Tribulation

Reads: 265  | Likes: 1  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


Six astronaut candidates are sent to the Australian tropics to prove their worth, but when things turn ugly, they'll need their skills to get out alive. [first two chapters]

Submitted: September 21, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: September 20, 2017

A A A

A A A


 

Chapter One

 

 

 

Memories have huge staying power, but like dreams, they thrive in the dark, surviving for decades in the deep waters of our minds like shipwrecks on the sea bed.

–J. G. Ballard

 

 

 

He was not dead. But not dead was a spectrum. The medication was wearing off.

There were voices in the room now. He could hear. He’d been alert enough to stick his fingers in his ears. Objectively, intact eardrums were better than blown out eardrums. Except that what he heard made him want to crawl back inside the Earth.

The backs of his eyeballs were twitching, trying to tolerate the overhead wattage. His skin hurt the most: burns, he deduced, seeing the combustion flash in his memory. He felt behind him for the pillow, and tucked it farther under the base of his skull to relieve the strain on his neck. Phlegm slid down his throat. It felt good–something to coat the tattered remains of his respiratory system. He must have slipped in and out of conscious because he remembered a doctor saying that they couldn’t find any pulmonary contusions, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there. He’d called Gentaro’s injuries, “tertiary or quaternary.” The rating system obviously didn’t account for pain.

“Mr. Daigo? Daigo-san. Gentaro Daigo?” said the nurse. Her accent reminded him what country he was in. Australia. Bloody oath. “Someone else is here to see you.” He forced his eyes open and saw the nurse squinting at a business card he knew she couldn’t read. She handed it to Gentaro’s mother. “He says he’s detective,” the nurse whispered. “He says he flew in from Japan to see your son.” A moment later, the Dick was invading Gentaro’s bedside, displacing his parents, who’d also made the trip.

He knew the Dick would ask him what happened. He’d woken with the memories to fill him in, but they’d slipped away in the manner even the most vivid of dreams did. He tried to recall things. He saw a halo of light. Light from his headlamp. It glowed against the mounds and spikes protruded all around him. It smelled pungent and damp. He heard water dripping from the ceiling into pools and echoing off unseen walls of rock along with the voices of the others. The passage tapered down into its own dimension of dark, an event horizon for decibels that carved new hours into midnight. This memory was a good one. The first few days had been fine. Challenging and adventurous. Thrilling. He saw flashes of the other days. He saw Ronin. He should have warned the planners about Ronin. No, the planners should have known about Ronin’s tendencies. And they should have known the tendencies of the terrain. The other days would have been avoided.

He didn’t want to talk about the other days.

The Dick was speaking to Gentaro’s mother, and in Japanese as if Gentaro and his father were children incapable of comprehending the vast complexities of the adult world. Never mind that Gentaro’s first language was Japanese, and his father spoke it almost as well. In Japan, appearance alone justified exclusion. And never mind that they weren’t in Japan. The Dick gave Gentaro’s mother a copy of the same business card she was already holding, and she politely accepted it with a bow. “Detective Sekihara,” she read aloud as if she hadn’t read his name a second before he barged in. “Organized Crime and Foreigner Crime Division.” Her voice bore no trace of concern or suspicion. She was like that. If a cop said her son did something wrong, then her son did something wrong.

Gentaro’s father wasn’t so obliging. In Japanese, he told the Dick he had no jurisdiction there, to which the Dick replied in English, “I’m here as a courtesy. Your son and I have become acquainted over the past year. Naturally, I became alarmed when I heard what had happened.”

“Well, I’m not dead,” Gentaro blurted. The pain made him grab his throat, and the IV caught on the side of the bed, torqueing the needle beneath his skin. He didn’t flinch. He wouldn’t appear any more defeated than he could help. “You can go home and arrest me when I get back.” His mother scolded him, and apologized to the Dick. Being away from Japan must have tarnished Gentaro’s manners, she said.

