"Where's the Doc?" Turpin asks as a chime above him swoops and shrieks... a black and white rendering of a cartoon ghost…

Rateyes screams and his eyes nearly pop from their sockets. Near his toe a tiny, dense dwarfish doll... perhaps two inches high… wobbles, then falls face down.  The boneship shudders.  "It's... it's... is he... is..."

"Nobody gets out of the white light alive," Broonzy told me over ales at al-Gool; that would have been after the expedition, but a while before the burning.  He demonstrates with his hands – and his fingers. "Going in it'd stretch you out, like taffy.  Make a fine rope of you!  Comin' back?  Squeezes you down in seven seconds...but they say it seems like about seventy thousand years dying, to him..." he added.

"It's heavy..." Rateyes had whined, poking Kollucks with a toe...

"Deal with it later. Turp... you're the suckmaestro here," Broonzy orders. "Same drill...

Turpin roots around in the cabinets under the control boards and pulls out the plasma sucker that they'd used to drain the hemorrhoid ilaam of its plasma. He points it at a chime overhead and sucks it down, then another... like Gargareeva's wife using her vacuum to sweep cobwebs off the ceiling of the Andromeda before she died. Must have been fifteen years ago, that!

Since Kollucks weighs just as much dead as alive, Rats picks him up by the tiny ankles, Broonze grasps the dense little doll beneath the shoulders, and they half-tug, half drag the Doc away and roll him into the nearest cabinet.

Turp sets the plasma sucker, full of chimes now, gently down on the deck and Broonzy somehow navigates them back through three snakes, into the Dubankhaa system. "I sweated blood!" he said, "and all for rawth. Jammin' Regency got it all..."

Coulda remarked that they coulda got him, but Broonze was a mean sikken... far as I know, he still is. Old Believers expect their saints to abuse them. It's all in the dogma, somewhere...

The surviving catchermen crept away at Brownsville, leaving Kollucks in that cabinet on Marina's deck. They could've left him for weeks... snakebits are so compressed that there's jammin' little left to taff, so you could hardly smell anything wrong. Turp transfers the chimes into this lead-lined canvas bag that the Doc had brought along... most of 'em. Maybe a dozen got away, Broonze admits, but they were not of a mind to clean up very carefully... they just wanted to hand the bag over to the Collector's man, get paid, and get the jam off of Doobydie.

Wouldn't you?

Rats heads straight for the coms, comes back almost instantaneously with the word that Davey will meet them at Yasrick's Casino that night.

"Nuuh," Broonzy said, "...count me out! Ain't goin' back to that place!"

(Him and Turp, you may recall, stayed at Yasrick's a couple of days when they first arrived on Die until the company cancelled their cards and skraqqed them on back pay, and Captain Munson forgot to remember to upgrade their QI so it was next to impossible for them to find legal work.)

"They treat you better when you've got soys jangling' in your pocket," Rats said, jiggling the bag of chimes with one of those wide grins he’d have occasion to flash, now and again, like Dhubaaht rising up over Ankhubaaht.

"No thanks!" Broonze waves his partners off. "No casinos... goin' back to Andromeda, wash up, catch some kip. Bring my cut by tomorrow, I trust you for it..." he added menacingly, as if he knows that there ain't a cabinet in the galaxy small enough or dark enough for Rateyes to hide in if he takes it upon himself to jam Broonzy. He had everything figured out, except for one small miscalculation but... all in all... I'd say Broonze got off easy...

Wouldn't you?

Not that Rats doesn't keep pitching. "At least have a drink on me! Celebration..." he proposes, waving towards the rawthpuddle that passes for the Brownsville's lounge.  Makes al-Gool look like the jamminYasrick.

"Not interested," Broonze repeats. "Catch you later. Do us both a favor, Rats," he adds, "forget that rawth Kollucks said about strangers and the ten million. Being a Doctor didn't prevent him from dying like a bool..."

Now it ain't my place to judge, but I suspect Broonzy was nearer to the truth than Kollucks. Centuries of exploration have never turned up a stranger, nor is one likely to be found, I'd rook, for the very good reason that there ain’t no strange beings as cooked up the same jammin’ analog moodies as the likes of us. If there's anything certain enough to take to the bank, young man, it is that we are incredibly, indescribably alone... we are born alone, mawt alone and science decorates our containers just enough so as to permit pretense of differences that never really existed and never will. Demons and strangers are only creatures of the spirit, the imagination... Turpin should have felt the breath of one at his back but, I shall make the presumption (and without deducing whether it was due to fatigue, or to the false necessity of putting up a loyal front), chose to comport himself as though nothing was there.

Turp?" Rateyes pleads.

"Are we rich yet?" the swob grins boolishly, digging soys and even a few pitiful centis from his pockets... worrying, Broonze told me... whether anything was left on his sreefcard.  Broonze also says he'd invited Turp back to the Andromeda, where he probably could've gotten away... shurts hate the place and the jims on the Baawl – they don’t wilch.  His choice. I'll tell ya, kid... the choices we make! Can't take 'em back..."

Turp decides he has enough skilk for a drink or two, and that was that. Sweet jammin' Rassoul... that's all, she wrote. "What the jam!" he shrugs and shuffles off behind Rateyes into the lounge and the destiny that would pounce on them. Some day! Some sunset! Last time but once I ever saw the either of 'em and Broonzy never saw them again. Ad valorum!