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My Hover Craft is Full of Eels: Part Fifteen

You know what this story needs?  More hovercraft!  Seriously, I can’t believe I’ve reached this point in the novel and I haven’t had a driving sequence.  This is pulp adventure stuff.  Fly!  Be free!  Shoot people!  I apologize for the abrupt transition here, but I needed to kick the characters out of Persephone’s apartment.  This was fun to write.  I might need to scuttle a bunch of the video analysis crap and move this scene to an earlier point.  Actually what I really need to do is sit down and make a check list of events that need to happen to keep the story moving forward.  We have a government conspiracy, a third party player, stolen files and missing equipment all happening on a colony world that got abandoned for some reason.  Aaaaand…my characters are ignoring all that to enjoy a little drive.  Eh.  That’s what you get when you have boundless enthusiasm, but little organization.  Also, this feature photo is what you get when you search free stock photos using the word ‘driving’.

******************************************************************************************************************** “Glad you agree. My racer is at the track.  You coming?  Bring the trajectory data.” Persephone could think of a million reasons not to go, starting with ‘you’re an asshole’ and ending with ‘you’re not going to find anything’ but Arch was already out of the door. She had to run to catch up.

[INSERT AWKWARD SCENE BREAK!]

Arch’s hovercraft wasn’t as exotic as the black eXime models. It was sporty though, low slung, lozenge shaped and with a paint scheme designed to appeal to twelve year old boys.   Jagged yellow lightning bolts decorated the deep green chassis and Arch’s double A logo was repeated in yellow on the doors.

“Let me guess,” Persephone said, “the lightening makes it go faster?”

“No. But the ground effects do.” He smiled, but it quickly faded. “Don’t you ever do anything just because it’s fun?”

“This is fun?” She asked.

Arch ran a finger over the glossy green finish.  “It’s my life,” he said quietly.

“I guess it better be fun then,” she said and bent down to angle herself into the passenger space. “Otherwise, it’s too damn short.” With its fans off, the H-craft was low to the ground and and the cockpit was cramped. Both the passenger and driver had to lie prone. Arch got himself situated and handed Persephone a helmet. Green with yellow lightning bolts of course. She shrugged and put it on. Arch flicked a switch on the driver’s console, the fans under the platten spun up and the craft lifted off the ground. The passenger hammock was vibrating in a way that made Persephone feel a bit like a ball bearing in a blender.

“Like a deep tissue massage, isn’t it!” Arch yelled, but Persephone could barely hear him. “Don’t worry, it’ll settle down once they get up to speed.” The machine reached its cruising height of two meters and as promised the shaking subsided. Arch fired the ethanol thrusters and the thing shot forward. They were out of the pit and over the mud flats in seconds, the fans churning up the silt and leaving a rooster tail of froth behind them. Despite the power, Persephone was surprised at how fragile the thing felt. She was strapped into nothing more than a green glass shell floating on a pillow of air. And the shell was so light that it slewed with every wind gust.

“What’s that?” Persephone pointed. A liquid filled glass tube mounted onto the driver’s console had just turned red.

“Leveler” Arch said. He flicked some switches and the left side of the craft edged up. “Not used to having a passenger. And I’m heavier than you are.”

It was handling better now. The wind gusts were less of a problem and Persephone stopped trying to clench up every time her hammock swayed. She cautiously shifted her gaze from the console to the windscreen. A light rain was falling and making rivulets on the tiny circular piece of glass. Initially, those silver streams were all Persephone could see. The background was just an indistinct brown blur rushing at her. She had the odd sensation that she was floating perfectly still with the ground moving by underneath like a conveyor belt. And that conveyor belt was no longer uniform in tint. There were fans of rust red, green and torqoiuse flying by beneath them now. The algae blooms that formed in the Shanty Town and the flats were a lot duller.

“What determines the color?” She asked.

“Algae,” Arch said.

“I know what it is.   I’ve just never seen those colors before. Why so many?“ She asked.

“Can’t say, but it’s different every time I come out. I love it.” Arch’s hands moved over the console. He looked like a pianist playing an old and well loved song. That was until the graceful movements were interrupted by another red light. “What the…” Arch began the question, but instead of finishing grabbed for the wheel and twisted it all the way to the right. The rivulets on the windscreen abruptly swerved and streamed towards the left. Persephone’s stomach did the same damn thing. The turn shattered the illusion that they were floating stationary over a moving landscape. Persephone was now uncomfortably aware of the fact that she was hurdling head-first through the air and the colors beneath looked more like vomit instead of the pretty abstract painting they’d been a moment ago. Out of the corner of her eye she thought she saw something slick and black go flying past.

