At perhaps an hour before dusk on the third soydia of their unwanted layover, Turpin lies on one of the double beds in the suite he shares with Broonzy, staring at a ceiling of hammered simcopper, taking occasional swallows from the green bottle resting on an already-cluttered nightstand.  Broonzy stands before a screen with the placard "COURTESY", down which scroll various feminine anatomies, each adjacent to a certificate titled "Plud".

          Both are still in their Aegelweiss scrubs - flight jackets crumpled on the floor.  Their personal effects remain on the transport, quarantined on orders from the Regency, but... after check-in, but before disappearing into his own, somewhat larger suite with Umbarger (and with a good many fierce glances to discourage scrutiny from both elevator operators)... Captain Munson has slipped each man a Company debit-card.  While this is welcome, it's also a tacit admission that there'll be little, if any, hope of a speedy resolution to the Captain's problems and resumption of the mission; what they might spend, or transfer, on Munson's Company account will probably be all they can recover of their promised salaries.

          "What do you think the heathers really are here, under the bodysuits?" Turpin wonders.

          "Could be anyone..." Broonzy replies, "...anything.  Hauled salix a while back and the navigator, Toby, said he'd been here plenty of times.  Said Tao City's a dump, away from the casinos and a few streets in the hills for the pluds, or nearly so.  Burned-out picked-over... could be anything."

          "Are we allowed to ask, here?" Turpin wonders, scratching an itch in his genitals through the scrubs.

          "Naah... violates their civil rights.  Everyone has civil rights, even jammin' heathers.  If the suit fits, you ain't supposed to care about what lies underneath.  Could be some kinda disgusting worm or something half out of the sea... a fish, octopus... you're not supposed to care what's underneath."


          "It bothers you, take a few shines."

          "Wouldn't be so bad if they had some cat in 'em."  Turpin sits up, leaning on his elbow, hopeful.  "'Member on Vogl, what the man in Drainage said... plenty of feline.  Where the term jammin' like a wildcat must've come from!"

          "S'why they call it pussy."  Broonzy grins, lifting a finger to the room service keyboard.  "Let's get laid!"

          A voice booms out through wallspeakers - unseen, incomprehensible, startling Turpin upright and into rummaging through the litter scattered all over the nightstand.  “How may we help you?” or something like that, is what he thinks.

          "Uh... we'd like some company for about half an hour," Broonzy says.  Him Turpin can understand, but the room service voice remains unintelligible.  "No problem," Broonzy replies.  "How 'bout 4941, she available?  Twenty minutes uh... no, how 'bout 3817.  Yeah, for my friend here... Turp, c'mon over, take a look at these..."

          "Can't find my jammin' unilator..."

          He scoops up more junk from the nightstand, puts it down, sweeps the whole mess off with his elbow and, then, slaps his forehead. Opening the single drawer, Turpin removes the universal translator, fitting it over his right ear and tweaking up the dial.  The booming voice from Room Service morphs into clear, if annoyingly digitized Terran.

"...bdmr hqsdof gpje gppyexjap…" it rasps, "...customary, or are you expecting special privileges?"

"Well, we don't intend to damage the merchandise, if you know what I mean… get over here, Turp, make up your mind…"

Turpin waves him off.  "Surprise me!"

"Was that the second party of Suite 3227?" Room Service asks.  Of course Turpin knew they knew that it was... jammin' rooms were microscanned six ways from Sunday, maybe eight... but there was a script to follow, a pretense of honoring the privacy and dignity of guests...

"Just send up anybody, long as she's in a good mood. We hate cranky heathers… maybe something tending towards cat for my friend here..."

          "Very good, gentlemen, your courtesy proficients will be there within ten minutes. Do you require anything else… devices, stimulants?"

"Just the pussy," Broonzy says, hanging up.  The shinebar's concealed within a gleaming, white console... he codes a sequence and a lid rises to revealing a green cocktail in a long, thin tube.

"Hits the spot!"  Broonzy waves the tube towards Turpin with a broad grin... "'s cold!  Want one?"

"Khegma, chilled, no sauce," Turpin says, leaning back and closing his eyes.  Broonzy makes a face, codes in twice, taking another green tube and a clear one in either fist...

"S'matter, expect me to serve you like some jammin' waiter?"

"I'm tired!"

