by Floyd Looney
(apprx: 3,380 words)
I don't like this city, I don't like crowds and I definitely don't like being outside at night in a place like this. All the freaks of society are out and about and someone as normal as me just does not belong. I just have some business that needs tended to.
These streets at night are like the worst parts of human degeneracy lit up like Vegas. You got your normal drug-dealers and prostitutes during the day, but at night they probably avoid this place too. You might think it'd be interesting if you accidentally clicked on their website but being in the midst for real is just too much.
There's a guy in a top hat and tie, and nothing else, his face is painted like a devil. He's dancing in circles as if he's trying to make himself dizzy. Over there is a woman in a see-through booth, wearing nothing but high-heels, an array of objects on a small table in front of her. For a small fee she'll put on a “show” for you.
I keep walking, looking straight ahead. There is a massive man walking ahead of me, his back is an electronic billboard. Images moving around, advertising, even full video. His entire broad back is one big implanted sub-dermal LED screen. I doubt many people in the crowd are interested in Vita-Grow, no matter how plants crave it.
Finally I spot the little bar, looking out of place without neon signs and video boards, almost looked closed. I ducked inside and head to the bar. A muscular man already at the bar just ignores me, the laughing video skull on his bicep poked out of the short sleeves. In the back I see a shape in the dark that looks like the person I was here to meet.
“Just give me one Co-Va mixer.” I tell the bartender who whips it up quickly. I take the drink and head to the table in the back. He was facing the back wall and when I sat down I would be able to see the whole bar.
“Is your name Carlos?” I ask. He nodded. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out the holo-cube and laid it on the table. He's the 'let's just get this done' type.
“I want enough DV to get through the chute.” I say to him.
“Can't promise luxury, though. You take what you can get. If you want too much, you'll never get off the ground.” he said in a deep throaty voice.
I look to the left and roll my eyes, Carlos was sounding like my dad.
I wanted off this sad, cadaverous world. There were people out there selling arms and legs to cannibals when they ran out of sell-able organs, for crying out loud. There was no coming back from this fallen culture, civilization on this planet was dead. I needed to get to one of the colonies, I didn't care how primitive they were.
I finished the drink after Carlos took the money and became gone. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the deadening of the mental pain. Seeing a society dying from inside was not easy, and while I didn't care about these people I did care for the species. After it wore off enough for me to stay balanced I leave to head back to the rat-hole motel.
I ignore the impromptu orgy in the street, the latest craze they called “Caterpillar”. Once I reach the motel and turned on some music to drown out the banging noises from the next room I took the holo-cube and laid it on a table top.
I activated it with my wrist-comp and a steady stream of data appeared in the air above it. Then there was an image of a small, rusty four-man ship. It was old. One of the experimental models in the early days of pre-light. There was no galley, no compartments or storage. It was just a four-seat cock-pit and engines.
It would have to work since it was all I could afford. Plus, it was not registered. A ship that small would be confused for a shuttle from one of the larger ships or from the transfer station itself. It was small and light enough to slip into the chute without putting everyone's lives in danger. The chute could only handle so much tonnage at one time.
I would have to get to the ship alive before I could leave though. Looking at the map I saw that there were gang-controlled areas all about it. Security would have to be a prime concern but if I carried an adequate amount, I would be carrying fewer provisions.
There was a knock at the door. I lean down and pull the pinzer from my boot before I walk over and tap the preview button. The door becomes transparent, at least on my end. On the other side was a young woman, a shiny bald head, a collar with a short chain and black leather panties. Her nose and mouth were bleeding and one eye was swollen closed.
It took a second to remember her. Right, she had offered herself to me when I first arrived here, for a price. Apparently she was homeless, a stray, looking for a master. Looks like she found a bad master not too long ago.
I hit the intercom button. “What do you want?”
“I need to hide. Can I stay there for a while?”
I rolled my eyes. Why were freaks either hot or cold around normal people? Either they hate us with a purple passion or they like us and want us to keep them around. Okay, there were a lot who just wanted to see us corrupted, somehow that would make their pain feel better. No, it wouldn't.
“I know your alone!” she said quickly. Alone, is that a crime or something. She also knew I wouldn't be out there at the bizarre bazaar.
“Listen, what I do and especially don't do, is my own business.” I tell her, but she just bangs on the door and says “He's going to kill me. Please help.”
I hated myself but I unlocked the door and she came inside and I locked it again. She went and sat on the bed and put her face in her hands. She was crying. I could see she had several earrings on each ear and a small video tat on a shoulder.
“How did you end up involved in a place like this?” I asked
She looked confused by the question, or maybe because there was a question.
“Isn't this all there is? I thought the whole world was like this.” she answered. “My name is Mija, by the way.”
A common answer. They just didn't know anything else existed, people like me were the freaks, we shouldn't exist. Of course it was people like me who paid the bills, kept the economy moving, grew the food, researched, created, invented. We did that for a long time, too long. We knew they hated us but we thought we were safe while they depended on us.
