Oct 31, 2022 • 13M

Ithaka: Chapter Three

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Selected readings of longer form, serial fiction by the author. Episodes premiere weekly after story introduction.
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Thank you for coming back to read (or listen to) the short story “Ithaka” in the Listening Room, presented by The FLARE Substack.

In episode two, we met Anaella’s new roommate Minos, who is seeing the planet anew. We resume with Anaella and Kane’s investigation tracking down the hover truck which may have dumped the stranger in the field.

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She rammed her shoulder into Kane and they both landed hard onto the concrete floor. Sheets of sharp metal crashed onto the spot where Kane once stood. A figure moved swiftly in the lingering shadow.

“What the —-“ a voice exclaimed.
“Is that a booby trap?!” Kane yelled.
“Of course not!” The man said through his teeth.
“Well, I could have easily been killed,” Kane retorted. “That shit weighs at least a few pounds more than me!”
“Okay, okay,” Anaella said, smoothing her hands over the front of his jacket.
“What are you even doing in here?” the man asked.
Kane clenched his jaw and shot the man a menacing glare.
“We’re detectives.” Anaella said, wincing against a sore arm. “This is McCoullough. My name is Bahn. We have a few questions.”

They braced against each other to rise to their feet and brushed off the shop’s filth. The air hung thick with the smell of rot, only eased by a tumbling breeze through the open back door.

“I mean, you’re already in here. Go ahead,” the man said, relaxing his shoulders and passing the pair clean rags to wipe their hands.

“We’re investigating some illegal dumping in the field across the way,” Kane said, roughly wiping his hands and tossing the cloth back.

“Oh, I don’t think so. There’s nothing to pick up out that way. We head straight down the road and up Leland Drive down to the west end. I-I’m Jan by the way.”

He and Kane grasped hands. Jan’s thoughtful eyes were an apology Kane tipped his head to.

“That field is cut down not even once a year. Gary just lets it grow. He’s already got a lot of land and there’s no use maintaining what’s not for food or feed.”
“Fair enough,” Anaella said.
“Look, I heard you found a body out there,” Jan said, letting the whispered words fall from the corner of his mouth. “Had Gary not been out in that field, the grass would have grown over that spot and it would be bones when you saw it next.”
“Yes! He told me he was going to leave it be and put up a warning sign. This harvest marked the end.”
“Who knew that?”
“It’s not hard to find things out. Ask and someone knows. Not that we keep secrets but if you know then fine and if you don’t, it’s just the same. You kids know that,” he said gesturing toward them.
Anaella blinked away her rolling eyes. “Yes, we know, but we have to ask.”
“So we’re trying to find a compost truck that might have dumped the body out there,” Kane said. “You ever have a truck stolen?”

Jan pursed his lips and toyed with a loose thread on his sleeve. “The other day, I was out on a run and no one was here. I came back some time later and one of mine smelled like fresh exhaust. I figured one of my folks picked up an extra route. I know we’re out of compliance but we’re a small shop. W-we go the same places everyday. I swear it.”

“Let’s see what records you have.”

He sprung to a nearby shelf and retrieved a large black binder.

“Here it is. We just preprint out the routes, initial and date when we head out. Any detours are in the notes right below that row.”

Anaella flipped page after page noting only a few scrawled and terse notes.

“What about four days ago?”

He balanced a pair of glasses on the end of his nose, narrowing his eyes and pinching his wiry gray brows to comb through the columns.

“No notes.”
“Is that usual?”
He shifted his weight. “Are you going to report me? I have a small shop—“
“It’s fine!” Anaella suddenly raised her voice. “You’ve been here long enough, too, right?” Jan shrunk away against her scolding eye.
“We’re okay,” Kane reassured him. “Hey, what are you doing for Harvest?”
“Nothing. Not with The Alignment coming. We’re preparing.”
“You really think it’ll happen like they say?” Kane asked.
The man huffed and peered sternly over his lenses at Kane. “Everyone better get ready.”

Anaella sat reading on the couch with her legs tucked to the side. She paused to take a sip of tea, staring out the open front window at the purple-pink patches of sky as dusk approached. She began turning her thumb ring round and round, thinking on the the history of the man she did not know and what secrets he kept.

A shiver unsettled her and she turned to the altar on the sideboard opposite the couch. A woven, multicolored mat lay underneath a menagerie of dried flowers, snuffed candles, and family photos. Tucked among dull and stiff leaves were carved wooden figures. She exhaled slowly and closed her eyes, remembering the plump brown hands of her grandmother, whose fingers quickly laid braids onto her tender scalp. Her nails were rounded at the tips and her skin shone with a thin layer of oil.

The gentle memory dissipated with the click of an opening lock. Minos staggered in, plopping shopping bags onto the kitchen counter.

“Hey, I got us some dinner.”

She smiled and placed her book on the seat beside her. “What did you get?”

“Some greens, potatoes, steak, eggs, milk… I didn’t know what to pick so I just got everything.”

His innocent eyes glimmered, searching for her approval.

“It’s fine. We can have something ready in a little bit. I can chop the vegetables.”

She sauntered over and surveyed the bounty.

