a short story
Gary Baker, January 2013
It was one of those moments when you had to look twice, with the afterglow of an explosive burst making rivulets in the wake of the event. The stars dimmed under tinted glass as Krio looked north along the blue lines of the programmed airway.
Ships moved along the X-axis parallel to the planetary orbit, the cargo freight along the Y-axis lifting people, foodstuffs, and debris up and out of the shrinking rock in space. It shone like a pearlescent green ball, held aloft in the oblivion of endless surreality as though tinged with an inner lighting mechanism generated by the far-distant sun.
But it wasn’t the planet that had made Krio turn, nor was it the embossed false reality of data flowing along the bottom lip of his visor as it churned out the specs of mathematical correlations between objects, determining velocity, trajectory, and mass. He hefted the bar in his fist just milliseconds before the Mark-7 HND-class HumanoCraft followed suit and lifted it’s own arm in just the same way. With the arm aimed before the massive metal being, Krio directed all sensors to increase data reads in the specified direction.
Instantly readouts of HULL classifications, of the various ships moving along the suborbital freeway, appeared in a translucent window along his right eye. Fir-9 busses jettisoned from one station to the next, the passengers all loaded into onboard subreality helmets to lessen the hellish draw of antigravity on their weakened minds; Grath-class cars paced around the freeway in double-helix patterns as they traced the travers for foreign matter prohibited by Section 4, Code 518, of the Department of Extraterrestrial Vehiculation. Even further along, and variously placed within the moving pods, were the WASP riders, each of their military ID’s appearing along Krio’s viewscreen in consecutive order as he belayed down the long list of possible bogies.
But it wasn’t them. It wasn’t something he could just point out and say: that was what I saw. It wasn’t any matter of any human contact becoming known by him alone, as there were seven other HND’s placed in this sector alone.
...so then what was it?
He frowned while searching out the flowing hulks of air-containing modules moving at incredible speeds for something irregular that must have caught his eye. But nothing was out of place, not a radioactive burst nor a magneto-culmination of debris floating in the wake of the freeways like particulate matter trying to slowly become something tangible again. Consternation filled his expression, and he flicked on the communications monitor nearest his left thumb.
“Bravo-Charlie, this is Juliet-Alpha, do you read?” He droned.
The radio was silent for a good fifteen seconds before he sighed as the light of an incoming transmission lit the underside of his screen. “Juliet-Alpha, this is Bravo-Charlie; we read you loud and clear.” The speakers went silent for a moment as though turned off completely, then chimed in again as the BC-station guardian chimed in more. “Anything to report, over there?”
Krio yawned. This would be just one more reason for BC to tell him to lay off the Adrena-Rush and ‘relax his nerves for once’. “Nothing much, Bravo, just a glitch I think.”
The response was inconceivably quick, BC must have sent it just after sending the last message, expecting Krio’s reply. “What sector? Was it a faint blue glow moving across the backdrop of space?”
That was it. He had been watching the KinBook screen in the cockpit that rest beneath the mainscreen, reading the life and times of Howard Frank, distant cousin of the great Stephan Royal who had lived more than seven-hundred years ago, when the screen had changed slightly. It wasn’t enough to be caught by the external sensors, but still evoked a sense of curiosity for the human brain waves.
“You saw it too?” Krio barely kept the intensity out of his voice.
BC’s answer was short and long-awaited. It was clear he had been hoping it wasn’t true. “I watched the event horizon break the skies,” BC replied, his voice soft and hesitant.
Ever the theatric, Krio frowned.
“The Kyuiper belt must have been hit, for sure!”
“How do you mean?”
“I thought you said you saw it.”
“I,” Krio looked away from the screen and into his HND’s cockpit as though guilty of some act of inaction and distasteful laziness. “I was reading.”
“Ah,” BC breathed. But damn him, why wasn’t he annoyed? Krio had been slacking off on duty and yet his own fellow guardsman had blown it off as though it was expected; why didn’t he call Krio out? “I only noticed because Miss Temple and the Jones of Doom just ended.”
So that was it. BC hadn’t reminded his fellow stellar watchman about regulations and rules because he, himself, had been reverting to the primal acts of a chimp in a zoo. Yet somehow Krio let himself begin to smile, “did you finish, at least?”
“HA!” BC’s inane laughter hit Krio’s ears like a furious blast of static and chatter, but by this point every guardsman knew what the sound meant. As BC calmed, the noise eased to allow the sound of BC regaining his breath with occasional giggles and heavy exhales. “You, my friend, deserve a brewsky later.”
There was a moment of silence before BC added with another laugh “and yes, I did... but what sucks is that I wasn’t watching the video when it happened.” More subversive grunts, then “and cleaning this is gonna be a bitch!”
“INCOMING!” Came the voice of Hariet-Delta, causing Krio to look up just in time to see a comet heading straight for Station Prime; the Meca of all stellar cities. The blue flash must have been the burst of radiation as the beastial hunk of rock and ice collided with the first waves of ionic energy sent out from the sun.
“Shit!” Krio slammed his fist to the bar again, reaching out with his other to grasp the leftmost cannon on his ship’s hip. It seemed like ages before his HND had the cylindrical cannon prepped and ready, placed horizontal to the incoming object. “Juliet-Aplha, ready!”
A moment passed. “Hariet-Delta, ready!”
Another long pause, deafeningly loud in Krio’s eardrums, pulsating with a low hum of anticipation. This was gonna be close. “Bravo?”
Hariet’s voice echoed out this time, “Bravo!”
Another long breath as the mass of streaming interstellar debris raced closer and closer. Any longer and Station Prime was in for a brief breath and sudden death. “BRAVO-CHARLIE!!”
Hariet jumped on the ignition before BC had even finished speaking. “Cannons primed,” the comet edged closer, no longer a speck of light in the distance, but a solid body of white and azure. “Beam ready.”
Krio’s cannon lit up along the length of LED’s on it’s upper side, the red flashes slowly fading to orange, then yellow, then green. As the last light flicked to ‘go’ Krio slammed his mechanized fist on the ‘fire’ sequence without even awaiting the official call.
...and a sudden white pillar of light shot out from the planet far below to strike the comet full force just miles from the outermost dwelling of Station Prime. As the energy beam shattered the comet into another dimension entirely, three other beams reflected out; one to the galactic south, one to just north of that, and one directly into Krio’s cannon.
The beams ceased, the last glimmers of light snapping into the cylinders with a loud smack, and the cartridge hummed in the indication that all was said and done now.
Krio relaxed with an audible sigh, and sank into his harness straps while moving the ship’s arms to place the used cartridge onto his right hip with the seven others. Two more unused cylinders hung on his left, and five more had been scheduled to be brought to him by high noon.
“Just seventeen hours left,” Krio breathed, flicking his KinBook back on, “then cyanara and sweet dreams!”