March 11, 2019 at 6:28 pm #16302
[Evening, Friday February 4th, 2078; bar of the Paradise Hotel, Clovis, New Mexico, CAS]
Clovis, New Mexico, didn’t look all that different from San Angelo, Texas.
* Oleg: You’d think that driving for four hours would change more than this.
* Gamma: Similar distance is Edmonton to Fort McMurray, which isn’t all that different either.
* Oleg: For McMurray has more trees
The original plan had been to push through to Albuquerque and stop there for the evening, but by the time Preston had found the items on Ichante’s shopping list and sparred with Becky, and Al had gathered his shopping list together and operated on Preston’s Americar, the morning had been largely done. They’d still thought they’d push through and get there durin the night, but a cold front from Preston’s home had swept down along the mountains and was dropping snow, and Preston had called a stop.
And so they were sitting in the bar at the Paradise Hotel, drinking beer while they waited on food.
* Eliza: The waitress seemed a bit surprised that we were ordering food.
* Oleg: Letting Al choose the hotel might have been a mistake.
* Coleman: I chose the town to stop in, he gets to choose the hotel. Those are the unwritten rules.March 11, 2019 at 7:15 pm #16305
The spent Lucky Strike hissed as the tip met the wet bottom of the shot glass, but no one could hear it over the mutilation of Confederate Summer’s “Tell It to Them Straight” by the trio of musical nitwits on the stage in the corner. The fingers holding it looked like they were made of melted plastic, so complete was the burn scarring. The nails were still black from the work Al had done on Preston’s car that morning in on the asphalt outside his hotel room. The drone had arrived with the parts at around five. Al had been up since three, his copious drinking the night before only having bought him a couple hours of sleep. More than usual.
The work on Preston’s Americar had been done before anyone else was awake, and Al had taken his Gaz to Waco and back to grab a few things from his place there. There was nothing at the oil rig he wanted, but his Erdnase was at the place in Waco, and some things were worth a four-hour round-trip. Hell, he’d have driven four weeks for that book. Leaving with his prize and some spare skivvies, he’d taken a last look around and decided he didn’t want it to be a last look. Called Silky and asked her to buy the block for him on the Q-T. It was that or lose it all once they got to Vegas.
Back in San Angelo, he and Preston had decided that a smart car was no fun shackled to GridGuide, so Al said he’d take care of it the next day.
They’d hit the road after a big breakfast. Preston had brought his own coffee. Offered some to Al, who had tried to keep the grimace off of his face when he’d tried it. Congratulated himself on finishing the whole cup, then went back to the honest soykaf the saggy waitress kept graciously refilling.
And now here they were again, four hours older, and knowing a little more about each other. Al knew that Preston was a hopeless driver. What Preston knew about Al was anyone’s guess, but it was almost certainly something good. They’d decided to try some more driving on the way to Phoenix. Al wasn’t optimistic.
Their enchiladas arrived. The plates were made to look like Hopi craftsmanship, but Al figured they’d been churned out of a factory somewhere in the Carib League. The food was microwaved soyritos smothered in melted Cheez-it and some real chopped green onions and cilantro for a touch of class. Al liked good food, and this was about as much as a man could hope for. He was just tucking in when his Fairlight chirped. Croc. They guy had relocated to Mesa. He’d been surprised that Al had asked for a favor so soon, but had been equally happy to oblige. It gave him a chance to dive right into the scene in his new town.
Al just said, “Back inna tick.” Went outside and met the dwarf in the parking lot. The halfer had started in on a bunch of thank yous, but Al had shut him down with something along the lines of “When I want a reach-around I’ll ask for it,” but with a smile to let his old friend know he had appreciated the sentiment. Al had taken the package without further ado – it was a long drive for the dwarf back to his family. Stowed the package in the Gaz, and went back inside. Ordered a Dos Equis – just to get some local color – and asked the dusky native ork waitress to re-nuke his food. Raised his Zippo to light the cigarette that hadn’t been between his lips, and said to his travelling companion, “So, ya gon’ tell ol’ Al anytning about this theory yer chasin’ down?”March 12, 2019 at 10:35 pm #16352
* Gamma: Today reduced my driving confidence
* Eliza: Al is a good driver, but not much of a teacher
* Gamma: That I didn’t understand him could be on him, but it could be on me too. I haven’t had any formal driver training.
