The Liquor Seeker

The airlock slid open with a hiss and Tenaria fell through the yawning hole it had created. She gasped, the low oxygen levels on her own ship making her mind fuzzy and her chest heave with a lead weight. She’d been floating aimlessly through deep space for what felt like a life time and a half with no direction, limited supplies and lacking common sense.

Once her composure was regained and the room had stopped spinning she propped herself up on her calloused hands and scoured the deck with a wary eye. An ST-Bluebird if she was not mistaken, one of the more battered models. The low hiss of fluid steam and the absence of a rumbling engine indicated that a few upgrades had been made relatively recently; the Bluebird wasn’t known for it’s quite operation.

Staggering to her unsteady feet she crept forward, holding onto the sheet metal that covered the walls and drifted aimlessly down the very long, very copper corridor. The twists and turns it made confused her, most ships this age had a structured lay out, this was like nothing she’d ever seen before. Thoroughly confused and turned around she stopped for a moment to lean against the wall. Taking a deep, calming breath she leant her head backwards and sighed, feeling it bump against something jutting away from the cold surface.

Turning to look at it she raised one eyebrow at the painting of a squirrel in a top hat and monocle gazing down at her with a frown unrivalled by any she’d ever seen. Backing away a little from the obscure sight she tripped over a golf club lying clumsily on the floor behind her. Grabbing the wall, she squinted into the half light the emergency lights gave off and noticed the array of stuff around her.

An old typewriter lay on its left hand side, some keys missing and looking like a sullen old man’s face, grumpy and rejected. A top hat, several taxidermy animals the like of which she’d never seen before, a battered hover board and what looked to be a statue of Isambard Kingdom Brunel but without his right arm and a few bullet holes for good measure.

Wondering if she should turn back and take her chances with oxygen starvation her ears began to pick up the sound of soft music echoing down the long corridors. Placing one nervous foot in front of the other she followed the tune, the swell of the classical piece growing louder and louder. She recognised it, she couldn’t place it but she knew it from somewhere.

The dingy lower corridors gave way to bright, elegant rooms filled with brick-a-brack and odds and ends. Stacks of papers slid across the floor in little white and brown mounds, books flung open at obscure pages showed off theoretical physics, mythology, religious practices and music theory. Furniture haphazardly dotted the room and glasses of some odd brown looking fluid seemed to teeter on every edge. Tenaria sniffed one cautiously and recoiled from the sickly sweet smell.

Stepping over the skin of what looked to be a seven foot penguin and climbing over an array of cables she pushed on the wide wooden door before her; giving the golden, worn handle a shove. The swell of music hit her ears with a blasting force and sudden recognition poured in on her. The Star Wars theme screamed into her ear drums, as a live goat pushed its way past her eager to get out of its weird prison. Her mind whirled, unable to process what she was witnessing, but unable to ignore the man in the middle of the room.

“It’s rude not to knock you know!” He shouted over another great swell in the music. His long coat flowed out behind him as he leapt and bound about the space, waving what looked to be a fencing sword before his face. The blade zinged as it whipped through the air, the man’s shined formal shoes squeaked on the wooden floor as he pranced over a pile of books.

“Was that a goat?” Tenaria asked, a little afraid of the answer.

“A Triberian, Fillean Mountain Goat to be precise. My sparring partner, not the best I’ve had but he definitely has more skill than some.” He lunged forward and spiked a stuffed teddy in the gut.

“Haha! Have that Mr Bigglesworth!” Leaving the sword stuck in the bear, wobbling a little at the hilt he swished his coat off and threw it over the arm of one of the dusty old arm chairs. He looked every inch the gentleman in his well fitted suit, the red waist coat seemed to glimmer in the oil lamp light. Reaching a hand forward he gestured for Tenaria to take it; with some reservation she did.

“What may your name be Ma’am?” He enquired kissing her dusty hands and furrowing his brow a little at the taste. “Can’t imagine this is an official visit; you seem to have forgotten your shoes.” Tenaria looked down, a sudden flush of shame filling her as her black toes wriggled and left prints on the equally dirty floor. She opened her mouth to apologise but before she could muster a word, he had pulled her forward and directed her into the chair nearest the hologram fire.

“So, what are you? Criminal, gate crasher, smuggler, intrepid explorer of the stars …. mischief maker?” He cast her a suspicious eye and offered her a glass of that awful brown liquid she’d encountered on her way in from the decanter on the floor.

