Day 2. 7 pages, 2,625 words.
She squinted at the hopper, which leaned ever so slightly sideways on a mismatched buttress piston. He had to admit, in the sober light of day, that its jaunty angle amidst the other vehicles in the lot made it look rather like a bar patron who was out far too late, having arrived at the bar from another party which had been fancy-dress but half its costume had fallen off somewhere along the way. The insultingly courteous space left around the hopper by the other lot users only served to enhance this resemblance.
In fact, never mind the sober light of day. The hopper wasn’t much to look at irrespective of the position of the sun or the illumination’s alcohol content.
“You came here in that?” she asked.
Çrom gave Lotus a hurt glance. “It may not look like-”
“It looks like a circus caravan that got scavenged for parts so the rest of the circus could get out of a really bad place intact,” Lotus said, clearly not inspired to join in on Çrom’s whimsical ‘barfly’ analogy which admittedly he hadn’t vocalised anyway, “leaving this one in the bad place, where it stayed for at least five hundred years, before the bad place dried up around it. And in some places caked onto it,” she concluded, pointing.
“Mm,” Çrom smiled. “Yes, well, it’s definitely a survivor,” he glanced at her. “Like me.”
Lotus tolerated this attempt at levity, but didn’t go so far as to reward it. “Why didn’t you tell me about this when I asked about your worldly possessions?”
“I figured you’d assume I got here in some sort of vehicle.”
“You mentioned snowballing together a small bow-wave of shit,” Lotus remarked.
Çrom beamed. “There, you see? Did I lie?”
Lotus was unmoved. “You also said that anything you had managed to accumulate was mine for the taking.”
“Well, this isn’t exactly mine to give away, and in any case that was only if and when you managed to kill me,” Çrom reminded her. “And really,” he continued reasonably, “would you have killed me for a step-hopper? I mean, if I’d told you about it, would that have been the clincher?”
“Maybe not this step-hopper,” Lotus conceded. “Where did you get it? It looks ancient.”
“It was a gift … well, actually more in the way of a long-term loan, like I was saying … from a friend of mine,” Çrom said. “A Centaur, you might be interested to know.”
Lotus looked at him oddly. “And it was a loan? Were you planning on giving it back at some point? The Centaur have been extinct since the Battle of Destilak’s Throne.”
Çrom shook his head. “They’re not extinct. The Centaur who weren’t part of the Hands of Madness went to colonise the stars they loved so well,” he looked wistfully up at the misty ceiling of Heaven as though he could gaze through the mass of stone to the vault of stars beyond. Then he lowered his eyes and gave Lotus a shrug. “The hopper wasn’t rated for that sort of space flight, though, so it had to stay behind,” he finished. “And one day Periaptoclemniar will come back and look at me very sternly if I don’t have his hopper in a fit state.”
“Changing its name back to whatever it was before Periaptoclemniar lent it to you would probably be a good place to start,” Lotus advised.
Çrom frowned. “What do you mean? I didn’t change it.”
Lotus eyed Çrom even more narrowly than she already had been. “Are you seriously telling me,” she said slowly, “that the original name your Centaur friend gave his personal step-hopper was The Happy Bumfuck?”
“It is the best kind of bumfuck,” Çrom pointed out.
“That’s not the – I don’t-” Lotus waved her hands indignantly, slashing the air with her grimy nails. “That’s the least Centaur name I’ve ever heard.”
“How many Centaur names have you heard?”
Lotus glared at him. “‘Periaptoclemniar’ sounded pretty good,” she said eventually. “I suppose you’re going to tell me his friends called him Perry.”
“No, that would be silly,” Çrom replied.
“Oh that would be silly,” Lotus muttered.
“Absolutely,” Çrom said firmly, “peri is an old slang term for … I think it was some kind of flying creature, Centaur used the word as an insult to imply another of their kind was … let’s say, romantically inclined towards pterippi,” he glanced at her. “Wingèd horses,” he clarified.
“Because Pegasusfucker was already the name of one of their starships?” Lotus asked.
“Ooh, nobody messed with Pegasus,” Çrom said, “well, except maybe his brother … anyway,” he concluded, “if you must know, Periaptoclemniar actually preferred to go by ‘Clem’,” with a courtly bow he ushered her towards the battered old hopper. “Shall we?”
– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark.