Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Spaceman: A Planet Called Inhospitable (part 4)

There was a tremor passing through the ice. Each foot step shot endless vibrations forwards. Within the course of about ten seconds, there were over a thousand foot steps. Floyd was somewhere in the centre of the Native’s army, his gloved hand wrapped tightly around Grace’s tiny, bare fingers. When they’d gone into the ice house, Grace had been scared. She’d only seen one settler before, her father, and his brother was certainly a little scarier. 
She was about waist height to Floyd, wearing a small dress composed from the fur of Merehogs, and her hair expanded from the scalp of her head in grand, curling wires. Her skin was the same olive, bordering on green, shade as the rest of the native’s skin, but it was slightly paler. It could have been the product of Grene’s DNA, but it could have been from the way she hadn’t left the Home Cavern in her entire life.
“It’s rare for a Native Girl to ever leave the Home Cavern before her fifteenth age day.” Grene had told Floyd after the two hours they’d spent with her. “Tomorrow, when we march, it will be a great honour for the majority of her generation. To be allowed to leave the Home Cavern before the age of fifteen is the greatest honour you could be imbued with.”
“Why are they taking the children with them? Do they know no mercy?” Floyd had replied.
“They do know mercy, and they know that to be left out of a fight they believe they shall be able to win is a terrible dishonour.”
“They believe they shall win?”
“Nobody would go to war unless they believed they could win.” Grene had replied.
 “Uncle?” Grace said, in the present. 
“Yes?” Floyd asked, kneeling down.
“Us march them?” Grace replied. She had talked in a broken parody of the Eden Tones. 
“Yes, Grace. We march with them.”
Grace shook her head, her curls of hair spreading out further from her head. She screwed her face up as she tried to work everything out. “Us march on them?” She asked, pointing to the far off silhouette of Solace on the horizon.
“Oh!” Floyd cried. “No. They,” he gestured to the people around him, “march on them. We,” he gestured to himself and then her, “go home.”
Grace looked back at the Birth to Home, far away in the distant. “Us go not way.”
“Real home, Grace.” Floyd said. “We’re going to our real home.”
“Dad?” She asked, then said a few words in the Native tongue which he reckoned meant Mum. 
“Maybe.” Floyd replied, and left it at that as they began to march quicker.

Crane had taken over as temporary benvolio whilst Floyd was missing. From his bedroom on the edge of Solace, he stared out into the heart of the city. “I control this.” He said, happily and loudly. “I control all of this!”
Grinning, he ran from the window and across the room, to look out onto the wintered planes. What he saw was a wide, gigantic emptiness. He grinned. He could control that too! If Floyd Mayweather didn’t return in the week, he’d order the war carriers to lift up and they’d be able to race out and find the Native scum and kill them. But first, he’d have to move the Frontier, interfering as it was, waiting around Solace. Crane went over to his shelf and took down his viewing glasses, staring out of the window them. There was a shape on the far horizon, extremely tiny and completely unimportant, but it wouldn’t hurt to know what it was. 
“It better not be Floyd.” He muttered to himself. Then he grinned, if it was Floyd, it wouldn’t hurt to brand him a traitor and get him shot by the Frontier men. Might be worth a try.
He twisted the rings on the outside of his viewing glasses and then image he could see readjusted, until it felt as if he was directly in front of the people he was staring at. And they weren’t the missing Mayweathers. No. It was an army of Natives, and they were all armed. 
Crane laughed aloud. Brilliant news. Now he didn’t need to get the war carriers to go out to the Natives. They were coming to him.

The Natives didn’t shiver in the face of the cold, they relished it. Their skin didn’t freckle with the bobbled flesh of goose bumps, they fought against the growing veins and muscles beneath the skin. Their Merehog skins flapped against their flesh and their bare feet, mostly quite large, crushed the packed ice crystals of the ground beneath them. The majority of them held spears, and those who didn’t carried bows. From their backs, the archer’s pulled arrows made from carved nitrogen, and, as they loaded them into their bows, they raised them to the air. A guttural war cry burst from their mouthes, combatting the winds of white powder and flakes, and then, Solace was fully on the horizon.
“War.” Grace said, translating the war cry. 
“Indeed.” Floyd said, and grasped her hand harder.
And so they charged, two thousand muscular legs slamming into the ice, carving further cracks into the ground and bringing forth more of the Alquarara. The archers released their drawstrings and the arrows soared, cutting apart the roaring winds. They moved slightly, the arrows against the raging breeze, but the archers were perfectly trained, having aimed the arrows to factor in the winds, and thus the nitrogen arrow heads smashed into their target. The Frontier began to wail, and Floyd knew the proximity detectors would be causing the lights to flicker on and off inside the perimeter buildings. He hoped none of the Frontier scouts were epileptic. Then he reminded himself which team he was meant to be on. As much as it pained himself to think it, he began to hope they were.
Floyd could see Grene on the front line, a laser rifle in his two hands. He pulled back the energising slider and the gun whirred with building power. 
“Grace.” Floyd said, catching Grace’s attention. “Look, your Dad.”
Grace looked up and grinned at the sight of her father, so valiantly fighting alongside her mother. They led a small faction of the Natives, ordered to take down the Frontier. They looked quite incredible as they raged forwards. And then there was the grand roaring of engines and Floyd swore in the Eden Tone.
“What does that mean?” Grace asked, and Floyd smiled at the way in which she’d been taught the single phrase so excellently because it would come in so handy.
“It doesn’t mean anything, Grace.” Floyd replied. “Ignore me.”
But his curse wasn’t in vain. From beyond the Frontier was a roaring of engines, and those engines belonged to the Federation War Carriers. They were gigantic devices, hovering high above the icy plains, and emitting grand plumes of black smoke from their old fashioned engines. They opened up at the sides and allowed soldiers with laser rifles to jump out, or just shoot down. “Damn.” Floyd said. Bows and arrows made from hardened nitrogen were useful, but against laser rifles they were pointless. Floyd grabbed Grace and lifted her onto his back. “Don’t let go. Don’t you dare.”
“Yes.” She said, and he felt her tiny arms tightening around him. He took his rarely used blaster from his side and held it in one gloved, ready to fire. “Let’s go.” He shouted over the whirling winds and screeching natives. 
They began to force their way through the running herds around them. Large blasts of lightning from the War Carriers ripped gigantic craters into the floor around them, showering them in hail stones of shredded ice, or freezing droplets of melted nitrogen. Smoke grenades landed around them and suddenly white smoke stung their eyes. Floyd had cursed. He’d insisted on the smoke grenades with in built tear gas back when they’d first invaded. Now, twenty years on, he was quite regretting it. The blasts of lasers forged energy spikes in the distance, staining the white smoke scarlet.
Around them, settlers dropped through the air with laser rifles, shooting at the Natives. As Grace and Floyd ran, they often saw the ground littered with Natives, but occasionally a Settler would be strewn across the ice, their wrapped body punctured with arrows and knives. Floyd reached down towards the nearest Settler body and pulled the knife out. He noticed a splinter of ice had punctured their cold mask. The face of Skelton Evans stared up at him with her large white eyes beginning to harden until the liquid became too strong and popped. “Don’t look Grace.” Floyd shouted, his voice drowned out by the discharge of laser rifles and the roaring of War Carrier engines. “Don’t look.”

As they ran, Grace cried. It may have been the roaring of War Carriers above them, thruster engine illuminated red as they burned like the eyes of vengeful Gods. It may have been the screams of her people, both in anger in her fear, as they charged and fell at the hands of the enemy. But Grace didn’t believe it was either of those factors. She believed that it was the idea of the bodies falling constantly around them belonging to her father, or to her mother, and the possibility that one of the bodies from which her uncle so carelessly scavenged weapons had the face of her family. She didn’t know what she’d do if that was the case, because already her tears were freezing against her skin. She couldn’t cry any more!
The next thing she knew, she was on the floor, her head resting in the lap of a dead Native. She didn’t know him, but there were thousands of her race, and she couldn’t know them all. Floyd was still in front of her, staring down in abstract horror. “Good God.” He was saying, and she recognised the foreign words as those that her father used when something surprised him.
“What’s it?” She asked, crawling up to join him. She saw he had slung a laser rifle over his shoulder, and had an ice spear in one hand. He must have looked like an amalgamation of both sides to the warring soldiers. She just hoped they’d both assume he was on their side, rather than both trying to kill him.
“The ice is cracking.” He told her, and pointed down.
She stood with him and looked at where an explosion of energy from above had ripped a massive chasm into the ground. “From it spews the Alquarara.” And it was true, she could feel her dainty toes being submerged underneath the liquid nitrogen that upon which the crust had once bobbed.
“We better get moving before we are drowned in it.” Floyd said, but as he turned, he found a gun pointed at his head.
“Don’t you think you’re going anywhere,” Spoke Crane, holding a laser rifle with both his arms.
“Deputy Crane, thank the gods you found us, we were on the verge of death.”
“Quiet, traitor scum!” Crane cried. “And I’m not a deputy, no more. I’m the Benvolio of Solace.”
Floyd used that word earlier that he said meant nothing. “You’ve managed to turn a war into a power struggle, you egotistical-“ And there was that word again, but it sounded slightly different.
“You just offended a Benvolio!” Crane cried. “You’re under arrest, the girl too. Who’s she, your illegitimate native spawn?”
Grace didn’t listen to the rest, she entered an almost unconscious state as they took her and Floyd to the Benvolio’s office for incarceration, whatever that was. All she remembered was being put onto a landed War Carrier and vomiting on Crane’s boots as it shook and lifted beneath her, and then the powerful smash of his gloved hand against her face as he looked at the steaming fluid splattered across his feet.

