This is a bit of short fiction I wrote for a contest on Wattpad.
Iowa is a place, it turns out. Or at least it was before the bombs fell from the sky during the Last Great War (a war that was neither the last, nor particularly great, and may not have in fact been a war per se). I could see where it used to be from my window high above the Big Blue Marble. Well, to be honest, it’s the place scholars think it was. Large chunks of the North American continent no longer exist. I closed the history book (not a book and I called the quality of history in question) and looked back out at the expanse below. “People never learn from their mistakes.”
“Pardon?” Annabelle asked the question from her station behind the bar. She looked like a lovely girl, from the waist up. From there down, she was a mass of wheels, gears, and circuitry.
I looked at the AI bartender. “Just pontificating on the history of mankind, such as it is. Unlike ‘bots and ‘droids, we stink at learning from what has come before. That’s the reason why this place needs a bouncer.” As the self-described bouncer, or as we were known on most Alliance space stations Sentient Attitude Readjustment Officers, it was my job to make sure no one caused a ruckus in The Last Call. It was the last bar in orbit around my planet of origin. As such it was really the last bar “on” Earth, so long as you allowed the word “on” to include near Earth orbit. It inter-galactic terms it was close enough for horseshoes and hyperbombs.
She smiled. “Well we won’t need you much longer.”
“True enough. What’s the countdown til station implosion?” In spite of Saint Kane’s Fourth Rule, one of the many rules that scrolled around the bar’s walls, there was such a thing as a last call in this ironically named bar.
She displayed the timer across her voluptuous, bare breasts. “Ten minutes, thirty-five seconds, and some change. You’d best be on your way soon, Jonesy”
I sighed. She was right. There wasn’t much left for me to do. Only one sentient still drank, a Conjoined Marriage Unit only counted as one person for tax and IQ purposes, and they weren’t even arguing with each other.
“I may stay here.”
“Why on Earth would you do that Jonesy?” Annabelle cocked her pretty little head. I could almost hear the gears work from where I stood.
“I’m not sure there’s much to do for an old man like me.” I scratched at my graying beard. “Did you know I’ll be two hundred and four next month?”
Her eyes rolled upwards and back down. “Two hundred-five according to our records.”
I shrugged and smiled. “Must have dropped a year somewhere. Regardless, two-hundred’s a lot more than the four score and ten man was promised. I think we’ve forgotten how to give up.” I sat down at the bar and motioned for a drink.
She poured me a soda water and slid it over.
I frowned at the sparkling clear liquid. “None of the hard stuff?”
“You’re still on duty.” She gestured to my long sleeved tunic.
I looked down. ‘Leave your troubles at the door’ scrolled across my own chest. It indicated I was, in fact, still on duty. I harumphed and drank the soda.
“I want a drink and if it’s not on the house I’ll crack the planet in half.” The voice, somewhere between a primal scream and the sound made by tectonic plates, sent what few hairs I still had on my head into a fully upright and locked position.
I pushed back from the bar and turned as I did. The man that stood there was only a speck more human than Annabelle, though she had more humanity. There were fleshy bits here and there, but he was mostly augments made out of steel and plastic. “A ‘roid miner? What the fresh hells are you doing this close to Earth, pilgrim?”
The question threw him off his stride. He took a few seconds to think through the query. The miners spent most of their cash on physical augments to the detriment of their brain power. “I’m on vacation.”
I raised an eyebrow. “To get the scratch to come all the way here means you had a good strike. You can afford your own drink.” I pointed to the Saint’s fifth rule as it passed us on the wall, “No freebies.”
He frowned and took a few steps towards me. He was stronger, but speed wasn’t important in the asteroids. “I warned you.”
“Yeah, yeah, crack the planet in half? Not bloody likely.” I kept the same distance between us. “Better make your order now. It’s last call here and that’s a forever thing. You stay much longer,” I thumbed at Annabelle’s chest, “and you’ll be dust in the solar wind.”
He looked from me to the ample offering and the countdown timer displayed thereon. “Huh? This place don’t close.”
I shrugged. “This one’s out of our hands. You order your drink. You drink it. And you shove off.”
