By F.K. Ontario [a science-fiction short-story]
I’m Mike A. Todd. A is for Angel. And I work in space, in the lower orbits above Earth, along with 85 other people like me. I was very lucky to get this position. If I survive here for 10 more years I could retire in wealth in one of the three Vee-Earth Worlds, very posh.
The work is simple. Catalog, reuse, or dispose. We have licenses and although there is some teamwork we are all independent operators under one Corporate dome.
There are eighty-six of us including me, though I’ve never seen all of us together. I’ve seen the video feeds and the photos. I work in 30-day rotations, followed by 10 days off unless I do overtime. Every 2.5 years I have an option to take 30 days off or shorten my 20-year run. I spend most of my down time at ISS Hilton Luxury-Suites. ISS decodes to International Space Stations.
We’re known as The Eighty-Sixers, pun intended, because we get rid of the crap. Officially this is it:
“We save what needs saving and jettison the rest into a “fast-degrading-orbit” (FDO) for destruction in the atmosphere.”
Larger objects are lasered into smaller pieces by one or more of us.
You wouldn’t believe the crap that is up here. Ten of the 86ers have been knocked off by debris-crashes or CNJ crunched-in-junk.
What follows is more or less true.
Nobody ever thought of finding Doctor Remington, the scientist that invented the stuff and was one of the ones responsible for the mess we’ve been in for the last thirty years. I found his one-man tomb at the beginning of my shift and although his ship’s manifest was under an assumed name it was impossible not to recognize that face after digging through the layers of encryption. The Cryogenic Life Support system was failing so I revived him. I was thankful that the traffic in my area was lower than normal so I could monitor his wakefulness process. I transported a Medi-Computer to his ship careful not to include the history of the last thirty years since he had been down for at least that time. I also transported a Medi5 Robot to assist him with recovery and augmented his life-support system.
He seemed grateful to me for saving his life, but little did he know how my plans were going to play out. So when I asked him about his history with the paint he was eager to confess.
“Basically I’m a chemist with degrees in genetics, micro-biology, etcetera, a scientist that got forced into business. I didn’t want to lose control, but that’s exactly what happened.
“Absorbo-GM96-Paint was the name of the original product. We did extensive tests at the lab and on October 15, 2122 we introduced the first anti-graffiti environmentally re-stabilizing paint. You probably want to know what ‘an environmentally re-stabilizing paint’ does, right? Previously anti-graffiti paints broke down over time and slipped down walls becoming highly toxic and that’s why most genetically modified paints were banned until Absorbo-GM96. The genome sequence in the protected code of the paint molecule continuously regenerates so as to respond to environmental factors. It’s a recycling plant, changing existing paints, detoxifying waste materials into various grades of non-toxic vapors and with minimal onsite maintenance. Absorbo-96 and 98 made us a fortune not just as anti graffiti paint but as a long lasting paint covering that changed shades every two to three years becoming a new coat of paint.
“Using our paint people stopped painting their houses. Our paint could be added to ordinary paint to change it to our kind of paint. Absorbo-97 was predicted to last a thousand years without breaking down. Our company was absorbed into the Megalithic Corporation and I was wiped out. Absorbo-97 was changed into Super-Paint and in my opinion into a highly evolved aggressive paint, but we didn’t know that then. Nobody knew. Nobody knew that Super-Paint 101 was capable of a group mind amongst all paint. How could we have known? I assumed, incorrectly, that they took Absorbo-97 into a higher evolution, but… I’m getting ahead of myself.
“I allied myself with the Budmanto Corporation with the promise that I would hold patents on any paint I developed for them. I began by studying Super Paint 101, but I couldn’t break the final sequencing codes that activated some of the more sophisticated features of the paint or the species of this paint.”
“So you’re saying that Super Paint is alive?” I asked him as I adjusted my headset so I could get a clearer signal.
“Not as a purely biological entity, but it does have biological components. I mean all you have to do is look out any window and you’ll see it’s the dominant and most prolific species humans have every seen.”