H-craft turned poorly. You had to cut thrust, swivel the rockets and allow time for the craft to reorient. In desperation, Arch had re-oriented the thrusters without pausing their firing. The interior of the craft lit up with red and amber warning lights. Persephone ducked her head and gripped the webbing of her hammock in preparation for the imminent flip. Arch pounded the console like he was trying to perform CPR on a dying patient. Amazingly, the machine responded. It kept turning, but remained level bringing them into a traveling horizontal spin.

“Fuckers tried to ram us. Who does that shit?” Arch demanded.

“Who? What?” Perspephone gasped.  The cords of her hammock felt like they crushing her chest.

“eXime. That was one of their craft out there.” Arch sounded fine. Persephone hated him for that.

“Can we stop?” She said.

“Thrusters are off. Just have to wait it out. At least I got us level.” Arch sounded more than fine. He sounded downright pleased with himself.

“I’m going to puke.” Persephone assumed that would bring him down a notch.

“I’d hold your hair, but I’m a little busy.” He was still working switches on the console.

Persephone gritted her teeth and concentrated on not throwing up. It worked. It helped that they were slowing down. She could make out shapes outside the window again. The city strobed past in the distance alternating with the mud flats and briefly something black.

“Arch?” She said.

“Saw it. They turned. Coming back. Hold on. I’m firing up the engines.”

Their craft shuddered as Arch brought them out of their spin. Persephone hammock briefly returned to vertical and then she felt herself pressed back into the webbing. They were accelerating. At least, there was only one red light left on the console. Unfortunately, It was the same one that had prompted Arch to turn.

“What’s that mean?”

“Proximity alert.”

“I can’t see them. Why is the windscreen so damn small?”

“They’re behind us. Have them on rear cameras. And it’s a safety feature.”

Something rattled against the rear of their chassis.

“Tell me the rain just picked up?” Persephone said.

“I could, but I’d be lying. Someone back there has a slug thrower.”

Perspehone’s stomach lurched but it wasn’t due to the bullets. Arch had executed a controlled turn. The rattling subsided. Thirty seconds later it was back.

“How can anyone shoot out of one of these things?” Persephone demanded. “And for that matter, how can anyone race one of these things? They handle like shit!”

“It’s the genius of the sport. If it was easy, everyone would do it.” Arch punctuated that comment by gently toggling the stick. The craft lurched from side to side leaving an s-shaped wake. The rattling vanished again. “Lost them! Told you I was….’

Arch’s comment was drowned out by a loud crack and a sudden violent lurch to the left. Their fan noise changed from a steady hum to a violent roar and the right side of the craft dropped, skimmed the mud and caught sending the thing into a roll.  Her hammock kept Persephone from slamming into the floor on each revolution but it couldn’t keep her from slamming into the ceiling. Multiple times. She was addled from the impacts, but dimly aware that they were slowing, losing momentum each time they bounced off the surface of the silt. It was liquid mud out there, but every bounce made it feel like concrete. They finally skipped to a stop, mercifully right side up


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My Hover Craft is Full of Eels: Part Fourteen

In which our protagonists watch television and talk a lot. Do I know how to bring home the excitement or what?

***************************************************************
The news the next morning gave Persephone a lot to think about. A bomb had gone off in the Albion Pits killing two drivers and a mechanic. The headlines screamed “Tech War!” At three cycles, the colony governor appeared along with Paul Albion and Aster Padilla (the exBioform president) to urge restraint. Albion stated that individuals in his company had overstepped their mandate and pursued illegal actions against exBioform holdings Likewise, Padilla maintained that rogue factions in her company were responsible for the terrorist actions. The two of them shook hands stiffly and promised to cooperate with government forces in order to assure colony safety. The broadcast ended with a picture of Arch and a news voice-over stating that a reward was being offered for information leading the recovery of the celebrity driver.

She could call the tip line, tell the government her suspicions and let them go after Arch, but money didn’t seem all that interesting to her anymore. She reached for her com. Japeth might know where she could get a boat and a lot of fuel, cheap. The com chimed in her hand indicating an incoming call. The number was listed as anonymous, but that was normal for the majority of people that she knew. She picked up the line.

“Did you get one?” It was a guy on the other end. Sounded a bit winded, but familiar.

