It is the year 2049. After decades of research and development, aging businessman, entrepreneur, engineer and billionaire, Elon Musk, has launched his most ambitious project yet. A crew of 50 men and women, including the 78 year old Musk himself, have embarked on a 3 year journey. If they succeed, they will go down in history as the first human beings to set foot on and return from an alien planet.
Back on Earth, the family and friends of the massive crew get along as best they can.
It’s an August night, cool after the heat of the day. Sol is huge on the horizon, as the Earth rotates Rocket City, Texas out of the sun’s direct line of fire and into the fringes of early twilight. Engineers and scientists sit down to dinner. A boy in his first car swings by a girl’s house.
On going cycles.
Are girls impressed by the quality of car driven by their dates? Do they judge a guy based on paint jobs and horse power? Trent Schafer, being 17, didn’t know the answers to these questions. Just to have his bases covered, he had worked an intense summer job, so that he could blow a lot of money to buy something vintage. And then he had put in hours- no, weeks repairing, replacing, sanding. And programming.
Well, it hadn’t been all about the girl. The summer job? What kid wouldn’t have jumped at the chance to be part of an orbital construction crew in freaking outer space?? (Opportunities like this come up occasionally when both your older brothers are on the Prime Crew.) And Trent had grown up around so many gearheads and techies that rescuing a 2010 Mustang from a junkyard was almost second nature. A lot of the kids in the neighborhood could have done it. Well, not the programming part- that was Trent’s personal specialty.
But anyhow. He had the car. This was its maiden voyage in fact. And with Drake and Kelly both more than 100 million miles away, the person he most wanted to share it with slash show it off to was Alison.
So, are they? Do they?
“Trent!” she squealed “You finished it?! Sweeeet! Wow! Awesome!” She circled the Mustang the like the Moon circles the Earth- always facing it.
Alison had sleek black hair that flowed past her shoulders. Her complexion was unusually pale, especially for her hair. Her lightning blue eyes tied the skin and hair together in a striking combination. Trent had once read a story book description of Snow White that had reminded him of Alison. The book had drawn more strongly from Brother’s Grimm than from Walt Disney; Alison made Disney’s Snow White look like Shemp Howard. She was tall for a girl, her 5’ 10” on a level with Trent. Her figure was athletic but with enough distracting female curvature that Trent often found himself looking more directly into her eyes than was strictly necessary.
Trent’s face broke into a grin that made his ears climb up his scalp.
“Yeah?” He encouraged “You like it?”
“Bad!” she enthused, “To the bone! Yeah, it rules.”
She ran a delicate finger along the midnight blue paint job, and the fire colored sunburst across the hood.
“Who laid this paint down?”
“Larry. You know, Kelly’s buddy? He cut me a deal.”
“What about this design?” She indicated the sunburst.
Trent tapped his skull. “I laid it out in CAD. Larry complained because it’s not authentic 2010, but I like it. You wanna see the inside?”
He tapped his cell phone, the car chirped and it’s doors opened themselves. The teens slid inside.
She continued to marvel. His ego continued to inflate. His cheeks began to cramp up from all the grinning.
Another chirp from the cell phone and the engine started to purr. She glanced at the steering wheel.
“You don’t actually drive this do you?”
“No. No way, are you kidding? You think I want to smash this ride up?This tok way too much work for that. I linked it in to Trafficnet, obviously. This here,” Trent thumped the wheel, “I just left in place because this is a vintage piece of art. It’s even functional, but I don’t use it. Chinese?”
“The Beijing Palace?”
Trent clapped his cell into its receptacle in the dashboard. A blue glow cast shadows briefly across his features as the cell phone’s optical sensor located Trent’s face, and then his eyes. A thin beam of light focused, not on, but into his cornea, and a menu of options, along with an annoying, flashy ad praising Cellnet’s superior service, appeared in the air, visible to Trent alone. With a few REM speed flicks of his pupils he shut off the ad, indicated the restaurant as their destination and booked their arrival time priority as extremely flexible. The weather was excellent and summer was almost over: might as well enjoy the ride.
