Zarkor and Zerak enter Cousin Billy’s Pawn and Curio Emporium. Zerak drifts around to the side to look things over while Zarkor drifts up to the counter and greets Cousin Billy.
“Hi Cousin Billy!”
Cousin Billy returns the friendly greeting. “Hello, Zarkor!”
Zerak drifts to the side of the counter. “You two know each other, I see,” he says.
“Yes, we’re old friends,”Cousin Billy answers, smiling at Zarkor.
Zerak looks at Zarkor suspiciously. “Is this why you were so anxious to see the circus, Zarkor?” he asks.
Zarkor protests innocence. “No Zerak, this is just a convenient coincidence.”
“Convenient coincidence indeed,” says Zerak, moving closer. “I suppose it’s you Dumb Luck Activator in action again.”
“No, Zerak, ”Zarkor says, “it’s just my intuition. You know how intuitive I am. It’s just an accident Cousin Billy’s happens to be on the same planet as the circus, and my superior intuition picked up on that.”
Cousin Billy notices the potential conflict brewing and intercedes. He turns his attention to Zerak and says cheerfully, “You must be Zarkor’s friend Zerak! He’s told me a great deal about you.”
“All good, I imagine,” says Zerak .
“Of course!” Cousin Billy says, smiling broadly. “Why wouldn’t he, a great gentleman like you! Look around, my friend, you may find some items of interest.”
“I doubt it.” Zerak answers.
Cousin Billy, still smiling, turns to Zarkor and says, “Hard sell, I knew you would be. So, Zarkor, what can I do for you today?”
“Um…er…I’ll just look around for a while,” Zarkor answers nervously, and drifts about here and there pretending to look at various objects.
“Well, we have a lot of interesting items in today,” Cousin Billy offers, keeping one eye on Zerak. “Some some old, some new, some arcane and mysterious. On your right there is something interesting. Just arrived yesterday!”
“Oh really? What is it?” Zarkor asks in mock interest.
“Have no idea, but it’s very strange,” Cousin Billy says. “I have the feeling it’s observing me. It’s creepy. I can give you a good deal on it; really want to get rid of it, I do. Then behind you is like a big green marble or something. Funny, I don’t remember anyone bringing it in. Must have forgotten.”
“No, no, Cousin Billy!” Zarkor protests and drifts quickly away from the object.. “I definitely don’t want that thing! My advice is, sell it cheap and get rid of it as soon as you can!”
“Ah, you’ve had some experience with those things,” Cousin Billy says in slight alarm. “I see. I’ll take your advice, then.”
Meantime, Zerak is studying Cousin Billy’s appearance. .“Say, Cousin Billy, you look familiar to me. Have we met before?”
“I don’t think so, Zerak. It’s probably because all members of my species look exactly alike.”
“Isn’t that a little confusing?” asks Zerak.
“Not really, ”Cousin Billy answers. “We produce our own personal odor. That’s how we tell each other apart.”
“I see,” says Zerak. “Here I thought you hadn’t changed the cat’s litter box recently. Pardon my mistake.”
Ignoring Zerak’s sarcasm, Zarkor drifts around behind the counter next to Cousin Billy and whispers softly in his ear, “So, Cousin Billy, what about that special order? Has it arrived yet?”
Zerak’s sharp hearing has picked up the private conversation. “Ah!” he exclaims, drifting to the front of the counter and facing Zarkor and Cousin Billy. “Now we’re getting somewhere! I knew there was something suspicious going on! Well, out with it!”
Cousin Billy, realizing the need of secrecy is no longer necessary, admits,” Yes, Zarkor, it’s in the back room. I’ll bring it out,” and disappears quickly through a door at the rear of the counter.
“Zarkor, what is all this about?” asks Zerak.
Zarkor looks away and mumbles, “It’s just a little thing I ordered a while back. It’s nothing really.”
“Zarkor, you can’t fool me. This is where all my credit from my Galacto-card went isn’t it?!”
Zarkor appears ready to admit the truth for a moment, then his spirits pick up a little and he begins to get excited.. “Um…wait, Zerak ‘till you see what it is before you come to any conclusions. You know I’ll pay you back anyway.” Zarkor starts to bob up and down now in anticipation. “This is something really special!” he says with growing enthusiasm. “Wait ‘till you see it! Then you’ll forget about credit and stupid junk like that!”
Zerak is about to continue the cross-examination when Cousin Billy comes out of the back room levitating a large object before him, and sets it carefully down on the counter. Zerak looks at it warily while Zarkor gleams at it uncontrollably.
“Well Zerak, what do you think now?!” Zarkor exclaims, all aglow.
“Okay, so what is it?” asks Zerak skeptically..
“It’s the latest holo-game of course!” Zarkor states proudly, beaming at the object. “It’s a sim game, only it’s not simulated…it’s real! It’s a real planet full of real life-forms! You can leave them alone and watch them as they go about their stupid daily lives, or you can manipulate their behavior and environment any way you want! It’s awesome!”
Zerak examines the object more closely. “How can they be real and alive?” He asks doubtfully. “They’d be so small.”
“No Zerak, you don’t understand!” Zarkor says eagerly. “The beauty of it is, this is just a holo, a virtual, a facsimile! The actual real world is out there in the Galaxy somewhere! A real planet with real genuine authentic gooey biological life crawling all over it! It’s an anthropologists dream! And this isn’t all of it! There’s the controller, the view screen, the power source and the psycho-kinetic modules with telepathic directives! Think how much fun it will be to try out my theories on sociology!” Zarkor drifts back slightly to better admire the object in all its wonder and potential.
Zerak is taken aback by all this, as the significance of what Zarkor has described sinks in. “If this thing is real, it’s like playing God, Zarkor!” Zerak begins slowly. “To manipulate living beings to your own purpose is monstrous, Zarkor! What right do you have to attempt that?”
“Just the reaction I expected,” Zarkor replies in disgust. Then, thinking it better to slightly change the subject, he adds, “Oh Zerak, we know there is no God. The Universe was created by the evil Vulgarians out of childish spite in one of their laboratories!” He moves closer to the object. “If the Vulgarians can create a whole stupid Universe, why can’t I create a whole stupid society on some insignificant planet?”
“Because it’s immoral, Zarkor,” Zerak says in disgust. “How would you like to be manipulated by some alien superior intelligence and have no will of your own?!”
“Who’s to say I’m not being manipulated right now, Zerak? Is Zarkor’s reply. “You know how devious those Vulgarians are!”
“Zarkor, I won’t allow you to have this thing!” Demands Zerak. “It’s wicked, it’s evil and I won’t have it!”
“I don’t care what you say, Zerak. I’m going to play this game!” Zarkor shouts. “And I don’t care whether you like it or not! You’re always trying to discourage me from doing what I want to do! I’m tired of it! Who’s manipulating who now?! Wrap it up, Cousin Billy, and have it delivered to our ship…er…if you can find it.”
With that, Zarkor turns away from Zerak and stares at an opposite wall in defiance. Zerak, furious at Zarkor’s adamant unreasonableness, stares at Zerak for a moment, then drifts determinedly toward the door. He turns for one last appeal to Zerak’s good judgment. “If you don’t give this vile thing up, Zarkor, I don’t want to see you ever again. Play your game, but remember what it is costing you!”
Zerak drifts through the door and out into the dirty street. He stops for a moment, looks unseeingly around him at the neglected and ramshackle neighborhood. “The end of a beautiful friendship,” he mumbles sadly to himself, then drifts dejectedly back toward his lonely hotel room.
End Chapter 2