"Drink up 'n be somebody... in a little while, it'll help you feel lucky."  Broonzy passes the tube of clear, cold liquid to Turpin, still reclining morosely on one of the double beds (atop a coverlet of what seems to be brown protozoans, fighting and feeding on one another or, perhaps, off the gummy and flaky stains that crust away under the snaker's fingers).  "Go downstairs, hit the tables or vidtrack... huh?"

"We're not lucky.  We're stranded, marooned... living off the Captain's charity," Turpin reminds him, finishing off the khegma, letting the tube roll from his fingers, onto the nightstand.  Pushing himself off the bed, he shuffles towards the thirty-second story window, frowning at the deepening shadows of twilight dancing a three-cornered quadrille across the beds, furnishings and walls.  "Never gets really dark around here… Regents do somethin' with the dome," he says, "makes it seem like night. Hate jammin' three-sun systems... double stars are bad enough. They condition away the air, the temperature, day and night… how long we been here anyway?"

          "Three soldays?" Broonzy counts on his wide, twitching fingers.  "Jam knows how many sols…"

"Company better not charge Cap'n interest on the tab. Their fault we're stuck up here, waiting on their jammin' regulations…"  He pushes away from the window, opens the closet and begins riffling through courtesy suits, lined up within like soldiers awaiting battle.  "Ain't so bad, compared to jail... seen worse.  How's this?"  He holds up a shirt of thin, shimmery plasmetallic substance, brightly patterned and rather like that bad polyester specimen of the disco years that hangs, stiffly immortal under glass, in the Antedispersal Room of the Qelf Museum, where Turp passed an hour on layover during his first voyage. A buzzer interrupts…

"Don't need to show off, jim! They're heathers! Just get your stinking scrubs off; all I need's if one of 'em starts vomiting…"

Broonzy struts to the closet, holding a white sleeve up to his taurean snout… sniffs, winces. Turpin tosses the plasmetallic horror on a chair, goes to the door in his stinking scrubs, presses the one-way mirror to reveal two apparently plud-heathers outside. He palms the lock and they breeze in.

"I'm Mandy…"

"And I'm Candy. I like Terran chocolate, Nharfian ghee-simpagne and Antedispersal jazz, long walks on simbeaches and sunsets…"

"Ain't no real sunsets here," Broonzy sneers…

"Yes, there are. About twice every three soylers, when Dhubaaht eclipses Ankhubaaht at twilight… they raise the dome and you can see all the stars…"  There could have been more, but Mandy suddenly runs down like a clock with a worn battery, her pert pludnose wrinkles and she casts an evil glance across the suite at Turpin.

Candy, a pro to the bones, soldiers on.  "Unless we happen to have a methane emergency like last time… are you Snaker Broonzy?"

"Yeah, but I changed my mind. Mandy, come on over here and let's jam… Candy, you're with Turpin. He likes the talky ones…

Seizing her opportunity, Mandy stalks by her companion with a plastic smirk and digs her fingers into Broonzy, unfastening the many buttons and zippers and nuvelcro straps of his scrubs.  Covering her distaste with a weak smile, Candy faces Turpin, removing her blouse, and he traces a short line on her rubbery breasts.

          "I'm not really stupid; I have dreams too, plans, visions…"

          "Don't care…"

          "I do like a snaker…"

          Turpin punches a code into the moodbox, calls down a curtain of soft old Antedispersal standards, played and sung by Terrans dead for centuries but preserved, digitally.  The music... something about a moon... just one... a summer night and sums of money easily obtained, easily spent... soars over Broonzy's gruntings and, averting his eyes, Turpin pulls the heather down across the other bed... the false dusk dispersing as Die's second sun climbs over the horizon.



Music no good these days, worn out; I don't blame kids who prefer the old stuff. Ain't like the old days with the money flowing, people going here to there in a sort of bliss, worked to the bone and playing harder… everything permitted, here, but nothing satisfices, now.  'Course the corp'rocacies left their mark - cuttin' wages down and setting the police to roaming all over, lookin' for anyone with a smile on their face to stomp it off 'em. Now them as can afford so make do with the pills and the implants and heathers, them who can't drink themselves blind in corners of Hell like the Baawl. All comes down to whether you got the soys to get through life easy or hard. These guys, they had no idea how hard it can get… how hard it can get, for some!