Another short story for our visitors and readers this week.
Imagine what the world might be like in 2257, over two hundred years from now.
It could go this way.
If you remember my earlier story – The FarOut Mall - and what it was like shopping in Outer Space, this story carries on from there.
The Off-Earth Living Pods
September 23, 2257
The Caterpillar XN4789 is the largest truck out of the world. Its sole purpose is to transport water to the Off-Earth Living Pods (LPs), normally hovering above the globe anywhere from the international Space Boundary (ISB) of two hundred miles to the farthest one, the InterCosmic Manor 2240 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. Since the ice caps melted late in the twenty-first century, followed by a downpour of biblical proportions, only the extremely rich, and water-heavy industry exist on the mountain tops. By the virtue of Macintosh Fairweather, who foresaw and forecasted the extreme conditions coming to the planet, he 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 proposals, calling them the visions of a mad man. He warned them that they had the raw materials, the finances, the ease and simplicity of space travel, they should act now. Most rejected his ideas, some did not. Eventually, he convinced the world’s most populous countries, China, Canada, India and the United States to divert funds to the erecting of the first LPs. Unfortunately, the timing of his prediction was too late and billions of people perished in the flooding. Besides the 1500 residents living and working in the mountaintops, the rest of the human population lives Off-Earth either in LPs or the twin cities of Aether and Hemera in the Tranquillittatis Mare of the moon or 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 that was only thought of in science fiction publications of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. At present, teleportation is taken for granted and travelers often complain of the forty-two minutes it takes to transport from one planet to the next as it being too slow. No one complains about the 1.2 second trip 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 at all but possess 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 XN4789, Potizo, the Greek word for irrigate. Today is the first water delivery for the colossal machine and the first LP needing an immediate re-supply is the hostile LV2. Galanos is the only one of three drivers that volunteers for delivery 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 to step aside.
LP2129 (numbered after 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 “pick-ups” that skim the surface filling their tanks for transfer to the larger trucks which are too big to travel back and forth. Mainly financed by Toyota, LP 2129 contains a spacecraft dealership, work bays, body shops, gym, a college for mechanics, welders, electricians, plumbers and millwrights, its own “breathe and feed” levels, the mandatory hospital and living quarters for the 2300 people that inhabit the LP. It also contains an armory. That’s where Geo is now as 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 space suits, 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 hours 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? I need to deliver a load to 2599 after but I could be free then. If your offer’s good, you’d better rest up while I’m away. Know what I mean?”
Before they depart 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 sounds of slithering scales, the faint scent of raw meat, and x-ray visuals of the flesh-eating monsters. If one of the virkon-eptiles, deadly beings brought back from an asteroid being mined by a worker named Virkon, is within a range of thirty feet, it will sound a loud warning and the bearer only has seconds to react. Otherwise, they are merely fodder.
Proceeding to the docking station on the 2nd level, he sees the setting sun reflecting of Potizo’s golden skin through the tall windows. It’s huge. It reminds him of the Zeppelins of the nineteenth century he saw at the aviation museum on LP2189, only five times as large. Passing through the air lock, he removes his helmet and oxygen pack and leaves them his locker. When he enters the cockpit, he breathes in the rare aroma of real leather on the pilot’s seat. They went 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 with a ten-screen panel with images from behind, the docking arms holding the ship in place, the glistening exterior of the LP with the sun shining directly on it, the hovercraft of the exterior maintenance crews. 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-hand pad and the gun swivels and rotates wherever he looks. The lowest right inset zooms in to a full screen and a bullseye follows its every move. Even with the world mostly at peace, there are still pirates, especially where he’s 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 combo, the ship unlocks from the docking arms, top thrusters ignite and push the ship slowly away. Letting the 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 where each LP is located, where it is in its orbit. LV2 is at mile 455 and in the Scatter Zone where LP 2199 was destroyed by an asteroid and the debris field extends from mile 445 to mile 465. The computers have calculated his path in and exactly thirty-three minutes later, the path back out.
When he reaches the outer perimeter of the Scatter Zone, Geo leaves it on autopilot, ready in a second’s notice to take over manually if necessary. At mile 448, the ship hovers in its path when overhead a chunk of the former LP whizzes by at 20,000 miles an hour. A whole section, maybe three hundred feet across, circles the globe endlessly. The ship reaches LV2 at the apogee of its orbit, the timing synched by the delivery team. Going manual, Geo calls up cam-bot six and eight. The docking station on LV2 is on the bottom level. Huge bay doors with wild graffiti and murals, line the #3 octagonal. The second door slowly slides apart. Potizo would never fit inside so Geo skillfully parks its ass end near and the docking arms clamp on his upper frame. He shuts it down and dissolves the control panel. Freeing himself from his seat, he grabs his helmet, life support system and after strapping everything on, he steps into the airlock, backs into his EMU (Extravehicular Mobility Unit), 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 jet-pack; 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 skin, 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 2nd level. When oxygen is restored, he removes his helmet, unstraps his EMU, places them in an open visitor’s rack and locks it, pocketing the key. Even in the 23rd century, nothing beats an old-fashioned lock.
