Interceptor

part 1: foxtrot uniform charlie kilo

This April evening darkness came early. It was hardly past 5 pm and Newport City didn’t stand a chance. It was engulfed by a tidal wave of flickering electric light, mist and a gentle rain.

The big adds on the skyscrapers flared to life, bathing the windows in neon blue, bright green and crimson. The street lights flashed, blinked and faded away, only to restart in less than half a minute.

Oz moved through his nearly empty apartment without making light. Not that he would have needed light ever again… His new prosthetic eyes automatically switched to night vision, showing him his nearly empty apartment as shabby as it felt to him right now.

In the bedroom, he unrolled his sleeping bag, where his old bed used to be. A clean set of clothes waited for tomorrow morning. He sighed, unsure what to do next, he went to the window. His own reflection looked like it always did. No scars, no metal parts protruding from his skin, even his eyes looked like his old ones. Strix made sure, he kept his retinal pattern for security reasons. No one would notice he had prosthetics. Raindrops trickled down the window. Only inches away, one would notice that his pupils would whirr and turn, not contract. He tapped the glass twice and it went milky. Nothing out there for me. He said it out loud. His voice sounded distant and flat.

What now? Izanami asked.

Can I see you? A young woman blinked into existence. She stood at his right side, and wore a grey catsuit. She had her long light brown hair braided into a long ponytail, resting on her left collar bone. Her full lips smiled at him pleasantly.

He had selected her facial features before he had his implants, even before he had his personal AI.

That face was with him, since he was born. It was the face of his mother in her twenties. His distant memories and an old photo of her laughing, were the mold, for Izanami’s facial features and her emotional response. He had set her emo-hub to be a fun person, optimistic and humming away his favorite songs, when he felt sad. Izanami monitored his neurotransmitter levels and knew when he felt stressed. She hummed softly.

Is this projection a hologram?

No. Izanami smiled. What you see, is a construct. I’m inserting your projection of me into your visual data, just before entering your visual cortex. I use the communication hub between implants and neuronal tissue for that. Your high capacity interceptors are made for this task. Do you want to change my appearance?

You are saying… You’re a hallucination? Oz surprised himself with this realization.

Technically? Yes. She nodded happily, and walked over to his left side. Your gaze follows me through space, but I’m there. Izanami pointed vaguely over Oz’s left ear.

There was the AI’s CPU and memory unit implanted into petrous part of his temporal bone. The implants for the AI were only twice his thumbnail’s size. It has been a minor operation, half an hour, or so. He had earned himself a migraine though.

The Uplink implants have been a procedure of several weeks and some hours in surgery. He still got dizzy, when looking at repetitive patterns. There was a weird interference, he hadn’t manage to filter out.

You seem not to like the word hallucination. What about ghost? Do you like ghosts? Izanami asked concerned.

No. Hallucination it is. Let’s personalize your features, security first. I should have done this on our first day. Oz paced up and down his bedroom. Izanami remained stationary where she last stood.

Firewall? Browse, select, cancel? She asked in a mocking robotic voice.

Select high security encryption. Quantum key. Select super symmetrical dummy barriers, select voice command initialized autistic mode.

Selected. Are you expecting an army of hackers? She giggled.

Select visual notifications and warnings, when attacked. Visual and audio notification, if security breached.

Right, war it is. Ok, selected. What about override? Izanami nodded, produced a clipboard and started scribbling away with a yellow pencil. Oz stopped in his tracks. What are you doing?

Taking notes, darling. She cooed.

Then select override mode, if logically impaired… Say, when I’m unconscious, or sleeping, or if I have lower than 50 blood sugar level, or lower than 80 percent oxygen saturation in arterial blood, or when sedatives or poison is detected in blood stream. Supervision only in autistic mode. I won’t have you getting bugged.

Selected. Please confirm settings with master voice command. She nodded slightly, tucking away the pencil behind her right ear.

A knock at the door interrupted. Who is it?

It’s Marcus. Izanami said. He’s alone and brought you beer. Oz walked towards the door. Go to sleep Izanami, we’ll continue tomorrow. Wake me up at 7:30 am. The woman blinked out of existence.

