Parthenia Rook stumbled out of the smoking wreckage of the downed Zeppelin Regret, bruised and bloody and cross-eyed with exhaustion from her fight with the android toddler, whose limbs lay scattered across the cobblestones of the town square. Above the spires and 400-year-old cafes of Vörpalsberg, the former passengers of the Zeppelin drifted through the sky under their improvised bedsheet parachutes like dandelion fluff.
Parthenia was exhausted. The Bonobo King could send a three-year-old with a kitchen knife to kill her at this point, and she’d be too tired to resist. Come to think of it, that was more or less what he’d just done. It had almost worked.
She slumped down on a chair outside one of the cafes and waited for a waiter, which was ironic. She was not pleased when the square, which she began to realize was strangely quiet, began to fill from all directions with zombie photographers who lurched toward her, clicking death cameras that flung out bolts of electricity.
Without pausing to think, Parthenia leapt up to grab the awning above her and flung herself into the air, performing a full backflip over the nearest zombie to land with one foot planted on the back of its head. The zombie crumpled under her, its head bursting on the cobblestones like a ripe grapefruit. Parthenia stepped away, leaving her shoe lodged in the former zombie’s former brains. She really should not have worn heels.
As the zombie photographers closed in around her, Parthenia kicked off her other shoe and looked around for a weapon. It was interesting: she really wasn’t as tired as she’d thought.

Was all over in a fraction of a second, but then again ain’t everything?

You come here with your big city ways, all clean and shiny. Think we’re dumb radheads. Maybe. Don’t matter: our land, our rules. Truth is — if you plan to print truth — there’s rules when you can carry a gun. And there’s rules when you can dance — particularly when you can’t. Matters who shot first, who shot true, and who bit the dust.

Dangerous outlaws? They stole shit, raised some hell, but they wasn’t evil or nothing.

Another truth: they was all top of the line. Best defense bots in Arizona. After the bombs, after the meatbags died, after the rise of the New West, there was plenty of defenders and no entertainers. After hackabilly-modding some old 8-bit chips in for behavior units, ain’t no wonder we ended up with cowboys.

You want to know about Zi. I called him Robbie cuz it amused him. Big, crazy tank of a bot with one of them ridiculous clear brain pans, y’know? Not that you coulda saw his brain through the dust. Not that you woulda wanted to — robot of little brain don’t come close.

What started it? Robbie limped up to that stagecoach, opened the door, let out one hell of a high-pitched note. I thought the bots inside was gonna jump through the roof. He says, “I have 256 values to assign. That’s one.”

Then he danced. Just a quick rhythm two-step, then he was running. Did he know it was illegal for a bot to dance in town? Yep. Did he know the 8088 boys was in the stage, waiting for some action? Prolly.

No one says he was bright, but damn that bot could dance. Sometimes you just gotta share.

Not really into 8-bit myself. Fits with the “Now spin your partner till her servos groan” scene, that kinda junk. Me? Drop-d, grinding heavy metal. It’s all about the power chords. But this was special.

Course, the boys caught up to him. He was laying down a full track at 1000 beats per minute. Don’t think that speed woulda been allowed pre-war neither. And he danced, mixing all kinda styles. With three other Zi mods backing him up.

The boys watched, stunned, then fired. If one Zi had been a nanosecond faster draw, I guess they’d be on top now. Who knows what new styles they’d invented in the seconds that followed. In the eternity after. But 8088s, they can shoot.

In his last moments, Robbie mastered the Rhythm Two-Step Skank with one bad leg while running a Z80. Makes you wonder. Maybe us robots can do anything. Course, just because you can don’t mean you should.

One more truth: it happened right there off Fremont Street and took a fraction of a second.

Not that I expect the truth matters much.

It started with An American in Paris, that Gene Kelly movie. My dead mother, who had never left Des Moines in her life, was in the café scenes watching Gene and singing along to “S’Wonderful”. She loved that film.

Good for her, I say. And good for Kellie Manx, my high school sweetheart, for appearing in the books of Mark and John in the Bible. She’s the one walking on the water with Jesus, instead of Peter. Somehow I always thought she’d be the sort to do that.

Constantin Dinescu, a fellow clerk at the law firm where I work, got run over last week and wound up in an old Woody Guthrie song. I don’t really know if it’s appropriate or not; we didn’t talk that much.

Hold on a minute. I guess that means Kellie’s probably dead. Bummer.

I’ve asked around, and nobody else is noticing their dead relatives and friends showing up in books or movies or songs or whatever. They look at me kind of weird when I ask, too, like maybe I’ve been smoking the wrong stuff.

I’ve been trying to figure out if there’s a way to make a buck at this. My first plan was to bet a guy in a bar that my mom was a film star, then show her the movie. But she’s only in that one movie, so far as I can tell, and it isn’t that big a part, and I probably wouldn’t win much that way anyway.

My second plan was to sell the rights, kind of like insurance, I guess. I went to Trevor, my best bud, and said that for a c-note I’d stick him into Spider-Man comics. At first he thought I’d got a writing gig, but when I explained it to him he just laughed.

I don’t have a third plan yet. I’m still working on it. Don’t invite me to any horror movies, though. My dog died recently and I really don’t want to see him in one.

Well of course in my day there were no aliens, and if you started saying you’d seen one people would think you were crazy, but now there are all these Slugs and Thanatites and those blue monkey ones, and sometimes when I walk down the street to the drug store I half think I’m on another planet!
Some people don’t like the Slugs–you know, “Type 3 Barnardins” I think they call them? That’s because of the tentacles and the slimy trails and all that, but one of them goes to my church, and he sits right in back where he won’t bother anyone and he makes the best crumb cake I’ve ever tasted since my mother died, because there was a very good one at her wake. And some of them don’t like being called “Slugs,” but that’s what I call him and he never says anything about it, which is all he should do. I mean, that’s what they are.
But I do not like the Stalking Mantises. Their little husbands are all right, but the you know how big some of the females get, three and four meters sometimes! Well, the other day I was on the way back from laser bingo with Taylor-Anne when one of them stepped right on my walker and bent the leg of it!
“Watch where you’re going,” she said, in that crackly voice they have, and well, that just got me started. I took out my purse and started hitting her, and then the next thing you know we were rolling on the ground and having at it, just like during the bandwidth riots of ’09.
Oh, don’t look at me that way! How was I supposed to know she was their sacred whatever? Don’t blame the interstellar war on me. Besides, what’s one city more or less? I never did like Cleveland anyway.

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