Michael H. Payne (hyniof) wrote,

Helix Story #1

The online magazine HelixSF:

Where I've had two stories published, is closing down at the end of the year. So I'm moving my stories over here. This is the first one, "Why They Call Me Mr. Goddamn Happy."

Mike



Why They Call Me Mr. Goddamn Happy

by Michael H. Payne



     You goddamn brain boxes gliding in here, particle jets stinking the 

joint up and chasing off the customers! You don't buy even a goddamn glass 

of water, and then you expect me to drop everything and tell you the whole 

goddamn story!

     You know what I oughtta do? I oughtta tear that goddamn sign down and 

burn it! I never asked to be no celebrity!

     I was just another goddamn prospector freezing my balls off out on the 

Hahld plains, wading through chunks of air fifteen months outta the year 

and mining the sorastrite the government needed to power the defense 

shields so maybe the goddamn aliens wouldn't blast us all to hell.

     Wasn't even our goddamn war! That's the thing always fried my chi out 

there, the diggers sucking every bit of sore-ass-trite outta this goddamn 

planet while the air's still gassy enough to breathe all because the 

goddamn Wesdurins and Pralshnees or whatever the hell they call themselves 

didn't care that we weren't fighting in their goddamn war!

     Of course, with only Hahld-grade sorastrite working in the shield 

generators, and with us humans running Hahld, we had a little pull, I 

guess. And me and Chloe did all right, mining our claim, but, God, I tell 

you: wasn't for Chloe, I'da been dead six or seven times. Best yurt turtle 

anybody ever goddamn had.

     I'd tuck up inside Chloe's shell after fourteen hours crawling through 

blind-white frozen gas, and wake up feeling like I'd goddamn spent the 

night at the Ritz-Huong Towers. She kept the diggers uncovered all night no 

matter how thick the frost fell--hell, the time I snapped my leg off and 

had to tank up for thirty-two hours, she kept those diggers running!

     Don't ask me how she managed it with her flippers--big as goddamn 

mattresses on a yurt turtle her size--but when I crawled outta the 

gel-pack, my new leg itching like goddamn crazy, there was a full quart 

more sore-ass in the tank then when I'd gone under, God's own truth! Best 

thing them scientists ever goddamn did was come up with yurt turtles.

     Anyway, me and Chloe'd been working a good solid vein all week. And 

maybe yurt turtle faces don't got much in the way of expressions, but I 

swear Chloe grinned ear to ear every night when I'd crawl along her neck 

and she'd pull her head inside with me. I'd break out my old zanza, pluck 

her favorite songs till my thumbs couldn't pluck no more, dish us out a 

little ouzo, and things'd get nice and cozy, if you know what I mean. Like 

I said, best yurt turtle anybody ever had....

     What whacked me awake middle of that night, though, was the worst 

sound in the whole goddamn world: pipes groaning out on the diggers. They 

do that when they've sucked up something they shouldn't, and most 

diggers're so goddamn snarky, one little fleck of strontianite or splash of 

pitchblende and if you're lucky, the whole thing only burns out its engine 

and shuts down production for the month it takes to replace. If you're not 

lucky, well, the radioactive pit where you and your yurt turtle used to be, 

they'll at least name it after you.

     So I pull away from the warmth of Chloe's neck, slap a hand against 

the light switch, and hold my breath, hoping against goddamn hope that 

maybe I didn't hear that groan after all. Chloe blinks her big golden eyes 

and makes that little cluck in her throat that means she's asking me what 

the hell I'm doing waking her up in the middle of the goddamn night.

     I just hold up my hand and listen as hard as I've ever listened. And 

there it went again, Chloe's eyes going wide. She pops her head outside, I 

jump over the coffee table, jam myself into my coveralls, sling on my tool 

belt and my rebreather, and climb along her neck into the freezing black.

     No goddamn way I'm gonna stay out there too long — that's the air 

falling down outta the sky in big chunks, covering the ground with goddamn 

icebergs till sunrise boils it all back to gas again; hell, even the light 

from my helmet's enough to set fog billowing up around me, the black going 

gray and making it even harder to goddamn see...

     Anyway, the diggers were straining and groaning like they were goddamn 

constipated. 'Cept of course they were sucking up instead of pushing out, 

but you get the idea. Chloe popped her outer shell flaps, emergency foam 

ready — though that stuff makes a better goddamn desert topping than 

anything else — and I ran to the main digger, hoping the slave circuits 

hadn't burned out again so I could maybe shut the chain down before the 

whole goddamn place went isotope on me when — bam! All twelve of 'em just 

ground to a halt, neat as you please.

