Selected scenes from the End of a Journey episode:
The tavern was a fairly good one as such things went. The rushes on the floor weren't stained in too many places by spilled wine, ale or other less appetizing fluids. There were few bones and food scraps for the dogs to fight over. The wicks on the oil lamps nailed to the walls were well-trimmed and only smoked a little. There was a good fire in the fireplace and the blonde slave girl chained to the wall by a ring around her neck was moderately pretty and her thin finery was mostly intact.
A tall man at the bar was wearing a black leather sleeveless jerkin over a short-sleeved mail shirt and black trousers stuffed into knee-high boots. A dagger hilt showed above each boot top. A long black cloak hung from his shoulders and a sheathed rapier lay on the bar beside his left hand. He was watching his friend at the center table with a small smile on his face.
The center table of the room was occupied by a large man wearing a greasy bearskin, worn brown boots and leather trousers with several visible patches. A gold amulet hung over a bare muscular chest and a matching armband adorned an impressive bicep. Gold earrings peeked out through long, shaggy hair that was kept mostly under control by a leather strip around his forehead. He was snarling across a table littered with pitchers, mugs and coins at a small, thin man who was sweeping a pile of coins toward himself with his left hand.
The large man said, "You win too much, townsman." He whipped out a dagger and nailed the man's left forearm to the table. The hand opened and a pair of dice tumbled out "You try to cheat Urgah, townsman?" he said in a loud, menacing tone. All eyes in the tavern focused on him. The slave girl's head turned, showing a split lip and black eye. She dropped to her knees and cowered behind a table, the chain tightening.
The large man stood suddenly, his stool falling over behind him. He drew a broadsword and pointed it at the face of the man nailed to the table. "You try to cheat Urgah? I have your liver for this! With onions!" he shouted.
"Cut!" a disembodied voice called out. "That's it. That's a wrap. Beautiful job, Jim."
Studio work lights came on and various people appeared and started to disassemble the set as the actors milled about and started to leave. Jim Thacker, Urgah the Magnificent to his adoring holovision audience, righted his stool and fell into it. He pulled off his wig and scratched his head vigorously. He leaned forward toward the thin man who was detaching the prosthetic arm still pinned to the table. "Are you okay, Fred? I didn't miss?"
"No, Mr. Thacker. Perfect aim. You have a good eye."
"I hate doing that. It's always hard for me to remember that it's not your real arm."
"Mr. Thacker, my hand has been shot off, cut off or eaten by some creature more times than I can remember. The arms I use for this kind of thing don't hurt cause they don't have any pain sensors. I keep my other hand well out of the way, in case anyone forgets which one is which."
"Good." Jim's face took on a vacant expression. He pulled out a large blue bandanna just in time to muffle a pair of sneezes. He blew his nose. "Damn, I feel lousy," he said to no one in particular.
Jordan "Brick" Bricklin, the director of these masterpieces of the dramatic holovision arts, approached the table with the unchained slave girl in tow. He was tall, thin and wearing the current in' dress of the HV director - parachutist's jump boots with white laces, white overalls and a puffy-sleeved silk shirt, bright red in this case. "Looks like you finished just in time," he told his star.
Jim looked at his director with a baleful eye. "No, Brick. Whatever you want, no. I'm going home before I die," he said. He sneezed. "Maybe I'll go home to die, but I'm going home." He blew his nose again.
"The only thing I want you to do is say hello to the winner of the walk-on contest then you can leave. Jim, this is Dorothy Kirkpatrick; Dorothy, this is Jim Thacker, Urgah the Magnificent."
"I'm not really a hero, I just play one on HV. Hello, Ms. Kirkpatrick, sorry I didn't meet you earlier. Consider your hand shaken. When I feel this way I feel virulently contagious. We can send people to Venus and Mars and we still can't cure the common cold." He looked closely at her eye and lip. "You didn't have to go to the trouble of having someone black your eye for the part. The makeup department does a wonderful job." He grinned at her.
Dorothy was a little older and more muscular than the stereotypical HV starlet hopeful. She started to smile, then winced and put her hand to her lip. "It's an honor to meet you, Mr. Thacker. I got clipped in Judo class and Mr. Bricklin told the makeup people not to cover it up. He thought it would be more authentic."
"Well, nice to meet you. Go to the wrap party for me."
Brick was startled at this. "You're not coming?"
