Outer Space - that void above the skies has always intrigued me. I think Space Travel is worth every penny we spend on it.
I work in the jewellery business and I wondered what it might be like to shop for jewellery in outer space some time in the future. I wrote a short story called The FarOut Mall. It was first published here on the Scribbler and is now available in my short story collection - A Box of Memories.
Today's short story takes place in same quadrant of Outer Space where humans live in Off Earth Living Pods. The only thing they can't supply themselves is...Water!
The FarOut World
September 23, 2657
The Caterpillar XN4789 is the largest truck out of this world. Its sole purpose is to transport water to the off-Earth living pods (LPs) hovering above the globe, anywhere from the International Space Boundary (ISB) of two hundred miles to the InterCosmic Manor 2599 – the farthest LP, which orbits at six hundred and three miles. All two hundred and sixty-three LPs are self-sustaining except for their water supply. There’s no shortage of Adam’s ale on planet Earth. Not since the ice caps melted late in the twenty-fourth century, followed by a downpour of biblical proportions. Now, only the extremely rich and some water-heavy industry exist on the mountaintops.
Macintosh Fairweather, who foresaw and forecasted the extreme conditions coming to the planet, had proposed to the world’s leaders that the only way the human population would survive was to build living pods in space. At first they scoffed at his proposal, calling it the vision of a madman. He assured them that they had the raw materials, the finances, the ease and simplicity of space travel. That they should act now. Most rejected his idea. But eventually he convinced the most populous countries – China, Canada, India and the United States – to divert funds to erecting the first LPs. Unfortunately, their timing was too late and billions of people perished in the flooding. Besides the 1,500 residents living and working in the mountaintops, the rest of the human population lives off-Earth, in LPs, in the twin cities of Aether and Hemera in the Tranquillittatis Mare of the moon, or in the Arcadia Planitia of Mars.
Interplanetary travel is a breeze thanks to the forward thinking of Geronimo Placedo, who pioneered teleportation in the twenty-first century, a concept only possible in science fiction in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Nowadays, teleportation is taken for granted and travelers often complain about the forty-two minutes it takes to get from one planet to the next as being too slow. No one complains about the 1.2 second trip from Earth to the moon though.
Geoffrey (Geo) Galanos is the only person with enough experience to handle the XN4789. In Earth’s atmosphere, the vehicle would weigh over a million pounds. In space, it weighs nothing but possesses abundant inertial mass. Improper or inexperienced handling of the controls and thrusters could extensively damage an LP during docking. So only the most experienced orbital jockeys are hired to operate the large water transports. Galanos has nicknamed the vehicle Potizo, the Greek word for irrigate. Today is the first delivery for the colossal machine and the first LP needing an immediate resupply is the hostile LV2. Galanos is the only one of three drivers who volunteers for deliveries to either LV1 or LV2. As evil as the owners are, they know better than to fuck with Galanos. He carries not one but two extremely rare Remington Valences, the most powerful ionic handguns in off-Earth. Dubbed sensei by the practitioners of sangfroid, the deadliest of Canadian martial arts, he has few equals in hand-to-hand combat. His very demeanor and Greek arrogance cause the boldest of men to step aside.
LP2429 (numbered for the year it was built) was the first LP built by the Save the World Conglomeration. Updated many times, the lowest orbiting LP is now a docking and work station for water transports and other space vehicles. The smaller transports that enter the Earth’s atmosphere are hardy “pickups” that skim the surface, filling their tanks for transfer to the larger trucks that are too big to travel back and forth. Mainly financed by Toyota, LP2429 contains a spacecraft dealership, work bays, body shops, a gym, a college for mechanics, welders, electricians, plumbers and millwrights, its own “breathe and feed” levels, and the mandatory hospital and living quarters for the 2,300 people who inhabit the LP. It also contains an armory. That’s where Geo is now while Potizo is being loaded.
Geo is a big man. Muscles bulge from his limbs like tree knots. His long dark hair is tucked behind his ears; his eyes shine in anticipation. He’s wearing the latest design in spacesuits, slick and body forming. The armorer, Rieta Balser, helps him strap the Valances to his thighs after charging the weapons. She slaps him on the ass after she’s tightened the straps, pausing for a moment to squeeze the firm buttock. She winks at him before he leaves.