“If it’s not too much,” the Dick pressed Gentaro’s mother, “Perhaps I could have a few minutes with your son? I’m not here to talk about the conspiracy matter–that can wait. But it would mean a lot if he could share his account of what happened in Cape Tribulation.”

“Oh, of course, Detective. Of course, he won’t mind.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

[T]he northern point of land . . . I named Trinity Bay, after the day on which it was discovered;the north point, Cape Tribulation, because here began all out troubles.

 

–Captain James Cook (1770)

 

 

 

Gentaro wiped the fog from the window with the sleeve of his jumpsuit; a wall of vegetation streamed by the roadside. His seatmate, Nel, spoke for the first time. “Just open it,” she told him, and she went back to staring at the seat back, no doubt contemplating the trials of next three weeks and what it meant for her future. He didn’t want to interrupt her. He did as she suggested, though, and slid open the window. A rush of muggy air slapped his face. His collar whipped against his neck and wind rushed down his arm making the JAXA patch ripple like a flag. He shifted in his seat so he could see the logo reflected in the closed half of the window. He read the backwards lettering: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. His name patch was there, too. He stifled a grin and reminded himself, You’re not there yet. He’d gotten far, but until evaluations he was still playing dress-up. He closed eyes and let the hot air run through the jumpsuit. He imagined being in an airlock, having his suit pressurized.

The driver tapped the brakes and Gentaro opened his eyes in time to spot some kind of cat-sized critter dart from the tires and into the bushes. Then he saw the driver glance at him in the mirror. He shouldn’t have opened the window. He looked back over to Nel but found her gaze fixed across the aisle on the view out the other side. Shouldn’t they be locked in conversation, getting to know each other, as the others candidates were so vocally doing? Nel looked content, though. Almost meditative. He didn’t want to disturb her with small talk. Then again, wasn’t that what Western people did? They stood in line at the supermarket gabbing with strangers about the latest super food or quantum mind hack.

The conversation in the row in front of Gentaro interrupted the conversation in his brain.

“People think wilderness survival is all about getting water and shelter,” Ronin was saying to Kim, one of the Americans. “It’s not.” And then in the same breath: “You like leopards? I do. Beautiful creatures. Like you. I like you, too.”

Merely by the virtue of Ronin’s DNA, Japanese people considered him more Japanese than Gentaro. Unlike Gentaro, though, he had no shame in violating the values of his countrymen. In principle, that was fine–the way Gentaro saw it, the nation was breaching its own hull the way people insisted on such a narrow definition of what it meant to be Japanese–but Ronin disregarded the very foundation of the Japanese identity, Japan’s Higgs field, Japan’s proverbial baby that shalt not be split with the bathwater into its elemental constituents for in situ resource utilization rocket propellant. Ronin disregarded harmony. Ronin was an asshole.

“Uh huh . . ..” Gentaro heard Kim mutter. She was humoring Ronin. A wise move, if one could not avoid him altogether. The geodesic dome and ponytail atop Ronin’s tree stump of a neck usually afforded him a wide berth. This often led him to seek out tormentees like a child chasing pigeons in the park, rather than simply to molest people as they happened upon him like a conventional creep would do. To the untrained eye, Ronin’s shoulders appeared nearly as wide as he was tall–a weapon of intimidation he was fond of deploying. Back in Tsukuba, at the university, students compared Ronin to a Ninja Turtle, but instead of taking to the lectern headband-clad and wielding cool weapons, he wore a patchwork vest of the forest critters he’d murdered on the Kazakh steppe (or wherever the hell his epic escape had supposedly taken place). At least here, on the sim, he had to wear the same jumpsuit as the rest of the candidates.

“Survival is no different than space travel,” Ronin said to Kim. “You’ve got to keep your head in the game.” He always sounded so intense, like everything he had to say pertained to something imminent and life affirming.

“I see.”

“I killed a Tibetan snow leopard with my shoelace and a piss-icicle. My head was there–like those polar bears who wait at the ice hole for a seal to pop up. I knew to wait till that leopard was suckling its cubs, and then I snuck up on it and . . . motherfucking ka-pow! Ever watch MacGyver? Me neither. TV fucks you up. But people say I’m like MacGyver.”

