Check out a short story set in the world of my new book, The Promise of a Battered Moon! It follows one of the main characters, Eric Lin.
Oriental Space Banana
It was during the final checks on their pressure suits that Matt’s partner had gushingly tried to explain Eric’s “acting notes” with many hand gesticulations:
“…it’s like right after Oh Dae-su was let out of that room after fifteen years of going batshit crazy and training like a mofo. Bambambam! Hruh-hruh-hruh!He’s walking around and he sees this group of thugs and he’s like ‘I don’t give a shit, I’m gonna steal your fucking cigarette.’ And they be like ‘Fuck you old man, I’m gonna kick you to the ground.’ Uhhh! He falls to the ground, but he’s still got the cig in his mouth and he takes this drag and gets up and he’s got the Crazy Asian look and he grunts, ‘Hrmmmmm. Hrmmmmm.’ And they know they’ve messed with the wrong dude. Cuz whhaaaaBLAMMO! Oh Dae-su kicks all those dudes asses. You get it Eric? Just be like Oh Dae-su. Be like ‘Hrmmmmm. Hrmmmmm.’ No one will mess with us. It’s all you gotta do. Ok?”
“He’s got it, Ian. He’s got it. Finish your checks, alright?” Matt had said, putting an end to Ian’s growling Old Boy impersonation and pushing him away to complete his verification protocols before they docked with Orbital Station Torus-83. Watching his boyfriend float off with a mixture of bemusement and affection, Matt had shaken his head before reiterating to Eric: “Honest, it’ll be easy. You don’t even have to say anything. You just need to look the part — and you do!”
Eric had again tried to protest, even as Matt was slapping on red-star decal patches on his suit: “Matt, this is fucking crazy. First off, that was a Korean movie. I’m Chinese. Second, do you have any idea how dangerous it is to impersonate a PPA representative? This was supposed to be a supply run, not some crazy attempt to…”
“Dude, dude, dude. Chiiiiill,” Matt’s portly features had creased into a jovial expression. With a wide smile, he’d made a taaadaaa! hand motion and said, “Check it out! You’re the spitting image of PPA Special Purchaser Hua Guofeng!”
Looking down at the forged insignias, Eric had admitted, “Wow, yes. It does look pretty good. But one close examination and they’ll look fake. Jesusfuckonwheels, dude. I may look the part — nominally — but you two are fucking white. It makes no sense why a PPA representative would have white people with him…”
“Bodyguard. Interpreter,” Matt had pointed at Ian’s heavy form and then at himself. “No one on the station speaks Chinese, so you obviously need a translator. And, big shot PPA honcho that you are, you need a bodyguard. Easy. Will you just relax? Don’t forget the sweet deal I made you, ok? Get in to character, dude. Just do like Ian said. Do the Crazy Asian thing and be like ‘Hrmmmmm. Hrmmmmm.’ Ok?”
It was ridiculous and Eric should have refused. But he’d been weak. Matt had made him an offer he couldn’t refuse: in return for playing out this little role, Eric would get first choice of the goodies out of the blackmarket that Matt ran on their home station. Of course, when he’d tagged along, Eric had no idea this was what Matt had been planning. He cursed himself for being so naive. He should have suspected that something wasn’t kosher when Matt had o-so-casually offered him a berth on his supply run — a coveted spot that everyone on their station fought and bribed for to get out of the claustrophobic confines of their spinning metal-donut home. And yet, Matt had invited him without asking for anything in return because they were “buddies.”
The supply run was supposed to be straight forward: pick up a few spools of copper wiring, a few tons of deut-pellets and an assortment of spare parts. And it had been straight forward. So much so that they’d completed their tasks within the first half hour after they’d docked and they’d had everything they bought safely lashed against the walls of their orbital-glider. Then, with the time remaining that could have been spent enjoying the sights of the station or having a nice tall synthalcohol drink, Matt had sprung his plan on Eric, throwing in his irresistible lure and convincing him with equal measures of cajoling and strong-arming.
