Alex Reynard

The Library

Alex Reynard's Online Books


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The first clang didn't wake Zinc up. But the second one did.

The way batbeds work is, an otherwise-normal bed is placed on the ceiling. The furson desiring to sleep in it jumps up, it pulls them in like a magnet, their gravity is reversed for the night, and they settle in as comfortably and normally as if they were rightside-down. Zinc was currently under the covers (and freshly washed for the first time in recent memory). He and Junella had slept the whole night through. Zinc had even woken up a few times, then snuggled back into the sheets, grinning and relishing the fact that he could stay in here as long as he liked. However, when Coryza's mighty walls were opened in the morning, they crashed to the desert sand with a calamitous clatter. Many Coryzans used this as an alarm clock. Zinc remained in REM sleep and merely rolled over. However, as sometimes happens when a soul's subconscious intersects with Phobiopolis' batshit physics, his connection to his limbs, eyeballs, ears, and skullcap disconnected from his body. All of these things fell to the floor. Where Junella was sleeping.

Zinc heard the sound of a bed being crushed. He reached for his eyes on the bedside table and couldn't find them.

Below, Junella was lying extremely dead under a pair of giant wrenches.

Zinc continued tapping back and forth on the dresser with his toes, searching for his missing sensory apparatus. "Now where the hell... I could've sworn..." He could still hear through his ears, though wherever his eyeballs were, it was too dark to see.


Zinc certainly heard that. As did fourteen other guests. He tumbled out from between the covers, somersaulted in midair, and landed on his tush on the carpet. Yelping, he vaulted upright with surprising grace for an armless blind guy.

Pissed-off footsteps stomped towards him. "I wake up a second ago and have about two eyeblinks to appreciate the glorious morning, before a pair of goddamned BOAT ANCHORS turn my INSIDES into my OUTSIDES!!!" She jabbed him in the sternum with a finger-needle. "You got anything to SAY about that, ya smelly bum!?"

"Hey now! I washed last night, just like you said!"

Junella shot him in the foot.

The bullet split his paw down the middle and ricocheted into the bathroom. Zinc yowled and hopped up and down several times. Amazingly, he still kept his balance. Junella noted that with interest, and also snarled at realizing the hole in the carpet would come out of her security deposit.

Zinc hissed at the pain. "JEEZISS, Juney!! Ease up! I need both of these for jitterbuggin'!"

She narrowed her eyes. "You call me that little nickname one more time and I will dropkick you into Dysphoria."

She couldn't possibly mean that, he assumed. "While you're still holdin' that sixgun, d'ya mind having the decency enough to coup de grace me!? I can't keep up this pogo stick shit much longer!"

Shrugging, she obliged. A second bullet went straight through his heart.

He had exactly enough time to say "Thanks," before he collapsed.

A moment later he was back on his feet. And by sheer luck, his resurrected self was fully clothed and had all of his bits reattached. He blinked his eyes and clanked his wrenches. "Huh. Sweet! Thanks, Juney. Saves me some time."

She was about to unleash hell on him for ignoring her warning about the nickname, but stopped herself. 'He's a simpleminded greaser lunkhead. Don't expect too much from him.' She got his attention by flicking the revolver against the tip of his nose. "I still oughtta plug you in the guts and ditch you in the desert."

Zinc patted his pocket, confirming the bag of imaginite nuggets was inside. "How 'bout I buy you breakfast and we call it even?"

She readied her needles to respond, then considered the offer. "Allright. So long as it's in liquid form, we got a deal."

"Aces." He headed for the door. "Let's get revvin'. My engine needs grease."

Junella had to take a moment to stare at the unflappable canine. "Y'know... I just shot you a coupla seconds ago."

He turned back. "Yeah?"

She blinked hard. "You really don't fear death much, do you?"

A shrug. "Not anymore. I mean, I ain't a big fan of pain. But death's just a revolving door here. So why raise a ruckus?" He turned back to the door and stepped into the hallway. "Meetcha downstairs. Don't take too long getting dressed!"

Junella fumed and steamed and directed evil thoughts towards the empty doorframe for a few moments. Then she snatched her white scarf off the endtable and threw it around her neck.

She gave herself a quick check in the bathroom mirror before leaving. To her absolute disgust, she realized she was smiling a little.

"You better cut that right the fuck out immediately," she warned herself.


Junella was in no mood for crowds or noise. She ordered black coffee and a screwdriver from the many-limbed greenery behind the hotel bar. Then she carried it out to the lobby, to sit in relative quiet on one of the leather sofas opposite the fireplace. The glow reflected off her vinyl like a jack-o-lantern.

