Science Fiction Speculative Thriller

This story contains sensitive content

CW {Drug Use, Language}


The words were burned into the retinas of cinema patrons through their virtual reality head sets. Removing his goggles, Bailey blinked at the darkness and rubbed his eyes, digesting what he had just witnessed and framing it in his minds eye.

“It never gets old, does it?” Karnack's voice pierced the black curtain of the theater.

“I've only seen Avatar 10, being installment number 13, I guess they have their formula don't they? Giant blue elves save the universe by stopping humans from pillaging the solar system.” Orange glow from light emitting diodes slowly brightened the chamber. Bailey blinked away the tears that lubricated his eyeballs against the assault of imagery that pounded his pupils for the past two hours.

“They always come up with a new wrinkle though. I didn't expect them to get help from a subterranean race of lizard-like humanoids living in the bowels of the planet. That final battle scene was epic.” The light reflected off the black plastic head gear as people stood and removed them, placing them back in the holders on the seats. “You think it will ever happen? That saving the planet nonsense?”

“Our chemists have been working on it for years. Unless we find a way to stop the dust from devouring the planets lifeforms, there will be nothing left but rocks. Going to other planets is what caused the problem. That alien spore came back on a spaceship, if you ask me we would have been better off just protecting our mother planet like the natives in that show.” Bailey and Karnack walked to the exit and donned their gamma coats.

People were milling about on the walkway, dodging the sweeper drones crawling on the super structure of Terradorn. The heavy coats blocked the buffeting hot wind, protective masks trapped the pervasive dust.

“Would you mind doing me a favor Bailey? You still have clearance with Air Command don't you?” Karnack tapped a tube out of a box and lit up.

Bailey shot Karnack a nervous glance. Worry lines creased his brow as he fumbled with the shift lever protruding from the floor. “I've got my papers, why?”

“I have a new gig. A salvage operation in Aldor.” Smoke flowed out of Karnack's nostrils as he sighed, tapping a cig half way out of the box and pointing it at Bailey. Nerves bubbled to the surface causing him to accept the offering and partake.

“A ride to Aldor is going to set you back more than a few credits.” Smoke curled around his hands and the steering wheel of the buggy as it jostled down the broken concrete.

“My backer is going to help with that. The lab they ran before the whole city of Aldor went on lock down left some very valuable research behind. It's stashed in a secret safe. That's the only details about the operation they would reveal.” Karnack flicked his ashes with a thumbnail into the floor of the vehicle and pulled another drag off his cigarette.

“It will take a few days to get clearance and secure a patrol dreadnaught to make the trip. I'll message you the information when I have the trip arranged.” If it wasn't for his past illegal entanglements with him, Karnack would have never asked for this big of a favor. The land between Terradorn and Aldor was a vast empty wasteland poisoned with toxic dust and spores. Aldor was a giant slum of a city used to house all the criminals and miscreants in the sector. If anything went sideways, he could flush his career or worse. Knowing Karnack's sketchy past Bailey felt like he was staring into an abyss, teetering on the edge, just waiting to fall in.

* * *

“What the FUCK! Bailey, I could get my ass in a sling over this.”

“I'll be at the front desk.” The ensign, a young woman with a blonde bob in a standard navy blazer and knee length polyester skirt tucked her device under an elbow and closed the door slowly, as if the gesture would diffuse the tension.

The door handle spring snapped in the silence as the Captain chewed on his lip scrolling through the dossier on his third hand screen. “I have one idle patrol dreadnaught next week.”

“That will be fine.” Bailey kept himself from locking eyes with the Captain. This was a big ask, being a reservist he knew how tight scheduling was in the Terradorn Air Command Auxiliary.

“Looks like your pilot license is up to date.” Patrol craft didn't require a navigator, only a pilot. They were the personnel craft for navigating the wasteland. “UH-237 will be idled at the western gate one week from today. You will have twelve hours of hydrogen fuel. The battery reserve will give you an extra four hours of flight time. Will you have any passengers?”

“No.” Bailey winced at the lie. Not disclosing this could lead to a year long suspension. Knowing Karnack it was worth the risk.

“Very well, I sent the flight log to your device.” The Captain stood and grasped Bailey's hand firmly digging into his psyche with a piercing stare.

Locking onto his eyes Bailey steeled himself, returned the grip and added a nod to seal the deal.

* * *

“0600!?!” Karnack slapped at the screen on his third hand.

“Who is it babe?” Natalia's bare athletic ass was sticking out from under the sheets when Karnack's hand moved from it.

“God damn it's Bailey! I have to be at the western port in an hour.” He placed his lips on her neck with a firm bite that caused her toes to curl. “I'll be back late tonight. Can you handle my business today? No credit unless they are regulars, O.K.?” Natalia slid her hands down his firm naked body and squeezed.

