Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sender 4





_____________________


4




He opened his eyes and looked down. Three hundred feet below him was the tarmac obscured by blasts of steam escaping the structure of the launch pad. He teetered forward and nearly dropped the package he’d finally retrieved. Armstrong Story stepped backward and caught his breath, before turning and running for the stairs that would take him down to ground level.

He made the fourth turn going down.

“Stop!” He didn’t. Looking up would surely have made it more easy for her to catch him, which she might do anyway. It had been a long time since he’d had to run. Huffing and puffing as he barreled down the metal steps he tried to work out how he was going to cover the three miles from the launch pad to the spaceport’s terminal. Taking steps three at a time and cursing his knees for the shocks of pain shooting up them, he spared a glance toward the terminal and saw a scissor bus that was bringing the passengers for the Lenzbat Jacob Kurtzberg.


He heard metal thuds above him as the lady thief who he’d once counted a friend jumped down the stairwells from landing to landing. “Armstrong! Stop!”

Armstrong Story kept jumping down stairs and bashing his shoulders as he made turns, but he knew she was getting closer. He looked out over the railing after he’d made the tenth turn and saw he was twenty feet above the ground. Another, louder, thud directly above his head and he climbed over the rail, hanging on by his right hand and holding the package out over the tarmac with his left. For emphasis he kicked his left leg out into the air, too.

“I don’t know how you did that, just winking out like that, but I”ll just pull you in,” Em said as she sat on the steps a little above him. “I”ll pull you in and beat you to death for this.”

“I’ll drop it.” As he said this, Armstrong Story realized he meant it. “I know what it is in here.”

“Bully for you.”

“I know what a broken time capsule does to the local region, too.” He was sweating and he adjusted his right hand grip. “Let me go, Em. Let me return it.”

“I can’t do that.”

“Yes you can,” Armstrong Story said.

“No, she can’t.”

Simon Ferris was coming up the metal stairs in the launch pad gantry. Em turned to her right and saw him, too. “Shit,” she said.

“Hello, Emily,” Ferris said with a smile. “It’s been a long time.”

“Not long enough.” She stood up and brushed off her butt and thighs. “I guess you want your little trinket back?”

“It’s more than that, Emily.”

“That’s what you always said,” she said to Ferris. “You were a broken record.”

“Mr. Story,” Ferris said. “Do come in, won’t you? That can’t be comfortable and she’s lost any power over you.”

Armstrong Story looked from Ferris to Emily. He smiled at them and let go of the railing.

“Armstrong, no!”

“Story!”

He landed hard on the soft top of a baggage cart and rolled off to the tarmac, cradling the package to his chest. Armstrong Story gasped for air and rolled to his knees then stumbled to his feet. Unsteadily, he looked back at the pair who were grappling with each other on the gantry twenty feet above him, and ran for the terminal.

There was more traffic now: baggage carts and the scissor bus approaching the launch pad would hide him if he ducked and weaved through them. Armstrong Story hoped he’d have enough of a head start to make the terminal. Running as hard as he could and wheezing with the effort, he made it halfway before he had to give in to the stitch in his side. He gulped air in greedy lungfuls and held his side, grimaced as he tried to keep walking. An emergency courier was aimed at him, coming at breakneck speed when Armstrong Story made a decision and stepped in front of the cycle and its rider.

Packages and limbs flew crazily as the biker put his machine on its side as quickly as he could. Irregularly-shaped packages, cubes and several perfect cylindrical metal express torpedoes landed forty feet away from the bodies of the two men and the courier’s bike. The courier, fully armored and operating on a popular though questionable personal accelerant, barely noticed that he picked up an extra package and scooped it into one torpedo that had somehow popped open. A quick inspection showed that no other damage had been sustained and the courier slipped it back into the saddle bag on the back of his bike. He hopped on the bike, gunned its engine and steered around Armstrong Story’s prone body toward the launch pad.

Armstrong Story lay on his back, heaving and bleeding from minor cuts, on the tarmac. He laughed.