Jim answered, "I told you, I'm going home. In about a week I'll throw some small parties at my house. Until then I'm going to bed." He looked at Dorothy. "I hope you'll accept my invitation."
"May I bring my housemates? There are three of us."
"Sure, bring em all." With that he stood, dropped the bearskin and replaced it with a dressing gown held by a young man from the costume department. "I'll send the rest back later," he told the young man. "The way I feel right now it'll need decontamination; the bearskin too." With that he shuffled off, sneezing at intervals.
Two weeks later Dorothy and her two housemates rang the doorbell of what a glowing hologram labeled "Urgah's Castle." The three of them were surprised when the door was answered and they were invited in by a human-form robot. Dorothy handed it their invitation:
Jim Thacker requests the honor of the presence of
Ms. Dorothy Kirkpatrick and guests
at his home to celebrate the end of the third season of
Urgah The Magnificent
at seven thirty in the evening.
Warning: These premises are co-owned by cats.
The bottom of the invitation had the handwritten lines:
Please bring your housemates & wear
whatever you're comfortable in J. T.
The robot smiled and said, "Welcome, Ms. Kirkpatrick, ladies." It had human-looking eyes with dark gray irises but the rest of it was smoothly metallic with a matte aluminum finish. Its eyebrows and eyelashes looked as if they were made of silver wire. It had a woman's face, a slim waist and two low, smooth raised areas on its chest. The effect was that of a short, naked, bald, very flat-chested woman who'd had an unfortunate encounter with a can of silver spray paint. It had what looked like small black earrings in the shape of the number 5 on each earlobe.
"I am robot number five. All of us are normally addressed by our numbers. This way, please," it said. Another robot (number 3) appeared to take the women's coats, revealing that they were dressed in the current student women's style of short wraparound skirts with patch pockets, black tights, low shoes and v-neck sleeveless blouses.
The front door had opened into the right end of what was evidently a living room with an inactive holo wall, picture windows looking out onto the front lawn and built-in bookcases above a couch. Aside from the couch there was nothing to sit upon. A coffee table was pushed up against the wall beneath the windows. Number five led the three young women through an archway from the living room into what seemed to be a dining room with a china cabinet on one side and the doorway into a kitchen on the other. French doors led from the rear of the dining room out to a patio and a back yard lit by tiki torches.
Jim Thacker was speaking with two couples when Five announced, "Ms. Kirkpatrick and friends, sir."
Jim dismissed the couples with, "Go enjoy yourselves; this party is for you, not me. And don't hide in a corner and talk shop." Once the four had gone into the yard he smiled widely at the newcomers and held out his hand. "Thanks, Five. Hello, Ms. Kirkpatrick, I'm Jim Thacker. Good to see you again. Your eye and lip look much better. Will you introduce me to your friends?"
"Hello, Mr. Thacker. This is Angela Green and Lu-Mei Chin."
"Thank you sir," they chorused.
"House rules: First names for everyone and nobody calls me Sir'. Clear?"
Another chorus of "Yes, sir, Mr. Thacker, sir," accompanied by mischievous grins.
Jim grinned and shook his head. "Well, ladies, welcome to my humble abode." He waved at the back yard. "We have food, alcohol, coffee and cannabis. I've invited a cross-section of the cast and crew so you should find at least some interesting company. If you need anything, just ask one of my staff." He nodded at Five. "They're fairly competent."
"Gee, thanks Boss," Five responded.
Jim shook his head at the robot with a grin. This was evidently a standard form of byplay. "Now, go have fun, ladies," he said, motioning them out the door.
The three young women entered the back yard and, to them, a totally surreal atmosphere. The crowd could only be called eclectic. There were people dressed in everything from what looked like costumes from the show to jeans and t-shirts, conventional suits and revealing dresses to stylish glittering uniforms and ball gowns that wouldn't have looked out of place in 1890s Vienna. What really raised the eyebrows of Dorothy and her friends was the sprinkling of men and women who were wearing the absolutely latest fashion for beautiful people: skintight body stockings in varying degrees of opacity. Dorothy nudged Lu-Mei with an elbow and nodded at a gorgeous woman in a particularly diaphanous example. "There you go, Lu. Just the thing. You have the body for it, why not show off?"
