A Novella in The Fundamentals Universe
When he found his dead parents, he had wished that he had been there earlier. He wished that he would have skipped school that day, would have come home earlier, not spent that extra five minutes flirting with the girls in homeroom. Ever since that day, he felt like he was just missing out, just a minute late, just a second too slow to make a difference.
Now he wished that he had missed it all. He folded the plastic bag between his fingers, so it formed a rigid edge, then used the bag to gather the red and white space dust into a pile. Making the lines were part of the ritual. His face grew flush. He shouldn’t do this.
Scoop to a pile, then separate. His groin pulled in anticipation. He wished someone was here to share the experience. He pushed the lines apart. Three of them, just as he planned. Do the short one first, to take the edge off. A few minutes later, when the dust had erased the guilt, he would do the second. That would get him high. He would go outside, stare at the launch tower, get one last look at that nighttime sky. Then he would come in and do the third line. A big line. Enough to overdose, enough to end up like his parents. Something clicked inside him. A click like the sound of those doors opening at the Exposition Coliseum.
The sound of magnetic locks releasing. He pulled on a door, and it opened. He found two stones to hold the doors open. Inside the hall, the table and chairs were gone, a raised stage replaced the buffet line. A thick crowd of people stood in front of it. Keith Hobson sat center stage, dressed in a white suit, with a royal blue shirt, and silvery white tie. The metal frame of his black wheelchair reflected lights from the ceiling.
Kitty Kaili stood to the right of Keith. She wore the white full-length gown of earlier; her left leg extended to expose her thigh. Emily was on the right, she had changed to a matching white gown, and stood in a similar pose. Ryan focused on Keith Hobson.
Kitty handed Mr. Hobson a tablet.
Keith took it. “I see, yes,” Keith laid the tablet in his lap. “This tablet has the exclusive code to unlock the winning ticket.”
A wall of virtual screens behind the stage flashed with blue and white light. A blinding display that painted the dresses of the girls, and Keith’s white suit in a cascade of color. A musical refrain played with the light show, ending with a base note that shook the hall’s floor. The virtual screens blinked off. The stage was dark, leaving Keith in a spotlight.
Ryan parked Viper against the back wall and made his way into the crowd, leaving the doors propped open.
“The participants at tonight’s gala have made it through three rounds of eliminations. The first followed the First Expedition Crossing Launch Event when Explorer Corporation provided three thousand affiliates with tickets to this lottery. The next round gave a thousand affiliates the chance to appear at EC One’s Alamogordo’s office. The requirement to arrange your arrival in Alamogordo on short noticed, eliminated another six hundred or so.”
Keith thumbed the tablet. The hall’s low murmur stopped. Faces lit with the glow of tablets held next to them. Ryan’s ticket: 21-B-45-EC-0401.
“That’s too bad,” Keith said. He put the tablet down, the white screen facing the crowd, bold, black numbers on its face. “For those not resourceful enough to make it.” Keith tipped the tablet, hiding its screen. “A successful investigative journalist has to adapt to changing circumstances, know when to act, to be bold, and when to cool their heels.”
Nervous laughter rolled across the hall like a wave.
Keith chuckled. “So then, the first number is twenty-one.”
“Shit, fuck, and other swears shot around the hall like gunfire.”
Ryan held his breath.
“The alphabetical subdivision is B.”
The room was silent. A hand grabbed his arm from the dark. Emily.
She pulled herself up to look at his tablet. She was biting her lower lip. Ryan shivered.
“The next two numbers are forty-five.”
Intakes of breath around the hall, including Emily, who was bouncing on her toes now.
“And the next alphabetical subdivision is…” Keith paused. Looked over the crowd like a professor. “You know, in a hundred years of attending events like this, I have never been so eager to see the outcome.”
The person in front of Ryan looked ready to piss. Emily squeezed Ryan’s arm. He felt her fingernails through his woolen jacket and shirt.
“The next alphabetical subdivision is EC.” Keith said.
Shrieks of excitement.
Keith chuckled, “But then all the tickets have that,” he said. “This is an Explorer Corporation event after all.”
