Monday, May 20, 2013
After my woolgathering walk through the tunnels of Tweedle-Dee, I returned to our suite and found the Puppeteer half-awake and straining to reach a music cube located halfway across the room from him on a high shelf. It was blasting out some female warbling a totally resistible mating call.
"For Ghod's sake, turn that unholy shit OFF!" Nessus mumbled.
I hit the wrong button and the cube suddenly got louder, twice as loud.
"OK, or turn it UP!" he shouted. "I don't fucking care either way. Just shoot me in the head RIGHT NOW!"
I tried to find the volume control. The tiny screen on the front of the cube said we were "hearing" some creature called "Adele," screeching out some forgotten hideous hit from The Olde Days.
Despite his agitated state, Nessus hadn't yet sloshed all the green water out of his tub. The floor was covered with it, though, and his three padded feet couldn't quite find somewhere solid to stand.
Adele continued harpy-like, cawing on and on about how she'd never again meet "someone like you" until the day came when she was finally "rolling in the deep." I bashed the music cube against the counter a few times until it finally shattered into pieces and put all three of us out of our misery.
"Ghods, thanks," Nessus said, and then his heads slumped.
"Have a headsache?" I asked.
"Good Ghod, yes," he said. "I'm going to need several gallons of coffee -- immediately! Besides, we have Work to do."
"What do you mean?"
"While you were out soul-searching, we got a new assignment from the megazine," he said. "We're supposed to stay on Tweedle-Dee and cover the Known Space Pharmacists' Convention. The megazine'll cover everything -- Stars up-front for the story, unlimited expenses, all pre-approved."
"But what about the race story?"
"IS THERE a race story?" he asked.
There was a pause.
"Good point," I mumbled.
"I thought so," he said. "Now, if you'd be so good as to help me out of this tub, I think the only thing to do is check the hell out of this room and go see what those drug-pushers are up to!"
There was another pause.
"Uh, Nessus, have you seen the ... uh ... mess out there?"
"Whadda ya mean?"
"Well, you wouldn't happen to remember stumbling around the suite in an acid freakout while trying to slice me up with a Sinclair molecule chain ... would you?"
"Bullshit! I WHAT?! Help me outta this tub."
I helped Nessus out, handed him a big bath towel, and pointed him out into the suite. Clearly his mind was a little cloudy when it came to recalling the past six hours or so.
"Oh, HOLY SHIT...." I heard him gasp from the front room....
Friday, December 7, 2012
Roaming through the halls of the Mint, and then the tunnels of Tweedle-Dee, there was plenty of time to think over What It All Meant, for good or ill.
What the hell were we actually doing out here? What was the meaning of this trip? Was I just roaming through these tunnels and up and down these escalators in some kind of drug frenzy, or had I really come out here to write some kind of Story?
The important thing was to cover the story on its own terms. Leave the other stuff to NEWSWEEK -- at least for now. On my way down the escalator, I saw my old nemesis the NEWSWEEK reporter, hunched into a hyperwave booth, the alligator-woman close by, talking over the line to some robot on the other end, spreading the news -- or lack of it, so far -- throughout Known Space:
"Yes, the racers are sleeping, the 50 Million Stars' prize money is locked in a safe, and it will be a couple more days yet before we know who's the victor at this biggest of all interstellar races...."
And so much for all that. Bored, I circled the hallways of the Mint. Glanced at the front of the asteroid's newssheet, THE DAILY DEE -- the Kzinti were kicking up trouble again. And there was another rash of puzzling suicides on Mount Lookitthat. What's the puzzle? If I'd been stuck there I would've offed myself, too.
Peeked briefly, quietly, back into our suite, where Nessus crouched in the bathtub like some kind of brown, two-headed frog. He filled the whole tub, with parts of his three legs somehow hanging out over the sides. But he had, thankfully, drifted off to a troubled slumber -- kicking and screaming the entire way, no doubt. He was gonna have a helluva headache in the morning....
