For Charlie, by David Edward Nell

“Can’t go through with this,” she told herself repeatedly, her face coloured a sickly blue from the window which was her only source of light.

The power inside was cut, the control panel by her lap inoperable. And the leviathan of a ship that had immobilised her with a single round was drawing in. She had wanted it to. But this wasn’t the plan. She was supposed to be braver, not wanting out like she was now. Charlie was supposed to be her strength. She pried the ring off her finger, looking to the photograph on her dashboard. It was a memory of a summer day gone, a piece of her Charlie, but his eyes were now scrutinising her for retreating. In truth, she was undecided. She thrust her gaze away, her lips quivering. It was his fault, she reckoned with a rueful heart. His fault for bringing her here.

Next to her, the radio was semi-functional, wheezing with sparks, its indicator flickering on and off. She gave the mechanism a bang in frustration. White noise briefly erupted then it died again. The radio whooped back to life. Desperately, she thumbed the transmitter.

“Come in, Medulla,” she said into the speaker, “This is Omni Thirteen. I am under attack and in need of assistance. I am in the Giorgio system. Coordinates 18.45.40.0409.-29.00.119.”

Silence greeted her, so she relayed again, “Medulla, Medulla, come in. Please, I don’t have much time.”

“Medulla Enforcement responding,” an operator came through. Charlie was frowning. “What is your assignment?”

“Private industry employment,” she eagerly replied. “Price Conveyances Corporation. I am a pharmaceuticals agent, en route from Earth to the Jangweh colonies.”

“Omni Thirteen, are you aware that you’re not on our registry? How did you get this frequency?”

“I’m not sure how that’s possible. Maybe there’s a mistake on your system, okay?”

“We’ll need to have that confirmed. What is your situation?”

“I’m shut down at present, in need of mechanical support. I’ve been fired at, intercepted by an unknown group, possibly mercenaries,” she said.

“Can you possibly describe the emblem on their ship?”

“It’s a spiral. Three triangles around it. Red. Strange letters.”

“The ship you are describing is Anurian in origin. They’re on the registry. Unfortunately, due to the political ramifications and the Intergalactic Justice Council peace resolution of 3129, we cannot intervene at this stage. In addition, you are an unregistered ship, as confirmed by our internal data.”

“Bullshit,” she said, laughing incredulously, madly. “Put yourself in my shoes. I’m in a crisis here.”

“I understand. Can you provide us your licence number? I might be able to communicate to the Anurians to abandon their assault, if this is indeed what’s happening.”

“Send help,” she demanded. “Can’t you do that without my licence number? Christ…”

“No. That’s all I require of you, however.”

“I don’t–”

“If you don’t have a licence number, I cannot proceed. If you wish, I can remain online, guide you through this process.”

“But you can’t let me die here. Are you going to sit around listening to them eat my guts out? As long as you get your salary, right?”

“Please calm your tone.”

Her mouth frothed. “This is why we’re all in shit, because of people like you, because some ignorant bunch of council fucks think they understand us and have the right to control everything. So you’re going to let me be another headline in your morning papers? You’re no better than the pigs you work for. Bet you’re not even human.”

“I apologise, Omni Thirteen. Please disengage.”

Fuming, she tore the cords and threw the radio to the ground, where it became bits of electronic uselessness. She keeled over to weep, let her misery rain down on Charlie. He was beaming. She knew what he wanted, what she would be remembered for. It had to happen now.

“I’ll do it,” she whispered, swallowing her tears.

She felt the bumps on her mid-section to make sure they were still in place, and waited. The Anurian ship came to a halt. Its surface lit up like a network of neurons. At its centre, a large gap formed to reveal a doorway into its dock. A star-shaped dot shot out into the void, resembling a firefly against the darkness with its fiery orange glow. It soared towards her capsule and out of her view. Then there was a clunk on the roof of her ship, and her head snapped in that direction.

She unholstered a small, square device from within her jacket as a sound of grating steel could be heard, as she knew the invader was materialising his way inside. His arms appeared through the adamantine material first, seamlessly entering like he was invisible, followed by the rest of his suit. And when he touched down on the ground, she slammed the ignition button. And three times more. But there was nothing, not a bluster. Her chest heaved in shock. Sweat coursed across her neck and forehead. She was done, a failure to Charlie.

Facing the Anurian, she could smell his strong, primordial musk. His heat. The sound of the tall Anurian’s growls set her to jittery legs, and she was looking into the tinted blackness of his helmet, his shimmery jumpsuit reflecting the collective glints of the stars from the window. He pressed something cold against her, sending a jolt up her spine akin to an electric shock.

She found herself on her back, lost of movement below her neck, being inspected with a torch. Finally, he had her secret. He trailed the length of the wire from the device to the inside of her shirt. Underneath, she was strapped with improvised explosives.

“Get away from me, you dog,” she was able to say on recovery.

Leaning forward, the Anurian flicked a switch on his wrist. “Human,” he started with a robotic stilt caused by an in-built translator, “you were warned several times not to cross our border. Clearly, with the evidence of your intent, you have come within distance of our vessel to deal harm. Who do you work for? Do you represent the Earth-based military?”

She spat at him. “Fuck you.”

“Answer the question.”

“This man sent me,” she said, turning her head towards her Charlie. “The souls of the millions killed in your genocide on my people–they sent me. Animal scum! We should have done away with you beasts a long time ago, before you had a chance to leave. Your place is in the fires of Orion.”

The figure remained quiet and clipped the wires with a modified razor to disarm the bombs, and scanned her for identification. Neon lines rippled over her infirmity. There was a beeping noise from his handheld liquid screen, signalling completion. He withdrew.

“Why don’t you just kill me while I’m at my weakest?” she taunted. “Isn’t that what you cowards do? Take me for a meal, dog. Be done. Add another to the death toll.”

“I won’t allow you the satisfaction of martyrdom,” he said.

“Then what? What are you going to do? If I get a chance, I’d kill you right where you are. You’re a coward.”

He brought up her personal record. “Alice Hedenberg, according to your profile, you have been condemned from your own world for right-wing activities, rendered stateless–”

“Propaganda.”

“–Therefore, by article twenty of Anurian law, you are to be subject to immediate punishment,” he said.

“Kill me, then, dog. Do it.”

“As per law, the method will be not execution but transformation.”

“No.” She lost her breath. “Let me die instead. Shoot me!”

The Anurian removed his helmet, and she began bawling at the very sight of his grimace. His long canine skull, enshrouded with a fleecy mass of grey hair, bulged forth a pair of sharp, sulphury eyes. He challenged her, sensed her fear, flaunted rows of peglike teeth, tasting her from afar.

She tried to reason as he came in, “Think about what you’re doing. W-what if I betray you? Just fucking kill me! I want to join my husband!”

“We’ll force you to see from our perspective,” he said, and he held her arm to his wet nose. “That is your punishment.” He took in her salt first, tongue to skin. When he nipped at her veins, even though there was no pain, she yowled her last rebellion.

“Resistance!” she shouted. “Resistance!”

Charlie was expressionless that moment, and she was sorry. There was no more strength to give, none to take. Alice stopped fighting.

~~

David Edward Nell is a fledgling spec-fic writer from Cape Town, South Africa. Visit him at http://davidedwardnell.blogspot.com

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Posted on December 28, 2012, in Issue 6: Big Bad Wolf in a Big Bad Universe and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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