Four. A Love Story chronicles the lives of several characters as they are nearing the end of a nearly 100,000 year long trek through space. The ship they are on was carefully built, preserved, and handed down through the generations as humanity is trying to find a place to rebuild earth. Life, work, love, and death are all scheduled, allowing no one the freedom to make a choice. You are told what you are from day one and who to fall in love with, and in some cases, when you are going to die and
Four. A Love Story.
By Sean Michael Carter
“Bottom of the ninth.”
The announcer's voice was deep and low as the 60,000 chairs lost their occupants. The seventh and final game would be decided tonight.
“Two on, two outs.”
A collective hush covered the spectators as Jakk Ribbens strode toward a small patch of dirt located at the end of the diamond shaped field and the center of attention.
“He's taking his time.”
120,000 sets of eyes, give or take, were glued to the piece of metal in the hands of the youngest player to ever don the uniform of Quadrant Four's fabled “Heavy Hitters” club.
“Here comes the pitch.”
A giant breath released as the crowd uniformly relaxed and tensed as the umpire made no move, signaling that the white sphere missed the strike zone.
“Just outside. Ball one.”
The announcer too seemed to be on edge. Like the kid down below him rubbing his hands and digging into the dirt again, this would be the biggest game of his career.
“The windup. The pitch.”
Jakk took a vicious cut and completely missed.
“He swung and missed.”
The announcer's voice carried over the crowd and on a million small boxes, much like televisions, all across the gigantic ship, designated Boon by the United People's Empire of Earth. Typically the boxes were used to keep in contact with the close to 500 million souls who inhabited the Flagship Boon and its flotilla companions: The Virgin Mary, The Neverfear, and the Orchestral. These boxes transmitted the daily schedules to the denizens of earth's last brainchild, an escape from a dying planet and a hope at transplanting all of humankind in seed format on the a similar planet in the Eden Galaxy. However, tonight, everything was on hold, everyone was clinging to the announcer's voice; the only thing that mattered tonight, was indeed, the outcome of the game.
“A look at first.”
The runner on first smiled wickedly as he jogged back to the base.
“And now the windup.”
The runner feinted towards second as the ball spun through space towards the plate being defended by Jakk.
“That's a ball folks.”
A young girl looked down from the nosebleeds through a pair of super powerful binoculars. The first basemen was a cyborg, or least she thought he was. Even with the extra magnification she still had a hard time picking out all the details.
“Dad, have a look.”
She held out the lenses and her father, a veteran of the machine shops from the underbelly of Boon itself, took the field glasses in his leathery hand and held them up to his solemn gray eyes.
“Where am I looking?”
Riis pointed towards first.
“I think he's metallic.”
Her dad grunted. It was his way of agreeing that cyborgs weren't always fair in the great game of ball.
“So is the runner.”
Riis was caught off guard.
“I don't believe you!”
“Fine, let me see.”
She took another glance as the announcer cut through the silence.
“2-2. The windup.”
It happened so fast, she almost missed it. The pitch missed the strike zone, away from the right handed Jakk Ribbens, and the catcher, also metallic, fired a throw to first. The pickoff throw bounced in the dirt past first and was began to roll into the outfield. The runner on second wisely held his base as the outfielder literally rocketed for the loose sphere, sparks flying from the bottom of his shoes.
Riis, however, thought she saw the reason for the error. Her dad was right, after all, the runner on first seemed to have an upgrade or two and now the defensive player was getting his arm rewired back on.
“Nasty little player there.”
A gasp escaped from the audience as the replay was shown up on the giant screen which overhung the “444” sign in centerfield. Riis joined in as the display showed the runner's arm converting into a giant metal blade and slicing down on the mitt side of the first baseman.
“Jakk is au naturel?”
Her dad asked in his gruff voice.
“100 percent. So far.”
A random spectator answered on the other side of her dad.
“He'll be dead soon.”
“Dad! Don't say that!”
The neighbor laughed and said,
“Don't scare your girl.”
Riis, wide-eyed with equal parts fear and excitement, clung to the railing in front of her.
“...and here's the payoff!”
Jakk held his ground as the pitch came flying in well over 120 m.p.h fouling it straight back.
“Just got a piece!”
The announcer gulped down a shot of something strong and reeking of spirits.
“Let's do it again!”
He was practically yelling now.
“Another pitch, another foul.”
Jakk asked for time and stepped out of the batter's box to readjust his cotton gloves. He glanced over the whole diamond, carefully yet quickly taking in the defensive players and his third base coach who was frantically tapping his left shoulder and pulling his right ear, which meant, “Make it your pitch.”
The second basemen was bonafide human like himself, but he was pretty sure that he was the only other one on the field tonight that was. Left had a cannon for an arm, literally, a cannon. Third had a buzz saw that would extend from his left thigh if an opponent was sliding in. The pitcher had the typical TomJohn arm attachment that allowed for superhuman velocity and the catcher, yes, the catcher was the x factor. Quadrant Two's “Metal Militia's secret weapon. Fane Ukke IV, great grandson to the Captain of the Boon itself. The original catcher had a mysterious illness prior to the last game and Fane was in the right spot at the right time. No one, including Jakk, knew just what he was capable of.
“Full count. The pitch.”
