A Novella in The Fundamentals Universe
If he had missed that train, he wouldn’t have seen Kitty again, wouldn’t have hooked-up with Emily, wouldn’t have witnessed a man cut in two with a laser scalpel. If he had missed that train, he wouldn’t have been there to carry Emily away from the carnage at the lottery, and The Viking wouldn’t be trying to frame him for that carnage.
He should have missed the train, should have been excluded from the lottery because he was late to Earth Channel One’s tower. But once through the security line, a woman in a skintight white jumpsuit asked if he needed help finding his party.
“I am here for the Special Correspondent’s Lottery,” he said, showing her his ticket.
“They are boarding a train to the spaceport. If you hurry, you should catch it,” she said, pointing to the far end of the tower.
The maglev platform was full of reporters trying to load camera drone crates into the cramped cabins of the train. He took a chance, relieved himself in the station’s public restroom, then slid on as the last passenger.
The train left Alamogordo like a bullet, turning the city into a smear of old adobe buildings and new glass towers. Five minutes out of Alamogordo it passed White Sands National Monument, then the rail lifted it into the San Andreas Mountains. The speed and sudden rise in elevation left Ryan’s stomach in his ears.
He focused on a dark shadow in the distance to settle his stomach. It took a minute to realize he was staring at the launch tower for the New Mexico Spaceport. The tower rose twenty kilometers into the sky, dwarfing the mountains that surrounded it. He needed to tell Marcus he had made it this far. He thumbed an earpiece attached to his glasses.
“I have bad news and good news Calaca,” Marcus said over the audio call.
“E-Com returned Viper to TTC due to insufficient funds.”
“Fuck,” Ryan said. He remembered transferring credits to cover his bus ticket, but he didn’t make another transfer after scheduling the shipment. “I will transfer the credits to E-Com now. Hopefully, I have enough for an express delivery.”
“No need,” Marcus said. “I packed Viper in the minivan and left for New Mexico at one this morning. I should make the Frontier Diner by thirteen or fourteen-hundred this afternoon.”
Ryan imagined navis running off the road to avoid Marcus in the minivan. He sighed. “OK. I am on a maglev headed into the spaceport. I can catch a ride back to the diner this afternoon and meet you. Worse case, I will see you in the morning.”
“No worse case,” Marcus said.
Ryan’s heart did a double-take. “OK, I will see you this afternoon,” he said.
“Either way, this is a break for you,” Marcus said.
“Yea, I already got an interview on the bus. I met a lady from that commune outside of Austin. She is working to get a by-law added to the ECH charter.”
“No kidding,” Marcus said. “What is the by-law?”
The train slowed, Ryan’s ears popped, and his stomach rolled back into his mouth. He swallowed hard to ease the nausea.
“I think we’re stopping. You will love Sissy’s story, Marcus. I will file it tonight.”
The train stopped.
“Got a go, I think we are in the spaceport.” Ryan said.
“See you soon,” Marcus said.
Ryan’s earpiece chirped as it disconnected. He winked to start recording. “Historical moment,” he said to no one.
The train stopped at a black building with Exposition Coliseum Gate A on its side. Two rows of men and women stood cheering. They flanked oversized doors that girls in skintight white jumpsuits held open.
Since he wasn’t toting a camera drone, he was first to run the gantlet of greeting. He slapped the outstretched hands of the Earth Channel One anchors as he ran the line. Inside the chilled hall, the tinted glass walls of the building gave a panoramic view of the spaceport. On his left, the black ribbon of a runway cut through the scrubbed filled desert plateau. He followed the runway west to the mountains and the shadow of the launch tower. He was inside the New Mexico Spaceport. He made a fist and gave himself a silent cheer.
Behind him, lines formed for the restrooms. Those who weren’t in a line weaved through rows of tables and chairs, looking for a spot to camp their camera drones. The wall opposite the doors had a food and drink buffet waiting for its first guest. He winked off his camera glasses and headed for the food.
