Or at least, nothing related to eels. This doesn’t mean that I haven’t been busy. I’ve been working my way through my library’s e-book collection, discovering Joe Abercrombie, John Scalzi, and in general, enjoying the hell out of having a Kindle. The thing is truly magical. You hit a button and >poof< a book appears in your house. Personally, I’d like to replace the button with some kind of cool conjuring phrase: something traditional like “Alakazam!”, esoteric like “Spoon!” or pure pop culture like “I choose you, Pikachu!”. All right, that last one’s not so cool, but you get the idea and even if you don’t, all this talk about reading and magic words is just meant to distract from the fact that I haven’t been working on the novel. Instead, I’m having a little side affair with an absolutely awesome short story. His name is “Tick”, but he has nothing to do with big blue justice. He’s all about bugs. You buy them from the alien jewelry store at the space mall. You wear them, they look pretty, but every so often they find a host they can influence and it turns out they ain’t too happy about being enslaved. I’d like to show off some snippets of “Tick”, but it feels wrong to expose him in the blog. The job of this site is to guilt me into finishing projects, particularly longer ones. It’s working. I feel horrible. Honestly I do. I promise to get over this affair and get back to Persephone, Arch and all their anti-gravity nonsense. Until I do, just keep saying “Abrakadabra!” over and over again. Hopefully I'll finish a draft of the novel before you get burned for being a witch.
Remember that rat from part seven? The one that appeared in one sentence? It’s about to get really important. And no, I still haven’t sat down and made an outline yet. Why do you ask?
The eXime cabin was round and had two proper seats facing a curved control board. That was all that Persephone had the time to register. She was too busy clutching her arm and swearing.
“Why didn’t you say you were injured?” Arch asked
“Because you were unconscious until a minute ago,” she snapped. Her arm was going to need to be set, preferably soon.
“Take us back to the city.” Arch motioned with the gun. The driver did nothing.
“Do you need me to speak louder?” Arch’s finger compressed the trigger and a slug pinged off the console.
Persephone jumped up. “Give me the damn gun!”
“I got it covered,” Arch replied.
“Yeah. Because shooting the controls and filling the cabin with shrapnel is a brilliant idea.”
The driver’s face was white as her helmet but there was a bright line of blood on one cheek. It was superficial but probably hurt like a bitch.
Persephone held out her left hand. Arch ignored it and focused on the driver. “Take us back.”
Persephone grabbed Arch’s wrist. He was surprised and that was all the advantage she needed to twist the gun out of his hand. She tossed it out of the still open door.
Arch looked like a toddler about to throw a tantrum.
“Did you watch my ads at all? Seriously?” She said calmly. Then she turned back to the driver. “Now that we’re all a lot safer, do you think you can be reasonable and take us back now?”
“What about Boyce?” the woman asked.
“You might have noticed that I don’t much like guns. So why would I go out of my way to pick up someone who carries?”
“He was just doing his job.”
“I’m guessing the job was to bring the data back. It probably wasn’t specified how. In my mind that makes the gun Boyce’s idea. Poor improvisation if you ask me. Who’s your boss? I’d like to file a complaint.”
The driver rolled her eyes, and pointed at the eXime logo on her helmet. “You think maybe we were hired by the people you robbed? You can send the complaint to Padilla.”
“You report directly to the CEO? Unlikely. The upper echelons like to keep a distance between themselves and gun-toting creeps like Boyce. Hell, they even like to keep their distance from honest thieves like myself. I know one who tends to send his son to handle anything quasi-legal.” Persephone glanced sideways at Arch.
“My father didn’t ask me to hire you,” Arch growled. With his dark complexion, his face resembled a cooling lava flow. “It was my idea.”
Persephone smiled. “See. We don’t need guns to be honest with each other. Now, it’s your turn.” She turned back to the driver, but Arch wasn’t finished.
“Albion’s efforts were too small minded to get us out of this mud pit. Water filtration, incremental advances in battery technology, ethanol generators. Technology that’s five hundred years out of date. Quentin and I were working on something new. My father nixed it. That didn’t leave me many options. But I have some new plans now. And a prototype. ” Arch waved triumphantly at the cabin. “Tell me how it works!” He shouted.
“I, I don’t know.” The driver stammered then mouthed “Is he always like this?” in Persephone’s direction.
“He does have mood swings.”
As if on cue, the lava flow congealed into a cold mask. “She’s been driving us in circles. I’m going to take over. I need to get this thing back to the complex.” He took a step towards the driver, grabbed her shoulder and tipped her out of her seat.
