Platform 323 (Part Three)

Platform 323 - Space Picture - Use and Modification Licensed

This is, possibly, part on of an ongoing serialisation derived from something I’ve already written. The plan is to put a new part up every Tuesday so feel free to like it, or follow the blog, if you want to see more. You can find all parts here.


Murat was in bed when the heavy thuds fell on his door. By the ship’s clock it was some time in the afternoon on their ninth day hanging vacantly in space but for the life of him he couldn’t think of a good reason to get up.

There was more knocking on the door to his quarters. Pulling the blanket up over his head he did his level best to ignore it but as it grew more insistant and he found himself more and more awake until it became clear that he wasn’t just going to be allowed to drift back off.


Rolling out of bed with an unhappy grunt, still in his faux-uniform from the night before, he stumbled over to the bulkhead and swung it open.


“The ship, it’s here.”

Momentarily phased Murat stared blankly at Ecce, his second-in-command and perhaps the only member of the crew to retain any vague faith in him. She was young, she didn’t know any better he’d concluded, she’d learn to drop that soon enough.

“What ship?”

“The ship captain, the Neftech one. They’re not sending out an ID signal but it’s them alright, their design, no weapons, just a cargo ship.”

‘Shit’, was Murat’s first thought. He’d reached the point of zero expectation a few days ago, anything more demanding than lying in bed feeling sorry for himself was an unwelcome interruption. Ecce was staring at him though, eyes full of nervous expectation. She was like that, enthusiastic, efficient, a complete mismatch with the rest of the crew. She’d even had her own uniform made. It was black, had epulets and made Murat look like he should be cleaning out the drainage systems while she ran the ship. At times like this it made him feel that he should being doing that too.

“Erm, ok, lock the missiles on, I’ll be right up to talk to them. Don’t fire, just make sure they know we’re here.”

Weaponless cargo ships on covert missions were the worst type, in Murat’s opinion, they were bound to be up to no good, and Ecce was just the sort to get carried away and start shooting. It came from being brought up on the Platforms, that unnecessary sense of romanticism. Planet-siders were pessimists, happy to have escaped but certain in their pessimism that bad things were only ever a wrong step away. The natives of 323 were the same, caught as they were at the nexus of illicit activities among the Platforms; cynicism came easy to them. But Ecce was from a hydroponic station where solidly built kids were raised to lift things, shift drums of chemicals and take undue pride in being ‘red hands’ rather than worrying about the fact that the nutrient additives they spent their lives amongst were changing the colour of their skin. To everyone else it was a bizarre rural affectation for people who lived on a space station, but they grew the food, albeit in large plastic irrigation frames, so they could do what they liked. To go from that to 323, or piracy meant either a secret shame that the folks back home viewed as so scurrilous as to bar you from civil society, even if no one else gave a damn. Or a streak of romanticism so wide that you could still pretend, or even believe, that you were living the dream after 9 days of floating around pointlessly in a steel can surrounded by admittedly high functioning drunks, drug addicts, reprobates and failures. Ecce had the latter and despite keeping an eye on her Murat had never gotten the sense that it was faked.

Sharply clicking her heels together Murat watched as she strode off down the claustrophobic gangway which led to the command room before stepping back into his room and squaring up to the few inches of mirror which hung from the wall. Which quickly confirmed that he looked like crap, in a jumpsuit that had gone unwashed for a week and with a face that would have made a bloodhound suggest a nice lie down and a few days off. His mess of black hair had picked up a few greys, as had the ramshackle beard his aesthetic indifference had fuelled. A couple of scars above his eye and across his chin stood out too, mementos of his fighting past. He used to look military. Clean-shaven, cropped hair, rigid bearing – he still could do, he reckoned, he just needed a good run up to respectability, but there was no time for that. Instead a few tentative slaps to the face and a hand run through his hair would have to do. The creases in his makeshift uniform would flatten out and his tired brown eyes would look less bloodshot after a coffee or two. He’d have preferred a vodka to take the edge off but the drink free policy on the ship was his own idea even if he was the only one who ever adhered to it. The crew more than happy to operate a few tonnes of spaceship whilst completely battered on un-named ‘alcohol’ and whatever illicit chemicals they’d managed to pack.

