With my time bubble safely secured (I have "The Club"!) and stowed in one of Tesseract U-Store's finest lockers (the Primo model, the one with strobing disco lights, a fog machine, unlimited shrimp cocktail, and a legion of nubile, half-naked young employees to lovingly stroke and pat your merchandise whether you're there or not) I sprinted out onto the tarmac. Late again! There was only one dropship in sight. The pilot was leaning against the hull of the craft with his hands behind his back. The sight of his uniform gave me pause, and not in a good way! My fashion designer's eye (the left one) immediately analyzed it and tallied up its good points and its bad. The good: it was primarily orange and purple -- my signature colors! The bad: everything else. The symbol on the chest looked like an atom in an iPod commercial, the top was adorned with some sort of jacked-up black sweater vest with flared shoulders, and the boots had attached pouches. And just to throw some salt in my wounded aesthetic sensibility, the pilot's hair was cut in a mushroomy bowl style, like an overgrown child actor, or one of the Ramones. And his swollen, brutish face gave me the distinct impression he'd been smacked right in the kisser with a moopsball hammer. Repeatedly.
With low, growly sigh and a shrug of my broad, muscular shoulders, I greeted the pilot. "Nice ship," I offered.
"I guess," he replied. "It kinda looks like a wienerschnitzel on one end."
"Hey, what doesn't?" I chuckled at my own joke and waited for him to laugh, but he just stared at me. I held out my hand. "Blockade Boy. Pleased to meet you!"
"You'll have to excuse me if I don't shake your hand," he said in a bored tone.
"Oh. Huh. Well, I guess we'd better head off!"
"This ship can't go anywhere just yet. It won't be long, though. Just a few minutes." And with that, he clammed up again.
Great. I glanced around the spaceport, searching for another topic of conversation. I fixed upon a man ambling down the tarmac, messily eating a burrito. His outfit was even homelier than the pilot's! It was two shades of green -- Fecal and Fluorescent -- and it was accessorized with a burnt sienna harness/shoulderpad thing, in suede, with a matching turtleneck dickey.
I jerked a thumb at the fugly unfortunate. "Get a load of that guy! Do you think he's stupid enough to dress that way on purpose or did he lose a bet?"
At this, the pilot guffawed, but said nothing further. I glanced back at the man with the burrito. Refried beans and melted cheese were smeared all over the bottom half of his face. He wiped off most of it with his sleeve. Then, spotting me, he abruptly altered his course and began to walk with an accelerated pace in my precise direction. His dopey grin told me he hadn't heard my remarks.
Within a few meters of my person, he crammed another section of burrito in his maw, belched, and smiled broadly. A gooey strand of cheese connected his right incisor and one of his rear molars. He pointed at me. "Blockade Boy, right?"
"Awesome. You ready to go?"
"Er... yeah... wait a minute! You're the pilot?"
"Yup! Here, hold this for me, wouldja?" He handed me the unfinished burrito. He turned to the man leaning against the dropship. "Have a nice chat, did ya, Aabur?"
"Hardly," grunted "Aabur."
"Yeah, well there ain't a lot of stimulating conversation where you're goin', nohow," the pilot smirked. He grabbed one of Aabur's arms and with his free hand worked a device on his belt. There was a hollow, clanking sound, and then the pilot jerked Aabur's body away from the hull. The pilot led Aabur into the dropship, with me right behind, and I finally saw what had kept Aabur from shaking my hand: electromagnetic handcuffs.
I exploded. "What is all this crap? You're supposed to be piloting me!"
The pilot's cheerfulness remained undaunted. "If I can transport a prisoner at the same time, I get extra credit! Which I kinda need right now on account of I accidentally killed the platoon mascot. But that kid only had, like, a year to live anyhow so I don't see why it was such a big deal. But you know. Politics."
I was tempted to just cold-cock the idiot and commandeer the dropship myself, but I was already behind schedule.
I placed a fatherly hand on his shoulder, looked him in the eye, and said, "Okay. First, green and brown should never go together in the same outfit, secondly, I'd go with a shorter haircut, maybe something a bit shaggy on top, so you can gel it up for when you go out on the town but can still wear it in a conservative style for meetings and such, and lastly, cut down on all the junk food -- you're looking a mite paunchy."
"It's not that," the pilot jabbered. "Aabur has stolen the dropship! If High Command finds out, I'm gonna be court marshalled for sure!" He popped another handful of curly fries into his mouth and munched them anxiously.
"Oh! Well, in that case, it's really not my problem." And with that I sidled around him and jumped into a race pod. As I launched into the black void, I spied the pilot in my rear view mirror. The paper tray of curly fries dropped to the floor. They were followed by the pilot himself. His body heaved in what I guessed were either despairing sobs or copious vomiting.
Soon enough I neared the moon. I dived low, hoping to use its gravitational field for a slingshot effect and pick up some speed. I worked! The race pod zoomed over the crater-pocked surface and hurtled back into open space. A flickering light danced in the rearview, and then flared into a blinding glow. The comet had been diverted by the moon's gravity and boomeranged around it, right behind my ship! I dove into the asteroid field as the comet shot past me, just overhead. I was lucky to avoid its radioactive tail! Sadly for Aabur, however, it was making a beeline straight for him.
I struggled to concentrate on piloting the racepod through the deadly asteroid field, but in my peripheral vision I could see the comet plow over the dropship.