Chapter 62

"Relativity," we're told by the techno-poets of Grappis-V, "is a pain in the poop chute." It should be further noted that the techno-poets of Grappis-V are still rather annoyed about the several hundred generations of rejection letters they have accumulated through the millenniums, but this thought at least, strikes a near universal chord.

At least with those species who have experienced relativity and possess poop-chutes.

Part of the problem is that speed is very difficult to calculate because absolutely nothing in the known universe wants to stand still. So people tend to mark speed in terms of light, which works exceptionally well, unless you happen to be exceeding it yourself. The down side became that people generally gave up trying to calculate speeds for things.

With the noted exception of various law enforcement agencies who are generally backwards about that sort of thing, particularly when there's a potential revenue source available.

The entire speed question is further compounded by the fact that the vast majority of species plying their way through the stars spent far more of their evolutionary span generally not plowing their way through the stars. Instead they had nice comfortable notions to work with like the ground rushing by beneath them, the wind blowing through their hair, and the steady hot breath of the pursuing predator to assist them in knowing that they are going "fast enough". Space has very few of those things.

One of the early space-faring species attempted to resolve that problem by providing automated systems to replicate those sensations to allow the passengers to realize that they were in fact moving. Things went perfectly right up until their first faster than light attempt. Their memoriam was stirring, mostly because everyone thought that would be the best way for the families to view the remains, what little there were.

Making matters somewhat worse is the fact that in order to not fall into the gravity well of a particularly large body they don't wish to get any nearer, they must go at a pretty good clip to continually manage to avoid an unwanted landing. Even faster if one happens to be closer to the body than one would normally feel comfortable.

Now, add in the fact that even that body is moving at a rather frightful clip to avoid an unwanted encounter with the even larger glowy thing reasonably close by, and that larger glowy thing is itself hurtling along to keep from falling into the unsizable (but presumed to be quite large) black hole in the center of the galaxy, and that galaxy is zipping right along... well... suffice to say that things are going much faster than they appear to be.

So seeing a random bit of slowly tumbling twisted metal drift by fails to give one the sense of speed it acquired from the explosion. Likewise, seeing the trail of dissipating plasma disappearing into the distant Jovian atmosphere will never give someone orbiting above a true sense of the horrific speeds required.

It does, however, make for a very pretty glow as the breached fusion cores ignite several of the more volatile gases in the upper atmosphere.

And in proper response to years of carefully crafted evolution, Bob went "Ooooh."

I'm not so sure Lenny, I mean sure the car was trying to kill him and all, but I still don't think that's who it was supposed to be.
Not who it was supposed to be? Tony, they said it was her right from the start! Who else could it have been?
A squirrel.
A.. the movie was "Christine", the car was haunted. It rebuilt itself, remember?
It could have been a mechanic squirrel. They can be really smart you know.
Tony? You're an idiot. Is this where we're supposed to hear from him?
Uh, yeah. I think that's the truck we're supposed to get in. That looks like Bob's truck.
Yeah, except it's got more stuff on the back. Besides I thought you said you'd never work for Bob again.
No, I said we'd never work for Bob again after your little present.
Look, how would I know that 10w40 gives Margie gas? Maybe Bob forgave us.
You really thing the "mrs." would let either of us anywhere near her carpeting again?
So maybe this isn't his truck. Let's just get in and find out what the plan is.
Ah, good evening gentlemen.
Hey Lenny, that's not Bob.
Very astute, Anthony. You may address me as Professor M. I am your new employer.
Weren't you on those James Bond movies?
I thought that was Q.
No, he was the gadget guy. M was the guy in charge.
So why was Bond 007?
I think because they ran out of letters and didn't want to call him AG.
He'd be big in the farm belt, though.
Ooh, hadn't thought of that.
Hard to look cool escaping the bad guys in a gadget loaded John Deer Tractor, though.
IF I may have your attention...
Oh, yeah, sorry Professor.
I will be requiring your assistance regarding a number of tasks. You will be well paid as you have undoubtedly noticed the advance I've provided you.
You betcha, but this isn't about snuffin' anyone. Tony and I don't do that sort of thing.
Just the clean stuff like heists, kidnappings, arson, bombings, and stuff.
Yeah, and we don't do windows.
Nope, only FreeBSD.
and Mac, but the new one, not the older one.
Macs? What are you a fancy guy now?
No, I just find the UI to be more appealing and the system better rounded.
GENTLEMEN, I assure you that your initial tasks will be quite above board. You will simply be my arms and legs for a period, performing tasks as I require. Things like gathering purchases and performing some modifications to this vehicle.
Do you know anything about fixing cars Lenny?
Uhm, sure Tony, I know lots about fixing up cars. Remember how good the getaway car sounded on the Toledo post office job?
Before or after it blew up?
That was not my fault. The shouldn't have put all those batteries in the gas tank.
I thought we were supposed to be driving an electric mail truck so's we can blend in better.
Ix-nay, IX-nay.
I assure you that I will be carefully monitoring your process and will not accord any such "mishap". Do I have your agreement?
Yeah, sure thing Professor.
Very well. I will contact you later in the week. Good day, gentlemen.
Sure thing. Good day Professor.



