This didn’t go to plan. Not in a bad way. More in a, I planned for this to be about as long as the last story, Root Magic (which was about 11500 words), way.
Instead its more than twice that (about 28500 words) and is now the longest story I will have posted here. Oops! Nevertheless, here is my latest short story, Kismet.
Paris Isabell is sat on one of the low bench seats that line either side of the flatbed of a truck. It’s one of three trucks in the convoy. One of the other pair of vehicles is identical to the one she is in, while the last is twice the size and has a canopy over the bed obscuring what is filling the rear three quarters of the trucks overall length.
Paris is paying no attention to the brilliant sun that looms in the cloudless sky as the convoy snake across the fine dirt of the island of Itna. The convoy are well on their way to the archaeological dig site. Paris is a member of the security detail providing protection to the archaeologists and scientists that are studying the curious ancient structure that has recently been unearthed.
She is one of three people on the flatbed of her truck in addition to the driver and passenger that are crammed, quite literally, into the small cab of the truck. She is clad in light grey fatigues over which she wears hardshell body armour that should protect her from any trouble they might run into out here. And she fully expects trouble seeing as Itna has recently become the epicentre of a civil war between the Planetary Authority, or PA, and an extremist group called Sickle. That’s why her head is on a swivel as the trucks engine burbles loudly and its thick deep treaded tyres spew several metre long crescents of fine dirt.
Taking this job was not her idea. In fact, it had never even been offered to her, but instead to her close lifelong friend, Alice Jimenez. Alice had begged, practically, for Paris to join her on this job saying that while yes they will be traversing areas in conflict it should still be a pretty easy gig with a substantial payout. Paris had asked why the research team weren’t being provided with a PA team or two and the answer that came back was that apparently the PA did not have the personnel to spare in their fight against Sickle. Paris had been sceptical but seeing as no PA officials were present for the story to be corroborated, and as the researchers already had PA approved documents, Paris had seen little option but to put her fears aside and agree. She needs the money after all, as rent, utility bills and food are not cheap, even when doing security work. And her work pays a hell of a lot higher than most other jobs in the region. Not that that really says much. Plus Paris could do with a change of scene. She’s grown tired of the towering edifices of the city and there are certainly none of those on Itna, which is a small island with a single city of about three hundred thousand people. The city is situated at the southern end of the island which is otherwise composed only of mountains, desert and scrub land. It’s certainly about as far a cry as Paris could have hoped for.
Paris understands why Alice had wanted her to take the job so desperately, time to catch up. It had been years since they’d been able to get together, mainly due to the jobs that they had both taken. Paris regrets the lack of quality time together between her and her oldest friend but knows that Alice regrets it even more. That is why she had practically begged Paris, who not wanting to be the villain, had agreed. Still, Paris isn’t sure whether she agreed because of the money or the chance to be around her friend again. She hopes that it’s the latter, but it wouldn’t surprise her to learn it’s the former. She hopes that she never truly works that out, or at least admits it to herself because if it is the latter she will feel like the biggest bitch in the world. And it’s a pretty big world.
Suddenly her vehicle brakes hard. Paris turns her head to see why but makes no attempt to pull the bulky grey fifteen round semi-automatic battle rifle that is slung across her back to a ready position. There is no need as the truck is simply slowing now that they have reached their destination. The wheels of the truck lock and stop rotating but because of how fine the dust is the vehicle continues forward a metre and a half until it finally comes to rest. If Paris had been new she assumes she would have panicked to see the vehicle seemingly out of control as it glided across the surface, but she isn’t. In fact, not even the first day that she ventured out here had she been surprised. Though, she would have to admit that she paid far more attention to the movements of the truck she’d been on then than she does now.
Paris stands and then steps off the higher side of the flatbed. She lands on both her feet, bending her knees to soften the impact. Then she pulls her battle rifle and shoulders it. She scans her eyes across the horizon before her but sees nothing except the mostly flat expanse of dust. She pays no attention to the other members of the security detail or the researchers as they more hesitantly disembark from the back of the larger truck, shielding their eyes against the bright sun after having spent the last thirty plus minutes under the rust coloured tarpaulin.
