1. mootz

    mootz Member

    Mar 6, 2010
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    The Gift God Wanted Back

    Discussion in '2012 Science Fiction Contest' started by mootz, Feb 19, 2012.

    The Gift God Wanted Back
    Chapter 1: Penumbra's Patronage
    by mootz (Norman Mayfield)​

    Blazing red light pierced through the coal black tinted windows of Marlin's vehicle, making the surface rider, Penumbra, seem like a sleazy strip joint of older times. He had to wear his suit while inside to keep his flesh from melting off the bones and to keep his organs from boiling within. After all, it was midday.

    It would be ideal to handle duties, of any nature really, during the night. However, Marlin was born in an age were ideals were discarded in favor of facts. Fact of the matter was, he had to transport his package now or never.

    His vehicle, dark alloyed and protected from 'normal' sunny days, was reaching uncomfortably high levels within, topping 175 degrees Fahrenheit. His thermal body suit kept his body temperature to a much safer 94.7 degrees. A series of tubes and specialized 'sponges' collected moisture that was minimally cleaned and reabsorbed into his body through a mouth piece. The suit had an in-design computer and communication device that could connect to other riders. The smallest malfunction meant death, but Marlin was always susceptible to peer pressure, and everyone he knew kept telling him to go to hell.

    Penumbra was hovering several yards off the ground, traveling at 548 miles per hour down the highway remains of southern Nevada. Seismic activity wrecked ninety percent of California, submerging much of it and killing millions of people. The transformation of the atmosphere caused by pollution and global warming made the caps melt and the sea level rise. However, the sun's change from yellow to red giant evaporated much of the ocean into the deep abyss of space. If people lived in the numbers they once did, another two states could have been created between California and the new sea level. Though, that was still changing rapidly. Marlin had many miles left before he got to the 'beach'.

    Coming up on ruined buildings, Marlin slowed down Penumbra. He came to a complete stop several hundred yards before any building. It wasn't safe to be sitting in the sun and letting the engines collect heat, but the remaining buildings left too many pockets of shadows for pirates and marauders. Marlin diverted power from motion control to defense parameters, and began again at a much more mild 150 mph.

    His initial scans picked up no signs of life, it wasn't totally reassuring. It could mean that there wasn't anyone in the area or that the people here had the right type of technology. The second option scared him, it would mean he wasn't dealing with amateurs. He preferred dealing amateurs.

    The vehicle swerved around a small deformed stump of a statue that was once the center of a concrete tribute for some long forgotten American hero. Suddenly, the wheel tightened and locked into place and the vehicle propelled itself several dozen feet into the air with a plasma burst. Penumbra's sensors sensed that there wasn't enough time for the human mind to react, and it was right.

    Marlin looked at his monitor while the surface rider started to reach the apex of its jump. The letters R, P and G flashed on the screen in blue light as a plume of smoke crossed the path of the space his vehicle would have been in if not for its sensors. Going by the calculations of the computer, the shot wouldn't have missed if not for the self defense mechanisms.

    “More shots?” Marlin asked rhetorically. He had long since disabled his computer's ability to respond by voice. He didn't see it as a tool of sustaining sanity and thought that those who relied on the company of machines were weak. He saw no irony in his beliefs.

    The screen flashed again, this time showing Penumbra in three dimensions, with the space around it revealing fast approaching projectiles. The first shot was to send the vehicle into emergency defense, rendering the pilot unable to immediately control the ship, as all surface riders carried similar self defense systems. These shots were the ones that would actually disable it, provided Marlin was a lousy or scared pilot.

    “Penumbra, cold forward burst,” Marlin said, activating the voice commands that override the basic override of the vehicle.

    Penumbra shot forward with a burst of cold plasma that served to propel itself just before hitting hover level on the fall back down towards the ground. The vehicle narrowly missed the crossing RPG's that came from the hidden shadows of the ruined buildings as Marlin was able to get the engine started again.

    The steam from the cold plasma and the heat of the sun temporarily shielded Marlin's vehicle from sight, but it wouldn't last more than a few seconds. Marlin looked down at the display of Penumbra and saw that the projectiles of the second barrage had not exploded and that their path was curling in his direction.

    “Cold or heat?” he asked himself, wondering what type of signature the shots were following. He thought it was probably both and that another plasma burst of either variety would be a big mistake, as it would only help the missiles track him better. He wasn't dealing with simpletons.

    There were four projectiles in the air behind him, their shells wouldn't last long exposed to the sun, but he couldn't out run them long enough for that to happen without hitting max speed, which he couldn't due while in the canopy of ruined buildings.

    He took a quick inventory of his resources; spikes, four custom missiles, cold and hot plasma bursts, grappling hooks, electromagnetic, pulse machine (that required his engine to also be shut off), and a wonky laser rifle system that seemed to fire successfully based on a random dice roll generated at the computer's leisure. It was a good reminder, but he had an idea that could save the use of the special items, if he was lucky.