     Which wasn't possible unless somebody was in the control cabin. And 

there wasn't anybody but me and Chloe in that whole goddamn part of the 

world.

     I got to the cabin door, then, heaved it open, and there was this 

Axe-face at the console. A real, honest-to-God Axe-face: tall and spindly, 

eyes bulging on either side of that narrow silver head they've got. And 

sure, Wesdurins on Hahld wasn't that strange — goddamn government used to 

sell sore-ass to both sides in the war, Axe-faces and Lizards alike. But 

what one was doing all the goddamn way out here...

     So... "The hell!" I yelled at him.

     He stepped back. "Perturbation," he said, his voice all high-pitched 

and metallic.

     "Goddamn right!" I shouted, and I pushed past him to the console, not 

one single goddamn light showing from it. Which meant the Axe-face had 

somehow managed to shut the whole system down — the whole goddamn system! — 

just since I'd heard that first groan, something I woulda been hard-pressed 

to do, and I've been working these goddamn diggers since I was old enough 

to pound a pipe with a lug wrench. I blinked another minute at the console, 

then spun around to look at the Axe-face.

     He wasn't dressed like a miner, that's for goddamn sure: a skin-tight 

shiny dark purple suit — made me think of wet rubber, looking at it — 

covered him from neck to toes, only his head showing that silver skin. And 

sure, he obviously knew his way around equipment, and maybe he'd just saved 

me and Chloe from checking into big bang city, but I still shouted, "The 

goddamn hell you doing in here?"

     And damned if he didn't just cock his head, point a thin purple-coated 

finger at me, and say, "Queue."

     I stared, and he reached around and showed me a long black ponytail 

hanging down from the back of his weird head. "Queue," he said again, 

waggling the end of it at me.

     And sure I had my hair back in a ponytail. No time for barbering out 

there, and a ponytail comes in handy for whenever Chloe needs tickling, if 

you know what I mean. But what our goddamn hairstyles had to do with 

anything, I sure as hell didn't know and was too goddamn bleary-eyed to 

figure out.

     So... "Look," I said after a few seconds. "You wanna come inside? Not 

too much goddamn air this time of night."

     He nodded. "Uncomfortable," he said.

     "You got that right." I pushed the door open and called out, "Chloe, 

honey? Everything's OK! And we got a guest!"

     Out in the fog I heard that scratchy grumble that means she's asking 

me what the hell I'm talking about. "It's OK, honey!" I told her again. 

"It's just me and—" I looked back at the Axe-face. "You goddamn people use 

names or anything?"

     He cocked his head to the other side and said, "Seed."

     And what the hell do I know about alien names? So I nodded. "OK, then, 

Seed, let's get outta this goddamn cold."

     For a minute, he didn't move, and I was just starting to wonder 

whether he was an idiot or something when he gave a flutey sort of trill. 

"Brotherhood," he said, and he ambled out into the night, his legs with 

their too-many goddamn knees flapping and bending all over the place.

     I rolled my eyes and followed. "Honey?" I called out to Chloe. "Could 

you turn on the porch light for us?"

     She rumbled a yes back at me, and golden light flickered up in the 

darkness, shining out around Chloe's neck and flippers as she stumped 

toward us. And for all the times I've seen it — Chloe's shell all lit up to 

guide me home after a day of hell and worse — it always tightens my throat 

a little.

     And if it got me choked up, damned if it didn't stop the Axe-face 

clean in his tracks, his eyes bulging even bigger. "Beautiful," he squeaks 

out, and right then and there, I knew me and him were gonna get along fine.

     I clapped him across his narrow shoulders. "You got that goddamn 

right, Seedy." I guided him through the iced-up air till we reached her. 

"Seed, this is Chloe. Chloe, this is Seed. He stopped the goddamn diggers 

from melting down, so I figured if it was OK with you, we'd put him up for 

the night."

     Chloe doesn't take too well to strangers, so she narrowed her eyes at 

the Axe-face and pushed her head, bigger'n both our torsos, at him. He 

didn't flinch, though, didn't goddamn bat an eye, and after a minute, she 

puffed a big breath out her nose, her way of telling me sure, what the hell.

     And a good thing, too. I don't know how Seed was feeling, but my balls 

were goddamn starting to shrivel up standing there. Chloe hitched her head 

over sideways to open the door, warmth rolling out, but, well, no way this 

Axe-face had ever crawled into a yurt turtle, that was for goddamn sure.

