Bloodshot

By Emma Geraghty

Galactic Coordinates: 23-04-06-01

“Please enter identification number.”

The voice from the security system is posh and tinny. Instantly annoying. I take off my glove and type in the six digits, the numbers sliding unconsciously from my brain to fingers already numbing in the bitter night. The red light blinks. I hold my breath.

“Confirmed. Please enter.”

I push the door open. The apartment is silent and I want to keep it that way. I make my way along the hallway and into the lounge, everything bathed in a fiery glow from the sunrise outside. The curtains are open and for a moment I think maybe I’m too late. Maybe she’s up already. And if that’s true, then I am well and truly in the shit. But I can’t hear anything. Just the sound of my own breath. Even the sounds of the street don’t make it this high up. It’s unsettling. I’ve always hated silence. It’s easier to hide in noise.

The third door along is the bedroom, and that’s where I need to be. I place a hand on the handle and push it down, the click seeming to bounce off the walls. This room is in darkness. I take a moment to let my eyes adjust, let the silhouettes of furniture emerge from the dark, let my brain remember. The desk. On the other side of the room. That’s where the box is, in the first drawer. I look towards the bed and see her figure beneath the bedsheets, blonde hair turned black in the lack of light. I move quickly to the desk. This might just work – in and out, no trace. Like I’d never been here.

And that’s when the alarm goes off.

“…bringing you the best sounds at six am, this is Blokk Radio, with you all through the day…”

The lights flick on and the curtains begin to open, all of this pre-programmed bullshit ruining a perfectly good plan in an instant.

“What the hell?” She’s awake.

I turn to face her, smiling in what I hope is an apologetic way. “Hey babe.”

“Hey? Is that it? You know, when I said you could stay at mine, I meant during the night. Not rolling in at the crack of dawn with a hey babe.

Her tone is angry, but she’s never been able to stay mad at me for long. So I shrug off my jacket, throwing it over the back of the chair, and sit on the bed. Look at her. Smile genuinely this time. Her eyes are sharp but lined with sleep, hair all over the place, and the rush of feeling takes me by surprise like it always does. Allory Hacida, stealing the breath from my lungs at the most unexpected moments.

“Have you been out all night?”

“Got stuck with work.” I shrug. Images from the night chase themselves through my brain but I shake them free. I lean in to kiss her. She pulls back, wrinkling her nose.

“No way. Nothing for you till you get in the shower.”

“Is that an invitation?”

I lie back on the bed, making sure my boots aren’t touching the white sheets. She laughs.

“Someone’s come back horny,” she smiles at me, and I can’t keep the grin off my face. She gets out of bed. “It can be an invitation if you want. Saves on water.”

My mind drifts briefly to the thought of a shower, to the hot water pricking my skin, then to sleep, to letting my eyelids close, letting myself dream. I shake my head to clear it and sit up. “No time. I’m due at the station in half an hour.”

She shakes her head, annoyance flashing across her face. “You need some sleep.”

“Not more than I need a job.” I go back to the desk and get a small box from the top drawer. My original target. Inside are a few dozen tiny red pills, each marked with the letter K, and I take two without water. I ignore the small sound of distaste that Allory makes. Klaxxon pills were taken off the general market about a year ago when people realised they destroyed their nanomedics, but as Al’s told me time and time again I evidently don’t care about my health. And I get them for free. I can feel the charge as the pills work their medical magic, and within ten seconds I am wide awake. My ears are ringing and I suddenly have a banging headache, but that’s all normal and I swallow a couple of painkillers as a chaser. Sorted.

I hear the sound of the shower and resist the urge to follow her in. She’ll be genuinely pissed off at me now. As long as I don’t take them in front of her she doesn’t seem to care, but she also insists that I keep them here. So she can keep an eye on me. I have another bag back at my place, but that’s besides the point. What she doesn’t know can’t irritate her. But it is sweet of her, I guess, to care so much-

Focus. Stop thinking about it. She won’t last.

My clothes stink. I remove my holster, strip, and throw the clothes into the laundry unit, the mechanisms firing up instantly. I stand in front of the mirror to assess the damage from the night. Just a couple of bruises. Huge one across the ribs on my left – glancing kick from a security boot. On the curve of my right shoulder – breaking into a shitty apartment. Nothing too serious, and I’m always grateful when they go for places I can cover up. A couple of jobs ago I came back with a face like a Rorschach test. Not pretty.

I splash my miraculously unbruised face with cold water and get some of my clothes out of Allory’s wardrobe. I hear the shower stop. She comes back into the bedroom as I’m struggling to fasten my bra behind my back, a blue towel wrapped around her. Her hair drips over her shoulders.

“I don’t know why you don’t just twist it round,” she says, smacking my hands away and doing it for me.

“Thanks.” I grab my t-shirt from the bed. “I feel like I should be able to manage my own underwear by now, y’know?”

I know she’s looking at my bruises and I know exactly what she’s thinking, but I brush past it. I pull the t-shirt over my head. One of the ones from San Ya’s black market – it’s not exactly illegal, but stuff salvaged from Ea1 is always frowned upon.

“A woman’s place is in the resistance,” Allory reads. “Who’s the picture?”

“The princess. From the film we watched last week.”

“The one set in space? With the light-up swords? I don’t know why you like that stuff, it’s so unrealistic.”

“Unrealistic? We live in space, honey-”

“Yeah, and it’s nothing like that film.”

“It’s a masterpiece. End of.” I drag a brush through my hair and pull it into a ponytail. “Anyway, gotta dash.”

Allory looks pointedly at my gun and holster, still on the bed. I put it on, grab my jacket and gloves, and go to head to the front door.

“Morven.” Allory’s got her hands on her hips. “You’re forgetting something.”

“I am?” She raises her eyebrows and I falter. “Oh. Yeah.”

It’s a good kiss, if a bit rushed. I’d stay here for the whole day if I could. The whole week. She’s smiling when I pull away, her face just inches from mine. “That’s not what I meant.”

“Oh?”

“Tonight?” I wrack my brain. There’s nothing filed under Allory, nothing under Tonight… The smile disappears from her face. “Tonight. The meal. At Arcadia.”

Shit.

“I’ll be there. It just slipped my mind.”

“Table’s booked at eight. Dress nicely. No denim.”

Shit.

“Do you need a ride?”

“No, I’ll meet you there after work.” She bites her lip slightly and it instantly worries me. “There’s something else… Don’t go mad.”

“Okaaaaay…”

“I didn’t tell you before because I knew you’d panic, but I promise you’ll be fine. My parents are joining us for dinner. I think it’s about time you met them.”

Shit.

————————————-

So I’m outside and it’s really fucking cold and my brain is in utter panic. Meet the parents? Christ. Not a chance. No. Fucking. Way. I press my thumb to the scanner, swing a leg over my ride and give it a kick, a couple of passersby jumping at the roar of the engine. It quickly settles into a low growl. I angle upwards. There’s already vehicles buzzing about, zipping this way and that, heading to work or home or to meet their girlfriend’s parents or whatever. I wait for an opening and flick through some music. The little player was another relic from Ea1. You can get these implant things now, but there’s a procedure and doctors and to be honest, I like that I’m in control of my own body now. And if I’m wearing headphones, people generally know not to talk to me.

The ride to the WeGard-U station only takes ten minutes and I have at least six near death experiences. I’m sure cities in the Inner Planets have traffic systems or something, but out here we just wing it. Much like everything else. This whole city is a death trap. Blokk lives up to its name – it was originally an import station for the other outlying planets, and when the money ran out there were just lots of storage containers and old buildings. And then humans invaded, as we always do. So the containers got stacked on top of each other and got made into apartments, which is where everyone lives. The centre is a little better – think Ea1 cowboy movies with more lasers and chrome – but in the suburbs it’s a mess. Allory’s apartment is pretty nice, but it’s expensive. My place is… best not mentioned. I power down outside the station just as the final screams of electric guitar die in my headphones. I remove my helmet, check my reflection in the wing mirror, and head into the building, starting up a fresh track. I may look like a woman but I / cut like a buffalo…

“Morning, Morven.”

I tip a salute to the Gard at reception. “Morning Xende. Coffee machine working?”

“No.”

“Excellent.” Today is hell.

I’ve just completed the retina scan – recent freak-out with clones, don’t ask – when Gard Probis appears. He’s well educated, conventionally attractive, and a complete bellend, so naturally I figured he would feature in my day.

“What are you doing here, Glass?”

I shrug, leaning nonchalantly against the reception. “Nothing much. Chilling out. Maxing. Relaxing all cool.”

He narrows his eyes, recognition flitting briefly across his face. He definitely knows I’m taking the piss.

“It’s half six in the morning, Probis. Just doing my job.”

“Of course,” he sneers, looking me up and down. “Every inch the professional.”

I’m just about to snap back a killer one-liner when my file arrives. Xende clears her throat. She’s holding a small three-tipped needle. “You want it direct?”

“Nah, transfer.” I suppress a shudder. She turns to her screen and within seconds is handing me a micro-card the size of a fingernail. Probis raises his eyebrows.

“Memory card? You need to catch up with your tech, Glass.”

I roll my eyes, pocketing the card. “Why are you still here?”

His indignant response is drowned out by drums and electric guitars as I unpause my player and head back to my ride. I occasionally enjoy irritating him, if I have the time, but not today. I put on the helmet and slide the micro-card into the side of it. Images flash across the visor. A name. A face. A location. Warning. Dangerous fugitive. Proceed with caution.

That’s more like it.

I take the rest of the morning relatively easy. Grab a coffee, some breakfast, another coffee, buy some new cigarettes. I spend quite a while sat outside what passes for a cafe, smoking and scrolling through data files on my laptop. Yes, I still have one of those. It looks like it’s survived several nuclear blasts – which, to be fair, it might well have done – but it works like a dream and I don’t feel like I could break it if I tried. I’m researching my target. Well, refreshing my memory, really. I’ve gone after this guy before. A good fifteen years ago. And he got away. Dabrial Birch. I’ve not got a vendetta or anything. In fact, it’s quite nice to have a familiar face pop up now and again, like checking up on an old friend who you’ve tried to kill several times and finding out they’re still well and still fucking their life up. And all I have to do is find him and bring him in. Dead or alive.