Open up! You think, I let you slip away that easily? The muffled voice belonged to his friend.

Oz swore under his breath. He didn’t need accommodation. Marcus… Dammit. He opened the door and there stood a tall, beefy young man with dark hair. Marcus being over six feet tall, occupied the whole doorway. His dark cat-like eyes gleamed with mischief, he smirked and pushed inside.

Man, Oz… Are you on a Zen trip, now? He whistled, and flicked on the light switch with his elbow. He thrusted two of the four six-packs into Oz’s arm. I brought beer. But I got a head start, so yo need to catch up. He winked at Oz.

Why are you here, Marcus? I don’t need a party. I don’t need your… Oz sighed, shoulders slumping. He knew Marcus stuck like chewing gum to a shoe sole, if he wanted to, and now he very clearly wanted to.

Oh come on, Oz. You got your papers… So, what? You’ve been banned, not thrown into jail. Lighten up! The world isn’t ending. Oz barked a bitter laugh. Marcus turned around and eyed him suspiciously. Are you moving? Where to? Can I help?

-No. Oz put the beer on a box near the living room door. He crossed his arms before his chest. Izanami and I can manage.

You’re the dumbest smart person I know. I’ll sign you up for the Dummy Olympics…

Am I? You know where the door is. Oz puffed annoyed and pointed towards the door.

It‘s not good to stew in your own juice. I told you, and the AI you’re so fond of cannot… Marcus breathed. I want to help. He smiled and held two six-packs up. That’s the start.

Oz wasn’t having any of that. I don’t need your help!

Yes, you do. Your dad made a scene, and you’re hurt. I understand.No, YOU DON’T! Oz shouted, his fists clenched into white balls of sinew and bone.

Man, chill. It’s been two months already. You’ve licked your wounds. Come off of it… Marcus spoke, as if to a rabid animal. Look, I got good news. You remember Professor Henriksen, pharmacology in second year? I showed him your work, and he liked it. He wants you to be his assistant. The job isn’t payed well. I know! But it’s a start. Oz looked at his toes. What do you say? Monday’s your first day! This was going to be painful.

We can share my lab. Marcus flashed his biggest smile and looked most pleased with himself. He turned around to put the beer unto the kitchen counter and got a glimpse of the letter laying there.

The temperature in the room dropped. He grabbed the paper and spun around. His face was the face of a deadly wounded. What’s this? Marcus’ voice trembled. Oz? The skin on his cheeks was ashen, eyes wide and watering.

Oz was caught by surprise, stammered. None … None of your business… The suicide note for his father would be hard to explain.

What the hell!? Marcus closed the distance between them in a blink. Oz backed away from the sudden notion, against the wall. His friend loomed over him, like an avalanche speeding down a mountain side, towards a box with puppies.

What were you planning? Oz turned his face away. TELL ME! He couldn’t stand those accusing dark eyes. The reaction wasn’t what he expected. He could feel Marcus’ beer-breath on his jaw. Is this what you want? He got pinned by his shoulders to the wall. Say something… The grip was strong. Anything… Marcus’s fingers dug into his tee and the skin beneath. It hurt. Oz bit his lips, tasted blood. He was disappointing again.

You want to die? Marcus voice broke. You really want to die? He took his left hand from the shoulder and pushed his forearm hard unto Oz’s windpipe. The bony part connected with his Adam’s apple. A surprised grunt escaped Oz’s mouth, with shock his eyes darted back to Marcus’.

You think you got it bad? Huh? You think you’re the only one suffering? You think you’re the only one struggling, from day to day? Marcus’ face was now white, distorted with rage. Oz tried to push the arm away from his throat, which made Marcus lean unto him harder. TELL ME! Marcus screamed.

He leaned on Oz with his whole weight now. The piercing pain in his throat clawed at him. It felt like glass shards being slowly pushed under his skin. His tongue felt raw, working against his teeth. You never worked hard for anything in your life! Everything was given to you, you little shit. At your first failure you toss it all aside, as if it was a filthy broke toy. And now you throw away your life too! You have no right to!