“Yah, the theory, look I’ll get to that in a bit. But I was thinking about the drive tomorrow. Today’s lesson …. well, I don’t think I have the same driving vocabulary that you do, to really understand what you were saying. So tomorrow, I was wondering if we could just my Americar on down the highway to Albuquerque, and I could ride with you and watch how you drive, maybe get you to talk about it a bit? Maybe get off the highway and weave through some of the side roads, where there is more variety in the driving. I can be quiet and observe, set some expectations from something other than the off-the-shelf dog brain in my car, learn what you call things.”
* Coleman: And try to match up the scenarios to what I can find on the matrix, so that later on I can translate what Al says into what anyone else would call it.
* Oleg: Do I really want to tell Al my theory? He doesn’t seem like the sort to approach life this way.
* Eliza: He is coming with me, I owe him some honesty.
“As for this theory, well, this might sound conceited, but I’ve had a few surprising women get involved with me. Beautiful, talented, smart women. To be honest I’ve never understood why, but I’m not quite dumb enough to have ever asked any of them ‘why the frag are you with a shmuck like me?’ Just in case they asked themself the same question, and then leave. It isn’t like I’m some stud who attracts women wherever he goes — definitely it isn’t like that! Just occasionally women have latched on to me, out of the blue. But don’t worry, I’m not going to Vegas to try and pick up chicks.”
“But thinking about that made me realize that a few other people have taken to me quickly in the same way, for no more obvious reason. Heck, I could still be slinging soycaff if …. never mind, ancient history. Point is, I realized it wasn’t just a women and romance thing, I had to broaden my question: why do most people ignore me most of the time, but a few get involved me with me very quickly? I’m neither repulsive nor especially unpleasant, but I’m sure not Becky either.”
“And that is basically my hypothesis; that I’m ordinary enough that people can project what they want onto me. When a lot of these things have happened, I’ve been wearing clothes of some particular type or another, formal dress or uniform or something, something that starts peoples mind thinking I must be some way or another. So I got Ichante to make me some unusual clothes with a certain vibe to them, I’m going to one of the busiest places with the biggest mix of people — but people who often there looking for one thing or another. So I predict that some people will think I’m something more or different than I really am. Or maybe they’ll all ignore me, and I’ll have disproved the theory.”
Preston paused to take a draw on his beer.
* Coleman: that is all that he really needs to know.
* Eliza: I owe him the whole truth.
“And one bit more — that Horizon’s style hunters are lazy, or at least biased toward home. That they say they scour the globe for coming trends, but I think a lot of their influences just come from watching Vegas. What Ichante did for me should be close enough to where they are going with their styles to get noticed. I want to see if any of the distinctive elements of her work get picked up on. This kind of ties into the ‘people project onto me what they want to see’ bit. Won’t really know if it works for a year or two, of course, and I don’t know if I’ll ever have use for the info if that part of my theory does pan out. But to me it sounds like good justification for spending a few days in Vegas, and to also delay by a few days dealing with some stuff back in Seattle.”March 13, 2019 at 9:30 am #16362
Al readily agreed to Preston’s suggestions for the next day’s drive, then savored his dinner as he listened to the decker’s theory.
The whole spiel initially sounded like a lot of hippie talk, but Al had seen how smart Preston was and listened carefully. It soon became apparent that he was delving into what Corporal Reiko Shitano – the legendary beauty from seasons 14-17 of Tales – had often described as social engineering. It was something that Al himself had had scant use for in his travels – he had always been a person that everyone naturally took to immediately, usually without even knowing it. But of course not everyone had his gifts, and for those that had to work on it, breaking it down to a science the way Reiko and Preston did was the smart play. Moreover, it was clear that Preston was looking to play at a very sophisticated level. Al didn’t follow all of the nuts and bolts, but he figured that if it was cars it would be right up there with drive-by-wire tech and ambient-sensor telemetry.
“Roger all o’ that, kemo sabe. So we hit the Strip, ya kit yerself out, an’ see which way the social winds blow. So is there anything ya need ol’ Al ta do in all o’ that? Reckon my own fashion choices – which can only be described as ‘timeless classic’ – may not jive with yer new fashion-forward look.”March 15, 2019 at 4:35 pm #16428
Preston scratched at his left arm briefly, flinched a bit, then dug in to scratch hard at his left shoulder instead as he replied.