The receiving bays are the busiest in the LV2. Every LP has manufacturing levels but LV2 manufacture very little so shipping is a small section of the service octagonal. There specialty is drugs, weapons, gambling, prostitution and alcohol. Anyone needing such vices come here, very little gets shipped out, other than waste and dead bodies. Geo is met by the two members of the Pod Patrol, LV2’s own policing unit. Even though Geo is over six feet tall, the two men tower over him. Clad in black mondicor armor, which is hard and flexible, weapons strapped to wrists and thighs, they are an intimidating duo. The one with the eye patch and tattooed face is obviously senior and greets Geo with a raised hand.
“No entering the Pod with weapons, you’ll have to leave them with us.”
Geo stands 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 hell hole without them. So, you have two choices. Either go get the payment and bring it to me or try taking the weapons from me. Your call.”
The patrolmen look at each other. They’re not usually challenged and when they are, they make quick work of the opponent. They step closer, side by side, a formidable wall. Bay-grunts pause at their work to watch, grinning at the commotion. Eye Patch grits his teeth.
“We’re not errand boys so we’ll take you up on option two. You’ve got five seconds before…”
Geo doesn’t give the leader time to finish his threat. He drives the point of his middle finger into the good eye with enough force to pop it out of the socket. A thin knife, concealed under the sleeve of his armor, extends with the flick of the wrist and penetrates the brain through the now empty eye socket. In the same instance, he draws his right sidearm and triggering the firing mechanism, slices the arm off of patrolman number two just above the elbow. Eye Patch drops to the bay floor, already dead before he makes contact. Number two is howling from the pain and tries to activate the wrist-paralyzer on his left hand when Geo gives him his full attention. With precision unmatched, he slices away the weapon taking a layer of skin with it, drop kicks the big man with enough force to propel him against the revolving doors that shatter from the impact and the man falls to the floor, unconscious. Geo walks casually to the fallen patrolman and places his weapon on the forehead and pulls the trigger.
Except for the hum of the huge pumps, everything has gone silent. Geo looks around for any other menaces before he holsters his weapon. The bay-grunts won’t meet his eyes and they return to their tasks. It’s not the first time they’ve seen death in these bays but it’s the first time anyone’s beaten these two. He gets a wide berth when he steps over the dead bodies and through the shattered glass doors on his way to the purser’s office which is two down on the left. He ignores the Do not Disturb sign on the prompter and walks in. The purser is a fat man, bald and sweaty with perspiration forming droplets on his brow. He looks up at the intruder intending to scold whoever it is. When he sees Geo looming over his desk and the startling point is the simple fact that he’s come this far and with weapons still attached to his thighs. He knows without a doubt that Morgan and Delvecchio are either incapacitated… or dead. He’s scared; no one makes it past them.
“What… what do you want?”
“H2O from Earth is being downloaded as we speak. You owe me 48,000 bot-credits.”
“I… I don’t have that much here.”
“Why not? You knew I was coming today.”
“I wasn’t expecting you this early. I’ll need a few minutes. Can you wait here?”
“No. I’ll go with you. Now let’s hurry, I’ve got other loads to deliver and my safety window is rapidly closing.”
Perspiration blooms under the armpits of Fat man as he gets up from his desk.
“Okay… okay, then follow me.”
Thirty-two minutes after arrival, Geo maneuvers through the debris field and enters the safe zone. Returning to home base, LP2129, he will fill up and make a delivery to LP2185. He hasn’t been back there since Gracia Moeller, the owner of Alexander’s Fine Jewellery flagship store was charged with murder of one of her clients. The charges were dropped when it came to light that she was informed the new weapons were not loaded. After a power outage and virkon-eptiles feasting, she installed the pulse pistols to protect herself, staff and patrons from the monsters. In anger she pointed one, which she was told wasn’t charged, at an abusive customer and that customer became dust. Geo wants to meet her.
InterCosmic Manor 2185 is an enormous, golden octagon orbiting the Earth at twenty-six thousand miles per hour in Low Earth Orbit, six hundred and three miles above the Earth’s surface, moving west to east. It circles the globe every 57 seconds. Approaching it a slightly higher speed, Geo sights it visually about to enter darkness over the Pacific Ocean. It glistens in the dying light like a radiant citrine. Within a hundred miles, he matches the speed of the giant satellite. Coaxing the ship in place he prepares to dock on the lower level. Giant arms reach out to clamp on Potizo’s outer docking frames. When secure, Geo locks down the ship. Preparing himself for a visit to the Mall area, he dons a clean shirt from the locker, his black and chrome space suit and matching helmet, knowing women stare lustfully at him when he wears it. A dab of his favorite cologne. He’s off.
