Even in the heart of the city, Rene is in the open places. His feet splash in streams, not gutters, and his ears feel the whistle of the wind and not the cry of sirens. Past the dumpsters and yakatori stands, Rene smells green grass and the air right before a storm. He can hear his brother’s laughter, and the thunder of a thousand wild horses running with him.
Shelia Ruye told him it wouldn’t last, and when Rene reaches the docks, he hacks and he wheezes and the real world slithers back in into his frame of vision. Shelia Ruye told him that Reservation was the best, like no dose he ever had, that Rez took your fondest memory and gave it back. Didn’t last long, though, and to Rene the city looked small and crumpled and dirty and his brother was still in the ground. Rene tried to vomit food he hadn’t eaten, and made sense of the city best he could. Because making sense of the city was the only way to get away from it, only way he could find more Rez.
Rene runs to the heart of the city in order to run back out of it again, with enough Rez pounding in his ears and his eyes to make it past the docks, past the city. His brother’s laughter will hold him up and wild horses will carry him across the moonlit water.
He sees this as surely as he sees the wide open places and the cramped dank alleys. And Rene knows that to stay in one, he has to leave the other.
The stranger had come full of bizarre smells and even odder forms of payment, and while Hikari wrinkled her nose at the collection of coins and seeds, it was technically money. So she tucked the coins away, placed the seeds in some soft earth so they could blossom properly, and offered the stranger coffee.
“No, thanks,” he said, his eyes glued to the window and the hangar beyond yet. “Is that a monkey?”
“Say ’bout eighty percent of him, yes,” Hikari said, her ears twitching. There was something about this man she wasn’t sure she liked. Though she had to admit, now that she had gotten over its exotic nature, she couldn’t get enough of his smell. “It’s not just a clever name.”
“And he’s going to be working on my ship?”
“If he likes the look of you. ” Hikari allowed a sly smile to play across her muzzle. “Wouldn’t sweat it, I haven’t seen him turn down a pregnancy once. He’ll probably go at it all night. ”
“All night, but how could..well, if that’s what it takes…” The man slumped on the couch, and ran his hand through his hair. He had lots of hair, long black curls. Hikari liked his hair.
“This your first time, hon?”
“Yeah. That obvious? Caught me a bit by surprise. Checking the cargo hold and finding…I didn’t think she was that kind of ship, you know. I probably left her too long at port. Back at Sumter there was this whole gang of Plesocopuses that were up to no good, bet it was one of those…”
“Oh, hush,” Hikari said. She leaned forward toward the man and played a bit with the shoulder strap of her tiny shirt. “That ship of yours ain’t hussy. And you can trust me, I know the type. Back when I was kitten on Osiron, you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting some bastard swizzleskid or tamerind. You fellas forget how much of your ship is flesh and blood, forget that a girl’s got needs.” She walked over to him, her hips swaying in time with her tail.
“I imagine she does, at that….”
“She was just doing what came natural.” Hikari slinked onto the couch next to the man and stared at him, black slits narrowing in deep green eyes. “You two came from Sumter? Long ways. Not surprised you turned down the coffee. Reckon I could find other ways to help you relax. ” Hikari snuggled up close, and gave a soft purr as he stroked the soft mottled fur down her back.
“Well, if the monkey’s gonna be at it all night…”
Master Paranthany set the vase down delicately at the feet of Mr. Lurgess. Mr. Lurgess, for his part, rubbed his spongy hands together excitedly. Master Paranthany removed his velvet gloves and returned them to their pocket in his coat.
“How did you–” Mr. Lurgess sputtered out. “How did you find it again? It’s worth–”
“A fortune, yes.” Master Paranthany scratched his nose and moved to Mr. Lurgess’s prismatic windows. The cold light of dawn was covering the entire room apartment with bits of red and green and indigo. “Porcelain from the original Ming Dynasty is extremely rare in this day and age. It’s worth quite a bit, to the right person. Or it’s something to let flowers die in.”
“I must insist.” Mr. Lurgess scurried over to the window himself, almost tripping over his dressing gown. The colors that cavorted around his face did little to improve it, in Master Paranthany’s eyes; the little man still looked like a roast pig. “You must tell me how you found it! I know your agency is one of the best–”
“We are the best. You will find no better insurance company on any of the Five Worlds.”
“And you’re a credit to their investigators, Master Paranthany. But you must tell me. I thought for certain this would have been on the black market by now, exchanged through a dozen hands.”
“I am certain it has been. However, I was able to recover some dust from the vase’s former resting spot. With that, it was only a matter of finding the exact combination of molecules and paint patterns.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“I had copies made. Printed them right out back at the office. Flooded the market with them. Would take an expert to tell the difference, and even then, its extremely unlikely. In short, I made the thing totally worthless.”
“But that would take hundreds…”
“Millions, actually. Three point five. Most will find their way back to the office, and they’ll be used as base material for another hunt. Standard procedure really.” In one fluid motion, Master Paranthany reached into his pocket, withdrew a package of cigarettes, and shook one into his lips. “But there will be just enough to keep anyone from stealing that vase again. It is effectively worthless to anyone but you.”
“No smoking, please. It’s bad for my eyes.” Mr. Lurgess looked back and forth from the vase to Master Paranthany “But if you…does that mean…do I have…?”
“Well I suppose there’s only one answer to that question.” Master Paranthany lit his cigaratte and let an extravagant plume of blue smoke glide out of his lips. Colors formed unique patterns and shapes upon the surface of the smoke before it all dissipated. “How much is it worth to you?”