His last known location is Triisk, about three hours out of the city, so that’s where I head. I’m not worried about him skipping out on me. Triisk is home to the biggest network of gambling dens in the outer planets, with a minimum stay of three days and no maximum limit. The place is a void. You get thrown out when you run out of money – trust me on that one – but thanks to the vast amount of illegal trading he’s done, Birch is loaded. And he checked in thirty hours ago, so unless something has gone horrendously wrong then he’s still in there.

The bouncer is huge. I think he’s a Rhino, which means he’s small on brains and big on everything else. His voice sounds like he’s chewing rocks. I pay the minimum fee and slide past him into the Complex, stopping just inside the door to get my bearings. There isn’t much light, most of it coming from the smart screens that run the games, and the sound of the players is masked by a throbbing bass that hits just below the ribcage. I can feel my pulse slowing in time to it, feel my alertness fading away… I bite my tongue to sharpen my brain. Birch is a tricky sonofabitch and I’ll need every scrap of energy to get him. I shake my head quickly. Bloody hell. My brain- hang on. There’s a woman stood, and I’m guessing by her outfit of a very skimpy bra and knickers that she works for the Complex. The silver platter she’s holding has lots of little red pills on it. Jackpot. I take two of them, murmuring my thanks and feel my heartbeat kick up to double time. Whoa there. If only Allory could see me now, I grin to myself. I feel fantastic.

I start scanning the games for my man, hands in pockets, slightly hunched posture. Making myself inconspicuous as possible. I slink from game to game, hoping that I see him before I have to get involved in one of them. The management get annoyed if you just hang around without playing. I gravitate naturally towards the bar, and just as I’m about to order a drink, I see him. And he sees me. We lock eyes over the bartender’s shoulder, and for a moment, everything is still. I raise my hand and wave at him, smiling. He looks confused. And then he runs.

Here we go.

And I’m chasing him through the Complex, through the middle of games, knocking cards and chips everywhere, people are shouting at us, swearing and shaking fists. Birch turns down an aisle of old slot machines, and with great effort pulls one of them over to block my path, but I notice it in time and I’m jumping over it, keeping my breathing even, adrenaline coursing through my body and at the same time hoping for a dead end so I can take the bastard down. It doesn’t take long. A locked fire escape. He turns, back to the wall. I stop a couple of feet away from him. Both of us getting our breath back.

“Birch.”

“Of all the gambling dens in all of the galaxy, Glass-”

“I had to chase you through this one.” I smile. I like this guy. Shame he’s a criminal, really. “Fancy a ride? I can drop you anywhere, so long as it’s the Gard station.”

He shakes his head, still smiling. “Not a chance. I like my freedom.”

There’s a bit of a crowd now, including a couple of Rhino bouncers. It looks like they’re going to let us finish this ourselves – nobody’s getting involved, but everyone is blocking our way out. I see Birch is crouching slightly. His shoulders are tense, arms raised a little. I allow a note of amusement into my voice. “Are you going to fight me, Dabrial?”

“Looks like it, sweetheart.”

“Excellent. Just be a gent and don’t go for the face. I have a date tonight.”

“I’ll try my best.”

He launches himself at me and I dodge to the side, grabbing his shoulders and driving a knee up into his stomach. He doubles over, winded. I give him a bit of room, dancing back, light on my toes, bouncing from foot to foot. Call me a philistine, but I love a good fight. The crowd are louder now, cheering and jeering, not rooting for anyone in particular. Birch is up again. I throw a punch at his face, but he feints to the right and lands a hit, I can feel his knuckles crunch against my already bruised ribs. I swear and retaliate, pushing him forward and smacking his head off the wall, following quickly with a kick to the back of the legs and driving him to the floor. A cheer from my fans. I straddle his back and unhook the cuffs from my belt.

“Honey, I am bringing you in.” The cuffs tighten automatically and I haul him to his feet. He doesn’t look happy. There’s already a bruise starting on his forehead. “Thanks for that though. I think I needed to get something out of my system.”

He doesn’t say anything. I steer him towards the door, and after a brief negotiation with the Rhinos and more than a few VCoins changing hands, and secure him on my ride. I unfasten his cuffs. “Don’t try and escape or anything, because I will just shoot you this time.”

Birch’s laugh is hollow. I’m just about to get on when my phone goes. I check the screen. Allory.

“Hey babe,” I gesture to Birch one minute. He rolls his eyes.

“Is this a bad time?”

“Kind of. I’m in the-”

“So, tonight. Just want to make sure you’re remembering everything.”

“Eight o’clock. Arcadia. No denim.”

“Get there at ten to.”

“Right.”

“And-”

“Al, I have literally just caught a criminal. Can I call you in a bit?”