***



“Where is it?” Ferris was over him, desperate. “Where did you put it?!”

Armstrong Story only nodded and smiled. “I know what you were using it for,” he said. “You used me as bait for her and I know your story now.”

Ferris was manic. “Where’s my fucking time capsule?””

The tarmac was hot and loud. Armstrong Story tried to sit up, but Ferris pushed him back down. “I need it, Story; I know you didn’t destroy it, you hid it. Tell me where it is and we’ll walk away from this. I’ll get you your job back.”

“It wasn’t yours to begin with,” Armstrong Story said. “You were cheating by using it the way you did. It wasn’t meant for that.”

“Who are you to judge?”

“I’m the Scribe.” Armstrong Story stared into Ferris’ eyes. Simon Ferris recoiled and fell backwards. He shouted and scrambled from the injured man until he collapsed ten feet away.

“Oh, shit,” he said. “Ohshitohshitohsit.”

“Now you know,” Armstrong Story said and creaked slowly to his feet. “What you’ve done.” He swayed, shook his head and rubbed his hands together. “You won’t die any time soon, but you will die eventually now. You were cheating.”

“We found it,” Ferris said. “Me and my buddies.”

“You corrupted it by keeping it and using it.”

“No! No! I didn’t!”

“It’s gone, Simon, so it doesn’t matter any more,” Armstrong Story said. “Where’s Emily?”

“Gone,” Ferris said, but Armstrong Story wasn’t sure if he was talking about Emily or the capsule. He was in a daze, eyes wide and staring, his body shaking now. “Oh, Jesus, Erika. Ray. All gone. What am I going to do?”

“You’ll live,” Armstrong Story said. He bowed at the waist to the bewildered man on the ground and turned away. Ferris knelt on the ground, looking at his hands.

***


“Would you like something to drink, Mr. Story?” The steward was pleasant and had red hair that accented her indigo skin. Her yellow eyes sparkled at him coyly. Dokseis were very plain in their interests and this one had paid particular attention to him since they’d departed the space station two days ago

“I would, yes,” he said to her. “Would you surprise me with something that you like?”

The Doksei steward smiled. “Of course. Are you allergic to anything?”

“Being alone at this point in my life,” he said.

She nodded and her hips swayed with promise as she walked down the aisle and talked to the other passengers. Armstrong Story closed his eyes and folded his hands over his chest. The hum of the starliner’s engines calmed him and he felt at peace.

***


The Lenzbat Jacob Kurtzberg had just made it into orbit on its way to AlayaKin when it collided with an meteor on a suicide dive into the atmosphere. The passengers were killed instantly and painlessly by the meteor’s impact and the cargo was scattered above the magnetosphere leaving the recipients to wonder where their papers and products might be. Those who had paid the seventeen hundred Khreids to insure their shipment would be that much richer, but others would lose livelihoods over the crash.

The torpedo that held the time capsule survived the impact. It was jarred and bounced as it escaped the fiery wreckage of the Lenzbat, but it floated in orbit turning over and over in a slow ballet. Inside the torpedo, the other packages disappeared one by one, slowly fading away. Finally all that was left was the package that held the time capsule. The little globe inside the box glowed coolly white and faded away its wrapping, now resting in one end of the torpedo and rolling gently to the other as it tumbled through its orbit.

Gravity finally took hold of the torpedo and pulled it back to earth. The flames of re-entry were cold and bright and it blazed a path across the dark sky, whistling as it fell. The time capsule was heavy in the front of the torpedo and glowed green. The torpedo tore through clouds, over oceans and mountains and then trees, finally crashing near a lake in a thunderous clap heard for miles.




_____________________

Thanks for reading Sender. Come back next Wednesday for a brand-new story,  Click here for  "A Monster in Repose" featuring new characters and a couple of surprises. Tell your friends won't you?


©2010 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States




You can buy the whole story, and any story from this website for 49¢ by clicking on the button below and I’ll send you a DRM-free PDF via email.





Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sender 3





_____________________


3




The two security guards flanked him, the amphibian’s tentacle tightened on his shoulder. “No,” Armstrong Story said. He was being led out of the room.

“Yeah,” Ferris said. He stood and folded his hands in front of him. “It’s too bad you didn’t have a better class of friend, Mr. Story. I rather liked you.” He swept towards the door and hooked a finger at Jameson White.

“Mr. Ferris, Mr. White, I can help,” Armstrong Story said. “I can find the time capsule. I don’t know where it is, but I can find it.”

Simon Ferris turned to White.

“If there’s anyone here who can do it,” White said, “it’s Story. He’s got a nose for it.”

Armstrong Story could only see Ferris’ back as he decided. “I have resources,” he said at last. “I don’t need him.”

“How long has it taken you to build those resources, Mr. Ferris? How old are you?” Armstrong Story tried to slip the security guards’ hand and tentacle.

Simon Ferris turned around to face Armstrong, sized him up through clear and bright eyes that bore the weight of decades. “Old enough,” he said and left the room.

Jameson White nodded at the security guards and Armstrong Story was escorted to level seven where he was locked in a holding cell. The room, an eight by eight by eight cube, had a rough cot and a toilet and sink. The cot creaked under Armstrong Story’s weight and he crossed his legs, closed his eyes, slowed his breathing and waited.

***

He was out of the cell. The ice floe bobbed in the water and he was cold instantly, shivering. “The numbers,” he shook his head. “Stuck in my head. Eights and cubes gets you frostbite.” He frowned and tried to relax himself again, the cold attacking his bones quickly.

“Dharana,” he said and shivered. He slowed his breathing and said it again. “Dharana. Samadhi. Pratyahara. Dharana. Samadhi. Atman.” Armstrong Story kept repeating the words until he couldn’t feel the cold any more.


Armstrong Story opened his eyes. His apartment was warm and inviting. He slowly eased out of the lotus, rose in an easy motion and stripped his frozen, wet clothes off. Stretching through a series of asanas, Armstrong Story came back to himself and with a final reach for the ceiling with his feet flat on the floor, he groaned.

In the Fresher, he ran a very hot bath and soaked for ten minutes with his eyes closed. As he dried himself off, refreshed, Armstrong Story walked through his apartment. He’d be sad to leave it. Looking at the clock, he threw the towel back towards the bedroom. “I might have time to pack some books,” he said to the room. He nodded and went to dress himself.

***


Armstrong Story carried two small suitcases as he boarded the maglev heading out of the city. Sitting in the back of the train car he breathed evenly and slowly, keeping his eyes open. It wouldn’t do to be caught by the InStelExPS teams now: they believed him a thief, or at least an accomplice.
The train pulled out and Armstrong Story had time to think. He pulled out a small moleskine book and began making notes:

    • Ferris older than he looks and wealthy.
    • Time capsule valuable but replaceable.
    • Something personal, Ferris doesn’t share easily. History with Em? Or just the TC?
    • Who IS Em, anyway?


Armstrong Story closed the book and put the tip of the pen to his lips. He looked out the window.

The train shot into the night, circumlocuting the city’s canyons and valleys; glass and steel and plastic ramparts fell away and the sprawling skeletons and broken veins of forsaken suburbs flew past the windows. Dead trees reached their claws past the broken roofs of rotting homes to the sky, casting shadows over the memories of a country that no longer existed. Armstrong Story missed the whistles of the old steam engines, but was grateful for the speed of the maglev. He needed to get to the transport to AlayaKin.

***


As a spaceport, Arrowhead Center left a lot to be desired. Closed gates, inattentive staff and rampant hooligans exacerbated problematic late arrivals and confused immigrants. It did have a tightly secured locker system in the Kaufmann Terminal used mostly by gangsters and illicit traffickers. Armstrong Story paid the graft to use a solid locker to store his two suitcases. Checking flight times and destinations, the galactic Lenzbat Jacob Kurtzberg was the best option to get to AlayaKin quickly, and if the bin at the plant was really empty, the time capsule should already be on board.

