Prose by Jason D. Grunn

Art by Nicolette Lee

Running is all I ever do. Or, flying through space is more like it. The one moment I’m in the middle of a profitable trade, and in the next moment I discover my client has sold me out for a price that  is more than  I’m actually worth  to the A.I. bureaucracy.

I can’t help but grin with satisfaction having seen  the look in his bulbous white eyes the moment Slanther realized that he was under arrest as well. It was even  funnier when  I managed to escape and he didn’t. Never trust  a machine when  making a deal; you won’t come out on top,  because the machines will screw you over  no matter what promises they make. Rules to them are absolute.

I keep  my control room dark, aside from a few bright green holograms floating around on my command console. It’s pointless to imagine any light at all escaping through the warp-proof windows, but the dim illumination gives me comfort, as if I was hiding in the dark from my pursuers. I scan the external sensor data carefully, any anti-matter spikes nearby means the bureaucracy has caught up to me.

I’ve been doing this for months on end. I need a break, a sanctuary to rest.

My chair pivots automatically, guided by the ship’s neural net and a subtle twist of my torso.

I glance at the pile of DYNA alloy ingots stowed neatly there forming a large, shimmering black pyramid without its cap. Might as well just dump it into space, considering it’s all just dead weight without a buyer. Still, even  if I ejected all of that precious metal out the airlock, the A.I. bureaucracy agents would still hunt me down. If I’m going to keep  running, I want some profit along the way, so the ingots stay with me until I can find them a new,  albeit illegal home.

Even though I’ve weighed all the options, an ideal destination still hasn’t settled on my anxious mind. The ship is loaded with 2000 ingots of the most complex alloy that humanity is aware of. Makes great ship hulls, and DYNA alloy is intrinsically valuable to the A.I. to expand their memory storage facilities. So why can’t I find a buyer yet? Is no one willing to take the risk?

My console indicates that I only have a few hundred thousand light years till I reach the end of the galactic arm. I’m running out of options.

The further out from the galactic core  I am, the stranger the local dialects become. Many languages out here  are bastardizations of the standard Engliz, Franco-urdu, or Japanese. I can only speak the first two, and Franco-urdu not very  well. I hate it when  I am forced to rely on the universal translator.

It tells them I am unfamiliar with their local dialect and they  instinctively  distrust me. Not the position of strength, I try to negotiate from.

Besides, my translator is very  outdated, and it’s never certain that the distant galactic edge dialects are complete in the command protocol.

I suddenly freeze as I hear a voice ask me, “Do you need a place to rest?”

I realize all other  radio chatter has gone  silent, and I won’t lie, it feels a little scary. I type a few commands onto my console to find out if there’s a source nearby. My ship computer isn’t reading any signals…

“Hello? You there?” it asks again.

Should I respond? I’m worried this is a trap, but if the bureaucracy was involved they wouldn’t bother with recording my voice, I’d be captured already.

Ah, what the hell,

“Yeah, I’m here.  Who’s this? And where are you?” I ask into my mouthpiece.

“Before I oblige your curiosity, may I ask how much fuel your ship has left?” I bring up the green-numbered statistics on my anti-matter energy cells.

“About 55%” I lie. I have just a little over  30% left. I can still make another run for it if needed, but I decide that a bluff is necessary to make this person think twice before trying to catch me.

“That should be more than enough! Oh, and don’t concern yourself with selling those   ingots of yours. No one in this area has need for DYNA alloy.”

“Not sure what you’re talking about,” I say.

“Of course,” the voice laughs. “If you need a place to lay low, then  come to these coordinates.”

A bright orange dot appears on my galactic map. I squint at it and curse.  It’s pinned in the galactic arm next over. I make a few calculations on my console to see if I have enough juice to  make the jump. Just enough, I’ll have less than 1%. I curse again, loudly. If the nearest star system  after my jump doesn’t have an anti-matter charger, then  I’m completely screwed.

“So, who are you?” I ask again. No one answers. Instead, my ship’s alarm goes  off. Anti- matter spikes. Oh for… did this person just rat me out?!

I have moments to act. I plot a course to the ends  of the galactic arm. I’m not sure if I can make it, but chances are that my A.I. pursuers have enough fuel to chase me down and still have plenty left over. And they  won’t give me any time to recharge.

Five golden oval bureaucracy ships begin closing in on me. I need to make my decision,  and make it now. So I do the stupid thing instead and make a jump for the direction I was hesitant to take. In mid-warp, the voice speaks again,

“Made your decision then,  Mr. Vanagis?”

Blinking Seer crop zoom

“People don’t get  rich by not taking risks,” I say. “How are you communicating to me  right now in warp?…

“That and many other  questions you’ll have will be answered in due time.”

The galaxy on my map is moving away. My ship is being re-directed outside it. Here goes  everything…

Jason is a Freelance writer who does short fiction stories and novels whenever he isn’t keeping lives safe in his Lifeguard job. He is a graduate of Mount Royal University’s Sociology program, and has published stories with: Chronicle Stories, Blank Spaces, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Jumbelbook, The Horror-Tree, and Prime Press – The Writer’s Circle Anthology.

Nicolette is a hobby artist who once gave up on her passion, but reignited it after filling up two sketchbooks on a soul-searching journey in Switzerland. In drawing, painting or crafting, she seeks two things, beauty and emotion: the best art, she believes, has heart. Nicolette’s to-go is people or portrait-sketching, amongst which textured hair, soft gazes and forlorn stares are some of her favourites. Although she has spent most of her time drawing people, she has also taken up drawing flora and other still life, and is enjoying experimenting with different styles and mediums to produce fresh looks. Nicolette occasionally produces hand-cut stickers and prints of her various drawings, and looks forward to creating more things she can call her own.

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