Setting the Record Straight

short stories collection - a compilation of my short stories.

summary

The sun beat down and I raised my hand to cover my eyes. It had been days, weeks, maybe even years. Who knew? I surely didn’t. The dry sands whipped our faces, blurring our vision and making us believe we saw things. Water, chief among them. Haha, it’s funny how that most abundant always seems to be the end of us. You either drown in it or die from not having it. No one wins. Someone told me that they’d managed to survive a month without water. I don’t believe it, but guess I’m about to find out. We’d seen other things. Silver buildings that rose into the sky, it blinded us and as we got close, a sandstorm would appear and when it was gone, so was the house. It is incredible what you imagine when under stress…

A return to writing short stories, this one focuses on the surreal memories of two hapless 'heroes' and the mystery of whether they are reliving real memories or just someone's simulation.

The sun beat down and I raised my hand to cover my eyes. It had been days, weeks, maybe even years. Who knew? I surely didn’t. The dry sands whipped our faces, blurring our vision and making us believe we saw things. Water, chief among them. Haha, it’s funny how that most abundant always seems to be the end of us. You either drown in it or die from not having it. No one wins. Someone told me that they’d managed to survive a month without water. I don’t believe it, but guess I’m about to find out. We’d seen other things. Silver buildings that rose into the sky, it blinded us and as we got close, a sandstorm would appear and when it was gone, so was the house. It is incredible what you imagine when under stress…

Anyhow, this was no place for man. The suns burn. I’m growing tanner by the minute and there isn’t anything I can do. We didn’t have our suits. They normally protect us on hostile worlds like this one. They always had a slight glow, as if someone had turned up the exposure. Not sure why they were like that, but they weren’t even white, like the old space suits. They were an bright green. Horrible for camouflage. We rarely needed it and it wouldn’t help in this sweltering heat. We’d just be cooked inside. Several times I swear my skin sizzled. Little blobs of it bubbled up and plopped on the ground nearby. Not sure. When I patted myself, everything seems fine. Could be the hallucinations. Should have brought more water.

We were a couple days in and an interesting dune appeared ahead. It rose like a spire. Maybe it was made of rock. We hadn’t seen any rock. I looking to my right to give a signal to move toward the spire. I saw Juri walking with a slow limp. This isn’t place for a fat man either. He blundered about. At times he would swipe the air around him and other times would kneel in the sand. He would grab sand, sometimes, and bring it to his mouth. I’d have to run (let’s be honest, I was walking but it felt like a sprint) over and swap it out of his hand. He’d sometimes look up, confused. I never wasted time explaining things to him. He was long gone before I was. We continued to walk toward the spire. It seemed to retreat as we got nearer. I hope it’s not another illusion. Life’s cruel that way.

One might feel sorry for us. But in truth, I’d be laughing my ass of while eating popcorn to watch two fools like us try to do the impossible. You see, we knew this would happen. Well, not entirely. I might as well explain. To avoid confusion. Or misunderstandings.

We belonged to Chyll. She was one of the most esteemed cargo vessels in this region of the galaxy. From Xirxi to Jolk, we’d seen it all. Now, not to mislead, we were not exactly the most honest of cargo haulers. That didn’t pay enough to support the upgrades and massive crew she had. No, we made money on the side, searching the galaxy for lost treasures. Or goods. No people. Never mind, mostly goods. Thieves? That’d be a bit harsh. Bounty hunters? You might call us that. Smugglers? Sometimes, but that wouldn’t capture the essence of our…can’t find the word. A most direct example will suffice.

Some rich matron on Earth had lost some treasure. Or trinket. We were not entirely clear what it was. The captain just said to trust him. There was urgency to what he said, always. We obliged. However, a year past and nothing arose. Was found, mind you. As you can imagine, I prefer to get paid, rather than not. But we also crave…adventure? No, we’d had plenty of that visiting the hoodlums of the outer colonies or death traps of the inner worlds. Money? No, we had that as well. Plenty, in fact. We desired a goal, with a beginning and end. Obvious objectives. You know, a purpose. This past year was spent on a wild goose chase. I hate geese. That didn’t sit well with some of us, you see. Not my attitude toward geese (though some people were at odds with me over that), but the hunt. So we decided to something about it. By that I mean jump ship.

Now, it was nothing as dramatic. A Jok Granger-style action sequence with explosives going off as we roll down the hills of a foreign world with space chicks at the bottom, arms spread wide? No, we simply told the captain and he dropped us off at the nearest planet. Said good luck. Turns out we hadn’t read our contracts quite right. They had a (tiny) ‘mutiny’ clause as they called it. Says that if we ‘mutiny’ then we lose all claims to wealth earned and must forfeit our presence on the ship within a day. Well, forfeiting ship in-between star systems is…unpleasant. For obvious reasons. So our captain, being the gracious man that he is, waited till we arrived at this hell hole orbiting twin stars. Dumped us right out, he did. But where was I?