Marcus…Oz choked. No. Marcus’ eyes burned with hate. …Stop. He wheezed. Air refused to leave his lungs. The blood in his ears sang to the rapid thumps in his chest. Please. He kicked Marcus, but it went unnoticed. He reached out for his eyes, but his arms were too short, only touched his cheeks. He couldn’t swallow the saliva in his mouth anymore. The pressure at his temples blurred his vision. Iza-namiii… He had to do something. Fast.

…Your eyes! Marcus backed away suddenly, as if bitten by a snake. Tears ran down his cheeks.

Oz fell to his knees in a coughing fit. Before his eyes, the room blackened. He held his throat, sucking in greedily air, choking on it. Marcus looked at his hands, as if they were bloody.

The entrance door exploded.

Three men stormed in. Their guns stormed in too. Their movements looked to Oz like a black blur with six feet, stepping between him and his friend. Oz breathed. Each of them wore an undercut, black jumpsuits, bulletproof wests. Sort of military, Oz thought. They trained their guns at Marcus, who slowly raised his hands. Two of the men had weird looking semi-automatic rifles. The oldest of them had only a handgun. “Are you all right, Dr Wellington?” He squatted down near Oz, touching his shoulder.

Oz sat up, and croaked. Who the hell are you, people?

The man raised an eyebrow. “You’re welcome.”

What’s going on? Marcus didn’t dare to peel his gaze from the guns.

Sir? One of the men nearest to Marcus asked. “Cuffs.” The man barked back.

Oz stared in disbelief as Marcus got yanked around, hands slapped behind his back and zipped. He stood up supporting himself by the wall.

“Do you wish to press charges?” Oz shook his head. “Your call.” The man shrugged. “We got you a room in HQ. Lets go.”

Wait. Lemme say … something. Marcus begged. The man at his wrists looked quizzically at the oldest. “You’re a mistake away from another hole in your head.” The man said in a businesslike tone, and nodded .

You never understood, did you? I dropped so many hints. All the time we’ve been together, I thought… I really thought you knew. Marcus was close now. Oz furrowed his brows, not understanding.

Suddenly Marcus leaned forward, planted a kiss on Oz’s lips. He got yanked back hard. With a snort, the man handling him, dragged him out of the apartment. Oz glared after them in shock.

“That’s that. Where’s your stuff?” The man in command asked. Oz swallowed and looked at the man’s hard face, he noticed a long scar on his cheek.

Are you military? The man sighed and went looking for the bags. He found them right away in the bedroom.

“You got your papers, doc?” He shouldered one, and held the second out for Oz to take. He looked him up and down as he failed to take it. He shrugged and started downstairs. “Send in a cleaning crew.” He said.

Yes, sir! A male voice answered from nowhere.

Oz stood in his doorway wondering what to do next. Looking back at his apartment, with the busted door, he wouldn’t be able to sleep in it. Besides, a cleaning crew was on its way, whatever that meant. He followed the men downstairs. Behind him he heard steps. Several somebodies moved.

Outside a black SUV waited with its tinted windows. The wet concrete reflected the adds on the other side of the street. It drizzled. Oz hugged himself, his tee was damp and cold. As he approached, another car pulled slowly up. The man, who had his bags, pointed to it. “That’s yours. We take this one, with Mr Sampson.”

Marcus? Oz asked. The man nodded. What is going to happen to him? The man just smiled mildly. He’s my best friend.

“You should choose your friends more wisely. Try to pick those, who aren’t trying to kill you.” The man winked at him, got into the car, and they sped off, into the night.

The car meant for him halted, and the door opened. Inside, a young woman smiled at him brightly. Dr. Wellington! So nice to meet you in person. Please get in.

Oz looked around, the street was deserted, his apartment building had some lit windows. Th sky above him wept gently. No one was looking out for him. He searched for his windows, and found them smashed.

Nothing there for you anymore… The woman sighed. Get in. It’s cold.

