New planet, new problems
Josu and his father trade up for a second chance at life by emigrating from a dead Earth to the Alpha Centauri system.
But their new role as planetary pioneers presents its own challenges.
One of which is that on this wild, waterlogged world, they always have to watch each other’s backs.
How dangerous can a little fishing trip be? Josu is about to find out.
“Centurion” by Amazon bestselling author M.G. Herron, is free on this website for a limited time. The story’s also available as an ebook.
by M.G. Herron
I was sick and tired of being tired and wet.
“Alpha Century,” I said. Although we’d only been on this waterworld a couple months, it felt like a hundred years.
It was an inside joke now, but Dad had laughed at me the first time I asked him if we were moving to “Alpha Century.” My face had burned while he threw his head back and worked the fit out of his system.
He didn’t hear me this time. Around the corner up ahead, he hacked his machete into a Twitching Vine that had wrapped itself between two broad leafed trees. Moss, climbing up the visible sides of both thick, deeply ridged trunks, gave off a luminescent turquoise glow that always reminded me of the neon lights that still blazed along the skylines of the dying cities of Earth.
“Alpha Centauri is how you say it,” Dad had said when he finally stopped laughing. “But there’s no reason to be ashamed, Josu. If you don’t know how to pronounce a word, that just means you learned it in a book. Do you know what Alpha Centauri looks like?”
I remember my face flushing, shaking my head. He swiped at my forearm, where I had molded my tablet. The screen lit up as his hand came near it. Dad twitched his fingers and the cyclopedia I’d been reading on Alpha Centauri zoomed away. He fed in an audio query and was rewarded with a hi-resolution star map. His fingers chose a certain star, seemingly at random, from a pile of them. The screen zoomed in on a solar system where several colored marbles orbited a massive yellow sun. The star at its center was labeled Alpha Centauri, while the planets were labeled with random strings of numbers and letters.
“There’s liquid water on the fourth planet. It doesn’t have a real name yet, but anything is better than living in this anemic dustbowl. I got us two one-way tickets. It’s the opportunity we’ve been looking for, son. A chance to start a new life.”
“I don’t want to leave.” I looked away from him, watched the dust blow across the pavement in familiar tessellated patterns. In the cul-de-sac, the kids played street hockey, their faces masked with the smartcloth bands that filtered out the everpresent dust.
“There’s nothing left for us here, son. This world is dead.”
“The President says we can fix it.”
“I don’t know if even he believes that anymore. Not since the nukes took out New York and half of the Eastern seaboard.”
If Earth was a dried husk, then Alpha Centauri Four was a bucket of primordial ooze. No solid ground to set your feet on within a hundred miles of our rig except this soggy little island. I knew this now. We’d lived here for almost two years.
My shoulders sagged. This fishing trip had taken longer than usual. My feet squished in the marshy soil as I walked back toward the Twitching Vine.
“Whoa!” The cry startled from my mouth as a dark brown cylinder crashed through the jungle adjacent to the path. I gestured madly at the form-fitting screen on my wrist to send Dad a warning, but the device glitched and stopped responded.
“Dad, look out!” I pumped my arms hard as I ran.
I caught up to him a moment later. He stood calmly, aiming the sonic blaster at a thick patch of vegetation. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that he was safe. There were no hospitals on this planet—no emergency first responders. If he got hurt, I wouldn’t know what to do. This sopping wet planet was humanity’s new frontier, and we were among its first inhabitants.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Don’t know.” He shook his head and lowered the blaster. “Doesn’t seem very interested in coming out. What’s he hiding from?”
“Could be a lizard.”
“Little bigger than the lizards we’ve seen so far…”
“Is there another way around?”
“The beach route will add hours to our trip. I’d prefer not to risk traveling at night. We’re still learning the rhythms of this place.” My dad had been a mechanic back home. He knew how to catch a fish and build a fire, but he was no survivalist. We were always careful.
The thick vine continually shifted and rewove itself where Dad had been hacking at it with his machete, already beginning to repair the damage the blade had done. The movement of the vines helped to mask the position of whatever creature was hiding under there. I wondered if that was a survival mechanism, too. I once read about symbiotic creatures that lived on the backs of whales on Earth, feeding on them and cleaning them. Did this creature and the vines have some sort of evolutionary agreement? And if so, what did the vines protect it from?
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Copyright © 2017 by M.G. Herron