02:03:02 - The Long Brown Trail


"Get 'em while they're hot," The gypsy called. "Clonin' Wife CD's! Get 'em while they're hot! Can't find these babies on Napster!"

The gypsy's sales had been slow that day, which was surprising, seeing as how the Partuuni Galactic-Pop trio from Tansho was burning up the charts all across the galaxy. These "Earthlings" had absolutely no appreciation of good G-Pop, they said it sounded like "chipmunks in a wood chipper with a conga beat. The gypsy thought for sure that the scanned and reprinted cover art that he put on all the copied CD's he'd made would bring in the young male set, but an appreciation for the shape of a well-curved Partuuni female was something else this planet lacked. Most of the people who actually stopped at his table asked if the cute puppets in the picture were some sort of "Henson" creation.

"Come on, people," The gypsy yelled. "It's Clonin' Wife, the hottest band ever! Buy a CD. Hey, you! Yeah, you, with the mobility device attached to his posterior! Buy a CD! Come on, one CD! A screw you then! I hope you end up a cripple or something!"

"Interesting selection," the man with the weaselly face said, walking up to the table.

"Aw crap," the gypsy muttered. "Not you again. How do you keep finding me?"

"You're always on the same corner," Roger replied.

"I knew it! You're spying on me. That's a violation of my rights."

"Not when you're suspected of..." Roger paused, flipping through the CD's. "Suspected of distributing pirated music."

"I'm charging for the CDs, not the music on them," the gypsy replied.

"Tell that to the Recoding Industry of Alpha-Centaury," Roger said.

"Wait, wait," the gypsy said. "What if I rolled over on someone else? Would you let me go?"

"Depends on how big your information is."

"The biggest." The gypsy paused to look around in case anyone else was watching, then leaned over to Roger and whispered in his ear, not realizing that Roger's hearing organs were somewhere around his knees. Roger played along. "Listen," the gypsy whispered. "There's a shipment coming in tonight, I don't know where, but I know they're going to unload it at the big concert this weekend."

"A shipment of what?"

"A quarter tonne of Jelvan hosp-lengleng."

"What?" Roger asked, incredulously. "Why would anyone on Earth buy a quarter-tonne of Jelvan crap? It can't even be used as a fertilizer on this planet."

"You got me," The gypsy said, holding up his hands. "So whatdya say, we got a deal? I can go free now, right?"

"No," Roger smiled. Behind him, an orange refrigeration van pulled up at the curb. Phil got out, and she had a stun-cube in her left hand and a wicked grin on her face.

"Wait!" the gypsy protested. "We had a deal!"

He continued to protest as Phil lead him into the back of the van, but knew better than to resist. The last time he tried to fight one of Phil's arrests, he ended up with a dislocated yebo, and couldn't hemfletz for a week. While Phil tucked the gypsy away, Roger gathered up the CD's, pausing to admire one.

"Hmm," he said, to nobody in particular. "How can the bootleggers get a copy to this planet faster than Galactic Express?"

"I said no, Roger," Jack said, walking into the ready room. Behind him, Roger was slinking along like a kicked puppy.

"Come on, Jack," Roger said. "I won't keep a copy, I just want to listen to it."

"A bootleg is a bootleg," Jake replied. "And the GC will not be trafficking in bootlegged albums, even to GC members. You know the rules about GC agents using contraband."

"Aw," Roger whined. "But I ordered a copy of 'Let's Clone!' a month ago, and it'll still take another two to get here by Galactic Courier. I paid for the album, so they're not losing anything on me."

"Roger," Jack said, with some finality. "No."

Jack looked at the rest of the group, already seated at the table, then walked to the podium at the center of the horseshoe- shaped table. He was amused to see that the image slowly rotating above the table, displayed in three-dimensional realism, was a grossly over-sized Jelvan turd. Shimo may be 7 years out of the loop, but he still had a sense of humor.

"Ok, people," he said. "Why is an illegal shipment of Jelvan poop bound for Earth?"

"Someone has forty acres of farmland they want sterilized?" Shimo offered.

"It's odd, yes," Rhino said, "but our underground sales informant on Krilon confirmed that a shipment was heading this way."

