Inner Ring Supply Run

Captain Monroe stood at attention just like she'd done countless times before. Today was no different than the previous inspections, at least that was what she'd been telling herself for the last hour. These inspections usually last half this time. She'd hoped the rumors of tightened Inner Ring security were just that, rumors.

All of the manifests were in order, all of the seals on the shipments were unbroken and had been resealed perfectly, and the transponders were reprogrammed and working. Every step she'd been trained to follow had been followed meticulously. In the vacuum of space she had nothing but time to engage her inner obsessive compulsive disorder to follow orders. Everything had been reviewed several times over.

Her mind was doing circles now and her heart was beating erratically. Nervously looking around the room, she briefly made eye contact with the guard they'd left with her in engineering while they did inspections. She instantly regretted it. She had to focus and get herself under control. Any sign of weakness of nervousness would certainly give her away. She closed her eyes for a second and started to center herself. Breathing in and out in a controlled manner like all good Outer Ringers learned at birth. Air is precious, air is life … air is precious, air is life. Breath in, breath out, breath in, breath out.

She often wondered if the ability that the Outer Ring people had to quickly center themselves and control their emotions gave them an edge. Her academic friends certainly thought so but right about now she didn't feel like she had any advantages. Under the stress of looting while at the same time delivering a supply run she wasn't sure she had any sort of upper hand.

A loud noise jarred her out of her focusing routine as she stumbled slightly to catch her balance. The noise of a docking port attaching to a ship is very distinct and unnerving for any captain. It was usually accompanied by the relief of a voyage finally ending or the stress of a random inspection or repair.

One could usually discern the nature of the attachment by the noise it made. The louder the clang the worse the pilot, the worse the pilot the more stress to come. Her flight instructor would have scored that docking job as a first run freshman from a gravity well. It was only when the blast charges went off that she realized this wasn't another freshman inner ring inspection force. It was something far worse, pirates!

Without a thought she leapt across the room and broke open one of the supply lockers. The last thing she wanted to do today was die from exposure. Inside she grabbed two helmets and slammed the door closed. Turning around she was greeted to a gun pressing into her temple.

"Don't move!" shouted the guard. She swore she could hear the firearms capacitor charging as he nervously pressed the gun to her head. He was clearly freaking out as he was trying to unsuccessfully subvocally communicate with his crew mates.

"Are you going to shoot me before or after I save you from exposure?" she asked looking down at the helmets in her hand. Slowly she raised one and held it up to the guard. He hesitated, unsure if this was a ruse to throw him off.

"How about I make this easy for you," she said carefully lowering the helmet. "I'll set it on the ground slowly and back away. Then you can pick it up and safely put it on."

"Ok, yea … that … that sounds good," he stammered.

As she bent down to set the helmet on the ground she could hear it. The distinct sound of feet quickly shuffling toward engineering. That shuffling sound a space born crew would make living in irregular gravity, never fully trusting physics. She only had a few seconds to act.

"Do you hear that?" she asked trying to draw his attention to the aft door.

"Nice try. I'm not falling for…"

Before he could finish his sentence she tossed his helmet toward an aft storage locker to draw his attention. At the same time she tucked hers into her stomach and rolled toward the bow. Just as she stopped rolling in front of the exit the door slid open, sensing her approach. She'd gambled successfully that the security overrides the inspection crew had on her computer would be preempted by the prevailing emergency.

The guard however wasn't quite as green as she'd hoped. While he was initially distracted, he'd quickly seen through her ploy and had crouched preparing to fire on her from a better position. He was however greeted to a loud clank outside the aft engineering door. The distinct sound of a blast charge being placed on a 4 inch thick pressurized door meant to prevent cascading depressurization of a ship. Rather than fire he turned slowly and began subvocalizing something, she assumed to his crew.

That was all the distraction she needed. She shoved her helmet on and launched herself through the bow door. As she cleared it she subvocalized a command to her ship to both lock down engineering and cut the ships gravity. Even though everyone involved was trained in zero-g maneuvers she knew most of them would be caught off guard giving her she hoped a few seconds advantage.


