With my first year of university coming to it's end, it is of course final assignment time. For one of my subjects I have to write a short sci-fi piece, or at least part of one. Below is the first draft of what I'll be handing in. It's the first third (ish) of the story. I'd appreciate any comments on how to improve it. Cheers!
They called the game Mushroom. It was simple; when the station was orbiting a part of Earth engaged in war, shots would be set up along the bar. Whenever an explosion could be seen, they’d drink. Fifteen minutes and you were on the floor.
The Orbital Bar. Just like any other back-alley dive, except that it was floating outside of the Earth’s atmosphere. You wouldn’t know it if not for the view. Beautiful in the places where green and blue still shone out. But most of the time it couldn’t be seen through swathes of thick brown smoke.
There was always some type of trouble at The Orbital. Be it smugglers huddled in a darkened corner booth, or just one of the regulars down on his luck playing too much Mushroom.
The Orbital’s interior designer had seen one too many space movies. Everything had been fashioned from white plastics, walls, chairs, tables, everything. Of course that didn’t last too long. The walls had been covered with graffiti, names and insults carved straight into the plastic. No one bothered to clean the place. Every surface was covered in sticky beer stains, old food, even a spatter of blood here and there. The air stank of spirits and stale sweat. Cigarette smoke had yellowed every surface.
Above the jukebox in the corner, someone had stuck a poster of Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon.’
The Orbital was a summation of everything that had gone wrong on the station. These people had no choice but to be bums. They’d sold everything to move up here, to be part of the new frontier. When the government pulled out they were left with nothing, no way of getting back to Earth.
The only way to find work was to hang around in the bar and hope to be recruited as a guard of an illegal shipment, or paid to stop someone else from interfering.
But what money they made was soon pissed away at The Orbital, because they could never raise enough to go back home. Alcohol was the only way to bear being stranded. If you didn’t have that, all that was left was suicide.
The way I saw it, life on the station was no worse than back on Earth. No one knew anything for sure, news from Earth had become scarce, but there were rumours of nuclear fallout, people living in holes miles underground to escape the wars. At least we still had the sky.
But shipments still kept coming up to the station, enough food, drink and drugs to keep everything running smoothly. The smugglers had all but stopped trying to hide their activities. We turned a blind eye. There’d have been a lot more problems without the drugs.
We had it better than everyone else of course. Members of the security team got two-room apartments, a fair wage and a certain amount of respect. The company that had bought the station treated us well, because they needed us. We were the Police.
A normal day was spent on the beat. On Wednesday’s my route took me around the top section of the station. Up there was as high class as you could get on the station. Houses had been built, designed to mimic those designed under Queen Victoria in Britain. The high strength plastic had been fashioned to look like brickwork, and it almost looked authentic.
Inside there were six rooms, shared by six families. Needless to say they were a little cramped.
The canteen and hygiene block was at the end of the street, an incongruous sheet metal warehouse, as if it had been added as an afterthought.
The top sector was my favourite part of the station. Standing with houses on either side, you could look up through the lucid roof at the stars and pretend you were on Earth. At first it had seemed strange that the stars did not appear any closer than they had back home.
‘Baynes!’ a man I knew as Syd called from the top window of a house, ‘howdo?’
‘Good, Syd, good.’ I replied. Syd was a good guy. It was nice to see some cheer now and again. ‘Yourself?’
‘Not too bad, not too bad.’ He nodded, scratching his neatly trimmed beard. ‘Thought I’d let you know I saw some fellas headed to the docking bay.’
‘Really? Alright, I’ll check it out. Thanks Syd.’
After waving goodbye I walked around the C&H block, and took the lift down to the docks. Officially the docks up here shouldn’t have been used since the shutdown; we’d locked them off. But smugglers always found a way around our security measures. Arms smugglers had become particularly troublesome.