And now, in subsection 44D between spokes 5 and 6 of the station, Eric was being scrutinized through the squinting, skeptical eyes of a pale, sun-starved Punjabi stall owner. Probably sensing the doubts and fears that were oozing out of Eric’s pores and forming a thick miasma of freakedoutness around him, the Punjabi man shook his turbaned head and asked again,
“Are you sure? You know it’s a restricted item, yes?”
Matt made a show of whispering into Eric’s ear, while Ian stood a few steps back, his arms crossed over his chest, making his best impression of imposing authority. After waiting a few heartbeats with an impassive, inscrutable expression — ’cause, that was what the Chinese did, right? — Eric grunted and uttered one of two of the Chinese words that he knew: “Shì.” Yes.
“Satisfied?” Matt said, flashing a shaky smirk. “So you have it? The CPU for Yaogan Dienxing 58C?”
“Yes, I have it…” the stall owner replied, still not convinced who he was dealing with.
“Are you sure it’s not a counterfeit?” Matt pressed.
“Counterfeit?” bristled the stall owner, his chest rising under his pressure suit. “What do you take me for? All my items are genuine guaranteed! Anyone here will tell you that Amir is the most trustworthy orbital salvage re-seller on this whole station!”
“Fine then. My apologies,” Matt said with a shit-eating grin. “Then PPA Special Purchaser Hua Guofeng is satisfied and would like to verify it.”
Yet, Amir the stall owner waffled: “Sir, this is a restricted item. I am unable to sell without the proper permits under the rules of the Union-PPA armistice. The consequences of this…”
“Permits? Yaogan Dienxing is PPA property!” Matt huffed. “Special Purchaser Hua Guofeng is here to reclaim it! Do you think that we’ll go back empty-handed? Do you think that we didn’t come prepared?”
“Shì!” Eric added loudly, deciding to throw in an angry scowl he’d imitated from his dad, hoping it would be convincing. What was probably more convincing though, was Ian stepping closer, reaching into his pressure suit front access panel and revealing the handle of a handgun.
With his eyebrows elevated, Amir protested, “Sirs! The rules! I can’t…”
“We’ll pay cash. Not credit. Hard currency. Yuan,” Matt cut in, waving a wad of red bills, neatly folded in half.
This caught the stall owner’s eye, and with a sigh, Amir said, “Very well. I’ll bring it out.” Giving Eric a bow, he apologized, “Hua Xiansheng, I am sorry but as you know it’s an old model without the current nano-identifiers. However, I’m sure the esteemed gentleman can verify it with his slimware.”
“Of course he can!” Matt said officiously, as the stall owner retreated into his store room. Turning now to Eric, he encouraged: “Go on. Put them on. We have to verify it’s the right piece.”
Not having any other options, Eric groaned and put on the idiotic shiny-chrome wraparound sunglasses that Matt had given him. Of course?!? The only thing that was a matter of course was that none of them had slimwares installed in them. Slimwares were expensive, high-end interface tech that were only available planetside; in theory, way back during the pre-war economy, slimwares should have trickled into the orbital communities — but with the Union-PPA war and severe resource shortages, they had become even more restricted to the privileged few and the military. But this played in Eric, Matt and Ian’s favor, as it was unlikely that Amir could tell that Eric didn’t have a slimware, but only a jury-rigged set of sunglasses with a primitive networking system that may or may not work.
Fortunately though, as soon as the stall owner brought out the part, the lowband detector on the sunglasses logged into the satellite’s CPU, and a bunch of Chinese script from the system’s BIOS flashed in Eric’s lens. Needless to say, being from a fifth generation Chinese family living in the Union, Eric couldn’t read any of it. The only person who could actually speak Chinese in his family was his grandfather — and even then, all he knew were a few broken phrases that probably mangled the tones. Not that any of that mattered when the Union-PPA marked him and his whole family as potential enemies of the State and ruined Eric’s chances at living planetside.
