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by Stewart Brower

Stone G hated to be kept waiting. His impatience was a thing of legend on this unnamed street in the Detroit projects, an almost palpable thing. His eyes darted about, up and down the street, wide and dark. His hair sat nervously on his head, glistening in the summer heat. His right heel jackhammered against the sidewalk. Even his camo vest and baggy jeans seemed to be in a hurry, impatiently waiting to crawl off his body into a smelly heap in his closet.

A voice popped up behind him without warning. "Hey, G, you owe me fifty from my last job." Stone G snapped around to find a small punker smiling at him, a tarnished silver ring in his nose and a shock of white hair sloped over one half of his face. His eyes had dark green rings painted around them, and he was wearing a "Milk & Cheese" tee and long plaid shorts. "Pay up, and then we talk."

G practically spat at the punk. "You keep me waitin', Piper? You make me wait an' then dis me on my own corner?"

"You gonna pay me, G, or do I walk?"

G bit his tongue down and gestured to the side. "Business best handled inside, boy."

The Piper looked at the old tavern, then back to his antagonist. "If this is your lame-assed excuse for a trap, you crazy pimp, I will drop you down a drain so deep your grandkids will be having grandkids before you climb out. Clear?"

Stone G knew Pipe's rep—and his Omega—and suddenly realized it would be best to level out. To stick to the plan. "No trap, boy—but I want to talk some serious business." He gestured again, and then followed the Piper into the old watering hole.

A dark corner, a private booth, and two beers later, G made his proposal. "One package, one delivery cross town, one hundred."

"One package, two hundred."

"You crazy, punker?"

"I'm the best, and you still owe me fifty. This will even us, plus interest."


"I'd take one-eighty."

"Cool. Fifty in advance—"

"Jeezus, G, don't you get it? You still owe me fifty. At least one hundred up front."

"Only got fifty—rest on delivery."

Pipe sat and fumed for a minute. "I take way too many risks for you, you bastard pimp. Keep the fifty—I'm outta here." Suddenly and soundlessly, a shadowy opening appeared in the space beside Pipe, detectable only by its thin blue rim.

"Two-fifty!" Stone G nearly shouted. The portal Pipe had opened closed just as suddenly.

"Half up front?"

"Half up front, boy."

"Why me?"

"You the best."

"Level with me, G, or find another mark."

Stone G looked around, just a bit of nerves now showing, more than his usual impatience. "One package, but its some kind of magic juice. You the only one can guarantee it gets there safe."

"'Magic juice'? Gimme a break..."

"No shit. Little Oriental dude give it to me, with an address for a downtown high rent palace, a damn penthouse. Said it don't get there by midnight, it'll automatically curse whoever's carrying it."

Pipe checked his watch. Ten-thirty. Not as much time as he'd like, but enough.

"Don't know why, G, but I believe you. Probably because you aren't clever enough to make something like this up. Gimme the one-twenty-five and the package—I'll take the job."

G counted out some bills from his roll, stuck them in a plain brown paper bag with the box and the address and slid it across the table. Pipe reopened the portal and stepped halfway into it. "Better be on the level, little pimp, or you'll think that you've been cursed." He vanished into the opening and it closed after him.

G smiled, and began to laugh out loud. He ordered another drink and took a long look at the clock on the wall. 10:33 p.m.

Pipe stopped off at home first. It only took about ten minutes to get there through the Drainpipes, and young Bert "Pipe" Meckler wanted a bologna sandwich and a Jolt cola before heading out. He also grabbed up his canvas backpack and opened it up. A quick inventory revealed his old Swiss Army knife, some twine, an unopened can of Beenie-Weenies (yay!), an opened can of Beenie-Weenies (boo!), and his vintage Sony Walkman—large, metallic, and virtually indestructable. He slapped in a Bomb garage tape, put on his headphones, grabbed up his skateboard, and opened another pipe. Bert left his apartment at 10:57 p.m., figuring he should make it to his destination in about forty minutes.

Bert was an Omega all right, a teleporter, but only after a fashion. His movement was nowhere near instantaneous, though on his board he was pretty damn fast. His particular power allowed him to access these unseen dimensional wormholes, where he could then take the most direct route between A and B. But although it kept him safe from the cars and pedestrians and everything else, it still had to be traversed in real time. It made him useful as a courier, best in his profession actually, but he was pretty damn useless otherwise.

Bert was shearing up and down along the eerie blue walls of the pipe, rocking his head to the blistering drum solo ripping through his headphones. In this soundless environment, he could just hear the beepeepeep of his watch over his music. Eleven o'clock, he thought, just before the pipe ahead of him filled with a fiery crimson blur. He shifted his weight, sending the board shooting out from under him like a rocket toward the blaze ahead. He landed square on his butt and felt his teeth crack against each other in his mouth.

