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Thursday, 26 May 2005

Patriot

Needles was the most devout patriot in the settlement. He hung the old Canadian Flag from his window and aimed his vent at it so that it appeared to blow in the wind. He even designated day 197, the halfway date of the Cycalitran calendar, as Canada Day and blared the old anthem from his speakers in an endless loop to celebrate.

They called him Needles because he gave everyone their weekly anti-fungal shot. But his real name was Tim Horton, after the old donut stores. He liked having a nick name, because it freed him from the teasing. Donut-head, Coffee-dude, he had heard them all. And despite the international makeup in the settlement, everyone knew he had the stupidest name.

Glory kidded him most. She was smart and fit and beautiful and the most ruthless comic in the seven worlds. She lived in Needles's settlement for 39 days a Cycaltiran year. The rest of the time she toured the other worlds, doing her stand up routine or writing speeches for politicians. Somehow humour had surpassed musicianship and dramatic performance as the most sought after talent. Maybe because people who spend all of their lives under fragile domes that protect them from radiation, toxicity and vacuum make people edgy and depressed. Humans are meant to live under a sun. Their sun--Sol. And the seven worlds were about as far from Sol as a guy like Needles can get and still eek out a living.

Thursday, 12 May 2005

Promise

Ruwina promised me that one day we'd see Mars. Then she got cancer and was too sick to fly. So I held her hand and watched her die. The day her life insurance money arrived, I booked a flight to Mars with tears streaming down my face.

I trained for months, lifting weights and running, getting my body in shape so that I wouldn't atrophy into a slug on the long zero-G journey. Sure, there were beautiful women at the club and I was single again (or a widower if you like the term; I can't stand it myself) but I couldn't get Ruwina out of my head. She was my wife, my lover, and most of all, my best friend. We ran together, ate together, talked, argued, and worked side by side for twelve years.

I miss her.

The last fifteen days before a flight, the interplanetary medics make you live in a bunker of sorts. It's basically an isolation chamber where meals are slid under your door and all you have for entertainment is a vid and whatever else you can fit into a shoe box. The whole point is to make sure you aren't about to infect the entire ship with the plague after take-off.

I brought the Bible and Ruwina's favourite book, "The Calling of the Loon-Ghost". I tried every night to open her book, but I couldn't read through the tears, so I gave up. Instead, I worked my way through the old black-bound King James classic.

Now you're probably thinking that I'm some kind of religious zealot or some such, but I'm not. Really. I just figured I ought to read the Book before I died, and since I was trapped in a room with nothing else to do (I hate vidtainment) I slugged through it.

Some parts were more interesting than I expected. Some were pretty ridiculous. I honestly can't figure out how someone could read the thing so many times that they would actually memorize passages, and not only that, but the references to them as well. Not my cup of noodles, I guess. After all, I've probably only been inside a church a dozen times in my entire life.

Tuesday, 10 May 2005

Collateral

Fredricka never expected to use her own fingers as collateral. But when you owe Kranzer money, you have to play by his rules.

They had sliced her right thumb and index finger off on Monday at 10 pm. She had until Thursday at 10 am to have them reattached. Any later and the severed limbs would start to degrade while the flesh on her stumps would repair the wound beyond reattachment. It was now four am on Tuesday morning. She had fifty-four hours to go.

She fumbled with her butterfly knife. For years she could swing it open in the blink of an eye, but that was with her right hand. As she slunk down the alley behind Teaser's, she practiced the maneuver a few times then stowed the closed blade in her panties. The bouncer glared at her.

"Beat it, Freddie. Kranzer blacklisted you."

"I'm not here to dance, muscle-head. I need to talk to Almar."

"He's busy."

"Get him anyway."

"He ain't gonna bail you out. And if he did, you'd only lose something else." The bouncer leaned closer, his head hovering over her chest. "Maybe something more interesting."

"Get Almar, now!"

Vinkler the Varmint weaseled up behind the bouncer. "Hey, Freddie. Or should I call you stubbie? I can loan you some cash."

"Over my dead body," she said.

"I'd rather just be over you, ma femme."

Vinker reached toward her crotch. She pulled the knife and tried to flip it open. It slipped out her grasp and clattered on the ground. Vinker and the bouncer burst out laughing. Fredricka wanted to deck them both, but instead she reached down to pick it up and got a pinch on her butt for her trouble.

Tuesday, 3 May 2005

Distance

Thanks for the word, Kij. (I borrowed it from one of your books.)

*
The hordes stood at a distance from the army, waiting, taunting. More than mere soldiers, the Kitlamianis were fanatics with one unified goal. To eliminate any trace of the human race from their planet. One body at a time.

Their carnage involved more than killing. They purged the dead, vaporizing their flesh for fertilizer to enhance their crops. The soldiers in Kelso's division knew what fate they faced if struck down in battle. Many of them clutched at their chests, feeling for their missing idents.

For the first time, the army changed policy on the dog tags they'd utilized for generations of soldiers. Against the Kitlamianis, no trace of a fallen soldier would remain, so all combatants left their idents on the transport ships. At the end of the fight, as they returned on the drop ships, they picked up their tags. Families were notified for all un-retrieved idents.

That's how Kelso learned of his brother's death. That's why he stood here on this battlefield instead of moving markers on a strategic map back on the HQ ship. That's how his last remaining sibling, his sister Tarina, would learn of his death if he fell today.

When he fell.

Their battalion was outnumbered and exhausted. He had hand-picked his men. Each had lost a family member in a battle with the Kitlamianis. Revenge hovered over the field like flies on carcasses. Kelso sniffed, inhaling the micro-fine particles of dust from the Kitlamian soil through his filter. Then, with resolve, he let out a slow breath. The filter vibrated, sounding like a dog growling. His men followed suit, adding their own rumbles to the war cry.

Monday, 2 May 2005

Bilious

Thanks for the word, Lenora.

*
Monica looked bilious--doubled-over and grasping her gut as though an elephant had taken up residence inside her and was bent on escaping. I put my arm around her shoulder to comfort her, but she shoved it away.
"Don't."

"Just trying to help."

"Page the doctor again. I've got to have this gallbladder out. Today."

I tried Dr. Miller again, but his answering service picked up. I left another message, stressing Moncia's discomfort.

Heath care sucked in the Kuiper Belt. Most people died in space, from suit malfunctions or grinder wounds. Minor stuff like gallbladder attacks broken bones were ignored more often than not.

Tell that to my wife, though. She was in constant pain. I couldn't stand to watch her suffer.

"Get your suit," I said.

"I can't."

"You will. We're going to park ourselves outside the clinic until someone cuts the damn thing out."

I helped her into her suit, and secured a vomit bag just inside her helmet. I suited up, grabbed two accelerators, and headed for the airlock.

Driscan was on duty. He eyed Monica, in her bent-in-two position. Even I could see how green she looked through the visor.

Driscan said, "She's not up to a--"

"Save it. We're headed for the clinic. And the only way you're going to stop us is if you can help my wife's condition yourself. Last I checked, you weren't qualiscreened for medical, Driscan.

He nodded and ushered us through the lock. The sooner we were out of his jurisdiction, the better for all of us.