Short Story Collection
Rigso paced across the bridge. The sight below looked serene. A beautiful planet with lush green forests, clouds gently moving, but the noise from the planet’s broadcast channels was anything but serene. There was panic. Something down there was spread, some disease that was killing people.
“Is the captain responding?” Rigso asked.
“Not yet,” the comms officer said, “but I keep trying.”
The captain was down there, and what had been a concern earlier had turned into a panic. The hospitals were overflowing with dying people.
All Rigso wanted was to get the captain off the planet so they could get out of here. They still had cargo to pick up, and it was processing. The materials tender was down there being loaded. They couldn’t leave until it returned—or the captain.
“He’s on,” Juin said and put the feed on screen.
They saw the captain walking, his attention shifting between the things he saw around him. “There’s panic down here. I’m making my way to the shuttle, but there’s a crowd trying to get into the shuttle port.”
Rigso stroked his chin nervously. How could they help the captain? They couldn’t. It wasn’t as if they could go down and pull him through the crowd. This problem was something he needed to solve. More people could be seen around him, eagerly trying to get off the planet, but there were guards and a gate, Rigso assumed.
“Excuse me,” they heard the captain saying. People were shouting angrily.
“Can you help me?” a woman said. “I need to get my girl off the planet. She’s already sick, so she wouldn’t survive if she catches this thing.” The woman was talking hectically with sheer desperation in her voice.
“I’ll see what I can do,” the captain said. He probably shouldn’t have promised anything, but he was one of the few people who could help her. For a moment, Rigso wondered if he should warn the captain about offering help, but they were in a position to help. If people needed to get off the planet, The Nirvana was one of the few means of leaving. The problem was that they weren’t outfitted to take passengers. This was a freighter. They could take a few, but no more.
The visual stream jumbled for a moment as the captain pushed through the crowd. “I can take a few of you,” he called.
“Why don’t we know what this thing is?” Velli questioned as he joined Eustace by the large office windows. A man on a bench below in the square was breathing heavily while his colleagues tried to help him. Eustace didn’t know him, but understood he worked in the office opposite. Hadn’t quite made it to work when the sickness had taken him. “It’s scary to see how fast it comes on.”
“Yeah,” Eustace said. This was scary, with endless theories of who it struck and why, but no one had answers.
“I have a call,” Velli said and moved away to lean on a pillar. “Hey,” he said quietly, his eyes glazing over as he accessed his internal interface. “Shit. I’m sorry. I’m coming straight away.”
“It’s my wife. She’s not feeling well,” he said, furtively stroking his hand through his hair.
Ill ease twisted in Eustace’s gut because he knew what that meant. So did Velli. It wasn’t good, and it had now come for someone he loved. Eustace had no wife and children to worry about, forced to wait for bad news. It was only him, and he’d never been more grateful. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m supposed to go to the council meeting, to find out what’s going on and how we’re going to deal with it. Can you go in my stead?”
“Sure,” Eustace said and watched as Velli ran to his desk. He threw a look back as he ran out and Eustace had the ominous feeling that he wouldn’t see him again, even as this wasn’t something that spread from person to person. It wasn’t close contact that caused this—it was more random. Some kind of bacteria the medical people were saying.
It was hard to what theory was right because everyone professed to know the means by which people got sick.
Turning his attention back to the square, he saw Velli running for a transport pod. Whatever happened, Velli was in for a hard time, because most likely, he was going to lose his wife. So far, the people who got sick didn’t recover. Isolating didn’t help, unfortunately, even as so many still chose that strategy.
Eustace didn’t know what to do. He probably shouldn’t be here, but where else should he go? What was the right thing to do? Was it all pointless?
The boat barely looked seaworthy. The smell of diesel and fish stung Emma’s nose. Every part painted blue and numbers were written on the side of it. Her and three couples were urged to sit down on the wooden benches along the sides under a shade and it started it up with a plume of smoke.
“Okay, we go,” said a man with a weather-beaten face. Slowly they pulled away from the jetty and as they got further away, the speed increased a surprising degree. Warm wind tugged at her hair, along with a salty mist of sea water.
With a sigh, she watched as they made their way to some distant islands. It felt wonderful, freeing, and she didn’t have a care in the world. Sea salt and coconut smelling sunblock. Was this what happiness smelled like? Everything was good. They’d snorkel and then return to her lovely room just as the sun was setting. Why couldn’t everything feel like this?
