Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Trapped in a fucking time capsule....

It seemed like a Good Idea at the time. We wandered through Tweedle-Dee's casinos, fucked to the gills, giving all the doormen and pit-bosses a good laugh. But somehow it got Boring. We needed something new, Something Different, something with some king-hell CRANK to it, to take these terrible drugz to the Next Level.

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

Notetaking . . . Long Odds at the Casino . . . More Fucking Ether

Notes, indeed. I've learned to make them, for times when inconstant memory might fail, or at least distort. Those who haven't dug the scenes I have wonder what's up with the long albino speedfreak whose 2 AM pockets are stuffed with scribbled-on cocktail napkins and whose cashless wallet is crammed full of indecipherable index cards, but fuck them. These people are clueless fools. I've learned to make notes out of long, learned habit.

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.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A glimpse of the media inaction

Back at the bar, the correspondent from NEWSWEEK nodded sympathetically and screamed at the bartender: "Senzamann whaddeeneedz! Ya got nnneee percocet? Why'm I talkin like this? Is it the pregnazone? Just shoot me in the head!"
The NEWSWEEK correspondent was an old running buddy, former editor and long-time rival of mine, a burned-out old case named George Kunkle. He'd been a high-roller once, interviewed some Big Names, been sort of a Name himself among the media.
But now he was just a shadow of his former self, hiding in the bar, groping a low-slung frog-eyed brunette that might have been his wife, babbling into a double Scotch. The hyperwave megazine he worked for had once been a Media Power, but like George himself, that had been a long, long time ago. It was a big galaxy -- so much news to keep up with, so little time.
"All these deadlines," George was mumbling. "Bad craziness...."
He was losing his grip on the bar, slowly sinking to his knees, but still speaking with some semblance of authority.
"This is a Magic Moment In Sport!" he shouted, his eyeglasses steaming-up. "It may never come again!" Then his voice seemed to break. "...I once covered the Triple Crown," he sobbed. "University Of Iowa wrestling -- 5-time national collegiate champions! I once covered the freaking Dallas Cowboys! But they were nothing like this."
The frog-eyed brunette clawed feverishly at his belt. "Stand up!" she pleaded. "George, you drunken bastard, just STAND UP! You'd be a very handsome man if you'd just stand UP!"
He laughed distractedly. "Listen, madam," he snapped. "I'm damn near intolerably handsome down here where I'm at. You'd go CRAZY if I stood up."
The woman kept pulling at him. She'd been mooning at his elbows for over two hours, and now she was going to make her move. But the NEWSWEEK man wanted no part of it. He slumped deeper into his crouch.
I turned away. It was too horrible to watch. We were, after all, the absolute cream of the galaxy's Working Press. And we were gathered here for a very special assignment: To cover the 4th Annual Mint 400K. And when it comes to things like this, you don't fool around....
But now -- even before the spectacle was well and truly underway -- there were already signs that we might be losing control of the situation. Here we were, hunkered down in some greasy bar in a concrete blockhouse/gambling casino called The Mint, and with the race just starting, we were already dangerously disorganized.
True, there was the bar's 200-inch hyperwave monitor over which to keep tabs on the race action itself -- not likely we were going to miss much there. But it was time, I felt, for an Agonizing Reappraisal of the whole scene. The race was definitely underway -- I had witnessed the start. Of that I was fairly sure.
But what now? Follow the racers in the Skydiver? Cause the inevitable wreck out on the course and see how these speed freaks handled THAT? Hitch a ride with one of the teams and get a terrifying up-close Personal View from the Front Line?
It was time, I felt, to get grounded. To ponder this rotten assignment and figure out how to cope with it. That fool Lasorda -- our photographer -- insisted on Total Coverage. I figured I'd let HIM hitch a ride with the racers, let HIS bodily fluids get splattered at 100G all over Known Space.
Meanwhile, I planned to take up a semi-permanent perch here in the bar, where I began to think heavily, drink heavily, and make many heavy notes....