“A – a wander Sir. I’m lost.” She replied a little unsure of the drink in her hand.

“Ahah! I knew it! Knew it from the moment I saw you in that little box out there in the black!” He tapped his temple with one long finger, knowingly. He sat down heavily next to her and chugged down the last of his drink.

“Is there a story to go with that unhappy fate?” Tenaria gripped her glass and gazed down into its contents.

“No.” She stonewalled, unwilling to share anything of herself with this odd stranger. He gave her another look, one that was tinged with concern and questioning, but quiet acceptance.

“You should drink up.” He flourished, pouring himself another glass and lightening the mood.

“What is it?” Tenaria asked nervously, taking a tiny, cautious sip. Her face crinkled, she’d never tasted something so sweet, and the sensation! Little bubbles foamed across her tongue and tickled the back of her throat with long fingers making her splutter.

“This my dear, is the nectar of the Gods! Something quite wonderful but no longer in abundance, mores the pity. An old Earth drink, I have never learnt of its name but I believe it was quite the rage at one time in history.”

“But it’s so vile!” She exclaimed, forgetting herself for a moment.

“Pah!” He rounded on her, hand on hip, glass in the other. “You’ve had but a taste, what do you know? This is the soul meaning of everything on this ship. I risk life and limb on a regular basis in my quest for more! Do you want to know why?”

“I …”

“When I was but a young snapper of a boy, barely this high.” He gestured to some vague area, sloshing his glass as he did so. “I was digging through the rubble of forgotten dreams in my parent’s cargo bay, smugglers they were and they transported all manner of things across the stars. You know what I found? A small metal object, rounded and bright gleaming red. Not knowing what it was I hit it, I rolled it, I threw it and coming to no sensible conclusion at last I shook it, placing my ear to the can. Alas! The thing exploded right then and there in my hands raining down a glorious fountain of this perfect fluid. From that moment, I craved it, I longed for it and now I dedicate my life to the consumption of its glory.”

Tenaria was sure he was mad; a likable kind of crazy that she wasn’t sure she entirely understood.

“That’s your job?” She just had to clarify. “Searching for more of this stuff?” She rolled the glass in her hands.

“That’s it Miss! … Care to come along for the ride or shall we be sending you on your way once we come to a destination of your liking?”

Tenaria was not a girl with options. She had naught but the clothes on her back and one worn out ship. For all his flouncing something about the man seemed trust worthy and it was doubtful she’d receive another offer of travel anywhere else in this space quadrant.

“I don’t even know your name.” She said, allowing herself a small smile.

“I am the Seeker and this” he gestured his arms wide at the ship that encased them, “is Cacella. Welcome aboard, don’t touch any big bright red buttons, don’t agitate the goat and never touch my liquor without my permission.”

“Got it Captain.”

“Alrighty then! Onwards, to victory!”

Tenaria had never been so delightfully confused in all her life.

There

There’s an old Earth book, I forget what the title was, but it gave me the best advice a lonely little girl could ever have hoped to absorb.

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.””

I liked it because it reminded me of my father. Every time my eyes skipped over the bold black lines that formed the words on the dull, yellow page I could hear his voice. Now, it drips with nostalgia; thick globs of memory trickle down through my brain and his face invades my waking vision.

My childhood was such a happy one, it seems like such a shame to spoil it. When I think of how we lived, free and easy, flying above the clouds in our little floating ship; I want it to stop there. Like re-reading a book you have devoured time and time again, knowing something terrible is going to happen to your favourite main character. Wanting to stop before you get to the part where it all goes horribly wrong but unable to put it down, entrapped and enslaved by the horror that binds you to the spot.

I never really understood what happened; I was only ten. We’d been sailing out from Eranta’s space port into deep space. We’d been in a hurry, I don’t really know why, I think Mother was a little ill. For a long time we drifted in space, in quiet blackness that was so different from the love and laughter I had known before. I’d been told to keep to my room and like the good girl that I was I didn’t question it; trusting in my kind Mother and Father to the fullest extent of the word. It was only when a whole day had passed and I hadn’t seen hide nor hair of either of them that I ventured out into the darkness.

A blue light above me flashed down the corridor, bathing everything in a sickly glow. Somewhere off in the distance I could hear the grinding, whining of an alarm bell screeching its endless siren.

