by Void Munashii
I spent two years as a guest of the pirates, if you define “guest” as a combination of slave and punching bag, before my employer finally negotiated my release. I’m sure that Penthorpe Troy would have paid for my freedom sooner if his daughter, my wife, had not been killed by the same pirates that captured me.
I sometimes still wonder if Mr. Troy would have paid the pirates off sooner if I had just been another employee; if Delanna had not been involved. Was the problem giving money to his daughter’s murderers, or did he just not consider me worth anything?
I’ve never asked him. You know what they say: don’t ask questions you don’t want the answer to.
It’s been years since we spoke anyway. His last words to me, this was when he was giving me the contract for my “pension”, were, “Take this money and frass off. Never, ever show your worthless Luney face here again. You are as dead to the Troy family as Delanna is.
How could someone like Zane Del Rathi say no to that?
Those first couple of years post-captivity, before I finally settled on New London in hopes of moving forward, were… rough. I was not in a good place.
The way I see it, there are three possible reactions to losing the love of your life:
1. You accept it and move on.
B. You kill yourself.
3. You run from it.
I chose option three.
I used a portion of my pay-off from Panda Freight and purchased a small salvage hauler. I named it the “CSV Worthless Luney”. I was surprised I was able to register it with a slur in the name like that, but who cares about offending Lunars, right?
I loaded my new ship up with supplies, food, booze, brewkaf, booze, various necessities, booze, and headed off into the big black. I had heard about an abandoned research station, the SRS Black Isle, that had supposedly become the home for a bunch of off-the-grid space bums, and though that that sounded like the perfect place to remove myself from existence.
The trip took a few weeks, and it was the first time I had piloted a ship since Delanna’s passing. It was the first time I had ever done a long haul by myself. I wasn’t in much danger though, compared to our old ship, The Russian Unicorn, the Worthless Lunar would be, well, worthless to pirates.
The trip also took me out into a largely uninhabited area of space. Black Isle Station had been a dramatic, and costly, failure due to its out-of-the-way location, and complete failure to drum up any interest in that system.
That made it a great place for people who wanted to get lost.
I have never lived a life like I did there. Only about two thirds of the station had power and life support at any given time, so everyone except for the most daring or stupid wore their envirosuits all the time. You never knew when an area you were in might suddenly lose heat, power, or air. Thankfully explosive decompressions were rare.
It was a pretty chill society: there was a rudimentary government, but virtually no laws. You would drink, smoke, inject, or patch whatever you wanted, so the station had a large number of drunks, stoners, Reaper addicts, Slingheads, Kaffiends, and pretty much any other kind of addict.
Except Ferals. Wildweed chewing was one of three things that would get you shoved out an airlock (and not necessarily with the benefit of e-suit or spaceship). Wildweed chewers, or Ferals, are basically rage-zombies. That kind of violence on a crumbling space station would be bad.
If you are interested: the other two things that get you spaced were rape and murder.
I won’t say I was unhappy there. I smoked, I drank, I played chess with this old guy who was literally always in the library. I don’t think he ever left that table. I never even came close to beating him.
I successfully blocked out thoughts of my future, and kept the past out of the front of my mind for quite a while, but the past has a way of catching up to you eventually.
I was sitting under a tree on the station’s green level when it happened. It had probably been a park once but now it had been mostly converted into farmland for food and… medicinals.
Delanna sat down next to me, and I tried to ignore her and continue reading the book (yes, an actual dead-tree book) I had borrowed from the library. I could feel her eyes on me.
“Hey, hon, it’s been awhile,” Delanna said to me after a couple of minutes’ silence, “You’ve been blocking me out with the liquor and drugs.”
“That was the idea, “ I replied, now only pretending to read my book.
“Because it’s more fun than therapy.”
Delanna was silent for a moment, “Okay, I get that. I’m here now though.”
“Sounds like it’s time for a drink then.”