But! Those weren’t broken before. Oz got in obediently, and buckled up. He shivered violently. The woman started the engine and merged into the occasional traffic.

That’s because you died in there. The road she took led to downtown. I-what?

Everyone looks back one final time. It’s normal. She extended her right holding a flask. Here, have some. Whisky.

Died? Oz reached out, smelled and took a gulp. The liquid tasted like extinguished fire and smoke. It burned down his throat, and he couldn’t suppress a cough. It still hurt- I…died?

-Yeah, you really scared me back there. This friend of yours, did he ever… You know? The woman tried. She glanced at him and made a sympathetic noise.

Oz wondered. Why wasn’t Izanami activating? He swallowed audibly. The whisky warmed his guts and he felt a bit better. A question dawned on him. How did these military guys know, he was in trouble? Was he bugged? Was his apartment bugged? How did they listen in? How … did you exactly know?

That’s a good question. She nodded. I’m not allowed to tell you. She said and pointed to the space between her eyes. Maybe you’ll figure out, by yourself. She winked at him too.

The winking was what made Oz lose it. He was sick of being winked at. What THE ACTUAL FUCK! HOW? WHY? IZANAMI WAKE UP!

No use, she got remotely disabled. Bound and gagged. So she wouldn’t call the police. They would have arrived too late, anyway. Luckily a bunch of smart and able guys were in your vicinity. All five, really cute too.

Five?! Oz remembered hearing steps, and a disembodied voice. I only saw… He trailed off, thinking.

Maybe they used the same trick Izanami used. But instead of inserting, the masked themselves, or deleted themselves from his visual data… Before entering visual cortex… Fucking interceptors…

Oh, Dr Wellington. They told me you’re smart. Say, what are you doing tomorrow? Got time for coffee with me?

foxtrot uniform charlie kilo

F***. I’ll miss you. Oz mumbled around his mouthful of Al-Capone Pizza. He wiped the grease from his mouth with his sleeve. He toasted to the city with the rest of the slice in his hand. …Maybe.

He has been on the roof all evening, to watch his last sunset. He let Izanami record all his visual input. Every bit of visual and sensorial memory was important. He was going to be home-sick, he supposed. Everyone was, at least, that was, what they had told him.

Why so serious? Isn’t this what you wanted? Izanami whispered into his ear from his new Uplink implant. He still had to get used to the vision tracking commands, so he wouldn’t zoom in on a passing bottle fly, or falling pigeon poop. If he wanted, he could count the hairs on a mosquito leg, but who would want that?

The orange evening sky withered to an inky brown. In the upper right corner of his field of vision the spectral analysis went berserk. The readout faded, as he failed to focus upon them.

A heavy drone buzzed overhead. It looked like an oversized, robotic amazon-yellow bumblebee. The zoom kicked in. It had 2501 written on its dented body. It was one of those new hub-controlled drones. It hovered briefly over the rooftop of his apartment building, beeped twice, then flew off. Oz sneered. Delivery bumble bee. Data from his new prosthetic eyes pushed into his consciousness. Wind speed. Drone velocity. Hull type. IP-Address.

I booked you unto the 5:50 and the 8:20 flight. Izanami interrupted the flow of information. Also, Strix Genome United sent an urgent request. They need your specs. What should I answer?

Oz scrunched his face into a sceptic grimace. What for?

Dummy, a spaceship needs a life doctor. He swore, he could sense her rolling her virtual eyes. Your hibernation tank. Izanami sighed.

Alright, alright. Send what they need. Oz shrugged. Strix could become a real nuisance…

His contract with them was top secret. They had hired him right after his dishonorable dismissal from Newport Medical University. They took him in like a kicked dog… His experiments with hibernation had failed horribly. The Ethic Committee had made a point in banning him from being a doctor, for a lifetime.

He swallowed hard. He never imagined how it would hurt, to disappoint. The pain, the disgust in his fathers expression killed Oz. The young offspring of a rich family – all famous doctors – sucked at being brilliant, even sucked at being morally immaculate. He would never be able to work as a physician, not on Earth. He never seen his father so upset, not even after his mother died…

The saliva in his mouth turned to acid. It was cold. He wiggled his toes, but the flip-flops did nothing to warm his feet. It was still April, he had to remind himself.

