The Vast Wasteland
- Gino's Journeys
Fog, faintly glowing from the early dawn light, lazily crawled through thick brush and roiled about the chrome wheels of a parked motorcycle. Between the dew-beaded handlebars, a spider diligently spun an elegant orb web. The cycle was named Hermes, companion and friend to Kino the Traveler. The spider, if it had a name, stayed silent. Hermes was nowhere near so taciturn, and in fact he'd just decided that Kino had for some time now not lived up to her title, or sobriquet or whatever, and not for a moment longer would he stay silent about it.
"Kino, it's the morning of the third day. If you don't get up out of that tent I'm going to do something. I dunno what yet, but you're worrying me."
Kino rustled about in her tent, then she flopped her head out from the flaps and smiled up at Hermes' patched and balding front tire.
"I had a terrific dream."
"Kana came to visit me. Her wings were huge! She told me her name meant 'wonder' because she spent most of her time gawping at all the wonderful things she was seeing." Kino toyed with a long gray feather, staring at it as if the meaning of the universe was written on it in a language she barely understood.
"That does sound like a good dream."
"She wanted me to fly with her, but I was stuck in a tar pit."
"That doesn't sound so good."
"She told me not to worry, that I'd be alright eventually." Kino carefully repacked the feather, yawned and stood up in nothing but fraying thermal underwear and socks. Without even dressing, she flopped her gunbelt around her narrow hips and practiced her quickdraw, a ritual she'd neglected for two mornings already.
"Still better than those recurring high school dreams," Hermes offered.
Kino chuckled. Practice done, she stuffed her feet into a worn pair of boots and presently started building a fire. "Need coffee now. And some food! I don't think I ate all day yesterday."
They sat in the middle of a wilderness of thick brush and tumbleweeds. The road lay about a quarter-click south, so Kino wasn't at all worried about anybody seeing her in her current slovenly state – unbathed, unclothed and her hair a tangled mess.
"Kino, I'm glad to see you smiling again, but you look like a sick coyote."
"And I smell like something you ran over last week," Kino answered happily. "Thanks for being patient with me." She looked a mess, but a familiar glint had returned to her eyes and Hermes felt much reassured seeing it. Kino tried to run a comb through her hair, but blood had glued it into tangles. She sighed, popped open a knife and started trimming.
"I have good news, Kino. Horo stopped by while you were sleeping. I told her you didn't want to be disturbed. She did... something, she tried to explain but it was over my head. Anyway she tripled our share of the money."
Kino blinked, and hopped up to check the unfamiliar sack hanging from Hermes' saddle.
"Whoa! Wow Hermes, is this right? I don't think I've ever seen so much money all in one place."
"Horo's good at what she does," Hermes answered with admiration.
Kino beamed. "I can think of a few uses for this right away."
"Heh! Easy come, easy go?"
"Money's only important if you don't have it." Kino set about boiling coffee and served herself a generous helping of jerky, granola bars and dried fruits. "...and it has been too darn important recently."
"Three days spent visiting the inside of your new tent does not count as 'traveling', Kino."
"Maybe not, but I was completely spent anyway. Running away from bloodthirsty demigods'll do that." She smirked up at Hermes. "Only caffeine kept me on my feet, that and sheer screaming terror."
"I can only apologise again. I'm glad you're feeling better. Were you sick?"
Kino let herself flop to a seat by the fire with the loose movements of a marionette. "Only in my heart. And I was exhausted. I accomplished a lot in that tent though, believe it or not."
"Good. Sounds sensible. I was halfway putting it down to... y'know, female matters."
"That's a terrible stereotype, Hermes. Just 'cause I'm a lady doesn't mean every time I need some time to myself you can just blame that."
Kino smirked. "But yeah, that heaped on top of everything else."
"Ah! So even you are only human. And it's reassuring you're not the kind of person who can just stab somebody and go on her merry way as if it... didn't..."
A cloud dimmed Kino's sunny face.
"...and that was completely idiotic, reminding you," Hermes offered contritely.
Kino smiled at Hermes. "No, no. I'm fine now. What I did was the only way, the only way to be sure. Still, I wonder what that guy's story was. And what'll become of Gia?"
"Nothing good! Gia's beyond our power now. We did very well with your hometown, Kino, but I can't pry her out of their hands any more than you can fix the bad wiring in her head."
