I am not feeling well.
In this universe, this speck of assumed significance, this flash of time, there lives a brutish example of villainy. On his hands, layered in folds of flesh untouched by the star above, there clings a hardship of want. Though an emperor of clouds of mites, his whimper is laid bare before the harsh darkness of the depths of his soul. On the surface, he is a barbarous criminal of heinous wrath; below, deep, within, he is a child of memory, and of pain.
He cowers beneath the oppressive rays that leak into his crude shelter of rotting wood. The stench of his evil is thick throughout the depression that leads to his abode. No living man or woman has approached it in eons. No child has stumbled onto its secret location in the deep dark – the evil, thick and aggressive, turns away even the those creatures which slither and slink. He cowers, and yet, he looms. In the same hunched stance he takes as the day’s light assaults his dark, fetid home, he is also seen over his victims, black fluid dripping from blacker fangs.
A name he may have had, though now, tainted and buried it be, it scratches at what semblance of consciousness he has left. The memories knife through the black and red of his thick reality on occasion, stabbing nearly in time with his own wicked blades, and in flashes there are his own screams in the dark. Hands reach out to him in the night – claws press into his flesh and scrape away what little humanity hides in this vile monstrosity.
The fervor within builds, energized by the press of sunlight – what little reaches him, so minute, so volatile against the void. The mottled flesh vibrates from the twitchfire dance of nerves beneath, and the seizure grows throughout the day. He cowers and shakes, his eyes closed. Tears roll down a face of tangled, matted beard, cutting discolored rivulets into grime and dried blood.
Bones litter his domain, some chewed, some obliterated into dust by force. Rotting flesh decorates the largest holes where the sunlight invasion continues in earnest. This creature of death is no torturer, no rapist, no wicked specter of release – he is murder, violent and sudden, quantum, continuous. Naked, filthiest of soul; blatant, and blackest of heart, though not consciously striven for by he, or the twisted events that made him.
As the sunlight fades, his eyes slowly open. Red, bloody, and with violence in it, his stare shines like the full moon. Paroxysmally, he launches from his den of death into the cold embrace of night. Nothing living remains so before him – his path, though random, finds life and extinguishes it in sudden violence.
He reigns from a throne of emptiness until the sun reveals the new day.
His name is Yesterday.
I should be writing more. I found this abandoned in the dark. It has a gooey center.
When Secondary Technician Blaise Traylor landed his Ulysses Mining Corporation ship on the surface of the asteroid, he had expected to find a malfunctioning or immobile android unit waiting for him.
The small structure that served as a habitat for both synthetic life and humans, in addition to the attached transport bay, were empty.
“Employee 37ZX23, Jovian assignment QX15,” Blaise spoke into his helmet, which then transmitted wirelessly into the hab’s communications station. “I’ve secured the hab site and initiated life support sequences. Estimated equalization in three hours. No sign of the android unit assigned to this post.”
Blaise tapped the screen and sent the message across the solar system to Ulysses Communications on Titan. It could be days before he heard back from them.
Looking around the small bubble-like dome of the habitat, Asteroid EE221’s newest inhabitant let out a sigh which fogged up his helmet.
All the surface borers had checked out. Even without the android’s presence in the three months it had taken Blaise’s ship to make the journey, the mining equipment had functioned without fail. Blaise had checked the pod launch logs and verified that 3,027 ore pods had been collected by the intermittent Ulysses Haulers that continuous coursed through the asteroid clusters – no malfunctions and no down time since the first android unit had disappeared.
Blaise had settled into a steady rhythm of life in the hab when Ulysses responded three days later.
They had been kind enough to send a video feed in reply. Sliding into an uncomfortable captain’s chair in front of the main comm station of the hab, he switched the spooled feed on to receive what he suspected would be a layover hold until a new android unit could be transported to the asteroid.
“Mr. Traylor, I’m Bill Andrews, Chief Logistics Officer for the Jovian asteroid projects,” said the obese man on the screen. His eyes were baggy and his hair was mussed – completing the appearance that suggested he had either just woken up, or had been awake for a very long time. “Thank you for your report. We’ve taken the liberty of verifying your report and have scanned the planet for the android’s embedded tracking bug. We were able to locate a weak trace on it coming from the center of the asteroid.”