Shane had never seen the sun so bright and clear. It’s disk cast a crisp circle in the morning sky highlighting the reds and yellows of the horizon. As he sat on that bench taking in the beauty for the first time he couldn’t help but think back on the events leading him to that morning.

It had only been a month since he’d learned about the Upside. As he turned to look at his wife next to him calmly grasping her cup of tea, the steam rising to join the morning air, he knew he had made the right choice, the only choice. While dangerous at times and filled with deceit and pain he now stood on the cusp of something truly amazing, a new world. He didn’t know if he’d survive another day or week in this foreign place but to see things like the sun rising over the horizon made him think that for the first time in a long time anything was possible.

“I love you,” he paused and smiled at her. “I will always love you. But just promise me one thing.”

“Anything,” she said as she placed her head onto his shoulder.

“Promise me that you’ll never shoot at me or hold a gun to my head again,” he said. She leaned back smiling and gently punched him on the shoulder. Looking into his eyes she leaned in and kissed him. “I promise,” she said as she leaned into him looking again at the sun as it rose through the morning mist.

“How did they keep the Upside from us for so long?” she whispered. “How were we so blind to the world around us that we didn’t realize there was something more? Something beyond the ceiling of those blasted caverns.”

“Religion and years of lies are powerful, they can blind anyone to the truth,” he replied. “If we hadn’t stumbled upon the book we wouldn’t be standing here today.” He looked down at the book he was grasping so tightly in his hands. He slowly turned it over in his hands, gently brushing his fingers over its surface. The cover was torn and weathered so much that the title was barely legible. The lettering was distinct and beautiful, written with a precision and craftsmanship that was beyond that of his people.

Shane thought back to when he’d discovered the book …

Climbing upward was always forbidden. You’ll get too close to the gods the priests told them. You’ll be burned by the liquid fire the ancients sent to remind us where not to tread. He never really intended to cross the river of fire, he used to come here as a kid to see what it looked like. Now he just came here to clear his head, to ground himself after a long day of smarg hunting or plowing in the fields.

As he made his way along his usual route he was thinking of new ways he could outsmart those bloody smarg when he spotted it. He hadn’t ever seen it before, it was something new, something unusual. There on the other side of the river of fire was a container. Just inside a small cavern he’d never noticed he could see it. It’s surface was reflecting the light from above. As he looked up he noticed there were more Lichen above here than usual. Perhaps Fungi, the God of the Lichen was testing his dedication.

Or perhaps the Gods were showing him this to aid him in battling the smarg? He had to know what was in it. It obviously was put there for a reason. The gods wouldn’t have lightened this spot on this day had they not wanted him to see it. It was a sign he could not ignore.

Over the years Shane had thought of many ways to cross the river of fire but had never once tried, he knew better. Today was his chance to put his best idea to the test. He didn’t waste any time sprinting to the largest boulder he could find. Then he began to use his walking stick as a lever to roll it. It was a delicate operation and took many hours to navigate the boulder to the right position.

His idea was a simple one. Roll the boulder into the river and then use it as a platform of sorts to leapfrog to the other side of the river. He didn’t need much space but he knew he only had seconds to get to the other side and back before the fire from the river overtook the boulder. He only had one chance to perfectly roll and place that boulder.

He exhaled and quickly said a prayer to the God of the Lichen thanking him for this challenge and hoping he was worthy of the gift. He leaned into his walking stick and pushed with all of his might to start the boulder tumbling down the small incline. He needed enough force to roll it part of the way in but not so far that he couldn’t reach the boulder.

His timing and pressure was perfect as the boulder stopped precisely where he wanted. With little thought he was sprinting down the hill as the boulder was just coming to a rest and beginning to slowly sink. He skillfully leapt onto the boulder and with all of his strength and momentum he threw himself up and forward toward the bank on the other side of the river.

He landed hard wincing in pain as the stone tore at the flesh on his side. He didn’t have time to feel the pain however because the clock was ticking. He sprinted toward the cavern slightly staggering from the effects of the harsh landing. As he approached the cavern his heart was pounding and his hands were shaking. He reached for the container hoping to grab and go, sprinting back for the return leap. But what he didn’t plan on was what happened next.

