Ya Jiji was nestled on the peak of Muntanyes Oraș, a tiny tourist town with one road in or out and that road was always the scene of an accident which meant it was always choked with traffic. Antiquated traffic. Perambulators. Bicycles. Velocipedes. Motorcycles. Monocycles. Boneshakers. Wagons. Go-carts. Scooters. Skateboards. Any wheeled vehicle not pulled by a beast. Skip cars were banned on the winding mountain road that, at its widest was barely two-laned, and at its narrowest, well, where did you think all the accidents occurred? Besides, a line of sight teleportation car wasn’t of much use if you couldn’t see around the never-ending bend.
It was a two-hour trip down the mountain and another hour to Golainbale where the moon jitney traveled to the nearest natural satellite, Waioni. As we left the quaint town, the road—amazingly smooth and unmarked—opened up a bit. Before we left, we hit a convenience store and were absolutely fleeced out of our local currency for heater meals and MREs. At least the clerk did it with style. He was nothing but politeness and smiles before, during, and after he fucked us.
When we arrived in Golainbale there was a great deal of negotiating, which translated to me having to pay. I paid a man, paid the man who knew the man, paid the man who knew the man who knew the man, and finally, I paid the man who employed all the men. Fucking governmental red tape blew dead bears no matter what planet you were on. The first man returned with a wad of receipts and boarding passes, stapled six times. We boarded the jitney and waited for a solid half-hour before being told the rocket was being taken out of service to undergo routine maintenance. I started to argue if the maintenance was routine, why had we wasted half an hour gnawing on tasteless MREs, but thought better of it. We were all so very far from home and running aground of off-world travel authorities was a notoriously bad idea.
So, instead, we hauled ass to board a second jitney scheduled for departure. The boarding staff was nice enough to hold lift-off for us. That last sentence was dipped in heavy sarcasm and spat through a gritted-toothed grin, in case it wasn’t obvious. As we settled in, my travel companions drifted to sleep immediately. I envied people who could sleep anywhere. Sadly, I wasn’t blessed with that mutant ability.
As we reached escape velocity, out of the window I saw bodies that floated in space like flotsam. Men. Women. Children. Pets. So many lined in a row they almost formed an organic ring around the planet. From a seat somewhere rows behind me came a rhythmic muttering. I caught the eye of an older gentleman across the row and chanced a question, “What’s he saying?”
“It’s a song to open the gates of the afterworld,” the old man said. “To allow the souls of the illegal immigrants jettisoned in space to move on to their final resting place.”
“Do you know the words?”
“I don’t speak Shadese. Sorry. I only know about the song because it’s a local custom and I’m here on business often.”
“What do you do?”
“I’m a space marshal.”
He nodded. “In accordance with the Intergalactic Space Travel Securities Act, I carry out my duty of committing to space any person or persons who illegally board any transplanetary vessel—otherwise known as stowaways—and lack the money to pay for passage and proper identification with which to travel.”
He said it so matter of fact as if he wasn’t talking about human lives like his job entailed nothing more drastic than taking out the trash. There was no challenge in his tone, nothing that suggested that he dared me to question his profession.
My mind was a wasp’s nest of questions and emotions, buzzing to know how this man justified his actions, how he slept at night if he was a religious man and if he was under any delusion that God approved. I tried to express my shock, my outrage, my disapproval, or even simply voice my personal opinion, but the words failed me. I felt my mouth opening and closing, wordlessly.
Stunned and silent I sat back in the chair and stared at all the wasted life that drifted in the inky sea outside. An abyss dotted with stars that once had names like Peter and Elizabeth and Scott, stars that once breathed air same as I had, stars that ate food like me. Some so distant they had to crowd together to be seen in the endless black. Clouds of flesh, oceans of skin. Further from life but closer to the universe than anyone had ever been.
When the jitney touched down on Waioni, the marshal said goodbye. I pretended not to hear.
My travel companions and I checked into our hotel rooms. It would be another eighteen hours before our return flight home. They wanted to spend the time getting rat-arsed in the hotel bar but I went for a walk outside. It always helped clear my mind. I walked off the paved paths, far from the obstruction of man-made lights and checked the sky.
Stars. So many stars. Some of them falling. Making the trip back home.
Text and Audio ©2013 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys
About The Trip Back Home: A few years ago, I wrote a manuscript which never got published. It was sort of a vacation scrapbook in outer space, detailing the travelogue of a man who hated to travel but got roped into a sweepstakes interplanetary cruise by his best friends. They’d travel in style and want for nothing—once they made it to the starcruise liner that was on the other side of the universe.
As I said, the manuscript didn’t get published. Because it was never quite what it needed to be. Not quite ready. This aspect needed tweaking, that aspect needed editing. Two years into the editing process, I decided I needed a break from this manuscript to write something else. I was too involved with that manuscript.
I have no idea whether it’ll be salvaged or chopped up into bite sized bits and shopped as short stories, or reworked into other projects.
This slice was the first bit of writing that inspired the idea for the novel.