“Nah, Al, I figure you are perfect. You are so you. Unapologetically you. That won’t ever catch on as fashion, because those that are selling fashion don’t want people to be happy the way they are, you know? But it’s a statement all the same. Being beside you, it makes it seem even more like what I’m wearing is a statement. I’m not sure that I’m saying that properly, but my gut tells me that it works. Besides, it is all enough a leap into the unknown that it would be good to have someone I trust with me.”
* Oleg: Can I really trust him?
* Eliza: He is so deeply set into his role, that I can’t imagine he’d break out of it just to mess with me, unless I cross his primary mission.
* Coleman: I should keep in mind that the prime personality could be suppressed, only to break out with the right trigger. This cover of ‘good ol’ Al’ might not be voluntary.
* Oleg: That does seem more likely than anyone choosing to be Al
Preston left off scratching to drain his beer and signal for another.
* Gamma: That was my second beer.
* Oleg: It isn’t like the beer down here is much more than water anyway.
“So Al, ,”back there,” it sounded like it wasn’t the first crazy thing you’ve dealt with. How is it that you end up in such situations, and do I have to worry about something with too many eyes cheating us at cards or something, if you are around?” Although he addressed Al, his eyes were tracking the waitress, and his right hand was back to scratching at his left shoulder.March 15, 2019 at 7:24 pm #16431
Al noticed the nervous scratching. And put it together with some of the personality shifts he’d seen. If Preston was operating on half a box of crackers, it was a good thing to know. But it wouldn’t – couldn’t – matter. He’d stood up when it had counted, and for Al that overrode any other concerns.
“Well, some folk do say trouble has a way o’ findin’ ol’ Al,” he began, then emptied his third bottle of Dos Equis before continuing. “But fact o’ the matter is, it’s other folk find the trouble, an’ when they do, it’s me they send. Yeah, that’s my third time stoppin’ these freaks – some sorta super-race o’ uberabominations, supposedly show up ever’ so often an’ take over the world, even sendin’ the big smart lizards down into they holes – least that’s how the never-dies I hang with talk about it, all angsty an’ forlorn an’ chip-on-they-shoulder about they sad plight o’ livin’ ferever – but here I do digress….”
A pull on a fresh beer, this one just a little bit less thirsty and a little more compulsive. He licked his lips, and fidgeted a bit before continuing. “So it’s my third rodeo stoppin’ these freaks showin’ up early. Apparently it’s bound ta happen eventually, so the never-dies is tryin’ ta buy time, maybe somehow git ready fer the next round. Sometimes I try ta think about there bein’ not a few dozen but a few million o’ them things….”
He finished the beer, swallowing hard and fast. “But there I go a’digressin’ again. Ta answer yer question, these things start gittin’ they snout under the tent flap, folks call me. Send me. On account o’ the world revolves around me.” He held up his hands, as if to forestall any mockery. “Not my words. It’s the lizards an’ such say it. So they call me. The point o’ which at long last bein’ that no, they ain’t no particular tendency fer such things ta show up under my bed unannounced. Ya travel with ol’ Al, the more likely thing ya gotta worry about is any damned OC assholes catchin’ up ta me. Russkies, Eye-ties, rice-eaters, an’ now the Injuns, they all got bones ta pick with ol’ Al. But I ain’t never been ta Vegas, so reckon we’ll be jist fine.”March 19, 2019 at 9:54 pm #16729
Preston just stared at Al for a long moment, then asked ” How do you sleep?”
*Gamma: the answer may be useful, because I’m not sure that I am going to be able to.March 20, 2019 at 7:25 am #16741
Al could see in Preston’s eyes that the decker also was haunted by the otherness of the reality they had glimpsed. He would have been glad to impart any useful advice he had. But he had none.
“I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” he answered with a smirk that was intended as panache but read as ironic despair.
“Or at least when I’m dead drunk,” he added, perhaps conveying to Preston the only helpful tip he had. “Which is what I’m headed for right now. See ya tomorrow,” he said, grabbing a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels that had been at his elbow.
