Day 23. 64 pages, 30,109 words.
When The Happy Bumfuck finally closed in on Material Depot #3 and its computer gave a melodious little blonk noise to announce their imminent arrival, Lotus stirred and then stretched on the couch with a low groan of general dissatisfaction. Çrom – who had fallen into another uneasy half-doze – sat up blearily, pulled his sling cushion back into upright configuration, and watched the looming blocks of stone and metal steadily blot out the sky. The fungus on the world-ceiling was sparser out at the edges for whatever reason, so the light was even dimmer.
They were descending as they approached, but while there were now a few airborne transports visible on the scope it still wasn’t quite enough to warrant a flight plan beyond the straight line he’d already programmed.
“Welcome to Material Depot #3,” he announced to Lotus, who had also pushed herself upright and was ineffectually rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Well, not necessarily ineffectually … she was quite effectually transferring it from her eyes to her hair, which seemed to be its natural environment. “Hope you got a bit of rest.”
“A bit,” she admitted. “Did we land somewhere?”
“Oh,” Çrom rose, crossed to the couch, sat down briefly next to her and pried a frozen package from the box he’d left on the floor. “Just a way station to park and charge,” he said, and passed Lotus the condensation-beaded chuda wrap. “I hope you’re not too much of a stickler for specifics when it comes to your food’s content.”
Lotus squinted at the package and its proud ‘unspecified meat’ claim. She grunted. “I’ve eaten chuda wraps before,” she said, and peeled open the package. The reactants activated – Çrom had tested this as soon as he’d been able to separate a package from the frozen block – and the meat-filled pastry thawed and warmed with a little seething pop. They weren’t technically supposed to go from deep-freeze to ready-to-eat since they had enough preservatives in them to not really need to be frozen at all, but they were fairly robust. In every sense of the term. “‘Unspecified’ is one of the better alternatives.”
“You’re right about that,” Çrom agreed. “I once tried a ‘grief sperm’ flavoured chuda. On a dare.”
“What the Hell is grief sperm?” Lotus slurred around a mouthful of wrap.
“No idea, but it tasted exactly the way you’re probably imagining,” Çrom peeled off another package for himself, hauled himself to his feet, returned to the helm sling and sat back down. “With the added drawback of this vile hint of sweet blackcurrant that backwashed up on you every time you belched for half a day afterwards.”
“Good reason to avoid belching,” Lotus suggested with exaggerated primness.
“Easier said than done, after eating a grief-sperm-flavoured chuda wrap.”
Most of the traffic within the main #3 megastructures took place along mass-transit axes that were like enormous hybrids of cargo trains and elevators. Most of the traffic between #3 and anywhere else in Cursèd took place underground through a spiderweb of demiluminal rail shooters that connected up to the Depot axes. Some parts of the spiderweb, Çrom had heard, were quite literally overrun by a species of large Cursèd arachnid … but that may have just been a myth. If things got boring, he decided, he’d mention the spiders to Lotus. It was just a bit of harmless ghost-storytelling, since they weren’t going to have to go into the tunnels anyway. Unless his connections failed to get them over the edge.
Çrom peeled open his wrap and bit into it while it was still thawing. He couldn’t quite dismiss the feeling that they should have landed and left The Happy Bumfuck at #1, and risked being devoured on the shooter network, rather than flying and coming to the Destarion’s attention. Still, it was too late now.
“Material Depot #3 to unregistered step-hopper The Happy Bumfuck,” a bored administrator’s voice spoke through the comm system. The voice’s bland Xidh inflection told Çrom with a fair degree of certainty that the speaker had no idea what the words it was saying actually meant. “Confirm itinerary file and placeholder tokens.”
“Hello #3,” Çrom said, and tapped his credentials through. His wrap dropped a chunk of sauce-covered unspecified meat on the console and he wiped it off quickly. “Itinerary confirmed and notarised, Holy Forest Rift Question Station. Placeholder token Skelliglyph 3-3.”
“Confirmed, unregistered step-hopper The Happy Bumfuck,” the administrator continued drearily. “Landing allotment set for Depot Tier 18 (Below). Welcome to Gian-To Haven, the jewel of Material Depot #3.”
“Really?” Lotus said in amusement once the communication ended. “Jewel of Material Depot #3? I thought you said it was just a name.”
“It is,” Çrom said. “And a jewel is just a rock that’s been subjected to extremely unpleasant environmental conditions for an extremely long time. And then hacked up and polished and presented as something worth so much more than it actually is, you’d be offended if you actually stopped to think about it very long.”
The Happy Bumfuck swooped into a kilometre-wide access slot in the base of the vast Depot #3 tertiary stack, curled down a shaft and levelled out again at Tier 18 (Below), and – depending entirely upon its computer for guidance – parked in the pitch darkness of Gian-To Haven.
– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark.