"There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers." ~ Richard Feynman
Minerva, Chapter 23
'Gretchen, another round of drinks . . . for all my friends,' Matt said, doing a decent impression of Mickey Rourke from Barfly.
The others at the table'as well as the poor waitress, no doubt'were relieved that he had, apparently, finally dropped the jokes concerning fairy tales from the brothers Grimm. Matt always felt the need to dwell on any female server's name, in order to (a) appear as if he really cared about the girl, but more important (b) drive home the name in his own head. In his present state of inebriation, Matt could come up with nothing clever to say regarding Gretchen, and so instead exploited its weak similarity to Gretel.
'King, isn't it about time for you take another piss?' Chris Nook inquired. 'I mean, I just pounded a beer, so I bet your bladder has the heebie jeebies.'
'No,' Matt said, after a moment's reflection, 'but I just pounded your mom, and my dick has the heebie jeebies.'
Matt took a large sip, and accidentally made eye contact with the young blonde who had been staring at him for the last forty-five minutes. She was far from attractive, and the two other porkers at the table were even worse. The fourth member of their table was a small, unassuming guy, probably the blonde's boyfriend.
Seizing upon the spurious invitation, the blonde stood up and began walking toward the table.
'Oh shit,' Matt groaned. 'Okay everybody, make like we're in suspended animation.'
'Now let her down gentle,' Jim insisted.
'Of course,' Matt said in astonishment. 'What sort of prick do you think I am?'
'Um, sorry to interrupt,' the blonde said. She had halted her approach a full five feet from their table. 'But my friend over there thinks you're cute.'
Matt simply could not help it. What the fuck could you expect with that opening??
'Well that's ironic, cuz I hear that that guy over there likes his women like he likes his bakeries.'
'Wh-what?' the blonde asked.
'Full of rolls,' Matt explained, finishing his beer. He really did need to piss.
'Um,' the blonde persisted, obviously emboldened by the alcohol, 'she wants you to go talk to her. I think you'd really like her.'
'What, does she have a gap in her teeth?' Matt inquired.
Apparently, Matt had been unsuccessful in filtering the sarcasm from his tone; at this point, even the blonde suspected foul play.
'You're just really an asshole, aren't you?' she suddenly demanded. 'You could've just said you weren't interested, but instead you have to sit there and try to make me feel like shit.'
''Try'?' Matt objected. 'And anyway honey, all I'm doing is one-tenth of what you bitches pull all the time.'
At this point, Jim and Quinn were looking away from the confrontation. Nook was thoroughly enjoying it.
'You think just because you're good-looking, you can treat people like shit.' The blonde paused, searching for a succinct illustration of the invalidity of this strategy. 'But you can't.'
'Oh boo hoo,' Matt responded. 'Honey, the only reason you're nice is that you weren't graced with a set of killer tits and a tight ass. You're pretty ugly, so that's why you're pretty nice. You have to be for anyone to associate with you.'
The blonde did not answer for a few moments, although it was clear that she did not fully endorse Matt's claims.
'Fuck you!' she yelled, stomping her foot. A few people at the bar turned to watch the discussion.
'All right,' Matt said, feeling the growing urgency in his bladder. 'Hey pal,' he called out to the boyfriend, 'you wanna curb your dog?'
* * *
'Bullshit,' Matt said, 'that would never work. There must be more to the story.'
'That's what Tara told me,' Quinn responded. 'I agree, you'd have to be crazy to try it, but I suppose it could work. That kid didn't have time to think it through; it just happened.'
Quinn had just related the implausible events surrounding the attempted mugging. (As he often did when drinking, Quinn had called Tara .)
Several moments passed, while the men'now heavily drunk'pondered the tale.
'Okay, I've decided,' Quinn suddenly announced.
'You're going through with the vasectomy?' Matt asked.
'I'm definitely buying the ship,' Quinn continued, ignoring Matt. 'I've been talking with that guy I mentioned, and it looks simple enough. They tell you where to load up, and they tell you what route to take. When you get to Minerva, they unload it for you and pay you in gold. All you do is bear the risk.'
'What sort of risk are we talking about?' Jim asked.
'Well, apparently ninety-five percent of the ships that head for Minerva get through. But that counts everybody, even the independent guys who aren't hooked up to the satellites. And a lot of them also have older ships.'
'What about the people with new ships, who are hooked up to the satellites?' Matt asked. This didn't sound like such a stupid idea after all. It was just glorified drug dealing, really.
'Well,' Quinn said, with skepticism, 'my guy claims that only one ship with the proper equipment has been caught. And my guy says it was the captain's error. To hear my guy talk, it's the easiest thing in the world to steer a boat clear of the Navy ships, if you've got an ocean to work with and you know exactly where all the ships are.'
'You'll definitely need to check those figures out,' Jim warned.
'Of course,' Quinn agreed. 'But, assuming it all looks good, what do you guys think?'
'Arrr,' Nook said, affecting a pirate accent. 'First Mate Nook reportin' fer duty, Captain Red Beard.' Nook had resurrected Quinn's old nickname, from the days when he had been dating Tara .
'Arrr,' Matt said without missing a beat. 'Me rank is Seaman, and I search the seven seas for young boys to add to me crew.'
'Arrr,' Nook responded, trying not to laugh. 'Seaman King, load the aft torpedo tubes!'
Quinn looked at Jim, who shook his head sadly.