This is a rough draft of Chapter 1 of my upcoming short story Stinger.
Jimi awoke abruptly with the horrifying falling sensation that most hooshers experienced on a daily basis. The scattered remnants of horror-inducing nightly terrors clawed at the edge of consciousness. He flailed around for a moment trying to get his bearings, then banged his head into the side of the shipping container.
But of course, he remembered.
He was hiding out in an abandoned shipping container on the lower deck known as “purgatory” of the Sol United warship Canopus. Also known as “Deck G,” purgatory contained warehouses, kitchens, social services, sundry shops and a few pubs. It also contained civilian housing for the many non-military personnel. In short, there were plenty of nooks and crannies typical of a large warship in which one could get lost.
Purgatory achieved its moniker from the soldiers who visited the drinking establishments. It wasn’t only the quality of the spirits that made one feel like they were suffering the punishments of the mythical realm, but also the results of said indulgences. “Purging in purgatory” was the answer to the oft-asked question “Why did so-and-so miss morning muster?”
Jimi groaned. His fears were already rising within, trying to creep into focus. His blurry vision obscured his surroundings in the dim light and he squinted to make sense of it. A tattered blanket, various articles of decaying garbage, empty hooshcaps and a few rodent skeletons for good measure. A larger shape huddled in a protective posture in the opposite corner. He had no idea who it was.
Empty containers were often left for days in the corridors. They were often used by those who were sleeping off some ill-advised indulgence and other criminal activities. Sol United MPs continually fought a losing battle to clear them out. Star class warships were practically flying cities and war with the Andromedans occupied most of their time.
Jimi sat up and felt a sudden urge to vomit—another byproduct of his addiction. He grabbed for something to steady himself, but there was only the subdark of the empty container and he fell painfully to his knees. Muttering, he crawled toward the door which was slightly ajar, leaking in weak light. He took care not to disturb the shadowed hump whose shape slowly expanded and contracted in unconsciousness.
His hand closed on the hooshcap he had discarded last night before he fell into a stupor. He shook it but knew it would be empty. He was far too gone to be so reckless as to leave a remnant of the good stuff in a cap.
Last night he’d spent the last of his units to buy hoosh instead of using the money for a meal—meager though it would have been. He knew he needed food. It was a bad sign. Addicts that started trading meals for hoosh were dubbed “gravers,” as in “engraving your headstone.” So decreed Benja the Wise, patron saint of hooshers. She had engraved hers years ago after dispensing pithy, oft-repeated phrases that only addicts would consider wisdom.
Jimi habitually looked down at his holoband on his wrist, but that had been sold—two weeks ago. Oddly enough, disconnecting from the SatNet had ejected him from his last tenuous link to life on the ship. He now shambled among the ghouls and ghosts in purgatory, practically invisible to those who continued to participate in their own lives.
Having no idea what time (or even what day) it was, he slowly poked his head out of the container. Not only was Jimi a “shipper,”—a junkie who took up hiding in shipping containers—he was also AWOL. When he was finally caught by the MPs—and he knew it would be when and not if—he would be prosecuted and likely deported to some backwater country on Earth, or worse, the penal colony in Eres belt.
Of course, that would only be if he lived that long. On his current trajectory, all bets were off. Jimi snorted to himself. What would be worse? Living in constant terror of his fears to which no amount of counseling or drugs seemed to assuage, or life in a penal colony? He wasn’t honestly sure.
Finding the corridor deserted and quiet, he stepped out into the sterile light and winced at the stab in his head. He also became aware of at least two new bodily pains of which the origins to him were unclear. He looked left toward the nearest intersection, leading back toward people who likely could get him what he needed, and felt a pang of shame.
Meanwhile, silently in the cold vacuum, an Andromedan strike vessel glided toward the Canopus in stealth mode.