A beef broccoli stir-fry with a heap of steaming rice was the answer to his growling stomach. He had forgotten to eat his sandwiches on the trip, a habit that earned him his nickname. His plate loaded with food, he balanced a plastic cup under a glass jug of iced tea. The drink table was narrow, making the one-handed operation tricky. When he released the spout, the table bounced, tipping the cup. He jumped back, but not before the tea soaked the front of his chinos.
“Ah hell,” he said, looking for a place to sit his plate of food, but as he turned for the closest table, his big feet tripped over a cleaning drone. Broccoli, rice, and strips of marinated beef scattered across the floor.
“Lying Ryan Jameson,” someone said.
A tall, black, raven-haired, woman approached through the maze of folding chairs and drone crates. She wore a white gown with a long split up the left side that revealed a toned black leg with each long step. Kitty Kaili, his ex-girlfriend, slithered toward him.
He had just started The Terra Channel and was wandering through a late-night crowd on Sixth Street when Kitty danced into him, grinding her hips into his. His attraction to her was immediate, and not from the hip grinding. She was as tall as he, and she knew him from the moment she touched him. She ordered sodas when she drug him to the bar and dispatched a dealer that approached her for some high times. He learned later that she noticed him weeks earlier and learned about him through an investigative technique called shadowing. On that hot Austin night, she couldn’t stand his cluelessness any longer. She was the girl that wanted him, which made her later betrayal that much harder to swallow.
“Kali,” he said.
He regretted that now, after what happened at the lottery drawing.
“Ryan,” she pouted. “You know I hate that name.”
“Yea, a little,” he said, throwing a napkin to a cleaning drone. The napkin had done no good, his pants were soaked through at the groin.
Kitty turned a chair and straddled it, her gown splitting open to above the thigh of her left leg. She made a sound in her chest as she sat, a moan that used to make him hard. “You look happy to see me,” she said staring at his groin.
“Kali’s curse,” he said.
The cleaning drone buzzed to hide under the table, waiting like an imp to trip the next unsuspecting victim. Ryan poured himself another cup of iced tea. When he turned back to Kitty, she had claimed the nearest table for her entourage. She tapped a French manicured fingernail on the table next to her.
The line for the buffet had grown to a serpent, winding its way along the edge of the room. Like it or not, Kitty was the signature face at PNN. He took the seat next to her exposed leg.
“Emily, be a dear and fetch Ryan a plate of stir-fry. He must be famished after his trip,” Kitty said.
Emily Gardner was Kitty’s girlfriend before she ground her way into his life. Kitty invited her to a threesome the week they met. The polyamorous relationship worked better than he expected. He enjoyed wasting afternoons extracting the girls from a pile of bedsheets. He missed Emily more than he expected. She looked pale, and more nervous than usual. His heart jumped up with her.
“I am good, I had a sandwich on the bus,” he lied, trying to keep Emily at the table. He moved to clear a space between him and Kitty, but Kitty motioned with her hand and his heart fluttered as Emily walked away, cutting the buffet line. “I really am fine,” he said to Kitty.
“Don’t be a prude. The food is on EC’s tab. Live a little,” Kitty tapped her finger for him to move closer to her. She put a hand on his knee when he did. He cleared his throat and looked across the table, avoiding her chocolate eyes.
“Have you met my bodyguards?” Kitty said. “Oscar, Max, and Ed.”
Ed. The Viking.
The introduction was innocent enough. Despite his wet pants, Ryan stood and offered his hand to each of the men. “I am Ryan Jameson from The Terra Channel,” he said.
The bodyguards were a thick, muscled crew. Oscar was the bald one with a full beard, Max the bald one with a soft outline of a goatee, and Ed was a Viking, with long blond hair and well-defined arms. Collectively, they said two words to his greeting.
Kitty’s hand returned to his knee. “I am so glad you made it. I don’t know what I would have done without you here,” she said.
Emily returned with three plates of stir-fry. Ryan used the distraction to slide his chair out of Kitty’s reach. The bodyguards stood as a team to help Emily with the plates. Kitty motioned them away. They cut into the buffet line. No one challenged the beefy men.
“I am so happy to see you Ryan.” Emily said, sitting down on the side of him opposite Kitty.
