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."