by Floyd Looney
The most unnerving thing about losing main power was the sheer dead silence of space, there was no sound at all except this battery-powered fan at my desk that came with a pen-light. Otherwise the whole cabin was completely dark except the starlight coming through the portholes. Well, that isn’t completely true; Cora was shining brightly out the front cockpit window.
Cora is my destination and I will get there eventually. As a matter of fact, the power outage doesn’t change my ETA at all. That is the nature of space, you just keep going the way you were going until something grabs you with their gravity or you run into something. In my case I will be feeling the pull of Cora any hour now.
I tap the communicator on my collar, “Bit, give me an estimate on main power, please!”
“I will have main power back up within the quarter-hour, Miss.” The robot replies.
I shake my head, how many times have I told it not to refer to me as Miss? Too many times to count, that’s how many! Call me Bratty, call me Boss, just call me something better than Miss for crying out loud.
Bit is my robot assistant, a passive-aggressive vending machine would probably be a good description too. Except it is shorter than me and I’m a 12-year old girl. The gang back home all think I’m the cool one to have a spaceship, and the misguided ones think Bit is cool too, but really I just want to make sure we all get fed.
That’s why I make these runs to Cora once a month, for the money. See, the people of Cora have a liking for Socotta beans; they brew it into a coffee-type thing. It won’t grow on Cora where the land is all either too high of an elevation, too dry, too cold or too wet or whatever. So I take the beans that we grow back at the reformatory and sell it. Then I convert the Cora money by buying things we can sell back on Askance.
Probably should have mention that Askance is the planet I live on, and Cora is the twin planet about four hundred-thousand miles away and they both orbit an imaginary spot in the middle. Something like that, although I guess it’s not imaginary since it’s real, so it’s just invisible. The reformatory is the farm where I live with a bunch of other orphans, the gang, and a couple of elderly women who are the adults “taking care” of us. Theoretically. In actuality Alma and Thelma are animatrons that we rigged up to keep “Child Services” off our backs.
We do all sorts of little jobs to put food on the table, including growing the beans and my trips to Cora once a month, which is our main source of income. It takes a couple of days to cross from Askance to Cora and it can be dreadfully boring. Cora itself is pretty exciting, because a lot of the people there are simply nuts. That won’t offend them either; they’d think I was being mild.
“Main power has been restored, Miss,” I hear through the communicator and roll my eyes. Seriously, if Alma and Thelma could be programmed to fix the ship I’d take one of them. Well, not really, they only say what we tell them to say, so they’d be even more boring than Bit.
The power comes back on and I walk back to the pilot’s seat. Not that I do much piloting between taking off and landing but I liked to feel like I’m in control and not just hurtling through the vacuum of space at 25,000 miles an hour toward another planet. I get the willies just thinking about what I’m doing sometimes. Truthfully, I don’t even look up at tall buildings because I’ll get dizzy and I’d rather be called Bratty than Dizzy any day of the leap-year.
“Preparing for orbital insertion,” I say as I reorient the ship for a burn. The computer says the burn should last 45 seconds, so I do that. I try not to second-guess the computer on math since I’m not going to do the math. After a 45-second rocket burn me and my ship are in a safe orbit some 220 miles above Cora. I have to wait an hour before I get into the proper position for a de-orbit burn that will have me and the ship dropping like a fiery stone to the planet below.
I really shouldn’t dwell on these things.
First I reorient the ship to face “backwards” and then I contact Interplanetary Traffic Control to tell them of my location and destination and they give me clearance to do what I am going to do with or without it.
“This is Oscar Tel Ahora One Mike Bravo” I tell them some code words I make up on the spot “I’m going to need de-orbit clearance for sector 4, area H in 55 minutes.”
“Oscar Tel Ahora what?” ITC responds and then “Never mind, checking on clearance now. Please hold.”
Of course I’ll hold. It’s not like I have a choice in the matter, it’s not like I brought a board game or something. Bit is just standing over there, looking like a sad shiny red teddy bear. Would it kill him, I mean it, to act a little more normal? He’s either calling me Miss or sitting still like a brick. So weird.
