stray cat son

This assignment is a scene with two characters, thinking/talking about a third character. In Nr1 it is the point of view of one character, then the second character gets the spotlight.

#1

I imagined the fat headlines, the news reports, the sleek trial.

‚Private eye, Mike Fletcher, brings down corrupt mayor.’

I had only one shot. No one would listen to an old fart like me twice. Ever. I needed a safe place for the evidence. Justice could only be served, if I played my cards right. Huh, I would be famous. Either way…

Ah, my back was killing me. I loved my GTO, but I payed a high toll for these stakeouts. Sitting tight for hours, painful and boring. Not that I wasn’t used to pain or boredom. It tempted me to barge into the mayoral office, guns blazing. Patience wasn’t really my forte, the waiting tore on my nerves. I longed to let my inner Clint Eastwood out.

For a change, I wasn’t alone. I had company.

Benny was sleeping in the passenger seat. Head sunk on his chest, dark hair hanging over his forehead, skinny arms resting in his lap. He looked so peaceful, that I nearly believed the world was a good place. Inside the GTO, it was solid and light and warm. It was alive.

Two month ago, Benny strayed to. I found him behind my bins, the crap beaten out of him. Face bleeding, swollen blue and black. Beyond recognition. No money or ID.

Maybe it was only a case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe not. I spent half of my days on the wrong side of the tracks. I understood. It was easy to decide that the boy had enough hard luck. I carried him inside.

Mary, my wife, was at first shocked, then delighted. She started to pamper the kid, obsessed over him. We had no children of our own, so she dumped all of her suppressed love unto him, trying to drown him.

Lucky me, she stopped most of her nagging, busying herself with the needs of a teenage boy. She stopped chewing my ear off, about the house, the job and the money.

Benny said he was eighteen. A lie, but it was okay with me. He claimed he had no home, no family or friends. Surely, he had his reasons. I didn’t ask, and he didn’t tell. Since then, I half expected to find his bed cold and empty, every early morning. But he was there, and he kept being there.

Benny stirred.

A week ago, he begged me, to take him with me on the job. Mary was livid, but the kid stood his ground. She had to give in. There was more to him, than the obviously too young streetwise kid. I knew that, but she only saw the bruised boy in need. Mary whined, that Benny was our God-sent son. She prayed he’d stay forever, and called that her love.

I went with the idea, that he was our stray cat son. He could leave anytime, I wanted him to be free. If that was what he needed… Sometimes it was easy. I knew exactly what I could do to comfort him. A hand on his shoulder, or a hug, sometimes the silence of being left alone.

Usually he fell back on being sad, when he thought no one was looking. He kept himself busy with napping and eating. I always had the feeling, that he tried to catch up on things he missed, like a refugee.

And by night? Hell, I had no idea what he did. I heard the windows open and close. Obviously he snuck out. As far as I was concerned, he could be batman’s sidekick, or a guerrilla gardener or a drug dealer. As long as he came back, I was good.

My cigarette died. Mary smelled the tobacco anyway. I needed a stretch. The car door squealed, as I got out of the GTO.

„What’s up old-timer? Crackin’ somethin’portant?” Benny yawned from the passenger seat.

„Wanna kiss your teeth goodbye, bucko?” Hmpf, called me old-timer. I could kick his ass anytime. Benny stretched in the seat, in his twisted cat manner, letting his joints click loudly. That sound drove me up the walls. „Ugh, stop that!” It sounded spine crawling, like the dry snapping of bones. „Wanna eat?” I asked him. I was hungry too. He nodded.

#2

The birdman behind the counter opened his beak and jarred.

‚What the fuck?’

He grabbed me by the elbow and sent me flying into a deep pit. It hurt. I landed on my back, in a bed of black feathers. It felt sticky, then sharp pain clawed into my limbs. Tiny needles pierced my skin.

‚Ow! Not nice. Hey! Lady! Gimme a hand outta here!’

A woman, very similar to Mary Fletcher stood at the edge of the pit. Or was that a giant bird nest? She smiled.

‚Fuck.’

That was no ordinary smile, so wide! So impossibly wide… With way too many teeth! I swallowed. All teeth. What was that in her hand? A burning match! Oh God! She threw it.

‚NO!

