Parking Ticket

“Okay.  It should be just over this hill.”

Jansen sighed as he watched Ames bound off ahead of him.  The other astronaut might only be a few years younger, but it showed.  The younger man took huge, bounding steps, not worrying about damaging his suit.

Following behind, Jansen insisted on more caution, even though it slowed his pace.  All these young bucks were so eager to explore, to push boundaries, that they never listened to the safety briefings.  Jansen knew very well what even a small rip on the suit could do, this far out from the lander.

“There it is!  I found it – wait…”

Jansen frowned.  His younger partner’s voice had just shifted, dropping from eager to confused.

Had something happened to the rover?  Even as he tried to control himself, the older astronaut felt his heartbeat quicken.  They were planning on using that rover for several critical surveys; any damage to it could set back their mission considerably.

Stay calm.  He forced himself to slow his breathing, to focus on the plodding, bouncy steps.  Crossing the moon was like walking on the surface of a giant marshmallow – each step felt soft, and there was the ever-present fear of his feet slipping out from beneath him.  Conserve oxygen, he repeated in a mantra.

Finally, he reached the top of the hill.  Ames was down below, looking at the rover.

It didn’t appear damaged, Jansen thought as he approached.  It was parked between a couple large boulders, and all the external struts looked intact.  Even the little front shield, designed to protect against any kicked-up scree, was-


There was something on the front shield, Jansen realized.  Even though there was no breeze on the airless moon, it seemed to be fluttering back and forth.  Ames was staring at it.

“What is it?” Jansen asked as he drew up closer.

You can’t shrug in a space suit.  The shoulders are too stiff and don’t move that way.  But from the way Ames raised his hands, Jansen knew exactly what the younger astronaut was attempting to convey.

“You take a look,” he said, his voice sounding uneasy.  “You’re the lead, after all.”

Jansen fought back a sigh.  Passing the buck.  Weren’t these “best and brightest” supposed to be beyond doing that?

Still, he reached out and tugged the thin, gently waving object free of where it was stuck against the rover’s front shield.  The object seemed to be a thin sheet of plastic, with some sort of markings on one side.

He held it up closer to his helmet, trying to read it.  Fortunately, once he picked up the sheet from the rover, it stopped fluttering and went rigid, like other objects in this airless environment.

The sheet had some sort of writing on it, but he couldn’t read any of the characters… Jansen squinted, as suddenly the letters seemed to swim, rearranging themselves and contorting until they formed block English.

“What?  I don’t understand.”  The comment slipped out of his mouth without thinking as he stared at the sheet of thin plastic and the words on it.







Ames was still looking at him.  Jansen knew from the man’s silence that he was worried.

Maybe the younger man was still trying to think in the framework of their mission.  Jansen could feel his mind attempting to do the same, to put this new discovery into some form that he could swallow, could handle.  He wasn’t having a good time of it.

This was huge.  This would redefine their mission- no, he corrected himself.  This would redefine all life on Earth.

And then, a totally irrational thought crept into his head, and he couldn’t hold back a chuckle.

“What?” Ames asked, sounding scandalized that his partner was laughing.  Had Jansen snapped?

Jansen pointed at the sheet of plastic.  “It’s a parking ticket!” he cried, feeling tears slipping out of the corners of his eyes inside his suit.  “NASA’s next great mission, for the glory of humanity – we have to go pay our parking fines!!”

It took a moment.  But soon, Ames was laughing as well.

Two astronauts, beings from another planet, the furthest from home that any human being had ever traveled, rolled in the lunar dust as they clutched themselves and howled with laughter.

Danni California, Part 24

Continued from Part 23, here.
Start the story here.

* * *

The next morning, I rose solemnly from where I had spent the night sitting on the floor.  My joints felt stiff for a moment as I stretched them, but they quickly limbered up.  I still went through the full range of exercises, making sure that I had a full range of motion for all of my limbs.

Once all of my muscles were loose and ready for action, I began to dress myself.

I didn’t let myself stop to consider that this might be the last time I ever did so.

First, I pulled on the lightweight armored vest I had picked up.  It wouldn’t stop a direct slug, I knew, but it might slow down and deflect shrapnel or ricochets.  More importantly, it let me keep the flexibility and speed that I knew would be my best defense.

Next came the two belts of ammunition, bandoliers that slung across my chest.  I made sure to tighten the straps so that they wouldn’t catch on anything.  I couldn’t let them slow me down.  The bullets slid into their little leather loops weighed me down a little, but I knew that the belts would grow lighter as I expended their contents.

The revolvers slid snugly into their matched shoulder harnesses.  I made sure that they were loose enough for me to draw in a single, fluid motion, without any snags.

To cover it all, I pulled an item from the bottom of my pack.  I hadn’t worn my Priest coat in weeks, now.  To do so would be to draw attention to myself.  That wasn’t what I wanted.

But now, for my destination, it would serve as my camouflage.