“This is ITC, Oscar Tel… whatever. I show you with clearance for S4 AH in, uh, 45 minutes” the voice of traffic control says. Yes, you took ten minutes to ask the next person what’s up over there, whatever your name is.
Autumn… Ocar Tel Ahora One Mike Bravo, OTAOMB sounds like Autumn! How cool. Hi, my name is Bratty, I’m twelve, I fly a spaceship and I’m the breadwinner for a dozen kids. So don’t criticize my dumb jokes! Okay, that was presumptive on my part, excuse me.
Finally a 50-second de-orbit burn and we’re falling through the atmosphere until we get to the thicker part at about 10,000 feet or so. That is when the stubby wings give me some control of this rig and I can fly it in. Oh, there’s a runway at the Twin Worlds Trading Post and the computer is telling me that I can go ahead and land there. If only ITC could be so automated!
“Wheels down! Speed down to 155” I say out loud as the runway looms closer. Soon enough the wheels squeal as they hit the runway. “Brake chute deployed!”
I always do a little fist pump when I land this beast. The little cart pulls my ship to the crowded terminal as I get my breathing under control. Once again I have arrived on Cora and now the real adventure can begin. Time to sell 5-tons of Socotta beans on the black market.
I guess I failed to mention that I don’t have a trader’s license, tax ID or an inspectors tag or other things that someone apparently needs to do business ‘legally’. I tap into the public broadnet system and send a message to Helly that I’ve arrived and he will set up a deal for me. For a cut of course.
I was waiting, at the juice bar drinking my Mint Garofo, for Helly and a buyer to show up. Thinking of the gift I’d get myself for all my hard work when it happened. I was pulled off the stool and found myself looking at 3 uniformed officers of the Trade Associations Union, I see Helly in cuffs nodding to one of them.
“That’s her! She’s the illegal beans trafficker,” he said.
There is another thing I should probably mention about Cora. Their idea of “public justice” is a bit strange and unusual. Often times criminals are forced to participate in “reality shows” for public entertainment. Some of these can be seen on Askance and the sheer embarrassment is more punishment than it is worth sometimes.
I’m a kid and the crime is non-violent, so I should get off a bit easier. Dunking booth, pie to the face, kiss a cow or whatever, something like that. The problem here is that TAU has it’s own show and they don’t care how old you are.
As I am being dragged off I can see through the window that Bit is looking out of the cockpit window and he is waving to me. Is this where I am suppose to say, “Someone save me!”, puh-leeze, that’s not my style.
“Lumia, please pay attention, dear.” Her mother said after noticing her attention wandering from her lesson to the large floor-to-ceiling window. Lumia was bored, that’s why she had an orange glow. Then her mother, hair tightly balled behind her head, closed the book, which ended the holographic projection above it, and sighed.
“I guess that’s enough for today. Do you want to see the twin worlds close up?” she asked her daughter who nodded before jumping up from her seat and dashing to the window. Her mother followed her and they peered out upon two habitable worlds, orbiting each other as if it were a dance.
“One of the few twin worlds discovered and the only one where both are habitable,” her mother said adding. “These worlds were settled by humans about a century ago. Such strange customs they have down there. On Cora, which I think is that one over there; they dispense justice through public entertainment. Brings up images of Roman gladiators, but it’s usually more like a variety game show.”
Lumia placed a glowing blue hand on the window, “I want to visit them.”
“Them? You want to visit these worlds?” her mother asked, surprised, “I already told you that some strange humans live on these worlds.”
Lumia smiled, she was fascinated and interested, thus a bluish glow. “I want to meet a human.”
Her mother was not pleased to hear this. “Now, Lumia, humans can be dangerous and these are definitely not the most civilized planets they have.”
Lumia started to get upset, her whole body beginning to glow yellow.
Lumia’s mother opened a holographic projection. Lumia was surprised and then fascinated to see a human broadcast from one of the planets below. Four humans of various shapes and sizes were trying to throw giant darts at a wall covered with colorful balloons. One of them must have hit the wrong color of balloon because a jet of water suddenly sprayed into his face.
