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by Oren the Otter
Oren the Otter -- all rights reserved

Brad was freezing hir patootie off. S'he gazed up the street and down, but there was no sign of a cab anywhere. This was, no doubt, due to the fact that the snow was coming down so hard that it was like staring at a white sheet.

At last, hir ears caught the sound of machinery approaching. It was one of those automated streetcars. "Might as well." s'he said to hirself. S'he got on and paid hir fare, telling the computer hir destination. S'he settled back for the ride, glad to finally be in a warm vehicle.

A few minutes later, a scruffy looking man who smelled like calamari boarded. Despite all the empty seats, s'he sat down right next to Brad.

"Hoo boy!" exclaimed the man. "Sure is nippy out there, ain't it?"

Brad nodded politely and edged over in hir seat.

"Hey, I know who you are!" said the man.

"You do?"

"Yeah! You're Brad Fox, the astronaut! Ain't you the one that's going to Venus?"

"I'm slated for the Venus mission, yes, but that's IF it goes up... years from now."

"Oh, I know. I read about that stuff every day. Barney Storfe, plumber. Pleased to make your acquaintance."

"Charmed, I'm sure." said Brad with a sneer. If Barney noticed, he didn't let on.

At that moment, power died all over the city.

"What happened?" asked Brad as an oppressive gray overtook the streetcar.

"Snow must've broke the power lines somewheres." said Barney. Looks like it's back to walking."

Brad was more than grateful to get away, but when s'he reached the doors, they stuck tight.

"Let me try that." said Barney. From under his coat came four suckered tentacles. He plastered them against the doors and pulled. No good.

"Well, it looks like we might be stu-UH!" Barney stumbled as he tried to move away from the door but one of his tentacles stuck fast. "...stuck here until the power comes back on."

"Are you okay?" asked Brad.

"Will be in a minute." He pulled a thermos from his coat with another tentacle. Opening it, he poured hot coffee over the one stuck to the door. "Cripes, that's hot!" Barney exclaimed. "But it's better than being stuck to a pane of glass."

Brad went to the windshield and tried to will the lights to come back on. S'he had absolutely no desire to remain locked in here with a plumber.

"Guess we might as well get comfy." said the squid-man. "Anythin' yuze like ta talk about?"

"Look, Barney, please don't take this personally, but I'm really not in the mood for making friends right now, okay?"

The plumber looked taken aback for only a second, then sat down and said "Fine. I understand. Yuze and me, we're NPC's."


"A little term I uses. It means 'Null Proximity Castes'."

"Those are... big words for a plumber."

"I know. That's why I picked 'em. See, most people 'sume dat because I'm a plumber and I put a Z on the end of 'yuze', dat I gotta be some kind of boob. You, on the other hand, yuze is an astronaut. People know how smart yuze is."

"I don't think you're dumb, Barney..."

"But I is a plumber. It don't do your image too good to be seen fraternizing wit' a lowly plumber. I understands, Mr. Fox. ...Ms. Fox?"


"Mrz. Fox. Anyways, I understands about da social life yuze kind must have, so I knows how it is. I'm not mad."

Brad shook hir head. "You know something, Mr. Storfe?"


"You hit the nail right on the head. I didn't want to associate with you because you are rather scruffy and common. You're wrong, though. It's not okay for me to do that."

"No, really..."

"No... If the situation were reversed, I wouldn't want people looking down on me for being an astronaut."


"Nobody ever accused me of being well mannered, but I can try to be nicer. Let's start over again. Brad Fox."

"Barney Storfe. Pleased to meet ya."

"You do seem like a nice fellow, Barney."

"Heh, and yuze isn't a half bad lady, either."

"I'm not technically a lady, you know. I'm a hermaphrodite."

"I know. I read da papers."

"But you know something? I would be honored if you would keep calling me a lady."

Barney smiled an enormous smile. "It would be my pleasure, madam."

Right then, the power came back on. The computer at the front politely said "Welcome to auto-rail. What is your destination?"

"I think I'd like to get off and just walk." said Brad.

The doors opened and the computer said "Have a nice day!"

"Would you care to join me, Mr. Storfe?"

"Dear lady, I would be delighted."

The second they stepped off the car, the power went out again.

"So, where ya headed?" asked Barney.

"A favorite bar of mine. The Blind Pig."

"No way! You go to da Pig? So do I! I was on my way dere."

Brad offered hir... no... HER arm to her gentleman friend and the two of them proceeded merrily through the blinding snow.

When Barney and Brad came through the door, they were almost disappointed to see the place dark and deserted, until a flickering light in the next room materialized into a candle, which was followed immediately by it's bearer, Kris.

"Hey, folks. Come on in!"

"Where is everybody?" asked Brad.

"Upstairs." replied Kris. "We've been trying to put up Donnie's Christmas tree in the pitch dark."

"Sounds like fun." said Barney as a few thumps sounded from the ceiling.

"You should see it. Matt's hanging ornaments from inside the tree, Oren is wrapped up in Christmas lights, and Maxine is trying to keep the boys from eating pine needles."

Brad reflected on that. There were people from all walks of life here, and almost all of them were very good friends. What was wrong with having a plumber for a friend... or possibly more?

As the sound of several dozen SCABs singing the ballad of Rudolph to Jack's keyboard playing floated downstairs, Brad and Barney followed Kris to go and join in the fun.

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