    Marlin jerked the Penumbra into a sharp and mean left turn that tore at his sides with centripetal force. The display showed the trajectory of the projectiles, their turn was much more exaggerated than his and he could use it to his advantage swerving in and out of the ruins of the buildings even though they were few and far between.

    “We have the location of the shooters yet, Pe?” Marlins asked. The screen switched from the outward display of the space surrounding Penumbra to the estimated locations of the shooters. The scans indicated they were automatic weapons because of the lack of human vital signs. That could be true, but the sun moves, and nothing man made sits in the sunlight for hours at a time. Something had to adjust these things and someone was probably in the shade near them, if not someplace underground.

    Penumbra took another swift turn, this time right, and Marlin noticed that three of the four missiles had been destroyed colliding with the remnants of the peaceful years before the expression hell on Earth became so literal. Marlin thought of them as the peaceful years, they weren't. But grass is greener on the other side, especially when your yellow sun is turning red and has started expanding to swallow your planet in its wake.

    “One more,” Marlin said exhaling. He sounded almost depressed, as if he was rooting for the bad guys to win. He didn't consider himself a good guy, but he wasn't a coward who attacked from the shadows. To him that meant he was at least neutral.

    He pressed a button and gave his computer a command. A single yard-long metal spike was shot out of one of the barrels in the back of Penumbra as the last projectile reached within twenty yards of impact. The tips of the explosion was felt by the sensors of the ship but gave no negative effects to the hull.

    Marlin smirked. He sucked in more water from the tube leading to his mouth that his suit collected. His temperature had risen half a degree in response to his agitation. He had thought he was being calm and collected.

    A blue light flashed on the display and the speed of the Penumbra plummeted. He felt the groan and cracking of the vehicle's skeleton under pressure and realized he was fighting a losing battle. He had taken a wrong turn into a controlled magnetic field. He didn't accept the fact that he may have been lead into this trap as a part of a plan C or D of the pirates, he just thought he was being careless.

    Marlin shut off the main engine of Penumbra, ready to completely go dark at the right moment. Anyone in their right mind would have done so to avoid being pulled apart and exposed to the sun, so he didn't think they would be suspicious of his actions. He would have to put up some sort of fight, mostly as a diversion, so that they wouldn't suspect he held a real ace up his sleeves.

    He fired some spikes in the direction of some shadows nearby, and then some more in the direction of the magnetic pull, which seemed to come from underground a hundred yards from his location. Naturally, the spikes didn't penetrate far enough into the ground to hit the magnet, they were too smart for that, but the display was serving its purpose. A few smaller vehicles appeared from shadows, no longer afraid of Penumbra's bite.

    Sensors gave Marlin images of the ships that came out of hiding. It looked as if they were going to try to hook into his ship to keep him from running. A dangerous plan if there was too much damage done to the inner hull and any potential materials inside were destroyed. Pirates took risks though.

    Finally, Penumbra was within fifty yards of the magnet, so Marlin thought it was time to give it a go. It was likely he wouldn't catch all the surrounding ships, but he was most worried about the magnet. Besides, the rival ships would have to be in a pass-code protected magnetic repulsion state to avoid being sucked in, and it would take a few moments from them to switch into full gear for chase. Moments that would ensure he wouldn't get caught by their surface riders.

    Marlin sucked in a drink of water from the tube and then shut off his suit. His temperature jumped immediately, though he couldn't tell by how much any longer. He fired another couple of spikes and then turned off the ship's computer and the last of its engines. He turned the dial of the EMP machine and a blast pulsated through the air like a tsunami of invisible energy destroying the active machines that were caught in its wake. He turned Penumbra's computer back on and fired the engine, rocketing himself forward at nearly 300 mph. Several ships were caught in his blast, but it seemed two weren't.

    He had enough of a distance on them to switch to full speed instead of wasting energy on defense, once he cleared the last of the buildings. If the pirates had any sort of heart. they wouldn't follow him into the open clearings in favor of possibly saving their comrades. The effects of the EMP can be temporary or permanent, depending on the quality of the mechanics it effected.

    Penumbra maneuvered around a small structure at the command of Marlin's steering. New missiles that had been fired from behind hit the ruins, but it was too late for attacks of that nature. There were thousands of miles of open land ahead because of the leveled state of California. Marlin could hit max speed and ride for a few hours without worry.

    Slowly the Penumbra's engines shifted their functions. It hummed a distinct hum that reminded him of a nursery rhyme. Hmmm Hmmmm Hmmmmm. He didn't fear many things, as he was prepared to die, but his heart always skipped a beat waiting for that fourth sound, that little noise. Under any other circumstance, it would be nothing, but this was a world where the sun took more life than it gave. A day could come where the alloys had reached their limit and could no longer support high speed on top of the extreme heat. A day when a jump into full speed land travel meant an explosion, or worse, hull crack, engine failure, slowly burning--

    Marlin heard the fourth hum, he sighed. If he could wipe his brow he would, but given that is was day time, the thought of wiping away moisture seemed sinful. He tried not to think about it, or anything at all, and flipped a switch to initiate Penumbra's acceleration.