Riis heard the clink as Jakk's bat connected with the baseball right on the sweet spot. The center fielder retreated but not fast enough.
“It's over his head. It's over his head.”
The announcer was shouting now. Screaming even.
The stadium was erupting in a chorus of “Jakk, Jakk, Jakk!”
The pa was echoing the catastrophic din with a feedback of its own.
“Daniels scores from second, with Jefferson right behind.”
Riis' dad never made a sound, standing still like stone, a faint smile on his lips.
Jakk was rounding second, his eyes glued on the coach in the box behind the bag 90 feet in front of him. All of a sudden Coach Tall, as his players called him, started frantically waving the giant windmill which meant, “GO HOME! GO HOME!”
Jakk responded by running like he had never run before, the pounding of his blood-soaked heart matching the footsteps underneath him in a frenetic tempo. If he scored, the Heavy Hitters would win their first ever World Series; an honorary name extracted from the annals of one of earth's greatest games, revered here among the stars as the Boon sailed fearlessly on.
Meanwhile the announcer confirmed the coaches gestures, saying,
“He dropped the ball, he dropped the ball, he dropped the ball.”
The center fielder while in a hurry to collect the runaway orb had taken his eyes off of it to see where the runners were and in doing so, kicked it towards left. The fielder in left was just scooping it up when Jakk was rounding third.
“He's got a cannon!”
The announcer said, reminding the crowd of something they all knew already. No one could forget last year's throw which ended a four game sweep of the Underbellies, another team hailing from Quadrant Two.
The throw beat Jakk to the plate. Fane Ukke IV received it and made a lunge up the third base line towards a steamroller named Jakk Ribbens. The youngest player to emerge from Quadrant Four. One of the few that still had all his limbs. Jakk, Riis' next door neighbor, best friend, her adopted brother, as she liked to say. The only one she ever had eyes for. Those eyes were glued to the tightly clutched binoculars as the catcher steeled himself for the trainwreck about to occur at home plate.
It seemed as if the world slowed down as Fane and Jakk collided.
Silence. Barely audible breathing. A resounding crack. Something was wrong. There should be cheering or catcalling by now, Riis thought. She looked to her right, her dad was missing.
She observed the field again. There, on the plate, was someone lying face down in the well kept sand. A dark pool slowly spreading from under his head. Fear welled up inside of her until she heard a voice screaming over the loudspeakers.
“He's safe! He's safe!”
Riis glanced at the man who was positioned on the other side of where her dad had been.
He was alternating between staring at his polished chrome wristwatch and the field.
“He's not safe at all, is he now?”
Said the stranger muttering to himself and his timepiece.
“No, definitely not safe.”
Riis glanced at the replay. At the last second Jakk slid feet first towards Fane's right knee, away from the gloved left hand that held the ball. As the tag came down, Jakk kicked upward into the joint between shin and thigh and drove the kneecap backwards, breaking it. Fane held his position, blocking Jakk from the plate. Jakk bounced up to his feet as the tag was still on the way down, pulling on Fane's arm and vaulting over him, as though he were merely a hurdle. Fane unleashed his secret halfway through Jakk's superhuman attempt at leapfrog. A long blade came sliding out of his right arm, just behind his hand, and shot upward, catching Jakk in the left thigh. Jakk twisted his body, causing Fane to spin with him in a gruesome dance, falling slowly towards the plate. Jakk's hand hit the hard plastic as he landed with a crunch on Fane's wrist. The blade was thin and poorly made, breaking off easily. Jakk stood and quickly hobbled towards his bench, escorted by his teammates and coaches.
Fane never rose. Riis saw the trademark. It wasn't the blade or the fall that killed him.
The blood was definitely from his wrist, but it wasn't fatal. No, what killed him was the fact that he failed at what he was supposed to do. On the Boon, if someone failed at their duties, it would mean loss of status or amenities, and in severe cases it would mean being recycled in order to be of some use to the rest of the lost souls wandering through space.
Captain Fane Ukke, first of that name, had written the schedule so that his grandson would be the hero, and now thanks to the upstart youngster from Quadrant Four, his grandson had failed him.
An attendant approached the fierce old man,
“Do you need anything?”
The Captain ignored the young girl's question and began staring out of the large window adorning his private chambers.
“Sir, did he win?”
“No, you stupid girl!”
The servant quickly lowered her head, as though if struck.
Fane lowered his voice, saying,
“He failed me again.”
“I'm very sorry sir.”
“I am as well.” Replied the Captain.
The servant did not respond. Fane motioned towards the window.
“Can you see it? The whole universe runs as if it were a great big giant clock. The stars know their place and are always ready to start dancing. Not one of them ever says, 'I'm going to be the hero, or I'm going to go against the flow.”
“Sir, I don't follow.”
“Quiet lass, you don't have to follow, yet. But perhaps in time you'll come to understand why my great grandson is no longer breathing.”
He paused, taking a deep, yet slightly wheezy breath,
“The stars are like the souls on this ship. Each has their own unique place and function. If anyone fails, at any given time, they could jeopardize the existence of everyone else.”
He poured himself a glass of water.
“Fane's death was a direct result of his failing to do what his schedule had ordered. And, on the Boon, everything runs on schedule.”