The following is an excerpt from one of the short stories I’m working on. It’s not meant to be taken seriously; it was devised during a couple of silly texting conversations with friends. Still, I’m having a lot of fun with it. I hope you enjoy.
A Nick Ironsight Joint
by Daniel Rocha
The dropship jolted and rocked as it settled onto the platform. The landing was no more stable than the rest of the trip. The whole shot was a breathless rush from the very beginning. Assignment, briefing, arming, embarkation. Nick was on his usual knife’s edge and didn’t mind it – in fact he loved it, lived for it – but even the principal was sweating in his seat during the flight, and that didn’t seem right.
The ship’s retrofire died. Silence. Tension. A green notice lit up on the ceiling, accompanied by a friendly tone. It was time to get up, get moving. Nick and his team, two other men from Solid Stone Security, unlatched themselves from their vinyl, cushioned seats and wordlessly took their places at the exit of the cabin. The flight had been automated; they had no pilot or crew to guide them. The ship’s onboard computer received its course data from a flight control center on Lakshmi, and it continually called home to analyze, calculate, and maintain its route. The system was trustworthy, and they’d arrived without incident, which gave Nick some much-needed time to study personnel dossiers. From what he’d learned, they were about to see, breathe, and soak up one of the largest, most promising settlements on the frontier.
Of course, it didn’t look too grand at first. All they saw as the gangway hissed open was the usual landing pad, a utilitarian skeleton of steel. The flooring was simple cement, surrounded by a series of square grates, and they could see the dirt of the moon’s surface beneath it. Yellow girders rose up to the ceiling hundreds of feet above, where three separate doors had closed behind the ship, separating the atmospheres. Thick cables snaked across and under the grates, tossed there thoughtlessly by maintenance workers. Tight, enclosed, and dim as it was, this pad resembled a mechanic’s garage. Clearly, this was not the usual pad for visiting dignitaries.
Nick and his team stepped down the gangway. Nick took a few careful looks around. Nothing unusual. The gate leading into the colony was several yards away. It was a giant, metal wall with a wide door at its base. To the right of the door was a small security station. A helmeted guard stood looking at him from behind its foot-thick glass. Nick turned back to the principal, who was still waiting patiently at the top of the gangway.
“Come on,” Nick said with a small beckon. The man, stiff, suited, and still sweating, made his careful way down to the pad. Nick knew there was little need for the show; their whole route had been mapped and forwarded to them by police chief Tungsten, and he was once a star CPO of the SSS. Still, none of them had ever been to Rama before, so playing up the vigilance couldn’t hurt.
They approached the gate, and the guard at the station nodded them through. The monstrous metal door, wide as six men, shot open horizontally at a surprising speed. A wave of air pushed out onto them, cool and crisp. Nothing wrong with the ventilation out here. The colonies had a history of iffy filtration, the result of slipshod contractors, and there were stories of factories failing because their workers weren’t getting enough oxygen. Not here, though. Nick pulled in a long sniff. It almost smelled sweet.
Before them, a long connecting corridor: brightly lit, excitingly white, decidedly more modern than the landing pad. No decoration though; that was for tourists, and these men had come on business.
The doors crashed shut behind them with the same amazing ferocity with which they’d opened. The men clomped down the hall in boots and wingtips, the security detail confidently surrounding the cargo. Nick noticed that the man’s bearing was slowly shedding its timidity. The proud, almost regal attitude that Nick had always admired in the man was returning.
The guy wasn’t really royalty, but he was close enough. He was Joey Brasstone, CFO of Huxley & Hollinger Resources. VIP. The man behind the Dyaus Pita Project, the money magnet that made the Rama colony into the remote jewel that it was. Before Dyaus Pita, it was a tiny set of science and observation facilities, beeping away in space. After Dyaus Pita, it was the fastest-growing metropolis in the quadrant. Developers stuck module after module onto the place. Immigrants poured in by the thousands, all of them craving a taste of the fast, thrilling, occasionally risky life that Rama promised.
Occasionally risky? Make that damn risky.