As he grabbed at the shiny satchel resting there just inside the cavern entrance something fell from it. Stumbling to a stop and losing all momentum he reached down to quickly grab whatever had fallen. As his hands touched the surface he knew this was something special, an ancient book.

It’s surface was weathered and torn and it was made of a precisely cut and amazingly thin parchment. On its cover in the most beautiful script he’d ever seen read were the numbers … 1984.

Word Count: 1085

A Simple Choice Of Life Or Death

She never knew what it truly felt like to agonize over a decision until now. Life or death? It seemed like the simplest of questions but at its core a twisted quandary. Life for her meant the death of others, people dear to her. There was the also grim alternative which was equally daunting.

“Why can’t you we pretend this didn’t happen?” Avril said to the man standing ominously in front of her. “I promise I won’t tell anyone. I didn’t see anything. Please don’t make me choose,” she begged as she nervously balled her hands into fists.

“You’ve passed into The Order of the knowing. The Order requires that its members remain controlled and in check. We don’t prevent anyone from entering but neither do we encourage or even disclose it’s existence,” said the man. “Knowledge of The Order cannot be unlearned and as such it’s members must sacrifice to retain the knowledge. You must choose,” he said, the words echoing in the hall. “You must choose!”

Hoping for a loophole or any kind of alternative she continued to beg him, “Is there anything I can do, anything at all? I can’t choose. I won’t choose. I didn’t realize the consequences of learning.” She squatted down to the ground, put her arms around her legs, and began to sob all the while shaking her head no.

The man slowly walked to the other side of the dimly lit room and gently touched something on the wall. The entire wall flashed to life, it was actually a huge screen and it brightened the entire space. On it was her life spelled out in excruciating detail. Photos, videos, emails, tweets, private writings … everything was there. “How did they get all of this,” she thought to herself. It didn’t seem practical or even possible. It didn’t seem legal or moral.

She nearly leapt off the floor and screamed at him “Where did you get all of this? What right do you have with this information? These are my private moments and thoughts, you have no right …”

He cut her off, “No right? No right? We never asked you to save your information online. We never forced you to share everything you were doing.” He was now walking toward her pointing his finger at her his voice getting louder. “Privacy isn’t a right when it comes to electronic media. What we have is nothing more than what you’ve chosen to save electronically, everything you’ve ever chosen to save. Your privacy is only as real as your ability to defend and protect it.”

He was now standing directly in front of her. His presence was foreboding and she could now feel the heat of his breath on her face. The room suddenly felt cold or perhaps it was just Avril entering shock. How could she have not seen this coming? Why had she exposed everything she had ever thought and felt? Every relationship she had ever had, every idea or nugget of indiscretion. Why?

“But this doesn’t really show anything,” she said. “All you have is a bunch of random electronic noise stolen from me.”

He chuckled and turned away from her. Suddenly he made a small wave like gesture into the air with his hand. On the screen a majority of the information faded and to the front came the truth. She knew it was there she just didn’t know how they captured it or how they weeded through all of the other noise to find it.

“Do you think we’d collect the information without having a means to use it?” he said as he turned again slowly. Now grinning at her he continued, “Do you think we don’t know the path required to discover The Order? While not all paths begin the same their journey has much in common. Your path while longer than most has brought you here. You must now choose.”

“Why?” she stammered. “Why must I really decide?”

“If you didn’t choose then how would we control the information? How would we prevent you from telling people about The Order? The only reason that society has existed as long as it has is because of The Order. The Order ensures there is the haves and have nots. The Order ensures there is a ladder to climb, a bottom to hit, a middle to become comfortable within. Without The Order society would recede into chaos, uncontrolled entropy that would throw us into the Stone Age again.”

He was now smiling at her as he said “You do understand the why, I know you do. You must now decide. You choose to die and they all live, everyone you know and love, no one the wiser. Or …” he paused. “Or you choose to live. Your silence about The Order protects them but even the smallest blip,” he waved back at the wall and the path glowed brighter still. “Even the slightest hint that you’re sharing information about The Order or the path and they all die, everyone.”