She sounds a little irritated, but we say our goodbyes and I put the phone down. I take a deep breath. Massage my temples. Try to ignore the guilt that’s gnawing my insides.

“I was surprised to see you tonight. You haven’t changed. At all. Fifteen years, Glass.” Birch’s voice is low. I can tell he’s looking at me but I don’t want to meet his eye. “You’re one of the Lazarus kids, aren’t you? The experiments.”

I nod.

“So you don’t age?”

I shake my head.

“Does she know?”

I shake my head. It’s something I don’t want to have to think about. Something I constantly push to the back of my mind. I’m almost reaching the limit with Allory. We’ve been together for two years, and I think I’m as close to being in love as I will ever be. But in another year or so, I’ll have to break up with her. Because everyone I know gets older, apart from me. And I can’t undo what the scientists did, so my relationships don’t last. Nothing lasts. Every three years, I uproot everything.

I pinch the bridge of my nose and count to five. Let go. Let go. Birch is still looking at me with what looks like pity on his face. It jolts me. I throw the spare helmet to him. “Enough of this sentimental bullshit. Let’s get going.”

“If we must.” He fastens the helmet over his head, and I do the same. “I’ve never rode on of these before.”

“In that case, listen up. Relax. Enjoy the ride.” The engine roars to life. “Oh, and hold on tight. Or you might just die.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Galactic News: New Writers + Vol.3 + Submissions.

GALACTIC NEWS UPDATE FRESH TO YOUR COMM. MMM SMELL THAT NEWS.

Hey Space Explorers how you doing? Here’s all the latest news and updates coming soon to Galaxy.

New Writers

The Galaxy Team is expanding! In the next volume we will be welcoming three new writers to bring new places and designated species to life. The idea of Galaxy is to give writers at any stage in their writing life a chance to experiment and play with science-fiction so please welcome our brand new Space Cadets.

gez-picEmma Geraghty

 

Emma works as a writer/director with award-winning Manchester theatre company Powder Keg. She has been shortlisted for Write Now Live with Penguin Random House for The Matinee Dog (still writing it, no pressure, totally not panicking) focussing on gender and sexuality in industrial revolution Manchester.

bekcy-picBecky Kinge

Becky is a final year English Language and Creative Writing student at Lancaster University who enjoys drinking wine and writing silly stories about supernatural friendship. She’d currently like to go into publishing or the media, but mainly just wants enough money to provide for her future dog.

chad-picChad Bunney.

Chad Bunney is a 21 year old writer from West Yorkshire who is currently spending a few months in Belfast working away on the novel he hopes to get published one day. He is thrilled to have been asked to join Andrew Ainscough’s Galaxy project and hopes that as the project continues to grow he can add a star or two to Ainscough’s collection.

Vol.3

 

Just like that Volume 2 whizzed by. We’ve had time travel, sewer monsters and another ludicrous outing from Raincha and his purple friends. What next for the Galaxy? For a tantalising glimpse check out the titles of Volume 3 below:

BLOODSHOT by Emma Geraghty

SHIPWRECKED by Andy Ainscough

BROKEN BUTTONS AND SACRED SILENCES by Becky Kinge

CAPTAIN RAINCHA AND THE TOMB OF DREAMS by Andy Ainscough

OF MAYFLY MEN by Chad Bunney

STARLIGHT. CAMERA. ACTION! by Andy Ainscough.

Can’t wait for another wild ride!

Submissions

We’ve already got some brilliant writers but I want more! If you have an idea for a story – then get involved! The beauty of galaxy is that practically anything and everything can be a story – so if you have a burning idea I want to hear it. As with the other volumes there will be six stories, each with an accompanying soundtrack. So if you would like to get involved and write for Vol.3. please send the following to galaxyscifi1@gmail.com by 15th April 2017:

 

A title

 

A brief summation of your story, moment and/or theme

 

A suggestion of your soundtrack.

 

 

If you wish to reuse characters or are unsure about certain aspects of the galaxy please don’t hesitate to get in touch! If your story isn’t right for Vol.4 it may well be for Vol.5 (or beyond!).

 

That’s all for Galactic News. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions don’t hesitate to get in touch via the contact page!

Keep exploring,

 

Andy Ainscough

Galaxy Curator.

 

From the Realms of Glory

GALACTIC CO-ORDINATES: 19-25-06-01

 

SUGGESTED SOUNDTRACK: (See Spotify Link at End) A Christmas Cornucopia (Album), Annie Lennox.

 

 

 

I swing through the air and I love it. Here there are clouds and nothing else. Each one is another world for me to explore. I have wanted my full wings for a while and they are nearly there. When it is time to sleep, in the black clouds, I count my feathers. Some time ago there were a couple of sprouts and then a tuft and then two full round feathers. That was a good day. A few weeks after that I didn’t have to ride on my mother’s back any more.

Today is an exciting day. We start the journey to the star. Every year, as is expected, we do a full ring of the cloud rock. A full journey means a year. The last stretch is the route to the top north of the rock and above is the star. Our bright shining lord. I have made this journey as long as I remember but always clinging to my mother’s back. This time I get to do it on my own.

