Nosedive

 

 I wrote this book back in the 1980s and have recently rewritten it. It is a classic little Sci-Fi tale with some political overtones.

Synopsis

Human civilisation has miraculously survived for another three hundred years into the future. Technology has blossomed and intergalactic travel is now feasible. This has enabled contact with other races living on planets nearby within the same spiral arm of the Milky Way.

Despite all these advances humanity has not learnt much from its mistakes. There are still two blocs with different political ideologies vying for supremacy and threatening to destroy each other.

There is still the same power madness, greed and selfish exploitation that has prevented mankind from reaching its potential. The only major stride forward has been the abandonment of primitive superstition. There are no longer religious beliefs to shackle people’s minds.

The need for rare metals has meant that the asteroid belt has become a major resource to exploit. Itinerant prospectors make a living on this new frontier out on the Rim and occasionally make a killing by discovering an ore-rich asteroid.

One such prospector by the name of Hansim Olasson is attacked by a skilled assassin. Another, by the name of Miken Thorsby, discovers a place he would like to call home.

A strange alien craft with hugely advanced technology comes into the system from out in the vast intergalactic wastelands. The ship is viewed as a threat and could destabilise the fragile balance of power.

What is going on and how will it all pan out?

Opher 21st March 2014

Here is a short extract. I hope you like it:

  Nosedive

By

Opher


Even as I rolled off the stool and hit the floor I felt the sting of the laser pulse as it seared the side of my face. I didn’t stop to question it. I was already moving. Fortunately it did not come into my mind to indignantly stand up and point out that somebody was making a big mistake; that they had got the wrong man. It had been close, too damn close.

I broke left, anticipating the next shot, my brain still buzzed with the hiss of the laser bolt coupled with that blinding flash and stinging electric burn. I couldn’t afford to let the pain and dazzle slow me down. Someone wanted to turn highly valued parts of myself into severely scorched meat. Fortunately my endocrine system and autonomic nervous system appeared to be operating in complete harmony and had hi-jacked my consciousness to take over my thought process and body functions. It is quite astounding how fast one can move and how quickly your brain can operate when someone is aiming lethal force in your direction. You did everything without even thinking. Some call that reflex. It’s not really. I am lucky in having a gene combination that seems to enable me to react spontaneously when, among other things, someone wants to fry my brain. That’s because I have grown quite attached to it. In fact I prefer to keep all my organs at an even temperature.

Instantly my heart went into racing mode. My blood system shunted extra resources to my brain and senses and some distant, analytical part of my cortex took control and directed my cerebellum to organise the necessary muscle groups to carry out its wishes without reference to the higher thought processes that might decide to question its decisions. Glucose flooded through me and I could feel the burst of energy it provided. My senses were responding by searching for cover and that area of cortex directed my body through a staccato flow of rolls, falls and jumps that it had somehow devised to throw off any potential assassin’s aim.

Throughout this complex set of manoeuvres this superior part of my consciousness remained aloof – calculating, assessing, collating and deciding as it weighed up the information and worked out the percentages.

The size of the flash and hiss indicated the weapon had been on full beam. That meant someone was actually aiming to kill me. The fact that I had not noticed them at all meant that they were good – too bloody good for comfort! If it had not been for that old seventh sense of mine I would now be a frizzled slab of meat slumped across the bar and that was something I had an inbuilt wish to avoid. When my skin prickled like that I did not stop to question or check – I moved! That’s what had at least temporarily saved me. That old seventh sense had got me through to this age and I had learnt to respect it. It took some exceptional person to get that close to get a shot off but the tightness across my cheek told me that I had just met such a person.

I slammed through another table deliberately knocking chair and occupants flying in all directions. Survival often hung on the creation of maximum disorder. Within that chaos it was hard for an attacker to discern the pattern and latch on to a clean shot. I had a reputation for being an expert at creating chaos.

I crashed up against the wall in the darkened alcove with my pocket needle gun magically appearing in my hand. Everything was unnaturally still as the echoes of the crashing furniture died away. There had been no second shot.

I risked a glance round the wall of the alcove to survey the dimly lit room. It was a typical Astrobar, or at least it had been a few moments before. There was the classic large open section of tables surrounded with a series of peripheral alcoves, many with drawn curtains, for those who preferred privacy.