“True. Did you know that the paint-pack was last measured as nearly 625 miles deep a year ago? And its still the bland cream color.” I made sure he heard the statistics.
“I didn’t know. Until a few days ago I was in cryogenic freeze, as you know since you woke me and saved my life… Has everyone gone back to miles instead of kilometers?”
“Kilometers?” what the hell was he talking about. “Right… On with the paint story, okay?”
“Yes, of course. I had assured the Budmanto Corporation that I could engineer a better genetic paint than Super Paint 101. I had a few new ideas. The long and short of it was a new paint we dubbed “The X9 Super-Deluxe Paint”. It was tested by the Federal Agricultural Commission and the FDA extensively, and was approved. The International Fudd Bank was eager to apply our paint to its Bengali Branch. They had sampled Super Paint 101z but didn’t feel they could handle the long-term price commitment.
“The X9 was tried in that location and in thousands of other branches all over New Africa Union. At that time International Fudd had taken over HSBZ, the Chinese Bank, and had expanded into the US where Super Paint 101 and 101z dominated the market. The Think Tank at Budmanto believed that someone at Megalithic, probably R.T. Trini, changed something in 101z to make what happened next conceivable.”
“Yeah, we’ve all heard of Doctor Trini, the infamous Doctor Trini, along with your name of course.”
“He was many things, but Trini was never a doctor,” he cleared his throat, “— not even a PhD. …Well, to continue… You do want to hear this right?”
“Of course, I need to know,” I told him.
“Megalithic needed 101 and 101z to stay competitive. So Trini had been authorized by the secret parts of the corporation to activate parts of the genome that I couldn’t access, supposedly by bombarding large batches of paint in the factory and in the field with radioactive isotopes. Trini later became the fall guy in the lawsuits and supposedly killed himself. But again I digress…
“After Trini exposed the paint to the radioactive charges we all know the results but not the definitive cause. In my lab before it was destroyed by the Hoards I worked out the mutations. It didn’t take a scientist such as myself to figure out that I was a doomed man and that we were all doomed by that point. My work was for naught.
“As far as I can determine on Friday March 13, 2133 at 1300 hours X-9 and Trini’s enhanced 101z paint combined on the Chase Building in Manhattan. Thirteen separate paint species were born and went to war on that fateful day. The janitor was infected with the paint and his leg amputated for study later that afternoon. It was fortuitous because if Jenkins had died we may have lost sooner and more would have died later.
“The Center of Disease Control was called to the 1800 block of Manhattan and a supreme effort was made to contain the outbreak. When this failed ten days later none of us knew how the paint escaped. That’s when NYC Police Horse Brigade and the Motorcycle Division teamed up to form the now famous Turpentine Riders, although that solvent was never used. For a full eighteen months various divisions of the Riders contained the streams and brooks of the flow of paint using a substance that I had formulated. I’m sure that the sub-freezing weather in the winter of 2134 helped the slow the progress of the paint.”
“I heard you were very important in those days.”
“I suppose I was well known, yes in an infamous sort of way. And I was well paid for my efforts. But in case I failed I invested heavily in the orbital cryogenic freeze technology.”
“So you saw the ‘writing on the wall’ so to speak?”
At that time the view screen became operational for the first time. I could see him and he could see me. He was weeping. I didn’t expect that.
As soon as he was aware that he could see me and vice versa he straightened up.
“You have to know that as a scientist I cover all the bases, all of them. Believe me I would have given my life to stop the process if I could have. I tried everything. I was on the Presidential Commission along with Scientific teams from the UN and top universities worldwide. The Megalithic Corporation did not share its scientific knowledge and all the members of their Super Paint team died mysteriously. What ever happened to MC? Do they still exist?”
“They were taken apart. The company exists now but in a totally different way. I’ll explain later, okay?”
“Sure, I understand. It’s the history culture shock. You’re protecting me. I appreciate that. Thanks.”