    In the matter of forty-five seconds, the vehicle jumped from a medium speed of 300 mph to a high of 835. One of the two following vehicles turned back around to the shade of the buildings and the traps that nearly took Marlin's life. The other decided to rise it's own speed and follow.

    Marlin cruised at max speed for about two minutes before realizing he was being followed. He didn't want to reveal the location of the compound at any costs and so he made a slight adjustment to his trajectory that led to a sea valley. A low level of land exposed by the receding of the ocean after the quakes. It was almost the length of the grand cannon though not nearly as deep by a long shot. Marlin knew the area and he could fight there.

    Penumbra slowed down as it approached the new destination. The following vehicle did so as well, trying to maintain its relative distance. On most vehicles, it would be safe from sensors, but Marlin spent a lot of time upgrading Penumbra to make sure that he could see all incoming threats, it was likely that the pirate had no idea it was still being tracked.

    Marlin pulled into the opening of the valley. Inside there would be shade to cool down the hull of his vehicle and though it was barely fifty yards wide at it widest point, he felt he would have some advantages when it came to using the boulders and other natural obstacles that littered the sea valley.

    When Penumbra hit the shade of the valley, the follower accelerated to not lose sight of Marlin. The Penumbra was a dark ship, not just on it's solar panels, but overall. It was always hotter inside it than in other ships, but it held some advantages. With the heavy use of tinted windows to hide the red glare of the sun, the Penumbra was invisible in any levels of low light. It's why Marlin usually operated at night when he could (which was rarely), though everyone usually operated at night.

    Up ahead there was a boulder that was large enough to hide the ship from visual sight and protect from any attacks. Marlin slowed down to jump the object with a cold plasma burst and hide behind it. His chaser would surely know where he was by scans, but if Marlin was lucky he could trick it with a hot plasma burst forward from the front nozzle of the surface rider. The computer may follow the shot for a moment or two, after all the Penumbra had a high temperature signature, and it could mean that Marlin would become the trailer.

    Penumbra executed the command, and as he had hoped, Marlin watched his follower advance past him. He turned the engine back on and followed behind. The vehicle swerved subtly as Marlin suddenly appeared just a few dozen yards behind it. Then, Marlin fired several metal spikes into the back of the pursuing vehicle. He adjusted Penumbra's engines as quickly as he could, and the hovering height of the vehicle doubled, narrowly dodging a return of fire.

    Steam shot out of the vehicle from where his shots had landed cleanly piercing the vehicles inner hull. It fired spikes out at Penumbra's new location, but Marlin fired a hot plasma spike in their direction followed by a quick barrel roll. A spike hit Penumbra, but not directly, and the hull was saved from heavy damage.

    The pirate started to lose control and Marlin switched his ships power strictly into defense in hopes of protecting himself against any last desperate attacks.

    “My hull, my fucking hull!” a voice called over from the ship in panic, as a communication link was opened from the man's suit to Penumbra. Marlin shook his head, was the man expecting sympathy?

    “Hi,” Marlin said over his speaker. His voice was calm and strangely uncaring. Not just because it was an enemy, but because Marlin was over human tragedy in general. With one glaring exception.

    “I am going to die, my hull is compromised,” the pirate pleaded. Marlin could hear the sadness but he kept his feelings tight.

    “My name is Marlin,” he answered.

    “You're sick, you're fucking sick.”

    “Well, my temperature is a little high.”

    “I'm going to die in the sun!”

    “Are you wearing a suit?”

    “No shit! Let me ride in your ship, I'm going to--”

    “You should take the suit off. You'll die faster. I hear that people who die in the suit can hear the whistling of their bodily fluids as they reach boiling temperature. It keeps you alive only so that you can suffer. I hate technology sometimes.”

    The pirate pulled into a deep shadow of the valley and turned off his engines completely.

    “Anti EMP defense, now!” Marlin shouted to Penumbra.

    “I don't have that,” the pirate said. His ship stopped hovering and hit the ground with a thud. The hatch on the side of his rider opened up.

    “Good idea,” Marlin said. “Make it quick.”

    “I don't want your advice,” he said, crawling out of the vehicle.

    Marlin slowed down to watch the man crawl out amongst the steam that escaped the vehicle. In the shades, it was still unbearably hot for a person; suit or no suit.

    “You going to tell me your name?” Marlin asked.

    “No,” he answered.

    The man stood up. Even in Penumbra, Marlin could hear the hissing sound from the heat taking away the moisture from his body and the inside of his vehicle. When Marlin was younger, his grandmother would make tea for the two of them. She would boil the water in a tea kettle with a broken top. It never whistled, it just hissed.

    The pirate took a few steps forward to the edge of the shade. He stuck his hand out first, it caught fire in the direct heat of the sun. He screamed and Marlin turned off his communications with the man's suit, blocking him forever. As he drove away, the man's screams carried through the valley and were heard by the late delivery man even through the double hulls of his surface rider.