The feathers combusted! My lungs burnt as I inhaled the flames.

‚Mike!’

An iron grip pulled me under the surface.

‚HELP!’

My body and mind plummeted side by side into the blackness of my nightmare. I jolted awake.

‚Okay.’

I was in a car. Nothing burned. Mike’s car.

‚Just breathe.’

He wasn’t in the car. Where was he? I couldn’t move.

‚Calm down!’

Everything was fine. I was okay. No one torched me. I puffed. The air felt hot, smelled of leather and tobacco. I rubbed my face. The shirt Mike gave me was wet. Tongue stuck to my palate, lips hurt, my throat was stinging and dry. Felt like I ate all the dust from the Gobi desert.

Through the dirty windshield, the orange sun shone in. I must have slept nearly the whole day. I saw Mike standing near the open driver’s door.

‚Thank God.’

He did some clumsy stretching. His back must hurt, he groaned. Googling for hours at that stupid house, and the traffic did nothing for your health. Same went for smoking and drinking booze, coffee. Doing drugs, numb the existence… But people did that anyway, didn’t they? And I did that too.

‚Yeah, but why me?’

Man, I wished I wasn’t the one to tell him. Mike would hate me for this. Even I hated me for this.

‚But it’s fuckin’ necessary.’

Yeah. It was… Was there ever a right time for such news?

‚No, never…’

I tried to tell him a couple of times during the week. But how did you tell someone you liked, that his wife was cheating on him? Beyond that, she loathed him, she hated everything he said, owned or did. I swallowed.

How to tell, that Mary deliberately walked in on me, while showering. That she tried to touched me, to kiss me, to seduce me. She snuck into my bed, when I slept. I wouldn’t stay any longer with her alone in that house.

‘No… Just yank that patch off. Fast. Easy.’

It’d hurt anyway. I couldn’t bring myself to break Mike’s heart. He loved her. He said it so many times before. He was lucky being married to her.

‚Yeah, lucky like a man having a rusty knife rammed between his ribs.’

He told me the stupid nauseating story about how they met and how they kissed. Romantic bullshit. I’d never understand that. And if I kept it to myself?

‚Wrong! And you know it.’

Mike’s face was pale and tired. He deserved the truth. I had to repay him somehow for the kindness. For everything he had done for me. I owed him that. At least.

He never asked any questions. He was there, patiently waiting for me to begin with my story.

„What’s up old-timer? Crackin’ somethin’portant?” I was hungry. He leant down, supporting himself forearms on the door and car top, and grinned.

„Wanna kiss your teeth goodbye, bucko?” As if he’d ever be able to catch me. Ha! I stretched more and my joints clicked into place. „Ugh, stop that!” But I wasn’t done with stretching. “Wanna eat?” I nodded.

almost friends

almost friends

– 1 –

I slouched on my bunk and stared at the ceiling hologram revolve. It was the boiling ocean throwing itself against the rocks of some shore. It was Kageshima’s time to watch the sea. In about one hour I would change it to the starry night sky over the Sonoran Desert. This was relax time, after a 25 hour shift on the transporter taking us to the mining regions in the asteroid belt.

With us I meant, Ivanov, Rico, Kageshima and me. Captain Rizzo would remain on board. Five men wedged into a tin can floating through the black emptiness of the space, heading towards some expensive rocks and dirt. The journey we just started would take seven months.

Kageshima was moving, and I watched him start his tai chi exercises. Eyes closed, concentrating on his movements, his muscles worked under his soft skin. I pulled my prosthetic leg in, so he’d have enough space.

I heard he had a fight with drunk Rizzo. It ended with calling names and a bloody nose. No doubt it was self defense on Kageshima’s behalf.

Rizzo was doing the job for over twenty years, and he was lonely. The booze must’ve killed enough neurons that he’d try to hit on Kageshima. On a ship like this, there wasn’t much else to do than drinking, and facing the one eyed snake. And Kageshima had a distinctly feminine appearance, small and slender, long lashes over dark almond eyes. That old fart went insane over any trace of feminity.

“You’re officially classified as liquid, Kintaro.” I told him, and decided to watch his back from now on. Rizzo wouldn’t dare to pick a fight with me. I’d break him in half, with my pinky. 

“Sumimasen, sorry?” He turned to me confused.