The War continued, even as Floyd and Grace watched in horror from behind the bars. The office seemed so much more intimidating and evil from this side of the prison, and Floyd cursed his sense of interior decoration from when they’d first landed. For the majority of the two days they were behind bars, Crane was no where to be seen, out in the empty planes killing Natives, or so he bragged. When he was around, however, he was unbearable, going to every length to brag over his new power. Floyd used more of the language of nothing every time Crane flaunted his authority, which only seemed to gather Floyd more and more punches to his face. “You do that one more time,” Floyd said, “and you won’t be able to say anything else.”
“The second I stop being able to talk,” Crane replied, a master in standoffs, “is the second the girl stops looking so pretty.”
Floyd stood and grabbed the bars. “You do anything to her, and you’ll regret it.”
“I’m so scared of the man from within the cage.”
And it was in that moment that Floyd grinned. “You better be, Crane, because I’m evoking my right to section forty six of the Federation’s Regulations of Law.”
Crane was new to the job, no matter how much power he had, so he didn’t know what that meant. Neither did Grace, but being a child she wasn’t so proud as to be unable to ask. And she did just that.
“Section Forty Six states that I am, by law, entitled to a trial by combat.”
“What does that mean?”
“If I can kill him, he has to let me go.”
Most people would have dropped their jaw in shock, or exclaimed, “No, you can’t do that!” Grace just looked Floyd in the eyes and said, “If he dead, how he let you go?”
Floyd sighed. It was a good point, trust a child to come up with it. “If he’s dead, he can’t stop me from running away.”
Crane hadn’t been listening, instead looking it up in his regulations book. And when he found it, he grinned. “A trial by combat?” He asked.
“A good old fashioned shoot out for your future, do you want?” 
Floyd nodded.
“You are old.” Crane evaluated. “You are slow and you are clumsy. I will win in an instance.”
“You refuse me my request?”
“On the count that we already know the outcome, yes.”
“Then I label you a coward, a craven unwilling to risk his life out of misjudged fear.”
Grace recognised the term, her father had often mockingly called her mother that when they’d argued over who would go out to the next family gathering. She knew it was  a word that would insult her mother’s pride and honour, no matter how jokingly it was meant. For an up tight nothing like Crane, she imagined it would do volumes more.
“Then, traitorous scum, I will prove you wrong and myself right. We shall have our duel now.”
“Name your weapons.”
“A classic five steps and spin?” Floyd asked.
“Like something out of a pulp novel.”
Crane allowed him out of his cage and gave him a blaster, stepping in front of the cage with his back to Floyd. Grace watched in complete wonder, her hands wrapped tightly around the cage. 
“One!” Announced Crane and they both took one step forwards, Crane away from the cage and Floyd towards it. 
“Two!” Crane cried and they took a second. Floyd’s finger slipped around the safety switch on the blaster and disabled it, making the gun as dangerous as it could get. The handle was tight against his palms as he held it, ready to fire.
“Three!” Another step. Floyd knew he would have to fire first, and quick. The bolt would have to be to the blaster in Crane’s hand, to knock it from where it was held. Otherwise, there was a possibility that Crane’s shot would hit Grace and kill her. Grene would never forgive him if Grace was lost before they ever left Inhospitable.
“Four!” Crane cried. The final step was merely a moment away. Floyd ran over it all in his mind. A quick spin, on the heal of his boot, as he pulled the gun up to chest height, his hand extending as far as it could go. As it hit the apex of it’s reach, his index finger would pull back, taking the trigger with it, and the blast would be emitted from the tip on the front. The Blaster would shake in a sudden explosion, the metal recoiling driving his arm to fracture unless he moved his arm with it. The shot would roast the air around it, slicing through the air and hitting Crane’s hand and Blaster, melting the metal and the fingers with it. Two things could happen then, the energy pack inside the Blaster could explode, taking Crane and the majority of his arm and the hut around him to oblivion or the energy pack wouldn’t explode, and Floyd would have to plant another shot in the boy’s chest to finish the job. If I can kill him, he has to let me go. He’d told Grace, but he had to kill him for that to work.
“Five.” Crane said, dryly and slowly. Both men took the step and spun around, pulling their guns from their sides. Floyd had his gun in hand halfway through the turn, and the arm had reached as far as it could within mere seconds of that. By the time he was facing Crane, his finger was pulling back and the gun was jolting away. The air sweltered with sudden heat, and then he was falling through the air, backwards, amazed at the force of the explosion. When he climbed up, he saw the explosion hadn’t been his gun firing, but instead Crane’s energy pack detonating, his arm ripping apart and taking the hut with him.
Floyd grinned, but was instantly repulsed by what had happened to Crane. Days previously, they’d been friends. Now, they’d attempted to kill each other. Somehow he’d expected that Crane’s wouldn’t be the last death in their crusade for the Fourth Eden. 
“Grace, come on.” Floyd said. “We have to hurry, someone will have heard that.”
Grace scampered out of the cage, casting an eye over the body of Crane on the floor, his arm ripped off by the terrible blast, revealing shredded bone and sliced ligaments. For the second time, she was sick on Crane’s boots.
“Hurry up.” Floyd told her, and they hurried out in the cold of Solace.

Beyond the Frontier and beyond Solace, the war continued to rage on, explosions of gun shots littering a battlefield of screaming and shouting. “Good Gods.” Floyd said. “They haven’t even breached the Frontier yet.”
Grace said nothing, she didn’t know what the Frontier was, besides a hushed concept her parents only spoke of when they were convinced she couldn’t hear them. “How us go to Fourth Eden?”
“We’ll steal a ship.” Floyd told her, grasping her hand as he pulled on his snow mask. “Don’t worry, we’ll get off soon.”
They raced across the ice, after Floyd had gone back twice to first grab the weapons that he’d salvaged on the battlefield and then secondly to retrieve some possessions from his room above the Benvolio’s office. The ship ports of Inhospitable were mostly unused, and very rarely visited, but when Floyd and Grace got to the grand hangars, they discovered that they were mostly empty. Apart from one War Carrier and a Boxship. The War Carrier required six fully trained pilots to fly, and that was once they’d got off the ground. Also, they weren’t designed for off planet travel. No, the Boxship was their only choice. It was about the size of a type of vehicle from the Metallic Earth, before it’d become metallic, called a Transit Van, and from what Floyd had seen in the ancient tapestries, it looked similar-ish. It was called the Boxship because of it’s resemblance with a large metal box, sloping down into a shuttered full length wind screen at one end, and boarded around the bottom like a dogem cart. There was a silver door on one side, rounded at the top, that opened with a press against it from the driver’s hand, in this case it was programmed for Floyd’s. The door slid open and he ushered Grace in, before following her and closing it. There was a bed opposite the door that was too small for Floyd but a perfect size for Grace to lie in. A toilet behind a metal wall was to the side of the toilet, and opposite it was a small kitchen and sink. At the end was the driver area, two pilot’s seats and a selection of instruments which seemed alien to all those except the people who’d been specifically trained to use it.
“Can us go?” Grace asked, sitting in one of the pilot’s chairs.
“Of course.” Floyd said, and began to move the instruments in the exact way needed for a takeoff to be effective.
Grace looked out of the wind screen and sighed a small, childish sigh. “Goodbye home.” She said.