Kim made a noise. It sounded a little like uneasy laughter, and a lot like nausea. Ronin proceeded with the details of the snow leopard slaughter, and Kim made more noises, none of which conveyed a desire for Ronin to elaborate further, and none of which made him stop. 

Ronin had the demeanor of someone raised by the Khmer Rouge, because he had been. They’d killed his Japanese parents­–holdovers in Cambodia from the Japanese occupation–when he was five and put him to work planting land mines. Small hands were less prone to setting off a device accidently. He planted mines for ten years, until the genocide ended. Then, for another ten years, he switched to digging up those very same mines for the other side before he fled to North Korea where things didn’t get much better. Gentaro had handled the landmine relics that decorated Ronin’s office, and he knew him well enough to believe most of the other stories he’d heard about Ronin, too. Kim would have only known what was in Ronin's bio. It mentioned his stint with the Tokubetsu Keibitai, or Special Guard, a totally not-made-up-by-a-five-year-old unit of high-seas pirate fighters under the command of Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force. Ronin’s bio said nothing about his life pre-Japan. Kim had probably chosen to sit by Ronin thinking he’d be an interesting person to pass the ride with. And interesting, he was.

The driver slowed for another obstacle. From his side, Gentaro couldn’t see it and he didn’t want to get in everyone’s way trying to, but some the candidates across the aisle had their phones out and were snapping pictures of whatever had dodged the grill of the bus.  It must have fled down the road behind them, because two of the candidates hopped up and went to the back for a better view. There, they crowded in with the six people from NASA.

The bus sped back up to normal speed, and Gentaro wondered what animal it had been. It reminded him of the one part of Kim’s bio that had stuck in his mind. Grief Studies in Charismatic Megafauna. That was the name of a paper she’d co-authored at Berkeley. He imagined a bunch of mommy pandas being forced to watch the ever-cheery Professor Kim Douglas euthanizing their cubs with a bolt gun while a team of grad students stood by obediently taking notes and nodding.

Like an anthropologist, Gentaro watched Kim and Ronin through the gap in the backs of the seats. His former mentor and thesis advisor, Ronin Aro, twisted his wholesale shoulders, shaking the seat in front of Nel, and planting him face-to-cheek with Kim. The move forced Kim to retreat against the window. Ronin had already initiated the invasion by rolling the sleeves of his jumpsuit up to deploy his biceps onto the neutral armrest. Now his slimy ponytail was leading a full-on occupation. A former child-slave to murderous zealots, or not, Ronin should have known better than to harbor a ponytail.

“Aren’t snow leopards extinct?” Kim said, still chipper, though cornered and caged. 

“Sure, now,” said Ronin. “But they weren’t then.”

“I see,” said Kim. The evaluators would give high marks for diplomacy, something surely on her mind.

The surest way to avoid distressing anyone was to pass the journey without acknowledging each other’s presence, but Gentaro decided he had to say something to Nel anyway. The project was a real chance to be accepted among peers. In Japan he would have felt obliged to respect his seatmate’s right to peace and silence, but here, on a bus in the middle of the rainforest, either everyone else had violated social norms, or the Japanese brand of harmony was not universal.

“Actually,” he began, “my dad’s Canadian. From Vancouver but he came to Japan before I was born.” His intestines tensed at his own words. What a stupid icebreaker. He made it worse: “Everyone else on my dad’s side is in Canada.” Nel probably thought he was going to ask if she knew any of them. He wanted to apologize and explain that a lifetime of being identified and defined solely by his half-ness had polluted his social skills. But that wasn’t something he wanted to admit out loud–the candidates were being monitored.

 

Anyone could fake their way through a psych exam–as evident by Ronin’s presence in this, the final round of selection–but three weeks under surveillance would uncover their cracks. There was no need to rush into it.