There was no point dwelling on any of it though, there was a ship waiting and self-doubts aside, he was a Pirate. He’d learnt from the best, or at least the slightly above average and even if it had been failure all the way for a long time now success wasn’t wholly beyond his capabilities. With a grunt of self-assurance he left his quarters and headed to work.

For more from me you can check out my novel Crashed America – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks. 

Platform 323 (Part Two)

Platform 323 - Space Picture - Use and Modification Licensed

This is, possibly, part on of an ongoing serialisation derived from something I’ve already written. The plan is to put a new part up every Tuesday so feel free to like it, or follow the blog, if you want to see more. You can find all parts here.

The war didn’t exist on the platforms, not in any immediate way at least. Not all of the platforms had been completed when the bombs started dropping and conflict had brought a halt to all further work. Granted they still held plenty of strategic and economic value to whoever held them but the power blocs viewed them with an envious sort of fear, certain in the knowledge that the first of them to make a move to claim them would raise the ire of the others and see whatever gains they made in having the platforms liquidated back on earth in a fistful of mushroom clouds. So instead they dabbled. Acting through proxies they used the platforms as a black market for arms and technology, fighting mini-battles through friendly factions of mercenaries, smugglers, pirates, drug cartels and assorted criminals. All of whom happily played the role of state sponsored G-Men in between fighting their own territorial conflicts and protecting their own power bases. It wasn’t exactly the serene escape Murat had hoped for but by comparison it was as peaceful a home as you’d be likely to find as long as humanity was around. No army recruiters, no trenches and plenty of opportunities for a young and enterprising deserter to build a new life and, maybe, a new fortune.

And at first things had gone surprisingly well. He’d stepped off of the cargo ship that had aided his escape and, after helping to unload it’s suspiciously unmarked cargo, he’d disappeared into the chaos of Platform 323’s main plaza. He’d only learnt of its fame later on, when he’d started to pick up enough Platform lore not to be sneeringly dismissed as a tourist but even at the start he’d known the throng of life it held was something special.

While other platforms served their own myriad purposes P323 remained the beating heart of the network. It was where business was done. Pirates, smugglers, drug dealers, assassins, mercenaries, fences, theives, merchants, spies and assorted others treated it as their informal office with the Plaza acting as the greatest black marketplace in the known universe. With locals looking on all the while ready to fleece the unprepared of whatever wealth they couldn’t find a use for. Murat loved it. His military experience guaranteed him employment, not that he intended to go back into the soldiering business any time soon. But pirates and smugglers especially were always happy to pick up a new recruit who could handle a rifle in a crises and not ask too many question when there was a pay-cheque involved.

The first bar he’d walked into – and on P323 bars were the main site of business dealings – he’d been approached by the second-in-command of a pirate ship and after being liberally fed drink Murat had found himself as the newest addition to the crew of the San Francisco. It was a former cargo ship haphazardly refitted by someone who’d decided to bolt on a few missile launchers, run by another former soldier who’d left earth-side years before – James O’Shaw. And it was O’Shaw who’d taught Murat the basics of interplanetary piracy, the most important aspect of which had proven to be waiting around doing nothing. It was almost the ideal job.

On picking up a tip off from one of the many semi or wholly criminal individuals who floated around 323 studiously avoiding having any real job description they’d fly out to, hopefully, intercept the flight path of a cargo or transport vessel and… wait. Sometimes hours, sometimes days and sometimes even weeks would be spent sitting in space, the crew doing their best to pass the time without resorting to alcoholism or insanity. And then if they were lucky a ship would actually show up, at which point the relatively minimal excitement would start.

