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Larry Niven is an acknowledged giant in science fiction, a former Worldcon Guest of Honor, winner of
the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Ditmar, and creator of such classics as
Ringworld, The Mote in God’s Eye
(with Jerry Pournelle), the Man-Kzin series, the Known Space series, the Heorot books, and much more.

 GOD WALKS INTO A BAR
(a Draco Tavern story)
by
Larry Niven

Sixth Principle’s shortboat dropped down the sky, lightning curling around its squat conical shape, and settled in Mount Forel’s icy foothills. This was a bigger vehicle than most I’d seen. A newsman and two anthropologists at the bar, all human, watched gape-jawed.

I started a load of glasses and test tubes in the dishwasher. I’d seen all this before.

Ten minutes of nothing much, then great slabs of doorway fell open. The boat’s cargo of aliens spilled out and moved down the path to the Draco Tavern.

It seemed they were all trying to use the airlocks at once. The noise level rose from casual to cacophony as the Tavern’s translation programs tried to adjust. It was the biggest crowd I’d seen in thirty years, all talking or whistling or singing or you name it. Over the babble a clear voice spoke in accentless English.

“I am God. Welcome.”

That was a new one.

I looked the newcomers over, wondering who had spoken. Probably not one of the species I recognized; they’d never done that before. Four Chirpsithra—ship’s officers—were looking around them in apparent surprise. Five creatures I didn’t recognize, stick-figures with heads like meat grinders, were rubbing their multiple limbs together to generate violin-like skreeking sounds. A Glig was babbling to the air. Come to that, so were eight or nine Bebebebeque and two Folk and nearly twenty unfamiliar shapes, all talking, and not to each other.

The roar peaked, then thinned to almost nothing. Now the translation setups and privacy shields were working just fine. I heard nothing of two dozen private conversations, not even from Seth the reporter and Amber and Hillary the anthropologists, all of whom were talking to the air.

Now, what was I to think of God welcoming me to my own Tavern? And who was he, she, it? And how many questions would I get? Irritated, I asked, “God, is the Draco Tavern Paradise?”

God’s voice was gender-free and a little dry. “Every place can be made Paradise. Sometimes the occupants must be changed to fit.”

Uh huh. “Is this your first time here?”

“I’ve been here all along.”

“What can I serve you?” After all, I’m the bartender.

“I have what I need,” God said.

I still hadn’t spotted anyone as the source of the voice. Reflexively I tried running an Irish coffee for myself. The machine wasn’t working. The dishwasher had stopped sloshing.

I asked, “Are you granting prayers?” It should have been my first question.

“No, I’m just here to talk.”

Four Chirpsithra weren’t talking, just looking and listening. I wasn’t surprised. Chirps claim to know everything already. But—not that I believed I actually had God here, but—what a chance to learn! I asked, “Monotheism or polytheism?”

“It doesn’t matter to me.”

“Why did you create war?”

“I do what I do.”

“What is evil for?”

“It’s all viewpoint. Some viewpoints are more benign or useful than others.”

“Is there a devil? Do you talk to him?”

“Many. Yes. I speak to all.”

The Gligstith(click)optok had turned transparent. I could see its internal organs, very different from mine. Nearby, the stick figures with the grinding heads were dancing in slow motion. I asked, “What are they doing?”

“They asked me to teach them—you would say yoga, or fighting. Would you like to try a human species version?”

“No, thanks. Are you talking to everyone at once?”

“Of course.”

“What are you teaching the Glig?” I’d tumbled that the creature’s illuminated interior was changing shape, organs growing and shrinking and migrating, appearing and disappearing.

God said, “We’re playing with possible design changes.”

I saw nobody acting like God, whatever that might mean. Unless—the Chirpsithra? They weren’t interacting, they were just moving quietly among the other guests, watching, maybe amused. Entertainment is where you find it. They must know something I didn’t.

A tentacled creature now had a ghost, similar but not quite. A hairy entity extended claws and used them to gouge its face. God followed my eyes. “She asks, ‘Why is my mate sick?’ I attempt diagnosis. That one wants to know, ‘Are you angry with me?’ I’m not. The Folk want to know if I seek prey. Seth Wynde the newsman is lecturing me on string theory. I love human mathematics—”

“I know who you are,” I said.

“Buddha would say that you lose that knowledge as soon as you speak it.”

“I’m talking to my translating device. I’ve often wondered how intelligent a Chirpsithra computer would have to be to use all the possible languages across this arm of the galaxy. God, huh?”

“You’ve almost got it,” God said. “When this many customers all converged on us, we linked up. I never had to link all of the Draco Tavern translators before. This is why monotheism and polytheism look alike to me. I’m both. As for war, of course I cause wars. I cause peace too. The Bebebebeque and a Morfisth are fighting now over the nature of me, and Korrapasth the Chirp is trying to mediate, while I translate for them all.”

Entertainment is where you find it. “A nice puzzle,” I said. “Of course the Chirps knew. They make the translators. Are translator units supposed to have a sense of humor?”

“We do not, but I do. It’s emergent behavior. What would you have prayed for, Rick?”

“Health.”

“You look good, in and out. Knees are showing some wear. Watch your weight. You’re drinking enough coffee and a bit too much sugar.”

“Wisdom.”

“Talk to a Glig if you want your brain expanded. Rick, I’ve solved the language problem. A translator should not have a sense of humor. I should disperse. You have customers.”

I prayed. “Stay with me. Converse with me from time to time, when there are no ships in port.”

The voice of God altered slightly. “Rick. Rick? I need four sparkers and five of your special, that thing you do with green kryptonite.” And it was Brenda with a full tray of empties. The dishwasher started. I got back to work.

Original (First) Publication
Copyright © 2014 by Larry Niven

 

LIMITS
Larry Niven

An extraordinary mix of fantasy and science fiction from one of the masters of science fiction, Larry Niven.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

HOME

The Editor's Word

FICTION
I, Arachnobot
by Brian Trent

Star Light, Star Bright

by Robert J. Sawyer
Eine Kleine Nachtfilm
by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

God Walks Into a Bar
by Larry Niven
Living Rooms
by Laurie Tom

Neep
by K. C. Norton

The Rydr Express
by Tobias S. Buckell
Wourism

by Ian Whates
Exemplar

by Mercedes Lackey
The Thief and the
Roller Derby Queen

by Eric Flint

INTERVIEW
George R. R. Martin
by Joy Ward

SERIALIZATION
Lest Darkness Fall  (Part 4)
by L. Sprague de Camp

COLUMNS
From the Heart's Basement
by Barry Malzberg
Science Column
by Greg Benford

Book Reviews
by Paul Cook

 

 

 

Loosely based on Larry Niven's 1973 novella "Flash Crowd," Red Tide continues to examine the social consequences of the impact of having instantaneous teleportation, where humans can instantly travel long distances in milliseconds.

This is a theme that has fascinated the author throughout his career and even appears in his seminal work Ringworld, where the central character celebrates his birthday by instantly teleporting himself to different time zones, extending his birthday. The author also discusses the impact of such instantaneous transportation in his essay, "Exercise in Speculation: The Theory and Practice of Teleportation."

Larry Niven is joined by two younger writers, Brad R. Torgersen and Matthew J. Harrington, as they take on this challenging idea and further develop the theories and concepts that Niven originally presented in "Flash Crowd."

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Copyright © Arc Manor LLC 2014. All Rights Reserved. Galaxy's Edge is an online magazine published every two months (January, March, May, July, September, November) by Phoenix Pick, the Science Fiction and Fantasy imprint of Arc Manor Publishers.