Nel nodded. After a moment’s contemplation she turned her shoulders to face him squarely and replied, “My family’s in Nunavut. Some in Quebec, too.” She spoke slowly and clearly, and she held her chin high, but her round cheeks and Bambi eyes overturned the severity in her posture and voice.

It took Gentaro a second to deduce she was of Inuit and not Southeast Asian descent as he’d thought. He should have known. He’d read her bio.

Nel and Gentaro were not in competition. Each AsCan had only his or her own agency’s counterparts to outperform–her with the CSA, and him with JAXA. Cooperation was crucial to their evaluations. Unlike NASA’s drive to find the next twelve best and boldest, Japan’s next astronaut class would be comprised of just one member. Five thousand people had passed JAXA’s initial screening and applied for that lone opening. And now, after three grueling rounds and a year of tests and training, only Ronin Aro and Gentaro Daigo remained. For the final round of selection­, JAXA had placed them on one of nine international teams taking part in the three-week mission sim, Project Daintree. As the first team to embark on the Project Daintree sim, Gentaro, Ronin, and the other four AsCans on the bus were designated, Team-A.

Gentaro shut his window. It felt nice, but he didn’t want to annoy the driver, or anyone else with the wind. He watched Nel’s reflection against the scrolling backdrop of green foliage. She had a face like a Buddha statue–round and made of stone, but with baby cheeks, long straight back hair, and big, soft, dark eyes that gave a sense of stoic compassion. He glanced over to see her reach down for a water bottle from her backpack and saw she had patterned bands tattooed around her wrists and fingers. He wanted to ask her about them, but he wasn’t sure if doing so would violate some principle in JAXA’s cross-cultural training manual.

He treaded carefully. “I like your tattoos,” he said. Nel’s flat lined expression morphed into a grin that gave her dimples. It only lasted a second, but the afterglow persisted and spread to Gentaro. “I just got them,” she said, withdrawing from their brief eye contact to examine her hands. Gentaro suspected she didn’t smile often. Not that she came across as hostile or glum–she held herself with confidence, if not radiance–she just wasn’t the type to fake a smile.

Gentaro pulled down the neckline of his blue NASA-issue jumpsuit and showed Nel his pulsar-map tattoo. She nodded approval. “From Voyager and Pioneer,” she said. It wasn’t a question. She knew.

“It’s so if I ever get lost out there–” He pointed his thumb skyward, out the window, and gave her a goofy smile. “They’ll know which way to send me back.”

The bus went around an especially sharp bend. Someone’s backpack came crashing down off the overhead stowage rack, and Gentaro held the armrest between Nel and him to keep from making a similar plunge from his seat. Incredibly, Nel didn’t reach out for anything. She swayed her upper body with the motion of the bus instead, and she even took a swig of her bottle while doing it. Gentaro was in pretty good shape–best of his life–but he could hardly imagine the abs she must have had.

The bus climbed with the Captain Cook Highway, slowing for the dips and swings of the their winding infiltration into Queensland’s Wet Tropics. To the east, distant pockets of white sand and the turquoise waters of the Coral Sea peeked through gaps in the foliage. Gentaro wondered if he’d get to see the Great Barrier Reef. He’d been told almost nothing of the project. He look over past Nel out the windows on the other side and saw patches of steamy fog migrating across the green cones of ancient volcanoes. A T-Rex could have come rampaging from the mist, and he wouldn’t have been surprised.

“Ever had a dolphin burger?” Ronin was still talking. “Dolphin meat’s got a shit-ton of mercury in it, but you can eat it. I met Kim Jong-un, you know. Dated his sister. You like kimchi?”

“Sorry, what? What did you say?”

“What?”

“You can’t just drop a bombshell like that and move on to, ‘Do you like kimchi?’” Kim’s voice had risen several octaves. “Whose sister?”

“Kim Jong-un’s. A real rantallion ax-wound, that one is. Bastard stole my stingray tail. His sister is something, though. Best Elsa impersonator that side of the DMZ.” Ronin proceeded to serenade Kim with a few bars from Frozen. “Conceal don’t feel. Don’t let them know. Well, now they know . . .. Let it go . . .. Let it go . . .. Let it go . . .. Great girl. Too bad about her brother, though.”