Far below, as they escalated to the thinnest points of the atmosphere, the War raged on. Myra and Grene fought side by side, fuelled by anger and hope they’d be able to rescue their child before she left the planet. Beyond them, an unaware native saw the Boxship carefully tracing it’s way upwards. “Settler scum.” She said, in the Native Tongue. “How dare you try to flee this land?”
And with a salvaged laser rifle, she fired several shots. A success, on just one, as the auxiliary fuel cable smashed. She hoped they crashed and burned. And inside the Boxship, they were none the wiser...

Monday, 18 May 2015

Spaceman: A Planet Called Inhospitable (part 3)

Floyd Mayweather turned the dial at the base of his hood, pulling it closer against the growing cold. As his snow shoes traced footsteps further away from the confines of the Frontier, it seemed to become colder, prolific winds biting at the exposed skin around his neck. Despite the thermal gel his snow mask was lined with, he could feel goose bumps pickling across his flesh, and the crunch of the spittle in his mouth as it froze. The cold seemed not to affect his brother, hundreds of yards in the distance. His black figure had been difficult to follow at first, but as the twin suns rose to the east, he'd become a sore thumb in a bath of hands.
The temptation to stop the cloak and dagger routine and simply call his name across the plains had nearly overwhelmed Floyd many times, but always as he got so closer to doing so, he realised the danger he may end up facing, and so instead he continued the walk in silence.
After a few hours, as numbness began to creep through his legs, he found himself staring a structure he'd never seen before. The Federation, including himself, had often flown around Inhospitable, just within it's atmosphere, searching for signs of life. They'd never noticed anything definite, the source of the belief that the Natives were a transient race, but this was insane. From the snow cast ground protruded a gigantic range of mountains, brilliant caves carved into them from which Floyd could hear singing, chanting, laughter. Signs of life. The words were all in the incomprehensible babble that the Natives spoke, but their meaning could be derived. Happiness, joy, pride. Something had gone their way, but what?
"You've walked into their trap, Floyd." His brother Grene said, and Floyd shook his head rapidly, noticing that no longer his brother was in front, but actually behind him.
"How could you do this, Grene?" Floyd cried, but his voice was drowned out by a sudden war cry from within the caves. Floyd watched in terror as the shadows of a hundred charging people struck up on the white ice wall. He could hear their dizzying cry, see their weapons in hand, feel the shake of the ice as their feet carried them towards him. He knew those were the last seconds of his life, and so he turned to his brother and begged for mercy. A tear trickled down the inside of his transparent snow mask, feeling it freeze against the thermal gel.
"Do not plead, Floyd." Grene announced, walking over to his kneeling brother. "It's not over yet."
"You have betrayed the Federation, betrayed Solace and the Frontier. You've betrayed me!"
"I have good reason to do so!"
"What's that?" Floyd cried, launching to his feet.
Grene looked down at him, guilt ridden, ashamed.
"What reason do you have?"
"I have a daughter." Grene replied, and now it was his turn to cry.

Grene called off the Natives inside the cave, leading Floyd in. Despite the many times Grene had walked between the massive ice archway that they called, in their own tongue, "Birth to Home", he was still amazed. A stretching cavern of frosted glass, illuminated by the dawning suns of the planet's system, hosted hundreds of icy settlements, seemingly lasting forever. Floyd's eyes widened as he saw the ice tents, sheets of ice arranged in triangular compositions to form incredible structures far beyond the architecture of Solace. Between the ice places danced young children, scantily clad in the skins of the animals the settlers called Merehogs. The children dropped their icy hoops and their play things, as they saw the Mayweather brothers pass them.
No, Floyd thought. They didn't drop their things for the brother, they dropped them for him. They knew Grene well enough to trust him. They didn't trust this younger, stronger version who walked to his side.
Floyd's snow boots didn't work on the polished ice surface. Their metal prongs, diagonally spiking off from each side like a spider's leg, couldn't get a grip on the floor, so he found himself kneeling down to fold the prongs back into the soles.
"Take the shoes off." Grene told him.
"I can't." Floyd replied. "Don't you remember what happened to the Captain?"
Twenty years ago, when they'd first landed, the Captain of the landing ship had naively stepped out onto the surface of the planet. Most of the crew had looked away, but the Mayweather brothers had kept staring through the small perspex windows, watching as every inch of the Captain's body turned blue, solidifying until it began to prickle as the blood vessels burst. Then his body began to crack, solidifying until it was forcing itself inwards. Then he turned to a pile of dust, whipped away by the freezing winds.
"Trust me, Floyd. I'm not wearing shoes, and I'm just fine."
Floyd's eyes wandered down to Grene's feet. They were coated with thick socks, lined with thermal gel. Floyd was slightly reluctant to believe it as the truth, but he knew he must accept it. Tentatively, he sat down and pulled his shoes off, testing the iced ground with his toes. No freezing blood vessels or cracking flesh. Science had just surrendered it's hold on him, but he felt fine. Floyd looked his brother straight in the eyes, standing up. "Explain everything to me. Please."
"Would you like to meet her?"
"My daughter."
Floyd nodded. "Of course, but on the way, I want you to tell me how she came into existence."
"Really Floyd? I thought you'd be able to understand such things."
Floyd felt his face flush red, despite the cold. "You know what I mean."
Grene let out his hearty laugh, and for a few seconds Floyd felt safe again. Once more, he was with his brother in a strange new game where the rules were infinite, unknown, and eternally reproducing.