He found a baggage handler and showed his company credentials. “I’m here to retrieve a package on its way to AlayaKin,” he told the handler. “Can you show me that bay?”

“Sure,” the handler said. He was a big Felinis with tiger stripes and orange eyes. “Follow me.” He handed Armstrong Story his credentials back and turned his back.

They wound their way down spiral stairs to the polished concrete floor at tarmac level. The handler flagged a passing cart and they rode out the three miles to the Jacob Kurtzberg. “This flight got bumped up,” the handler said, shouting over the din of moving buses, other baggage carts, and the hiss and hum of Lenzbat magengines.

“That happen often?”

The big Felinis shook his head. “First time.”

“What’s in the load?”

“Nothing out of the ordinary,” the handler said. “Some secure items, some special handling stuff. Nothing dangerous or radioactive, necessarily.” He turned left and Armstrong Story could see the spacecraft.

It was a long, triangular, shaped wing half-a-mile wide and a mile long. Silver and white it sat on its launch pad three hundred feet high, waves of magnetic sound washing over the low tide pool of the tarmac. The Felinis handler pulled the little baggage cart up to the elevator entry and set the controls on the cart to return to the baggage terminal. As the door to the elevator closed on them, Armstrong Story saw the cart pull away.

“Where’s Famol Jeng?”

Armstrong Story nodded. “Apparently unavailable. It was my station sent the package out here, so it fell to me.”

“Ah,” the Felinis said. He looked up and saw the display click over to six. The elevator slowed, and there were strange clunking sounds that might have been uncoiling springs. “We’re here.” The doors opened.

The noise was double what it had been on the tarmac: higher pitched, windier and much more mechanical. The handler only motioned for Armstrong Story to follow. They walked to the ramp that led to the loading bays of the Lenzbat. Inside, the Felinis handed over a pair of orange noise-canceling headphones with a microphone attached, a second pair modified for his own tall ears. “You still have to shout,” he said to Armstrong Story. “The magwaves make it hard. Can’t be more than fifty feet apart.”

Armstrong Story nodded. “Understood,” he said. “Where’s the bay?”

They walked around a corner and the handler opened a hatch. “In here,” he said over the comm and offered a handheld lading device. “You know what you’re looking for?”

“Yeah,” Armstrong Story said. He keyed numbers into the handheld and smiled. “Give me five minutes, okay?”

The Felinis nodded as Armstrong Story stepped down the shelf-lined aisle, past dozens of multi-colored packages, all carrying an InStelExPS label. He turned left and looked up to his right. He counted over and found what he was looking for: a long square tube with an eight by eight package taped to it. Armstrong Story took out a small multi-use knife and cut the smaller box free of its cousin.

Armstrong Story made the turn to go back toward the hatch. He saw her standing over the body of the Felinis handler, holding the headphones to her ear. Em was dressed in a black skintight full-body singlet, a hood over her hair and goggles around her neck. “Hello, Armstrong,” she said over the comm system. “Thanks for picking that up. I’d’ve had a devil of a time.”

Armstrong Story took a step back. “I’m in a lot of trouble over this,” he said. “I have to completely start over thanks to you.”

She stepped into the bay and blocked his exit. “I’m sorry about that,” she said. “Really, I am, but I need that package.”

“Are you going to kill me?”

“I hope I don’t have to. I like you,” she said and shook her head. “You didn’t deserve any of this.”

As he backed up, he knew he was running out of space and that he couldn’t get past her. Armstrong Story’s back collided with the back row of shelves, shaking the little room with a small sound.

“Come on,” she said. “Just hand it over and I’m gone and you can leave.” Em closed on him, both hands out to take the package from him.

Armstrong Story closed his eyes and said his mantra.



_____________________

Thanks for reading Sender. Come back next Wednesday Click here for the conclusion. Tell your friends won't you?


©2010 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States




You can buy the whole story, and any story from this website for 49¢ by clicking on the button below and I’ll send you a DRM-free PDF via email.





Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sender 2





_____________________


2



Jameson White paced. He paced and he muttered. The things he muttered now concerned having to contact the corporate office on D’Ware Muda to tell them that a stolen package had been a) hidden in one of his facilities and then b) disappeared from said facility. Not only that, but the stolen package was dangerous. He followed the path around his office desk, where the carpet was worn. The Director of Planetary Operations stopped and noted that it was time for new carpet in his office. Provided of course that the home office didn’t have him fired and then nongrata’d. He looked at his comfortable executive chair wistfully then resumed pacing.

“Mr. White?”

“Story. Get in here.”

Armstrong Story came into the office, but only far enough to actually be ‘in’ and not outside it. He didn’t say anything.

“You had a visitor today,” Jameson White said.

Armstrong Story nodded.

“You never have visitors.”

“No, sir.”

“Who was she?”

Armstrong Story stood still. “I’ve known her a long time.” His boss studied him.

White started pacing again, this time back and forth behind his desk in front of his chair and slower than before, watching the floor. “Would you call her a friend?”

“Yes,” Armstrong Story said.

“What did she give you?”

“All I saw was the package. I didn’t open it to see what was inside, she didn’t tell me what it was.”

“You asked?”

Armstrong Story nodded again.

“All right,” White said and turned quickly to exit the office. “Come with me.” The two men walked down a long hallway that had framed pictures of the corporate officers of InStelExPS. The twelve portraits showed a variety of races in representative native styles. Armstrong Story noticed the sound portrait of Kl’lonb Teuy, the CEO from D’Ware Muda: it moved when Jameson White passed it, and rippled when Armstrong Story stopped to look. Teuy’s segmented eyes seemed shift. “Story,” White said from ten meters ahead. “You’re not here to look at the art. Let’s go.” Armstrong Story felt the eyes in the sound portrait follow him down the hall.

The conference room was huge, with eight giant screens surrounding the enormous table. One very well dressed man sat on the far side at the head. He smiled as White closed the door behind them. “Mr. Ferris,” White said, “this is Armstrong Story, the manager of the facility.”

“Well, Mr. Story,” Ferris said, “That’s quite a name you’ve got yourself.” The well-dressed man rose and came around the table, put out his hand. “Your parents fans of NASA or something?”

Knowing he was expected to shake hands with the stranger, Armstrong Story put his hand in Ferris’. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, students of history.” Ferris’ smile was big, white and ingratiating. He smelled slightly of cinnamon and anise.

“Ever use any other names? Any aliases?” Ferris was intent and then relaxed. “That’s okay, Mr. Story. Never mind. Please,” he indicated a chair to his left, “sit down.”

Armstrong Story did, keeping an empty chair between himself and Ferris. Jameson White was in the corner of the room opposite, his arms folded, his face frowning. Ferris leaned against the conference table, put his hands on the edges. “Would you tell me about the woman who visited you today?”

“She’s pretty, about forty, smiles a lot and always gets me to do what she asks. She’s human, possibly enhanced, but I don’t know for sure.”

“Do you know where she lives?”

“No,” Armstrong Story said.

Ferris stood up and walked toward the door, Armstrong Story turned his chair to follow. “Can you tell me her name, then?” Ferris made a study of one of the blank screens, probably looking for reflections in the glass.

“She signed a note to me with Em,” Armstrong Story said. “Ee, em. I assume it’s short for Emma or Emily or Embeth or something.”

“But you don’t know her name.”

“No, I don’t.”

Ferris turned back to Armstrong Story and looked hard, studying the manager’s face. Then he smiled. “He’s quite honest,” Ferris said to Jameson White. “Probably why she chose him.”

“What’s this about?”

“Mr. Story, I am a very wealthy man. Your friend --- Em --- has stolen something from me that I need to get back. A lot depends on you being able to help me.”

“All I saw was a package, about eight by eight, probably weighed nine or ten pounds.” Armstrong Story turned back to his boss. “I put it in the bottom of the bin bound for AlayaKin. It should still be there.”

Jameson White nodded and left the room, gently clicking the door shut behind him.