A laugh, a short snort, which sounded like a pig. He looked at Emily, her gaze fixed on his tablet.
“The final four numbers are one, eight, one, two,” Keith said.
“Got it,” the man in front of Ryan said. He ran for the stage.
The virtual screens behind the stage flashed with color. The musical stinger played; the room filled with shredded bits of paper. Kitty took the man by his arm, walked him to center stage.
“No,” Emily said over the din.
Ryan dropped his tablet to his side. Emily jumped, wrapping her arms around his neck to kiss him. He returned the kiss, a long kiss. They had time.
The base note thumped the floors. The smattering of applause faded.
“EC Whores!” A yell from the darkness behind the stage. A man covered in black clothes and a ski mask ran on stage. A narrow beam of red shot from his hand. It cut up and across the man who won the lottery. The man’s mouth fell open, then the top of him, above his waist, slid on the slope that was the bottom of him to the floor. Blood sprayed over Kitty’s dress and Keith’s suit.
“For Africa,” the man in black yelled again and sliced down with that beam of red light.
“No!” A deep long yell from behind the man in black. White leaped across the stage, hitting the man from behind. The laser emitting device toppled from the man’s hand, the beam of red light twirled in the air like a top. White’s momentum pushed the man to the ground, the device fell with them, the beam sliced across Kitty’s face then went out.
Emily screamed, Ryan screamed, the crowd screamed and rushed by the frozen pair of Ryan and Emily, heading for the doors.
Kitty did not scream. She grabbed her face, blood rushed around it, down her neck, and over her cleavage to mix with the growing crimson of her dress. Mr. Hobson spun his chair, caught Kitty in his lap, then wheeled passed White and the man, down the ramp of the stage.
Ryan pulled Emily with him, aiming for Mr. Hobson and Kitty. A white flash blinded him. He tripped on his big feet and fell. Emily landed on his back.
Ryan looked up to find Mr. Hobson and Kitty. He saw White holding the man in black by his ski mask. White punched his hand through the man; spine and guts emerged from the man’s chest. White’s fist was covered in gore. Another flash of light, this one blinded him.
“Kitty,” Emily sobbed behind him.
Shots fired from the rear of the hall. Men with amplified voices ordered everyone to lie on the floor. Emily crawled off his back.
“Stay down,” Ryan heard over him.
“Ow,” Emily cried. She hit the floor next to him.
Ryan looked for her, but all he saw was black.
“Emily?” he said.
“I am here,” she said. A hand grabbed his leg. “I think I am blind.”
“Me too. What was that?”
“I don’t know, I thought—”
“Shut the fuck up,” someone kicked him in the ribs.
He did. ECPO he told himself. He lay still, closed his eyes, and listened to boots pounding. When most of the traffic was at the back of the hall, he opened his eyes, to a grainy, sunspot filled picture. A woman lay next to him, unmoving. Blood oozed from her head; a pool formed around her face. He recognized her, she ran a channel in New Zealand, but he couldn’t think of her name.
A hand pulled on his pant leg. Emily pulled herself up the length of him.
“I can see again,” she said.
An ECPO officer stomped toward them, machine gun held in both hands, finger on the trigger. “Can you two see?”
They nodded as one.
“Get out,” the officer said. He waved his rifle toward the door.
Ryan lifted Emily. Held her against him like a baby. She wrapped her arms around his neck. Her cheek wet against his.
Bodies lay between him and the doors. “Don’t look,” he said.
He winked to activate the camera in his glasses, but they didn’t work. He stepped past the first body, looked behind him to the stage. Except for a large pool of blood, the stage was empty. He stepped between the next two bodies and looked for Viper. His camera drone was gone. He stepped over a couple, blood draining from holes in their heads, and then he was through the propped open doors. More bodies lay outside the hall, but they were covered with blue plastic tarps. He let Emily stand on her own. She clung to his arm and shook.
“Where’s Kitty?” She said, looking at a row of emergency vans that filled the road.
“I don’t know. Mr. Hobson had her.” He needed footage. He checked his glasses. They looked fine. He put them on, thumped his earpiece to bring up their HUD. Nothing, as if they could not get power.