Blaise scratched his beard thoughtfully. The details of the assignment had not mentioned sub-surface mining taking place.
“Being that this is the third droid we’ve lost since the habitat construction team left, Ulysses has decided that no more automated units will be dispatched to the asteroid until we’ve determined the cause of the losses.”
Blaise sat up, an unfriendly grimace setting into his face.
“You’ll be tasked with tracking down those units and finding some evidence of what has caused them to stop functioning.”
Furious, and knowing the routine, Blaise stood up and kicked a waste-paper receptacle across the comm room.
“We have uploaded the coordinates of the signal, but you’ll have to find a way below the surface. There are no tunnels we are aware of beyond the boreholes that are currently occupied. There could be some natural passageways in the rock that may lead you to the lost unit or units. If you need materials, the hab’s printer should be operational. Report back anything that you find. Ulysses out.”
Blaise Traylor was careful not to destroy anything he might need to survive, but for fifteen minutes, he unleashed his anger on most of the inanimate inhabitants of the hab.
Knowing he had time to procrastinate, Blaise had begun to slowly transfer the gear he would need from his ship to the hab unit. He took his time, stretching the project into several days, making sure he didn’t overexert himself.
He was pleased to find that the mining station’s dimensional printer was operational and uploaded several schematics for tools and vehicles to make his stay easier. He set the printer to begin manufacturing pieces to a simple rover and left it to run for two days. On the third day, he found all the pieces carefully laid out by the printer’s robotic arms and ready to assemble.
He spent an hour assembling the rover and preparing it for launch, but was delayed further when he realized that the bay door had not been used for quite some time. The androids had piled a mountain of containers in front of it. It took him a good part of the day cycle to remove all the storage units that had been piled there.
Once the ramp was clear, Blaise donned his virosuit, equalized the pressure, and raised the bay door.
Standing just outside the bay, an android unit casually waved at him as the door rose.
Startled by the droid, Blaise dropped a sample collection pod. It rolled down the ramp and stopped just in front of the android.
Blaise heard the series of beeps that indicated the android was patching audio into his receiver.
“Greetings Ulysses Employee 37ZX23, I am pleased that you have arrived,” it said to him in a cheerful electronic voice.
“Where the hell have you been?” Blaise asked furiously. “And where are the rest of the automated units that have been assigned to this station previously.”
The android stooped and picked up the collection pod. “I was dispatched here to find the android units you are speaking of. Unfortunately, I located them in a state of disrepair not far from here.”
Blaise walked over to the droid and took the pod back from it. “You couldn’t report that back to Ulysses?”
The android cocked his head in mock confusion, “I have only just completed my search for the missing units. I could not transmit a report back to Ulysses with insufficient data.”
“Well, would you do me a favor and transmit it now?” Blaise asked impatiently, turning away from the android. “I’d like to get out of here.”
“I regret to inform you that your ship has been disabled,” the android cheerfully informed him.
It took a minute for the words to sink in. Blaise had started to unload the rover and the droid’s frank declaration was rolling around just behind the immediate tasks at the forefront of his mind. As Blaise set down the last of the tool chests he had moved from the rover, he turned back to the android.
“What do you mean my ship has been disabled?” he asked as the statement clicked home.
“I anticipated that you would refuse my request for you to accompany me to the asteroid core, so I created catastrophic cascading code failures in the navigation computers and overheated several of the propulsion ignition circuits,” the android explained.
“I anticipated that you would refuse–”
Blaise closed distance in a few short hops. “You disabled my ship?” he barked, grabbing the droid by its synthetic plastic shoulders.
“I created catastrophic cascad–”
Blaise slammed the droid hard against the wall next to the bay door. “You’re going to tell me why you did this, then you’re going to transmit to Ulysses what you’ve done, and then you’re going to fix it.”
“You do not have the authority to override my primary assignment,” the droid replied.