1885SC. Outwards Scout, Grene Mayweather, rode a speedster through the eternal night of Inhospitable. A blaster hung limp on his side, a propellant knife was strapped to his ankle and on his back was a long distance pulser gun. Showers of white snow sprayed from either side of his speedster as he bent over it's hull, attempting to beat his opponent in the furious race. 
He and Niven raced each other on every expedition, it was a way to relieve the boredom of the grand white expanses. One of the watchers, housed in a tower protruding from the top of the Frontier, had seen a mysterious shape in the distance, and so they'd been dispensed to deal with it. 
Grene Mayweather was expecting for it to be another explosion of geothermal power, from deep within Inhospitable's core, but it seemed not. As they approached, they saw that it was something much more dangerous than a rupture in the planet's surface.
A woman.
She was one of the Natives, humanoid and young. She was bathing in a long crack in the ice, nitrogen pools forming a natural resort. Niven laughed as he disengaged the engine of his speedster, the thrusters moaning as they shrank, the heat cutting out. He climbed out, swirling his axe, a thermal blade forming luminescent twirls through the air. "Niven, what're you doing?" Grene asked, well aware of the protocol when it came to finding Natives. "I've got the cuffs to take her back to the Frontier."
Niven turned and laughed. "She's bathing in nitrogen, Grene. Let me warm her up."
There was something sly and ultimately dangerous, animalistic almost, in the way he said it that put Grene on the edge. He felt a hand wrap around the propellant knife on his ankle. "I think we should just follow the procedure, Niven. This woman hasn't hurt us."
"But how many of her scum brothers have, Grene?" Niven asked. "And if you're worried I'm going to keep her all to myself..."
"Stop now, Niven. That's an order." Grene said, climbing down from his speedster.
"An order?" Niven laughed. "Don't you remember, I'm your senior! Now, let me be."
Grene didn't know what happened. One second he was standing there, feeling his anger boil within him like the water in the kettles back at the Frontier. The next second, Niven was on the floor, the propellant knife in his throat as the man began to shake and die, whilst the clash of the propellant knife's charge thundered across the empty plain. 
Grene pulled Niven's jacket off his shaking dead body, wrapping it around the native woman as she climbed from the Nitrogen river. There were translation matrixes built into the speedsters, and he remotely activated them. "I'm sorry for my friend's crude behaviour. It was disgusting."
He heard his words repeated in the Native tongue.
The woman replied several words in the tongue, and then her words were repeated in the Eden Tones. 
"You're species have committed fowler crimes to mine." She reached down to her bare leg and took the knife tightened to it. "He would have met a worse fate than me."
"Can you help me dispose of the body?" Grene asked.
"Yes." The woman replied, and with one powerful kick she knocked it into the nitrogen river. 
"Thank you." Grene said. "I am in your debt."
"You are respectful for an invader."
"You are polite for a savage."
The woman displayed a slight emotion, maybe embarrassment or pride. "I am Myra of the Costello line."
"I am Grene Mayweather." Grene said, presenting his hand. When she looked at him bemusedly, he explained she was meant to shake it. She did so in that fashion of which strangers to society generally perform social norms, with great care, delicacy and awkwardness. 
"It is a pleasure to meet you, Grene of Mayweather. I hope you will accompany me back to my family?"