But they offered the kicked dog a ridiculous amount of money… There had to be a catch, he just couldn’t find it. Yet. There had been nothing else to choose.

What if, Strix took everything back, when he vanished? It wasn’t that hard to get a death certificate without a body. What if, they tried to make him vanish after those five years? Wasn’t it probable, that they were behind his hearing, leaving him damaged goods? Possible. He had to be most careful. Izanami, observe all CCT footage around my flat.

Noooooo one hears youuuu scream in spaaaaaace. Izanami prompted with a spooky singsong. That’s because there is no air. He answered.

Behind his earlobe, his implant vibrated with an incoming call. It’s Marcus. Izanami chirped.

He shook his head and she let the call go through to voice mail. Oz hated to be summoned, even to his own „surprise” farewell-party. Whatever Marcus had in mind, it won’t happen. What a shame! Missed that one too. He breathed. It smelled of wet dirt. Rain was coming.

The crate under Oz creaked while he craned his neck after the drone trying to land a block away.

In the lower left corner of his visual field flashed a new message. He blinked twice to open it. Oh come on, you pussy! Pick up. Marcus.

Marcus was what came closest to a best friend. No can do, not even for you, Marcus. A gust of wind tore at his tee. He lit his last cigarette, and inhaled as deeply as he could. He stood and looked over downtown gleaming, not noticing his last night on Earth.

The streets were full with cars, police and ambulance sirens. The taillights and the streetlights seemed to merge to arteries of light, feeding the heart of the city. Oz filled his lungs with dark smoke and damp night air. One star winked at him, then vanished behind thick grey clouds. He was leaving the continent. He dragged in another lungful smoky doubt and shivered uncontrollably.

Time to tidy up, Izanami. The voice command activated a hidden task he programmed earlier, so Izanami would initiate a tiny program in her subroutines and neglect it right away. The blessings of reversed modeling logic worked on every AI, as well as on his personal one. The skin on his nape burned. The feeling of being watched was overwhelming. He flipped the cigarette butt over the edge of the building. He was leaving the planet.

The advance money from Strix sitting in his account went bye-bye. It arrived back, after a brief visit in Switzerland and Cayman Islands. The program moved and shuffled the little zeroes to the music of a quantum key encryption. Even when his account and all his data movements have been flagged, no one could link him to the bits and bites without the key. And the electrons of virtual money circled around him, and his alter ego. Mr Wong was going to be a wealthy, retired and a very happy man. Oz was leaving the inner solar system.

His feet carried him down the staircase, to his apartment. 42. It  was nearly empty, his bags were packed. Izanami hummed softly Babylon Feeling to him. My heart is broke, my will is gone. The lyrics pounced on him, like a lion on a gnu. He felt a heavy thump in his chest, somewhere deep down, where he kept his feverish nightmares.

Everything he possessed was stored away in cardboard boxes. The storage space was paid for five years in advance. It was a long time. Just forget about me… Oz hummed to himself.

On the kitchen counter was a half finished letter. He glanced at it. His nails dug into the flesh of his palms, his clenched fists wanted to crush something.

It was a suicide note to his father.

To leave his old life behind, he needed to die – metaphorically, of course. He had pointed this out to Izanami, as she tried to call the suicide hotline for him. It seemed theatrical, even pathetic. The Strix people were explicit about this part. No one was allowed to know where he went, and for how long. The best would be, he wrote suicide notes to everyone he loved, and just vanish from their lives. His profiling psychologist predicted this, to be his most credible reaction to failure. A knee-jerk reaction, attempting suicide, even if pretended.

Oz thought of the experimental gear he was going to get to work with. He thought of the money, the carefree life he was going to have. What am I getting myself into?

I don’t know, boss. Izanami sighed.