I decided to just ignore that nightmare in the bathroom. And the earlier one in the main room of our suite. There was a helluva lot of wreckage there that was gonna have to go on our Room Service tab, Ghod help us. And who the hell was gonna pay for that? Not me, baby....
It didn't have to turn out like this. I flashed briefly on making a run for it -- just grabbing the Skydiver and leaving Nessus up to his necks in green water in our suite's bathroom, heading out for parts unknown, Out There, where there were still plenty of mysteries and I wouldn't have to spend every waking moment having to EXPLAIN them to millions of waterheads Back Home....
My life wasn't always like this. Ten years ago, back when I was piloting for Nakamura Lines, I thought I had the universe by the tail and all of Known Space at my fingertips. It was a great time to be alive. There was always some kind of wild craziness going on somewhere. And by Ghod, if I couldn't FIND any, then I'd sure as hell stir some up! Even if I backed away and ran for cover right afterward....
It was the kind of peak that has never come again for me. Shortly after, it all went south and I got sucked into this slimy, degrading journalism gig, a terrible job for any man with more morals than your average pigfucker.
But Back Then was a special time. It might even have Meant Something. Hard to say for sure, even at this late date. But I believe there is a point in each man's life, in each generation, where the talents and skills and sense of humor of all sentient beings combine together in a kind of flash -- when everyone knows they're riding on a wave -- the New Wave, perhaps -- and nothing can stop them, for good or ill.
Every generation, every person, has a moment or a time like that. You never know how long it's gonna last. But for me and those around me, we knew we were IN THE MOMENT, there was a fantastic universal sense that what we were doing was RIGHT, that we were winning. We were riding the crest of a beautiful wave -- we would prevail, without a shot being fired. There was no need to FIGHT -- we'd win because we were right.
Well, maybe I was just young and stupid. I was foolish, maybe -- I did some things I regret. But I sure as hell ENJOYED myself, even if the things I did put me on a path that led directly here.
But go to any viewport in the Mint, and look out into the stars. See all that mist and sparkle out there? Look real close, and you can almost see where that wave we were riding finally broke, and then rolled back....
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Something Wrong With Us? -- Jesus Still Screaming -- Hide the Drugs and the Weapons -- A late Night Lime Run
Yeah, maybe that was it. But in any case, it was clear that by this late point in the evening Nessus and I were agitated and volatile compounds let loose in the bell jar. Tweedle Dee was the nitro-, and we were the glycerin. A retreat to our room, and a damn quick one, was called for. Then maybe, just maybe, this drug frenzy could end, and I could get straight enough to cope with whatever might happen at dawn.
Nessus and I both knew that in our state, meeting anyone could lead to vicious consequences for everyone involved. Without a word, we snuck back to our room through back-end tunnels and through access hatchways. Suddenly we were standing in front the door to our room. The Mint in its effort to prevent hacking had gone back to the metallic key model, and Nessus had two of them in his hands.
"Try them both first," I said. "if the door is booby-trapped like I think it is, it won't trip on the wrong key."
Nessus grunted and struggled with the first one. His knobbed mouthstalks were tremorless, and his motions were sure; it was just that he couldn't get the goddamned thing into the keyhole.
"Jesus Christ," he said through the keys. "They've changed the locks on us. Goddamnit. We're toast."
"Wait a minute," I said. "Give me that fucking--" and I reached to grab the keys out of his mouth, and they both fell to the floor.
"Now look what you've done!" Nessus roared, and his voice carried through the hallway like thunder. "You rat bastard! You wanted me to try the door first!"
I ignored him--clearly the idiot couldn't see that it was both of us who were in danger from these hotel fascists--and sat down Indian fashion on the hallway carpet, digging through the lush fibers, enchanted by the rich feel of it all, trying to find the keys, which were escaping me for some reason. After a long time I found one, and I looked up happily at Nessus, who was still screaming, Jesus, still screaming.
"You organlegging son of a bitch!" he yelled as I looked up and my mind began to process what he was saying again. "I've been on to you since Jinx! How much did you get for me? 50,000? A hundred?"