Moments later, Zinc showed up, adroitly carrying a stein of Kahlúa (with a paper umbrella in it) and a heaping platter of bacon and scrambled eggs. Junella's posture and expression reminded him of an iron beartrap, so he took his seat on the opposite couch and ate quietly.

Though she didn't say it, she appreciated that.

Coryza existed in perpetual night, like much of the surrounding lands. So while there was never any actual sunlight, the moon in the daytime was bright enough to read by. The citizenry did their best to aid it. The stores and homes were encrusted with much outdoor lighting. Like perpetual Christmastime.

Junella finished one drink, then the other. The coffee was a warm, purring cat in her belly.

She looked up to see Zinc had bulldozed his meal and was now busy fidgeting. Waiting for her to give him direction.

She also noticed that his jacket and denim were dirty again. Clothes were normally self-cleaning in Phobiopolis. For that to falter, a furson would have to get used to squalor for quite a long time. Until it became an accepted part of their self-image.

"Where you from, mutt?" she asked.

"Oh, everywhere!" he replied. Every part of him perked up at getting to tell a story. "Started in the Blackdamp like most people, I guess. Wandered around till I stumbled on Hypoxia. Wasn't my style. Kept moving. I screwed around in Cryptolysis for a bit. Got kicked out for- What else? -bar fights. I was in Dengue for a while. Met a Doc there who offered me free room and eats if he could tinker with my head. That's where I got these." He twanged the wires holding his eyes in place. "Part of an experiment. Y'know how stuff tends to move around when no one's lookin' at it? Especially in the wilderness? He thought he could nail it in place by making someone who didn't haveta blink. I was... less effective than he'd hoped. But the chicks dig it, so I kept it."

Junella nodded. The story of why she was vinyl instead of fur wasn't dissimilar. She guessed such things happened to a lot of souls here. Transformations were common. If it wasn't a burden to get it reversed, then que sera sera. And for some people, they stumbled onto something that felt more right than their previous body. Junella herself had come to feel that way.

Zinc reclined against the armrest with his feet propped up on the opposite side. "I've touched paw to just about every major population center this world's got," he continued. "Rhinolith, Lalochezia, Anisocoria. I lived in Ectopia Cordis for a stretch." He glanced over, wondering if she'd be impressed.

She was, but hid it behind her poker face. Phobiopolis' biggest city, and she'd never actually visited. "You manage to get thrown out of there for bar fights too?"

He guffawed. "Nah! That's reg'lar Sunday afternoon entertainment there. My kinda joint. You can get into a knife fight on any given streetcorner just by askin' politely for one. But it's not the best town to be in if you're flat broke, dig? You end up sliding down the levels, lower and lower, till all you're doing is sittin' there. Goin' around in circles all day. Watching other folks have fun."

She noticed then, how red his eyes were. How his face sagged even when he was smiling.

He sat back up. "So! I got fed up and walked back here. Took me about a month? Hard to tell out in the sticks. Killed a helluva lotta clowns and constructs. Free meat for a cookout, at least. And now here I am. Was hoping to scout some action. And alakazam: a delicate rose with an itchy trigger finger offers me a job."

Junella snickered.

Zinc leaned his muzzle across one of his wrenches. "You never exactly told me what that job is though."

She had been lulled by the easygoing cadence of his voice. Actually enjoying it. Then he had to ruin the moment by reminding her of reality. Shit. She steeled herself and tried to figure out where to start.

"Pickin' lettuce? Assembly line? If it's fixing up cars, hey hey! I'm your man!"

"No," she sang grimly, then sat up straight. "Listen. Why don't I just... show you? Let you know right up front what you're getting your happy-go-lucky ass into?"

He arched an eyebrow. Her tone made it clear: playing-around time was over. "This is heavy duty, ain't it?"

She simply nodded. "You talked about fights. How good are you?"

He tried to appear modest as he flexed his wrenches like a bicep curl. "I mean, did you see me in action last night?"

"Cut the cute. Arm wrestling's not the same as a real-life, knock-out, down-in-the-mud, bleeding-all-over fight."

The grin left his muzzle. He leaned forward, and that flinty edge came into his expression again. "Yeah. I been in those."

"You win?"

"Killed more than a few sorry pricks who tried to kill me first. That good enough for you?"

