The Inner Wild

I began this project this past summer, wrote a few connecting pieces to it, then abandoned it.

I still think its worth pursuing. I love space westerns. I sometimes wish I’d been born about 20 to 30 years earlier just so I could have seen the pulp fiction golden years personally.

The Inner Wild, in the series, refers to the lawless wasteland the inner planets of the Solar system have become. A reverse frontier in a way.

This is the prologue.

—-

For mankind, there is always a frontier. Outwardly, our species has expanded and colonized; our ships have grown bigger and faster. Inwardly, man has the potential to be something more than he was the day before. Our truth, here in the Inner Wild, is that God has taken the outer infinity away from us. In here, we live on the edge of our own humanity.

– Jasper Grey, excerpt from Address to the 1st Revolutionary Council, one day prior to the Lunar Massacre.

Rance Talbot waited impatiently for the gravity lift to descend. It had taken him thirty cycles to traverse the thoroughfares of this quadrant of the Magnabridge during rush hour. Prior to that, his shuttle had been delayed between Outer Six Station, where he worked, and the Magnabridge rotating around Imperial Ganymede. He had been detained at the entryway to the Ganymedian Academy due to technical difficulties with the Identification Scanner. Finally, he had run toward an empty gravity lift only to have it blast away from its pad before he reached the sensor perimeter that would have halted it.

He eyed the massive orb of Jupiter rolling casually by, outside the safety of the Magnabridge. While he did not dislike the Jovian sector of the Outer Empire, he preferred Saturn and specifically Titan, where he had grown up.

The gravity lift returned with a thump, and Rance mounted the disk, sliding his shoes over the magnetized footguides until he felt his heels pulled down flat. The lift shot upwards with little warning, and Rance felt a momentary dizziness as he rocketed upwards into the Main Concourse of the Academy.

Still gazing at Jupiter, Rance reminded himself that he really needed to take a vacation and take his son, Luther, to see Titan before the Saturnian winters.

With a rush of air, Rance’s lift stopped at the concourse. Quickly, he stepped away and made his way towards the Administration Center, just opposite the gravity lifts.

Rance had only been to the Academy twice, once to tour the facility before sending his only son to be educated there, and again in response to a disciplinary hearing scheduled by one of his son’s teachers.

Today, he had been summoned for another disciplinary hearing.

***

“I don’t see what’s wrong with the paper, Mrs. James,” Rance said honestly. “I couldn’t write much better at his age, and I was the best of my class in writing.”

Mrs. James crinkled her brow in agitation. She had assumed any adult would have immediately noticed what was wrong with Luther’s paper. Sighing, an action that caused her small frame to expand rather unnaturally before deflating, she responded, “It is not the quality that is the issue, Mr. Talbot. It is the content.” She inclined her head slightly as she spoke the last sentence, as if proud she had made such a statement.

“I’m at a loss. My kid can’t have a bunch of mythological warriors as heroes? Is that not what the assignment was?”

“The assignment was to write about their living heroes – people in their day-to-day life that inspired them to be better humans, Mr. Talbot. Your son has chosen to cite the Solarians as his heroes.”

“So he picked some legends. Maybe he’s saying there’s no one he finds inspiring that’s living.”

“Mr. Talbot, I am unsure of what sort of morals and ethics are taught in the Saturnian sector, but here on Ganymede, we follow Imperial Law to the letter. The Solarian mythos is banned from public mention. Any person heard speaking of them, or seen writing material mentioning them, is to be reported for apprehension immediately.”

Rance narrowed his eyes at the diminutive educator before him. “Where’s my son?”

“I have not reported your son, Mr. Talbot, but I regret to inform you that he is to be expelled. His belongings have been packed and are waiting for you along with your son at the entryway to the Academy.”

Rance stood up, rage inciting his muscles to clench tightly.

“As I’m sure you remember from the contract you signed, any breach of Academy Guidelines or Imperial Law on campus by any student is punishable by instantaneous expulsion and revocation of any refund of tuition.”

“Over a bunch of dead heroes?” Rance replied incredulously.

Now it was Mrs. James turn to redden with rage. She stood quickly from her desk and hovered her finger over the Security Call button. “You are lucky I don’t do my duty as an Imperial Ganymedian and have you imprisoned, Mr. Talbot. The Lunar Massacre might have only been a decade ago, but that doesn’t mean what it taught the Empire has faded. You would do well to start acting like a citizen of the Outer Empire and keep your son’s thoughts from that hell beyond the asteroid belt.”

Rance seethed momentarily beneath the glare he cast at her, then turned to leave, kicking his chair aside as he departed.

***

“I’m not upset with you, Luther,” Rance said to his seven-year-old son as they rode the shuttle back to Outer Six Station.

“Then why haven’t you said anything to me since we left the Academy?” Luther asked. His eyes were red from recent crying and his hair was a mess from burying his head in his arms for the previous hour of the shuttle trip.

Rance sighed and turned to his son. Smiling, he tried to press the wild hairs down to no avail. “Luther, what happened today was not your fault. People in the Jovian sector are very sensitive about certain things.”

“Like the Solarians?”

“Like the Solarians.”

“Do you like the Solarians, dad?” Luther asked, biting his lip in trepidation.

“I used to have a book about them when I was about your age,” Rance said, turning his gaze to the massive orange planet outside his window. “It was my most prized possession. Old style books like that are very rare.”

“Really? A book?” Luther replied, his eyes brightening so much that it seemed his sudden elation had evaporated every trace of sadness.

“Really.”

Rance smirked uncontrollably, remembering his youth, remembering immersing himself in the tales of the old Inner Wild, before the massacre.

“Would you like me to tell you the story again?” Rance asked.

Luther nodded his head so fast, it seemed it might break away from his neck.

Looking around, Rance verified that no one was in earshot, then he began in a whisper:

“Once upon a time, in the Inner Wild, long before the Outer Empire, there was a planet called Earth. The Solar system was filled with evil men, all profiteers looking to grow rich off the vast resources of the planets and their satellites. One day, two groups of men fought a war of such magnitude that they destroyed the surface of the planet Earth and made it uninhabitable. The Earth had been the center of human government at the time, and once destroyed, the Solar system descended into chaos.”

“And then?” Luther asked, anticipating the next part.

“And then, a group of Colonial Rangers, protectors of the human race, took it upon themselves to restore order to the Solar system – seeking out injustice, righting wrongs, defeating tyrants, and freeing those enslaved. In the beginning there were twenty -”

Knowing the rest, Luther joined with his father.

“- and before the end, there were only nine. They tamed the Inner Wild and brought peace to the Solar system. No one alive remembers their names, but to those who are the descendants of those they saved, they are known as the Solarians.”

Rance and his son smiled at each other for the first time in a long time.

“I don’t need the Academy to tell me your brilliant, Luther. We don’t need them at all,” the father said, ruffling his son’s hair.

Their shuttle continued its short jaunt to Outer Six Station, the orange glow of Jupiter reflecting off its passenger windows.

“So you think Earth and the Solarians really existed, dad?”

“If you believe in them, Luther. Only if you believe in them.”

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