Lumia laughed at his misfortune. Then a smaller human must have done well, because she was happy and the others were dejected. A score flashed on screen as the four humans were running through obstacles to get to the next competition. A totally different game awaited them.
“You see how silly and humiliating this is,” her mother said with a maroon-type glow.
“It looks fun.” Lumia replied, glowing brightly green with enjoyment.
Her mother turned off the broadcast. “I really do not think it is a good idea for you to visit these planets, Lumia.”
Lumia crossed her arms. Her dark mood soon matching that of her mother’s glow. “I don’t have any friends, and I never get to leave the ship any more. I’m not some fragile thing, mother, these humans do not frighten me.”
Lumia waved a hand over the holographic projector and the variety show from Cora appeared again, this time, two men standing on bobbing objects in a pool were trying to knock off each other with foam padded sticks. “Is this a live broadcast?” Lumia asked eyes locked on the image.
The computer answered, “It does appear to be.”
“That’s where I want to go, mother, where this is happening.” Lumia told her mother who looked a bit grumpy but replied. “If that is what you really want, then I suppose.”
Her mother hit a button on her bracelet and Lumia disappeared.
Suddenly Lumia was surrounded by humans, sweaty and perfumed scents assaulted her nose; but she didn’t feel like she was in any danger. Everyone was watching the pool where the two men were struggling to knock each other into the water. Another man and a smaller human, a girl, stood off to the side next to the pool waiting their turn.
The girl. Lumia looked closely at the human female; she seemed very young to be in contests with these grown human males. Her curly reddish hair had been in a ponytail earlier, but it was now all over her shoulders. She seemed to have little reddish marks on her forehead and shoulders, Lumia had to think and remembered these were called freckles.
For the third time one of the men in the pool had lost his balance and fallen into the water, the crowd laughed and cheered. Now it was the turn of the girl to face a grown man at such a sport. The girl looked determined while everyone laughed and pointed, they seemed to think this would not last very long.
The announcer introduced them as Maxx Slider and Bratty. The man raised his arm and flexed some muscles when he was introduced; but the girl didn’t even blink, she was already crouched down and ready to do combat.
Bratty, Lumia thought to herself, glowing blue. It was an interesting name, was it a name she had earned through her behavior or attitude? As the whistle sounded, Lumia pushed to the front of the crowd to get a better view of the contest.
The man tried to lightly poke Bratty a few times with his softened pugilistic weapon, but each time she smacked it to the side with her own. The crowd ooh’d each of these defensive moves while Maxx, her opponent, thought it was funny. Then Maxx reached out his stick and tried to tap Bratty on the side of the head, which she ducked and swung her own weapon at his knees.
The man lost his balance momentarily but he did not go down. Maxx seemed slightly impressed, and annoyed, that Bratty wasn’t going to be as easy to defeat as he thought. Finally the man held the weapon high over his head and slammed it straight down onto the floating platform Bratty stood on, it bobbed up and down and she nearly fell into the water. Instead she dropped to a knee and swung her own weapon at the shins of Maxx.
The unexpected counter attack caught him off guard as he over balanced and fell into the water. The crowd roared in surprise. Lumia was also pleased, now glowing green, happy to see that the crowd also took a liking to the girl.
Once the man had climbed back on the floating platform, which Lumia heard someone jokingly refer to it as “turtle-back”, he seemed more serious than before. He even tried to stomp on Bratty’s platform to cause it to bob and move around. He smacked her weapon away with a lot of force, so that even in defense she almost lost her grip on the thing.
Maxx rained blows down at Bratty, who usually just ducked or dodged them. It probably hurt when she did block them, she certainly struggled to keep balance. Soon enough, the man got a good lunge in that she failed to properly block. More than twice her weight, the blow had shoved her backward.
Trying to keep her balance she dropped to her knees, leaned forward and the padded end of her staff miraculously entangled his legs. Both of them hit the water at the same time.
Bratty was still winning though, if she could only knock him into the water one more time, she would be victorious.