“You move like a bengalese tiger.” I stated and meant to be appreciative. Kageshima pulled a sour face instead.

“Ian, don’t say that.” Did I hit a nerve? Why was he stressed? “Did Jefferson set you up? He did, didn’t he?” His black eyes glistened, his cheeks boiled. 

“Rico?” I shook my head. “What do you mean? Set up?”

“Nothing in special, just curious.” Kageshima lied. He was bad at it! Why would he lie? What was wrong? “You two know each other for long?” He asked carefully. I had the feeling that I needed to be wary, for some reason. Kageshima sat down, beside me.

“Well, yes. We already worked for five years together. On Gorgo Beta. A mining ship. He saved my life.” I patted my prosthetic left leg. “I was sent out to repair one of the giant waldos, and Rico was instructing me. Somehow, I got my security line tangled up in the hydraulics, and when the gear slammed back into motion, the gripper went online… You can imagine. It caught and yanked me into the grinder mechanism.” I tapped my left prosthetic arm and eye. “It tore my arm from its socket, ripped my leg straight off.” Kageshima’s eyes lock on mine.

“So… Rico’s your best friend.” It sounded flat, as if he was stating it to himself. He looked at me and smiled. It was a sorrowful smile, the saddest I ever saw on a man’s face.

“Yeah…” That was a strange reaction. “Come on, he’s the funniest guy. You’ll like him, once you get to know him.” I tried, but Kageshima stood up.

“Let’s talk later, Ian.” He said and resumed his exercises.

– 2 –

There was a killer on board. I had seven month to unravel his identity and to pin him down. I went through the received data from the ministry. The profiles of Rico Jefferson and Ian Dervall were promising. I could rule Ivanov and Rizzo out, after today’s incident. Rizzo really thought I’d be defenseless. He won’t make the same mistake again.

I shared my room with Dervall, a huge afro-american cyborg with sand colored eyes. He occupied the lower bunk, I had the upper. A quiet man, with the average of ten words and two facial expression a week.

My first thought upon meeting him was, that he was Jefferson’s brute lap dog. The way he followed him everywhere, like a shadow. Gaining his trust was most important. I started with him, and see where it takes me.

I knew he and Jefferson had a history together. They worked for five years on the same mining ship, most likely side by side. It was that time, when Dervall had his accident, leaving him a ruin of a human being. I’ve read the log data and the surveillance feed transcript on that accident. It was fishy. Someone had it altered. I wondered why though…

On the ceiling, the ocean hurled and splashed against rocks. It was the comfort holo for the passengers, designed to keep us happy. Depression was common during these long flights. I chose it to soothe Dervall’s alertness to my actions. Monotony was a cyborg’s weak spot.

I used the time for tai chi, to let my thoughts fly. A clear mind is a most effective mind. “You’re officially classified as liquid, Kintaro.” Dervall said. I mustn’t let him know that I was capable of killing him with bare hands. My moves could betray me.

“Sumimasen, sorry?” I managed.

“You move like a bengalese tiger.” He added a gummy full teeth smile. Did he see through?

“Ian, don’t say that.” I hoped not. It’d be very inconvenient if he sussed me. “Jefferson set you up? He did, didn’t he?” I tried.

“Rico?” He shook his head confused. “What do you mean? Set up?”

“Nothing in special, just curious.” I thought of his pain and suffering. I sat down on his bed. “You two know each other for long?” I looked at what was left of him, lining of scar-tissue ripping his perfect dark skin to ribbons, stitched up with nearly skin tone prosthetics.

“Well, yes. We already worked for five years together. On Gorgo Beta. A mining ship. He saved my life.” He patted his prosthetic leg. “I was sent out to repair one of the giant waldos, and Rico was instructing me. Somehow, I got my security line tangled up in the hydraulics, and when the gear slammed back into motion, the gripper went online… You can imagine. It caught and yanked me into the grinder mechanism.” What if that wasn’t an accident? What if it was a cover up for something else? Dervall tapped his left arm and eye. “It tore my arm from its socket, ripped my leg straight off.” Did he even remember how it happened? I doubted that.

In his eyes, I could only see the dullness of a man under heavy medication. “So… Rico’s your best friend.”