The island got closer, and there was a small beach by otherwise unwelcoming terrain. Steep cliffs covered by jungle, but they weren’t here for the island—instead the coral reef surrounding it.
The boat slowed as they got closer, and one of the men jumped out into the clear turquoise water, and fish scattered. They were urged off and she sat herself on the edge before jumping in. It was so warm it didn’t even have a chill. Finns in hand, and her goggles hanging off her arm, she waded up to the beach.
“We swim, then eat, then swim,” the man said. “We whistle.”
For a moment, the group look lost, before they started towards the water. At waste high water, she put her fins on and then the goggles and snorkel, which tasted rubbery and salty. As she placed her face in the water, the sand came into view and all the fish. Smalls eyes looking back at her, while her own breath echoed in her ears. The sand gave to an underwater world. Endless structures that she floated above. A riot of colors like a beautiful garden, and even brighter fish that shimmered with the sun. The waves above cast shadows.
Coral almost reached the surface and then plunges to the seabed. Patterns and soft stalks moved with the current, and she felt the coolness of the currents as she swam through them.
Greeting the Water
The sheer material of her wrap stroked around Emily’s legs as she walked out into the lush, tropical gardens of the hotel. Tall plants were unfamiliar and spectacular, with large foliage that waves slightly in the gentle, warm breeze. A winding path led to the pool, where a few people sat reading on sun chairs.
The sun warmed her immediately, but it wasn’t the pool she was after, so she kept going, her ears drawing her to the rhythmic lapping of the ocean. Emerging out of the garden, the bright blue of the water was almost a shock after the darker tones of the garden. Pale sand stretched down each side as far as they eye could see, lined with coconut trees along the path.
This was blissful and she just stood there for a moment, letting the warm breeze nudge her hair away from her face and making her wrap lap softly against her legs. Slipping her sandals off, she stepped onto the sand which gave under her feet as she walked, noticing the warmth as she moved out of the shade’s edge.
Dropping her tote bag on the sand, she kept going to the water. The sand grew courser, but the water didn’t have the chill she expected. It was warm with the merest hint of cool. Instantly, she relaxed and stood there with water up to her calves, feeling the slight surge with the waves. A deep breath had her closing her eyes as the sand sang around her when the water retreated.
Everything was so fresh, so lovely. She smelled salt mixed with the faint coconut of her sunscreen. Should she take the wrap off and go for a swim, or sit down in the warm sand and just take in the sight around her? With eyes still closed she faced the sun, worried for it’s paleness. There had been a time when she hadn’t been so pale, during those endless summer days of her childhood.
She was another person like this, in a place like this. Partly her old self from long ago when everything had been wonderful, and part something else. This had a homely feel she couldn’t describe, as if she belonged here—even as this place was completely different from the vacations she’d had as a child. This was the ocean, nature and sheer loveliness, and it felt like she belonged here.
Emily’s shirt stuck to her back, with that uncomfortable feeling of sweat that had trickled down. Her pants felt like sausage casings as she stood in the gorgeous lobby, waiting for her room key. This vacation had been a long time coming, and getting here was a nightmare. Plane, bus, taxi. It had sounded easy, and technically, it wasn’t hard, but the heat and the foreignness had made every step seem dire, as if she couldn’t recover if one thing along the steps went wrong.
“Here is your key, madam,” the small woman behind the counter said and smiled. “The lifts are just to the left, over there,” she finished, pointing with her whole hand.
Grabbing her rolling suitcase, and readjusting the bag on her shoulder, she took the key and smiled in return. The lobby really was nice, with a huge bouquet just at the entrance. The space was vast and cool. Those were real flowers too. Gentle music played, the instrumental kind where the notes were indistinguishable, yet somehow lulling. There was a bar further along and then huge windows facing sheer, green lushness.
This trek didn’t feel worth it yet, but it would be—once she got these ankle high boots off. In her planning, they had seemed the best options to deal with both the cold and home and the warmth here, but her feet were sweltering.
The lift enclosed her in darkness for a moment, again with the soft music and the gold and dark mirrors around her. It was nice. The floor counter was lit up with green numbers, ticking over as she ascended. Everything was nice, which it should be. It wasn’t the cheapest option, but she wanted to relax in a bit of luxury. So the vacation was a little shorter than she would have planned otherwise, but she hoped it was worth it.
Plush carpet led her to her room and it was utterly silent down the long hall. Rearranging her bag, which she’d haphazardly shoved her coat into, she pressed the card to the plate and was met with the gratifying click that unlocked the door.