There was a trail of wreckage leading in a zigzag from the bar to where I now was. Nothing seemed to be moving. The scattered occupants were lying stunned amongst the wreckage or were frozen in a tableaux with eyes directed towards me with open mouths. My quick scan had not revealed anybody who might be my likely assailant.

I ducked back behind the wall. This did not make sense. There was the sound of people picking themselves up out of the overturned furniture and a murmur of voices.

This made no sense at all. I had not offended anyone. How could I? I had only got in today! I’d only just got back from mining out in the asteroids. I’d only been back an hour or so and I hadn’t even talked to anyone apart from the bartender.

I’d been away for a bit and it couldn’t have been anybody out there in the asteroids; as usual I hadn’t seen a soul. Surely nobody would hold a  long term grudge! I mean, I had done my share of hell-raising but I’d taken care even when blind drunk. This was the asteroid belt. It was the frontier; the new Wild West. You took care not to offend and if you did you made damn sure you put it right! You tended not to live too long if you didn’t. But miners out here would be sure to let you know. There was a code of honour. They didn’t hold grudges – and certainly not for any length of time! The locals out here called it the Rim. Like any frontier town where the law was just a notion there were customs. You always knew where you were with Outworlders. They were the roughest, toughest, meanest sons of bitches but they had their rules. If you crossed them they let you know it in no uncertain terms. That might be a fist in the mouth or even a knee in the balls but it was rarely a Laser beam and certainly not one in the back! Whatever you liked to call them coward was not a word that resonated. A Rimmer had pride! Out here on the Rim an Outworlders reputation was worth much more than money or blood!

It sounded quiet out there now. I risked another peek round the wall. Not a thing was stirring. It was as if all the erstwhile denizens of the bar had dissolved into the walls. There was no sign of my would be assassin anywhere. It looked as if he had fled.

I stayed where I was. As sure as my name was Hansim I knew better than to take needless risks. You never knew. There was nothing to be gained by moving. Perhaps he was out there behind one of those curtains waiting for me to get careless and stand up. Why take the chance? I quite liked this thirty seven year old body of mine. I’d put a lot of effort into keeping it in shape. It would be a shame to throw all that sweat away, as if it counted for nothing.

I stayed crouched behind my wall and waited. First I had to work out what was going on here. I’m a nice guy. Why would someone want to be taking pot-shots at me? I’ve lived with Out-Worlders all my life, even Aliens. We get along. In the course of this long life out in the Rim I’ve partnered a rich variety of races and species and never managed to seriously cross any of them.

That took some doing! I can tell you! We live out here as outcasts among these barren hunks of frozen rock. Many of the Aliens were light years away from home isolated by a thick mantle of space. We had all brushed with pain and death so often that we’d lost our fear of it. We all knew the score. As long as that didn’t turn you into a risk taker you were OK. But I knew the score. I treated it all with respect. I never took anything for granted, double checked all my equipment and always had a back-up. If things went wrong out here there was no going back and no back-up. You were on your own and you had to deal with it. It made you thorough and independent. It was evolution in action. The careless got weeded out quick. The same went for people. You treated them with respect and you’d get by.

I would have known if I’d trodden on anybody’s toes even by accident. Out on the Rim a misplaced word could end up giving you a thick lip and one mother of a headache. I was careful. I hadn’t upset anyone. After surviving fifteen years in deep space you developed a sense for that. You learnt to get along with allsorts. I hardly ever got in fights. Besides, your life depended on it. You learnt quickly – or you did not learn at all.

I frowned as I crouched behind my wall with my senses probing around. I knew I hadn’t offended anyone, not today, not yesterday and not back three months ago. I was certain. That meant that it had to be a case of mistaken identity. But then……..

It seemed that everyone else had figured that it was safe. I could hear people picking themselves up and starting to right the furniture. I risked another peek. Yep. People were emerging from the darkened recesses and were cautiously looking around them. They were all glancing in my direction and wondering what I’d done to evoke such a response. I guess they decided it had to be a woman or a backsliding on a deal. Whatever, in the circumstances they’d decided it was none of their business. I stayed where I was. The standing figures were making me more confident but it was still not yet the right time to make my move. I had to work this out first! Somebody had tried to fry my brains and I could not work out why.

