MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
Every time he closed his eyes, he was drowning. Water poured into the car, flooding the leather interior as it sank into Elliott Bay. He remembered looking to the passenger seat and the shock that washed over him. The wound in her head. The spray pattern on the window. How her hair floated up with the rising water, copper strands shining in the city lights outside the shattered glass. He watched her vanishing in the cold, and realized two things.
He didn’t know who she was.
And he was holding a pulse pistol …
* * *
The world shook and jarred Flynn awake. He was staring through the shuttle’s tiny window again.
The starfield from before had been replaced with something more distinct now. Inspiring and frightening all at once. He recognized it instantly. A planet. 11-H37. Unique in all the galaxy. Utter darkness on one side, raging heat on the other. He could just make out the slim streak of green that split the two massive halves. It looked tiny, nestled precariously between its giant siblings. It looked like it was being crushed.
It was called the Razor.
In spite of everything, Flynn felt excitement looking at it. Everything that had made him what he once was came from this world. Then again, it had also made him who he was now.
The image of the planet, fire and ice split in half, lasted a moment longer, then the shuttle hit the atmosphere and the windows were full of red streaks and Flynn remembered where he was and why and for how long and reality came crashing back. Excitement faded. Fear returned.
He sat back in the hard, cracked seat and breathed deep as everything around him shook again. Before the heat shields slid down over the windows, he saw the ship’s energy field flare to life with a bluish, crackling sheen. He wondered how many shuttles actually made it through the planet’s ionosphere to the surface. The numbers probably weren’t even published. After all, the ship was remote-piloted, and as for the occupants … well, no one really cared about them, did they?
The shuttle shook again. He jarred upward before the restraints on his ankles yanked him back down, biting into his skin. A strange static hum built in the air; he could hear it even over the engines. He felt the tingling on his skin, felt his ears begin to itch. It wouldn’t be long now.
There were thirty seats inside, screwed into each wall, forcing the occupants to stare at one another. A woman with worn-out skin, a big scar over her left cheek, and wiry, muscular arms sat in front of him. She was breathing heavily, the pace increasing each time the ship contorted. To her left was a kid with more tattoos than Flynn had ever seen—swastikas and hash tags, skulls and dragons—his head shaved clean, no older than twenty. The tats and the head made him look tough, but Flynn could hear him whimpering, trying not to lose it. The pattern repeated everywhere he looked, in the eyes of every person who was shackled to the shuttle. He’d never met any of them, but he could guess who they were. Killers. Thieves. Gunrunners. Tweakers. Smugglers. Hackers.
No matter how shrewd or scary they had once been, they were all frightened now. All of them. Because everyone knew where they were going.
The shuttle vibrated. The static hum grew louder. The edges of Flynn’s vision were beginning to whiten and flare out.
Next to the kid with the tats sat another man. He didn’t seem absorbed in his own anxiety as much as everyone else. Average height, in good shape, and his hair was wavy, probably even stylish a few weeks ago, before whatever happened to get him on this shuttle. There was a sense of order about him too, the way he corrected his posture each time the craft rocked, the equal lengths of his shoelaces. He had a different look. It felt like he didn’t belong here as much as everyone else.
Flynn could relate.
For a moment, the man looked up and the two stared directly at each other.
Then the shuttle contorted violently and they both closed their eyes, waiting for what was to come.
The static hum became a whine, and then there was a scary groaning from the window behind his head as the fuselage began to stretch and bend. Flynn felt the gravity press him into his seat, but sensation in his feet and hands was gone now. The white in his periphery grew. Nausea blossomed in his stomach. The static whine filled his ears, threatening to burst them as the shuttle rocked and shook.
Flynn passed out. There was nothing but darkness.
Until pain lanced through his body, jarring him back awake.
Electricity. It burned and froze, contracted all his muscles at once. He would have yelled, but his body was locked down.
He heard people moan, recognized the sounds of vomit hitting the metal floor, could barely make out blurry shapes moving through the shuttle. They all looked the same: shades of gray and black, with a single glowing spot of color on their arms. One of them stood above Flynn, a gargoyle with horrible elongated arms and glowing blue eyes and a sword that crackled lightning.
“Wake your ass up,” the thing spoke to him harshly, a frightening, staticky mess of sound. The sword arched down. More pain, lancing through him, hot and cold.
Flynn tried not to vomit at the streaking pain and the leftover nausea from the entry. He wanted to curl up in a ball, but he was still shackled to the seat.
The pain refocused his senses. He looked back up and saw that it wasn’t a gargoyle at all. It was a man. Wearing a gray and black armored uniform like the half dozen others now inside the ship. A yellow, holographic patch glowed on his arm, flashing and morphing between a logo of a spinning circle and the word Admissions. The glowing eyes were the reflected light from the HUD in the helmet he wore, and the sword was just some kind of electrified baton that sparked and fizzled.
“Wake up!” the figure barked, his voice emitted electronically from the helmet.
Flynn’s face stung in pain as the man backhanded him, hard. He tasted blood.
Another armored man moved to the woman on his left. His club sparked as it struck her. Flynn could see her body contort. The pattern repeated everywhere in the shuttle, which was no longer moving. They’d landed. They were being woken up from the unconsciousness that came from passing through the Razor’s charged ionosphere. Not gently, either.
Moments later, rapid-fire metallic clicking echoed up and down the interior as the shackles on the passengers’ legs and arms disengaged. Half the people inside fell to the floor, still dizzy and sick. Flynn managed to stay in place, but just barely.
A man stepped inside from the rear air lock, and as he did the guards all stood straight. The silence that followed let the sounds of vomiting and whimpering fill the cabin.
The man wore the same gray and black body armor, the same yellow holographic patch, but unlike his men he had no helmet. He was tall, older than the others, with a gray buzz cut and a tightly trimmed white beard. The way he stood—perfect posture, feet shoulder-width apart, hands clasped behind his back—he looked exactly like what he probably was: former UEG military. He swept a stern, unsympathetic look across the passengers.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, his voice carrying easily in the cramped confines of the shuttle, “let me be the first to welcome you home. The last home any of you will ever know. But most definitely … the one you deserve.”
One by one, the whimpering and the complaining stopped. Every person inside the shuttle, down the line of seats and restraints, looked up at the guard captain; his armored suit, his shined boots, his short hair, flanked by his men. It was all very real now.
“Get them up,” the captain said, then stepped back into the air lock without looking back.
The back of Flynn’s head stung as a fist knocked him forward. He barely managed to stand through the dizziness and disorientation. Ahead, he could just make out a hallway beyond the air lock, made of drab, faded cement. Words had been stenciled there in a nondescript yellow print.
11-H37. HARD LABOR COLONY. LIFETIME INCARCERATION.
A line had been drawn through the 11-H37, and another word was scrawled hastily in its place. Razor.
The paint was fading and old, and something about that, the fact that something so obviously against protocol had been allowed to remain for so long, implied many unsettling things.
A boot kicked Flynn forward with the others, marching them in a line toward the air lock, and every step he took toward the faded words gave him a feeling of finality. It was all really happening …
Copyright © 2018 by J. Barton Mitchell