The last time I saw Alnersans was back when I owned a bar. We used to joke that Alnersans always brightened up the place, due to the lights implanted on his arm.
Alnersans had 6 LEDs crawling out of the flesh of his left forearm. I asked him about them once; he told me that they were his six closest friends. The LEDs were tied to their iDents, and Alnersans would talk about them as if they were the people themselves.
“Now, Shirl,” he would say, pointing to a LED that flickered noticibly in the bar’s dim light. “She’s not doing too well. Doctors ain’t givin’ her much time, but when do they ever? Better pour one for me and one for Shirl, on account she can’t join us.”
While I knew Alnsersans back in college, I never saw him so much as when I served alcohol for living. About a month before the bar closed, Alnersans seemed to vanish. I thought about taking the iDent he paid his tab with and entering in a hospital query or plugging in a GPSearch, but I never did. He hadn’t given me his iDent to use in that way, anyway.
I thought on him every now and then, but I didn’t expect him to show up. When my door read his iDent soon as he stepped on the welcome mat and said it was him, I about fell out of my chair.
“Hadn’t seen you in a while, Alnersans.”
“Your bar’s been torn down.”
“I didn’t. Coulda told me. I liked your bar. Can I come in?” I offered him a beer and he took it hungrily, draining the bottle in seconds.
“You want another?”
” You make such a great bartender. This is why you shouldn’t have closed the bar.”
“People change” I said. I noticed that, of the six LEDs, only one remained. Alnsersans gently fingered the ragged maw of scars that surrounded them, as if he was reminding himself they were still there.
“That they do. I’ve learned that, here recent.” Without warning, without a change of expression or twitch of his body, Alnersans smashed his empty beer up against my end-table, Alnersans then took one of the slivers of glass and gouged out the last of the LEDs, Despite wincing from the pain, Alnersans let out a low chuckle as the glow of the light slowly faded. “Serves you right, you son of a bitch. Serves you right. Sorry about the mess,” he said, turning to me.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“You’re a good friend,” Alnersans said. “I see that now.”
Three Elvises walk into a bar.
You may laugh, but I was there, it’s true. Three Elvises. Elvii. Whatever. First strode in the bishop: big as life and twice as wide, identified as he was by his high-collared cape, resplendent in rhinestones and the golden sunglasses of his office. Behind him swaggered a priest, her jumpsuit less ornate, her belt-buckle smaller, her cape shorter. Last was a neonate, still in training but wearing the blue suede shoes of one who was near priest-hood. Now, he didn’t have the broad steps of the other two, wasn’t much more than a boy, but he held his pompadour just as proudly
“Whatâ€™s your poison, preacher?” the bartender asked, not sure what else to do once the bishop had maneuvered his mighty, blessed girth onto the stool.
“Fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, currently. But as for what me and my compatriots will have to drink, Pepsi-Cola iffin you got it, water if you don’t.” Now some say Elvises sweat extra hard in the memory of their savior, and the bishop clearly subscribed to this form of worship. He wiped the outside’s sweat and grit from his face, and gave each bushy sideburn a quick comb with his fingers. “I wonder if I might trouble all you fellas for a word about the man who gave his life for your sins, our lord and savior Elvis Presley.”
As hard as it was for all the patrons of that shithole speakeasy that night to believe, it was true: The Holy Missionaries of the Church of Elvis were in their midst, preaching the gospel. And I’ll say this, that bishop had a powerful set of pipes.
“For his love is a burning love, a hunka, hunka burning love that will melt away all your sins should you accept him in your heart. But your love for him must be tender, it must be true.” Unsurprisingly, not every drunkard wanted to hear the wisdom in loving tender. A half-full pint glass was rocketed to the bishop’s head. It was caught before contact by the priest, who, in her skill caused not a single drop of warmed-over beer touched the bishop’s immaculate pompadour.
“Truth is like the sun,” the preist said. “You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t goin’ away.”
Was about then, the whole bar rose as one to pound those three missionaries into the floor. Not me, I was under the table. But the whole group tried to take those holier-than-us-ers down for the count. What we hadn’t reckoned on was the fact they were a great deal less drunk–and therefore, more mobile, even the bishop–and that all Elvises are trained in kung-fu.
‘Least I think it was kung-fu. All I know is even that boy threw a mean karate chop. Not that I felt it. I was under the table. Swear on my life.
It was in the remains of this fight, this battle, this ever-lovin’ crusade that the three Elvii–unharmed, if dirty–opened their mouths as one and sang. And let me tell you, brother, you ain’t heard shit unless you’ve heard “In the Ghetto” done in three-part harmony. If there was a dry eye in the bar, I sure didn’t see it. As unlikely as it sounds, those Elvises did do some conversions that day, and I’m sure several patrons woke up the next day with hangovers around their foreheads and silk scarves around their necks wondering what happened. But a few of them–more than a few, come to think of it– swore off the drink entirely. They felt the burning love within, and purified them without.
So they tell me, leastways.
As the Elvises turned to leave, I found strength in my own voice to call out to them, and I asked them, I won’t lie, I asked them how a fellow like me could sing like that.
The bishop and priest turned to the boy, who looked bashful at the attention. He slid he gaze upwards and when it came down it was the most serene thing I had ever seen.
“My voice is God’s will, not mine,” he said. And then they were gone, a trail of hound dogs and suspicious minds, teddy bears and puppets on strings and devils in disguise behind them, all of us were all shook up. They’ve been always on my mind ever since.