"So what do we know about it?" Jack asked.

"Ruh says it's going to be sold at the concert this weekend," Phil offered.

"What concert?" Jack asked.

"What concert?" Everyone in the room echoed. Shimo was the only one who didn't mean it rhetorically.

"The 'Supermodel Diet' tour," Carla offered. "The largest rock concert and freak show ever to tour."

"It's put on by a group called 'Heroin Education For Freedom And Liberty Under Mutual Powers,'" Phil added. "They're pushing for the Canadian and American governments to legalize Heroin."

"Well that's no concern of ours," Jack said. "We have enough problems with off-world drugs, we don't need to worry about local drugs. So this festival is big, huh?"

"Yeah," Rhino said. "And it's huge. The Toronto show's been sold out for months. 25,000 tickets."

"Great." Jack shook his head. "With that many people present, we have almost no way of finding out who's buying the manure."

"Not quite," Rhino said. "We could go undercover."

"Undercover how?" Jack asked. "You said this was a tour. We don't know anyone working it that could get us in."

"There is another way," Rhino replied.

"I like the way your sparkling earrings lay," Jack sang, "against your skin so brown."

"Uh, Jack," Roger said. "I don't think 'Peaceful, Easy Feeling' is what the kids these days are into."

"Why not?" Jack asked. "The Eagles are one of the best bands ever!"

"Twenty years ago, yeah," Shimo said.

"Thirty," Carla corrected.

"No, Shimo's right," Phil said, elbowing Carla in the ribs. "Twenty years ago."

"Ow," Carla hissed. "That hurt."

"You can have another one," Phil offered. Carla slinked away.

"Ok, Mr. Smartie-pants," Jack said, stepping away from the mic. "If you can do better why don't you?"

"I will," Rhino said, walking up to the mic. He lightly strummed his guitar to make sure it was in tune, and then began singing.

"Fighting soldiers from the sky," he began, but that was as far as he got before someone pulled the microphone plug out of the sound system. "Ok," he said, "I can take a hint. What about the Isley Brothers? No? How about James Brown? The Temptations?"

"I'm sorry Rhino," Carla said. "None of us have the rhythm for Motown."

"I know," Rhino said. "That's the bad thing about having grown up in Detroit; I'm a white man with rhythm. A freak."

"What about something by that new band, Hootie and the Blowfish?" Shimo offered.

"Here's an idea," Jack said. "We're all reasonably intelligent. Why don't we come up with a few songs of our own? How hard can it be?"

"Blue Snorkeler," the director called. A handful of shaggy, unshaven young men raised their hands. "Ok, you guys are on after the Black Woozles. Now, where are the Fully-Clothed House Fraus?"

Roger, Phil, Rhino, Shimo, Jack, and Carla all raised their hands.

"Ok, you guys are on after Blue Snorkeler, just before Dharma."

"Dharma?" Carla whispered excitedly.

"We're opening for Dharma!" Rhino echoed back to her.

They both bunched their shoulders up and giggled like schoolgirls.

"Who's Dharma?" Jack asked.

"Dharma is the biggest band to ever come out of Seattle," Rhino said. "Their singer, Kurt... er... I mean, Heroin Man, is the greatest singer since Jim Morrison."

"I never heard of him," Shimo said.

"So this Kurt, he's really that good?" Jack asked.

"Ssh!" Carla snapped. "You don't say his real name. He thinks it's bad luck. Call him Heroin Man."

"Ok, that's it," Jack said. "Everyone spread out. See if you can find out who's buying the Jelvan ca ca and what they're doing with it."

"We only have forty minutes," Phil pointed out.

"True," Jack said. "Hopefully we'll find out who it is before we're on. Otherwise, while the rest of us fake our way through a set, I want you, Phil, to keep looking around."

"Thank God," Phil said. "I wasn't looking forward to having things thrown at us on stage."

"We're not that bad," Rhino said.

"Yeah right," Phil replied, standing up.

"No really," Rhino protested. He jumped up and followed her. "Come on. We're not that bad. Say it. Say we're not that bad."

"You're not that bad," Phil said, disappearing around the corner.

