God this city stinks of death. Almost like the reaper is hiding behind every corner, biding his time for the perfect moment to sink his sickle into soft skin. Not today, I’m working on my first case in almost three months. I’m here in Helfye City looking for a source, a beeline to the man who finds it fun to stuff bombs into high performance race cars.
Jesus I need a drink. Sam’s café is still open, and she’s always quick to make my cup of Joe just a little stronger. Lucky for me that’s the place my source agreed to meet with me. Unlucky for me it’s with Brightmen, a notorious black-market bookie who can’t be touched by authorities on this planet merely because he has too much dirt on them.
I walk down a street littered with old abandoned buildings—buildings which the squatters and slime of this city colonize like the mold they are. I can hear them moan, some in pain and others in … pleasure seems like the wrong word to use for these animals. There is no waiting for a green light, they all have been busted by vandals, and no beat cop in their right mind would stand here directing traffic. Anyway, the streets are normally empty this time of night and with my P22 double-barrel ready for a firefight who would have a chance.
With two blocks remaining, I pull out my cigarette case, push aside the empty baggie of Pridon powder and grab a smoke. The soft mint chills my throat on an already cool night. Letting out a cloud of smoke trail behind me, I notice that the few lights on this street tint the usually blue smoke into a sick phlegm. I stop dead at the opening to an alley, and still facing forward I can hear the slow sucking sound of something feeding. When I look over I am greeted by flashing eyes. The creature stops in mid chew and stands. Even from a good fifteen yards away its silhouette looks massive. I raise a hand to my spectacles and touch the left frame. Instantly the shadows are lifted and I can see the creature clearly.
“A Bafnar,” my spectacles speak to me, in a female voice though the ear piece. “Originally from the planet Bafnar Major, migrated to Helfye after a war with Bafnar Minor. Growing in height to twelve feet tall when fully mature and ranging in colors of grey, black, and in rare cases albino. They are known to be highly violent in their pursuit of life energy, giving them the nickname Soul-sucker.”
I can’t really tell what color this one is because the night vision gives everything a pale yellow hue. None the less, from the staining on its mouth and the quiet moaning of its food, this animal is a law breaker, and there is only one real way to handle it. It must have sensed my conclusion because it decided to lower itself on all fours and charge at me. In a flash I pull my double-barrel out from my coat, whirl the chamber and fire. It falls to the floor about a foot from me wrapped in a thin liquid metal net. Its razor-toothed muzzle snapping at me, I blink a photo and my spectacles send the coordinates to the O.R.B ship stations above the planet. Goodbye gorgeous.
As I walk away I can still hear the moaning of its prey. Whoever it is, they’re not long for this world. Anyway I have an appointment with a madman who likes to boast about his mass fortune and plethora of galactic sluts… sorry, I meant concubines. After a bit more walking, Sam’s Café is in sight, and parked outside is a car that takes up three parking spaces. I guess Brightmen beat me here.
A small bell jingles a tune when I open the door. For a split second the place is unusually bright, but my spectacles automatically shut off the night vision I had forgotten about. I walk past the cashier’s counter and take in the low lit gloom that is Sam’s. All the tables, which seat no more than two, are crowded around a small square stage stuck in the middle at the moment occupied by a grand piano and a white-toothed, orange-skinned old pianist in a crisp black suit and a white tie. He is singing a solemn love song wrought with tragedy, all the while showing all his teeth with smiles and winks at all the pretty young girls.
“Mr. Papiernik, how is you tonight?” Sam, the small Asian proprietor, pops out of nowhere to greet me. “Mr. Brightmen has gone to the lavatory. Please take seat.”
She scoots me along to a table near the back; a few of the young girls take notice and wave sweetly at me. I look up at the old piano player, his smile is gone and he gives me the old who-the-fuck-are-you look. Sam pushes me down into a chair and scuttles away to the kitchen for my drink; I’ve made it a point to visit her every night since I’ve been in Helfye. I sit facing the room; the old man has gone back to smiling and most of the girls are looking back at him. A blue haired girl catches my eye and smiles and I return one of my own. She licks her lips and blows me a kiss, and I raise an eyebrow to show my interest. She rubs her inner thigh and is about to lift her skirt a little higher when someone walks in front of me.
“Leo you dog, your partner isn’t dead four months and you’re already looking for another plaything.” Brightmen looks down at me with his hazel eyes. He is an older gentleman who wears his hair with a part at the side and a meek smile on his face. He has on a brown cardigan, with a white shirt and pattern tie underneath. His black slacks sit nicely atop his brown penny loafers. If I didn’t already know he was a black market bastard he’d look like anyone’s honest taxpaying neighbor.
“Oh I’m sorry, too soon?” He takes a seat and folds his hands politely on the table and continues in a gentle manner. “I hear you’ve been looking for me all over the planet with a list of questions regarding the psycho who likes blowing up star racers. I know what you must be thinking, why are you willing to help me Roger, with all the other things you could be doing with your time? I’ll tell you why, this sin of a bitch, and I do mean sin, is ruining my bookie business. Do you know how hard it’s getting to convince a bunch of yokels that it’s safe to come and bet when the last race ended with an unscheduled car explosion? I mean, shit on me if it’s not rain in your stew when you have an honest fixed race with all the crashes already choreographed, and some limp secretion from a Bafnar’s ass sticks seven blocks of Icktar under the lead car and destroys half the track.”
“Drinks are ready,” Sam arrives, again seemingly out of nowhere, with a tray of drinks and a bowl of Fickle-Bush eggs. “Now you be careful with eggs, they fresh.”
“I want to know where this wonderful woman gets her eggs from. Fickle-Bushes are hard to come by,” Brightmen says with a smile as she walks away. As soon as she is out of earshot he adds, “If I’ve asked the bitch once I’ve asked a hundred times, but nothing but smoke up the ass for an answer.”