Space battles, Murat soon came to realise to his satisfaction, were not like real battles. There was no going over the top, there was seldom even any firing and the real conflict was solely one of patience and waiting to see who would blink first. Space, O’Shaw had explained to him one day, was death, lots of it. A ship was a tiny, insignificant patch of life cast out into a vast abyss of death and no captain with any sense would ever want to risk compromising the small glimmer of existence that they and their crew inhabited. So given a choice they’d almost always avoid a fight. Sure some rookies confused ‘shielding’ for a technological wonder that made their fragile metal can impenetrable. And some of those with military training had been convinced to have little enough regard for their life to make orders seem all important, but they were the rarity. For the majority, the sane majority, even the slightest threat of a missile slamming into their barely reliable energy shields and, more likely, into the hull itself was enough to make them back down and hand over whatever it was they had. So the pirates job was simply to aim their weapons and make the right threats. And a good pirate did it so well that before too long their reputation alone opened cargo doors the second they honed into sight. O’Shaw wasn’t that good, he admitted, but during Murat’s tenure they didn’t do too badly at the job. In fact only once had they even fired a shot in anger when a smuggler’s ship had turned out to be a bigger challenge they’d expected and had opened fire without a second’s hesitation. They’d missed, fortunately, the San Francisco hadn’t and at least a dozen of the smuggler’s crew had died as a result. The whole crew had gotten drunk that night – whatever savage and piratical image they may have liked to project on the platforms they were none of them gleeful murderers. Besides, a destroyed ship meant no profit.

Still, the occasional flash of danger aside, Murat had enjoyed those days. Enjoyed them enough, in fact, to set about buying his own ship and recruiting his own crew after five years of flying around under O’Shaw’s command. A choice made easier by the fact that his former captain had gotten himself stabbed in a bar brawl by an unknown assailant who, rumour had it, had objected strongly to someone stealing from a ship under his protection. These things happened though and at least they happened a lot less on the Platforms than they did back on earth, where Murat had seen deaths by the hundreds often enough not to be phased by a single murder, regardless of the victim.

So here he was, the captain of his own ship, chasing his own leads and with his own crew relying on him. Or sneering at him, one of the two. It was bad luck, nothing else. He’d done nothing wrong after all and if he asked his crew they’d probably even have agreed. He had the experience, he did the right things, paid the right sources and, for the most part, made the right choices. It just never seemed to work. In fact in the year he’d held his own command there had been just one job that had paid out and even then the prize had barely been worth enough to get the crew convincingly drunk. Why so many had even stuck with him this far was a bit of a mystery. The ship was free accommodation, he supposed, and he did keep them fed with the ever diminishing savings from his time on the San Francisco but given the general lust for fame and fortune that motivated those in his field it wasn’t much of a wage to offer.

This time though they’d surely have to abandon him, if this gamble didn’t pay off. And it had been sold to him as a sure thing. A corporate ship, Neftech to be precise, carrying something they didn’t want anyone to know about on the behalf of an earth government who didn’t want anyone to know that they knew anything about the thing they didn’t want anyone to know about. As far as these things went it was about as reliable intelligence as you could get. And Kuzumo was about as reliable a source as you could get on the Platforms. He knew things, he always knew things, he had friends, of a sort, in just about every major group on and off of earth. O’Shaw had used him, other pirates used him, the cartels and the smugglers and the gun runners all kept him on a retainer. And it was only when it came to Murat that he seemed to disappoint. Which given how much he’d paid was a distinct failing of customer service. This had been an all or nothing sort of deal and if it didn’t pay off then there’d no be no more board and shelter for the crew, no more ship for them to work on even because Murat certainly couldn’t afford to take another gamble.

Shaking himself from his depressing revelrie Murat swung a boot at the metal wall and instantly regretted it, grunting in pain and hopping into an unhappy jig.

For more from me you can check out my novel Crashed America – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks. 

Platform 323 (Part One)

Platform 323 - Space Picture - Use and Modification Licensed

This is, possibly, part on of an ongoing serialisation derived from something I’ve already written. The plan is to put a new part up every Tuesday so feel free to like it, or follow the blog, if you want to see more. Should also say that it was written as a novel, not for piecemeal consumption, so some chapters will be broken up for this site. Like this one… You can also find all parts here.