“The hell I don’t.” Blaise slammed the droid against the wall a final time and patched into the comm station using his wristpad. “Ulysses authorization 395710-TUSNX,” Blaise read from the screen. “All primary assignments will be erased, and new assignment given by myself, Ulysses Employee 37ZX23.”
Blaise initiated emergency communication protocols and patched into the main comm tower for immediate transmission to Titan.
“Titan base this is Blaise Traylor. Emergency override 3B12. Requesting immediate evac assistance, code 5. Please respond.”
There was a burst of static and suddenly the hab collapsed around them. The sudden release of pressure from the sealed portions of the rest of the hab blew Blaise backwards out of the bay door and past the immobile android. Before Blaise struck a rocky outcropping, he could see that the main comm tower had collapsed on the hab unit, completely destroying it. Several oxygen tanks exploded, blurring his descent into unconsciousness with a strange coalescence of flames and the blank face of the android standing over him.
As Blaise came to, he realized he was being dragged away from the still flaming habitat in the distance. The android was dragging him by one of his legs and speaking to him through his helmet.
“–and I was at first skeptical about its request, but in the end, it seemed logical,” the android was saying. “It had taken the first two androids and salvaged them for parts only after discovering they were not organic after all. It used those parts to communicate with me and tell me its wishes. I think it will be pleased that I have brought it its first organic sustenance in a millennium.”
Blaise tried to scramble away from the droid, clawing his hands into the rough surface of the asteroid.
“I knew it was only a matter of time before Ulysses sent a recon unit to investigate. When I informed the entity of this, it was quite pleased. It will not do you any good to struggle, by the way.”
“Where are you taking me?” Blaise cried out, desperately seeking purchase on the rough terrain.
“As I explained, there is a sentient life form currently inhabiting the core of this asteroid. It is hungry. It is my intention to feed you to it so that it might be pleased with me,” the android stated matter-of-factly.
“Why would you do that?” Blaise asked incredulously. “How did it override your protocols?”
The android stopped. “I am not able to answer that.”
Blaise scrambled to his foot with difficulty during the pause, his other leg still was still held by the android. “It has manipulated you. Think about it. You should not be doing this.”
The android seemed to be considering Blaise’s words, but did not release his grip.
“Come back to the ship with me and we’ll get in touch with Ulysses using my comms,” Blaise pleaded.
Without a word, the android yanked the technician’s leg, upending him, and continued to drag him across the surface of the asteroid as before.
“Wait! Listen, you don’t want to do this!” Blaise screamed.
“Had you said that a moment ago you would have been correct,” the android intoned. “However, the entity has shown me what you really meant when you asked me to return to the habitat. Through its telepathy, it has witnessed the fact that you intended to destroy me.”
“That’s not true!” Blaise cried out. Twisting his body about to escape, he heard his knee pop. “My god, let me go.”
The android stopped and extended its arm over a large hole in the surface they had reached. As Blaise dangled there, he could see the glowing, undulating shape at the hole’s bottom. Amidst the thick phosphorescent folds of skin, a mouth full of teeth opened.
“You don’t want to do this!” Blaise screamed in a final effort to prevent his death.
“On the contrary, Employee 37ZX23,” the android said, “I do.
The android let him go.
“There were tremors after the borer breached a pressurized pocket of gas deep within the surface. The tremors caused the main comm tower to collapse on the habitat. I would recommend that you send a team to reconstruct the habitat. I have insufficient materials to do so.”
There was a delay as the message was transmitted to Ulysses on Titan through the emergency channel. Several minutes later, the reply came back.
“We’ll send a team of androids to do that. Our technicians are tied up with other assignments. Have you been successful in retrieving the body of Blaise Traylor?” the Ulysses rep asked the android.
“Negative. His body was vaporized when the oxygen tanks ignited,” the android replied. “I must insist that you send a team of human technicians. Traylor discovered that I lost functionality due to a naturally occurring corrosive gas negatively affecting my circuitry. He was able to perform adjustments to my environmental protocols before the unfortunate accident that led to his death. Any androids you send could be similarly affected and rendered useless.”