“I could use a drink,” Kitty cut off his reply.
Emily blushed and jumped up for the drink stand.
“Why are you like that?” Ryan said.
“Like what?” Kitty said with a fork full of food.
“Mean,” Ryan said.
“I am not mean. She’s my assistant, she should know to get me a drink with my food.”
“She’s your friend, was our lover once, and you treat her like shit.”
“Do we have to do this now?”
“If you don’t want to do this, be nice.”
Emily returned with two cups of tea, her face flush. She sat next to Ryan but didn’t speak.
“Hello Emily,” Ryan said, extending a hand to her.
Emily grabbed his fingers. “Are you excited for the tour?”
“The agenda is a secret,” Kitty said in the tone she had just used with him. He kicked her under the table. She kicked back.
“Don’t fight,” Emily said.
“We’re not fighting,” Ryan said. “I am just reminding Kitty to be nice.”
Kitty picked her plastic cup of iced tea up as if it were an expensive crystal full of wine. “Everyone that made it this far is getting an inside tour of spaceport operations.” She held up a finger, then extended her neck to drink with the cup over the table. “You can take your gear, get video, interview anyone you meet.” She sat the cup down. “Speaking of which, where is your gear?”
Shit. Reporting from inside the spaceport was even better than reporting from the Frontier Diner, but he didn’t have Viper, and his camera glasses were verboten in PNN land. “I have it,” he said.
“Well, you can’t go on the tour without your gear. You know PNN policy.”
The policy was that all reporting had to be obvious, with camera drones and microphones always visible.
“Sure,” Ryan said.
“You don’t have your gear,” Kitty said.
“I have it. I didn’t want to tote it off the train,” Ryan pointed to the blue cars of the maglev train sitting outside the tinted glass walls of the exhibition hall.
“Well that train is leaving, so you had better fetch it before the tour leaves you behind,” Kitty said.
“Sure. When does the train leave?”
“Lying Ryan Jameson. What have you done with your gear?”
He hated that name. “I sent it ahead, to the Frontier Diner.”
The Frontier Diner, where Marcus wouldn’t be for another two hours. When he made the train in Alamogordo he had congratulated himself on not shipping Viper to the EC One tower. Now he felt screwed; there was no way he could fetch Viper and make the spaceport tour.
“Seriously? How do you intend to get it now that you’re inside the spaceport?” Kitty said.
“I will go back for it, when I know the lottery results.” That was his plan, but now it made his chest hurt.
“What happens if you win and have to leave immediately? Without your gear, you would forfeit the win.”
“We could work something out,” Ryan said. “Why is everything about this lottery so mysterious?”
Kitty tilted her cup to spin the tea inside it. “I shouldn’t be telling you this, but EC didn’t know EC One was doing the whole special correspondents thing.”
That sounded like a story. Ryan winked to turn on his cameras, stirring rice and beef on his plate to cover the subterfuge. “That sounds unlikely,” He centered Kitty in frame. “Please tell me more Kitty Kaili.” That sounded like an introduction, but it worked.
“This lottery, involving the PNN reporters, it didn’t come from EC, their Board, or even Michael Planck, it was Keith Hobson’s idea.”
“I guess the old guy has pull,” Ryan said.
“At Earth Channel One anyway, I heard Michael was livid at the whole thing. He wanted to control the coverage.”
“Is EC trying to sabotage the lottery?”
Kitty looked around the room, then sat her glass down quickly. Ryan couldn’t follow her gaze since he was trying to keep her in frame.
“White,” Kitty stood as she spoke.
Mr. White, the man who would put his fist through the torso of another. White who walked out of the blood-soaked Exhibition Coliseum without a spot on him. Mr. White who wasn’t Mr. White at all, at least he didn’t used to be.
Five years ago, he was the dark-haired, brown-eyed, deeply tanned, Larry Anderson; the primary face of Earth Channel One. He anchored a morning show, an evening program, and appeared as a guest throughout the day. Then he vanished. EC One explained his absence as a much-needed vacation.
He reappeared as the new director of PNN. But now he was Mr. White, an albino with white hair, and eyes of silver and blue. Any PNN affiliate that pursued an investigation of Larry Anderson lost their license.
