So a while ago I kind of made up this solar system in my head where people have rayguns and flying saucers and are unhappy a lot of the time despite this, except for this little flying saucer crew of goodfornothings who kind of wander from asteroid to asteroid avoiding the cops and being anarchists and mostly making mistakes; and I thought I might put up one of the stories about them that I wrote. This one is in three parts. Here is part 1.
Trees lined the edge of the valley basin for as far as the eye could see.
The basin was so large that if you were to stand within a kilometre radius of its central point, you would not be able to see any of its edges without a decent pair of binoculars. There was no real river running through the valley, it was a man-made depression: when the Edward Moon had first been colonised it had been mined extensively, but now the vast quarries the machines had created had been abandoned. Every piece of machinery that even vaguely worked had been shipped out to other, more profitable worlds and every machine that didn’t had been salvaged and vultured until every last scrap of metal, every last trace of civilization, had left the valley. Over the years it had been coated with the same layer upon layer of dust and sand that covered everything else on the Edward Moon. Intrepid shrubs had sprung up, encouraged by slow-running creeks that cut tiny scars along the valleys edge. The hungry deer followed the creeks, and the hungry fleas followed the deer, and the hungry little thunder lizards smelt the fleas and heard them chatter and followed them in the hope of deer meat, and the hungry big thunder lizards followed the tracks and scatological trail that little thunder lizards leave, and so the valley was gradually populated with life.
This was what had drawn Tolc to the tree line, and he perched between two trees, gazing intentlyinto the long sights of his raygun-rifle. The sights were pretty poor, and blurred much closer than they should have done, but he could see the herd of deer slowly moving toward a watering hole. This was, in fact, what had drawn Tolc to Edward Moon in the first place, and out of hiding on Venerability, where right now his flying saucer the Edom B-52 and its two crewmembers were dwelling in a cave.
“Here’s the thing,” had said Piper, stroking his moustache thoughtfully, “here’s the situation, man. We know there’s enough Navy ships in orbit around Venerability to give us, like, a really long chase. I’m not saying – I’m not saying we can’t unrun ‘em though. In fact, I’m more or less pretty sure we can. What with the engine modded out like it is, and what with the amount of fuel we managed to steal on our last job, I’m pretty sure we can make it to Outrim. Maybe park on Quattro Moon.”
There was a dark pause in which Bailey and Tolc realised that they knew something Piper did not.
“You’re wrong,” said Bailey, finally.
“I’m telling you, she can do it, man.”
“It’s not the engines,” said Tolc. “It’s the supplies. We’d’ve starved to death before we’d spun a third of that flight.” Bailey nodded without looking up from rolling her cigarette, and said, “Sad fact is, boys, we’re gonna have to wait for a gravity channel, spin out on the Winter Canal. Live through the autumn on what provisions we have, maybe do some oddjobs in the town, and then take the Canal up to Alter and stock up proper there before hitting Outrim.” Bailey, for all of her aloofness, sounded like she was about to cry. Piper, on the other hand, actually did start to cry.
“Here? The whole fuckin autumn?” he said, slow teardrops tearing trails of peachpink through the dirt on his cheeks.
Venerability was, by anyone’s standards, a shit hole. An unfortunate orbital path combined with a faulty terraformation process had resulted in an endless desert of mud that covered most of the planet, preventing any proper cities from springing up. What’s more, a whole flock of Navy ships were permanently stationed there: a now obsolete garrison had been set up during the war and no-one had bothered to dismantle it.
“I’ve got a plan,” said Tolc. “It’s stupid – and I might get killed, basically. But on the other hand, I might be able to get us the food we need.”
“Fucking do it then,” said Piper.
Tolc was a little put out.
“I mean, you guys could come too, but the shuttle only fits one, and if we were to take the saucer then the Navy would see it,” he said, as if Piper had hesitated, but again, Piper did not hesitate.
“So you go,” said Piper. Bailey laughed. Everyone had tears on their cheeks.