But for all the energy he’d poured into the Dyaus Pita project, and for all the money he’d made from its success, Joey Brasstone had never seen it. Not in person. Even after Joey’s brother Billy won a plum contract and expanded his business to Rama, Joey found reasons to avoid the trip, and nobody thought to question him. Sure, there was some pressure from the board at first, an obligation for the father to check on his child, to make a show of assurance for the stockholders. That pressure dissipated, though, as Rama’s population burgeoned, and the first ugly reports of spreading crime came back. No one at Huxley & Hollinger expected the CFO to head out there after that. The man didn’t need to risk himself just to put on a little show that wouldn’t mean much anyway. H&H would just hire some meatheads with guns to guard the capital, and then quietly continue to pull in the millions.
Head out he did, though, suddenly and unexpectedly, and now there he was, setting foot on that pulsing new world that he helped bring to life.
And he was escorted by three massive men wearing ballistic vests and armed with fully-automatic, electrothermal-chemical carbines. Their point man: a tall, tattooed vet named Nick Ironsight.
Nick’s earpiece lit up. “Agent Ironsight. Chief Tungsten. You copy?” A raspy, grim voice with a sergeant’s sharp authority crackled in Nick’s ear.
“Yes sir,” Nick answered.
“You are to continue through Ramasec station G7 and then report to Amberson Lab Alpha immediately.”
Joey Brasstone spoke up. He had his earpiece tuned in too. “Uh, what about my things? We didn’t bring them off the ship.”
Tungsten’s tone shifted from surly to servile in a flash. “All your supplies are being sent to your quarters via the colony’s freight rail, Mr. Brasstone, sir. It’ll be waiting for you when you get there. You just stick with those fine gentlemen beside you, and you got no need to worry. That’s my guarantee.”
“Okay, gotcha.” Mr. Brasstone stood up a little straighter than before.
The gruff Tungsten returned. “Ironsight. G7. Amberson. Tungsten out.”
“Yes sir,” said Nick. “Out.” He squinted his gray-blue eyes and marched. Just a little PSD. Babysit the boss man, do whatever Tungsten told him, go back home. He did wish, though, that he could at least look around the place before he left. Zip around the various districts, get a glimpse at the lifestyle. Just to see what made Rama so damn seductive. What made so many responsible people pull out their sureties on Lakshmi, and put them all on the line for a little moon on the frontier.
The men reached the end of the hall, and the doors opened before them in welcome.
The corridor led directly into a broad reception area in Rama Security Station G7. Everything was solid, polished metal, unpainted and tough. Workmanlike, but professional. The look one hoped to see in Ramasec, and by extension, the men of Solid Stone who filled most of Ramasec’s roster. A hefty, clean-shaved man with a chunky jaw and a buzzcut eyed them from behind a steel desk, and then immediately muttered something into his headset.
Nick led his group to the desk and made the appropriate introduction. “Mr. Joseph Brasstone.”
The man at the desk looked right past Nick as if he wasn’t there. He leapt into his greeting, his intonation heavy and rough. He hadn’t had much time to rehearse for this important arrival. “Good day, Mr. Brasstone,” he said. “It’s my pleasure to welcome you to Rama. Your room is ready at the Edelmann Lodge, where your luggage is already on its way. You already have your key, is that right?”
Brasstone produced a small plastic card from his breast pocket and flashed it with a smile.
“Very good,” said the guard-turned-receptionist. “First, I believe that you have a meeting with Doctor Copperwire. He’s in the Amberson Labs, sir. If you’ll take the stairs behind me and to your left, you’ll enter a skyway that will take you there directly. Do you have any questions for me before you go?”
“None at all, my good man,” answered Brasstone. “Thank you very much. Keep up the great work.” He even threw in a toothy grin and a wink. Nick smirked.
“Yes sir, right this way, then, sir.” Up the stairs he motioned. They clanged up a simple grated stairway, a thick metal door opened to the skyway, and Nick saw magic.
