It started in a busy promenade. I was attending a series of exhibitions with a friend of mine. I didn’t know exactly where. We were in between shows, aimlessly wandering the halls looking for something to do next. I saw a Steve Jobs impersonator slumped in a chair with the “I can’t believe my ride still isn’t here” look on his face. Was this a tech expo?
My friend and I noticed there was a commotion going on at the next building over. It looked violent but folks were still trying to get in. My friend said “I can handle this, I finished the most recent Star Trek video game on the highest difficulty possible”. I wasn’t sure what he meant by this, but followed his lead anyway and he pushed his way into the crowd at the door.
It was a video game exhibit. The biggest, most extensive exhibit you’d ever seen. Every game, every console, every pinball machine, every piece of advertising or paraphernalia, everything. It stretched room after room in this building. We kept plowing our way through the crowd. I took note of some games I’ve played and some I haven’t along the way. “There wouldn’t be any way to match this even if you started right now, so why try?” I thought to myself. “But still, wouldn’t it be neat to have a tenth or a hundredth of this?”
Finally, we reached a room that appeared to be the end of the display. It had been made up to look like a casino. Dark carpeting, wood paneling on all the walls. Pool tables and dartboards were everywhere, there was a proper bar at one end of the room, and there were no doorways leading to another room full of antiques. My friend and I looked at each other and I said “now THIS is a gentleman’s room”. We both laughed and made our way to the bar. He ordered a drink and had it in his hand almost right away, but I couldn’t seem to attract the bartender’s attention long enough to ask for anything.
A few more friends showed up as if we had been waiting for them. “Did you call her?” one of them asked. He was a doctor, and I thought it was interesting he’d be here amidst all this insanity on his day off. I shrugged in the negative and got my cellphone out.
“Hello?” the voice on the other end of the line said.
“We are at the bottom of the train station, all the way in the back,” I said. Somehow somewhere along the way I had pieced together that we were at the main subway station in town. That would explain the crowds and the random exhibits. “Are you coming?”
“Video games aren’t my thing, I think I’ll stay behind,” she replied. We talked for another minute, and finally I coaxed her into changing her mind. She was always down for a drink – I knew this and took advantage of the fact in my negotiation.
“She’ll be along in a moment,” I reported back to the others. I got up and had a look around the room. Past the pool tables I noticed a few arcade machines in the back. They appeared to be operative, and all of them had plaques with text stamped to them. I got a close look at one of them:
“This machine was custom-made for its owner by the manufacturer and is the only one of its kind in the world.”
Impressive, but not too impressive. So its previous owner was just some rich clown who couldn’t figure out what else to blow his money on. I fished out a couple coins out of my pocket and looked for the quarter slot, determined to find out why this particular machine was the only one of its kind. I found the slot, then paused to get a closer look at it – the number “70″ was printed on it. Not “25″, but “70″. I stared at it for a second and couldn’t think of any country that would use a coin worth 70 of anything, then shrugged and gave up. I turned back toward the bar and noticed the girl I called a few minutes ago was just arriving.
I made my way back up to the bar to greet her, and noticed she’d already been able to get a drink out of the elusive bartender. “You too, huh. Where the hell is that guy?”
She laughed and shrugged, and I pulled myself up onto a barstool. “I was wondering if you’d make it through all that’s going on out there.” Hers was a petite frame, and she wasn’t the kind of person who would normally be able to push her way through a mob.
“It was no problem,” she replied. “But I don’t think I’ll be making any progress on the search for my Prince Charming at a place like this. Why’d you pick this place, anyway?”
“Lot of frogs here,” I said, deflecting the question. I wasn’t here necessarily by choice – it wasn’t my decision, but I didn’t exactly veto it either. “You’re sitting next to one too.”
She said nothing and focused on her drink. I had timed that comment for that exact moment for a very particular reason – rehearsed it in private, played the scene in my head like a movie in fast-forward and reverse as I imagined how things would happen. Would she say something profound, or dismiss the comment as playful banter? I still hadn’t worked out what the reaction would be in my prognostications, and now that I’d gone and set the wheels in motion I still couldn’t figure out what the reaction was.