There was no one in the corridor as I stepped out of the lift, but I drew my weapon anyway. It was a pistol, capable of firing twelve rubber rounds in ten seconds, if you knew what you were doing. We couldn’t use bullets; they did too much damage to outer walls and windows. Unfortunately such restrictions didn’t apply to the criminals.
There’d been people through; I’d just missed them. Bay seven was open, and inside there were black skid-marks across the floor. It must have been a small shuttle, with a careless driver to have slid so badly. Smugglers usually used larger transporters, and greater care.
I poked around the bay to see if there was any other evidence, but all I found were some empty leftover oil barrels. Full, they would have been worth thousands.
‘Guns, you think?’ asked Clegg when I returned to the office to write a report. Clegg was the only other member of security I really saw. The other officers didn’t always show up, or had offices in different sectors.
‘It didn’t look it. More like a personal shuttle,’ I informed him.
‘Why would anyone who can afford a shuttle come here?’ Clegg thought aloud while pouring coffee into a paper cup.
‘I don’t know, just keep your eyes open. Pour me a cup, will you?’
He handed me the cup he had just poured, and then started on another.
‘You taking the Orbital tonight?’ Clegg asked.
‘It should be Eddie’s turn.’
‘Baynes, Eddie hasn’t been in for two weeks.’
I sighed. ‘Fine, I’ll take it.’
My sort weren’t too well liked in the Orbital. It wasn’t so much the hatred of our authority, rather jealousy of our privileged position.
The Orbital was situated at the edge of the slums. We’d stopped patrolling in there; attacks on our men became far too frequent.
The apartments in the slums were smaller than cells, and only a third of the people there had one. The bottom of the station had become a shantytown, shacks built from any material available. They were living on the high-techest station yet built by man, but they were almost Neanderthal. We’d had to disable the fire alarm system down there, because slum-dwellers lives depended on flame. It was a safety risk to the entire station, but we had no other choice.
However, by that point the locals had got used to a member of security being at the Orbital. I’d sit at the bar, nursing a beer and chatting with Charlotte, the barmaid. If something kicked off, I handled it the best I could.
That night Charlotte stopped me at the door.
‘Not tonight, Baynes,’ she ordered assertively.
‘What?’ I asked, a little taken aback.
‘You’re not welcome tonight. It’s better if you just leave.’
Not feeling in the mood to be beaten up, I submitted. Catching a glimpse of the bar just before Charlotte locked the door, I saw that it was full, men and women sitting around tables, all facing the bar, as if waiting for some kind of show to begin.
‘I really doubt it’s a coincidence,’ I told Clegg upon returning to the office, ‘a private gathering the same day a personal shuttle arrives.’
‘But who could it be, Baynes?’ Clegg challenged me.
‘I don’t know. But it’s in the Orbital, so it can’t be good. We need to let everyone on the team know. Any who still care anyway.
‘I’ll send an e-mail round,’ Clegg said, turning to his computer.
‘Good. I’d better write a report. As if it does any good.’
There was something in the air the following day. Everything looked the same, but the people seemed different. They were smiling. They looked as if they moved with a purpose.
I talked with some contacts, informants who were usually reliable, but they all claimed not to know anything. Even Syd avoided my gaze when I asked about last night’s meeting.
The problem with the station was that it had so many places to hide. There were endless rooms full of machinery, nooks and crannies everywhere that could conceal a person. If they had the people on their side they could hide out in the slums. It was an impossible job to root out a new face, a potential troublemaker. We had some security cameras, but so many no longer worked, or had been sabotaged that the system was practically useless.
I spent the entire day searching the station, but found nothing. It was not until that night that we had a stroke of luck.
I got a call on my earpiece from Clegg, telling me to get to the office quickly.
‘Look, here. We got ‘em!’ he grinned when I arrived, pointing at a black and white monitor.
It was a direct feed from a camera inside the C&H Block on the upper sector, one they must have missed. The long canteen tables had been lined up to face one end of the building, and every plastic stool was filled. We had a clear view of where everyone was looking.
