Zulu Alpha Zulu Uniform 2, the second planet around the yellow star known as ZAZU-397. At long last we have found and colonised a far-off world in the name of mankind. Wilberforce Enterprises needs your help: to explore, to build and to mine the latest miracle resource, Coldanium. Sign up and write your name in the annals of history.
I must have seen the ad a hundred times before I finally plucked up the courage to go. I liquidated my university fund against the protests of my parents and bought myself the latest in pioneering gear in a city store. I bought my shuttle tickets in the same place! My parents reluctantly drove me; my mum was hanging over my shoulder from the back seat the whole way, asking over and over again: Was I sure? I was certain!
I remember my first sight of the spaceport; the building was unremarkable but in the field beyond there were massive silver arrows pointing to the heavens. The GTO (Ground to Orbit) shuttles were fitted with the latest in aeronautical technology. They featured a new type of Anti-Gravity Drive that eliminated the planet’s gravity field in relation to the craft; without gravity dragging it down, it could clear the atmosphere in ten minutes. Our departure flight took thirty; they gave us the courtesy of a chance to say goodbye to home.
I met a guy on that flight, but we got separated after disembarking so I wouldn’t see him again until we got to ZAZU 2 but we got on well. A shuttle took us to a ferry that would then take us to Pluto Zero Station. The ferry was kitted out with the best of everything; the best food, drink and quarters, it was amazing. It was there that I met Ellie, she was bunked with me and it turned out we had so much in common; she was just as keen to get out and see the galaxy, and we talked for hours about the new Quantum Elasticity Drive fitted in our next ship.
The ferry took a week to get to Pluto Zero so we had plenty of time to talk about our next transport, a refurbished ECN (Earth Conglomerate Navy) cruiser. It was equipped with cryo-chambers to save on life support, and the QED – Quantum Elasticity Drive – which was essentially a grappling hook that folded space: imagine being able to hook onto any point in the galaxy and be propelled there in a matter of minutes!
When we boarded we put all of our stuff into a massive chamber and we got a tag so we could find it again. Ellie and I stayed close together as we made our way down massive chamber lined corridors. We made sure to get cryo-chambers right next to each other. We got in but there was a problem with her chamber as well as a lot of other people’s. She was led off to find a working one while I climbed worriedly into mine. As it closed over me, I was still thinking about what could go wrong and being trapped in ice forever. I was only in there for a few seconds when it opened again. I knew it, there was something wrong with mine too.
But no, we were there already. I tried to find Ellie again but there was no time, everyone was pushing through the chamber corridors at once. Before I could get back on to try and find her, the ship had already closed its doors and started pulling away from the docks. It was headed back to Earth, I only hoped she had got off and that I would see her on the planet. I tried to claim my stuff but I was told it would be waiting for me on ZAZU 2. Instead we were lead into a huge, rusty chamber that stank of disinfectant and solvents. Before we knew what was going on the door shut on us; I assumed it was some sort of decontamination process until I spoke to a guy standing next to me. He told me that the chamber was actually the cargo hold for older version of a cargo freighter he used to operate.
The freighter was indeed an old model; it had been stripped of everything but basic life support. Basic life support just meant an O2/CO2 recycler to stop us choking; it did nothing about the heat. A lot of people think space is cold, but think again. Where can the heat go? It’s a vacuum. The propulsion system on the freighter was more efficient than more modern models but it was prone to overheating so it was fitted with vents. These vents ejected superheated plasma into our wake every twelve hours.
We lived for those vents, for thirty seconds every half day the temperature cooled one or two degrees. It was a palpable relief in the furnace that the hold had become. The heat from the engines couldn’t be dispersed entirely so the walls of the hold became unbearably hot. Within a few days we had stripped ourselves of everything and bound out feet and hands with ripped cloth. People died every day so we just piled them up in a corner away from us; we soon learned to watch out for the sounds of a corpse about to explode. I was lucky I only got hit once or twice and I never swallowed any. The ex-cargo freighter pilot that had told me about the transport was among the first to die.
