Friday, October 22, 2004

Chapter One - 4

Larco Bengolin walked quickly across the darkened runway at O'Hare SpaceCentre, thick fingers wrapped tightly around the handle of his Level One Security carrying case. Behind him the great engines of the Mars shuttle steamed and sighed as they cooled under the thin drizzle of the Chicago winter night. The other passengers would be delayed before disembarking, but what Larco held in his metal carrying case was too important to wait.

As soon as the shuttle had landed a heat shield had been rolled up under its nose by a Special Forces team dressed as ground crew personnel. Larco had slid out the forward service hatch and dropped to the ground below to meet them.

Holding his breath and closing his eyes against the deadly shuttle exhaust fumes that swirled around him, one of the team had positioned an oxygen mask securely over his face, flushing the mask out with a blast from the attached tank before tapping it to indicate he could open his eyes.

When he could breath comfortably again, he had pulled on a black SpaceCentre cap, clipped an orange rain cape across his shoulders and within seconds he had been transformed into one of the swarm of workers converging on the shuttle.

One of the team motioned Larco to follow him and led him a little ways away from the shuttle. He pointed into the distance to where row after row of dark towers repeated themselves endlessly, each one crowned with clusters of blinking red approach beacons.

They only make any sense when you see them from above, thought Larco.

"Walk towards that one, they'll meet you there. Good luck." The man turned and walked quickly away.

Larco was suddenly alone. The empty SpaceCentre landing field stretched endlessly, disappearing into the night in every direction. He watched, fascinated, as the rain deepened the pools of water forming in the runway depressions. The landing beacons transformed them into flashing puddles of spilt blood.

He began walking towards one of the clusters of winking red lights.

It was hard to believe he was back home; he had been gone for less than two of his three year duty tour on Mars and had never expected to find himself Earthside before it was over.

No one outside the company and military security knew he had returned, not that there was anyone who really cared. He would remain undercover and return in a few days on the next shuttle out.

A commercial airliner roared suddenly and noisily overhead as it took off from the nearby airport and began its slow crawl up through the cloud cover to the open skies above. He wondered if it was going to Eastern Europe, perhaps even to Moscow itself. The bleak winter streets of home.

There's nothing for me there anymore. Larco sighed, dismissing his past.

The flight from Barsoom Spaceport had been a long one, made worse by the Level One Security status of the message he had been chosen to carry back to Earth. He had no reason to doubt what Schiller had told him a month ago in TAFT's offices on Mars.

Larco hadn't liked living alone with that thought for the last thirty days in his cramped space quarters. The magnificent Sun Cruiser and its gay home-bound complement sailed serenely across the vast inner ocean of the solar system between Mars and Earth orbit, unaware of any danger, the ship at long last giving itself up to the welcoming pull of the home planet. They had boarded the shuttle at the orbiting transfer terminal and were soon plunging into Earth's atmosphere. No one outside a few select crew members had seen him arrive or depart either vessel.

The rain was coming down harder now, and he could just make out the dark shape of a car speeding towards him across the tarmac, lights out, on a course to intercept him.

Larco stopped and signaled the approaching vehicle, waving the case over his head for them to see. The lights of the car flashed on and off once, and he relaxed. A bed and a good hot meal, then later, if he was lucky, a real woman. The hot-channels on Mars had been abysmal; everything had been old reruns of bad holo-sex for the entire time he had been there.

He stopped and took off the oxygen mask, pulled off his wrap as he had been instructed to do and lifted his face up to the heavens and let the water wash over it, welcoming it. It had been so long since he had been able to stand under his home sky and he wanted to enjoy it while he could.

He could hear the engine now, approaching fast. He wiped his face and squinted through the rain, trying to gauge the distance. It was close, he could tell, and it should be slowing down soon. It occurred to him then that it might not be coming to pick him up after all, perhaps there was someone else on the shuttle that was to be met.

He turned to see if any other passengers had disembarked, but saw only bare runway stretching into the darkness on either side of it. The shuttle, now some distance from him, was lit up by a circle of beaming spotlights pushed into place by the ground crew. The deadly trails of engine exhaust and steam were curling up through the crossed fingers of the lights; the shuttle itself, transformed by the stark bottom lighting, crouched on the feet of its landing gear like some great silver bird of prey.

Larco heard the pitch of the car's engine shift upward and spun around to find himself staring into the dazzling twin beams of the approaching vehicle. He threw his left arm up to shield his eyes from the lights, suddenly realizing that the car was bearing directly down on him.

"STOP, YOU FOOL!" he screamed. Larco hesitated, then turned to run sideways, away from the direct path of the car. To his horror, he saw that the car had changed direction to follow him, its engine now an ugly roar as it accelerated even faster. He ran, the rain sweeping into his eyes in blinding sheets, shoes and pants now sodden and heavy with the water he was splashing up from the little red pools on the runway.

Larco turned his head to look back. The carrying case broke loose from the grip of his fingers and began to spin about in its own haphazard orbit at the end of the length of smartsteel, throwing him off balance. Struggling to gain control, he came down hard, straight legged, his knee locked tight. The metal case swung around towards his head, hitting him on the temple with enough force to fill his vision with a shower of blinding sparks. He staggered headlong towards the tarmac.

As Larco fell, he turned again just in time to catch sight of the front of the speeding car before it hooked him on its bumper and threw him, screaming, backwards over the hood, twisting his body as he flew head first into the the windshield, the scream silenced as his neck snapped and he changed direction, up and into the air. He was projected clear of the vehicle, now a dark ragged doll journeying across a darker sky, arm held aloft by the weight of the carrying case and cape billowing behind him until he dove back into the ground, spinning over and over, the orange rain cape wrapping itself tightly around him, stopping at last in an unsettling tangle of arms and legs, the case still firmly attached to his bleeding wrist.

The car slid across the watery surface as it braked, then backed up fast, wheels spinning until it came to a stop, headlights illuminating the lifeless orange pile on the runway.

"Put him in the back, and be careful, we don't want any mistakes made now." The woman's voice spoke without emotion.

Two large men got out of the rear of the car. They picked the body up carefully, grabbing the two legs and the left arm, making sure not to touch the case attached to the other arm that dragged along the ground behind it. They eased the body into the trunk, rolling it over as they let go, the attached carrying case sliding in neatly after it.

"Hurry, we don't have much time!" the woman called out the open door.

The two men hurried back into the vehicle and it raced off across the field, disappearing into the dark downpour.

One of them looked at the silhouetted face seated across from him.

"How will you get the thing off, madam?" he asked.

"That's none of your concern. When we drop you off, you'll forget about tonight. Do you understand?"

They both nodded in the darkness, eager to be far away from this dangerous woman.

Larco lay in the trunk, a twisted smile frozen grotesquely on his face. He would never have to leave home again.

1 Comments:

Blogger Travis said...

Great first chapter. I can't wait to read the next post. I seriously check this page everyday. Will you be posting all of the novel or just a portion of it?

November 9, 2004 at 12:34 PM  

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