“Thank you, Mr. Story,” Ferris said. He was calm and cool, but the cinnamon and anise smell was distracting and familiar though Armstrong Story couldn’t place it. “Do you know what was in the package?”

“No,” he said to Ferris. “I asked if I should know and she said people would be looking for it and it was best if I didn’t know.”

“What people?”

Armstrong Story snorted a little. “People who wouldn’t connect her to me.”

“How do you think I connected her to you, then?”

“I don’t have the faintest idea.” he said to Ferris. “Maybe you had her followed. Probably the plant’s vidfeed or one of my staff said something.”

Ferris nodded at that and sat back. He folded his hands in front of his chest, his elbows on the armrests of the chair.

“What did you do for her? What was the nature of your relationship?”

Armstrong Story paused, looking over the man who smelled of cinnamon. There was something to the man’s carriage, his face, behind his eyes; something familiar. “I was a friend, Mr. Ferris. That’s all.”

“You --- held things for her.”

“Sometimes.”

“Ever know what it was she gave you to keep?”

“Once or twice. Mostly not.”

“I would’ve gotten curious.”

Armstrong Story puffed up and put his hands on his knees. “I am a man of my word,” he said. “It didn’t matter if I was curious or not.”

Ferris put one hand up. “I meant no offense.”

Armstrong Story put his palms on the arms of his chair. He crossed his ankles. The two men watched each other without shame or guile. The room gradually filled with the nascent hum of power coursing through the walls, the screens, the overhead lights. The slight click and whine of the door opening crashed the silence and both Simon Ferris and Armstrong Story looked at Jameson White re-entering the room. White shook his head.

“It’s not there,” he said to Ferris. He stood between them and turned to Armstrong Story. “The bin is empty.”

“What?”

“That’s disappointing,” Ferris said and put a hand to his cheek. “Would you like to tell me where the package really is, Mr. Story?”

Armstrong Story was nonplussed. “I put it in the bin, Mr. White. I did.”

“Story,” White said, “I’ve known you a lot of years, you’re a good employee. Tell Mr. Ferris where his property is.”

“I put it in the bin!”

“Who else would have had access to that bin, Mr. White?”

“Anyone working the floor.” White walked around the table and sat across from the other two. “However,” he said, “it wasn’t scheduled to load out and ship until tomorrow morning. Mostly retail stuff, nothing secure.”

Armstrong Story put his head in his hands, his elbows on the giant wooden table. “I forgot to pull it out and take it home with me. If I’d just taken it home, this wouldn’t be happening.”

“Well, it wouldn’t be happening here,” Ferris said running his hand over the tabletop. “Is it possible that she came back tonight?” He opened his palm, faced it up to the ceiling.

Armstrong Story shook his head. “She sticks to her timelines,” he said. “She said eight or nine days.”

“But it’s possible,” White said.

“Anything’s possible,” Armstrong Story said. He opened his hands and shook his head. “Anything.” He rubbed his temples again.

“Call the gendarme, Mr. White.”

Jameson White touched his jaw. “Security, please,” he said in a low voice. “Last chance, Story: where’s the package?”

“If it’s not in the bin to AlayaKin, I don’t know.” He stood up suddenly and faced Ferris. “If you found it here, you’ll find it again. Why are you doing this to me?”

Ferris was impassive.

Armstrong Story turned to White. “Why are you letting him do this to me?”

The door to the conference room opened again and two burly security officers came in. One was human but verged on being a giant; the other was a tentacled amphibian wearing a personal humidifier. Both looked grim.

“Take him to the cell on seven,” White said. The amphibian nodded and sloshed forward and put one tentacle on Armstrong Story’s left shoulder.

“At least tell me what was in the package,” he said to Ferris. “I can help find it if I know what it is.”

Ferris was deadpan looking at the table with what seemed disappointment. “It’s a time capsule, Mr. Story.”




_____________________

Thanks for reading Sender. Come back next Wednesday Click here for part 3. Tell your friends won't you?


