"Man, this is the way to travel," said my attorney. He leaned over to turn the volume up on the S&M Satellite Radio, humming along with the rhythm section and kind of moaning along with the ancient words: "Teenagers scare the living shit out of me...." Where do they FIND this shit?
Teenagers? I thought. Is that all you're worried about, you poor fool? Wait 'til you start seeing those bandersnatchi....
I could barely hear the radio, as I was slumped over on the far edge of my seat, grappling with a disc player turned all the way up, some ancient zonk band squalling "You CAN'T always GET what you WA-AHNT...." It was the only disc we had, so we played it constantly, over and over, as a sort of demented counterpoint to the radio. And also to maintain our rhythm during the flight. A constant speed is good for fuel consumption -- and for some reason that seemed Important at the time. Indeed, on a trip like this one MUST be careful about fuel consumption. Avoid those sudden bursts of acceleration that force blood to the back of the brain....
My attorney noticed the derelict ship long before I did. He fired the retros and we moved slowly up alongside the huge, white, silent hulk -- a menace to navigation, so glaringly out of place here in a disused corner of the spacelanes, a sort of desert we'd previously been cruising speedily through.
We looked her over -- it seemed like all the lights were off, nobody was home, and we were getting ready to set off again ... when suddenly through a viewport we spotted a blonde-haired big-eared Okie kid in a transparent bubble-helmet. He waved at us and stuck out his thumb, a face like a moray eel splitting into a gap-toothed grin.
"Let's give this boy a lift," Nessus said, and before I could mount any argument he was already snaking a tube over to the hulk's nearest airlock.
"Uh, I'm not so sure about this," I said. This "desert" we were smack in the middle of was the last known location of the infamous Romney Family, and everybody knows what happened to THEM.... But the puppeteer was already moving for the door.
Shakily, we scrambled through the tube and met the Okie at his airlock.
"Wow, hi guys!" he said. "Thanks for stoppin' to get me! I've never ridden in a transparent General Products ship before!"
"Is that right?" I said, wondering where the hell this kid was from. "Well, then I guess you're about ready, eh?"
"Yeah, I figured I was gonna be stuck out here FOREVER," he said. "Uh ... nothing personal, but what's that SMELL...?"
"Never mind that," said my attorney. "We're your friends. We're not like the others. Why don't you tell us what the hell happened here?"
"Well, I don't rightly know," the kid said. "When I went to sleep my shipmates were all OK and everything seemed normal...."
"Some kind of freakout? Cannibalism? Some kind of blood orgy, is that it?" Nessus asked.
"Well, uh...." the kid faltered.
Oh L. Ron, I thought, he's gone around the bend. "No more of that kind of talk," I said, "or I'll put the leeches on you. This isn't freaking EVENT HORIZON, pull yourself together." Nessus grinned at me, seemed to understand.
But I was already wondering: How long can we MAINTAIN? How long 'til we just start jabbering at the boy? What will he think then? What kind of grim connections will he make when my attorney starts screaming about bandersnatchi and giant purple cosmic squids writhing around the ship?
Only thing to do then will be cycle him out the airlock -- minus his helmet. Because it goes without saying that we can't turn him loose -- he'd just report us to some outback nazi neanderthal police department that would hunt us down like dogs. And that would be Wrong....
Hubbard! Did I just SAY that? Or was I just THINKING it? Was I talking? Did they hear me? I glanced over at my attorney, but he seemed oblivious -- as always.
Maybe I'd better have a chat with this boy, I thought. Perhaps if I EXPLAIN things he'll rest easier.
"Look, never mind all that," I said, flashing a big fine smile. "There's one thing you should probably understand. I want you to have all the background." I slapped Nessus across his broad back. "This ... uh, creature here is my attorney. We're on a mission of grave danger and importance. This ... creature isn't just some dingbat I picked up by accident. Shit, LOOK at him! He doesn't LOOK like you or me, right? That's because he's a foreigner! I think he's probably Samoan! But that doesn't matter, does it? We're not gonna get all RACIAL now, are we?"
"Oh, HELL no," the boy said.
"I didn't think so," I said. "Because in spite of his race, this ... thing is extremely valuable to me." I glanced at my attorney, but his mind seemed to be someplace else. In camaraderie and a show of solidarity, I slapped him across the back again. This time it registered. He didn't like it.
"Keep your fucking hands off my necks!" my attorney screamed.
The kid looked like he was ready to jump ship and take his chances.
"Hey, guys, look, it's OK, really," he said. "Thanks for the offer of a ride and everything, but I think maybe I'll...."
Our vibrations were indeed getting nasty -- but why? I was puzzled, frustrated. Was there no clear communication possible between us? Was it the fucking ether? Had we deteriorated to the level of DUMB BEASTS?