By Frank Endert
Chapter One: The Choice
I can't stop screaming. Headlights for eyes, Fervor Silt's ocular
components flash bright and dim. Loud unexpected noises are the cause.
Since its cybernetic baptism, Silty has suffered this compulsive
"Knock it off Silty!"
Flash - dim...
Fervor Silt ignores me.
If I had a kilo kettle of mud sucker pike - holy sacrament
of Rubeon priests: they dowse the essence of the pike on
every thing they eat - for every nervous flash I have endured,
I'd never leave the shore of our harbor. My quota of muddies
would be met for the next ten years - more then enough to escape
my obligations with the Doggle Clan Fishery. The family debt to
Rubeon merchants would be balanced with a surplus to sit on.
I stand up in the burden craft, causing a slight rock in the
diminutive vessel. Surrounded by purplish-black water, I yell,
"I'm saturated in Brine! Spit on me. I'm on fire!"
Flash - dim ...
Moisture coagulates. Mist turns to rain. Horrified, I turn to
Silty. "I know... I can't stop! I know!"
Flash - dim...
Ocean rain pelts Fervor Silt's metallic figure, pinging a
high pitch melody. "Neither can you!"
Flash - dim...
His cybernetic features slowly return to the shadows of the night.
Flash - dim...
"You're tearing me apart with your lights! Don't do it Silt!
Flash - dim...
Gasping to create a low voice, "I can't breathe, Silty. I can't
Fervor Silt retorts, "Boon please desist with your chosen behaviors.
Of course, you can breathe. You speak. You breathe. It's painfully
Tears form in my eyes, frustrated with my lack of control, biting
into my heavy texo-tarp fisherman's jacket - desperate to do
anything to prevent my urge to shout.
My jacket tastes like the ocean. The taste is worse than the
ocean's stench. Stubborn, I endure it to muzzle my profanities from
the sour skies. It burns, acidic ammonia tinges with wafts of
over-perfumed exotic carbons. My tongue feels like it has spent
hours cleaning the floor boards of the Broken Window Tavern - after
last call. My mouth nurses a history of spilt alcohol, dried wads
of saliva, and ashen mire from the boot heels of drunken fisherman,
the revulsion keeps me sane.
Outside the colony, away from the protective eco-bubble of
Toolybird, I wallow in a hallucinogenic misery of thoughts and
sickness. An invisible brine ferments in my brain. I've stayed
passedmy time and now the ocean is punishing me for my tardiness.
Every minute more I remain out here erodes a layer of my reality.
My brother Trip was the one who told me that dad actually used to
make oceans for a living; that was before we left the home world:
Rube. I was three years old when the Doggle Clan left to join the
ranks of the second moon colonists. Besides eating sugary
confections and riding my hover-buggy around dad's huge top floor
office, Rube is a diluted memory to me. Lights of many colors,
everything was bright on Rube.
Stockton, the sixth and only inhabitable moon of Rube, is
notorious for its savage seas and harsh atmosphere. A wicked
mistress, Stockton is unpredictable in nature. It's all her fault:
the freak. She is why I must suffer.
Too much air, too much water, even the balmy radiation from Rube
infiltrates me - the traitor. We have motored for only fifteen
minutes according to my kronos-keeper, my perceptions are slow: a
minute feels like ten minutes.
Where about twenty minutes from Toolybird - unbearable. I can see
the glowing bright green bubble shining fluorescent in the distance.
I am looking forward to catch a glimpse of the family crest, a
Rubeon whale breaking and ancient fishing boat in half. It hangs
over the entrance of the Doggle Clan Fishery. It's a relic,
dating back for several centuries. How dad can let it hang out
in the open, without any form of protection, is beyond my
understanding. Mother festers on his decision, but she accepts
his choice without derision of loyalty.
Why am I thinking of this? Am I really looking forward to my return?
Once I get back, I'm sunk. I've spent over five weeks out here - six
days past the standard allotted voyage time. All I have to show for
my efforts is two kilo kettles of mud sucker pike. Ten empty pike
urns stare at me: starving to be filled.
