Of all the bad luck. Dan stared through the viewer at the other spaceship. The insignia on the hull, clearly visible, looked like no writing he'd seen before. Why had he expected anything else? The navigation equipment went wonky, they exited a wormhole into who-knows-where, and they ran straight into a meteor cloud. He'd spent the last two days with no sleep, nursing the ship through the cloud. His eyes burned, and his whole body ached. He turned to his second in command. “Jim, how are the engines?”
“Broken, Captain, sir.” Jim leaned over Dan's shoulder. “What the hell is that?”
“An alien ship.” Dan grimaced. The engines must be pretty bad if Jim was calling him Captain. “With our luck, they're probably hostile.”
“I doubt that. They're not disabled. They haven't hailed us or pointed anything resembling a weapon at us, and look,” Jim pointed one gnarled finger at the view screen. “They're sending over a lifeboat.”
“I'm opening the cargo bay doors for them.” Dan stood up. “Come on.”
The two aliens who exited their small vessel resembled giant, upright ants with long antennae waving on top of their heads. Both aliens stopped. They turned to each other, their antennae waving.
“Hell, they don't even speak,” Dan muttered.
“They're Andoids. The sounds they make are too high for us to hear. My grandfather used to tell me stories about them.”
“Great, just great.” Dan sighed. At least they were friendly. “Who the hell named them Andoids?”
“Got me.” Jim grinned.
One of the Andoids scuttled into their life boat and returned with a basket full of small objects. The whole thing reminded Dan of his grandfather's tool box. Maybe their luck was about to turn. “All right, Jim, go show them the navigation equipment and the engine.”
“But, sir, suppose they break something?”
“Unless a miracle happens, we're stuck here. What have we got to lose?”
Jim's frown and drawn-together eyebrows telegraphed his displeasure. He waved to the Andoid with the tool box, and he and Jim moved off. A short while later, Jim returned, trailed by the Andoid carrying the tools.
Dan shrugged and stared at the other Andoid. It produced a viewer and began to show a succession of pictures. Small, rolling hills covered with purple grass. A one-story building made of gray stone. The interior of the building, showing a cellar of some sort with rows of huge barrels. A couple of the Andoids squatting on their haunches in front of a table of some sort. Close ups of the objects on the table. A bottle, clear enough to read the label. Dan squinted at the screen. The Glenlivet 12 year old Single Malt Whiskey. The Andoid waved its antennas at them.
Dan turned to Jim. “Damn, Jimmie, they want whiskey. Hell, I'd like some myself. What now?”
Jim grinned. “Danny, my boy, they want to go into the whiskey business, but they need help with their formulation. Crrk, here, explained the whole thing to me.” Jim waved at one of the Andoids.
Dan stared at him. “You're delusional. They can't speak.”
Jim nodded. “Sure, but they can write.”
“Did they fix the navigation and the engine?”
“They fixed the in-system engines, enough for us to follow them to their planet. They don't have the facilities for a real repair out here.”
Dan sighed. “Damn, this has been one jinxed trip.” Maybe not for Jim, though. Brewing whiskey was a family tradition. Jim's grandad started out peddling moonshine back when they first settled on Jim's home planet. Then he'd gone on to build a distillery, one of the finest on any planet but Terra.
Jim stuck his hands in his pants pockets. “I wanted nothing more than to make whiskey, you know, but I was only eighteen when my grandad died, and my uncle sold the business.”
“Yeah, you told me. You used the money to pay for pilot training.” Dan grunted. “I hope they'll accept your help with this moonshine they're making in exchange for repairing our ship.”
Jim shook his head at the sour look on Dan's face as they followed Crrk into the cellar, which was lined with huge barrels made of --- . Jim stopped short. No way. Made of plastic? Huge, plastic barrels? What the hell were they thinking?
“Man, I can see two problems right away,” Jim said. “One, you need wooden barrels, preferably oak, and two, the smaller they are, the less time you'll need to age the whiskey.”
Crrk waved his antennas.
“I don't care how expensive the wood is or how much trouble it is to get it. If you want to make whiskey and not moonshine, you need wooden barrels. Small wooden barrels. Or large ones and more time to age your product.” They'd want to use native wood, which would affect the flavor.
Crrk's antennas waved faster and faster.
“Go on, then, bring out your whiskey, and we'll all have a taste.”
Crrk moved off, returning a short time later with another Andoid. After more antenna waving, Jim turned to Dan. “This is Tssk. He's in charge here.”
Tssk scuttled off and returned with a tray with four glasses and a bottle. Two bottles. One of the bottles had a label covered with what resembled nothing so much as bird tracks, the other had a familiar red and blue label with a field of grain in the background, the label his grandad had designed when he decided to market his own whiskey.
“Ha.” Jim said. “Get me another four glasses. We're going to perform a side-by-side taste test.”
Tssk returned with four more glasses, and Jim arranged two in front of each of them. Into the glasses on the left, he poured the alien's whiskey, and into the glasses on the right, his grandfather's.
Jim took a small sip from the left hand glass. He swirled the whiskey around in his mouth, then swallowed. In addition to the familiar alcohol burn, the liquor a slight flavor of licorice in addition to the more familiar caramel. The flavors hadn't yet blended properly, and the liquor was still harsh. They had to be using alien grains. Not bad, though, not bad at all. He sipped from the glass on the right, smiling as the familiar flavor of caramel filled his mouth. He nodded to the Andoids, who sipped from each glass in turn. Antennas waved back and forth.
“Of course, my grandfather's whiskey is smoother. It's properly aged, for one. You get me the barrels, small wooden barrels, and in a month we'll conduct another taste test. You'll see that I'm right.” He frowned. “What's the mix of grains you're using?”
“Just what am I supposed to do for the next month?” Dan asked. He gulped down the contents of the left hand glass, grimaced, and downed the other as well.
“Help them repair your ship.” Jim hesitated. He knew the whiskey would be good, better than good. It wasn't bad now, and aged in a small, wooden barrel, or even in a large one, it would be better still. He'd play with the mix of grains later. “And you can look for a replacement pilot. I'm going to be busy running a distillery. We'll corner the market for the whole quadrant by the time I'm done, or my name isn't Jim Beam.”