He looked for Viper but didn’t find him. Three ECPO officers stood at the entryway of the hall, holding rifles against their chests. They had shot those people in the building, and the ones outside, he was certain.
Enter the Viking. “Ryan Jameson,” he said. He wore black slacks and a black shirt, like the man that attacked Kitty.
Emily wrapped herself around Ryan’s arm, as if she were a cat trying to climb him.
“We met earlier,” Ryan said to the Viking. He was ready to lift Kitty and run in the opposite direction.
“I remember,” the Viking said. He extended his hand. “I am Ed Johansson, Mr. White’s bodyguard.”
“I thought,” Ryan choked on an emotion a reporter didn’t allow himself to have. He cleared his throat and shook Ed’s hand. “I thought you were Kitty’s bodyguard.”
“What happened? Why didn’t you protect her?”
Ed pulled Ryan into him. His chest felt like steel. Emily squealed, but she held tight to Ryan’s arm.
“That man cut Oscar and Max in two. They didn’t have a chance. They died defending Mr. White. He and Kitty are alive because of them.”
Emily relaxed, “Kitty’s OK?” she said, wiping her nose.
Ryan’s hand hurt, but Ed’s emotional outburst gave him an opening. He couldn’t record, but he could investigate. “Who was that guy?”
Ed relaxed his grip. “Part of the crew that works for the coliseum.”
“He said for Africa.”
Ed shrugged. “African Resistance.”
“Tonight, didn’t have anything to do with Africa.”
“Doesn’t matter. You know what happened in Africa. There’s a lot of hate there, for anything EC.” Ed looked behind him to the ECPO officers standing at the hall’s entrance. He waved for one to approach. “Emily,” Ed got on one knee. “We have taken Kitty to the spaceport’s hospital.”
“She’s OK?” Emily said through sobs.
“She is alive and asking for you.”
Emily took Ed’s hand, Ryan’s heart jumped. This felt wrong.
“This man is going to take you to her. OK?” Ed said as a black van stopped next to them. The door slid open.
“You will be safe with me, Ms. Gardner,” the ECPO officer said.
Emily let go of Ryan’s arm, he grabbed her hand.
“I am coming with you,” he said.
Ed put his hand against Ryan’s chest. “I need to ask you some questions,” he said.
The ECPO officer motioned for Emily to enter the van ahead of him. “I have to see her,” she said, letting go of Ryan’s hand. “It will be all right.”
Ryan pushed against the Viking’s hand to follow Emily, but Ed held him firm. Emily entered the van, the ECPO officer behind her.
“It will be OK,” Emily said, tears streaming down her face. The van door closed, and it pulled away.
The second time she had raced to Kitty’s side that day. He cleaned up the edges of the space dust lines. They looked like powdered candy canes. He was ready. He took a breath and shook, like he had against Ed’s hand.
“The coliseum’s doors were propped open. Do you know anything about that?” Ed said, his hand was firm against Ryan’s chest.
Ryan stepped back. Why was that important? “I propped them open,” he said.
“Why? Did you feel guilty for what was about to happen?”
Feel guilty? “What?”
“Why would you prop the doors open unless you were trying to give the people in the hall a chance to escape?”
He looked for Viper. “Viper, my camera drone. I propped the doors open so I could bring him inside.” A ringing in his ears made it sound as if he were talking from a well.
“Do you know the man that attacked the stage tonight?”
Ed seemed far away, as if he were falling over the curve of the Earth. Ryan wanted to sit, but there was nowhere to rest.
Ed held him up. “Did you know the man?”
“No,” Ryan said. The ringing faded to a vision of White’s fist covered in blood. “What happened to him? The man?”
“We took care of him.”
“Sure, you don’t pull something like that and live,” Ed said.
“For a moment, from where I was, it looked like White killed him. Ran his hand—”
“Leave it alone,” Ed said.
Ryan swallowed. More was going on here than the massacre, he needed to get control of this interview; he needed Ed to relax; he needed to relax. “Thank you for that.”
Ed cocked an eyebrow.