Up ahead is my mother, she is stirring from her sleep. Her face, round and pink, is just moving. She smiles and opens her wide eyes. He wings lull sleepily just keeping afloat. We have walked on the ground before and I have seen my mother do it many times, but we prefer not too, sleeping in the clouds is best. My mother smiles and embraces me, we are high up now and below is a valley with spirals of grey and white towers. She nods forward and flies smoothly. My mother is the best flier I’ve ever seen, she can twirl and backflip, and go lighting fast. I wish I could fly like her.

I’m looking across the cloud waiting for my family to wake up. Suddenly with pops across the white swirls they shoot upwards and shake off the night’s sleep. They are everywhere. One of my brothers swoops past; he is fully grown now and even has a bright white beard. He drops some food into my hand. Him and the others must have gone down to the surface for some supplies. It is fruit today, a round red thing. I know it’ll be good, the food changes across the surface as we travel but here on the star path it is always best. I bite into it and the red juice flows down my cheeks, it is sweet like the moment you break through into the sun.

There is a bellow – the call of the tribe mother. She is my great-grandmother, I learned the other week, but we all call her Tribe Mother. She has a huge set of wings, bigger than I’ve ever seen and can even move clouds with them so I’m told. She is kind but also scary. Everyone follows her path. As we always do we rise up into the sky above the cloud valley. All my brother and sisters are here. My cousins too and their parents. Hundreds of pairs of everything. Smooth legs and chests, feathered wings, soft eyes. The tribe mother is pointing in circles and swining her arms round. I know what this means, I think. We have to fly through the valley separately as not to disturb the formation too much. I don’t know quite what formation means, only that it is hard to say. I was taught this by my father long ago, he has gone down below gathering now forever. I miss him. Last year he was here on the star path.

It is important we make it to the star point to say thank you. It is there under the light that our people were born. They say once we walked on the ground but one day a child was born and on his back were tiny stumps. At first they thought he was strange, the ground dweller had smooth backs. But as he got bigger they saw the stumps grow into beautiful wings. As they saw him take off into the sky they found wings growing on their backs too and joined him in the sky forevermore. I love this story. The thought of walking all my life glued to the surface makes me shudder.

The tribe sings in response to the tribe mother’s bellow. I sing high and clear. At each age we are given a new note, a new voice to show our place and to show how we fit in. The singing fits together perfectly and echoes out across the sky. Suddenly there is movement everyway, water splatters across my face as my cousin swoops up past me, he turns quickly and laughs then shoots off again. I see the gatherers separate from a huddle as they fly through a hole. The tribe are separating into their passages. I know mine. I’m to go on the outside, through the thin wispy white. An easier route for me. I wanted to go through the middle but my mother wouldn’t let me. I see the valley beyond me. On the other side, just colouring the horizon is the deep clear. Out of the clouds we will come into nothing. Just a patch of open sky. Then it will be the new year.

I am feeling sick. I’ve never flown for so long before. I want to be on my mother’s back still, moving through the middle not out here on my own.

I take a deep breath and fly down over the clouds and turn left towards the edges of the valley. Things feel a little darker than before. The white is turning grey. I see my cousins turn right, some of them are young too and are taking the wisps at the other side. My mother is just heading down and looks at me. She nods and smiles and then disappears. I reach the edges of the cloud valley, beyond are clouds too thin to keep us afloat and after that another valley. My wings are already feeling tired, they’re not used to beating for so long. Now there is silence everywhere, I can’t hear the cries and laughter of my family just the wind. I am alone now.

This is why they make us go to the edge. I always wondered as I watched my brothers and sister go the edge of the cloud valley why they couldn’t come with us. But it is to make them fly alone and now it is time for me to fly alone. I set off smoothly through the thin edges. I thrust forwards and twirl. I want to see the sky above but all around is becoming greyer. I turn on to my back and soar. Fear grips me. It shouldn’t be happening not at this time of year but there it is. Crawling like a herd of surface beasts over the top of the valley is a storm. It is black and huge and crackling with lighting. Suddenly it is over me and raining fiercely. The drops are sending the wisps flying to the ground. I fly forward and sing outwards. The rumbles from above are deafening.

I stop and look around. There is no one there. The storm is moving thick and fast to the middle of the valley. The tribe must be right in the middle of it. There is a crack of lighting to my right. I leap away. Everywhere seems to charged with electricity. Another bolt strikes just by me. and then another one up ahead. Its like I’m in a cage I’m trapped. I fly lower and lower there’s nothing I can do. Eventually I dip below and see the brown rockiness of the surface. Up ahead is a battleground. I can’t see any of the tribe. Not one has dipped below.

I can’t go back up. I can’t go to the surface. This must have been me. I must have failed the path because I was scared. Because I doubted the path. Now we will never get to the star. Now a new year will never begin. It is my fault. I hover with my wings outstretched and wait in shame. If the boy with the first wings started our journey in the sky, I am the one who has ended it.

I hover for what feels forever but I eventually I hear the rumbles move off into the distance, the sky is lighter as usual but it is still so quiet. I look around. Far off there is no sign of anyone else. If I am the only one left then. I have to make it to the star no matter what.

