"Sure is lonely in space," says
"I don't know," I say, as the Barracuda swerves right to avoid a beam of blue light. "Seems
kind of crowded to me."
"It's quite crowded being in a fleeing space
vehicle with a couple of debt fugitives," says Aristede. The car swerves
left to avoid another beam. "You could have been a little more honest when
you met me, you know. I might have been able to help."
So I say to him, "What, just tell the second
son of the foreign affairs minister that we're looking to get his money so we
can pay off our student loans? You could have blackmailed us or
something. We haven't survived this long by trusting people." I look in
the rearview mirror, and see the telltale gleam of a Student Loan Company space
fighter coming up behind at a distance of three kilometers. "Then again,
maybe we won't anyway. Ramon, how far is it to the nearest burger joint?"
"Judging by the Galactic Positioning
System I'd say the closest one is another 2 hours. Why, do you think a burger
joint will help us?"
"I just want to drop this guy off and get
some food. I think we've spent enough of his time." I turned to the
backseat. "Unless you have some kind of fancy gadget that will help us
"I don't," said Aristede. "I left
all of them back in the garage in Madagascar. The best one of them, I could
have used that against these guys, but you made me leave it. What a pity. It's
a nice car, and rare enough to suit my style. It's impossible to find a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda with 426 Hemi and manual transmission in the open
market. Do you know why?"
I glance at the stickshift of the car.
"Manual, eh? Ramon, what kind of combustion chambers does this thing
"Hemispherical," says Ramon. "But
I don't understand, how is a Plymouth Barracuda supposed to be a secret weapon?
This thing doesn't even go as fast as the Honda Civic."
The SLC space fighter is a kilometer behind us
now. I push a button on the rearview mirror to zoom in. Yep, it's one of their
prototype models. Maximum feasible number of thrusters at all possible angles
and two big lasers on the front. They call it the Mace Head for a good reason.
Its lasers give a telltale glint and I yank the steering wheel to the left just
before blue light lances through the space we were occupying.
I turn to the back seat. Aristede is busy prying
up the seat cushions. "What the heck are you doing?" I say, then yank
the steering wheel to the right to dodge another beam of blue light.
"What the heck are YOU doing?" says
Ramon. "I've got this."
"You're acting like you're daydreaming about
gold again," I say. "Aristede, what are all those buttons you have
there, and how did you not push all of them when you were sitting in the back
"The people who stole the Plymouths and
remodeled them were very careful to keep the buttons from being accidentally
pushed by a big fatso like you," said Aristede.
"This is 80 percent
muscle," I say, "so watch your language, twink."
"My father can fabricate evidence to put you
in jail for a hundred years," says Aristede. "Then again, that's not
as bad as what the Student Loan Company is going to do to you. And me." A
beam of blue light shoots over the car, then begins to angle down. Ramon
swerves the car left and then up, then pitches upward. We move away from our previous trajectory at a ninety
degree angle. Not that it will be difficult for the Mace Head to cover the
"So what do those buttons do?" I say.
"And why is that red one under a special plastic cover?"
"Hopefully you'll never have to find
out," says Aristede. "Roll up your windows, please." He types
some letters into a keyboard, then presses a large green button.
Space is dark and full of stars. Whatever's
outside the windows is...the opposite of space, maybe, because it's extremely
bright and full of pinpricks of darkness.
When it fades, the star field is entirely
Ramon sticks his head out the window and barfs.
"I specifically told you to roll up your
windows," says Aristede.
"You didn't give us much time!" says
"Why are both you guys glowing blue?" I
Ramon looks at his hand. "We're not. Are you
The stars outside the windows all look blue. They
shift into normal white light after a few seconds. "I guess so. Maybe my
head is just a little rattled by the poorly-forewarned instant trip through
space." I glare at Aristede in the backseat.
"It's a drastic measure," says
Aristede, "And I won't do it again unless we're being chased by the
Student Loan Company which goddamit roll up the windows again." He types
some letters into the keyboard again. I turn around and there's the flagshsip
of the SLC's Earth Defender Fleet sitting a kilometer from us. The universe
becomes very bright, and once again we're sitting in a completely different
star field, Ramon is barfing out the window, and both of them are glowing blue.
"I thought you would have rolled up your
windows this time!" says Aristede.
I finally roll up the window. "Hey," I
say, "be grateful we're not driving with the top down. Did you get us to a
"If you like grasshopper burgers seasoned with Gilesian Pepper," says
"No way," says Ramon. "That should
have taken us three days to reach."
I peer out the windshield. There's a planet in
the distance, close enough that i can see the ring orbiting above a surface of
blue and brown. As we get closer the individual ships in orbit become visible
-- patched-together things that look like they would fall apart doing a hard
burn in atmosphere.
That's what they want you to believe, in case you
want to try it. Your engine will fry before any of theirs do.
"You took us to Gilese 581d," I say.
"Are you nuts? They're going to take the Plymouth apart and sell the
"Are you kidding?" says Aristede.
"They rebuilt the Plymouth Barracudas. Don't underestimate their pride,
Robin. Oh, and they call the planet Barracuda, so be sure to follow their
Ramon switched on the heat shield and we prepared
to hit the surface of a planet I never thought I'd see.