Science Fiction

 

 

 

Nick has recently published ‘Dead Eyes’, a small ebook containing three futuristic short stories. You can read the start of the first story below. If you would like to buy it from the UK, it can be found here (99p) and from the US here (99c).

 

 

 

Dead Eyes

Mackey lurched into the bay, head fogged by cheap brandy and red beer. Stopping to enjoy the refreshing rain, he gazed up at the dark bulk of the Great White and wondered if he’d ever get enough money for that new paint job. Not with harbour fees, fuel bills and bar tabs that had recently surpassed eighty thousand.

‘Ramp’s over here,’ said DeMarco through the speaker, her voice echoing around the cavernous space.

‘Ha ha.’ Mackey wiped rain off his recently shaved scalp, reorientated himself and stalked over to the ramp. The twin lines of blue lights greeted him like familiar friends as he ascended into the ship.

‘Need a hand there, skipper?’ Banks – the rookie – got up off the couch, smiling. He always seemed to be smiling.

‘Why would I need a hand? Maybe you need a hand?’

Banks’ face was a blur. A smiling blur.

Mackey decided he might be better off sitting down. He slumped onto his chair and tried to look sober. It had just occurred to him that if the rookie thought his captain was a drunk he might jump ship. And if he did, Mackey wouldn’t get his training grant.

Banks went back to studying his data-pad.

‘What is it today?’

The young man brushed that annoyingly long fringe away from his eyes and looked across the table. ‘Navigation 6.’

‘You should talk to DeMarco. She got …’

‘Ninety fifth percentile. I know.’

‘She probably told you three times, right?’

‘Just the twice actually.’ DeMarco came down the access ladder and dropped athletically into the lounge.

‘Any messages?’ asked Mackey, who never took his comcell with him if he was intending to have a good time.

‘Several.’

‘Any I’m going to like?’

‘One. The tertiary processor is already fixed. Kai managed to find a spare part in the stores. Seven thousand, like he said.’

‘Wonders will never cease.’

‘Does that mean we’re leaving?’ asked Banks.

Mackey ignored him. ‘And the rest? Anything that can’t wait ‘til morning?’

DeMarco put a hand on her hip. ‘You do know it’s only seven pm.’

‘Really? Oh.’ Mackey never took his watch out with him either, but that was because he didn’t want to lose it. It had been a gift from his second wife, who he’d much preferred to the first and the third.

‘You’ll want to hear this,’ said DeMarco. ‘Rumour has it Central are releasing the new claim list soon. As in the next few hours.’

‘Any talk about what might be in there?’

‘A lot. None of it reliable. We’re all set up – linked in to the Japanese feed. No one will get the info ahead of us.’

‘We fully fuelled?’

‘We will be in an hour.’

‘Customs?’

‘Checked us over while you were out. We’re good for forty eight hours.’

‘Systems?’

‘All fine apart from that aft manoeuvring light but we can do without that.’

‘And where’s our Chinese friend?’

‘In his pit.’

‘Buzz him when the claims start coming through. Me too. Come and get me if I don’t wake up.’

‘I’ll send Banks,’ said DeMarco. ‘Last time I went inside your cabin, it took a week for my nose to recover.’

Mackey used the table to haul himself up, satisfied that he hadn’t embarrassed himself. It seemed wise to quit while he was ahead. ‘Your first claim list, huh Banks?’

‘Yes. Exciting.’

‘You do know why the ship’s called the Great White, right?’

‘Er…’

DeMarco mumbled something but Mackey continued anyway. ‘Because if there’s something for us out there, we pursue it relentlessly and remorselessly. We hunt it down. Nothing and nobody gets in our way. Like a shark. Dead eyes.’

‘It’ll be more like cross eyes unless you get some sleep,’ offered DeMarco.

Banks stifled a laugh.

‘Good one,’ said Mackey. ‘Funny girl.’

 

*

 

Nine hours later, he returned to the lounge to find DeMarco, Banks and Chang on the couch. They had used the arm to position the big screen in front of them and the first claims were already up – chunky white text on blue.

