Shore Leave

Sunar had planned to spend the day at a handful of tourist spots within the city, visit one of the local weapons shops to check out a ‘virtual target practice system’ that claimed to be an excellent way to practice with realistic firearms in an enclosed space, and then meet up with the crew at one of the local bars in the evening. It seemed like half the crew felt like they owed him a drink, and letting them pay off their debts seemed the neighborly thing to do. His newfound popularity with the crew derailed his plans, however. When he asked what bar everyone favored he got a slightly suspicious look, and his answer that he intended to catch up with everyone in the evening went over downright poorly.

He found himself physically dragged along with a sizeable contingent of the crew to a local bar to grab some breakfast – which they flatly refused to let him pay for – and then began a long, slow pub crawl. It only took a couple of stops for him to work out their pattern: The dozen or so of them came in, got themselves seated at as many tables as required, ordered a single drink and some sort of small snack, and took the best advantage they could of whatever free extras – like pretzels, pool tables, dart boards, or other games – the place provided while slowly nursing the single beer. They’d stay for about an hour, and when the bartender started to give them looks of annoyance they’d leave and see what the next place had to offer.

At the fourth bar a couple of tables had card games going. The people playing seemed amicable enough, and didn’t mind a little extra money being put on the table. A few of the crew tried their hands, but the Captain’s stricture on betting against crewmates kept them from having two or more of their people at any table at a time. He stayed near the card game for a while and kept a watch, just long enough to make sure that no one cheated his crewmates.

As the end of the hour rolled around and the barkeeper started to give them some side-eye, his buddies surprised him by ordering another drink. Billy, the older human deckhand who seemed almost as much a part of the ship as the decks themselves, caught him furrowing his eyebrows as they ordered. Sunar liked the man, who had never shown any evidence of being much smarter than a box of rocks. But, he worked hard, smiled easily, helped out gladly, and seemed to genuinely try to make himself useful. Usually with positive results, though his occasional gaff seemed to be a never-ending source of amusement for the crew… like the time he found a smudge on the deck and decided to clean it, and accidently grabbed the solvent meant to clean abrasions off the outer hull. The one marked ‘Do Not Expose To Atmosphere.’ Thankfully the wizard knew what that smell meant, and had the vapors contained before they did any real harm.

Billy, whose simple positive humor often seemed infectious, leaned over to him and spoke. “Ya’ look confused, friend. You don’ wanna drink more?”

Sunar would have had to work at it not to return smile as he answered. “Oh, I am enjoying the drink as much of any of you. I’m just noticing that we were doing things one way, but seem to be staying longer here.”

The human winked at him. “Ah, that is because you don’t know our Pub Crawling Secrets!” The human thumped the table, and a few of the rest of the crew smiled or nodded, as if to tell their crewmate that he could share said secret. The human took a pull from his drink and continued. “Ya’ see, the last Capn,’ Gods rest her soul, worked out a system. She liked ta’ drink, see, she liked it a lot. ‘Course, she was a Halfling, and I never met one ‘o dim dat didn’t like the drink, but her? She liked it more than even most of them. What she didn’t like, though, was being blue-blind drunk.”

Billy got a far-off look. “Come ta’ think of it, I don’t think I know any Halflings who like to get really, truly sauced. Of course, it is harder for them to do that than it is for guys like you and me.” He stopped, then, blinked a few times, and seemed to consider. “Ok, well, maybe just more than me. Anyway, Halflings tend to feel their drink, get tipsy, easier than most folks: Which seems totally unfair to me, ‘cause it takes a lot more drink for them to get really drunk.” He raised his glass in mock salute to some imaginary Halfling. His words sounded like a complaint, but he spoke with a smile. After he took his drink he gestured toward Rosy, one of the other deckhands, and a Halfling. “Take Rosy there for example. ‘Ya know that isn’t really her name, right? Like ta’ know why we call her that? Look at her cheeks: They’s already rosy from the few slow drinks we’ve had… and most of us are just trying to get our pre-drink on so that we will hit the sweet spot easily when we get down to the real drinkin’ after the sun goes down. Anyhow, Rosy there, you’d think she’d end up a light-weight, if the booze is already touchin’ her, right? You’d be wrong. She can drink any two of us under the table, ‘cept maybe you.”

Someone else looked over and waved a mug at them. “You are wandering off the point again, Billy!”

Billy raised his own mug to them and nodded. “Ya, sorry. Just talkin’ about stuff. The point of it all is, the old Capn’ knew how to drink. She had a way it worked, and shared it wit’ those of us who knew her. There are stages, ya’ see. First you get a little warmed up: One beer an hour for a few hours. Then about lunch you start eating more – we gonna order some fried cheese here in a minute – and you move to a couple beers an hour. This also lets you keep at a place a little longer, they like it when you order food. From now till Drinking Time we’s gonna be eating a little more at each stop, whatever ‘da bar has that will soak the booze when we get serious.

“Then, tonight, when the sun goes down, our happy little group will head back closer to the ship, to the streets that have a lot of bars. That is when the serious drinkin’ starts, mate, and things get really fun!”

Billy laughed as if he’d made a joke, raised his glass, and drained what little remained in it. Just then the food arrived, and Rosy came up to sit beside him. She grabbed a cheese stick and spoke. “There are a couple of things you should probably know that our buddy here hasn’t thought to tell you. I know that the Captain has given you The Speech about behaving in port. The most important thing to remember is Don’t Get Caught! The second most important thing is that if you do get caught, Don’t Be Stupid. Stupid, in this case, means don’t do anything that makes it harder for her to get you away from the local authorities and back on the ship: Don’t mouth off to the fuzz, don’t start the fight, do make sure you have paid – and tipped! – well through the night so that the barkeep won’t push the cops to make life harder. The other Most Important Thing: we are crew, watch out for your mates. Know when someone needs to stop, listen if they tell you to stop – whether it is booze or bravado at an idiot in your face – and, if push comes to swinging fists, make sure that our people are all still standing when the dust settles.” She took another pull from her mug and smiled dimples at him. “Think you can handle all that?”

Sunar gave her a lopsided smile and answered. “Don’t start it, try not to get caught, but go quietly if you do. Oh, and take care of the barkeep. Got it.”

She giggled and answered. “See, that’s why I like you Sunar. You have a way of making things simple. Now, I lost an awful lot of points trying to throw stuff at you, and I wanna salvage some of my pride. How about you see if you can improve my dart game?”

Sunar’s next drink arrived just as she asked. He took a swallow and pretended to consider, which earned him a playfully fake exasperated look. He smiled to her, and motioned to the dart board. He’d remembered her as one of the tougher opponents in the ‘pelt the half-dragon’ game, and quickly understood why. The gal really knew how to fling objects through the air. They had fun comparing notes, and eventually someone told them the time had come to move on.

The rest of the afternoon went on in the same vein. Everyone seemed to take turns finding games to play with everyone else, and he finally figured out the etiquette in starting up the games. Around dusk they settled on their evening bar and the serious drinking began. He smiled to himself at this, decided it seemed as good a time as any to work on his anti-poison meditations, and set to the drinking with a will.

A few hours, and he had no idea how much drink later – when did we move away from beer and to whiskey, anyway? – he’d begun to feel the effects. He’d been worried that his crewmates might get upset at the rate he’d been drinking – they had insisted on paying after all – but they all seemed far too entertained by watching him slam the stuff away, and seeing him actually inebriated, to complain about the cost. Besides, they managed to offset some of the cost by boasting that he could drink anyone there under the table, and getting his ‘opponents’ to pay for some of the booze.

Of course, that’s also how the fight started.

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