Ladies and Gentlemen and Scoundrels of all ages, it is the weekend once more. That means, among other things, that I get to post another story! Let’s see what I’ve got down in the bin this time….
Jumpgates of Our Star first appeared on the TeamDystopia.com boards in 2007-2008. More to follow.
As always, this is my own work (the Sarge and Smoke are courtesy of Luke Newman) and the usual rules apply. Link, don’t copy. Do not claim as your own. Enjoy!
Yes. “Enjoy!” is one of the rules here.
Continued from Part Three.
“Pinot Benedict, Fang!” said a gruff voice as its owner approached the bar. The veterans of Black One slid from their cramped booth and, with a last, silent handshake, parted company. Hazard’s fleshene palm registered the impression of a tiny metal disk as Smoke slipped it into his hand. He strolled over to the bar and burned ten more DysCredits from his employee account on another G4-gimlet. The Geiger-Four gin buzzed in his brain. He crossed his eyes at the bottle of Rosalita’s and could have sworn Rosalita tossed her skirt and winked at him. He blinked when she blew him a kiss.
“Good afternoon, cowboy,” said the voice. Kirk coughed a few times and spluttered.
Slow heavy breathing.
Hazard forced himself to look through the absinthene fog. His hand lay on the bar in front of him. He’d taken it off, apparently. He opened his hand—funny, that still worked—and the little disk was there. He closed his fist. Past his fist, Fang. The NHS was setting out things for the evening martini hour. Past Fang. Hulking, wired, scarred, the man with the gruff voice wore a Station Security uniform. Whatever had once been familiar in his face now made it so much stranger. His left eye was a hot metal globe. The hairline was only a little receded from what he remembered. Neither hand was missing fingers, though. The right ear was perfect.
“Haven’t I seen you somewhere, cowboy?” the officer said. Hazard shook his head, averting his gaze to a holofeed report about a mysterious explosion over TaiTown in the Kamchat development district. It seguéd into a human-interest piece on the high price of jet fuel and the demand for G4-gin.
“You work down at Beta Gate: that’s where I’ve seen you,” said the security man. Hazard smiled thinly and nodded.
“Maybe you ought to go see what is up there: some sort of accident went down on the last guy’s shift and it still ain’t cleared up.”
“Thanks, pal!” said Hazard. He reattached his hand, tipped Fang, and made his exit.
* * * * *
It had been an hour and a quarter since he had left and already things were well on their way back to normal. The fake— (it’s pronounced “ficus”) trees that were ruined had been replaced. The bodily fluids had been mopped up nicely, and the two-way glass of the conductor’s booth that the android died in had been replaced by a pane with a single large crack just left-of-center. The newest, latest, greatest digital gate announcement board above the window was a generation newer than it used to be. It still had a shipping sticker on its underside, and if he stood on his head he could easily read “Gate Closed” in the ¡P∋soΓ⊃ ∋⊥∀Ð notice as it scrolled by in the wrong direction in bright new green LEDs. The waiting bay was full of passengers anyway: apparently, they could not read upside-down. Many of them could probably not read right-side-up, either. A welder and a tall stiff woman in a EuTrans uniform with government written on each shoulder were inspecting the door with a cold-arc torch and a carbonite stamp. A wet-skinned Reipus slept under a bench in a puddle of fetid dampness. A well-dressed child poked its spotted green skin with a pen as she goaded her brother. Several G7 colonists waited in the corner, singing soft hymns to the Maker. A weird calm hung over Beta Gate, and Hazard didn’t like it.
He swallowed another anti-alcohol tab and checked his Kruger in its holster. The iron and brass still clung to traces of the last round’s heat. It felt good in his hand as he wrapped his bionodigital fingers around the grip. No, he told himself. Not just yet. Not yet.
The welding was done, and the poker-shaped woman in the uniform saw him and stalked over. It took her a moment to adjust her monocle and the slope of her nose so that she could see him (better? at all?) before she spoke. The children were getting louder and interrupted the squaffling snore of the Reipus.
“Your name, please?” she said in the voice used by superiors with inferiority issues when your insignia is askew and your collar up. Hazard didn’t blink.
“Kirk Hazard. Beta Gate operator: I was called away on urgent business.” She harrumphed, as much as to tell him that, had he manned his post, the accident would never have occurred. The G4-gin was working: Kirk noticed the subtle bend in the poker’s forward surface and blinked hard. Where was that nurse?
“You may, of course, find out the details in my report. They might hear you on Thursday, if you’re lucky.” Of course he would be hearing them, and not vice versa, if it came to that. Inside his shirt the macro-gelignite lingered. The welder moved off down the corridor, the angered Reipus grabbed a child’s leg with its trunk, and the poker-hard woman clicked her jackboots together as the kid began screaming. “Wait here until I return for you.” As soon as she was gone, he retreated to his office, his sanctuary. It was sterile, clean, bare. Generic: not even his anymore. The head that showed above the back of the new chair was half his age, with pink protruding ears and red hair that was feral even in a buzz-cut. Without turning the chair, the new operator made his mind up.
“Who let you in here?” the new kid said. The voice would almost have been angry had it not been bored. Hazard cursed the contraband gin and the gate—it used to be his gate—that it came in through. This wouldn’t be the last time, either.
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