Paris raises her battle rifle to peer down the larger of the two sights affixed to its top mounting rail. It’s a telescopic sight suitable for mid to long range encounters, while the simple iron sight atop it is for much shorter combat encounters. Paris hopes that she isn’t going to have to use either sight as she scans the horizon again. She is pretty sure other members of the security detail will be doing much the same, but she isn’t about to check. She isn’t in charge here. This is Alice’s show and she knows her people. In fact, Paris is the only member of the forty five total security personnel that isn’t one of Alice’s people. But her oldest friend had vouched for her, in addition to having provided a slew of glowing references from some of the most important clients that Paris has done security for. Paris had been completely unaware that Alice had acquired the references, but it had neither surprised nor bothered her that she had.
After a couple sweeps Paris feels fairly confident in saying that there is no impending attack incoming. Her shoulders drop as she lets the tension, that had built up, out of them. The barrel of her battle rifle drops too, though she keeps it at the ready as appearances can be deceiving. She hopes they won’t he here seeing as there is little to no cover for her or anyone else to take if they are attacked.
“Come on, the eggheads want to get right to it today.” Alice says touching Paris’ arms softly to alert her old friend to her presence.
Paris turns and gazes back at Alice’s round face and blue eyes, which are just discernible through the shadows cast by the tactical helmet on her head. The tac helmet doesn’t quite sit right as her just above shoulder length blonde hair is gathered back into a ponytail that sticks out from below the rear edge of the helmets rim. It looks uncomfortable Paris always thinks, and is why she had decided long ago to adopt an entirely different approach and have her black hair closely cropped. As a result of this she has gone through many years of men especially saying that it isn’t an attractive look, but Paris honestly doesn’t care. Function is what matters to her.
Paris smiles faintly having realised that Alice is still staring at her awaiting a reply that she is yet to give.
“What’s up?” Are the next words to leave the much shorter than Paris’ one metre eighty five centimetre height.
Paris shakes her head from side to side and offers in response, “Nothing. Forget it.”
“You sure?” Alice queries feeling a growing concern for her friend who she thought would have been in her element out here far away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. It was what Paris had said that she needed but now Alice wonders if her old friend with big green eyes had been wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time that someone had got homesick after following what they thought they needed most only to find it was the worst idea they’d ever had. Alice wouldn’t blame her if that was the case, or if Paris felt she needed to get back to civilization. Though, she would miss Paris if that is the decision she makes.
“Yeah.” Paris says shaking off whatever tone it was clear was drawing concern from Alice wand then adding a smile for good measure.
It seems to do the trick as Alice then herself smiles, clearly subconsciously, and then says, “Let’s go then, Ri. We’ve fallen behind.”
Paris joins Alice in a giggle as they both quickly break into light jogs so they can cover the expanding gap between them and the rest of the security detail who are flanking either side of the gaggle of scientists and archaeologists. The academics casually mutter amongst themselves paying to attention to the possible dangers which the security detail are alert to.
If the group noticed the absence of either Alice or Paris they didn’t show it, but as the group of twenty pass between the white mobile laboratory units the horizon changes. Instead of an unbroken line of dust and rock the ground instead drops away. The drop looks much sharper than it is and Paris can still remember when it hadn’t been there. That had been a few weeks back when the expedition had first begun and the land had been almost pancake flat. Since then the archaeologists have made use of massive rock breakers and particle vacuums to remove the rock and dust to create this massive hole some two hundred metres across and almost four times as deep. It had astounded Paris the first time she’d set eyes on what they had been digging around. Before she was sure that it was some kind of false reading, but since having been able to set her eyes on it she has been able to see the true beauty of the arrowhead shape. The ground mountings of the structure meanwhile are still buried under mounds of dark grey dust.
Paris had asked one of scientists why they hadn’t bothered to remove the piles are the grounds and the answer she’d got was simple. They feared that the links may have corroded and failed and in removing the matter they could cause the object of unknown age, alloy and origin to come crashing down. That made a lot of sense to Paris when she’d heard it and was glad that the researchers were as competent in their fields as she and the security detail were in their own.