"You mentioned that last night. I told you to keep it on pause till the morning. It's morning now. I need to make sure you weren't kidding. On this job, we are probably going to have to start some fights. And commit a handful of heinous, cold-blooded murders."

He nodded, then spoke very softly, slowly, and with clarity. "I ain't no angel. But I'm no snake either. At worst I done a few repossession 'n collection jobs. Y'know; kill a guy a few times till he pays his bill. But that's it. Never anyone who didn't earn it somehow." He glanced up, making sure she understood that his last sentence was the one most important to him. "It's occurring to me all of a sudden that I don't really know anything about you. Or what you want. So, I think you had better clarify, to my complete satisfaction, in the next ten seconds, exactly what you need me for." He glanced across the lobby. "Or else there's a door right over there I can walk out of and vanish."

She nodded back. She was sure now that he'd fill the slot. Willing to cross the grey line, but not sink all the way into the black. "I can forgive you having doubts. I know I don't exactly give off a vibe of sunshine and benevolence. But it's no heist, no hit. Strictly authorized. Take a peep at this." She reached for her side pocket and retrieved a large card. Filigreed and notarized. "Can you read, mutt?"

The color drained out of Zinc's face like someone had pulled a bathtub plug. "Yeh. Not a lot, but..." He exhaled a low whistle. It didn't take a college education to see that it was a Certificate Of Access, signed by Deputy Mayor Crynight herself.

Junella smiled smugly.

Zinc shook his head in disbelief. He'd run contraband, done some bodyguarding, joined various Robin Hood scams, etcetera. Legit work was uncommon. And he'd never been under official jurisdiction before. "So... You a cop?"

Her smile turned into a chuckle. "Not even slightly." She stood up and tucked the letter away, replacing it with her cutlass just long enough for him to get an eyeful of it. "I'm the nightmare you hire when you got a boogeyman too big for the sandman corps. And now you're my gofer. Tough luck, tin man. Get up off your ass 'n lets go look at how deep the hole is you just jumped yourself into."

He popped off the sofa and saluted. "Yes sir."


The Tatterdemalion, being primarily a haven for travelers, was located within easy walking distance of the city perimeter. The pair arrived in five minutes, plus a quick stop for Zinc to grab a hotdog to settle his nerves.

Coryza rests upon an enormous circular foundation of reinforced concrete. Its streets are laid out like the lines on a dartboard. Here at the edge, one could find the expected tourist shops, thoughtstaurants, bars, and travel guides. But also guard outposts. At night they retracted to fit beneath the lid of the city's mighty metal ramparts. In the daytime they telescoped many yards higher, to grant a better view of the surrounding wastes. From the towers, one could see clear to Dengue. Or spot the fluttering vertical glow of Ectopia Cordis.

The spotlights were piercing. Junella shielded her eyes as she scanned across the desert. Parched soil and withered plants for miles. The expected beasts were roaming. Green dots meant cactusyotes. Brown meant pigthings. Slim, dark shadows were cattacudas. Nothing out of the ordinary.

She saw one of the closer brown spots suddenly grow an arrow out of its forehead and drop to the dust. A bored guard polishing his aim.

"Awright sarge, what's the sitrep?" Zinc asked.

"Patience," she replied simply. She cast her gaze high, trying to spot a familiar face amongst the identical gold-and-burgundy uniforms leaning out from the tower windows. Not having any success, she decided to inquire politely. She dumbfounded her revolver and pinged a shot clean off the ceiling of the closest guard post.

Amid shouting, a flurry of crossbows and rifles emerged and pointed down at her.

"Cripes!" Zinc shouted, cringing and shielding his head.

Junella waved up at the guards, smiling blithely.

A helmeted head leaned down to shout, "Junella Brox! You have made this officer of the realm spill his morning coffee! That is a capital offense!"

"Shucks," she replied.

Another cried, "We should arrest you purely for being an asshole!"

"I'd be in jail every day of my life," she tossed back.

This got a round of chuckles.

"Any of you gilded pigs seen Eagsyne?"

A murmur amongst them. "He's at Post Six, if I remember right. We'll send him down. Just don't make any more holes in our tower next time you want our attention! I have to fetch a dustpan for the splinters!"

She chuckled. "You guys are princes! Thanks a million!"

Zinc gawked at her. He leaned close and whispered, "You're awful chummy with the fuzz for a freelancer."

A shrug. "You go out drinkin' with these boys in their off duty hours? Kiss a few cheeks? It avoids a hell of a lot of nights spent in a cell."

He nodded. "Dunno if the cheek-kissing thing would work for me, but I see your angle. I just got the feeling you were kind of a lone wolf, y'know?"