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Dawn, or What Passes For It . . . Switching from Gin to Vodka . . . Realization

Tweedle Dee spent 2-1/2 years rotating once around its pappy Centauri A, and spun on its axis like a potato on a skewer about twice an hour. So "dawn" doesn't mean all that much at the Mint, especially if you've spent your supposed sleeping time wandering through the casinos searching for people who might refill your glass with tonic, limes or gin, depending on what was necessary at the moment.

The casinos are always lit, will always be lit if the savage gangster money that runs the place has its way, but they do raise and lower the lights in the halls every twelve hours, just to make it homey for the rich Flatlanders beginning their known space tours in the Alpha C system.

Thank God for that; it was time to switch my gin to vodka and my tonic to orange juice. The mescaline had fueled my haunts through the casinos, and it was still there, racing through my blood as the phosphorus lamps in the industrial garage redoubled their efforts when the clocks hit six.

Centauri A remained its eternal six-degree disc of lemon out there on the surface, but let's call it dawn, to keep it simple.

Racers don't speak like starship captains. When I worked for Nakamura, 3/4 of my job--that performed under hyperdrive--was making myself available to the passengers, making small talk with bored industrialists, drinking with those less moneyed, porking the disaffected wives and courtesans when that made sense. A captain needed to be seen, and understood.

These racers, though, have their own patois, and I could hardly comprehend. The garage was full of urgent chatter, mechanics making last-minute adjustments to their cherished hyperdrives, calling for tools and hardware, pilots stretching themselves, trying to find their internal focus, and their lackeys running about, mumbling to themselves, and shouting at cohorts while pursuing this or that widget needed by the men they worked for. I wandered through the vast garage in my phenethylamine-alcohol hysteria, saying little except "excuse me", when it was necessary, but drinking the scene in greedily, the bustle, the 5-ton trolleys rolling along their I beams high above, the clanking of pneumatic tools against drive cases, the nearly unintelligible talk, all very very satisfying to my brain as it tried to fractalize everything around me. The floor looked bautiful, BRIGHT, spiderweb geometric patterns running through the concrete, pulsing, flowing.

I had no idea where Nessus was.

Suddenly I flailed, falling to the floor. And I landed on top of . . . someone. We untangled, and both of us rose shakily.

A man in a ratty leather jacket confronted me. "Watch what the fuck you're doing, man!"

My wits, still focussed on the tetrahedral patterns I'd seen in the concrete floor, had split the scene.

"Whaaa . . .?"

The man took two steps towards me, I'm taller than he is of course, but he's muuuch wider, the chains hanging from his beltloops rattling, his boots loud enough on the hard floor to be heard over the noise swirling through the room.

"Listen," I stammered. "I'm sorry . . ."-- and took a shot at something--"it's the drugs. This mescaline is dazzling, fucks me up every time . . ." I tried to summon the wherewithall for a fight. I'm not going to be stomped by some filthy rabid neanderthal, is what I told myself, not when the Fabulous Mint 400 is about to commence. Not when there was an Important Story to Cover.

The man smiled. "Yeah, I've had a few of them mesc trips, I know how ya feel."

I worked up my best smile. "Thanks," I said, and meant it, sloping forehead or no.

I extended my hand. "Dr. Gonzo, from We Made It."

The neanderthal took it. "Johnson, from Wunderland." We took back our hands and a second passed.

"How about this race?" he asked, and went on. "I never miss it. Been coming out here for 23 years now. I ride a bike myself, but I'll watch a race of just about anything. Racing starships, goddamn! Gets my blood going! The missus hates it when I up and disappear for a week each year, but screw her, I slap her around and she shuts up, you know? Starships! Goddamn!"

"Yeah," I said, considering carefully what to say to this fan. "I'm with the press, been called in to cover this race. We lost our photographer, some bloodthirsty fools stomped him in the hotel hallways, but we're not going to let that stop us in our quest for Full Coverage. Starships! Goddamn!"