I nodded. Little did he know… And with that he launched into the next phase of his story:
“The Turpentine Riders kept pools of paint corralled in Central Park and a reservoir constructed near the Battery, while the scientific community gathered data and ran limited experiments. We determined that the paint was still fighting itself. The thirteen original species had multiplied into fifty distinct species. Approximately one third was in a state of complete flux switching DNA sequencing every twenty minutes, which should be impossible, but they were doing that. One of the most interesting species groups was the Mimicry group. You may have heard stories about them.
“Before on-lookers were banned from a one-mile radius around the paint many interesting phenomena were reported.
“The paint began mimicking body parts sheathed in paint. Giant fingers, hands and arms and one head of a face that resembled Winston Churchill was created by the paint. It was hard for me to believe that the authorities would let the Technical Division of the Institute of Metaphysical Research to set up a so-called science station in Central Park at one of the sixteen paint lakes.
“I remember talking to a man, Rourke, who was very full of himself. I have a Digital-recorder mind for all audio, I remembered the conversation verbatim:
“ ‘I’m Doctor Rourke,’ he said all puffed up.
“I shook his hand and introduced myself. He really lit up and I was quite embarrassed.
“ ‘We’re using the equipment here and our psychics to make contact with the Paint Beings,’ he told me very seriously with such self-importance that I couldn’t contain myself. I must have sprayed his face with my laugh because he wiped it with a paper towel.
“You can’t seriously think the paints are sentient?”
‘Ah but we do. Our psychics have made mind to mind contact with the paint.’
“And what does The Paint have to say?”
“We’re not quite sure yet. It has many voices all speaking at the same time.”
“How many voices?”
‘About 48 or 49,’ he said, ‘but there appears to be one voice that occasionally comes in above the others.’
—“ Maybe he was on to something so I decided to press him further…
“Tell me more about the One Voice, please.”
‘I surprised that a straight scientist like yourself would even care.’
“I want to solve this mystery and I want to hear your data. It may help.”
‘The Paint wants love.’
“I turned away on my heel and walked out. The guy was a nut case. But he gave me an idea that I hadn’t considered before. The thread in common between the 49 or 50 species of the paint was key I had thought. Looking at the body of paint holistically seemed to be the ticket. I decided to spy on this guy so we could look at the data. But by the time I got back to the UN lab the paint had eaten this observation station and Rourke and three psychics disappeared into the paint.”
“I guess it was love,” he giggled.
“After that the one-mile radius was established, but the paint was on the move.”
“Right,” I cleared my throat. “No one knows how it got out into New York Harbor. Maybe you could shed some light on that?”
Remington shrugged. He didn’t know either. It was disappointing.
“I do have two theories though:
When the paint advanced and took the observation station of those psychos it advanced uniformly absorbing the moat of chemicals that previously kept them cordoned off and killing others in it’s advance. There was a toxic release of chemicals that was registered by our remote monitors. We believe when the paint overcame the boundaries we established for it, it caused paint to spatter in minute invisible amounts. There was a group of about one hundred tourists from Japan watching the Paint Mimic creating ice skaters. That paint lake coincidentally covered the ice skating rink near Rockefeller Center.
“The Japanese shutter-happy crowd recoiled like an amoeba receiving electric shock when the paint splattered. I must have watched the recording a dozen times or so. It made me laugh aloud in a world I felt to be doomed caught between Global Warming and GMO Paint gone mad. Like everyone close to the paint’s advance, they were held in protective isolation, scanned and observed for thirty-six hours before their release. It was standard operating procedure from the CDC. I didn’t think anything of it until what happened later. Who would have?
“It was the New Circle-K Hydrofoil. It pulled away from the dock, another Japanese group on deck, the Astro-Turbines winding up, spray everywhere, the ship rising up from the harbor when the paint burst down 52nd Avenue. As the Circle-K angled 90 degrees away from the docks her bow pointing towards the Statue of Liberty the paint cascaded into the harbor and engulfed the ship sucking it down into itself. The engines’ coughed, sputtered and died flooding the engine compartments with sticky goo.