The heat made the bodies rot faster and it was all we could do to avoid the spreading pool of bodily fluids. The smell seared at our noses and made our eyes water. We barely got enough food and water to replenish what poured out of us. We endured the death and heat for a month. By the time the doors opened, blinding us with sunlight, there was a third of us left.
When we landed we tried to charge out of the hellhole we had suffered but guns held us back. We were thrown buckets, solvents and disinfectants, the same chemicals I had smelled when I first set foot on this vessel. The reason was all too clear. We were forced to carry what was left of our former comrades to hand dug mass graves. We dug those graves with broken trowels. We were forced back to pick dead flesh and gristle off the hold and scrub it with the chemicals. The solvents ate away at our hands as we cleaned.
We were led to a bunker where we were stripped of the rags we had left and doused with chemicals; decontamination they called it, as they laughed and beat us. That’s when my balls shrank; they never really grew back properly. We got given flea ridden jumpsuits that were stained with shit and blood. After spending a month virtually naked they actually felt good.
The camp had no borders around the corrugated feraplastic huts; with the lethal jungle beyond it didn’t need any. Three of the huts were filled with bunkbeds that we were to share with three others. One contained a few taps that we were meant to shower under. The last one was our medical bay; it had no medical equipment in it but a heroin-like substance derived from local fauna. Our so called ‘management team’ sat nice and comfy in a feraplastic command bunker that had all the trimmings. We worked brutal eighteen hour shifts; we were allowed rest for six. We could wash, eat and sleep during those six hours. We quickly learned to shower in one minute and shovel chow in the next and spend the rest of our allotment on sleep.
I was assigned a job as a miner. I protested that I wanted to explore; it had, after all, been my main reason for signing up, plus it seemed like the only possibility of escape. I was beaten to a pulp for my trouble and sent into the mines anyway. Besides, after I saw what was left of an explorer team just coming back to camp, I decided I might be safer in the mines. Like shit I was!
On the first day, some idiot sliced off half his hand and face because he held a beam laser the wrong way round. I saw more grey matter in twenty four hours than a neurosurgeon in their entire career. Someone else blew his ribcage open because he set the fuse too short on TXT charges. He’d managed to get ten feet away too. We lost five more from a cave-in; the guards insisted they were all dead but I know I saw two of them still moving. Even if we could have gotten them out, the best our medical bay could have done was ease their passing. Our ‘medicine’ was too good to waste on the dying.
I found the guy I met on the shuttle a few months after arrival, in the canteen. Our reunion was messy; we beat the shit out of each other in an argument over slop, then we spent two months in solitary. We both soon decided our food wasn’t worth that much trouble; it was filled with everything we needed to survive, nutrients and steroids, but it tasted like shit.After spending two months in a four by four cell, you find you bond with fellow inmates. The walls were thin enough for some pretty deep discussion. We had already forgotten our names from drug use so I called him Briareos, because he mined and fought like he had one hundred arms. He called me Baldur as, according to him, apparently everyone liked me.
For two years after that, we watched each other’s backs and helped each other stay alive. Eventually a group formed around us. We even started a choir; we were liked to think we made the guards’ ears bleed. After those two years of the brownest shit hell could throw at us, the ECN arrived. We cheered as the landing boats rained fire on the camp around us, the guards ran around screaming as they were incinerated. The loudest cheer came when the camp commandant was turned to ash, in a matter of seconds, before our eyes.
The marines said we were free; that we were all victims of a scam to exploit young people and the Coldanium the planet possessed. No shit, Sherlock. They came with a load of girls, the prostitutes that had been hired to keep us happy on the ferry. Ellie was among them; she somehow recognised me and charged into my arms. The marines decided they weren’t ready to let her go but they weren’t willing to risk a confrontation with a band of close-knit ex-prisoners.
