Although the air is hotter than blazes as we twist and turn through the canyon lands, I've never felt freer in my life. Wil maneuvers the speeder almost as if it's part of his body. He winds and swoops through the craggy hoodoos as deftly as the birds and bats that inhabit this wilderness. As we sway through the rocks it's easy to forget the reason we're doing this is for him to ultimately leave me. A pain stabs through my chest and the reality hits home. My best friend is going to leave me.
The speeder comes to an abrupt halt and lands in a shady spot between rock formations. Wil gets off the speeder and stares me in eyes. "I'm gonna not do it."
I take my goggles off and wipe my face. "What the hell? You were running as good as I've ever seen you."
"I know, but I'm not leaving ... you."
My heart rips and tears. I give him a playful shove and try my best to put a smile on. "You're gonna do great out there."
"Damn it, Piper. I love you. I..."
A familiar noise catches my attention. I turn away from him and focus in on the faint sound with my augmented ear. Oh. Crap.
"Wil, we have to go. Now!"
"Piper, I'm serious."
"I am too. Sounds like a few Barchetta class speeders heading this way. No one in this district could even afford to look at these much less buy one, except one person."
He narrows his eyes. "I don't hear a thing."
I tap my ear indicating the augmentation and his eyes get wide in acknowledgment. He hops on the speeder and I follow. The speeder hurls through the air. I'm usually one for thrilling rides, but this even pushes my limits.
"How far off are they?" Will asks.
I turn around. It doesn't take my augmented eye to see that our pursuers are closing the gap. "They're only a few hundred meters away."
"Hold on, darlin'."
I can hardly get my breath as Wil dips into a narrow canyon.
Intent on the maze in front of him he shouts, "This is one of my old training routes. I can out maneuver them in here."
The pursuers follow in the canyon. One of them bounces off the wall and plummets to the bottom, but there are still four more behind us. I swing to the front and grab Wil around the middle.
He yells, "I'm going to have to take it up a notch."
The canyon walls pass so quickly I can barely comprehend. Up ahead there is towering hoodoo, but Wil isn't slowing down.
"Uh, Wil, there's a big rock tower up there. Maybe you should slow it up a little?" He continues at the same rate without acknowledgment of what I said. "Wil? Buddy?"
The air escapes my lungs in a scream as we veer away from the rock structure with only centimeters to spare. Wil climbs out of the canyon as two of the speeders crash into the hoodoo and fall to the bottom.
Wil yells, "Hold on. This is gonna get real bumpy."
He dips back down into the canyon. Hot on our tail, one of the speeders gives us a bump. Wil holds the throttle down and nudges into the canyon wall loosening the earth. Rocks careen into the other drivers and they sink to the bottom. Before I can process what's happened to them, our speeder comes to an abrupt halt. My stomach sinks as we start our hasty descent to the canyon floor.
"Hold on, I think one of the rocks took out our motor. I'm going to try and glide down."
"What do you mean try?"
I'm answered with only silence as the canyon floor grows closer and closer. I squeeze my eyes shut and within seconds I'm greeted by jarring force to my body. I slowly open my eyes and see Corliss' thugs a few meters behind us under piles of rubble. In front of our speeder Wil is cursing and pacing.
"What the hell? I thought you said no one would be the wiser," He paces as grumbles, "So much for running my trial." He kicks the speeder and from the small storage compartment tumbles bags filled with rainbow colored crystals.
I kneel down and examine the bag with my spectroscope embedded in my eye. Air involuntarily leaves my lungs. "Oh. Crap. This is Spike."
Wil stops pacing. "Are you sayin' your momma is running illegal shit now too?"
"Wouldn't surprise me even a little."
"Great! Which means that even more of your momma's hired hands will be right behind these guys. Our speeder is busted, no way we can get outta here. We're screwed."
I kneel down to assess the damage. Not too serious really. Then I look down at my chronotile. "Here's the plan. I think I can make a go of our speeder with parts that I salvage from the goon squad's. If we're really lucky they may even have a weapon or two we can pilfer. If I start now we can just make it to your trial." He starts to interrupt but I hold up my hand in protest. "Listen, if we get to time trials the place will be crawling with agents. If someone tries to take us down, there will definitely be an intervention. We need to work quick before anyone realizes those jokers are missing."
The sand crunches beneath our feet and the air feels a bit like the blast furnaces they use to smelt the ore.
Wil breaks the silence between the two of us. "Do you mind tellin' me what you have in mind?" He looks down at the chronotile on his wrist and says, "My time slot for the race is in four hours. You've been tellin' me for days you have a plan."
