FEED

Written by: Joseph D. Stirling (2013)

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, busses, 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 thrusters 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.

*     *     *     *     *

Colin looked around the small grey room he found himself in. The last thing he remembered was his mother and father standing outside his stasis tube. They had said they’d be there when he awoke on their new home. But this looked nothing like the colony ship. How did he get here? Where was he? He jumped as a loud clanking sent a shudder through the small cube. A droning vibration and a feeling that the tiny room was moving. He was knocked forward as it thudded to a stop as if it had collided with something solid.

He jumped back when one of the walls opened and the sound rushed in. Cheering and shouting so loud he thought his ears might bleed. The light was so bright he covered his face with his hands, squinting as his eyes slowly adjusted. There was a clear chute in front of him, a long tube that dropped out of his view. Through the transparent plastic he could see millions of people seated and holding signs, waving their arms excitedly, all looking down onto a huge central area far below. The rows and rows of people, spread over dozens and dozens of balconies, stretched so far away from Colin that he lost sight of them. He cautioned a step forward to get a better view and saw thousands of tubes like his ringing the edge of each balcony, all leading down into what looked to be a maze of sorts.

Giant floating screens showed others, bloody and frightened wearing stained white jump suits with numbers and letters printed in black. Colin could feel his heart pounding faster as he looked down at his clothes, a crisp white jump suit tagged 6A55-37ZZ. Above the roar of the crowds he heard a horrible crying coming from the cell next to him, it sounded like a young girl. Then the deafening echo of a million loud speakers shook his insides, it overpowered every other sound.

“Next round! Next Round! Put your money down!”

Colin could feel the voice it was so loud. He clenched his jaw but still it felt as though his teeth would shake loose from his head.

“Murdered her family for her sweet sixteen, here’s Six-Alpha-Five-Nine-Dash-Four-One-Echo-November! Place your bets and find what she gets!”

Colin inched forward and looked down at the tier below him. The crowd was alive with people holding small data-pads, wildly punching away at their screens.

“Bets are done, let’s see who won!”

The crowd started chanting as the massive floating screens flipped to a multi-colored wheel with what Colin guessed were thousands of spaces.

“Spin to win! Spin to win!”

There was a sound clip that played as the wheel spun, a rapid clicking that slowed as the wheel slowed. The image on screen zoomed in on the slice of color that the pointer rested on. A cartoonish picture of a slide with an oversized buzzsaw blade at the bottom. Colin looked at it confused.

The loudspeaker crackled to life again, “Oh no! Take a short ride, on the Death Slide! Five way tie for the win, each winner has an equal share of four-hundred thousand credits! It pays when justice is served! Speaking of getting paid! Would you like to make more money? Sure, we all do! Now you can with the easy to use: 500 Steps To A More Productive You! For the low, low price of only three thousand credits you too can be more productive at work! At home! In every way possible! 500 Steps To A More Productive You has been used by millions of people- just like you- that wanted more from life! 500 Steps To A More Productive You has limited supplies, get yours now! Purchases of 500 Steps To A More Productive You can be made from your data-pad! Why wait? Act now!”

The crowds roared to life, some cheering some boo-ing. Colin could hear some heavy gearing, feel a soft shudder through his tin cell. And then the scream. He watched in horror as a young teenage girl, the girl who had been crying in the cell next to him, was dumped into the clear chute. She dropped out of his view but her descent was captured on the large view screens hovering in the middle of the arena. Cameras tracked her as the chute leveled out and the girl slowed. Colin could hear her screams all too well as they echoed back up the tube beside him.

As the whirring meat grinder came into view at the end of the poor girl’s tube, Colin tried to look away. Too late. He watched as what was once a young pretty girl became nothing more than a red liquid spray that oozed and coated the clear tube beyond. Colin dropped to his knees, his empty stomach pumping bile through his throat and out his mouth. It burned in his nostrils and he found himself starting to cry. He wanted his mother and father, his sisters and brother. He missed Mars. He wanted to go home.

A sudden fear rippled through him. Was his family here with him? Locked somewhere in a cell wearing the same jump suit? Colin started screaming.

“Twenty plus fires with a body count in the triple digits, you got him! Six-Alpha-Five-Five-Dash-Nine-Nine-Victor-Delta!”

Again the crowd started chanting, “Spin to win! Spin to win!”

Through tear filled eyes and wracking sobs he could see the wheel on the screen zipping round and round, hear the droning clicks of the pointer. The screen zoomed in on the wheel to show a picture of a silly clown with large shoes standing in a puddle, a cartoonish fish biting his toe.

“You just can’t lose! It’s Clown Shoes! No winners yet, all bets from this round add to the next jackpot! Remember folks, you too can have whiter teeth and fresher breath with Zingnamel! That’s right, get a hundred-watt smile and impress people who know you with Zingnamel, it’s like staring at the sun! From the makers of Dura Shine! Protect your car with Dura Shine! Both Zingnamel and Dura Shine are subsidiary affiliates of Food-2-U!”

