by Marten Steppat:
From High Noon to midnight
It was High Noon. Two men were facing each other in the midday heat in front of the saloon. Both flinched, shot, one bent over. Zod couldn’t tell which one of them At the decisive moment, stripes ran across the picture.
“That you always have to look at these ancient hams,” he muttered in his deep voice and shook his hairless head. “You sit in front of the Visulax, a holographic projector for three-dimensional, freely rotating scenes. And what are you looking at? One hundred and fifty year old movies in 2D without zoom and roll.”
Zod stood in the door of Jun’s apartment and looked over his colleague’s shoulder. His muscular body filled the small door in all dimensions. He raised his mechanical arm and pointed behind him. “Come on, team meeting.”
Zod walked upright and attentively through the passage. He had worked for many years for the corrupt spaceport police on Earth and for the same period of time for the other side. In the process, he had acquired an instinct for survival that he never lost.
Jun strolled next to him, apparently lost in thought, his hands in his pockets, his lips tapered to a silent whistle, his eyes half closed. He was younger than Zod, thin, badly shaven, a fuzzy head. The two could hardly have been more different.
“Today is New Year’s Eve,” Zod tried to start a conversation. “The time when you put old things behind you and start new things. Are you planning on graduating, Jun? Are you planning something new?” He looked at Jun from the corners of his eyes. He pulled out a cigarette and lit it. He didn’t seem to hear the question. Deeply inhaling the smoke, he looked into a world that only he could see.
“I don’t want this artificial food anymore,” Zod finally explained his plans. “Next year I will have organic food sent to me from Earth, even if it is much more expensive. My health is worth it.” “Then why are you waiting until New Year’s Eve,” Jun said, sounding indifferent. He sounded like that most of the time. “If it’s worth the health, don’t wait for a special date. Do it now.” Zod was growling.
A bunch of cranky misfits
Silently they continued their way through the space station until they came to the door where a sign with the word “waste disposal” was mounted. The shield was scratched, dented and yellowed as if it was one hundred and fifty years old.
When they entered the dirty room, they saw Freya and Hina. Freya was the tall and thin woman on the wooden bench. Her long, blond hair was streaked with grey strands, braided almost to the ground. She seemed as if she had already experienced and seen a lot, but had never revealed much of her past. She had undergone various gene cures, some of them still in the experimental stage, some of them unaffordable for normal citizens, if they could afford them at all. She never told anyone her real age.
Hina was young, stronger built and very fashion-conscious. She sat on the sofa in brightly colored, racy colors. She displayed her charms without shame and used them to her advantage whenever she could. With saliva she cleaned her red lacquered boots. Bored, she looked over as Zod and Jun approached.
In the next room you could hear stone burrowing. Stein was a little dog that Jun had stolen two years ago to remove certain traces. He would have had to kill the dog otherwise. Instead, he showed up one day with him under his arm and declared that he was part of a witness protection program. No one paid any attention to the noises.
Freya clamped her fists between her knees and looked tense on the floor. Zod looked behind him questioningly at Jun, who only shrugged his shoulders. They sat down on the two simple imitation wood chairs, nodded at the women and remained expectantly silent. “I always wanted to put it behind me,” Freya finally came out without looking up. “But the past has caught up with me. I have a secret to tell you.”
Freya’s Dark Secret
She pressed her lips together and looked up. Unsuspecting faces looked at them with big eyes. She for her part squinted her eyes together and sobbed. “Okay, out with it,” she said to herself. “I used to be a prostitute!” For a few seconds nothing happened. Scratching feet. Hina had lit a cigarette and stared apathetically at her boots to look for more stains.
Zod looked over at Jun, who just shrugged his shoulders. It had always been clear to both of them that everyone in the room had their past. None of them had lived a model life like the catalogue. “Freya,” Zod finally said slowly, in a compassionate tone that was accompanied by a bit of incomprehension. “Was that the secret now, or is that yet to come?”
Surprised, the wiry woman opened her eyes. Apparently she had expected a different reaction. “You’re such great colleagues,” she shouted gratefully. Tears were streaming down her face. Zod and Jun looked at each other questioningly. Jun shrugged her shoulders. “What is stopping you from putting an end to this?” asked the mop of curly hair in his usual indifferent tone.
“I’m being blackmailed,” Freya explained, and suddenly her colleagues from the waste disposal department leaned forward spellbound. “I never did it voluntarily, but I slipped into those circles back then, and there was a lot of money involved,” Freya continued with her story.
“What are e-robots for?” Zod asked without understanding. Freya shook her head. “In this society, you take people. To these people, people are like garbage. You use them and throw them away. It was different with me. I was special. But they have done things to me that I could never tell you in detail without dying of shame. And they don’t enjoy doing these things with robots.”
Hina grabbed a brush lying next to her and threw it at the two men, who reacted with defensiveness and questioning looks. “Stop imagining it,” she cried with a serious expression. “Sounds like people I used to work for,” Jun thought, got up and went to his locker, “a syndicate. Zod growled approvingly. “They want a lot of money from me now,” Freya continued. “Money which, of course, I haven’t had for a long time. Otherwise I wouldn’t be working here. And I only have until midnight. But that’s not all. You–”
“Save the details, Freya,” Zod interrupted them and went to his locker as well. “I’m leaving the station,” Freya said in a desperate tone. “No, you won’t,” Zod replied in a calm, firm voice as he rummaged through his locker. “Or what do you think, Jun?” “I mean, it’s time to do our job,” Jun said. His voice was alive, not a trace of indifference. He turned around and showed a confident smile.