“Da?” I called out, suddenly a little afraid. “Da?”

No one answered. My Father’s work boots sat outside my bedroom door, I’d been wearing them when the soles broke off mine. I used to sit in the hammock in my bedroom keeping them on with just the ends of my toes as I swung through the air gently, reading some old book or another. They felt comforting and familiar on my feet.

We were listing slightly, a tiny touch of the gravitational field wearing off as I have walked, half bounced down through the ship down into the living quarters.

“Mumma? Are you down here?” I pushed on the door to the living quarters and shuddered at the cold breeze that was rushing across the back of my bare little legs. The fire was smouldering, some embers left but nothing else. They always stoked a fire. It was so unusual for Mother not to have one going that it made my stomach sink right down into my Da’s boots and settle there, like lead.

I crept from room to room, questioning at every door and finding nothing. I finally reached the bridge; I wasn’t allowed in there, too many big enticing buttons for a young girl to push. I didn’t think they’d mind, not this once and it had been such a very long time now. So with shuddering hands I pushed open the door.

The alarm was louder in here, blaring into my ears and the shaky AI voice was screeching a warning through the rusting old speakers Father had never got around to replacing.

“Escape pod ejected, escape pod ejected.”

My eyes grew wide and I turned to look at the escape pod exit, through the square hole of glass I could see the air lock open into outer space on the other side. Straps and insulating flapped free in the still vacuum outside. I could feel the prick of tears as it suddenly dawned on me that my parents had abandoned me, for no good reason at all they’d left me here, ten years old and floating in space.

That was five years ago now. Five years of endless drifting in deep space, not a soul around, no sign of a habitated planet. I asked the AI to send us to the closest planet with registered life; she estimated it would take us twenty years. We ran out of fuel two months ago and even for all my rationing I used the last canteen of water and tin of food yesterday morning. I’d been feeling ok about it actually, knowing it was the end but when AI finally gave up two hours ago I decided to call time on everything. I can’t drift forever, with no food or water, no fuel, no comforting voice and companionship even if it is an artificial lie. I can’t drift with no hope.

I have had advantages, I’ve had caring and loving parents until something drove them away. I can’t help but criticise though, all the pain and the suffering and the abandonment I’ve endured does not bow to the philosophy I once held so dear. It is that quote that reminds me of my Father and how much of a hypocrite he was.

This will be my last entry. I’ll leave it unlocked on the system for you, whoever you may be. Maybe you can find the answers that I never had, maybe there are no answers to be had now. Whatever happens now, at least I will have a legacy. Even if my parents didn’t remember me, maybe you will.

The Silverlight Dome – Chapter 2

“That bitch is around here somewhere. Keep your eyes open, if we don’t have her by sunrise I will personally skin every last one of you sorry motherfuckers.” The big burly ring leader that had held Lilth hostage towered over the small pack of ruffians gathered around him. A little stream of angry spittle swung from his chin to mingle with the blood from his broken nose. They shifted nervously from one foot to the other, every man knew what Bolath was capable of and they didn’t want to push their luck.

Sneaking through the shadows the group of six moved like water, silent and sure footed. Not a sound could be heard as their soft, clothed feet padded across the soft sand street. Like cats they surrounded the first door, jimmied it open with an old, rusting screwdriver and flooded inside. A few seconds sweep of the building gleaned no results. Old, worn out furniture was tipped up, cupboards and closets ransacked; nothing. This process was repeated all the way down the street, the homeless and destitute dragged from their make-shift beds, dazed and confused.

They reached the fourth door. Grappling with the door handle the scrawniest of the group twisted and turned the rusted door knob to no avail. The group behind him began to titter and his cheeks flushed an angry red. Bolath, used one large, furry hand to yank the smaller man out of the way, impatience brewing up inside him, making his agitated. Using a little of his strength he ripped the door from its hole in the wall and threw it some way down the street, no longer concerned with the noise it made.

Forcing his way inside he filled the dark room with his vast body. Stooges poured in around him and searched the place.

“There’s nothing here!” One called from the back room. Bolath’s temple twitched and the men closest to him took a few quick paces backwards. In two strides he was in front of the speaker, grabbing him around the throat and forced him back against the wall.