"And you became a family friend?" Floyd asked, unconvinced.
"You could say that." Grene replied. "It was more a deal of them allowing me to live on the count that I assisted them. They'd ask me for the location of Merehog tribes, and in return they'd tell other parties of Natives not to hurt me. And then, after a year, they told me that they wished to imbue with a grand honour. A woman to marry."
"And you chose?"
"I chose no one. I told them I would not accept a woman as a gift, they told me that wasn't how it worked, and that I was to be given as a gift to a woman."
"And the woman?"
"Who other than Myra Costello?" Grene replied. "We were married by the statures of the Natives, and we were given a house in these caves. I took the role of Long Term Outwards Scout, living on the ice and sending reports to the Frontier, when they were needed. And so I became the only settler allowed inside the tribe."
"And your child?"
"Born merely three months after our wedding. The Native pregnancy is shorter, so that no child need be grown during the twelfth months, with a tad of careful planning."
"What did you call her?"
"I named her after our mother." Grene said. "Grace Costello. I thought it worked."
They followed a set of icy steps through a selection of tunnels, up into the walls of the ice cavern, into the heart of Home. And there it was, the Mayweather-Costello residence, an ice labyrinth of intricate rooms and valiant structures, but Floyd didn't care about any of those. He was much more interested in the child who awaited within.
Grene used his own key to open the door, trailing within and leading a strange route into the heart of the household. They stopped in front of the final door, or at least it was the final door in the respect that it was the final one they stopped at. Grene stopped before he pushed it open. "The girl inside is the most important thing in the world to me, but she doesn't belong on Inhospitable. She belongs on the Fourth Eden."
"The Fourth Eden? Why would you want me to take her there?"
"Because, of tomorrow morning, Inhospitable will become a war zone. The cracks in the planet's crust are driving the Natives insane, and they've vowed to kill the settlers. I have vowed to help them."
"You would betray your species for your adopted race?"
"I would betray them for my family, yes."
"Why are you telling me?" Floyd asked. "I could quite easily go back to Solace and tell them what's going on. We could evacuate before dawn. It is my duty, I am Benvolio after all."
"Because I trust you. I need you to take Grace to her home planet, to keep her safe."
"I presume from the tone you've adopted that you're not coming."
"I'll try, of course." Grene said, but Floyd knew what was coming. "I don't think I'll be able to."
Floyd nodded. "As your brother, I swear, I will do the best I can to return Grace to the Fourth Eden."
"Thank you, Floyd. Now you can meet her."

Monday, 11 May 2015

Spaceman: A Planet Called Inhospitable (part 2)

"Snicker stole my Warmth Slippers!" Skelton Evans announced, one of her wrinkled fingers elongated towards Snicker. Floyd rolled his eyes.
"The old bag lies!" Deputy Snicker replied. "She hates me cause I sold her a dodge ice worm once!"
The argument had been jumping back and forth, back and forth for close on an hour. He didn't blame Grene for going to the Womanry rather than come with him to this. Snicker and Evans were well known to argue on a regular basis, over anything from a misplaced sock to an announcement of preferring one radio stream to the other. When he'd taken the duty of benvolio, he'd hoped he might see an end to the constant disruptions of their mediocre war.
That was five years ago.
"Deputy Snicker," Floyd began, grimacing at the old fashioned feel to the rank. Evans began to snigger as she believed her nemesis was to get in trouble. Floyd turned to her. "Calm down, Skelton Evans. I'll get to you in a second."
She scowled behind his back and began to sulk.
"Deputy Snicker," Floyd resumed, "you are to immediately refund Skelton Evans for the 'dodge ice worm' that you admit to having sold her."
Snicker began to search through his pockets. Floyd turned to Evans. "And you, Skelton Evans, are going to go to the bottom of the staircase and look for your warmth slippers. When you find them, you are to come into this room and apologise profusely to Deputy Snicker for accusing him of such criminal activity. Understood?"
Floyd followed Evans into the hall, and whilst he pulled his thermal jacket, six gloves and finally his ice mask on, Evans stood up, her hands holding the missing warmth slippers. She looked at Floyd and then grumbled, walking off to apologise to Snicker. Floyd shook his head, pulling a hood over it, and wondering why such a couple would insist on being married?
He heard the seeping of the Frost Lock door, not every building had the luxury of heat fields, and then heard it seep closed, before a light above flicked green and the inner door opened. Floyd reached to his face and pulled the mask away. "Crane?"
Crane was Floyd's assistant, who roamed Solace trying to find the problems and ruptures between residents for Floyd to solve. "Begging your pardons, sir." Crane said. "There's an incident going on in the central pass."
Floyd pulled his mask back on and felt his hand tighten around the blaster on his side. "Let's go and deal with it."
They stepped out of the Skelton's house and stared onto the central pass, through the centre of Solace. Floyd had only seen it full twice in his time there, and those times had heralded major events, like landing and then the first visit of the Federation. Now was for a completely different reason.
"You've got your work cut out, brother." Grene said, emerging from no where in particular. "A native has breached the peace."
"You've always been more comfortable with shooting these guys than me." Floyd said. "Fancy giving your benvolio a hand?"
"I'd prefer to help my brother, but you know how it is." Grene laughed, unlatching his blaster from his belt. "I'll let you do the talking, peacekeeper."
The Mayweather Brothers shouldered their way through the hooded crowd of spectators, urging their way to the centre. Grene was right. One of the natives had breached the stronghold.
"I need you to calm down." Floyd said, in the mother tongue of the Federation. "You are placing the inhabitants of this fine city in danger."
The native continued to rotate in the clearing of the crowd, a frozen arrow head tightened to the end of a wooden shaft. She spun it between her fingers, lashing out at each resident, and laughing as they backed away. Floyd had been on the receiving end of the spear once. Nothing was sharper than a frozen arrowhead.
Grene said a few words in the native dialect, learnt from years on the Frontier. The native looked at him strangely but dropped her spear. Floyd rushed forwards and pulled a pair of iron cuffs from the back of his belt, slipping them over her thin wrists. Her skin was tough against his gloved fingers, like the stewed flesh of the ice hounds they pulled in from beyond the Frontier.
"Grene, tell her we're taking her to be held in the cells. Away from the crowd."
"Floyd, do I look like a translator?" He asked.
"Good point." Floyd said, and began to drag her to the Benvolio's office, in the northern sector of Solace.