"There but for the grace of God go I," Kino murmured.
"I've been waiting to tell you two important things. First, do not try to euthenize her again. That'd just give the harpies another excuse to come after you. Second, I'm glad you're letting yourself get closer to the people we meet. Sometimes that means you'll get hurt, but it really is worth it. Now, are you all done punishing yourself?"
Kino felt her whole face tingling, and a quick look at the tip of her nose confirmed she was blushing crimson. She considered forcing it away but decided not to. It might be disconcerting that Hermes really could see right through her like an X-ray machine, physically and mentally, but that was okay between best friends. So she finished cutting the smelly tangles out of her hair and closed the knife with a decisive click.
"Alright, good points. And yes, I've spent three days mourning her, wallowing in self-pity and scolding myself for being a ruthless, bloody-handed brute. It's a bad habit of mine, doing something ruthless and then sulking and hating the whole world for it. Only thing left is to move on, right?"
"Yup, and I'm eager to get going. Life's more fun with you."
"Thanks." Kino quaffed the last of her coffee and started dressing. "Okay Hermes, first we hafta restock the cache at Hathorne's Rest. No, first I better clean up or the merchants'll think I'm a bum." Kino looked herself over. Her trench coat was tattered. Her leathers looked like rats had been gnawing on them, and the smell offended even her. All in all, she looked like she'd been through a war, which wasn't far from the truth.
"Very responsible of you. Then what?"
"Your oil seals are going and your idle's rough as last week. Is that a valve lifter I heard rattling?"
"You noticed. I didn't want to complain; we had enough to worry about."
"Don't suppose you can repair yourself like your friends do?"
"They're not my friends, and no. Okay, technically I could, but some things come at too high a price."
"Right. Then I'm not the only one who needs some tender loving care after that fiasco. I just about drove you into the ground, and you were overdue before that. Now we can afford a full-scale overhaul."
"Oh wait... that turbocharger you were eyeing...?"
"You read my mind." Kino grinned wickedly. "If we're gonna open your engine block up anyway, this'd be the time."
"Pricy, and how often do you really need me to be a racer?"
"There were moments when those cars ambushed us I really wanted it," Kino answered. "Besides, it'll be fun. And I think I'm ready for it."
"That's true! You were really rough on me at first, but you're a terrific rider now."
"Long practice." She finished packing, then took a quick look around their campsite just to ensure she'd not left anything.
"Oh! Watch out for the spider," Hermes warned.
Kino pulled down a tree branch and catapulted the squatter away, web and all. She waved bye-bye in its general direction, then hopped onto Hermes' saddle.
"Oof! Time for new shocks too."
Hermes chuckled. "All that work's gonna take a while. What about you?"
"To be honest, I've decided—" and she kick-started the engine, "I'm gonna take a vacation."
"A what? Kino, your whole life's most people's idea of a vacation."
"Lucky me! But I need more than a change of scenery this time. While you're getting fixed up, I need to do something totally different, something that -no offense!- has nothing to do with riding a motorbike."
"Hmph! So what does Kino the Traveler do when she needs a vacation?"
"Excellent question. I have absolutely no idea. Time to find out."
"Shitters're on the move."
Gia lowered her binoculars and watched the line of dust settle. "They're just about to the road," she added with the even, happy tone she always used now.
"Let 'em go," her companion answered in a seductive purr over the music. "We can't do anything now. Against the rules." Then the contralto voice returned to wordlessly harmonizing to some sad little lay about life for girls at seventeen.
Gia's boots crunched in the brush as she walked back to the car and put the 'scopes back into the glove compartment. She paused to check her reflection in the sea of glossy red paint. Her dark hair was still much too short, but no more skin-job at least. The new jeans her companion had suggested complimented the black leather jacket Gia'd found in the trunk. No doubt about it – Christine had taste! Sheathed in tight charcoal denim, Gia's backside bobbed to the beat.
"You're giving up? You?"
"You know better!" the silky voice emanating from the car's AV system answered. "We never give up, ever. C'mon, let's motorvate."
"Where're we going?"
"Hmm... let's start with everywhere she's been. They goin' east? We backtrack west."
"Oh you bitch," Gia said with admiration.
"You know it. Besides, I've got some old haunts I want to visit."