She crossed her arms behind her back. "I can fake nice well enough when I need to."

A nod of understanding.

Moments later, a short grey owl hobbled into view. His uniform's leather was cracked and his armor was dented. He had been serving the citizens of Coryza for a very long time. Feathers hung down on either side of his beak, giving the impression of a mustache. "Yah? I hadda hop down all dem stairs there! Din't we already do dis a coupla days ago?"

Junella gave him a respectful bow. "Yes, sir. My apologies. But I'm going to need you to repeat yourself for my newly-appointed associate here. Fill him in on what you saw."

Eagsyne eyed Zinc up and down, assessing him. "Been tellin' it over and over t' everyone else. Why not once more, eh?"

"What, um-" Zinc started.

"Monsters," the old owl said gravely.

Zinc tilted his head. He gestured behind him towards the wasteland of roaming nightmare constructs. "No offense, pops, but we kinda got a surplus of those."

Eagsyne gave the young smartass a sneer. "I wouldn't be wasting my breath telling you 'bout 'em if they was ordinaries."

"We're dealing with something new," Junella intoned.

"Oh yah," Eagsyne agreed. "Big fuckers. Tall!" He measured with his full wingspan. "'Bout four times higher'n any one of us stand. Three of 'em. Covered in warts 'n ugly pimples and all sortsa horrible shit. Came outta the west in a pack. They was banging on the walls all night long, with me lookin' down at 'em and almost pissin' in m'trousers if I'm bein' honest. Nothin' normal 'bout dem fellers, no. Laughing like hyenas, shoutin' insults, and looking right back at me with too many yellow eyes."

Zinc was taken aback. "Wait, they were talking? Constructs don't talk."

"Most don't," Junella corrected. "A handful do. But what they emphatically don't do is coordinate. If any of them were smart enough, they woulda pooled their power years ago. Woulda concentrated on one spot in the wall 'n cracked it wide open. Instead they just claw and howl all night and get nowhere, like the dumb animals they are."

Eagsyne smirked darkly. "I don't t'ink your pal here believes me. Maybe I oughtta show him, eh?"

"I was going to ask, actually. Thank you."

He nodded. "Yah." Then he spun and cupped his beak to holler up at the nearest tower, "LISTEN UP, YOU DEADBEAT DUMBSHITS! GET PANEL SEVEN TO HEAVEN STRAIGHTAWAY!"

Loud groans came from above.

"NONE OF THAT BACKTALK, YOU PENCILPRICKED SLUGFUCKERS! GET IT DONE!!" He considered for a moment. Raising the walls was a genuine pain in the ass. "FINE! SINCE YOU'RE ALL SO DAINTY, HALFWAY'LL DO!"

Murmurs of appreciation.

Eagsyne flicked a wing to the north. "Circle round with me, pup. I'll show ya something you never thought you'd never want to see."

Zinc felt a lump in his throat. The old owl limped off, Junella followed, and Zinc padded behind.

It was only three panels away. The enormous metal plates were splayed open around the city's border like flower petals, each one as big as a soccer field. Even in the desert, the metal was cold to the touch. Zinc's paws shivered.

They arrived at Panel Seven, where a team of two dozen guards were straining and grunting at their pulley stations. Zinc had never actually watched the walls being raised. It was somewhat miraculous that anything this size could move at all. And yet it was a daily event that most of the townspeople came down to participate in. The canine glanced down at his wrenches, idly wondering how much of a challenge it might be.

Eagsyne slapped him on the back. "Use dem eyes a' yours. The boys can't hold it up forever."

"Hwa?" Zinc wasn't sure what the owl was indicating, until he saw Junella's gaze fixed on the far edge of the iron wall. She looked almost in despair.

Then he saw it too. While the guards dug their heels into cobblestones to keep the sight in view, Zinc gave it his full attention.

The foot-thick wall was dented inwards like it had been hit with a nuke. Not a singular impact, but the accumulated damage of hundreds and hundreds of blows, from fists as big as pumpkins. And there were claw marks too. Jagged scrapes across metal that had survived unscathed against centuries of the worst Phobiopolis could dish out. He guessed that a similar sight would be found on the adjoining panel, since whoever had done this was obviously trying to force open the gap between and squeeze through.

Zinc felt his blood turn to ice. He staggered back a step. "...That ain't possible."

"Well it's not a fuckin' art exhibit!" Eagsyne said with a snort. "I watched 'em do it! And you betcher berries they'll be back! If not tonight then maybe the next. None of us knows for certain."