©2010 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States




You can buy the whole story, and any story from this website for 49¢ by clicking on the button below and I’ll send you a DRM-free PDF via email.





Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Sender 1





_____________________


1



Armstrong Story’s future wasn’t anything like he’d imagined it would be. It was grimy in the low places and shiny where only the elite could reach. In between it was still what might be considered ‘normal’ by seven generations of citizens. Jetpacks never caught on and flying cars were not the norm using magnet-based propulsion rather than fuel; theatre and cinema were low things appealing only to the great unwashed masses and unsupported by the wealthy. Art and literature were finally coming back into vogue following a long fallow period. Robots kept artificially dumb were used in manufacturing positions and employed by the rich despite advances dreamed of by so many. Some jobs still required human hands in the middle levels, and that was where Armstrong Story fit into society.

Armstrong Story worked for the largest courier and delivery service in the galaxy. InStelExPS was the company of choice across the known systems and handled everything from small but important documents to giant lightengines for the largest passenger cruisers. Armstrong Story’s job was to ensure that packages passing through his depot undamaged arrived at their next destination as quickly as possible in the same condition. He’d been in this job for the last ten terrestrial years and he was good at it. When his supervisors noticed his accuracy statistics he had been promoted to depot manager. His depot moved more packages more accurately with less damage while retaining more personnel than any other in the system. Armstrong Story was very proud of his achievements.

He rarely had visitors, let alone pretty female visitors, and so the day she came to see him in his office was one for the books. “You’re not supposed to come here,” he said. “No matter what, that’s what we agreed.” He took her by the elbow and led her into his small office.

“I don’t have a lot of time,” he said. “What’s up?”

She smiled at him and flipped her dark brown hair. “I need a favor, Armstrong.”

“I figured as much,” he said. He looked over his shoulder out onto the sorting floor. He hadn’t been missed yet.

She reached into her not-too-large shoulder bag and pulled out a small, paper-wrapped box. It was about eight inches square and lighter than he expected when she dropped it into his outstretched hands. “I need you to keep this for me,” she said. “I’m having to leave for a while. Not too long.”

“Do I need to know what it is? Or where it came from?”

Another smile: this one conspiratorial. “Only if you’re interested in teaming up, Armstrong.” She turned coy and drew her hand to the base of her neck. “I’d like that. Otherwise, it’s best if you don’t open it until I come back. There’ll be people looking for it.”

He failed to notice her interest in him. “What kind of people this time?”

She sat on the corner of his desk and folded her hands in her lap. “No one who’ll connect me to you, so don’t worry about it. You’re not on anyone’s radar.”

The shriek of a klaxon cut off Armstrong Story’s reply and he signed to her to stay, he’d be right back.

He left the office and found his majordomo, a squat Procyon with half a graying ringtail and a scar across his left eye. “Turn that thing off,” he shouted at another worker as Armstrong Story approached.

“What happened, Luyten?”

“Dunno yet, boss,” Luyten the Procyon said. “That was the clog alarm though. Hold on.” The furry supervisor put one long paw to his left temple, closed his eyes and his tail twitched back and forth. “Yeah,” he said out loud. “Thanks, Card.”

“Card? We’ve got a clog on thirty-seven?”

“No,” Luyten said. “Card was the nearest to the clog and he’s got it unstuck now. This was on forty-one at the end of its load out. A Lick box got turned wrong. Simple fix, everything’s up and running again.”

Armstrong Story sighed --- relieved it was a minor issue. “Thanks, Luyten,” he said. “Sorry I panicked.”

“Sokay.”

“No, it’s not. I should’ve been on the floor.”

Luyten looked up at his boss. “Hey,” he said. “Everyone needs a little time to themselves. Don’t worry about it.”

Armstrong Story put his hand in Luyten’s paw and shook it. “You’re one of the good ones, Luyten. Back in ten, okay?”

“No prob.” The Procyon walked back into the shift workers moving boxes onto conveyors. “All right you baggers,” he said, “there’s time to be made up, let’s go!”