There was a cell in the Bennvolio's office and only fourteen people had ever been detained in there. Floyd pulled the door open and sat down on a wicker chair, looking straight into the eyes of the fifteenth. He repeated the phrase that Grene had taught him confidently. It sounded like complete nonsense, up until the moment when he said, "Floyd Mayweather." And then it was nonsense again as he explained he was the town's peacekeeper.
She began to laugh, her bound hands running through her braided black hair. "You keep no peace, Floyd Mayweather." She replied in stunted words. "You bring the war."
"You speak the Eden Tones?" Floyd asked.
The native didn't reply to that, just continued with her angered rant. "You bring the cracks of the ground, the spewing of the Alquarara, the death of our home. You people brought this upon yourself. You are demons unto yourself and unto those that you meet."
Floyd stood and walked out of the cage, slamming the door shut and walking over to Grene. "That's surprising."
"That she can speak the Eden Tones?"
"No." Floyd said. "The fact she can do so and still remain to sound so pretentious."

That night, Floyd heard a noise from the Benvolio's office downstairs. It was a giggling and a quick converse of native slang. He eased himself out of bed and pulled his ice boots on, wrapping his thermal coat over his normal clothes. He hurried to the stairs, each step a cringe as it made just too much noise. There was a spot he could stand in that would allow him to remain hidden whilst still looking into the heart of the office. The two figures had escaped the cage and were making their way towards the door. Floyd grabbed his blaster, prepared to shoot them, but realised that was the wrong course of action. Following them would be a much wiser idea.
Floyd holstered his blaster and pulled on his mask, chasing down the stairs and following them out of the door into the central pass. They were already running, chasing towards the narrow exit and onwards to the Frontier. The Benvolio took a deep breath and quickly chased after them, his boots' extending wire frames leaving broken foot prints in the floor. The two natives were fast, by the time he emerged from Solace, they were beyond the crevice, chasing across to the Frontier itself. Floyd contemplated running after them, but he'd walked the distance the other day with Grene. He knew it was a long way. No, instead, he took one of the Speedster's that the Frontier men used to travel from the Frontier to Solace and took the perimeter route to catch up with them. They seemed to have keys to the Frontier buildings, a security risk Floyd would have to inform Grene of. Floyd dismounted his speedster and dropped to the ice, cowering in the shadows of the Frontier when they turned to stare at the noise. They turned away quickly, their faces hidden in the darkness, and so Floyd continued to follow them. He crept through the tunnelling corridors of the Frontier complex, hiding behind the next set of doors at every turn, until they reached the final link in what they called the Frontier chain. It led out onto Inhospitable's main bulk of land, through an ice lock door. As the natives activated it, Floyd saw their faces in the glow of the red bulb above. One of the natives was the lady he'd imprisoned earlier. The second wasn't a native at all.
It was Grene Mayweather, his brother.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Spaceman: A Planet Called Inhospitable

It was Year One Thousand And Seventy Six of the Second Cycle (1876 SC) and the fourth Eden was thriving with the excitement of youth. A Federation Star Cruiser had broken the delicate shell of the Eden's atmosphere and was landing in the clearing in the centre of the woods, grand plumes of white smoke escaping from it's roaring hover drives. Floyd Maywhether, his brother Grene at his shoulder, took a hand to his face to shield his eyes from the heat. "What if it burns down the trees?" He asked.
His brother Grene laughed. "Then we'll plant more trees, moron. And anyway, who cares? The Federation have landed!"
When the smoke had cleared, revealing the gleaming silver of the ship, a ramp began to lower from the front of the craft. Before they'd moved to the Unnamed Eden, Floyd's father had worked on Kirkwood building the mechanisms that lowered the door to be as quiet as possible, so as not to alarm natives when the ships first landed. In this case, the natives were causing more alarm than the Federation agents themselves. Market vendors, always the first to turn up at exciting events, barged their way through the clouds, wicker baskets of overpriced food raised above their heads. They positioned themselves around the ramp and readied themselves to present food to the people who'd soon be walking down it. "Have you ever seen a Federation Officer before, Grene?" Floyd asked his brother, who was two years the senior.
"Not in the flesh." Grene replied. "I wonder why they're here?"
As if in answer, the first agent of the Federation marched down the ramp halfway and stopped. He was an imperial sight, his cloak hanging low around his ankles and high around his neck, held by a golden chain. The Officer stopped and stared forwards at the growing crowd of intrigued natives. He swiped his hands through the air, summoning a blue rectangle of energy about twenty feet in front of his face. He began to read from the scrolling white writing that appeared on it. "Citizens of the Unnamed Eden, thank you for your hospitality. I represent the Federation."
A huge cheer echoed throughout the crowd.
"I have come to offer the one commodity no organisation is willing to give away." He announced, and the crowd instantly became silent. He couldn't be suggesting what they thought he was. No planet was lucky enough to receive such an offer, especially not the Unnamed Eden. "I present to you a chance to work for the Federation."
A rippled of applause drowned out the shouts of agreement from the crowd. A selection of rectangles higher above the spokesman on the ship slid open and great metal pods hovered out, a cloud of red haze masking the heat that their engines no doubt produced. As they began to spread out, fulfilling a prepared grid pattern, the crowd quickly spread out, allowing them to land without causing any harm. When the red haze dissipated, Floyd could see the Federation Logo embellished on the metal capsules. They quickly slid open and revealed android figures, with prepared microphones in their hands. "Recruitment droids." Grene said. "You tell them your details and they scan the local databases, before deciding whether or not to give you a job."
"What do the jobs include, brother?" Floyd asked.
"Searching far off stars, of course. Finding new planets and living on them, as well as travelling the Cosmos!"
Floyd's mind filled with excitement, hope. Desire. He needed that job, despite only being twelve.
"Can we go and get recruited, Grene?" He asked.
"I thought you'd never ask." Grene replied, and they forced their way through the crowds, pushing and shoving towards the nearest recruitment droid. Everyone else had the exact same idea, fighting to get to the machines, but Grene was tall and strong. He could get them to it, Floyd was sure.
In the end, they did get to it, and Grene said their names into the microphone. The Recruitment Droid whirred and then it's slit line mouth flashed blue with the timing of each word. "Floyd Mayweather. Grene Mayweather. Training engineers. Father is a pervious employee of the Federation."
It's eyes flashed three times.
"Misters Mayweather, you have been recruited for our services. Please report to the ship at once."
Floyd cast Grene a look that said it all. They'd done something with their lives.

