She thought of everything that was and everything that would be. The gun felt heavy in her hand, that was something she hadn’t expected. Guns, even small ones, had a lot more weight to them than you’d think by looking at them. Her fingers played along the ridge of the handle-grip for the umteenth time in the past hour, her thumb flicking the safety on and off nervously like some sort of tick. She shivered in the chill of the room.
She felt drained; exhausted. And she wanted to cry, but wasn’t about to give the old man that edge on her. A groan from across the room.
“Doesn’t look great Rach” Lucas spat through clenched teeth as he tried to stop the blood leaking out of the hole blown in his side. The staunching foam and nano-bandages were out of their league with this one. He gasped as he emptied the rest of the can of foam onto the wound.
“Your boyfriend doesn’t look too good kiddo.”
She whirled back around and cuffed the old man across the face with the back of her hand. “YOU shut up” she spat at him. Lucas was all but her natural brother, but she didn’t feel compelled to explain the relationship to the man sitting in the chair before her. He winced at the hit but shut his mouth.
She shivered. “How long do you think we have till the backup team comes?” she asked Lucas shakily, hating the uncertainty and fear she heard in her own voice.
Lucas laughed darkly. “Right, ‘backup team'” He looked up from his wound at her across the room and changed his tone at the look in her face. “I think its fair to say we got downgraded to a one way ticket” he said to her softly.
Rachel nodded slowly, swallowing heavily. “And how long till that strike team decides to to expedite things and come through the front door?”
Lucas didn’t answer but she nodded her head again anyways.
She felt the weight of the gun in her hand; the strain of the muscles in her shoulder, the tensing of the ligaments. The cold piece of metal hadn’t left her grip in 2 hours now. She watched the frozen vapor of her breath float heavily in the air in front of her.
The old man broke the silence and spoke suddenly “Funny isn’t it?” He said softly, shaking his head “We’ve come so far as a species and here we are still pointing guns at each other.” She felt her hand clench around the handle of her pistol as the old man continued.
“You know there used be something called ‘the great unknown’.” He laughed bitterly and looked up, meeting her eyes across the gun-barrel. “Hell we don’t even play God anymore, we ARE God. But here we are, you and me, playing out out differences through the barrel of a gun; mechanical politics.”
She shivered at the chill air that was slowly getting colder as the minutes dragged on. The strike teams had cut the power 2 hours before, and even though they had portable lights, it was the lack of heat that was going to get bad pretty fast.
To say that Tyber was a cold planet was an understatement, the place was hell frozen over. Mining teams were dying even in extreme-weather bio-suits, not that the powers that be gave a shit. What they did gave a shit about was that coring machines were also dying. Even the latest in anti-freezing fluid-lines and router gels weren’t cutting it in the dry absolute nothingness of Tyber. Nothing lived here, she knew that now better than she’d ever thought she’d know it. Tyber was the end of the road for all things; ideas, people, hopes, dreams….they came to Tyber to die, and whether they knew it or not before they arrived, it didn’t take too long for that to become apparent.
People were expendable; life had become a tradable stock like all other things to the mega-corps that ran the universe. With the recent passage of the Planetary Development Act, corporations were already scouring planets for resources and riches to strip away. Growing up on Tyber’s closest neighbor Seylene, she’d always looked up at Typer in the evening sky and shivered. Her father used to ruffle her hair in the summer dusk and tell her “look honey, the gods put a snowball in the sky for you!”.
But with the discovery that two miles beneath the ice of Tyber lay probably the largest deposit of Arknor in the universe, that snowball in the sky suddenly became a ball of pure gold, and it wasn’t long before they came for it; the Shiva Corporation. The proximity of nearby poor planet full of destitute workers willing to sign any release waver for a paycheck had only sweetened the deal.
Now here they were one year later and over 3,000 Seylene lives lost forever on the surface of Tyber, with not an eye batted in the Imperial Counsel or by the Concord Committee. For fuck’s sake, even the Unified Mining Assembly had turned their payed-off backs to the travesty. There was just too much to be had under the ice of Tyber for anyone to concern themselves with the worthless lives of planet-bound nothings.
And so they acted. You don’t wake up one day and decide to take up a gun and justice into your own hands. Its a slow process and it takes time; time and the death of not one but both your parents. Time, the death of both your parents, and the death of half your friends and everyone you’d ever known from your village. Toss in a total lack of justice for those responsible and a person will do just about anything to seek solace for the crying of their heart.
It had always been a reckless idea, but recklessness was movement, and movement was a change, or so they’d convinced themselves. Jarvis Farrell, the man behind the Shiva Corp. making a last-minute visit to Tyber to oversee operations was like a small present from the gods. The plans had been made quickly; hastily one might say. Violent intent breeds and grows like a sort of whirlwind and before she could second guess herself, Rachel was armed, angry, and one of the 15 equally armed and angry people who had just ambushed Farrell’s motorcade.
Farrell WAS the Shiva Corporation, that was common knowledge. There was no second in command, no board of directors, not even heirs to take over the helm should he step down (or cease breathing). Cut off the head of the serpent and the body will die.
Only the three of them left now, having managed to barricade themselves into an interior storage room. Well, four, but Riyu hadn’t lasted more than a minute more than it took to secure the only entrance to the room. She glanced sorely at the contoured blanket-covered shape of the friend who now lay silent. Lucas was murmuring a prayer over his body, as he clutched at his own side breathing heavily and she and he both knew the reality of his wounds, though they said nothing.
