A list of cocktails from Chuck Wendig to use as our title. Not necessarily a story about the cocktail, just use the title. I threw 8 & 9 – either Twelve-Mile Limit or Bird of Paradise. 1500 words. Twelve-Mile Limit sounds like it could be something involving Pete and the Swede.
So I wrote another episode for the book, running it up to a 3000 word excerpt, including a lot of interesting detail unsuitable for a flash fiction piece. In fact it’s not really flash fiction at all – it’s another part in the serial that follows directly from The Gallery. Don’t worry – I’ve edited out the detail and left you with 1488 words.
Two asteroid miners and three rented women squeezed into a two-man mining spacecraft heading fast away from Pleasant Valley. They’d installed a living pod for three in the processing hold, but even so, it was cosy. Pete, Dolores and Maggie hung out together in the pod in the designated night hours, the Swede (Lars) and Aramintha occupied the regular living quarters.
Aramintha moved gracefully through sub-standard G to bring herself to the navigation seat. She studied the instruments and turned to the Swede. “We’re still on course for Bartelski. What are we going to do when we get there?”
“I wish I knew,” admitted the Swede. “This is Pete’s party. I just hope he’s got something in mind.”
In the pod, all was quiet. Pete had managed to adapt the bunks to make a passable three-person sleeping area. Maggie slipped out of the bedclothes and stumbled to the doorway, mentally cursing the change in gravity that had her unbalanced so often.
She made a pitcher of fresh coffee and took it with her up to the main cabin, unsurprised to find Aramintha and Lars alert and active.
“Thought you’d be ready for this,” Maggie commented as she waved the pitcher in front of them.
“Great!” Lars was enthusiastic about coffee at any time. He offered her the control seat, and stood, still watching the instrumentation.
“So, where are we now?” asked Maggie.
“About seven light-clicks from Bartelski.”
“And what are we planning to do when we get there?”
“I think the idea is to orbit for a bit so that Dolores can give us a run-down on any ancient sites she can identify.”
“What are we looking for?”
“The answer to the riddle of the sculpture,” interjected Aramintha.
“But we know the answer, don’t we? That’s why we’re going to Bartelski.” Maggie queried.
“Yes,” said Lars with an odd look at Aramintha. “I get the impression that Aramintha thinks the spacecraft is bugged, and doesn’t want us to mention it out loud.”
Aramintha inclined her head while maintaining her eyes on the display. Lars watched her, and Maggie wondered why. A mere glance would have been enough. It wasn’t a lover’s gaze, like it would have been in the past.
The remaining two days of the journey passed mostly in an uneasy silence. Pete was absorbed with some alterations to the life-droid, to enable all five of them a squeezed survival for up to twenty-four hours in an emergency. Lars occasionally joined Maggie and Aramintha in a board game he’d made from instructions in a book. The usual laughing and joking that would accompany such pursuits was replaced by terse statements, announcements of words and point-tallying. Dolores spent time with the ship’s databanks learning all she could on Bartelski’s historical artefacts.
“I think we need to explore this area here,” she told Pete, pointing to a large peninsula on the east of a huge island continent. “There’s an ancient settlement called Ephesus. That was a well-known classical site on Earth. I think it’s the best fit for the clues.”
Pete shifted from his pilot’s seat to stand behind her. Lars hitched himself into the pilot’s seat, but swung it round to watch over her shoulder.
“OK, we’ll need to land about here, then,” Pete said, pointing to an area that appeared flat and sandy on their charts.
“Will the droid be happy with that?” asked Lars, since they’d never tried landing the droid.
“Should be, no reason why not.”
“No practice,” said Lars, falling back into the miner’s shorthand speech that Pete and he customarily used between themselves.
“Ah.” Pete acknowledged the possible complication caused if some locals saw them land, discovered the droid when they weren’t there, or caused any difficulties about them landing. At the same time, the droid would be more manoeuvrable on land than water, although splashdown could be safer than a hard surface landing. “Monitor life signs,” he advised.
