This week's edition to our Olympia Extracts is a futuristic SCI-FI adventure called, Empires in the sky by Stuart hill.
THE HIGH FRONTIER
There’s an apocryphal story from Canada that goes something like this.
When NASA first started sending astronauts into space they discovered that ballpoint pens didn’t work in zero gravity. They then spent ten years and twelve billion dollars to develop a pen that would write upside-down, right way up, sideways and at every other conceivable angle, underwater, on glass and at temperatures ranging from -50 to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Russians just used a pencil.
It was with a Russian pencil that the plans for Cosmopolis were originally drawn up when Russia joined the European Union and its space agency benefited from a massive financial injection. They would build the largest, most advanced space station yet seen and it would become the jewel in Earth’s necklace of orbital satellites.
It would become the most multi-national Freeport yet known and become a tax-haven that gave new meaning to the term off-shore banking. It would be a cosmopolitan place where culture and cuisine from around the globe could mix, producing international tastes and appetites. Naturally it was full of American burger franchises and Chinese takeaways and although there was a British fish and chip shop it never served soggy chips.
The station was a popular stop-over for people taking lunar vacations, migrating to the new colonies on Mars, embarking on expeditions to the far reaches of the Solar System or simply wanting duty-free booze and cigarettes.
In shape it was a huge cylindrical tower, like an old Titan moon rocket only bigger, three miles long with a quarter mile diameter. Midway down, the tower formed a hub upon which massive spokes connected it to a revolving wheel with a six mile circumference where ships and shuttles docked and re-supplied.
Cruising towards one of these terminals was a flight, eighteen minutes late, arriving from LAX.
“Hello, this is your captain speaking; I must apologize for the current delay as our landing gate is still occupied by an Air France jet. However our flight attendants will be coming round offering beverages, so in the meantime, enjoy the magnificent view of Cosmopolis shining away there on our left while to our right you can see the sun rising beautifully over the South Pacific.”
As this announcement was being made, a stewardess was doing her rounds. While she propelled herself in zero gravity she was followed by a little service droid called B4-U8, that dispensed hot coffee, tea and soup as well as cold fizzy drinks, light beers and spirits that were all brand names and came with a napkin, peanut paste and a surcharge. She turned to three dark-skinned men with wispy beards and asked, “Anything to drink?”
“Three waters, please,” one replied quickly.
The stewardess tutted for water was free of charge and un-sponsored and she had to make her way back to the galley for it.
“I think yer in there, mate,” said a man called Jackson sitting across the aisle. He was a pilot and was travelling to Cosmopolis to attend a job interview that would see him flying the Earth to Mars route. “So what are you three doing mixing with us infidels? Ya here for business or pleasure?”
The three Arabs conferred with each other before one answered, “Both.”
“Both huh, you look like pretty devout fellas, what are ya doing? Painting a mosque or converting fallen women?”
They all conferred again before their spokesman replied, “No.”
Jackson nodded as the stewardess returned and handed them their water. She continued on her rounds without any idea that the three men might be responsible for her death.
The war against terrorism had gone on for nearly a century, marked not by battles but by atrocities. But what was about to occur would be the last such incident and it would ignite a true holy war that would devastate continents and kill millions.
The three men were a suicide cell that had arrived on Cosmopolis to destroy it. For years the believers of Islam had endured the decadence of the west but when they saw a beer commercial beamed onto the face of a full moon on Superbowl Sunday during the holy month of Ramadan they felt enough was enough. The men had no weapons or explosives for the security checks were intensive. However they didn’t need any for what they would use was in their heads. With security and clearance codes they could change the station’s orbit, or overheat the thrusters, or send it crashing into the moon and to do this, all they needed was to hack into the main frame and for that all they needed was a PC which they could buy in any duty-free store on the station.
When the aircraft eventually docked and gravity was restored courtesy of the rotating station, the trio disembarked. There was no passport control as Cosmopolis occupied a sort of international limbo and the men quickly emerged onto the main concourse. They were astounded by what they saw for it was like being halfway up the inside edge of a massive vertical pipe that was more or less a three mile high shopping mall. They approached a balcony edge for a better look and could barely see the bottom or the ceiling of the complex as it disappeared in an array of stores, bars, casinos, hotels and pleasure domes. They didn’t notice the centrifugal force that the station produced to maintain gravity at its edges but could see people floating about enjoying the weightlessness in the centre of the structure.
“Hell of a sight, ain’t it? First time on Cosmopolis?” said Jackson as he admired the view. The three nodded with spellbound looks on their faces. “I’ve been here a few times myself when I was in the air force. I know a few good bars if yer looking to enjoy yourselves.”
The three talked among themselves until one said to Jackson, “We need a laptop computer, do you know where we can find one please?”
“Yeah sure, I can find you a computer, follow me. I’ll show you around. You ever been to a strip joint?”