“Yeah…” He furrowed his brows. “Come on, he’s the funniest guy. You’ll like him, once you get to know him.” I bet! Something told me that Jefferson was a dangerous man. I had to be very careful about this.

I stood up. “We’ll talk later, Ian.” My body went on with the exercises, but my mind raced.


This short story was an assignment for HWWF 2015. The task was to interpret a dialogue from two different points of view, and that the characters talk about a person not present, lighting two different sides of that absent character.

the shape I’m in

Special Agent Eric Paulson stood in the doorway, with a goofy smile on his thin lips. He flicked away his still burning cigarette. Snowflakes melted on his grey stubby chin.

„Fuck. What do you want?” I asked. Bitterness seeped from the back of my throat. I wanted to spit it out, but words fell out instead. „Seven! Years!” No calls, no visits, no cards. He didn’t even call, when my daughter, Amy, died. I’d be damned if he doesn’t want to drag me back to the hell I’ve been through.

He was fast with flashing a smile. There it was, the I’m-better-than-you-look in his blue-green eyes. The look I died to smack out of his face, with a brick, or bottle, or a chair, or my fists. His dark hair was shorter, his build porkier than I remembered. He was doing well. The red parka he was wearing was too tight on his belly and arms.

His smile froze to an annoyed grin. He must have his reasons for coming all the way out here. „Is that all you got for me, Vince?” He pulled an offended grimace, and pushed me aside, to enter the hallway. “Unbelievable!” That was Eric Paulson all over. He stomped his feet on the doormat. With one hand he opened his ski parka and I slammed the door shut.

I needed a drink. I went to the kitchen to grab a bottle. Talisker Storm. I prayed, he came to visit out of pure friendliness, as a friend, as family. But I knew his hesitation in the hallway meant he had a case I should help him with. He stared at his boots, left hand absentmindedly stroking his jacket, where his breast pocket was. I knew that look of guilt… Long ago, Eric and me, we were a team. He was the agent, and I was the psychic profiler. We were match and gasoline.

„Prepared for the blizzard, buddy?” He attempted small talk. Futile, but I nodded. He inched my way, eyeballing the photos of Maria, Amy and me on the walls; reminders of my misery. My kitchen disgusted him, I noticed. Today it seemed peculiarly smaller and dirtier than usual, even to me. „It was clean last month.” I manned the whisky bottle and shook it at him. „Want some?” I asked by courtesy.

„You tell me, Vince,” he shrugged. „Don’t you see, what I’ll do?”

„It’s not working that way, Eric.” I turned and went to the twilit living room, switched the lights on. He followed me in silence. „You know that.” The bookshelves made the room look like a cave.

Outside, the snow came down in thick curtains. I couldn’t see his car. Up here, November hit us hard, with temperatures below 15 °F all week. The winter was gentle and silent around my house, the woods insulated me from the world. But I felt it roar in the valley, and down in Points.

I plunked down into the leather couch and tugged the patchwork quilt over my legs. Maria, my ex wife, made it during the two long years of our marriage, for Amy. She was adept with the needle and yarn, but she couldn’t take it, after the accident, after…

She left me the quilt, so she could forget. It covered my bad knee, which was cold and swollen. It hurt badly and I couldn’t hide it. Eric furrowed his brows. Was that concern?

„The Eric Paulson I know, wouldn’t dither,” I growled at him. Jaw muscles clenched together, my fist was a white ball of bone, sinew and muscle. The Eric Paulson I knew, was responsible for my stiff leg.

He breathed and rubbed his chin. „You know why I’m here, don’t you?” I gazed out of the window. “I need your help.” I shook my head and twisted the cap of the bottle off. “We got ourselves a phantom, a smart and cruel predator.” Eric continued unimpressed. “Maybe you can give us a new angle. We’re desperate! You’re our straw.” I stared into the bottle before my lips touched the liquor. No need for a glass, or ice. There was this hollow icy feeling leeching my stomach.

„We’ve found his sevenths victim yesterday. He is different. I haven’t seen anything like that in my whole life,” Eric told me. His presence woke something up in me. It stirred. “He isn’t satisfied with just killing them. No. He tortures them for days, breaks their bones, peels their skin off, while they are still alive.” Eric walked up and down in the room. “Vince! He’s a monstrosity, an abomination!” The first gulp burnt its way down into the midnight of my soul.

