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April 8th, 2063

Crash-n-Burn Bar, Bozeman, MT

3 days since the flight of the Phoenix

Sunday, after service, Father Milton Collins took off his collarino and went for a drink.

After pouring him a shot of whiskey, the black woman tending bar started to clean a stein with a towel, her back leaning against the bottle counter, the big mirror behind her reflecting long dark braids running down her back.

Milton looked up after downing his first drink since beginning seminary. Into his own haunted eyes.

“Aliens.”, he murmured, a word as burning as the fumes carried with it by his breath.

“I know, right?”, answered the smiling bartender. “Amazing, isn’t it?”

“That’s one way to put it, I suppose.”

“You’re not from around here, huh? That’s an unusual accent for these parts.”

“From east, a long way from here. Grew up in a fishing village in Newfoundland.”

“New England?”

“Further. Eastern Canada.”

“Ah. You must hear a lot of bad accent jokes.”

“None so bad as my life has become.”

The bartender lost her smile looking for a response to that.

The priest hung his head over his hands before him and stared -lost, seeking- into the scarred grain of the wooden bar-top as the bartender poured a second round of sympathy before leaning on her forearms alongside him. “Well, one thing we have in common; people tell us their woes.”

Picking up the glass, the cleric collected himself. “All my life”, he began, sipping lightly at the liquor. “I’ve believed –really believed- that there was a God, a Heaven, that we were special. And now there’s aliens. Aliens!” He downed the rest of the shot as an attempt to hide from the word, its implications. “If there are aliens, then how can I go on being a representative of a Church that says we -humanity- are special, when we’re so obviously not?”

Stunned, the bartender was left lost for words for a moment longer. Her dark eyes brightened shortly. “Who says?”, she asked, eyes twinkling. A note of gentle, mischievious reproach played in her voice, the brown skin darkened in crinkles beside her eyes as she smiled again, pearls in chocolate.

“What?”, Milton looked up, terrified hope in his eyes.

“Well, think about it this way: your theology might be wrong, but your philosophy, your moral principles are worthy. So how does the discovery that the human race isn’t alone negate all the good your Church has done?”

“But-but… it’s all LIES!””, cried Milton, drawing looks from the regulars.

“Nonsense.”, answered the bartender coolly. “Just because you aren’t alone doesn’t make you any less worthy. You’ve never really been alone after all.”

A moment of contemplation and Milton understood she was right. The truth was people had been sharing the universe all along. Now they knew. Milton realized there were going to be people who needed him to share that understanding with them.

Just because we aren’t unique doesn’t mean we aren’t special.

Smiling himself, Milton lifted a palm to refuse another drink. At the bartender’s lifted eyebrow, he replied, “I’ve got work to do. People are going to need a different sort of priest after this.”

Fitting on his collarino again, standing straight, he reached for his wallet. “What do I owe you?”

This time it was the bartender who raised a palm, “Nothing, Father. This time’s on the house.”

Nodding, Milton shook hands with the woman and was about to turn away when he asked, “Are you Catholic by any chance?”

A riddle of a smile. “No, I’m not.”

“Well, it’s really only my congregation that calls me Father.” He proffered his hand again, “Milton Collins.”

“Nice to meet you, Milton.” They shook again, both smiling.

Releasing her warm hand, Milton mentioned, “I never asked where you were from.”

“Oh, a long way from here.”

Smiling with his whole face at her call-back, Milton nodded and gathered himself to go. “Well, thanks, Miss…?”

“Guinan, Father, just Guinan.”

After the priest had gone, once again polishing glassware already long since clean, the bartender looked up at the ceiling, a faraway and slightly melancholy look in her eyes. “A long way from here.”

Ardent Pardy, SEPTEMBER 5, 2015.



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