The biker whistled, then turned feral again in a split-second. "Yeah, well, you watch where the fuck you're going next time."

I thought about fighting again, but he had already wandered off. I could hear him mumbling about spaceship hulls and pretty lights as he got lost in the crowd.

Finally at about half past seven, four lackeys activated some hydraulics and a long track of rails emerged from the floor of the garage. Some others rolled an emerald-colored ship with a # 2 hull onto the tracks. Most of the chattering stopped and people began to move towards the back of the huge industrial space. The ship began to roll along its track, and it engaged with a large hydraulic seal at the far end of the room. A huge door beyond it rolled upward and the stars peeked out from behind. There was a loud whoosh as the ship engaged with, and pushed through the hydraulic seal. Shortly thereafter a small yellow flame flashed from the ass end of the #2 hull, and the first ship rocketed forward off the track into the Centauran sea. Two minutes later there was a large white flash, and the ship was gone, disappeared from this space and into the one that obtains under hyperdrive.

I was pushed hard from my back. My knees buckled and I nearly fell. That Wunderland biker, again! Reconsidered with his walnut-sized lizard brain, and come back to attack me! Adrenalin flowed, and I turned around, ready to fight . . . and instead saw Nessus.

"Hey Cap'n," he chortled. "How about that? Where'd they go? Or, where are they going?"

"Nessus," I said, getting a premonition of the exhaustion that would be mine all mine once the drugs and the alcohol wore off. "If you'd read the press kit, you'd know that the race is to the vulcan .2 AU out from Centauri A and back, 400 times." I scowled, all of a sudden annoyed with things. "But, then, I guess, being a lawyer, you're not in the practice of reading much."

The pilots and mechanics and lackeys around us moved forward to their pits again; the next ship would not launch for 20 minutes, and there were things that could be done. Nessus and I walked with the crowd.

"So, basically," he said, "we watch this 30 times."

"No, we don't. We watch one more, and then head for the hotel bar."

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Hideous music and the sound of many guns....

So, we needed to get out of the suite. But....
"Where's the ship?" I asked Nessus.
"We gave it to somebody at valet parking," he said. "I have the ticket in my briefcase."
"What's the number? I'll call down and have them fire it up, get it ready."
"Good idea," he said. But he couldn't find the ticket.
"Well, then we're fucked," I said. "We'll never convince them to give us the ship back without that ticket."
He thought for a moment, then picked up the phone and asked for the garage.
"This is Doctor Gonzo in Room 850," he said in smooth unEarthlytones. "I seem to have lost my parking stub for that transparent GP ship I left with you. But I'd like the ship ready to go in 30 minutes. We'd like to take a brief tour around your little world, here. Would that be possible? ... What? ... Oh, OK. That's fine."
He hung up and reached for the hash pipe. "No problem," he said. "That man remembers my faces."
"That's great," I said. "They'll probably have a big net waiting for us when we show up."
"Schaeffer," Nessus moaned, "as your attorney, I advise you not to worry about ME."