 

-part 2: Interceptor

Fenrir

„Fenrir, jam all outgoing signals and patch that in.” The message started with the familiar Strix United jingle and the main screen on the bridge went blue. „No! Kill the video feed, show me the transcript!” Captain Rains’ orders overwrote the AI’s standard routines, and it did as it was told. The message projected unto the analysis screen. It started scrolling down as he read it. „Ha!” He slapped the console in a fit of joy. „Got you, Wong.” The AI encrypted the message again and took it from the screen. The captain leaned back in his seat and was very much pleased with what was coming. He closed his eyes and started thinking of all the gruesome details of his revenge. A smile slowly sprawled over his face, like the legs of a bird spider.

„Fenrir, start recording the signals broadcasted on the designated frequencies. Bounce Paine out of his bunk, and make me coffee.” Rains yawned and ruffled his blonde hair. He started thinking that he’d never get the chance to redeem himself. “Revoke all level B 20 permissions for Brack’s ID. Remove his login-history and cancel his pending requests. I won’t have him butting in.”

„Yes, sir,” the AI answered in a flat tone. The coffee machine came to life snorting and gargling like a choking man.

Minutes later a tall shadow, Lieutenant Paine, appeared in the doorway bubbling drunken zombie words. „Sowhyamupnwhuusresponsble.” Rains pointed to the brewing machine. „Thankgd,” he shuffled towards the coffee, arms stretched out to welcome the dark burnt scent.

„I’m bored.” Rains said, as if to himself. Paine turned around eyeballing his captain. „Aren’t you sick of being stuck out here, freezing your dick off? Wanna go for a hunt instead?” That got his attention, he forgot his curled fingers in front of the full coffee can.

„Where’s the hook?” Paine swallowed, they were Sleipnir’s emergency backup, but he was definitely interested. The captain behaved quite unusual, for the first time in six months, he seemed genuinely happy about something. Never a good sign. He inched his way towards the captain’s seat. Being forced to tail Sleipnir for half a year has been agonizingly boring, he admitted. For the captain it must have been hell, shadowing and monitoring the man who destroyed his life. This was going to be fun.

„No hooks,” Rains smirked,„and no survivors…”

Only hours later, just before virtual sunrise on Fenrir, a distress signal reached the ship, triggering the alarm.

„This is Sleipnir. Fenrir, do you copy? This is an emergency!” The male voice came in over all frequencies. Rains punched a button and the alarm died.

*

It was dark and cold on the damaged Sleipnir. The AI on the ship scanned the nearest area, tracing every course it would be able to take. It did its best to power the life supporting systems. Both of its humans were safe for now. It calculated the possible surviving ratios and decided not to show the results to its captain. „They are receiving the message,” it said instead.

Captain Wong bowed his head, buried his face in his palms. This was the worst possible thing to happen.

„Doctor Wellington’s vitals are stable. No signs of internal hemorrhage.” The AI scanned for the other AI in the vicinity. It sat on the northern hemisphere of Vesta, waiting for orders. It would take two hours to get to its current location.

Wong coughed slightly, with the smoke filtering through the ventilation. At least none of them was dying. Yet. „C’mon!” He waited.”Mayday! We had a critical accident!” No answer. Where was the cavalry? Wong’s stomach froze to a hard icy ball. “We need emergency evac! ASAP!” He looked at the unconscious doctor. He hit his head pretty hard. “Our oxygen will last for three hours. Fenrir! DO YOU COPY?” The com remained silent. The instruments showed, that the transmission has been received. “FENRIR! Dammit!”

*

Captain Rains sat alone in the dawn of the bridge, feet on the com console. He grinned and folded his fingers. „What will you do now, Wong?” He chuckled softly. Behind him, a door slid open and closed. He felt someone, most likely Paine, move through the darkness. That was a man to his taste, a bad soldier but a good mercenary. Rains harrumphed and manned the mic.

„Fenrir here. That’s a no-can-do. Make yourselves comfy, cause that’s where you’re gonna stay.” Fenrir’s AI showed a simulation of Sleipnir’s position on the main screen. „We meet again, Wong.”

A gasp filled the air and the aether. „Rains? Is that YOU?!”