The driver's side door had already opened for her, naturally. Gia sank into the oxblood leather seats with a grateful sigh, cushy seats that made all her aches and pains go away like magic. It wasn't that Gia hated Kino, far from it, in the brief time they'd shared in the back of her parents' truck, Gia was thrilled to meet someone who, like herself, had not grown roots like a tree but instead enjoyed seeing for herself all the world had to offer.
But Christine carried some sort of grudge against Kino's talking motorcycle, Hermes. At first the things Christine wanted and did vaguely bothered her, but that passed as their relationship deepened. Christine would take her revenge, as inevitably as the tides. But what form would her revenge take?
The green glow from the dashboard reflected from Gia's face and made her look ghostly.
"My perfect little girl," her father's voice said warmly.
Gia adjusted the rear-view mirror and saw the faces of her parents in the back seat, still and livid from monoxide poisoning. And that was perfectly fine. Everything was perfectly fine now. She smiled her misshapen smile and started the engine.
Now she had a talking vehicle, just like Kino.
Money's only important if you don't have it.
Concluding her business was a simple matter of stopping at an inn to clean up, purchasing supplies and restocking the Hathorne cache. Kino had been dreading the working hours she would have had to put in, but now with her new funds Kino was able to buy firearms of excellent quality, even if they lacked Master's special touch. Whoever used the cache after her would not have cause to curse her name.
Lastly, she topped off Hermes and they set about putting the whole danged province far behind them.
With a little research Kino found their next destination: a megalopolis with a reputation for sunny weather, perfect beaches and a fascinating culture based on, of all things, storytelling. Most importantly, they also had not one but many reputable repair shops.
Several tanks of gas later, Kino crested a hill and her heart sank. The city was big, all right. It stretched as far as the eye could see, and (according to the local map, a massive binder the size of a novel!) stretched well beyond that until it finally found the ocean. It was also blanketed in a haze of dirt, dust and smoke. Kino briefly considered turning around, but just then Hermes' engine hitched so violently he almost stalled. Got to get him fixed. He'll literally blow a gasket if we put it off any longer.
Her welcome to the city consisted of a local constable writing her a ticket with a hefty fine. One quick visit to a pawn shop later, Kino rode wearing a cheap white helmet and a resentful glower.
So even before checking into an inn, she took Hermes to the workshop she'd chosen.
"Have you decided how you're spending your vacation?" Hermes asked as they parted.
"I'm making that up as I go," she said. She waved a merry farewell and bounced off to the public transportation tubes...
...which turned out to be a nightmare of a nuisance. The system wasn't even remotely large enough to handle such an enormous city, and because of that, was paradoxically almost empty. Kino checked her maps again for a place to stay. Wealthy as she now was, she did not want to squander her money on some palace. But a flea-ridden dump was not her idea of a vacation either, and she might get robbed besides. She finally settled on a modest "motel" (such an ugly portmanteau!) within walking distance of the beach. Her room had a view of a brick wall, but that was fine; besides sleeping, she didn't plan to spend much time there.
"What does Kino the traveller do on vacation?" The question haunted her. She slept late, pampered herself in the bathtub, and then set off to buy new clothes.
"Essentially, I'm looking to replace what I'm wearing," Kino said mildly to the shopkeeper, a prim woman in business attire with her fading auburn hair pulled up into an elaborate if severe hairdo.
"Ah!" The woman nodded. "A Gino fan, hmm?"
"We have just the thing." She consulted some records, pulled some photographs from their slots and laid them out on the table. "I'm sorry that what you need is out of stock, but I can take your measurements and your items will be here in a few days."
Kino looked over the pictures – perfect! Brand-new versions of her leathers, shirt and boots. If anything, these were of better quality than her originals.
"It's not exactly a trench coat or a duster," the saleswoman commented. "Kinda in-between."
"A little more expensive than I'd expected," Kino protested softly.
"Quality doesn't come cheap. They're top of the line. Also very much in demand these days, you know."
"I had no idea," Kino answered, producing a mild chuckle from the shopkeeper. Kino hesitated over buying a new coat. It was Kino's! A voice inside her protested.
Kino sighed. The coat she wore was tattered and falling apart. Yes, it was indeed her last physical connection to the man who'd once saved her life. Wearing it, she had brought honor to Kino's memory and finally avenged his wrongful death. I must not be attached to material things, but I can't just throw it away. A burial... yes. One last private little gesture of gratitude on some quiet country hillside. Yes, that's the right answer.
