As we barrel toward the August 29 premiere of Rayguns Over Texas at LoneStarCon 3 (aka the 71st Annual World Science Fiction Convention) in San Antonio, I am presenting book excerpts, one contributor per day.
Today’s selection comes from Marshall Ryan Maresca‘s “Jump the Black.”
Marshall Ryan Maresca reveals that even on alien planets, the downtrodden must take life-altering risks to find gainful employment. Miller’s desperation carries him dangerously close to both hope and loss.
Nothing was packed. Nothing could be packed. They were riding the twenty-fare, at a discount at that, so that meant only five kilos in a small satchel. Emile told Miller not to bring anything more than extra clothes.
“And sell your reader,” Emile had said.
“Why?” It was Miller’s only possession of even the slightest value. He was the only on his floorblock with one.
“You can get at least twenty for it,” Emile said. “We need that for our fares.”
And there it was. Miller didn’t argue the point further.
“Not like you want to carry a lot for the jump.”
Sleep had been impossible, at least for Miller. He paced and fretted. Emile had dozed on the block floor, the rest of the blockmates pointedly pretending not to know their plans. Several said “good night” with a sense of finality, but beyond that, no acknowledgement. Around two in the morning, they went to the street to wait. The message came, just when it was supposed to. A junkyard a few blocks from them.
There were several dozen humans milling about in the yard when they arrived. Miller thought the whole thing smelled ripe for a raid. A bunch of people hanging around in the middle of the night? Easy pickings. Though maybe Emigration Patrol didn’t bother with anyone who hadn’t gotten out of the gravity well.
A large vehicle quietly landed, no running lights. Two aliens — Miller didn’t recognize the species — came out and opened the back doors. A few waves of their graspers, and all the humans climbed in. Doors shut again, and they were in the dark.
Minutes of bumpy ride passed. No one talked to each other. Miller didn’t even talk to Emile. The vehicle came to rest, and the doors open.
Hj’x and the two other aliens stood there. “All right fleshlings, come out. Quickly.”
Humans pressed their way out, into a dim warehouse. The place was filled with shipping containers, most prominent were the six in the middle of the floor: large clamshell cases, hard plasticate.
“Here is the run of things,” Hj’x announced. “My associates will go around the lot of you. You will give them the money. They will give you an injection. You will strip off your garments — all of them — and give them to my associates. Then pick a container and get in. Eight to a container, so do not be shy. And do not waste time. Your muscles will stop working shortly after the injection. No one will put you in a container if you do not get in yourself.”
“Muscles will what?” Miller whispered to Emile.
“Strip, quickly,” Emile said. “The injection works very quickly.”
Miller took off his clothing. “But what — ”
“It’s Para. For beating the scans,” Emile said, already naked. “Lifesigns would trigger a search. Scan blockers would trigger a search. But for a produce shipper like Hj’x, non-living biomatter gets waved by. Usually.”
An alien came up to them. “Money?”
“This is for both of us,” Miller said, giving the coins to the creature.
“Hj’x and us made a deal,” Emile said.
The alien turned to Hj’x and barked something out. Hj’x hissed something back that wasn’t translated. The alien shrugged and pushed his hypo into Miller’s arm, and then into Emile’s.
Miller shoved his clothes into his satchel and handed it to the alien.
“Get in now.”
Miller’s legs were already jelly, so he scrambled over to the nearest clamshell, Emile right behind. It already had six people in it, shivering and shuddering. Eight people in this thing was a very tight fit, Miller quite aware his flesh was pressed against several strangers. He tried to shift his arm, be a little more comfortable, but his body was limp.
“It’s almost like stasis, they say,” someone muttered. “Sleep the whole way.”
Miller couldn’t even make his lips move.
“It ain’t,” Emile said.
Then the clamshell shut.
Excerpt from “Jump the Black” © 2013 by Marshall Ryan Maresca.