(‘A Night to Remember’, my fifth Gordon Mamon story and a story written for–and during–SpecFicNZ Blogging Week 2012, will feature on various websites and blogs over the coming week. Links to the subsequent instalments will be provided as they’re posted, with a listing maintained here. You can read more about it in this post on my ‘punktortoise’ livejournal.)
There were several ‘alert’ tones programmed into Gordon’s handheld. The tone reserved for Skyward’s higher-ups (who, ironically, seldom shifted from Skyward Island, with more than one voicing the opinion that “they wouldn’t go on that thing if you paid me”) was that same ‘baaa-dum’ sound that occurs to nine out of ten middle-aged people when they see slow-motion footage of an approaching shark. From the way the handheld was sounding off, it seemed as if Gordon, and the beachfront bus he was currently travelling on, must be surrounded by a veritable school of white pointers. He looked out the bus’s window, at the happy vista of palm trees, tourists, and mid-afternoon tropical sunshine, and toggled the handheld’s ‘Mute’ setting.
The handheld baaa-dummed again. Damn. There weren’t that many people who had an admin override code for Gordon’s device. Whoever it was must really have a good reason for contacting him. Which was precisely why Gordon thumbed the handheld once more to ‘silent’.
With the next override, the alert tone evinced not sharks, but an infamous shower sequence in which a knife might just possibly have featured. It was probably unwise to delay further.
“Gord! Thank goodness—been trying to reach ya. Where you at?”
“Col?” Gordon’s heart sank (not that it had been at that high an altitude to begin with, what with the inferred sharks and all). He could remember the upshot of the last call he’d taken from Colum O’Cable, the space elevator’s ops manager and HR troubleshooter. And the call before that, and the call before that. None of them had ended well, from Gordon’s perspective at least. “I’m … look, what is it you’re after? I’m kind of busy.”
“Got a job for you. Urgent. Freight run, climb commencing in one hour.”
“One hour? Sorry, Col. I’ve only been dirtside six hours, after the last descent. And I’d never make it back to Skyward in time. I’m … uh, in the Swiss Alps.”
“Swiss Alps? That’s a carousel I can hear in the background.”
“Ah … yeah. They have carousels in the Swiss Alps, you know. One or two. Wish I could help, but …”
“And a splash pool, from the sound of it. Waterslide. Kids laughing. At this time of night?”
“Sorry, Col, did I say ‘Swiss Alps’? I meant, ah, Acapulco Beach.” (Was Acapulco Beach more than an hour’s flight from Skyward I? He sincerely hoped so.)
“Gordon. Are you forgetting there’s a GPS telltale on your handheld? It’s showing you here on Skyward, at the corner of Clarke and Heinlein, just opposite the Marsport Without Hilda nightclub. I can see the bus from … look, if you’re at Acapulco Beach, I’m at Santa’s grotto.”
“Splendid. I’ll have a flitter there to pick you up in five minutes’ time. Get off at the next bus-stop.”
“Five minutes? Col, I—look, isn’t there anywhere else crewed for this run?”
“There was. But the regular freight jockeys missed their air-taxi connection. Some team-building exercise at a stately home, in old England, that went a little too well—power failure, alarm clock malf, jetlag. Hangovers, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m still sorting out the details, and there will be blood. But right now I need boots on the ground, and you’re the only qualified pair of boots I can get my hands on. Thanks, Gord. There’ll be a bonus.”
For you or for me? Gordon wondered. “It’s not about the bonus, Col, it’s—oh, what the hell. What’s the freight?”
“Tell you when you get here,” said Col.
“It’s not another conference, is it? Because I swore after that last one, what was it, the First Interorbital Symposium on Solipsism—”
“What are you complaining about? That went well, by all accounts.”
“Well? That what you’d call it? One hundred and ninety attendees, one hundred and eighty-nine of whom took it as a personal affront that they hadn’t been offered the keynote speaker’s spot, and who then decided to mob the lectern, all shouting “Impostors!” at each other … worst four days of my life, Col. I’d almost rather spend my time looking down the barrel of a needle-gun, wielded by this month’s homicidal maniac.”
“Ah, well. You needn’t worry about that. Just freight. Unless you wanted to swap with Barry, and depart an hour later. That one’s a conference. ‘Legless and Lethal’, I think it’s called, overseen by Electra Keel and Anna Conder.”
“Thank you, no. Freight? What sort of freight?”
“Tell you when you get here. It’ll be fun.”
I rather doubt that, Gordon told himself as, reluctantly, he dismounted from the bus, to be met by the sauna-like heat of a Skyward Island afternoon, and shortly after by the promised flitter.
He was met by something else, too. His handheld was showing ‘message received’. Another call must’ve come through while he was talking to Colum. Climbing aboard the flitter, he checked the handheld’s log: voice only, no callback.
The message was brief. Just five words, intoned in a mechanical accent: “You will meet certain death.”
See? thought Gordon. That doesn’t sound like fun at all.