"I'm not playing with you," Rhino said, disappearing after her. "Say it and mean it!"

Carla and Jack crept down the corridor behind the changing tents, looking for anything suspicious.

"Hey man," a voice behind a curtain said. "That's some pure shit. Where'd you get it?"

"Man," a voice replied. "I couldn't tell you, but this cat was out of this world."

Carla and Jack exchanged glances, then burst into the tent. Sitting next to a table were two young men in Dharma T-shirts. On the table in front of them was a large pile of white powder.

"Oh," Carla said. "It's just cocaine."

"Sorry," Jack added with a wave.

The two youths exchanged confused looks as Carla and Jack backed out of the tent.

"We've been through here already," Roger said.

"Are you sure?" Shimo asked.

"Yes," Roger said. "I have a very acute sense of smell. We've walked through the same marijuana cloud twice already."

"That explains why I have a sudden craving for Funyuns," Shimo replied.

"Wait," Roger said, holding his arm out to stop Shimo. "I smell something else now."

"Really? What?"

"I don't know," Roger said. "It's foul whatever it is. It's coming from over here."

Roger led Shimo down the hallway to a small blue door. On the door was a hand-written sign that said, "UTILITY ROOM. DEFINITELY NOT HEROIN MAN'S CHANGING ROOM, SO GO AWAY. WE MEAN IT."

"Now what would smell so bad in a utility room?" Roger asked.

Shimo reached over and turned the knob. It wasn't locked. Slowly, he opened the door, but was startled by a brown blur before he'd got it halfway open. The blur raced through the door and plowed into Roger, and he and the blur flew across the hallway, colliding with the far wall. Shimo turned to look and saw a large, bug-eyed monkey sitting on Roger's chest.

"That's it!" Roger yelled. "That's the smell!"

"Oh dammit," Someone inside the room said. Shimo turned around and saw a thin, gaunt man in a red shirt and torn jeans. Around his neck hung a spoon on a chain. "You let the Crack Monkey out," he said.

"Sorry," Shimo offered.

"You're Kur... er... Heroin Man," Roger stammered.

"In the flesh," Heroin Man said. "What there is of it."

"I'm pleased to meet you," Roger said.

"Most people are," Heroin Man said. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get my bunsen burner going so I can get ready for the show.

He tugged on the cape that was tied around the Crack Monkey's neck and let him back into the room. When the door shut, Roger and Shimo heard the distinct click of the handle being locked.

"Well," Rhino said, as he followed Phil back up the stairs from the lower levels of the stage. "That was forty minutes wasted."

"I hope the others found something," Phil said.

They walked down the short hallway that led behind the stage, and then walked out into the field behind it. Behind the stage was a series of tents, housing generators, equipment, and other things. Rhino and Phil had already walked through the area, but, then again, they'd already covered the rest of their area twice. This time through the tents, however, they noticed a white tent toward the back that handn't been there before. On its side was a small maroon crest.

"That's new," Rhino said.

"Yeah," Phil agreed. "And unless the Slax have gone into the musical equipment business, I'd say we found our tent."

"Full-Clothed House Fraus!" someone called from behind the stage. "House Fraus, you got two minutes."

"Damn," Rhino said. "Wait for us."

"I will," Phil said.

"No," Rhino said, "I mean it. Wait for us."

"I will," repeated Phil.

"Phil, I mean it."

"I'll wait."

"Phil."

"I promise."

"Phil."

"Last call for the House Fraus!"

"Dammit," Rhino said. "I know I'm going to regret leaving you alone."

"Ladies and gentlemen," the announcer yelled. "Presenting a new addition, just for this show only, it's Toronto's own Fully-Clothed House Fraus!"

The crowd cheered their excitement as they ran out onto the stage. With the exception of Jack, who was dressed in black spandex pants and a baggy tank-top, the group was clothed entirely in popular fashion. Shimo stood in the middle of a large rack of keyboards while Roger sat down behind the drums. Rhino picked up a guitar, Jack a bass, and Carla a tambourine. The crowd roared as they launched into their first song.

"And what did you call this stuff again?" the man in the tent asked.

