Tom Dell'Aringa

Writer, Artist, Semi-Pro Human

Country Road

Author: tdellaringa

Stinger: Chapter 1 Draft

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.

Illustration by Richard Johnson.

Kill Switch

Illustration by Richard Johnson – @richardjohnsonart


Selena tumbled out of control beyond the orbital plane of Titan as remnants of her mining ship hurtled by. Her terror in the chaotic silence only punctuated by her ragged breathing.

This is how she dies.

Her suit had been damaged in the hurried ejection right before the engine core went critical. Coms were dead. Her oxygen tank was damaged. The only thing a rescue team might track would be her dead body floating toward the sun.

She looked at the wrist display. 187 seconds of oxygen left.

Three minutes to live.

How does one come to sudden grips of what a life could have been, ultimately was and then accept its end in such a short time?

A sound that could only be described as a “warble” carried through her helmet. Startled, she looked around frantically as Titan circled around her visor. There was a blind spot behind her, and debris was still threatening her already short existence, but she could not account for the sound.

159 seconds.

What had it been? It was like nothing she ever heard. Had the shock and loss she felt traumatized her mind? She was already shaking from the prospect of choking to death—if some sharp piece of wreckage doesn’t impale her first.

“Alpha Tango Jaguar forty-five,” she said unsteadily, “unlock kill switch.” Would it still be functional? She wasn’t sure how badly the suit was damaged.

There was a low chime. “To enable kill switch, please confirm,” replied the suit.

She paused. She had to. “Confirm.”

“Kill switch enabled.”

117 seconds.

At least she wouldn’t die in pain, then. A quick injection. She would need to give the command before she began choking. She looked at Titan as a support beam cartwheeled by, just missing her. It was a beautiful planet.

89 seconds.

The warble came again. What the hell was it? She turned herself around every which way but she was alone in the vacuum of space.

It had to be in her mind. She breathed deeply. Get calm. This is it. Make peace, you knew this could happen.

56 seconds.

This was as calm as she was going to get. But she could accept this. Had to accept it. She took another deep breath. James would understand. She’d miss him a lot.

27 seconds.

Almost time. What should be the last thing she sees? She looked beyond Titan to see a star brighter than anything else in her field of vision. She couldn’t know which one, tumbling the way she was, but she tried to focus on it. It was beautiful.

10 seconds. It’s time.

The warble came again. She’d never know what it was. She opened her mouth to give the command.

Then something knocked on her visor, startling her. Her eyes opened wide.

Misunderstanding

I stalk her down the hallway, weaving between students and frowning teachers. She would never expect payback here. The gold cardigan flashes before me as I use one more backpack as cover. Slinking into position, I scream. Her five-dollar Mocha Frappuccino goes flying as she turns in anger. Wait, that’s not my sister.


This was my entry for the November for the 53-Word Story contest held each month by Press 53

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The Flower

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