Magnetic turbulence shook the Santa Muerte’s cargo hold and everybody inside it.
Whitman held the doped-up girl in his arm closer. Her head lolled, swinging into his chest. Whitman caught it, kissed her temple gently and murmured, “We’re almost there,” as he stroked her matted, dirty blonde hair, soothing her.
The girl drooled. She was skinny as a stick. No more than ten years old, dressed in a worn wool sweater over a plain, canvass dress.
A plump Corsican peasant woman sitting across from Whitman smiled warmly at the two of them. She most likely believed Whitman was the girl’s father. It was the exact pretense Whitman was aiming for.
He flashed his teeth briefly, then glanced away.
These simple people sickened Whitman. They’re willfully blind to what really goes on these mule-ships; where children end up, what they’re coerced to do later and for life.
To the untrained eye, Whitman was a distressed father going off-planet with his dying daughter to seek out unlicensed clinics and experimental treatments. In reality, it was often a ruse smugglers used to traffic the underage.
Whitman knew these tactics intimately. He was a smuggler lifetimes ago. Not in human slaves though. Never unwilling humans. He had that much, at least, he often told himself.
The stench of pressed, unwashed bodies overwhelmed Whitman. He’s made this run many times before, but he could never get used to the smell. The mixture of days-old sweat, dried urine, caked semen.
Fortunately, they were just moments away from arriving at D10 station orbiting Eurydome, the Outer Solar System’s largest black market.
Whitman scanned his tin can surroundings again, for the hundredth and hopefully last time this trip.
There were about twenty of them stowed inside Santa Muerte’s cargo hold.
A gaggle of bio-hacked Brazilian whores. A cybernetic Cyclops. Silver-spooned teenage boys hopped up on ketamine. A pair of Miruki-Tek “Tokyo Twins” models in school uniform, shut down and mouth agape. A hairy man in shorts, t-shirt and sunglasses (journalist?). A squad of Martian marines on shore leave.
And as always, two or three sets of “normals”. People living with an incurable, or often a fatal disease, banking on a thin prayer something else out there, off-planet would be their salvation.
The degenerate, the desperate and the diseased.
Whitman counted himself amongst the last group, but he really belonged to the second.
The Santa Muerte rattled violently again. The non-human cargo shifted as well this time. Boxes of ammunition from Quebec City. Crates of Woodford Reserve. Barrels of Eden’nosono Soytein.
Whitman wrapped his arms like a seatbelt around his girl. His cargo. His precious carrier that could easily earn him $56MM HKD if the deal goes through. For once, letting him retire for good.
They were docking soon. Whitman swallowed, holding his breath. So close now. Just need to track down Keats on D10. He’ll run some quick lab tests on the girl’s blood, verify its potency, transfer the money, and then I’ll be gone. It’ll be quick.
Whitman’s thoughts made him feel light. His mind couldn’t stop replaying the images, over and over again, of what he was about to do. And the impending windfall he would possess soon. So soon.
He held in his bursting excitement. He took another breath.
Santa Muerte began to rumble, drift. They were docking now! Yes.
Whitman spied Byron out of the corner of his eye.
Byron, their coyote, sat calmly by the trapdoor. He lit up one of his Indonesian clove cigarettes in celebration. It made the hold smell like a lonely Christmas at the pub.
After weeks of olfactory intimacy with dozens of strangers, Byron couldn’t wait ten more minutes?
But Byron couldn’t care less. His job was nearly done. Another successful run to D10. Another hundred G’s in the bank. And all the temptations, indulgences and desires were immediately available to him the moment he stepped off the Santa Muerte.
Whitman envied Byron’s youth, his posture, his cockeyed carefree coolness. For one thing, Whitman taught Byron everything he knows about this business.
Byron owes him everything.
Whitman should get a cut of Byron’s monthly runs to D10.
And yet, when Whitman pled for free passage aboard the Santa Muerte, Byron had the gall to ask for 10% of Whitman’s deal.
Worse, Byron said it was a “favor to him, for old time’s sake, as my former mentor.”
That smug fucking asshole.
Frankly, Whitman suspected Byron didn’t believe a single word of his story anyway. The girl with the impossible gene. Blood worth billions to the right arms broker.
Byron probably saw an old man’s eyes gleam for one last adventure and played along. Well, screw him. With $56M HKD, Whitman can afford to not pay his cut. He could hole up in paradise.
The Santa Muerte stopped. Whitman heard airlocks hiss, depressurizing. The cargo hold passengers stood up. The second door pried open too.
Whitman listened. Boots trudged in, the sound of hard rubber on steel. An inaudible conversation between Santa Muerte’s pilots and D10’s security rasped through the cargo hold’s false door.
“What’s taking so long?” asked one of the Normals.
Byron raised his hand to quiet him. He held his ear closer. A few others craned and strained.
Whitman began to worry.
Finally, the trapdoor seized, pulled back. Three guards adorned in full Kevlar, gas masks and H&K G36s appeared.
“Whitman?” the first one called, as he scanned the room with his rifle. “Able Whitman?”
Byron approached him, “What this about, then?”
“Are you Able Whitman?”
“Listen, we’ve already paid off a dozen politicians, border guards and custom officials to get here. We’re tired. I’m sure we can work out a…”
Whack! The first guard slapped Byron with the butt of his rifle. “Sir, if you’re not Able Whitman, we do not need your input. Sit down. Now who the fuck is Whitman?”
The Corsican woman looked at Whitman. Others started to as well. He stepped forward, cradling the girl in his arms like a newborn.
“Yes officer?” ☣
This week’s Garage Fiction prompt was provided by Dogwood…
When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer by Walt Whitman
When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars
These weekly scenes & stories are part of an ongoing project codenamed “Garage Fiction”. Since January 2015, three writers (Nicholas Brack, Dogwood Daniels and Jinn Zhong) have committed to writing a flash fiction or scene each and every week. We post on Fridays and dissect on Mondays via podcast. Listen to the episode here: