The Prelude: Chapter 3
“Hey, look who the diu it is. The golden grandpa has finally graced us with his presence,” Rylan Caldwell said as Drake Ovchinnikov entered the space station’s restaurant. Drake waved sarcastically as he approached the table where Rylan and the six others in their space exploration crew sat.
“Okay, now that he’s here we can figure this shit out,” Bruce Chan said. “Drake, what the diu is going on? We keep hearing crazy things.”
A burst of laughter erupted.
“Now I’m sure this lund knows what’s going on,” Rylan said.
“Drake, we all know you met with the Marshal. Tell us what’s happening,” Hanna Rocha said.
“Let me take a seat, first. You can’t even ask me how my downtime was before you start asking for state secrets?”
Smiles circled the table.
“We know how you spent your downtime, slogging morlock chutias from the sewers,” Rylan said.
“I heard they’re gonna halt all exploration for a year. Is that for real or what?” Hanna asked.
“I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I have no idea.”
“The Marshal didn’t say anything?”
“You think the Marshal knows what’s going on? And even if he did, you think he’d tell me?”
The logic seemed to sufficiently halt their inquiry.
“I’m telling you, we’re gonna be fine. It’s been over a month. If he was gonna do something, he’d have done it by now,” Rylan said.
“Well, he did, but that sure backfired. Now it’s total lawlessness out here,” said Xavier Vale.
“It’s always total lawlessness out here. We just picked out the cow we’re gonna eat,” Rylan said.
“Yeah, sorry you missed out on that Drake, but you took forever,” Bruce said. “They got this whole diuing field over there with all sorts of animals. We picked out a real meaty bull.”
“Yeah,” Rylan said. “Speaking of lawlessness, me and Bruce went to Pleione for the break. And I’m telling you, this place is like another fucking world. You can do whatever you want, literally.”
“That’s what I’ve heard. So you were down on the planet?” Drake asked.
“Yeah, most of it’s wild, but they have this capital city named Atlas, that’s where most everyone lives. And so the law there is that if you are on your own property, you can do whatever you want. So, you can murder someone, and no one can do a thing about it as long as both of you are standing on your property. Isn’t that insane?”
“That won’t last much longer,” Hanna said.
“Pssh,” Rylan sighed. “Crawford can’t just go and kill everyone. There’s only so much he can do. Those people out there, they don’t give a fuck about what some lund a hundred light years away thinks.” Rylan leaned over toward Drake. “You’d love it the most man. There’s just no shitting around. And the people are intense. They want their liberty, and they’ll punch anyone that gets in their fucking way.”
“They got stupid kids running all over the streets back on Orbatron now too,” Drake said dismissively. “Fucking police and college kids chasing each other like cats and rats.”
“These aren’t kut-ass welfare-babies,” Rylan said. “These people are making things happen. They’re building a whole diuing society from the ground up. The attitude there is just—you can feel the energy. ”
“Yeah, we were feeling the energy, alright,” Bruce said. He and Rylan laughed.
“Oh! And the girls, they are so down. These chutias me and Bruce ran into—holy fuck.”
“I can’t believe you didn’t already mention this,” Bruce said.
“So we ended up finding this bar where it’s nothing but genechangers. I mean, what a fucking freak show. But we started talking to these normal looking chutias and brought them back to the spotel. Turns out they’re twisters too, but they got real subtle changes. So, this girl’s kut tasted like cherry. It was exactly as if you were licking a goddamn cherry popsicle. I shit you not. It even smelled like it.”
“My girl tasted like oranges,” Bruce said with a huge smile.
“And they could purr, just like a cat,” Rylan said. “All I’d have to do was massage her for like five seconds and this kut starts buzzing like a bumblebee, making animal noises and shit.”
“What a bunch of freaks,” Drake said.
“I know, right? I love that fucking place. I’m telling you Drake, next break come with me. Fuck Orbatron. I don’t know why you go back to that boring place.”
Drake couldn’t disagree with that sentiment.
A team of servers brought large plates of food, bacon-wrapped filets accompanied by mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, bread, and butter.
“They grow all this here on the space station,” Bruce said to Drake.
“You pick the pig too?”
“Sir, can I get you something to drink?” a server asked Drake.
“Yeah, you have any specials?”
Rylan burst out laughing.
“Here’s the beverage list,” the server said, pointing.
“Uh, how about this scotch,” Drake answered. The servers whisked off.
“Daddydiuer’s asking about specials,” Rylan said laughing. “This meal alone is over a thousand bucks.”
“Seriously?” Drake asked.
“You gotta love government expense accounts,” Xavier said.
Typically, Drake avoided soaking the taxpayer’s coffers as much as he could, but because this would be his last hurrah, he tore into his meal.
“This is delicious,” Drake said aloud as the server returned with his scotch.
“I’m telling you, there’s no synthetic food in the world that tastes this diuing good,” Rylan said. “No matter how hard they try, they just can’t top the original. It’s ridiculous this shit got banned in the first place.”
Forks stabbed and twisted. Jaws chewed.
“So this one night me and Bruce were in this dive bar and we started buying drinks for these diuing chutias…”
As Rylan continued to document and detail his embellished sexual exploits while on Pleione, Drake sipped his liquor and retreated into his mind. A sadness washed across him.
Here on the edge of the galaxy, enjoying conversations and dinner with his friends, preparing to travel to another new star system, maybe the last he’ll ever discover, Drake sighed. This was his home. This was his world. And unfortunately, this would be his last time here.
Laughter again whirled around the table.
“That was the worst story you’ve ever told,” Hanna said to Rylan.
“Those little kids must have been mortified,” Xavier said.
“Nah, they loved it.” Rylan said.
Rylan took a respite from running his mouth to shovel down some food, and in that brief silence, Drake scanned around at his crew. A smile bubbled up. He’d not spend this last moment of his career lamenting its end. Instead, he do his best to cherish it.
“Hey,” Drake said extending his arm with drink in hand. “Whatever happens, I just want you to know it’s been a pleasure flying with you kuts. Here’s to the greatest explorers the world has ever known.”
The rims of glasses knocked together.
Light conversation and heavy consumption carried on for hours until they maxed out their expense accounts and staggered off to bed.