In any case, there was no need for Eric to understand Chinese, as the only thing he needed to be sure of was if the CPU could take them to the bootsplash page, for which Matt had somehow found the codes for on an old anarchist darkLeaks site. Sure enough, the login prompt appeared under a quaint RedFlag Linux GUI, and Eric entered the systems without any problem. After this, it would be a simple enough affair to mesh the root files to any opensource English system nd they’d easily be able to access it for whatever Matt intended for it — which Eric realized that in all the hullabaloo, he still had no idea what the thing was for.
With a stoic nod, Eric looked at Matt and grunted the second of the two Chinese words he knew: “Hăo.” Good.
“It’s what we’re looking for!” Matt said a little too enthusiastically, sharing a quick smile with Ian, before holding out the money to the stall owner. “Special Purchaser Hua Guofeng is pleased with the legitimacy of your wares. Please accept payment.”
“Of course it’s legitimate. I’m pleased you’re pleased. PPA Special Purchaser, my ass. I sure hope you know that those are illegal and I hope you idiots don’t get caught. Now kindly leave my stall and never come back again,” Amir grumbled, grabbing the money and hiding it in his pressure suit.
It took considerable effort for the trio to bow politely and leave — what with Eric’s stress level having spiked at the revelation that their charade had been seen through, while on the other hand, Matt and Ian seemed to be oblivious to any silly questions of legality and were instead bursting with victorious ebullience. As soon as they reached a quiet part of the station, there were two very contrasting reactions:
“Dude! We got it!”
“I’m so screwed! He knew we were faking!”
“Yeah! Yes! I knew we could do it!”
“Don’t you know what that means? They’re going to hunt us down!”
“It was your plan! Great work, dude!”
“Great? Are you listening to me? Do you know what they can do to me?”
“Nah, nah. It was your plan too! We did it!”
“I’m going to be fucking arrested!”
“I can’t wait to try it out when we get back. It’ll be awesome!”
“Fuck! I thought the orbital communities would keep me out of this shit!”
“I know! Everyone will love it too! I just know it!”
“JesusfuckinghaichChrist! Are you guys fucking listening to me?!?” Eric screamed, finally getting Matt and Ian’s attention. “I’m fucked! Do you not get that? Oooooh well, sorry to be a downer, but you guys aren’t worried because if you get caught, you won’t be arrested and thrown in the isolation camps! But you know what? I fucking will! Do you privileged white bastards realize that? And for what? I don’t even know! What the hell was this for anyway?”
Matt and Ian took a few blinking moments to register Eric’s minor meltdown. Some inkling of his concerns eventually trickled in, and when it did, they gave each other a look and simultaneously reached out to Eric.
“Are you listening to me? Guys? What are you guys doing? Goddamn it, get away from me! Stop it! Damn it!” Eric protested, finding himself in an asphyxiating group hug, and, in spite of himself, feeling calmer even though he was fairly certain Matt and Ian were utterly clueless to what he’d been saying.
“Huuuuuug it out!” Ian said, giving Eric tight squeeze.
“Don’t worry, Eric! We’re here for you, bro!” Matt added, before disengaging. Stepping back and giving Eric a wide grin, he patted his shoulder in a way that he probably didn’t realize was infuriating: “You’re with us! We’ll take care of you! We got your back, man! And we’ll vouch for you for sure. Anyway, the transaction was using my cash, so if it was be traced — big IF, by the way — it would come back to me, not you. Besides, I can easily take the heat, worst case scenario, so don’t worry! We got you, bro!”
Only mildly mollified, Eric said hesitantly, “Okaaaay… I guess that makes sense, but let’s get out of here, alright? I really just want to… What’s that? What’s going on? What the hell is happening?!”
WHOANGH! WHOANGH! WHOANGH!
The station’s emergency sirens had started to blare, and the lights switched to a strobing, epileptic red, precipitating a flurry of activity and urgent cries around them.
“Oh, shit,” Matt muttered.
“Damn…” Ian sighed.
“Not reassuring! Not reassuring at all!” Eric shrilled.
A series of heavy thuds shuddered through the station, spreading along the corridors and ended with a high-pitched venting. Given his profession as an orbital mechanic, Eric found some consolation in being able to identify the stations’ rotational thrusters being forcibly shut down — though the consequence of it was annoying as it was terrifying. Without its regulated rotation, the loss of gravity was immediate, causing many curses everywhere as the stall owners scrambled to tie down their wares that were starting to float away. Meanwhile, Eric, himself scrambling to reach one of the safety bars, looked desperately at Matt and Ian for guidance or explanations or anything really, but found them deep in conversation, conferring without any of their ever-present goofiness — an absence that frankly was the most alarming of all.
“Well, I guess we could do that. I still think we should head down the center though,” Matt said, tapping his chin.
“The center is slow. We have to get through to the shuttledock as soon as possible, and spoke 5 is the closest,” Ian argued.
“I get the fastness. But we don’t know who’s doing this. If it’s the Union, we can work with it. But if it’s the PPA then going through spoke 5 will be bad, since they like to go through the smaller passageways first,” Matt pointed out.
“My guess is that it’s the Union. This whole thing has their marks all over it. Pissing people off by taking the gravity away and initiating a lockdown. Standard Union procedure. I’ll bet the power will be back in on a second,” Ian said. And, right on cue, the blaring sirens went blissfully silent and the lights returned to normal. “There, you see? Like I said. It’s the Union. Now they’ll just do their sweep.”
“Ok, fine. So it’s the Union. Doesn’t help us with him though,” Matt said pointing at Eric.
“Right, right. That’s the thing huh?” Ian frowned, chewing on his lip.
Eric, hearing his fate being discussed, was wracked by the fear of being abandoned for the sake of convenience — an act that wouldn’t surprise him, as it was always easier and better for one’s health to jettison a political liability rather than tie oneself to it. Still, Eric clung to the hope that Matt and Ian wouldn’t do that — even though he knew his insane wishful thinking was counterbalanced by all too many experiences otherwise. Bringing his panic down to a manageable level, Eric asked, in an uncertain, unhopeful voice:
“Uh, guys? Can you please tell me what’s going on? Are you guys going to leave me here or something?”
Again, Matt and Ian looked at each other, though this time, they apparently decided that a group hug wasn’t going to be necessary (and would have been challenging without gravity anyway). His brows furrowed, Matt explained slowly and far too calmly,
“The Union is making a show of force and cleaning house… as much as they can, anyway. They’re just causing a ruckus and letting people know they’re in town.”
“But this is an orbital station! No one has jurisdiction here!” Eric ineffectually lodging his complaint; for fuck’s sake, freedom from any of the planet’s jurisdictions and their systemic injustices was the sole reason he’d migrated to the orbital communities — and not so that he could live in cramped quarters, questionable oxygen recyclers and a perpetual plague of itches, rashes and unidentifiable smells. “Why are they here? This is neutral territory! They can’t be here!”
“Technically, they can,” Matt shrugged. “The terms of the 2082 Armistice didn’t make the orbital regions and Luna City neutral. They left them as ‘Unassigned-Low-Priority-Areas,’ which means that the Union and PPA can come up if they wanted to. They usually don’t since it’s expensive to send troops up here in a shuttle, so by default non-planetside regions are neutral.” Matt heaved a sigh and threw up his hands. “But they come up every so often whenever they feel like their troops need some low-grav combat training… or basically when they’re wanting to wave their dicks around so they don’t feel like they’ve lost their toehold in space. Sorry, Eric. Looks like it’s one of those times.”
“But they can’t find me here! I’ll be arrested!”
“Relax, Eric. It’ll be ok. You’re a Union citizen, right?”
“Like that’s ever helped. Any excuse is fine to dig up an evil ‘spy’ from the fucking Orient and toss me away!”