“Arch?” She asked. “Where the hell are you?”

“Did you get one” He asked again.

“What?”

“One of the eXime craft! Tell me you have one.”

“I thought you had one. I mean I saw someone dressed like you fly one out of the eXime compound last night. And your face is all over the news.”

“Yeah. I’m getting more coverage than I did when I won the damn New Regime cup,” Arch snapped. “Meet me at warehouse eight. Tonight. Eleventh cycle.” He hung up.

Persephone took an even more circuitous route this time and she kept looking over her shoulder for New Regime surveillance drones.

“Did you go out in public wearing that?” She demanded when Arch arrived. He was back in his film noir gear again “It’s not as inconspicuous as you think.”

“Sleeping out here doesn’t give you a ton of wardrobe options,” he growled. He must have been using the word sleep a bit loosely. His big brown eyes had big brown bags.

“I’m just trying to help.” Persephone said. “Have you been out here all week? Why didn’t you get back to me?”

“I was afraid the feds might be tracing calls.”

“That didn’t stop you this morning.”

“Borrowed one of the other driver’s phones.”

“You were at the track?”

“Checking out damages. You saw the news? More people I know got hurt.” The sadness looked more genuine this time. Arch’s reaction to Quentin’s death had seemed forced.

“How can I help?” Persephone asked again.

“Find these people.”

“I’m not an assassin. I don’t do hits.“

“Just find them. I’ll take it from there.”

“What about the H-craft?”

Arch shrugged. “It’ll need to wait.”

“But the government put that ad up because they think you took it, right? They think Albion escalated the trade war.”

“Probably. I didn’t phone them up to ask.”

“Why not tell them it wasn’t you?”

“Are they likely to believe that? Let me see. ‘Hi Officer. I did pay a professional thief to steal documents from eXime, but my interest was purely academic’.”

“They had you and Japeth, but they let you go.”

“They’re idiots.” Arch said.

“No. I think, they’re trying to flush out something or someone,” Persephone said. Agent Hixton had been vague at best, but the comment about people like Persephone being useful had stuck with her.

“Did they question you? When you were pulled in the first time?”

“No. I mean a little.” Arch looked confused. “I ran on a bit about the files. Mentioned restoring space flight. The man looked horrified.”

“Did he say anything?”

“He said, ‘It’s too early’.”

“I don’t think we need to worry about the feds.” Persephone was working partially on instinct here. “I think they’re more worried about someone else. Maybe the same people that have been blowing up buildings?”

“What about the wanted posters?” Arch asked.

“It’s a smoke screen. Ignore them. You can crash at my place. See what they do.”

They returned to Persephone’s apartment in East city. Mr. Einhorn raised his eyebrows when Perspehone walked past the concierge desk with Arch. Persephone asked him if he could please wait until morning before calling the feds as her guest could really use a shower and at least six hours of sleep.

Persephone handed Arch a towel and pointed him towards the bathroom. “When you’re done, I have something to show you.”

“That sounds promising.” He clearly wasn’t thinking about the feds anymore.

“Reasearch,” Persephone said. “And you should really think about giving Japeth a call one of these days.”

That remark seemed to work. When Arch came out of the bathroom he was fully clothed and he sat instead of lounged on the sofa. Persephone brought up the video of the h-craft escape and the mapping work she’d done on the trajectory.

“You see why I thought it was you. That trenchcoat and fedora combo.”

“The driver’s a woman.” Arch said.

The coat hung shapelessly on the tall figure. “She, if it is a she, is over six feet tall,” Persephone said doubtfully.

“Height doesn’t matter. Look at how she moves. Long legs, but the steps are short and there’s a lot of hip movement.”

“You can see hips under that coat?”

“Just have to know where to look.”

“Or have a vivid imagination,” Persephone muttered.

Arch shrugged. “So sue me. I like watching women move. Or stand still. Whatever.”

Persephone fast forwarded to the shot of the craft disappearing over the mud flats. “Is there anything in that direction?’
“For instance, watching you climb is pretty amazing.” Arch pointedly ignored the change of topic. He was lounging back again, his arms spread out over the top of the sofa.

“Fine. It was a woman,” Persephone snapped, then paused. The idea that the h-craft driver was female had just sparked off a memory. She pulled up the video file of her break-in attempt.

Arch looked pleased. “Excellent! I could stand seeing that elevator footage again.”