“If you make it back from LV2, big guy, I’m off at 1800 and I’d love to rub your sore muscles. Know what I mean?”
“Don’t you worry about me making it back, Rieta. There’s nothing on LV2 that I can’t handle. If your offer’s good, you’d better rest up while I’m away. Know what I mean?”
Before they go their separate ways with a chuckle and a promise, she warns him of the virkon-eptile detected on LV2 several days ago and passes him a Threat Detector calibrated for the unique sound of slithering scales, the faint scent of raw meat, and x-ray visuals of the flesh-eating monsters. If one of the virkon-eptiles is within a range of thirty feet, it will sound a loud warning and he’ll have but seconds to react. Otherwise, he’ll be fodder for the beasts.
Proceeding to the docking station on the second level, Geo sees the setting sun reflecting off Potizo’s golden skin through the tall windows. It’s huge. It reminds him of the Zeppelins of the nineteenth century that he saw at the aviation museum on LP2589, only five times bigger. Passing through the airlock, he removes his helmet and oxygen pack and leaves them in his locker.
When he enters the cockpit, he breathes in the rare aroma of real leather on the pilot’s seat. They had gone all out on the interior. Sitting at the controls, he admires the 240-degree viewing field. Hovering cam-bots show the spacecraft at every angle. Settled in, the control panel senses his implant and appears within easy reach. The tryedellium panel is pure energy, stored in the ship’s memory, responsive to touch, voice. Due to limited breakthroughs in thought-control technology and advances in human implants, he can command it to appear and rest at will.
A multi-gauge panel appears over the control panel. Everything is in the green.
The top panel is replaced by a ten-screen panel with images from behind. The docking arms hold the ship in place; he sees the glistening exterior of the LP with the sun shining directly on it along with the hovercraft of the exterior maintenance crew. Several cameras show the rear of the truck. The sleek metallic skin, the docking and transfer hub, the rear-mounted laser cannon. He presses a combo of keys on his left pad and the gun swivels and rotates. The lower right screen zooms in and a bull’s eye follows its every move. Even with the world mostly at peace, there are still pirates, especially where he is going.
The screen is replaced by the command center and communications. The right-hand pad controls the engine, steering thrusters, all external components. Entering the right combination, the ship unlocks from the docking arms; the top thrusters ignite and push the ship slowly away. Letting inertia carry him a thousand feet, another finger command and the fisome-fueled engine grows hot. Deeming his distance beyond launch perimeter, he commands the main thruster to boost him toward outer space. Satellites keep him posted at all times of where each LP is located, where it is in its orbit. LV2 is at mile 455. The Scatter Zone, or debris field, where LP2344 had been destroyed by an asteroid, extends from mile 445 to mile 465. The computers have calculated his path in and, exactly thirty-three minutes later, the path back out.
Freeing himself from his seat, he grabs his helmet and life support system, and after strapping everything on, he steps into the airlock. He backs into his extravehicular mobility unit (EMU) – custom designed by Bombardier Propulsion – locks in, hits the exit cycle button, and as soon as the vacuum is restored, the door slides upward and he flies out. He loves the jetpack; it’s their newest model: lighter, much faster than the previous one and easier to control.
Landing in the cargo bay, he watches the docking personnel, called bay-grunts, marveling at the size of Potizo, swarming around the outer perimeter, admiring the sleek lines and high gloss, while others swing the off-load tubes into place and connect to the ship. They know who he is and stay out of his way. By the time he enters the platform airlocks, he can see the huge pipes pulsating from the pumps sucking the precious liquid into storage tanks on the second level. When oxygen is restored, he removes his helmet, unstraps his EMU and places them in an open visitor’s rack and locks it, pocketing the key. Even in the twenty-seventh century, nothing beats an old-fashioned lock.
|Behance.net photo credit|
“No entering the Pod with weapons, you’ll have to leave them with us.”
Geo stands, arms akimbo, and glares at the two men. Without weapons, he’s a dead man.
“I’m getting the bot-credits for the water and as soon as the truck’s empty, I’m leaving. If I have to walk through those revolving doors to the purser’s office, I’m not going in this hellhole without my weapons. So you have two choices. Either go get the payment and bring it to me, or try taking the weapons from me. Your call.”
To be continued August 28th........
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