He sighed and then glared at her. “I will ask you one more time,” he said. ”Avril what is your choice, Life or Death?”

“You’re asking me to choose between freedom of life OR the freedom of speech?” she said. “That hardly seems like what our forefathers had in mind does it? One or the other but not both?”

He responded quickly and concisely, “You’re free to speak to anyone else within The Order about it or anything else. What you’re not free to do however is destroy those rights you hold dear by speaking of The Order to others. Doing so puts at risk that Constitution we all hold so sacred.”

She knew then that she had only one option. “I choose Life,” she said as she swiftly turned and walked out of the room. She could hear the man talking to her as she left but it was fading into the background. Already she was devising a plan to expose the truth behind The Order, information needs to be free.

They knew she’d try, everyone does on their path within The Order. What they didn’t know was the depths she’d go to destroy them. Their over emphasis and dependance on modern electronic communications to monitor people meant they had lost touch more traditional means of misdirection and subversion.

Word Count: 1056

Feeling The Squeeze

“But I’ve already tried debugging the interconnect” said Isaac. “It just doesn’t seem to fail the same way twice.” The tension in the room was palpable since they’d dropped out of the singularity. No one knew why exactly but if anyone could get them back on course it was Isaac.

“Did you try checking the latency on the sensor relay? Perhaps it’s causing the drive to drop into a fail safe mode?” said Janet. She was fairly new to this spacial thread crew and had recently started shadowing Isaac.

“Shart! You’re probably right” said Isaac. I should have thought of that he mumbled to himself. “Nice thinking, can you grab a nano probe and drop it into the aft spatial junction so we can sync up the clocks? I bet they’re out of sync.”

Janet felt that rush you get when you’re onto solving a really hard problem. She’d felt it a lot throughout here career. Whether it was after spending hours at the terminal finally bringing something new online or when a simulation translated perfectly into the field. She loved the challenge of Spatial Engineering

As Isaac waited for Janet to sprint to the other end of the ship he began preparing for “The Squeeze”. No matter how many times he did it he never really got used to the feeling of entering into the singularity. He imagined it felt a lot like being buried alive without a coffin. That slow build up of pressure as they threw more and more dirt on your body as you used up the oxygen until finally gasping for your final breath only to finally squeeze into the light. Except in this instance the light wasn’t your death but instead the singularity itself.

When Janet reached the aft section of the ship she began calibrating the probe on the main spatial junction. Her communicator let out low pitch tone and then Isaacs voice came through. “Are you almost ready to test this latency theory? The pinch cells are recharged. We’re getting hit by a lot of small debris in this asteroid field, there’s no telling if any larger objects will hit as we haven’t completed our proximity scan yet.”

“It’s ready” she replied really hoping this was the malfunction. As she patched the diagnostics feed into her retinal display she could see there was still something wrong. “That was only part of the problem” she said to Isaac. “Let me check the pinch drive coil to see if there’s an interconnect between here and there that’s malfunctioning.”

Now she was grasping a bit but given that the initial results showed an improvement in the timing it had to be related. As she walked into engineering people were sprinting everywhere and she knew something was wrong. “What’s amiss Norbie? Why’s everyone freaking?”

“We weren’t prepared for any kind of singularity drop. We were caught off guard doing some general maintenance below deck and we didn’t feel the transition. Now we’re rushing to prep the cargo for the squeeze” said Norbie.

That’s something Janet hadn’t even thought of. “Did they start their auto wake procedures?” Janet said. It would be far from ideal having hundreds of cryro pods cracking open.

“No we caught that in time” Norby said. “We just don’t know how they’re going to handle a squeeze while they’re in cryro sleep. Usually when this happens we do a complete cycle forcing everyone awake, do the squeeze, and then put them to sleep again. That’s not an option now that we’re a ticking time bomb in this asteroid field.”

This was a complication Janet had to ignore and trust that the Cryro Engineers would handle this. “Good luck” she said as she sprinted through to head midship toward the coil.

As she entered the Coil Room she slowed to a walk. Every time she entered here she was in awe of the size and complexity of the Coil. It was like a million nautilus coiled around a central rod over 100 meters in length that was itself perfectly cylindrical to a picometer. Down the center of the cylinder was a single hollow nanotube that was used to control the singularity thread they traveled along.

