"Looks like this is the end, pal-o'-mine," Larsen said.
"Looks like it. By the way, can I have that fiver you owe me?"
"What's the point, now?"
"Peace of mind."
Larsen felt into his pocket and dug out a tattered five-credit note. An explosion from near the Monty Haul caused a gust of wind to tear the bill from his fingers. As he and Ramen both bent down at the same time in pursuit of the wayward cash, bumping heads with an audible crack not too dissimilar to the noise made by the bat of the Mora Blue-Bellies star right fielder, the Kid. The two scam-artists reeled around, clutching their damaged craniums and howling with pain.
When they were finally able to open their eyes, the scene had changed considerably. What seemed to be a full battalion of the Imperial Army had arrived and were rounding up the Solomani. At their head was a man in a general's uniform with the name "Turokan" over his left breast pocket. From the smoking crater that had once been the Monty Haul Tavern, Sylean Rangers were leading the survivors of the fight out in single file. From the hovering Imperial cruiser hanging in the sky above, a contingent of Marines in battledress were descending on grav belts.
A man in a Sylean Ranger's uniform with a sergeant's chevrons on his sleeve approached Whipsnade and Ramen. "All right, you two, come with us. His Imperial Majesty will want to have some words with you."
"Not so fast," said Turokan, hurrying up with his honor guard. A man in a chaplain's uniform, his head heavily bandaged, was at the general's side. "These two are my prisoners, under the Imperial Rules of War, Article 37, paragr--"
A grizzled Marine, accompanyed by several veteran Shore Patrol troopers interrupted. "I've got a lot of me boys hurt onna count of these two. They's coming with us, lessen anybody wants to argue wit' us."
A petite woman in a gray jumpsuit emerged from a nearby alleyway. "Gentlemen, please. I think Naval Intelligence can easily clear all of this up--"
"Naval Intelligence!" snorted Turokan and Berry in unison.
A quiet man in a gray suit had joined the rough circle around Whipsnade and Ramen. Two other quiet fellows in black trenchcoats stood behind him, conspicuous in their attempts to appear inconspicuous. "Please, all of you. These men are guilty of espionage against the Solomani Confederation, and must be tried by a duly appointed court of the Solomani Party--"
A Vargr with a wounded paw and a platoon of NaSTies behind him was charging in. "There they are, boys! Round 'em up before the jarheads get 'em."
Weapons were being readied on all sides. A local policeman with a warrant the size of a vidphone directory had arrived, trying to put everyone in protective custody until the DnD paperwork was at least processed. Suddenly, there was an earth-shaking roar from the sky as a sleekly streamlined yacht went from Mach 5 to a standstill in under five seconds. The beautiful chrome and black spaceship wafted gently down, causing everyone to scatter rather than be crushed by it.
After settling on its landing gear, a ramp gracefully extended itself to the ground. A man in a tasteful black business tunic bounded down the gangway to the earth. Two hulking figures in battledress, bearing FGMP-15s, followed him, anxiously scanning the crowd.
"Everyone, please," said the man. "I believe I can explain everything."
"Good Sweet Strephon, Fred, it's Mr. Ayers," said Larsen.
Ramen groaned. "I thought we had dumped him when you rigged that misjump in Dark Nebula sector."
Ayers was addressing the crowd of LEOs, MPs, and brass: "So you see, these men are my legitimate prop...er, proper employees. So I'm sure that we can come to some satisfactory solution." A figure in a casual jacket and khakis came down the ramp, tossing out restraining orders into the crowd. "Ah, Mr. Goffin," said Ayers. "I believe you know the proper procedure."
"Roger that," said the Great Mouthpiece, as the famous lawyer G. Goffin was known. He spoke into a comdot. Suddenly, from above, members of the 101st Paralegal division began to drift down.
"Congratulations, boys," said Ayers to Ramen and Whipsnade. "The Road to Aldeberan will be the best pic yet."
"You mean this was all just a script?" said Ramen, turning various shades of purple.
"Dulinor's donkey," muttered Whipsnade.
An incensed Sgt. Berry interrupted. "His Majesty's government will not be
satisfied, Ayers. And I don't care if you've got an Imperial Warrant--"
"Which I do."
"The Army won't take this either," said Turokan. "We've been meaning to check on the enlistment records of MYMINES, Inc. worlds. Perhaps this is the time for an audit."
"Please, gentlemen, I think I have the perfect solution..."
Ayers was gone for several minutes. Then he returned to Fred and Larsen. "Change of plans, boys. Of genres, in fact. Seems that the pic is now going to be called 'The Road to Newcombe'..."
[SEVERAL MONTHS LATER]
On a dusty day on the Imperial Prison World of Newcombe (unremarkable enough, as every day on Newcombe is dusty), Ramen was sitting behind a rickety card table, a small datalink in one hand. His voice muffled by his filter mask, he shouted out "Next!"
A man in prison uniform approached the table. He passed Ramen a box of cigarettes. Ramen nodded and punched some figures into the datalink. "You now own 15% of 'The Newcombe Follies.' Next!"
He smiled to himself. The plan was working perfectly. Soon they would have enough to bribe their way off of the planet. After all, he'd already sold 1500% of the play...
Inside the prison barracks, Larsen, dressed in a prison uniform and a top hat and silk cravat, was brandishing a black cane in the air. "Come on, from the top!" he shouted. The tiny sound of synthesized music filled the air. Awkwardly, a group of prisoners began to move around, almost completely out of synchronization with each other and nowhere near the beat. "Come on, Ashgu, you big Ape! Lift those legs!" Larsen shouted. This had better work, he thought. He'd hate to have to sell Fred for cigarettes again.
Fred "Springtime for Dulinor" Ramen