Ryan Jameson had just walked into the biggest story of his life. Kitty pushed passed his chair to greet White in the space between the tables and the buffet. White kissed her on the lips, she responded by nibbling his lower lip. Ryan rubbed the temple of his glasses to keep the couple in frame. He made it look like a nervous scratch.
The kiss went on longer than it should have in a public place. He felt hot, so he stood and extended a hand. “Mr. Anderson, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
White responded by looking at Kitty.
“I am sorry,” Kitty said, laying a hand on White’s chest. “White, this is Ryan Jameson.”
White looked at Ryan, but his eyes focused on a spot over his shoulder. The HUD in Ryan’s glasses flashed off and on.
“I am from The Terra Channel.” His hand hung in the air.
“That is the affiliate in Austin,” Kitty seemed to be catching her breath as she spoke. “Where I was from.”
White took Ryan’s hand, but his eyes kept that faraway gaze. “I wish that you could have met Larry,” he said.
White’s hand was ice cold.
“We were just talking about the Special Correspondent’s Lottery,” Ryan said.
White looked at Kitty.
“Ryan was telling me how lucky he is to take part,” Kitty forced a smile at Ryan. “He was just leaving to retrieve his gear.”
White focused on Ryan, from feet to head. “A camera drone and network array are required for all PNN affiliates. You must have them with you at all times.”
“That’s why we are going to get it,” Emily said.
“Yes Emily, please do be a dear and help Ryan retrieve his gear.”
Emily took Ryan by the arm.
“Is it true EC did not—”
Emily stomped on his foot. “We have a car,” she said through her teeth.
“Thank you, Emily. I don’t know what I would do without you,” Kitty said, force smiling at Ryan. “White, my dear, you must be famished after the trip from New York. Come and we will get you a plate of food.”
White motioned for Kitty to lead the way to the buffet tables. Kitty punched Ryan in the chest as she passed. Emily pulled on his arm, directing him to the doors. He winked to stop recording.
“Quick before she changes her mind,” Emily said. “We have a car. We will go together to get your gear,” she wrapped herself around his arm as they exited the hall.
“I guess this White and Kitty are a couple now,” Ryan said.
“Yes,” Emily said. She pulled a tablet from a yellow handbag strung over her shoulder and used it to summon a car.
She ignored the question, pulled him closer as they walked. Maybe that was her answer, he didn’t know. She left twice after that, both times to rush to Kitty’s side. He opened the bag of space dust. The sweet candied scent was part of Rainbows charm, part of Emily’s charm.
They walked the length of the Exhibition Coliseum. The black glass walls of the building reflected heat like a second sun. The spaceport’s launch tower was a black smudge against a hazy sky, a giant that loomed over the insignificant peaks of the San Mateo range. A boom made Ryan flinch. A second followed it. He winked on his hidden cameras, scanning all directions for signs of explosions.
Emily laughed at him. “A container is landing,” she pointed to a spot above the runway. He looked up to see a white and black aircraft descending.
“You can tell the difference between a launch and a landing by the sonic booms,” Emily said. “Two booms are a landing, while one, kind-a muffled boom, like a rolling drum, is a launch from the tower.”
Ryan winked off his camera. “You have been here a while.” She was shorter than him, but at 200 centimeters, he was taller than most. Her yellow dress barely covered her hips, her white legs seemed out of place against the black of the building and the tan of the desert.
Emily smiled at his gaze.
“You wore that outfit on Kali’s morning show,” he said.
“Don’t,” she said. “If you don’t want Kitty to be mean, you shouldn’t be mean either.”
“OK,” he said. “How did you know about the sonic booms?”
“We have been here since Tuesday morning. We even got a tour of the Santa Maria.”
“Get out! You’ve been on the Santa Maria,” he pushed her off his arm. “What was it like? How did you get there? Did you use a shuttle or one of those new ships?”