Phil shifted her weight slightly, trying to get her ear closer to the tent. She was perched precariously on top of a stack of boxes, but completely invisible from the ground.

"It's Jelvan," came a reply. "100% pure."

"That's good," the man said. "Real good. Can we blot it?"

"Mate, you can do whatever you bloody well like with it."

"Excellent."

"Dammit," Phil said to herself. "They better get back here quick."

"I did it all for the GC, yeah!" Rhino yelled. "The GC, yeah! The GC, yeah! So you can take that Gobliak and stick it up your..."

"Yeah!" Roger yelled.

"Stick it up your..."

"Yeah!"

"Stick it up your..."

"Yeah!"

"Oh yeah," the man in the tent said. "It blots real nice."

"Whatever mate," the Slax said.

"Hey Dean, stick these in front of the fan. Let's get them dried off quick."

"So what exactly does this stuff do?" a third voice, human, asked.

"It, er," the Slax said. "It'll get you really shit-faced."

"Excellent," the two men said in unison.

"A decade ago," Rhino sang. "I never thought I would be thirty-three on the verge of planetary invasion whoa is me..."

"The second batch is almost ready," the man said. "Dean, let's get this stuff ready. I want to get it out to the crowd."

"Right mate," The Slax replied. "I think that's all for me. I'm dandy, and I'll be seeing you."

"This is getting out of hand," Phil said to herself. "If I wait for the others we lose the Slax."

She pulled her gun out and jumped off the boxes, landing lightly in front of the tent flap. Before anyone heard a sound, she was through the flap, her weapon pointed at the Slax.

"Well, well, well," the Slax said. "What 'ave we got here?"

"Galactic Customs," Phil snapped. "You're under arrest for illegal trading on a developing world."

The two humans, terrified out of their wits, each grabbed a bag of small, brown papers and crawled out of the tent on their bellies.

"I don't think so," the Slax said.

Phil looked to her left and noticed, for the first time, the other Slax sitting on a stool next to the door. He was holding a blast cannon. To her left, she heard another blast cannon charge up.

"Damn," she said. "Rhino will kill me if I beat the crap out of you without him."

Roger was beating a fantastic, almost techno-rhythm on the drums. Far faster than a human could play, possibly because of the extra two arms he had grown just for the occasion. Fortunately, nobody noticed. Rhino was singing out a rapid-fire rap to the rhythm.

"They're the crabs, they're back, and they're standing on the rooftop shoutin' out, 'The Crustacean is ready to go'. He's not a crab, he's ready to go."

Shimo, getting caught up in the vibe, stepped out from behind the keyboard and ran toward the crowd. He launched himself out into space above their heads, arms spread out. The crowd, seeing him coming, parted, and Shimo crashed to the ground in a heap. The crowd, not missing a beat, closed in above him.

"Ah damn," Rhino said to himself. "There goes another Shimo. And we really need a keyboardist for this song."

"It's the brown blotters," the voice whispered, hoping to avert a disaster. It was terribly hard for disembodied, all-knowing spirits to communicate with physical beings, but this one was an exception. For some reason, the spirits of the Universe were clearly understood in his head.

"Ook?" the Crack Monkey responded, to the voice in his head.

"The blotters," the voice repeated. "You must get them to stop distributing the brown blotters. They're poison."

"Ook ook!" the Crack Monkey said.

"No no," the voice said. "Not 'ook.' The brown blotters."

"Ook! EE ah! Ah! Ah!" the Crack Monkey screamed.

"Will you settle down!" The voice reprimanded.

"EEk Ooh! Ahk! Ahk! Ahk!" The Crack Monkey yelled. He reached over and picked up the coffee table and held it over his head.

"Put that down!" The voice yelled. The Crack Monkey threw the table and started jumping up and down, tearing large holes in the upholstery of the couch each time he came back down.

"Stop that!" The voice said. The Crack Monkey started flinging dung in random directions.

"Oh for crying out loud," the voice muttered to itself. "I haven't had this problem with a physical being since I tried to communicate with Shirley McClain."

"Hey!" Heroin man yelled. "Quit it, Monkey. You're harshing my buzz."