‘Hey, skip,’ grunted Chang. Sentences of English from him seldom exceeded three words. He was still the biggest human Mackey had ever met; the main reason he had hired him.

‘Hey.’ After a shower, a few tablets and some food, Mackey was feeling a lot better. He glanced across at DeMarco, who had tied her long, red hair up and was staring intently at the screen. Banks was alternating his gaze between the feed and his data-pad.

‘Eskalon,’ murmured Chang as the latest claim popped up. ‘Cold.’

‘Nothing left there,’ said Mackey. ‘Nothing that’ll pay out anyway.’

The next three claims were similarly useless.

‘Water,’ said Mackey loudly. ‘Glass of water.’

The drone sitting on the shelf opposite him remained obstinately inactive.

‘Didn’t we fix that?’

‘Went again yesterday, skip,’ said Banks.

‘Jesus.’ DeMarco reached over the back of the couch and took a jug out of the fridge. She also passed Mackey a clean glass.

‘Thanks.’

As he drank, the next claim popped up.

‘Tabitt-Serrcula,’ blurted Banks. ‘That system’s close, right?’

Mackey would defer judgement until the location and the resource identifier came up.

DeMarco said, ‘Fifth planet. Eastern desert. Four claims. All maladite and magnesium. Skip?’

‘Ah shit,’ said Mackey. ‘We could get fifty thou for just one of those.’

‘So?’ asked DeMarco impatiently. She was an excellent pilot and navigator but seemed unable to retain any information about what planets were actually like.

‘Crosswinds. We’re too light. Three freighters have gone down in that desert and all of them were heavier than us.’

DeMarco sighed. Chang swore quietly in Chinese. Mackey hadn’t been able to pay them a bonus in months.

‘Any idea how many on the list?’ he asked.

DeMarco shook her head.

‘So we land and find the beacon,’ said Banks. ‘Then what?’

DeMarco answered without taking her eyes off the screen. ‘We plant a flag – our flag – next to the beacon, take a pic and send it to Central. The claim incorporates all terrain within one thousand clicks of the beacon. We now own it. We then sell it to the highest bidder.’

‘Chasseur-Malcolm,’ said Banks as the next claim appeared. ‘That’s close too, right?’

Mackey felt a shiver run down his spine. ‘Crude. Please, crude.’

The Canadians had just established a huge manufacturing facility in the same system. Word had it they were expanding. They would need plastics. A lot of plastics.

Eighth planet (AAOS342-234).

‘We can get there,’ said Mackey. ’Doable.’

Region 43.

One claim.

Mackey grimaced. ‘As long as it’s-’

Crude oil.

He thumped the table hard enough to spill water from his glass. DeMarco was already on the move.

‘Rookie, go help her.’

‘Yes, sir.’

Chang knew nothing about the ship and never showed even the slightest inclination to learn. That didn’t bother Mackey; he paid him for one thing only, which he did exceptionally well.

DeMarco stopped at the cockpit door. ‘Skip, what about Lopez? We know he’s out here somewhere too.’

‘Leave that to me. Go.’ Mackey lowered his voice. ‘System. Connect to subspace ultra. Address m-a-t-t-h-e-w-s-c-t.’

Half the screen switched to coms.

‘Message – Hi. This is urgent. Have you seen him?’

The screen displayed his words and a flashing symbol to show the message had been sent.

‘Who?’ said Chang as he ran a hand across his spiky black hair.

‘Lopez’s favourite girl. Never comes to this quadrant without paying her a visit. I keep her on a retainer.’

The message came through slowly, a word at time. Where’s … my … bloody … money?’

Guess that account dried up too. Reply – Double next time. Need to know.’

No reply appeared.

Mackey waited for a while then stood. ‘Come on, Cary. I don’t have time for this.’

DeMarco was efficient but she couldn’t do everything and he wanted to be off Akaari Prime within the hour.

Send money now! He was here two days ago.

‘Ha! Two days – no way he’s getting to Chasseur before us.’

Mackey would have run into the cockpit except he now had a huge hand clamped around his arm.

‘Bonus?’ asked Chang. It hadn’t taken him long to learn that word.

‘Hell yes.’

 

 

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