He pulled down his headphones and glared at the hellish pitch in the tunnel ahead. Suddenly, a small fireball shot out of its center, crashing down just beyond Bert. He turned to look, and saw that it was the charred remains of his own skateboard. "Midnight, my ass," he whispered.

The fire from ahead began to subside, and Bert could just make out a sinewy black presence, moving snakelike through the pipe toward him. "Aw crap," he blurted out. "What the hell are you?" He heard a hissing noise, growing louder and more fearsome, like a steampipe about to burst.

A voice, cracked and broken with age beyond knowing answered him. "Wooooooorrrrrrrrmmmmm!"

Then another burst of flame shot down the indigo tunnel toward Bert. He kicked himself upright and began running. He closed his eyes and ran as hard and fast as he could, ignoring the flames and soot and the unbearable heat on the back of his neck, worse than a hundred sunburns. He just kept running, until the roar of the flames and the furnace-like heat at last dropped behind him.

As the heat finally began to subside, Bert quickly realized he had no chance of outrunning another fireblast. He had only one other option available to him, and as the dragon's sleek black body began to descend on him, he opened up another pipe and began to run down it.

The great worm turned to follow, its black scales reflecting the marbled blue texture of the drainpipes. He drew in his breath, preparing to cinderize this impudent human. As he bellowed forth his fiery pitch, the humanling opened another wormhole, and ducked inside.

Bert continued to run and duck into the new drains his Omega would open. The old black worm continued to follow, bellowing and blasting like a jet engine.

Then Bert got an idea. He poured on the speed for one desperate chance. After putting a little extra distance between him and the old dragon, he then stopped suddenly, and turned to face his pursuer. "Man," he panted, "you suck at this, old worm. Don't give up that day job!"

The black worm blew a small inferno down the pipe at Bert. When the fire and smoke finally cleared, the worm bellowed with rage. Bert had opened almost a dozen drainpipes simultaneously. The dragon's prey might be in any one of them.

"Enough of this crap," muttered Bert as he climbed into the taxi. He was about five minutes drive from his destination.

He tipped the driver nicely, caught an elevator to the eleventh floor. He rang the penthouse doorbell and a small Oriental woman answered. She motioned with her hands for Bert to enter, and he did.

The room was all done in glossy black marble, with red and gold curtains on the walls. A very young, very blond man was sitting cross-legged in the center of the room, a small incense burner smouldering behind him. He stood soundlessly and crossed the room.

"You are the courier called Pipe?" he asked.

"I've got your package. Three hundred."

The blond man frowned. "That was not the agreed upon price."

"Yeah," Bert said sarcastically, "I really care. I nearly got killed over this stuff, so price goes up. I also have to replace a skateboard. Three."

The blond man nodded at the old woman, who promptly disappeared. "Who tried to kill you?" he asked.

Bert knew fake sympathy when he heard it. This wasn't it. For whatever reason, this guy seemed to actually be concerned. "Not sure you'd believe me."

"Was it a very old, very black, dragon?"

Bert just nodded.

"He has had many names, that one. Gol-Botham. Fatblud. Tiamat. Very bad. If you return to those tunnels, he will kill you."

Bert looked worried. "The drainpipes are my livelihood. Without them, well, shit, I'd have to work at McDonald's."

The elderly woman returned with three crisp one-hundred dollar bills. She handed them to Bert, and he opened up his backback and gave the package over to the blond man. He unwrapped the plain brown paper, revealing a black wooden box with the gold inlay of a coiled dragon. He opened the box and drew out a clear vial filled with bright red liquid.

Smiling, he whispered, "Dragonblood." He turned to Bert and said, "There might be a way."

Stone G sat drinking his beer. One o'clock, and no sign of the little—oh, no.

Bert stepped out of his portal and sat down across from G in the booth. "Why'd you set me up, G?"

"What you talkin' about, Pipe?"

"Eleven, not midnight. You really are some kind of piece." Bert leveled his gaze at G. "Problem is, you risked the package over your little game with me, and that has really ticked off the client."

"Not my fault you don't listen," he smiled with one big gold tooth. "I tell you eleven, you think twelve—you dead, who they gonna believe?"

"He believed me. He has an Omega that tells him the truth."

"So what? You got your money," he waved with one hand, "—move along, little punk."

Bert stood up slowly. "Gladly, soon as you tell me our business is concluded."

"It's over—I see you again, I kill you."

Bert turned to leave, then reached across the table. With one finger, he drew a bloody X on the tabletop in front of G. "Then this is personal." With that, a portal opened directly above G, and Gol-Botham came roaring out, swallowing the pimp in one bite before disappearing into another portal in the floor.

Once he has fed, the blond man had told Bert, the old worm will go back to sleep until summoned again.

Sounds like a plan to me, thought Bert, as he climbed into a drainpipe and made his way toward home.

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