Armstrong Story re-entered his office to find it empty but for a crumpled pink note on top of the trash bin. “Had to run. Bottom desk drawer. Please keep somewhere safe and close. Back in eight or nine days. Em.” She’d drawn a little heart around her signature. He smiled and tore the note into as many fine little pieces as he could then fed them to the shredder. The box she’d given him tucked under his arm, he rolled back out onto the floor. The rest of his shift passed without incident.

***


Leaving the docks of Interstellar Expedited Parcel Service, Armstrong Story made his way to the deteriorating commuter maglev that would eventually take him home. Lights as far as one could see in any direction, he preferred the city at night. Two hundred thirty-five standard years since the break up of the American Union and one hundred twelve since the dawn of new American CityStates, Armstrong Story lived in one of the oldest sections of the midwestern metropolis. An hour on the maglev would take him to Lawrence, an ancient suburb of the original city deep in the bowels of the residential ramparts that protected the city’s center.

The ground levels were dangerously unkempt but cheaper to use the bounce tubes upward from. Debris littered sidewalks and streets that no one drove any more, and walking any distance was generally safe as long as the police gangs were avoided. Armstrong Story made it through unnoticed, and stepped into the tube that would bounce him upwards at 37 feet per second, alighting gently at the next station that would take him home.

Home for Armstrong Story was a comfortable flat in the middle levels. The door closed behind him and he immediately undressed, heading for the Fresher.

Reinvigorated, he heated a plate of leftover NOLAbeans and rice and poured a glass of Washington wine. The dining room was lined from floor to ceiling with books on all sorts of subjects, and he selected a volume about Renaissance art. He’d discovered a soft spot for Titian, and really loved the colors and compositions of most of the work of the period. The idea of patronage, too, was intriguing.

Lost in the timelessness of ancient Venice (a city now completely under the Adriatic) Armstrong Story did not hear the soft chime of the doorbell until it rang for a fifth time. Gently startled back to himself, he noted the time and tightened the belt on his robe. He looked at the monitor next to the door and saw the Procyon, Luyten, waiting for an answer. Frowning, he pressed the button that unlatched and irised the door open.

“Luyten? Do you have any idea the time?”

The furry assistant burst into Armstrong Story’s apartment and waved his clawed hands wildly. “Of course I know the damned time, Story. We’ve been trying to call you for hours!”

Armstrong Story frowned as he closed the door. “Sorry,” he said touching his left jaw where it curved back to his ear. “I had my ‘tooth off. Didn’t expect anyone to call.”

“Yeah, well,” Luyten said, tapping his feet. “I didn’t expect to get yanked out of my comfy hovel to haul my ass over here to get you, either. Will you get dressed so we can go?”

It suddenly dawned on Armstrong Story that something was wrong at InStelExPS. He dashed past his assistant and quickly threw on pants, shirt and shoes. He grabbed his ID card, his wallet and went back to the living room. The Procyon was tapping his foot. “I’ll be back as soon as I get him to the warehouse,” Luyten said seemingly to empty air. “Yes, dear. I promise.” He looked up and saw his boss was dressed and ready. “I have to go now, dear. I’ll be home as soon as I can. Love you.”

Armstrong Story closed the door to the flat and they trotted down the hall to the bounce tube. “Not a word, human,” Luyten said, “not one word to anyone about that conversation.”

“Tell me what’s wrong,” Armstrong Story said.

“Boss told me to get you, that’s all I know.”

“Mr. White?”

“Madder’n a Logan Bear,” Luyten said with a sneer. “Where did you get all those books, by the way?”

The bank of twelve bounce tubes were at the end of the hall. Armstrong Story stepped toward the down tube.

“No, no, no,” Luyten said, grabbing Story’s arm. “We’re going up.”

Armstrong Story looked worried and stepped into the other tube.

Luyten grimaced. “I hate bounce tubes,” he said and stepped in.


_____________________

Thanks for reading Sender. Come back next Wednesday Click here for part 2. Tell your friends won't you?


©2010 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States




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