“For not killing me, in there.” He pointed to the growing row of bodies outside the hall’s entry.
Ed followed his gaze. “Kitty likes you. I don’t want to get on her bad side.”
“She has mentioned me?” Ryan stuttered.
Ed nodded, put the fingers of his hands in his front pockets. “She watches all your stuff. Brags that she transformed you from a simple reporter to an investigative journalist.”
Ryan looked away, to the thinning group of emergency vans. He slid his fingers in his front pockets, mimicking the Viking.
“How did he do that?”
Ed’s eyes followed his gaze to the vans.
“You mean the attacker?”
He meant White, but he nodded.
“A modified surgical scalpel. Don’t ask the next question.”
“I should be reporting on this.”
“And I would kill you,” Ed froze as he said it.
“I won’t report on any of this.”
“That’s what I needed to hear,” Ed said. “I have your camera drone.”
“Viper? Where is he?”
“In the van.” Ed pointed to another black van.
Ryan’s bowels loosened. It took all his control not to shit his pants. Ed wasn’t inviting him to collect his camera drone. He was taking him prisoner.
“I,” he looked for a way to run. “um,” down the line of emergency vans was the fastest way to the wall, but ECPO clogged that path. “I could wait until the morning. If that’s better?” The other way was better, into the setting sun. Not a bad way to die, if someone got it on video. “I have a friend waiting for me at the Frontier Diner. I should get back to him.”
“No problem. This will just take a minute.” Ed’s grip was iron around his bicep. He guided Ryan to the black van. The door slid open. The interior was spartan, two front seats, and a large cargo area with Viper’s parts and his luggage scattered over the floor. “Get in.”
Ryan looked over his shoulder. No way out. He climbed into the van. Ed followed him in. The van moved down the road before the door closed. Ryan shook. Ed sat in what was the driver’s seat in Marcus’s van. He turned it, so he could look at Ryan, who knelt on the floor behind the seats.
“Here’s the deal. You won the lottery.”
Ryan swallowed. “What?”
“You won the lottery. You’re going to be EC One’s special correspondent on the Santa Maria.”
“But I didn’t—”
“It’s your best choice. Better than most in that hall got tonight.”
“Why?” His lips were numb. “Why me?”
Ed shrugged. “You got pull.”
“You mean with Kitty?”
Ed shook his head. “With the old man.”
“Keith Hobson. Do you know anyone older?”
Ryan shook his head. His body shook with it, a quiver along the length of his spine. The spaceport’s tower appeared in the front windows, the sun a ball of fire behind it. The van was heading west.
“I don’t. I don’t understand. I don’t know Mr. Hobson.” Through the shaking of his limbs and jaw, every word was a struggle.
“Well, he knows you. And that’s the deal. You report from the Santa Maria, or you don’t.”
“What about the other reporters, the ones in the—”
“You don’t report about that. You forget it, or we have another talk where I don’t give you a ride.”
Ryan fell back. He couldn’t sit anymore. All those innocent people dead, and he was getting away. Because of Keith Hobson? It didn’t make sense. Did it? Keith had been there since the beginning of Explorer Corporation. Should it be a surprise that he would be complicit in the murder of innocent people? Keith Hobson wasn’t a hero, he was part of the monster.
“Go ahead, shit yourself.” Ed sat with his elbows on his knees, grinning. “You won’t be the first to do it in front of me.”
Ryan did. He couldn’t hold it any longer. The smell steadied him. He took a deep breath, sat up.
The van stopped. Ed stepped over him and out the door. “This is my stop. The van will take you to a cabin near a shuttle launching point. Get out. Clean yourself up, stay in the cabin. Don’t leave, don’t call anyone, don’t accept any calls, don’t record any video, don’t do anything but clean up your shit and sleep until I come to get you. Understand?”
The scat in his shorts squished against his thighs.
“I asked you a question.”
“I need to hear it.”
“Yes, I won’t do anything until you come to get me.”
“I like you Jameson, killing you would spoil my day. Here.” Ed tossed him two small silver rods. “One of those is preventing your glasses from working. The other is the scalpel that guy used. You can keep them.” The door closed, and the van accelerated away from the Viking.