“You’ve been doing enough of that lately. I know that father gave you quite a bit of money-”
“To frass off and never show my worthless Luney face again.”
“-but new livers are expensive.”
I shrugged and started reading my page over.
Delanna reached over and smacked the book out of my hand; it fell to the rough grass, “You need to knock this dure off! I’m not going to let you stay here and become just another junkie space bum!”
“Not everyone here is a junkie space bum!”
“No, some people make the drugs.”
“That’s not fair.”
“Is this what you want? Do you really want to end up like that crazy old guy in the library playing chess all day and all night? ‘Cause you suck at chess.”
“Maybe, maybe it is.”
“Then why am I here?”
“Because I’m crazy? You tell me why you’re here.”
Delanna thought about that for awhile, “Okay, I am here because you don’t really want to waste the rest of your life here. You want to move forward.”
“And what do you propose? That I just forget about you and pretend none of that ever happened?”
“You’ve been trying to forget about me by frying your brain on everything short of Reaper and Wildweed. No, what you want to do is start a new chapter; go somewhere new, do something new. Pick a planet, not Mars or Luna, and go there.”
“And do what? Become an embittered private eye? Open a Burger Bro franchise?”
“If you want. Explore yourself a bit. There’s more to you than just a spacer,” Delanna encouraged, “Here, give me your datapod!”
I fished my datapod out of my pocket and handed it to my hallucination of my dead wife. I have no idea what this looked like to anyone else.
The way I remember it is that Delanna used my datapod for a good five minutes, and that when I tried to look at what she was doing, she turned to block the screen with her body, “No peeking,” she chided.
“Here,” she said finally, handing my back my pod. She had turned the projector on, and floating above the pod’s screen was a swirling grey planet. The words floating below it read, “New London”.
“What’s so special about this place?”
“You came out here to the butthole of space to try and lose yourself on a space station that could fall apart at any time and hang out with druggies, dealers-”
“And artists, and have you see that library?”
“Whatever. This is a death trap. New London is covered in fog; where better to be lost? It also has a thriving economy, breathable air, and it would be a great place to be an embittered detective; all moody and atmospheric.”
“I like it here.”
“Seriously though, what will I do there?”
“I don’t know, but you have the money to give you the time to figure it out. You have the whole rest of your life ahead of you still, and I don’t want to see you waste it, or shorten it anymore than you already have, here.”
I thought about it for awhile, watching the image of New London rotate above my datapod in front of me. Clearly a part of me wanted to go there, and it would be nice not to have to worry about sudden decompression all the time.
In the end, I relented.
I turned in my library books, gifted away some of the stuff I didn’t need to the few people that I could call friends, and departed for New London.
My life there was peaceful for the next few years, except for the Delanna in my head trying to motivate me. I tried to get back into the spacer business, but that did not work out, so I fell into a pleasant little routine of life.
Until Marshall entered my life again.
This is the first challenge since Clever Fiction woke from its long winter slumber that did not ring a bell for me on a story that I had already been tossing around in my mind. In thinking, I immediately went to "Adrift" and "Ashore" as an idea, but I think I've told all there is to tell there.
I then went to Phantom Coffee, but I could not come up with anything that did not seem too thematically similar to "A Familiar Face at Phantom Coffee"
Then I came back to Zane and Delanna Del Rathi. I have written a fair number of stories about them, and had though that I was done until I was ready to have Zane actually embark on Marshall's quest, but I cannot think about lost loves without thinking of those two. Since there was still a pretty good size gap between Zane's captivity and his meeting Marshall on New London, I decided to fill that space in here.
To be honest, there may be a longer version of this at some point.
To learn more about Zane and Delanna, check out:
(Please note that these are the order they were written/published in, not chronological order)
One of these days I will have to put these all in order and go through them for continuity.
To learn a little more about Wildweed, check out "Blindfold"
As usual, if you like this story (or even if you didn't) check out the Clever Fiction Writing Challenge page to see what other creatives did with this prompt. I'm sure you will find something to your tastes.