The desert. Unlike any I’d seen, in a while. It wasn’t just barren, but lifeless in every sense of the word. Not even small weeds grew. We’d put a couple water bottles and breathing masks in our packs before being dropped off. Good call. Unfortunately, years of endless water had left us unprepared. We’d finish it off within the first day. Luckily the nights were cool. Too cool. Freezing even. Every once in a while I would bury my hands in the sand and give a sigh of relief as they sucked away every last bit of warmth. The next day I would attempt to strip down and prevent myself from simultaneously burning to death and losing consciousness from water loss. Juri, the fat one (the only other one, pay attention), had lost some weight. He’d probably last longer than me, all the blubber does come in handy. But he was having a time of it. Occasionally he’d fall down. Then roll down a sand dune and settle at the button. It was kind of pathetic. Anyways, it’s best to tell a more cheerful story for the time being, until we find something…

We had decided to land on Jori (not Juri, that’d be funny). It was a populous world. With insane population density. Here was a world with 12 billion ‘people’ (aliens aren’t people, but I’ll count them in the tally since they waste space) on a ‘planet’ the size of the Moon (our Moon, i.e. the one orbiting earth). Imagine, every inch was occupied by skyscrapers, save some bizarre temple/plaza in the ‘capitol’. I’m not entirely sure how the whole thing stays together. They surely couldn’t have used the ‘planet’s’ (that looks awkward, doesn’t it?) resources to accomplish this. No, they had brought all the materials from a nearby world. A dying world. It’s surface was cracked and lava continuously shifted about, giving it the appearance of a radiant, shimmering jewel. Jewels, you know, we’d been to a planet with gorgeous jewels, really pretty things. They sparkled differently depending on the color of light that hit them…Anyways, the ‘planet’ itself had no strategic advantage and wasn’t at the crossroads of major trade routes. It was located in a system with a star like ours (the Sun…) along with two much smaller ones that orbited one another. It made for a spectacular sight. Hardly worth the effort of building such a massive city-planet on the edge of known space. I’d always wondered about that. Asked around a couple times, but never got a satisfactory answer. Like people were hiding something. Didn’t bother me much…

Several days into our journey, we realized that it was either me or him. Or at least, I realized that. But cannibalism would probably kill us both. Plus, that wasn’t really my style. Not that any kind of killing was, but…you understand. Anyways, we talked about it, whether one should go on and the other just stay behind. Wait for a rescue party. Seemed like a bad idea, so we took a vote. It lost 0-2. Hard to argue with a unanimous vote. So we proceeded to walk through the wastelands, occasionally seeing things shimmer in the distance. This place was rather boring. Wish I could fast forward life and just see where this life episode would end. Unfortunately, when recording one’s thoughts, you can’t just skip forward in the story. You could. Probably shouldn’t.

fyi, I turned off the recording several times, hence the, you know, time skips...Not sure why anyone would be listening to this, but time for another story. It’s how I keep myself sane…

“Get up Cintynce,” I heard someone say to me and opened my eyes. Bad move. I was immediately blinded and raised my hand to cover my eyes. Blinking, I looked around and started to adjust. Juri was to my right. He’d lost weight. Gaunt. I was momentarily confused.

“What’s going on?”

“Congratulations!” I heard someone say and looked to my left. There was a man, middle aged. With black hair. His eyes were blue and his suit matching. “We did a performance review and you passed. Psychological readings were normal during the recording. Juri and you are free to go; all charges in the murder of your crew have been dropped.”

“Which recording did you use?”

“The latest one on record. Unfortunately we have to wipe it afterwards. Protocol,” he responded, a slight hint of a smile crossing his face. Briefly. Then it went away.

“Okay,” I whispered, looking around once again. I didn’t setup recordings when I was little. Not that I remember. “Performance review?”

“We test a variety of psychological and physical responses to a stressful scenario,” he responded mechanically.

“Where was I?” I said, eyes narrowing. I vaguely remembered being in a hot place. Too hot. My tounge felt parched and I was craving salt. I’d never felt this before. Don’t remember being in a place like that.

“Can’t say, but you might have been there before,” he noted, his face carried the same expression. He was lying. Wasn’t sure, the world was still too bright.

“What was the name of my ship? You said I had a crew?” I inquired. The crew part was news to me. Never captained a ship. Or a vessel. To my knowledge, at least.

Ice. Do you not remember? The medications will wear off soon. Then you should be able to remember everything.”

“Everything?” I said with a hint of weariness.

“Except the most recent recording. Protocol,” he said again, his face vacant.

“Are you serious?” I exclaimed. He was getting on my nerves. One of those superior types. “What is going on here? Tell me!” I began to rise out of the bed. The man looked slightly distressed. I realized I was clutching a needle. Tightly. Don’t remember picking it up.

“Now, we’re going to put you back to sleep. Another performance review is needed. You understand,” he said. He leaned to his side and pressed down two buttons simultaneously. I started to protest but then felt my left and right arms start to chill. I looked to my right and saw Juri move his head slightly. Then something cold clamped onto my head and I felt a slight pressure. I momentarily blacked out. Then my eyes burst open to a new world.

My skin felt sticky and all around me the sounds of the jungle could be heard. To my right Juri, one of my crewmates, was hacking away at some underbrush, sweat rolled down his face and stained his shirt. He was a rather skinny man, anorexic even. We’d been out here for several days, wandering through this endless forest with no end in sight. It was a trap ridden environment. Quick sand. Solid ground that was actually a hole filled with water. Occasionally we ran across some exotic species, an ostrich-looking bird with fangs like a saber-toothed tiger. They would hiss and haw then scrape the ground several times before charging. Juri was quick. He would often lure them away from me. I’d grown fat and sluggish over the years. But I was a better shot and would hit them from behind while they attacked Juri. It seemed to draw more of them over, each time we killed one of their kin. No other choice. Hopefully we’d find safety before their numbers grew too large to handle.

Now, you must be feeling sorry for us. But in truth, we’d gotten ourselves into this scenario. You see, we had planned for this to happen. Well, not entirely. I might as well explain. To avoid confusion. Or misunderstandings…

-biafra

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©2006-2017 | biafra ahanonu | updated 19 june 2017
biafra ahanonu