Eight days. Eight days wasted lurking in deep space waiting for a ship that, by the look of things, would never arrive, if it had ever existed in the first place. Eight days of wasted food and supplies, on top of the small fortune Murat had paid for the tip off which had led him there in the first place and beyond even that, eight days where his crew had slowly but surely reinforced their disdain for him over yet another profit-free false trail. Another two days and they’d be turning the guns on him. Hell, even if he did head back to Platform 323 the lot of them would disappear the second they got through the security checks, off to find a ship which actually made money as opposed to flying around in circles waiting for imaginary targets. And to top it off illicit tip offs were never refundable, assuming that that lying bastard Kuzumo was even still on the platform, which was far from a given under the circumstances. Murat sighed and once again took to pacing the length of the box like compartment of his personal quarters. Another day, that long he could wait and then… well, then he may as well sell The Kazamov off for scrap and start looking for a new job, a prospect he didn’t relish even considering his ineptitude as a career pirate.

His quarters were slowly driving him mad, which didn’t help. He’d scanned every inch of the exposed metal walls, paced every inch of the similarly grey floors and organised and re-organised his meagre personal possessions so many times that he’d almost passed through familiarity and into contempt at the sight of them. One book, two surplus Zamin Corp uniforms, one of which he was wearing as some vague attempt at formalising his status as Captain, much to the amusement of the rest of the crew who knew a low level technicians outfit when they saw it, and the rest, junk. A smattering of relics which he’d accumulated since leaving home some fifteen years ago, all of which amounted to little more than a boxes’ worth of experiences and most of them had lost any meaning beyond simply being his. A meaningless haul, thought Murat, for a meaningless life – at least that was probably what the crew thought in their more sneering moments and to be honest he could offer little by way of argument.

In times gone by things had been better, Murat himself had been better. During his time as a conscript back on earth he’d been a good soldier. He’d hated it, granted, but comrades and commanders alike had respected him for his apparent capacity for not getting killed and for going out of his way to ensure the same for those around him. Words like ‘hero’ had been bandied around, medals had literally been dangled before him by self-satisfied looking generals witlessly encouraging him to go ‘over the top’ once more in a desperate bid to gain some steel and gold leaf for his chest. He’d said at the time that the whole war was a farce, quietly, to those he knew wouldn’t repeat it.

By the time of his enlistment the four power blocs of earth had been throwing the best and brightest of their citizens at each other, along with some of the most mindbogglingly advanced weapons conceivable, for 27 years. A whole generation had grown up around the world war and from the drum beating exuberance of the early days, with ranks of fresh faced young volunteers marching out to the front cheered on by loving mothers and fair maidens they’d all seen the slow descent into the desperate, exhausted brawl the whole thing had come to be. By the time Murat signed up training had been stripped back to pointing out the dangerous end of the gun. Fresh recruits were plucked straight out of school and the wonders of modern military technology had decayed into an almost nostalgic state of pointing and shooting whilst hiding in a trench. And above all of that the reasons for the whole thing had reached a point of oblique malleability where justifications changed day by day on the whims of propaganda chiefs.

Murat would have preferred to be able to cite such reasons for his eventual desertion. The hypocrisy, the waste, the meaninglessness of it all – and for the most part he did, although the truth always dribbled out when he found himself particularly drunk and maudlin, which happened with ever increasing frequency when he was off ship. He’d been scared, he’d been terrified in fact. Whatever reputation he had earned as a soldier was, he knew with absolute certainty, ill deserved. Those battles he’d seen won, those people he’d kept alive, were completely incidental to his one goal at the time which had been to stay intact and sane throughout what he regarded as a hellish, sanity destroying ordeal. Piracy, by comparison, had seemed like the dream life. No pointless charges, no battles for honour, no propaganda, just the freedom to run away when you were losing, loot whatever you found and lie in of a morning, free of bawling sergeants.

After a panicked escape via a cargo ship launched from Vladivostok space port, paid for with a couple of cases of ‘relocated’ weapons, he’d set off to his new life on Platform 323. Sitting at the heart of the LaGrange cluster of space stations – collectively referred to as The Platforms in common parlance or The LaGrange Open Zone in more formal settings – Platform 323 served as the hub of the disparate community it inhabited. Whilst far from the largest Platform, 323 had from it’s formal inauguration as the first completed station become the totemic entry point and talking shop the isolated scattering of humanity.