Armed men in black with the letters TAU on their backs began taking up positions around the pool. Lumia, glowing yellowish, felt that they had bad intent, this wasn’t just about security or they would have been there the whole time.
She saw Bratty use her weapon to splash water at Maxx who was obviously agitated. Then he decided to splash a lot of water at her and she smacked him in the back as soon as he bent down. He fell right into the water. The girl had won the match, taking first place after having skipped the first round by winning the dart game.
The armed troops moved in and took the men on the side of the pool into custody. “We have to move this indoors, there is a threat of interference from the Quasi-Gang!” one of the soldiers announced as they gathered the men up. One of the men was heading toward Bratty who was just crawling out of the water. No, Lumia thought, glowing a bright blue, Bratty is not doing this anymore. Bratty should come with me.
Lumia used her bracelet to raise Bratty into the air and bring her close.
“Come on, let’s go!” Lumia told the confused girl. The soldiers were now on their way, having seen the human girl go airborne. Lumia grabbed Bratty’s wrist and urged her forward, “This way!”
Lumia had no idea where they were going; she didn’t know the first thing about this city or this planet. All she wanted to do was help the girl to escape. The girl kept up with her as they rounded the first corner.
I had seen the girl from the corner of my eye while concentrating hard to keep standing on the floating platform. The girl seemed to change color several times during the match whenever I happened to see her. In the back of my mind I thought this was strange, but I had more immediate concerns.
As I climbed out of the pool I heard the heavy clomp of the soldiers’ boots running around. One of them directly toward my position; when all of a sudden the ground fell away and I found myself flying through the air, over the show crew and some of the gathered crowd. I did not like the falling sensation at all.
I was set down right next to the color-changing girl. She grabbed me by the wrist. It felt warm and the warmth spread through my whole body. I was a bit stunned at the sensations that pulsed through me.
“This way!” she yelled.
We went around a tall building and around a few other corners before slipping into a small shop. The girl was glowing blue now and she laughed.
Then she met my stare and I was lost in her eyes, she was not human, she was definitely something else.
“My name is Lumia,” she said, “I already know your name, Bratty. I guess you are a celebrity on this planet now.”
A celebrity? “No, I’m considered a criminal actually.” I tell her and she looks out the window to see if any soldiers were around, “and taking me away from all that is not good. I’m a fugitive now!”
Her beautiful eyes grew large and round. “Oh! I thought it was over and you had won your freedom or something.”
I face-palmed myself. “That’s not how this works. After the show they present the winner with their walking papers.”
“What is this place?” Lumia asked walking into the shop, seemingly oblivious to my problems for the moment. Oh great, this alien girl is a flake too. I follow her inside; it was a noodle shop with low tables where people sat on the floor. She gasped with delight and turned green, “I want to try some human food!”
Before long, I was pulling my last two Cora tokens out of my pocket for a big bowl of Udon that me and the alien girl, Lumia, shared.
“This is quite good!” she said, glowing a bright green. We were the only customers but the old lady who ran the place kept looking at her.
“Can you turn it off, Rudolph? You are attracting attention.” I whispered to her. She looked thoroughly confused. “The glowing!”
“Oh,” she said before leaning forward and answering in full volume, “I can’t turn it off, silly.”
I didn’t know what to do. Why was I still hanging around with the alien girl when I was a fugitive because of her? “You got me into this mess!” I tell her, which wasn’t really the whole truth, but it felt true. “They’re going to be looking to arrest me, and it won’t be a variety show if they catch me this time.”
Her eyes were really big again. “I’m completely sorry,” she said and went back to her noodles. “Oh, want to see my spaceship?”
She’s already inviting me to her ship? “I would like to see my spaceship, but it’s impounded along with all the beans we grew. Now I’ll never get it back! It’s the only thing my mother left behind for me.” I was spilling it all out, tears were clouding my vision. Suddenly I felt warm and peaceful and she had an arm around my shoulders.