"No thanks. If I'm gonna wear clothes they gotta have pockets. If I'm gonna be naked I'm really gonna be naked." She paused for a moment and said, "However, with this crowd I'll betcha we could take off our blouses and nobody'll say anything." She grinned and started to unbutton her blouse. "Come on, why not? It'll be like going to the park."
Getting into the spirit of the occasion, Dorothy and Angela followed suit. One of Jim's robots appeared to take their blouses. "I'll put these with your coats, ladies. Just ask any of us when you want them back."
When the party started to wind down Dorothy, Angela and Lu-Mei had one of the robots fetch their blouses. After putting them on they looked for Jim to make their goodbyes. They found him holding court in his living room grandly receiving the thanks of a steady stream of guests. A robot would appear with the guests' coats as they were ready to leave. He accepted thanks from the three, then addressed Dorothy. "Dorothy, would you be so good as to stay for a few minutes? I have something I'd like to discuss with you. I'll have someone take you home later." A slightly mystified Dorothy agreed. "Six, would you show Dorothy to my study?" Angela and Lu-Mei left while Dorothy followed the robot.
Jim's study wasn't what she expected. It was a small room with an L-shaped table in one corner, a desk against another wall and several swivel chairs. The table was covered with computer and holo equipment. Shelves on the walls were full of recordings in various media. Jim arrived in a few minutes with Three in tow. "Thanks for staying. I'm having a beer; do you want anything?"
"A beer sounds good, thanks."
After dispatching Three with their orders, Jim seated Dorothy in one of the swivel chairs and took another for himself. "I've been asked to discuss the possibility of your future involvement with the show, unofficially and without any commitment on either part."
Dorothy was puzzled. "I won the walk-on contest, that's all. I wasn't thinking of anything further. I'm not in the business."
"We know that but the feedback and rerun purchases from your episode tells us that there's interest in that poor slave girl.' The fans don't want Urgah and Morgan to leave her behind." He grinned. "It probably has something to do with your black eye."
"I see," Dorothy said slowly. "What sort of thing's being discussed? I'm a student and I don't have time for an acting career."
"Well, the first thing that we thought of was a two-episode story arc of Urgah and Morgan returning you to your grateful family before riding off into the sunset. Interspersed with various adventures. All you'd have to do is tag along, of course."
"Of course," she said with a mild amount of sarcasm. "I could probably do that. What's the other thing? You sound like you have another possibility in mind."
"Let me lead up to it." At that point Three returned with their beers. After the opening ceremony, Jim continued, "You remember the episodes where Urgah and Morgan act like investigators and find out the true culprit when a crime has been committed? Kinda like a cop show with swords and no lawyers?" Dorothy nodded. "Those are some of our higher-rated shows but the feedback and rerun purchases show us that there's an audience segment that likes that sort of thing a little more than they like Urgah breaking heads." Jim grinned at this. "Now, this where you have to promise not to reveal anything I tell you."
Dorothy nodded. "Sure. I suppose this will have something to do with me eventually."
"Yes, eventually. The show's been vague about where Morgan the Black came from. There have been hints that he's a minor nobleman, a younger son or something, unjustly exiled from a far kingdom. What we're thinking about is that the real evildoer has been revealed and he's called home to take up his duties again. Stuff having to do with investigating assassination plots and various high crimes and misdemeanors. Cop show with swords and a bit of magic and no slimy lawyers."
"Okay, so what?"
"So Urgah needs a companion to keep the show from degenerating into Urgah fights this gang of people, then he helps that group of people.'"
"Oh, God. You don't mean me?"
"Why not? Right now your slave girl character is a blank slate. The easiest thing to do is to make you a warrior captured in battle so you can fight at Urgah's side. Unless you have other ideas."
"Nope. I mean, the show doesn't need another pure warrior; Urgah's enough. If you want me to be part of the show, the part I play has to be really easy because I don't have any acting talent. Too bad we can't use Talia the Sword-Wielding Bitch With An Attitude." Her tone of voice provided the capitals.
"Who?" Jim was incredulous.
"I haven't thought about it in years but when I was in high school I did some stuff with the SCA - The Society for Creative Anachronism. Kinda like role-playing games. I took metal shop so I could make my own sword and armor. I have the whole thing in Dad's attic: helmet, shield, sword, dagger. Boiled-leather cuirass, chain mail gorget, plate epaulettes. Greaves. Splint mail gauntlets, really comfortable boots. Damn, I was dangerous. It'll be a real pain in the ass relearning how to fight if we do this. One of your blockheaded bad guys runs at me waving a sword over his head, the shield goes up to block and he gets stuck in the throat. Miss the throat and I either hack his inner thigh and cut his femoral artery and let him bleed to death or stick him in whichever armpit is easiest to reach. Standard tactics against dumb-shit barbarians. Don't go for the chest cause your sword might get stuck."