Colin watched as an older man was sent sliding down the clear shute and dumped into an empty tank. He watched on the screen as the man looked around, the tank was empty with the exception of what looked like a pair of large plastic shoes, much like small kayaks about a foot long each. Without warning, sluice gates opened in the walls of the tank, brackish looking water spilling in. The man ran to the shoes and stepped a foot into each. He wobbled and flailed his arms to keep his balance as the water kept flooding in. Colin found himself almost relieved, the man was holding his balance and stayed atop of the rising water.

As he watched the screen he could see large fish spilling into the tank, the large piranha-like fish bumped the floats the man stood on. He wobbled as more fish banged against the bright red plastic. Colin felt as if he held his breath, and as he blinked the man was gone, the red floats drifting apart. Already the water was turning a deep red, frothing and bubbling as the fish frenzied and tore the man to pieces.

“What an end, what an end! Put your money down for the next round! Next we have a space explorer from Mars! Six-Alpha-Five-Five-Dash-Three-Seven-Zed-Zed!”

Again the millions strong crowd was busy hammering away at their data-pads, placing bets on what they thought and hoped the next death would be. Even in the small cell Colin could hear the tapping of fingers on gel-screens, the vicious excitement of a depraved audience. On the screen a timer ticked its way down to zero.

“Bets are done, let’s see who won!”

Again the crowd chanting, “Spin to win!”

Colin looked up from the numbers printed on his white jump suit, his heart hammered in his chest and his hands shook violently. He turned his back to the screens, the clicking of the dial feeling like needles in his brain. As the clicking slowed he was oblivious to the small thrumming in the back of his neck, the dimmest of flashes from a tiny embedded red blinking light beneath the skin. The dial stopped, Colin knew this was his end. No Mars, no FTL trip to the far edge of the Milky Way, no looking into the night sky from a brave new world. The end.

“Now that hits the spot. It’s the Sling Shot! And that’s not all! Once again, no one wins! What a surprise the winner of the next round will have with this huge jackpot! But first, are you tired of stress fractures and corrosion showing up on the sub-structure of your home? Worn out with the brittle flakes of UV reflective coating falling off your walls and vehicles? Worry no more! Get Bond-Fill! It smoothes the rough spots, it fills and strengthens cracks and pits! Bond-Fill, it gets the job done! Now available in plus-sized tubes!”

The back wall in the small cell began moving forward, pushing Colin into the chute. His stomach lurched as he dropped, sliding along the smooth walls. Everything was a blur, he could hear the cloth of his jump suit rustling with the wind rushing past him, hear his breath. And then the confining tube was gone and he was in the open air. It was a short drop and Colin landed hard in a large cloth scoop. He barely had time to see where he was before the cloth ripped and the frame whipped into the air. The mechanism looked like a steely catapult, the far wall of the room stained with drying blood and meaty bits.

The arena filled with gasps and frantic murmurs as Colin stood, shaking, the crotch of his pants soaking through with liquid fear.

“Well how about that! Looks like Sling Shot needs some repairs! But that’s good news for you viewers! Bonus round where the big money can be found! That’s right, it’s double your money time! As with any bonus round, place your bets down to the second! How long will it take for this criminal to meet his end? Bet now!”

Colin wiped tears from his face. Why did they called him a criminal? But that thought was deeply shadowed by what they were going to do to him. The crowd broke into a frenzy of excitement as the announcer’s voice boomed through the arena.

“Who’s hungry, who’s got the need? The need to Feed!”

The screams from the audience were so loud Colin thought his ears might rupture.

“Do you remember your wedding? You childhood? Your school days? Never forget again with Cerebral Clicker! A simple procedure that downloads your most valuable and cherished memories directly to your Stream Profile on your data-pad! That’s right! Share the digital copy with the people that know you on the Stream! Cerebral Clicker, never forget anything again!”

Their loud shouts and cries drummed through him, it was tormenting. But then he heard it, a rough buzzing. Rhythmic and organic, a sound of hard plates endlessly cracking against one another, chittering mouths and crawling legs. They came from holes opening in each of the four walls around him. Tiny black insects, their chitinous bodies shining in the brilliant light of the blue sun.

Colin screamed out, backing into the frame of the catapult. The beetles were everywhere, surrounding him. The floor was alive with twitching, so many hard legs clicking and tapping along the flat tiles. It was maddening. Colin was wailing uncontrollably, the sound of his wracked sobs lost amid the clatter of millions of bugs. Yet they only surrounded him, they stumbled as if confused leaving a ring of open tile around Colin. He never heard the screams of panic or the announcer’s shouts to make a calm exit, Colin was focused on the beetles around him. He waited for them to do something, anything, as long it would end.

He could hear loud speakers screaming out around him, flashes of light glaring through his blurred wet eyes. Suddenly there were arms wrapping around him and Colin was yanked into the air. The relentless sound of the insects was replaced by the quiet thrum of repulsor lifts and sirens. He chanced a look and wept, though with a relief he may never be able to fathom. It was Peace Enforcers, they were everywhere. The non-reflective blue and white skins of the rugged metal bodies flooded through the crowds. He was being lifted into the cabin of a hovering cruiser.