“Save that for later. If we don't get product we'll be outta business tomorrow.” Karnack pulled on his pants and started dressing for the mission. He would need a gamma coat and protective gear. Aldor was a nightmare of murderous malignancy. Placing a loaded handgun with extra clips in a shielded range bag, he stopped and kissed Natalia's cheek as she fired up a glass pipe. “Don't smoke all the profit.” She winked at him as her sky blue pupils dilated.

The trip to the western gate would be safest by tram. There were no bag searches on them. Mostly used by workers going to the Keep and the factories, the trams lacked the strict security maintained by the Air Command. Sad souls were shielded by heavy hooded coats, goggles and masks. Early mornings were marked by the end of the nightly dust storms. The fierce winds had abated but occasional waves of dust could kill an unprotected human.

The tram bumped and teetered down the crumbling roads. Few talked as they dangled off the steel columns holding the roof to the wheels. The sun rose, a viscous fire baked the surface of the planet like a bisque clay jar. Skin was glaze hardening in the heat. Masks hid the misery the citizens endured. The taste of Natalia's sweat burned on his lips.

“Are you attached?” The high pitched voice of a stranger betrayed youth. The lack of vertical height and a thin build stirred Karnack's domineering side.

He turned to face the sound and sensed pliability, opportunity. “No.”

Her youth was attracted to his strength of frame. She sensed stability. “Here are my coordinates.” She tapped her third hand to his and giggled. Others tensed and stiffed at the exchange. Huffs of disgust interrupted the conversation, the young one ignored them.

“I'll see you in a couple days.” He savored a wicked smile. The youth were easy to corrupt. Natalia had been yearning for another muse. The last one was dead to dust a few weeks ago.

The tram banged down the street. The western gate was getting closer. Rendezvous was at 0700. Bailey was never late. In a world of fucked up citizens it was nice to know one punctual individual.

'0645' Jumping off the public transport, the gate to the wasteland was an unguarded death sentence patrolled by drones that limited the encroachment of the dust. His protective gear would keep him alive until Bailey grounded the patrol dreadnaught and let him board. Karnack messaged Bailey.

The air ship dropped out of the wasteland sky, the UH-237 hull numbers were partially obscured by brick red dust. The bay door opened and Karnack walked into the belly of the ship.

“I've disabled the detection software. Take off your protective gear and get comfortable. It's a six hour flight to Aldor.” Bailey tossed a towel to Karnack and flipped on the filtration unit.

“This is a ten hour trip on my motor bike. I hope you know how much I appreciate this.” Karnack placed the mask and gamma coat in the disinfection chamber. Unzipping the range bag, he pulled out his loaded .40 caliber automatic pistol and checked it, jacking the chamber and holding the round up to his eye.

“What the fuck are you doing?” The gun startled Bailey.

“Protecting myself.” Karnack pulled a shoulder harness with a large sheathed fighting knife from his gear bag and strapped it to his lean shoulders, untangling his long dark hair from the straps and pulling it into a pony tail on top of his head.

Karnack discreetly clipped another shorter fixed blade dagger into the top of his black leather boot and loaded his extra magazines with hollow point bullets. The tips of the projectiles were notched to allow the round to expand like a mushroom in the wound cavity for maximum lethality.

Bailey's mind raced. Even if he turned the ship around now they would both be arrested. He stewed in silence. Just knowing what Karnack was going to do would add another charge of conspiracy.

Karnack fired up a smoke as he watched the wasteland roll by. Silence hung static in the air, occasionally interrupted by the crackle of the com unit. Taking out a sharpener, the swishing of the blades on the stone chewed at the tension in the air.

The hours ticked off until Aldor was looming on the horizon. Karnack palmed his handgun and gear, adjusting his holster and knives and checking how fast he could draw a weapon. Bailey hovered the dreadnaught near the gate to Aldor, his passenger grabbed the gear bag, put on a protective mask and jumped from the air ship.

“Air Command this is Lieutenant Bailey. Reporting from Aldor, Sector 13.”

“Bailey this is Air Command dispatch, over.”

“Mission FUBAR, air ship UH-237, requests a dreadnaught escort upon return to Terradorn, will file a situation report later to clarify.”

“Wilco L.T. What the fuck are you doing in Aldor?”

Karnack appeared on the com screen, running and gunning with a half dozen crankers chasing him knives out. The camera swiveled and followed the action as Bailey clutched the controls, flipping a switch to arm the emergency extraction ladder.

“Be prepared for anything, over and out.” Bailey flipped the mic up on his headset and pulled hard on the yoke and pushed down to dive into position. On the screen Bailey watched Karnack shoot two crankers in the head, their brains popping like squished grapes from 40cal. hollow points. Diving for the last rung of the ladder, he released the strap on his tac knife and ripped the throat out of a bald cranker with face tattoos that had a death grip on his boot at the ankle.

The patrol dreadnaught zoomed into the sky as bullets tinked off the armored belly of the ship. Karnack closed the emergency hatch and threw the newly stuffed gear bag across the bridge.

“Are you gonna come clean on this, or do I have to ask you questions you don't want to answer?”

