One Surfboard. Two X-chromosomes. All Man.
Climbing Olympus Mons put him on the map. Winning a gold medal in asteroid jumping got him great press. Children everywhere tune into watch every time he skydives from a space station. But Suave Rob Suarez likes to aim high—really high. Together with his stunt partner and their childhood hero, he's gonna stage the biggest daredevil stunt the universe has ever seen:
Surf a supernova.
Or die trying.
Where can a far-future adrenaline junkie find his next fix? Surfing a supernova, of course! When I wrote this gonzo yarn I had no idea the monster I was unleashing. Crazy, raucous, and cripplingly vain, Rob keeps getting into scrapes that bring out his humanity in a way that leaves me paralyzed with laughter even as I struggle to type the insanity he whispers in my ear. Suave Rob is my love letter to everything crazy about the human race, and this is his first adventure. – J. Daniel Sawyer
"Sawyer brings back epic, old-school science fiction, and does so with the elegance, wit, and subversion he's known for. Essential."– Alasdair Stuart, SFX
I found out about the rest when I woke up seven hours later with bruises on my solarplexus and the hangover from hell, staring up at the bottom of a hard, flat cot that looked it had been hung on the bulkhead with bookshelf brackets, then decorated by the kind of graffiti artists that normally frequent men's bathrooms. Turning my head, I found out that someone had decided that my ear could use some rearranging. I winced like, well, like a girl, I'll admit it, or like a little boy—like someone who hadn't grown a pain threshold yet at any rate—and that drew a "Goddamn, dude, are you finally awake?" from the bunk above me.
"If that's what you call it, god..." I tried rolling over the rest of the way. Before I got all the way over I heard:
"Don't stand up too fast!"
But I heard it too late. Instead of popping up to sitting, I smacked my head on the underside of the bunk above me and went tumbling to a slow sprawl against the floor. I hadn't been queasy before I sat up, now my inner ears were doing the samba trying to catch up with my body.
"Ugh, don't tell me," I said, "The security office is up near the hub."
"Three down from dead center."
I flipped over and stayed laying on the floor. Jeff stuck his head out over the edge of the second bunk.
"You look like hell."
"Mmm." I reached up and touched my face, managing not to move anything other than my arm. The side of my eye—and pretty much all around it—burned like my fingers were on fire. "I gave up makeup when I was eight and figured out I wasn't really a girl. I like to check every so often and make sure it still doesn't fit. What happened?"
He filled me in. When he got to the point where the guy whose face I washed cracked me across the skull with his chair, someone from the next cell called out "Cheeerist Jaysus, won't you two shut up? Some of us are trying to sleep in here!"
Jeff shouted "Sorry" before I had a chance to find a piece of my mind to throw at the cuss, so I laid back on the floor—comfortable as any bed in gravity this low—and closed my eyes and pretended I was space-diving. Low gravity normally doesn't get me down, and I never get drop sick, but I normally don't drink enough for five hangovers and then beat my head against furniture before I jump out an airlock either. A man's doing all right when his body obeys him, even when it doesn't want to, right?
After a while, I heard Jeff moving around, then his boots plinking on the deck, and the vacuum pump on the toilet. God love him, he was trying, but every little sound was like he was twisting screws at the base of my skull.
"Hey brother," he whispered, bumping my side, "Have some of this."
I cracked my eyelid open and pointed a shy pupil at him. He was holding a plastic cup.
"Go on, it'll help."
He nodded. "With hangover powder."
"Bring it." I closed my eyes and batted my hand around till Jeff caught it and shoved the cup into it, then I got to play the equilibrium game of trying to drink in low grav with my head spinning and my stomach doing the cha-cha. I even won, didn't spill so much as two drops—might not be a real sport, but when I'm hungover I'll take my gold medals where I can get 'em.
After three swallows, I was ready to brave my ear canals. I sat up.
"S'crats, dude," I resisted the urge to rub my face—now that I wasn't trying to rearrange the universe with my headache, my face blooms were putting on a symphony for me, "What did you say he hit me with?"
"Wait, that one he was sitting on?"
"The very one, Suave Rob."
"Damn." This time I did rub the wound, and got the reward of a hot blood rush everywhere. Gotta love pain-gate endorphins. "So when do we get out of this roach motel?"
"We're on a space station. What do they count as morning around here?"
"About three hours." Jeff yawned.
"So why are you up?"
He shook his head. "Couldn't sleep. You got me thinking."
I snorted, then laughed, then it got away from me and I laughed loud enough to get the other cell shouting at me again. "Hell's bells, brother, whatever I said, it was the beer talking."
