Welcome to the Xeroversary! We're celebrating two years of the Xeroverse with guest fiction from some of my favourite flash fiction writers. Thanks for dropping by, come in, enjoy the fiction, say hello. =)
...and don't miss the afterparty! ^_^
Sleeping for True Love
by Aidan Fritz
Salem sat across the desk from a smiley-face avatar protecting the anonymity of his colleague. The disguise wasn't necessary since Salem used a fake pre-recorded conversation and hid the true communication channel using stenography. Sure, it resulted in a brown tinge around the edges, and artifacts in the room, but security mattered more than the allure of virtuality.
"Got good news and bad," the smiley face said. "Good: Alhambra rests like sleeping beauty. Bad: the boss thinks we're cutting you slack."
"You must keep her for four hundred years." Three hundred and ninety seven to be exact. "I can't get there any faster."
"Time's not the problem. It's cash. We can unfreeze her and consider none of this happened. Of course, the money you've already paid, that's nonrefundable." The black dots of the yellow smiley-face appeared to narrow. "Or, you pay another three million credits."
Salem froze the feed. He pulled up his and Alhambra's bank records. His hands itched. Damn Betelgeuse crime lords. They'd done their research, the sum was within several thousand of their combined accounts. He swallowed, not liking his choice. Love won out.
A proximity sensor tolled.
Salem yanked the emergency circuit on the virtual conference and blinked away the last of the virtual images. He moved to the sink in case someone had monitored the prerecorded conversation that he'd used to hide his channel. He washed his hands, noticing the travel-chip on the counter beside him. He slipped the chip under the food manufacturer.
The front door swished open. The energy panel dissipated, allowing a whiff of ammonia to invade Salem's living quarters. Government scrubbers weren't worth the fees they paid in taxes. The terraformers had never fully expunged the remnants of the planet's original atmosphere.
A man in a crumpled suit strode into the room as if he owned Salem's house. Behind him stood a Unipol officer, his uniform crisp, his cheeks pimpled. The officer was probably fresh out of cadet school. The other one would be a detective. Salem received a data squirt confirming his suspicions and announcing the detective's entrance warrant.
Salem triggered privacy alerts to the local Open Rights Group chapter. Notifications squirted rapid fire. But, it didn't work. ORGs lawyers ran into overlapping jurisdictions and layers upon layers of authorization within the warrants. The government had to be sure about this sting if they went to this much trouble. Salem figured he needed to relax, to avoid obvious displays of guilt.
Besides, how could love be wrong.
"Salem Hashi-Gucci?" Cops were creatures of habit. After ten millennium spent querying for a perp's name, they still asked on entry. The government databases would have already confirmed Salem's identity.
The fewer words Salem said, the more likely he'd remain free. At least long enough to board his rocket. "Purpose?"
"Just questions. A young woman, about your age, disappeared in the Betelgeuse colony. Virtual session records indicate you had contact with her frequently."
"That is a relief. I thought she was ignoring me." Salem picked a vase up off the counter needing something to keep his fingers busy to keep him from thinking about the lie.
"Do you know where she's gone?"
"How would I know? Her world's lifetimes away from here."
The Unipol officer's augmented glasses glittered with a red laser backscatter, while he scanned the windows, looking for impressions in the flexible membrane that might reveal Salem's previous conversations. Fortunately, Salem had used backscatter casters to disguise his conversations and render the membrane impossible to interpret.
"We think you're responsible," the detective said.
"Impossible. I live here. She lives in Betelgeuse. Four hundred years separate us. Did she disappear centuries ago?"
"Masterminds are accountable for the actions of their underlings."
The vase in Salem's hands fell through his grip and shattered on the floor. "I... I don't know what you're talking about."
"I think he does." The Unipol officer slid aside the food manufacturer to grab the travel-chip and turned around. "Spaceport entrance privileges, and access to rocket X3752, leaving tomorrow afternoon, with a flight plan for Betelgeuse."
"He'll never live that long," said the detective.
"I've done nothing wrong. Citizens can travel between the stars."
"You're not headed to a new colony," said the officer. "You're headed to a crime scene."
"But she's not dead," Salem protested.
"See," said the officer.
The detective nodded and waited for his partner to cuff Salem's wrists. "Sorry. We've got probable cause and the judge okayed your arrest. Your rights will be squirted into your data stream."
The detective sighed. "I'd stay quiet if I was you. You're right. Nothing against the law to migrate by colony ship. But, X3752 is filled with frost gear and corporations don't like you unnaturally lengthening your life. Consuming nothing. Worse, you didn't just risk your life, you risked hers as well. I hope you're happy."
Aidan Fritz lives on an island in the San Francisco Bay Area and works part of the time in Sweden. His writing captures the magic of varied perspectives through which different cultures view the world. When not writing, he can be found baking artisan breads, practicing his Swedish, playing the hammered dulcimer, or occasionally on stage as a Scottish Highland dancer. An avid sand-dune climber, he has the metabolism of a hummingbird. His first short story appears in the Gears & Levers anthology.
Xero says: Aidan combines a wild imagination with elements gleaned from events and advancing technology in our world, weaving them into colourful fantasy and science fiction. I can always be assured of something interesting and thought-provoking whenever I read his work.