Zinc tugged on his cheekfur, still staring at the damage. The wall had withstood the assault, but would it a second time? What if the creatures brought friends? "Holy dogshit..."

Eagsyne nodded, seeing that the doubting canine was suitably convinced. He spun away to shout, "DROP 'ER, LADIES! SHOW AND TELL'S OVER!"

A grunt of relief rose from the guards as they let gravity snatch the titanic slab from their grip. It pounded the ground, sending up a dust cloud that nearly toppled Zinc. Eagsyne merely closed his eyes to it.

The owl tossed them a backwards glance. "If you two ain't got no more use for me, I'll be heading back up. Got work. Good luck handling this fresh slice a' hell."

"Much appreciated," Junella called out. But he was already shuffling away, herding the guards back to their positions.

The skunk turned around to assess her companion. Zinc was plainly shaken. But he hadn't run off. "So," she sang.

Zinc took a deep breath (then spat out the dust that wafted in). "That's... the job?"

She crossed her arms. "You got it."

"Shiiiiiit," he moaned. He swayed on his feet like he was seasick. "I thought this was just gonna be knockin' bad guys' heads in! Standard action! Now you got me roped into some 'It Conquered The World' crap!"

If he'd still had that easygoing grin slapped on his muzzle, she would have written him off as braindead. But the sight of those claw marks had sobered him up. Just like it had for her. Junella stepped towards him and delicately took hold of his chin in her needled fingers. "This was a test, mutt. Your last chance to back out. Now I ain't gonna call you a chicken if you do. But be straight with me. If you're in, you're in. Till however this ends."

Zinc felt the weight of those orange eyes drilling into his. For the first time, he noticed they were record labels. Li'l spindle-hole in the center 'n everything.

"I require an answer." Her whisper was a rattlesnake's hiss. "You can turn around now and we're still cool. But if you turn around later, when shit gets thick, you won't have to worry about monsters anymore for the rest of your life. Because I'll fill that role."

Junella watched him think. Torn. Half of her wished he'd tuck his tail between his legs and go skittering off. That prideful, I-don't-need-nobody-else part of her heart. But her smarter self hoped he'd stay.

Because this job scared her. It hurt to admit that. But for the first time in her afterlife, it felt like she'd taken on something too big for her to handle. Coryza's walls were the one solidly-dependable thing in this whole godforsaken anarchic hellhole. Whatever had left those dents possessed unspeakable power.

Yet when Xenoiko had vouched for her to Lady Crynight, she'd sung out in foolish confidence that she'd take care of it in a snap. 'You dumbass blabbermouth bitch,' she scolded herself.

Junella Brox liked to win. She liked to walk into every fight knowing her victory was predetermined. Now she was facing a spinning roulette wheel. Alone, the odds were against her.

She needed another pair of eyes to watch her back. And allegedly, this mutt never blinked.

"I'm in," Zinc finally said, with a shake of his head and a note of instant regret.

Junella dug her needles into his fur. "Make me believe you."

He jerked away from her, teeth bared and snarling. "I said I would!! Jeezum crow, lay off me! I ain't happy about this fuckin' decision, ya know?" He tugged at his cheeks again. "But... I mean... Cripes! Somethin' did that to the wall!! How!?"

Her expression let him know they shared exactly the same thoughts on the matter.

Zinc fidgeted back and forth, foot to foot. "Someone's gotta step up for this. I'm normally the kinda guy who just hangs around playin' mumblety-peg, waitin' for excitement to come poke me in the ass. Well, whatever the hell did THAT, I don't want it to come around poking me, y'know?"

Junella felt a cool breeze of relief brush past her. "Good. If that's a confirmed yes, then I'm gonna have to renegotiate the deal with Her Highness."

Zinc turned away. "Ehhhh. All I need's food and auto parts and I'm good."

A feigned chuckle. "More for me then."

He sighed. "I guess... maybe this is even a little bit exciting? I've watched enough monster movies. Now I get to be in one. That's cool, right? Leaping into the unknown, to pursue mysterious horrors 'n all that jazz?"

Junella produced a pen and a pad. She began writing a note to the Deputy Mayor. "Hate to burst your bubble, but our culprit ain't unknown. You ever heard tell of a mug called Sulilong?"

"Doesn't ring a bell."

"You're gonna get real familiar with him soon. That's what I been doin' these past few days. Asking around with the local lowlifes. See if anybody's got gossip I can use." She blushed slightly. "Plus, it's not the most thrilling thing in the world, but I've also been knee-deep in microfiche down at the public library."

He raised an eyebrow at her bashfulness. "What's wrong with that? All's I read is titty mags and repair manuals. If we're gonna team up, one of us gotsta have half a brain."

She was pleased by his acceptance, having worried he might be one of those 'Planning's for pussies! Barge in guns blazing!' type of guys. Still, the phrase 'team up' rankled her. He needed to know right now that this would not be a partnership of equals. "That's right, junkpile. And you better remember it. I'm the one in charge here. You will be beneath me. I will do the talking, I will do the thinking. When I say 'jump', I don't even want you to waste time saying 'how high?' I want your mangy tail up in the air, do you understand me?"

He backed up a step. "Crystal clear. I been in situations like this before. I ain't the troublemakin' type. You point; I pounce."

She sneered, inwardly hoping he'd balk at that. Resist a little. It would have been more satisfying to break him over her knee. "Glad to hear it," she grumbled. She finished up her letter to Lady Crynight, then gave it a shake to alert the Vermillion.

A piebald nonev mouse emerged from a tin of beans lying on the ground beside the closest eatery. It scurried up Junella's leg like a furry bullet, took the letter in its paws, and streaked out of sight just as quickly.

"Now we wait for a response," Junella said. "Hope this doesn't piss her off. She can be kind of fussy." She turned around and Zinc was gone.

For a heartbeat, she was one hundred percent certain he'd broken his word and run off like a fucking coward. She felt her blood turn to steam and her sword appear in her palm. But a quick sweep of the area showed he hadn't defected. He was just standing a few feet away, bent down and gawking at how Panel Seven bulged inward slightly.

She exhaled. Forced herself to calm down. 'You're jumpy. You're off-kilter and you know it.'

Her best triumphs came when she reached a state of perfect confidence. When she believed in her infallibility so cleanly and purely that reality itself leapt the hell out of her way. But that was a high-wire act. She knew that whenever her certainty wavered, one failure would lead to the next, and the next, and the next. Her life was a gamble. She was keenly aware.

Zinc looked up at a skunk's fingers snapping in front of his face. "Yikes! Sorry! Just trying to get my head around it, y'know? Hard to believe what my eyes're telling me."

"I understand."

The canine scratched at the seam between his skin and skullcap. "I can't help but wondering though..." He hesitated, not sure if it was a stupid question. "If they wanted in so bad, why didn't they just show up when the walls were open?"

Junella was about to roll her eyes and lecture him with the obvious answer. Except, when she opened her mouth, nothing came out. She turned around and looked across the desert. Acres of empty space. No invading marauders. "You might've stumbled onto a mighty good question, mutt," she mumbled, fingers barely drifting over the words. "Why didn't they?"

He shrugged. "Maybe they're numbskulls? Two packs short of a carton? Or maybe they were tryna send a message rather than get in? Heh. Maybe they're vampires who can't come out in the daytime?"

"Wait, go back to that second one-"

A commanding, nasal voice suddenly pierced their attention. "Miss Brox? Hello? You requested a meeting?"

Junella whirled around, startled. She lowered her sword when she saw that the voice had come from a wheeled television. A pair of glinting eyeglasses loomed at her from behind a veil of black-and-white static. The set was on a metal stalk, bolted to a 3'x3' platform supported by four plump all-terrain tires.

Zinc leaned in and sniffed it. He'd seen plenty of TVs, but never one that was ambulatory.

"Is this your guy?" the pair of glasses asked.

Junella's needles skipped a few grooves. "Y-yes! My assistant. That I wrote you about. Here he is!" She grinned and gestured to Zinc like a game show hostess displaying the top prize.

"Hmmmmm." The face on the screen seemed unimpressed. "I'm going to have to see him in the fur before I make any decision."

Zinc huffed and hiked up his jeans. "I'd like to know why a talkin' box is grading me like I'm still in high school."

Junella lunged and grabbed the canine's shoulders to stop herself from grabbing his throat. "That's the deputy mayor!!" she hissed.

'Oh,' Zinc replied soundlessly. "Well in that case, I've always wanted to meet a politician."

"You will. The videomnibus will transport you directly to my office. Hop on, both of you."

Chagrined, Zinc stepped aboard the wheeled platform.

"I hope I live up to your fondest expectations," the glasses deadpanned. Then the image winked out, the tires spun, and the whole thing took off so fast that Junella had to sprint to catch up.


Chapter 3