Stepping away from the bar, he turned back with an afterthought. “The voice of a woman’s been known ta help. Leastways if ya got one good enough….I mean, assumin’ yer inclined that way…bein’ a decker an’ all.”March 20, 2019 at 9:47 am #16750
Preston gave a bark of laughter. “Oh, I’m inclined that way. Making anything with them last long though, that’s the challenge. ‘Bein’ a decker an’ all’ plus some of the associated business, doesn’t really bring out my domestic side. But thanks for the advice.” He raised his beer in a sort of salute to Al.
* Gamma: If he is dead drunk, he can’t watch out for monsters under the bed, ergo he is not worried about monsters under the bed.
* Oleg: Or he is too fatalistic to care anymore.
* Monkey: Booze! Lot’s of booze! And women! and hot sim! Jazz to keep me going when I need to go, and find something to bring me down when I need to stop! Embrace life as hard as I can for as long as I can before all of THAT happens.
As he chugged back his beer, Preston muttered “Yah, I remember how I picked up the habits that make relationships hard.”
Preston eventually became aware of the morning alarm from his commlink. Ignoring it was a challenge given that it was wired right into his brain, but this morning it seemed that it had taken him a while to notice it.
* Gamma: Might mouth tastes foul, this is an indication of my night.
* Monkey: Any night that I can’t remember going to bed is a good night!
* Oleg: Any night that I can’t remember going to bed says I’ve slipped into debauchery.
* Coleman: Lost memories means loss of data, lack of preparedness to deal with the world. And this morning I am sub-par
* Monkey: Some things are worth it
* Eliza: Likely Al isn’t feeling a lot better, if he finished off that bottle.
He fired off a command to his caff-machine to start brewing, then managed to lever himself upright when a cup of liquid morning was ready to ingest. Then water, then a shower, and then more caff.
* Gamma: I still feel half-dead
* Coleman: learning to drive in this condition would make sense. It is not performing when at my best that will be the biggest challenge
* Monkey: Let’s burn some rubber, drift some corners, have fun!
* Gamma: Doing that right now might risk the contents of my stomach
* Oleg: Odds are good I’ll have time to digest before Al is up
* Eliza: Al may surprise me. Or may not have slept at all.
Preston messaged Al <<I’m going to start hunting some breakfast. When are you looking to head out? And I’ve changed my mind about today, I should do some driving — and push it. Yesterday I was being all cautious, I’m never going to get there if I don’t cut loose and have some fun with it all.>>
March 21, 2019 at 7:28 am #16778
- This reply was modified 3 days ago by Beta.
Al had slept through nearly four hours of alcohol-induced coma, waking with his head on a vomit-stained pillow. Grabbing a handful of sheet, he’d wiped off his mouth, then rinsed it with the flat dregs of a can of beer he’d been using as an ash tray. The whiskey bottle was empty, but he upended it in search of a last drop or two, then headed for the head. He figured it was a little after five, and he was never wrong about the time. Lit a cigarette while emptying his bladder, buttoned his fly, and made an inventory of all he had to be grateful for. World not, as yet, overrun by otherplanar abominations; no shortage of cigarettes; having slept in his clothes he had no need to change; and no future whatsoever other than desert and the Vegas Strip. Life was good.
Exactly two vending machine JelliBreds, two beers, and two cartoons later, he got Preston’s ping. He didn’t like texting when face-to-face was so readily available, so he walked barefoot over to his travelling companion’s room and knocked on the door. Walked in and flopped onto the bed when it opened. The room stank of the decker’s save-the-rainforest coffee. “Glad ta hear ya ain’t lost yer nerve,” Al said to the ceiling. His hands were folded on his stomach like a rumpled otter, cigarette standing vertical from his navel, wedged between two scarred fingers. “Reckon the place ta learn is on yer own wheels, so ol’ Al’ll ride shotgun. Literally an’ figuratively. Impart some o’ my accumulated wisdom.”