Before long the people began to clap, and a figure appeared against the wall. He raised his arms up, recognition of the praise he was receiving. He was a tall man, scrawny, long hair resting on his shoulders. He was dressed like a slum-dweller, wearing an old t-shirt and torn trousers. That meant he’d won over the lower sector, which meant, whoever he was, he already held a great deal of power on the station.
When the applause had subsided, he cleared his throat and began to speak. Through the monitors speakers he sounded distant and tinny, but it was obvious that his voice boomed throughout the entire building.
‘People of Oil Moon Station 1,’ he roared dramatically, before bringing his voice down to a passionate seethe. You could tell he wasn’t an experienced speaker; he was doing his best to sound professional, dramatic. ‘I come to you at a time of dire importance. I bring news from Earth that your country as sold you out yet again.’ A low blanket of murmurs spread across the crowd for a moment. ‘As you all know far too well, you were abandoned up here in space, after the gross overestimation of the amount of oil contained within the moon. You were sold off, unwanted by your government. And now they would play with your lives again. For as of last month, America has entered the terrible war that rages below you.’ The audience gasped. ‘Yet not through choice,’ the man continued hurriedly, ‘they have been dragged into conflict by the threat of attack upon their people. How does this affect you, the abandoned ones, you might say? Well, soon my friends, the game of Mushroom…’
The sound cut from the video feed. The man continued to give his impassioned speech, but we could hear none of it. Clegg hammered madly at his keyboard.
‘Forget it!’ I said putting my hand on his shoulder. ‘It’s junk, like the rest.’
‘Should we go up there?’ Clegg asked.
‘Just the two of us? We’d be lynched. Anyway, look.’ I pointed at the bottom right hand corner of the screen. Sitting at the second table back, eagerly listening to the speech was Eddie. The man even had members of security on his side.
‘That bloody traitor,’ Clegg said, taking a closer look.
‘It’s going to make it even harder to bring this guy in. He’s obviously hiding in the slums, has security on his side, and, by the looks of things, the upper sector.’
‘So what do we do?’ Clegg asked, looking to me for help.
‘Not a lot we can do. Just keep your eyes peeled and be alert. We’re both on patrol tomorrow; meet here in the evening to report anything. For tonight, you go home, I’ll write the report. We’ll send them all tomorrow.’
The next day was the same as the last; no physical change but an obvious mental one. Everyone looked happier, looked at each other with a knowing gaze.
And yet again there was no clue as to what was going on. I went by the Orbital, but it was nearly empty, no one was on the streets around the slums.
My final patrol of the day was the upper sector. The stars shone as beautiful as ever through the clear ceiling, the looming curved edge of the moon beginning to push its way into view.
‘Baynes!’ shouted Syd from his window, as always.
‘Hey Syd,’ I replied politely.
‘Where you off to?’ He enquired.
‘Checking the docks again,’ I answered suspiciously. He’d never asked such a question before.
‘Ah, no need. I haven’t seen nothing,’ he told me, evidently agitated.
‘All the same…’ I trailed off and began to run to the docking bays.
A shot whistled past my head as I stepped out of the lift. I had my gun ready, and hit the slum-dweller with a rubber bullet on the forehead, knocking him out.
I shuffled along the corridor to the last docking bay. Another man jumped out, but I hit him before he could fire. Sticking to the wall I turned into the bay. A small transporter shuttle had landed, and four or five slum-dwellers were unloading wooden crates from it’s large rear-end. They had heard the shooting and were moving quickly, the transporters engine already roaring into life.
I dashed forward, took a shot at one of them and then took cover behind an oil barrel. When I looked out again the men were carrying the crates through a different exit to the bay. A crate had been left beside the transporter, and I ran out to it. Written on its side was ‘high-explosive.’
The lights in the bay turned red. The outer doors were opening for the transporter to leave. I left the box and ran to where I had entered. The outer doors began to open as I leapt back into the corridor and slammed the air-lock button.