    A second channel opened on his communicator and it nearly startled Marlin. He was still thinking of his grandmother, though the voice was from the only other woman in his life that could get him to break down.

    She was crying.

    “Dad, you're going to be late,” eight year old Mara said.

    “I'm going to make it there, baby girl,” he said. “I'll be able to give you a big hug before the shuttle takes off.”

    “And a kiss on the forehead?” Mara asked. The two lacked for many traditions, the young girl held on to one of the few good ones, one of the only ones.

    Marlin cleared his throat, “is your mother fine?”

    “Yes,” Mara said, abashedly.

    “I'll be there before the shuttle takes off. Now, I have to turn off the device, baby girl. Daddy is driving very fast.”
  2. mootz

    mootz Member

    Mar 6, 2010
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    The Gift God Wanted Back
    Chapter 2: Candles Add Incandescence
    by mootz (Norman Mayfield) ​

    Some time ago:

    Mara reached up and touched the freshly shaved face of her father with her tiny little hands. Body hair was as unwanted as cancer these days and probably a bigger killer on Earth for those unfortunate enough not to have escaped off the planet yet, especially for those who would never make it off.

    Marlin's face was smooth. As a transport driver, one crazy enough to drive during the day if the pay was high enough, Marlin was almost always smooth in the face and body to avoid the extra heat. His wife, Macy, enjoyed the look, even though she had grown to not enjoy his company so much.

    He sneezed.

    “You're cold, daddy?” Mara asked. She had both hands on his face, above the jaws on the cheeks, pulling the skin slightly to manipulate his mouth into funny shapes.

    “My car is very hot,” Marlin said smiling. Mara had the best vocabulary of any child he has seen since the days of the sun's transformation. She was smart, articulate and quick learning. Her mother even survived the birth process, a problem with woman who gave birth in his family. She was a miracle of sorts, an aberration. Marlin was proud he helped create her.

    “Penumbra?” Mara asked curiously. “So, dad, you're not in it right now. Right now, you're under water.”

    “Exactly, I am used to being hot so my body likes to be hot. Being down here is cold to me.”

    “You don't want to go into space?”

    “I'm going to go, of course I want to go.”

    Mara face had showed worry with its exaggerated mopey expression that the young woman forced on her father, but it disappeared after thinking about his words a bit more. It made sense to her that her father would be cold by comparison. She just couldn't see it happening to herself, which made the idea as foreign as the idea of playing outside during the day.

    Marlin kissed his daughter on the forehead and she laughed. It amazed him that she reacted so positively to it, he just did it because his grandmother did it to him. There was something to be said about that experience. He couldn't pass on winter nights—or even the peace of mind of society's conventions, as he once knew them—but he could still pass on love and tradition.

    “Was that one from you or your grandma?” Mara asked.

    “Both of us,” he said.

    “And from me,” his wife, Macy, interjected. She had grown tired of being mother and father without getting the recognition of either. Marlin was away, making money, but away. Mara cried herself to sleep thinking of Marlin, and not her. It was sin enough just to cry in times like these. It all seemed to work Macy's nerves.

    “Aww, you bought a big one, dad,” Mara said.

    “It's not so big,” Marlin said. He remembered the birthday cakes from when he was little. Not only did they taste better, with dairy products and healthier vegetation, but they were bigger. Mara's was essentially a cup cake that the three were going to split. Though, Macy and Marlin wouldn't take more than a small bite of their child's cake, even against her protests to take more.

    “He spent some of his ticket money to get it, Mara,” Macy said. Marlin felt the contemptuous tone of her words but was too tired mentally and physically to argue. After all, he barely made it into the M-quarium to see them in time for the party. Getting past the docking officers to take the sea shuttle down to the underwater facility where his family lived took nearly two hours.

    “Dad, the shuttle leaves in six months,” Mara said nearly in tears.

    “I made enough to get both your tickets in four months, I can get one more for myself in six,” he said. Mara was satisfied with his answer, even though her face showed otherwise for a few seconds more.

    Theoretically, Marlin could pull it off. Though, his biggest and most reliable customer had been overtaken by a bout with Calefaction, a disease of post-yellow sun Earth that was oddly contagious. A person with Calefaction could spread it through touch, breath or intercourse. It was one of the few conditions that inhibited people from leaving the planet Earth, those that could afford it. It was known as the warming.

    “I think I'll miss Earth,” Mara said. Marlin and Macy both fought to hold back laughter. Mara hadn't known Earth they way they did. Macy was pregnant when the exodus from the third rock from the sun began. The little girl had no real concept on what amazing things the planet once held. And yet, she clung to the miserable life she endured from birth with the type of loyalty and longing that can't be found in adults. It was childish love, and though it was funny in a way to the two, they found themselves being jealous of their daughter as well.

    “I already miss it,” Marlin said, looking at his wife. Even though they grew apart after their child's birth, they were fiercely loyal to each other. It was of incredible luck that they remained together after so much time and after everything they had gone through. But, they had an incredible daughter who pulled them together and gave them moments of such joy like this.