Then the friend I originally came with – the self-proclaimed Starfleet commander – appeared from what looked to be the kitchen area behind the bar. He looked at at me, then my hands, then back to me again. “What’s this, not drinking?” he asked. You could tell he was disappointed.
“No, I can’t find the damn bartender.”
Starfleet tilted his head a bit, then shrugged. “I’ll get you something, and if the barkeep comes back ’round and gets mad I’ll sort it out. Now what are you having?”
“I don’t know. Whiskey. Beer. Something. Anything.” I rested my elbows on the bar, leaning forward and peeking to my side to see what the girl was doing. She was still working on her drink and looking around the room, no doubt surveying the useless electronics and board games for grownups in a futile attempt to find something worth her while. I decided not to say anything and stared blankly at the array of bottles arranged on the shelves behind the bar for a minute.
“So was that all you wanted me here for?” she asked. “A drink and a lame comment?”
Guess I struck out.
“Yeah, pretty much,” I replied. She gave me a strange look as if she’d just been hurt. I figured she was just doing that for effect and ignored it. “If you have other things you’d rather be doing, don’t let me hold y-” She grabbed my arm and I stopped, turning to face her. Her other hand was clutching her throat. I got a closer look and noticed blood seeping between her fingers. She really was hurt – but how? Had she been cut?
“That’s weird, how did you…” I trailed off, glancing at the glass she had been drinking out of. It had been shattered, and its remnants were in pieces on top of the bar. I wondered for a moment what might have happened, given that I didn’t hear any glass breaking. The normally cool, deceptively intellectual look on her face was replaced by one of sheer panic. I jumped off the barstool and grabbed her.
“Ok, everything’s going to be alright. Come with me.” We rushed behind the bar, to the kitchen area. My eyes darted around, looking for a table or a countertop or something I could rest her on. I found something suitable and shoved everything off of it, clearing room. A loud crash rang out as several pots and cooking utensils fell to the floor. “Get up on here and lay down,” I told her. As she did that, Starfleet finally reappeared.
“Hey man, brought you some whiskey!” he proclaimed, clearly proud of himself. “Hey wait, what are you two doing back h-”
“Not now!” I barked. “Go get a medical kit.” He looked at me funny and started searching counters in the kitchen. “You better drink that whiskey bro, I’m not letting that go to waste after I went and got it for you.”
The girl was still writhing on the counter. I lifted her cold, skeletal, clammy hand away from her throat to see what had happened. A huge gash had somehow developed right about where I reckoned a major vein would be. Was this self-inflicted, or had somebody snuck up and done this while I wasn’t paying attention? I snatched up a towel and tried to stanch the bleeding. It was hard to ignore all the color being flushed out of her face.
“Are you gonna drink that whiskey or what?” Starfleet’s attention span had already drifted away from the crisis at hand and back to drinking.
I looked back outside and saw the doctor coming back to the bar, in search of another drink.
“Get in here, we have a problem!” I yelled.
“This better be good, I’m nailing it at the pool table right now,” he said as he made his way into the kitchen. He stopped cold at the sight of the girl on the counter, a white towel now stained deep red with her blood. “Oh dude, that’s not cool.”
I frowned, noting the doctor’s noncommittal tone of voice. “So what do we do?”
He shrugged. “Just clean it up and wrap it, she’ll be fine.” Before I could respond, he turned around and left. I looked back at the girl. I was determined to do something, anything to salvage the situation – but the moment I lifted my hands, I froze. I didn’t know what to do. The look of panic on her face had been replaced with one of angelic serenity. I wondered if she knew two of her friends didn’t care if she lived or died, and the one who did care didn’t know how to save her. This wasn’t one of those dreams where I just knew how to defuse a bomb or was fast enough and strong enough to take down a neighborhood bully – it was one in which I was completely powerless to do anything but watch as she stopped squirming and lapsed into lifelessness right in front of me.
Starfleet set the whiskey down on the counter next to me. “Are you sure you don’t want this? Drink up, bro.”
I grabbed the glass and hurled it across the kitchen, not watching as it exploded in a cloud of alcohol and shattered glass.
“Get out of here if you aren’t going to help!” I snarled. He threw his hands up and walked out.