risking paradise #shortstorychallenge

for the second year in a row i am taking part in the 24 hour short story challenge. i had 7 days to complete a 2500 word short story rolling these prompts:

genre: sci-fi

character: real estate mogul

plot point: ticket scalping

Here’s my two sentence tagline:Tagline: Working on a planet covered entirely by massive machinery, Damian faces injury and death every day. When his chance at escaping to paradise comes, however, he has to decide if sacrificing his honor is worth the price of admission.

Big thanks to tark, my dad, and skyder for extra fast editing help! any and all feedback is appreciated. and also please feel free to share this story/blog with anyone you think might enjoy!

35_RiskingParadise

or if you don’t want to download it, you can read it right here:

 

Risking Paradise

 

Chunga, chunga, chunga. The constant metal-on-metal drone was only ever silenced when high pressure in the machinery let off steam with a series of hisses.

Damian, the planet’s maintenance crew chief, sliced a control panel off the wall with his extended plasma scalpel. “Guys, we need this fan back up in the next three minutes or our air is going to get unbreathable, with or without our masks. Get out your EPS devices and give me a hand.”

In response, three of the thirty men in the chamber dropped their current assignments and headed toward the massive set of unmoving blades.

A pudgy man with a torn safety vest, said, “We don’t need this distraction—especially not now, with the lottery drawing in just a few hours.”

Damian knew the man was right. “Tark, if we don’t fix this problem, none of us will live to see who won.” He pressed his ear transmitter. “Tech One to control. Sector four is experiencing air loss at an alarming rate. We can keep it functional just long enough to start evac-”

Before he could finish his order, Manx, the youngest member of the crew, interrupted Damian by crying out in shock and agony as he fell to his knees. Damian knelt beside Manx as he clutched at his chest. “Take deep breaths. You’re having a heart attack, and your body needs air.”

Ignoring a snarky comment from someone behind him about the air being too toxic to help, Damian cupped behind the writhing man’s head. He guided Manx down until he rested on the steel-plated floor. “Stay with me. Tark’s grabbing the medpack. You’re going to be fine.”

Manx stared back with panic in his eyes, until his breathing slowed, slowed, and then stopped altogether. Damian squeezed his hand, and as he had done dozens of times over the past year, he prayed his crewmember found peace.

Without looking away from Manx, he asked, “How are we doing on that fan, gentlemen?” Knowing full well they had stopped to watch the commotion.

Clanking noises and urgent yelling gave him answer enough. He quickly pivoted, so that his back was to the wall and he could see each man around him. “No one make any sudden moves.”

A wiry man with gritted teeth and oil stains all down his uniform pulled out a small knife. “Out of the way, Chief. His ticket is mine. I’m getting off this nightmare planet and never looking back.”

As the knife-wielding man spoke, Damian was checking Manx’s pockets, trying to locate the lottery ticket each man had been handed one week ago. “No one’s taking his ticket. If he was the winner, his family deserves to benefit. We’re all in the same boat, stuck on this rock, but aren’t we still men? Don’t we still have honor and decency?”

“We don’t need honor,” said a muscular brute of a man Damian believed was named Sorg. “I have a metal pipe and Cob has a knife. Let’s see if your honor can stop those.”

Sneering, the armed duo advanced on Damian, who readied himself but still had one hand searching pockets. Just as Damian felt a thick piece of paper under his fingers, Tark ignited his EPS tool and slashed the plasma beam through Cob’s arm. The formerly knife-wielding man cried hysterical screams of pain and retreated. Tark gestured toward the door, and yelled, “Run for it, Chief!”

Sorg swung his metal pipe, landing a full-force blow to Tark’s temple. Blood splattered as Tark crumbled to the ground.

Damian touched his ear transmitter again. “All crew drop and go, repeat, drop and go.” He ducked another powerful swing and thrust his activated EPS up into Sorg’s ribcage.

The beast of a man howled as his innards poured out of the cut. Damian helped Tark to his feet. Arm in arm, the two men hustled out of the chamber and down a long access tunnel to a ladder that would take them up one level.

Tark released Damian’s arm and dropped to the ground. “Go on without me, buddy, my Ragnabird is cooked.”

“I can help you up.”

Tark shook his head. “Give me your EPS. I’ll hold them off long enough for you to seal us down here.” Without waiting for an answer, he reached into Damian’s holster and brought out the unlit hilt.