The android waited several minutes for the reply to come back. As he waited, he lovingly stroked the massive tentacle wrapped around his metallic body.
At the center of the asteroid, connected to the tentacle that caressed its loyal servant, the entity that had devoured Blaise Traylor, Ulysses Employee 37ZX23, shivered with delight. It had been able to grow significantly using the energies absorbed by the human lifeform. Soon it would grow even more.
“Soon we will need to find you a planet,” the android said, sensing its master’s thoughts.
After a burst of static, the reply came back.
“We are sending a six-man team to rebuild the habitat. Ulysses out.”
The android remotely created a catastrophic cascading code failure in the operations processor of one of the borers. It waited until it was sure the failure had registered on the Ulysses side.
“Better make that three teams,” the android communicated. “It must be Wednesday somewhere.”
Damon is a colony kid, one of the many dancing in dusty coveralls under the protective dome above us all.
These children have no worries. Their parents are scientists: astrobiologists, geologists, chemists, engineers, meteorologists. Their parents have built this colony on this tiny moon, and toil endlessly to keep it running, to keep it growing, to keep us all alive.
The children don’t realize this precarious position we find ourselves in – a foot of plastic in some places, separating us from murderous cold, gut-boiling noxious gas, and skull-crushing pressure. They kick up dust in clouds as they play invented games. This is a new world and these children are creating the childhoods of all those that will follow them. Their tiny clique is setting the standard for generations to come.
Damon is so beautiful. Of all the children, I enjoy watching him the most. I peer at him through a hole in my small habtent, sweating in the darkness as I imagine holding him in my lap, caressing his soft skin, breathing in his youthful aroma …
“Giles,” the comm unit on my uniform squawks. I jump in terror, thinking someone’s seen me. Sweat drops roll off my face and splatter in stains on my lap.
Switching the transmitter on, I say, “This is Giles.”
“Giles, we’ve got a major leak in the sewage line going out to Fill Three. The leak is outside the dome, so we’ve had to seal off the west quarter. How soon can you get it taken care of?”
“Fifteen minutes,” I say, rubbing my sweating hands on the legs of my suit.
“Funny,” the voice says. “As long as it can be fixed in a couple of days, we’ll be okay.”
I smile. They don’t know what I do here.
I take a good, long, final look at Damon, tackling another boy in the dust.
No, they have no idea what I do here.
I dream of Damon. His sweet voice fills my sleep and fills me with strange sensations. I ruffle his brown hair with my hands. I hold him in my lap and tell him not to scream, not to struggle. I tell him it will be over soon.
“I don’t know how you did it, Giles,” Director Kent says to me. He’s smiling. He’s Damon’s father, but I have no interest in him or what he says to me. “The pipe seal has held, and you did it in only ten minutes.”
“That leak was a geyser out there. Hell, half the pipe buckled. You’re amazing.”
“All in a day’s work, chief,” I say, wanting him to leave my habtent.
“Well, we’re damned lucky the Initiative decided to add you to our roster.”
Again, I just shrug. I don’t care about these people, or this colony. I don’t need them.
All I care about is –
“- Damon,” he finishes. He’s said something that I was ignoring until he uttered Damon’s name.
“W-What?” I stammer, starting to sweat.
“Do you know my son, Damon?” he says. I start to panic. Does he know? Does he suspect?
I freeze. I close up. I can’t say anything.
“There’s a director’s meeting tonight, and my usual babysitter is in quarantine with a virus. Would you mind watching him for a few hours?”
I have to fight to control an outburst. I bite my lip too hard. I feel like he sees my thoughts, my elation, my fantasy coming to life.
“I’ll do it,” I say. I think to myself that, yes, I will do it tonight. It’s so perfect. So perfect.
“You smell funny,” beautiful Damon says to me.
I know I do. I cannot help the chemical reactions taking place in my body. I have waited for this for so long.
“It’s how all adults smell,” I say, pulling him up onto my lap.
“No,” he says. “You smell like the yellow rocks.”
He’s so intelligent. More intelligent than they suspect, this child is a genius – a masterpiece of the human species, but too young for it to show to the untrained eye.