“Captain!” Brack shouted from wherever he was running towards the bridge. “Captain! Emergency!” His thumping feet nearly reached the doors. “Captain!” With a whoomph he seemed to collide with it. Rains rolled his eyes and sighed. The door skid open and a big hunched over shadow panted in the doorway.

„This is a distress signal. DAMMIT! MOVE YOUR ASSES OVER HERE!” Wong screamed.

„What did I tell you about second encounters?” Rains asked casually into the mic. Over his left shoulder Paine’s hand held out a cup of steaming coffee.

„Donno, I wasn’t listening. I was busy humping your mom!” Wong barked. The low growl in his voice couldn’t hide his despair.

„This is payback.” Rains shook his head. He took the cup and was surprised it was one of Paine’s.

„Captain, why are we ignoring emergency calls?” Brack breathed horrified.

„Stop pissing.” Rains stared into Brack’s confused face. Scans showed the vital damage to Sleipnir. Paine poked a finger at the analysis screen. „That’s their problem!“

almost friends (1)

about friends (2)

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 Niishima’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, Niishima 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.

Niishima was moving, and I watched him starting 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. Stressed out, huh.

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 Niishima’s behalf. Rizzo was doing the job for over twenty years, and he was lonely. The booze must’ve killed enough of his neurons that he’d try to hit on Niishima. On a ship like this, there wasn’t much else to do than drinking, and facing the one eyed snake, anyway. And Niishima 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 would never dare to pick a fight with me. I’d break him in half instantly.

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

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

„Ian, don’t say that.” Did I hit a nerve? „Did Jefferson set you up? He did, didn’t he?” His black eyes glistened, cheeks boiled. Blushing, huh?

„Rico?” I shook my head. „What do you mean with set up?”

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

„Well yes. We already worked for five years together on the mining ship Gorgo Beta. He saved my life.” I patted my prosthetic left leg. „I was sent out to repair one of the giant waldos, and Rico was my partner instructing me. Somehow I got my security line tangled up in the hydraulics, and when the gear slammed back into motion, and the gripper went online, it caught it. I got yanked into the grinder mechanism.” I tapped my left prosthetic arm and eye.

„It tore my arm from its socket, ripped my leg straight off.” Niishima’s eyes lock on mine.

„So Rico’s your best friend.” It sounded flat, as if he was stating it for himself. He looked at me and smiled. It was the most sorrowful smile 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 Niishima stood up.

„We’ll talk later, Ian.” He said and resumed his exercises.

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

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.

Neptune_storms

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.

Alec, the (war)time-tours guide

A Chuck Wendig prompt - create a character(283 words *IknowIknow*)

Ah, is this gonna be one of those interviews? I’ll have none of that. Thanks.

Of course I know what you wanna ask!

‘Sex, age, job, full name and shoe size? Pimples on my ass?’

Well? I’m a time traveller. Obviously.

Don’t stutter. Ugh … Please, could you stop wasting my time? You know what? Shut up! I’ll talk. I tell you something people never ask.

I travel through time. And it’s horrible.

I can’t shake off the wooziness. I’m nauseous nearly all day. Can’t eat or drink too much, cause I throw up.

I have to eat a lot of sweets, so my brain doesn’t crash after a jump.

My hands shake whenever I get stressed, and I’m stiff in the morning. And not the good kind of stiff. My cold joints hurt, my back aches and it stops when I’m moving. So I have to move. Constantly. I have to run, jog so I can walk properly.

Nightmares are my routine. 

How’d you feel, if you’d forget your daughter’s first steps, or her birth? Yes, I’ve been there. Seen her, laughed with her, hugged her, nuzzled with her and sucked in her sweet scent…

Tell me, would you trade those memories?

For money?

For some egomaniacs, who plays war-safari and kill, without risks? Cause they’ve got privilege, ‘n enough money to buy themselves the right to kill people.

I want to throw up, every time I see one of those sleek suits.

The doctors call it temporal multi-sensorial memory runaway. A special kind of retrograde amnesia.

But you’ve heard of time traveller’s disease, haven’t you?

There you go. Now do something with that!