Back to Chuck Wendig‘s very creative prompts today. I don’t know where he finds these random prompt generators on the internet (maybe I should google ‘random writing prompt generator’ and find out), but this one gave us two descriptions of crime fighters to pair together and, er, do whatever we fancied with them in 1500 words, including fight crime if we so wished. So here I have my 8ft tall alien Elvis impersonator and a fast-talking palaeontologist with an MBA from Harvard. Sounds like they belong in Zito’s bar…
Return to Sender
“Mind if I join you?”
The red-haired woman in a space coverall shrugged and sipped her drink through a straw. She eyed the stranger, not bothering to hide her scrutiny as it strayed from the black quiff, over the heavy mask of yellow-beige make-up, which did not disguise his piercing blue eyes. The shoulders of his jacket were extended with a kind of epaulette that hadn’t been in fashion for years. Centuries, possibly. He wore the collar turned up. It was a good look, electric blue satin trimmed with scarlet braid. Reminded her of something she’d studied at college. Ah, yes, she had it now… but his hair didn’t fit the look of the late 20th century glam-hippie movement. He was more of mid 20th roller. She’d check his slacks and boots later, but she suspected he was like so many other history-manglers; he’d got his facts wrong.
Barbarella knew her facts. As a Master in Bimilliennial Anthropology she knew most of what there was to know about pre-Exodus culture, with of course a specialism in the 20th century. The Academy at Farsight had even recreated a small campus for the historical sciences, naming it Harvard, after a long-abandoned educational establishment. Oxbridge and Shanghai were the campuses for other pre-space sciences, Oxbridge for physics, electronics, and computing technologies, as the old subjects were termed, and Shanghai for biotech. Barbarella returned from the recollections of her youth having identified the mangled look this eight foot alien had imposed on her – Sergeant Pepper meets Michael Jackson via Elvis Presley, she thought.
“Can-I get you another?”
He was polite, at least. She nodded, finished her White-hot Molatov, and named it for a re-order. He just waved at the bar. A sinuous waitress came over bearing a tray of drinks on one arm, a greasy cloth in one hand, which she used to wipe the table after she’d removed the empty glass and bowl. Still wiping, she shuffled the empties onto the tray and picked up two drinks, setting them before the correct person.
“Thanks, Armellia,” he said. She tossed him a saucy wink as she turned away, and he slapped her backside in approval. She responded by reaching behind her and tweaking his quiff with her fourth hand. “Careful!” He reached into his neck-pocket and withdrew a small device with which he reset his quiff, using the silvered wall as a mirror.
“You can get into trouble for that move,” Barbarella commented, using her slow mode of speech for an off-worlder. Everyone was an off-worlder here, though, since she’d arrived only yesterday, and discovered she had to say things three times to be understood.
“Nah. She’s staff. She’s seen-it all before. Besides, this isn’t some fancy high-faluting, stand-on-yer-rights inner world, yer know. This is the Viridian System. When did yer get-in?”
He had a strange lilt to his speech, which was mostly hidden by his drawl. She supposed he was trying to stay in character, but his up-bringing kept getting in the way.
“Aw-right! Yer here fer the race?”
“Gawd sakes, ain’t yer heard of the Amberson? Surprised yer got a room, what-with everyone coming in from the ast’roids and ev’rything. Plus all the strangers, the hot-rods.”
“Ah. Flyer’s race, then?”
“Yeah. ‘s why I’m singing tonight. Entertain the-masses. Yer missed the first set?”
“Er, came in as people threw bottles and stuff at the stage.”
“Ah-right, they really liked me today! Zito was pleased.”
“Zito’s Bar” He waved at the little signs around, on the ceiling, the floor, the inside of the frontage. “It’s over the door too.”
“Silly me. Never would have guessed there was a real Zito.”
“So – you sing.”
“Yeah. Entertain the troops. No troops here of course, miners and makers, that’s it.”
“What, no security?”
“Only for crowd control, that sort-of thing. Sometimes to keep outsiders off – Imperium and Fed, though, not normal people like us.”
“How do you know I’m not Imperium?”
