Whoever killed Johnny Beardy ruined a perfectly good sandwich in the process. I was hungry when I found him, so that’s the first thing came to my mind.
For the record, my name is Vid. It’s short for a name you don’t wanna bother trying to pronounce if you’re from Earth. Anyway, I solve problems. It’s not what I always did, but things change and here I am. Stuck up to my gills in other critters’ problems on good ole Planet 10.
Once again, if you’re an Earthling reading this, I meant that literally. You folks have a habit of making up cute little sayings and whatnot. Working your tail off. Sweatin’ like a pig. Up to your neck in.
This ain’t one of those. I have gills. Deal with it.
As for Johnny Beardy, he didn’t have gills because he was one of yours. What you folks like to call a rock star. But being without gills wouldn’t explain why young Mr. Beardy was found butt-naked dead in one of Vivacious 5’s more notorious back alleys at night, face down in a sandwich. A really big pork sandwich with mayonnaise on it.
Mayonnaise. Now see, that right there lets me know this Johnny character had to have some connections with somebody who worked for the daily Earth transport. In the old days that never would’ve happened.
See, the transport used to be a class operation before Council politics got it shifted over to Vivacious 5 sector. Back then, you couldn’t smuggle a grain of dust without getting caught and sent off to Planet 10-C, the `C’ standing for corrections. But now the whole operation’s been dragged down to V-5, down in the storage colony where the old landing base used to be. You couldn’t pay me enough to work at that dump. See…
Oh yeah. I was sayin’ about the mayonnaise.
There ain’t no mayonnaise on Vivacious 5 because there isn’t any mayonnaise on Planet 10. Stuff’s been banned for years. See, mayonnaise kinda glues up the gills, but it can also be used to manufacture some pretty exotic head squeezers, if you know what I’m sayin’. Besides, all us 10-types prefer our sandwiches straight without the clutter. No muss, no fuss, that’s us.
You gotta understand about Planet 10. It’s a real clean little sphere. Clean water, clean air, clean sidewalks, and clean minds. Just the way it was manufactured to be over a century ago back in 2239 when Earth’s experimental planet project was in full swing. Every sector spic and span.
Except for Vivacious 5, which happens to be where most of us freelancers work who don’t wanna sit around all day answerin’ phones and tradin’ smalltalk. For a freelancer with ambition, Vivacious 5 is the only sector that offers any real challenge to prove yourself. That’s because Vivacious 5 is the one corner of Planet 10 the broom never found. Stinks like a damned sewer. Guess that’s why a lot of us call all the low-lifes who hang out there `niners’. Lettin’ `em know they ain’t quite evolved to 10 yet. They’re the only ones who just won’t go along with the program. They want Planet 10 back the way it used to be in the days before The Rinse kicked in, which was the final phase of the experimental planet program.
God bless The Rinse, I’m tellin’ you. Who knows how this rock woulda ended up without it. Probably like a neon comet; goin down bright, goin down fast. One dead experiment, and a whole race of Teners gone with it.
Johnny Beardy liked hanging around those niners, which would explain what he was doing in Vivacious 5 after hours. That’s plain as day. Ain’t but a few kinds of critters go hanging around there after the third sun goes for a stroll, and that’s the kind goes looking to get their fancy tickled in all the wrong places.
But there’s still a few things I don’t understand.
“You mean, like, what he was doing walking around naked on a strange planet, hey? Nice trench coat by the way. Hat too. You do that color yellow a glooooriousss favor.”
Oooh. That voice. Cripes. It was enough to get my motor runnin’ every time. Kinda voice make a critter wanna do things to himself. When I looked over my shoulder at Vee, saw her standin there in those tall spiked pink heels and short, tight purple skirt, I felt my breath get sucked right outta my stomach. Such a gorgeous creature to be a page scratcher. Too gorgeous. And she knew how to use it.
“Hey, cakes. Talkin’ out loud to myself again, huh? Damn. Gotta do somethin about that.”
She kissed me just above the gills. Made me forget all about that naked stiff. Cops hadn’t gotten here yet so nobody’d bothered covering ole Johnny up. As usual, I’d gotten tipped long before those assholes on the beat, the keystones. That’s `cause I know how to treat critters. In my line of work you had to know how to treat the critters.
“You’re always sayin’ that, Vid, but you never do. Just the way you are. Guess that’s why you turn me on like you do, hey? I like a man that shares his thoughts.”
“Cut it out, kid. You remember what happened the last time you got me started.”
Vee just grinned and winked, letting her ample left hip shift just the right way. Letting me dream a little dream. True enough, I’m one of the busiest freelance scavenger scouts in the sector, but I can always make time for a flesh fantasy. This time it was my turn to grin, letting her see the serrated edge of my front two teeth. I’d just had `em both filed down, and they were lookin’ sharp as ever. The babes went for it every time.
Then, after we’d both had our fill, I said, “Vee. Play fair, doll. `Least while we’re on the clock.”
Just like that, the girl’s all business. Hip back in place, standin’ up straight, her little pointed fingers scurryin’ back and forth across that little electronic notepad she used. Gotta love a modern woman.
“Human, right?” she asked.
“Vee. Doll. How many Teners you think you’re gonna find lookin’ like this with no clothes on? Even in Vivacious 5? I mean look at the color of that skin, for cryin’ out loud. It’s white. And hair? On the head? C’mon, Vee, ask me a real question. Ain’t that why they pay you the big bucks?”
I still couldn’t believe Vee couldn’t tell who it was she was lookin’ at, even if it was a rather unflattering view from the rear. Vee had a huge sound collection, and Johnny Beardy was all through it like fibers through a rug.
“I got hair on my head, Vid. That make me human?”
“How much you pay for it, babe?”
“Be nice, Vid. Be nice, hey?”
“So ask me a real question already.”
Still all business, but that got a grin out of her. She peeped at me over the top of her specs with those hot green eyes of hers. Don’t know why they shook me up so. All teners got green eyes. Just not like Vee’s is all.
“OK, I’ve got a real question for you, Misssster Vid. Perhaps you know why his clothes are gone? You think maybe he went to the wrong party uninvited or what?”
“I think maybe he came to the wrong planet uninvited is what I’m thinkin’. You know well as I do them humans ain’t got no business hangin’ around here unless it’s the wrong kinda business.”
Her fingers were steady scurryin’ across that notepad.
“And the sandwich? That some new kinda way they came up with to inhale their food?”
“Take a closer look, Vee.”
“Go ahead. And make it quick. Those keystones gonna be here any minute trying to sweep us both outta here and snatch the credit for what we found.”
Vee took two steps closer to the body and leaned over as far as she could without letting her skirt rise too far up in the rear. Always a lady, that Vee.
“See anything unusual?” I asked.
“Hey…that’s mayonnaise!” she chirped, soundin’ all proud of herself.
Damn. What was it gonna take? Most times wasn’t a thing you could get by my girl Vee. Well, at least she got part of it right.
“You got it, Vee. You ever see any mayonnaise here in Vivacious 5 sector? Or anywhere else on Planet 10, for that matter?”
Vee stood back up and turned to face me. She pinched her eyes shut while she let her mind race back over all those files she kept so perfect in her head.
“Once,” she said, her eyes opening again. “I seen some once.”
She frowned, then turned back around to take one last look at our naked friend. Suddenly she jumped. She dropped her notepad. She started jabbin’ her finger at the body like it was gettin’ back up or somethin’. I grinned.
“Hey! Vid! Isn’t that…?”