    Because Macy was pregnant, she couldn't ride into space and Marlin was forced to stay on Earth with her when the sun started to expand. Then, poor lower class citizens who couldn't pay for passage into space revolted and lawlessness ran rampant on heat stricken Earth. People died in the millions and the planet was a scary place. Shuttles didn't come back to Earth for five years.

    Not that Mara was big or strong enough to survive the launch either way during those years. So, the couple had to wait it out to see if she would survive the early years and make it. If she didn't, they would leave together and try parenting again in space or even go their separate ways.

    However, one night, while Marlin still lived with them underwater in the mobile aquarium facility, Mara had a turn for the worse health wise. The two thought it was Calefaction, as children and the elderly were the most likely to contract it. Marlin was drunk at the time and suggested it was a sign from God that they should leave without her. Macy has never forgiven him for that drunken thought, nor has he himself. And what makes matters worse for the child's mother, Mara has always been daddy's girl.

    “Tell me the story your grandma used to tell you,” Mara asked of her father.

    “It's not a story,” Marlin said. He faked anger in an embarrassing display of acting that adults always seem to use around children, because they think them inferior and unable to tell when someone is being silly. Despite her intelligence, Mara seemed to enjoy the act all the same, almost for the effort of it more than anything else, and giggled at her father. He was smiling on the inside at the sound of her laughter.

    “Well, Mara, my grandmother always told me I was special. I guess I was, though not as special as you are, but still kinda special. I would ask why, but she kept saying that it just was. Then, one day, she finally gave me an answer. To my grandmother, my mother was her whole world. My grandmother's life revolved around her and she was a gift from God. But, she was perfect and God wanted her back in heaven, because that's where perfect things belong. So, when she gave birth to me, she died. My grandmother thought I was special because I was a gift's gift.”

    “Does that make me a gift's gift's gift?” Mara asked. She always found that expression to be amusing and reveled in the excuse to call herself such.

    “Well, you are perfect,” Marlin said.

    “Let's try some of that yummy cake,” Macy said, as she wiped salty sweat from eyes, careful not to remove too much of the cooling liquid from her face. She said it to interrupt their moment, though she did it subconsciously.

    “We're cutting into thirds,” Mara demanded suddenly, trying to evoke authority.

    Marlin laughed as he looked at his wife who seemed to shrug her shoulders without much protest. Mara grabbed the knife without waiting for permission or protest, and proceeded to cut the small cake into three parts.

    The pieces ended up being uneven, and the cake was some of the worst that either Marlin or Macy ever had in their lives. Still, Mara loved it. She was happy. Her father and mother were together for the next few hours and she didn't have to worry about pirates and outlaws killing her delivery boy father. It was perfect, as perfect as it could get in her world. She really would miss Earth.
  3. mootz

    mootz Member

    Mar 6, 2010
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    The Gift God Wanted Back
    Chapter 3: Sign Your Name Here
    by mootz (Norman Mayfield)​

    Shuttles always leave at night.

    Marlin was a half hour later than he originally planned, but he still had plenty of time to see his daughter before the shuttle took off. The sun wouldn't set for at least another hour, because the ship would be waiting for temperatures to fall before taking off.

    His ordeal with those pirates was nothing more than a minor detour. His biggest problem was his own resistance, his underlining desire to not wanting to make it on time. He had to see his daughter before she left, but he couldn't bring himself to tell her he wasn't going. How could he look her in the eyes through his suit's visor and tell her he contracted Calefaction? In many ways, he thought he really couldn't.

    He wasn't about to leave the task to his wife though, he had been unfair to her in the past and he didn't want to again. Macy was the one who would have to hug out all the tears over the years with Mara, and in some ways, Marlin was getting it easy.

    The Penumbra ran so smoothly through the deserted lands that it was nearly silent to him. He drove without noise or even thought. He was simply trying not to be, and though he couldn't exactly do so, he was at least relieved in how little his mind interfered in his desire to be alone.

    Scans ahead noticed it first. Then, through the red glare coming through his dark tinted windows, Marlin was able to see the wall of steam. If a man's suit could withstand the heat, he could measure the recession of the ocean on a daily basis with a yard stick. Daily, thousands of tons of water were evaporated into the vacuums of space, The planet didn't hold many more sustainable years.

    A request for communication hit the computer screen of the Penumbra's computer. Mara never asks for permission, but Macy always does.

    “Can you give me the new, exact coordinates?” Marlin asked, as he opened the communication link himself.

    “We're one hundred miles south of your location,” his wife answered.

    There was a pause and a silence from the two. Marlin turned left to ride down the coast line to where the M-quarium surface docking station would be. He would have a hard time convincing them to let him in, but he would find a way, Calefaction and all.

    “I asked her how you were?” Marlin said.

    “What she say?” Macy asked.

    “That you're fine,” Marlin said.

    “She didn't lie.”

    “Did you ask her about me?”

    “You're sick.”

