A man on the run from his wife's wrath after selling her dog. A dozen crash-landed bounty hunter clones. An alien on the tracks of the man who scammed him. An intergalactic detective looking for a mysterious artefact. Above all, a world which is familiar but yet is slightly off - legalized bribery, cities run by gangsters, mysterious sects which believe in the power of jokes.
The world invariably worked the same way – one guy did all the work, another got all the money. Being held up was no different. It was tiring work, for the guy being held up. Where were the Cheese when you really needed them? Always arrive after the criminal had made off with the loot. Safe for them, but what about me, thought Normal. Normal shifted from foot to foot on the cracked macadam of the old highway. The crevices on the road mirrored the larger fissures in the landscape surrounding them – the devastation caused by bygone wars.
"You should say, 'Stand and deliver!'," he said, staring at the famous Dick Turpentine.
Dick had not lived up to Normal's expectations of a glamorous highwayman. He was a scruffy looking individual dressed in dusty clothes. The dust hid any distinguishing elements of style or colour in the clothes. The dirty brown bandana covering the lower part of his face muffled his voice as he spoke.
"Huh?" said Dick.
"When you hold people up, like you're doing with me, instead of saying 'Give me your credits!', you should say 'Stand and deliver!' or 'Your credits or your life!' That's much more highwayman-like," Normal explained patiently, schoolmarminess dripping from his every pore, as he switched from foot to foot again.
"You're telling me how to be a highwayman?" Beneath the scraggly hair, Dick's eyebrows reached for the sky.
"Well, somebody's gotta. You're not doing such a good job of it. All those stories about how dashing you are ..." Normal's voice trailed off as Dick scowled at him.
"Oh, I dash alright. When the Cheese appears, I dash away like the dashingest of dashers," said Dick in an injured tone, cut to the quick at the impugning of his abilities.
Normal waved his hand dismissively, then tensed as Dick brought the gun up sharply. "That's not exactly what I meant."
While somewhat scared, he'd also been rather exhilarated to be held up by the great Dick Turpentine on this lonely stretch of highway. It had been rather disappointing to learn that the outlaw lacked a dash of the dashing.
Normal considered his options and tried again, "They also say that you steal from the rich and give to the poor. You do give to the poor, don't you?"
"Umm ... yeah." Dick looked around like a hunted rabbit, struggling to think of a name, any name, that would qualify. [Thinking had never been Dick's strong suit.] "Yeah. Yeah, I do. There's poor Mrs. Robinson. I give her some credits every once in a while. I stay at her place, but still, she's poor and I give her money. That counts, right?" Dick paused, he'd found himself at the bottom of his mental list much sooner than he'd expected.
There was silence for a moment. Normal wondered how you made small talk with the person robbing you. Did you compliment him on his technique? Strike that, he told himself wryly. He'd already nuked that bridge.