SPC: Gabriel

Gabriel's entry into the Summer Prose Competition 2010.

Challenge One

A little more than one parsec from where you live, a little more than four hundred years from when you live, and a little less than two miles beneath the surface of a small, reddish planet orbiting the dim red dwarf star of Proxima Centauri, there was a spark. The spark was a city, whose sprawling streets shone pale and fluorescent in the otherwise complete darkness, but whose streets were now very quiet as it was two hours past curfew time. Only one figure could be seen about on the streets that night, hurrying down the bleached concrete river of Anderson's Boulevard toward the city fringes.

His name was Rodney Scot-Finn. He appeared to be in his mid-twenties, with a cowlick-strewn field of rusty hair, and inky tattoo frescoes crawling up his arms and neck. Where it was not tattooed, his skin was very pale, almost pure white, so that it appeared to glow in the wan lighting. He was dressed in a ragged, sleeveless coat which he wore over an undershirt and pajama bottoms, and what looked like a glittering, foil blanket was draped about his shoulders like a very peculiar cape. In his arms he held a satchel and a handheld computer, the latter of which he checked distractedly from time to time. He was not quite running, but it was obvious that he was trying to move quickly, his head constantly snapping back to check over his shoulder as he went. And it was with good reason that he did so: the Enforcers were after him.

Rodney slithered around a corner and down a poorly-lit alleyway. Colors blended to a hundred shades of green as his night vision contact lenses automatically activated. He was not moving faster than a jog, but Rodney's heart was pounding maniacally in his chest and blood was pounding through his head in panicked throbs.

What had he done? He had always been one to push the envelope, always squirmed away from conformity in any way he could. But there were boundaries as to how far the envelope could be pushed. Rodney had just given the envelope an almighty shove and he was now going to pay.

Even though the city was almost completely silent but for the dull slapping of his own bare feet against the concrete, Rodney kept imagining he heard the electric whine of Enforcement streetcats rolling up behind him, or the metallic click of their robot bugs crawling from the shadows. The warning klaxons had not started up yet, which Rodney supposed was lucky, but he could hardly take that to mean that the Enforcers weren't after him. They were just waiting for him to walk into their trap. After all, there was nowhere else he could go. Or so they thought.

The Enforcers would count on being able to track Rodney through the advanced telemetry sensors of the Survey Division. But Rodney had locked them up from his handheld as he had fled this evening. Even still, this would deter them only a few hours at best; once the Cryptology Division broke his ciphers, they would be able to pinpoint exactly where Rodney was anywhere in the city. But Rodney had no intention of staying in the city.

This thought scared Rodney more than the Enforcers did, but it was his only chance. The only place he could possibly hide was where no one would ever think to look for him. Because no one ever left the city.

Rodney had worked for the Telemetry Survey Division before he had gotten in trouble with Enforcement. He knew full well that all that lay outside the city was a seemingly endless labyrinth of natural and human-made caverns. A desert of darkness, a wasteland of silent rock. Rodney was well aware that there was little hope of surviving out there in that void, but he didn't expect to stay there. His hope was to reach the surface.

There was a reason that the city of Telluria was situated almost two miles beneath the planet Amber's surface, however. The red dwarf star of Proxima Centauri was what was known as a flare star. At irregular intervals that could be anywhere from hours to days apart, the little red star would suddenly double in brightness as large solar flares tore across its surface, subsequently scorching Amber with ultraviolet and X-ray radiation in doses large enough to fry the unsuspecting human.

Rodney was not on a suicide mission, however — at least, he hoped not. Once he found a way out of the caves, Rodney's plan was to shelter himself as best he could from the stellar radiation and cut across the country to the surfaceside spaceship launch dock, where, with stolen launch codes and a considerable amount of luck, he hoped to jump planet and head for Alpha Centauri B.

Right now, though, his plan was simply to escape the city. Rodney had reached the walls. They were tall and made of thin metal, designed to be mobile to allow for the city's expansion. They towered up a good nine feet and were topped by a charged, superfine electrowire. Climbing it was out of the question, so Rodney grappled through his bloated satchel and produced a hand plasma cutter he had borrowed from his parents' farm years ago. He closed his eyes tightly and activated the tool, feeling its heat creep up his arm as he sliced through the wall.

This was sure to set off Enforcement alarms, but there was little for it; Rodney was sure they were after him this very moment anyway. He doused the plasma cutter and stowed it in his bag, then peered through the hole he had cut. Even with his night vision lenses, he could only see a short way before everything dissolved into blackness.

Rodney took one shuddering breath, then scrambled through the hole and struck out through the dark.

The End

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