    “Yup, that's the full extent of me and my emotions. Nothing else is going on--” Marlin said sarcastically with a hint of anger.

    “If you must know, I shed tears for you when you told me. I wasted water, I am not doing that anymore. Not until I get into space, though I don't promise I will there. I just don't think we love each other any more. I'm okay with that, I'm okay with not knowing about you.”

    Marlin didn't say anything. He cleared his throat and then brought up the vitals of Penumbra, checking for any signs of distress on the vehicle.

    “You don't still love me?” Macy asked, sensing he wasn't going to say anything, sensing he probably couldn't say anything.

    “No,” he answered bluntly.

    Macy started to whimper into the communicator. She held back tears, fighting against years of devotion, love and general emotions for the man she said 'I do,' to.

    “You know,” she said finally catching herself, “that is one of the nicest things you've said to me in years.”

    “I know,” Marlin admitted. He was very angry after that statement. There was no way he could shut off his mind now that he was thinking about his wife. Of course, it wasn't exactly her fault. He was the one who used to drink too much. He was the one who was foolish enough to get sick. She was an angel, and now he'd have to think about the years they shared together.

    Marlin made it easier on himself, he came to the conclusion that she shared some blame. It was a lie, but lies can be more powerful than the truth if you let them.

    “I'll see you when, and if, you get here,” Macy said.

    “Don't wait up, it'll get dark soon,” Marlin said. It was no longer a popular saying.


    “This is Marlin Hope,” he said to the docking officials.

    “Hope?” the official responded. “Oh, you're on—your wife and daughter are on the shuttle. Could you not get a ticket in time?”

    “Can I dock?” Marlin asked irritated.

    “Send over your ships health logs and--”

    “I'll save you the time, I have Calefaction. I'll wear my suit, I just want to see my daughter.”

    “You're aware of the rules, Marlin.”

    Marlin banged his fist on the arm rest of his seat in Penumbra. If they would have just let him in with the warming then he would have been more pissed off, but he still didn't like being denied. He had a second option, but it was risky.

    The M-quarium was an expensive mobile living facility that took advantage of the ocean's depths at its lowest points to block out large amounts of sunlight. It rose to the water's surface at night to recycle oxygen and so that people could come or go as required in larger numbers or for shuttles.

    The docking station was always closer to the surface of the water. Riders built with virtually the same specifics as Penumbra transported people from the surface to the main installation and vice versa during the day. The main difference is that those vehicles didn't operate on solar energy like the Penumbra did. Marlin got more money because of his speedy, day or night, delivery service and the increased reliance on solar energy made his all black rider one of the best in the world for expensive day trips. It meant less energy at night.

    Marlin shut down all but the most essential of the rider's functions and told the Penumbra to absorb as much sunlight as it could for his plan at night, provided he couldn't gain normal access.

    It would be night within the hour.

    “You guys can't inspect the quality of my suit at the airlock and escort me to her?” Marlin pleaded.

    Mara and Marcy would be transported at night from the outer helipad on the surface of the M-quarium to the shuttle facility on the Hawaiian islands. That would be the best time to try and see her again before she left. He would have to survive the facilities self defense mechanisms getting there. If he didn't, he would be dead, but he's been dead on the inside for months.

    “It's not happening,” the voice responded.

    He'd have to time it perfectly. The rising of the M-quarium was automatic, but they didn't have to let the transport vehicle out.

    “You're sick people,” Marlin said, with venomous bite.

    “No, you are,” the voice said, coldly. The communication line was cut short. The link lingered for a couple of seconds, like a living thing suffering with its last breaths. In a way, it was like a hissing sound. It reminded him of the pirate he left in the valley and his grandmother's tea.

    “Pe, the list please,” Marlin said.

    A list of eighteen names flashed on the screen of the Penumbra's computer. Marlin had to add another 'not applicable' to the list, though he didn't know why he would do it. The list didn't really matter much to him now that he was going to die and lose his family. At one point, he thought of passing the list on to Mara, but thought it would be too bitter and too negative of a trait to pass on. It would be the opposite of a kiss on the forehead.

    “Add one more N/A for me,” Marlin said. Penumbra did, bringing the total of those humans he killed to secure shuttle tickets to a total of nineteen. Marlin didn't like that it was an odd number, but with everything else on his mind, he didn't dwell on it for too long.

    It can't get dark soon enough, Marlin thought to himself.

    He reopened communications and argued back and forth with the docking official, trying his best not to completely lose his temper, while the blazing hot sun slowly set in the west. Penumbra was able to recharge it's batteries enough to make it where the helipad would be and even use the weapon and defense functions if needed, though he didn't want to push it.

    Penumbra's radar picked up the edges of the massive structure a few hundred feet below the surface. In a few minutes it would be at sea level. Marlin turned on his engine and positioned the vehicle for a sudden acceleration towards the sea. He checked one last time for hull damage.

    “What's wrong, dad?” Mara's voice suddenly asked. Marlin thought he was going crazy. The voice was so sharp and penetrating in the silence of the early night that both his hands jumped on the controls. His daughter had a strict, somber tone in her voice. She sounded ten years older than she was.