And finally, finishing the ensemble, I pulled out my old black, flat-brimmed hat.  Its time in the pack had flattened and crushed its shape somewhat, but I smoothed it back out with my hands.  Only once it was once again somewhat crisp, as best as I could manage, did I carefully fit it on my head.

I was walking into the place where I would be most known, most likely to be recognized.  Every other man and woman in the building would know me, would instantly know the price on my head.  Each second of anonymity I could buy was precious.

I looked around the room, gazing down at the bed for several minutes.  I didn’t speak.  What else was there for me to say?

And then I left.

The sun was still barely a red shard above the horizon, and the streets were not yet filled with people.  It was nearly silent as I made my way through the maze of little back roads I’d mapped out.  My eyes remained up on the horizon, locked on the black tower that rose up from the other buildings, directly ahead of me.

The Organization.

My first challenge lay in front of the tower.  A large courtyard, covered in stone, with no cover, stood between me and my destination.  Even in building their headquarters, the Priests had thought defensively, strategically.

Despite my focus, my heart quickened slightly in my chest as I began crossing the courtyard.  Keep calm, betray nothing, I thought to myself.  Don’t let anyone question you.

I made it more than halfway across the courtyard before someone noticed me.

“Hey, you’re coming in early!” a voice called out behind me, nearly making me jump in surprise before I clamped down on my reactions before they could betray me.  “Wait up a moment!”

The other Priest jogged forward; I could hear his footsteps on the smooth stones.  It wasn’t until he came up alongside me that he slowed, and I saw his expression shift from open greeting to one of confusion.

“Wait a sec,” he said, his brow furrowing.  “Hold on, aren’t you the rebel-“

I spun towards him, my hand flashing out.  The knife blade extending from my fist buried itself to the hilt in his neck, silencing him forever.

But now, my cover was blown.  The man’s body sagged, his eyes already glazing over.  I pulled the bloody knife free, but the man was dead weight, and he sagged down onto the ground.  Already, blood spurted out from his body to puddle beneath him.

As soon as I’d released him, I broke into a run.  I was scarcely thirty paces from the front doors of the tower.  I could make it.

Thankfully, luck was on my side.  There were guards stationed outside the front doors of the Organization’s tower, of course, but their reactions were slowed, by some combination of the early hour and their surprise at a direct frontal assault by a lone man.  My knife cut deep across the left guard’s throat before he could even draw his weapon.

The right guard was drawing his gun, but I didn’t slow down.  I spun around, pulling my arm back in against my chest to increase my speed, and let go of the knife with my hand tilted sideways.

The blade flew true, disappearing into the other man’s chest.

I got to see the man’s eyes go wide as he tried to sluggishly comprehend what had just happened.  He looked down, down at the handle protruding out from his chest.  He opened his mouth, trying to say something, or maybe ask me a question.

I reached out and grabbed the handle of the knife, pulling it free.

It was as if I’d flipped a switch.  With the blade out of his chest, the other guard slowly toppled forward, falling to the ground like a felled tree.

I didn’t watch him drop.

My eyes were up, on the doors leading into the tower.  I didn’t see any panicked movement inside, not yet.

That would soon change.

The time for subtlety was over.  I drew one of my revolvers, wiped my knife blade clean of the blood and tucked it away.  I took a deep breath, several breaths, filling my muscles with oxygen.

And then I entered the tower.

To be continued . . . 

Book 30 of 52: "The Republic of Thieves" by Scott Lynch

Author’s note: I’m writing this entry in mid-June.  I’m quite a few books ahead on my challenge!

I’ve already written about my experiences with the first two books in Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards series: The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies.  After reading those two, well, I was hooked!  I actually got “The Republic of Thieves” as an ebook, so that I could read it on my MacBook Air late at night.

The first book in Scott Lynch’s series featured Locke and Jean in the city of Camorr, pulling heists.  The second book sent the intrepid and squabbling duo out to sea, where they played at pirates.  Now, in this third book, the two dive into the deepest and dirtiest world of all: politics!
But what could two thieves possibly contribute to a profession where everyone is already a lying bag of sleaze?  As it turns out, in the city of Karthain, home of the magi (who are complete and total bastards, by the way), an election is held every five years.  The magi cannot directly participate in this election, but they each pick a side, and choose a champion to represent their side.  Locke and Jean are the champion for one side!

But who’s the champion for the other?  It turns out that the opposing party is being run by none other than Sabetha, a long-absent Gentleman Bastard (Gentleman Bitch?) who, as well as knowing all of Locke and Jean’s tricks, also happens to be Locke’s first and only love!

The book is about half in the present and half flashbacks, as we see how Locke and Sabetha’s relationship first developed.  I would definitely say that the stakes in this book were lower, given as how we know that everyone survives the flashback episodes, as they are around in the present.  Still, there were plenty of light-hearted moments in this book that made it a great read.

Can’t wait for the next one!

Time to read: probably about 8-9 hours.  It’s a little slower in ebook, because I’m not used to digital pages.