“Two helicopters moved over the ship with rescue teams aboard.
“As one team pulled it’s first wave of survivors off the ship, the aft portion of the Circle-K was sucked below a bubbling paint cauldron. Most people were flung or slipped down the deck and disappeared into the paint like small pebbles. A News Hovercraft was photographing the spread of the paint into the harbor.
“It was all mayhem at the UN Lab as we scrambled for the fleet of hovercraft and helicopters. I was on the horn to the Coast Guard Toxic Spill Containment Division. Four ships were dispatched from New Jersey and Connecticut ports, eight ships in all.
“We were on a direct feed to the News Hovercraft as it recorded the plight of the Circle-K. Since I had emergency powers vested in me by the President and Homeland Security I squashed all the News cable and broadcast feeds and redirected them to the Homeland Security Headquarters at the UN lab and the Hovercraft Command Post. I was no longer a just scientist; I was now a general, fighting a campaign.
“We needed containment answers and we needed them stat.
“It was clear that an oil boom containment rig would not be enough judging by the behavior of the paint and it’s new aggressive behaviors. I had some ideas, but before I could make any calls some tragic events occurred:
“The first rescue helicopter was caught in some wiring from Circle-K and it crashed and exploded in the paint. But the paint did not ignite as you might expect. The paint smothered the flames and the copter disappeared with those rescued from the ship. When the first chopper went down the second moved off immediately.
“The Circle-K disappeared into a globular mound of paint. It was as if it expanded to digest the ship. The mound continued to expand into a kind of small Liquid Mountain and its height was nine or ten meters at maximum. I was stunned. Was the paint acting intelligently? It had survival in mind, that’s for certain. Sentience? I doubt it. When the tidal wave of paint from all the other lakes came rolling down the streets of Manhattan, our hovercraft ascended one hundred meters to avoid collision by the electromagnetic mist and the paint spray.
“I got on the horn to The Coast Guard command ship.
“I told them to follow standard procedure for Grade Six Old Spills and standby. He laughed as if I was joking. I entered my command sequence and he felt I had sealed his fate.
“I had direct lines to top experts all over the country.
“I called my friend Spivey at MIT. He answered immediately since he was on the homeland security feed.
“You probably know the rest.”
“Yes. You were a hero for seven years, having contained the paint. What was your other theory of the original paint expansion, you said you had two?”
“Right, right, right. Well, I didn’t develop the second theory until the paint broke the shield and spread out into the ocean at large. Here’s the kicker. When Trini injected Super Paint 101z with the radioactive isotopes the protected genome incorporated certain trace elements of plutonium within the DNA chains. The paint may have been more sophisticated than we originally thought. Certain elements of the mimicry paint may have bonded with the electromagnetic web of New York, including the subway, the Hover Tram, cell phone networks and so on. The Circle-K Hydrofoil with its electromagnetic turbines electrified the network and acted as a superconductive magnet. It pulled the paint across the network like a zipper through the sky. Once it was in the water it used the electromagnetic grid to change it’s molecular structure like a shapeshifter of sorts. It infiltrated the oceans bonding with trace elements of fallout from nuclear testing in air and under the water.”
“But nuclear testing was banned in the 1980s or something.”
“True enough. But trace plutonium is in all water worldwide in half-life for 1,000 years.”
“So you were responsible for the paint spreading while thinking it was contained?”
He put his head in his hands.
“When did you know this?”
“Before I tell you, I want you to hear something personal that may have a bearing on my fate. Is that okay?”
“Sure, we have some time.”
“I was hailed a hero. Of course I informed everyone that the work had just begun. In the meantime after a year of observing the paint – all of it New York Harbor blocking the mouth of the Hudson River, but fully contained or so we thought, I was awarded a special commendation by President J. G. Washington. Two years later I was awarded The Nobel Prize for biochemistry, all in vain now.