The project itself, the construction of an array of 40 space stations, bio-domes, construction yards and factories, had once been touted as the pinnacle of human achievement. Not only as a definite step into space but also as the final resolution of the millennia of internecine warfare which had blighted Earth and its inhabitants. Fuelled by an increasing sense that, amidst riots, strikes and civil war, they had pushed their people too far in the pursuit of largely redundant grabs for power the leaders of the remaining four power blocs had, amidst great pomp and ceremony, agreed to shake hands and make up. And it had worked, after a fashion.

For two decades global co-operation had fuelled an almost ecstatic notion of Utopia in the making amongst vast swathes of the planets population. Vast military industrial complexes had been re-tasked to the rebuilding of civilisation and the projection of human destiny on to the stars. And as the first stations had come online thousands had flocked to The Platforms mixing an almost religious belief in the new universe they’d set about creating with a grim sense of escaping the plague of wars which had over the proceeding century increased in intensity to the point of near self-destruction. Murat’s parents had even planned to abandon terra firma for a new life on the frontier but war had broken out and links to The Platforms had been severed before the move could take place. A week later Moscow was bombed and, with a five year old Murat in tow, they’d been moved to Siberia where his father’s engineering skills and mother’s biological knowledge had bought them a place in a bunker complex geared towards heralding a new era of weapons technology for the greater good.

Thinking back Murat viewed those days with a certain nostalgia. Like life in his later home, Platform 323; the underground city of his youth had offered an insulation from the war. Bombs fell, cities burned and territory changed hands in the bloodiest of ways but for the technicians and scientists of the Siberian installation that all seemed a distant, almost unreal, backdrop to life. A mile above Murat’s head tanks had thundered and planes had swarmed, guarding the subterranean haven beneath, affording it’s inhabitants a false refuge from the chaos. As far as life during a war went it was at the better end and selfish though he could vaguely tell it was he could quite happily have stayed blissfully separated from the realities of war if left in peace to do so. Peace, however, only occasionally managed to reach more than 50 feet above their heads in the bunker.

On turning 18 he’d been informed by the base commander that, while his parents were undoubtedly essential parts in the war effort thanks to their ingenious work in finding ingenious ways to kill people he really wasn’t. His education had been the same as all the other military brats on site, they’d been trained to serve the base like their parents did. Scientists, engineers, technicians, chemists – all their schooling had driven them towards at least one of those militarily essential roles. Murat just hadn’t been very good at any of them. So while his friends and peers smiled sadly at him and pulled on their fresh white lab coats to start in a new career he’d been escorted to the surface, wished good luck and shoved into the arms of the first army recruiter to pass by. By his reckoning he’d enjoyed no more than 15 minutes of adult freedom between the blast doors of the bunker and the army truck that drove him off for cursory basic training and a future of being shot at by strangers. Nonetheless he’d spent plenty of time stuck in the trenches dreaming wistfully of those 15 minutes and wishing he could return to those crazy, carefree days when no one was trying to kill him.

From that moment though the army had made him their own. First in the meat grinder of the Eastern Front, where he’d pointed and fired at distant, unrecognisable figures he’d been reliably informed were part of the evil Chinese hordes out to destroy his way of life. And then on to the Western Front for the majority of his tenure in uniform, where he’d pointed and fired at distant, unrecognisable figures he’d been reliably informed were part of the evil European hordes out to destroy his way of life. Both battles had proven hard ones to care about given that ‘his’ way of life seemed to consist solely of trying to kill other people and being shouted at by officers. If they were really out to destroy that, Murat had decided, then best of luck to them – he certainly wouldn’t miss it. Opinions like that were, he quickly came to realise, seldom welcome, even in the trenches where his comrade grunts were mostly thinking the same thing.

