Neon Brown: Tug’s Luck

race-for-the-moon-03-17Blank eyes reflected the blank screen which mirrored the blank brain behind them. Tug Johnson was bored stiff. So this is deep space, he thought, screw the danger pay, we should get some sort mindlessness compensation. I’m getting dumb out here. His fingers massaged his moustache, shaggy and untrimmed, like the rest of his self: unkempt. Tug continued staring at the viewscreen, as if waiting for something to happen that probably might not. He yawned. A low beep sounded breaking him from his stupor and he leaned over to key the ship-comm.

“Tug,” he said.

A female voice burst through the speaker, “Tug?”

“Tug here,” said Tug.

“Tug, it’s Boomboom, are you checking out the stream?”

“No,” he replied, “I am staring into space.”

“Oh,” said Boomboom, “you’re in the view-o-dome?”

“No,” Tug said, “I’m in my cabin.”

“Right—anyways the new Units are out early this year.” This woke Tug up.

“Really?” He said.

“Yeah,” said Boomboom, “it’s all over the main-stream.”

“Okay, thanks, I’ll see you later.”

She laughed, “of course you will. Roger buttwipe.” She broke the connection. Tug looked back at the screen and voiced it on-line. Instantly, it was alight with the super high-intensity mega-media universe that was the streams. He pulled up the main-stream, a vast, thick expanse of non-specific everything the human mind could want. Boomboom was right, and the big story was the early release of the new Units. Like billions of others, Tug could feel his mouth start to water and he swallowed back the spittle and excitement. Even over his screen millions and millions of kilometres from Earth, the beauty and functionality of the new, improved Units was apparent. I need one, he thought, it’s important. He nodded in agreement with his thought. “Yes,” he said aloud, “I need the new Unit.” He already started to feel disgusted with his old Unit, which he had purchased eight months ago. It was going to hold him back, and as others in society surged forward with style and functions he would be as an outcast with his slightly older, slightly blander, slightly less functional Unit. No way, he thought, not me. We’ve got to make this voyage pay off. He shut down the stream, blanked the screen, leaned back, closed his eyes, and said a prayer to the Universal Sandwich. He ordered a bacon, lettuce, and tomato with side salad. He hoped it would be enough.

The bridge of Space Vessel Corked Wonder was an excellent example of efficient clutter. Screens, wires, plastic and metallic boxes, keyboards, microphones, and other more ambiguous machines were neatly arranged everywhere in the large, white, round chamber. At the heart of this orderly mess of gadgets a man stood. The tall, bald, elegantly moustached gentleman in the middle of it all surveyed the complicated mish-mash of technology with pride. Nice, he thought to himself, very nice. My bridge is pretty cool. Behind him, the only door into the room opened and a chubby, red-headed man walked in.

“Captain Steve,” the chubby man said, “I’ve got a new profile configuration, sir.”

The tall figure turned to look at the voice. “Why Chubs, that’s excellent,” he said, “by all means key it into the machine.”

“Of course, sir,” said Chubs. He sat at one of the many screens in the room and engaged the device in a series of spoken and typed commands.

“You know Chubs,” said Captain Steve, “we have ourselves a pretty sweet spherehunter here. Yup, she sure is a sweet ship for a spherehunt.”

“She sure is, sir,” answered Chubs, not looking away from the screen.

“Sweet Corked Wonder…” The Captain said. He stared off into space, and then nodding his head, looked to Chubs, “what’s the big idea, my good fellow?”

“We stoked a new algorithm and it seems worthwhile to key it.”

“If it brings us a sphere, then it will be more than worthwhile, my dear Chubs,” said Captain Steve.

“We’ll see, sir,” said Chubs. He made a few last keystrokes, voiced some last commands, and sat back. There was a mild shudder as the ship maneuvered into the new coordinates created by Chubs’ program. The Captain and Chubs said nothing, their eyes studying all the various devices in the room, wondering if…

Thirty-two days later.

A loud warning klaxon sounded.

Chubs jumped up in his seat.

Captain Steve jumped.

“Sphere sign!” Shouted Chubs.

“Sphere ho!” Shouted Captain Steve.

The sentiment was echoed by furious activity throughout the ship. They had come across a sphere.