“But during this time my ex came back to me and her two children returned to me. To this day I don’t know if she was looking for revenge or if she really loved me.”
“At the time you believed she loved you and you fell for her.”
“Right, right, well it seemed that way.”
“Her husband died in a paint related accident. He was hanging a monitor under the George Washington Bridge and the video shows him doing something bizarrely insane. He was in a harness suspended about a meter above the paint and he was photographing the slick with various kinds of cameras: infrared, x-rays, spectrometer, digital and digital video. The paint reached up and sucked him down into itself. It began to climb the cable when the operator above jettisoned it and prevented another outbreak. This was information was suppressed. Four cameras and their contents survived the attack.
“Samantha, my ex, was told that he fell into the paint because of a faulty linkage in the cable. When I showed her the footage she fell into my arms sobbing. We kissed passionately and we were privately remarried a month later.”
“Did she die in the Exodus?”
“No, she left me for a younger man. Because she knew she was a security problem, she hooked-up with a pilot on the early shuttles to the first colony on Mars. But we had some good years before she left me again. Like I said Global Warming and the Paint Crisis were linked. Between the super storms and the paint mutations I knew we were doomed, I was just trying to make the best of it all.
“I didn’t want to believe what my gut told me. I was arrogant. I thought could stop this genetically engineered nightmare. I thought I could figure it all out. I was wrong of course.
“Sam and I had a child of our own, Emma. She was five when I last saw her. We had glorious times in Tibet when the first world-domed city was completed and the Dali Lama returned Tibet to the Tibetans in 2140. After the Dali Lama blessed us, Sam became pregnant with Emma. And as it turned out the three domed cities at The Top of The World were humanity’s last stand on earth, as you probably know.
“During the last days more than 800,000 spacecraft were launched from New Lassa Space Center. But I guess I’m ahead of myself again.”
“What you may not know is that after that number of craft where launched a shuttle rescue effort was mounted. Many millions more were able to leave as the paint covered the Himalayas. For a period of ten years the paint stopped advancing. It couldn’t adapt to the cold.
“In a dawn landing eighteen ships landed on what seemed like platforms of the space port. The paint had adapted to the cold and mimicked the look of the entire domed paradise. Those ships were eaten by the paint. Now the Himalayas are gone beneath the paint.”
He was weeping.
I suggested a break for some food and rest. It was a lot to digest for sure. While he slept I transported him a hot meal with real food grown on Mars and real meat from a domed-prairie on the Moon. I didn’t want him to see the transporter work. What if he were able to devise that technology and get himself transported to a fuel barge or someplace he could hide himself.
I had a manifest of his ship. It didn’t explain the extra ballast he had aboard. Through some intensive scans I was able to determine what it was – gold, about a ton, presumably for bribes. This man had thought of everything. I had plans for his gold, but that would have to wait.
I saw that his bio-signs were fluctuating. He was waking up.
The view screen came up:
“This looks like a great meal. I’m not hungry right now. It’s very interesting…” he looked back at the meal and then back at me.
“You must have transported it here using a molecular transporter device while I was asleep so I wouldn’t observe how it works, right?”
“On the money,” I told him.
“I’m probably considered the worst criminal in the world?”
“Something like that, yeah.” I didn’t want to tell him that because when he disappeared everyone had thought he was dead. I didn’t want to tell him that our best scientists had been working on the problem for many years. I didn’t want to tell him that we supposedly used time travel to correct the problem making everything much worse or so I heard. I didn’t want to tell him about my plan, of what I planned to do with the slimy bastard; after all we weren’t called The Eight-Sixers for nothing. You get the picture.
“We have a lot of gaps in the history. For instance, how did the paint expand around the world so quickly?”
“As I have already told you it may have spread out finding trace elements of plutonium in the sea water creating a bond. There was evidence from space in certain infrared and high spectra scans that a kind of grid was forming that no one could explain.
“Even the most sophisticated scans failed to connect this grid with the paint.