Then he saw the key I was holding up, and he grabbed it from me savagely.
"Ha!" he said. "You fucked up, now! Let me open this goddamned thing."
And he did. There was the sound of the key scraping its way into the keyhole, a thud as the bolt retracted, and the door swung backwards from Nessus and me, and we looked into our room, which looked, as best as we could tell, perfectly normal, and absolutely undisturbed.
"Quick," I said, leaping up and over the threshold into the room even before Nessus could enter. "Thank Ghod we made it back in time, before those jackbooted brownshirts got here. Hide the drugs and the weapons, and destroy everything else."
Nessus, once he saw the room, became entranced, stopped his yelling and got with the program. He immediately went for the kit bag, and for our holsters. Then he pulled something else out: the Sinclair molecule chain.
My eyes went wide, I'm sure. "Oh no, you don't." The molecule chain makes a straight razor look like a chisel, cut you clean in half without a drop of blood. Who knows the damage it could do in the knobs of a dangerous Puppeteer in the throes of an acid freakout?
"Nessus, put the molecule chain down," I said, trying to sound calm.
Instead, he swung the button heads through a light shade. It come apart effortlessly, the lamp beheaded without a sound, as the monomelcular wire disassembled the fabric and wire at the atomic level. The only noise save Nessus' cackling was the shade as it hit the carpet. Nessus moved towards the writing desk. He sliced it in thirds in fifteen seconds. Then he grabbed paintings off the wall, stood them up on the floor, and sliced them into thin strips. And then a bookshelf and then the vidscreen, and then he turned to me.
Turn your back on a man, but never on a drug, is what they say. I looked Nessus straight in his eyestalks. "Oh no, you don't. We need some sleep, you freaking psychopath. Put down the molecule chain, and let's get some rest. I wanna get down to the garage in the morning."
"Don't worry about it, Bey," he said, and he sounded almost reasonable. "I don't wanna hurt you."
"I just want to slice your jugular to see what happens."
Sometimes, when insanity shows up, the only thing to do is to split the scene. I backed towards the doorway.
"Alright, you twisted freak, last time I do acid with you. I'm gonna go down to the restaurant and grab some limes for my morning Cuba Libres. Hopefully you'll have calmed down--or just cut yourself to ribbons--by the time I return."
With my hands in the air, I carefully backed towards the doorway. Nessus watched me go, and he looked almost sad as I left the room and shut the door, which had been open the entire time.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
We were both, of course, or at least we liked to THINK we were.
Here's the picture: Above the frenzied action of the gambling tables, hanging from the ceiling, the Four Flying Karamazov Brothers vied with the Six Nymphet Sisters and a couple live wolverines in an attempt to distract the gamblers so they wouldn't realize how many of their hard-earned Stars they were actually LOSING. The House was raking it in.
This madness went on and on, but nobody seemed to notice much. The gambling continued 24/7 on the main floor, and the trapeze action never ended. Meanwhile, on the upstairs balconies, ignorant tourists were being fleeced in every conceivable kind of bizaare schuck ever invented to separate a guy from his legal tender.
All kinds of funhouse-type booths: Shoot the pasties off the nipples of a 10-foot-tall policewoman in less-than-half a uniform (half of her was LEGS that went on FOREVER) and win a giant cotton-candy goat.
Or step right up in front of this fantastic machine, sir, and for only 1 Star your likeness will appear, 200 meters tall, on the face of a giant hyperwave screen orbiting around Tweedle-Dee once an hour. Add another Star and record a voice message.
"Say whatever you want, fella, they'll hear you, don't worry about that! Remember, you'll be 200 feet tall!"
Good Ghod. I could see myself lying in bed back at the Mint, half-asleep and staring idly out the viewport, when suddenly some vicious Nazi drunkard appears 200 feet tall in the midnight sky screaming gibberish at the world: "No more trickle-down economics! ... I did NOT have sex with that woman!...."
