Welcome to another Tuesday. This week I’m being self-serving once again! I have for your enjoyment (I hope) a new short story written by me. Another venture into the realm of sci-fi, one of my favorite places to exist. I have to warn you, it’s going to get a bit graphic in the second half of the story. Also, due to length I’m cutting this one in half again. The first part is posted for you below and the second half will be posted on Thursday.
Along with the second part on Thursday I will be posting the entire story on my Short Fiction page. Just use the tab at the top of this page or the link contained in this post to get there. The Short Fiction page holds all original short stories written by me. Sometimes my mind finds itself in strange places, so why not write about it? Enjoy and please feel free to let me know what you think for better or worse- honesty is always the best policy. Thanks for stopping by.
– FEED –
There was a hum on the wind, like a buzz from neon lights or a field of bees on wildflowers. It was the end of a long hot and sticky day and the sun drooped like a ripe fruit on a thin branch. And still, the frantic activity and the endless warmth of the day would last for another two months. The long summer, the endless heat, and bright blue light. Here on Vosturk, days lasted thirty-five standard hours, with forty days to the month, and seven months of constant daylight. Followed by seven months of night under the pale glow of three moons, and still the never ending heat.
“How’re they holding up back there?” It was a short jab at any form of conversation, the bright months always seemed to take the drive of hospitality out of anyone.
“I guess they’re alright, haven’t looked in a while. They could be dead,” laughed Rigger.
“Don’t even joke like that, we have a chance to make us some real money this summer,” said Silo. “I mean hell, we almost got spaced grabbing this bunch.”
There was a long pause; the conversation almost took hold. Almost, but the heat was thick and it was hard to keep a line of thought.
“You think they might really buy all our stock?” Rigger had a look of hope on his flushed greasy face.
“Damn it, they have to be. We took a big risk. We hand picked this batch. They have to be. Right?”
Silo ran a hand across his head, pulling the loose sweat matted hair through his fingers like wet spaghetti. He clicked his blinker signaling to the traffic below him that he was descending. The lights flashed below the cab and trailer of the box truck. It was rush hour and no one was moving out of their way. Silo pounded on the horn, bleating out a repetitive drone before dropping and forcing his way into the lower lane.
“I hate this traffic. It’s like the news reports you always listen to about driving on Earth. As if you’ll ever get there. Who the hell would want to go to Earth anyway? It’s like an overflowing sewage dump now-a-days,” said Silo with a ragged sigh. “I just wish we had their weather. God damned heat.”
Rigger looked down over the city far below through layer after layer of skyway lanes. “Well at least it’s only a couple months till sunset,” he clucked. It was a failed attempt at humor. “I’m going to check on the load. Make sure everything is holding steady.”
Silo nodded as he dug into the pocket of his coveralls looking for his nicotine inhaler. He clipped the U-shaped plastic to his septum and inhaled slowly through his nose. Through the windshield he could see the massive arena growing nearer. It was still well on the horizon, close to thirty miles in diameter and almost a mile tall, it was hard to miss.
Silo swore under his breath and slapped the dashboard as the skyway lit up with brake lights ahead of him. He slowed to a stop, leaning his head back against the rest with a loud sigh. He looked back out the windshield, two wide-eyed kids staring at him from the car ahead. One with a dumb look on his face, the other with a trickle of snot running down over his lip. Silo flashed glances at the mirrors hanging off the doors. Another sigh seeing nothing but bumper to bumper.
“How’s everything looking back there, Rigger? They all still out cold?” Silo asked checking his watch. 13:52. “Damn traffic. We need to be there in two hours.”
Rigger climbed back through the small bulkhead and into the passenger seat. “Two hours should be plenty of time, and they look fine back there.” Rigger tapped the speed up on the dash fan and adjusted the direction, leaning on the window frame in the door. “We should have enough dope to keep them all comatose for at least six more hours.”
“Let’s hope we’re not stuck on this damn skyway that long. If we don’t make the arena by 16 o’clock we’ll be stuck with those things waking up back there. With all we spent on fuel for the ship we can’t afford any more drugs to keep them sedated. They need to be sold,” said Silo.
Rigger didn’t answer, he felt the same desperation. It was hard enough to find illegal work and near impossible these days to get a job on the books. It seemed almost everything had a digital print, a means to be tracked or traced back to a log terminal somewhere. Everything was in the system. And without work, there was no money. No money meant you couldn’t afford to keep your home. No home was a sure ticket to the games. This was their last hope, there was no money left.