“I’m at the Coil” she told Isaac over her communicator. “Give me a second to align the probe. Remind me to talk to the genius who didn’t build in auto calibration into this thing when we get back to port.”

As she removed the access panel she aligned the probe while at the same time adjusted her retinal display to bring up the diagnostics. As she made some small adjustments to the Coil she was thrown to the ground completely unprepared for the squeeze.

This was the one thing about her job she loathed, the squeeze. That feeling like a boa constrictor was squeezing you to the edge of your life … and then the light.

After she recovered from the effects of the squeeze she stood up and made sure she hadn’t broken anything. “Everything ok back there” burst Isaac over the communicator. “Sorry about that, we had a rock on a precarious trajectory so I had to squeeze as soon as we were calibrated.”

“No biggie” replied Janet. “I was just taking a nap on the floor next to the Coil. Everything go ok with the squeeze? The diagnostics still look to be within guidelines.”

“Textbook squeeze” he said. “All systems are clear. Nice work under pressure Janet, that was a close one”. That rush was back, it never gets old being a Spatial Engineer.

Back in cryro after they recovered from the squeeze they weren’t sure what was going on. All of the pods were green for power and life support but the diagnostic EKG’s weren’t reading anything.

Moments earlier in pod #13 Bailey was dreaming he’d finally entered the Promima Centauri system. His family had been planning this trip for such a long time. He was excited to catch his first glimpse of the systems red dwarf sun in the view portal ahead. The closer he got the more difficult it was to move and then suddenly all noise ended eerily throwing the hallway into absolute silence. He could no longer hear the usual background noise of the ship or even his own breathing. As he finally stumbled to the portal everything around him burst into light.

Word Count: 1061

Snowmageddon Survival

The snow just kept coming down, a never ending stream of icy death. Everyone expected this storm to be bad, that it was going to drop a few inches of snow and lower the temperature to near -40 degrees. What no one anticipated though was that these conditions would persist for weeks.

After the first few days Mike knew something just wasn’t right. The weather people continued to forecast the front to blow through but it just sat over the entire region, somehow immobile and relentless in its snowy devastation. Each day he shoveled another 8″ of snow and was running out of places to stack it.

Day after day the stores were running out of more and more food staples. First to go was the fruits and vegetables. Due to issues shipping in the cold they spoiled or became so frosted they were inedible. That was followed by milk and eggs, frozen during delivery they would eventually thaw but as time went by their shipments ended entirely. Finally the breads and grains stopped, the emergency grain stores used up and an insufficient supply coming in from imports meant massive shortages and regional shipping issues.

During this time period Mike made more and more visits to local food stores buying anything edible that he could get his hands on. With 5 mouths to feed at home it was important that he have enough to keep his family healthy. Fortunately earlier that year he started to prepare for random family emergencies. Everything from a broken down car to a simple natural disaster. The kind of preparedness you can read about on the FEMA or other preparedness websites.

He wasn’t what you’d consider a full fledged prepper, the kind the media had been needlessly lambasting in the media as extremists. While some of them certainly were a bit over the top there isn’t anything wrong with being prepared. Mike had learned that in boy scouts when he was younger, he had just never really acted on it as an adult.

All that changed a few weeks ago as they were entering into the second week of this weather anomaly, that’s what they had been calling it in the news. The jet streams were coming in from multiple directions nullifying each other but bringing with them severe weather conditions that battered the entire midwest region.

Grocery stores were empty, gasoline was no where to be found, and people were getting desperate. Every day move people were losing power and being found dead due to exposure. The power lines covered in ice and snow were snapping and with no repair crews working people were being forced out of their homes. Many people attempted to find refuge in hotels only to find the either booked over capacity or closed due to similar disruptions.

Midway through the second week Mike felt comfortable with his supply of food. He had enough fire wood for maybe a day from some yard clearing he’d done a few summers ago but not enough to heat and cook with if the gas stopped glowing. Living in suburbia meant there wasn’t exactly cords of firewood for sale around town. He had asked around but it either wasn’t to be found or the cost was well out of his price range. His only hope was that the underground natural gas lines would continue to work if power went out.