I will be closing the drapes tonight. A vision like that could send a drug fiend careening around the room like a ping-pong ball. Hallucinations are bad enough. But after awhile you learn how to deal with things like seeing your dead grandmother crawling up your leg with a knife clenched between her teeth. Most acid fanciers can handle that sort of thing.
But NOBODY can handle that other trip -- the possibility that any moron with 2 Stars can walk into the Venus Venus and suddenly appear in the sky over Tweedle-Dee 12 times the size of God, howling anything that comes into his head.... No, this is not a good place for mind-twisting drugz. Reality itself is too twisted here.
Good mescaline comes on slow. The first hour is all waiting. Then about halfway through the second hour you start cursing the creep that burned you, because NOTHING is happening....
...And then ZANG! Fiendish intensity, strange glows and vibrations ... a very heavy gig in a place like the Venus Venus.
"I hate to say this," my attorney said as we sat down at the Centrifuge Bar on the second level, "but this place is getting to me. I think I'm getting The Fear."
"Bullshit," I said mildly. "We came out here to discover what's left of Humanity's Dream in Known Space, and now that we're right in the absolute vortex of it you want to quit." I grabbed one of his long, serpent-like necks and squeezed gently. "You must realize," I said, "that we've found the main nerve."
"I know," he said. "That's what gives me The Fear."
The ether was wearing off, the acid was long gone, but the mescaline was running strong. We were sitting at a small gold-topped table, orbiting speedily around the bartender.
"Look over there," I told Nessus mildly. "Two women fucking a Bandersnatch." Nothing seemed to phase me. Had to be the mescaline.
"Please," he said, "don't TELL me these things. Not now." He signaled the waitress for two more Wild Turkeys -- both for himself, no doubt. "This is my last drink," he said. "How much money can you lend me?"
"Not much," I said. "Why? And what about that Twenty I gave you at the Gaga concert?"
"Never mind that," he said, "I have to go. I have to get off this asteroid. Now."
"Calm down," I said. "You'll be straight in a few hours."
"No," Nessus said. "This is serious."
"Osama bin Laden was serious," I said. "Al-Qaeda was serious. And you know what happened to THEM."
"Don't fuck around with me!" he shouted. "Another hour in this place and I'm gonna kill somebody."
I could see he was On The Edge -- that fearful intensity that comes at the peak of a mescaline seizure.
"OK, easy, easy," I said. "I'll lend you some money. Let's get out of here and see how much we have left."
"Can we make it?" he said.
"Well, that depends on how many people we fuck with between here and the door. You want to leave quietly?"
"I want to leave FAST."
"OK," I said. "Let's pay this bill and get up very slowly. We're both out of our heads. This is going to be a LONG walk."
I shouted at the waitress for a bill. She came over, looking bored, and my attorney stood up. He was a little wobbly, his necks waving all around.
"Come on, Doc, let's go downstairs and gamble." I got Nessus as far as the edge of the bar, the side of the Centrifuge's capsule, but he refused to step off until it stopped circling.
"It won't stop," I said. "It's NEVER going to stop."
"Will it at least SLOW DOWN a little bit?" he asked.
I stepped off and turned around to wait for him, but he wouldn't move... and before I could reach out and pull him off, the centrifuge slowly but steadily carried him away. "Don't move!" I shouted. "You'll come back around!"
His eyes were staring blindly ahead, squinting in fear and confusion. But he didn't move a muscle until he'd completed a full circle.
I waited until Nessus was almost in front of me, then I reached out to grab him -- but he jumped back and went around the circle again. This made me very nervous. I felt on the verge of a freakout. I could only imagine what Nessus was feeling.
And the bartender seemed to be watching us....
I jumped back onto the centrifuge and hurried around the bar, approaching my attorney on his blind side -- and when we came to the right spot I pushed him off. He staggered out onto the second floor and uttered a hellish scream as he lost his balance and went down thrashing into the crowd, rolling like a log, then back up again in a flash, looking for somebody to kick.