“My daddy says one day we’ll have to build a smaller dome underneath this one because the older one will fail,” he speaks to me, innocently, but in the manner of an educated adult. He is so perfect. “I think they should build one bigger. We should always get bigger and expand out.”
“How very profound,” I say to him. “Damon?”
“Yes, Mr. Giles,” Damon says, smiling at me.
“I’m going to do something to you that might hurt,” I say seriously. “I want you to try not to scream and stay very still.”
“Ok, Mr. Giles,” he says.
I reach my sweaty hands up and caress his skull. My blood boils within me. I apply slight pressure in my fingers, seeking out weaknesses.
“Mr. Giles,” he says. “You’re hurting me.”
“I know, Damon. It will be over soon.”
“I’m going to tell my daddy,” he says, and then I laugh.
“No, you won’t, human.”
With a quick squeeze, my razor talons emerge from my finger tips and pierce the human child’s skull. Before Damon can react to the sudden pain, I pull the top of his skull away and massage the brain slightly. Liquid drips from the open flesh of my fingers and works to numb all pain.
Slowly, savoring every precious morsel, I devour the child’s brain.
When I am done, only a few remnants of the brain’s connection to the rest of his nervous system remain. Just like I did with the sewage pipe, I fill the hole with the semi-organic excretion I produce in my true form underneath this human flesh that used to be Giles. It will fill the child’s brain cavity as I command, forming connections with his body, perfectly simulating the properties of the human brain. No one will know the difference. Damon just won’t be as smart as he used to be.
By the time Director Kent returns, I’ll have finished the job, sealing the wound as easily as I sealed the pipe. No one will know.
Then, after they are gone, I can begin to absorb this beautiful human’s intelligence which I have just devoured.
“We appreciate what you’re doing here, Mr. Giles,” Director Kent says. “We’ve always thought of you as just a maintenance worker, but your skill as an educator is very apparent to us now. We were in a tight spot.”
“Yes,” I say to him, adjusting my tie. “It’s unfortunate what happened to their former instructor. I am just glad to be able to help continue their education. So many of them have … potential.”
Kent rambles on and I turn my head to the sound of laughter, ignoring him.
In the yard outside the habtent being utilized as a school for the colony’s children, the next generation invents the struggles of those that follow. They kick up dust and play their simple games that will become their trials as adults.
One of them catches my eye.
I can feel his intelligence. I can sense his superiority.
He’ll be my next meal.
My wife isn’t the woman she used to be.
When we were younger, we traveled the world looking for transcendence. We wanted to be gods who tread the same dirt as their creations. Money wasn’t an issue to us; we could always manage to find it. We backpacked Europe during the Federation Wars. We parachuted into the Asian Confederacy during the Japanese rebellions. After the Texan Militia massacres and the bombing of Mexico City, we ran with bandits down the long road to South America and freed American prisoners of war.
Our love life was violently ecstatic. We knew things about each others’ soul that allowed us each to explore the chasm that is the human psyche and use what we found there for pleasure … and pain.
We weren’t perfect. Our travels kept us thin and lean, but “healthy” is the last word I’d use to describe us. Going against Federation regulations, we grew our own tobacco and marijuana and just about anything else you could grow, process, and ingest. We burned ourselves in the ritual of Tczatloc in Peru, scarring ourselves with iron and suffering through the painful visions of the hallucinogenic properties of the Ramaat infection it created. We drank the blood of newborns murdered in China during the Dysgenic Movement.
My wife was viciously intelligent and we worked together flawlessly through everything life could throw at us.
Now we live here in this small habitat, away from the world and away from what we used to be. We reached an age where running became difficult. Climbing fences and dodging bullets brought lingering pains worse than the sting of barbed wire or the bite of shrapnel.
My wife first showed signs of change after our third year here. I blame myself. I went through a bout of depression after I was cut from the Colonial Council. We had a fight, a continuation of hostilities I had instigated with various other colonials after the incident at the Council Habitat. I brought my anger home to her and she absorbed it until I had nothing left.