"Yeah. It's not pretty but the idea is to kill or maim the sucker with the least chance of getting hurt yourself. I gave the SCA up when Dad taught me to shoot. I'm better at it. The armor and stuff probably doesn't fit any more, anyway."
"Remind me not to make you mad at me. We use holographic projectors and props instead of real weapons for safety and special effects."
She grinned at him. "Oh, yeah. I wasn't ever able to afford a holo sword. Just don't be a dumb-shit barbarian and you won't get hurt. Anyway, Talia's out. At least Talia the Bitch as I created her. Too hard to handle. Let's use the name for now." Dorothy stopped and thought a few minutes, then got out of her chair and began to pace back and forth."Okay. Urgah and Morgan take Talia with them when they leave the tavern. She needs something to wear. That slave costume is useless outdoors. She didn't have any shoes. Ummm. Urgah and Morgan take the gambler's money, obviously, and they take his clothes to humiliate him. Urgah pulls the chain out of the wall and leads our girl out. Hmmm. Start the story at night with Urgah and Morgan cooking something over a fire. Morgan says something like 'It's better to have just taken his clothes and money. This way we don't have the entire town chasing us.' Then Urgah says, 'Yeah, but if I'd cut out his liver then we'd have something better for dinner, even without the onions.'"
Jim almost choked on his beer. "Christ, Dorothy! I can't say that!"
"You can grin to show that it's a joke. Okay, where was I?"
"Talia has clothes from the gambler."
"Right. The gambler was a little guy, Talia's bigger than him. That gives us an excuse for her to take the sleeves off the shirt and wear it wrapped around her instead of being buttoned. That'll show off her boobs better. We'll cut off the trousers just above the knee. Relationship between Urgah and our girl. Will they be screwing?"
Jim was taken aback. "No, at least not in the beginning. Maybe later."
"Talia expects to be beaten or screwed or both. Probably both. She's gonna flinch when she's approached by either of them. Let's say that she considers Urgah her new master. Will she try to run away? It's the middle of the night and she has nowhere to go, so she stays. Urgah gives her a blanket, something to eat and takes the chain off her collar. He doesn't have the tools to get the collar itself off. She asks him if he wants to screw her, he says no. 'You're my new master, you can if you want to.' 'No, you're free now. You can go home.' 'I was stolen so long ago I don't know where my home is. Can't I stay with you? I can help out and make you happy.' 'You can stay and help out. That's all.' 'Yes, master.' Maybe an ongoing conversation: 'You're free; I'm not your master' 'But I want to stay with you. Please don't send me away.' Later she can find a place where she wants to stay or they finally figure out where her family lives, if you want to write her out of the series. Hmmm. The first few mornings Urgah wakes up to find her curled up against the small of his back for warmth and companionship. She doesn't make, uh, advances. Maybe some night she's crying herself to sleep and Urgah comforts her under that smelly bearskin. The way to describe their relationship is 'attached but not involved in extracurricular activities.' There'll be a tendency to have her do all the womanly things around camp. Make her a warrior's daughter who doesn't have all the womanly skills but does have some idea of how to fight. That'll make her easier to teach and make it more believable. I'm not gonna portray some idiot that Urgah has to protect, somebody that cowers and screams; she has to be able to at least protect herself, so she's probably a warrior's daughter. However, the first thing she's gonna do is wash that greasy bearskin." Dorothy stopped and raised an eyebrow at an awestruck Jim. "Okay so far?"
"Oh yes. Keep going, please."
