The end draws nigh, and I am hoping to have this off to either beta readers or my editor by the end of the week. Not sure about the betas, since I hope to publish this collection – tentatively titled Twisted Mindflow – by the end of September. My First Reader is telling me that I need to go back and insert foreshadowing. Looks like it will wind up being about 15K words in length, which is fine for an anchor to the collection that will have about 10-12 stories, although some of those are flash fiction.
Jade Star (Snippet 4)
“Sorry about the respirator,” he was saying as I pulled myself out carefully. “Follow me, please, ah… Jade.”
They weren’t treating me like I’d expected. More like I was dangerous, but not… I was confused, and followed the man in the suit through a hatch and into a brightly-lit hall. “What about my scooter and cargo?” I asked. The position I was in, I couldn’t do anything about it. But it was all I had.
“Don’t worry. We aren’t that far gone.” He didn’t look back at me.
Now what’d he mean by that? What had I gotten myself into? Living with my friends for a timeless stretch of lotus-eatin’ comfort had made me soft. Living near seventy Earth-years in the rocks with only my family had kept me on my toes but not the way my first decades in the low ports had done. I dug deep into memories and looked around me with sharper eyes.
The corridor was bright, but the man ahead of me walked like he was tired. Or drunk, and there’s a fine line there, I’ve seen it. You have enough fatigue, it’s as bad as tying one on and then taking the scooter out. I lost a son… I dragged my memories to the back and clubbed them into submission. The man stopped at an open hatch.
“If you could wait in here…” He sounded apologetic and I looked him in the eyes for the first time. Tired. They were dark, hard to tell the color through the medical-grade respirator and all I really could see were his eyes and the bridge of his nose. He was sweating in there. I started to say something, bit it back, and walked into the room. He didn’t need me givin’ him a hard time, and he meant me no harm.
That wasn’t, I knew as I heard the hatch slide shut behind me, the same as doing me no harm. I explored the room I’d been immured in. There was a fold-out bunk, standard issue same as one I remembered with no regret from more’n a hundred years before and a long flight out to the Cloud. This room was bigger than that one, and no need to share it with three other people. A perk, even if I did miss my man more’n I cared to dwell on. I’d be with him now, iff’n my friends hadn’t taken it into their fuzzy lil’ heads to rescue me.
There was a screen which lit up when I touched it, and offered me options ranging from food and drink to entertainment. I asked for a meal and it appeared in a niche on the wall, nothing fancy but better than tube-food, so I ate it. Entertainment… I laid back on the bunk and listened to the music. They had a good selection. Not as good as the library we’d put together, but rockhounds needed something to keep the black at bay.
I needed it now for the inner dark. I figured out how to dim the lights – not off, someone might come – and let myself drift on the melody. I still didn’t know where I was, I was locked into a room with no apparent way out, and something was wrong onstation that had nothing to do with me. I’d wait until I knew more before I started taking action.
That was the old brain, of course. A younger person might have started looking for an escape route. I knew how to get out – but out wasn’t necessarily safer than in. Patience is one of the things you learn out among the rocks. Rushing off will get you killed. Besides. I was curious. I didn’t care about livin’ so much, but this was odd, and that got my brain spinning.
They were quarantining me, which I’d expected. A space station was no place to run the risk of contaminants and microorganisms coming on board. It was possible I had something my little friends did, but humans usually didn’t. Only… they hadn’t scanned me. They just put me in here, which wasn’t even a medical room. I’d been in one, and didn’t imagine they’d changed all that much. Something was wrong. I got up and played with the touchscreen, but if there was a call channel it had been removed from my menu options.
I laughed out loud, and then looked around. Surely they were watching me? But there was nothing, not even steps in the corridor. I might have been forgotten. Only they had forgotten something. There are always ways around the obvious ones. I tapped into the entertainment channel and looked… there. The chat option was still visible – hard to remove it, really, as it was part of the application. I set up a login and dove into the virtual stream of conversations, looking for answers.
There wasn’t a lot of activity, which surprised me. With the external size of the station, I expected there to be a sizable population. I lifted my hands away and watched a desultory conversation unfold over an imaginary relationship between two vidstars. Then I tapped into the list of fangroups. Ah. It wasn’t just me. Looking back a few weeks, I could see that it had been very active, then… what? Broken conversation threads and vague comments hinted, but didn’t reveal the reason behind the choked off voices.
I didn’t want to ask direct questions and reveal myself. I’d learn more lurking and watching. Searching the groups for news showed that an immense force of censorship was taking place. But the tone was still there. People were scared. I logged out and went back to sit on the bunk and think. I’d only seen seven people since my arrival. The voice on the scooter radio could have been the dark-eyed man in the respirator. If there was a plague sweeping the station…