Moments after we picked up the ship, my attorney went into a drug coma and almost ran us head-on into a cave wall before I could bring the ship back under control. I propped him up in the passenger seat and took the helm myself.
I was feeling fine, extremely sharp. And this was a great place to be.
Tweedle-Dee was a hollowed-out asteroid, a sort of playground for the rich and famous, some 40 levels descending through the rock's interior, all sorts of just-barely-legal debauchery available if you had enough stars to pay for it.
Behind safetyplex there were tamer, more "respectable" tourists touring the interplanetary malls. And through the huge interior avenues we idled, ships all around us carrying beings of all races -- all talking non-stop.
I wanted to hear what they were saying. All of them. But this was not the sort of place where you wanted to cruise through "downtown" pointing a bazooka-shaped high-intensity microphone at total strangers. Some of them would definitely not take it kindly.
So. Turn up the hyperwave radio. Cruise along Main Street on a Saturday night, just two good old boys out enjoying the sights. This is what it's all about.
Here you could have your future told by a Knowitall computer, if you felt brave enough. They'd been scientifically proven to be 90-percent accurate in their forecasts. There was everything here from interplanetary-stakes gambling to dome-shaped pleasure domes to rooms full of blinding and deafening music-and-light shows, to little private cubicles offering a few minutes of sensual delight with slippery green snake girls. There were definitely some Good Times to be had here. I thought I'd relax and drink it all in.... No reason to hurry....
When suddenly -- Great Gods, what is this terrible music coming over the radio?!
"Get yer motor runnin', head out on the highway, lookin' for adventure, and whatever comes our way...."
Where did they FIND this shit? Some gravel-voiced singer gargling while someone else stabbed at a wheezy old pipe-organ? My Ghod!
No, I can't be hearing this! It must be the drugz! I glanced over at my attorney, but he was staring out the viewscreen up at the ceiling, and I could see that his brain was occupied Elsewhere. Good thing he couldn't hear the music -- it would have sent him into some kind of racist frenzy.
Mercifully, the song ended. But my mood was already shattered. And then the fiendish cactus juice took over. I plunged into a subhuman funk ... And then suddenly we were swooping out of control, DOWN, to the lowest of the low levels, the vast hold/parking garage where ships from all over Known Space were parked awaiting the start of the annual Mint 400K.
The hold was enormous, impossible to see the opposite end, and it was full of ships of all descriptions, some bristling with weapons, others looking like delicate insects carved from gossamer. And off in the left-hand corner closest to us, a sloppily hand-scrawled sign told us we'd arrived at The Mint Gun Club.
That would explain the sound of weapons fire reverberating from the distance. I set the Skydiver down and checked Nessus's pulse. His hearts were pumping fitfully, and he was still breathing. That would have to do. I left him in his coma and slipped outside.
Of course, The Mint GUN CLUB! The high-priced fanatics that followed events like the Mint 400K weren't going to let anything get in the way of their target practice. Along with the gun-wielders, there were hundreds of motorsports types milling around the area, signing-in for tomorrow's race, checking out each other's ships, idly sipping cool beers.
And right in the middle of this, oblivious to everything except the saucer-shaped targets that flew out of a squat blockhouse further back toward the corner, the weapons fans kept firing without missing a beat. From a distance I could see humans and other beings armed with stunners and screechguns, disintegrators and ... could I be seeing things? ... possibly some illegal ancient tnuctipun weapons of Ghod only knew what sort.
Well, why not? I thought. The shooting provided a certain rhythm -- a bassline, if you will -- to the high-pitched chaos of the race scene. I bought a beer and watched the racers and their ships check in. Some of these rides looked scary-fast. Then I started thinking....
Maybe I should enter the Skydiver in the competition! Sign-up my attorney as the driver, then send him out to the starting line with his heads full of ether and acid. Serve 'em right! How would they handle it?
Nobody would dare go out on the course with a driver that crazy. He'd send her into a flat spin on the first turn, take out half a dozen other ships along the way... a real Kamikaze trip.
"What's the entry fee?" I asked the desk-man.
"Two hundred fifty K," he said.
"Ghods!" I said, shocked. "What if I told you we had a Quantum II hyperdrive?"
He stared up at me, saying nothing, not friendly. He was wearing a stunner on his belt.
"Forget it," I added hastily. "My driver's sick anyway."
His eyes narrowed. "Your driver ain't the only one sick around here, buddy."
The man was getting ugly, but suddenly his eyes switched away, staring at something else....
My attorney, no longer wearing his sunglasses or his Hawaiian shirt -- a very crazy-looking creature, half-naked and breathing heavily.
"What's the trouble here?" he asked the desk-man. "This man is my client. Are you prepared to go to court?"
I grabbed one of his necks and spun him around. "Never mind," I said. "It's the Quantum II. They won't accept it."
"WAIT a minute," he said. "What do you MEAN they won't ACCEPT it? Have you made a DEAL with these pigs?"
"Certainly not," I said. "But you notice they're all armed. We're the only creatures here without guns. Can't you hear that SHOOTING over there?"
He paused, listened for an instant, then suddenly began running for the ship. "You cocksuckers!" he screamed over his shoulder. "We'll be back!"
By the time we got the Skydiver up and back into the asteroid's passageways, he was finally able to talk.
"Ghods! How did we get mixed up with that gang of psychotic bigots?! Let's get the fuck out of here! Those scumbags were gonna try to KILL us!"