Being entrusted, for the first time, to show my worth to the
fishery on my own, the voyage is an unprofitable one. It's her
fault. Doesn't matter. I allowed myself to be distracted. Mandra
and Cornelius Doggle, mom and pop, will hear none of it. Seconds
go by; I calculate my deficits in dread: cost of fuel, mileage
and wear on the burden craft, the expensive equilibrium capsules
that I have been munching on like candied logan nuts and the
possible ticket waiting for me for breaching the time limits on
my voyage permit.
Applying those costs against the revenue Cresca Doggle will have
to haggle from the racketeering Rubeon merchants will bring me
way into the rears. It all equals to one outcome: a season at the
baitory silo - swimming in piles of other fisherman's catches of
My family will be worried and furious with me. If caught, the
fine will be steep. The usurping mayor, Lily Dang, is a fool for
the rules. Fortunately, colony life lacks the sophistication of
the home world. There are several ways around such complications.
Lily and her security troops can't be everywhere. Besides, being
as young as she is, earning the respect of the remaining clan
leaders seems to be her first priority. The colony is too volatile.
She won't survive with out their help.
I can feel adrenaline rise and sweet sticky perspiration escape
from my pores. In my anticipation, I am unable to keep my eyes
off of the patterns of liquid blending, creeping, and connecting
with each other on my calloused blue skin.
Minutes pass. My glimpses of unknown universes dancing on my
skin are interrupted by a thud against the burden craft.
I turn to Silty, Nothing. Silty is focused vacantly on our
destination. Okay it's me. It's not real. Fervor Silt has been
my companion and protector since we arrived on Stockton. It
would have registered and investigated that sound, if it was real.
A few years ago, crewing on dad's second largest boat, he
informed me of the plight of Silty and all of the other cyborgs
that were contractually obligated to each of the clans that
These cyborgs were natives of Stockton. Although the natives
were primitives in nature, it took a six year war for Rube to
eradicate their savage assaults on the first explorations to
Stockton. They were unlikely combatants to our advanced
civilization. They were resilient in a very subtle warfare.
Somehow, they had sabotaged and cajoled the first Rubeon
explorers into a mass hysteria - causing the members to turn
on each other, set their settlements ablaze, commit murder, act
upon suicidal tendencies, and wreak a culture of panic and fear.
As a survivor of the conquered civilization, The Rube War
yndicate offered Silty two choices: a life sentence in forced
labor or join ICE. The Indentured Cyborg Enterprise was a new
commercial Rubeon labor agency.
Choosing ICE, Silty gave up his tribal heritage and any other
rights to his previous existence. For the exchange of prolonged
life and state-of-the-art Rubeon robotic technology, Silty
forfeits the first one hundred years of his hyper-enhanced
life and becomes a servant for the second fleet of homesteaders
to colonize the new providence of Rube - Stockton.
The assimilation, or what the Rube Holy Tribunal call a rebirth,
frees Fervor Silt from his natural restrictions; boundaries such
as gender, religion, and nationalism. The rebirth eviscerates
and transmutes a new recruit into a mechanical it: a neuter of
The next thud hits and jolts me centimeters from my original
seat. Again, no signs of recognition from my companion. It can't be
helped. I lose control. My teeth unhinge their grip on my jacket.
"I want to scream! Oh, Haven. Let me scream!"
Flash - dim...
What a smart ass, I know Silty is doing it on purpose. The
metallic bastard is making fun of me, of my condition. Screw-em!
"Time to get naked!"
Distracted, my compulsion to yell has taken a detour.
I'm constricted by layers of fabric. My sweaty light blue body
demands to be released. The burden craft is a coffin. Whatever
is down there has surely ripped through the vessels shields by
now. I need to make a run for it - for the shore.
"Boon." Fervor Silt's head makes a precise turn in my direction.
"What, Silty?" I keep my voice level and calm. "I'm behaving
myself. No need to flash your lights."
The sarcasm is wasted on Silty. He is in the midst of his
eight second stare, making sure that I have finished speaking.
It is programmed to wait and absorb all information given,
before responding. Silty is polite at all times - annoying.
Eight seconds are up. "The brine in the atmosphere has
intoxicated your cognitive senses."
"Yes, I know."
My boots are off, followed by my pants.
