Perry Rodent is Bubonicon,’s mascot, and brief stories of his misadventures are a long-standing tradition of the program book. Back in 2010, the convention theme for Bubonicon 42 was, inevitably, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. For reasons lost to history, Perry wears just a single shoe. These two things went together so naturally that when the concom invited me to contribute the Perry story that year, I couldn’t resist turning it into a deeeep cut for folks who love the original BBC audio dramas.
“What kind of idiot builds an escape pod that can’t be activated from the inside?“
Perry shook his head, wiggling his ears at Terri. The fire alarm sounded like somebody had tossed a church bell into the mixer on a cement truck. The hull breach warning sounded as though a giant had run that truck through a car crusher and then tried to play the result like an accordion in a polka band. And the proximity alarm sounded as though somebody with a howitzer really despised polka bands.
The klaxons had, he was pretty certain, blown out his hearing in the higher registers. Terri’s voice got squeakier when she upset. (It wasn’t her most attractive quality.) She’d been upset with him quite a lot lately. He wondered if he’d ever be able to hear her again.
She said, “I SAID, WHAT KIND OF IDIOT BUILTS AN ESCAPE POD THAT CAN’T BE ACTIVATED FROM THE–” The ear-melting shriek of the klaxons came to an abrupt halt. “–Inside?”
“I know,” said Perry. “Seriously. What the hell were they thinking?”
He wanted to shrug, but the seven-point restraint harness made it difficult. Instead, he tried for a raffish twitch of his whiskers that said, I mean, right? But his whiskers crumbled away when they brushed against the harness. They’d been crisped by heat from the cockpit fire.
Terri, similarly restrained in the harness directly across from him, rolled her eyes.
The harnesses were solid titanium, fool-proof, self-tensioning, and self-maintaining. They monitored life signs; administered amphetamines and sedatives as deemed necessary by the majority vote within a trio of AI medical students; delivered intravenous nutrients and hydration; monitored cryo functions and the homing beacons for long-duration escape trajectories; and periodically misted the air inside the escape pod with a “new car” scent.
What they didn’t do, however, was provide a means of sealing and ejecting the pod from a crippled ship. That could only be done with a lever on the pilot’s console. The console which was, presently, on fire.
“We need something to throw,” said Terri.
“We don’t have anything to throw,” said Perry.
Terri took a long, hard look at his shoes.
Perry sighed. “Oh, come on! I finally have a matching pair.” He wiggled his toes. “They actually fit. And they look snazzy.”
“That’s not the word I would use,” she said.
Rare indeed was the rat who could wear powder-blue Italian leather wingtips without any sense of self-consciousness or irony. They’d found the shoes on a moonlet covered in nothing but footwear. A meter deep. Thousands of square kilometers. One entire continent consisted of nothing but thigh-highs. They orbited it for three days while Perry ran surface scans. On the fourth day, he sent a drone to a high latitude near the south magnetic pole. The drone returned with a pair of width 5A, size 16 wingtips. (It hadn’t been programmed to retrieve anything for Terri. Which had led to a long talk about relationships.)
It was an uncharted fetish planetoid, the kind of thing one hears rumors about from time. Particularly if one spends a great deal of time in the most sordid taverns — in the most god-forsaken ports of call, in the galaxy’s most disreputable neighborhoods — interviewing the filthiest and most deranged spacemen one can find.
Which, incidentally, was Perry’s latest hobby. He knew how to show a girl a good time.
“Besides,” she said. “We wouldn’t be in this jam if not for your stupid shoes.”
(Oddly, while the rumors had quite a lot to say about footwear, they were less forthcoming on the subject of, say, orbital defense platforms. But as Perry had pointed out soon after the shooting started, what kind of a nutcase breaks out the particle beams over a single pair of shoes out of several billion? The kind of nutcase, Terry pointed out, who feels compelled to cover an entire moon in shoes.)
The wind from the hull breach blew Perry’s fuzzy dice into the fire. The flames flashed green, then purple. The scent of burning acrylic wafted into the pod, but a quick spritz from Terri’s harness turned it into the aroma of burning Camaro. If they didn’t pass out from lack of oxygen, they’d pass out from the fumes soon enough.
He sighed. “Okay. Fine.” He lifted his leg as far as the harness would allow. Which, thanks to the cramped confines of the pod, meant kicking Terri in the hip. She grabbed his shoe and yanked.
“Ouch. Ouch. Ouch!”
Because of the harness, she couldn’t wind up for a proper throw. But she underhanded the shoe through the airlock, across the conflagration, and square on the lever that activated the escape sequence. The lever creaked forward. The escape pod’s blast door irised shut.
It revealed a sign stenciled on the interior of the escape pod door. It read:
Beacon Buddy: Your Plastic Pal Who Makes Escape Fun!
A window in the blast door afforded a nice view of the burning cockpit. Flames had engulfed the navigation controls, and the life support console looked. . . runny.
“Um. I hope they’re kidding about the plastic.”
The pod lurched away from their dying ship. A needle jammed into Perry’s wrist. He took a last look at his one remaining shoe before the sedatives kicked in.
“Man, I loved that pair.”
“When we land,” said Terry, her voiced already slurred by the drugs, “I’m making you walk for help.”