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.

“Captain?”

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.

“CAPTAIN!”

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.

“What?”

“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 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.