The skyway was walled on either side with hefty panes of aluminum silicate glass. Stretching out for miles beyond were the harsh, gray flatlands of Rama, powder-dry and cratered. Dusty, barren, and impossible to cultivate, Rama’s land was just a whole lot more of that dead and disappointing lunar desert.
What made it grand were the goings-on above it all.
On Nick’s right, slowly tumbling across the black expanse, were the golden geese of the Dyaus Pita project: asteroids, asteroids multifarious. They drifted and spun around Rama in their glorious ringlet, clustered like nomads on an ancient and trusted trail. To Nick’s eye, this ring was a broad, speckled band that reached across the Rama sky. The asteroids flew in their endless arcs as though hurled by heavenly hands, each one curious, each one strange. Some were stony, some were jagged, some were pockmarked, and some were creamy. There were asteroids that bulged with chunky mounds and sweeping hillocks. There were asteroids laced with twisting tunnels large enough to drive a tank through. There were asteroids that glistened and twinkled with a radiance unlike anything in man’s known universe. That so many sizable and dissimilar bodies could convene around this tiny moon was an astronomical phenomenon.
And more wonderful than that was the fact that each of these sizable and dissimilar bodies contained enough ore, enough precious metals, enough raw riches to destroy a colony, rebuild it, and then destroy it again.
On Nick’s left was another astonishing sight. A monstrous, purple sphere. The pulsing, storming skies of Rudra, the inhospitable gas giant that Rama orbited, made canopy here. The planet was enormous, bright, and near enough for the purple and gray coils of its unending thunderstorms to fill the eastern sky. Nick could actually see the cloud layer swirl, sweep, dissolve, and reform from second to second. He saw a tiny white flash in a pocket of rich violet, a lightning bolt that must have been miles long. It was hypnotic, unsettling, and Nick was startled when the doors swished open at the end of the skyway.
The station opened up its arms as they left Ramasec, and it gradually transformed from a claustrophobic workman’s spaceport to a batty tourist’s attraction. From one walkway to the next, things got a little louder than before, a little more garish. The simple humming of the churning filtration ducts was slowly covered by voices and footsteps, while stark fluorescent lighting was replaced by animated billboards and squiggly neon.
Nick lead the three men along their assigned path, one that kept them from the sight and slog of the growing crowds. They stalked down empty corridors and rode silently up elevators. They crept along a grated catwalk suspended over a small port plaza. Colonists, dressed as in the casual T-shirts and jeans you’d see on mall-walkers, traipsed between markets. These markets didn’t sell anything exotic; it was the typical set of duty-free distractions designed to occupy folks before their flights.
Speakers and projections blared. Some gave notice about arrivals and departures, while others dished the latest colonial news. New upscale residences were under construction in the south. Repairs on an overworked mag-freight line were nearing completion. Contractors kicked up dust over bidding practices.
Ads, printed and digital, covered any available surface. One of them was a pretty girl’s face with a splatter of brown drops around her mouth. The bold, all-caps copy simply read, “DRINK COKE.”
The catwalk lead them to a small door tucked into a niche on the third floor of a non-descript building. A green light beside the door winked on automatically, and they heard the lock click open. Nick pulled the handle and saw a small hallway floored with linoleum and lit intermittently with those harsh fluorescent lights. As the door snapped shut behind them, all the noise from the port cut away.
Clomping boots and wingtips. The long walk to work. The sheet paneling on the walls was shallow and thin, with some untended open holes, and beneath the cheap covering was intricate wiring, circuitry, and duct work. Nick reflected in wonder that even the tiniest spaces in a colony needed extensive connecting work to ensure that humans could survive in them.
At the end of the hall was a large freight elevator, barred with a simple, collapsing iron gate. The elevator to the storage spaces of Amberson Labs. Nick hit the call button, and the gate scrunched open with a series of creaks and squeaks. The group loaded themselves up, and Nick hit the button at the very bottom of the panel. The gate pulled shut. As they rode down, passing level after level and burrowing underground, Nick got the sense that they were dropping away from everyone else, separating from society, entering a remote pocket where secrets were sent to be forgotten.
“So, anybody got a smoke?” said Joey.
No one answered him.