Friday, March 16, 2007

Hayden Smith : Sardonic Space Cowboy

The following is short story I wrote for a contest. A piddling tiny contest that I'm sure to get a nice rejection letter from. But hey, it's the effort that counts goldurnit. It's actually a heavily heavily heavily modified excerpt from the latest novel I'm working on "Hayden Smith : Sardonic Space Cowboy". It's about a guy who works for The Beta Bank corporation. But only a few Earthlings even know that "They" are out there. "They" being space creatures and aliens and all that good pulp sci-fi stuff. It's kinda James Bond meets Men In Black crosses Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. Kind of. Except less mysterious, less funny, and less actiony. The worst of all possible worlds, really.

Anyhoo, hope you enjoy it.





Hayden Smith, Sardonic Space Cowboy

The bomb had a nice display: green and black with a thin blue border. Hayden wasn't positive -- alien languages were indecipherable, by definition -- but he suspected it was counting down to a very fatal explosion.
He breathed deep. Everything's cool."So that's the way it's going to be?"
"I know your type, Mr. Smith -- all swagger and guns --I don't care for it. Tell your employer to stop trying to collect. Oh, and I'm keeping the package."
"Let's be reasonable life forms, Mr. Xerk. Disarm the bomb and pay for that package. No need for anyone to get hurt." Hayden clenched his jaw. This was not a conversation for a luxury interstellar hotel: persuading a shady client to, if he could, refrain from blowing you both into messy bits of gristle.
Mr. Xerk grinned, revealing long silver fangs, distinctly Ghederian. His smooth demeanor, expensive suit, and finely coiffed hair, made it easy to forget.
"Oh, don't worry, you're the only one in harm's way. And you almost won't feel a thing."
Hayden put his hand to his revolver.
"I could just shoot out that porthole and blow us into space."
Mr. Xerk's grin faltered.
"You wouldn't... be so, reckless!"
"As an employee of the Beta Bank Corporation, of course not. As an Earthling, absolutely, bravado's in our blood." Hayden's heart hammered faster.
A thin trickle of sweat ran down Mr. Xerk's face. His eyes darted between gun and bomb as he walked back slowly.
Hayden patted his right pocket. It was still there, good. He narrowed his eyes. "You're not really going to blow that bomb, are you? They don't make these luxury rooms _that_ sturdy. Overpriced mini bar and tasteful decor do not a blast-proof room make."
"Oh, it's just a small biological weapon. It would be in your best interests if you left now, Mr. Smith." Mr. Xerk's gills flared. His holofront must've been low on power.
Hayden could either run or dispatch Mr. Xerk. He knew which would lead to continued employment at Beta Bank; and which would lead to crappier and crappier assignments -- if not outright death (the on-shift manager was given quite a bit of latitude).
The bomb beeped higher and higher.
As a general rule, Hayden was not a fan of things that beeped higher and higher. They tended to precede a Really Bad Event. A malfunctioning robot, a microwave on the fritz, a biological weapon about to release its payload.
Mr. Xerk gave him one last fang filled smile, and took out his detonator. Damn, thought Hayden, can't pay for goods, can't even wait for a timer to count down.
Hayden blew the air out of his lungs, drew his gun, and fired at the porthole. The weapon roared. The first few shots starred the glass, the fourth shattered it.
Rushing air filled the hotel room. Mr. Xerk was knocked off his feet and pulled towards the porthole, the empty cold of space clawing at him. He let out a hollow scream, his hands scrabbling at the walls and floor, and was sucked out.
Hayden holstered his weapon, and laid flat on the ground. He reached into his right pocket and clicked on the transponder. He had high hopes for his Bob. He was pretty sure he had trained him well enough, but Bob had his quirks. Unpredictable, near catastrophic, quirks.
Space finally pulled him out of the room. To the right (or to some direction, everything was relative) he could see the blaze of a young star. The hotel was renown for finding breathtaking astral sights. And this one was a doozy. If not for the view, then for the cosmic rays, ultraviolet radiation, and nasty particles that were bombarding him. It was going to be a short mission if Bob didn't save him. A very short mission.
A half second later his ship flew by, its cargo doors opened and pulled him in.
It was a small, just big enough for him and a passenger, with a cockpit at one end and a footlocker at the other. It was sparse compared to the exterior, which Hayden had fitted with fancy body panels, a few pinstripes, and a flaming skull.
It looked far better than it ran.
He stumbled to the cockpit, fell into the pilot's seat and hit a worn yellow button labelled "Emergency Medi-Ray". It dealt with all sorts of ailments. Right now, those would be hypothermia, radiation poisoning, and a wicked case of the bends.
"Well pardner, that went smooth didn't it?"
Hayden got up and shook his head. Of all the upgrades he bought, getting a western drawl for Bob was the most regrettable.
"The client was... reticent."
"Can't win 'em all y'know. Always will be a faster draw, a younger gun edging in on yer steer."
Hayden punched in the coordinates for Beta Bank, deciding to not fly there manually. Experience had taught him that maintaining course in the blankness of space for hours on end was dangerously boring.
The LightScream 9800 spun up, and with a low kachunk, he was off.