Ironically, although he’d upgraded the pilot in Preston’s Ford the day before, his own ride had nothing but anti-collision systems and the most rudimentary dog brain, both of which were generally shut off. It was a point of principle to Al that none of his vehicles had serious autopilots, certainly nothing better than factory-standard. A man took the wheel himself, just like he worked for a living and stood on his own two feet. The last job had changed his view, though. There had been too many times when complicated logistics and demands on his attention would have made a reliable pilot invaluable, and he’d decided to smarten his truck up once they were back to Seattle. For today’s adventure, though, the thing was more than capable of a simple ‘follow Vehicle X’ command, and it wasn’t as though anything Preston did behind the wheel would tax the program’s abilities.March 21, 2019 at 5:54 pm #16793
Preston may have gritted his teeth a bit when Al barged in, but he mostly tried to control his expression.
* Oleg: Why barge in face to face when we can text?
* Eliza: No matter, I want to get along with him, best to work on mirroring him some.
Preston slumped into the rooms oddly uncomfortable chair, then responded to Al “I was thrown off by that … guy? who greeted us on the way out of the Portal. I don’t know, I was on a sort of adrenaline high, and then it evaporated and I was feeling a little squelched. But after we talked last night I realized that the only sane response to … THAT stuff ” he gestured vaguely “is to live life to the fullest. Accept that there are things beyond not just my control but anyone’s control. Don’t stop planning for the long run, but don’t put a lot of effort into leaving a pretty corpse, you know?”
“Anyway, today I push the accelerator a lot harder, yell if you think I’m going too crazy. And maybe I’ll be pushing Vegas a bit harder than I’d suggested before. Patience … has its uses, but I’m thinking less uses than I used to think it did.”
* Monkey: Vegas, baby! This is gonna be gooooooood!March 21, 2019 at 6:52 pm #16795
“Well, heh heh, don’t let the meetin’ at the portal throw ya. Weren’t no ‘guy.’ Jist another lizard virtue-signallin’ by involvin’ hisself – from a safe distance – in what passes fer a righteous cause among the never-dies. Typical. We do the work, he swoops in, acts like it were all him. Hell, I ain’t even sure I’m comfortable applyin’ gendered pronouns ta the thing. They pass theyselves off as sentient, but creepy intelligence does not moral agency make.”
Al left off talking half to himself and half to the ceiling, sitting up in a single startling movement and slapping his thighs. “But I can see ya been doin’ yer own philosophizin’, an’ more’s the power to ya. Ol’ Al, hell, I done give up any sorta plannin’ a good while back. An’ my corpse’ll already be pretty enough.” He clapped his hands together. “What say we hit the road?”March 22, 2019 at 5:05 pm #16832
“Gimme five to piss and pack-up, and I’ll be ready to roll.”
Not long later, standing out in the parking lot, Preston compared his car to the Gaz. “I’d have thought, with how high it is, that the truck wouldn’t handle as well on corners. But I saw how you were able to maneuver at speeds that I’d guess would give my car fits. That has to be the suspension, right? I hear people talk about suspension, but never gave it a lot of thought.”
* Gamma: except in the three games I’ve played where suspension level is part of the vehicle selection process
* Eliza: There are times where it is OK to seem even more clueless than I am.
” And … better quality tires on your truck maybe, giving better grip? In other words, without getting a bunch of upgrades I can’t expect quite the same performance. So I guess what I have to learn is how hard I CAN push this thing. How fast I can–or can’t — accelerate, how long it takes to stop, how fast and sharp I get away with cornering …. this should either be fun, or terrifying.”
* Monkey: this sort of terrifying IS fun!
“OK, let’s get out of town and then start pushing things.”
March 22, 2019 at 6:53 pm #16840
- This reply was modified 1 day ago by Beta.
Al hawked and spit. “Yeah, got the suspension on that baby wound up stiffer’n a blue-balled porn stud on Viagra. But yer right, if it’s the Americar yer drivin’, then it’s the Americar ya gotta git intimate with. Ford don’t make a bad ride, Yankees or not. Off an open track or a situation where nothin’ matters no more, she’ll do ever’thin’ you’ll need her to. End o’ the day, you’ll know jist how ta touch her where she likes.”
He fetched his shotgun from the truck and locked her up. He’d already married the two vehicles’ sat navs. If Preston really got his groove on, the Gaz would still plod along until it caught up with them. He’d also told it not to leave the highway. If they got off onto side roads, it would simply wait. He checked the clip on his weapon, replaced it and cycled a slug into the chamber. “These desert roads…law can’t be ever’where.”
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