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mescaline, Grapefruit and Kzinti

"The kit bag," I said.

He kept one eye on me while rooting around in the bag with his other eyestalk. Then it emerged from the bag gripping a pill bottle. He deftly opened it with his lips, popped the bottle in the air, swallowed two pills while it was airborne, then caught the bottle, closing it with the cap he'd held in his other mouth. Fucking around, showing off.

He cackled. "Maybe you should swallow only one of these. That acid's still working on you. Your human brains are so fragile."

He flipped the bottle in the air again and batted it in my direction. I caught it and considered the thing before putting it down. Maybe later. Instead I sat down on the bed and rolled a cigarette with my toes, began smoking it the same way.

Nessus looked at himself the way he does when he's incredulous. "Freak," he said. I almost popped a mescaline cap right then and there just to spite him. Instead, through a deep drag on the tabac stick, I smiled and said, "And you're my attorney. What's that say about you?"

Nessus had had enough of the give and take.

"Never mind that," he said, and opened his laptop, a 3-D news broadcast expanding into the empty space of our suite. Some clown had found a Tnuctip stasis box, but blundered into some Kzinti, who had in their own deft way turned the situation into a full-blown interstellar incident. The human newscaster breathlessly speculated on the possibilty of a fifth Man-Kzin War.

"Turn that shit off," I said testily. "If I wanted to hear some hyperventilating lunatic babbling about improbable future events inspired by the Book of Revelations, I'd hyperwave Ausfaller. Or my ex-wife."

Nessus nodded, leaned over and typed a url into his machine. "You're right. I find most humans so distastefully excitable."

"Present company excepted, of course."

I stubbed my tabac stick into an ashtray, exhaled the last of its smoke, and took a long look at Nessus, unsure whether Nessus was pulling one of my lengthy legs or not.

I opened the pilljar and downed one of the mescaline caps, after all. "You're one inscrutable son of a bitch, Nessus."

I grabbed a grapefruit from the kit bag and started slicing it up. The last thing I needed with a shifty-eyed Puppeteer needling me was to be taken down by mescaline-induced nausea. I needed to be at full strength.

And besides, now that we'd settled in, we needed to get moving. The race would begin in less than fifteen hours and we needed to get down to the lowest levels of the tunneled-out dwarf planet, where thirty ships and thirty race teams were headquartered.

Some few journalists, we knew, were going to actually ride with one of the race teams, but Nessus and I had no such plans. We were going to camp out at the hotel bar and follow the race on the hotel's 200 inch monitor. Before that, though, it was probably a good idea to speak with some of the racers.

And like I said, we had about fifteen hours for that.

"Grab the recorder, two quarts of rum, and a half-ounce. I'll grab another grapefruit and a notebook. Too bad we don't have a photographer . . . ."

Nessus and I looked at each other in sudden realization and began to laugh like we hadn't laughed in days.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Rude vibes and wasted work: A normal night at the Mint

We FINALLY got into the suite, and my attorney was immediately on the phone to room service, ordering four scalded sailcats, four bowls of razor-edged saw-salad, a gallon of Romulan ale and nine fresh grapefruits.

"Vitamin C!" he explained. "We'll need all we can get."

I agreed. By this time the drink was beginning to cut the acid and my hallucinations were down to a tolerable level. The room service waiter had a vaguely reptilian cast to his features, but I was no longer seeing huge pterodactyls swooping through the hotel's corridors, gliding effortlessly over vast pools of fresh blood.