“Nothing?” He snarled. “Is that what you said?” Before he could go on something fell from above, tapping him lightly on his naked head. A few bits of roof tile rolled down his back and plopped unceremoniously onto the floor. He looked up, still gripping his accomplice in a vice, his face turning a nasty shade of blue-purple; he caught the flash of a heel as it disappeared up into the rafters onto the roof. He dropped the man, now unconscious onto the floor and forced his way outside.

“Lilth!” He bellowed into the night as she leapt from her roof onto the neighbours, crumbling abode. His face become a beautiful shade of purple and blue mottled rage as she turned to blow him a kiss before disappearing off down the street; canvas bag draped over on shoulder.

“Get her back!” Bolath screamed at the men already scrambling after her. Pulling out their light dividers they shone the bright beams across the rooftops, catching a gleam of red hair and shinning brown boots.

Lilth could hardly breathe, the stitch in her side rendering her almost incapacitated. She pranced like a deer over the last few rooftops before she came clattering to the end of her tiled road. Without missing a beat she gripped onto the rusting old drainage pipe that was just clinging to life and swung herself around and down the side of the rickety structure. The pipe crunched and swung, the screws that held it in place flaking away from the old walls. Leaping the last two foot Lilth rolled into the dust, losing her bag in the process.

“There she is!” Someone shouted just behind her, the sound of running feet beginning to gain on her made her heart pound in her chest. Snatching up the bag she cursed as a few precious gems rolled out into the street. She gave them a longing look before pelting off down a side road, leaving little skids from the heels of her boots in the dust; oh how she hated anyone else touching her bounty.

Crashing into the next street she headed for the docks, there was a boat leaving for the Outreaches at sunrise, if she could just make it there before the sun started to peak over the horizon she’d be ok. Picking up the pace she ignored the screaming cramp in her calf muscles and carried on. She could smell the clean atmosphere of the air lock. This was it just a little further.

Something whizzed past her, grazing her arm. Yelping her bag slipped down around her elbow; a sudden pain in her upper arm and a warm, flowing sensation apparent to her. Reaching around she touched the hilt of a knife embedded in her flesh, puckering the once taught skin where it pulled and warped it out of shape. She didn’t have to pull it out, she knew if she took even a second longer they would catch her and she’d be dead meat.

She could see it, the great ship filling the dock like a great, flat dinner plate suspended in space. It was gently spinning, getting ready to depart, she was a fraction of a second too late. She was limping now, unable to keep her pace. Skidding to a halt at the end of the dock she cursed her bad luck, the goons were behind her, blocking her in, forcing her towards the edge. A face she recognised peeked out of the crows nest as it began to float down beneath her.

“Jaspen!” She called out, waving with her good arm. “Jaspen, wait!”

“Can’t now lassie! She’s afloat!” Lilth swore at the little old man staring up at her with confusion abound on his face. There was nothing for it, glancing back one last time she knew she had no other options left to her. Her wide eyes took in the sight of the great disk, rotating, floating down towards the hatch in the great glass dome they called home, its shining silver exterior cold and uninviting. It looked like her death. She took a deep breath, shook herself twice and jumped.

Bolath came to the edge of the causeway and looked down as the ship was swallowed up in the cloud that lingered at the bottom of the great glass bowl and howled with anger. He turned and strode away, rummaging in his pocket for his cigarettes and pocket communicator. Lighting a tar black stick of smoke, he kicked the smallest of his bunch of henchmen off the edge to alleviate his rage. Feeling somewhat calmer he raised the little black box to his face and pushed a series of buttons. An electrical crackle emitted itself from the speaker on the bottom of the box. Giving it a swift whack with his palm the static settled down.

“Sir. My most sincere apologies Sir.” Bolath began.

“Did I not make it clear to you how important it was that you recover that gem, Bolath? Perhaps I was not making myself clear?” A whispering, rasping voice echoed out across the musky dock. It sounded distant, far away and muffled.

“No Sir, I understand. It was, just that …”

“Oh Bolath. I am disappointed.” The voice hissed, a little louder now that it had been before. “I’m afraid that I can’t stand for such a thing. I might have to let you go.”

“Sir, please.” He coughed and pulled on his collar.

“I simply cannot afford anymore blunders at this stage, you understand I’m sure.” Bolath heaved, suddenly unable to take in any air. The blood vessels burst in his eyes, filling them with little strings of red. For the last time he flushed his trademark shade of purple before falling unceremoniously to the floor, to the great delight of his crew. As they shied away into the new morning the radio crackled to itself, keeping the cooling body company in the still of the dawn.