The smell of smoke and bunt hair hit me.

Eric came up close to me, observing my face intently. I must’ve spaced out. „Was the last victim burnt?” I asked, hoping he’d say no, but his eyes lit up instead. Poor man… That merited another gulp. „I hate you.”

Eric sat down on the coffee table in front of me. It creaked its complains. He plucked the bottle from my hand and held a plastic bag in front of my face. In the bag was something lathy, dark and stained. I swallowed, that was a knife of some kind, unusually thin.

„For the love of God… Eric, I don’t need more nightmares.” He wanted me touch it. “Why are you forcing me?” I didn’t need to be a psychic, to know where that thing had been before. Instantly, my phantasy went wild, flooding my consciousness with pictures of bloody pierced hearts, deflated lungs and slit throats.

„You play hermit in the woods? That’s okay,” his calm voice floated in the room. „You won’t talk to me, cause you’re teed off? That’s also okay.” He ruffled his dark hair. „I respect that, and I’m truly sorry for what happened. For what I did, but can’t take back…” He took a sip from the bottle, and pulled a grimace. „Alright. Be mad at me. That’s fine.” Eric looked at me like a beaten dog. “You expect the world to leave you alone?” His lips tightened. His left hand made a flat horizontal swiping gesture, as if covering something. „I’ll have none of that bullshit!” I stared at the star and heart patterns on the quilt. „Vincent, I really need your help! I’m not giving up on you. We all need your help. With your special abilities… It’s your duty to help.” I felt his despair seeping into me through the pores of my skin. “He sent us a picture of his next victim. A little girl, not older than five.”His voice picked up volume and urgency. “Help me solve this!”

We locked eyes. That face! I heard myself gasping. His hurt expression… His eyes wide and watered up, lips trembling, corners of his mouth pointing to his heart… He had that same look… The same look, when I had pulled him out of that car wreck. He was 17 and I was 19.

I couldn’t imagine how hard it’d punch me. I forgot that I still had these feelings in me. Why did I notice just now? Eric was exhausted. Something festered in him, something stinging, black and tar like. Something hungry…

And easy as that, I was his partner again. Ready to hug and comfort Eric, ready to watch his back…

I took the plastic bag, and my he smiled weakly. Between my fingers the knife slithered into my palms, snuggled into my left hand and wanted to be clutched tightly. A lefty. My hands felt wet and warm, the blade seemed to pulsate, like a beating heart. I sent out my thoughts like tentacles.

„It’s not a gift…” The smell of blood was overwhelming. „It’s a condition, ruining my life.” I told myself, and forced my stomach back down. „I think, I got something. Take notes, Eric, I’ll forget everything in about half an hour, or so.” My body plummeted, my mind trickled down my navel, like sand in an hourglass. “He’s a lefty and went to college. Had good to mediocre grades but dropped out. He prefers to work with his hands. He’s in his forties. I get the feeling of clay on my hands… Maybe pottery, maybe gardening. Overly adjusted. Most likely married, but his little wifey is clueless, so is everyone else in his social vicinity.” I swallowed, my body grew heavier, my vision blurred. „He needs glasses.”

Heavy knocks echoed through the house, made me jump. The door trembled under the beating. Eric nodded towards the hallway. „Go on. Open the door. It’s an officer with more information you need.”

The hard labor of standing up started and the quilt slit down to the carpet. Eric took a big gulp of my good wisky, while I hobbled to the door. He was right. It was a man in uniform at the entrance. His police car sat obediently in my driveway, lights flashing. Where was Eric parking?

„Good afternoon, sir. I’m Officer Peterson, Hampshire County Police. Are you Mister Samson? Mister Vincent Samson?”

„Yes.” I answered. Suddenly, I didn’t like how things summed up. The icy feeling dropped deeper.

„I’m sorry that I have to tell you.” He breathed. “Your ex partner, special agent Eric Paulson, was killed, yesterday, in the line of duty.”

—No!

„I’m sorry for your loss… He was on his way here, to beg for your expertise as profiler.” Officer Peterson harrumphed. “There is something else… His little daughter was kidnapped.”

