and a paladin…walk into a bar. Wait, I hear you say. This is supposed to be an all-SF blog site. No fluffy unicorns (I never wrote a fluffy unicorn) and no fantasy stuff. Yeah, but, this is Universes, where different things meet that can’t usually, and tonight (it’s pouring rain and I can’t sleep, largely because of the irrational belief that just as I lie down and close my eyes, the lightning will start)–tonight I’m in the mood to see what happens.
“Just once, I’d like more than a walk-on part.” The humod, most recently a customs inspector on Lastway’s big commercial station, sips from his frosted glass and grimaces. “Too much ginger extract again.”
“I don’t know what you’re complaining about,” the dwarf says. “She gave you humods all sorts of interesting modifications, but we’re just the standard legendary dwarf model. Yes, she gave me some lines in the book, and a proper name, but now she can’t remember it and I’ve faded–she probably doesn’t even remember what color my beard is.”
IT’S BLACK. They all stare at the middle of the table, carefully not looking up, except for the paladin, who grins at nothing high overhead.
“Welcome,” says the paladin. “You can stay awhile, can’t you?”
Emptiness fills the space from which the voice spoke. The paladin shrugs. “Well, she’s very busy. Perhaps she’s–”
“Writing about somebody else,” the dwarf says. “THOSE people.” He looks across to a long table where the entire cast of the new book is celebrating its completion, still in their makeup and costumes. Loud talk, loud singing, loud, loud, loud.
“Never mind,” the paladin says. “They’ll be gone soon.”
“Thank you,” the humod says in a stifled voice. “If that’s how you feel–” He pushes back his chair and stands up. Behind him now is a tall, broad man with a face full of trouble. A large, meaty hand lands on the humod’s left shoulder.
“Who–” the humod stops there. Blinks. Retracts two of his appendages. He sits down.
The newcomer pulls up a chair and sits beside him. “We Siffies have to stick together, don’t we? The name’s Gary.”
“We…uh, yes, of course.”
Gary looks across the table at the paladin, giving her a menacing stare. She returns a sunny smile. “Hey, sweetheart,” he says. “I’m a dangerous man.”
Her grin widens. “You’re really trying to frighten me? Just because I’m wearing a fantasy costume?”
Gary blinks. She’s hard to stare at, actually; his eyes are beginning to burn as if she were too bright.
“Don’t worry,” she says. “I won’t hurt you unless you try to hurt us.”
“Us?” he says, looking down. “And you couldn’t hurt me; all you have is a stupid sword.”
Her laugh turns heads at every table. Not scornful, but full of joy. Almost but not quite too late, Gary recognizes what she is. That one. The one who almost never shows up here, the one who is untouchable by anyone on this side of the Divide, but who can reach across it. He can feel the hairs standing up on his arms, his neck.
The tip of the sword moves into his field of vision. Flat on the table. It looks like a sword. Like a very sharp sword. He cannot help looking along it, to where her hand, in a gray glove stained by sweat and wear, has hold of he hilt.
“It’s not a stupid sword,” she says. “It’s a Model XII SmartSword that she got for me specially. It says you’re not as bad as you try to look.”
And sure enough, thunder just rumbled. Radar reveals the storms are propagating into a new band, and it’s time to turn off the machine and lie down and watching the lightning flash through the curtains.