Lucas coughed raggedly, spitting up blood and holding his side. She clenched her jaw, her knuckles white on the handle of the gun. The old man started:
“You know I’ve got some pain meds in my attache case over there.” He started to make the motion to get up but she shoved him forcefully back down with the heel of her boot.
“You shut the FUCK UP” she spat at him. Her eyes felt wet and she could feel the rising lump in her throat threatening to cut off her words.
“You think either of us believe for a second that you give a shit about anyone? After everything you’ve done?” The lump rose higher, chocking her voice. She felt the rage threatening to spill over.
“You’re the fucking devil you bastard, so don’t you DARE try and play nice now!” She spat out the last words and shoved the gun further into his face.
Another wrenching cough from Lucas brought her back down quickly, the air very sharply out of her sails. The gun suddenly felt ten times heavier, and she let her arm drop to her side again. She took a deep breath, swallowing back the wetness in her eyes and running a hand through her red hair.
She opened her eyes and saw the old man looking up at her with a sad look in his eye. It wasn’t the look of a man broken, and it wasn’t pleading or groveling, he just looked tired. He reached up to take off his glasses and rubbed his eyes wearily.
“Kiddo” he spoke softly. “There’s nothing you’re going to say to me right now that’s going to come as a revelation.” He smiled up at her sadly. “You think I don’t know what I am? What I’ve become?” He sighed heavily and looked at the floor. “I lost my way a long time ago darlin” he said wearily.
She snarled, “It doesn’t change a thing abo….”
“Its Rachel isn’t it?” he interrupted; his voice had a smokey grandfatherly, slightly gravelly timbre to it. He looked up at her. “Rachel. That’s an old old name you’ve got there.”
She felt her brow tighten and felt her fingers curl tighter around the gun. She opened her mouth to curse him down for interrupting when he continued.
“I knew a girl named Rachel a lifetime ago when I was a young man. Pretty, pretty girl. Gods, such a long time ago” He looks through her, his jaw tightening slightly. He held the gaze a minute as she shifted her weight uncomfortably from foot to foot.
“Rachel, you need to know something”. He put his glasses back on and looked up into her eyes. He hesitated briefly and then opened his mouth. “I’m already dead.”
The room went quite for a minute, save for the sound Lucas’s shallow and stuttering breathing, and the cold hung around them as if it were another entity, another player in the drama of their little storage room. The old man continued:
“There’s no cure, no hope for a miracle,” he chuckled darkly under his breath, “no redemption.” He looked over at Lucas, lying against the wall next to Riyu’s body and breathing shallowly. “I came here today to stop this all” he said slowly and with gravity.
He looked back up at her. “Take it for what it looks like, an old man trying to make good before he dies, cause that’s what it is. But I thought, or maybe hoped, that it might count for something.” He rubbed his hands together at the cold.
“Comes a time in a man’s life when he gets tired of playing the devil.” He looked at her with a sad smile and shook his head. “I came today to dissolve operations here” he said looking into her eyes. “And I’m sorry”.
A crashing outside the barricaded door, voices yelling, and the sound hammering on metal. She felt her heart start to bound.
“Lucas! Luke I think they’re coming in! Lucas!”
She turned; the meager rising and falling of Lucas’s chest had stopped. She choked hard and the lump in her throat won. She began to cry, the tears leaving hot trails down her frozen face.
A wrenching sound from outside the door and more yelling. The room was so cold.
She turned slowly to look down through the tears at the old man in the chair looking up at her.
“You know there’s no way out of this Rachel”.
As he spoke the world faded completely away into a still portrait of the present hanging in the air around them.
“Rachel” he said again, choking a little, his breath hanging white in the air between them. He emphasized each word heavily; “I’m already dead.”
He lowered his gaze to the pistol hanging loosely in her hand at her side before looking back up into her eyes. She felt the metal in her hand, the steel suddenly colder and heavier. She tensed her arm and started to shake her head as the tears slid down her cheek.
“How about we meet up on the other side for a drink huh kiddo?” The old man smiled sadly up at her, and the world exploded around them both.
The visceral clarity of everything around her: the dull thudding of gunfire, the wrenching explosions, the sounds of thundering voices and screeching metal all faded to the background. It was as if time itself slammed the breaks on, as the world around her went into underwater slow motion. She watched a piece of reeling shrapnel float past her face, slow enough that she could turn and watch its passage.
Another slow-motion blast rocked the room as the remains of the emergency door buckled under a charge and seemed to melt apart from the inside; the fragments sailing through the air like a shadow across a windowsill. She could see the shining helmets and the sharp gun barrels of the strike team begin to pour into the room like a slow dark cloud. She laughed a sobbing laugh as tears streamed across her face. She looked down at the old man. She raised her gun out in front of her.
“Thank you” you mouthed softly.
The gun recoiled in her hand with a slow-motion thud, the hours of pent up stress released in one explosive moment. She watched the old man fall backwards out of the chair as if sinking into a pool; a dream, underwater. His eyes closed and she finally felt the weight of the gun drop out of her hand. Slowly, like moving underwater in a dream, she turned towards the sounds of shouting and the sound of bullets leaving chambers and felt rather than saw the world go black around her.
She thought of everything that was, and everything that would be. And then there was nothing.
This is my submission to Silver Night’s EVE Fiction contest. Enjoy!