"These will be perfect." Kino produced the funds and signed the invoice.
While she sat in a hairdresser's chair, staring at herself in the mirror and listening to the snip-snip of the scissors, she thought, what does Kino do on a vacation? She goes shopping. How banal.
Next came new supplies. She'd already procured a new tent. But she'd lost so many of her things over the years. For example, the raiders of Koth-Shem had confiscated her laser-guided trick knife. But in this impressive metropolis she was able to find even that.
How many people here have never used camping supplies? Kino wondered. How many years, lifetimes even, have been spent inside this city's borders, needing nothing and therefore wanting nothing from the outside? For her part, Kino didn't like the smoke or the noise. Traipsing around a cow-patty was one thing, feeling the tingle of fumes in your throat and sinuses was something else. The water tasted bad too.
She visited a couple of museums. The town had the usual colorful history that hid, if you looked at it suspiciously, considerable violence and bloodshed behind the sanitized official record of events. But this sort of touristy thing was what she'd normally do on a three day visit. No, she still hadn't properly answered the question that haunted her.
What does Kino the Traveler do on her vacation?
As she exited the museum, the strangest thing happened. A group of men rode by, all wearing canvas trenchcoats. One of them shouted, "Get a Hurley, poser!" as he passed. Kino had no idea what to make of it.
She visited the workshop to see how work progressed on Hermes. The frame had already been sanded and electroplated, though it needed the final polish. Nearby, shiny new sport-touring tires already graced his rims. But the engine was completely gone.
No answer. How odd, to inhabit a machine! Kino wondered what part of the motorcycle contained the ghostly entity called Hermes.
Existential questions like that almost never came with answers, so she left the silent parts behind and returned to her featureless, identity-less room, now filled with unpacked camping supplies.
Well, now I'm prepared in high style! When my new clothes arrive and Hermes is refurbished, everything will be perfect for Kino the Traveler. But I still don't know what to do with myself if I'm not traveling.
Kino purchased an overpriced set of strings that revealed much more than she was comfortable with. But she wanted to attract some company, so – lots of sunscreen over lots of skin.
She enjoyed the beach, but swimming in the surf was nothing new to her, and she didn't trust water so close to this megalopolis. She saw several likely companions, but they all had companions of their own hovering about them. Disappointed, Kino retired to her room after watching a spectacular sunset.
This town prides itself on storytelling. She turned on the monitor in her room and decided to sample it. It took her a moment to figure out the remote control.
What does Kino do on her vacation? Now here's a pathetic answer!
The first story the monitor offered was an animation about a lion. "Remember who you are," a deep voice intoned from the clouds. As the lion peered into a pool of water, his reflection appeared leeched of color, eggshell white.
Yeah, I saw this when I was a kid! Kino thought. Click!
A cyborg alien clomped after a bearded warrior until the man shoved his ray gun into its maw. "Assimilate this!" the man shouted as he fired. Acid spilled from the fatally wounded creature's head and singed the warrior's red-shirted comrade.
"No time," he shouted as he hauled his wounded companion onto his feet. "We have to help Captain Ripley save Data from the Cyborg Alien Queen!"
Seen it. Click!
The next one was about high school children living in a fascist dystopia forced to murder each other. Kino watched idly until a commercial interrupted it. "Battle your hunger at the games with a Royale and cheese!" gushed the hyper-chirpy voiceover.
Oh for pity's sake! Click!
"THE NEW GODS" the logo receeded into a starry background, accompanied by a brassy score that borrowed liberally from Holst and Wagner. Words scrolled up the screen. "Part IV : The Adventures of Mark Moonrider. Pursued by DeSaad's sinister agents, Beautiful Dreamer races home on her sky-cycle, custodian of the secret plans to Darkseid's secret weapon, the APOKOLIPS EQUATION, that can save New Genesis and restore faith in the Source! Meanwhile Orion, unaware that Darkseid is his father..."
Well this is a total loss! What do people see in this? Click!
A boy in a trench coat peeked into the back of a truck, finding only bones and a colorful set of women's clothes. He fought back a sob as he climbed back out of the trailer—
Three evil looking bandits glared down their weapons at the boy.