Persephone went to the point in the tape where she’d heard a noise in the manufacturing wing. On the video, she watched herself use a grapnel to climb the wall and look down into the factory. The woman was there, the one with the bright orange hair. The one Persephone had seen recently leaning over the Albion pit.

“Voila. The thief.” And probable murderer although Persephone didn’t voice that out loud. The explosion at the track had been centered on the Albion pits.

“So we go after her ?” Arch had leaned forward his attention shifting back to business again. The guy had the attention span of a gnat.
“We wait for her to reappear back in the city. There’s nowhere else for her to go.”


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My Hover Craft is Full of Eels: Part Thirteen

Life sometimes feels like a heavy rock that I’m carrying around for no reason.  After all, it’ll just roll down the hill again.  In this state of mind, things like breathing and eating require all my focus and writing ends up taking a back seat.  It’ll pass.  Probably when the snow melts.  Til it does, here’s episode thirteen and a pretty picture from https://stocksnap.io/.  Just picture a hover craft zipping off into the sunset, only with less sun.  The world I created has a tiny star.  Hmmm….not going to psychoanalyze that right now.
*****************************************************************************************************************************

It was time to give up on polling the masses. Japeth might know where Arch was. Persephone gave her a call.

“You heard from Arch at all?”

“Hi, Persephone. I’m well,” Japeth said with heavy emphasis on the word ‘I’ “ How are you?”

“Seriously, I tried to keep you guys safe. I mean they didn’t hold you for long, right?” Then Persephone remembered another reason why Japeth might be a bit frustrated. Giant tube fish ate her house. “You found a place to stay?”

Japeth was back out in the Floats staying with cousins. She said that she hadn’t heard from Arch, didn’t really expect it.

“Yeah. He’s a jerk.” But hopefully a jerk with resources that Persephone could use.

Japeth snorted. “I think the government has more to do with it. I shouldn’t even be talking to you. Arch has more sense.”

Persephone was sure she was being shadowed. She’d ditched her goggles in case they had some kind of tracking chip. That had been painful. The things had gotten her out of a lot of scrapes. Also, she couldn’t really afford a new pair. “Agent Hixton did tell me to go back to business as usual.” Persephone said that rather loudly in case the call happened to be tapped. “And we used to work together, so this is business as usual. Can we meet up for coffee?”

“Is this to talk about Arch?” Japeth said cautiously.

“Of course not,” Persephone lied.   She told Japeth to meet her at a coffee shop on the east side of Shanty Town. It just happened to be the same one she used for surveillance of the eXime complex.

“Can you make me a new pair of multi-ware goggles?” Persephone asked as soon as Japeth got settled.

“Can you pay me?” The woman responded.

“Eventually,” Persephone said.

“You have a new job?”

“Well, no. Can’t really take on anything until I square away the equipment I lost on this last one.”

“Maybe it’s a good time to get out. Find a new line of work.”

Persephone thought about her mother. She had been an office admin. for Dete Industries. Never really happy, never really sad. The woman paid the bills, ignored her daughter and lived most of her life outside work sitting in front of the holo-vid projector. It wasn’t too surprising. A lot of people in the Colony retreated into that due to the climate. No one had thought to screen the original settlers for resistance to environmental depression. Ms. Roe found her escape in the Old Sol Romance and Action Adventure Flicks. Persephone had always suspected that her dad was someone at Dete who looked a lot like her mom’s favorite actor. She’d made his office her first target when she decided to start working as a technical spy.

“You get that look every time I bring up trying something new,” Japeth said.

“I like what I do. Even agent Hixton said it was socially valuable.” That was of course after he’d said that she was nothing.

“Fine. You have any scrap?” Japeth asked. “And it would be easier if I start with the shell of the previous goggles.”

“Nope. I pitched them. They had government cooties.”

“I could have used them. Maybe not for you, but the parts have resale value.”

“I still have some drones and cameras you could cannibalize.” And speaking of which her compad just beeped at her. One of her remote drones had spotted movement in the eXime compound. There’d been nobody there for days. Even the fountain had been turned off.   She grabbed the pad and tried to zoom in. It was a person walking across the courtyard. Trench coat, hat, and a confident stride.   It just had be Arch. The hat and coat reminded her of the outfit he’d worn to their meeting at the ruins of the old space port.

“What was that?” Japeth said. “I thought you said you didn’t have a job.”

Persephone barely heard the question. She was busy trying to steer the drone to get a better angle. The person was carrying something. A bucket? Why would Arch have a bucket? They reached the manufacturing wing, opened a door and disappeared inside.