I look at him though narrowed eyes and hold back my retort, no need to insult him just yet, I still need more information. Grabbing the grape-sized egg I tap it on the counter and hold it over my coffee, carefully I pull the halves apart and an amber liquid drips down into the cup. It smells like honey, but when I take a sip it burns like whisky. She wasn’t kidding about them being fresh.
Brightmen coughs and breaths in deep through gritted teeth. “Goddamn this tastes like poison… reminds me of my fourth wife actually. Have I ever told you about her? She was a fine looking specimen, fucked like a bull. Her father was an actor from Impala, over in the Dark Moon sector, and her mother was a prized Battle Dolthar.” He laughs like a silly school boy who just made a naughty joke, lips tight, and eyes squinted with all the noise coming from his nose.
I take another sip from my drink. I’d say something but I know he’s just going to… “You know, a Battle Dolthar, big wooly crocodile looking things. Anyway, back to the psycho, I know what you are thinking, How is it someone could have put a bomb in your lead car when you obviously run such a tight operation? That is a very good question to ask Leo, and the exact one I asked myself when half of my paying customers where engulfed in the flash. As you would expect, I dove right into an internal investigation of all the drivers and their pit crew. After they watched me brake team sapphire’s fourth mechanic in half and none of them fessed up, I was sure that it wasn’t an inside job.”
“I had to come to the conclusion that this psychotic dip shit was in all honesty a smart cookie, to have been able to brake onto my racetrack and rig up his contraption without anyone being the wiser.” He sighs and takes the opportunity to crack about six more eggs into his drink. Taking a swig, he points a bony finger at me. “You know young man it is very rude to … damn that’s strong … to invite someone over for a conversation and not have anything to say yourself. That’s alright, I would probably have gotten bored. Oh look at the time, I must be off. The track is reopening in four hours. The race doesn’t start till later on this afternoon, but the early hours of the morning are the best time to sell merchandise to the nice people stupid enough to buy the knock-off crap I peddle. Here, have a ticket to a box seat, and while you’re there you can continue this little investigation of yours.”
I watch him stand and walk around the tables and out the door. I look down at the table, his cup and the bowl of eggs are missing, and this old thief left me with the bill. Draining my cup, I walk over to the cashier counter, passing the empty seat of the blue haired girl. Sam is ready with the bill; I sometimes think she is the only one working here.
The cold air bites hard at my skin as I walk out of the café. I turn up my collar and reach for my cigarette case; again I push aside the baggie and light up. I should refill while I’m down here. I turn right at the next corner, and cut across the street to the next block and find myself on the outskirts of the city central. Taking a pedestrian tunnel under a rail line, I come out on the other side with two full baggies, a shooter, and three hundred credits off my account.
Right ahead of the tunnel is a cab lift; I hit the red button for the doors to open, step inside and hit the button up. As the lift takes me skyward, I snub out the cigarette and carefully empty a bit of the tobacco. I take the shooter, a tiny green glowing pill, and stuff it into the end. Placing the cigarette back in my mouth, I light it and take a deep breath. Hold, let it out slowly and let the cloud envelope you. Said cloud comes out the same glowing green as the pill; my body gives a shudder like when you touch the cold shower wall with your back. I wasn’t planning on this, but Brightmen had to bring up Anita. Hopefully this makes me forget and not remember more vividly.
The lift reaches the top, and the green cloud scatters to the winds as the pod opens. There is a small scanner that I pass my badge over, and in less than a minute an O.R.B. retriever craft arrives to take me back to my apartment. The moment I sit the craft wizzes away into the sky. I look back to watch the twinkling lights of the city central fade away, and the cruiser make its way to the vender I just booked. My vision gets a little fuzzy as I start to hate my hypocrisy, but they deserve it. I puff away at my cigarette and exhale blue smoke; I must have drained the whole pill in one go. My eyes slowly want to shut, but I fight it because when they do the visions will start. The craft breaks the atmosphere, and it floats me to the giant that is the O.R.B. station.
Within two minutes the craft docks with the ship, and the drug fades away completely, which means I have minutes to get inside and work a bit before it blows my mind. When the door to my apartment opens Robert, the little brass robot I saved almost a year ago from the scrap yard, greets me. I walk in and empty the contents of all my pockets onto the tray he holds. Taking off my coat, I hang it on his head and his little glowing eyes flash indignantly. He follows me to the couch, and when I take a seat he has a glass of rum ready for me. He places my cigarette case on the coffee table next to a small silver box and goes off to put the rest of my things away.
The little silver box gets pulled close; being gentle is part of my process. I open the lid and place it just so to the left, revealing three one-ounce glasses, a spoon, and a golden lighter. First to come out are the glasses, which I place to the right of the silver box and space them out the width of my cigarette case, this makes it easy for me to reach for them without disturbing the one next to the chosen glass. Next I take the spoon out and place it on top of the coffee table and spin it. The back of it points to the cup furthest to the left, I will start there.
Carefully I open the cigarette case, at which Robert dutifully lowers the needle of my music player. The slow rhythmic thumping of aboriginal drums echoes throughout the apartment while I pull one of the Pridon bags apart. Picking up the spoon, I scoop a full load and place the baggie down. I pick up the golden lighter and start a flame. Holding the spoon over it, I try and stop myself from holding my tongue between my lips hungrily, to no avail. The moment the white powder bubbles I spill the content of the spoon into the chosen glass. There it continues to melt and become a clear liquid. I do the same to the other glasses. The music pounds harder as I pour a bit of rum into the smaller glasses, this makes the liquid Pridon smoke, and I stare at the concoctions I’ve made. When the music is over I think of Anita.