Beyond that though his war had been a largely anonymous one, from what he could tell at the time. The threat of death aside you could at the very least say that his job had been a stable one and if routine was your thing, and you didn’t mind the possibility of being blown up, it could have been an appealing life to the right sort of person. Not to Murat though. More or less alone amongst his comrades he hadn’t been brought up on the surface. War, to him, had always been a distant thing and even if he didn’t like to complain about the injustice of it all, in case it earnt him a swift beating, he always knew there was another way to be. And that’s what he’d run for when he deserted.

For more from me you can check out my novel Crashed America – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks. 

Canis Lupus, Felis Catus and I

Two Tone the Cat - Post Apocalyptic Bastard

“Move faster you lazy bastard, I’m hungry and the wolves are coming”

I nod vaguely, the best I can do given the searing pain in my legs, the sweat dripping from every pore on my body and the worrying burning sensation in my lungs.

“Son of a bitch. Are you actually slowing down? Are you really that out of shape? I could walk faster than this”

I consider suggesting that he does it but there’s not enough air left in my lungs to pull the double duty of moving and talking, plus I know the answer, or at least the vague outline of it, something along the lines of “shut up fatty”. I used to take offence at that, but he has a point, I’m out of shape and sensitive about it.

“Come on, there’s the trailer, get your lard ass over there and then you can feed me”

Like syringes his claws dig into my neck, poor motivation but the only way he knows. I can feel small drops of blood start to mingle with the sweat, oddly enough the new pain does help surpress the old aches, which is something I suppose.

A wild howl goes up in the distance as I stagger through the door, kicking it shut in the same inelegant motion as falling over. With a padded thud he leaps off of me as I collapse and walks around to look down at my unhappy face, his disdain tangible but easily ignored through the exhaustion.

“If you worked harder we wouldn’t have to do this”

I grunt, all the reaction I can offer.

“We should have gone out earlier, moved faster, we could have been home and fed hours ago. Get up and feed me.”


My muscles have gone limp now, defeated for the day but gradually the air is coming back into my lungs, heart slowing to it’s usual dull thud rather than the frenetic Irish jig it’s been doing for the last ten minutes. Still I don’t move, both because I can’t and because even I have my limits with him.

He watches me for a few seconds, eyes narrowing into snake like slits, disgust no less evident. A paw reaches out and taps my nose, a gentle touch, loving almost and completely false. Unlike the full rake of claws that comes next, scoring a line of fine read scratches across my slick and tender cheek.


“Don’t ‘ow’ me, get up and feed me, then you can die for all I care, in fact, hurry up and die now, I’ll just eat you where you lay. Although given the fat content I’ll probably end up with heart disease for my troubles.”

He’s exagerrating, I’m out of shape, not morbidly obese and I’m fairly sure he wouldn’t eat me. Well, not immediately anyway and he’d definetely rather I stayed alive, that’s why he’s here, that’s why he comes out with me, otherwise I’d have given up long ago.

With probing delicacy I pull myself back to my feet and let the overloaded backpack drop from my shoulders. It takes a second to be sure but I’m fairly confident I won’t fall over, although moving at anything more than a pained shuffle is out of the question. Excercise, or at least the sort of life or death fleeing I have to do these days, is a new one for me, like so much in this world.

“We found that can of tuna, I’ll have that. And the catnip, don’t tell me you don’t have any I can smell it even through the plastic and I’ve had a long day.”

I look down at him, still lecturing me even as I tower uncertainly above him. He’s small, even for a cat, his ragged black fur puffs up in a poor attempt to look bigger whenever I look at him but you can see he was the runt of the litter regardless. I mentioned it once, he nearly took my eye out, he has body confidence issues he said, before calling me fat for the fiftieth time that day. I don’t mind, I don’t enjoy it, but I don’t mind. After all a talking cat is worth the odd insult no matter who you are.

The backpack goes on to the stained and scratched formica worktop which dillineates the optimistically aspirant kitchen from the rest of the trailer and I start to rake through it. Tins of beans, bandages, a pitifully rare half bottle of vermouth, some sachets of cat food and, of course, the tin of tuna. There is no catnip, no matter what he thinks, but I know he’s fiending for a fix and I’ve gotten tired of explaining that to him. Besides, every time I try to he just turns the tables and points out the shakes I keep waking up with, we end up throwing addictions at each other until we’re both too defeated to do anything but sleep. Except tonight I have my half bottle, something to look forward to.

