Yuma, Arizona – The Desert Back Roads
Wednesday, August 17, 2005, 1:54 p.m.
Underneath a hazy August sky, Emma sipped lemonade, made the way it was intended: cold, satisfying and utterly disgusting.
Lex, a brown Labrador, lay in the pool of Emma’s ever-expanding shade, lazily tossing his tail about this way and that, and wondering how much longer he would have to remain a dog.
“Hey, boy.” Emma wiped the tart residue from her plump upper lip. “What would you say to a couple of steaks and a couple of cold Buds?” Without lifting his head, paws beneath his chin, Lex answered in his usual aloof manner.
“Woof … fucking … woof.” And with equal aloofness, Emma shaded her eyes from the blistering Arizona sun, and took another sip.
“Yeah,” she said. “Me too.”
Relentless and punishing, the raging fireball above had just winked at her, Emma was sure, a reminder that her present situation was not of her choosing and not hers to choose, but if she wanted to change her destiny, go right ahead. Give it your best shot.
Emma had contracted the sun, that sun. Her signature was on the order form. She had copies in her office. In triplicate. The original blueprint called for three smaller suns, and, if you could stomach it, four moons. Four. But what did she expect?
All those teenybitcher designers with their tight asses, silk thongs and overglossed lips, sticking their tits out like that meant something, groping to get their style in the papers, to make a name for themselves. A brand. Not one to shy away from stardom herself, Emma was all for making a mark, a lasting impression. But three suns? Back then? Please.
And this is the thanks I get for keeping the wannabes in check, she thought, for reminding investors what a real galactic designer is all about—that substance makes the style, not the other way around. For designing an atmosphere emphasizing class and possibility, a galaxy built to last. The Milky Way. You sell the sizzle, sure. But you have to give them the steak.
Emma curled her pudgy arm, raising the cool glass to her forehead. A rusted Winnebago was motionless behind them like the barely functioning piece of crap that it was.
“The big bastard sure has a sense of humor all right.” Emma shifted in her chair, giving herself a wedgie, the yellow, flowered housedress now tugging at her throat. With some not inconsiderable maneuvering, she dislodged the fabric. “Yuma, Arizona. The garden spot of Suck-Ass, U.S.A. I got bad knees, bad B.O. and my gums hurt. I used to be hot. Way hot.”
“Your breath could use some work, too.”
“Oh, go lick your balls.” Lex rolled his bloodshot eyes. “One hundred and seven degrees,” she said. “One-oh-seven.”
Emma shook her head, and then set the empty glass on the white, plastic table. She reached for her walking stick. The former tree branch nearly snapped under the stupendous weight it was now supporting.
As usual, business at her roadside stop had been slow. There are only so many rattlesnake hides and coyote skulls you can sell in one week. In a month. After almost two years in the desert—two long Earth years—Emma figured there wasn’t much left to understand about being stuck in the middle of nowhere.
And while she could appreciate the cosmic irony of being banished to this very planet, she had no idea why it had been at this particular point in its history, when any other had been equally plausible. Emma concluded that there was either no rhyme or reason at all, or else a very particular reason indeed. She still hadn’t figured out which.
“Let’s get inside, see if we can get that fan working. We should be getting the call any time now. Angelique thinks she’ll have a good lead about where to find that fucking CBM jar. My jar. Our ticket out of this dump.”
She accidentally kicked the table over on its side, knocking the glass before Lex, who let out a woomph, his chin never leaving his paws. “And believe me,” Emma said, “when I find the numb-nuts who’s got it, he’s going to discover long, slow and hard just what the end of the world is all about.”