Ryan shook, his teeth rattled, he was cold, and he stank. “Heat,” he said twice. Vents blew warm air at him. It stopped the shivering but made the smell stronger. He used the seat backs to steady himself while he tried to get a sense of where the van was taking him. Further into the spaceport, that was clear. The launch tower blocked the sun entirely now. The base of the structure filled the horizon.
The two silver rods rolled next to him, he gathered them up. One was featureless, the other had a button and a telescoping end that extended to reveal a narrow wire. This one was the scalpel. He pushed the button. A beam of red replaced the wire. He wanted to touch it with his finger, check its sharpness, but a vision of that man’s torso sliding off his legs stopped him. He touched the beam to the back of a seat. It cut through the pleather and steel with ease.
He could have killed himself with that blade of light. He had thought about it. But he stopped himself because he was angry at his cowardice. Ed had humiliated him, and he had done nothing to stop it. In that moment the Viking symbolized Explorer Corporation, and Ryan had made it his mission to destroy EC. He swung the scalpel at the seats, practiced the way he would kill Ed when he came for him.
But then, he had another thought. If he lived, if he played along, he would get the chance to tell somebody what happened at the Special Correspondent’s Lottery. Mr. Hobson said that he would meet with the winner of the lottery, work with them on the Santa Maria. Now, Keith Hobson was part of the story, a subject to interview about this massacre. He would have to ask his hero the question that troubled him the most: How do you live with yourself?
He turned off the scalpel and collapsed it. It wouldn’t register as a weapon, and he might need one. He dropped it in a front pocket of his jacket.
The other device was a smooth, featureless cylinder. He tried his glasses; they didn’t work. He opened a window and tossed the cylinder out of it. The HUD on his glasses came to life a minute later, his cameras recording. His teeth shattered as he shut it down. Ed warned him not to record. He put his glasses into an inside pocket of his jacket, to avoid temptation. His bowels moved, but he held it in.
The van continued down the paved road. As dusk fell, red and white lines of light lined the edge of the launch tower. They ran in rows that marked the tracks that launched ships into space. A flat white building appeared on the horizon, a dark rail ran next to it. Ryan hoped this was his stop. His ass and thighs itched, and there was no way he was sticking his hand down there until he could wash.
The van passed the white building, then turned away from the rail, putting the launch tower on his right. Another building sat in a ravine below the white one. Adobe, it was almost invisible against the rocks. The van stopped in front of it; the door opened.
“My stop,” he said.
He pulled the remains of Viper and his luggage bag out of the van to stack them against the wall of the cabin. The door to the cabin opened without prompting. Inside was a small main room with arched passages to three other rooms. One of those rooms was a bathroom. He stripped his clothes off in the open doorway, then stepped carefully for the shower.
After he washed in hot water, he turned off the hot and drank the cold fresh water from the shower head. It splashed over his face and down his front, creating goose bumps on his arms and legs. He didn’t bother drying, a habit from his days living on the streets of Austin, where a cold shower was rarer than an air-conditioned room. In nothing but a fresh pair of boxer shorts, he kicked his soiled pants away from the cabin, then pulled Viper into the main room.
Whoever disassembled Viper must have used a hammer. The main supporting rod had a dent in the middle and was bent on a long curve. He used the door frame and door to work the rod back to level, nothing he could do with the dent.
The camera ball looked as if someone had used it for a basketball. Dirt covered one of the three lenses, another was cracked, the other was missing. He removed the cracked lens and cleaned the dirty one. Good enough, he had his glasses. His bowels turned, he looked at the toilet, his stomach settled.
He folded Viper’s case back to its original shape. The frame bent so that the lids didn’t close tight, but they interlocked enough to stay closed. The three ball-wheels had flattened when tossed in the van. He slapped them down, and they expanded; unfolding like origami. Satisfied, he packed the smaller two, then tried mounting the supporting rod to the main ball-wheel. The platform on the wheel had a crack across the coupling.