     So... "Like this," I tell him; I bend over and slide in along Chloe's 

neck partway, then tuck my legs up and roll around so I'm looking back out 

at him. "Just grab on and climb in; Chloe didn't bite your ass, so she must 

like you."

     His little slit of a mouth popped open, and he said, 

"Bio-engineering." Then he bent down and started to squirm in past Chloe's 

head.

     He wasn't bad for a first-timer; I mean, a lotta goddamn idiots'll dig 

in hard and drag themselves, figuring something big as a yurt turtle can 

take it. And sure, Chloe could take it — she'd goddamn take anything 

anybody ever wanted to try giving her. But a pinch still hurts even if it's 

just a goddamn pinch, and Seed didn't pinch her at all, near as I could 

tell, as he worked his way in.

     I was still backing up, so when my feet hit the front room, I squirmed 

out, stood, and held a hand down for Seed when that axe-face and those 

purple shoulders came through. He blinked, took my hand, and I hauled him 

up and out.

     First thing, I peeled off that goddamn rebreather, took a gulp of 

Chloe's air, and hung the mask up on the wall. "Sit on down," I told Seed, 

pointing to the sofa tucked up along the shell wall on the other side of 

the coffee table. "Anything I can get you to drink or eat or smoke or like 

that?"

     He was staring around, his black eyes popping in and out — especially 

when Chloe slid her head in from the hall and blinked at him. "Luxurious," 

he said, then he gives me a little tap on my shoulder and folds himself up 

onto the sofa.

     Well, I'm liking this guy better and better each minute, and I put an 

arm around Chloe's neck, let her warmth drive the chill outta my bones. 

"Nobody better in the whole goddamn world than my Chloe," I tell him, and 

she makes her happy little gargle sound and cuddles up against me.

     Which made Seed whistle like a flute again. He tapped his chest with 

his fingers, and a flap opened in his purple suit. He took a little black 

card out, tapped it, and a holo-pic popped into the air: a Wesdurin 

standing beside a Pralshnee, the Lizard towering three times as tall as the 

Axe-face with a big clawed hand around the Axe-face's shoulders.

     I leaned forward to make sure I was seeing right; I mean, a Lizard and 

an Axe-face? They'd been at war for longer than us humans had goddamn been 

in space! And when the Axe-face in the holo looked up, the Lizard lowering 

her head, and the two rubbed noses, Seed humming and stroking a finger 

through the pic, well, maybe I don't know jack about aliens, but I knew 

what I was seeing right there. "You and her?" I asked.

     "Betrothed," he more whispered than said.

     Well, I just stared at him, but Chloe, her eyes popped open full-size, 

bigger'n my goddamn head, and she starts making the sorts of noises she 

makes when she doesn't goddamn believe what she's seeing. Her head 

stretches further into the room, over to the basket of magazines she keeps 

under the table: goddamn gossip rags, but, well, Chloe used to read 'em 

over and over again when we were out there.

     She digs through the basket with her tongue, pulls a rag out, and 

flops it on the table, pages sorta soupy like they get after she's tongued 

through 'em two or three dozen times.

     Now, all I see is a picture of a Lizard in full battle armor and a 

caption saying "Pralshnee Royal Xylography Scandal!" But Seed's eyes bulge 

out like goddamn balloons; he pitches forward, lays the hand not holding 

the holo on the magazine, and his humming ratchets up a couple notches.

     I look at Chloe, and she gargles out this whole story about some big 

mucky-muck in the Lizard high command last year falling in love with these 

goddamn wood carvings her troops had brought back from a raid on some 

Axe-face planet or other. This Lizard steals the carvings, abandons her 

post, outfights her own goddamn legions to escape, and disappears, all so 

she can find this Axe-face wood carver.

     And when Chloe insisted that the Lizard in Seed's holo was the same as 

the Lizard in the magazine, well, I sure as hell can't tell one Lizard from 

another, but the way Seed was mooning over that picture... "Goddamn," I 

said. "But if you're the wood carver, what the hell're you doing here?"

     He'd set the holo down, was tracing the Lizard's face in the magazine 

with the spidery fingers of both hands. "Rendezvous," he said. "Insanity, 

but..." He made a few more flute noises. "Beloved."

     I just shook my head, but a sniffle beside me, and goddamn if Chloe 

didn't have tears in her golden eyes. She turns to look at me, her mouth 

set in that goddamn hard line she gets when she's asking me what the hell 

I'm gonna do to fix something.

     "What?" I choked out. "Honey, it's some goddamn interstellar Romeo and 

Juliet! What the hell'm I s'posed to do?"

