( Audio Credits: Reading by Sam A. Mowry, Soundscape by David Ian )
He checked through passport control, an unbearable line that seemed to grow instead of shrink, but he finally handed his Ident capsule to the gate attendant.
“Welcome to the planet Deja Vu. Have you been here before?”
“Is that some sort of bad joke?” Burton replied, fighting down the feeling that he actually had.
“Not yet,” the attendant smiled. Burton retrieved his ID back with not a little anxiety.
“Excuse me,” a man said, brushing past Burton’s shoulder and hurrying on his way to the exit gates.
“Quite all right,” Burton said absently as he tried to find a hover cab. Burton Sound Byte, explorer, adventurer, and headline act at the Comet Lounge in Neo Las Vegas, was on profiteering business with a revolutionary, a “Mr. Black” of, fittingly, The Black Brigade, who had insisted on conducting transactions on this, of all planets in the galaxy. All Burton knew about Mr. Black was that he was a little more whacko than most extremists, and this remote planet in the gravitational pull of three separate suns created the kind of chaos Black thrived in. No one in their right mind came to Deja Vu, or at least, no one left in their right mind, which made basing covert operations here ideal.
“Taxi, Mr. Burton?”
“How did you know my name?”
“Part of the job, sir. Shall I take you to the usual place?”
“This is my first time here. I’m staying at the Parallax.”
“That’s the place. Get in.”
The hover cab glided neatly to Burton’s hotel, taking back roads and side streets with the cabby reassuring Burton that they were not being followed, all before Burton could ask him to do just that.
“Here you are, sir. Oh no, that’s not necessary, I’ve got you on account.”
The Black Brigade is very thorough, Burton thought, as he activated his anti-grav bag and headed to the front desk.
“Hello, Mr. Sound Byte,” the clerk at the desk beamed. “Your room is ready, and a nice hot molecular refresher has been prepared for you, as you ordered, sir.”
“Uh, thanks,” Burton stumbled, trying to remember making such an order. “If a Mr. Black rings up–”
“I’ll put his call right through, sir.”
Burton slid into the Molecular Agitation unit, every atom of his body gently stimulated, a wave of relaxation surging over him, when the Intro Com buzzed.
“Sound Byte here,” he slurred in Ultra Comfort Mode.
“Aloha! This is Mr. Black. I believe we have some business to conduct.”
“Very good,” Burton wallowed. “Where shall we meet?”
“I’ll send a driver to pick you up.”
“Excellent. I’ll be here.”
Burton bypassed the control panel on the molecular refresher, redirected the flux channel to Manual Override, cranked on the power he borrowed from the remainder of the appliances, and screamed in pleasure until he passed out.
* * * * *
“Bonjour, Señor Burton. Merci for accomodating us in this fashion!” Mr. Black greeted Burton in his plush corner high-rise Comfo Unit, offering a Neo-Jell-O mold chair. The perimeter of the room was decorated with Kamikhaki Jump Troops, all standing at impossibly straight attention.
“I’ll stand, thanks. I’m quite relaxed,” Burton pitched forward a little.
“You have brought the Electro Specs, si?”
“They’re safe. We need to talk payment first.”
A cold stillness blanketed the room.
“Do you mean more payment, Herr Burton?” Mr. Black growled dangerously, his
Kamikhaki Jump Troops standing at even greater readiness than before.
“No, I mean payment,” Burton retorted. “I didn’t come halfway across the sector to this bad theme-planet of a rock for charity.”
“My dear chap, we have already deposited the agreed-upon amount into your Liqui-Flow Account, and you promised to return with the plans. You do have them, don’t you, Comrade Burton?”
Burton’s head began to swim like a Foomerian Lizard on the rim of a Gargantua Aquan Whirlpool: seriously not liking where he was being dragged.
“Of course I have them,” Burton was shaking his head.
“Mein Herr Black!” A decidedly huge muscle-man proffered a Pocket Solar-Powered Modem Hook-up Modular Unit to Mr. Black.