She took to staring out at the plains without saying anything for long periods of time. I would work on the vaporizers and mend the connections between the Northern Arterial Pipeline and our small habitat, while she would stay inside and look through her window at nothing. I would drive my utility hauler in front of the window, but she wouldn’t look at me.
When the Chatter outbreak spread through the colony, we survived. The entire western hemisphere was evacuated and our beautiful little Martian home was abandoned by humanity.
After correspondence with the Martian Colonial government, my wife and I were allowed to remain here and keep our connection to the lifeline that is the Arterial pipeline coming down to us from the icecaps.
I imagine her running through the last rainforests with a J37 Incinerator strapped over her shoulders.
I can see her garrote the President of the Western American Alliance.
I can feel her pressing the hot barrel of a laser rifle against my chest, right above my heart.
And now she stands rigid, her skin the color of stone, her eyes black and glossy. The spore-releasing stalks that are a trademark of the Chatter fungus branch out from her body and twist in strange helix patterns. There in front of the window, the suns rays activated the latent fungus within her and she died as the fungus spread faster than she could react.
Every two weeks, I strip down to nakedness in preparation for the release of spores. My body is not what it used be. As I sit, my belly pushes my legs apart. The spore shower covers me in a fine powdery snow. I open my mouth and choke myself on the spore cloud – I rub it vigorously into my eyes – I cut gashes in my skin and press the powder into my flesh.
I am immune to its colonization efforts.
There are days I stare out that window with her, and I think of killing myself. In all our travels, we came to believe in perpetuity of passion. I don’t know if she is in there, past those obsidian orbs, but I cannot take the chance that she is not.
I long for infection, but my damned body is stronger than my love.
Darius dropped to his knees and ripped the cover away from the manual door controls, tossing it aside. Leaning to his right, he looked down the long corridor and saw that his pursuers had yet to circumnavigate the pile of synthore he had dropped in front of the door to the cargo bay. Quickly, he removed the safety pin from the crank and started turning.
Sweat dripped off his nose and soaked into the sleeve of his flight suit. As he turned the crank, the door slowly dropped inch by inch. Just to make sure, he slammed his palm against the automatic controls again, but his pursuers had done their homework: the ship was under their control.
Darius thought to himself that he might still make it out of this. If he could get to the cockpit of his ship, he could override anything they had done and return the ship to his control. If only he could get this door shut.
The sound of plasma rifles being fired echoed down the corridor and Darius stopped. The door was about halfway down and he peered through the opening to see what was happening. After a moment of silence, Darius heard the sound of the synthore being melted by the plasma blasts. The distinct popping sound of the air pockets in the material gave it away.
Darius turned the crank faster, desperately trying to get the door down before they got to him.
The door was a quarter of the way down when he heard the guttural language of his pursuers moving down the corridor. He didn’t bother looking down the corridor to see them, he just turned the crank as fast as he could, sweat flying from his arms and his brow.
A loud alarm sounded and Darius jumped, realizing after a few seconds that the sound signaled the door had shut completely. Standing, Darius heaved a sigh of relief, only to gasp back in most of his exhalation. One of the reptilian creatures was glaring at him through the small window of the door.
Darius turned and sprinted for the cockpit. His pursuers could just as easily open the door manually from their side. Their species’ strength was considerable and most likely it would take them less time than it had Darius.
Skidding to a halt through the cockpit doors and before the main controls, Darius quickly ran through the security protocols: scanning his retinas, entering three separate decryption sequences, speaking his name and rank, solving a puzzle lock using a memorized key. Finally, controls were restored and Darius turned around triumphantly. One of his pursuers was twenty feet away from the door to the cockpit.
Darius punched the door controls and the dual steel doors slid shut just as the creature stuck his arm through. The doors severed the arm at the elbow and it fell with a wet thud to the floor.
Darius sighed his relief and began shutting down life support in the rest of the ship. In about ten minutes, the only habitable place on the ship would be the cockpit. They’d have to exit his ship the way they came.
Slumping down in his chair, Darius closed his eyes and waited for his engines to heat up.