Emily laughed. Her pitched voice was congested normally, when she laughed she snorted through her nose, like a pig. The sound made Ryan laugh. There were nights when Emily’s pig-laugh turned lovemaking into a rollicking roll that left the three of them with bleary eyes and sore sides. Ryan took a breath to stop himself from entering that feedback loop.
“I missed you,” Emily said.
A limousine stopped in front of them. The car was as tall as Marcus’s minivan and twice as long. A single sliding door opened.
“We rode in a SMAC,” Emily said as she slid into the luxurious space.
“Fuck me,” Ryan said as both a response to Emily and the inside of the limousine.
One seat, a sectional, extended from the door opening around the back of the vehicle to the door on the opposite side. A second seat wrapped around the front. He guessed the interior of the car was half as large as his bedroom in Austin. A blue light glowed from the ceiling, waiting for a command.
“Frontier Diner,” Emily said. The light stopped pulsing. The car started away.
Ryan captured a three-hundred-sixty-degree view of the limo’s interior. Marcus had to see this.
“Is this your first time in a limo?” Emily said.
“You never took Kitty for a limo ride?”
“No! I mean I wanted to, but I, I mean we didn’t have the credits.”
“That doesn’t matter, not for a limo ride. It’s every girl’s dream.”
“Marcus,” Ryan said. He tapped his earpiece.
“Hey, bad news,” Marcus’s voice came over the limo’s speakers.
Ryan looked askance at Emily.
“It connects automatically,” Emily said.
“Who’s that?” Marcus said.
“Hi Marcus, it’s Emily.”
“Bomboncita! Wow, a blast from the past,” Marcus said. “What are you two doing together?”
“Riding in a limo,” Emily said before Ryan could ask about Marcus’s news.
“Bum-chick-a-wow-wow,” Marcus said.
“Oh, Ryan, yes, yes.” Emily laughed.
“Stop it you two,” Ryan said. He was tired of feeling hot today. “You said you had news.”
“A navi bumped me a few miles back. It wasn’t much, but it shut down my hydrogen emitters. I was running low on battery and had to stop to repair the emitters.”
“How late are you?”
“Not much, an hour at most. I should make the diner before fifteen-hundred. Navis are parting before me like water.”
Ryan checked his tablet, fifteen-hundred mountain time was twenty-one-hundred ship’s time. “What time is the drawing?” He asked Emily.
“Twenty-one fifty-nine,” she said.
“We can make this work,” Ryan said. “My friend Emily will put a rush on this limo, and we will try to meet you before you get to the diner. That will cut a half-hour off your time.”
“I like it. But don’t rush on my account. I know I wouldn’t.”
Emily air kissed Ryan and smiled.
“That’s not the issue,” Ryan said. “Kali—”
Emily hit him.
“Kitty said if I win, and don’t have my gear, I would forfeit my ticket, and the invite is clear about being present to win, so getting Viper and getting back to the spaceport is mission one.”
“You talked to Kitty? How did that go?”
Ryan sighed. “It was for like ten minutes. It was fine.”
“They were polite. Almost the cute couple from back in the day,” Emily said.
“You talked to the dark goddess and are riding in a limo with Emily Gardner. Ryan my pal, you are having one hell of a day.”
Emily winked at him.
“Can you put the limo in emergency mode or something?” Ryan said to Emily. “Marcus send Emily your beacon, we will come to you.”
Emily tapped her tablet and said, “Priority destination.” Then she pouted at him.
“See you soon Marcus,” Ryan said.
“Oh, yea,” Marcus said as he disconnected.
“I am sorry about that,” Ryan said to Emily. “You know I wouldn’t try anything like that.”
Emily bit her lower lip, then looked at the ceiling. “What if I don’t feel that way,” she said.
Damn, it was hot again. “Emily?”
“It’s not like Kitty’s there for me anymore.” Water dropped from her eyes.
“Emily? What’s happened?”
“White,” Emily said. “You don’t know what he’s like.”
Ryan slid closer to put his arm around her. She laid her head on his shoulder. “I wanted to ask about him. You know, about the Larry Anderson thing.”
