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Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille

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Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille

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Author: Steven Brust
Publisher: Ace Books, 1990

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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille serves the best matzoh ball soup in the Galaxy, and hires some of the best musicians you'll ever hear. It's a great place to visit, but it tends to move around-just one step ahead of whatever mysterious conspiracy is reducing whole worlds to radioactive ash. And Cowboy Feng's may be humanity's last hope for survival.



I've been a wild rover
For many a year.
"The Wild Rover,"

Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille has the best matzo ball soup in the galaxy. Lots of garlic, matzo balls with just the right consistency to absorb the flavor, big chunks of chicken, and the whole of it seasoned to a biting perfection. One bowl, along with maybe a couple of tamales, will usually do for a meal.

As for entertainment, Feng gets some of the best Irish musicians you'll ever hear--good instrumental backing, fine singing, some stupendous fiddle playing, and driving energy. Hell, some of the songs are actually Irish.

I was there that Thursday, sitting in my favorite booth--back middle, just under the picture of the big, grinning Chinese fellow with the mustache and the cowboy hat--while I waited for the rest of my band, the Jig-Makers, to finish tuning. It's my favorite booth because you can see the whole dining room to your right and most of the taproom to your left, and you get a great view of the stage.

We weren't playing tonight, but Fred, the manager, let us use the stage to practice. The place used to have live music every Wednesday and Thursday, as well as on the weekends, but it didn't pay, so Fred canceled it. He was the practical sort; not me, I'm sentimental. This has caused me any number of difficulties, but there it is. My other problem is that I'm easily distracted. Sorry about that. Where was I? Oh, yeah. Thursday. Which reminds me: Did you hear the one about how, after the nuclear attack, the town of Sanctuary, Venus, had to change its name? To Sanctuary, Jupiter? Anyway, Thursday was the day someone lobbed an atomic warhead at Jerrysport, Mars, and reduced it to rubble.

It was damned uncomfortable when the bomb hit; we must have been within a mile or so of ground zero. If we'd been much closer that would have been it for us, and I might never have found out what goats are really useful for, but it wasn't, so I did and maybe I'll tell you. In any case, I was knocked to the floor, and then I rolled and something fell on me and I blacked out for a while. It hurt to wake up again, but I didn't mind too much, since I was having a confused dream about Irish ghosts and they all looked like geeks.

Fully conscious, I decided I wasn't injured, since a headache doesn't count as an injury. Diffuse, pale light came in through the frosted windows high on what had been the west wall when the place was built and the north wall in Ibrium City and the south wall in London and Jerrysport. The room contained vast quantities of ambient dust. I thought about my band over in the taproom, but they were safer there than I was here, as long as the pool tables didn't start flying around. I was pleased I remembered them; one effect the jump has, we've learned, is disorientation, to a greater or lesser degree. I'm not sure why. After the first one, it took me a few days to remember even the most basic things, and a month later there were still bits and pieces coming back. And with the jostling we'd gotten lately, it was bound to be pretty bad.

I pulled myself up to a sitting position and looked around. Fortunately or unfortunately, there had been no customers in the place, but that wasn't surprising, as I've found that business always slacks off when there's a nuclear alert in a city.

Someone said, "You all right, Billy?"

Billy? I blinked twice. Yeah, that was me. I looked for the voice, and spotted a likely-looking pile of debris--likely-looking mostly because it was moving. I stood up, decided I weighed more than I should, and sat down. I tried again, took a couple of deep breaths, and helped remove a table, tablecloth, and part of a booth from Rich Vonderick, who had a neatly trimmed beard, a bear-like build, and the personality of a rabid crocodile on Valium.

"I'm fine," I told him. "You look a bit dusty, though."

"Yeah?" he said. "What could have caused that?" This was irony.

"Something about an atomic warhead, I think." So was this.

"Yeah," he said. Then, suddenly, "Eve!"

"She's in back," I said quickly. "I saw her just a minute or two before it hit."

"Oh." He relaxed. "Okay."

See that? I had trouble remembering who I was, but had no trouble remembering who Eve was, or where I'd just seen her. Fascinating thing, the mind. I said, "Glad you were here."

"You, too."

I snorted. "I'm not going to get left behind; I have too much to do."

"Like what?"

"Uhh... ask me tomorrow."

"Right." He looked like he might be about to argue, but instead said, "Where are we?" as if I'd know.

"We'll find out," I told him. "When the place opens for business. Got your tool kit?"

"Always," he said, glancing around and spotting it. "Why?"

"It'll probably be useful in getting the lights working."

He nodded. "Any idea who else made it through?" There was a certain amount of tension in his voice; we've both known people who happened not to be in the restaurant at the right time.

I said, "I'm pretty sure everyone did."

"Good," said Rich. "In that case, how about if we ask Libby for a drink?"

"Drink?" said someone behind me. I turned around in time to see a short, pretty, dark-haired woman walking in from the taproom.

"Hey, sis," I said. "How is everything?" A moment later it occurred to me that she wasn't really my sister; I just called her that.

"Hi, Rose," said Rich. "How do you feel?" Rose. That was it.

"I need whiskey," she said.

"How's the band?" said Rich.

"Jamie broke a D-string and the bridge on my fiddle collapsed and Tommy lost his last pick and we can't find the tipper for the bodhran and I need whiskey." She blinked twice by way of punctuation.

I said, "But all the instruments are okay, right?"

She cocked her head to the side and said, "If the instruments weren't okay d'you suppose I'd be so calm?"

"Damn," said Rich, who only pretended not to like our music. I think.

I said to Rose, "You aren't scared or anything, are you?"

"Noooo," she said patiently. "I just need whiskey." Then she frowned. "I couldn't hear at first, though, and that scared me. And it sounds like you're talking through a tunnel, although it isn't as bad as it was a few minutes ago. And I forgot where this room was for a minute."

"It's the jump," said Rich. "My vision keeps going in and out. It probably will for a few days yet."

"Whiskey will help," said Rose confidently.

I went up to the hole in the wall where waitresses got drinks. Then I turned back and said, "Libby isn't here. She was probably in back or something when it hit. I hope she's--"

"I'll look," said Rich.

"Nothing can happen to Libby," explained Rose patiently. "She wouldn't allow it."

I tended to agree with her, though I couldn't say so. At that moment, however, I heard her in the kitchen calling to Fred to get the power switches. I felt tension go out of my shoulders. Then I wondered where the power switches were and it bothered me that I couldn'

Copyright © 1990 by Steven Brust


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