"I don't think so. You didn't go to college, did you?"
I squinted at him. "Do I look like the kind of fella who'd waste the best adrenaline years like that?"
"Right, so we had this old saying in Latin there: In Vino Veritas!"
"Wait, you went to college. Right."
"Swear to Thor."
"Okay. So what does that have to do with last..."
"The line, man, the line."
"Yeah, last night, you were going on about the line. How we never really put our asses on it anymore, cause it's all too safe."
"Oh! Right." I didn't remember actually saying it, but I'd thought it long enough. "Like Gurgle Tippler and the first orbital skydive competition, going banzai like that for the first sixteen miles." Tippler's always had a special place in my pantheon. Dude was a god, and when he won the first Interstellar Newtonian Nav competition a hundred years ago they said the thing I want people to put on my tombstone: "That Gurgle Tippler's one helluva fella."
Except, you know, with my name and not his.
"The line. Okay right, so I've got a point. What's yours?"
"I think I figured out how to do it."
"It. It? Like how to find the line?"
"Okay, what you got cookin'?"
The old coot's voice from the other cell shouted again: "Shaddup in there, will yas?"
"You shaddup!" I shouted back, savage as I could, "Or I'll smash your fingers when they let us out of here."
"Man can't get a good honest night's sleep..." The grumbling kept on, but I couldn't make it out and didn't really give a damn.
"So," I said to Jeff, "the line."
"You want something that nobody's done before? That we'd have to figure how to survive on our own? That ain't safe in anyone's universe?"
"Yeah, that's more or less it."
"Well," he leaned in and whispered. "What about surfing?"
"What is this, Hawaii?"
"No, no, hear me out. You surf in the ocean, all you're doing is riding a wavefront..."
"Don't look now, dude, but that's kind of the definition of surfing."
"Right. But water isn't the only thing that propagates waves."
"Well, railguns ride an electrical pulse."
I shrugged. I'm usually more the guy that gives physics the finger than they guy that can put his finger on physics. "Okay, if you say so. So you're thinking surfing on Jupiter's moons?"
He shook his head. "Bigger. Think the biggest wave in the universe."
"Solar sails? That's not exactly..."
"No. Bigger." He held his arms out as wide as he could.
"You got me, dude."
"How bout..." he caught himself on the edge of shouting and lowered it back down to a whisper, "How bout a supernova?"
He shrugged, like it was the most obvious thing in the universe.
"Sure you're not still drunk?"
He assured me he wasn't, and started talking about this brilliant idea. By the end of two hours, he'd convinced me that we could do it, if we could find a supernova before it actually blew. All through we had to keep fending off the codger in the next cell.
"All right, up and at 'em," called the guard, "Time to pay your fines."
In a backwater like Ceres, the locals prefer their currency hard. I had to bust some gemstone-quality diamonds out of the pockets in my boots and pay them enough to make it hurt. They gave me some guff about giving me back my baton, which I'll have you know is the only weapon other than a knife under four inches that it's legal to carry in every jurisdiction in the entire solar system.
"Convicts aren't allowed to carry weapons on station."
"I'm not a convict," not being drunk any more, I didn't add you green-suited moron, though the sentence felt kinda feeble without the spice, "so please hand it over. It's got sentimental value." It did too—you can't help but get sentimentally attached to something that's saved your ass in over a dozen bar fights, none of which were my fault.
"You've been cited for drunk and disorderly, assault..."
"Didn't I just pay my fine?"
The clerk narrowed her eyes at me. "Yes."
"And doesn't the fine bring me even for the infractions?"
"Technically, that may be correct, but there is the matter of station security to consider, and since the next flight out isn't for..."
"Fine, I follow." I squeezed another couple diamonds out of my boot and plopped them into her hand. "Officer, am I right in thinking that infractions are a sub-trial part of the criminal code here, and that people guilty of infractions aren't generally called convicts?"
Her narrow eyes widened into happy joviality. "Come to think of it, sir, I think you might have a point there. Here you go." She slid my baton and its belt clip to me. "I advise you steer clear of the beer up in StarSign—I've heard they put ergot in it."
"Well, that'd sure explain a few things." I caught a flash in her eye, and figured what the hell. "You wouldn't want to..."
"Goddamn crazy whippersnappers wanting to surf a supernova don't give a body no sleep," that old crusty with the voice of a dying seagull doddered out like he was made of glass and didn't care, looked up at me, fixed me in the face, and said, "You think you're gonna even find one you're plumb crazy like a pack'o yeller dogs."