My only problem now was a gigantic neon sign outside our window, blocking our view of space but in some ways providing an even more fascinating picture -- millions of colored balls of light running around a very complicated track, strange symbols & filligree, giving off a loud, hypnotic, mesmerizing hummmm....

"Look outside," I said.

"Why?" my attorney asked, puzzled.

"There's a big ... machine in the sky," I tried to explain, "...some kind of ... electric snake ... coming straight at us."
"Well, shoot it!" he said.

"Not yet," I said. "I want to study its habits."

He walked over to a corner and began pulling on a chain to close the drapes.

"Look," he said, the metallic chain links in his mouth adding a slight ringing tinge to his words, "you've got to stop all this talk about snakes and leeches and lizards and all that stuff. It's making me sick."

"Don't worry," I said.

"WORRY? Ghods, I almost went crazy down there in the bar. They'll never let us back in that place again -- not after your scene at the press table."

"What scene? ... Oh, you mean with the gila monsters? Oh, yeah, sorry about that. Bad craziness...."

"You goat-sucking bastard!" he shouted. "I left you alone for THREE MINUTES! You scared the SHIT out of those people! Waving that goddamned marlin spike around and yelling about reptiles! What the hell? You're lucky I came back in time! They were ready to call the cops! I said you were only drunk and that I was taking you up to your room for a cold shower. Hell, the only reason they gave us the press passes was to get YOU the hell out of there!"

Nessus finished lowering the drapes and began pacing around the suite nervously. "Ghods, that scene straightened me right OUT! I MUST have some drugs! What have you done with the mescaline?!"

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Skydiver Nears the Mint Hotel

Flotsam on the Fucking Cosmic Sea

"Alright, alright," I heard myself say, as if I were listening to myself at the end of a very long hallway. "Don't curl up into a ball on me. I . . . need you active and alert. Try to be less of a Puppeteer and more of a . . . reality-anchor. An anchor is what I need you to be. Bee bee bee. No bees! Reptiles! The reptiles, they're forming sides . . . some sort of battle, I don't understand . . . ."

I felt a blow to my back, or to my thigh, or to my foot, a shock that radiated wetly through the flexible rubber sheet that my body had become. I turned around in confusion, adrenalin flowing, and Nessus had kicked me!

"What the hell are you doing, you insane excuse for a goat?"

"Trying to keep you focused on reality instead of on the gory monster movie playing in your head."

Strangely enough, it made a queer sort of sense to me. Some lunatic rat bastard had drugged me! I'd make the motherfucker pay later, but for now, it was important to Fight the Drug.

For some reason.

A degree of clarity had returned at least briefly, and the leathery-skinned behemoths had receded, though Lord only knew how long that would last. I looked down at the industrial carpet, relieved.

"OK. Now, you need to know I went and saw Lasorda upstairs."

"who's Lasorda?" The room began to spin again, and it seemed like waves of reptile blood were rolling back in.

"He claims to be our photographer, but we don't have a photographer, do we?"

I tried to think. "No! Why would we need a photographer? I'm a starship pilot on sabbatical, travelling under the assumed name of Dr. Gonzo. And you're an attorney."

"That's what I thought," Nessus said. "I told him how we had Ausfaller's number, and he cracked up, went to pieces right in front of me. By the time I kicked him into the hallway, he was begging me not to hyperwave his editor. Or his mother."

"I bet you kicked him," I said. There was again a nasty red tide frothing at my feet. "Does he know we have Sinclair Molecule Chain?"

"No. But I told him we had a Quantum II hyperdrive, and it scared the shit out of him."

"I'm glad to hear it. A two-faced cockroach like that deserves no mercy from you." I looked toward the elevators, across the roiling reptilian battlefield. "What about our room?" I asked, frantic. "What about our godamned golf shoes? We're exposed smack dab in the middle of theropod no-mans-land. We'll be torn to pieces! How many have they killed already?"