I keep walking as I say, "Four hours, we got plenty of time. Anyways, we're nearly there."
Wil stops and looks me in eyes. "Nearly where? What in the hell is the plan?"
I take him by the shoulders and him point toward the lush terraformed landscape that lay ahead.
His eyes go wide. "Pipe have you gone and lost your damn mind?"
I can't help but smile at his concerned look. "Can you just trust me?"
"I trust you more than anyone I know, but you're gonna get yourself killed. I know she's your momma, but truly Piper this is crazy." He turns away from Corliss' land and starts back the way we came. He throws up his hands. "Damn, you made me think I actually had a chance."
I grab his arm and he spins to face me. "Listen. I wouldn't take any unnecessary risks." He screws up his face and I continue ignoring him. "Today is elixir making day. Due to the volatility of the process she doesn't dare do it on her precious terraformed land. AND her security goons are all there with her so no one tries to steal it. She doesn't store anything of worth here which is why she mainly relies on her reputation to keep people away. Disarming all her security measures is a cinch," I say patting the bag I have hanging to my side. "Who do you think set it up for her?"
"Which is why she'll know exactly who took the speeder."
"She won't even know it's gone. They won't be back until tomorrow morning. It takes her all day and through the night to whip up a batch of elixir. Seriously, Wil, the longer we stand around here fighting about it, the less time we have to get to your test."
He sets his jaw and paces. The hot air whirls around us blasting sand in my face. I set the goggles on my head on my eyes in response. I silently hold up my hands in questioning. Wil sighs and grunts, "Fine, I trust you. I guess."
"That's the spirit!"
After a few more minutes of walking we're finally at the border of her property. There is a stark contrast between the red dust and rock on one side and the verdant rolling hills of Corliss' lawn on the other. A spherical metallic drone hovers silently. I hold my hand up for Wil to stop at the boundary, then I fumble around in my bag until my hand happens on a slender card. I wave it at the drone and it trills and beeps then turns green.
"Benefits of being kin. I can come in without the drone killin' me."
"What a loving mother you have. Now, she'll definitely know something's up."
"I'll just say I came to discuss some business with her and forgot what day it was. She'll be suspicious, to be sure, but if she can't find nothin' amiss then she won't do anything."
We continue our journey through Corliss' lawn. The constant sandblasting from the wind and dirt has been replaced by gentle tickles of grass at my leg. As I take in the rolling hills and beautiful house and barn, I think of how easily this could be mine. I could work for mamma and when she dies this would all be mine. No one would blame me. Not like there are any other options for me. It may come to pass, but not without a fight.
Face to face with the red barn trimmed in white, I turn to the security panel and lift my goggles. I give it a scan with my enhanced eye and with it I can see the fingerprints left on the number panel. "Amateur hour," I say as I key in the code.
The panel beeps and clicks. Wil starts in and I hold up my hand then dig in my pack and produce a small black tablet that fits in the palm of my hand. I make a few swipes. "Okay, coast is clear now. I disabled her cameras in here."
Inside, the barn lights up as we enter. It's a large clean space that is neatly maintained. The speeders are right in front of us and we both rush to the beautiful pieces of machinery. Wil emits a low whistle as he circles the sleek red speeder. The curves of its body are almost wasp-like. A whole year of my earnings wouldn't come close to even touching the price of this.
"Let's see what you got," I say to Wil.
He jumps on the speeder with the biggest smile I've seen him don since I've ever known him. He cocks his head toward the back of the speeder and I eagerly get on and hold on to him tight.
"I may go down for stealin' this rig, but we're gonna have a hell of a lot of fun doin' it."
Without another word we're off.
They call our planet Bounty, but the stark red dust and rock covered surface is far from a bounty. That is unless dust, rock, and blazing temperatures are your idea of a good time. Naming the planet Bounty was more of a way to draw in settlers looking for jobs. The entirety of the planet looks the same, there is no escape, except for one place: Corliss Scot's palatial residence.
Corliss made a name for herself about fifteen years ago when she made an extremely addictive elixir that eased all the miners' inevitable woes from years of mining poisonous ore. After years of experiencing debilitating headaches and breathing issues the miners would take anything claiming to alleviate their symptoms. Corliss was and is a heartless bitch who knew exactly what she was doing. With all that money, she was able to terraform a few acres of rolling green hills. In the middle of the lush green hills she built a white farm house with a wrap-around porch. The resources it took to build the house and keep the acreage green were all a monument to her pervasiveness in this little town.
On the porch, an unassuming heavyset woman in her fifties with graying ginger hair sips at a glass with amber liquid. "C'mon up here and join me for a beverage."