"Oh yeah, old man? You think you can do better?"
"Hmph." He tossed his gems on the desk and accepted his hat back from the clerk like he was tipping a hat-check girl. "Can I do better, 'e asks. Only designed the whole goddamn station myself to watch these bat-brained kids keep grumble grumble grumble..." and he pushed on past me and doddered out.
"What was that about?" I asked the clerk.
"Old man Tippler? He's always like that. Gets a snootful sometimes, starts talking about the good old days when real men carved civilization out of the wilderness—you know the bit."
She rapped on the desk. "Tippler Station? He designed the place, went bankrupt, got stuck here. Won't take another job, so we put him up here when he gets too down and out. He's kind of the city mascot."
"That..." I raised a shaking finger at the door, "That was Gurgle-bloody-Tippler?"
She shrugged. "Well...I mean, yeah."
I looked over my shoulder at Jeff, his eyes as wide as the tailpipe on a jetpack. "Did she..."
We both broke at the same time for the door, and bounced off the ceiling for our trouble. Take it from a pro, you want to sprint in ultra-low, you get yourself some gecko boots to counteract the momentum. Most of what we know about running comes from trying to push ourselves away from the ground, and that don't quite work when the ground ain't keen to keep on intimate terms with you.
My cranium wasn't exactly peachy with me, but it stayed on my head long enough for the two of us plus Jeff to make it through the door and run the codger to ground.
"Hey, hey!" The two of us bounced over him like circus performers and landed spread-armed to block his path.
He looked between us with that kind of squint-eyed suspicion that I've only ever seen on people who've lived so long that the muscles in their forehead that hold up their eyebrows finally gave up and retired after getting sick of waiting for the rest of the body to just give up and die already.
"You know," he said in a voice that made me expect he'd yank a corn-cob pipe out of his britches, "time was round these parts when a body could get proper drunk and then have a proper sleep without piss-ants like the two of you wrecking everything with talk of damn fool stunts you ain't got no idea about, and then go on home to get on with the business all over again. Now it's got so you can't even be an old man in peace," he produced a lightning gun from his pocket, "without having to go round waving guns at folks. Why don't the two of you boys go and have yourself some fun and leave me to my arthritis?"
I shook my head, trying hard to keep the grin off my face. "You're Gurgle Tippler."
"Sonny, I done gargled a lot in my life. What's it to you?"
"You designed this station," Jeff said.
I jumped ahead of him, "You did the first orbital skydive and the first solar sailing competition and the first Interstellar Newtonian..."
"I know who the hell I am, boy. I ain't that far gone yet. Who the hell are you?"
"Rob Suarez—Suave Rob, they call me. I won the orbital jump gold yesterday. This is Jeff Feuerbach, he pulled bronze."
"Orbital jump, eh?" He gave us a cynical look, raising one eyebrow and then another like he each one was lifting hundred-kilo weights. "So you're either wussies or you're dumber than regolith. Which is it?"
"Asteroid orbits, bah." He spat at the bulkhead. "I could skip those things across a pond in that gravity. You call yourselves athletes? You call yourselves daredevils? In my day..." and we got a long tour of what happened in his day—probably four times longer than it needed to be, due to the amount of times he had to stop and take a wheezy breath and spit at the bulkhead. "...impress me like about as much as a two year old shitting on the couch."
I jumped in front of him before he could get another lungful. "All right, old man, you think you're such hot stuff, how would you do it?"
"Do what?" His eyes narrowed again, like it took just as much effort to push them down as it did to pull them up. He looked at us through little slits in the leather. "What are you up to?"
"Us? No way. You're the big-shot daredevil, you tell us what hasn't been done yet. I don't mean, you know, that no one's done it. I mean that no one would even dare think about it. What's so big that no one in their right mind would believe it? As big as your first orbital banzai jump."
"Hang glide Jupiter."
"Okay. Deep-dive Europa."
Jeff shook his head. "We went through all these last night. Same methods, different planet. Great photos, but nothing really great..."
"So," I said, "You heard our plan. We're gonna surf a supernova."
"Don't think we can do it?" I risked a sly twitch at Jeff. He caught.
"Not in a million years, kiddo."
"All right, then, why not?"
His eyes narrowed further, until it looked like he was peeking out from behind two little slits in a leather mask. "You whippersnappers trying to hire me on?"
I shrugged. "Call it a consult. One skyrunner to another."
"Solidarity don't pay the cost of a meal, bub."
"Cost of a meal?" I looked at Jeff, then back at the whithered man. "I guess we can handle that."