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Pen Your Pride

Get Kidd to Bounty

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Karren Considine raised her beer bottle to the shit-fucking goddamn Government. She even took a pull when the other five drank. Her boundaries were the weaker for the two beers she'd had before the present one. Still, she resisted anything more demonstrative than the camaraderie fellow drinkers could expect in a gloomy pub. She wouldn't herself propose a toast to the shit-fucking goddamn Government, in irony. Or, for that matter, otherwise. But it was best not to dwell on her feelings about the Government that evening.

The pub was dark and sullen. There were lights over the bar itself: hot lights, after a while, she could attest. She'd repaired to a small two-person table, one of the tall ones with the tall chairs, because the lights over the bar had been so hot. It was below freezing out and winter howled at the pub door, but there was warmth enough at her table. She didn't need to be baked at the bar.

The decor was wooden, with all the variety that suggested. Wooden tables and chair backs, wooden floor showing the grain and smelling like peanut shells and spilled beer, dura-plast outer walls made to look like the same wood as the floors. The padding on the back of the booths and the back of the chairs was a faded maroon, and not all the same shade. It was someplace to eat pub food at mealtime, and someplace to drink when you'd had a shitty day.

Karren shared the pub that night with a party of three, there specifically to bitch about the Government, and a party of two, one of whom, Karren gathered, had lost her job that day. The now-unemployed woman and her companion were lending their full-throated accompaniment to the first party's bitching about the Government during recent rounds. The woman must have worked for the Government, or for some outfit with a Government contract — oh, hell. It could be just about anything. She might have lost her job because of over-regulation. Karren could speak with some authority about over-regulation. She could also speak with authority about other ways the Government can make your life a little bit worse. Not that she would, in public.

"I lost my job today," the woman said to the pub. Karren suppressed a self-congratulatory smile, and waited to find out why. "Gover'ment says my company has to pay me a certain amount, an' health insurance. They can't afford it no more. I tol' 'em, I'll work for less, an' no insurance, but they're not allowed. So I get nothin'." The party of three thought this was the worst thing they'd ever heard, to go by the expletives they let fly. Another toast to the shit-fucking goddamn Government. Karren took a more discreet pull, this time.

"How about you?" one of the party of three said. Karren flushed, hoping they weren't talking to her — but of course, they were.

"Just having a beer," she said.

"Just having a beer," the man said. "What do you do for a living? May I ask?"

Karren sighed, but didn't make a show of it. "AI horses," she said. "Repair and maintenance."

One of the other men in the party of three said, "Robot horses! Holy shit. You must be about the only one does that."

"Around here," she said.

"Get a lot of Government work?"

She breathed in and out. "No, hardly any. Mostly the other side of the law from them."

"Other side. You talking about criminals? German Trotter and his thugs?"

"'S right," she said. Was she slurring a little?

"Why them? I mean, why they like the robot horses?"

"It's so they can shoot," the unemployed woman's companion chimed in. "Can't shoot a gun from a sled, you'll fall off."

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