So did the 9% of Venebabwe that was European before they were killed and sometimes eaten as the 3rd world countries dropped back into uncivilized barbarism. Sure, those pale faces had been growing most of their food and keeping the government funded, but when the crap hit the fan, it was cannibal time.
You see, that was all they knew. It just was.
She looked well enough to carry extra provisions to the ship, her bruises wouldn't prevent her from carrying a backpack. I could take her with me to the ship, if she didn't want to leave I wouldn't care.
“Listen Mija. I could use some help carrying things across town. I could even pay you for carrying some of it.” I tell her, she looked at the door. “If that guy tries to hurt you, I'll shoot him.”
I pull out ten thousand-Global notes and hand them to her. She takes them and looks at them closely, for a second I wonder where she would put them. Apparently she has a built-in pouch on the front of that leather thong.
“Once we get there I'll give you more.” I tell her. I was leaving, this scrip meant nothing off this lousy world and it was worth less and less on it. The economy was in shambles and getting worse by the day, but the freaks didn't care. They just wanted to dance and sell their bodies and souls to each other.
“If we're going through NorLand, I want a gun too.” She says while I was checking my Mag-shot, I pause and consider this. Then I pull out the 9mm with 9-rounds and handed it to her. Again, I was sort of curious where she would put it.
She put it in a small net attached to one of the bags, this would be carried in front. Since her right arm would be free to reach over and grab it, I nod.
“I know a little.” She said as I stood. We were both loaded down, but she had several bags hanging off her shoulders and the backpack and it looked a bit ridiculous with the way she was, or wasn't, dressed.
“Are you sure you don't want to put some clothes on?” I ask
“What's wrong with this?” she asked me in return. Then again, it was in the middle of the night and we'd get to the ship before morning. Then she'd be on her own and she could spend the money however she liked.
I carry the Mag-shot and lean it on a shoulder. “Time to go.”
It was the dead of night and that is when the freaks are in total control of the streets. Drunk, high or whatever else they called it these days, they were all over the place.
“Stay close.” I tell Mija. Suddenly I wondered if she might just vanish with my stuff, she could probably sell some of it, especially the gun. Instead, though, she stayed closed to me and seemed alert, looking all around as we walked.
“Yo, how about a drink?” Some woman, I assume, in blue spandex asked holding up a large pitcher of something that could have been urine. We kept walking, don't make eye contact was a good rule out in these parts. Vendies weren't the really dangerous ones, just truly annoying.
For the first few blocks I was a bit surprised to see a couple shops still open. One was a fish & chips place with the old UK flag hanging above the door. The other place was actually an outdoor place under a tent, from the smell they were selling fish cake and other thing on sticks. I could hear the K-pop rocking inside, as if they wanted to block out what was happening outside.
We were much faster than I thought possible. This was always a bad sign in my experience. It usually meant some worse than normal terror was waiting for you up ahead. Like when the birds stop singing in a forest because you were too close to a bear or something. Maybe that only happened in novels.
“How far?” She asked, sounding tired. I mean, what did she misunderstand about “across town” exactly?
Suddenly we came to a pitch black intersection and nobody was in sight. The sound of the freak revelers was muffled and far away.
“We have to go back!” Mija said.
“Yes, we do.” I answered, but it was too late. Behind us several hulking men with neon flat-top haircut sporting piercings all over and carrying weapons were closing in. One of them dragged an ax behind him, causing sparks.
I pulled Mija toward the center of the intersection. My instinct was correct, we were surrounded on all four sides by these thugs. A light came on from somewhere and illuminated several of the hulking guys and one tall but thin man. He had slicked back but thinning blond hair and he wore a purple trench-coat.
“Look what we have on the menu tonight.” He said, his clean white teeth had been sharpened to points.
Then the expression on his face changed and he smiled. “Mija. Is that you?”
She stiffened. “Hey, Rodrigo.”
“Does this guy have any idea what he's messing with?” The man asked, she looked down and to the right.
“It's pretty obvious, actually.” I answered. “We're going on a trip.”
The man laughed like a ninnying goat. “Oh, you are definitely going somewhere.”
I dropped the bags I was carrying, my hands already lifting the Mag-shot. I see eyes going wide and then grins.
“You are very outnumbered.” Rodrigo says.
“I can take most of you with me, then. Who wants to volunteer?”
Rodrigo laughed again. “Got eyes in the back of your head? You are completely surrounded.”
I hear Mija drop her burden and the safety clicking off the handgun I had given her. “I''ll cover this side.” She announced.
“Looks like Mija doesn't want to play with us tonight.” Rodrigo said.
“I know what you are, Rodrigo, and I am never going there again.” She said calmly.
Everyone calls them Specs. Not sure where that nickname came from but I assume it was because they had all worn sunglasses as part of their uniform once upon a time. You weren't too scary if you were blind most of the time, in the dark wearing sunglasses. The scary parts came after they dropped the shades.
