As I’m planning to release the first part of my space opera series, The Sunblinded trilogy this summer, I thought I’d post a short extract from the beginning of the first book, Running Out of Space…
Yeah, I know – Basement Level – what were we thinking? But penned up on punishment duty with only the prospect of a single chaperoned shopping trip had driven us to it. Though the charms of Basement Level wore thin as soon as we set off from the lift. One light in four was working – and then only in Dim mode. The corridors were half the width of the upper levels; a big problem as I’ve seen sewage tanks more wholesome than those walls. You wouldn’t want to brush against them wearing anything other than throwaways, while keeping off the walls was harder than you’d think, because we were wading ankle-deep in… stuff.
Donice punched my arm. “Must be homely for you, Jezzy. Floor looks like your cribicle after you done tidying.”
Alita and Efra started sniggering.
“’Cept the smell isn’t as vile as your boots,” I replied.
Our laughter bounced around the filthy corridor, easing the mood for a couple of minutes but did nothing about the putrid smell. We struggled on a bit longer, until a grimy woman scuttled past, forcing us far too close to the walls. She didn’t even bother acknowledging our efforts to make room for her.
Efra and Alita stopped.
“Let’s turn round. Unblocking the heads is more fun than this.” Efra wrinkled her nose at the empty tunnel ahead. “Even the natives got sense enough to be someplace else.”
Alita began to mutter an agreement, but Donice silenced it with a scowl. “We’ve gone promming around for less than a nanosec. And you wanna run back ‘cos the scenery isn’t the same as on board?” Donice clicked her tongue in scorn. “Starting to sound like those old ship-abuelas.”
Efra flinched at the derision in her voice, but – being Efra – wouldn’t lock horns with Donice.
Breathing through my mouth, I straightened up. Donice is right. So what if this is a dank disappointment? We didn’t come down here for the view – we came to prove a point.
But Alita grabbed Donice’s arm. “Efra and me reckon this is a vile place. We vote to head back. Tramping through filth is a tragic waste of shore leave.”
All argument ceased when the floor crud rustled and heaved behind us. A cat-sized rat scuttered through the litter into the gloom beyond.
I shivered. “It’s gotta get better sometime, soon. We’re snagging the next lift we see, amigas.”
We continued trudging onwards for another ten minutes. Just as I was beginning to think the scuzzy corridor was leading into infinity, we turned a corner into a small plaza. With a blast of relief, I spotted the lift in the far corner and relaxed – now we were nearly out of here, we could do the tourist bit. Truth be told, the word ‘plaza’ probably gives the space more credit than it deserves. While the lighting was brighter and the floor litter had been trodden relatively flat, the buzz that normally goes with buying and selling wasn’t here. Under the stink of rotting rubbish was the sharper stench of desperation.
I passed a trader’s eye over the ratty stalls. Everything I could see on display would’ve gone straight into our ship’s recycler. The food canisters were crud-caked and filthy without the benefit of even the most basic steri-scrub. And the water on sale might have shown on the pacs’ Purity Scales, but the readings must have been blixed, because that cloudy stuff wasn’t fit to pass your lips. Even the powdered water looked like sweepings off a shower-stall floor.
If we hadn’t come down here, I’d never have known this place existed. How many on ‘Estrella’ know about it? This is what I joined the ship for… My heart was thudding with a mixture of fear and excitement. I felt alive. This was a hundred times better than trailing around the overpriced shops on Trader Level with a grumbling chaperone.
Though the people were a shock. There were no shades of yellow, brown, black, or white here; everyone’s skin was grime-grey. All wearing rags pockmarked with holes which only showed more scabby tatters, or dirt-scurfed flesh. I’d tried to blend us in; we were all in scut-gear – worn overalls and battered workboots. But we stuck out like a supernova on a dark night. Mostly because we were clean and well fed – everyone here was stick-thin. Even the niños…
The Cap always says that we Iberians take care of our own better than anyone else. What if he’s right? Because I couldn’t recall seeing any children in this sorry state back in Nuevo Madrid.
Efra gave some creds to a pathetic, sunken-cheeked toddler sitting on the trash-covered floor – and in no time flat we were mobbed by a bunch of snot-nosed kids. None of us could resist their pleading, so we handed out all our shore-leave cash. Of course, one of us should’ve kept an eye out for trouble. But we didn’t. And when the niños started melting away, I looked up to see we were now ringed by another group. Far more grown-up and dangerous.