The wind blows hot on Gilese Five EightyahhhhhI
So of course we're driving with the windows down,
on our way to the massive scrap-pile of a city in
the distance, on a road that winds up the side of a wide canyon. The canyon is
full of junk and scrap, the wind is full of sand and dirt, and there's a woman
in the back seat who's practically vibrating.
"So," I say without turning around,
"Why were you the only one waiting for us back there? Wouldn't they have
sent out a military escort or something?"
The woman puts away her walkie-talkie.
"Before I informed my friends of your coming, I was the only one who knew
you were here. I'm the only one who watches the skies for the return of the
Barracudas. Nobody else believed they would come back. I'm sorry, I shouldn't
be talking in here. This is a holy relic of my people."
"What did you say your name was again?"
"And this thing is a holy relic? It's only
70 years old."
"I don't know," says Ramon, "If
you make it and then it runs away from your planet and becomes enshrouded in
legend and myth, you can make something holy in a few years. That's what
happened to Le Baron, right? Hell, maybe it will happen to us."
"We're more likely to become historical
demons," I say. "The student loan company controls the news
"But they don't control rumor!" says
"Rumor can go either way."
"The Barracudas are holy relics of my
people," says Klunk, "because we poured our hearts and souls into
their reconstruction. We gave them life. We gave them power. They belong to
"Hey, now hold on a second," says
Ramon, "the car belongs to me. I bought it. With money."
"Yeah," I said, "a whole two
"Two dollars?" says Aristede.
"This thing is worth five billion Galactos! How did you manage to pay for
it with an outdated earthling currency?"
Ramon smiles. "I had enough luck to get the
car. I've had enough luck to survive this long. Oh, and Robin helped a
"A bit? I saved you from a falling pile of
rocks, bailed you out when the Barracuda needed repairs, got in your way when
you wanted to fight that guy with the red sunglasses at Kepler's Burger Bar,
navigated for you..."
"All in a car that doesn't belong to
you," says Klunk.
Ramon turns to the backseat. "I paid for it!
What, do I have to engage in some kind of robot fight to the death to prove
that this car is mine? Am I going to find myself sitting in the center of some arena while a bunch of mechanics give me the thumbs down? How do I convince you
that this car belongs to me?"
"You could start by keeping your eyes on the
road," says Klunk.
Ramon turned back to the road just in time to
avoid hitting a Willys Jeep that had been heading towards us. The Jeep
passed in a roar, but as I could see in the side mirror, it spun around and
began to follow -- not to overtake, but it kept pace behind us.
"That thing is from earth's Second World
War," said Ramon, "right? I thought they didn't exist anymore."
"Neither does this car," I said. "But
look where we're sitting."
"My people specialize in finding and
restoring the famous cars of old," said Klunk. "Look there." She
pointed out the left side window, where a Dodge Charger was coming up beside
us. "There aren't many of those left. And look there." She pointed
out the right side window, towards a Volkwagen Beetle. "Mexico was the
last place to get one of those, save for here."
"It occurs to me that we are being boxed
in," says Ramon.
"Escorted," says Klunk. "Safely.
They wouldn't want to damage the car, after all. This is an honor guard."
"I feel so honored," says Ramon.
"For the car. The driver, well, I guess
you're important. But I'm more important because I know how to fix this
"But I'm important because I know how to
drive this thing," says Ramon. "And you know what? Maybe I don't feel
like proving myself to a bunch of jerks who don't recognize a valid financial
transaction. Buckle your seatbelt."
I keep my seatbelt buckled when I'm driving with
Ramon because there's always the possibility he's going to need to make a quick
getaway. Klunk has her seatbelt buckled because, as she told me, that's
treating a car with respect. Ramon has his seatbelt buckled because he told me
he saw a guy get a steering column driven through his chest once. Aristede does
NOT have his seatbelt buckled because, oh I don't know, maybe spoiled rich
people don't care about their lives? In any case, when Ramon hits the gas he
hasn't given Aristede any time to buckle his seatbelt, and that becomes a
problem as the ride gets bumpy. It isn't exactly a smooth road. It doesn't help
when Ramon has to swerve to avoid the VW bug that's now trying to cut us off.
Nor does it help matters when serving to the left means that we fall off the
side of the narrow road back into the canyon.
Ramon flips the big lever above his head and the
afterburners kick into gear, so we glide down the side of the canyon instead of
tumbling into pieces. But burning in atmo, to any degree, is not good for the
engine and I wonder if we're going to burn out before getting back up to the
road and tumble into the side of a junk pile anyway. Then again, I've known
Ramon for long enough, and instead of trying to struggle his way back up he
turns the car left and down, coasting us to the bottom of the canyon. When we
hit the bottom he flips another lever and the rear engine opens up, shooting us
forward. He slaloms us between junk piles as Aristede, only now managing to
crawl back into his seat, is tossed this way and that. It's as much of a
problem for Klunk as for him, because Klunk is smaller and shorter than he is.
I grab Aristede by the collar and drag him to the front so he can sit on my
We meet the other side of the canyon and Ramon
drives us straight up it, all the way up the side, and past the edge, and we're
rocketing into the sky. We rise high and higher as Ramon tilts us back and
back, until we're flying upside down, and then suddenly we're heading straight
down towards the same road we left. I fully expect to crash nose-first, but Ramon
lands us gently in the midst of the stopped escort.
The car settles back onto its wheels.
The hood pops up and the car makes an unhappy
noise. I can smell burned plastic.
The drivers of the escort exit their vehicles and
not a single one of them looks happy.
Ramon rolls up the windows and locks the doors. I
roll up my sleeves. I don't enjoy having to play Hired Muscle for Ramon, but
I'll do it if it gets us out alive.
"The good news," says Klunk,
"Is that you clearly know how to drive this car. The bad news is
that you did a full burn in atmo and you're being escorted by people who ALSO
consider this vehicle a holy relic."
Ramon looks sheepish. "Can you put the good
word in for me then?"
Klunk unbuckles her seatbelt. "Why would I
want to? I still don't think you're necessary to drive this vehicle. You did a
fancy trick, but at great cost. Any one of the people who are currently
standing outside the car with angry looks on their faces would be a more
Aristede climbs into the backseat and removes the
cushion. "Maybe careful isn't what we need," he says. "I mean,
your people souped this baby up, right? You sound like you know more about it
than I do. What's the point of having this thing if we're not going to use it
to its full potential?"
"Don't touch those buttons," says
"I'm familiar with their function,"
said Aristede. He hit a blue button close to Klunk. I hear a *splut* and the
engine makes a happy noise. The hood falls back down. "Alright, maybe I'm
familiar with most of them."
"I said don't touch!" says Klunk.
"The car is too precious to be used roughly! It's too precious to be used
at all! I don't understand how you clowns got it but -- "
"I didn't ask myself," says Aristede.
"But I'll tell you how I found mine. I was in a junkyard, and I was looking at
the two-dollar pile -- "
"What do you mean, yours?" says Klunk.
"Is this a junkyard on Rigel 5 near the Gold
Cliff Mountain?" I say. "That's where this one is from."
"No, it's the one on Betelgeuse Beta at the
mouth of the mercury river. As i was saying, I'm looking at the two-dollar pile
and I pull something and everything falls away to reveal the car. So I buy it
for two bucks. Best deal I ever made."
Ramon and I exchange glances.
Klunk rolls down the window. "Back to the
cars," she says to the crowd of angry men. "I want to question these
guys in a safer location at Washerville."
The angry men return to their vehicles. Ramon
starts the car and we turn again towards the massive pile of junk in the