The 40 year old Mustang backed itself out on to the warm pavement, linked into Rocket City’s local Trafficnet and drove itself toward the highway.
Most major US cities had adopted Traffic Net systems, but Rocket City had beta tested it. Musk Enterprises held the patents and guzzled cash from municipalities like it was going out of style. (Which, point in fact, it was.)
In 2010, the mustang had been a small car, but in Rocket City 2049 it was massive. The swarm of vehicles it merged with as it headed downtown averaged half its size. Most were at maximum capacity with two passengers. A few hummed along with no one inside at all, either enroute to pick someone up or else courier vehicles. The passengers read, slept, ate, flossed or chatted on their cell phones, oblivious in the main, to the flow of traffic around them. A few, like Trent, people-watched.
“Check out that Fat Dude!” he snorted to Alison “He barely fits in that teeny Volvo!”
Alison punched him. “Be nice!” she flirted.
Fat Dude looked up from his half pound burger and gazed in their direction, like a fish in an aquarium, almost as if he could hear them despite the intervening windows. In unison, Trent and Alison innocently whiplashed their necks around to be fascinated by a featureless brick office building.
Trafficnet kept all vehicles cruising at a safe, efficient and uniform speed, so Fat Dude stayed within 4 meters of them for roughly an eternity.
It was with some relief that Alison and Trent felt Trafficnet begin subtly shuffling the vehicles around them, as an intersection drew into view, accelerating one briefly here, opening up a gap there, weaving the two bisecting streams of traffic through each other, without impeding the flow of either. A busy 60 mph crossroads, smooth, efficient and even safe, with no body stopping or even slowing more than slightly.
Trent’s car spun a smooth radius through the four way crossroads. Fat Dude stayed steadily abreast, an unwanted skating partner.
Alison moaned and slumped below window level in her seat.
“You gotta to be kidding me!” Trent groaned and laughed at the same time, punching his cell phone. Once again the laser light focused on his retinas and the phantom computer interface appeared.
“This can not be right” he insisted, half to his car and half to his date. He did a quick double check of their Trafficnet status.
The destination was wrong.
Annoyed, Trent disabused the computer of its notion that they wanted to visit a parking garage and ordered in the Palace again, this time jacking their priority up several notches. This cost money, but summer was almost over and he felt rich.
“You programmed this thing yourself did you?” inquired Alison innocently. Trent regarded her from beneath a single raised eyebrow.
The Beijing Palace was located outside the suburbs of Rocket City. It was owned, Trent happened to know, by a family who had a cousin on the Prime Crew. Jon Lei, of the Buzz Aldrin, in fact. Jon was a friend and colleague of Trent’s oldest brother Drake, who was onboard the Delta.
The Palace was slightly above the mean for classiness. It was set in a modest, middle class strip mall with a broad glass store front. A few tables sat on a patio outside, and a few people were enjoying the night air with their meal. When Trent showed Alison into the restaurant’s small waiting area, they were greeted by a fat porcelain Buddha and a dozen exotic looking fish in a tank. A broad bladed tai chi sword with a colorful pom pom and a snarling lion’s head for a tang hung above the entrance to the dining room. A shriveled old woman who stood barely higher than Trent’s navel smiled mutely at them from behind a credit register, then shouted something in what Trent assumed to be Chinese to some one out of their line of sight. She gave them another wordless smile and a nod. A moment later a middle aged man with a rough shock of black hair and black slacks, a white apron and bad teeth appeared to welcome them to his restaurant. This was Mr. Lei, who Trent knew only as Mr. Lei, but who recognized Trent right away.
“You ah Drake Schafer’s brother, riight?” He asked as he showed them to a table for two tucked behind a bamboo curtain. “You ah going to go to space too?” he inquired, smilingly.
Trent enjoyed being talked to as if he was a full adult like this. It was something that seemed to happen more frequently since Drake and Kelly had left. It also however, made him feel a bit awkward and formal. As if he needed to respond like an adult.