I sat there thinking back through this evening.

I’d got in late and headed straight for my apartment. I always kept my rent up to date even though I hardly ever got to use it. It was reassuring having it there. I’d grabbed a couple of hour’s kip to clear my head. I’d been sampling the Ghang juice while the auto brought the ship in. As soon as the homing beam latched on you could relax.

I’d grabbed a bite to eat and turned the Holo on. There was the same old trash that I’d been sampling out there in the rocks – 4 million channels and nothing worth wasting a neuron on. I thought that I could do with a slice of real humanity. There was always something bouncing in this frontiers town.

The bar had seemed popular and I’d ducked in. I eased my way to a seat at the bar and took great care to keep myself to myself. For the moment I was the stranger round here and that meant not doing anything that would irritate the locals. You kept your eyes firmly fixed on some distant point and concentrated on your drink while they sized you up. Nobody liked an arrogant smart-arse or big-time show-off and Old-Worlders were not popular round these parts. They usually stuck to their plush hotels and gave the back-street bars a wide berth unless they were out goggled-eyed for a touch of authentic colour; in which case they’d get more than they bargained for. Equally unpopular were the rich kids who were there because it looked cool and hip and they wanted to show off to their friends. It usually didn’t take long. They only needed some evidence that you knew your place. As soon as they’d got a glimpse of that unique dark brown spacer tan on your face they knew you were OK, somebody’d sidle over and buy you a drink. Even Tarquoks would relax and open up to you as long as you played the game.

Rimmers had a hundred and fifty years of alternating isolation and forced cohabitation with every possible type to foster their unique personalities. It had resulted in a large degree of tolerance and adaptation. As long as you didn’t bother a Rimmer they wouldn’t bother you. Yet even if you were outright offensive they’d call you to your face. Hell – even a Tarquok would not sink so low as to shoot you in the back; even if you were stupid enough to discuss their nest habits! Fuck – even if you brought up their fondness for group mating! Sure, they’d call you out and then proceed to shred you into a thousand tiny shreds with their sheathed, razor-sharp talons! But to pull a cheap shot like that? Never!’

Dammit!! It had made me cross. The Rim had a code. If you fell out you sorted it face to face. When you were out in the Rim you were all brothers and you looked out for each other. The tales from the Out-Worlds were littered with stories of different races risking their lives to save members of other species who had got in bother. We were brothers! When it boiled down to it the brotherhood of the rim was a stronger bond than blood! It surpassed DNA!! Didn’t that fool know that??

Somebody had tried to melt my neurones and they had not cared a shit about any code of honour! That meant they were probably Old-Worlders! But what the fuck were they doing in our bars? And why were they out to get me?

I risked another longer peep round the room. Two Tarquoks were pulling themselves up to their full height and dusting themselves down. They were holstering their weapons and sheathing their talons. I watched them as they righted a table and two chairs. They both gave me a look and then proceeded to sit themselves down and pick up the conversation that had been so rudely interrupted. That told me two important things: firstly the killer was no longer around and secondly that they did not put any blame on me. If they had I’d be severely slashed by now. They had seen what had happened and had not taken offence.

It also illustrated to me the risk the killer had taken. If they had caught the guy in the act he would have been dead meat. Somebody had risked a nasty end in order to get off that pot-shot at me. He could expect no fair trial out here.

I sheathed my needle gun. It didn’t look as if I’d need it right now.

Magically the tables and chairs righted themselves; people came out of the woodwork and an air of normality descended over the room. Except it wasn’t normal. There was the buzz of conversation but you could taste the underlying tension. They were all keeping one eye on the door and the other on me. I decided to remain flattened against the wall for a few minutes more and they studiously decided to allow me. They were as bemused as I was.

I mulled over the facts again. It did not equate. The last time I’d been out on the town was months ago with my buddy Miken. He was a nice guy; not the sort you’d want to try to deep-fry. As far as I knew Miken was not into any shady deals. We were old friends from long ago and all we’d got up to was to swap old tales and laugh a lot. We’d ended up at Molly’s Dive, a nice place with an interesting clientele. As far as I can remember, and there are a few hazy gaps I admit, the Ghang juice in Molly’s is not the usual diluted shit, we had got so caught up in all those memories of the good old days that we barely registered anyone else. We certainly had not caused any offence to any of the droogs in there; they would have not been reticent in letting us know. Even later with the girls we had been having a ball. Jayne and Dweela were long time friends. Even if someone was jealous it would not be so extreme as to want to try to emulsify my grey matter. That was absurd. There was nothing, absolutely nothing I could think of. It was a mystery.