    “Mara?” Marlin asked, afraid of the answer.

    “I've been watching the Penumbra's location since you've got near the water. Mom didn't want me to, but she isn't good with machines like me. Why won't they let you dock?”

    “I have to tell you face to face,” Marlins said. He bit his lip. His body squirmed in place with an discomfort usually reserved for those hearing fingernails racked across a chalk board. He tried to fight back any signs of emotion in his voice that she could read. If he left any, she would know. Mara was a smart girl.

    “When your grandma lost her world, she was happy when she got a new one,” Mara said, further pushing her father's restraint. “But, she must have still been sad a little. I'm going to miss Earth dad, but I'll try to be happy up in space. Thank you for buying the ticket.”

    “God, I love you, Mara” Marlin said, drawing blood from his lip as his bite sunk into the skin. It mixed in with the moisture collector of his suit and he could instantly taste the sweet copper taste of his blood.

    “The planet was perfect before the sun broke?” Mara asked suddenly.

    “As close as it could have gotten without you being there.”

    “So, the Earth will die and then be in heaven, where it belongs, because God wanted it back. You should go to heaven too, dad.”

    “I will... baby girl. I'll try to meet you at the helipad before you leave for the shuttle, but I can only try. I'm very sick and I'll be wearing a suit. But... I have a package for you.”



    “I'll see you soon, dad. We're about to leave for the helipad.”

    “So am I. I'll see you soon, baby girl.”

    The Penumbra accelerated from its location like a cannonball. Because of the limits of the hovering technology, the vehicle lowered in height a foot or two as it raced over the surface of the water. The speed and relative height of the Penumbra left a wake of water in its path.

    There were no warning communications, nor even warning shots. The officers had made it clear what would happen to Marlin had he tried to force entry onto the M-quarium during his argument with the officials, they didn't lie. Missiles of both heat and cold detection launched from silos positioned underwater.

    “Let's see if God wants me back now or later,” Marlin said to himself, with a bit of snide. He turned on the anti-projectile laser rifle system. He closed his eyes waiting for the laser to take effect. He thought to make a quick prayer, but he abandoned that practice years ago. The sound of the five quick bursts of energy firing from exterior nozzles on the Penumbra and five quick explosions signaled the laser's success and the end of the first salvo from the M-quarium.

    A blue light flashed on the screen of the ship's computer. A bruise on the hull, but no hole. One of the missiles exploded too close to Penumbra. Marlin smiled, he was still alive. He wondered if God was actually giving him one last chance to talk to his daughter; he wondered for the first time in years if he even existed. Or, if he himself wasn't perfect enough to be called into heaven. His thoughts were so troubling he abandoned them almost immediately, after all, he was still under attack.

    The controls tightened to the Penumbra's wheel, and the ship jumped into the air. Another unexpected attack caused the automatic defense to kick in because of its likelihood to strike within a period of time the Penumbra deemed to quick for human reflexes. The ship was right, the M-quarium was firing torpedoed spikes that traveled at an incredible rate.

    “Those weren't there when I was working security,” Marlin protested.

    Penumbra started to fall back down to the surface level of the water. Marlin waited for manual control of the ship to return as he watched radar feeds for missiles or any other sorts of attacks. Suddenly, a warning catches his eye. A spike penetrated the dark, exterior hull of Penumbra.

    I-I can make it to a repair post before dawn, Marlin thought to himself.

    One tiny hole in the outer hull wouldn't mean immediate, certain death, he could survive an hour or two in the sun if he had too. He wasn't sure he wanted to survive, but the body always acts instinctively to stay alive. His mind was a mixed bag of emotions, fears and thoughts. He was only sure of one thing, he had to see his daughter before she left.

    A second barrage of spikes was in coming, but this time Penumbra gave ample warning for Marlin. The ship took a hard right, followed instantly by a hot plasma burst that propelled the ship with added speed and fury from the aim of the of the M-quarium's defenses.

    The Penumbra's skeleton creaked with the aggressive maneuvers of Marlin as he kept the ship's movements random and erratic, though the final destination remained the same. Unfortunately, the officials knew Marlin wanted to go to the helipad.

    He was a hundred yards away from his location as he slowed down, trying to figure out how he would get out without dying and get aboard the helipad without drowning in his suit. Two vehicles appeared between him and his destination.

    “Fire now!” Marlin screamed, as he fired the custom localized EMP emitting ammunition. He shot all four of his special missiles with haste, three hitting the vehicle on the left and one on the right as a result of quick automatic targeting from Penumbra. He cursed the waste of ammunition, as the vehicles began to sink into the sea. Then, he cursed the fact he wasn't fast enough.

    The Penumbra now had two additional breaches where the vehicles had managed to fire spikes into the exterior hull of the vehicle. Though, after inspection, it seemed as if one of the breaches pierced the inner hull.

    “Dad?” Mara's voice suddenly inquired.