I pointed to a circle of gila monsters across the bloody lizard combat zone, poisonous drool flowing from the edges of their terrible angular mouths and dripping into the crimson muck below. "They've spotted us. We're toast, Nessus. Flotsam on the fucking cosmic sea. The cosmic seaaaaa. . . ."

Nessus' eye stalks turned toward each other in dismay. He looked back at me. "It's the acid, Bey. Repeat after me: the acid. A-C-I-D. Pull yourself together, Shaeffer. Find yourself a mid-grade stimulant. That's the press table. That's where you go to sign in for your credentials. You handle that, and I'll get the room."

Monday, October 1, 2012

Kill the body and the head will die!

...When we finally got into the Mint, my attorney was unable to cope artfully with the registration procedure. We were forced to stand in line with all the others -- aliens from a dozen different worlds, all here for the big race, and for some sort of interplanetary pharmaceutical convention -- an event that sounded like it would be right up our alley. I quickly scribbled a note about this event on my pad for a reminder -- which, when called up later, screamed KILL THE BODY AND THE HEAD WILL DIE! for no known reason....

But standing in this line, under Tweedle-Dee's 1/5th-Earth gravity, proved to be extremely difficult under the circumstances. I kept telling myself: "Be quiet, be calm, say nothing. Speak only when spoken to: Name, rank and press affiliation, that's all. Nothing else. Ignore these terrible drugs, pretend nothing's happening... ah... uh...."

There is no way to express the terror I felt when I finally lunged up to the clerk-creature's desk and began babbling. All my well-rehearsed lines fell apart under that creature's stoney glare.

"Well, HELLO there," I said suavely. "My name is ... ah ... Raoul Duke ... yes, ON THE LIST, that's for sure -- free lunch, final wisdom, total coverage, why not?"

The creature behind the desk -- who might once have been a woman -- seemed to have ... eyeballs bubbling up out of her head, floating over us like dialogue balloons from some old cartoon. Was it the drugs, or was this how she(?) really looked? And was I ... levitating ... or was it just the damned lack of gravity?

"Uh.... I have my attorney with me," I continued, heedless of her many eyeballs pivoting toward me warily, in unison, to get a better look, "and I realize of course that HIS name is not on the list, but we MUST have a suite, and actually this creature is my DRIVER. ...Yes, just check the list and you'll see. Don't worry. What's the score here? What's next?"

The woman never blinked ... any of her eyes. "Your room's not ready yet," she said in tones of ringing crystal. "But there's someone looking for you...."

"No!" I shouted. "Why?! We haven't DONE anything yet!" My legs felt rubbery -- damned gravity! I gripped the desk and sagged toward her as she handed out an envelope -- but I refused to accept it. The woman's face was changing -- swelling, pulsing, horrible green jowls and fangs jutting out -- the face of a Moray Eel.

I lunged backwards into my attorney, who reached out to take the note. "I'll handle this," he said to the Moray woman. "This man has a bad heart, but I have plenty of medicine. My name is Doctor Gonzo. Prepare our suite at once, we'll be in the bar."

The Moray woman shrugged as he led me away. In a place full of bedrock crazies, nobody even NOTICES an acid freak. We struggled through the jammed lobby and found two stools at the equally crowded bar. My attorney eventually ordered two Cuba libres with beer and mescal on the side, then opened the envelope.
"Who's this guy Lasorda?" he asked. "He's waiting for us in a room on the 12th floor."

Lasorda? I couldn't remember. The name rang a bell, but I couldn't concentrate. Terrible things were happening all around us. Right next to me a huge reptile was gnawing on a woman's neck. The carpet was a blood-soaked sponge -- impossible to walk on it, no footing at all.

"Order some golf shoes," I mumbled, "otherwise we'll never get out of this place alive. You notice these lizards don't have any trouble moving around in this muck -- that's because they've got CLAWS on their feet."

"Lizards?" my attorney said. "If you think we're in trouble NOW, wait 'til you see what's happening in the elevators...."