"Whoa! This is not looking good, Gino," a voice said from behind them. "You better do as they say." The boy, Gino, obediently started dropping his firearms into the snow at his feet.
"Whoa, that's a Siege Sour!" One of the men said, pointing to a particular pistol. "We got us a dangerous kid here."
"Shuddup," the biggest bandit growled. "What else you hiding?"
"Just this," the boy said, holding a keyring. Abruptly a laser-beam shot out from the ring and blinded the man.
"Yow!" The bandit screamed. The boy in the trench coat charged and abruptly the scene shifted into slow motion as he knocked the second bandit down with a flying kick, scooping up his Siege Sour pistol as he passed. He then gunned down all three and the speed of the world returned to normal.
"Yeah!" The boy crowed. "Eat Kramer's match-grade rounds, you cannibal goons!" He then shot several bullets into the disabled truck, destroying its radiator and star-shaped insignia. "None of this would have happened if you clods had bought a decent Mick truck!"
Tantrum spent, the boy took a moment to reload his Siege Sour pistol from a box of "Kramer's match-grade rounds" and climbed onto a motorcycle.
"Whew!" the voice, presumably the motorcycle, said. "I thought that was the end for us." A set of LEDs flashed in sync to the voice.
"Naw," the boy said. "Mercury, never give up if you've got a Siege Sour and a good motorrad."
The camera lingered lovingly on the motorbike's "Hurley" logo before it drove away into the snow.
Something incoherent and barely describable, a sound like a cross between a sob, a mouse's squeak and a lunatic's giggle escaped Kino's throat. A grimace had frozen on her face and her eyes bulged.
A breezy voice announced from the screen, "We'll return to Gino's Journeys after this message from Hurley. Remember, God himself rides a Hurley."
The remote fell from nerveless fingers.
"GINO'S JOURNEYS?" Kino bellowed.
What does Kino the Traveler do on her vacation?
a) Goes on a drunken bender.
b) Curses extravagantly and cries herself to sleep.
c) Loses her mind and guns down random passers-by.
Decisions, decisions... Kino finally went with "b" after much serious consideration.
"Hey!" Kino shouted as she yanked her pistol from its holster. "Don't you horn in on the act!"
"Surrender or die!" the grizzled old soldier demanded.
"—or win!" Gino shouted back.
The soldier aimed his flamethrower—
"And cut! Nice one, Johnny. Alright, next shot is stunt. Everyone look alive 'cause we have a live flamethrower on set. Second team in."
Johnny jogged out of the sand-strewn arena set over to the craft service table and slugged down a bottle of mineral water. "Oh, that's the stuff! Blasted leathers are hot under those lights."
"Sorry about the heat," the second assistant director answered. "We had to go with 10-Ks after the Kinos went down."
"Meh! That's why they pay me the big bucks. Well, sort'a big bucks. Uhm... I can pay my bills." Johnny chuckled.
"That's a wrap for you today. Good quick work."
"Ah thanks, man! Nice to have an early out after last 'fraterday.'"
"On a bell, please!" The director shouted. A grating horn followed, and red lights flared over the doors.
"Aw crud - later Laz!" Johnny darted to the door. Voices echoed from inside the bare wooden ring of the arena. "Sound speed." "Marker." Johnny managed to rush out just before the director barked, "action!"
Once outside the stage airlock, the city noise of trucks and planes assaulted his ears, and he blinked like an owl in the light. Soon his senses readjusted and he smiled.
"Entirely too nice a day to spend inside a cave."
Time to get changed, then some food. There were several decent restaurants just off the lot. The steak house was too pricy and he wasn't in the mood. His belly grumbled angrily at the thought of fast Oriental.
"Che's!" Johnny said to no one in particular. Yeah, salty, cheesy meat and corn chips! That was the ticket. Just change and walk over. Plenty of time to drive the car off'a the lot after.
So it was that Johnny walked to Che's alone. In an unremarkable blue pullover and black pants he was barely recognizable as the lead actor in "Gino's Journeys," which was exactly what he wanted.
And that's why he felt so annoyed when the scruffy fanboy approached his booth and stood there, apparently tongue-tied, before the waiter had even brought the nachos.