For five days after that we were free and all chummy with the marines. I spent one of those days mad at Ellie because of the truth about her role in the scam; we made like rabbits for the next four. Then it turned out some arsehole back on Earth figured we were a ‘valuable resource’ so we became prisoners. The jungle around the camp was replaced with thick feraplastic walls topped with drones and guards; they generously let us keep our shitty huts but they replaced our med bay with a real one. It was automated so they fixed us up and sent us back to work instead of just letting us die. Guess who got dibs on the old comfy command bunker?
We had a laugh for a while because the new guards kept dying; we kept quiet about the reason until they accused us of murder. The reality was they had run afoul of charming local wildlife; one in particular was an alien mosquito native to this world. It had two barbs, one sucked your blood and the other injected you with neurotoxins if you interrupted its meal.
It was fun for a while but losing the drugs took its toll; some of the guys started going insane, Briareos included. The sweet nectar had one hell of a withdrawal complex. The worst case I saw was when some guy had managed to flay himself alive, kept saying the bugs were in him. He died. But Briareos, I miss him; he went insane and disappeared into the mines. After that more people disappeared; the guards sent prisoners in with weapons to find him. They too disappeared along with the guns.
It’s been five years since Briareos went. Ellie and I have made a small life here; it’s not much but you take what you can get. She’s pregnant with our first, my balls are so weak it’s taken us so long to… – blah blah blah I got dead and Ellie got raped and we all lived happily ever after.
Briareos threw the diary over his shoulder and turned to Ellie. She was bound to Baldur’s bunk, gagged and bleeding from her loins; tears were streaming down her face, leaving little streaks in the dirt caked to her face. Briareos stepped over Baldur’s corpse, grinding his heel into the oddly angled neck until he heard a pop. He shivered with delight.
Outside, screams and gunfire were everywhere as mayhem ran rampant through the camp. Briareos had broken out of the mines with a number of his insane followers wielding the stolen weapons. They had opened fire on everyone; the guards had started giving weapons to the sane inmates in the hope of outnumbering the crazies; but the inmates had taken their chance for freedom instead. The result was a three way battle rampaging over the prison.
“I’ve always liked you Ellie,” he said – she flinched at the mention of Baldur’s pet name for her. “We can be together now,” he walked towards her, unzipping his jumpsuit and pulling his manhood free. He pulled her gag off and forced himself into her mouth; a string of spittle hung from between his lips as he giggled. Ellie gagged at first but her experience as a prostitute took over. Briareos giggled and groaned in delight; in his madness he mistakenly believed dominance over her.
Meanwhile, she focussed on pulling a metal splinter from her hand and used it to cut through her bonds. When she was free she bit through the hardened flesh and spat it out; Briareos flailed backwards, howling in agony as he clutched his bleeding groin. Ellie picked up his discarded gun and fired into his chest and head; the empty clicking continued for a few minutes after the bullets had gone and the corpse had slumped to the floor. She dropped the weapon and crawled to Baldur’s still form and sobbed, stroking his face and brow. Darkness flooded her vision as she passed out.
She remembered hands carrying her. She struggled and screamed but they held fast, then nothing. When she woke up she saw Baldur standing over her, she smiled and reached to touch his face.
“Thank fuck, El” he said, “I thought we had lost you there”. She frowned; Baldur never called her El. Her vision sharpened as another inmate, one of her husband’s crew, replaced Baldur. She bit back tears as she sat up to find herself in the automated medical bay. She was all patched up and, according to the inmate, her baby was fine.
She followed the inmates out to find the sane prisoners had won. They nervously clutched their weapons and shuffled into a semi-circle around her.
“What do we do now, El?” an ex-prisoner said, the majority of the surviving inmates were of Baldur’s former band, the rest followed their lead. As Baldur’s wife she had gained favour among them and now stood as the de facto leader of the prison.
“We carry on, this is our world now; if they try to take it we’ll turn it on them” she said, “The Coldanium is ours too, if they want it they have to deal with us.”
As they cheered, she walked back into the medical bay and cried for her lover once more.
“We’re pioneers now, my love,” she whispered.
© T R Abbot-Cole 2014