I could almost see the literal gears churning behind his eyes. “This place going down? Guess it don’t matter if I break something then.” He grabbed a nearby chair and wrenched it free of the deck plates. That wasn’t easy. He then threw it in my direction.
I may be on the low side of the Big Deuce, but I’m fast. A bouncer has to be. I swept the chair out of the air, swiveled my body in such a way as to keep the momentum, and redirected the chair at him. It wasn’t a heavy thing, so it bounced off of his chest. I was right behind it, though and my shaped force gauntlets were already powered up. The same force field tech who guarded Hir Royal Majestrix’s battle fortress wrapped my hands. Right before they made contact the field pushed outward explosively.
The miner’s head snapped backwards and his body followed.
I landed lightly. “Now look here, pilgrim, we don’t have all day for talks. When you get up…” The sentence remained unfinished as he came to his feet and plowed through me. I had misjudged his speed or his intelligence, or both. Thankfully the field wrapped my body right before impact. Hitting the wall still jarred me.
Big and ugly now stood at the bar. “I want my drink and I want it now.”
The conjoined couple tossed their drink back in a huff and got up to leave.
Annabelle smiled. “You want a drink now?”
His answer was a hard thump on the bar top.
Her erect nipples irised open slightly. The water jets hit him with quite a bit of force. She used them to hose down the bar during any down time. She could also slice a lemon paper thin. She must not have had it set on Water Knife. Looked more like a Boob-nami.
He went flying back like he’d been hit with a fire hose. By that time I was already behind him and down on all fours. The back of his legs hit me and he went ass over fiddlesticks. The thud would have cracked anything other than the durasteel hull plate and apparently his head.
He groaned and worked his way to his feet. “I. WANTED. BOURBON.”
I punched him three times in the place that approximated his windpipe. “You can’t have any.”
He clutched his armored throat. Most ‘roid miners don’t need to breathe, but they forget that the minute they hit atmo. Our brains are funny things and it’s hard to give up the habit of millions of years.
“Now, are you going to settle down and leave the station like a good sentient, or do we have to get nasty?”
He shook his head. Then he thought a minute. Then he nodded.
I let him think a minute and smiled when he shrugged. “Get out of here and get on your ship. You have about four and a half minutes.”
He ran out, still clutching his throat.
I turned my head one way, then the other, enjoying the crackle of vertebrae. “I am gonna miss beating the crap out of jackholes.”
“We make a good team.” I heard Annabelle’s voice from behind me.
I turned and took a good look at her. She was a fun gal with a solid undercarriage. “We do at that.”
“Let’s get out of here.”
“Don’t you belong to the Last Stand? I assumed you were going down with the ship.”
She scowled slightly. “I bought myself out years ago. I just enjoyed the company and the job.”
I held out my arm for her to take it at the elbow. “Well I can’t say I disagree. Let’s blow this joint before it blows us.”
We left work early. I didn’t think that would hurt our reputations too much. I had my ship powered up and we were the last ones to leave the bay. The grunt ‘bots would be atomized along with everything else. Someone would be along to vacuum up and recycle the debris. It wasn’t cost efficient, but the coruscating colors of the disintegration were mighty pretty.
I looked at my new co-pilot. “So, where to?”
She smiled at me and then looked out the viewport towards the array of stars. “I hear good things about that second star to the right.”
I was always a sucker for a girl who appreciated the classics.
I was all set to plot a course and jump us into hyper-warp when the warning alarms went off on board my ship. She wasn’t the most tricked out thing in the universe, light on weapons and heavy on engines and shielding. I also made sure I’d know when someone was about to jump on me. Given the speeds at which things move at out here, I’m really not sure how it can warn me, but it does.
I slip sidewise and the incoming ship flits past me. It was actually trying to ram me. I probably could have withstood the assault, but no reason to put my theory to the test. “Hold on Annabelle.” I put in a series of maneuvers and set the computer to activate them. It was a better pilot than me.
After plotting a course I checked the sensor readings. I didn’t have to look too deep or think too hard. It was our friend the miner. I opened up a communications link. “What in the name of Saint Kane are you doing?” I yelled as calmly as I could.
