An Escape Glows Red

An Escape Glows Red

Night after night James and Aidan watch space dust and debris pass by the Deliverance through the thick glass of the tiny cabin window in James’ quarters. Hard labor by day and the glow of the galaxy by night, they wait, biding their time until their next port. Just a few more hours now…

            When they dock on the planet of Aldra, Captain is clear on his orders. “Hit a few merchants, don’t get caught, and be back in the ship by the time Aldra’s fourth moon rises.” Aidan scans James’ face, looking for clues, searching for signs that today could be the day. James may as well be forged from stone but Aidan knows he should expect that. The man has the best poker face of any human he’s ever known.

            Captain dismisses the crew with one last gruff grunt and savage slap of his chest and the pair exit without a word to any of the other crew members. In silence, they slip back down the hallway to James’ bunk to gather their gear.

            “What do you think? Chances good today?” asks Aidan. James says nothing. Instead, he turns to a ratty duffel bag in the corner and begins to rummage through it. Aidan strains his slim neck trying to see around the mass of James’ strong frame.

            Finally, James turns around slow and careful. He holds a glowing red jewel in both hands. At roughly the proportions of an Earth-size baseball, it’s the largest gem Aidan has ever laid his blue-green eyes on. He’s entranced by its beauty, but James breaks the spell as he runs one hand over the short black stubble on Aidan’s freshly buzzed head.

            “So is this a yes?” asks Aidan.

            “Yes,” laughs James. “What do you think?”

            “I think that’s enough to support us for a couple of years, at the very least.”

            “Right. That’s the plan anyway. But remember this only works if you trust me. I trust you with my life and I need you to do the same.” A hot wave of guilt flushes Aidan’s cheeks and he averts his eyes to the tiny cabin window, too ashamed to gaze upon the substantial sacrifice James has made for the both of them. James could have been caught at any point while smuggling that treasure and Captain would have lasered his hand off, if not much worse.

            “I’m still so sorry. But I promise, no more crazy. I’m right here and I’m focused,” asserts Aidan with a driving desire to please James.

            Pulsing with electricity from new-found hope and excitement, they both throw on their gear. With heavy magnetic vests to shield them from attack and leather to brace their skin from unpredictable and turbulent sandstorms, they both finish their uniform with a holstered sidearm.

            Bullets are useless here, but galaxy weapons designers fancy the earth’s affinity for killing, so laser guns are modeled after the traditional shape and weight of a pistol. Aidan has always been fond of how it feels in his hand and he always takes advantage of additional practice at the range located within the ship’s gym. Although with the condition of their equipment, James often refers to it as the “prison yard”.

            “Ready?” asks James.

            “Ready as I’ll ever be.” They set out for Aldra, side by side, without the slightest look back at the bandit ship they’ve called home for the last three years.

            Dry desert air fills their lungs when they step onto the rusty docking platform. Crowded streets bustle with new arrivals and rushed departures. Both men know what is expected of them from here, scout the location, find an easy target, and rob them blind.

            But that’s not how this trip to port is going to go. Not this time. They have a new life to build and no amount of brute force is going to stop them.

            James and Aidan split up to cover two streets that run horizontal to one another. Best to keep appearances this close to the ship. Captain undoubtedly has goons scouting the area and any man or woman lower in seniority will snitch on any crewman in order to climb ranks. Aidan pushes through the overwhelming crowd taking in the sights and smells. He catches sight of a fried sand fruit stand and he closes his eyes for a second because the aroma reminds him of French fries, a delicacy he hasn’t tasted in almost a decade.

            James powers up the street much quicker than Aidan, which he expected. He knows Aidan’s smaller stature often intimidates him in crowds. James paces the intersection waiting to see his dark buzzcut surface from the swarm of pedestrians.

            Scanning the dusty street once again, James spies a merchant. Her stand is cleaner and more luxurious than the others he’s seen on Aldra. He guesses that she’s a traveler and won’t be here long either. She’s perfect.

            A sweaty palm grabs him and he startles, ready for combat. Aidan dodges his reflex and grins back at him, amused by his obvious example of nervousness. It’s not like James to let his guard down like that.

            “We’re doing this right?”

            “There.” James points to the unassuming merchant stand.

            “Well, all right. Let’s do this quick and get the Hell out of here,” says Aidan. James takes the lead, plowing a path through the lingering bazaar customers. Aidan watches their six, his natural role in every dangerous assignment they’ve encountered on their celestial journey thus far.

            James stands off to the side until she finishes an exchange with an elderly man selling a family heirloom. His sunken eyes hold a lonely sadness that hurts to look at. Aidan stares at the collection of broken glass and dirty sand at his feet instead.

            The merchant finally steps to their corner of the bodega. Her wild red tendrils and almond-shaped violet eyes are striking and James finds himself wondering if she’s human species or a hybrid. It’s a challenge to read societal lines once the earth’s atmosphere has been crossed.

            “Excuse me, sir. Can I help you fellas, or are we just going to stand here?” She has a thick Aldran accent with twinges of the southern United States, an odd combination for sure. Nevertheless, James moves on.

            “We require discretion, Miss. Please.”

            She raises her eyebrows with a nod and holds out her hand. “Let’s see it then.”

            Aidan neglects his watch and peers around James to listen to their transaction. She takes the gem into her delicate hands and turns it over, examining for cut and clarity. It glows even brighter in the natural light.

            “Well?” Aidan asks from behind James. The merchant’s eyes have a glimmer all their own. She hesitates before speaking and a smile creeps into the corner of her thin, painted blue mouth. She hands the gem back to James and hurries to a metal safe hidden behind a flimsy false wall within the frame of her bodega. The men look to each other and back to the rummaging merchant,  anxiety bubbling. The fiery-haired woman comes back with an embroidered cloth bag jingling.

            “Is this enough to own your gem?”

            James takes the bag into his hand, feeling the weight of the coin inside. It’s heavier than any bag of currency he’s ever owned.

            “Open it,” chimes Aidan. James obliges and he sees the most beautiful collection of gold and silver, more than enough to secure passage and safety. Aidan feels a burning reminder to check their six as he’s been too focused on the money for too long. Andromeda stands twenty feet behind them, a smug deceitful smile gracing her face.

            Aidan drives a sharp jab into James’ side and he looks over his shoulder to check the threat. A fellow crew member or not, she’s here to rise in rank. They watch helplessly as she initiates her com watch to call the captain.

            “Just take it!” James thrusts the gem back into the merchant’s hand and they bound toward freedom, weaving through the crowd as fast as they can, the threat of a deadly chase hot on their heels and only a few miles between them and the safe cover of a rough mountainscape.

Produced by: Eugenio Zorrilla.

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