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.
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.
©2010 By Jason Arnett.
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Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
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