The old man recognized the gun in the display case, in spite of its absurd “Genuine 1950’s ray gun” label. With a great effort, he turned away and pretended to inspect other items for sale in this dusty trading house. If he didn’t act like a regular customer, the sharp-eyed female behind the sales counter might get suspicious. He’d commandeered an old body for this job, and now looked as antiquated as the gun he’d been searching for across the universes. Fingers itching to touch it, he stared at some broken metal tools, all the while pondering the rest of the label: “Original paint. Serial number 4582-0127. Shrubley Atomic Disintegrator (aka Ray Gun). Go on. Make an offer.”
He almost snorted. Make an offer for this gun, unique across several dimensions and galaxies? A gun that could suggest strategies and weigh outcomes but now lay inert, trapped in some ‘ray gun’ incarnation? He weighed up his next move. The shop was deserted, the female attendant propped up on the counter, her eyes on a small box labelled ‘TV - Not For Sale’. He fingered the killdrop in his pocket. In a few minutes, he’d make an offer.
A bell jangled. A small boy opened the door, stepped inside and walked up to the counter. “You got new stock?”
The female pointed to the glass display case. “Just what you been looking for: a genuine ray gun. You’re Freddie, aren’t you?” She looked puzzled. “I can’t work out why you seem familiar, like I know you, which I don’t.”
Freddie shrugged, walked up to the display case and peered into it. “Now, Ma, I told you I never been here before.” The old man stiffened. Without a doubt, his own species had caught up with him. This Freddie had stolen a body, too. Smart move. He’d obviously been here before and wiped the female’s memory but, for all that, she said she’d seen him before, and even knew his name. Perhaps this Freddie wasn’t so smart, after all.
His opponent spotted him. Though he quickly looked away, Freddie walked up to him. “I got here first,” he muttered.
“You boys need any help?” called the female. “Cos I’m just ducking out the back for a second, okay?”
Both nodded. More than okay: excellent. They’d have the place to themselves. The female yawned and abandoned the counter, disappearing into the private space behind. Good. The old man flung up an invisible barrier to keep her there. This was private business. They both dropped into pre-combat position, knees bent, arms swinging free, faces tight with concentration. They exchanged ritual vows and curses and started to circle each other.
A voice inside their heads brought them up short.
"Likelihood of one overpowering the other: zero."
The gun was speaking to them?
"You have a bigger problem. Look behind you."
They swung around.
The female had re-entered the room with a large elephant gun in one hand, aimed directly at the old man’s heart. With her other hand, she pointed a double barrel shotgun at the young boy and smiled. “You boys just don’t get it, do you? I’ve been round long enough to know what I sell. I know what-they-call the item’s provenance, meaning where it came from, who owned it before, that sort of thing. I know what that Buck Rogers thing is. I know its value. Oh, and I won’t have my store destroyed by you or your kind. You’re probably wondering how I know all this?”
Her finger tightened on the elephant gun’s trigger. “I met a few of your type before, did some deals, parted with a few items. This looks like an elephant gun, doesn’t it? Wrong! I just shut down your invisible shield and deactivated your ray gun over there. I’ve already tipped off its rightful owners. They can collect you and the goods, then buzz off. How do I know all this, do deals like this, you ask? How do I spot fake buyers, crooks, conmen, aliens in human form, not to mention truly priceless guns masquerading as tinny 50’s ray guns?”
They both swallowed. She smiled. “I’ve got what-they-call an unnatural edge, straight out of the 50’s. So useful, especially dealing with customers. See, in return for my cooperation, the gun’s original owners gave me the corniest asset of all: X ray vision.”