***

"And that's your entire report?"
"It's all there High Manager 2nd Class Skornt. The client refused to comply with contractual obligations, so I dispatched him."
"Vented him into space."
"Yes." Hayden hated debriefings. They was always a lawyer listening, to ensure Beta Bank was clear of liability. The interview was invariably hostile, with the not so subtle threat of a pink slip driving the entire discussion.
Skornt looked up from the report scrolling by on his flexiscreen. Hayden tried to decide which of the three eyes to focus on. In the Bank, there were no niceties such as holofronts. You just dealt with whoever was in front of you. Even if it was a purple, three eyed furry behemoth with a deep authoritative voice. At least they kept their Translators on, there would be alot of screaming and pointing otherwise. Well, _more_ screaming and pointing.
"So, what, you have another assignment for me? Or can I return to my humdrum existence on Earth until such a time as you folks need me?"
"I'm glad the Bank can add some modicum of excitement to your life, Mr. Smith."
"It's certainly not for the paycheck."
"The Bank is not in the habit of paying more than it has to. And you Earthlings, Xorn bless you all, work for surprisingly little. Oh, and it says here you're two demerit points from a pay cut. Now that would be exciting, wouldn't it?"
Hayden changed the subject. "Earth can be pretty boring. Especially since most everyone is still debating your existence."
"_My_ existence?"
"Oh, you know, the existence of all you... non-Earthlings."
"Ah, yes. Yes. What an odd quandary you earthling agents are in. Odd, and distinctly unprofitable to discuss." Skornt got up from his desk, and glanced meaningfully at the door.
"So... right." Hayden left.
The Bank, or at least the part of it he saw, was actually quite boring. Lots of metal and plastics all in brain numbingly dull colours: beige, whites, off-whites, eggshell, off-white eggshell. They even had carpet. Or something like it.
Hayden had never thought he would ever have to report to a suit in an office. He wasn't the type. But he supposed an office in an interstellar space station for a multi-galactic banking corporation wasn't as mundane as all that.

***

Humans were alarmingly stupid. As soon as you were sure they couldn't get any stupider, as soon as you established an appallingly low baseline of stupidity, they did something to lower it.
It was disconcerting.
Mr. Xerk , of course, had a ship ready to phase him away when he was blown into space. It wasn't cheap, particularly for an independent businessman such as himself. But he had planned for it.
He didn't really think the human would do it. It created a perfect getaway for Mr. Xerk: no body and death assumed. He could walk away free and clear from the unfortunate business with Beta Bank, and with his package obtained at... reduced prices.
It was everything to Mr. Xerk. But for Beta Bank it was a bauble, nothing. But they were sticklers for rules: unpaid goods and loans had to be collected. Which was why they sent the cannon-fodder human after him.
Mr. Xerk poured himself a drink -- the sort one avoids before operating heavy machinery or high calibre weapons -- and leaned back in his chair. It was a nice chair, high-backed and covered with the leather of a recently extinct animal.
He unwrapped the package, slowly. It was an answer to a few of his more pressing... business issues.
The contents unwrapped, he blinked.
His drink clattered to the floor.