Gentaro had yet to figured out how Ronin, the mascot of Liability, had made it to the final round, but if half of Ronin’s stories were true then it likely revolved around the boundless sphere of his dodgy connections. It wouldn’t have been the first time. Perhaps it was naïve to think that by the mere virtue of scientific nobility JAXA would be immune to the institutional flaws that possessed other institutions.

“The real name of this area is Kulki,” said Nel, initiating conversation for the first time. Her eyes were on a tourist map she’d taken from the seat pocket.

Gentaro had only heard it called Cape Tribulation, part of the wider Daintree rainforest.

 “The traditional owners are the Kuku Yalanji,” she said.

 “Do they still live out here?” Gentaro asked.

She waited for Ronin to stop shifting his mass, and when the bouncing of the seat in front of her paused she put the tourist map back in the pocket. “Perhaps,” she answered.

Gentaro didn’t press her. He didn’t want to give the impression that he thought her lineage endowed her with wikipedic knowledge of all things indigenous. He hated how people in Japan treated him like a reference for all things non-Japanese. How’s the weather in Canada? Foreigners where their shoes in the house, right? Foreigners have to put sugar in their tea, right? He leaned back in his seat and wondered what life would be like in such a place as the Cape Tribulation. Maybe he’d find out. If he did poorly in the mission sim he could flee into the rainforest, find a nice little spot populated by psychotropic frogs, plant a flag, and dig in for a long ride through the universe within. No going to space, but no going back to Japan–and no going to prison either.

His last-minute run-in with the Dick and the resulting changes to his flight hadn’t left him much time to go over the others’ bios before he’d left Japan. He couldn’t recall Nel’s last name, but he knew it had a Q in it. And she’d done some kind of work that made her uniquely suited for the sim, and space exploration by extension, but he forgot what. He had the bios on his phone, but it would have been creepy to be digging through her profile while she sat right next to him.

 

***

 

A row of four Toyota Hilux SE 4X4s, angle-parked on a rocky incline with their front tires askew like a promo shoot, stood proudly against the red earth and jungle; each a different shade of sparkling manliness and armed with giant fuck-you tires, a snorkel exhaust, and a bull bar set to take out every endangered species that crossed its path.

Five of six NASA contractors and all six astronaut candidates stood clustered at the edge of the muddy parking area in front of the rental shop. Their boots made suction sounds as they jostled their boots for a piece of the eucalyptus tree’s shade. Gentaro rolled up the sleeves of his jumpsuit and dropped the front zipper to ease humidity. The contractors were giggling at their colleague, who stood just out of earshot in front of the row of trucks, poised like he needed everyone to know who he was. The hair on his forearms blew in the breeze, and his salt-and-pepper hair danced at just the right frequency while he chewed his gum and looked whimsically to the sky through oversized sunglasses. As if on cue, an eagle screeched through the sky. “We call him the Aviator,” said one of the contractors, a thick, middle-aged woman. Someone pointed out that there were no kids around to ask for pictures, and the Aviator looked sad. The woman let out a cackle. The Aviator, she said, was an American helicopter pilot working in Queensland “for some third-rate island hopper with a dodgy safety record and dodgier clientele.”

“Okay, listen up,” called the furry-armed Aviator. He spit out his gum and stepped on it as if putting out a cigarette. “From here on out, NASA and its affiliates take sole control of the project.” He paced across the row of trucks, caking his boots and the bottoms of his white jumpsuit legs in red mud. He clasped his hands behind his back and stepped forward to address the candidates. “That means we’re in charge of your safety, communications, logistics . . .”

