It was hours too late into an already late night at the office when I heard the knocking. I gulped down the last of my drink, and opened the door. A tall, attractive woman stood in the hallway. It didn’t take long to find out what I was up against.
“I guess I can see why they call you ‘Shorty,'” she said.
She was apparently not hindered by diplomacy, and it was obvious that she had trouble written all over her. In other words, my usual sort of client.
“Now I may not be the tallest you’ve seen, honey. And granted, I might be a bit rough around the edges. But trust me — I can pack a wallop where it counts.” Once again I cursed the fates for making me so compact. But duty called, and my usual sorry financial state dictated that I should answer. I asked her who she was, and what I could do for her.
“I’m Addie — Addie Astra. And I seem to have a missing mass problem.” I told her that what she did with her Sunday mornings was her business — but the joke went right past her. This Addie, she’s a cool one, all right — or maybe just not the brightest star in the sky. Or maybe she just wanted me to think that.
Well, it took some prodding, but I was finally able to get some actual details from her. It was a tough problem all right, all sorts of folks had been hard at work on it for quite a while. Evidence was pooling up, there was a whole list of potential suspects, but even the brightest minds were being left in the dark. I told her I couldn’t promise anything, but would ask around to see what I could turn up.
Addie headed out the door, and with my head now swimming, I thought it would be wise of me to get moving too. It was a clear, cool night — maybe some starlight could help clear my mind. Besides, it had been a while since I visited some of my favorite haunts. There was plenty of anything I needed out there — if I couldn’t find the answers to Addie’s questions, at least something else of interest might turn up.
I headed out the back door of my building and down the alley. Something small and fast scurried across my path — it looked like a cockroach, but was faster than any I’d ever seen. Must be one of those weird Russian mutant space cockroaches my buddy “homeboy” told me about. So it hadn’t been just a bad batch of liquor talking, after all! An odd sort of progress, when you think of it…
The little varmint startled me so, I nearly tripped over a hole in the street. Of course, it was a black hole at that, if not wormy — tough to see in advance, even if you’re lucky enough to spot a flicker from one. It’s not like you’re looking at the moon, or something. Water spinning in the pothole reminded me of a galaxy — obviously, this one didn’t care what sort of neighborhood it lived in.
I straightened myself out, and kept walking.
Further down the block, a poster on a telephone pole was advertising for a punk band called The Asteroids. Pretty impressive, from what I’ve heard — especially for a bunch of High School kids. Still, some folks just have to make a big stink about things like that. Playing up the risks and all, well past the point of reason. Not that you should turn your back on them — if nothing else, they could come in handy down the road. But then again, maybe not.
Turning out onto the street, I stumbled across my old buddy Chris. He’s a good guy, even though he’s off in his own little universe sometimes. This time, Chris was in a chatty mood about the International Space Station, and about whether or not the UK would contribute modules to it. I had to agree with him, it sounded a lot like wishful thinking, and then he was on his way. Of course, these days just getting to orbit seems to be harder than it used to be. Pick the wrong technology, and you could wind up in the Selenian Boondocks.
As I walked past the newsstand, the headlines caught my attention — it said “Strange Sights in Stephenville.” I had to laugh when I read a bit further. Some huge thing supposedly flies over this ranching town of 17,000 people, but only about 30 of them see it. Were the rest blind, or were the 30 just over-enthusiastic? Maybe the 30 really saw a Sundog, or maybe they’ve just been drinking some of “homeboy”‘s hooch…
The travel agent had some new Virgin Galactic posters up in the window. A pair of wild looking birds could take you to space for a reasonable price. Sounds like quite a ride to me, but I think I’ll wait ’till they get their safety issues worked out before they get my coin. Pictures from Mars and the moon were up in the window, too — but just for color, I’m sure not getting there any time soon. Still, something about planets just resonates with me. Maybe I should pick up an atlas or something, just to study it some. If nothing else, a bit of travel might just help me beat the odds.
Finally I made it to my new favorite place, the Mercury Cafe. The joint was hopping for a while some years back, but has basically been dead for years. Recently, some highbrow MESSENGER came through town, and all of a sudden the place is lively again — it’s a side of the place that we just hadn’t seen before, even up close. I’ve heard that now some Europeans even want in on the action. Not that it’s any of my business, but the more the merrier, if you ask me…
I settled in to my usual booth, and ordered a cup of joe and a piece of chocolate lava cake, no icing (what can I say, it’s a bit dicey). I chatted a bit with my pal Caloris over in the next booth — we’ve worked together from time to time, and let me tell you — she knows this joint inside and out.
But enough socializing. I finished off my cake and coffee, tossed a bill onto the table, and headed back out on to the street. I still had work to do for Addie, and after all — I am a creature of the night…
Thanks for tuning in to the “SOS Playhouse” production of “The Adventures of Shorty Barlow, Private Eye.” Please give a big hand to this week’s Carnival of Space Players (in alphabetical order):