The woman was more surprised than hurt. “I was just trying to scan for Boyce. You can’t leave him out here! And you don’t know the controls.”
“I sure hope Boyce can swim, but I sure know I can drive,” Arch replied and raised a lever on the console. The craft jumped straight up into the sky. When the Albion craft changed directions, it tied your stomach into knots. When this one did something impossible, you barely felt it (unless you were outside hanging on by an arm). Persephone pulled the door shut.
The driver scrambled to her feet. “You’re going to kill us! Bring it down.”
Arch flicked another switch on the console and the thrusters fired. They were still ascending, but accelerating up at a diagonal now. “Strange. It was perfectly safe when you did it.”
“Lift takes a lot of fuel. We’ve been out here for a while. Bring it down. I can get us back to the city.”
“First tell me what gives it lift. What fuels it?”
“Didn’t you steal the plans for this thing?” Despite the supremely smooth ride the driver was looking a bit green. Her gaze was fixed on a point midway up the console. There was a dial there with two pointers. Both were just two ticks shy of a red line marked ‘zero’. Make that one tick shy.
“Fuel gauge, Arch. There.” Persphone dropped into the passenger seat and tapped the dial.
Arch shrugged. “She’s probably lying about the range.” He turned the wheel. The craft arced smoothly and continued to rise. “Seems pretty user friendly.”
In fact there were a lot fewer controls and gauges than the Albion craft. For instance there was nothing that looked remotely like the thing that Arch had called a leveler. There was however, an all too familiar looking red light flicking on the console. If it was a proximity warning, it must have been the clouds that had set it off. They’d just plunged into the lower edge of the layer that had been dumping rain on them all morning. The domed top of the cockpit was semitransparent and provided a 360 view, but there wasn’t much to see. Just a dark grey haze that left beads of moisture on the view screen. Persephone had gone to school, knew the basics of water cycles, but still found it surprising that there was no actual rain inside of a rain cloud. But then she’d never been inside one before. “Umm. Driver woman. Whatever your name is. What’s that light?”
“Fuel warning. Six minutes left.” The woman didn’t bother providing a name.
“You trust her?” Arch asked. “I don’t.”
“Does it matter?” Persephone replied. “If she’s right, and we don’t believe her, we crash and sink for the second time today. If she’s lying and we do believe her, we rush this incredibly valuable prototype back to the city which is where we should be heading anyway. Seriously, my shoulder hurts and I’d like a chance to look under the hood before I pass out. That is assuming we can get back to the city in six minutes.” Persephone looked to the driver for confirmation. The woman’s face was still a greenish white and the bloody scratch from the bullet had dried to a brown crust. She hesitated then nodded.
“It’s fast enough. If he’ll let me drive.”
Arch gripped the yoke even harder. That didn’t bode well for their chances of getting back.
“Trust me,” Persephone said, “You’ve been waiting this long. You can wait a bit longer to see what’s up there.” Before watching the Old Sol video footage she wouldn’t have understood, but watching those ships lower an entire city out of the sky had given her a hint of what Arch must be feeling. “And anyway, I doubt this thing is ready for low pressure.”
Arch eased his white knuckled grip on the yoke, but didn’t release it entirely. He took a deep breath and glanced sideways at the driver. “Tell me what fuels it. Then you can drive.”
The driver hesitated. “Rats, mostly. The boffins feed them rats.” She reached for the yoke. Persephone tensed, but Arch just looked stunned for a moment and then tossed back his head and laughed, big gulping hysterical laughs. “That’s so ridiculous, I almost believe you.“
“Why would I lie? I want to live. That’s what I I know.”
Arch continued laughing, but released the controls and stood up. “So much for Q and A industries. Get ready for Lab Rats Incorporated.”
The woman ignored him. She scrambled back into the driver’s seat and toggled the altitude lever. The dropped out of the clouds and plummeted all the way to a cruising height of 4 meters. Then she fired the thrusters and sent them rocketing back towards the city. If she’d been lying about the fuel reserves she did a pretty convincing job of faking desperation. They were swooping in over the floats in under five and a half minutes.
