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A Near-Miss: A Ben Side Story

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Watching the flickering edges of the neon light show for the Glockstar docked just around the bend had gotten old fast.  The colors were pretty and intense in a way Ben didn’t get to see at the vineyards, but they didn’t change outside of their rotation, and the reactions of those who passed it had died down, too, so he couldn’t even enjoy it vicariously.  Maybe if he could see more of the lights, himself – but, no, Mudokons weren’t allowed into the facility from outside for some poorly defined reasons.  Maybe they were paranoid about all that business going on below their floating labs, and only trusted those they had on staff.


That was probably it.  The last thing he wanted was to get Drunce in trouble for being greedy, anyway.


He poked his head outside, looking for something to do without breaking the rules.  The Vykkers had stationed an Intern by the blimp, to ensure he didn’t sneak off without supervision.  Didn't trust the Slig still on board, he supposed.  The Intern looked as bored as he was, head bobbing mindlessly to the beat from his headphones with no passion behind it at all.


“Hey there,” said Ben.  The Intern glanced at him quizzically.  “What are you listening to?”


And that was all it had taken, really.  “Bob”, or so Ben thought he’d heard from the Intern’s stitched-up mouth, had plugged his music into the blimp’s sound system and suddenly the mindless beat to wait by alone had become something to dance and sing along to together. 


Ben delighted at trying to match or harmonize with the vocals, twirling and leaping to feel his heart race and watch his long white skirt move with him.  Bob hummed along, even seemed to be trying to sing with his limited vocal ability, and played an enthusiastic air guitar with his long fingers.  Even Sal, the old security guard who had piloted their little five-capacity blimp here, got in on it, tapping his fingers on the walls and humming along, and when he began tapping his foot, the motors in his pants turned into another instrument.


About eight enthusiastic songs later, a triangular, Glukkon-shaped shadow fell in the doorway, and the high spirits crashed cruelly quickly.  Bob yanked the jack out of the sound system with a frightened noise and even Sal – though he had been working for Drunce longer than Ben had been alive – flinched and covered his head as if fearing an incoming blow.


Drunce grinned wide with his wine-stained teeth.  “That’s adorable! You two made a friend!”


Bob made a sound that Ben was sure was “Huh?”  He chuckled in reply, and Sal echoed it with a distinctly sheepish note.


“Man, I needed a nice sight like that,” he said, waddling his way towards his chair and practically falling into it.  Ben saw then that he was sweating heavily.  “That got weird in there.  Sorry to break up this little party, but I think we oughtta head out early.”


Bob nodded with an affirmative noise and turned to go.


“Bye, Bob!” Ben said, waving.  Bob waved back and headed off with a bounce in his step he couldn’t see in the other passing Interns to set their departure up.


“I need a drink, Ben,” Drunce said wearily.  “Sal, get us out of here the second we get the green light, okay?”


“Gotcha, boss!” said Sal, heading off to the controls.


Ben went to fetch a glass of wine.  “So, the party isn’t over, sir?”


“Nah, two Glockstars got into a bidding war over the Gabbiar. Would’ve been fascinating, actually, seeing how much Moolah they could afford to just throw around over one little thing.”


Drunce paused as Ben approached with his wine and went silent long enough for him to give him a few sips.  The taste alone seemed to calm him down.


“We’re good to go!” Sal called from the front.


“Get us out of here!” Drunce called back.  He sighed in relief as the blimp’s ramp locked into place and they lurched off into open air.


“It ‘would’ve been’ fascinating, sir?” Ben prompted.


“So, you know one of them was that Lulu guy, right?”  Drunce gestured with his head at the wine glass and Ben lowered it to his lips for another sip.  “He was a couple rows ahead of me.  Well, a little way in, he started acting…weird.”


“Weird how?  Isn’t he, um…”


“Stupid?  Lazy?  Something like that, yeah.  But this wasn’t either of those things.  He started acting all… confused.  I think I heard him say something like ‘What’s going on?’  And then suddenly, he’d jump back into the bidding like nothing happened.  There was a really loud Vykker in front of me, couldn’t hear that clearly.”  He frowned, and his ears drooped in distress.  “Heard enough, though.  Gimme some more wine, I’m getting the creeps all over again just talking about it.”


The drink he took when Ben offered the glass again was much longer, and Ben was sure Drunce wasn’t tasting the wine so much as trying to dull his thoughts as fast as possible.


“So, he was, what, under the influence of something?”


“No idea, Ben.  He seemed fine coming in.  More confident than when he came to our place, but earning a few million Moolah all at once will do that to a guy. Do you remember that? When he set up his donation box at our place?”


“Kind of.  I was setting more bird traps.”


“I didn’t have you with me?  Why did I have you off doing that…?” He gasped. “Oh, that was when Roth, uh…yeah.” His features drooped again.


Ben grimaced.  “Yeah, and the others took it hard.  They were too depressed to work.  At least we didn’t lose anyone else.”


“Yeah, I remember now.  Worst production all year, from harvest on up.  Even drank some of the shipment.  That didn’t help matters.”  A deep sigh.  “You’re right, though, gotta look on the bright side, Ben.  We only lost him, and you brought the others back around before we could sink.”


Ben didn’t like thinking about Roth; it made his stomach feel like it had settled in his body the wrong way.  He knew it was a sore spot for Drunce, too, so he prodded the conversation back on track.  “You were saying, sir?  About Lulu?” 


“Yeah, yeah!  Anyway, Lulu was definitely not that bright a Gluk, you know.  But he didn’t sound like he had any memory problems.  This was just wrong, and I dunno what it was, but I don’t want to be anywhere near it.”


“Well, we’re getting farther away from it every second,” Ben reassured him.  “We’re leaving it all behind us, sir.”


“Yeah.  Yeah, you’re right.  Still, I’m really creeped out.  Lemme have the rest of that glass, Ben.  And then pour me another.  I’m gonna need it.  Think there are nightmares coming.”


“Right away, sir,” said Ben, as gently as possible.  He lifted the glass to Drunce’s lips again, his focus half-drifting out the windows to the darkening sunset.