I put my hands on my hips and stay right where I am. "What do you want, Corliss?"
"Is that how you talk to your mother?"
"Okay, what do you want ... mother?"
She knits her eyebrows and grumbles. "Always the smartass. I have a few things I want to talk to you about."
There's no use arguing, she always gets her way. I tromp up the stairs and flop in the rocking chair next to her. To the side of me there is a bottle filled with the same amber liquid she's drinking. I take the bottle and fill and empty glass half full then take a sip. My muscles relax and I ease into the chair and take another sip.
Corliss smiles at me. "Got that stuff from the Core Planets. We're starting to make a name for ourselves here. They can't live without this here ore we mine. Makes the ships, the computers, everything. The Consortium has taken advantage of us for far too long and I'm gonna change that. I'm gettin' old and I need your help."
My muscles tense up again and sigh, "Good lord, mamma, not this again. It doesn't really matter who's screwing us we're still getting screwed. The only difference between you and the Consortium is that the Consortium has more resources. You're just another piece of red tape the people have to go through to get their stuff."
She slams down her glass and glares at me for what feels like minutes. She slows her breathing and clinches her jaw then nods slowly. "Always the ingrate after everything I have done for you."
"What the hell you talkin' about? These?" I ask pointing at my implants. "In case you haven't heard, these black market pieces of crap make it impossible for me to ever leave this planet."
She bolts up and starts to pace on the porch. I get up from my seat to watch her performance. She silently paces for a few more seconds and stops so she's within arm’s length of me. Her lip quivers as she speaks, "What was I supposed to do? Me and your daddy didn't know about all the genetic mutations the ore could pass on, if we did..." She caresses my face. She continues, lip still quivering now this time with a tear, "No, I wouldn't change a thing you were the best thing that's happened to me, baby girl."
I roll my eyes. "Spare me. You and I know the Consortium was giving out implants to all who qualified."
Her quivering lip disappears and her tears remarkably dry up on command. Her mouth twists into a wry smile. "You are a smart one." She goes back to her chair and gulps down the last of her whiskey then points at me. "What you have implanted beats anything the Consortium would've given a poor Outer Rim resident."
I lean on the railing and say, "And we both know that made my options for employment either working for you or myself, because any Consortium owned business, like the mine, would never hire me. But you didn't ask me here to argue about my implants. What do you want?"
She pours herself another glass of whiskey and takes a sip. "I already told ya. I need a successor. You're smart. You don't take anyone's shit and I trust you or at least I distrust you the least. We both know that shop of yours ain't gonna take off unless I say it will."
She's right, but I'm not going to let her know that. "Well, Corliss, I'm going to have to decline your offer for now."
She chuckles. "You're full of piss and vinegar, but that's what I like about ya."
I make my way down the stairs and off to my right I notice a transport full of speeders being delivered to barn a few hundred meters from the house. "Nice speeders."
She stands on the porch and nods. "Yeah, just got 'em in. Top of the line, Barchetta Class. Fully calibrated inertial dampeners and hover assist, say the word and one can be yours." I toss around the possibilities. I could join her and let Wil borrow my brand new speeder. He'd definitely qualify with a sweet piece of machinery like that. Knowing the things my mother has done and what I'd be expected to do, I can't do it.
I shake my head. "No, thanks, Corliss. I think I'll make a go of it on my own."
"Have it your way. You still owe me your dues next week. You don't get no special considerations."
"Wouldn't have it any other way."
I sidle back to my shop with a plan in mind.
No one comes to the Outer Rim. Most of the planets here are barren dust bowls barely able to sustain life. The only thing the Consortium deems us remotely worthy for is mining their precious ore. In fairness, even those of us born on these planets don't really want to be here. Which is why I could hardly believe my bionic ear when I heard the Consortium's announcement they would be here, on Bounty, the absolute crappiest of the Outer Rim planets.
A woman in a crisp blue and silver uniform and blonde hair in a neat chignon is displayed on my holo-hover over my workbench. "Do you want to make a difference in the galaxy? Do you want to do hunt outlaws? Come to Bounty on Universal Day 45 at 0900 and run our course with your speeder bike to see if you have what it takes to become an Agent of the Consortium. Remember only citizens with authorized bio-augmentations can apply. Bio-hacking is not only a bad idea, it's against the law."
With all my augmentations, I don't have a chance of leaving this hole, but there is still hope for some of us. As if on queue, the door to my shop opens and a tall lanky man with a mess of thick brown hair saunters in. His bright white smile stands out from his soot covered body. He leans over the workbench and tries to sneak a kiss. I push back from him and feign disgust.