“Don’t worry, Eric. We got you. Just relax…”
“Stop telling me to relax! I’m not going to relax!”
“BOOOOOT! BOOOOOOT! I GOT IT! The Twin Towers! Horn of Gondor! Boromir’s best scene! Yes! That’s it! BOOOOOOT!” Ian bugled, cupping a hand over his mouth, as his joviality returned with a vengeance. Eric and Matt stared at him, their mouths soundlessly shaping partial words. “I know how to get us out of here! We need a distraction! I can do it! The Horn of Gondor! BOOOOOT!”
“Ian, please. I can’t do this now…” Matt said tightly through his teeth.
“No, man, no! I got this! I so got this!” Ian persisted with an infectious, impossible to hate smile. “It’s gonna be just like Boromir did when he was saving Merry and Pippin! There they were fighting the Urk-hai when Legolas stops, tosses his beautiful blond hair and says ‘The Horn of Gondor’! And Aragorn looks around with his hot scraggly beard and he’s like, ‘Boromir!’ Oh, man! So hot! Then: Clish! Clish! Ugh! Ugh! They kill like a hundred orcs! And Boromir screams to Merry and Pippin ‘Run away! Run away!’ And argggghhhhh! He keeps on killing the orcs! Left right left right! Clish! Clish! Just like that! The best scene evaaaarrrr!”
Ian smiled maniacally, his eyes wide, his nostrils flaring, and both fists clenched in the air, as he relived the fantasy scene. Then, before Eric or Matt could do anything about it, he pushed off the wall, straight into the direction of the station’s main torus, crying out, “Go down spoke 5! I’ll meet you there! Boromir and the Horn of Gondor will save you! BOOOOT! BOOOT!”
“No! Ian! No! Get back here! Not like this! There’s a better way!” Matt yelled at Ian’s quickly disappearing form. Seeing that his boyfriend had left him no choice, he ground his jaw and said to Eric: “Come on. We have to get out of here.”
Eric didn’t argue. Pushing off surfaces and grabbing on to holds, they made their way through the station spoke as fast as they could. It was slow going though, as they had to wade through the chaos of people who were either frantically trying to get to their transports like they were, or trying to salvage their livelihood and gathering together their wares. After much wading and considerable shoving and swearing, Eric and Matt managed to swim their way to an access corridor two sections away from the shuttledock, where Matt motioned that they should stop and wait.
Watching Matt anxiously try to establish a signal-connection to Ian, Eric’s mind cleared enough to feel a combination of gratitude, but also of mild guilt that someone had put himself in danger for him. With an awkward smile, Eric tried to be optimistic:
“I’m sure Ian will be fine, right? He can take care of himself, right?” Eric said unconvincingly.
“Mmmmm,” Matt grunted as he slammed his uncooperative communicator.
“I’m sure he knows what he’s doing. He’s an orbital mechanic like me so he knows his way around stations,” Eric reasoned.
Matt snorted. “It’s a dark day when I’m being told not to worry by you of all people.”
“He’ll be fine!” Eric forced a smile. “And he’s got a gun too so he can defend himself. Nothing to worry about.”
“He doesn’t have a gun, Eric. That thing he pulled at the stall was his coldflame-soderer. The handle looks like a gun doesn’t it? We thought so too.” Glancing at Eric’s gaping expression, Matt exhaled sharply. “Dude, don’t fucking look at me that way. How the fuck do you think I feel?”
Matt gnawed on his fist as he shook his head. “You know how that scene with Boromir ends? No? Borormir fucking dies. Sean Bean has this heroic moment fighting off orcs, and then this huge fucking Uruk comes around and shoots him with a million arrows. It was only afterwards that Boromir and Aragorn have their scene, when Boromir finally says how much he respected and loved Aragorn… and he fucking dies in his arms.” Matt groaned again. “Ian loved that scene. Called it romantic. Called it the only real emotionally intense scene in the whole series where two people really say how much they care for each other. Maybe it was. For me, the dying part threw me. Not Ian though. Can’t tell you many times he wanted us to cosplay that scene. Fuck. Oh, and by the way, Merry and Pippin still get fucking caught by the orcs even though Boromir dies for them.”
