The following is an entry in the Pod and Planet Fiction Contest YC118. A short story in the “Eight Thousand Suns in New Eden” category. Enjoy!
Sodden tissues slumped in snotty heaps around the ratty green upholstery, slowly drying into fibrous concrete. Blood soaked the carpet, and the splatters were already dry upon the wall-screen, distorting the idyllic scene it displayed. The room-bots, despite dexterous application of solvents, would have to escalate this one for operator attention before another guest could take up residence. The current occupant kicked through a pile of empty bottles, finally revealing the missing Minima heel, and slipped it on her delicate foot.
She couldn’t help but shudder as she took one last glance at the corpse slumped in the corner.
He was an unfortunate looking man, come to an unfortunate end, but his end assured her family’s continued survival. Would he be vaporized in the explosion, or would he drift forever, a shocked expression eternally frozen upon his rotund face? Either way, he would not miss the bit of bio matter sealed in her handbag.
It hadn’t been easy. It wasn’t difficult, practically speaking; training implants and physical conditioning ensured she was well prepared for the task, but it was difficult, nonetheless. Even knowing his death was necessary and well-deserved, she couldn’t escape the burden of wrongness. If only the appendage could be removed post-mortem, the whole thing would be so much less unpleasant.
She activated the beacon, and waited for a response.
The response was unmistakable. The habitation module shook as the first salvo of missiles penetrated the shields and tore away chunks of armor. Her ears popped from the pressure change, indicating the armor had passed two-thirds integrity and begun to allow atmosphere to escape. It was time. She opened the door, and peered into the hallway.
Exotic dancers and their clientele poured out of the casinos and escort booths, rushing for the escape pods on the periphery of the habitation module. Little did they know that their escape pods would shortly vaporize as the module self-destructed. A pale, sweaty, man nearly bowled her over as he burst out of a sauna and sprinted past her. His towel caught on a decorative plant, and he almost hesitated, but plunged on, naked and unashamed, or perhaps, for the first time, more terrified than prideful. She followed an opposing path, swimming upstream through the stream of guests and entertainers as she headed towards the utility compartments near the center of the habitation module.
The galley’s flickering lights revealed dozens of meals in varying states of preparedness. The floor was strewn with once-bright greens and juicy synth-meats, now trodden underfoot and churned into vomit by fleeing staff. The door to the walk-in refrigeration unit hung ajar, the yellow temperature warning light flashing balefully. Sous-bots stirred empty pots, or stood idly, waiting with mechanical patience for the next round of ingredients to arrive at their prep station.
The Rent-A-Dream Pleasure Gardens shuddered mercilessly now. A chill descended as the very structure of the resort collapsed, and escaping atmosphere exceeded the recycler and temperature management systems’ capacity to maintain equilibrium. The lights flickered one last time. The galley was plunged into sudden silent twilight as the ventilation system sighed to a halt, and only the emergency exit lights remained to shed their dim reddish glow upon the room. She envisioned plants in the once-lush paradise domes withering as the ambient temperature plunged from balmy to frigid in a matter of seconds, their once-delightful beaches warmed now only by the last vestiges of heat radiating from the sun-lamp baked sand. His face flashed before her mind’s eye too, but she ruthlessly forced it aside to focus on her escape.
The sound of the garbage ejection module’s warning klaxon dampened to a faint buzz as she closed the cargo container and braced herself against the back for the launch. Eight, seven, six, five, shudder, four, three, two, clunk, one, then sudden acceleration, followed by silence. Back became down under acceleration, then the sudden stomach-lurch of zero-g.
The cargo container clanged and lurched as the habitation module’s detonation flung debris. Something still wet and soft thudded into the corner, then slid away. She wondered if it were the unfortunate man in room L-4. None of it struck hard enough to damage her mobile shelter. Hopefully, her rescuer wasn’t too close to the explosion, or this cargo container might be her final resting place as carbon dioxide built up, and the trapped heat slowly radiated into the all-consuming void.
A sudden jarring impact, then blinding light. She put on her best “damsel in distress” smile as warm air rushed from the Tengu’s cargo hold, and spoke towards the camera probe. “Thank you for saving me! I thought I would be stuck here for the rest of my life. You can’t imagine how I feel right now. Now please get me out of this cargo capsule, I can barely breathe in here!”
Secure aboard the station, she delivered her gruesome package, showered, then proceeded to office S-4, where her father greeted her warmly.
“Well done, daughter. Kruul has already contacted me to rent another pleasure garden, Pend has deposited our insurance payment, and our client is satisfied that the evidence you acquired confirms the target’s satisfactory disposition. You’ve saved us!”
“And my promised reward?”
“Yes, of course. You’re sure?”
“Yes, I don’t want to remember this.”
“As you wish, thank you for making this sacrifice for our family.”
Darkness swooped in as the white-robed technicians completed preparations to erase her memories of the past 24 hours. She embraced the darkness, thankful to let those memories go, and secure in the knowledge that she’d preserved her family’s future, and would never have to endure this horror again.