May. 23rd, 2011

I had gotten an article published in the paper, and I was celebrating in The Stopped Clock. Any celebration in that excellent bar frequented by time travelers typically consisted of me buying rounds of drinks. It seemed like any time I came into the place, actually, the regulars found some excuse for me to buy them rounds - this old tradition; that unintentional faux pas, and so on. I figured I was getting wise to their tricks, but wasn't yet wise enough to actually stop buying them beers. Sometimes buying a round for the entire bar was an expensive proposition, but the price for drinks fluctuated according to some time-conversion fiscal index. Edgar had a laminated copy of it behind the bar and had to refer to it while ringing up tabs. On this particular day some sort of financial anomaly in the time-stream required Edgar to pay me for buying drinks, so the booze was flowing freely.

The man in grey walked in and the normally boisterous bar fell quiet. It was like a gunslinger walking into a saloon and the piano player stops playing. Even Retro Retro, who often fights out of his weight class, drinks out of his liver class, and generally says shit that probably shouldn't be uttered, became absorbed in a minute inspection of the little paper umbrella on his pina colada. I leaned over to Sir Attaccus.

"What the hell," I whispered out of the corner of my mouth, "is going on?"

"That's the Conservator," hissed Attaccus. "Mind your P's and Q's, my boy." He held the grip of his umbrella over his lips and watched the newcomer. The Conservator was wearing a grey jumpsuit, heavy black boots, and carried an aluminum-clad clipboard. He scanned the bar impassively, noticed an empty stool next to Bobby Saturday, and strolled in leisurely fashion around the bar towards that spot. Bobby Saturday, normally cool as a cucumber, suddenly discovered a need to urinate and fled his seat, giving the Conservator his pick of chairs.

I wasn't getting any more information out of Sir Attaccus, who was quite literally quaking in his bowler. Everybody else in the bar was cowed too. What the hell, I said to myself. Sometimes you have to seize the bull by the horns, especially if you're curious about why horns are dangerous. I got up, grabbed my beer in one hand and my shot in the other, and went to sit next to the Conservator.
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The drill: Do not know where I am going. Write 1000 words and look for an exit. Write until done.

The thing I enjoy about a co-pilot with a broken neck is that they don't talk much. That's a welcome change for me. My usual co-pilot is a Weasard, a genetic splice between human and weasel DNA engineered specifically for starship maintenance. Lopez is a pretty good hand with tech stuff (which sets him well apart from most ship engineers) and is more likely to be helpful than not in a firefight (again, special) but he simply won't shut up. That upsets me.

I didn't kill my co-pilot because I was mad, though. This was all business. A word regarding accomplices: NO. If you're going to get into the business of crime, avoid large groups. They cut into your profits, they might sell you out, and the odds are good that eventually their screw-ups will get you in trouble. Sure, Dino scored the trihopper for us, and he had paid off the cops in Balboa City, but he didn't have anything to do the rest of the way. Killing him was a mercy, in a way; it spared Dino being bored. I'm a saint.

I flew the trihopper with the lights off. It was night and the outskirts of Balboa City slipped by invisibly below me. I wasn't missing much. I had seen the slums in the daylight; the Chulko majority lived in conditions so squalid that I could take a dump on their front doorsteps and instantly improve their home's curb appeal. The Mastazi overlords lived in the tall, slim pyramids hulking in the center of Balboa City, and they had it good. I was glad I was stealing from the Mastazi. I mean, I have nothing against robbing poor people, but dammit, they don't have squat.

The comm crackled. "Yo, Jackpot," said Lopez.

I frowned. Asking a weasard for radio silence is like asking a co-pilot with a broken neck to sit up straight. I thumbed the return key.

"Codenames, remember?" I growled.

"Oh right, boss; sorry!" Lopez replied cheerfully. "Hey, uh, you got your ears on, Big Dong?"
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