“… But that’s a movie. Ian knows what he’s doing…” Eric fumbled.
“You’re right about us, Eric,” Matt said somberly. “We don’t know much about what you had to go through with the Union. We don’t know anything about violence. Oh, we know it’s there; but it’s always been far away so we could ignore it. But the difference between Ian and me is that I’ve known people who fought in the war. I know what happens to people like you. Ian, though? Not so much. His family never involved him. He was sent straight to the orbital communities so he could be spared the “distatefulness” as his mom put it. Good for him. Trouble is, sheltered bastard that he is, he probably thinks this is a game and he’s reliving his favorite scene.”
Absolutely nothing comforting came to Eric, as he imagined a smiling Ian, happily bobbing along in the station, filled with cartoonish heroism, as he encountered a patrol of battleframed Union soldiers armed with a complement of flechette handcanons, self-guided emulsifier-probes and autocanon spider-drones… against which Ian would bring to bear his handy-dandy coldflame-soderer and his armory of imaginary elven-forged swords and daggers.
As if to highlight the potential of atrocious things happening, a hideous grinding gurgle sounded throughout the station, followed by an ear-piercing whine that caused the walls to shiver. Eric identified the sounds as the station’s metal gears and fluids being initiated without the proper warm-up sequence. Worse, the pattern of sounds were uneven and erratic, meaning that the thrusters weren’t being activated in the proper symmetric sequence — which in turn meant that if they were allowed to turn on, the pressure throughout the system wouldn’t be even. So instead of returning the station to a controlled rotation, the erratically firing thrusters would…
WHOANGH! WHOANGH! WHOANGH!
Eric and Matt were thrown against the wall as the entire station lurched to the side with only the right quadrant thrusters receiving pressure. If this kept up, the station would be thrown out of its orbit, potentially ending up on a collision course with another station — or much much worse, it would end up on a decaying trajectory that would cause it to burn up in the atmosphere. Remarkably, even though Eric knew all these things, the only thing going through his mind were visions of dead hobbits that bore a haunting resemblance to him.
As quickly and suddenly as the thrusters started though, they abruptly came to a stop. With the station slowly drifting back to its quiescent state, a pleasantly modulated voice came on the intercom:
“Residents of Orbital Station Torus-83. Remain calm. Everything is under control. Do not attempt to leave your location. Do not attempt to contact anyone. And do not attempt to access any control panels. I repeat: remain calm and do not move…”
“Fuck, I guess we know what Ian was up to then,” Matt grunted with a faint grin
“Ian did this? Is he nuts?” Eric said, his eyes wild. “What the hell was he thinking? He could have killed us all!”
“Yeah, in theory he could have…” Matt mused, shaking his head.
“In theory?!? The station could have crashed! It could have been torn apart!” Eric said, whapping his forehead with his palm.
“But it didn’t. And the Union got things under control, which Ian probably expected,” Matt said reasonably. “What I’m worried about now is that he won’t make it past the Union patrols. Odds are they aren’t letting anyone past and they’re going to search everyone and won’t…”
“Hey guys! Did you like my Horn of Gondor?” Ian yelled out happily. He was drifting down the corridor, his face plastered with a goofy Cheshire grin. Nudging off the wall, he launched himself into a pirouette that landed him straight in Matt’s arms. “Hey, babe! I’m back! Miss me?”
Matt had a moment of shock before spluttering:
“Ian?! How are you here? I thought you were going to die! I thought you were going to get killed like Boromir!” Matt proceeded to shake Ian by his pressure suit before finally giving him a tight hug and kiss.
