When it came to methods of incarceration, the Reverend Flip Galore, former number two on the galaxy’s most wanted list, had seen it all.
He’d spent a season running from hunters in a perp-park, a century of temporary decapitation on a brain farm, a fifty-year stint in a submerged immobilisation tank somewhere in Gop Glacier, and, the source of his fondest memories, several cycles of induced alcoholic psychosis on the outer rims; he’d been found guilty for attempted planet hijacking, attempted drug smuggling, attempted real estate fraud and had more than nine hundred thousand counts of attempted murder on his file; and despite not having succeeded in any of his criminal undertakings, Flip had clocked up so many years (approximately three thousand and fifty-four) of sweating, working or biting down on a plastic bit in some form of correctional facility, that he’d achieved a rehabilitation status of ‘platinum’ in four of the five colonies. He was therefore the universe’s most reformed person.
It was no wonder so many people wanted to marry him.
Flip was riding out his latest bender of twenty-five heliocentric orbits for attempted drug trafficking in the Jovian Gravitational-Psychology Correctional facility, fondly known as the ‘Nutcrusher’, and it was just going on lights out when he was reading out the latest letter of love to his cellmate, Reggie the Rat.
“‘…and I swear to you, my dearest Reverend, that when those barbarians finally release you from their demonic claws, I shall be there and waiting for you, my only love, with open arms and a willing heart. Yours, Princess Geraldine Tolley-Seldom.’” Flip kicked the bottom of his bed and howled. “Oh, Reggie, this one is hot! Have you seen her photo? Open arms indeed! All five of them. And I won’t ask how many hearts the old dog has.”
“I don’t know, Flip. You think all these broads are goin’ to turn up?”
“What? Of course they will! They’re Galores now after all. Tomorrow they’ll all be there, lined up prettier than a row of hyperspace beacons. Some just as large. Just think of it, Reggie – two hundred and nine of ‘em, all assembled on the patio, united by their love for the single most fantastic man in the universe. What an event! Every news network will be attending to cover this you know. It’s been all arranged.”
“I still say you gone crazy. You got seven Gs pressing on your brain for a century… things are bound to go broke. Why, just the other day I found meeself with me pants down in the canteen.”
“Not me, Reggie. I don’t pee in my own soup. I’ve scored it all up. These are not just a random rabble of jailbird hunters, my dear boy—I’ve invested a great deal of time (Jove knows I’ve had it) in researching these dames. These are the bored and over-protected daughters of industry captains; rich divorcees living out their thousandth year longing for a man who will show them real adventure, girls with fantasies, girls with taste (obviously) and, most importantly of all, girls with piles of money so high you could fill the sweaty end of a black hole.”
“And you s’pose you’re goin’ to just waltz out and git your hands on it, this black hole of money.”
“No, no. It’s only when they die that I get half of everything.”
“Then it’s done good that you’ve had your practice waitin’, cos that’ll be one stretch you’ll never see the end of. I was married once, Reverend, and I tells you, it’s not one long subspace barge party. You got the shopping trips, the endless redecoratin’, she wants new skin every second birthday and of course there’s the breeding. And I only married one of ‘em. Not yer two hundred and nineteen. I praise the stars every day I rammed that orbital freighter and got meeself wedged in this compactor. I may have been drunk at the time, but I weren’t mad.”
“Nine. Two hundred and nine wives.”
“Whatever. Take it from me. The money ain’t worth it. I got hitched to Deseré, thinking that she was rich, her ol’ man bein’ in gas and all.”
“In gas? Why he must’ve been spanked up to the pipes with dough!”
“That’s what I thought too. But it turns out that he wasn’t in gas, he was gas. They’d steamed him good. Put what was left of him in a flask, they did. Deseré keeps it on her bedside table.”
Submitting to the force of all seven Gs, Flip’s head swung down from the top bunk to meet Reggie’s eye. “But what if you could have all the money without the pain? Without the inconveniences of wedlock? What if all you had to do was say one simple little ‘I do’, or two hundred and nine, and you get all the spoils with none of the toils?”
“I don’t follow.”
