ever questioned that.

Another secret is that you don't find Joe's Bar -- it finds you, if you have an interesting tale to tell. But there are exceptions, such as the night the well-dressed Earthman sat alone at a small table in the smoky room. The smoke, of course, came from various dried vegetation in pipes, cigars and cigarettes. 'No Smoking' does not apply in Joe's Bar.

But back to the Earthman. A slender plume of smoke arose from his thin cigarette as he studied it, then lifted a frosty glass of beer to his lips. Over the brim of the mug, he saw the entrance of a jovial Vinnian general, followed by eight of his underlings. The Earthman was not surprised when, after finding his eight men filled up the rest of the bar, the stout general came to his table and sat down, uninvited.

"You drink slop," the general announced, and signaled a waiter. "Two glasses of grog from Vinni," he ordered, brusquely. "Fill them up!"

"Yessir!" the waiter said, after snapping to attention. The general handed him some money, and he marched quickly away.

"Now," the general said to the Earthman, "you will see what real brew tastes like!"

The waiter quickly returned and gently put a very full glass in front of each of them. Under the watchful eyes of the general (who had five of them), the Earthman picked up the glass, sniffed it, nodded, and then downed the entire drink.

The general gasped, but watched carefully, fully expecting the Earthman to collapse.

Carefully wiping his lips with a napkin, the Earthman said, "I've had worse."

The general shook his head. "I do not understand! That is our most powerful drink! What are you used to?"

"I'm from a planet named Earth," was the response. "Our brewers make liquor, rum, vodka and the like. Have you ever had any?"

"Vodka?" the general repeated. "By the gods, there is nothing more powerful in the universe!"

Politely, the Earthman shook his head. "There are many who would argue with you about that. We have some who make their own, and call it 'white lightning' because it is so powerful. But," he added, "I wish to change the subject. Did you just come back from a war?"

Smiling broadly, the general nodded and said, "A very successful war, thank you. It only took us fifteen days to subdue an entire planet."

The Earthman shook his head. "So wasteful," he said.

"What? Didn't you hear me? Only fifteen days!"

"Yes, I heard you," the Earthman said sadly. "How many, including staff, did it take?"

Open-mouthed, the general paused and then answered, "I would guess about twenty thousand were involved."

"Fifteen days times twenty thousand people -- that comes to hundreds of man-years in effort!" Clucking his tongue, he shook his head. "Roughly, how many billion did that war cost?"

"Wh-what?" the general stammered. "Well, I --"

"Including salaries of staff as well as soldiers, plus the cost of equipment such as bombs and space ships and food, to the nearest billion," the Earthman pursued.

Working his cuff calculator, the general finally said, "Well, perhaps a billion -- but still --"

"-- Still a shameful waste," the Earthman said, gracefully accepting what he was certain was a low figure. "I could have delivered it to you for one million, not a penny more."

"You are joking!" the general said, clacking his teeth together in anger. "You are making fun of me!"

"There was no fun intended," the Earthman said easily. "In fact, I can prove my point if you will aim me toward a similar-sized planet you intend to attack."

"I -- but I. . . ."

"Just to make it interesting," the Earthman continued, "let us say that if I can deliver the planet in under three years, you will make it eleven million; one million in advance to finance me, ten more if I deliver before schedule."

Uncertain still if he were the butt of some kind of joke, the general took a deep breath, then asked, "And if you don't deliver?"

Taking a casual puff from his cigarette, the Earthman replied, "My life. Either kill me or take me as your slave."

This the general could understand. All five of his eyes steadily gazed at this person who must be insane; must be. . .and yet. . . . "You realize you cannot take my million and run?"

Crossing his legs, the Earthman said, "How could I? My intention is that, after you give me the million, you then take me to the planet of your choice. I wouldn't care to add that expense into my budget."

"Then what? How will I know when you have succeeded?"

"Simple," said the Earthman. "Give me a signal I can use, and I will summon you when I am through. You will bring me back to Joe's Bar, and we will complete the deal."

+ + +

So you can see how it was necessary for them to, later, find Joe's Bar.

+ + +

In two years, three hundred and fifty days, the Earthman and the general walked through the doors of Joe's Bar. The Eartman seemed satisfied, and the general was scowling, scowling so hard that only three of his eyes were open. "We are here," he growled. "Tell me how you did it!"

"Are you satisfied? Did I not deliver?"

As they sat at their table, the general sputtered, "Yes, yes! All buildings were empty. There was no resistance at all. In fact, no people at all! How did you do it?"

The Earthman shrugged eloquently. "No problem. As with any civilization, they were having troubles with their prisons. I only presented them a way to slash prison expenses, and greatly reduced the size of their prisons, that's all."

"No it is not 'all'!" the general snapped. "How did you do it?"

"Well, I used most of your million to build a factory. Then I took our product to one of their political leaders, and told him what it would do for them. I brought one box along to demonstrate. After only half-an-hour in the box, he was totally convinced. It cinched the deal when I told him we could produce as many boxes as he wanted, for only ten thousand a box.

"He smiled and said, 'Ten thousand? And that will take care of them for the rest of their life? That would be a savings of millions for each prisoner!' He looked at the box and added, 'After trying it, I guarantee they will all agree to stay in their boxes way past the time of their sentence -- in fact, for the rest of their lives!'"

"Yes, yes," the impatient general said, "But what did it do? Why would anyone agree to --?"

"-- To be happy the rest of their lives?" the Earthman said, smiling. "My 'box' fed them, intravenously, with a liquid that not only nourished them, but also prepared their brain for the signal from the wire mesh put over their heads. They slept, but dreamed happy dreams."

The Earthman sighed. "Of course, there were objections from some of the public when they found out. 'They're supposed to be punished!' was the general objection.

"The prison wardens responded, 'But they are now out of the way! They won't trouble you any more! Further, the annual upkeep has plummeted, and their cells are now no more than a drawer in the morgue. Prison costs have dropped in a minuscule amount.'

"Naturally," the Earthman continued, "soon everyone was wanting a box! There are many layers under the surface of that planet, all filled with citizens who are dreaming their lives away." Then he added, "I feel a bit guilty about it sometimes -- but I then remind myself that, if you had invaded, millions would have died horribly. This is better. And far more economical," he finished.

Frowning again, the general gave the Earthman his ten million. "Still," he said, "it is not right! There is no fun in just walking into a planet unopposed. Besides, whoever heard of the conquered being happy?"

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