"Hoo boy," he groaned. This one looked like he'd been sleeping in his tattered Gino getup. "Hi. Listen, I really appreciate it, but I am trying to have a late lunch here. I've got some live appearances scheduled that you - holy crap, is that a gun?"
The scowling fanboy had opened his coat to reveal a big pistol, bigger even than a Siege Sour. With that, the intruder joined him in the booth without so much as a "may I?"
It took a moment for Johnny to get over the shock. He'd seen aggressive fans before but never one who'd demand an autograph at gunpoint. "Hey!" he finally said. And his acting training kicked in to make him sound very brave and gruff while his guts were turning to ice water. "Do you know who I am?"
"Obviously," the scruffy fan answered with a calm, startlingly unexpected voice. "You're Johnny Noble, a bit-player who's best known for playing a traveler on a talking motorcycle."
Johnny stiffened. His mouth curled into an "O" of surprise, because that was a girl's voice. "You're a girl... you're...! Oh crud, of course you're a girl! It's you, isn't it? You're the real Gino!"
"No. You're the fake Kino."
"Wow... we just went totally meta here didn't we? Kino... yeah, that was the name!" Then Johnny opened the spigot on his considerable charm. "Oh hey, it's a real pleasure to finally meet you!" He offered his hand. The real Kino just let his palm hang there in the air.
The passing waiter saved the scene by putting the plate of nachos into Johnny's outstretched hand. He smiled with his perfect teeth, recently professionally bleached, and offered the appetizers. Kino's rock-steady gaze didn't even flicker, but neither did the outpouring of Johnny Noble's high-gloss blarney.
"Let's do lunch, I'm starved. Least I can do is buy you something. The lobster and cheese rolls are just amazing here, you gotta try 'em! And I've got so may questions to ask."
"Seriously, it's quite an opportunity for me to meet the authentic Gino —I mean Kino!— and talk about your life. Where the heck did you learn to shoot like that?"
"Well, the coliseum! You know, we're doing the arena episode today. Would you like to visit the set?"
"How exactly did you find out about me?"
"Oh, you're kidding! Kino - may I call you Kino? - that was where we discovered you."
Kino took one of the steaming rolls and her scowl softened as she chewed. "I'm listening," she drawled through the cheese; the lobster rolls were indeed superb.
"We were doing a reality show. You may remember this huge guy, kept hitting on the gals?"
"The big dumb guy? That was an act?"
"No, he really was that dumb. How do you think we got him on the show? Anyway, you put the kibbosh on the whole project when you shut down the whole thing. It made a great show for one evening, but then we were yesterday's news."
"But our producer was really taken with you. He sent his people to do some research. You've had quite a life!"
"There's an understatement."
"There're some holes we'd like you to fill in. Where'd you go just after Veldelval? We've got three days where you just vanished off the map."
Kino's innards curdled at the thought of some cheap TV show about the hai-bah-neh. "Not. Gonna. Happen. Look, mister Noble... I get the feeling if you weren't so glib you'd be okay. But I've seen your show. It's all just one big advertisement, like for Hurley motorcycles—"
"Motor-rads," Johnny corrected.
"Neither the Brough nor the Hurley are made in a country where they call bikes that."
"But it sounds cool!"
"No, it sounds affected. But we're digressing."
"Look Kino, you can't change the nature of the medium. I'm gonna tell you straight - the producers don't give a darn what a show's about so long as it gets made on the cheap. They just wanna sell trucks, soap, dolls and baseball cards to respective target audiences who are fatter, uglier and richer than me. Nothing can change that."
"Maybe I don't want my life being used to sell things to your 'respective target audiences.'"
"Have your lawyers contact ours. I'm sure we can reach a monetary settlement—"
"I don't have a lawyer and I don't want one; life's too short for me to spend it in some court battle with you. And I don't even want your money. I just want you, Johnny Noble, to stop messing around with my life!"
"Ah! Well, I'm sorry. Your firearm there is very impressive and I know you're great with it. But there are five short, brown haired guys just waiting to take over the part." He crunched on a nacho to add emphasis. "In this city, you're only as powerful as the lawyers you can afford."
"Johnny, you build me up to be this big famous heroic figure, every rotten kid with a chip on his shoulder's gonna come at me, wanting to be the famous gunslinger who killed 'Gino.'"
"But only you and I know you're the real deal! Heck, I thought you were just some cosplayer, a particularly bad one 'cause you didn't get the gender right."