I approached him with my hands in the air, trying to smile. "You fell," I said. "Let's go."
By this time, people WERE watching us. But the fool wouldn't move, and I knew what would happen if I grabbed him.
"OK, you stay here and go to jail," I said. "I'm leaving."
I started walking fast toward the escalators, ignoring him. That finally moved him.
"Did you SEE that?" he said. "Some sonofakzin kicked me in the back!"
"Probably the bartender," I said. "He'd been wanting to stomp you for awhile, I think."
"Good Ghod! Let's get out of here! Where's that elevator?"
"Don't you go NEAR that elevator -- that's just what they WANT us to do, trap us in a steel box and take us down to the basement." I looked over my shoulder, but nobody was following us.
"Don't run," I said. "They'd love an excuse to shoot us."
Nessus nodded, seeming to understand. We walked fast along the huge midway -- shooting galleries, tattoo parlors, money-changers, cotton candy booths, orgy cubicles, the usual -- then out through a bank of glass doors, out into Tweedle-Dee's main tunnels again.
I was exhausted, coming down from the mescaline rush. "You lead," I told Nessus. "Find us some light and quiet where we can count what's left of our money. I think there's something wrong with me."
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
The Prepared and the Ill-Equipped . . . The Inscrutable Bandersnatch . . . Balsa Playing Cards and Grapefruit Juice
"A little something for you! Thanks for the show, boys!" I shouted, and then we ran for the doors with everything the drugs could provide, cackling like chickens at feeding time.
We got into the tunnels, took a few turns, found a maintenance access tunnel, and finally collapsed against the a generator, consumed by laughter and cheapjack hallucinations.
I went for the kit bag, and soaked yet another towelette with ether, huffing deeply, and passed it to Nessus, who did the same.
"Totally ill-equipped," I slurred in between my laughter, as the ether miasma spread through the dim tunnelway.
"They have," laughed Nessus, "no means to deal with psychos at our level."
"None whatsoever," I agreed, and could say no more, lost in more laughter, barely able to breathe.
Finally, I caught my breath and pulled out the hash pipe. "So then," I asked as I sparked the thing up, "what shall it be? The Dunes? The Circus Circus? I hear they've got a captive Bandersnatch."
Nessus' eyes lit up at the end of their stalks. "Captive?"
I shrugged. "Well, you know, it's kind of agreed to the arrangement."
He grabbed the pipe from me and took a long hit. "Agreed? What the fuck is that about? Why would a sentient creature agree to be put on display for a bunch of drunken mongoloids on a rock 30 light years from home?"
I threw my hands up, annoyed by the questioning. "Shit, Nessus, who fucking knows Bandersnatch logic. Why the fuck do they allow themselves to be hunted on Jinx? They're twisted fucking aliens."
"Ah shit," he said, "never mind that. It's too deranged even for us. Let's just go to the Venus Venus, we can play poker and get loaded on Wild Turkey, let these drugs fade slowly."
It sounded to me like a plan. I grabbed the pipe from Nessus' mouth, and stood up as steadily as I could. "At any rate, we need to get out of here. Those neanderthal doormen are probably still combing the tunnels for us, and I'm sick of this ether stink."
Nessus arose, and, grabbing each other for support, we stumbled back towards the main halls as well as the sick drug allowed.
Nessus and I sat down at a poker table. They were using cards made of balsa, I saw. I guess even plastic-coated decks became soaked with perspiration. The ether was for the most part gone, and the mescaline, too, leaving just the hash. I ordered Wild Turkey with grapefruit juice; for better or for ill, Nessus made the determination to skip the juice.
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Wandering past the pleasure cubicles and the hypno-ads for slippery green snake-women (available RIGHT NOW!), suddenly Nessus and I came upon giant posters for some kind of live-action show featuring stage stars from the distant past, re-animated for a new century's pleasure.
"I don't know about YOUR culture," I told my attorney, "but in my line of work it's important to be Hip!"