While his modern fireplace was more for looks then every day use it would function as a simple heater allowing his family hunkered down around it. He wished he’d invested in a space heater sooner but when he was researching them in the spring his wife wasn’t keen on storing kerosine around the house with kids. Something tells me she might change her mind about that after they get through this.

His concerns about the power going out became a reality just into week three of the storm. With no power and The snow now up to his windows his family wasn’t able bodied to move to better accommodations so they decided to hunkered down. Having been prepared for this Mike checked the fireplaces and sure enough there was still gas flowing … for now. Relocating his family around the fireplace was fun at first actually. It brought them really close and given how scared the kids were it was comforting for everyone and took their minds off their other problems. Well everyone except Mike, he couldn’t stop planning contingencies and thinking about next steps.

Mike had devised a short term solution to their heating problem if the SHTF with the gas. Late at night and sometimes under the cover of the heavy snow fronts he snuck into nearby abandoned homes. He wasn’t there to steal anything of traditional value. He was instead there with a sledge hammer and hand saw looking for some combustible material.

Word Count: 811

A Chance Encounter

Looking down at his hands they were covered in grease, bleeding at the knuckles, and straining to hold the large steel lever, Luke wondered how he’d gotten himself into this mess. The room was filled with massive dust covered industrial equipment from a bygone era that were now resting silently. Luke had no idea what purpose they had served but could imagine that when running this complex was extremely loud, something he could use right now to take his mind off the pain his muscles were feeling.

The silence of that large room seemed to act as a amplifier to his pounding heart. His ears were trying to listen to the other side of the heavy steel door while his body was straining to hold whatever was there at bay. Earlier that day while he sat at his computer debugging a data feed the last thing he would imagine he’d be doing right then was leaning into a lever thinking about everything he wished he’d done with his life.

Why did he listened his boss anyway? Go for a walk he said. Get out and see the sky, the clouds,the birds he said. Now he just wished he was still in the controlled secure confines of his pod in front of his clean bright 60″ 8K display. Instead he was standing in an abandoned complex of building, who knows how many mile from the city, covered in grease and sweat and regretting the entire day.

If only he hadn’t met her that afternoon. She was so rude to him cutting him off like that. Who just cuts someone off like that and doesn’t apologize? He sat there on the ground for about 10 seconds waiting for a hand up and an apology only to realize that she was already 50 feet ahead and oblivious to the entire incident. By the time he caught up to her to give her a piece of his mind he was too winded to say anything and instead he tripped into her and they both went tumbling down. Moments later they were both laughing about the whole thing on the wet cement curb. His knuckles were gouged and bloody from the two falls but he was happy to be laughing next to a beautiful woman.

After they exchanged some flirtatious words they decided to grab a coffee and just like that his day was beginning to looking up. What he didn’t realize was that there was a reason she was riding at that obscene pace in the first place, she was running from someone. He never did find out why they were after her but when she collapsed into his arms moments later he didn’t care. As she looked up at him he could see the sorrow and regret in her eyes.

Just like that she was gone in the blink of an eye. She wasn’t bleeding out but by the extreme heat of her back he sensed that someone had done something to her. He had thought about waiting for the authorities and maybe he should have but what would he tell them? Some strange woman bumped into him, they exchanged some choice words and then she died. Ya, that wouldn’t seem suspicious or anything. At least if he had waited maybe then he wouldn’t be in the predicament he was now.

His muscles were giving out from holding the greasy lever and his teeth were starting to chatter from the cold wet clothes he’d been wearing. Even with his heart pumping and adrenalin coursing through his veins he still managed to feel bitter cold. Was this what it was like to die? A chill spreading throughout your entire body despite the desire to be alive?

The desire to be alive, that’s it, he truly didn’t want to die today. He may not have lived the most exciting life but that didn’t mean he was expendable. There was no way he was going to just sit there any longer and die in this god for shaken warehouse. He was tired of running, and needed to do something to turn the tables and take them by surprise … and quickly.

