Two articles on the blog in a week. I’m getting very adventurous, aren’t I? I originally called this story ‘Ascension’ but the Syfy series stole the name so for now I’m going with the most generic title I can think of because, let’s face it, who hasn’t written a young adult dystopian future trilogy at this point?
I look into his face and see the fear there; the fear for his future and his fear of me. His fate lies in my hands and looking to his jailor, I see he fears me as well. He has a pistol strapped to his waist, though I doubt he’s ever used it to shoot anything other than a can on a fence. Compared to him I’m a tank, armed and armoured like I’m some sort of knight. He’s taller than me yet he seems to think I tower over him. That works for me.
The air is humid, as it always is on Eden which was named long ago using the same sense of irony which had spurred the Vikings to call Old Earth’s largest island Greenland when it was buried under ice. Of course, back then, there had been ice on that barren rock. My armour has environmental controls but I’m sweating just as much as the prisoner and the guard. “How much?” I demand abruptly. My voice has been altered until it’s hollow, devoid of life, and utterly unrecognisable.
“Fif… fifty credits,” a single, solitary bead of sweat runs down his forehead to the tip of his nose before splattering on the ground.
“His brother’s promised me seventy five,” I lie; for getting his brother out of jail, Garret had offered forty but there was no way the jailor could know that.
“I can give you a hundred, it’s all I have, please,” he almost begs, “I have kids to feed.”
So do I, “all right, but he,” I say, jabbing my finger at the prisoner, a drunkard named Carl who had fallen in with the wrong people, “had better be handed over to Kgill before his brother gets here.”
Garrett would never come, not into Kgill’s territory, but there was no way the lawman could know that either.
“The boss’s men are on their way, got the call just before you showed up. They’d kill me, if you’d taken him.”
“If you don’t give me my credits I’ll kill you.”
“Don’t…” Carl begged, as if only words he’s heard are only now sinking in, “don’t.”
The jailor taps his wrist, activating the computer which has been integrated into his skin, flesh, and bone. He’s more cyborg than human but his emotions are very real, he fears me, but he enjoys his power over his prisoner a little too much at the same time. I tilt my head aside as Carl sinks to the ground screaming as electricity ransacks his body, the bolts emanating from his cuffs. That kind of technology would never be used by the law on the Core Worlds, but Eden is at the very edge of human space and the law makes up the rules as they go along, just like everyone else.
Out here, we either choose to live by a set of morals or we don’t and no one’s going to tell you whether something’s right or wrong.
Carl’s screams tear at me but I say nothing, do nothing. He’s just nineteen, maybe his brother can help him turn his life around; it might not be too late. But my brother needs to eat and for that I need credits. As his whimpering dies, Carl backs away from the bars of his cell, a haunted look in his eyes. His dread is palpable now that the last trace of alcohol has left his body and he’s sober for the first time in far too long. Sober at the worst possible time. Now he’s screaming inside, and I might have saved him. I might still be able to, but I won’t.
Maybe I’m just as much a monster as Kgill.
“There, the credits are in your account. Just tell Garrett he was gone by the time you got here.”
“Yeah, I’ll tell him,” I flip out my infopad, no one was putting chips into my brain, and sure enough, there’s one hundred extra credits waiting for me.
“I’d say it’s been a pleasure but, well, it hasn’t,” and with that I walk out, just as two of Kgill’s men enter the station. I do my best not to tremble. One, a short, blocky man with a flattened nose stares at me for a moment before I pass outside and he loses interest.
Maybe I imagine it, but as I put my foot down on the ignition of my speeder, I think I hear Carl scream again and this one seems terribly final. The rocky outcrop with the law station falls far behind me as I race across the terrain. The whole planet is as broken and arid as the vids of Old Earth I’d seen as a kid whenever my parents had been able to rustle up enough for me to go to school.
People still live on Old Earth, people still live on Eden.
Locke’s Town appears as a blimp in the distance on my speeder’s nav system long before I see it with my own eyes. Calling this squalid collection of huts a town is Eden’s greatest embellishment, but what government there is, what civilisation can be found on this whole planet, lies in single street town and that’s where Garrett is.
I stop my speeder for a moment and got off, removing my helmet as I stand. A wave of heat slams into my face like I’ve stepped into the furnaces of the underworld but it’s good to take in the fresh air sometimes. My breathing slows; Garrett used to be a gang member, he actually ran with Kgill’s crew before he wised up and got out, not many did.
