. . . For a Dollar (short fiction)

There was a fortune waiting out there, just waiting for the right person to come along and find it. Brisby had spent decades scouring the darkest, most obscure corners of the universe in search of his. Those places nobody thought worth much because all the worthwhile places had been claimed. But the universe was big, and Brisby refused to believe that all its secrets had been discovered.

Optimism had always been his greatest asset. His only asset, really. He wasn’t smart or handsome. He wasn’t skilled or talented. He got by, but always he believed, there was something better waiting for him beyond the next jump gate, on the next forgotten world. He would always believe it.
It wasn’t always easy. Like these moments. He’d gone too long without picking up food, though he didn’t eat food anymore. Food was too expensive, and all his money went to fuel and ship maintenance. He subsisted on ration discs and protein gruel. Now he was even out of those, so he was down to scavenging for edibles.

He disembarked his ship and started digging up wurbs. According to the only previous party to land on T432X-B, the large, black Platyhelminthes were disgusting but edible. Poisonous to the native life forms, they’d never developed a defense to anything that might be willing to eat them. He scooped them out of the ground by the handfuls and dumped them into his pail.

You couldn’t cook them. They melted into inedible goo when heat was applied. They had to be eaten alive, raw, and room temperature. Brisby had done a lot of stuff to survive, and he would do this, too.

He took a wurb in hand and holding his nose, slurped it down. It was surprisingly easy. Ration discs and protein gruel had obliterated his gag reflex, and it’d been so long since he’d eaten real food that the wurb almost tasted good. Almost.

A native sapient, a lanky bird-like humanoid, stepped from the underbrush and approached Brisby. It turned its head to and fro as if studying a puzzle. It blinked its wide blue eyes and chirped. The sapient knocked the bucket over and tried to induce vomiting by pulling on Brisby’s head.

He pushed it away. “No, not poisonous to me.”
He swallowed another cold, wriggling wurb and smiled. “See? Safe.”
It fell silent as he ate a third. The wurbs weren’t tasting any better. He kept a forced smile so the sapient would understand.

The sapient cawed with a strange cackle, almost like laughter. It kicked another wurb toward Brisby, who held up his hand. “No, thanks. I’m full.”
The sapient shrieked, running back into the underbrush. Brisby dropped to his knees in the muck and gathered his meals for the next six to eight weeks. He’d loaded three bucketful when the sapient returned. It tossed a small black stone at his feet. The scanner on his hip pinged.

He wiped the stone clean. Gold.

The sapient snatched back the rock and gestured toward the bucket of wurbs.

“I’ll eat that for a dollar,” said Brisby. He slurped down a wurb, making a big show of it for the sapient. Chewing and smacking his lips and belching with a wurb-eating grin.

The sapient threw him the gold and, cackling, ran into the woods. Brisby pocketed the stone. It wasn’t much but it was promising. He was ever an optimistic soul, but it was nice to get some positive reinforcement now and then.

Dozens of sapients burst from the brush. They dropped bits of gold, silver, and other precious metals before him and waited, wide-eyed, silently.

There was a fortune out there, just waiting for the right person to come along and find it.

Brisby never told anyone how he made his.

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  1. L. K. Johnson
    Posted November 19, 2014 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    Ok, so Brisby starts out as a carnival geek. I’m looking forward to the chapter where Brisby finds himself and his entire xeno carnival locked up on a morals charge.
    See, it never occurred to him to ask the native booking agent why his perfectly innocent juggling/pie tin spinning act needed to be located in a separate darkened tent. Or indeed, why the audience should be provided with individual private booths, each equipped with it’s own padded bench. The fact that something very like pie tin spinning and juggling comprised a significant part to the native sapient foreplay simply never came up in Brisby’s research. Had it done so, Brisby thought, had he known his decent wholesome family entertainment had been transformed into one of those nasty shows he’d only heard about back on Earth… Well, he certainly would have done things differently, like:
    1. Spread far more liberal bribes among the native sapient’s judges and religious leaders. Some of whom Brisby swore he saw in the audience.
    2. Not located the juggling tent next to the “Fun Tales For The Kiddies” puppet show.
    3. Charged more.

  2. Posted November 30, 2014 at 1:52 am | Permalink

    Hi! I just wanted to let you know Im a huge fan. Monster and Divine Misfortune are two of my favorites! Im a writer myself and you inspire me to keep slogging away. Keep the great books coming! Thanks!

    – Ryan James Black

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