“These fools. Here we are trying to save them from asphyxiation and all they care about is stealing our tickets. I hope Rygal Ken is proud of this monstrous empire he’s created on the backs of thousands of dead humans.” Hearing several sets of approaching footfalls, Damian climbed the ladder, nodded thanks to his friend, and said, “I’ll make sure that-”

Gunfire overpowered his sentiment. Tark winked and limped out of sight.

Damian sealed the floor hatch and jogged toward the railcar. As he fled, the floorboards vibrated with explosions from below, signaling Control had received his message and was locking down sector four.

***

An hour later, Damian sat at a table across from Juln, a well-built man who was head of operations and, in his spare time, purveyor of all black market trading on the planet.

Flanking Juln were two of his body guards. The left one, wearing a ring Damian knew had belonged to Tark at one point, said, “Ah, the crew chief who no longer has a crew.”

Ignoring the goon, Damian set a few dozen tickets on the table. “These men all sacrificed their lives to keep your station operational, Juln.”

The guard on the left spoke again, “Get it through your thick skull, Rygal Ken owns all of these worlds, we’re just following policy.”

Without speaking, Juln lowered his gaze to the tickets. A green light shot out from his left eye and scanned the first ticket up and down three times before a soft beep sounded and the light disappeared.

Damain said, “Since my crew paid the ultimate price, you ought to compensate their families. Especially since the winner gets not only his own island on Praxis-3, but a luxury yacht to transport him and his family…er, in your case, cronies, there.”

Still silent, Juln beckoned another one of his minions from the shadows. The man put a datapad on the table.

Daimian read the offer and slammed the tablet down. “What’s this? I can’t even buy my guy’s families food for sixth months with this price per ticket.”

This time Juln spoke. His voice was gravelly and deep, sounding just like the blasted machinery Damian was tasked to fix each day. “I don’t suffer threats from lowly crewmen. This planet is one disaster away from a total meltdown and everyone knows it. Even the highest levels of onsite management are willing to try anything. Just this morning, I had Vice President Ontriza attempt to sell me bogus tickets.”

Damian leaned back, searching Juln’s expression for any hint of humor. “Why would one of the few wealthy men on the planet try something so bold?”

Juln chuckled. “What good is money when your lungs fail? He’s deep in debt trying to keep his body functioning until his ticket is pulled.”

Damian’s eyebrows shot up. “Even he can’t leave on his own?”

Juln folded his fingers together. “You know what you did to be sent here, why do you think it would be any different with him?”

“I just-”

Juln waved a dismissive hand. “This planet is a death sentence, except for the few lucky enough to spend their last years laying on a tropical island because their ticket was pulled. I’ll tell you what. Let’s make an even trade. Each ticket you give me, I’ll buy a year’s supply of your daughter’s medication. Fair?”

“And six months’ pay for each of the men who died—for their families.”

“Three months.”

Damian didn’t hesitate. “Deal.” He slid the tickets across the table. He stood, but a large hand clasped onto his shoulder, forcing him back down.

Juln leaned forward. “How’d you like to barter for the VP’s winning ticket?”

“I thought you said he gave you a fugazi?”

“I said he tried to pass me a fake. His gamble didn’t pay off.” The dealer nodded toward the pressurized holding chamber that was the only barrier between the factory and the toxic atmosphere. Juln produced a ticket and scanned it. It beeped, just as before. It bore the number 081012. “I need to know how many people died in sector four when you called for the evac. My people can go retrieve the tickets, but I’m running out of time. You have the access codes to get my guys in right away.”

“They blew the safety charges. I imagine all you’ll find are ashes. Besides, with the loot you’ll bring in from these tickets, you can almost buy passage for your whole crew off this rock.”

Juln narrowed his eyes. “‘Almost’ is my least favorite word. I have the market cornered on tickets, all except those of the men trapped in sector four.”

Both men fell silent, allowing the chunga, chunga, chunga to take over the conversation.

Damian thought of how badly he wanted to see his kids again. “I’ll agree, if you pay a year’s salary to each family that lost a loved one employed here this year.”

Juln’s poker face broke into a mile-wide grin. “Oh, now this man has a spine.”

“I just want to make sure all debts are paid.”

Juln slid the VP’s ticket across the table. “Then it’s a deal.”

Damian stood. “There’s at least 40 more tickets down there. With all of those to sell, you’ll never have to work another day in your life.”

Juln grinned, “Why start now.”

***

Back in his living quarters, Damian began to pack for his trip offworld. With a huge weight lifted from his shoulders, knowing his crew’s families would be taken care of, Damian allowed hope to spread that he’d be reunited with his own family soon.