Eight seconds later, "I insist that you re-apply your
protective clothing. We are thirteen point twenty six
minutes from the harbor."
I strip off the remains of my clothing and sit bare in my
seat. "Well some of us are just slaves to our flesh, Silt."
I peer into the ocean water around the burden craft,
not trusting the calm of its surface.
"I lack the cybernetic organs to flush out the parts
of the moon that don't suit me."
Less than eight seconds, Fervor Silt detaches its manacles
from the burden craft's engines. The boat slows to a drift.
"Well, some of us are just slaves, Boon."
Closing my eyes, trying to forget what I said, "I'm saturated,
Silty. I'm sorry."
Eight seconds pass, "You're young, Boon. There is plenty of
time to be sorry. Wait until you have lived long enough to
Fervor Silt reattaches and sets the craft into motion.
Rain pings mercilessly upon Fervor Silt's head. "It's a
shame. We are off of our set schedule. The abrupt meeting
with that alien has left you in danger."
"Don't remind me. Outsider. That was her name."
My urge to escape from the burden craft increases.
"At least I think Outsider was a she. Skin so bleached. And
those bleeding green eyes and mouth. Haven knows what lurks
beneath this frigg'n ocean."
"Do you still have the vial she gave you? So you can keep your
side of the agreement."
I quickly snatch the murky bottle of liquid from my jacket and
covet it between my two hands.
"Of course I still have it. Are there any pharmaceuticals left?
Silty ignores me. I remain nude.
"Are there any pharmaceuticals left?"
"No, Boon. As I've informed you five times, previously. You
consumed the last dose of equilibrium fluid three point
eighteen days ago."
Five minutes later. A luminous light ray is searching for me
from beneath the water next to my side of the burden craft. It's
pointless to inform Silty, It's an obvious hallucination. The
fact that the light is getting closer and I can hear murmured
hums stating the same thing over and over again is just
encouraging bad behavior. Nervous, I jam the vial back into my
jacket and seal the pocket shut. Immortality will have to wait
for the one I choose.
I feel the lash of one tentacle wrap around my neck. A second
one wraps around my ankle. I'm pulled over board into the
disgusting dark bath water of the ocean. It's the face I wish to
forget. I'm so terrified, that my mind blurs the image. A mixture
of metal, blood, flesh, and chemicals.
All I know is that the wretched monster would not stop
screaming, "Too late! Too late! Too late!"
Somehow, I break free from its grasp and dash for the surface
- only to be snared by another tentacle. This one is familiar
to me. It's too late. I swallowed water; bitter salty brine
replaces my gasp for non-existent air, - liquid expunges from
my lungs into the massive exaggeration of more liquid. My last
thought is to retrieve the vial the Outsider gave me and drink
it. It's a stupid thought.
Reeled in with immaculate precision, Fervor Silt retracts the
extended length of his metallic arm and drops me back into the
burden craft. I land on deck like a fresh catch - well, almost.
At least a caught mud sucker pike flaps with courage, gasping
I lay slumped, chocking a puking in slow pathetic cycles,
until I can breathe. Silty says nothing. We are both aware
of my shame. Giving thanks is pointless, as well. If Fervor
Silt was given a year for every time it has saved my hide or
kept me from foolishness for the past fourteen years, Silty
would be free of his indentured servitude to our family.
The family considers me to be the sweet one of the group, in
contrast to the brilliant one: Trip, the first born son of
Cornelius Doggle and Mantra Doggle.
Soaked and sitting in my clothes, the green orb of Toolybird
hovers over us on the horizon. The distant faded lines begin to
form images of the harbor. I loathe our approach.
The toxicity of brine sickness is at a peak. I have no clue what
is real. I do my best to ignore all the things I see and hear
around me that shouldn't exist. I must assume that I jumped in by
my own volition. To believe that hideous creature pulled me down
and tried to drown me is too much for me to accept.
My nausea increases. My failure to meet my quota returns to my
memory. A season reeking with the promise of gutting fish innards
humors my inner fears.