***

Crap, thought Hayden. He had forgotten to return Beta Bank's package. Double crap, he had also forgotten to retrieve his favourite Knight Rider lunch box he had used as a decoy. It was likely floating out in space, with the late Mr. Xerk.
Despite all the danger and bad treatment, he still loved his job. He really thought he was getting the hang of the whole space agent thing. And then he had to do something like this. A vain hope that this slip up wouldn't result in demerits crossed his mind, which reality shot down remorselessly.
Oh well, he thought, it was too late to do anything about it now. He'd return it after the show, one of the many westerns he loved. Where the gunslingers were quick, the women quicker, and death was rode on lead and fire.
A whiff of charred something wafted into his house. The neighbour was once again barbecuing mystery meat. Oswald was an annoying neighbour. The worst was that he was also nosy and had 911 on speed dial. Hayden could almost forgive Oswald's use of a bath robe, black socks and flip flops as suitable daily wear. But a neighbour on first name basis with the 911 operator was the worst sort for a Beta Bank agent.
Not that things happened in Hayden's neighbourhood. But if he slipped up once, he knew he'd have half the towns emergency response at his door. And if there was evidence of him with anything that linked to Beta Bank, there went his job.

***

Backwaters irked Mr. Xerk. He had been to the dune filled copper mine world of Rso, the barren moons of Eodm, and even the garbage planet Zephyr Regis 49. But the outer reaches of space where the inhabitants thought your existence was 'quaint' and 'pure fantasy' was the worst kind of wasteland.
He almost cursed his foresight in tagging the human. But he did need that package. Clients were so much harder to gouge when you didn't have their life-saving medicine. People could be quite cavalier about money when the spectre of death was at the door.

***

"I'm telling you Gladys, that man. That man doesn't look right at all." Oswald was agitated. It was one of those bouts when the 911 speed-dial was most likely to be hit. Repeatedly.
Gladys was sure the good folks at the Emergency Response Unit had long blocked their number. "Nonsense Oswald, and put on some shoes, for crying out loud, it's 4pm. "
Oswald waved her off.
"That boy. That boy. I know he served our country. But sometimes they come back not right in the head. He could be," his voice dropped to hoarse whisper, "a drug dealer!"
"Just step away from the window Oswald, you're dangerously near my daily quota for embarassment."

***

Hayden still had his gun on. It made him look like a war vet weirdo, but it made his movie marathons more authentic. The movie was getting to the good bit. Where the unshaven, ugly criminal faced the ruggedly handsome but in the end good-hearted outlaw. Hayden held his breath.
A flicker across the street caught his eye, it was Oswald's curtains. With Oswald it could be anything, but was most likely nothing.
A sound came from the door. He glanced over. The handle was turning slowly, which was odd -- it had been stuck for years. Which was why he used the backdoor (which in turn was one of the many reasons Oswald distrusted shim).
Hayden closed the curtains, and drew his gun. The door openly soundlessly.

***

Mr. Xerk reached into his suit coat and pulled out a massive handgun. It was almost too large to be real, and it wasn't, after a fashion. It was a ray gun.
He could just as well incinerate the entire house. But that might arise suspicion. And besides being a heavy blow to the local rodent population, it was unlikely his package would survive.
The Ghederian walked slowly into the house. Slowly, upright, so as not to arise suspicion.

***

Hayden hid in his crawl-space watching Mr. Xerk. That was one huge ray-gun.
Aliens with long fangs were one thing. Aliens with long fangs and over-sized rays guns who came back from the dead were worse.
Hayden swore under his breath.
It was one thing to blow this guy away. It was another to blow him away and avoid suspicion.

***

"Looks like Mr. Smith has a visitor."
Gladys ignored him, and focussed even harder on her crossword. "English; Achtung! What on god's green earth could that be?"
"You know, unlike you Oswald, some people do have friends come and visit."
Oswald picked up his phone, his finger poised over the well worn key for 911.
"Quiet woman. You think I do this for my own health? It's for my family's protection. For the good of the neighbourhood."
"Our family, consists of us and two old, mildly senile cats. It's hardly worth the eternal vigilance Oswald."
Oswald only turned back to the house. It had gone quiet.
"Oh, danger. One word, Achtung! Right."