Without completely thinking it through he relaxed his muscles and removed the heavy lever from the door jam. He picked it up and and felt the weight in his hand. Yes, he could certainly use this as a weapon. Assuming he was able to get in close enough to use it of course.

Just as he was about to find a more tactical position he was thrown back by the force of the door exploding outward toward him. He didn’t take the entire brunt of the explosive force but he did take enough to blast him back about 8 feet onto his back and to have his wind knocked out. As he was gasping for air he rolled under a nearby mechanical press of some sort and was now covered in even more grime and dust that before.

Fortunately for him the grime he was covered in and his low position on the floor meant that the people entering through the door didn’t see him. They burst through with amazing speed and seemed to bound through the room with military precision. As they flowed into the room, each covering the next, he realized he was seriously outnumbered. He counted 10 already and they just kept coming.

Putting his head down in defeat on the cold wet ground he let out a final submissive sigh and he reached into his pocket in an attempt to warm his frozen hands. There down in the bottom he felt something, something foreign, something he certainly hadn’t placed there. Pulling it out and looking at it closely Luke realized that this was exactly what he needed to turn the tables in his favor.

Word Count: 973

New Year In The Outer Ring

Ryder was just starting his shift on the observation deck. Some people thought he drew the short straw since it was New Years Eve but he knew better. Ryder preferred the solitude of doing observations over the crazy party goers on the orbiting platform.

It wasn’t as if they were celebrating the New Year on Europa or Jupiter, their nearest planetoids. It was the Earth Inner Ring New Year in England that they were targeting with their celebrations. Most people thought they had chosen England due to it being GMT +0:00, Ryder knew otherwise. He knew they’d chosen England, Somerset England to be exact as a tribute to Arthur C Clark the author of the 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was a nerd tribute of solar proportions but it felt right to everyone involved. He wasn’t sure how they passed the decision in the ORSA (Outer Ring Space Alliance) but they had unanimously and with little debate.

This was the 20th anniversary since the establishment of this outpost around Europa, Jupiter’s most controversial moon. The opening years were mostly working out the mechanical kinks, transferring supplies, and exploring the surrounding area for minerals suitable for fuel and water. Once established they were now doing serious science and Ryder was the chief Astrobiologist. His mission was the mapping and exploration of Europa’s water ice oceans in search of alien biology.

Ryder never planned on submitting to be a part of this science mission. He’d actually dreamed of being a part of the Epsilon Eridani inaugural voyage but with the operational and engineering delays he knew they were at least 20 years from launch. It’s not that this wasn’t an exciting opportunity but how many people get to say they were on the first human interstellar voyage?

Sitting in that quiet observation deck Ryder couldn’t help but think about his family and what they were doing 390 million miles away in Michigan. It’d been 20 years since he left Earth and every year that passed he wished that his brother was here with him and his family. He knew they weren’t much for exploring but with the state of affairs in the Inner Ring perhaps they’d be better off on this side of the Mars Jupiter Belt. Sometimes millions of miles are all that’s needed to separate politics from science.

After the mineral wars of 2120 the miners and scientists of the Outer Ring decided to create an old school blockade. Stopping the flow of water and minerals necessary to the population of the Inner Ring meant they could make demands with little concern for repercussions. Their demands were altruistic in nature and put in place a flow of goods that tightly controlled the exponential growth of the Inner Ring while leaving the Outer Ring to their own destiny.

The result was a society of scientists, engineers, and miners that were beginning to take humanity on a path toward the stars. Choosing to abandon all forms politics and financial systems they instead treated each person as equal. The potential for the Outer Ring was only just being realized and Ryder was glad to be a part of it.

To him the New Year meant more than most everyone in that Europa station. It meant his freedom and happiness as this was the 20th year since he’d illegally fled Earth, breaking the Ring Pact, and passing through the Main Asteroid Belt to join the Outer Ring. He never dreamed he’d become an illegal immigrant but with his extensive biology education he was able to quickly divert attention from his background and worked his way up the scientific ladder to his current station.