"Quick, off the stage!" Jack yelled.

Their set finished, the five GC agents ran off the stage. The audience behind them was going nuts, calling for an encore.

"This way," Rhino said.

He lead them out into the field and through the tents to the Slax' tent. When they got there, however, the tent was all but destroyed. Phil was busy hog-tying the Slax with electrical cable. There were two other Slax lying among the ruins of the tent, neither was moving.

"You started without me," Rhino pouted.

"The blotters!" Phil called.

"What?"

"The blotters," Phil repeated. "The humans who bought the Jelvan shit thought it was some kind of drug. They're selling it in paper blotters."

"So they're selling some bad shit," Carla chuckled. Nobody laughed.

"That's bad," Jack said.

"Why?" Carla asked.

"Jelvan feces contains small-chain peptides that are compatible with human anatomy," Roger offered.

"Which means what?" Carla said.

"Endorphins," Jack told her.

"Ok," she said, "so it's some good shit."

"Too good," Rhino added. "Jelvan peptides are a thousand times stronger than human peptides. Those blotters are a million times more potent than morphine. If the audience starts taking them, they'll go nuts."

"It'll be chaos," Jack said.

"So how do we stop it?" Carla asked.

"Ah, Ladies and gentlemen," Rhino said into the microphone as he hopped onto the stage. The crews were still busy setting up Dharma's gear, so he had the stage pretty much to himself. "Listen," he said, "the brown blotters are bad. Don't take the brown blotters."

The audience erupted into a mixture of laughter and booing. After a moment, however, a new sound appeared, it was screaming. It spread. Soon the audience was stampeding toward the stage in hysterics. Several members were flailing their arms around aimlessly, smashing whatever they came in contact with.

Rhino looked off stage to the others for help, but found himself looking, instead, at Heroin Man, who was calmly taking the stage. Heroin Man took the microphone from him and set it back in the post. Then he picked up his guitar and a stool and sat them in front of the microphone. Finally, he sat down and started to play.

"Load up on drugs, fling your friends," he sang. "It's fun to douche with cinnamon."

The audience got instantly quiet. Every eye in the place was focused on the stage. People were frozen it various acts of vandalism and violence, their attention snared by his singing.

"She's got big sores and metaphors, oh no I kissed a dirty whore."

"Cheetos, Cheetos, Cheetos, Cheetos," the audience sang in unison. "Cheetos, Cheetos, Cheetos, Cheetos."

"That's amazing," Jack said.

"Yeah," Roger agreed. "I never knew a human could comprehend the difficulty of being a shape shifter and trying to maintain your individuality."

"It's like he's singing about my life," Carla sighed.

"Beh," Phil said. "He's all right."

Several hours later, while the rest of the crew were loading the Jelvan waste in sealed containers, Jack sat down at his desk with a manila folder. Inside was a report from the League of Heroes office in Seattle.

"Heroin Man can cause emotional responses in large numbers of people, making them feel that he truly understands their inner angst," Jack read. "He can also can apport correct bus fair in the currency of any city he happens to be in. He is side-kicked by a drug-addled simian known as 'Crack Monkey,' powers unknown."

"Well," Jack remarked to nobody in particular. "At least he's using his powers to make lots of money rather than for evil."

As he closed the report, he noticed another piece of paper on his desk. He chuckled to himself, then tossed it in the trash. It was a recording contract made out to the Fully-Clothed House Fraus.

"Sir?" the man in the suit said. "Sir, please, it's about your monkey."

"Yeah?" Heroin Man asked. He knew he was in a hotel, but in what city he didn't know. He also didn't know how long he had until his next show, but that's what stage managers were for.

"Sir," the man said again. "There's been a problem with your monkey."

"What?" Heroin Man said, suddenly waking up. "What's wrong? Is he all right?"

"He's fine sir. But, he's ripped all the wall paper off the walls of his room and thrown it out his window and into the pool. And when last I checked, he was attempting to mate with the mini-bar."

"Ah, well then," Heroin man replied, putting his sunglasses back on and laying down again. "That mean's he's calming down. Have a case of Marshmallow Peeps sent up to the room."

"Yes sir."