Leaving his jetpack in storage, he informs the loadmaster he’ll return shortly then transports to the 16-A Octagonal. The doors open facing a food court. The aroma of heavy spices used in roasting moon chicken is wafting into the hallway, his stomach growls reminding him he needs to eat. Alexander’s Fine Jewellery is to the front and on the right. The food court is busy with shoppers relaxing and dining; people are browsing in the hallways, many with shopping bags full. The murmur of the different voices hums over it all.
He takes in the hovering droids over his head whose only purpose is to kill virkon-eptiles. The abandoned InterCosmic PRT (prison/rehab/termination) 2177 houses the majority of beasts still alive. Some escape. Bounty hunters probe the LPs for any that may be hiding.
The jewellery store has only two patrons. A young man is serving one of them and a middle-aged lady is serving another. He notices the lady’s fine business suit, the latest fashion from Stile designers. Her short hair is in the latest bob, gems hang from her small ears. She has her back to him when Geo enters the store but looks toward him when she hears him enter. Both stop in their tracks and stare; the attraction is immediate.
She holds up a finger asking him to wait one moment and assists her guest to make a purchase. Geo can’t take his eyes off her and hopes this is the owner he’s heard so much about. She approaches him with a genuine smile that softens the fine lines around her eyes. Extending a hand toward him she introduces herself.
“Hello space jockey. Welcome to Alexanders. I’m Gracia.”
He takes her hand and looks down at her; she’s a foot shorter than him. He stares at the twinkle of mischief he sees in her eyes.
“Name’s Geo. Happy to meet you, Gracia.”
“Hi Geo. What brings you into our store today?”
“You do actually.”
Dropping his hand, she blushes at his directness with a questioning look on her face.
“Yes, I wanted to meet the lady that vaporized her guest.”
The rouge in her cheeks is replaced by a frown and beetled brow. He didn’t mean to be so blunt and can see she’s offended. He points at the pulse pistol in the fashionable holster on her hip.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you but I admire your gusto. Of course, everyone was talking about it and it was an accident after all but there are not many women that are comfortable using pulse pistols and only the most trusted applicants get permits.”
She stands back from Geo and leans her back against one of the counters.
“It was an accident, a deadly one unfortunately. As you likely know, the pistols are to protect us and our patrons from the deadly eptiles but I really don’t want to talk about it.”
“I understand. Bet no one messes with you. Have you had to use it since?”
This causes the weakest of smiles; she is overwhelmed by the big man’s sexual allure and softens her stance.
“Well, not on any customers, thank goodness. I’ve been practicing with the safety and have it down to a micro second thumb flip so it’s safe to shop here now.”
He likes the way she laughs. She likes the cologne he wears.
“Did you really come here for just that, Geo? Or do you need to pick up something for your wife… or girlfriend perhaps?”
He’s about to comment when the overhead lights flicker. Galanos’ threat detector screams its early warning signal of the presence of eptiles. Every main door on every floor slams shut. People hustle for cover crowding near the stationery defbots that have their own emergency power source. Gracia does as she’s been trained. There’s only one patron and her two staff and Geo. She rushes everyone to the main counter. The lights do an off-and-on dance for ten of fifteen seconds before everything goes dark. Gracia draws her pistol. Everyone listens. Eptiles travel with great speed, their hardened scales clatter on the overhead pipes. Several are on the move. Bursting through grills, they spill into different locations.
Two slithers into the food court. In the dark you can smell them, a scent that only be described as rot. The worm like being has two short legs in the front, three toes with talons, the posterior moves with leather-like scales A mouth slit is on the underbody, lined with crunching bones. The defbots are programmed to recognize the eptiles by smell, sound or sight. Detection is immediate. Pulses from the droid’s cannon cuts the first one in half, the front clawing to escape before secondary pulses blasts it to ashes. The second one receives a direct burst under its antennas and vaporizes the front half of its six-foot length. The unmoving rear section gets zapped also, nothing of the beast remains.
The other one is perched on an overhead mirror in Alexander’s Fine Jewellery. They heard it enter after something fell to the floor. Gracia urges them to stay quiet and behind her. Geo stands at her side. The monster is young, only four feet long, hunting by instinct. It senses its prey below and is about to leap when the lights come back on. Like its kin, it is tormented by bright lights and scrambles for the opening that it came through. Gracia is fast with her pulse pistol and releases several bursts from her weapon. The first pulse of pure energy obliterates the eptile, the second, third and fourth pulse reflects off the mirror. One takes out a large section of the front door, another obliterates the counter with moon crystals and the third vaporizes Geo’s left arm from the elbow down. Gracia stares at the pile of ash at his feet, clamps her hand to her mouth.
Thank you for visiting and your comments.
See you next week with Atlantic Canadian Author Don Bourque.