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!"