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Random Fiction #2 – 112618

Jake Smathers ran the numbers on the transport mod, hoping against hope that this time they'd work. He'd run away from the mining operation on Palooma the week before. Looking back, he knew it wasn't the best idea but being angry at the station chief made him lose his cool.

Now he was ready to blast off, to get out of the cold atmosphere and feel his fingers and toes again.

“Damnit!” he yelled, as the yellow warning lights danced on the now-dead console. The last vestige of an earlier age, the transport mod hadn't run in years. Quick thinking on his part made one last-ditch attempt possible. He pulled the reactor core from a long-dead NASA drone and shoved it in place of the melted version in the transport.

“C'mon, you bastard,” he yelled again to no one in particular. “I checked the gauge myself and you had plenty of juice before.”

He wasn't able to convince himself, let alone an inanimate module that had seen better days.

The angry roar from inside the mine disappeared into the distance the farther he ran away. Quiet solitude took its place, a welcoming change of pace from the tinnitus that usually followed.

Jake grew tired of the silence, as most men his age did when confronted with nothing but their own thoughts. A life of constant stimulation made any time spent without it ache for an eternity.

“Shall we commence ignition?” came a voice in the darkness. Cold and robotic with no emotion, it was the sweetest sound Jake had heard in days.

The random voice of a computer-generated operating system was the best friend he'd longed for after his real best friend disappeared on his way back to the bunk bay before the last shift of the week before. The local cops investigated but turned up zero leads, chalking it up to another miner gone mad after a month on the planet.

“Yes,” Jake said, frantically scanning the knobs and switches inside the module as they each lit in turn from the bottom to the top. Scanning outside the window at the rock-strewn red clay terrace ahead of him, he saw the stalks of Martian grain waving in the wind.

He blinked twice to refresh the image in his head. There was no wind on Mars, so the waving stalks were a trick his mind played on him. Or so he thought.

As the dim lights inside the mod flickered to life around him, a police rover caught the corner of his eye. The grain fields were waving, and the rover was the cause.

“Commence ignition, NOW!” Jake yelled, hoping to get off the planet before the rover got any closer and deployed the magnetic field. He'd be sunk for good once that happened. He'd be arrested and sent back to the mines, this time for a longer sentence than his initial two years.

No one lasted much longer so anything more would be a certain death.

“Do you care to point me in the right direction?” the voice said.

“I don't care if we land on Timbuktu,” Jake said, “just get me out of here.”

Jake spotted the rover turning left to make a counterstrike against him, turning the laser turret in the direction of the module. The Martian sunset faded in the background as the rover filled the evening sky before it.

“Any time now,” Jake said, mashing the launch button over and over. He knew it wasn't going to work, but he had to try it anyway. What more could he do? He was about to be a free man, off the rocky colony he'd called home for the last three months.

The engines sputtered to life as the roar of the blast the filled the interior of the module. Jake could now see everything inside as the last of the switches flicked on. A sickly green glow filled the module, but it felt like a mother's embrace to Jake as the police rover closed in.

The fury of the tri-modded engines roared to life as the module slowly ascended skyward. Jake noticed the turret of the rover turning back and forth, generating energy to unleash the magnetic field.

A sly grin spread across his blotchy red face, his stubble itching after a few days on the run. He knew he was safe, he could feel it deep in his bones, even though they ached from too many nights of sleeping on the ground.

Five meters, ten meters, twenty meters, the module rose higher in the sky. Jake could see the mining camp in the distance. He hadn't traveled near as far as he thought, though the rough overgrowth of the grain fields slowed his progress.

No matter, he was free, escaping from the treachery of that place, free to chart his own course. The rover below lowered it's turret, sensing too much distance from its prey.

Jake Smathers was a free man.

He flipped on the nav screen to see where he was headed. It didn't matter much to him as any place was better than where he was at that moment.

The sly grin faded from Jake's face.

As the transport module rocketed through the Martian atmosphere, the faded letters reading “To Serve and Protect” emblazoned on the outside came into view as years of dust blew away.

The image of an Archimedes penal cruiser filled the screen.

“Welcome home, Mr. Smathers,” a solemn voice said. “We've been expecting you.”

Copyright © 2018 Chad V. Holtkamp.

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