The deep gravelly voice boomed back. “I warned you.”
This was the joker who threatened to crack the planet in half. There was actually a decent chance he was able to do just that. Our home world wasn’t all that stable these days. The instability was the main reason why the space stations had all closed up shop. His doing it wouldn’t hurt anyone, at least not right away. It would still be a damn shame though.
“So you wanted to be in the bar just then?”
Light static from the other end. “Of course not. I just wanted some free booze. Is that so wrong?”
“When someone has to pay for it to get it from corn to table, yes.” Not that it had been made from corn in centuries. “I don’t work for free and neither does Annabelle. They don’t sell the whiskey and we don’t get paid. Surely even a sock brained monkey can figure that one out.”
He brought his ship around to bear on us and opened fire with some sort of mass driver cannon, I was grateful for his choice of weapons. We were fast but not speed of light fast.
The computer altered course to compensate. It almost made it. I hate the word almost. It’s never a good thing. “I almost lost my virginity.” “You almost got away with it.” Your paycheck is almost at the bank.” Whatever its object you weren’t likely to get all of it until the thing was ready for you,
The whole ship shuddered and threatened to throw us both into the pilot’s workstation. I managed to catch myself on the railing. “Computer, damage report.” It presented me with my report on screen. I was glad that the voice was still disabled. The report didn’t look too bad. The hyper engine would be out of alignment until I got it fixed. That wouldn’t be cheap, but it was standard maintenance anyway. The real joke was that the shields had gone down. Whatever he threw at us next would hit and hit hard.
I heard an electronic protest from behind me. The ship’s computer made that particular noise any time I asked it to do something it wasn’t inclined to do. I turned to see Annabelle doing something rude and a little bit sexy to the console. All the lights flashed red and then green again.
She looked at me with a leer. “Shields are up, Captain. Let’s teach that miner a thing or three about shooting at us.”
I wheeled back around in my seat. Even with shields I didn’t want us to take another hit. My fingers danced over the controls. I was no pilot but I knew my way around security systems in ships. The bully had gotten a little too close and his flight transponder was in range. I fired a data stream at him that could prove deadlier than any weapon. The poor thing didn’t stand a chance.
“Hello, Jackass.” My voice came from all around him. “You shot at us and my companion and I don’t care for that. I have taken ownership of your vessel. You know it really does pay to install the maintenance patches you receive. In a timely fashion.” I read through my sub-console that he’d tried to activate his cannon again. “Ah, ah, ah. No shooting at us.”
I rifled through his ship’s systems and found what I was looking for. I could imagine the thumps and thuds that he heard from behind the pilot’s chair. There was a cloud of vapor from his back end and an object slid into view. I brought my ship around and within range. The tractor beams grabbed the box and brought it alongside and into my hold.
“You brought part of your precious metals with you, yes?”
I saw him nod into the camera that had his face in view. I saw the realization dawn on the ugly mug. Then I saw him mouth words at me. I was grateful I had left the sound turned off.
“Yes. I’ve taken possession of it. Don’t worry. I’ll give it a good home.” I tapped a few more controls. “Now, I’ve set your auto-pilot to take you to the dark side of the moon. You’re going to hang out there for a few days. That will give my partner and me a head start.”
“Partner? I like the sound of that.”
I smiled over my shoulder at her. “Well, now that you know my ship so intimately I figured we’d go halves on the take.” I turned my attention back to the miner. “I do not recommend you follow us. Following us will give us license to do something more permanent. Go back to the asteroid fields. Get more raw materials. And next time you go somewhere to sell them, make sure it isn’t about to self-destruct.” I executed the commands I’d put into his auto-pilot and broke the connection.
We watched the ship fly towards Luna. The satellite was no longer inhabited by humans. The natives had been given the run of the place after the Second Last Great War. He’d have no one to bother until he broke my lock. Once he was out of sight I turned to Annabelle. “You’re really going to have to teach me that trick.”
She tucked the probe away in her undercarriage. “We’ll have plenty of time for that. Now, get us back on course.”
I sketched a sloppy salute and got us back on course. Neverland is a place, it turns out. But that’s another story for another time.