Once upon a time in a sector two feet in front of my eyes, I tumbled down a wormhole and found a universe that was flat, the stars bright but still, and cows, worms, and iguanas lived on tiny white dots in the black. To my right, I saw a flock of birds caught in webs and a lizard eating a shoe. On my left there were many soldiers, some nearly human and others part machine. They were caught in an endless war of lies and blood. I averted my eyes.
It was then that I noticed the cricket on a rock near the path. He wore a dress shirt and a tie. As odd as it was, it was stranger still when he asked me to sit. He taught me about Space War and spoke of the Grand Queue. The wisdom of the cricket opened my mind and I decided to pass it on… to you.
[Scene: Filthy Side Street, Charmed World] [Music: “Let The Good Times Roll” on a scratchy L.P.] [Shot:Train horn, discordant chord, D# major. Camera pans up past a sign reading “Single Resident Occupancy”, then across the elevated rail line and zooms in on an open window. Two men are inside, talking; one’s dressed for the street, one for the gutter.]
“How often do the trains go by?” he asked out of curiosity.
I was standing just inside the hatch, looking down the barrels of two hand disruptors, each held by an identical crewman. But I was in combat armor; no need for a little thing like that to intimidate me.
“Oh, please!” I said through the suit’s speaker. “It’d take you half an hour to burn through my armor, and that’s if I was polite enough to stand still. Why don’t you put those silly things down and let me finish my delivery?”
Gradually, I came out of it to see the face of Founder’s Landing tumbling overhead. A little at a time it started coming back to me; I was… I was… cargo?
OSTRICH TO CARGO, DO YOU COPY, OVER — OSTRICH TO CARGO…
Even as I clicked my mike in response, it came to me I’d been hearing them for a while. Suddenly, I realized where I was and what was happening. I’d passed out after all. I checked the timer — no, still on schedule. Thank the gods.
“You about ready?” Eddie asked. “Your window’s coming up, in about–“
“FIVE MINUTES!” Sanchez’s voice blared over the intercom. Eddie grimaced.
“Yeah, in about five minutes or so. Give or take. Just, you know, kinda guessing at it.” He helped with one of the clamps, checked the holster, and handed me the case. “We’ll be watching for you at the rendezvous in ninety minutes. Don’t miss us, or it’s a long walk back home.”
High Orbit; Smell Of Scorched Insulation And Ozone
Molly’s betrayal hurt, and that’s the truth of it. It was still too close to think about.
But everything else — that Confederate, and then Intel getting involved. The riots, and the raids, and all the explosions… and my own job: moving money secretly offworld, without government knowledge. It all added up, and in a way I didn’t like.
“Well, now; as I live and breathe. Dear Martin it is, and no mistake! And how are you this fine evening?”
Queen Molly in person. That was all I needed. No, seriously; it was: If she had been late, or if my note to her hadn’t arrived, it would have screwed up my plan. Not badly, but enough.
I put on a winning smile and made my best leg. “Milady Queen! Delightful to see you, as always — truly delightful! I do hope you’ve brought some friends with nice strong backs?” I could just see them moving behind her in the murky night. “Excellent. Do come this way.”
I bet she had a pretty smile, but if so she was saving it for someone special and I didn’t qualify. I tried anyway. “The way I see it, you can hide in the tunnel and hope the cops don’t stumble over it, or you can stay in the District until tomorrow and sneak back into the Zone after all this settles down. I know some people–“
“I just bet you do,” she snapped. “I’ll find my own way, thanks!” And then she started walking — the wrong way, back toward the club. I almost let her go, but good sense prevailed.