***

"Why don't you come out and show me where the package is. I don't hold any grudges."
"A Ghederian who doesn't hold a grudge? Please."
Mr. Xerk spun and fired. A soft beow sound betrayed the gun's deadliness, its ray cut a grapefruit-sized hole through three walls.
"That's just no way to start a peaceful negotiation is it?"
Hayden liked his home. He liked his home better without the ray gun burns and a bloodthirsty Ghederian in it. Unfortunately, he liked it even more when it wasn't surrounded by a S.W.A.T. team informing him to "Come out with his hands up."
He fingered the trigger. Ray guns were surprisingly quiet. But Oswald wasn't going to miss the repeat of Hayden's revolver.
He kept inching his way in the crawlspace, and dropped out of a hidden ceiling hatch behind Mr. Xerk. He put his gun against the back of Mr. Xerk's head, and pulled back the hammer with a solid click.
"Drop the toy gun."
Mr. Xerk dropped the weapon, it landed ground with a heavy thud. He chuckled.
"Oh we were just having a misunderstanding. I was just startled by your voice, so I shot. Please, lower that... weapon, and we can finish this like civilized life forms. After all, I'm sure you are not allowed to be found anywhere on Earth with a strange exotic alien in your home. Certainly your government has rules against this sort of thing. At the very least, your employer."
Hayden became a professional solider to avoid these sorts of quandaries. They made his trigger finger itch. He knew Oswald was waiting for even the slightest hint of trouble...
There was really only one option. He clubbed Mr. Xerk with the butt of gun, and the alien crumpled. Hayden shot twice at the ground.
And waited.
The sound of sirens sounded off, a few blocks away. Hayden got his escape hatch ready. A hidden narrow passage that went under the house thirty feet to a capsule launch pad, which would bring him to his ship.
He rummaged through his kitchen drawer, brought out a small spray canister labelled WAKE THE DEAD! He emptied the bullets from his revolver and placed it in Mr. Xerk's empty ray gun holster. He then gave the Ghederian a good spray, and slipped down into his passage.

***

Mr. Xerk woke with a snort.
There were so humans outside. He had never seen so many but would be damned if they would order him around. He felt for the lump in his coat pocket. This would be short work.
He strolled out, a smile on his face, the siren lights flashing across his bared fangs. A few of the officers gasped. The triggers of all fifteen weapons got itchier.
Mr. Xerk drew fast and aimed a weapon that was not a ray gun at the large armored car.
The S.W.A.T. team opened fire.

***

Skornt looked up slowly from his desk. Agent Smith looked a bit more spent than usual. Skornt put all three eyes back to his flexiscreen.
"Forget something, did you?."
"Yeah, well, I . Yeah."
Hayden handed over the parcel. Skornt brought out a small scanner and scanned it, without taking his eyes off his flexiscreen. He stopped for a second to check the scanner readings, then took the package, and shoved it in a large metal chute labelled "Incinerator".
"Thank you. And one more demerit for your permanent records. You're on.. thin ice, I think is the phrase."
Hayden groaned, and slinked back to his ship.

7 comments:

andrea said...

AARGHMPHT! Curse you Sci-Fi authors and your cramped consonants! That being purged…Way to go Jason! Keep up the good work...So, can you submit more than one story for entry? Cuz here’s what I’m thinking: both this one and "One Over, Three Down" have a good chance. Biased? Me? Okay, I have a particular attachment to your previously posted story, but I think both of these would make for good submissions :P Kay, Massive Positive Energy Support Frequencies (MPESF's - I live for acronyms) aimed your way!

Niteowl said...

What's a cramped consonant?!

Oh, yeah, I can't really submit One Over, Three Down because that's technically Urban Fantasy. They want sci-fi only.

Thanks for the MPESF!

The Nighthawk said...

Dude. Loved. It. !.

Grace said...

Great! Now I want to know what happens next... Good luck!

Niteowl said...

Actually, there is only a very small portion of this in the novel I'm working on. Like I said, it's been really edited and rewritten to be a short story. So I hope you're not looking forward to more trials and tribulations of Oswald (who isn't in the novel), or Mr. Xerk (who has a cameo).

On the other hand, there are a bevy of other characters who are hopefully interesting. So far, my usual method of intimidation and harsh interrogation have yet to yield much of a story line from them. They are a reticent group! Tell me your stories dangit!

Funka! said...

loved it!
want more!
please provide!

niftyfish said...

I stumbled upon this today, and I am extremely pleased that this is what I found. This is quite good. I can't wait to read more!