The edges of the valley are clearer now but still feel scattered. It’s as if the map has been cut up into pieces. I wonder where the tribe mother is. I long to hear her deep, rumble voice. I fly upwards over the ridges and further into the valley. I don’t care about the rules I just want my family now. But there is no one around. Not a catch of laughter or a moment of song. Here the clouds are thicker in scoops and I flow over them. My wings are not tired any longer, they feel strong. I am becoming old now, much older and stronger than before. The deep blue on the horizon is getting closer. I must prepare for myself alone. If I am there though, if I make it then at least we still give thanks, at least the new year will begin.

I can see it up ahead the last wall of cloud out of the valley and into the clear at the star path’s end. I burst through into the clear blue. My eyes fill with light but my ears with something else. It is singing, singing in beautiful harmony. The low rumbles of the elders, the mellow middle notes of the mothers, the sweet highs of the young. As my eyes adjust there in the clear blue is my tribe, my family their wings outstretched and signing their song of thanks. I fly towards my mother and she embraces me.

‘I got lost,’ I sign. ‘I’m sorry…’

‘I know my child. You have brave the storm my dear not go under it, always brave the storm.’

 

 

 

There’s Something in the Sewer

GALACTIC CO-ORDINATES: 35-01-02-01

 

SUGGESTED SOUNDTRACK: See Spotify link at end.

 

(1)

 

Ea1 NewsComm:

 

Work is coming to a close on the latest in a string of terraforming in the 02. The Siren’s Belt stretch, officially know as 01-02 has been undergoing biological and architectural upgrading to provide accessible housing for the 01. This controversial project has recently come under fire from the So-Hal University for projecting human standards of biology and physics on an area that does not allow for it. In a statement made earlier this week, Empress and Senate Leader Tabitha Might, claimed ‘We are working in the 01-02 for all levels of galactic society, to provide a housing and living standards that work for all in our galactic community.’ Work should be finished by the end of the next standard orbit.

 

 

‘Yep about there should do it.’ Jex shifted the bags into place. ‘Look at this place. I hate terraforming its disgusting.’

‘Ah, stop complaining you old git,’ replied his companion Terry, from down the tunnel.

‘You know what I mean though. It’s gross, I mean look at this place, fully built yet the wrong cocktail of chemical and it produces this.’ Jex flung a lump of the fluffy, red substance to the floor.

‘Why do you keep touching it then? Use the neutralizers.’ Terry shouted.

The company the pair belonged to, the rather plainly named 01 Cleaning Solutions, had been contracted to the nearly completed Siren’s Belt, after the main city’s sewer bricks had reacted baldly with native soil resulting in their expansion into what was essentially corrosive red foam. A standard operation in the grand scheme of things but politics, as usual had got in their way. After a long process in of discussion in the Capitol, they had come to the decision that they had best do something about it. By this time Terry and Jex were faced with a whole city’s worth of compacted red mutated bricks.

‘You looking forward to going home Jexy?’ Terry splashed through the water, hauling two bags of compacted foam with him.

‘Aye, yes. Not seen Sarah and the boys for what feels like forever. I came from that job over in the 06.’

‘God. Fringe stuff that. What was going on?’ Terry lifted his visor, revealing a cheerful, bearded face below.

‘You’re telling me. I was induced for about 3 weeks. Something to do with a sudden fall of rock dust over a planet. A new Empire post, but the place was covered in it. Like a storm had hit it. Had to laser sweep the place from orbit.’

‘Grim. Ah well, just a couple of days under the gas before we get back. Can’t wait myself.’

Terry bunged his bags over to the growing pile. They had burnt the foam down into tiny wisps and then collected them up in bags. They would take them back to Ma1 with them to be shot out to some desolate waste planet. It was a satisfying job and you could tell it on both of their faces as they surveyed the tunnels. The building drones had followed them along as they worked carefully replacing the brickwork as the foam peeled off the earth. So now there was just a dark shining tunnel, ready to be filled with the city’s waste. The last job was to get in the Germ Cart, as they called it, and sweep the place.

‘Come one, let’s go and spray weird shit on the walls,’ Jex sighed. Terry smiled as he watched his ever-grumpy companion trudge into darkness.

 

(2)

 

Ea1 NewsComm:

 

Throughout Ma1 and the AC operations are now taking place for the populating of The Siren’s Belt. Following the recent criticisms of the project, the commons have launched a formal inquiry into the processes of construction planning and are set to release a conclusion in ten standard years. The new home units across the six planets have been met with some suspicion by potential home owners due to the historical instability of the area. Professor Garrick of the University of Cold Light described the project as ‘irresponsible’ claiming that the belt had been left alone ‘for good reason’. Empress Tabitha Might has released a statement claiming that ‘the immigration crisis into central galaxy has to be controlled and assessed. The Siren’s Belt project is a way in which fair and affordable housing is available for everyone.’

 

Swipe for full statement video.

 

‘All Aboard!’ Terry smiled and offered his hand out to Jex. The germ cart, or Hyper-Sealer as it was more formally known, was a long platform that hovered slightly above the ground. Fixed to each end was a control panel and a hazard suit. The idea was, after the general cleaning was done, that the germ cart would zip through the offending area firstly identifying and categorising the last remaining microbes and then, if appropriate, destroy them. The cart was not only lighting fast it was fitted with a military-grade selection of cell based genocides. The laser effectiveness of the process hadn’t failed them yet. The process was also galactic law, which was why the inventors had installed a categorisation stage, if the microbe was beneficial or essential to terrestrial life than the injectors would bypass it.

Jex took Terry’s hand and climbed on to the cart.

‘You see this is the bit I find weird,’ Jex said with a heave.

‘Oh god, here we go.’

‘If we’ve cleaned the place, which we have, then why do we need to do this step? If it’s good for terrestrials than its gonna reform or congregate elsewhere isn’t it?’

‘It’s just for a double check, insurance, isn’t it Jex. I bet after this fiasco we’ve just cleaned up, someone’s heads on the block.’

‘It’ll be for the categorisation I’ll tell you that for nothing.’

Jex was having some trouble getting in his haz-mat suit. He pulled it on over his leg and then realised the head hole was in his groin. He swore loudly and tried again. Terry looked on from behind the glass of his fully assembled protection.

‘Oh here we go with the conspiracy theories…’

‘I’m telling you Terry, they only compile information to make sure humans come out on top.’

‘Oh I don’t care. Come on let’s get this done so I can go home.’

Jex eventually clambered into the suit and stood panting at the edge of the cart. In formation they both place their hands at the left edge of their control panels. A light emitted from the panel and then a voice spoke clearly;

‘Terry Swaa and Jex Smith, 01 Cleaning Solutions, Security Level Delta, Cleared.’

The cart hummed with higher and higher intensity. The pair, quickly and efficiently spread their fingers over the buttons tapping and pressing with the confidence of a concert pianist. A green light emerged from underneath, it quickly spread towards the walls lighting them up as if they were underwater. The cart started to vibrate.

‘Ready Jex?’

‘Aye Terry.’

At blink speed, the germ cart set off down the sewer.

 

(3)

 

Ea1 NewsComm:

 

Breaking News. Ships have departed towards the controversial Siren’s Belt region of the 02. Despite claims from the Fal Tap Senate, of the biological favouritism and recklessness of the Human Empire, the plans to rehome millions of citizens from the 01 is going ahead. The ships departed this morning (Ea1 Standard Time), and the project’s leader, Captain Monica Tand, hoped for ‘a smooth and enjoyable transition.’ More to come.

 

‘Anything?’ Terry said.

‘Not yet, picking up a few specks in the cracks, nothing interesting.’ Jex stared intently at the screen as the sewer zipped by in blur past him.

‘They’re shouldn’t be any cracks we’ve just installed the bricks!’ Terry smiled.

‘I was a bit sleepy after my lunch yesterday.’ Jex said and looked backed at Terry. Suddenly an alert appeared on the corner of the screen. ‘Ah now then, a Muxlin Strain has just appeared.’

‘Muxlin? Odd I’m not getting that.’

They were heading now deeper into the city past the huge swirling bypasses that served the new administrative quarters. Apart from the blinking map on the screen they would have had no idea where they were.

‘It’s just one cell, or only a couple at least. Guide it back we’ll go check again.’

Terry leant his hand on the control panel and pressed the palm in deep. Jex did the opposite, pressing his fingertips in instead. The cart slowed down just enough to see a slight outline of brick and then shot down back the way they came.

‘Yes I’ve got it too. Muxlin. There are a few more now though.’ Terry said.

‘It’s an odd strain. The basic structure is there but it’s not like any muxlin I’ve seen before.’

‘A shot of Indritol should do it. If it’s a muxlin structure it’ll stop it dead.’ Terry said. ‘Your end I think, 02 strains.’

Jex found Indritol on the screen and dragged it over to the ‘deposit’ menu.

‘Good, good, right just the northern outskirts and then we’re done. Swing it back will you?’

‘Aye Aye!’

The carriage swung around a long curved tunnel, whizzed across the central canal like a stone skipping on a lake. With a whirr it ground to a halt outside the main exit. They both inhaled deeply as it they leapt down from edge. They both knew this smell, the smell of a finished job and it was their favourite. Even in the sewer the place smelt clean as a whistle. It was fresh and clear, the germ cart even deposited pine-freshness as it went. Terry stroked the cart fondly.

‘Do you two need some time alone?’ Jex laughed.

‘Shut up! It’s a fine bit of kit though this. I’ve always thought that. Imagine the lives it saved. Just in a simple act of categorisation and cleaning.’

‘I don’t know how the germs feel about it though. Ha!’

‘You’ve cheered up.’ Terry said. The exit chamber, a wide platform with two stairways at the back, like an old-fashioned subway, was scattered with equipment. The pair got to work, packing the poles, sponges and laser beams back in their respective holsters.

‘Well we’re going home aren’t we?’ Jex smiled.