Few people in the Outer Ring questioned Ryder’s background because they believed their education system superior to that of the Inner Ring. Certainly someone from the IR couldn’t know as much or be as skilled as Ryder. What they didn’t plan for was the raw determination and motivation of someone looking to improve their position in life within the IR. With a few million well placed IR credits and thousands of illegally taped hours of Outer Ring courses he received his virtual accreditation under an assumed name. All that remained for him was a 400 million mile voyage between 3 planets, an asteroid belt, and countless military check points to take his exams.

Looking back on it tonight Ryder knew he had much to celebrate this and every New Year. Even if it was an arbitrary celebration of a random point in time on a planet most of the people in the Outer Ring had never set foot … he still embraced its significance. After 20 years of happiness he finally felt like he was a part of something bigger than himself, something bigger than them all.

Word Count: 795

Smooth Even Circles

Floyd could see for miles into the distance. The sun was just rising above the horizon and the air had a moist chill that caused his breath to fog ever so slightly when he exhaled. The animals around him were slowly waking to find an intruder in their midst.

As Floyd scanned the horizon he could feel his body reaching a point of perfect harmony. Much as the environment he was in was fresh and in perfect balance so was his body. His muscles were well rested and warming perfectly. His mind was clear and he was already feeling the stress of the week beginning to release.

All of the late work days, stressful meetings, short deliverables, and fast pace decisions were taking a toll on Floyd. He was beginning to feel every one of his 41 years. Moments like this were what kept him feeling alive and absorbed some of the weeks mental toll.

As he came upon a bend in the road Floyd could see his first big challenge, a steep rise about 100 yards ahead. This was a challenge he was ready for, his mind knew exactly what to do. The transition happened almost without thought, something his body longed for and felt at easy doing. A shift of weight, a change in force, a few adjustments and he was sailing upward with ease.

Breathing heavier now Floyd felt his body digging in and sapping a bit of energy. He knew this hill wasn’t long but it’s steepness was almost worse than if it had been a slow steady rise, at least for his body type.

Floyd had always been a big guy his entire life. He’d worked for years to lose weight and with some initial success he’d lost a lot but gained some back. The times he let the weekly stresses get in the way of his outlets contributed to that gain. Most people would look at him passing by and wonder why or how someone with his body type was doing it? They were certain that something would break or perhaps he’d topple over at any moment. But, he’d defy their preconceived ideas of what “being fit” meant and push onward ever stronger and motivated.

Cresting the hill he relaxed a bit, shifted up a bit to give his legs a rest and smiled from ear to ear. “Damn this felt great” he said to no one in particular. He was happy he’d chosen not to go too high tech with carbon and had instead chosen titanium for his frame. Under the load of climbing not only was his frame perfectly responsive to someone his size but his confidence, which is certainly more important, was high. It’s not about the bike right?

Shifting into the big ring in the front be began accelerating and preparing for a fast straight decent ahead. His weight was in the middle, he was spinning smooth even circles, and was dropping gear after gear in his rear cassette before finally ending in the smallest cog, his largest gearing ratio. He was speeding at close to 45 mph and still had room for a more, he felt in complete control. The decent was straight, the road was smooth and clean and there wasn’t a car or another person in sight.

He was in the zone now. Smooth even circles … no jitter or mashing on the pedals. Smooth even circles. Tucked and in the drops he must have been quite the sight, close to 300 pounds speeding down the road on a 15 pound titanium steed at 45 mph.

As Floyd reached the bottom of the hill he scanned ahead for his next challenge. It was a nearly flat road for miles ahead. There were slight undulations here and there thrown in every so often to remind your legs to stay ready for anything. It was the kind of road perfect for clearing his mind and just thinking about the things that mattered in life. The things that made him smile and happy to be alive.

That stressful week Floyd was seeking to release was the furthest thing from that strip of asphalt road right then. It was instead replaced by a zen like physical and mental state. His muscles were in a steady state of lactic acid buildup and release. His legs were spinning the smooth even circles he’d trained so hard to attain over the winter. Hours spent on his basement trainer trying to teach his body to find that pedaling balance. That zone where you’re not wasting energy mashing and feel in complete control of the energy potential of your body and bike.

Smooth even circles, an outlet which Floyd thought was ideal for all of life’s challenges and curveballs.

Word Count: 792