“People were talking about The Alignment today. What is that?”
“It’s when our moons eclipse each other. People think they’ll all act on the planet at once, causing chaos.”
“Has it happened before?”
“I think it’s nonsense, honestly. People need something to believe in. The Alignment gives them a chance to do that.” She slipped passed him to grab a knife from the butcher block.
“I can’t believe I didn’t pay for this. It’s wild.”
“Not really,” she said over the sound of her blade against the cutting board. “Most of the money is exchanged at the Community level with imports and exports.”
“Where are we exporting to?”
“Waystation. You know how it is there. They need all the help they can get,” Anaella snickered.

Minos turned on the oven, then set his palms on the counter. Anaella slowed the momentum of the blade to watch him.

“What can I help with?” he asked.

The creek of the couch followed the clatter of dishes into the sink after their finished meal.

“Like I was saying, no one has mapped the dimensions the Gemini Belt yet. We know the shortest route through but not around it. In the beginning, people tried placing probes along the path, then later, tried to burr them into the asteroids themselves. They kept running into the same problem though: they were planting flags in shifting sand.

“It wasn’t until this one pilot decided to map the path through with just coordinates, that we had success. See, the rocks are also magnetic, so beyond a certain point there’s no communication. We haven’t found anything to penetrate that field. And with the crafts they were using back then, hell, even today, we can use only the most basic functions.

“It takes an experienced pilot to get through the Belt. If you follow the headings to the letter, you’ll get here. If you have to stop, wait for asteroids to pass, then fine. Do that. But deviating is a huge mistake. I’ve heard of people getting very easily turned around in that belt and ending up off course for weeks.

“Been there.”
“No shit.”
“Seriously. So we were on our way here for a third  time—“
“Yeah. So my dad, ole Lucky Headley, thinks he’s experienced and absolutely demanded the captain go around this asteroid twice the size of the ship. He tells my dad, let’s just map the speed of this thing and wait for it to pass. Put it in park, save fuel, then be on our way. My dad was adamant. So the guy says okay. We go around this rock and there’s another beside it. Okay, we keep going. Then all of sudden all these tiny ones come speeding toward us. The pilot immediately evades them. Those tiny rocks are deadly.

“So he manuvers around this little storm and now he doesn’t know where we are. He lost the heading, there was some damage to repair, and navigation starts acting up. My dad was so pissed. He was screaming at this guy. The two of them end up rolling on the floor, throwing punches. The crew is screaming. I’m screaming.

“After a week we’re ready to go and it takes two days to get back on the flight path. So we head back on our way…”

Minos broke into a giggle. Anaella slapped his arm.

“You have to tell me.”
“We get to another huge rock!”

Anaella’s eyes glowed with delight. “Oh my, what happened?”

“The captain turns to my dad with, like, this stare of death and says, ‘Don’t you say one fuckin’ word.’ I swear, my dad shrunk down in his seat with these puppy dog eyes and didn’t say a single word.”
“How long did it take to clear the path”
“Like two hours.”

Anaella shook her head in disbelief.

“To this day, I’m pretty sure my dad would hide if he saw that man again.”

As the raucous laughter continued, Anaella’s phone pulsed green and vibrated before fading.

“I never asked about this,” Minos said. He pointed toward the altar atop the sideboard.

“It’s just a place to go. To remember. We’re close to The Alignment and everyone has their own way of preparing. I stay close to them and that’s how I have always prepared for anything.”

He lightly brushed his fingertips against her shoulder. “You’ve told me a lot, but it feels like a textbook. What about you?”

Her phone continued pulsing green with a new voicemail when it caught her eye. She jogged over to the counter and her face hardened as she listened to the message.

Hey Nae, it’s Felix. I’m done with that case. Can you call me back?

“Hey, just wanted to tell you the results. Your guy is a young man with a 65 year-old, enlarged heart and chronic lung disease from an unknown agent. It’s like miner’s lung, but the cause of death is still blunt force trauma.”
“That it?”
“No. I actually took some x-rays out of curiosity and he has some healed breaks to the ribs and arms. He looks like he got worked over. Tough life, I’d say.”
“I appreciate it. Thanks.”
“One more thing! That thing you brought me, that looked like straw?”
“It’s metal. I don’t know what type but it’s amazing. Kane is coming by to take a look, but it’s really something.”

Minos sat cross-legged and motionless on the couch with his ear fixed on Anaella’s turned back.

“No Senator, that is not the direction we intent. We have made it perfectly clear —-“

“Except you haven’t! You haven’t made it clear what safety protocols you intend to implement to prevent mishaps. These are not international waters. This is space. No country has territory out there who can offer an assist. You’d be alone.”

“We’re well aware of that, Senator, and with all due respect, have considered many possible scenarios and have top scientist, engineers, and mathematicians working on this. This is no weekend warriors project. We are well prepared.”

The room was dead silent. Don’s words hung thick in the air like fog. Each spectator was held captive on droplet. Senator Crowley held firm and knew it was time to pivot. The public was crying out to be saved and their decision would echo through time as one that spared a self-immolating planet or damned it to hell.

The world had long been told by scientists that it was too late. The Maldives was almost completely under water before the stark reality penetrated… but also the panic.“I’d like to hear from the CEO now.”
“Yes, Senator. He’s coming in shortly.”

A tall, stoic man in a navy blue suit and tan, monk strap shoes strolled down the aisle giving nods to the people who had become supporters during the course of the hearings.

He sat down next to Don and folded his hands on the table, tilted his chin slightly upward.

“Please state your full name for the record.”

“Charles Devlin Marshall Headley, III.”

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