‘Aye you’re not wrong.’ Terry strapped the equipment onto his back. Jex always laughed at his colleagues with their backpacks because with all the poles they looked like an antenna.

‘What was that muxlin strain from before?’ Terry said as he got out his clipboard.

‘What do you mean?’

‘I gotta fill in some forms, government job you know. What base was it?’

‘Bloody government. I think it was carbon? Carbon based muxlin.’ Jex heaved his bag onto his back.

‘Carbon? Weird, should be okay though,’ Terry stuck out his tongue.

 

(4)

 

Ea1 NewsComm:

 

Breaking News: The Siren’s Belt is warming up for the arrival of, what critics call ‘The Homeless Hoards,’ a term not endorsed by this newscast. The power bots took flight late last week from their sapping point the 06 Sun, Caster M and have docked. Lights are now appearing across the planet’s surface. We spoke to a passenger who claimed that xe and xyr family were ‘thrilled to be getting away from Ea1 and to forget everything we saw there’. Arrival is expected in the next 24 standard hours.

 

‘Right let’s be offskies, I’ve sent the all clear to the fat cats in orbit,’ said Terry. The tunnel was dark and quiet apart from the slight clinking of equipment. ‘I won’t miss it here down here.’

‘I feel that,’ Jex laughed.

Suddenly, with a whirring flash, all along the tunnel the lights came on. The pair covered their eyes for a moment to adjust. From somewhere beyond the walls came the sound of machinery. The whole place was waking up.

‘Well look at that,’ Terry sighed. The bright white lights had revealed the tunnel’s true magnificence. The black tiles shone like squares of space each with their own little star.

‘This place is going to be a beautiful place to live.’

‘I know – if the sewers are this good then the rest of it…’

At the end of the tunnel a green glow appeared. It just fringed the edges but appeared to be coming towards them.

‘What’s that?’

‘Power surges. It happens all the time on powering up planets. Let’s go before it catches up to us.’ Terry nodded to the stairs.

Jex ran forward and placed his hand on the railing. His hand stuck to it. He flicked it away and stared down. His hand was covered in a green jelly. The railing had dissolved in front of him. The jelly in his hand swirled and congealed until it formed into a rough cube. Jex found he was fixed to the spot.

‘Terry, you better come and look at this,’ Jex said, his voice cracked like he had just hit puberty.

‘Don’t worry Jex I’ve got it too.’

Jex turned to see Terry knee-deep in the green jelly. Down the tunnel he could see flashes of light and cracks of energy.

‘Stay there Terry. I’m gonna have a look.’ Jex flicked the goo off his hand and ran to the tunnel. Slowly one by one the lights down the long strip went out, each one with a shuttering hiss. He turned around. At the corner where the tunnel turned off to the right the green glow was brightest.

‘Jex get the acid wash, I’m going down here.’ Terry was half way down into the floor. From his waist tiny blobs of green goo were jumping out and hopping away. Jex ran for his bag and pulled out a pole with a yellow end. It fizzed into life.

‘I can’t use it without hurting you mate.’

‘I’ve got my protection suit on you idiot just zap them.’

‘Right right yeah.’

Jex plunged the acid wash against Terry’s middle and pulled him out of the ground. In the hole was just a mass of morphing green goo.

‘What is it?’

‘It must have been the muxlin strain. I told you didn’t I? They don’t check these things – they just assume one thing works for all. It’s my fault I said the Indritol would’ve neutralised but it seems to be reacting with the light.’ Terry clutched his head.

‘What do you mean we got rid didn’t we?’

‘Clearly! What happened before – it exploded into red foam – whatever is on this planet is not reacting well with Ea1’s protocols. We knew that and its only gone and happened again.’

‘So we’re back to square one. Bloody hell!’ Jex stamped his foot and made a green goo footprint in the floor.

‘Looks that way. Well it looks potent but not live. The Muxlin strain mustn’t have been capable. Unpack the equipment then…’

They both turned to the tunnel wall. The whole thing was a dripping mass of green. Jex and Terry reached for their poles. On the wall a thousand eyes morphed into life and blinked with uniform precision. Further down, growing from the bottom were scuttling claws that scraped along the floor. In the middle like a black hole a mouth plunged open and from each side a set of long, sharp teeth.

Just before they could reach the panic button they fell into the green mouth opening up beneath them.

 

(5)

 

Ea1 NewsComm.

 

Breaking News: Ships are arriving at the Siren’s Belt and are set to disembark new citizens within the next hour. Latest reports from the project’s orbital hub state that they have received the all clear from the team performing the last-minute checks. The brand new, empty cities are set to be a dazzling sight for their new inhabitants providing comfort and facilities unheard of beyond the central hub. The rife criticism and fiery debates of the last months seem to have proved fruitless as millions of citizens look forward to their new future in the 02. All here at NewsComm wish them well.

 

(6)

 

GMesssage. Sarah xo.

 

Wishing you a safe journey home sweetie. Seeing the news of all the people excited for their new homes is making me so proud. That was you you know. Boys can’t wait to see you. Love you xx.