“Just a call. Mind if I take this?” Persephone stood up and was about to move away. Her com pad warbled again. A tread car had pulled up outside the complex. The car had a flashing amber light and the New Regime logo. Agents came spilling out. Seriously, if it was Arch, he should have continued to lay low.   The idiot was going to get arrested again.

“I’ll drop those parts off. Thanks for your help. Gotta run.”

Persephone stepped out of the shop and waved her arms to flag a water taxi. “East Side docks. Quick.” On her ride in she watched the Feds fan out to cover the gate. One of them must have had a key card.  He swiped and the whole formation went running into the courtyard just in time for the factory doors to burst open disgorging one of the black, bulbous eXime craft. The things rear thrusters pulsed, briefly filling the courtyard with a pale blue light and sending the craft at the startled agents. They scattered and opened fire. The machine whipped past them, full throttle directly at the wall. The driver was crazy. There was no way to turn an H-craft quickly enough to avoid a collision. At least a normal one. This one just got within an inch of the wall and then popped straight up and over. Then without dropping a centimeter the thing soared out over Shanty Town, then the Floats. The last shot from the drone showed the craft, now just a small blue flash, streaking away over the mud flats. She turned the drone back to the courtyard where the agents were regrouping. One of them gestured towards the factory wing and the rest moved towards it in a ragged line. That meant they had their backs turned when the swarming black mass of tube fish came pouring out of the fountain. Persephone almost shouted a warning at the screen, but stopped herself and glanced at her driver.

“Scratch that. Can you take me to the Stellar Ark docks?” The guy shrugged and turned the boat. Perspehone watched a few of the agents get dragged down by the creatures before the rest did the smart thing and ran for the gates. By the time she reached the docks she was out of range of the drone. No matter. The thing would just run out of power and crash somewhere. Although if Japeth had been aware of Persephone’s decision, she’d probably nag her about it. She’d worry that the drone might hit a bystander and she’d be upset at the waste of recyclable metal. Persephone was rapidly running out of tech, but she wasn’t desperate enough to risk another tube-fish encounter just to retrieve the pieces of her drone. Besides, she had some more pressing work to do and it was something that she could accomplish back at her apartment where it was conveniently warm and dry. She nodded at Mr. Einhorn on the way in, settled down on her sofa and pulled up some maps on her comm pad. Colony city was the only inhabited portion of the planet. The rest was either liquid or frozen mud and since the city had been dropped on the equator, the frozen portion was a ways away. Where exactly had Arch escaped to?

He would have to come back. That was the only sane thing. H-craft, even H-craft with some kind of weird bio-drive still need fuel, right? Running out of fuel meant falling and falling meant sinking. There was nothing solid out there. Also, if your master plan was to pirate tech to establish a new space industry, you would need the industrial capability and resources that only the city could provide.

The library had archival footage of maps from the settlement period.  The best pictures that Persephone could find were taken from the Old Sol space platform during a mapping survey of the colony world. One of those early maps appeared to show topological features, but on closer inspection those all just turned out to be submerged.   In short, the map just showed different depths of silt covering features of a rocky substratum. Turns out that the slab where the city rested had been sunk down onto a fairly shallow ridge. There were historical maps that showed the building process. Several tentative sites had been marked, but it looked like only the equatorial site had been developed. There was even video footage of old Sol lift rockets lowering the city slab and steel framework down out of the sky. That kind of power was amazing. The colony had lost that, descended to the point where all new tech was just recycled old tech aimed at keeping the lights on and the phones working. That left the city the way it was now, with a population too big to live on the platform spreading out into the shanty towns and then the floats. Persephone had never thought of it before.   It was life, normal, the way things were and Persephone had felt that at least she was somewhere near the top of the pecking order. She could (when things went well) afford two apartments in the best part of town. That one brief construction video made it seem perverse. No wonder Albion had offered so much money for her to grab those plans. That hover craft, the one that had executed a smooth right angle turn and popped straight into the air represented the first genuinely novel tech the colony had produced.   She’d been too slow about stealing the thing. Someone else, maybe Arch himself ,had beat her to it and had vanished over the horizon. They had to come back. Or maybe not. She went back to the maps and sketched out the hover-craft trajectory as best she could from the video footage. If it kept on a straight line, it would intersect with the closest alternate building site. That was still 1000 km away and the old grainy satellite footage showed nothing but a blank swath of mud at the site.