Fact is I’m a slower writer than I care to admit, but here’s the prologue for the next Clar1ty Wars installment, ‘Under Strange Stars’.
PROLOGUE: AN OCEAN OF STORMS
“– the Check-In at Gate E –”
He sat on the edge of the red-padded couch and stared at the domes’ apex; a thin, impeccably dressed man surrounded by luxury fascinated in the polished navel of a titanium skeleton twenty meters above him.
He stopped and looked around the empty room. ‘Executive Lounge.’ He bristled at the name; Executive Waste is what it was. One man in a bubble of light and warmth and oxygen that could easily house fifty. The profligate disgusted him. Oblivious, entitled, they flaunted the wealth wrung from the sweat and air of thousands of people. People like him.
This place was a profanity. God damn them all.
Drop City was below the horizon, so the Lounge windows swelled with a deep, star-dusted black. He kept looking up, hoping to see it peek over the horizon, but he calmed himself. He would be there soon enough – God willing.
When he left fifteen years ago, he was certain he was gone forever. He had elbowed his way to the bulkhead and stared for hours out a tiny porthole, first at the pale blue orb receding from him, then when the tears dried, at the stars.
There was so much light. He had been stunned to think of space as bright, but he soon learned a billion suns scintillate in the void. The farther out, the clearer they were. Sorrow begets revelation begets rebirth. This too was from the hand of the Almighty.
But that was long ago and he was here now. Today.
The spaceport’s landing pads gave him enough light to make out the rough gray of the crater lip on his right. Without a reference, it was difficult to gauge the distance, but the panels were so clear, he swore he could have stepped between the struts and bounded across the dark basalt.
He snorted. The electro-stat needed to keep the view dust-free for a month probably ran more than he made in a year. More squandering.
He grit his teeth, swallowed. His old bio-suit, a few hours oxygen, a good ship, and he could be far away from this blight, this poison, back where God spoke in the endless silence among the frozen dunes. Back home.
But leaving wasn’t an option. The Prophet had declared a great and effective door was open – but only for a little season. They must move swiftly, at any price.
“– Jumaat please report to –“
And what a price. He tugged his shirt collar for the hundredth time. The tie was still tight, but not knowing how to retie it, he feared loosening it further. The jacket, with its smooth, iridescent silk, bunched under his arms, cinched around his waist. This mission must have cost dearly; the outfit, a new identity, a Movado Charm, even this Shuttle ticket. But he had been assured a thousand-fold reward. How could he refuse?
A wallscreen beside him pinged on. Twice his height, it blossomed with high-def color. Are they blind as well, that it needed to be so huge, he fumed. At least the Auto-Serve had stopped pestering him about a beverage.
Two News Net personalities were blathering about a mega-storm south of Drop City’s equatorial land-chain. Satellite imagery flashed a cotton-pearl swirl on a bed of azure blue. The frowny faces of the newscasters nodded thoughtfully at projected path icons and wind speed data. Raging thousands of kilometers wide, the storm crept northward. Massive oceans and twin moons conjured furious weather patterns on a gigantic scale, Drop City’s southern hemisphere being particularly volatile.
Oceanum Procellarum, they called it. An Ocean of Storms.
He smiled at that. He decided long ago Irony was God’s most common figure of speech. A storm was coming indeed.
“Will Mr. Tenuk Jumaat please report –“
He heard the name and froze. Why were calling him?
A split second of fear tingled down his spine. What had he forgotten? Had he missed something? His cell leader had drilled vigilance into him: every step closer brought another level of surveillance. Threatened, defensive, the Orbitals and their TTA lackeys layered it around their dens: monitors, retinal scans, voice and facial recog-ware, chemical and biological sniffers… Paranoia revealed their corrosion, their weakness, but he must be careful.
Without moving his body, he glanced around. He checked the reflections in the glass. No CE uniforms bursting in, no security turrets sprouting up, no micro-drones… Why were they calling him?
“Will Mr. Tenuk Jumaat please report to the Check-In at Gate E.”
He stood, swept his hair back, smoothed his jacket. Slender, with dark, delicate Malay features, he looked every inch the refined technocrat now. The skin next to his eyes was still tender from where they lased the Glare Lines smooth, but not rashed. Spacer Squint would have been a dead give-away. Certainly something Mr. Tenuk Jumaat wouldn’t have. Everything was in place. He set disdain on his face, and strode out the door.
Twin TTA attendants, eerily beautiful in their bio-sculpted symmetry, perked up as he approached the Check-In.
The female lit up with a smile as bright as arc-light wattage. “I’m so sorry to disturb you, Mr. Jumaat. As a courtesy to our Executive Class Passengers, we wanted to personally inform you the storm system has delayed all in-bound flights to Bradbury Space Port. We apologize for the inconvenience, but TTA Control is re-routing shuttles as we speak.” She double checked her station screen. “It shouldn’t be more than a twenty minutes before we have you on your way.”
Relief shivered through him but he nodded thoughtfully, just like the newscasters on the wallscreen. “No worries. It’s the season for storms, right?”
“Exactly,” she said.
Copyright 6/2013. P. Todoroff