    “MARA, I'M COMING!” Marlin screamed in panic.

    “There are twenty of us going to the shuttle tonight, not just me and your daughter,” his wife said suddenly. “They won't let any of us outside until your dealt with, Marlin. You're holding up your daughter and twenty others from leaving his hell-hole of a planet.”

    “I just want to say goodbye,” Marlin said, watching the Penumbra's vitals swaying back and forth between safe and hazardous readings.

    “I can hear you, dad,” Mara said. “We can say goodbye like this. They want to kill you. Run away, please.”

    “I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so very sorry, baby girl,” Marlin said, almost pleading to her.

    “It's okay,” Mara said. She was crying, but to her credit, she tried to hide it.

    “I'm going to miss you. But, I'm going to be okay and you're going to be okay, right?”

    “Yes, dad.”

    “I wanted to give you a package... I said that. I-I... I wanted to give you a hug.”

    “And a kiss?” Mara asked. Marlin felt the weight of the world in her request. Nothing could emasculate him more than facing the truth of this moment. He paused, but he could feel her anticipation on the opposite end and it ate his heart.

    “I have the warming,” he said in a whisper.

    “Calefaction? Okay--”

    “I'm going to go now, baby girl. Kiss your mother, she loves you as much as I do, more so.”


    “Be good in space.”


    “Live as long as you can.”

    “Yes, dad.”

    “And continue to be perfect.”

    “Okay... alright.”

    Marlin turned Penumbra one hundred and eighty degrees away from the helipad and sent the ship into full gear. He turned down the ship's defense and waited for the humming of the ship to begin.

    “I love you both,” Marlin said, before turning off the communication link. He shut down the Penumbra's links so that no further communication could take place. Mara was crying without restraint into the com and he couldn't take a second more of it.

    Penumbra started to rev into full gear, with three quick hums, but the forth never took place. The ship groaned and the hull started to crack under pressure. Marlin was crying and shaking in his suit waiting for an explosion, a quick and relatively painless release of burden. But, he realized he was still too close to the helipad. If he exploded, she could still see it.

    Marlin turned down the ship's engines just as they started to fail. With the last bits of reserved energy he used a few bursts of cold plasma to propel himself as close to the shore as he could, though he was still a mile or two away.

    With Penumbra's computer dying, it was of pure luck that Marlin was able to see that more vehicles were being sent to engage with him. Or, the same vehicles having recovered from the EMP blasts from before.

    Marlin scrambled to make it out of his seat's restraints and through the latch to get out of the rider as it sputtered ahead, hovering an inch or two above the surface water in a strained effort by the machine to continue to exist.

    He hit the warm water with a splash that he hoped was invisible to not just the naked eye at this hour, but the radar's of the ships that followed as well.

    Marlin swam in his suit as far as he could away from the path of Penumbra, making it a few dozen feet north before an explosion took the ship.

    With the ship's demise, the M-quarium's self defense vehicles disappeared. Marlin waded about in the water to wait and watch for the lights of the transport vehicle rise in the night sky signaling that his daughter would get to escape this miserable planet. He cried when he saw her fly away.

    Marlin made it to shore a couple of hours later. It was still night time, though the sun would stretch across the land soon enough. He fooled around with the controls of the computer that was in his suit. He was thankful it survived the ocean water.

    His suit no longer had voice commanded functions, so he had to do it manually. Still, he found the list. He was out of practice with manual controls, so it took a couple of minutes, but he was finally able to add the name of Marlin Hope to the list of people he killed to get his daughter into space. Twenty people, an even number. He felt really good about that.

    He laughed when he was done. He read all the names, remembered all the faces. It was worth it.

    Slowly, he pulled off his helmet and felt at his face. His five o'clock shadow was coming in heavy. The feeling of someone poking at his jaw reminded him of Mara and the way she tugged at his face; the way she used to tug on his face. It didn't make him cry though, it just made him prouder of his accomplishment.

    He put his helmet back on and waited for the sunlight to come. It meant dying a little bit slower, but he wanted to see if the rumors were true before he died. They were. As his skin started to melt under the minimal protection of his suit, he could hear it hiss and crack. It was painful, but enlightening. A distinct whistle of life and death.

    Maybe, he'd get to see his grandmother again.


    Mara Hope never married, she had a distinct definition of what the level of devotion a man should have for a woman, and no one lived up to that.

    She had a son named Maddock and died three years later birthing her second child, Max. Before she passed, she used to joke that God was an Indian Giver. It became a popular saying, but she never got credit for it.

    Maddock worked for the chemical research company that found the cure for Calefaction. Though, he was only a janitor. He was still proud of his connection to the cause.

    The Earth was swallowed completely by the sun when Maddock turned forty-three, effectively ending the solar system. Mankind was advanced enough to slow the process down, preserving the old planet for as long as they could, but mother nature always wins in the end.

    Ultimately, the Hope family was fine. Because, even when while all hell is breaking lose, they keep trying to live on. Not always for themselves, but certainly for the ones they love. And, really, that's enough. ​

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