It is a small irony that the end of an age and the beginning of this story should start in a place where time had no meaning. Like a desert island where time and tide change for no man and there is nothing to remind you it has. Or the polar regions with its months of perpetual daylight or darkness. Or Las Vegas where the notable absence of clocks and the lure of twenty-four hour gambling and vice leaves a person not knowing whether it’s breakfast, dinner or teatime.
Cosmopolis was such a place. In high orbit around the Earth, circling the planet every forty-five minutes, how can McDonald’s refuse to serve an Egg McMuffin at five p.m. if the station is over Shanghai where the day is just dawning? Especially if you’re from the Orient and want something a little less spicy than Kung Pau chicken on your toast.
Jackson didn’t want either as he walked past Benny’s Big Apple Breakfast Bar. He never understood how Americans could eat sausages, pancakes and syrup. To him you might as well have ice cream and onion gravy. He’d been awake for hours and despite the smell of coffee and waffles he desperately wanted something stronger. He could get it next door at Leon’s Allday Luncheon Lounge.
He slumped over the bar, ordered a drink and started toying with a cocktail stick. On TV was yet another award show sponsored by a shampoo company. “And the Pantene Pro-V Great Hair Because You’re Worth It Award goes to…” gasped a glitzy celebrity as she opened an envelope before giving a statuette shaped like a shampoo bottle to one of her showbiz pals. Jackson ignored her for he loathed this sort of nonsense. There were no real heroes to look up to and respect any more, just fame-hungry nobodies that PR agencies and newspapers used to make money.
He asked if the barman could switch over and without a word the channel changed to Mars Celebrity Challenge, a reality game-show where has-been soap stars, washed-up TV presenters, a couple of glamour models, a retired footballer, a weathergirl and someone who was famous for looking like somebody else who was famous competed to colonize Mars. “Bloody hell! Three hundred TV channels and this is the best ya can do?”
“Hey pal, if ya don’t like, then take a hike,” drawled the barman.
Jackson just sighed, he was in a bad mood for he had failed to get the job he’d come for. While he had been an outstanding pilot in the RAF, his would-be employers took a dim view of his habit of turning up late, going awol and being found unconscious in less-than-savoury drinking dens. They told him he was not the sort of person to be involved in the colonisation of a virgin planet and therefore they wouldn’t be needing him. This especially grated when he looked at the television and saw a bunch of talentless morons heading there instead. Canada was founded by hardy Scots immigrants and Australia by petty thieves and both events had played a major part in shaping the national character of both countries. What would Mars be like with these dimwits forming an embryonic population?
“Hey barman, could you switch over so I can watch the style awards. I’ll have a mango juice and vodka too.”
Jackson looked round to see a pretty young woman wearing a little red dress. “You actually like this rubbish?”
Some people had been at work all day and some people were about to work all day but she had been in a nightclub for the last five hours and was feeling a little tipsy. “Sure, what’s wrong with it? Hey I know you, you were on my flight.”
“Oh yeah that’s right, you’re the stewardess. I didn’t recognise you without the catering trolley.”
“Ooh, and I didn’t see you working at the Comedy Club,” she replied to his sarcasm giving Jackson a reason to laugh. “So what are you doing on Cosmopolis anyway?”
“Well you were right about me being here for work, I was hoping to get a gig as a pilot on the six month Mars to Earth route.”
“Oh, you’re a pilot. Did ya get the job?” she leaned a little closer realising he was a flyer but Jackson just shook his head. “Oh that’s too bad. What are ya gonna do now?”
“Well, I’ve got nothing planned so I’m free to go back to your room and round off the fun you’ve obviously been having.”
She gave him a wide drunken smile. “You are direct aren’t you?”
“Oh, you can never be too direct when it comes to pleasuring a girl and her body,” he replied. Full of vodka, the stewardess didn’t need much encouraging. Her girlfriends had all left the club in ones and twos and if she felt like getting laid this was probably her last chance. However she didn’t want to appear too easy so it took another twenty minutes of gentle persuasion and flirting before she knocked back her drink and took up his offer.
As they left the bar they saw two of the Arabs sitting morosely around a glass of milk with three straws in it.
“Cor, look at them three, you’d think they’d just eaten a pork chop by mistake,” said Jackson.
“Yeah, they sure look pretty glum. I wonder what’s wrong with ‘em?”
“Who knows, they probably need a quick pray and can’t figure out the way to Mecca. So how long have you been a stewardess?”
“Two years, since I left college. I was majoring in Celebrity Studies but my tutor said I was too intelligent for that line of work so his advice was to join the airlines.”
With the promise of sexual gratification, they had little care for anyone but themselves. As for the suicide bombers, they had blown all their cash on strippers and without the money to buy a laptop computer their mission was over. “Oh Hassan, why did we listen to that infidel and follow him into that den of iniquity? Curse the name Spearmint Rhino!” They might have been holy warriors of the faith but as history has proven, even the most pious and devout of men can succumb to the pleasures of the flesh.
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