“He’s not Larry Anderson anymore. He’s White, or Mr. White, and if you call him anything else, you’re risking a beating from those bodyguards.” Emily leaned out of the cradle of his arm, looked him in the eyes. “I mean it. Don’t pull that shit again, trying to get a scoop, making a headline out of White being Larry Anderson. Especially not while he is with Kitty.”
“Has he hurt Kitty? Has he hurt you?” Ryan said, rubbing her shoulder.
Emily shook her head. “Not me, but others, yes, and Kitty, maybe.” She slid down the seat, laid her head in his lap. “I think he abuses her. She came to me once, with a big bruise on her face. She said he hit her, and not how she liked, and she didn’t know what to do because he was White, and she thought she loved him, and he would kill her if she reported him, even for this.”
“Emily, this is crazy. I had no idea.”
“I did,” Emily said, tossing her tissue to the floor, and holding a hand up for another. Ryan pulled two from the seatback. “I reported him, and that’s when she broke up with me. I tried to convince her to get away from him, move out of New York, go back to Austin, anything but stay with him. She said that White didn’t want to fuck any other woman, and she couldn’t be with anyone else either.”
“Shit, that’s intense,” Ryan said. “Why didn’t you leave her, come back home.”
“I tried, but she begged me to stay. Said we couldn’t fuck anymore, but she needed me. She gave me a big raise and put me on White’s payroll. I have been getting two paychecks every week for a year now.”
Ryan slid his hand down Emily’s side to comfort her, petting down her short yellow dress to the top of her smooth thigh.
Emily turned her hips, opened her legs. His hand fell between them, like it belonged there. Emily turned her head to kiss the growing bulge of his penis through his slacks.
He caught his breath. He should stop. They should stop. This was not the time to take advantage. “We shouldn’t,” he said, “not now.”
She drew a line along his bulge with the tip of her fingernail.
He stood, bent over from the limo’s roof line.
Emily sat up, her mouth opened with a silent cry. He had hurt her by trying to be a gentleman. “I am sorry. I would. Emily, you know I would,” he touched her wet cheek. “You’re hurting right now, and—”
“You’re always one of the good guys,” Emily said, pulling him into the seat next to her. She straddled him. Shut up his response with a kiss that took the air out of his lungs. “That’s why I love you Ryan Jameson.”
Fuck, now he was tearing. He kissed her, hands fumbling with the buckle of his belt, his buttons, his zipper. They became a unit, joined at the mouth, working to get his damp slacks over his hips. Her G-string slid aside, and they were complete again, as if they had never been apart.
Emily leaned over him, used the seat back for leverage to ride him, her mouth open, her eyes closed. The sight of her passion made him cum.
“Fuck Kali,” she said.
“I would rather fuck you,” he said. He knew it now. He loved Emily, her shy ways, her nervous glances, the long gentle strokes she made down his back when she watched him and Kitty. She was in love with him, and Kitty had betrayed them both.
She ground her hips against him. It was enough to keep him hard.
“How long to destination?” He said.
“Thirty minutes,” the limo replied. They had time, she smiled—an openmouthed smile—then started a rhythm that matched the slight thump of the tires against the road. They didn’t kiss, they looked at each other with eyes that shared pain, shared passion. They worked for her orgasm.
A short scream. Her thighs shook, and she soaked him and the seat. She collapsed, trying to swallow his face with her hungry mouth. In that moment, he thought they had turned Kitty’s betrayal into a new love.
“Fuck me. How long to destination?” She panted, her thighs trembling, her torso heaving, her hair wet against his face.
“Ten minutes to destination.”
The limo’s speed didn’t give them much time to compose themselves.
“Bathroom,” Emily said.
The front sectional of the limo slid forward, the seatbacks folding down as it did. Emily left him for the toilet. The limo’s air-conditioning seemed frigid without her. Hunched under the low ceiling, she wet a towel from a spigot and tossed it to him. She didn’t pull the curtain. She used the toilet’s bidet to clean herself. He cleaned himself with the towel. They watched each other like hungry animals.
The limo stopped. Ryan stood, as much as he could, to zip and button his slacks. Emily pulled up a mirror. She was dusting her cheeks when they heard another vehicle crunching gravel beneath its wheels.