Now Garret has mellowed and set up shop selling things which would be illegal in the Core but not out here, hell the law shop at Garrett’s bar when they’re stressed out or just for the fun of it. He’s a good guy, one of the few on Eden, and I’ve practically sold his brother into a life of crime or worse. Something tells me Carl won’t share the same luck as his brother.
The heat is too much even though I’ve only been exposed to it for seconds. Clamping my helmet back on I feel relief as cool air churns around my head once again. I take a deep breath and sit back on the speeder again. Pressing my foot down on the accelerator, I race towards Locke’s Town as though all of Kgill’s men are bearing down on me.
Most of the buildings are converted containers from the colony ships used when the first fools had come here looking for mining rights. The sensors had been off though, and the precious ores the first colonists found were hardly worth the cost of extraction. Those who could left and never looked back, but not everyone was able to, my parents had died on Eden. I’m not going to die on Eden.
I park beside the planet’s only bar, Garrett’s Bar, and walk in, it’s dark inside but then, it always is. No one really minds the gloom, it makes it easier somehow to drown your sorrows in drink or drugs when you can barely see what you’re doing. A song is playing by an Old Earth band, it has something to rain and November. Sometimes I think Garrett only owns five tracks.
He’s standing behind the counter but he doesn’t know me, not in my armour. I’m just another bounty hunter Thank the ancestors. “Carl was gone,” I announce hurriedly to get it over with, “Kgill got him before I could.”
Garrett looks up, glares at me for a moment, letting my words sink in. There’s a dead quiet in the bar, even the music’s stopped. “And you didn’t go after him?”
“You hired me to track down your brother, not to take on a kylorian,” Kgill’s species is nasty, brutish, and powerful. Out here he’s the only one, but there’s no way I’m going to take on his band of mercenaries and murderers, not alone and not for a measly forty credits.
“Hmm… fine,” there’s the briefest glimpse of his demeanour crumbling but Garrett’s tough and no one sees it but me. “You did your job, I suppose. The credits are yours.”
Inside I’m secretly screaming, one hundred and forty credits for a single day’s work! I simply nod, mutter “thanks,” and walk out, the music starts again. It’s done, I tell myself that even if it hadn’t been for the jailor’s deal I’d have probably handed Carl over when Kgill’s men showed up, I doubt I would have made it out with him in time. That doesn’t make me feel any better.
Leaving town I head east for about ten kilometres before circling around and heading west, to my parents’ house, I still haven’t accepted that it’s mine now. It’s unlikely anyone would follow me out to the wilderness but I always take the long way in and out of Locke just in case.
Everyone thinks my parents and others like them are mad for building outside town. There is more protection there, true, but the valley I call home offers shelter from the sun, has its own water supply, and the native beasts stay away. For the most part. In town something could happen to Aaron while I was gone, and I feel safer leaving him at home alone with nothing but his old holoscanner for company than in the care of the people in town. Garrett is actually one of the few people I would trust him with, dammit.
My speeder turns into the valley and I slow down, taking a second to admire it again. There is beauty on Eden, in the light of sun hitting the orange rocks and in the clear blue sky. I hate it, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love it too. The garage door winds down behind me when I get home and I unbuckle my armour, dusting it off and storing it like a solider. It’s a ritual father taught me and though my equipment’s old, it’s still as functional as it was the day he won it, or so he’d always claimed, in a bar on some distant planet.
There’s no sound in the house, Aaron’s probably on his holoscanner even though there aren’t many games or vids on it. I give him some spare credits when I can, and he seems to enjoy what he buys. I think the games are too old for him, maybe the vids too, but then I’d never had time for that kind of thing when I was nine. I’d always preferred father’s stories in any case, and I have no idea now what’s right for his age.
I’m a terrible mom.
But as I walk to the kitchen I catch the smell of food. He’s good with his hands and sometimes he makes my meals for me. I fight back a bitter laugh, I’m supposed to be the one looking after him.
We both smile when we see each other, it’s cheesy I know, but I can’t help it. He’s too cute when he smiles, you’ll be quite the lady killer one day. “The market was good today,” I say, which isn’t entirely untrue, I’d been paid well and I can rarely bring myself to lie outright to him. I lie to myself all the time.
He doesn’t answer me of course. He hasn’t spoken a word since the accident that had cost him the ability to walk and killed our parents. We eat and I tell him some of the things I’d seen on my speeder or at the stalls, I always make sure to visit the bazaar just to have something to tell him when I come home. He thinks I sell plants from the hydroponics’ farm we have out back, but we don’t grow enough to make much money from that and we never will.
I have to get us off this planet.