Mr. Black inspected the unit’s read-out, then twitched convulsively.
“Apparently, Burton-san,” Mr. Black scowled, “you have already withdrawn the funds we have given you. You were expecting to make a quick getaway, ja?”
“No!” Burton has looking for exits, of which there were depressingly few, and the most handy one was inconveniently closed and guarded by a blond Kamikhaki who was probably not specially trained for five years in the Dakkakon swamps in merely Spectral-Racquetball.
“Look,” Burton’s head spun, “this planet has got me a little disoriented. Something in the magnetic fields, I think. Let me go back to my room and get the plans. I’ll take your limo again, and the racquetball player, here, can accompany me,” Burton gestured to the blond guard, who broke his snappy disciplined face in puzzlement at being referred to as a racquetball player. Burton was satisfied to see confusion on someone else’s face for a change.
Mr. Black brought his fingertips together, furrowed his brow, and pursed his lips. Finally, he blinked his eyes, raised an eyebrow and smiled. Burton surmised Mr. Black’s face would continue on in this manner two years after the rest of him had died.
“Very well, Monsieur Burton. It is quite common to experience some vertigo from the time fluxes. Forgive me for pressing business so soon upon your arrival. Hopefully, you will stay long enough that you will get your ‘time legs,’ as it were. Until then, señor, ciao.”
* * * * *
Burton emerged from his room at The Parallax with the plans, returned to the awaiting hover limo, and made his way back to the familiar plush corner Comfo Unit of Mr. Black. The doors opened, and Mr. Black rose from behind his desk in surprise, the array of Kamikhaki troops presenting a forty-two arm salute.
“Good Morgen, Herr Sound Byte. Welcome to Deja Vu! It is a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance. I trust your Hyper-flight was agreeable?”
“Yeah, er, it was fine,” Burton reeled.
“Da! And the accommodations acceptable, I hope? Comfortable? You could have called and told me you were coming. Some people have no love for Deja Vu and conduct their business and leave on the same day, so fortune had my vehicle there in case you were in haste.”
“Yes, fortunate,” Burton goggled.
“And now, I’m sure you wish to talk payment. We have taken the liberty of opening an account in your name with the following figure if it is to your liking. When we have reached an acceptable sum, you can return with the plans. I am sure you will not have them upon your person until we settle accounts, oui?”
Mr. Black handed Burton a Pocket Solar-Powered Modem Hook-up Modular unit which displayed his name, a Liqui-Flow Account and a reasonably mind-imploding amount of money.
“Er,” Burton haggled.
“Excellente! I will have you transported back and we will make arrangements for the exchange!” Mr. Black offered to toast the deal, but Burton declined, muttering something about needing something stronger in the mind-altering department in the privacy of his own Intensive Care Unit.
On his way back to the Parallax, while Burton was piecing together the most recent events, the limo was rammed by a hover taxi, which then also fired two Detonator missiles into the front of the limo, vaporizing the front end. An all-too-familiar taxi driver came out and handed Burton a handful of Universal Currency Vouchers, all with as many zeros as the lines would allow, a flight ticket and a boarding pass card, and hustled him into the taxi.
“Just like you planned it, Mr. Burton. If you run, you can just make it through Boarding Control before they revoke your passage. I took a little extra in my cut for expenses and to pay your accounts, but there’s still plenty for both of us. Not bad for a day’s work, eh?”
Like playing out the last part of his own dream, Burton, totally flummoxed, was racing through the Turbo terminal and cleared Passport Control when he grazed a man on the shoulder.
“Excuse me,” Burton said to the familiar man, who replied absently, “Quite all right”, in a way that made Burton crash to a halt, the retreating image of the man flitting across his already muddled memory.
“Last call for flight leaving Deja Vu, now boarding…” came the announcement.
“You’re on your own, buddy” he muttered as he raced for the exit gates.