Outside, a low hum in the corridor announced the approach of a sentry drone. Flip and Reggie stared through the translucent field as the drone floated past their cell. There was no light or sound or anything to indicate they were being scanned, but they knew that inside its black diamond body, a million sensors were busy scrutinising every nanometre of every cell and molecule in their bodies. When it finally passed, Flip let out a whistle. “Boy, do I hate those things. We had none of that on the brain farm. Look, Reggie,” Flip lowered his voice, “what I’m saying is, there’s going to be a little surprise at the next Galore family reunion.”
“What do you mean?”
“You really are thicker than a pot full of atmospheres aren’t you, Reggie? Tell me you’ve heard of a Plutonian propane party. Please.”
“What would they be again, Rev?”
Flip began snapping his fingers seven-seven time.“‘Hip-lo propanity, spark of profanity, boom goes humanity…Pluto!’ Know the jingle? It was running the networks for eons.”
Reggie always went silent when he didn’t understand. For a one-eyed triped, he was of above average intelligence and had even attended military school back on his home planet, where he’d learned to tie knots and blow glass. After a number of shifts in the galleys, Flip had been also surprised to learn that Reggie was pretty handy with an egg whisk. Still, measured on the well-accepted Scale of Evolutionary Adequacy™, Reggie was to Flip’s kind what a match head was to a supernova.
“Wifies go BOOM! BOOM! You get it?”
Reggie gurgled and clapped one of his sinewy hands hard against his middle thigh.
“That’s right, my boy. I’ve had the visitor’s bay rigged with so much plakky they’re going to have to scrape the carbon off the docks to identify the bodies. Happens tomorrow at twelve on the dot. On the dot! Controlled explosion of course. I wouldn’t want the press to miss a frame of it, as I, the distraught husband, finally free after decades, imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit-”
“Thank you, Reggie. But the cargo was clearly labelled ‘Friulian Fizz’. How was I supposed to know I wasn’t doing anything illegal? Anyway, just picture the drama as I step through the gates and into my new life, the two hundred and nine marriage certificates safely stored in my blast-proof briefcase, to find my loving wives reduced to shadow. Oh the tears, Reggie! The horror! The fathers and their bank managers, aghast at the unfairness of it all as they blow their noses into their account statements. What a jape! Then, while the forensic blatherskites clean up the mess, I’ll be sweeping across the rest of the universe in a knife missile buying up big. Planets? Who needs them? My portfolio is going galactic, Reggie. Galactic I tell you. Who knows? I might even run for President. I’m nearly as big a criminal as the current one, or at least my ambitions are just as large. Yes, my own political party. What do you think I should call myself?”
“What’s wrong with the name you got now?”
“No, no, no. You have to become a brand if you’re running for President. Something big, imposing. I’ve got it! ‘Dark Matters’. What do you think? ‘We know what matters. Vote now or be disintegrated!’ No, no. Too cliché…”
“After you steam all those wives? I dunno if that’s such a top idea, Flip.”
“What do you mean? All of our best leaders have done time at some stage of their illustrious careers. In fact, if you don’t have ‘reformed criminal and never looked back’ somewhere on your CV then you may as well take the next frigate to that planet whose name I forget, but where all the losers live.”
“Where? Never mind. Anyway my plan can’t fail. I’ve got my best contacts on the job. Trusted men. Men with experience.”
“If you say so.”
“Just you wait and see – come midday tomorrow, the tiles will be rattling.” Flip leaned backed on his pillow and stretched his face into a wide grin. “And if there’s anything left over from tomorrow’s spouse salad, I’ll let you have the parts. Get yourself something fancy made up. A new wife. No promises of course.”
“Sounds good to me, Flip.”
“It will be. And I promise you – this will be the last time you’ll see me in the joint. ‘A new chapter in the hero’s journey’, I’m calling it.”
The drone made its second pass of the evening before lights out. As it reached Reggie and Flip’s cell, it paused and silently carried out several revolutions. It scanned the room once more, then something inside it hummed. A light on its outer shell threw a thread of light on the force field door. An internal memo.
Flip GALORE : ELIGIBLE FOR EARLY RELEASE.
REASONS: LENIENCY – MULTIPLE DEPENDENCIES (209).
The cell door vanished and a line of illuminated arrows lit a path from the edge of the bunk out into the corridor.
“A bit early for the party, isn’t it Flip?” Reggie asked and yawned.
Flip Galore bit his tongue. “Oh bugger,” he whispered before dropping to the floor like a magnet to iron.