The price had been high, but it was worth it for the info on the ship and the print free cargo it held. It was rare to see the old colony ships, but every now and again you could get lucky- especially with the retrofit ships launching from Mars. Mars, hah! What a failed Terra-form project that had been, the planet just sort of soaked everything up like it wanted to be a desert. Catching the ship was no easy task despite its age, but Rigger was a whiz with numbers and had seamlessly set them on an intercept course despite the near infinite possibilities of matching velocity with a faster than light craft. He had used the massive gravitational pull of the ship’s own warp field to spin them into a position to safely enter the slipstream. Risky yes, but after the sale of what they now carried this hijacking was going to turn things around for them.
Silo unclipped the nicotine inhaler from his nose and ejected the small cartridge, replacing it with another from his pocket. He dropped the unit into an empty cup-holder on the dash and cranked the air cooler dial up a few clicks. With a quick glance at Rigger he switched on the radio, spinning through the channels. News, talk radio, classic 23rd Century funk, all dribble.
Finally the traffic began to move. Silo checked the mirrors, scanning below and saw an opening. One lane down and a clear shot two lanes to the right. He stepped on the gas and pushed the steering console forward, cranking the wheel while Rigger watched behind and below through the mirrors. The skyway exit they needed was still several miles ahead but due to the thickness of traffic Silo thought it wise to start moving towards the proper lane now.
Thankfully things continued moving, albeit slowly, it was still something. Silo was glad for the new filters in the air system, a week ago they would have been stuck with the lingering smell of exhaust from the thousands of vehicles they shared the flight path with. He tried not to smile as another opening cleared to his right, he felt luck was giving him a fair shake for a change. He veered to the next lane, saw an opening and took it.
“Woo! It’s moving now,” he said slapping Rigger on the shoulder.
Another clearing, Silo dipped diagonally into the lower lane to his right. The red glare of brake lights cascaded from far ahead and Silo eased to a stop again, cursing under his breath. He glanced at his wrist, 14:26, just over an hour and a half left.
Even with the dash fans and the cooler blowing, it felt hot in the cab. The sweat dampened shirts they wore did little to help, leaving them sticky and miserable. Both Silo and Rigger were victim to rolling beads of sweat that broke free from their pores. And the slick wet that soaked into the waistband of their jeans was beginning to get too uncomfortable to bear.
“I think that damn cooler is burning out again,” said Rigger. “After we sell this bunch we should just replace it. There’s only so many times you can repair a thing before you’re just throwing away money.”
Silo only grunted, it was the third time Rigger had said as much in the past few hours. Damn near word for word too. Sure it was a good idea, Silo just didn’t care to hear it over and over and over again. He knew the damn thing needed to be replaced, but every time they had some extra cash there was always something more important breaking down. Some damn other thing that needed to be done first. The food unit spitting out bitter powder instead of nutritious calcium paste. The waste purifier regurgitating urine flavored urine instead of clean water. And damn it all if the heating coil in the oven wasn’t burned out again! Silo wrung his hands on the wheel, looking for any sign of movement in the lanes.
The radio crackled away, Silo shook his head and switched it off. Apparently he could save more money by switching his insurance to-blah, blah, blah.
“I bet there isn’t even a reason for all these dumb-asses to be stopped like this,” Silo spat. “Five credits says it’s some jerk with a loose stabilizer drifting lanes and jamming things up. All these other idiots are just slowing down and watching him flutter in circles.”
Rigger snorted a short laugh.
“There better be a smoke trail from a nasty accident up there or a passenger shunt hung up on an exit port. If not, God help me so I don’t ram us into a bus full of nuns or something.”
“If you’re done, it looks like things are starting to move again,” said Rigger pointing.
“I see that damn it.”
Silo pressed the pedal down and yanked the wheel, cutting into the next lane. One more lane to go and they’d be in the farthest right cluster, two above where Silo wanted to get to. 14:48 o’ clock and just shy of twenty miles, there was still time. They were going to make it before the buyer’s left the auction floor, though it seemed just barely.
Then it happened. Just like magic, though without the abbra-cadabra or smoke and mirrors. The traffic started flowing again like nothing had ever slowed it in the first place. Silo leaned forward as he watched the cars, trucks, vans, transports, shunts, buses, all of them- surge forward. The line of free movement drifting back towards them like a flood, and then it was upon them and Silo floored it. He glanced at the speedometer, 45 kilometers per hour and rising. 55 kph. 70 kph. 95 kph. He said nothing, fearing he may jinx the luck that had just planted a big wet sloppy kiss on them. In the rear-view he could see the line of stopped traffic shooting from a standstill as if there had been a damping field that trapped them.