At the height of Cold War tensions, the US and Soviet Union docked vessels in orbit and the crew embraced, and the sixteen-nation International Space Station had been continuously crewed for over twenty years now, so it was not odd for JAXA, ESA, CSA, and NASA to pool their astronauts together for Project Daintree. And it wasn’t even odd that NASA had been entrusted lead the sim, given NASA’s legacy and comparative bounty of resources. But it did seem odd–to Gentaro at least–that NASA had outsourced the project. NASA had handed over general operations to a private security contractor called Tactical and Technical Training Logistics, or T3 for short. Gentaro had learned as much from the briefing package given to him by JAXA, and he’d Googled T3 and found the company had once been called, rather ominously, Executive Outcomes. For decades in the Middle East, EO had trained and operated what they called “private security personnel”, and what the United Nations called mercenaries. But following a scandal a UN ruling, EO had been disbanded, and was attempting to shift its focus and rebranded itself as T3.

“The objectives of Project Daintree are threefold.” The Aviator kept his hands behind his back and spoke like one of Gentaro’s old supervisors at Mitsubishi: loudly and with a rising intonation at the end of each statement, which made him always sounded annoyed or disappointed. “First and foremost . . .” He numbered his points, though, which Gentaro liked. “Project Daintree is a test of your interdisciplinary skills. NASA and T3 want to see your adaptability and your resilience. Second, Project Daintree aims to study explorer interactions and interpersonal skills, how you live and work together on remote expeditions . . . The terrain that you will be encountering is not intended to be a Martian or lunar analog . . .” Obviously, thought Gentaro, as he eyed the teaming jungle behind the Aviator. “That said, you will encounter situations that mimic relevant physiological and psychological experiences of off-Earth exploration–the human dynamics of extended contact in close quarters, for instance. Thirdly, you will test new tech and field operating procedures. The knowledge you gain will go into the planning of future robotic and manned missions . . .”

The six T3 personnel would take the rear two vehicles, and the candidates would go in the front two. Ronin called driver’s duty on one truck. He told the two female candidates, Nel and Kim, to come with him, and then he raised a knowing eyebrow at Gentaro while he stroked his ponytail.

“I’ll drive the other one,” said Gentaro, turning a lip up at Ronin.

Gentaro gave a half-bow, half-nod to his passengers, Travis and Mats. Gentaro imagined Mats, a passive and elongated Swede, more as a dad quietly tagging along on a school trip than an astronaut. He had slow moving, kind, eyes, and a soft smile, and the pattern of his eyebrows and receding hairline formed a Batman logo on his forehead. No roles or ranks had been handed out to the candidates, except to Mats, who was the lone medical professional among them. As a paramedic, he’d worked Rwandan refugee camps and volunteered for triage on the front lines against ISIS.

Travis was the oldest and heftiest of the AsCans. His head looked to be out of Minecraft, but less pixilated and pinched in the middle by two tiny eyes. He had a crew cut that rose like a chef hat, but his slight down-south accent made Gentaro picture him in a cowboy hat. Travis was no redneck, though. His bio said he’d grown up being shuffled from one NASA hub to another, and everyone in his family either worked for NASA or was in the industry. He became a Navy test pilot because it was the surest of the unsure paths to space.

No one asked if Gentaro had an international driver’s license, or if he was in any way qualified to navigate the Bloomfield track. They trusted him, as crewmates should. Except that in this case they shouldn’t have. He imagined how Ronin would have explained how they chose the second driver: So let’s see . . . Travis tests fighter jets; Mats performs surgery under artillery fire; Nel tracks polar bears and sets up Arctic telecom networks; Kim models artificial neural networks after animal cognition; and Gentaro plays with magnets. Let’s go with Gentaro.

It was still morning, but the day had been born sultry. August was supposed to be the cool, dry season, but right off the bus sweat had begun pooling in the crevices of Gentaro’s jumpsuit. They unloaded their backpacks from the bus and then stepped back into the shade to hear the cackling Aussie woman brief them on their route. Bugs Gentaro had never known existed buzzed and crawled around him while she spoke, and the calls of alien birds echoed off banana, palm, eucalyptus, fig, and, acacia trees. Even the mosquitoes looked different. He loved all of it.