That’s why since that day Paris has asked a myriad of probably obvious questions. If they had been however the researchers had certainly never acted as though the questions irritated or annoyed them. In fact, in response the researchers had themselves taken to questioning Paris about her own field. She’d found that far more difficult to explain seeing as detail often involved explaining intricately the ways of ending someone’s life before they have the chance of doing it to you. And the last thing she wanted was to scare the poor academics to the point that they would forego remaining a part of, what she knows is for them, the greatest discovery in generations. A discovery that would never have been possible a little over two generations ago as they would have needed pressure suits to be out here on the surface.
As Paris and the researchers descend the gentle slope toward the wide flat base that has been carved from the rock she nods at those she passes by. Paris can’t say that she knows each and every academic by name, as their numbers have ballooned in the last ten days, but she knows a decent number of them. They return her nods with similar acknowledgements of their own.
Alice meanwhile has moved to the front of the group. As lead in this security detail she has to be seen as being at the forefront when arriving and departing for the day. And right now is when the shifts are due to rotate. It isn’t easy to actually achieve the rotation as the researchers often get lost in their study and lose track of time. But Alice has made sure to accommodate them as best she can. Even if she does wish they had a little more PA involvement, or any at all really, seeing as the military police faction won’t even provide constant monitoring of the area. Even though they are fully aware that most of those in this location are civilians without any form of prior combat training. It’s a bit of a logistical nightmare but one that is made easier by the presence of Paris.
Alice finishes chatting with the chief of the last shift who had little to report before Alice had dismissed him for some much needed rest following the sixteen hour shift he has just completed. Still, Paris finds it refreshing that the chief, Alan, looks more energised than she would have expected him to after such a period. It’s a good sign, she thinks as the last of the prior research shift shuffle off, chatting enthusiastically about their latest theories. Paris has no idea if any of them are, or will, turn out to be true. Plus none of that stops her from taking in the view of the towering arrowhead shape that looks as smooth as glass. Its upper sections gleam almost white under the rays of the sun. The lower sections of the structure meanwhile are a pristine silver and Paris has no idea how that can be possible after what must have been millennia underground during which some form of erosion of corrosion should have taken place.
“No briefing today.” Alice declares much to the surprise and joy of the researchers. It’s the one thing they loathe about their days, even if it’s a procedure that has been put in place to alert them of things that could otherwise cost them their lives. Paris can guess why there’s no briefing, but as the academics prepare to file off to go about their study of the structure that no one has an answer for its purpose or origin, the sky erupts into cyan fire.
Paris’ eyes go wide in the seconds before she goes to pull the battle rifle from her back. She slung her weapon back there when they entered the camp proper. But before she can she and everyone else collapses to the floor. They aren’t rendered unconscious, though none of them are able to fight against the suddenly exerted pressure that is weighing down on them.
That doesn’t stop Paris from trying as she attempts to thrash in the hopes of breaking free. She has no idea why this is happening or what is causing it and that terrifies her. It fires through her mind that it could be an attack from Sickle, but using what form of weapon she can’t say. It is unlike anything she has ever experienced before. Then it strikes her that perhaps the atmosphere is failing. She quickly shoves that idea aside seeing as she can still breathe.
Then something catches the corner of her eye. Paris shifts her gaze and finds something is moving. She doesn’t know what to call this something but if she were asked for an explanation of what it looks like she would say that it has the consistency of fog except formed into a shape akin to an arm.
At first the fog thing moves slowly. Then suddenly and inexplicably it accelerates and begins to dart this way and that right toward her and the rest of the digs personnel. Paris tries to break free of whatever it is that is holding her in place but her attempts are futile.
Seconds later as the air around her seems to disappear and she becomes short of breathe the fog snakes down her throat. Paris begins to choke and her lower jaw chatters, while her mouth remains open. Whatever this fog thing is it’s filling her lungs and stopping her ability to breathe. She can feel her body begin to convulse and her eyes roll back into her head.
Then Paris hears Alice’s voice scream, “…is is…”
It happens only once and all Paris can think before she takes her last breath is that it sounded like Alice was trying to scream her name, but that it came out all wrong.