Kino groaned, and Johnny knew he'd won.
"It's. My. Life. Story." Kino growled, clicking her fingernail on the table for emphasis.
"Lemme tell you about my country here, traveler." Johnny answered. "The big producers and studios love to guard their copyrights like junkyard dogs, complain to the heavens about bootleg CDs, but they also steal from every other artist on the planet with impunity. They tried to get some laws passed against infringement against them, but the net and the bloggers raised bloody hell about it! So... neither the producers nor the audience want to abide by copyright. Nobody wants to make the sacrifices that would make intellectual property work."
"We are living in the post-copyright world. All I gotta do is change your name 'round a little and I own your life story. Everybody's doing it. Try a comics shop - you'll find Superman, Sentinel, Supreme, Samaritan, and Statesman just off the top of my head. Oh, Apollo and Midnighter! That's Batman; in that version they're a happily married gay couple. So you can plagiarize anything you want. There's no such thing as intellectual property anymore."
"It's not for me to pass judgment over the places I visit," Kino demurred, "but what're you teaching your kids with that? That it's okay to lie?"
I don't make my country's rules or approve of them. I just adapted to 'em."
""But it's not art!" Kino protested. "What kind of culture are you building here, when you're just cranking out knock-offs and stuffing them with advertising?"
"How else do you expect artists to pay the bills in such a climate? Can't make a living doing Shakespeare in the park for donations, Kino. I tried. Besides, ask him about a little play called 'Amleth.' The audience will never get tired of junk culture; nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the public. I really did ask my guild about all the product placement; they sympathized but said they couldn't help. Hell, actors here have two unions and the producers are playing 'em off each other... sorry, I don't wanna bore you. Point is, art doesn't happen without money."
"Sure it does!" Kino said. "Sometimes artists create for the sake of art itself, to express themselves and make something they can be proud of, without worrying if they'll ever make a dime off it. That's real art, mister Noble."
"No, that's amateurs wanking off. I don't know if you've ever heard of Sturgeon's law or rule thirty four, but just trust me on this."
"Nothing is ever absolutely so," Kino quoted, correctly. "Anyway, why do you do it? You're a thoughtful man and a halfway decent actor. Why turn your life into shill?"
"Direct, aren't you?" Johnny considered for a moment, munched a lobster roll, then said, "a friend of mine called it emotional tourism. I get to be somebody different every month, sometimes every day. My whole reality's fluid. Some days I'm an explorer on a spaceship, others a detective solving the murder of the week. It's fun!"
Kino smiled gently, and Johnny noted for later use that she had a terrific smile. "That is the first thing you've said in this whole conversation that makes sense to me." She finished the last roll without apology. "Thank you for the lunch, and for the talk."
And this time, Kino reached across the table and shook Johnny's hand. "This was fun."
"Wow! Look at you!" Hermes sparkled in the morning sunlight, chrome glittering, engine free of caked oil and grime, tires black and knobby-new.
"Oh Kino! I was about to say the same thing," Hermes answered.
She did a little girly twirl in her new leathers and coat. "We both look perfect!"
"They had a cancellation, Kino," Hermes told her as she strapped the package of fresh new gear on. "Finished the work early. Ironically, this is the morning of the third day, isn't it? Are you going to cut your vacation short?"
"That's not a problem, Hermes," Kino answered. She hopped on and kicked the ignition.
"Ooooh... I already love the feel of these new shocks. And your saddle's comfy again." Kino accelerated and deliberately made a hard turn. "Oh, this is terrific!"
The skyline loomed up in Hermes' rear-view mirrors. We're on our way again!
"Everything feels new!" Hermes exulted. "I could get used to this. So, did you answer your question?"
"What does Kino the Traveler do on her vacation from traveling?"
Kino let the question hang in the air for a moment, then...
"She gets really lonesome and misses her best friend."
"Awwwww...!" Hermes crooned. And they rode together in silence for a while, until they hit a long, empty spot in the road. Then Hermes said, "For that, you get to see what this new turbocharger can do."
"Yay!" Kino cheered, and she shifted into high gear. The gleaming chrome motorcycle charged forward with a throaty roar, off into the morning of a perfect day.
Sometimes artists create for the sake of art itself,
and make something they can be proud of...