Friday, 18 October 2013

Ditched (part 3)

  “We killed Peterson.” I slump back down, overwhelmed and unable to comprehend anything.

  “Peterson panicked. He couldn't handle it. Calm yourself, you're not like that.” I let my breathing slow, my heartbeat ceases its drumroll. Jimmy is right, panic doesn't serve any use. “That's better. Now tell me what's happening, I know its in there somewhere.”

  In here somewhere, part of a rich soup of anecdotes, memories, fantasies and lies. A sea of me that I am floating on the surface of, unable to make any sense of the murky depths. I am a creature of the air, the water scares me.

  My father's attention is held by the sailing boats, jostling for position out on the water. My mother's attention is held by the squirming and wailing bundle that is my baby sister. My attention is held by the sleek, shining form of a fish hanging beneath the jetty. My arm is only long enough to dangle my fingers in the water, my stomach against the worn wooden boards, I need to grasp the fish with my chubby, four year old hand. I inch myself forwards.

  The transition to the aquatic world is instant. I watch with sadness as the fish darts away from my reach, a stream of bubbles escaping from my mouth. I look up to the surface, getting further away and for the first time wonder how deep the water is. Things grow darker and I start to worry, but down here I cannot scream for my parents. As everything goes black I spy the light of the angels as they embrace me and bear me back up to the world of air.

  “The angels...”

  “The angels, yes, do you remember?” I have disappointed Jimmy, he needs me to be rational. The horror connected to me is what? Something important, something necessary. Jimmy knows the answer, he won't tell me, it must be better that I remember.

  “I remember the war, there were no angels.”

  “Tell me about the war, then.”

  “So,” I address the class,”Who can tell me what the Company Sovereignty War was really about?”

  “Freedom, the companies didn't like the laws.” I really need a drink, but it was drinking that got me into doing community service.

  “Good answer, but not quite right.”

  “Power, 'cus they are stronger than the nations.” I shuffle my weight onto the prosthetic leg, it tires slower.

  “Well, if they hadn't thought that then there wouldn't have been a war, but it wasn't a contest of strength.” I wonder if I was like these kids when I was their age, but this is a company school, all these children will work for Qorsa Inc. for at least a few years to repay their education, I had a choice.

  “Taxes, they didn't want to pay them.”

  “Bingo. It was all about the money.” The teacher gives me a disapproving look and looks ready to leap in with the company line, so I continue. “Or rather, it was all about what was happening to the money. Even back then some companies generated more money, employed more people and accomplished more than many nations. They had to pay tax to the nations they operated in and the nations used this money to pay for infrastructure (that's stuff like roads and cables), schools, armies and lots of other stuff. But the companies saw how much of this tax was being wasted on stuff no-one needed and thought they could do a better job for the people.”

  “We were overseeing the automatic drones for one of the asteroid mining companies,” I search for the name and to my surprise it pops up immediately. “Blaze Horizons. Basically flying them when the computers broke down again. Remember the input lag you used to get working drones that far out?”

  “Yes, its just like talking to you.” Jimmy's smile shows me I am putting the shards together properly.

  “The whole non-taxable space earnings thing kicked it off, then while the international courts were arguing about that along came the re-entry taxes, then the retaliation with the government incompetency suite. It was a muddy bureaucratic mess long before anyone fired a shot, no-one could follow the issues, it was all debates, meetings, summits and protests.”

  The rain has not dampened the fires of passion and hate, so we try to escape the erupting violence between the two protests as they meet in the plaza. I lose track of the others in the swirling mass of people and decide on hiding my “Manage Not Rule” T-shirt, but find I am not quick enough to escape being caught in a three-way scrum between both factions and the police. Something airborne and heavy catches me on the head me and half blinded I fall into an alleyway.

  Using the wall to guide myself and keep myself upright I follow the alley, but I hear people following me. I pick up speed, but stumble on something unseen, the world swims around me and I lose track of up and down. Strong fingers grasp my arm and propel me through a doorway and I collapse in a heap.