"Ew, don't touch me with that ore covered face of yours. Go wash up."
His blue eyes sparkle and he nods his head. "Whatever you say, darlin'."
As he saunters to the bathroom I ask, "Did you see the latest announcement from the Consortium?" I get up from my bench and get closer to the bathroom so he can hear me. "Looks like the they're recruiting here in a few days. You should go and tryout. You can run circles around anyone with a speeder."
The water in the bathroom turns off and he emerges. His face is now his normal pasty white hue from too much time spent in the dark tunnels mining ore.
He chuckles and closes the door, "I think you're forgetting one important thing. I don't have a speeder."
As a teen, Wil was somewhat of a celebrity on the amateur speeder racing circuits. But racing didn't pay the bills, mining did. With increased responsibility at the mine came less time to play. When his dad fell ill a few years back, he sold his speeder to pay the medical costs. That's when Wil gave up all hope of leaving this place.
I flourish my hand around the shop. "Are you saying that your bestest pal in the world couldn't cobble together something among this heap?" I kick an old boxy speeder bike in front of me, "This one belongs to Renee Helton. I'm sure she'd let you borrow it. Anything to get one of our own out of this dump."
He sits at a workbench and starts to tinker with a motor to avoid my gaze. "Piper, I'm too old to tryout. I'm a good five years older than everyone in the Agent training camps. Eh, I got a good job at the mine." He lets out a wet cough and I hand him a shop rag. He dabs away the crimson staining his lips and I give him a stern look. "Ain't nothing but a little ore irritation. It'll go away soon."
"Yeah and so will the rest of your lungs. Don't be stupid, this is your ticket out of here."
He sighs, "I'm out of practice with racing speeders. I think my time has passed."
I cross my arms in front of me and set my jaw. "Some of us had the choice of leaving this place taken away from us a long time ago," I say as I point to my eye and ear implants, "But, Wil, you're the best of all of us. You maneuver speeders like no other. Dude, if you don't at least try, I'm never sleeping with you again." He stops tinkering and looks up at me dumbfounded. I sit in his lap. "Okay you know that's an idle threat. But what do you have to lose? Worst case, you'll get to do a speeder course for old time's sake. See if you still got it."
Before he can answer the door to my shop open and two burly men come in. The smaller of the two men grumbles, "Boss lady wants to see you right away, Piper."
I roll my eyes. "Tell her I have three more days before I have to pay my dues."
The bigger of the two men grabs my upper arm and says, "We ain't askin'."
Wil scrambles from his seat, but I raise my hand for him to stand down. "It's okay. She ain't gonna do nothing. She's just messing with me." I look to the big man. "Let's go. I got work to do here." I look back to Wil. "You gonna sign up?"
He gives his disarming half smile and rubs a hand through his hair. "I guess I got no choice. Do I?"
"Guess not." I wrestle my arm free from the big man. "Let's go see the boss lady. I can only guess what the old woman wants now."
You guys! I'm super excited to be a part of Thrilling Adventure Yarns 2021! Last time our project was backed at 248% of our goal and we're back at it again. My story is an other adventure for Molly Maloy during the Great Earthquake of 1906 in San Francisco. She meets up with some old friends and foes, and the clock is ticking for her to save the day. Below is an excerpt of the story. If you like it and want to read more consider backing our project here.
She swore that only Armageddon itself would see her back at this place. As she surveyed the ruins strewn around her, she figured this was close enough. In the early hours of April 18th 1906 a violent quake hit San Francisco and in a matter of minutes the city that served as Molly Maloy's childhood home was reduced to rubble and flame. Molly thought of how she remembered her home, The Queen of West, a vibrant humming metropolis brimming with life and activity. But now it stood in flames and rubble in stark contrast from the royalty it once was.
Molly strolled along the streets, heart heavy. She came here to check on her mother after hearing about the quake, but her mother would not see her. Molly’s mother’s caretakers told Molly that her mother was given to foul moods, forgetful spells, and bouts of malaise. This was not the Mary Maloy who could charm the most elite of San Francisco socialites with her conversation, who would had enough energy to plan fund raisers and cotillions. Molly knew her mother was in the evening of her life, and she hoped she could patch things with her. But she knew it would not be the way of things.
Molly shook those thoughts from her head and focused on the scene before her. There wasn't a building in sight that didn't suffer from some sort of damage. It was truly hell on earth. However, for all the carnage the community did seem to be in good spirits. Most were optimistic about their future. They were confident they could rebuild and start again. The streets were bustling with people cleaning, building, and generally trying to get their lives back together.
Paige Daniels likes to tinker and make crazy stories swirling around her brain come to life.