I’m going to interrupt my usual stream of unedited text with something completely different: A FINISHED PIECE! My short story, “Free Range” is appearing in the April 12th release of Perihelion. The original version was finished about a year ago. It was rejected from a few high profile sci fi venues with the usual form letters. In desperation, I turned to books about technique. For me, the one that resonated the most was King’s excellent book “On Writing”. After reading that book, I cut back on my alcohol consumption and stopped taking hikes on high speed roads. That had very little effect on my publishing success. What did work was King’s advice on trimming. The master said, “cut ten percent” so I cut ten percent and tried again. Success! Or almost success. A rewrite request! Turns out I needed to trim another 2100 words. I relinquished the words and the svelte little thing is now frolicking in its new found home:
From this experience, I conclude two things 1) I have verbal diarrhea 2) When the master says to cut ten percent, it means cut thirty.
This is going to be tricky to manage because I LIKE WORDS! But I’m not very good with them yet so I will just leave you all with another link.
I was naughty last week. I edited. Wanted to read the first scene at my writer’s group (http://www.meetup.com/Lakewood-Literary-Club/), but felt that the opening was clumsy at best. I pruned the first paragraph and that made me yearn to keep hacking, mauling, and rearranging. That was until the little sensei in my head said, “Stop. First, wash all car. Then wax. Wax on. Wax off.” Fine. Here’s some more wax, Mr. Miyagi. When I wipe it off, will there be something shiny under there?
Persephone woke up when the liquid reached her knees. There were canvas straps wrapped around her body. She pulled weakly at them. She was wet, her head hurt, and she must have thrown up recently. She could still taste it. She gave up on the straps, hung still and tried to figure out where she was. She was lying at an angle, her head tipped up and her legs submerged in filthy water. Above her there was a small round window letting in grey light. To the left there was some kind of control console. It had what looked like a steering wheel surrounded by buttons, dials, switches and a few blinking red lights. In the ruddy glow, she could see a tangle of straps and a pale face. There was another person tied up down here, or maybe a corpse. It was limp enough.
Persephone struggled with her own straps, trying to reach the body. “Arch?” she whispered. She fumbled for the release switches for her harness hitting the one that secured her shoulders first. The straps in front gave way and her head and torso dropped. She was skimming the water with her face now and had to struggle to reach the release button for her legs. She tried to reach up and back, but that maneuver just made it obvious that she’d injured her right shoulder. The pain was intolerable. She dropped that hand and tried again with the left. That was awkward, but not as painful. She eventually managed to twist around far enough to hit the switch. Her legs dropped, the craft lurched and the water level inched up to her naval. Her instinct was to move fast, grab Arch, and get out, but she suppressed that idea. Quick movement might cause them to sink. She cautiously reached her left hand towards the steering wheel and used it to pull herself up onto the console. The craft lurched again, her weight tipping it towards the front. Persephone turned around slowly until she he was almost reclining on the console. She reached for Arch, but swore and dropped her arm. She’d been trying to use her dominant hand again and the pain this time was incandescent. She retched, but there was nothing to bring up. When the blaze subsided, she checked Arch’s pulse with her off hand. Under the cold skin, and razor burn, the pulse was nice and steady. That was a blessing as well as a curse. She could abandon a corpse, but she couldn’t leave an unconscious person to drown. At least not one as pretty as Arch.
He was going to have to stay in his hammock for a bit longer, though. She needed to deal with the door. She was lying on her back with her head on the steering wheel, looking up. She’d have to turn over if she wanted to reach the driver’s side door with her off hand. She rolled and got a hold of the handle without jarring her right shoulder too badly. The door didn’t give. She pushed, pulled and swore at it. Then noticed that the mud level was rising again, some of it coming in through the seams surrounding the door. The craft was settling lower on the driver’s side now. It was time to stop moving slowly. She squirmed backwards away from the door, slid under Arch and pushed open the hatch on the passenger side. Rain came in, but no mud. She hit the release straps and Arch slipped sideways into the muck. She grabbed his collar and dragged the man up and out, laying him down on the side of the ACV. He groaned and mumbled something. Sounded like he was asking for Quentin.
“Arch?” Perspehone tapped his shoulder. “Come on, boy. Wake up. Gonna need to swim soon.” The city looked impossibly far away. If she had to swim through the thick sludge and carry Arch at the same time, they were both dead. Actually, they might both be dead before their craft finished sinking. The craft that had rammed them was still there, hovering in the air about twenty feet away. At the track, the eXime craft had looked harmless and maybe a bit ridiculous, like ants with their heads on backwards. Here, it looked more like a bloated spider.
The top of the thing’s head swung open revealing a driver and a passenger. The passenger had a gun trained on the downed Albion craft. Persephone raised her hands and then winced when the motion pulled at her injured shoulder. She still kept both her hands up in the air. “How about you don’t waste any more ammo and just let us drown?” she said hopefully.
A few bullets bounced off the chassis inches away from Persephone’s feet. She raised her hands higher. “Ok. Ok. You have plenty of ammo. I got it. What do you want? But you may want to explain quickly. Busy sinking here.”
“The plans.” The guy had a raspy voice. “Boss said to get them back.”
Perephone nudged Arch with her foot. He blinked at her, but was smart enough to remain prone.
“You have thirty seconds to hand them over. Otherwise, I shoot you and we take them.”
“You’re looking in the wrong place. Plans are down at Hixton station. I can call them for you.” The guy’s hand tightened on the grip.
“O’kay, o’kay. No phone calls.” Persephone managed to keep her voice steady and eyes up even though Arch had grabbed her ankle. Was the idiot trying to make her fall? She risked a downward glance. Arch tapped his pocket, grinned and then went back to playing dead.
“My client has a copy. He’s injured. Get us off and we’ll hand it over.”
The eXime driver and passenger conferred while the Albion craft settled deeper into the mud. There was just a thin green strip, the strip Persephone was standing on, remaining above the water line. Arch had to skootch a little closer to her in order to keep his ear out of the muck.
“Hurry up. If we go down, you’ll be stuck fishing for that data crystal. You really want to work that hard?”
The eXime craft slid smoothly towards them. It made no sound and left no wake. Persephone tensed for a jump, but they weren’t in range yet.
“We will approach slowly. You will reach up and hand it to the driver,” the guy with the gun instructed.
“And then you leave us here to drown? I don’t think so. Here’s what’s going to happen. I’m taking the crystal from my client. When you approach, I will lift him up to you. You will gently pull him into your craft. Then I will follow with the item that you want. You get the data, we get to live. Everyone’s happy.” Or more likely, Persephone thought you shoot us both, take the crystal and dump the bodies. She had a plan for that outcome, but it relied on her getting onto the other H-craft. She crouched down and put her hand into the pocket that Arch had indicated. She dug around for a second prompting a slight grin from Arch, but came up with nothing.
“Where is it,” she hissed.
Arch was still playing possum, but he risked whispering back. “Make it look like you took something.”
Persephone rolled her eyes, but did her best to mime palming a small object. “When I shout. Roll towards the passenger,” she mouthed. She didn’t bother asking him if he was up to it. He would need to be.
“Problems Ms. Roe?” Gun guy was getting antsy, but they must have accepted her deal. The eXime craft dropped to a height of two feet and edged closer. The left side of the craft was within reach.
Persephone stood up and put the imaginary object into the pocket of her jacket. For verisimilitude she even zipped the pocket shut. She grabbed Arch by the collar, ignoring his slightly pained gasp. At least he wasn’t smirking anymore. She slung him one handed at the eXime craft. It was impossible to lift him very high particularly since he was trying to remain limp. Consequently, his face and chest ended up grinding against the sloped side of the thing. The driver reached down, grabbed a fistful of Arch’s jacket and hauled while Persephone pushed. She nearly fell. The Albion craft had shifted under her, settling deeper into the muck. She waited until Arch’s feet vanished inside, then shouted, “Go!” and leaped for the driver. She managed to get her left arm hooked over the lower edge of the cockpit and pulled off a weak right handed punch. The yell got the driver’s attention, but the punch just served to remind Persephone that her arm was injured. The craft shot up while Persephone screamed and strained to hold on. Her left hand was inside the cockpit grasping a handle or a step she wasn’t sure what. The rest of her was slewing about outside. At least there was no sounds of gun fire. There was a scuffling sound inside the cockpit, a thump and the passenger sans gun tumbled out. Persephone watched him fall below and behind them.
“Cut thrust and drop.” That sounded like Arch.
The craft stopped accelerating and descended.
“Arch! ” Persephone yelled.
“Got the gun trained on the driver. Come on up.”
She pulled, but didn’t have enough leverage to get her head over the lip. She let herself dangle. “You had two people help you in,’” she panted. “How about a lift?”
Arch’s head appeared on the driver’s side of the cockpit. She could see the gun now. He kept it trained on the driver with one hand and reached the other over the side. Before she could stop him, he grabbed her under the right arm pit and hauled. She screamed and he flinched but kept pulling. He let go when her torso cleared the cabin door and she was able to scrabble the rest of the way in.
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?”
“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
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.
“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.”
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.