“Well actually,” Trent began and told Mr. Lei about his summer job. Mr. Lei was duly impressed.
“Really? Izza that riiight? Wow, that is a velly ah good job for you! Congratulation! Just like your brother. Very good. And your other brother.” He continued to smile, genuinely enthusiastic, and Trent felt obliged to introduce Alison, and explain about her father being Farin Bishop, also from the prime crew of the Delta. Mr Lei was pleased, happy and enthusiastic anew at this news and shook Alison’s hand warmly. Alison flushed very mildly and Trent felt unaccountably good about himself.
A look of concern crossed Mr Lei’s face.
“But ah” He began tentatively “ The Delta… I ah saw on ah Internet-“
Trent sighed inwardly.
“-that ah there is some ah problem on the Delta?”
Alison sighed outwardly.
“Oh really?” she asked and her very mild flush was gone. “What exactly did the internet say was wrong with the Delta? Was a paper jam on a printer? A burned out lightbulb? A fuel tank needing refilling?”
“Ah actually-” began Mr. Lei.
“Because, you know, each of these has been reported by the media as a ‘mechanical failure’ since the five ships left. It’s actually been a very uneventful voyage. They barely even accelerated after the first month. But it’s obviously the most important event in space travel since Armstrong, Buzz and Collins, so naturally the media is killing themselves to make headlines out of nothing. Its really rather pitiful.”
A pained sort of smile crept over Mr. Lei’s face.
“Well actually” He backpedaled “This ah one is ah little bit strange.”
“Really.” Alison challenged “How?”
“Well they ah actually did not ah say anything was wrong with ah Delta. They just said it was ah missing.”
“Missing?” snapped Alison “That just means NPR’s science division is so inept that they can’t locate it, which, frankly since the ships are in orbit around an alien planet now, really should be no surprise to anybody. NPR does realize that they landed the Collins in January, don’t they, so there’s only 4 ships to find now, anyhow-“
“Ah actually it was ah CBS-”
“Well, yeah any time you want to see B.S... See the thing is, Mr. Lei, that even though this mission is the most important event, scientifically speaking, this century, it’s actually quite unpopular in certain circles”
Mr. Lei glanced around and licked his lips.
“There are, as you know, several political groups here in USA (she pronounced it OOO-saw) and whole governments elsewhere who find it terribly threatening that a private citizen, without any help from them has accomplished so much.”
“Not that they haven’t tried to take over, of course. You remember when we set up assembly on the moon? ‘Regulations to protect the Lunar Ecosystem’ Gaaa! Lunar Ecosystem! It’s the fracking Moon! There is no freaking ecosystem! So of course Elon told them all to go to hell. Threatened to move mission control to his own private island. Told them to back off or he’d take all the flags off the all spaceships and fly the whole damn mission under the Jolly Roger. I wish he had, that’d have been fricking awesome! Sorry Mr. Lei- about ranting and all but-“
“No, no, you ah right-“
“But there are tons of people down here who would like the mission to fail somehow and its just ridiculous! Sorry, really. Mission control is in constant radio contact with each of the five ships. The Delta is just fine.”
“No that’s ah... great!” Mr. Lei smiled as if he had enjoyed Alison’s outburst, (as in fact he had). He rubbed his hands together and seemed to savor being able to draw a breath.
“Great.” He repeated. “How about some food?”
When they were alone with their menus, Alison looked mortified.
“What did I say?” she hissed in an undertone.
“Nothing that wasn’t true.”
“What they really are afraid of is that we will set up our own private colony on Mars, which is beyond retarded. Do you know what Mars is like? Put the Gobi desert in Antarctica under the biggest rip in the Ozone you can find, and you got a pretty nice day on Mars. Did you know that the icecaps on Mars are not water? They’re carbon frickin’ dioxide! Frozen solid! It snows C-oh-two on mars!”
“It’s crazy, is it not?”
“Yeah. But now Mr. Lei thinks I’m a psycho”
“No he doesn’t. He likes you. He thinks you’re funny.”