The calm digital voice of the Enforcer that held him broke through the terror he felt, “You are safe Citizen Colin Zimmerman, formerly of Mars. You will be processed and delivered to your parents as soon as transportation can be made available. You are safe Citizen Colin Zimmerman, formerly of Mars. You will be…”

Below him he could hear the announcers’ loud voice booming through the massive arena.

“Stay calm viewers! It seems we’ve had an accidental entry! Those responsible for this heinous act will be brought to justice! We’ll return to the games after this short break, and with new contestants! While you wait, our Snack Attendants are eager to serve you the finest in re-processed foods! Also, the driver of an orange three-door Faraday Cispa, ID Tag 334JM-888-QWT949, you’ve left your lights on! Please make your way to parking level 93, section J, row 16, space 671…”

The announcer continued in the excited drawl as the cruiser lifted out of the mile high arena walls. Colin couldn’t stop himself from weeping, the tears seemed to roll down his face as if he were trying to fill a sea. He found himself remembering when the schools on Mars had began swapping out the older digital prints for the modern biochips like the one now in his neck. Untraceable with a long range signal transmission, perhaps the frequency had been what had saved him from the beetles in that awful place. Surely it had led the Peace Enforcers to him.

*     *     *     *     *

Silo and Rigger ran through the crowds of people. Silo tried desperately to wipe the sweat from his flushed face, his greasy hair sticking to his forehead in clumped masses. The whine of Peace Enforcers seemed to be coming from everywhere. Rigger pulled hard on Silo’s arm, dragging him into a service corridor.

“What the hell man? I thought those people were clean?” Rigger had gone quite pale.

“I was told they were! And the scans didn’t pick up a single digital print!” Silo stretched his shirt to wipe his dripping face. “We got sold out! Had to be!”

“Damn it Silo! Who sold you the info on that ship?”

“Doesn’t matter,” said Silo looking at the muted flash beneath the skin of his arm. “They tracked our truck already. They know where we are.”

He held up his arm, showing the digital print to Rigger. Rigger sank down to the floor, trying to cover his own digital print with his hand. It would do no good. Their pictures would already be filling up the Data-Stream, everyone would recognize them. Hell, everyone on each and every colonized planet would know their faces. Be aware of their likes and dislikes, their favorite food, their medical history. For crying out loud- folks would know when they stopped to piss!

“I’m not running, Silo. We’re bound for the game floor no matter what we do. There’s no place to run. I’m giving up, they can take me,” said Rigger standing.

He walked passed Silo in a strange sort of daze, calm, his eyes showing that he could have been a million miles away. Silo looked around the service corridor. It was empty, the loud rush and clamor of voices echoing from the main halls. He spotted the door at the far end of the tunnel that led to the service ducts. A place normally reserved for repair drones and supervisors for the programming stations. Silo knew there must be some way out. There had to be. He could cut the digital print out of his arm, he just needed to find a tool or anything sharp. He would run.

He pushed through the small door, the air in the duct space felt stagnant. It was hotter here than standing in the bright blue sun. It didn’t matter. Then the idea hit him, he could see the pale blue light streaming in through what had to be a window. He scrambled towards it, the sweat dripping from his face and soggy shirt. His own stink of sweat and soiled under arms seemed to permeate the air around him. Finally he stopped before the outlet, stuck his head through the space into the open air. The whole was just large enough to accept the bulk of his gut. He jumped.

Silo was almost relieved as the air rushed around him. The blowing wind felt cool as it flew by his sweat soaked body, he found a small satisfaction that this was the first time he had felt cold on this hot planet. Silo shut his eyes, he could hear the dull pulsing sirens above the roar of the open air. He knew he was free though, the Enforcers had no time to catch him. Sure they knew exactly where he was, his digital print ensured that fact. But Silo knew they could never get to him in time. He was free, he had gotten away. With his eyes closed he could almost smell that real steak dinner. It was his one final thought as the ground rushed up to meet h-

*     *     *     *     *

Colin stepped out into the light of twin orange stars, a familiar color that reminded him of Sol, the sun Mars circled so far away. He shielded his eyes as he made his way across the tarmac to the terminal with the escort of the Enforcer that had rescued him. Standing just inside the glass doors, as it was against regulations for non-passengers to leave the terminal, stood his parents and siblings. Never had Colin been so overjoyed to see them all. He found himself starting to cry again.

Nothing else mattered to him at that moment. Not the immense pale trees with silvery leaves. Not the sweet smell of blue tinted grasses that surrounded the tarmac. Not the quiet rush of the endless waves of the golden ocean just the other side of the space port. Only his brother, three sisters, mother, and father.

In a reassuring monotone, the Enforcer spoke to him one last time as it pulled the door open for him. “You are safe Citizen Colin Zimmerman of Ril 3a. You are safe.”

END

©May2013 Joseph D. Stirling

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