He shot a wide grinned look to Rigger, who shared the same shit eating grin. Neither said a word. Silo’s watch read 15:29. Ahead he saw the sign flashing brightly.
ARENA EXIT 6a
AUCTION LEVEL B
3 kilometers on RIGHT
“Hot damn, Rigger,” he laughed as he dropped down two more lanes and veered into the exit port. “How about that? Looks like we’re going to have twenty minutes to spare! I knew it, I just knew it. This is our shot brother!”
Rigger was nodding madly, “I can almost smell the money! We’re going to be rich! Real meat, Silo. I’ve never tasted real meat, can you believe that? I’m going to buy both of us a real steak each. No more synthesized protein paste for us.” Rigger wiped his mouth. “And potatoes! Mashed potatoes with steamed broccoli!”
“Shit yeah! I can almost taste the cold beer. Cold enough to steam or mist or fog, or whatever the hell a really cold drink is supposed to do in the heat!”
Silo and Rigger hooted and hollered all the way into the parking structure. They giggled like children as they locked the truck into a charging kiosk and jumped out into the steamy heat. Twitching with excitement Silo clicked the latches open and lifted the rear cargo door.
If they had been in any other line of work, on any other planet, in the parking lot of any other arena; they might have been sickened by their own deeds. But they were game token dealers. This was Vosturk. And they stood in the parking garage of the only arena in the galaxy where the sport was death.
* * * * *
Colin leaned against the windowsill, listening to the crickets and watching the stars. Every so often, he would smile as the bright burn of engines lit up the horizon, a colony ship lifting off on a journey to a new home. His smile heralded the excitement he felt knowing he was on a similar rocket the next afternoon. His parents had gotten the call just a week before, his family had gotten picked in the lottery. No more crowded schools and apartments, no more food shortages and rolling black-outs. No, not any longer. They were bound for a new world.
Colin had found it tough to even think about sleeping since he got the news. A new life, a new everything. He had spent the past week day-dreaming about what this new planet would look like. Despite his longing to see a real forest or even an ocean, maybe a blue sky, he knew some small part of him would miss the red haze of Mars. The small pools of muddy water that dotted its surface, the stubby trees and dry grass, he knew he would miss all of it.
But to dream of a whole new planet! From what his parents had told him, he knew there were two suns. Could you imagine such a thing, his father had asked him. And Colin could, he saw them now burning in his mind. They called to him, telling him of the wonders he would see. They yelled to him of vast spans of bright green grass, the kind of fields he had only seen in history books from Earth a hundred years past. The twin suns screamed of magnificent golden oceans, water so big you couldn’t see to the other side!
Behind him his brother stirred beneath his blankets, and he could hear his three sisters breathing quietly. They all slept in the room the five of them shared, beds stacked three high against one wall and two high against the other. They all slept except for him. Colin knew he would sleep long enough on the colony ship once he was in stasis. Three whole months he would spend with his eyes closed as the colossal rocket tore through space to the far edge of the Milky Way. He wondered how his brother and sisters could even sleep, didn’t they realize they were about to embark on a trip at speeds faster than light? How could they even fathom shutting their eyes before such an endeavor?
Colin turned as the quiet shush of the bedroom door stilled the cricket song outside his window. He smiled as his father slipped into the room and leaned against the wall beside him. He looked back out the window, his father’s hand on his shoulder, and pointed as another rocket lit up the launch fields far away. The light from its heavy engines cast a soft glow across the dry brown gardens and mini orchards that topped the endless grid of apartment towers. Colin knew that living on the 117th floor of a house-rise was one thing he truly would not miss at all. He only hoped the new planet would have crickets too.
With one last look at the flat square of dying grass and wilting short trees that jutted from the outside wall of his room, he let his father guide him to his bed. He let out a content sigh as he climbed under the covers.
“It’s going to be great isn’t it Dad,” he whispered. “I just know it is.”
His father snugged the blankets up to Colin’s chin and brushed his hair back before quietly leaving the room, the soft shush of the door following him. Colin rolled onto his side and watched another flare of rocket engines break orbit. Tomorrow afternoon was his turn, his grand adventure into the stars. Imagine, a child of Mars crossing the galaxy just like Neptune-born Leopold van Schuestern, the first man to Alpha Centauri. Colin himself was to be a grand explorer too.
To be continued this Thursday!