“Funny?! Oh nooo!”
“It’s a good funny. As in Funny-funny.”
“Yeah, like funny farm funny.”
“Could be worse.”
She threw a chopstick at him.
The food was good. The company was also good. They were just reading the drivel in their fortune cookies (you will be unexpectedly reunited with a loved one, reach for the stars, follow your heart) when there was the sound of breaking glass and shouting.
Trent spun around in shock to see a nightmare figure. It was a man, but much bigger than a man should be. Seven feet tall- or was it eight? It had smashed through the plate glass front of the diner, and had somehow trampled to kindling one of the tables at which an older couple had been eating.
It was as broad as any two men. A male human head topped its massive shoulders, dark of skin and eye. A single shoulder length dreadlock of black wool depended from his scalp and a black goatee from his chin, but beyond the man’s face, no other skin was visible. His body, arms and legs were entirely encased in… Trent’s mind grappled to identify it – it was maroon, with the appearance of something between glass and plastic. Body armor unlike anything Trent had ever seen, covering the man from the neck down, giving him the appearance of a robot from one of the sci fi channels.
The massive red-armored juggernaut swatted a bamboo curtain from it’s path. It went flying, like a wadded up tissue, and shattered against a wall 20 feet away. The giant’s glaring eyes swept the room. He waded forward through the chaos of debris and terrified diners, each step pounding the floor like the dropping of an engine block, vibrating dishes, silverware, and what little glass remained in the plate window.
Then, before Trent or Alison had had time to register what had happened, the man-thing’s dark eyes turned in their direction. Trent had just enough time to assume that it must be focused on something behind them, but before he could glance over his own shoulder, the huge body, with shocking speed had pivoted and crossed the distance between them in four foundation-rattling strides. The armored feet actually tore divots out of the hardwood floor as it came, and then the monster had seized Alison by the neck and yanked her bodily from her chair. She let out a squeak that might have been a yell of terror, but it terminated abruptly as her air was choked off in the monster’s grip.
Trent found himself on his feet and he made a move to seize the thing’s arm (it felt odd, almost metallic, but warm and slick) but the giant shook, or shrugged and Trent was momentarily airborne, like the bamboo curtain. Whatever it was, it was strong, in a way normally associated with industrial grade construction machinery. Trent’s back and tail bone slammed into the edge of a chair, which went over. Pain shot up his spine as he slammed into the floor.
The juggernaut spared Trent no other glance, but rotated ponderously and trampled away towards the gap it had created in the plate glass, Alison struggling in its one-handed grip. There was more shouting and screaming as terrorized restrauntiers made a panicked stampede for any and all exits. Trent struggled to regain his feet, got entangled as a woman in heels tried to leap over him and they both went down.
“Hey! Gacking pizzle! No! Frimmin’-”
Trent’s parent’s had neglected their three sons education to an almost criminal level when it can to practical profanity. As a result of this abuse, he never knew what to shout in a crisis. He shoved the heeled woman off of him with a foot to her skirt and struggled up, but the monster was half way across the restaurant now, and Trent realized something: The giant had moved fast when it had crossed the room to seize Alison. If it made it to the open street, there would be no catching it. It slowed to swat down a man who had somehow, in his attempt to flee, wound up directly in the monster’s path, but this minor delay was not going to give Trent the time he need to catch up.
A man in black slacks and a white apron, a spare man with a bad hair cut and bad teeth appeared from nowhere. With sudden grace, Mr. Lei sidestepped a chair that went skidding by and dodged a shrieking teenager, to close with the juggernaut. A silver and black aluminum baseball bat whistled through the air and connected with the back of the monster’s knee. A strange, unearthly pinging noise filled the air. It was a blow that would have crippled any normal man.
The juggernaut stumbled forward, going into a half a kneel, but it recovered. With Alison still clawing at its armored glove, the monster turned its glare on Mr. Lei.
Who was already swinging again, and this time for the monster’s unarmored head.