Sheer coolness met her as she walked in, the bag falling awkwardly from her shoulder, freeing her of the burden she’d hauled with her the entire way. She dropped everything and quickly took off her boots. Her body was still warm, but the coolness caressed her.
There was a large bed with crisp, white linen. A small sofa and a table, then a desk and more chairs on the balcony outside. Beyond it was the lush greenness she’d come for, but for right now she luxuriated in the cool of the room. As soon as she opened the door, that heat would come in, and she’d want that, but just not yet.
Sitting down on the bed, she leaned back and let the crisp sheets meet her. The room smelled nice, like clean sheets and a hint of … was that iris? It was so faint, but it was welcoming. She felt like the dirtiest thing in the room. Maybe she should have a shower now, so she could enjoy all this properly, with clean hair, clean body, and the soft vacation clothes she’d packed in her suitcase. She wanted to put everything about getting her behind her and start from now. But right this moment, she couldn’t get herself off the bed, where she could stretch out in every direction, and it was all hers.
Illness at the Office - Nirvana Series
Talian swivelled back and forth gently in her chair, thinking about how she wanted to direct the AI to analyse. “Gopher,” she said, “can you compare analyse the grain consumption last month in relation to the weather patterns.” She had no idea why they called the AI gopher. It was some kind of animal that had existed back on the original Earth, and someone had named this AI after it.
“Grain consumption has steadily declined throughout the month,” Gopher answered. “A slight negative correlation with increased precipitation, of negative eight point five.” It wasn’t nothing.
“Has it rained above normal levels?” she asked.
“For the average, it is five point three percent above normal.”
That wasn’t nothing either. So why did people eat less grain than normal? Was this just an anomaly, or should they adjust the import requirements? This report was due in two hours, and she needed to make a recommendation.
Across the room, she saw Haya at her desk, who was busy pulling together the other part of the report, focus more on meat products. She looked troubled, leaning over her desk, stroking the middle of her forehead in small circles.
“What’s the matter?” Talian asked and Haya grudgingly looked over.
“I just don’t feel well. It’s been coming on for a few days. Maybe I’ve caught a cold. Like, it hasn’t developed, but I’m not myself.”
“Maybe you should go home,” Talian suggested.
“I will after I finish this report,” Haya said and sat up straighter. “I’m going to have to answer if I don’t deliver it on time.”
Well, not really. The Department of Food and Agriculture wouldn’t hold it against her if she went home because she felt unwell, but Haya was a bit of a martyr. It was one of her more annoying qualities, actually. Always lamenting how much she had to do, she couldn’t spare a moment for most things.
“Did you know it’s rained five percent more than average?” Talian said and Haya looked over at her, unimpressed.
“There’s always variance,” Haya stated, suggesting Talian was wasting her time. See there, that was Haya’s most annoying quality. She couldn’t just say, ‘oh, that’s strange.’ With absolutely everything, she had to come back in some way stating you were wrong.
“I’m getting a coffee,” Talian said, luxuriating in the idea that she wasn’t madly rushing to finish her report. It was a little dig, but she couldn’t help herself. Ever since she’d started in this job, Haya had been competitive with her in tiny ways that no one else noticed.
Talian walked to the small kitchenette, which overlooked the lush gardens outside. The sun made the foliage bright, but in the shaded places, dew drops still clung on from the morning. No one would have noticed the increase precipitation if Gopher didn’t pull the info together. Well, the meteorological people probably noticed. They’d write reports about things like that.
Keller walked into the kitchen and leaned on the bench. “I need a coffee,” he said. He didn’t look his usual self either.
“Did you have a hard night last night?” Talian asked. He wasn’t usually one to act irresponsible on a worknight.
“No, do I look like it? I feel like it,” he replied.
“You don’t feel well?” Talian asked. Both him and Haya. “Something must be going around.”
“Geste isn’t here today. Or Larse. They both called in sick.”
Talian stopped what she was doing and stared at him. She wasn’t feeling sick. “That’s strange.”
“The milk tastes off. Have you noticed?” he said.
Talian shook her head. “I don’t drink milk.”
“Maybe it’s the milk making us all unwell.”
“I have too much to do.”
Seriously, how had he and Haya not gotten together, Talian thought tartly. Because Haya’s standards were too high.
For a moment, he looked unsteady on his feet, and Talian rushed to catch him in case he passed out. “You need to go home,” she said more forcefully.
“Maybe you’re right,” he said and smiled weakly. “I feel like shit.”