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."
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!