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Arpina - SciFi WiP (1 Viewer)

GSBoktor

Member

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I

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[FONT=&Verdana]It was a washing machine.
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[FONT=&Verdana]Kel began by brushing off the thin film of velvet-red sand and wrestling his fingers under the top lid. It wrenched open to reveal the dented tub, packed half full with sand and grit. He could feel Dellard’s gaze dig into his back, and when he turned to his supervisor, he saw his face heavy with confusion, in his knitted eyebrows, separated lips. Swirls of sand kicked up in the wind. Kel blinked the debris from his eyes.

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“Wh[/FONT]-p-pew[/FONT][FONT=&Verdana]-at i-[FONT=&Verdana]pe[FONT=&Verdana]-s it?” His supervisor somehow managed to spit sand and speak at the same time.
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[FONT=&Verdana]Unhooking the water pump, dislodging the knobs, unscrewing the front panel, Kel gutted the machine aimlessly. He hoped to dig deep enough into the machinery that any answer he gave would seem informed.
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[FONT=&Verdana]“It looks… uh… to be a receptacle for holding some mass and saturating it with water or some other liquid.” He was surprised at his own ability to sound so clueless.
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[FONT=&Verdana]Dellard crouched beside him and dragged in a heavy breath of air. His supervisor was tall, long-limbed, and his cheeks sank deep into his face. Soft, heart-shaped lips popped out from under his nose, sand-cracked and spotted with scabs. Another one of his breaths was audibly belabored, slimming down his throat like the air was made of gelatin. Kel watched Dellard pull out a vial of serum and a jet injector and dispense the medicine into his long arm. A soft yelp caught in his supervisor’s throat, his body tensing and curling up. The release was equally intense, his breath streaming out in a long, continuous moan. He sat up straight and passed the injector to Kel.
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“Is it valid,” he asked, rubbing the tears from his eyes. His face was suddenly rilled with sweat.

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Kel looked at the dismembered heap of metal and clasped the left edge of the knob panel. It was as valid as valid could be. There was no mistaking its origin—Earth. He shook it and imagined what someone [/FONT][FONT=&Verdana]actually[FONT=&Verdana] clueless would say. Matching Dellard’s eyes, he tried to inhale through his lips, but it felt like he was trying to suck industrial glue through a straw.

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[FONT=&Verdana]“Unlikely.”

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[FONT=&Verdana]Dellard turned to him—sand smeared all over and tear trails patterned into his dirty face—and searched Kel’s face. Finally, his supervisor nodded.

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Kel holstered the serum into the gun and pressed it to the exposed part of his arm. Even before firing, he winced, bracing his body for the total flood of pain, then the cold rush, then the heat flashes. It would last all of three seconds. [/FONT][FONT=&Verdana]Click.[FONT=&Verdana] The pneumatic hiss of medicine shooting into his arm preluded a complete, seismic takeover of his body. He felt as if he had peaked a satisfying stretch, and now, his body continued tensing towards a breaking point, the satisfying feeling turning into perfect pulses of pain. His wrists curled, his arms spazzed, his fingers clawed, and the muscle sinews under his skin grooved. Sweat peeled off his forehead and into his eyes. Then, nothing. His sinuses cleared and he felt his lungs balloon with a full breath of the planet’s atmosphere. He was already dreading the next twelve hours, imagining his breath shallowing and laboring until he would need to administer another round of medicine. Dellard had figured out a way to drag a dose out to sixteen hours.

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[FONT=&Verdana]“Take longer breaths’s the secret. Hold it in thirty odd seconds, then exhale slowly. Stagger it, too. Sl-o-o-o-wly,” Dellard had advised when they were still at the landing pad, talking while surveying the long, arena-sized heaps of sand that conquered the horizon with his binoculars.

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[FONT=&Verdana]Kel straightened himself when the pain passed. He dropped the injector and eased the motor out of the machine and stripped the copper from the winding with a pair of workbench pliers he kept in his bag.

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[FONT=&Verdana]Dellard stood, took a swig of his canteen, then spat out a gungy glob of saliva and sand. “If it isn’t valid, what’re we still doing here?”

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[FONT=&Verdana]His supervisor was already scouting the next sand dune. Kel hadn’t realized the injector was already back in Dellard’s hand until he shimmied the empty vial out of the chamber and tossed it into the cluster of machine parts. Another bead of sweat tumbled down the man’s forehead.

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[FONT=&Verdana]“You’re the boss. Where to next,” Kel said, slapping sand off his trousers. He coiled the copper strips and stuffed it into his bag. His face stung when he faced the wind, bloated with sand, little razors caught in the draft that slit skin at these speeds. A great haze collected on the horizon, and he could barely afford to open his eyes wide enough to peer through the sandstorm, through to something that resembled a path out of their little basin.

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[FONT=&Verdana]“Over here,” Dellard called, climbing with his hands and knees up a slant wall of pale red sandstone.

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[FONT=&Verdana]At the lip of the crater, looking down, the washing machine looked like a little splotch of white in a swarming sea of red. Dellard wrapped a handkerchief around his mouth and marched down the far end of the crater, stuffing the injector into his satchel.

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[FONT=&Verdana]“You’ve got the medicine,” his supervisor asked.

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[FONT=&Verdana]Shaking his own bag, Kel heard little glass clinks under the constant whistle-hum of the storm winds. “Yes sir.”