The only thing that it could be was Miken. There was nothing else. What else could it be?

I took a long look round the wall. The room was back to the way it was before. Spilled drinks had been robotically mopped and magically replaced. Everyone, while not being happy, was suitably content and nobody, in typical Rimmer fashion, was looking to find out more. The bartended was looking my way. At some point I was going to have to settle up that bill – when I was satisfied that there was no more danger.

If it had not been for the blue streak imprinted on my retina and the burn across my cheek I could have sworn that it hadn’t happened.

I ran a hand across my face and gingerly prodded the tight, stinging wound. It was only a surface graze but it hurt like hell. In many ways they were more painful that the deeper ones, probably because they left more nerve endings intact. I grimaced and slowly got to my feet.

Nobody appeared to pay me any mind but I knew everyone in the room was watching my every move. I tried my best nonchalant pose and stretched to loosen myself up. That wasn’t easy when someone has just tried to kill you and your heart still seemed to have been displaced to your head.

The strange thing was that I had not got the slightest glimpse of my attacker. That was not good news. I am particularly observant. It goes with the trade. Someone that good had to be a professional. If I’d worked that out then probably everyone else in the room had too. They were hiding their curiosity well though.

I lined up the direction the shot had come from. There were no alcoves on that wall. In fact there was no cover at all; nowhere to hide. That meant that someone, in a crowded bar with a smattering of Tarquoks, had managed to pull a gun, fire and extricate themselves without being seen.

I thought about that as I coolly picked my way across to the bar and the waiting bartender.

It had to be a Shaddock. Nobody else was that good.

Seventh sense or not I was lucky to be alive. Shaddocks were bade news. They did not come cheap and they were the ultimate professionals. That confirmed that this was not a simple case of jealousy or somebody taking offence over a drunken remark. If a Shaddock was involved it had to be a lot bigger than that.

I indicated to the bartender with a gesture that I’d pay for the spilt drink. He seemed to take it all in his stride and asked no questions. I applied my DNA and settled back at the bar with a new drink; though this time I remained on full alert.

If a Shaddock was hired then it was bigger than I was worth. It did not make sense. It also meant that someone had put out a serious contract on me and that it was not going to end here. With Shaddocks that was a matter of pride.

Strange how Ghang-juice always tastes so much better when you’ve nearly had your sensory and motor connections severed. At least, for the moment, I was still alive. I figured it was time to split and head for somewhere a little safer.

I indicated to the bartender to refill everyone’s’ glass and pressed the pad. I figured that it was best to keep sweet with the crew in the bar. Having a Shaddock on your tail was bad enough without complicating the matter by causing unnecessary annoyance.

Nobody acknowledged the fact but I knew it couldn’t do any harm.

I finished up my drink and sauntered to the door. I was scared shitless but I didn’t want anybody to know that. Nobody looked round.

I paused in the doorway and kept in the shadow so that I could take in the whole terminus. It appeared to be clear. There was a walk of about twenty paces between the door and the transmitters though with a Shaddock looming large in my mind that looked a damn sight further. I took another look and a deep breath. There was no one in sight but that didn’t necessarily mean anything. Why the fuck didn’t the bar have it’s own public transmitter I cursed.

I doubled over and launched myself out of the doorway and zigzagged over the open terminus and flung myself into the booth. I stabbed the numbers in and stepped out into my own apartment.

Phew. I felt a lot better though I knew that nowhere was safe and least of all here. That Shaddock had to know where I was staying. I had to grab my stuff and get out of here.

Jeeedddzzzz!!!  I cursed silently under my breath. What the hell could Miken be mixed up in that would cause all this? I was merely an old friend who’d happened to bump into him. We hadn’t even talked business! But it had to be connected with Miken!

I quickly scooted round and gathered a few essentials. It wasn’t worth the risk of taking too long. I crammed them in a bag and headed for the transmitter booth. I just got the last number punched in when the door blew in.

They’d just missed me! I was no longer at home!

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