“Hurry up, I’m wasting away here, not all of us have layers of blubber to rely on when we feel hungry.”

“You want to eat sooner, go out and hunt.”

He hisses in a perfunctory sort of way and leaps up on to the counter, watching eagerly as I open the tin and then rushing in to gourge himself as I dump the fish out in front of him. I manage to make it over to the fold out bed before accepting my bodies final surrender for the day, although not before grabbing that precious bottle to see me off.

“We did well today.”

He doesn’t hear a thing while he’s eating so the words are said more for my own benefit than his. And we have done well, enough food to last a week by my reckoning, as long as neither of us indulges too much. Past experience, I admit, suggests that we will, neither one of us has the impulse control to stop but still it’s a nice thought that we might not have to brave the wilds again for a few more days.

“You’re right though, it was close and the wolves are coming nearer and nearer to this place. Might be time to move soon.”

“Move where? Wolves everywhere” he manages to mumble around a mouthful of fish.

We sit in near silence while he chomps down the last of his meal, barring the echoingly loud sound of my unscrewing the lid of my bottle and taking a swig. Outside another howl echoes around our canyon, it could be close enough to be terrifying but it’s hard to tell, the geological oddities of the place can play tricks on you like that. He doesn’t move though, just finishes eating and sets about licking away at the formica, rinsing the last traces of flavour from it. His hearing is better than mine, if he isn’t panicking then I won’t, not that I could do much if I did anyway.

“We’re better off here, you just need to learn to run faster, if we leave it’ll just be the same thing somewhere else.”

With another gulp from my bottle I lose the will to argue, the medicinal mix of fortified wine relaxing my body into wilfully tipsy apathy. I’m dimly aware that, as he’s a cat, his vote shouldn’t count for much but this is no democracy anyway and when he disagrees even the threat of walking away from him and going my own way would be seen as hollow. Besides, it’s an old conversation, a played out one. We should have left weeks back but we didn’t and now it was too late to worry about it, or at least we’d grown too lazy to bother trying.

“Maybe I can dig some traps tomorrow, sharpen some sticks or something.”

He leaps off of the counter and jumps onto the bed next to me, eyeing my bottle with the cynicism of a cat logging its rapid depletion for later use in an argument.

“Don’t be stupid, they’re giant, bastard wolves, not humans. They’re smart enough to walk around holes and use your sticks as tooth picks. They can’t open doors though, so you learn to move faster and we stay inside.”

Until we get caught and killed I think to myself, although as that’s the unspoken punctuation mark to almost everything we say about the future I don’t bother saying it out loud.

“Yeah, ok. I’ll start excercising tomorrow then.”


He always says that when he’s bored of talking to me, which happens at the end of most days. It balances out though, I’m bored of talking anyway and we both know that anything else we say now will be a false promise. By tomorrow we will, one way or another, have eaten everything we gathered today and then we’ll have to make another run into the ruins of the town. The same routine as we’ve followed for the last six months, everything else is just window dressing to our slow decline. For now though he’s slumped down next to me, his face buried in his fur and sleep rapidly slipping over him. He’s not even mentioned the catnip, he must be tired. I rest a hand on his back, ruffling his fur with casual affection, he doesn’t shake me off although neither of us mention the contact. As his eyes slide shut I hear one final mumble of ‘fat bastard’ before we both slump into sleep.

With a final tired gesture I drain the vermouth and fade away as the wolves shuffle and growl outside.

For more from me you can check out my novel Crashed America – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks. All ideal escapes from 2016 and, if you time the reading right, you can dodge a chunk of 2017 too just in case…

Last Moments

Space Shuttle Launch - Last Moments Short Story

“I’m sorry” he sobbed, voice jerking as it worked it’s way out around the tears. It wasn’t true, at least he wasn’t sorry that it had happened, although he may have been sorry to have upset me, if I was being generous. Or sorry that I might be angry, to be honest.