“After the honeymoon with Samantha I returned to intense work with the paint. The Hudson River had a wall of paint blocking its flow. After a year a tunnel was built to divert the water from the paint jam. The greater part of the harbor and the river were contained with normal oil nets with an electromagnetic grid wired behind it. Sensors were attached every 6 meters along the grid to monitor it and the paint behind it. The sensors were hard-wired to the UN Barge in permanent anchor about 1,000 meters beyond the boom. I took a skiff from New Jersey to the barge unless I was in a hurry then in the Mega Hover-Craft command post that the UN provided.
“The paint was on a permanent Web-cam so people could observe it, scientists and the public alike. The mimicry species was the most entertaining of course, especially in creating creamed soup bowls and ice cream cones,” he laughed. It was a hardy laugh from a very sad man who in that moment had forgotten how sad he had become.
When he stopped laughing and composed himself the sadness and doom spread across his face as the paint had done on Earth below through my window.
“Of course you must know about the day the paint disappeared?”
“Rumors,” I said.
“Let’s see,” he turned his seat to look at his computer monitor.
“It was a Monday, October 22, 2153 at dawn because Sam and I were sleeping when I got the call. The paint was gone.”
“What about the water, was it there?”
“Yes, of course. But the paint had vanished, seemingly. The guys at the lab sent a hovercraft to the roof of our penthouse and I flew directly to the barge. According to the instruments on the barge the paint was still there, but to the naked eye it wasn’t there.
“What happened next you probably have heard about?”
“I heard something, but let’s here it from you, okay?”
“Well people found out. Before the police and the National Guard arrived about five thousand people had broken through the barricades and were jumping into the so-called water. What’s interesting is that it did appear to be water for about an hour. Some people got out. They were the lucky ones. About 30 of the five thousand people that jumped or fell in survived, but all the others were eaten by the paint. It was remarkable. One minute it looked and tasted like water and in the next it was paint. Five thousand people vanished in an instant. There was a panic after that. The CDC was able to save 30 people who had had contact with the paint. About a thousand or so who were on shore died slow agonizing deaths in the camps at the warehouses at the pier.
“After that the paint began appearing in harbors and bays around the world. Scientists who had tested the water for years began seeing the mimicry species as the aggressor that had been part of this unexplained group.
“President Jill Bush made an announcement basically lying about the situation to quell the panic. You know the usual: everything is being handled by our scientists.
“After a news report people did panic and all news was blacked out, and Marshall law was declared nation wide.
“You may have heard of the panic. This was up in lake Ontario. The paint attacked the shore and pulled few million people in. It was lucky more weren’t killed.
“And I know this sounds crazy, but huge coffee cups filled within hot coffee started appearing in the ocean. This happened after a tanker with coffee beans lost the ability to make coffee for her crew. A coffee cup filled with coffee appeared next to the ship. It was a kilometer in diameter. The ship was splashed with hot coffee and many were scalded to death. The tanker was pulled down by the coffee cup and eaten by the paint according to a boatload of survivors.
“I remember being called to Camp David with many other scientists from everywhere. DC was under attack from the paint. I thought I was in a bad grade B science fiction movie and under other circumstances this all would have been very funny.
“After the big meeting no one knew anything except the obvious: the paint had mutated and maybe evolved, but into what we didn’t know. Attempts to gather samples grew highly dangerous. What was paint and what wasn’t? How many species were there? No one knew. Efforts were being made. But in the end it wasn’t fast enough.
“After over a three billion died worldwide everyone pretty much knew that we were doomed if we stayed on earth. NASA and the Space Coalition as well as BIS (Business in Space) had just started work on the fifth international Space station. There were two colonies on the Moon and one on Mars just being completed.
“All the nations of the world, the corporations and the Mega Rich had backup plans for space colonization. Everyone went into high gear. You probably know the rest,” he seemed worn out, done.