“You missed huge massive rains on the Daintree a night back,” went the woman’s briefing. “I reckon she’ll be right for a walkabout now till a fortnight before another trough comes creeping in off the coast at weekend, but not the devo type, aye.”

“A cyclone?” said Mats.

“Nah, cunt,” she told him, “Gulf cyclones don’t form this time of year.”

 

***

 

 

BLOOMFIELD TRACK

UNSEALED ROAD NEXT 32 KM

 

ROAD IS SUBJECT TO EXTREME WEATHER EVENTS, FLOODING, LANDSLIDES, LOSS OF TRACTION, POTHOLING, FALLEN TREES, AND OBSTACLES THAT CAN RENDER IT IMPASSABLE WITHOUT NOTICE AT ANY TIME

 

DRIVE ACCORDINGLY

 

 

Gentaro eased the tires down off the gravel and into the first of a thousand mud-filled potholes. Mist, heat, jungle, mosquitoes, and birdcalls abound, he piloted his 4X4 behind Ronin’s, and the two trucks of T3 people followed Gentaro.

 

A lazy breeze wafted ocean air in though the open windows. It was low tide, and in spots along the track he could see the ribbed roots of mangroves along the shore, shaded by the slender reach of coconut palms. Not one sign of civilization broke the continuum of grey overcast, turquoise sea, and green fog-swept mountains. At first, he struggled to keep up with Ronin, but once he accepted a certain amount of slipping and sliding of the tires, he relaxed behind the wheel and let himself have fun with it. But not too much–the T3 reps were watching. He left the wipers on to keep his view clear of mud, and he learned to leave some distance between him and Ronin to stay out of the line of fire. Twenty minutes in, one of the T3 trucks got stuck nose-deep in a ditch. “Troops, deploy,” said Travis, and he was out the passenger door and whooping like a gibbon before Gentaro knew what he meant. “Gentaro, grab a sand bag,” Travis ordered, pointing toward the tail of their truck. “Look for a blanket, bro,” he told Mats.

 

“For grip?” said Mats. “Isn’t that what the sandbags–?”

 

Travis cut him off. “For throwing over the cable in case it snaps while I check if the belly’s hung up.” He pinched his already pinched eyebrows together. He looked both Mats and Gentaro up and down and then laughed, jiggling a bit like Santa.

 

“Yes, sir,” said Mats. He and Gentaro shared a look and a grin.

 

Ronin got out to add bulk and clutter to the task, and the rest of their troop stood around in the mud and watched. By the time the truck was freed, the whole lot of them were splattered with red earthen muck. “Look at you bros,” said Travis, laughing. “Waddling and slipping like hogs in a pen.”

 

“Gentaro, my boy.” Ronin came boot-skiing over to him. “It’s sumo time.” He struck the pose of a yokozuna. Travis saved Gentaro having to decline by charging Ronin like a linebacker. The two jostled for footing and arm holds while they grunted and laughed until Ronin got his shoulder under Travis and flipped him into the mud. Ronin raised his arms in triumph, roared, and then whipped his ponytail back and forth. Kim clapped while Ronin lent a hand to help up his opponent. In the throngs of the spectacle, the three passive observers, Gentaro, Mats, and Nel, had drifted together. They shared a round of bemused smirks getting back into the trucks.

 

“See you at basecamp,” said called to the other truck before tearing off down the track.

 

 

 

---------

 

 

Thank you very kindly for taking the time to read these two opening chapters of Tribulation.

Please email me for more content.

 

Tribulation is one episode of a larger work-in-progress. 

 

Your comments and criticism are greatly appreciated:

 

cantkillthedrifter@hotmail.com

 

Facebook: 550AU

Line ID: 550AU

Twitter: 550AU

Instagram: 550AU

 

 

2018 © Kaz Morran

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

ISBN: 978-0-9939363-0-2

Sendai, Japan / B.C., Canada


© Copyright 2018 kazmorran. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

More Science Fiction Short Stories