1896SC. Floyd and Grene Mayweather were stood on a Planet called Inhospitable, staring out beyond  the frontier set by the original federation scout's who had landed there. The Mayweather brothers had been amongst the original scouts, their first mission, and it had changed their perception of the Federation forever. Their mission had been to find new planets and introduce the people of those planets to the ways of the Federation, and the civilised cosmos. Now, it was in question as to who the civilised species was.
The frontier was a thin black wall of huts, in which the superiority of the Federation Scouts lived, armed with the very best laser cannons. Beyond the frontier was an endless white blanket of snow, stretching west and north beyond the bleak horizon, but to the east it sloped away into a jigsaw cutting that overlooked the Nitrogen Sea. But the focus of their attention was closer to them than the frontier, and a hell of a lot scarier than either. There was a crack in the ice.
It grew bigger by the day, at first a thin slit in the ice but now it was a gaping fracture, revealing the inky blackness beneath the planet's crust. The Outward Scouts, those like Grene who investigated the ground beyond the Frontier, reported that more and more cracks were building in the outwards ice.
"Of course," Grene said, as Floyd stared into the abyss beneath the ice, "the natives are blaming us. You heard about Fletcher?"
Floyd shook his head, a wasted gesture beneath his tight blue hood. "I haven't, no."
"He and Jonesy went out on routine patrol last week, studying the ice beyond the frontier. A load of the natives ambushed them, stole their rations and killed Fletcher. According to Jonesy, and our translation matrixes, the natives were screaming curses at them."
"God." Floyd said, standing up. Through tightly gloved hands, he straightened his blue jacket and felt the familiar weight of his blaster on his side. He'd only used it twice since their landing on Inhospitable, but both times had been experiences he never wished to repeat. Some found the stealing of life for 'the greater good' an honour. Floyd found it a disgrace. "When do you go back out to the Frontier?" He asked, worried that Grene may come to harm's way.
"Tomorrow." He said. "Which is more than enough time for you to show me around the encampment."
Floyd laughed. "Solace, Grene, Solace. Nobody calls it the encampment anymore."
"You've got to admit it looks like a concentration camp from the outside."
"I don't know what you mean." Floyd said, turning back to look at Solace. It was composed of twenty buildings, all constructed from heating inducing metals that released geothermal bursts into the nitrogen liquid beneath, every hour. Barbed wire fences guarded it from all sides, should the Frontier ever be breached, and the youth had come to decorate the wire with anti-native propaganda and graffitied signs. Not that the adults ever took them down.
They began to stroll towards it, their spiked boots clawing grains of snow away from the paths they took. When they'd first landed, 240 moon cycles for each of Inhospitable's twelve moons ago, it was possible to feel the planet's crust against the foot, if you dug far enough. Now, it was just compacted snow.
"Although, technically, it's not snow." Grene reminded him, when Floyd commented on it. "That would make it water."
"And would mean it would have frozen two hundred and ten degrees ago." Floyd replied, having heard the lecture before. "Thank God for the warmth gel in the lining of these coats."
"The only thing I respect about the Federation." Grene said, spitting a ball of saliva from his lips. It froze as it left the embrace of his mouth.
"Indeed." Floyd said, and they got to the barbed wire fences. A short entrance that could be hastily closed led into Solace. Attached to it were signs that read words like, "Ice Walkers" or "Nitrofaces."
The least imaginative was, "Native Scum."
"Where do you want to go first?" Floyd asked, although he already knew the answer.
"The Saloon, of course." Grene said.
The Saloon was a Federation run bar that was opened on every planet the Federation landed on. This one in particular had swinging doors that provided the illusion of a partially open doorway, however heat fields combatted the invading cold. As the Mayweather Brothers walked in, they were suddenly enveloped in heat and had to pull off their jackets and gloves before they sweated too much. A man with a synthano was sat on the raised platform in the corner, moaning along to the artificial music he was producing, and a couple of old men raised beers to them as they entered. "Gentlemen!" The bar woman, a stumpy middle aged woman with dyed blonde hair, cried. "What can I get you?"
"Iond." Grene said, stating the favourite drink of the Unnamed Eden. "With ice."
"Of course." The bar woman said, and took the small glass bottle form the shelf. She took a shot glass and filled it with a single ice cube, which she then topped with about twenty millilitres of the Iond.
Grene took it in one and then grinned. "I have missed drinking." He said. "Give me another."
Floyd rolled his eyes. It was going to be a long night.