Hey, Lenny, wasn't that a little, weird?
How so, Tony?
We never saw the Professor. We just sat in his truck and listened to his radio.
Eh, them sorts is like that. They've all got their particular quirks, I tell ya Tony, you get farther not asking about stuff like that. Just pretend it's how you always do business.
Yeah, ok. You ever hear of this "Professor M" guy before?
Nope. Never, but I like the color of his money.
Me neither, and too. I wonder if he's related?
To who? Bob?
Who? Ya know, I never thought about that. No I was wonderin' if he was related to that guy who was on TV. The one trying to get off the island by building stuff out of coconuts.
Could be, Tony. It'd explain the radio thing.

"Is... was that supposed to happen?" Bob asked, lightly tapping the window with the back of a knuckle as the two watched the trail of plasma slowly diffuse.

"No..", Plaskowitz said said slowly as he contemplated the flaming wreckage of their executioners, "no I'm pretty sure that wasn't supposed to happen. It looks like the ship may have been hit by something."

Bob nodded,but wasn't really agreeing. "Shouldn't they have noticed that, or had shielding or something?"

"Yeah, it's weird. I didn't see anything incoming on the proximity scanners, so I'm guessing they didn't either. Whatever it was, I'd say it must have hit the rear exhaust port. Not a lot of shielding there since that thing wasn't really built for running away. And considering everything, I'm guessing it was a textbook example of something moving at high relativistic speed."

"Oh really," Bob asked, "why's that?"

"Pain in the poop chute."

Bob paused several beats trying to understand what he thought he heard. "Beg pardon?"


They sat in silence and watched the atmospheric burn mark rotate into the planet's night.

"You know," Plaskowitz commented, " I don't know what you've don in your life, but someone is clearly smiling down on you."

Krullux stared at the monitor for a few seconds before slowly turning off the tracking monitor and glaring at the dark display. "Frak".

The second "Frak" came with slightly more emotion as he realized that several weeks worth of careful monitoring had just exploded over the fifth and biggest planet in the system, and what would have been a perfect hook shot to land a DayBreaker missile on that fetid ball of humiliation called "Earth"

Each continued utterance brought out even more anger.

"Frak!" He had only one missile.

"FRAK!" The fraking thing wasn't even fully armed yet

"FRAK!" He'd have to go to that miserable rock himself if he wanted to get his revenge.

"FRAK!" He'd missed breakfast for this.

Krullux slammed open the door and stormed out into the main quad. Several generations of dictators and demi-gods got a first hand account of exactly the sort of displeasure Krullux was feeling intermingled with mutterings regarding how this really wasn't turning out to be his year.

Chris knew better than to doubt the universal potential for things to go horribly wrong, particularly when prompted by those not yet certain that things could. He learned a long time ago not to give fate any unwarranted invitations.


Of course, that didn't mean that the universe didn't drop by anyway.

"Oh, Hi Dad. Sorry we couldn't make lunch today. Something came up. I think there's plenty of time before your flight..."

"Christopher... Chris... you're him aren't you?"

"Huh? Yeah, Dad, I'm Chris, JB is the taller, geekier one."

Jack didn't smile. Instead he continued to stare at his offspring. "You know who I mean. You're the Grayhound, aren't you?"

Chris blanched. It's good to note that Chris had no idea what blanching really was, but he managed to do it anyway, despite every effort he had not to do anything of the sort.

"If you plan on lying to me and trying to deny it, you can skip talking at all."

"Can I at least ask how you know?"

"You haven't really tried to hide it very well. Except maybe this past week. Tell me, was that all a lie as well?"