“You smell Feds?” She raised her eyebrows.
“Useful talent, don’t yer think?” He grinned at her, revealing six incisors flanked by canines rather larger than the average humanoid’s.
She ran through a few species in her head. “I hope you’re not a vampire.”
“No Beryllian. You’re safe in the dark with me. Nowhere safer. Wanna hitch up with me for a while?”
“Why do you think I’d want to do that?”
Barbarella repeated herself slower. In her astonishment she’d gone into normal speech.
“I’m safe. I’m looking fer a partner. You have all the right qualities.”
“How do you know I have the qualities you’re looking for? And don’t insult me by saying you can small them.”
He shrugged, which had the effect of the collar pushing his earlobes up, making him look more like a horse than anything else. He leant closer, putting his mouth close to her ear. She drew back.
“Well, if yer want ev’ryone to hear…” He pouted, looked over his shoulder, swung round to look down the corridor leading away from the bar towards the gambling rooms and the stairs, then turned back and inspected the table on the other side of the pillar. “Oh, hi, guys,” he said to the occupants. “Hope you enjoyed the show.”
Barbarella didn’t hear the response. The two humanoid men were dressed in sensible flyer gear, their women in smart outfits that revealed curves of varying degrees of voluptuousness, and very little skin, save for the darker one’s cleavage.
The entertainer returned his attention to her. “Big Pete and the Swede,” he whispered. “Richest guys in the galaxy.”
“Why would they need them on PV? They can handle any chancers. They’re not carrying, anyway. Nothing to rob or fight them for.”
Barbarella sat back. “It’s true then? PV has no crime?”
“Yep. A completely lawless society, so there’s no crime. That’s why I’m stuck singing for a living.”
“They must have some laws.”
“Keep yer nose clean. Don’t upset the bar-owner. Pay yer way.”
“Leave, or get put out in the desert. Most people leave or go back to the ast’roids if they get in trouble. Lots of scams going on, of course, but pay up or leave, just the same.”
“Those two, they run the scams?”
“Nah. They’re clean. One of them killed someone on Excelsior, so everyone stays clear of troubling them.”
The blond-haired guy on the next table leaned past the pillar and tapped him on the shoulder. “When’s your next set?” he asked.
Barbarella couldn’t see him, so she watched his companions. The shorter man was drinking, watching his friend. The darker girl was smiling, the mousy one watched the blond carefully, rubbing her lips with her fingers.
“Oh, I’m on soon. Any requests?”
“Only not to spread gossip you’ve no idea is true.”
“Ah, sorry, mate, no offence. Just entertaining a newcomer, you know. Showing her the highlights of PV’s society.”
The blond laughed and leant further forward. “Is he troubling you?” he asked Barbarella.
“I didn’t invite him, but he’s harmless, I think.”
The bar owner, Zito, stood beside her. “Yeah, he’s harmless. Here, at any rate.” He looked from her to her companion. “Pelvis, could you do a double set next, then leave it for the rest of the night?”
The entertainer nodded. “No problem-o.”
Zito nodded, and gestured him towards the stage. “Pelvis is safe,” he said to Barbarella as they watched him go, ducking his head under the ceiling struts. “I wouldn’t vouch for the veracity of his impersonation, but we enjoy him when he’s here.”
“What does he do when he’s not here?” Barbarella wondered aloud.
“He’s looking for a new partner in crime. I reckon he’s decided it’s you.”
“How do you know?”
“I’ve a nose for these things – so does he. You could do a lot worse.”
“I’m just a palaeontologist.”
Zito nodded. “Nobody’s ‘just’ anything, ma’am. But if you could sort out his song list to make it more authentic, he’d be more successful.”
Barbarella realised just what Zito meant as Pelvis started his set, opening with “One two three o’ clock, four o’clock rock…”
She put her head in her hands, and then brought out her viewpad to make notes. By the end of the double set she had ringed five of his twenty-five songs.
“About your song list,” she started when he came back.
“Do you know ‘Return to Sender’?”
“You hum it and I’ll pick it up on the way.”
“The way where?”
“The way we’re going… how about Brahe to start?”
© J M Pett 2016