"Mine too," Nessus said dubiously. "But who are THESE creatures?"
On the hypno-displays before us was some unbelievably, ghostly-white ... woman(?), draped in a jerked-pork ... dress(?), looking as if she were crawling out of some sort of slimy, womb-like shell. Next to her was some slightly-shaggy-brown-haired, antiseptic, cleaner-than-clean Teen Idol, yet to even sprout facial hair -- about as threatening as a big, floppy puppy dog.
They were billed as "Lady Gaga" and "Justin Bieber" -- supposed Big Names from the early 21st Century, re-heated and jolted back to life for the amusement of a whole New Age....
"Hmmm," Nessus hmmed. "Something about these two is familiar.... What do ya think?"
"I think," I said, eyeing him impatiently, "Why should I pay-out my hard-earned stars to watch a fucking corpse?"
"Because that's what this place is ALL ABOUT," he said. "Pushing the limit! Look, why are we out here? To entertain ourselves or to DO THE JOB?"
"The job, of course," I replied. But maybe he was Right -- maybe it was time for A Break. Just forget the whole damned thing for awhile.
We'd been wandering in circles through Tweedle-Dee's casinos and tunnels. We'd weaved through the lower levels of the Mint, the Dunes, the Hacienda, the Circus-Circus, the Las Venus Venus.... All the while, Nessus combed through the pages of Tweedle-Dee's daily newssheet, THE DAILY 'DEE, looking for something Interesting, Something Different, to relieve the stress of the stupefyingly boring "race" we'd come here to cover. He turned the pages with one mouth while he held the fax with the other, occasionally regaling me with various "couldn't-miss" attractions....
"How 'bout Nickel Nick's Slot Arcade?" he asked. "Hot slots ... sounds heavy. Hmmm, 29-cent hot dogs...? Bey, what's a hot dog? It couldn't possibly be...."
Suddenly there were people screaming at us, something about how we couldn't just STAND there, we were blockin' the hypno-displays. And that's how we ended up in front of the Gaga/Bieber show.
Maybe it was the yelling, maybe it was the drugs, but that's when Nessus snapped.
He was up to the admission window in a flash, waving a bill. "I want in!" he shouted. "I'm an old friend of Gaga's! I used to ROMP with her!"
For a moment I thought he'd blown it.... Then one of the doormen reached out for the bill, saying: "OK, OK sir, I'll take care of it sir!"
"Holy shit!" I said as we stumbled through the lobby. "They almost had us there! That was quick thinking!"
"What did you expect?" Nessus said. "I AM your attorney. ...And by the way, you owe me five bucks, and I want it right now."
I shrugged and gave him a bill. This garish purple, deep-orlon-carpeted lobby seemed like the wrong place to be haggling over $5 bribes for doormen. The surroundings were evocative of those Old School entertainers of the past who wouldn't even bother CARRYING a bill as small as $5. This was Tiger Woods' territory. Kobe Bryant's. Richard Nixon's. The lobby fairly reeked of high-grade formica and plastic palm trees -- it was clearly a high-class refuge for Big Spenders.
We approached the Grand Ballroom full of confidence -- but they wouldn't let us in. No seats left. We were too late, said some sort of short, Italian-penguin hybrid creature in a wine-colored tuxedo. The house was already full -- no seats left at ANY price. Besides, if they let us in, they'd be breaking fire-safety regulations.
"Fuck seats," said my attorney. "We're old friends of Gaga's. We're damn well going in."
The tux-creature continued jabbering about fire regulations, but my attorney refused to listen. Finally, after a lot of noise, the tux-man let us in for nothing -- provided we would stand quietly in the back and not smoke.
We promised, but the moment we got inside we lost control. The tension had been too great.
Up on stage, the unbelievably white and skinny Gaga was prancing unsteadily, jerking spasmodically in front of a garish big band, while she yelped out some dimly-familiar Olde song....
"You could be my lucky star...."
"Jesus creeping shit!" shouted my attorney. "We've wandered into a fucking time capsule!"