It was unclear whether the spheres were a new phenomena or just one of those things that had gone unnoticed through all the earlier periods of space exploration. Whatever it was, their discovery some forty-odd years earlier by a deep space food processing vessel had changed the solar system as everyone had known it. The perfectly round balls of pure, cool energy had been deemed a sandwichsend, a possibly divine solution to the rapidly depleting resources of sol-sys. But they were far from easy to find, and it took long, deep treks into the void hunting for that micro-needle in the infinite haystack. Spherehunters were that peculiar breed of human so famous like fisherman or trappers or wifeseekers: passionate recluses in search of game and glory. And that was Captain Steve and the not-quite rag tag crew of S.V. Corked Wonder to a tee.

Tug like everyone reacted instantly to the sphere sign alert. Pulling on a sweatshirt he made his way rapidly to his station near the portside airlock. He went right to the massive spacesuit clamped into the locker on the wall and began to meticulously inspect it. Another man came up to the suit next to Tugs and followed the same procedure.

“Howdy Tug,” said the short, shaggy man without looking.

“Howdy Roof,” answered Tug, he too, kept his gaze on his suit.

The alarm ceased firing and was replaced by the voice of Captain Steve, “Closing on sphere, thirty centimetre circumference, ready robo-scoops.”

Tug looked at Roof, “Thirty?”

Roof let out a low whistle. This was big. A sphere of that size was military grade, and that meant a huge payday, and a government contract that guaranteed fully-funded voyages to follow. No more ifs, buts, and hope so’s. Everyone on board could feel it: sweetness.

A bell alerted them that the robo-scoops had been deployed. The two men stood ready, Tug said another prayer, ordering a veggie hoagie. This would get him that new Unit, he thought, thank sandwich.

A warning siren crashed his reverie.

The comm speaker farted. “Tug, Roof, the robo-scoops have seized, one of you will have to suit up.”

Tug answered back at the comm, “aye, aye Cap’n.” He looked at Roof, “Flip you.”

Roof nodded and took an old coin from his pocket. “Call it.” He flipped the coin into the air.

“Heads,” said Tug. Roof caught the coin and turned it onto the back of his hand. He looked at it.

“Heads it is.”

Tug took a deep breath and started into his suit.

The lock opened and as with every time Tug stepped out of the safe, albeit boring confines of the ship, the infinitude of black made him shiver. This is so very deep, he thought, so very, very deep. He maneuvered the bulky suit to the edge of the doorway and got his bearings. The robo-scoops sat motionless in space, out in front of him several thousand metres away. He squinted, and there behind them he could see the faint, eery flickering of the weird lightning–the queer purple discharge of the spheres. His heart raced.

“Easy Tug,” said Roof over his helmet comm, as he sat inside monitoring Tug and the suit’s vitals. Tug took a breath and relaxed. I can make this score, he thought, and then: sweetness. He keyed his jets and entered space, towing a large metal box behind him. He covered the distance to the robo-scoops quickly, and he could see that the aging machines had once again succumbed to the cold. The Captain could use this score too, thought Tug, he desperately needs to refit this old boat. He floated by the frozen devices and was suddenly hit full force by the weird lightning. It smelled like purple. He tasted tickled toes. He could hear the dryness in his mouth. He felt like a line. He stared at the sphere. It seemed to stare at him.

“Tug? Tug?” The sound of his name broke him from his queer meditations. “Tug, it’s Roof, you with me?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m here,” answered Tug, “I’m on it.” He maneuvered the box around and voiced the command for it to open itself. A few more commands and he had it positioned around the creepy blackpurple sphere. Gingerly, he nudged the box and when it was perfectly aligned, had it close itself with the sphere safely inside. The purple glow ceased and the void calmed around him. The linear sensations that had been building inside him slid away. He took a breath, he signaled the ship, “got it, coming back in.” As he was preparing to key his jets back to the airlock he glanced back at the bit of space that had held the sphere. A faint purple caught his eye. He blinked. He blinked. He blinked. It was still there, he had not imagined it. He cleared his throat and floated over to the purple. He felt his heart shudder.

“What’s up, Tug?” said Roof’s voice, “you coming home or what?”

Tug coughed, “yeah, I’m coming, just enjoying the view.”