Ian replied with a puzzled eyebrow raise. “Kill myself? Do you think I’m crazy or something? The Horn of Gondor doesn’t mean you die, doofus. It’s a distraction! It gets the orcs to come over! And it worked! No one checks the secondary access panels. There’s no security on them even though they have the full functions of the main panels — well, if you know how to get to the right menu functions, obviously. You should have seen it! Once I programmed that wonky discharge sequence, those Union soldiers swarmed over like nobody’s business.”
“Jesusonastick, Ian! Boromir dies! That’s what I was expecting! What did you think I was going to think?” Matt exclaimed, delivering a whack on to Ian’s head.
“Ow! Stop that. Dude, that’s the second part of the scene. The first part is the fighting part,” Ian explained. Then with a grin, he made a mooney face for Matt, “The second part is ours, you know? The emotional part? The hot part? Remember… ‘You’re my captain! You’re my king!’”
“Not here, dude. Eric’s here,” Matt said laughingly batting Ian off, unable to keep up his chiding.
However, while that explanation seemed fine and dandy on how Ian managed his “Horn of Gondor”, something occurred to Eric: “Hey, wait a minute. How did you get here? No one’s supposed to move from where they are.”
Ian laughed. “That’s the easiest part! I’m obviously a Union citizen, so I just showed them my ID, told them I was a lost and confused tourist and they let me pass. Easy peasy! See, Eric? We totally got you covered. Anyway we better get going. Come on! Let’s get back to shuttledock and blow this joint!”
And just like that they pushed off, Eric following along as Matt and Ian continued laughing and celebrating the success that had come to them so easily, all with the benefit of being able to opt out of the unpleasantness Eric couldn’t. Not that Eric was complaining, of course. They helped him and held true to their word. Clearly, it was helpful to have them as friends. It was just that it would have been nice not having to feel like he had to curry for their favor or always be on their nice side so he wouldn’t get screwed over.
It was as Eric was lost in the swirl of his old thoughts and wounds that he slammed straight into Matt and Ian’s backs, causing them all to tumble uncontrollably and spastically grab for anything to stabilize themselves.
“Hey! What’s going on? Why’d you guys stop? What… Oh…” Eric’s cursing came to a sharp close as he saw what had caused Matt and Ian to come to a stop.
Standing in front them, her boots magged to the floor in a battle-ready stance, was a tired-looking Union soldier, who, with her helmet off and her short red hair floating around like her head like a demonic halo, appeared to Eric like a steampunk angel of death — especially when she swiftly lifted her assault rifle and pointed it straight at him while asking:
“That’s far enough, boys. What’s your business here? And what are you doing with a PPA agent?”
The red-star decals. The fucking fake PPA decals. Eric paled. Curse Matt and Ian! He should never have come along! He should have just stayed in the safety of his room and never fucking left! Scrambling to pull the fake identifiers off, Eric cried out, “These are fake! I’m not a PPA agent! I’m a Union citizen!”
“He’s a Union citizen! Those are fake!” Matt repeated, waving both hands in front of him.
“Totally fake! They’re very fake! See?!” Ian said, helping Eric rip off the decals
“I see,” the soldier said, pursing her lips, as the red decals drifted past her. “So what are you doing with fake PPA decals?”
No explanation could come to Eric, as the only thing in his head was a big gaping black hole of fear that was consuming his soul. Matt and Ian, however, had plenty to say:
“He’s trying on a replacement suit! They came with it!”
“That’s right! It was part of the suit. It’s the seller’s fault!”
“We only realized that they were put on later! It’s an evil stallowner!”
“Yeah! Evil! Very bad man!”
“He might be a PPA agent too!”
“We can show you where the stallowner is!”
“What a plot! We helped foiled it, right?”
“We could be heroes, right?”
“Yeah! We deserve medals, right?”