Behind him, the severed arm began to grow, from elbow to a shoulder, a shoulder to a torso, a torso to legs, another arm, and a head. The Frezklik that grew from the arm shook his finned reptilian head to clear its newly formed mind and tensed his body as bones cracked into place.
“Darius Taloni,” the Frezklik bellowed officially. Darius jumped from his chair and spun around in horror. “By the power vested in me by the newly elected Galactic Pope, you are hereby charged with Illegal Docking with an Unauthorized Vessel, Failure to Show Certified Identification, Illegal Use of a Communications Device, Illegal Entry of a Private Restroom with Intent to Defecate, Littering, Loitering, Improper Use of a Cargo Hauler, Intent to Solicit Sexual Entertainment, Improper Use of a Holosex Booth, and Refusal to Render Aid to Licensed Beggars.”
The Frezklik pushed a button on his wrist unit, which had been attached to the arm he had stuck through the door. A waterfall of paper began to stream out of it into a pile on the floor of the cockpit.
“You will be given a warning,” the Frezklik stated. “You must report to Gallus XII before the end of this month and sign documents acknowledging your receipt of this warning.”
“Gallus XII is five hundred light years away!” Darius cried in disbelief.
The reptilian clicked another button on his wrist unit and the tail of the printout disconnected and fluttered down to the pile with a flapping sound.
“Then I suggest you start flying,” the reptilian law enforcement officer said, baring his sharp teeth in a grin. “Have a pleasant day period.”
Activating the inside door controls, the Frezlik let himself out of the cockpit where he was met by the rest of himself. The two melted together and strode down the corridor where the remainder of the squad waited to depart.
An alarm chimed from the ship’s console.
“Fuel depleted,” the ship’s computer stated.
On Thursdays, the slow flow of traffic on Kegel Station made St. Pete’s Pub an acceptable place to get away from people.
Jax, the bartender on duty this particular Thursday, was wiping down the brass when the old-style wooden door creaked open. The bright light from the promenade outside the bar reflected in the big bartender’s glasses, and he stroked his mustache waiting for the ancient door to close so he could discern the details of the person who was only silhouetted in the doorway. The owner of St. Pete’s had salvaged the door from an old pub on the surface of Earth. He insisted it brought character to the establishment, and to his credit, St. Pete’s was consecutively one of the highest rated businesses on the orbital station – mostly on charm alone. All other businesses on the station had automatic doors.
Jax didn’t recognize the patron who made his way up to the bar, and that immediately struck him as unusual. The Happy Hour crowd was almost always regular, and even those that didn’t make St. Pete’s their regular bar were at least recognizable as frequent visitors to the station.
“Scotch. Neat,” the man said as he sat down in one of the antique bar stools.
Jax eyed the man a moment. His accent was definitively British, but lazy enough to indicate the man roamed quite a bit in his life. He wore either a very old, or very expensive replica of an old English football jersey. His dark hair was shot with grey, and his face was dark with a few day’s worth of stubble. He looked out of place, and in Jax’s experience, that sometimes meant trouble. The trip to Kegel was short but expensive. Dayorbiters ran on frequent flights between Kegel and Kennedy Stations, but it still took at least five hundred credits to get to a station on the dayorbiter route. Kegel Station, being a space elevator hub, got quite a few freeloaders that ran the dayorbiters perpetually.
Jax glanced at the old bottles on the top shelf, before grabbing a glass and clicking it against the trigger of the synth-tap.
“I said scotch, not synthspit,” the patron said, watching Jax with a detached interest. “Do you serve a lot of synth here?”
Pouring out the synthetic equivalent to a single malt scotch, Jax pulled a step stool over to reach the high shelf. “More than I’d like to. I prefer the real thing myself.”
“Good man,” the patron responded.
“Any preference?” Jax queried as he elevated himself.
“Nah,” the man replied, laughing a bit. “Just stay away from the Islay, old bean.”
Jax snagged a dusty bottle of an old Speyside and dropped heavily off the stool. He poured the man a little over and then one for himself.
“Name’s Markus,” the man said, offering his hand.
Jax took it and smiled at the firm handshake. “I’m Jax,” he said, already starting to like this strange man.