Humiliation blooms as I recall leaving my work gloves on the
Outsider's vessel. It will be a few months before the merchants
return to trade goods; so I can replace them. Without proper
protection it will only take a week in the baitory before
bio-fever blisters and splits my skin open; tattooing my skin
with yellow lesions. The wounds will throb and itch. However,
it wont sting as bad as all the eyes that will stare at me in
the tabernacle; noticing the marks of proof on my skin that I
am unable to hold up my end in the family's Oceana and Bio
Procurement Foundation. The random voices will whisper through
their prayer books; snickering at my pain.
Finally, I am face to face with a wall of green light, the suction
of Stockton ocean air detracting from my pores. I take my first
breathe of cleansed atmosphere of Toolybird. The artificial
radiated light source generated by the colony fills me. My nausea
fades and my senses work their way back to cohesive patterns.
I am home. For a moment, I feel thankful. It doesn't last.
We're not alone.
It's mid-day break. I can hear the squeaking voice of Borne
Ferral. He is arguing with the second daughter of the Tomb Ferral
Clan: Terra Ferral. Being the bossy snitch that she is, I am sure
it has something to do with Borne slacking off from his duties.
Borne is a master of high mileage. If Tomb and the Ferral sisters
left him alone, he'd gladly allow the colony to provide for his
existence while logging his working days in the Broken Window
Tavern; whittling away the hours drinking, archiving knowledge
from the limited Rube vid-links Stockton is licensed to obtain,
and tending to his writings.
His voice being abrasive enough to the ears, when Borne starts
whispering into recording implants lodged beneath his scalp - a
device he won in game of Fracus off of one of the few visitors
we get from Rube, his chaotic mumblings are disturbing.
He is always thirsty. He's not an alcoholic drunk, per say. Borne,
simply, drinks what ever is front of him and looks for more. They
can't find anything physically wrong with him. He's healthy and,
of course, well hydrated.
Opening my eyes, in the distance, I see Borne sitting on the
dock connected to the Broken Window; his feet dangling, splashing
the surface of the bay water. He is sipping from a huge two quadro
liter beaker of refreshment while Terra's shadow, standing in full
akimbo, breaks the peace of his enjoyment.
Terra exclaims, "You're supposed to be hauling the debris from
the foundry Borne! We only have an hour to finish! Where is the
crew issued to you?"
After pulling from his beaker, Borne responds in a slow soft
reply, "Home. I believe they decided to go home."
Beside herself, Terra sputters, "What? Why? You..." Regaining her
composure, "I'm telling dad!"
Borne smiles and says, "It's good to have to goals."
Terra storms off in triumph of another empty victory.
Pulling from his beaker, Borne says, "Boon."
I reply "Borne."
Borne says, "Fell off the boat, huh?"
"Yes. Yes I did."
"You look like you been playing in the fecal waste we drain from
the Toolybird wash units every Thursday. Should try to be more
careful. Fervor may not always be there to pull you out."
"Thanks for the advice, Borne."
"I live to give, Boon."
I hate that bastard. I'd love to drown him with his smarmy words.
Wading toward the family's dock, I see the last person I want to
witness my condition - mom. Cleaning out the ocean sludge from her
own sea craft Mandra's Dream, mom must have already spotted me.
She acts as if she hasn't; dictating calibration instructions to
Bromidian Slang7 who is engaged with the engines - testing the
operating integrity of the burden craft.
Unleashing it from the security of my sealed pocket, I observe the
vial - the gift I am to present to another. The container is shaped
in a tear drop the size of my palm. From the metal that decorates
the flask, I am unfamiliar with its rough texture; even more
unfamiliar with how it periodically gleans translucent - revealing
about thirty micra liters of dark liquid.
The mammoth Okcar tree shakes with animation. From his favorite
perch, Nathaniel Dang is spying on me. The tree is an outgrowth
anchored to the tip of a peninsula, dividing the Broken Window
and Doggle Fishery into two separate fractural harbors.
Nathaniel is a living tragedy of Toolybird. He was one of the
first of the colony members to fall victim to the Stockton oceans;
outside our protective green bubble of civilized technology. Along
with being the executors of Toolybird, the Dang clan are responsible
for exploration and further colonization of the Stockton wilderness.
However, on the first expedition, the parent's of the Dang Clan were
extinguished - leaving Nathaniel the lone survivor of the expedition.