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[FONT=&Verdana]Three miles in, the sand plains leveled, and they found themselves in a flat basin spread out in every direction. Sand as pressed as possible, packed so tightly that Kel could hear the click of his boots on the ground.

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[FONT=&Verdana]In Galenor, there were three options: airy mounds of sand or hard, pressed sand brittle to the touch or sandstone. All things rose out from the sand, and all things returned. A corpse left to the elements would bask in the sand swells so that the flesh would parch and split like old bread. Left long enough, the body would itself become like sand, and so in a way he imagined his own body as part of the cycle, wrought of sand and destined to return to it. A great cemetery. He could only assume the sand was so red because it had once been flesh and blood, then he wondered how many old lieutenants and scrapers and drunks and pilferers of every corner of their little galaxy were caught between his teeth. Ahead, Dellard kicked up a jumble of loose sand and rock. Was the rising plume a child or a bricksetter?

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[FONT=&Verdana]“Lovely shade of amber,” said Dellard, nodding towards the horizon. They made camp beside a hefty rock sloped out of the ground, forming a natural windbreak. The sky settled into a deep, leather-tan color at night, but never completely black. No stars to gaze at, either.

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[FONT=&Verdana]Dellard laid out a tarp and collapsed onto it. “You think there’re natives here. Maybe some long, tubular motherfuckers with suction cup teeth so they can stick to you and suck out all the moisture in your body with their needle tongue. Turn you to pork rind.”

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Kel took out a crank-charge camplight and began turning. Little, rhythmic clicks spilled out into the dark amber nowhere[/FONT][FONT=&Verdana]—tck, tck, tck—[FONT=&Verdana]until the crank mechanism stiffened. Weak, laundry-white light sputtered to life. Dellard’s eyes twinkled, and both of their shadows baked into the rockwall.

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[FONT=&Verdana]“I think that’s a compelling theory,” Kel said, digging out a lifeless handful of sand.

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[FONT=&Verdana]“C’mon. Don’t you ever really wonder?”

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[FONT=&Verdana]“We’re not out here to day dream.”

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[FONT=&Verdana]Dellard frowned, “You think I don’t know that?”

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[FONT=&Verdana]In the distance, the sound of rocks clattering down a rockface.

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[FONT=&Verdana]“I brought you out here after all, son. You’d be a bloodstain on a stall door or someone’s wife back at the Cluster if it wasn’t for me.” Dellard laid back flat on the tarp, arms folded under his head. “Now, Imma need a ‘thank you, sir’”

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[FONT=&Verdana]“Thank you, sir.” Kel pressed his fingertips into the glass of the camplight. A stronger man would take offense.

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[FONT=&Verdana]When the sky lightened, they rolled the tarp, packed the camplight, and travelled north. The wind easened overnight. After a half-mile, they circled around a depression in the ground, and at its center, a long, janky piece of metal lodged into the sediment. The metal curved out like a half curled finger, and the rivets along its spine suggested it was once scaffolding or some kind of support beam. Not from this planet, that was for sure.

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[FONT=&Verdana]Dellard dropped his sack. “Gimme the medicine—I’ll stay out here. You do your thing.”

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[FONT=&Verdana]“What do you need the medicine for,” Kel asked. He dropped his own bag.

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[FONT=&Verdana]“I’m feeling it coming on.”

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[FONT=&Verdana]“You seem fine.”

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[FONT=&Verdana]“I said I feel it.”

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[FONT=&Verdana]Kel looked at his supervisor, who threw out his hand, palm up, and waited. He dropped his eyes. “Just one vial?”

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[FONT=&Verdana]Dellard shook his head, “All of it.”

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[FONT=&Verdana]“What’d’ya need all—”

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[FONT=&Verdana]“All of it.”

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[FONT=&Verdana]The wind shifted up, blew out Kel’s shirt. He squatted and dug out the plastic bag of vials. They dropped heavy into Dellard’s hand. His feet sank into the sand the closer he got to the lip of the depression.

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[FONT=&Verdana]“It looks like it was part of some kind of scaffolding.”

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[FONT=&Verdana]Dellard’s voice cut through the draft, “Get on closer.”

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[FONT=&Verdana]Feet first, Kel slid into the depression. He fished out a pair of bifocals, snapped off the temples, and pressed the shabby bridge to his nose. The metal beam, up close, looked like some kind of studio art piece, like he had stumbled into a master sculptor’s workshop. It seemed purposefully placed. He ran his fingers along the rivets, sanded down by the wind so that the metal felt rough to the touch. Where the metal met the ground, charred lines of sand flowered out from the impact. It smelled like ammonia. Or some kind of cleaning agent. He got closer, practically hugging the metal at this point, and ran his hands up the far side of the beam. A round hole in the metal met his finger.

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[FONT=&Verdana]“Gunshot,” he said to himself, knowing the wind would dismantle his voice before it reached Dellard’s ears.

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[FONT=&Verdana]“What’s that?” His supervisor yelped back.

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[FONT=&Verdana]Kel pocketed the bifocals, “I said not valid, sir.”

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[FONT=&Verdana]“Then climb on up.”

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[FONT=&Verdana]The hole was warm. Kel traced his fingers around the rim. Soft, lapping licks of air replaced the heavy wind, caressing his arms, still coiled around the scaffold. He squinted through the haze, to Dellard’s opaque shadow on the rise. The hole was warm.

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Shots rang out immediately.
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