The giant’s arm swung up to intercept the bat with uncanny speed. There was another alien spronging sound, and Mr. Lei momentarily turned his back on the monster, spinning the bat off the recoil in a complete 360 degree arc, this time to intersect its belly. A deep gonging sound resounded, and the juggernaut bent slightly at the waist, but an evil smile crossed it’s dark features, and its arm locked around the bat, trapping it against the armored torso. Instantly Mr. Lei retreated, abandoning the weapon. The juggernaut reversed its grip on the bat and came on. Mr. Lei leaped backwards, deftly toeing a chair into the thing’s path. A giant boot came down through the chair, crushing it to kindling. It brought the bat up for a backhanded blow, and Mr. Lei had nowhere to retreat.
Suddenly the thing screamed, the first time it had vocalized, and released both the bat and Alison, collapsing to its knees, its armored hands clutching at its face. Alison tumbled to the floor, her face green and white, retching, breathing in great gasping gulps. She rolled away from the monster. Trent rushed to her side and saw a small red and white canister, a bottle of pepper spray for would-be rapists and muggers, gripped in her hand.
The juggernaut was not down yet. Mr. Lei sprang forward and his right foot drove a fast, smashing blow at the thing’s unprotected face.
Its armored hands, still sheltering its nostrils and eyes from the Alison’s chemical assault lashed out, deflecting Mr. Lei’s kick. There was a sharp cracking sound, and Mr. Lei screamed, falling to the floor, his leg broken.
The demon cyborg rose to its full height again, still howling in pain, its eyes swollen almost shut, but it raised a booted foot, intent on stamping the small Chinese man on the floor.
An explosion, louder than any other noise so far tonight and the juggernaut staggered, almost into the glass shards clinging to the frame of the plate window. Another deafening roar, which Trent now positively identified as gunfire, and a tiny grey-haired woman, shrieking a torrent of Chinese profanity ran from the kitchen, pumping the action on a shotgun nearly as tall as herself, and taking aim at the giant yet again.
The monster did not hesitate. As the third shot split the night, it smashed its way blindly through the remnants of the window, its armored gloves shielding its head. It broke into a staggering run, and then, without warning, was airborne. It vanished in the sky over the building as sirens began to wail in the distance.
A few minutes later, half a dozen cops showed up. There was a fleeting moment in which they almost shot Grandma Lei who refused to relinquish her shotgun, or to quit yelling in Chinese. The situation was averted when several other members of the Lei family emerged, and explained that the old woman didn’t understand a word of English and was deaf as a post to boot. An aunt or someone, with a lot of high speed jabber, took the gun away and broke it down expertly. She had two Lei nephews turn a table right-side up so that she could set the pieces down, and then the cops took charge, and began asking questions.
An ambulanced arrived for Mr. Lei, Trafficnet having blown a medical priority channel through the city streets to get it there. The cops looked at the bruises around Alison’s throat. She felt fine, she insisted. They reacted with some incredulity to the story of a maroon armored giant inflicting the damage to Alison and to the store, but Trent, Alison and the Leis all told essentially the same tale. No other customers had remained in the restaurant, when the police had arrived, but apparently some of them had not gone far. They now came flocking back, and the police were soon out numbered by eyewitnesses. Yellow tape went up and the officers began first ordering, then escorting people out of the crime scene.
Half an hour later, an officer instructed Alison to get herself checked out in an ER. When Alison declined an ambulance ride, he took her name, Trent’s name, their contact info and a formal statement from each. Then he called a medical priority pass for Trent’s vintage hotrod into Trafficnet. Trent helped the cop pack Alison into his car, then ducked in himself. Trafficnet reved up the 2010 engine, and the vehicle hurtled out into the street, scattering lower priority cars from their path, making safe but highly efficient time to what they both assumed must be St. Francis’s of Rocket City.
This is the first handful of pages in what turned out to be a 31 page novella. I am jazzed everytime somebody wants to read the rest, so please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to request the full word document and I'll send it along. It's free, although I do want to hear what you think, so if you read it let me know what you like/hate about it. Thanks-