The gash in his suit was too big to repair, six inches at least. Not that it would have mattered if it was five inches less or a dozen more, I had no idea how to do anything about it either way, none of us did. I reminded myself that it was an accident, I was fairly sure that it was. There was no value in anger now and I couldn’t muster up much by way of sorrow, not underneath the leaden weight of his saliva flecked gasps for breath anyway, the sobs gradually slowing to a sedate and unconvincing pace.

She was standing a few feet away from us, eyes blankly staring down through the grill of the gantry and down towards the distant grey concrete ground. Another one who wasn’t sorry, not that she’d done anything to apologise for beyond be there and not care as much as I did and how could I blame her for that?

“Come on” I spoke through a clenched jaw “we need to get out of here, back down to the ground.

I hauled him to his feet and cast a mournful look towards the shuttle, the cockpit almost at eye level as it quietly thrummed with the early growl of engines warming up. Inside they’d be going through the last checks, probably. In my ignorance I could imagine them tapping dials and reading off impenetrable numbers and reports. One more flight of stairs and I could have waved the world goodbye. At least we hadn’t made it that far.

He was on his feet now and fiddling pointlessly with the hole in his suit, flicking at the freyed edge with heavy gloves, a finger coming away tipped with red from the cut beneath. The part of me that still cared reminded me, louder than I’d expected, that he should get some anti-septic cream on the wound, maybe get a tetanus shot. I ignored it and pulled at his arm, reaching out my other hand to gesture for her to follow me as we began the slow plod to the solid ground.

“You could still go, your suit’s ok”

“It’s ok, let’s just head down”

I tried to keep my voice level and to my surprise it worked, belying the panic that was chewing me up. Hers, as always, was as flat as an iced over lake, not out of cruelty, I reckoned, but because she’d given up on being here a long time ago and wherever she was now there wasn’t much room for caring about things. He just stayed sullenly silent, either joining her out there or just wary of my reaction if he spoke.

“I could put tape around it, he might make it if I put tape around it”

I nodded. He wouldn’t, not where the shuttle was going. Not that we had any tape anyway. Looking at her as we took metallic steps back down the first set of downwards stairs I could see that she’d forgotten the thought as soon as she’d mentioned it anyway. Like a death rattle it was a last, hollow act as her mind drifted even further away.

I could see figures moving below, scurrying their way up the first steps to the launch tower. My legs started to protest as my eyes watched their progress. There was no chance they were friendly, although I reckoned we might have the same fear in common. They would be armed though and full of the same desperate desire to survive that I’d felt as I dragged the others up with me, leaping up four steps at a time to try and make it onboard intact. Driven by a hope which had evaporated in an instant as he’d fallen.

If I were them I’d shoot me for not leaving him behind out of simple disgust and if they did I’d find it hard to blame them. The last seconds before destruction were ticking away around us and here I was walking away from the one way out because… because of what? Loyalty? Pity? I didn’t like to ask myself as we moved further towards the surface.

“Don’t you want to live?” I asked, wondering who might answer. No one did, although he grunted and she whistled to herself, an eery echo from whatever distant place she’d arrived at.

A gunshot rang out from below, a bullet clanking off of the metal rail somewhere close enough to send small vibrations rattling around me. They were shouting down there, at us or at the shuttle, I couldn’t tell which. More bullets followed, missing if they were meant to hit anything I could see. I recoiled with every crack of gunfire, my instincts for self-preservation almost folding me in on myself even as I struggled to keep my feet moving forwards.

The thrum of the engines was growing louder as they came closer to launching. We might not even make the surface before the thrusters forced out a pillar of flame and smoke around us. The strangers below might not make it up in time to take their anger out on whoever they thought deserved it.

I reached out a hand to each of them, grabbing one of theirs and squeezing it. Neither one squeezed back but I took comfort in the gesture. Holding them harder and tighter I could forget the fear, if only for a split second and after all, that’s all we had left.

For more from me you can check out my novel Crashed America – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks. All ideal escapes from 2016 and, if you time the reading right, you can dodge a chunk of 2017 too just in case…