That was it. Heavy hands grabbed our shoulders. I jammed the hash pipe back into my pocket just in time. We were dragged across the lobby and held against the front door by half a dozen goons. In the background, we could hear the ghostly-white singer continuing to squawk out that old song, which maybe somehow DID fit in to a new century....
"Shine your heavenly body tonight...."
"OK, get lost," croaked the tux-man. "We're giving you guys a break. If Gaga has friends like YOU, she's even worse off than I thought."
"Oh yeah? We'll see about this," my attorney shouted as we ran away. "I'll talk to Gaga! You'll be croaked, all of you! You paranoid scum!"
Friday, October 26, 2012
Sometimes the notes are all I have after ten days without sleep . . . or ten hours without respite from the heavy-duty pain. I look at the chronograph, and find a three-day hole where my memory had been, and at those times, I'm glad I take the notes.
Back when I was working for Nakamura, I ran across a fellow who had come out to the Serpent casinos, and won something like twenty thousand stars playing baccarat. Hell, maybe it was at The Mint. He was on his way back out when I met him, and the first rush hadn't passed yet. He spent the trip in our finest stateroom, and on the arms of some very fine-looking prostitutes. We bought each other some drinks, and I noted his name, having, you know, the feeling that I'd be seeing him again.
And I did. Three weeks later, I ran into him again, once more, on the way out. This time, he'd won fifteen thousand. But he spent most of that second trip alone in his stateroom, more comfortable, I suppose, jerking off than padding some hooker's bank account.
The third time I saw him, he was traveling coach with the businessmen. He'd won a few hundred, but his eyes were shallow in their sockets, and I bought him a shot of scotch in a plastic cup, best I could do when I spied him on line at the beer stand on the fifth deck. I caught a word with him edgewise, and he told me never again. He'd been sixty thousand down, and the casino toughs were circling, white suits and black eyes, when he made two longshot bets he didn't even know the house would take, and they somehow came through.
"They knew me from the time before, Bey," is what he said to me. "They figured I musta had what I won. Not hardly. That shit was gone. I had a good time on your ship, then I paid off my mortgages. Bought a 60-inch vidscreen. I dunno, maybe they thought I was Wunderland aristocracy or something. I live in an apartment on Canyon. If they'd looked at my bank statements they'd have never let me lay that bet . . . . Never again, man, never again."
It was the last time I saw him. Later on I heard that one of the casinos had contacted him on Canyon and offered to fly him in, put him up in one of their hotels. He took the bait and lost 85 grand. Three weeks later, a janitor sweeping the tunnels found him in his waiter's uniform with his head kicked in, and the eyes scooped out from his shallow sockets, only the jagged splinters of skull sitting where they'd once been.
The Swarm is a lot like Wunderland that way: if you're aristocracy and you're bleeding money out your bunghole, they'll make the world your oyster, and put some cocktail sauce on besides. More than glad to pretend it's all about you. But if you're hanging on til next payday, you get stomped.
Some coke-addled Wunderland genius had dreamed up the Treatymaker once upon a time, and now Canyon has a scar running across its face 30 miles long and 12 deep. Thousands of Kzinti sleep for a thousand years.
You don't fuck with these people. They have the sideways beards and the funny accents to make you think otherwise, but you just don't.
Well, shit. At least their drug laws are lax.
My notes remind me that Nessus and I wandered through the myriad levels of Tweedle-Dee on Saturday night. The casinos loved us: we were amped on more of that mescaline, and every 75 minutes or so we'd sneak into a gold-filligreed bathroom and huff up another towelette of ether. Then we'd spastically stumble into the hallways, laughing our asses off at some diamond-encrusted mescaline-vision or the other. Lord knows what they thought of Nessus; I must have seemed like a king-hell drunk just let loose from Big D to them. The only thing I was missing was the cowboy hat and the sunburn. Every time we stumbled into some half-ass revue, the ushers were more than happy to shovel my ass into a seat when it seemed like it'd lost its way.