“Bailey you know what's up. Bhang is the hottest drug in Terradorn. If I don't supply it somebody else will.”

“You bastard, you ain't changed one damn bit.” Bailey avoided looking over. Karnack wiped the blood from his blade and stuck the tip in a plastic bag from the satchel and touched the powder to his tongue. A smile crawled across his face. "90 percent purity, BINGO!”

The flight back to Terradorn was anticlimactic. The Bhang calmed Karnack down. He repacked the weapons into his gear bag and was napping in the chair for the flight back.

Bailey turned down the sound on the com unit, in case the escort messaged their ship when approaching Terradorn. Bailey was getting nervous, when Karnack realized they would be landing with the authorities alerted, his self preservation would justify damn near anything. Nobody, not even hardened criminals, wanted to go back to the mine tunnels.

The dreadnaughts thrusters drummed into the emptiness of the wasteland. A message scrolled across the inside of the lens on Bailey's flight helmet.

'Escort in route, prepare for assistance from Air Command'

Karnack shot awake when he heard the distinctive sound of the Air Commands call sign. Reaching for his bag, he loaded the pistol and put an extra magazine in his pants pocket. “Why the fuck are they intercepting us?” Karnack looked over at Bailey as he piloted the vessel. “You Mother Fucker! You turned me in! God dammit Bailey I will spread your dirt through every channel I know. You won't be able to sweep floors when I'm done trashing your reputation.” Karnack thought about placing the gun barrel on Bailey's temple and pulling the trigger.

“You rat out your dealer in Aldor and I'll make sure you don't do more than a couple of years in the mines.” Bailey clenched his jaw and looked over at Karnack as he slapped the barrel on the com screen and broke it.

“I'm not a snitch, Bailey! Apparently you are!”

“I can't take the wrap on this one. I've got ten years and I can retire. I can't let your bad habits derail my future.”

The escort locked the navigation on the patrol ship as they neared Terradorn. The paired vessels glided into the Air Command station at the edge of the wasteland.

Bailey talked Karnack into unloading his pistol and taking the tactical knife off his chest. They met with the officers and Karnack agreed to turn over the duffle bag full of Bhang powder and go to the station for interrogation and booking. Karnack cooperated to deflect suspicion, but when the arresting officers stopped to handcuff him he dropped to one knee and pulled the razor sharp boot knife from its sheath. The rookie officer gasped as he placed the blade on his neck and lowered his voice to a growl.

“I want a buggy, my powder and ten minutes lead time.”

The other officers scrambled for cover, pulling their weapons and cursing into the night.

“God dammit Karnack we can't do that. You can do two years and be clean.”

“Fuck you. I want my drugs and some fresh air. I'll rip this rookie's head off and you can send me to the mines either way.”

Bailey cursed and spit slamming his helmet into the dirt. He walked over to the Commanding Officer to salvage the situation. After a tense exchange the CO agreed to let Karnack go to save the officers life. Dealers like Karnack would kill a man to make a point.

Karnack made his hostage hold the duffle full of powder in front of him as he inched back towards the buggy, keeping the officer's body between himself and ten guns itching to ventilate him. He pulled the mans service weapon from the holster as he pushed him to the ground and threw the bag of Bhang into the passenger seat of the buggy and jammed the accelerator. Lt. Bailey waved a hand to stop any of them from firing and shouted, “FUCK!”

* * *

“Oh honey! This is like 50 kilos!” Natalia dipped a pinky nail into the powder jammed it into her nose, snorting it in one shot.

“Where is the chick from the tram? Didn't you message her when we abandoned the last hole?” Karnack pulled off his skin tight under armor shirt revealing a mass of bulging muscles and scars.

“She's in the bathroom getting changed.” Natalia flashed a grin.

“How's this?” The luscious body of a firm twenty year old woman stepped from the bathroom in a black mesh body suit, open in all the right places. She grabbed a Red stiletto heel and flexed her leg over her head in a standing leg behind head pose. Karnack raised a single eyebrow.

“Are you girls ready to party or what?” Closing the blinds on the window Karnack poured a full tumbler of whiskey. He was going to have some fun before the law put him away again.

May 23, 2022 04:00

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Chandler Wilson
13:11 May 30, 2022

Quite a story, loved the ending. I think your writing is excellent, I especially liked this line, “digging into his psyche with a piercing stare.” You bring your characters to life. Thanks for sharing.


Kevin Marlow
16:25 May 30, 2022

Thank you. I've been developing this anti-hero for a while.


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Sharon Hancock
01:22 May 29, 2022

Great story. It reminded me of Firefly meets Guardians of the galaxy. I like how it all started in the movie theater and then progressed to outer space. 😻


Kevin Marlow
01:51 May 29, 2022

Thanks for reading Sharon. Your tale about alcohol as a star seductress was lovely, those show names were spot on.


Sharon Hancock
14:55 May 29, 2022

Thank you! I wasn’t sure if I made the true nature of the villain obvious enough, so I’m glad you knew Allie was alcohol. 😻


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