“Let’s finish with the old stuff and take out the garbage,” he suggested with motivation and loaded a firearm polished to a high gloss before he held it to his temple with the barrel facing the ceiling. Zod pulled an entire arsenal of weapons from his locker under the ever-increasing eyes of Freya and turned to Jun with a grin. His grin vanished when he looked at Jun’s gun. “She’s at least a hundred and fifty years old,” he shouted. With a motionless expression, Hina pulled an X-class laser out of her boot. In the next room stone barked.
At this time they were going through test programs: The function of their lights was tested in dark colours and with little luminosity; a dull glow in the darkness of space. A whole belt of dark sparkling lights could be observed around the station at the moment, if one was very attentive, but for the unsuspecting observer everything was going on in secrecy.
Jun rolled his eyes, he found nothing sentimental about the situation. A little more energetically he counted again with his fingers. On the count of three they rushed through the door that closed behind them. A screen attached to the door turned on and revealed the words “This section is temporarily closed for cleaning”.
Missiles and corpses
Shots and screams echoed through the corridors. It was a bloodbath.
The action took place at breathtaking speed. They fought their way through the section with weapons and with fists as if they were a special command that had been trained for that very day. The plan was to wipe out a complete syndicate at the turn of the year. A few targets fled to the section’s own docking hatch. Jun and Zod pursued them without mercy.
It was a trap. They knew that because they had built it. The mechanism of the hatch was out of order and the victims hardly resisted in their confusion. The blitzkrieg ended only moments later like a professionally executed order from a syndicate. “Yes, like back then,” Jun commented seemingly emotionlessly and drew a cross in the air in front of the hatch, which then opened.
Now it was only a matter of taking the short route to the outer hatch. On the other hand, Hina and Freya had already cleaned up, as Jun’s bracelet told him by a small green light. Zod was the first to hear the footsteps, accompanied by the soft, dreaded sound of a Mag3 rocket launcher that had just been put into operation: A sound whose frequency increased until it exceeded the spectrum of human hearing. “Come on”, shouted the muscleman and sprinted through the short passage that led around the corner once more.
Right at the corner, Stein, the little dog of the waste disposal troop, squatted and relieved himself. Zod and Jun hurried around the bend, closely followed by the stone wagging its rod excitedly. Jun stopped once more and turned around. He was shocked when he realized that he had misjudged the situation: the man with the rocket launcher was closer on his heels than expected.
But he slipped on the dog’s legacies in the curve and crashed unbraked into the wall. Jun writhed and broke out in a fit of laughter. Zod grabbed him from behind with his mechanical arm and pulled him through the airlock. The airlock closed before Jun’s eyes and through the small window he saw the figure pull itself up again and resolutely shouldered the rocket launcher.
The fuzzy head took a hasty step back and stumbled into Zod. They felt a jolt beneath their feet. Both could now only watch helplessly as the rocket was ignited. It happened like slow motion. The hatch inflated, but it held. Right in front of her eyes there was an explosion that she could neither hear nor feel. The opponent had merely blown himself up.
“It’s New Year’s Eve,” Zod stammered, trying to get his shit together. “He’s definitely finished with the past.” Accented casually they turned around and inspected the shuttle they had entered. “A limousine”, Jun comments impressed. “We’ll keep these,” he added, tapping Zod on the chest. “That’s a good resolution,” he declared with self-satisfaction.
Gold-plated rails framed a cladding of real wood from the earth, soft music was played over the on-board speakers. Elegantly a door folded to the side. Hina and Freya came strolling through, beaming with joy, holding in their hands bottles that were probably a hundred and fifty years old and contained alcohol; a beverage additive that had long been banned and replaced by syntherol because of its toxicity. “Champagne,” both shouted at the same time. Zod and Jun looked at each other. Jun just shrugged her shoulders.
The limousine flew a pre-set course, stopped at its pre-set point and turned elegantly. From here you would enjoy an even better view than from any of the observation platforms of the station. They sat on comfortable sofas made of real leather from Earth and looked through a huge window into space. The corks popped at zero hour sharp.
The drones and buoys around the station started their New Year’s Eve programs.
Some circled quite leisurely, others shot through space at breathtaking speed. Various drones transported smaller drones or buoys, which were released when needed and then recaptured. Some flew freely, others were connected by invisible ropes. A wild dance began. The most diverse light effects burned through the universe and delivered a competition of fireworks. Glow, sparkle, flicker, glow and artificial flames shot through the darkness and delighted the audience.
“Back on Earth, tiny bombs and rockets were used for such effects,” explained Zod, while everyone looked outside spellbound. “What a waste,” Jun commented absent-mindedly. Two groups of different drones joined together to form two massive dragons that began to circle the station as if they were chasing each other.
The spectators had their jaws dropped. Without averting his gaze Jun rummaged around in his pockets and pulled out a cigarette. He put it in his mouth and then hesitated. Finally he slowly took it out again and threw it on the table in front of him. “Let’s just start from scratch,” he said and smiled relaxed.
Hina took the cigarette without hesitating or making a face and lit it right away. Freya sat next to her and looked at her colleagues overjoyed and grateful.
“Happy New Year!”