He retrieved a flattened roll of duct tape from his luggage and pulled it across the platform, using a knee to hold the platform together. After two passes with the tape, the coupling was secure enough to hold the main rod. The attachment platform on the camera ball was worse. He had to wrap the entire thing in duct tape, using different angles to leverage the pieces together. When he was finished, Viper looked like spare parts. Which he was, before he and Marcus crafted him into a presentable drone.
One last test. He needed to know if Viper would power up. He pulled a battery from his jacket, but the metal taste in his mouth stopped him.
“Don’t even look like I am recording,” he said.
He disassembled and packed Viper in his crate. He checked his tablet; several missed messages from Marcus, but nothing from Emily. A relief, a betrayal, he didn’t know. Maybe…
He raced for the toilet and vomited. She wasn’t dead; she was with Kitty. Hands shaking, he grabbed his tablet and headed for the bedroom. He needed to lie down and settle his stomach. He had two sandwiches in his working jacket. Once he calmed down, he would eat.
He pulled back the covers on the bed and there it was. Lying on the pillow like a chocolate mint. A plastic bag full of Rainbows, his favorite mix of space dust. At first, he didn’t touch it. He took two steps back, then left the bedroom for the main room where he paced the perimeter, circling Viper’s case like a shark.
A hit was what he needed. His muscles tightened, his jaw locked, and he walked toward the bag like a robot with a bad joint. Saliva flooded his mouth. He knelt next to the bed as if he were about to pray, ran his finger over the bag, and then it was open. Three lines in front of him. He let his breath out in one long blow. The candy-cane colored dust blew off the nightstand and onto the floor.
His tablet chimed, and the screen flashed with an image of Marcus’s face, requesting a video call.
He was outside, bent over, hands on his knees, dry-heaving. A night breeze cooled the sweat on his face. He looked up to see a few stars dotting the mottled ink of a late evening sky. Below them, bright as the moon, an elongated dot of white winked at him. The Santa Maria parked in orbit over the spaceport. He fell back, hard, covered his face, and cried.
He cried until he had nothing left to give it. Marcus taught him that, told him that his addiction to the drugs hid his feelings. He needed permission to feel. Even the worse pain was a better trip than a night he couldn’t remember.
Before tonight Ryan couldn’t imagine a despair greater than seeing his parents, naked and dead, overdosed from mainlining heroin. What you can’t imagine is worse than the imagining. He wished he could unimagine this day. White’s hand punching through the chest of that man, his hand gripping a human spine like a snake. He wished he could unimagine the bodies in the Exhibition Coliseum, heads exploded by ECPO rounds. He wanted to unimagine his conversation with Ed, never get in the van. But he couldn’t.
He had come a long way from the streets of Austin, where Explorer Corporation was something you saw out of the corner of your eye. Spaceships and spaceports, a thousand channels of entertainment and news were absent on the streets. On the streets you did what you needed to earn a few credits, a bite of food, a fuck, a line of this or that. You slept in an alley, behind a garbage bin, or under a bridge. Under a bridge, where Marcus found him. His high school friend, they played aliens versus humans, Marcus always one, Ryan interviewed him.
“How did you get past their defenses?” Ryan asked Earth’s lone hero. His hero. Marcus had a life, a successful career working at the Texas statehouse. He could have left Ryan behind, but he didn’t. He believed in him, and he believed in Marcus.
“You have to keep trying,” he said to the stars. Stars that were bright and clear in the dark New Mexico sky were invisible on Sixth Street in Austin. Sixth Street, where booze, drugs, and a fuck where a wave away. Sixth Street, where he took his pieced together camera drone to test its AI. Sixth Street, where Kitty Kaili ground her hips against his and he fell in love with someone that challenged him to be more than a freeloading reporter. More than a drone biding his time, going through the motions of life until his batteries ran out.
Kitty, her face slashed, her hand held against a wave of blood. Where was she now? Was Emily with her, or White, or both? Had their lives been like this since they left Austin? Did they live each day in fear that Ed the Viking would kill them with nothing but a nod from Mr. White? Emily suggested it, in the limousine, before they fucked. Before she ignored her feelings, and he his better judgment for twenty minutes of passion. Was that just another hit?