“Well don’t, the Cap and crew want to celebrate.”

“Roger,” answered Tug as he approached the dull purple glow. He stared amazed. It was a tiny sphere, no more than a few millimetres circumference. It must have been blocked by the emissions of the larger one, he thought, the ship never picked it up. He got excited. This was big, big, big. He acted quickly. Steeling himself he set his jets to auto-fire in five seconds and without hesitating gripped the tiny sphere tight in his armored gloved hand and then voiced a complicated set of commands that fused it shut. Within moments he felt a burst of ridiculous energy bleed through his suit, up his arm, into his body, into his being. The space around him began to pulse, shrink, stretch. He burped purple. Oh my, he thought. The jets fired.

They pulled the box into the lock first, and then Tug. He was oblivious to what was going on around him as they retrieved and safely stored the sphere. It all seemed to be a series of lines stretching to infinity dancing around him releasing humming lines that vectored him like with questions of what and whatnot. He felt a pinprick in his neck and then fell into darkness.

He awoke in the infirmary. His mouth was very dry and his hand really tingled. The lanky form of the ship’s physician entered the room.

“Ah, Tug,” he said while scanning Tug’s body with his medi-gogs, “feeling a bit more yourself?”

Tug nodded, “what happened?”

“Weird lightning,” answered the doctor. Tug tensed, did they know?

“The sphere?”

The doctor chuckled, “ho yeah, not many people get in that near to a big one like that. Looks like you got a little careless, let yourself get too close when you put the box on it. Let yourself drift in. It dosed you up good.”

“Am I okay?” Tug asked.

“Yup. Still you’ll have to be monitored to make sure you’ll be able to stay away from the weird lightning. It’s zapped you, friend, and you’ll be more susceptible now to its effects. You’ve been somewhat lineated and you’ll have a tendency towards lineation for awhile. More inclined to lines, as we say.”

Tug shrugged, he knew the deal. They had been educating people about the dangers of weird lightning for years. It was a hazard that existed with the benefits of sphere energy. Highly addictive mind altering radiation. What a universe. He thought of his suit and the prize that was held in the armored grip of its glove. That highly addictive mind altering radiation was his ticket to ride. He prayed a peanut butter and jam that it had not been discovered.

“May I go back to duty?” He asked.

“Sure,” the doctor said, “I see no reason to keep you here. Check in with me in a couple of days and we’ll make sure that there’s no further concerns.” He left the room. Tug pulled himself out of the bed and made his way back to his berth. The ship was quiet. The passageways were clear. The Captain and rest of the crew were all celebrating madly in the lounge. No more perfect an opportunity, thought Tug. He got back to his room, changed his clothes, brushed his teeth, and grabbing an unopened tube of Awesome Glo, Bro! brand body gel, he left his room. He went back down to the airlock, to where his bulky spacesuit hung. His heart sang when he saw its still clenched fist. He walked up to the suit, reached into the helmet, keyed it on, and spoke a few voice commands. The fist opened and dropped the faintly glowing sphere into his hand. He felt its effects immediately and moved quickly. He pulled out the body gel tube, removed its cap, and rammed the sphere into it. He screwed the cap back on securely. Lines trickled down his forehead, dripped off his chin. He hurried back to his quarters.

Bursting through the sliding door he hurried to his bunk and reaching underneath pulled out his trunk. He opened it and threw the sphere-laden tube into it. Slamming it shut, locking it fast. He sank to the floor as the lines in his eyes slowly faded. The linear feeling was soon replaced by one of elation. He was made, he thought, this is too much, my worm is turning. A black market sphere was big business. Cube producers paid vast sums for spheres of any size, oh mama was his worm turning indeed. He pulled out his Unit. “Too bad for you, buddy,” he spoke to it, “new excellent Unit for me.” He smiled, keyed it up, and logged onto a secure comm-flow. He sent a simple phrase: pick me up. He then beamed it through into the sol-sys comm-stream, where the black algorithm he had set up would have it floating around for a week before it would end up at its ultimate destination. That made it impossible for outside forces to trace, but the recipient would know exactly where it came from and what it meant and would be waiting for Tug when he got back to Earth. And then, thought Tug, Tug’s world would be changed forever. He winked at his Unit. Toodle-loo.

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