"Okay. What Morgan brought to the show is, uh, sneakiness and planning. Urgah's strong point is that he's strong. His weak point is that he's strong. He's not really dumb but he's too apt to charge in and break heads. Ummm. Somebody on the team has to be able to read. Okay, Urgah can't read or he can't read very well from what I remember of the show. Morgan can but he's leaving. Would Talia be able to read? No, or at least not very well. Therefore Morgan has to teach her and Urgah before he leaves. Hmmm. Urgah won't want to admit that he can't read very well, at least not to Morgan, but he's smart and follows along with Talia's lessons. Morgan teaches Talia during the day with Urgah listening in, then she gets Urgah to 'help' her at night so Urgah won't be embarrassed in front of Morgan." Dorothy stopped and grinned. "Talia's smart that way. Talia's strong but doesn't have the moves to be a fighter. Aptitude but no real training. So Urgah teaches her. This'll give him a chance to show her that he's not just a dumb oaf and keeps Morgan from monopolizing her. Subtle non-sexual jealousy motive." Dorothy stopped again and shook her head. "Christ, I got carried away there. Almost as if I'd agreed to do it. I don't know if I can; I'm not an actor, I'm just a student. If I try this I'll probably fail miserably as an actor and really screw up getting my Doctorate."
"If we decide to do this then you, me, Brick, Chuck and the scriptwriters can get together before the season starts and do some intensive rehearsals."
Dorothy thought for a moment. "Okay, here's the deal: I just finished finals for this semester. I've got a break before the next semester starts. If you people want me to try this then you people get it together and we do your rehearsals during the break. If we think I can do it, then I take the semester off; if not, I go back to school. But why me, anyway? There's gotta be thousands of women in this town that would do all kinds of things for this part. Younger, prettier, bigger boobs. Why me, Dorothy Kirkpatrick, student? The only thing I have to recommend me is that I won the walk-on contest and that SCA stuff I did years ago."
"That's a fair question. I guess it's a mix of several things. You're good looking but not too pretty. You're big and strong enough to make it realistic that you're a fighter but you're still a nice female package. Remember, a lot of our audience is really dumb that way. You've got good breasts and nice legs. Oh, yes, I noticed you and your friends. I guess it boils down to that you have stage presence and our audience saw you with a black eye and a split lip and feels sorry for you."
Dorothy snapped her fingers. "Christ, that just made me think of something. Jim, stand up and kiss me."
"Kiss me. Give it your best shot. I've gotta know what happens."
A very mystified Jim stood and took her in his arms. She tilted her face up toward his and they kissed once tentatively, then again more warmly. She broke the kiss and he released her immediately.
"Thanks. I needed to know what would happen. That was lovely but I didn't feel weak in the knees or have an uncontrollable urge to tear your clothes off. It'll make things so much more comfortable, working around you."
"Yeah. Me, too. I've worked with some women where there wasn't any voltage at all and others who made every scene an attempted seduction." He nodded, "Yeah, comfortable's a good word for that part of it. Good vibes." He paused for a moment and broke into a big grin. "The word for the rest of it is exciting. I've got a good feeling about this. Urgah and Talia, heroes-at-large. Deal?" He stuck out his hand.
Dorothy took it with a matching grin. "Deal. Like Heinlein said: 'You knock 'em down and I'll stomp on 'em.'" Jim raised an eyebrow. "Rufo to Oscar Gordon; Glory Road. If you're right and this takes off it'll really be fun. It might take longer to get my Doctorate, but ah, screw it, so what? No matter what happens, I have one request - if it's ever decided that I leave the show I wanna get killed doing something absolutely, gloriously heroic."
"That's the spirit." Jim's grin became serious, "If this takes off your life will be really different, I'll tell you that. It may get dangerous - there are a lot of weird people out there."
"Don't worry about that. Do you remember 'Dammit, Daddy, you can shoot better than that?' That was me and my Dad."
"I have a hazy memory of something years ago."
"Complete doofus broke into our house with a gun. We had security cameras running and got the whole thing on tape. Dad told him to drop it, he tried to point it at Dad and Dad put one in his leg with a World War II carbine. Moderately powerful 7.62 round, doofus almost lost his leg. Ruined the carpet, too, and made a hole in the wall behind him. The cops didn't charge Dad but the doofus sued us for being mean to him. He lost, Dad countersued for attorney's fees and won. I was surprised when I realized Dad didn't kill him. It wound up in the papers and newscasts. Dad's a professor of military history and a collector of old military weapons." She thought for a minute, then continued, "One of the things that I like about your little morality plays is you can defend yourself without worrying about hurting the feelings of the assholes that attack you. I was lying on the floor at the top of the stairs that night with a .22 pistol and was prepared to kill him without warning if he started to come up. I'm glad Dad beat me to it. If this thing takes off I'll get my carry permit renewed."
"Jesus Christ, remind me not to make you mad. Remind me often."