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Roberts Space Industries ®






December 7th 2022

Hazy Days
This short story originally appeared in Jump Point 10.02.

A sudden uprush dispels the dark. Pernell Arai opens his eyes to find himself in a bright, sterile medical facility.

“There you are Mr. Arai.”

“Where am I?”

“It’s okay. You’re in Orison. Looks like your regen was successful. How are you feeling?”

Pernell draws a few deep breaths then wiggles his fingers and toes. “A little sore. What happened to me?”

“Afraid I can’t help you with that. You suffered a traumatic injury though, don’t think they’ll be any scarring though, so you’re lucky there. What’s the last thing you remember?”

Parnell’s memories come flooding back. He’s dancing with Sergie. He’s on a beach in Cassel basking in the glow of Goss’s binary stars. He’s a kid struggling to steady a gun to shoot cans in an abandoned building on the outskirts of Archibald Station.

“Your brain activity looks normal, at least,” the doctor says while navigating screens on her datapad.

“Sorry, I’m remembering things. It’s just a lot at once.”

“All good. I ask because your last imprint was quite a while ago. If you don’t imprint frequently your short-term memory can be a bit hazy. You know that, right Mr. Arai… Mr. Arai?”

Pernell shifts his eyes from the window’s stunning vista over Orison back to the doctor then nods knowingly. “Sorry, still settling back in.”

“Totally understandable. Well, all your vitals look good, so you’re free to leave. Obviously, take a little time for yourself, and maybe imprint a bit more frequently. Might make things easier next time.”

Pernell thanks the doctor then leaves the hospital in a daze wearing the clothing provided to him. Wind whips across the Cloudview Center platform chilling him to the bone through the thin material. Still, he stops to enjoy the sunset spreading vibrant color across the sky. He even leans over the railing ever so slightly to take in the cloudbank below. A sudden rush of vertigo overcomes him. Pernell takes a quick step back then wonders if that’s how he died, like a fool, falling off an Orison platform.

He sits on a nearby bench and closes his eyes. No recent memories surface. Eventually Pernell stands and walks across the platform knowing full well that things could be worse. At least he remembers the location of his hab.

Back at his Green Circle hab, Pernell opens a closet to change. For a second he’s shocked to see his favorite helmet missing. Of course he was wearing it when… He pauses again, hoping something will come back, but nothing does. Instead, he recalls how he quit tailing a target in the backstreets of Fujin City to buy the helmet from a popup stall. Something about it suited him and it had served well, keeping him safe. That is, until now. Only later did he discover it was an early and exceedingly rare CC’s Conversion helmet. One that is immensely valuable to him in many ways, and now potentially gone forever.

Pernell pops open his mobi and scrolls through his inventory. His heart sinks when he sees what’s missing. It must’ve been a big op if he took so much stuff. There’s enough of his gear still in storage, but he feels so disconnected from this collection of odds and ends that it’s like browsing through someone else’s closet. He can’t remember the last time he wore half this stuff. Shoving the dull ache of loss aside, Pernell grabs his backup undersuit and stuffs his right leg into it, praying it still fits.

Circling above the surface, it doesn’t take long before Pernell spots the bunker’s support structures. He slows the ship and adjusts course to keep his distance, unable to trust his memory enough to know whether or not the spot has turrets. It all looks vaguely familiar, and the more he circles the more he feels like he’s been here. If he had to bet, this is where he died.

Pernell found this spot after checking his mobi for his recent job history. His last gig brought him to this bunker, which would explain why he took so much stuff. In the past, he would’ve assembled one, maybe two people for something like this, but Pernell started doing jobs like this alone since coming to Crusader. At first it was out of necessity, since he didn’t trust anyone, but as his confidence grew and the credits rolled in thanks to getting to keep one hundred percent of the payout, he soon found himself scrolling his mobi specifically for similar gigs. Plus, if Pernell was being honest, he found the rush of facing down a hive of outlaws all on his lonesome to be incredible.

Now, contemplating landing back at the bunker where he died, Pernell wonders about the wisdom of not bringing back up. He’s already at a disadvantage wearing his second-hand gear with some asshole in the bunker probably getting ready to shoot him with the carefully calibrated weapons they’ve undoubtedly looted from his body.

Slowing the ship’s thrusters, he spots a turret and sets his sights on it. He primes a missile and pushes in. To his surprise, the turret doesn’t care. He takes his finger off the trigger and buzzes the bunker. When that doesn’t prompt a response from the turret either, he loops back and lands without incident; glad it didn’t cost him any munitions to set down near the entrance.

He climbs out of the ship, quickly double checks his unfamiliar gear, and hustles toward the bunker. The outer doors are already breached and slightly open, showing a sliver of the elevator inside. He unholsters his pistol, a near pristine Arclight II, and enters cautiously. A few steps inside, a hail of bullets strike his ship. Pernell spins to see that the nearby turret is now very active. His ship’s shields flare for a moment before they blink out, and he barely has time to avert his eyes as an explosion sends ship debris flying across the landing pad. Job done, the turret returns to rest. For a second Parnell feels woozy and steadies himself against the door. When it passes, he takes a second to contemplate his next step, activates his mobi, and sends out an emergency beacon. Then he collects himself and steps onto the elevator. Certain that it will take a while for a ride to arrive, and that he didn’t come all this way not to get his helmet.

Once inside, Pernell gets deja vu. He knows a lot of the prefab bunkers around Crusader were built using the same modular design, but this one feels strangely familiar. He creeps in quick and quiet then peers around a corner to see a grenade coming his way. Instinctively, Pernell rolls forward and takes cover behind a stack of crates. The blast knocks a few atop him, which he quickly kicks away and starts firing. A figure falls and Pernell rolls through the swirling smoke to a new position. He holsters the pistol, unslings his P4-AR rifle, fires, and watches another figure fall. He pushes forward, drawing fire from another concealed position. Pernell weaves behind cover until he’s flanking the remaining combatant. He swings his rifle up and focuses on a hazy shadow within the columns of smoke and squeezes the trigger until the figure falls.

Pernell takes a moment and lets everything settle. His ears are still ringing from the initial grenade blast, but the bunker is otherwise quiet. He gets up and crosses to the last figure he shot. His heart sinks when he sees what’s left of the distinct shape of his helmet. Now bullet-ridden and modded to match the gang’s colors. Something about seeing those colors makes memories flood Pernell’s mind. He looks around the space and it all comes back. Including the fact that there were four of them last time. Pernell hears footsteps behind him, and before he can raise his rifle, everything goes black.

The End

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