Chris slumped, "Some, sort of. The studio is half of a lie. Sandy is a photographer and she's interested in setting up shop in Boise. We just moved things up a little. JB and Becky Sue are going out and are a pretty big item. We don't have a muni stop right out our back window, that's a 15 foot robotic dog that's owned by our arch, and also missing, enemy. Oh, and Zrng is an alien."

"Yeah, I thought so." Jack commented, unphased by the news. "I'm guessing he's also unregistered, right?"

"Uh -- yeah."

"Figures. You know that they're stealing jobs, right?"

"He's... unemployed. He's a student."

"Oh, yeah, I'm sure he is. Look, I won't call the INS on him like I probably should, but be careful."

"Yeah, sure, uh, no problem. Yeah, I'll make sure he gets a proper visa and.." Chris hoped that was the major concern and headed for the door. "Lemme see if Ma needs.."

"We're not finished here." Jack said calmly and froze Chris into place."You know how I feel about those spandex wearing fruitcakes, don't you." It wasn't a question.

"Yes, yes I do."

"And now you're one of them."

"Actually, no. I wear a reasonably loose body armor, in fact, this is the shirt and pants here. I also wear a long coat."

Jack examined the garb. He balled up a fist and hit Chris hard in the chest.

"You're going to break your hand if you do that." Chris replied.

Jack shook his hand out. "So I see. What about handguns?"

"I won't say that it's fun, but it's supposed to be rated pretty high. Armor piercing anti-tank rounds are out so I try to avoid those."

"What about your head?"

"I duck a lot. Plus I've got a hat made out of the same stuff."

"What about your brother?"

"JB has.." Chris decided to be nice and vague. "different protection, but it's more than enough. Plus, I keep him out of the real nasty stuff."

Jack stared at his son, "Christopher. Why?"

"Not really my idea, Dad. It was due to a stupid joke and I'm stuck being the punchline. I won't say it's fun, or easy. Frankly I really don't like it, but it's a job I've got to do. I'm not interested in fame or glory so I avoid headlines and news stories. I'm on fairly good terms with the local police since I'm not interested in doing their job for them. I just handle the random nut-jobs that show up looking for a fight."

Jack raised an eyebrow. "Other than the ones that show up looking to take you on?"

"Nope, turns out that this town gets them every now and then regardless of if there's a local nutjob like me running around. Even before I showed up this place would get a stray weirdo from time to time. They'd duke it out with the locals before getting bored or distracted and moving on. It's actually gone down now that I've shown up, but I don't think it's anything I've done."

"Oh really?"

"Yeah, I think it's because of Bob. The guy who owns that big metal dog and the reason the city asked me to come up here. Funny thing though, he's a strange ranger bent on world domination, but he's probably also the sanest person around. I know I'm supposed to fight to bring him to justice, but considering that the town seems to be better off with him around, and that he's not yet figured out how to take over, I'm having a real hard time convincing myself to do that."

"So what were you two up to when you were making me and your mother wait around?"

"Out looking for Bob. He's missing."

"I see...", Jack said. "Any ideas where he went?"

"None. Fortunately, I don't think word's gotten out yet, it's been quiet."

Jack stared at his son for several uncomfortably long minutes. "You are not to make your mother cry." he stated firmly before turning toward the door himself. "Well, not before the wedding."

Chris thought about what JB had been telling him while they were out on patrol. "I don't know if JB's still going to be getting married."

Jack didn't bother turning around. "I meant your's."

Chris really wished the Universe called before it dropped in like this.

"Hi, You've reached Bob and Avey Malevolent. We're out conquering the world right now and can't take your call. Please leave your name, number and pitiful cry for leniency and we'll get back to you."

It's me, Bob.
Uh, look, I'm sorry I haven't called you in a while, Honey. I know you're an absolute wreck by now, but this really is the first time I've been able to get in touch. I'm OK, but I'm.. well.. out of town at the moment. I got called away on sort of an emergency. The good news is that everything looks like it's ok now and I'm on my way home, but it's going to take a few days to get there. The ship I'm on doesn't really have a number you can reach me on, but I'll try to call you again later.
Avey? You've got every right to be upset with me, but this really did come out of the blue. You can even ask him if you like. I promise I'll make it up to you after I get home. I really miss you, Honey.
I've got to cut this short, since the satellite is moving. Take care, and stop worrying.
I love you, and I'll see you in a bit.

Look, it's late. I'll try something pithy later.

Tune in next time for:

Paint on the Tailgate
Flat Bed Liner

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