Hi everyone, another Teaser Tuesday here. Today I decided to post one of my short Nano stories I drafted during the month. It is part of a collection of stories about a ship and its inhabitants on a journey through space on their way to a new home.
10) The Runaway
He sat in the tightest and darkest corner of the belly drinking synthesized tea from an old woman’s shop. The belly was the term the lottery population gave to the central pavilion designated for their eating area, market place, entertaining, and other activities. Surrounding the ‘belly’ the population were allowed to have essential shops like tailors, tea makers, tutors, and etc. The center of the pavilion was considerably lower than the leveled terraces that held tables and benches. The center had a stage where poets, speakers, singers, storytellers and other entertainers stood and gave performances or speeches.
A woman and child walked pass him. Her face was pale, and covered with a dark blue bruise. The child she carried was pale and lifeless and red scar going down his face. He gasped in horror. The woman stopped and stared at him. “Is something wrong?” she asked him. He looked at her again to find it was only an illusion. Her tan skin and frightened olive eyes stared at him. She held her fidgeting baby who did not like the look of him. “Sorry,” he said dropping his head. A man walked onto the stage and began reciting poetry. “The man without a past, is a man with an unknown future,” the poet said in a far-east country dialect. The man sat with his eyes down and ears alert. He was a man without a past. At least, it was a past he desperately wanted no one to know about.
He boarded the Najad under the name of Ali Makhtoom. He was careful to avoid the identification scanners. Passing through one would have given him away immediately to the guards posted to check each passenger. Ali Makhtoom had been a loner ever since he stepped out of his ASE pod. The only contact he made was with the teashop owner, an older woman and her grandson. She was kind and did not ask him questions, unlike the others who seemed to be forming friendships and allies. He knew some of these people; in fact, he knew most of them. Some directly and others only in passing. Ali Makhtoom could not afford to expose himself, especially to these unfortunate souls. Neither could he expose himself to the elite class in the upper levels of the Najad. His life depended on his careful preservation of his past. He took a final sip from his tea just as the man left the stage to a soft applause.
Ali Makhtoom walked up the steps of the ‘belly’ his eyes lowered avoiding eye contact with anyone. He walked with a stealth and quick determination. I need to get to my pod. I will be safe in my pod. A stranger walked by brushing his shoulder and knocking his hood from his head exposing it. Ali Makhtoom snatched it back up and over his head, shielding his eyes. Ali Makhtoom had very unique eyes. One hazel and one gray. He tried everything to change them but nothing worked. Not even contact lenses worked to even the color. They were deep in color, rich and vibrant. And large. The stranger looked at Ali Makhtoom. “I am so sorry,” he said touching Ali’s shoulder. Ali jerked away. “Never mind,” he said in a soft hoarse voice. The stranger raised his eyebrow. Something was very familiar about him but he continued on his way looking over his shoulder at Ali Makhtoom. Ali exhaled deeply and continued on to his automated sleeping environment pod. His five-minute journey felt like hours passing by neighbors and strangers alike, each time pulling his hood over his head more.
He made it to his pod. Ali usually convulsed whenever he saw series of numbers and letters. But 268AMK6d never looked so better. The ASE pod quarter was empty. His quarter had six pods. He shared the sleeping quarter with five other men, all single and traveling alone to the new world. Some raised as orphans, others who lost their entire families in the wars, droughts and famines in the poorest cities and villages Earth Alliance nations. Ali Makhtoom took another breath. His quarter neighbors were very nosy. They asked more question than an elderly woman with nothing to do. They all wanted to know about his eyes, why they were so different but yet seemed so familiar, why he was traveling alone, what happened to his family, was he Alliance or Opposition. All these questions he could not answer. Once he did and immediately regretted it. Ali could never lie with out giving himself away. Something always slipped and his lie would fall apart. He vowed to keep quiet to protect his secret. Ali jumped into his pod, laid down and watched the glass dome close over him. He heard the hiss of the pod environment turn on and soon his worries stopped. But his rest was only momentary.
A loud scream penetrated his sleep and caused his heart monitor to jump. It was so erratic; the pod automatically sent a message to the ship’s doctor on call that evening, Dr. Shuaib. Ali’s body jerked in the pod. It was their faces again, those horrifying images of his past. Images that haunted his dreams and caused him to hallucinate when he was awake. He heard a hiss again and was soon rescued from his nightmare. Ali Makhtoom opened his eyes. Dr. Shuaib stared down at him. “As Salaamu Alaikum,” he said, helping him sit up in the pod. “How long has this been happening?” he asked Ali. Ali shrugged his shoulder. “Not for a while,” he lied. No sooner had he spoke, Dr. Shuaib checked the computer screen then raised his eyebrows then looked back at Ali. “That is not what your sleep history says,” he said sternly. “Why have you not come to see a doctor sooner,” he asked taking out a stethoscope and light tool to check his eyes. His heart rate was back to normal but Dr. Shuaib stood in front of him a very long time staring him in the eyes.
He once knew a research doctor who had unique eyes just like Ali Makhtoom. This doctor worked in the field of Germ and Biological Warfare in the Alliance. The doctor helped other scientists create diseases that would attack their enemies and take down cities and armies in a manner of days. The Earth Alliance turned a blind eye when the doctor and other scientists used enemy combatants from other nations and the opposition rebels within the Earth Alliance nations. Sometimes, they even used poor unfortunate souls of the impoverished city slums as their subjects while testing their different military grade agents. Dr. Shuaib shook his head. This could not be the same person. That doctor was a woman. Dr. Muna Rashid went missing. Some say the doctor had killed so many innocent poor women, elderly and children, Dr. Muna went crazy, turned on the other scientists and the Alliance guards protecting the lab. Then the doctor disappeared. “Come with me to the medical lab,” Dr. Shuaib, “I will need to do some blood work on you and perhaps keep you over….,” “No. I am fine,” Ali Makhtoom said jumping down from his sleeping pod. “I am okay, really. It was just a bad dream.” It took a minute for the doctor to regain his composure but finally found his voice. “I really should see you in my lab. This could be very serious.” Ali looked down, “Please doctor, let me be. I am fine. Truly I am.”
The doctor knew all about secrets. This man was hiding something, something he wanted to leave back on their dying world. He was looking for a new start a new future. Dr. Shuaib knew a lot about new starts and how it saved his future. He nodded his head; picked up his things and left. Ali Makhtoom shuddered. Close, much too close. A blood test would have ruined him! Ali could not sleep, he feared his nightmares would return with the hiss of the ASE pod. So, he went back to the ‘belly’. Most of the shops were closed but the teashop was still open. The belly was ghostly empty tonight. He went to get a cup of tea from the kind old lady. She was not there; her grandson was there clearing away for the night. But Ali was a loyal customer so he made a cup of tea for him to sip on quietly in the empty ‘belly’.
Ali sat for a while then the old woman came and sat by him with a cup of tea. She smiled sympathetically at him. Wide eyed he stared at her. Even a woman of her age would never come sit with a strange man. His heart began to pound as she looked at him with a knowing gaze. She slowly pulled up her sleeve and showed him an old bruised scar. Just above the scar was something burned into her skin. Letters and numbers. She smiled but her eyes hid a sadness that he could never wash away. “It is okay, Dr. Muna,” she said covering her arms again. “Because of you, my grandson and I along with many other children escaped that awful research lab. I will forever keep your secret.”