  “Eat mace, fuckers!” The door slams and standing over me is a vision, light streams through her fair disarranged hair, murky green eyes and sharp nose fit perfectly above a small mouth and pointed chin.

  “Are you an angel?”

  “No, I'm a jazz pianist.”

  “That's nearly lucid. You're doing well, except the parts where you drift off, still having trouble with names?” Everything shudders slightly as the world settles another couple of millimetres.

  “I can think of a few I would like to call you, if that's what you mean. The trip down memory lane is so much fun, but what are you not telling me, Jimmy? What's up with my eye for a start?” I have resisted touching my face, fearful of my hand coming away wet and sticky, fearful of what I might or might not touch with my fingers.

  “Its damaged, temporary, but there are more important things at the moment. We need you to remember more.”

  “The dead guy, Peterson, tell me what the fuck that's about before I lose my mind, what happened to me?” Something is caught in the tangle of wreckage above me, its not part of the craft we're in, could be organic, but its in too much of a mess, no flesh, to have been a person.

  “You've got to trust me, don't dwell on it. Exercise your arms a little, you might need them.”

  “And try not to panic, I get it. Can you answer me one question straight? What the hell is that hanging over there?” Jimmy may be infuriating at times, it is always a question of catching him off-guard.

  “The remains of your legs and left arm, we salvaged what we could and then let go. Happy? Now don't lose it.”

  “Don't lose it!” Jimmy cries over the cacophony of alarms. I vector the drive thrust to combat the manoeuvring jets.

  “Liefman, lock them out of the control systems,” I shout into my helmet microphone. Base has hijacked our systems through the main communications array and we are fighting our own ship.

  “Got it, main comms going offline!” My own screens flash her handiwork up among the frame stress reports and a list of errors from things that we have sabotaged and jury-rigged.

  There is a grinding noise that shudders through the ship as I correct the thrusters and our contact with the artefact slips. The window showing our trajectory updates its estimates, its more optimistic but not quite enough, the alien device will still plough into the Earth. I tell myself its just another misfired rock from my mining days, but we never had to catch anything this massive. I up the power an increment and glance at the stress indicators, not good.

  Over the internal voice comms I can hear the choral symphony that the artefact broadcasts onto our net, control has been trying to decode it since we picked it up. Liefman has been trying to find a way to block it. I have been trying to ignore it.

  There is a crash and the ship lurches, something in the nose section not designed to be used as a bulldozer gives way. A new alarm sounds in my helmet, the air pressure monitor has detected a leak.

  “Is there anything on this ship that doesn't have an alarm?” I ask as fight to keep the contact and the thrust under control. The stress indicators go red and start to drop offline.

  “If there is you haven't managed to break it yet.” Jimmy sends a revised engine profile to my screen and I okay it. The cabin shakes and settles again. Peterson starts screaming and I add him to the list of people excluded from the comm net. The trajectory indicator looks good, but only if I can hold the power in place without destroying the ship.

  There is a ripping sound and then external sounds lessen as the air flows out of the hull, wearing the vacuum suits was my one concession to Peterson's objections, looks like he saved our lives. Something inside the ship snaps, sending a shockwave through my seat, the floor erupts and a broken structural spar spears into the cabin. I recoil against my seatbelts but it is not aimed at me.

  Jimmy spasms once as the jagged point pierces through his suit, through his body and through his seat. I open my mouth to shout a denial, but without Jimmy's assistance the craft skews across the face of the artefact. I cut the engines, and try the manoeuvring thrusters, but we slam side on into the object, tumble out of the groove the nose was lock into and impact heavily into a rounded pod we thought might be some sort of sensor array. The impact sends my screens black, I catch a glimpse of stars through where the hull used to be.

  Over the sound of my own cries I can hear the angels singing.

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