Their deaths are a mystery. The cybernetic ICE servants issued to
the parents and Nathaniel were demolished as well. Destroying a
cybernetic is a severely complicated task, which makes the situation
strange. I could cut or demolish over eighty percent of Silty and it
still would have enough robotic capability to reform itself, fly back
to Toolybird and report what has occurred to it with time dated
recordings: visual, audio, olfactory, and textural samplings.
The biggest mystery is Nathaniel. Four days after the Dangs left
for their expedition, Borne witnessed what he thought was a random
granule of meteor hail attempting to perforate the top of the
Toolybird bubble. To Borne's surprise, the projectile actually
dashed through the bubble's barriers and sunk deep into the harbor.
Since the intruder had gateway access to the bubble, Borne assumed
it must either be colony-marked property or a colonist. Noticing
the white and yellow skin markings of a Dang Clan member floating
to the water's surface, Borne dived off the Broken Window dock and
fished Nathaniel out of the bay. He saved Nathaniel's life - what's
left of him.
Breaking from a minor coma, Nathaniel emerged a cerebral mess.
Except for a broken hip, a twisted ankle, and a few broken toes,
his body was in tact. However, his reasoning skills and his ability
to communicate were damaged. He stutters often and I believe he's a
bit retarded; many of his behaviors reflect that of a child and not
a thirty-six year old man.
I'm in no condition to hold a conversation with Nathaniel. Between
the stuttering and the chance of him losing his train of thought,
saying hello can lead to a fifteen minute commitment for him to
reply back in kind. I allow the illusion to live and act as if I
don't know he is there.
Silty will certainly remind me, after convalescing from my voyage,
that I am to spend a few years determining who to offer the gift
Outsider already bestowed upon me: immortality. Well, it's a fashion
of immortality. Although I am sixteen, Outsider assured me that I
would evolve into a full presence of a man before the effect locked
in; meaning that I will appear as myself in my prime. However, it's
not complete. I can be killed and any permanent maiming will remain
with me for eternity. I guess it's more like guaranteed
longevity-within reason. My body will never degenerate with age
- forever in bloom.
I can't wait a few years. I know who I'm going to give it to; out
of all the creatures crawling on this haven forsaken rock, Trip,
my older brother, is the only one I can stand knowing for infinity.
He understands me and has taught me the most in my life. Trip never
ridicules me for my clumsiness or my impatience. He knows I can
succeed in anything; in my own way and on my own terms. Trip has
faith that I will become an asset to the family fishery, in time.
Trip's nothing like that good-for-nothing Borne. Always stepping on
me every time I fail, the sight of Borne makes me doubt that I'll
ever make it as a fisherman or that I was ever meant to be one; as
if he knows something that I don't. Fuck Borne! I hope he drinks
himself to death.
Dropping the vial back into inside pocket, I assist Silty in
docking our burden. Not taking the bait, I choose not to approach
mom's craft and have it out. I wont give her the satisfaction on
being blasand glib while offering my severed head for verbal
abuse. She will have to be confrontational or I'll trudge to the
homestead and into my welcoming bed without uttering an explanation.
"Not going to even bother. Are you?" mom says.
"No," I say."
"How many urns did you fill?"
"Elefen. Almost eleven."
Mom's face gives away some concern. Placing the sludge fibo-truller
back into the tool kit, she walks toward me.
"Elefen, huh?" mom says to me as she looks into my eyes. "I don't
think you will make your quota."
"Yes, I know."
"Well, you are looking a little wall-eyed. I can assume that the
equilibrium solution is spent. Maybe you should get some rest."
"Thanks. I'll do that."
Walking back to her vessel, mom replies, "I'll wake you, later.
You'll need your rest. The baitory is heavily understaffed this
I knew it. I'll be up to my elbows in squid guts.
"Oh, we got company. So, be polite. Don't just tramp through and
ignore everyone. Your brothers and sisters are preparing for Second
Solstice with members of the other clans," mom returns to her sludge
"Thanks for the warning, mom."
Usually, I enjoy following the mosaic path that leads to the center
of our town square - made from a multitude of sea beast bones that
the Doggle Clan have ripped from the ocean; solemn notches of proof
that we have endured many years as a surviving colony.
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