“Should-a, could-a, would-a,” Marcus would say. “We must know our history, so we can make our future,” Keith Hobson would say.
A boom, like a roll of thunder. A launch from the tower. Ryan stood to look over the roofline of the hut. An orange bullet raced upward, along the length of the tower. No, it was past the rows of lights, it had cleared the tower, on its own now. Forced into space by the magnetic rails that accelerated it from the edge of the spaceport, up the twenty kilometers of the tower, to shoot into space.
The bullet faded, then erupted, a flash of white that blossomed out like a flower. The container’s rocket engines, taking it higher, out of the mesosphere, through the thermosphere, and into the exosphere where a drone from the Santa Maria would capture it.
The documentaries on spaceport operations were not the same as being here, feeling the reverberation of the launch, seeing the engines explode into a white blossom. Just out of arm’s reach, something, or someone had left this planet for the expanse.
He stood in the cabin’s doorway. He hadn’t bothered to turn on the lights. He didn’t need them to find his luggage, toss it on Viper’s crate, and pull the mess outside. He unfolded his leather luggage bag, retrieved a pair of black slacks and a white shirt. Fully dressed, he laid on his bag and rested his head against Viper’s crate.
The Viking wanted him dead, or worse, as a strung-out patsy. The conviction of a spaced-out addict would be an easy sell. He could see the Earth Channel One reports:
“A known agitator against Explorer Corporation, and drug addict, was convicted for the murders of a hundred people at the New Mexico spaceport…”
“Fuck you, Ed.”
Ryan Jameson didn’t know what the morning would bring, but he would greet it sober, dressed, and ready for work. He watched the light of the Santa Maria blink above him.
He woke to the sound of wheels on gravel. A black limousine stopped in front of the cabin. In the cold of the night, he had covered himself with his working jacket. Now he wore it and his camera glasses. He tapped his earpiece to bring up the HUD. His glasses worked. He winked. Fuck it, if he was dying tonight, he was recording it. He let out a breath. It steamed in the nighttime air.
Ed got out of the car. He wore the same tight black shirt and slacks from earlier. He entered the cabin to emerge a minute later. He studied Ryan as if he were a sculpture. “You have earned yourself a shuttle ride,” he said after an uncomfortable minute.
Ryan didn’t speak. He slid Viper’s crate into the space at the rear of the limo. He sat in the front.
Ed came to the door. “I like that you slept outside,” he said. “In another world, you would have been one of my guys.”
“Which guys?” Ryan asked.
Ed chuckled. “You know, Jameson. The ones in the black helmets.” He stepped back, the door closed.
The limo crawled up the drive to the white building. Next to the building, a white and black shuttle sat, spilling steam from its sides. He jumped out the moment the car stopped and captured the shuttle in full frame. The snub-nosed spaceship couldn’t have carried more than twenty passengers. He would know in a minute.
Emily mugged him. She jumped into his arms and kissed him with her legs wrapped around his waist.
“Glad to see you too,” he said.
Emily stood on her own. “I am so happy for us,” she said.
“I am going to be your spaceport connection for the PNN reports. Kitty was supposed to do it, but,” Emily looked at the ground, “you know.”
“Is Kitty OK?”
“Yes, I left you a message last night, with all the details.”
“I forgot to check my tablet. The excitement and all,” he said.
Marcus. He thumbed his tablet with one hand, holding Emily in the other. A man in blue coveralls grabbed Viper’s crate from the limousine. “Three minutes,” he said, walking past the couple.
Marcus didn’t answer. Ryan left a message.
“Marcus, it’s me. I don’t have a lot of time. What you need to know, is that I am boarding a shuttle. I am going to space Marcus. I am part of the First Expedition Crossing.” Emily jumped next to him. His stomach turned. There was more wrong with this scene than right, but his friends didn’t need to know.
“Marcus, I couldn’t have done it without you. You believed in me when I was out, taught me how to believe in myself. I can’t talk about why I missed your call last night, but I made it through last night because of you. I love you, Marcus.”
Thirty minutes later, Ryan Jameson boarded the Santa Maria.