     Her mouth line gets even harder, and the warble she gave me had a 

whole "you better think of something if you goddamn know what's good for 

you" thing to it.

     "The hell," I said, and I slapped the flat of my hand against the 

table. "OK, Seedy. Where're you s'posed to meet this goddamn Lizard of 

yours?"

     He took a comppad from his chest pocket, the coordinates there too 

goddamn familiar since they were maybe fifteen meters north of the main 

digger. "Elopement, but..." His eyes drew back into his head. 

"Impossibility."

     "That's goddamn right." I got up and started pacing. "Lizards'll sure 

as hell hunt you down if they can, and your people can't be too goddamn 

happy about all this either, huh?"

     He tapped his chest. "Convicted," he said. "Treason."

     Chloe sniffled again, and I groaned. "All right, all right! Chloe, we 

need to get back to town quick as we can. Seedy, you've gotta leave a 

message here for your goddamn wife or whatever she is." I told him what it 

would hafta say, then asked, "You and her got any special passwords or 

anything so she'll know it comes from you?"

     His black balloon eyes just pulsed for a minute; then he made that 

flute sound, tapped his pocket open again, and took out a long thin 

something, his other hand jabbing a finger at the top of the coffee table. 

"Borrow?" he asked.

     I blinked at him. "What, the goddamn table?"

     The fingers holding the thing flicked, and jagged pulse of laser light 

sprang from its tip. "Carving," he said.

     That got a laugh out of me, and I cleared Chloe's magazine away. 

"Seed," I told him. "You be my goddamn guest."

     Some more trills, and he set to work. And, God, I tell you, I could 

almost see what his Lizard girlfriend had gotten so excited about. I mean, 

this crappy table that Chloe and me had picked up for an honest-to-God 

handful of beans since it fit exactly in the space where we wanted a table, 

and Seed made it into a goddamn work of art while I watched. Half an hour, 

forty-five minutes, no more than that, and the curls, the designs, the 

pictures: hell, I don't know what all. No way anyone was gonna think it was 

forged, though...

     We left the carving in the snow next to his ship — goddamn thing 

looked like a coffin, but then anything bigger woulda got blown outta the 

sky coming through the defense shield — and Chloe swam out through the 

frozen air for Canttown.

     Not much to tell after that. We got to government house just after 

sun-up, about five minutes before this beat-up Lizard transport ship 

landed, and the Lizard that stepped out, I mean, her translator robot told 

me to call her Pixie, but she was goddamn bigger'n Chloe! She and Seed 

start into some serious hugging, but by then, the netcasts are screaming 

about the two battle fleets in orbit around the planet. But, well, Hahld's 

got the best shield generators in known space, and while we'll let 

transports through, those warships could only politely request that we turn 

over the fugitives to them.

     But by that time, Seed and Pixie were in front of the council giving 

'em my idea: if us humans'd agree to only sell our sorastrite to Seed and 

Pixie's supporters, they'd agree to stop the war, bring us humans in to 

police the peace, give us government contracts up the goddamn wazoo... 

Basically, so sweet a deal, we'd be idiots to turn it down.

     I had a couple nervous minutes there wondering if the council was as 

stupid as I'd always goddamn thought it was, but turns out they actually 

knew a good thing when they saw it, and, well, that was it for the war. 

Anybody wanted working shields, they needed our sore-ass. And the only way 

they could get it was to swear allegiance to Seed and Pixie.

     Seed never did get us a new table, the bastard — Pixie kept the old 

one; it's in the goddamn Peace Museum on Tyk Eel now. But a month after 

their coronation, they flew out here under full military escort and handed 

me that sign hanging out front. Not a bad likeness of Chloe, but I look 

like something you'd find at the southbound end of a northbound yurt turtle.

     To tell the truth, I was more interested in the twenty-five thousand 

credits they started putting into the bank every month with me and Chloe's 

name on it. Paid for the bar here, and I tell you, running this place is a 

goddamn picnic after thirty-three years mining sore-ass-trite.

     Of course, Seedy had to get the last word in at the ceremony, waggling 

his ponytail at me and saying, "Uxorious" before he and Pixie flew back to 

set up the new government.

     I had to look that one up. Turns out the Axe-faces tie their hair like 

that when they've decided to devote themselves wholly to their wives or 

husbands or whatever. I don't know what the goddamn hell he meant, but 

Chloe's still laughing about it. So I guess maybe I do know what he meant.

     But that's why he carved "Mr. Goddamn Happy" across the top of the 

sign there. Because that's me. Now, either buy something or get the hell 

out!
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