Lars nodded and switched to a real-time view of Bartelski as they approached orbit. Bartelski was not a well-visited planet; it was not a prize for any Imperium ship looking to gather wealth, nor any space pirate either. It was an Earth-like planet with a white sun, consisting mostly of ocean with some very large islands, some of which were relatively densely populated, others sparsely so. Those had less rich land and correspondingly produced less food per hectare than the more densely populated ones. The population and food production was in balance, for now. The ideal state.
“Any laws we should know about?” asked Lars.
“Earth-like governance structure,” Aramintha summarised. “Rules of the sea give sovereignty within the ERZ which is twelve miles; rules of the land maintained on each island by a governing council and elected king. Basic principles sustainability and community welfare.”
“Sounds idyllic,” commented Pete.
“Sounds stifling,” retorted Lars.
Aramintha grinned. “You’ll like this: they have trouble with ocean pirates!”
Lars and Pete exchanged smiles.
“Rebels, eh?” Lars chuckled.
“We’ll be coming up on the ideal entry path in ten minutes,” said Pete. “I vote we leave Aramintha in charge of the ship.”
“Do you know something I don’t?”
“Come on, Lars, haven’t you spotted how she knows as much about piloting this as you do?”
“I taught her everything she knows.”
“Yeah, right.” Pete darted a glance at Aramintha, who continued to study the console but was smirking broadly.
“You and I will work better down there together. I agree. OK, Aramintha, you have the con.” Lars leaned into her and whispered in her ear. “You’d better be worth every penny I pay for you!”
He kissed her ear quickly and leant back. Their eyes met for the first time for days and a fleeting glimpse of the understanding that had run between them for so long returned, briefly, before Aramintha snuffed it out by lowering her eyelids.
“Be safe, boys. Good hunting.”
Pete steered the droid through the atmosphere on a slanting path towards the chosen island. There was more buffeting than anticipated, and the lightweight droid bounced about a bit. Lars held on grimly to the barfing bag as the deceleration pressed him back in his seat. This could get messy.
“Can’t see island,” Pete announced as they emerged into thick wet atmosphere more than five thousand feet up. The instruments were whizzing through numbers as they adjusted to the outside conditions. The chart and external viewer spun themselves into pixellated punk-art before the pictures went black altogether.
“Instrument landing,” called the Swede as the rushing noise increased. “Co-ordinates 33.21E 49.56N, elevation +20.4 CD.”
They continued to bounce around in the atmosphere, the trajectory steepened, then shallowed once more. Their speed decreased. Pete stopped wrestling with the controls and relaxed as they moved into a glide. The external viewer flickered into pixellated life, then cleared.
“Where is it?” Pete asked as they looked out on blue-grey sea, choppy waves and a pale grey sky above an indigo horizon.
Lars rotated the field of vision and found a view with a purple landmass on the horizon. “Distance to land – 24.7 km.”
Lars tapped some more buttons and confirmed it was their target island.
“Not going to make land,” Pete spat through gritted teeth as he boosted some thrusters and wrestled with the controls some more. They gained little height, although the speed alteration did help change their direction.
The droid splashed into the water. A soft landing, as Lars had indicated in their planning conversation, but a long way from their target area. The spray outside subsided, the droid settled to a choppy bobbing, and the spacers checked their instruments.
“The good news is we’re only twenty kilometers from Ephesus,” the Swede.
“The bad news is I have no idea whether the boosters will push us in that far and have power to lift off later.”
“The worse news is we are still in open water, outside the ERZ. A twelve mile limit is 19.2 kilometers.”
“Oh well. How are the currents round here?”
Lars checked the instrumentation and the databanks. “Probably sweep us round the headland. I think we could wait an hour and see if it takes us in before using the boosters. We aren’t in any great hurry, are we?”
“No, I don’t think so. As long as we don’t meet any of those pirates Aramintha was talking about.”
They laughed. The mood changed; Pete watched the screen as Lars made a three-sixty degree sweep of the area.
“Optimum course for ERZ?”
Pete slapped the booster switch. Thrusters weren’t the best method of propelling a space droid through ocean waves, but it was a darn sight better than waiting for a ship, possibly a pirate ship, to bear down on them at a rate of knots.
The race for the twelve-mile limit was on.
(c) J M Pett 2014