Sleipnir

Sleipnir

this is an assignment I’m working on and thought of sharing with you guys-

also content warning: strong language

 

„Where’s – the horse?“ The words. So hard. To speak. Heavy. My eyelids are heavy as stonework. I swat at the light in my eyes and the fingers forcing them open.

„What horse?” The light hurts. Who’s voice is that?

„That kicked me. Somewhere…Chest” Sighing. „Proto?“ The light and fingers retract. The floor is spinning, so I have to hold tight.

Above me, a silhouette fogs up. „Don’t you scare me like that, EVER again!” I know that uniform, that shape. A captain-shaped uniform! Huh… What’s he doing here?

I’m soaked and flat on my back. „Still on the ship, aren’t I?”

„Aye. Still on board of my Sleipnir.“ His words fall on my stomach, their weight make me nauseous. My head is empty. Think! What am I doing down here? Something went wrong. Dosage? Anaphylactic reaction? Why am I wet?

„Oriented to location. Now tell me your name.” I obey.

„Oz. I mean Oscar Wellington. Doctor.”

„Good. Who am I? Don’t roll your eyes, you know the drill. Location, person, time, situation.” Yes. I know the drill.

„2198.“ I don’t have to think. „You’re the captain. Edward Wong.”

A disappointed shade crawls over his face. Or is it anger? I can’t tell. „Do I have to run a drug test on you? Were you high, or what?! How do you explain THIS?” He waves at me, the destroyed electronics and scattered data sheets on the floor. „Why were you locked in, and floating facedown in that tank? Spill it!”

Everything’s smashed… I sit up. Just look at that mess! My work! „I-I dunno.” Six months research! What happened here? “Wires?” What am I hooked up to? A defibrillator unit… „How many shocks did I get?”

“One to 250 and three to 310 Joules. Jumpstarting you wasn’t easy. I might have cracked or broken some of your ribs.”  He looks at his hands, as if they were bloody. “It looked like you wouldn’t make it.”

„Explains why I feel like a schnitzel…”

Eddy’s eyes search for mine. I can’t stand the look. „Who did this?”

Why was I fully dressed, if I was doing a hibernation experiment? “I’m sorry—„ I start pulling off the electrodes of my chest and back. “I can’t remember. All I know is… I was testing new chemical compounds.” My first accident ever. Cardiac arrest is not an option… Strix Genome won’t be pleased with my near-death-experience… Of course, this is not the first accident with hibernation research anyway. CPR is taking long, which means that my electrolyte metabolism is off balance… Where is my safe guard? Where is Proto?

“You mean, you did this on purpose?!” Eddy bellows. “You little prick! You asshat! You were DEAD! No breathing! No pulse! What do you call that?! Fuckin’ power-napping?” Oh-uh. That shade of red can’t be healthy. A human volcano is going to spit a ball of anger right into my face.

“Eddy, I’m sorry.” He grabs my torn shirt and pulls me up to his face, lips tightening.”- Really sorry. Okay?”

“–NO! What if I hadn’t pulled you out in time? Or the liquid destroyed your lungs? There are no prosthetics on board! And you are THE doctor. IDIOT! Even downloading and printing would take nearly half a day!” He lets go and turns to leave, but has some powder left. He’s not done. „Where’s your lapdog? Where is Proto? Isn’t it supposed to watch your back? PROTO? Where are you hiding, you little shit?”

“HE is doing research. I sent him.” At least, I think I did.

The captain turns to the surveillance panel in the medical unit. „Don’t make me laugh! Babe? Who’s on board?”

„Captain, Edward Wong. Doctor, Oscar Wellington. My robot pilots, ninety-six maintenance robots, and my neural hub.” The Sleipnir answers in a flat tone.

„See?” Eddy gives me the I-told-you-so-look. „Where is Proto?” he asks.

„Proto is – not on board.” WHAT?! „His suit is – not on board. Scanning… Scanners are jammed.” Another I-told-you-so-look.

No! Where is Proto? He is priceless! He is a being between an AI and a human clone. A miracle, if you ask me.  For the captain, he’s just an AI, in a meat suit…

With a soft purring of the Sleipnir interrupts. “Warning. Warning. Collision imminent.”

“What the hell is going on?!” The captain shouts sprinting out of my lab.

