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.
©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.