“Ok,” said Tolc, “Alright. I’ll take the shuttle. I’m going hunting.”
It was the right time of the month for it. The Edward Moon was in sunlight, not the weird psuedolight that strained your eyes and made you feel like you were never quite awake enough. How anyone lived the whole year round on a moon was beyond Tolc’s reasoning.
Still, he didn’t have long. What with these dodgy sights, hunting was going to be difficult enough without having to deal with pseudolight. Maybe four days if he was lucky, Tolc thought. Not too good on working that kind of thing out. Never really had time for it. If you’re gonna make landfall, you make landfall, or moonfall, or whatever, and you concentrate on getting out of space and getting on dry land, not on the clock, and the calendar. Mostly, you concentrate on avoiding Navy rocketships, to be honest.
Deer have an extraordinary sense of intuition. All herd animals are at least partially telepathic, able to transmit sensual and intellectual information through metaphysical communication, and as such, there is always a chance that a deer will telepathically sense the sights of a rifle being trained upon her. But the herd mentality relies on several deer becoming aware of this sensation before any action is taken. This is the brief window of opportunity that a hunter has in which to make their wounding shot: the moment before the tipping point, when the deer are bristling and static, attempting to calculate and assess their situation, just before they realise it is in their best interest to run manically in all directions other than up and down. Realising that this moment was upon him, Tolc squeezed the trigger.
There was a disappointing pop and hiss, like a beercan being opened. What there wasn’t was a heat-ray shooting a perfect cherrypit-sized cylinder out of the doe. Tolc grunted in dissatisfaction as the herd scattered but he didn’t really have time to get disappointed because there was a moonman burrowing a shotgun into the small of his back.
“You wan’ know why that di’n’t work?” said the moonman, sounding like he was chewing something.
“You froze up the shooter.” said Tolc, genuinely impressed. “You used to be a soldier, didn’t you?”
“Either you was a soldier yourself, or yer a thief, to have yourself a fancy weapon like that,” said the moonman.
Tolc smiled. “I’m a thief,” he said, warmly, “but on this particular occasion, I do not happen to be stealing from you, so as such I’d be most grateful, most extremely grateful, if you’d not blow a hole in me,” he said, and, trying his hardest to maintain some joviality, “and I’d also quite like it if you removed that shotgun from where you have placed it, as it’s making me somewhat uncomfortable,” he said and thought he might as well carry on, “and while we’re on the subject, I wouldn’t be at all displeased if you was to unfreeze my raygun so I can shoot one of those deer,” he said, and then, as an afterthought, “but to be honest, both of my latter requests are utterly secondary to my first one.”
“I reasoned,” said the moonman, “that you’d have no cause to mind if I kept my shotgun jus’ where it is and left yer shooter all fucked to shit an’ all, if I was to go through with blowin’ yer fuckin’ spine apart.” A foot in a dirty white training shoe struck Tolc viciously in the pit of his knee and knocked him to the ground just as a denim clad knee sunk into his lower back, sending him sprawling forward even as he fell. “The matter being,” said the moonman, who Tolc could now see wore a suede jacket and had long hennaed hair, standing out dramatically against the wan, muddy skin of a moonman, “that when you tell me you ain’t stealin’ from me and mine well, that’s where you’re mistaken. These deer are what we live on round here and we don’t much care for spacefolk and greyfuckers killing ‘em.”
“You were a soldier,” said Tolc. “You were a good soldier too, to sneak up on me like that. I’m not known for being easy to fool.”
“Is that right?” said the moonman and he sneered. “Are you known for trying to change the subject?”
“War’s over now, though. And you’re stuck on some damned moon in the arseend of nowhere, sneaking up on starving men.”
“What’s more,” said the moonman, “I’m killing ‘em, takin’ their stuff, and overall living my life to its utmost.” He lifted the shotgun to shoulder height. “Don’t bother sayin’ no prayers now. This here is a godforsaken spot.”