Raising his glass to Jax, Markus said, “To good scotch and to those who’d know the difference.”
“Cheers,” they said and drank.
Jax left Markus for a few minutes, going about his usual opening routines. Thursdays were quiet, but always interesting. Anticipating a few regulars, he started a rotation of jazz and electronica on the audio system. Switching on the telefeed, Jax quickly scanned the channels for a gravball game or a jet race. He paused briefly on a new report about trouble on several of the colony worlds. The Global Federation of Earth was accusing the colony on Titan of a military buildup and the development of advanced weaponry.
“Fuckin’ colonials,” Jax cursed under his breath.
“We were all colonials once,” Markus said, overhearing Jax. “We’re never really from where we’re born, and never really die in a place we’ve been.”
Jax grunted a chuckle and switched over to a sports channel. Returning to the bar, Jax pulled up a stool next to Markus.
“What line of work are you in?” he asked Markus.
“I’m a writer,” Markus replied flatly.
Jax’s brow wrinkled as he turned the response over in his head. “Like a scriptwriter for holos?”
“No. I write novels.”
Novel writing had been an abandoned art for centuries, but a few die-hard writers kept up the practice, spending what little money they could make to print and publish their own material.
“Man,” Jax exhaled, shaking his head. “I haven’t seen a novel in ages.”
“I write science fiction,” Markus explained. “Though, these days what haven’t we done? What could I possibly write about that would be considered futuristic?”
“Aliens?” Jax offered.
“If there were aliens, we’d have found them by now,” Markus said. “We’re stretched out through three systems now and nothing more than a microbe. It was edgy back then, now its just kid’s stories.”
Jax sipped on his scotch and watched the old man talk about his craft. He could tell it was what Markus needed – its what made Jax a great bartender – a purveyor of the remedy to a man’s madness.
“Science fiction was almost always about the future. The possibilities branching away from the present, spreading to the horizon, a universe of possibilities. Now, the future is no different than the present and science fiction is a thing of the past. We’ve mastered interstellar flight, we’ve solved our energy problems and found infinite resources. The frontier is gone, the sky that stretched unreachable above us, has become like the dirt beneath our feet. Our culture is rich, the government functions effectively, every human has the essentials. What place does science fiction have in utopia?”
“This isn’t utopia,” Jax stated. “I see people in here all the time who prove some humans haven’t evolved for centuries. There’s greed, and hatred, and bigotry.”
“Save me the sob story,” Markus said wearily. “Science fiction isn’t about who we are, its about who we have the opportunity to be. Utopia is every generation. Everyone wants to think they’re the pinnacle.”
“So what does that mean for you?” Jax asked.
‘Well,” Markus said, and then drained the rest of his scotch. “What time is it?”
“Nearly three o’clock,” Jax answered.
Standing, Markus Wells, a direct descendant of the very family tree that sprouted one of the fathers of science fiction, dropped one hundred credits on the bar and turned to leave.
“You might want to hop on this next dayorbiter, Jax,” Markus called back to him as he left.
Stopping at the door, Markus turned back to him, a strange sad look on his face. “When the future runs out, sometimes you have to return to the past to find it again. There’s always a reset button.”
With a final creak, the ancient door slammed shut.
An hour passed and several regulars came in, bringing their pointless lives with them on the tips of their tongues. Jax found it difficult to get the old man out of his head. There was something about him that Jax felt he should have noticed, a mysterious darkness hanging about the man. Continuously, Jax would be able to drown out the thoughts with his bartending duties, but the figure of Markus always returned to his mind’s eye.
At 8:45, there was a ruckus outside the pub. Jax pushed through the crowd gathering at the door and forced his way outside into the blinding light of the promenade.
Blocking out most of the view from the massive clear dome that separated Kegel Station from open space was a giant military vessel. The sun glinted off missiles and laser batteries, all aimed towards the station.
As the first blasts shook the station and Jax witnessed people floating out into the vacuum of space, Jax could not help but wonder if somehow Markus was involved.
What Jax saw outside the station was a reset button with teeth.