Seeing Matt and Ian’s explanation bounce off the soldier and unwilling to see an innocent person go down for him, Eric finally got his shit together to interject for himself,
“M’am. We were here to buy supplies. You can check our shuttle. It’s got the things we bought and it’ll match our purchase record. But then we had extra time, so we did some shopping around and we found these decals, and I thought I could get it for a costume party that we’ll be having on our station. What better costume could I have than going as a PPA agent, seeing as how I’m Union citizen and also ethnically Chinese. Clever, right? Hahahahaha.” Eric formed a shaky smile, impressed by the coherence of his story that was perhaps fueled by his stress hormones.
For the next part though, his panic was leaking into his speech and making it into a wild blubber: “I swear I am a Union citizen! Like these guys! I have all my identifiers! My name is Eric Lam. ID number: 120TD-BAN09. SSN: 09820309B. Date of birth: March 3rd, 2052. I’ve been a full time resident of Mandala Station in the Third Quadrant Constellation, and before that I was a resident of Luna City. I can tell you my residences for the last fifteen years! You can verify with my biometric information! I’m a certified Union-born citizen of Chinese descent — with no affiliation to the PPA! I’m certified and authenticated! My blood will show it! Please take it! Take my blood!”
The soldier looked impassively at Eric’s out stretched hand for far too long, before grudgingly beckoning him over, and retrieving a biometric ID scanner from her utility belt. Placing his finger in the reader, Eric prayed it would back what he was saying; of course, what he’d said was true, but every so often those scanners weren’t properly cleaned — and if it still held the information of someone who’d been blacklisted, then you were paddling up a torrent of shit.
The scanner flashed green. Eric was confirmed as a Union citizen. He was pretty sure that he’d had shat in his pants otherwise.
“Alright, Citizen Eric Lam. Looks like you check out,” the soldier announced, though still gazing at him skeptically. “You boys are lucky. If the others ran into you first, they’d have seen a PPA agent and two Union traitors and they’d have pumped you with exploding flechette rounds and asked questions later. New recruits get trigger happy on their first training missions.” The soldier chuckled as she looked at their palid expressions. “But you guys are harmless enough. Just two bozos and a banana in space. Never know what you’ll find up here, I guess.”
“Hahahahaha. That’s right. Bozos and a banana. That’s them and me! Good one! Yellow on the outside and white on the inside. Hahahahaha.” Eric giggled inanely, bobbing his head and resisting the urge to add a few so-solly’s. He suppressed his shame and disgust, as neither would help him live. “Thank you for checking on me. Can we leave now?”
“Sure. You’re Union citizens. You’re free to leave,” the soldier said curtly, stepping aside slightly to let them pass.
With meek waves and the bashful grins of preschoolers, Eric, Matt and Ian floated past as fast as they could. Having escaped death by explosion into tiny bits, they spoke not a word until they got onto their orbital-glider, initiated the launch sequence and were safely on course for home. It was only then that they exhaled loudly and felt comfortable to speak.
“Costume party! Killer idea, Eric!” Ian said first, thumping Eric on the back.
“Yeah! Good one! Glad you thought of that! I wouldn’t have wanted to give up our satellite piece,” Matt agreed appreciatively.
“Sure, yeah. Sure. I’m just happy she was willing to test me,” Eric said with a weak smile. Then realizing that he’d never asked what the satellite part was for, he asked. “So why did we do this for again? What was the part for?”
“Oh! Only the best thing in the world!” Ian said enthusiastically.
“Yes! Those old satellites still have the old access codes for the PPA media stations, so we’re going to use it to stream holo-series from the PPA. I love their historical holo-novellas. I’m so excited for the Zhou Enlai series! We’ll finally get to see it! It’s impossible to get from the Union channels!” Matt grinned excitedly. “And don’t forget your cut! I’ve got a good idea for what we can do with that. Here’s the thing…”
But Matt’s voice had become inaudible, as Eric realized that their whole enterprise, with him risking his Union citizenship, him almost being killed or thrown back into the isolation camps or worse… was for a pirated holo-feed? Something fierce and uncontrollable started to build in Eric…
“…are you hearing me, dude? It’s gonna be great! Hey, are you ok? You’ve got the Crazy Asian eyes going there…”