These people believed they were the modern day vampires. They were cannibals who liked to trap their victims, beat them up and then take them for a home-cooked meal. They stayed in the shadows, instead of attacking the groups and crowds that gathered every night, they preyed on those who strayed.
The Mag-shot is a formidable weapon. It carried fourteen “rounds”, but each round was a box of twenty-four small caliber bullets. It fired them all at the same time, ejected the box and moved another into place with the pull of a trigger.
Twenty-four slugs, even small .22's, makes quite a mess of a human.
The Specs backed up a bit. I picked up my bags with my left hand and threw them over my shoulder as I aimed the Mag-shot with my right arm. All I wanted to do was to get away from these insane people and get to my ship. I wanted off this dying world.
Suddenly Rodrigo pulls a shotgun from under his bright purple trench coat. I point the Mag-shot at him, he had trouble with the strap getting in his way, I fired. Rodrigo's body shuddered as twenty-four holes formed, center mass was around his sternum. Whether all twenty-four struck home is kind of immaterial, because he fell like a sack of potatoes.
The Specs screamed and hollered and ran in all kinds of directions as if they had all gone haywire in the head at the same time. It reminded me of monkey tribes on the old nature programs, I wanted to get away before the poo was slung. I took advantage of the confusion to pull Mija and run towards the original destination across town.
We ran several minutes before I pulled her into an alley for a breather. I suddenly felt her staring at me and I looked up. “What?”
“Everyone knows me. I have a reputation. I can't live here now, they'll connect me to Rodrigo.” She told me. “I don't know what to do.”
“You can come with me. Like I told you before. To a world much better than this one.” I told her, taking another breath. “You might have to learn how to live like normal people, but it's better than being here.”
The blank look on her face told me she had no idea what I was calling “normal”.
“Let's just keep moving.” I said.
Eventually we somehow arrived at the warehouse in the abandoned section of town. Most of the warehouses and factories were home to derelicts and homeless people. The one we came to was surrounded by a high fence with absurd security precautions.
I punched in the code at the gate and it swung open. We closed it behind us and then there was a second code. It was the same as the first but backward, if Carlos had told me the truth. I admit I was surprised when it also opened. Inside the warehouse looked like it was in good shape, but getting to the center meant going through a maze of containers and large machines.
Then we found what we were looking for. A Helix-class Jump ship. A short range transport vessel with four seats. It was covered in dust but it looked like it was all there and in working condition.
“A spaceship.” Mija said. “Wow.”
“Yes, these were built to take people to space stations and to the moon. We have to go a lot farther than that, though.” I told her, “We have to sneak through the chute.”
She shook her head. “That sounds dangerous.”
I nodded. “Staying here is worse.”
The side of the cockpit slid open on command. We stow our luggage in the two rear seats, belting them into place. Then I sat in the pilot seat as she sat next to me.
“Will it fly?” She asked, sounding excited.
I was still activating the CPU. “I'm going to find that out soon enough.”
After a few minutes of fiddling with the computer I finally had the thing up and running and everything was working. The top of the warehouse above us opened up on command, although slowly and with loud creaking noises.
The engines whined as they spooled up. Mija was started to look a bit scared.
“Hang on, we're about to launch!” I tell her. She grabbed the rail above her with her left hand and the one on the dash with her right.
I release the Grav-lock and the ship moved straight up very quickly. This is the speed that we entered space with.
“Oh my!” Mija said, about a hundred times.
We were in space. I charted a course for the only transfer station that was still operating and with only a skeleton crew. Earth had very little trade and tourism with the other human settled worlds, it had very little to offer.
There was a large transport ship waiting for the chute to be activated. It looked like some sort of cruise ship with all of the transparent blisters along the side. People must pay big bucks to take a cruise through the Sol system seeing the pretty planets of our origin.
I “parked” very close to the cruise ship. The computer connected to that of the transfer station with some difficulty. Apparently the software was a hundred updates behind the times.
“What's that?” Mija asked, I look up to see the chute turning different colors.
“Almost time to go!” I tell her. I notice the slightest movement of the cruise ship and then I punch the accelerator. Our tiny Helix would barely register on the mass scale, which was good. Too much mass passing through the chute at one time and goodbye Milky Way, we'd be exiting in hundreds of different directions.
We went through at the same time as the cruise ship. The impact on us was more than it would be on the larger ship. By the time we woke up the cruise vessel had moved at least a few parsecs. In front of us, though, was a colonized blue-green world. One scan told me that this was it, this was Proximus, home of one of the colonies I wanted to live in.
“Mija.” I said to her as she ogled the world we approached.
“Yes?” she asked.
“Do you think you could wear normal clothes and get rid of some of those piercings? I think it'd be a good idea for us to fit in.” I say. “Might want to wear a hood over that bald head.”
She put her hands on the top of her head. “What's wrong with my head?”
Brad Black, 12, and his friends must join the resistance when refugees, welcomed as fellow settlers, from another world decide to take over their colony.