“This is my room,” she said. I opened my eyes and looked around. The noodle shop was gone and I was in a different place. There was a bed, a dresser, a closet, what looked like a shelf of toys and stuff and a window where I saw nothing but space.
“Your room?” I muttered. It was nicer than the shack back on Askance where a dozen of us kids lived together. “I live with a bunch of other orphans. They need me! Your room is really nice, I’m happy for you. But I need to get back and find a way to take care of them without my spaceship.”
Lumia stared at me. “I find it hard to know what you are feeling, but you seem really sad.”
“Because I don’t change colors?” I asked “Humans show their emotions in a lot of ways. By the way, what is your species called? How come I never heard of your people before?”
Lumia smiled, “We keep to ourselves. Way too much to ourselves. My family roams the galaxy on this ship and I hardly ever even see another of my kind much less other species like you. You said you were happy for me, but I am normally very sad and lonely.”
“Oh,” I said, tapping my fingers on my knee as I sat on the bed looking around, not knowing how to respond to a lonely alien who just turned…
“Maroon,” Lumia supplied, “I am normally just so maroon.”
We stare at each other and she cracks a huge grin and then we were both laughing and lying on the bed, just laughing. Then Lumia sat up and said, “Let’s find your ship!”
She walked to a small table and waved her hand over it. A holographic projection came up. I couldn’t help but go to it and get a closer look.
“You can see ships moving around.” I asked, “Is that real-time?”
“Wow!” I shut my jaw, then pointed toward the airstrip of the Twin Worlds Trading Post and it zoomed in until I could see everything. “I was parked right there.”
Of course my ship had been moved to make way for another trader. “The TAU probably moved it to their terminal!” I moved the image until I found it and then I looked close. My little ship stood out like a sore thumb surrounded by all the newer and sleeker vessels that were impounded.
“That ugly little one is mine. A gift from my mother, before she, uh, left.” I sigh, “It’s all I have to remember her by. God, that sounded pathetic and tripe, didn’t it?”
She looked sad again, maroon. “I would miss my mother very much too!”
The door slid open, this time, Lumia’s jaw dropped. A taller being that must have been her mother stood in the doorway, not looking very happy. She was highlighted by an almost black aura, or whatever that would be called.
“You brought a human to this ship?” she demanded the obvious. “I told you that humans are unpredictable and dangerous!”
Lumia grabbed her mother’s arm and pulled her out of the room and the door shut. I was there all by myself, feeling awkward. It’s not like I chose to be there. I return to the holographic image and zoom out and then tap on Askance and zoom in. After a minute I find our little farm and the shack and I can see Jake and Hetty playing on the swings, I can see Geoffrey and Alexander throwing a ball to each other.
I was so homesick.
I didn’t know they had come in but they were both watching me watch the image. Then I could see that both of them were glowing blue-green. I don’t know what Lumia had told her mother; but she had become very kind, if the color was an indication.
“Is that place important to you?” her mother asked.
I shook my head. I knew my mother wasn’t coming back for me, ever. I realized a long time ago that giving me the ship and Bit meant she was probably dying. “The place means nothing to me; it’s them that’s important. Those kids are my family.”
“Mother.” Lumia prodded.
“This is going to sound very strange,” her mother said “and it is, actually. I can teleport your ship to the hold. I can bring those other kids here too.”
For a good minute this didn’t register. “Why do you want to see all of us?”
“I meant to live here, with us.” the woman said, glowing a lovely shade of green.
“You want to adopt us?” I asked, not believing what I was hearing or thinking. I expected they would teleport me home, but this I had not seen coming. Lumia had the biggest smile I had ever seen, knowing a human could never pull one off as broad.
Lumia was almost jumping up and down, trembling in her excitement and she wrapped her arms around me. I felt like I was floating, the feeling was warm and…I broke the hug.
“Okay, but the hugging messes with my emotions!” I tell her. “Did you even know you had that effect on people?”
She hugged me again. “She said Yes!” Lumia squealed.
So that’s how a dozen of us humans, and a robot, were adopted by aliens.
Floyd Looney of Texas whose blog is: http://flscifi.blogspot.com/