“Right. Everyone retreated farther away from the oceans, every sane person that is…” my loathing for this one man was beginning in me again.
“You’re speaking of the Lemmings of course, millions of people who dove into the oceans to die quickly. There were a couple of people that were thrown ashore. Did you know about them?”
“They were zombies. They’re memories had been erased.”
“Right, but we studied them. One was able to recover his memory completely and in the process he remembered other people’s memories and some knowledge too.”
“Sounds like science fiction to me…” I said.
“Okay,” Remington said, signing deeply. He looked like he’d been through hell and back.
“I’m beat. Do you mind if I get some more rest until you decide what to do with me?”
“I have to consult with my superiors. That will take about 72 hours. I’ll send some more food down before I go back.”
I had to move out of the debris field to get a clear signal to HQ for instructions, but I knew what they would say.
73 Hours Later
When I returned 73 hours later his ship had drifted. At the time I didn’t think too much of it. With all the collisions and debris rocketing through the area it’s a wonder his craft was still in one piece anyhow.
He must have been asleep when the grappler angled his ship into the dock because his Com systems were down. When I twisted his ship around and angled it towards the paint ball that was once Earth the screen popped on pretty damn quick.
I used the firing thrusters before I opened the audio.
“Are you trying to kill me?”
“You’re smart enough about it all there professor…”
He was talking again, but the whine of the engine servos drowned out the audio while the two of us picked up speed, heading towards the atmosphere.
I cut the engines and jettisoned his craft, fired my braking thrusters so I wouldn’t sink along with him.
“You’re planning to kill me aren’t you?”
“It’s a done deal, professor. You wiped out my entire gene group when the paint swallowed Cleveland and now you’re going down.”
“Oh,” he said and he shut down his Com.
I watched on the exterior monitor as his ship approached the atmosphere. I had been savoring his death, burning in the fires of hell in the atmosphere.
But then something happened I didn’t expect.
His ship turned and the attitude changed. He fired breaking thrusters.
“You crafty SOB,” I said to his deaf ears. I angled the jets, turned back towards his trajectory and jumped onto my cutting laser. The targeting computer was jumpy and I couldn’t get a fix. So if was off to a manual shot. I turned up the juice for a focused beam with a slightly wider diameter and fired.
At that moment his craft grazed the atmosphere and the interference from the ion trail scattered the beam. In other words I missed.
I jammed into the hotline and raised Scotty James two sectors over to see if he could do anything with this sneaky bastard. Scotty gave it a shot but missed too.
“Hey dude, what’s the deal anyway?” Scotty on audio, “The guy will splash down into the paint and die a slow death. Right?”
“I guess so…”
In the next 12 hours I watched from eighteen Nav-Com satellite links. I monitored Remington’s descent to the planet. He deployed seventeen balloon pads to make a safe splashdown into the paint.
“Pre-recorded message from Bogie 8.” The computer displayed the message as the voice punctuated the silence of my cockpit.
“Coordinates on Bogie 8, please,” I spoke to the targeting computer.
The computer locked onto the coordinates. It was a cargo container riddled with holes tumbling slowly down towards a quick fire in the atmosphere. Mostly we let them go. I would be rare to receive a message from a derelict like this one with encryption.
“Message ready,” the computer voice announced.
I depressed the receive toggle. The view screen came to life. It was Remington with a smile.
“Sorry I had to do this, but when you didn’t take my gold I knew that you were planning to 86 me into the atmosphere. I knew I wasn’t wanted. Besides I had to cause an accident, which killed one of your colleagues last week with a three-ship collision. So I had to set you up so I could survive. This cargo bay has my gold and it’s for you if you want it.
“I’m planning on sailing the paint sea and doing some experiments with the paint. And yes I have a molecular transporter so I stole all kinds of materials for my descent. I know I will die here but I hope to do some good. Thanks for being so kindhearted and gullible.”
The recording went dead.
I was angry and happy for him at the same time. He was so much smarter than me, God.
But I had all that gold or I would soon enough.