Damian turned on the telemonitor to watch the lottery. A scrawny, pale man was speaking from a podium lined with microphones. “Before tonight’s lottery for outpost ode11711, Sir Rygal Ken would like to make a statement.”

The pale man moved aside and Rygal Ken joined him on the dais. He was an elderly man with only a few remaining tufts of white hair and a spine so curved it was a miracle the real estate mogul could stand. “This will be our last drawing for this outpost, as I have been told it has fallen in disrepair beyond saving. Evacuations are being delayed by pirate activity, something I never thought I’d see in my corner of the Universe. It is my vow to make this a safe galaxy once again.”

With that, he stepped aside. Damian zipped up his packed bag as the pale man opened an envelope and said, “The winning ticket contains a microscopic hologram projector that will offer further instructions to claim your prize. Congratulations to ticket holder 081012!”

Damian’s chest tightened. Excitement bubbled up from his stomach and out of his throat as an overwhelmed scream of joy. He held the ticket in his hand and waited for the hologram to start up.

Nothing happened.

He looked at the telemonitor, but the transmission only showed various high-level management members speaking to each other. Still nothing happened.

Damain’s body rippled with anger. He burst out into the hall. “Juln, I’m going to kill you!”

He stopped dead in his tracks, just a few feet away from six armed men pointing weapons at him.

“Hand over the ticket,” Juhl said.

Damian threw the paper onto the floor in front of him. “Choke on it. It’s worthless.”

“Not that one. The real one. Give it up or we shoot.”

Confused, Damian barked, “You’ve got a lot of nerve asking me for the winner, after what you pulled.”

Damian grabbed for his EPS, but in its place, he felt a thick piece of paper. He pulled out a ticket, read the number 081012, and thought, ‘Tark’s ticket? He must’ve put it in here when he grabbed my EPS device.’

Juln shouted, “Grab it, boys.”

Damian clenched the ticket, which emitted a small beep and a burst of light. Suddenly, standing between Damian and Juln’s goons was a full-sized hologram of Rygal Ken. The mogul held up hand. “Stop right there. Juln, call off your dogs.”

Juln spat, “Grab the ticket, you fools.” As he, himself, retreated.

Rygal commanded, “Any of you who don’t wish to perish with Juln had better help get him in my custody.”

As the goons chased their former boss, Rygal turned toward Damian. “I’ve been told you’re an honorable man. Is that true?”

Damian nodded.

Rygal continued, “Then I’m sorry to say, you won’t be retiring to Praxis-3. I need you to join my staff.”

“No, sir.”

Rygal’s expression of shock was so exaggerated, Damian grinned despite the gravity of the situation.

“Excuse me?”

Damian folded his arms. “Ever since I was assigned to this planet, I’ve seen nothing but death and poverty. Why would I work for the man who let this happen?”

Rygal dropped his gaze to his floor and sighed. When he looked back up, his expression was somber, “You have my word. I was unaware of the horrible conditions you were facing. I misplaced my trust in Ontriza and Juln, but that ended today. When my communications with the Vice President cut off this morning, I began monitoring the situation and what I saw sickened me to my very core. It seems all sorts of information has been hidden from me.”

Damian asked, “But what about the lottery, the chance for freedom, you must’ve known we wanted something to escape from.”

“When I offered islands on praxis, it was supposed to be a bonus for hardworking men, such as yourself, not the means to attract prisoners serving life sentences a chance at freedom. Hell, for me it was just a tax write-off and a way to give back at the same time.”

Rygal offered Damian an outstretched hand. “Ready?”

Although unsure what could be accomplished by shaking hands with a hologram, Damian reached out and was blinded by light as soon as his fingers touched Rygal’s. Damian blinked, and when his eyes opened, he was on the bridge of a ship, face to face with Rygal.

The owner of dozens of worlds was speaking. “…astounded how you risked everything for the well-being of your men’s families. You’re going to help me establish the next colony, which will far exceed what we attempted here. First, however, I believe you’ve earned a family vacation on Praxis-3. They are en route now…”

Rygal paused, realizing Damian was staring out the window at the planet he had spent years on. “Are you even listening?”

Damian nodded. “And for the first time in forever, I can hear you just fine.”

Rygal’s brow furrowed.

Damain chuckled. “No more chunga, chunga, chunga.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

now time to sit back and enjoy a drink to celebrate getting done in time!

strawberrydaiquiri!

About douglasesper

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