SCOOTER

SCOOTER

The screen flickered to life. A simulation of the landscape hidden under the thick blue methane and helium clouds unraveled itself. My custom navigation grid stretched over it, and listed all promising magnetic anomalies in the partially viscous crust. Areas of seismic instability stretched further into the polar regions. That was what the analysis program showed me in the lower right corner. I threw out my right index and thumb and the writing faded away. I did not plan to stick around to witness any crust activity.

Through the bull’s eye the surface seemed so peaceful and lush blue. It reminded me of Earth. The upper atmosphere showed a relievo ribbon of white clouds further to north to our orbiting position.

What bothered me most were the atmospheric pockets and the wind velocity, unpredictable and vicious. Even the CPU had problems showing me depressurization timely. Scooter was approaching faster than the simulations showed. Something was off. I had less time than calculated. That peacefully looking blue under me was deadly. It was ready to tear me and my glider to shreds. If anything went wrong, I could only hope for a fast death.

To my right side the com came to life. „Crap,” I sighed. Of all crew members on duty it must be him.

„What did you just say?” Rains’s guttural voice filled the tiny cabin of my glider. I didn’t have time to put up with his yapping, so I ignored him diligently. „Decker? Protocol?” The best I could do for now, but he was one annoying fellow. „Do you copy?” I’d sign him up, if there was an Olympic discipline called annoying. I bet he’d be top ten. “Decker!”

“No time, Rains.” I needed to focus. „Buckle up!” This was going to be quite a ride. I pulled my straps tighter and started the sequence. The countdown appeared on the screen. Ten seconds to detachment.

„Decker! Is this your idea of—„ I pinched my fingers together and the tone died instantly. I grinned into the video feed and watched Rains ugly face deteriorate.

Five seconds. Rains was signing me something. First he pointed at me with his index, then he seemingly slammed his middle finger into the screen. Ouch. I only could imagine how pissed he must be, losing this bet to me, so I blew him a kiss. I got to be dolphin and he had to be mother hen. My name was going down in history, not his. The first human to drift with Scooter around Neptune.

Two, one.

Trip.

A deep rattling went through my seat, and my stomach lifted off. My glider shuddered and moaned as the winds caught my wing panels. Rapid acceleration swept me to the left, and the glider bucked. Scooter’s vanguard storms caught me in a powerful stream. Air speed indicators spiraled insanely. Exceeding sound velocity! Already! Although I was sealed in properly, I felt the static charge stinging on my skin, even the air tasted sour. I imagined the sonic boom reaching Rains, making him spill his hot coffee.

Stabilizers were screaming, thrusters working at maximum performance. The blue darkened to a steel-gray. The slipstream sucked me down into the lower regions of the atmosphere and the storm picked up speed. The grey withered to a blueish black. The wind screamed around my little plane. Unbelievable! Lightning flashed inside, nearly blinding me. Everything shook, sounded as if someone was throwing rocks at me. Must be hail, methane hail. God of hull integrity stay with me.

Scooter was approaching. I was the very first human to meet it. The first one to see its funnel. Face to face with the to fastest cyclone in the solar system.

***

My cabin was lit dimly by the instruments and screens. The read-outs went head over heels. I couldn’t make out a thing, the information was changing so fast. Simulation toppled over simulation, illuminating the darkness washing in from outside. The hail went as fast as it appeared, leaving me with a cracked porthole. Between the towering cloud formations I was just a speckle thrown into a blender.

To my right Rains was still there, waving his hands frantically, mouth moving like a dying fish. I unmuted him, and a thunderous scream filled the audio feed. I jumped in my seat.„You—„

Rains looked as startled as I was. He furrowed his brows. The scream lowered in tone and volume to a metallic screeching and low-key buzzing.

„Wind? Interference?” I don’t know if I was audible. No reaction from Rains.

Then the screeching got louder and louder. It filled my cabin, my head, the console. It got so loud that I tried to put my hands over my ears, although I was in my suit.

I saw Rains muting my audio feed and staring at me.

The noise got louder and louder. It hurt. It clawed at my eardrums, tore on my nerves. The air felt hot. I smelled blood. Rains eyes bulged.

Can it get even louder? Nausea was on it’s way. Unbearable!  My stomach shook, my lungs vibrated.

I screamed.

I screamed at the noise.

I screamed at Rains.

I screamed.