“…6:00 in the morning yawning and laying down next to you…”
“Come here, Kiara. About time you got home…wait. What’s wrong?” Travis Bridges pulled his wife close to him in their bed. It was six in the morning ship’s time but she’d just come off of her duty shift planetside at the Metzger colony.
Kiara buried her face in Travis’ chest and sobbed. He could barely hear her muffled words, “It was horrible, Trav. Chief Spencer tried to warn us, but none of us thought it would be that bad.”
“What are you talking about? What’s so bad about servicing the colony’s power distribution system? I mean, we do contract with the colony worlds in this sector to maintain their tech.”
“You don’t know about Metzger, do you?” She looked up. Her dark eyes dilated in the dim light were ebony pools he could swim in.
“I read the general briefing on the colony. They’re isolationists and a little xenophobic and…”
“And goddamn racists, Trav. Great-grandmama used to tell me stories of when she was little, but I thought they were just tales to scare children.”
“Hey sweetheart.” He caressed her hair, his light skin in sharp contrast with hers. “I’ve read the history books, too. But this is the twenty-second century and a lot has changed since the bad old days.”
“Not on Metzger, Trav. You know these colony worlds. They’re all trying to build their own version of Utopia, what they think is a perfect planet.”
“We’ve come across that before. We go down, do our jobs, and leave. They pay us to do the work they can’t. At least it’s over now…”
“No it isn’t. About five months ago one of those idiots thought he could improve the performance of their communications array and blew out six processors. We have to go back down tonight, or tomorrow, or whenever it’s sunrise at Metzger. I don’t know if I can face it again.”
“Would it help if I went down with you? I am a communications tech.”
Kiara rested her cheek against Travis’ shoulder. “No, I’ll be fine. Like you said, it’s the twenty-second century. I don’t need no knight in shining armor to defend me.”
“Actually, I was thinking about what I need.”
She could hear the change in his voice and looked up at him. “Oh no you don’t. Getting into a fight with those jerks won’t help and it could cost us the contract. It would be just the thing the Janus Corporation could use to move in on our territory.”
“If Metzger is that bad, maybe the loss of a little income wouldn’t hurt.”
“Tell that to the Commissioner. You cost Capria Inc. a colony planet and we’ll both lose our jobs.”
“Okay, okay, I was only kidding anyway.”
“Bullshit, Trav. I know you.”
“It’s only sort of bullshit, Kiara. I love you and it pisses me off, that’s all. Don’t tell me if someone hurt me you wouldn’t want to wring their neck.”
“I suppose so. Just let me get some rest.”
“Rest? I was kind of hoping…” He grinned at her and pulled her close again.
She laughed. “Maybe later, you randy man. I need some sleep. Then we’ll see about scratching that itch of yours.” They kissed and she tried not to mind his morning mouth. Marriage and romance were one thing, but all those love stories she devoured as a pre-teen never talked about snoring or bad breath.
The shuttle landed at the makeshift spaceport near the outskirts of Metzger at 07:31 hours local time, just as the sun was coming up over the eastern horizon. The colony looked like something out of the 19th century American west on Earth, a real frontier town. Their contract with Capria gave the colonists access to modern technology but they preferred, at least on the surface, to use horses and wagons for transportation and to live in wooden structures, heating them with organic-burning stoves and fireplaces.
“Spaceport, ha.” Kiara looked out as the hatch opened. “More like a muddy vacant lot, Travis.”
“We’ve seen worse, Kiara.” Travis had talked to Bryce Spencer, the Chief for this assignment and gotten himself put on the landing team.
“Cut the chatter.” Spencer had spent forty years as a Gunny Sergeant in the Marines. He was fiercely protective of his people but he didn’t put up with anything that would interfere with the job, well not for the most part. “Let’s get in, finish this up, and get the hell out. Got it?”
Kiara, Travis, and the other six members of the team all called out “Aye” in unison. Kiara started to mutter something under her breath but a sharp look from Spencer stopped it cold in her throat. Travis chuckled knowing that Spencer was probably the only person he knew who intimidated his wife.
“Here they come now. Everybody, grab your equipment. It’s cold this morning so secure your protective gear.”
Kiara pulled on her knit cap and insulated gloves. Travis and the rest also checked out their cold weather clothing. It was months or sometimes years between port calls and easy to forget about things like heat and cold when you were used to the ship’s controlled environment.
The flatbed wagon was led by a team of four actual horses, the novelty being particularly impressive to Travis, the only one present who hadn’t made planetfall yesterday.
The wagon pulled up beside the shuttle hatch and stopped. There were two men seated up front, both dressed in animal fur and skins. The one closest to them tersely called out, “Get on board. Got work for you today.”
Travis thought, “Okay, they’re rude but we’re not servicing them because of their manners.” She stole a look at Kiara. Her expression seemed impassive and then he noticed she was clenching her jaw. He wasn’t used to seeing her scared.
The team filed into the back of the wagon. Even through their weather gear, the wooden benches were hard and cold. Then without warning, the driver flicked the reins and yelled, “Get up.” Everyone in back had to grab onto something to keep from falling over.
“Take it easy, Dees.” Spencer was nearly snarling at the driver. “Won’t help if one of us gets hurt back here.”
“Sure, Chief.” Dees sounded like a little kid who’d gotten caught breaking the rules and only pretended to be sorry. “Didn’t mean to rough you space folk up so much.” Both Dees and the other man started laughing.
It wasn’t the first time colonists treated their maintenance teams as if they were inferior. Colony people chose the life because it was tough as if it proved they were better than “pampered” technicians and the “comforts” of life aboard company ships.
Twenty minutes later, the wagon stopped at one end of town. The entrance to the power and communications systems was a concrete bunker, at odds with the rustic surroundings, that led underground.
“Here we are. You can get out now.”
“Yeah. Thanks, Dees.” Spencer tried to keep the sound of disdain out of his voice.
Travis was beginning to understand Kiara’s trepidation. If Dees could get under Spencer’s skin, these people must be a pain in the ass to work for.
The technology used by colony worlds was the property of the company and leased to each colony. Spencer as the company rep produced a key card and opened the bunker doors.
Dees called down to Spencer. “How long you all be today.”
“Most of the day. The communications processors are shot and it’ll take four hours just to replace them. Another three for calibration.”
“You signal when you’re through.” Dees moved his longcoat aside to reveal a quaint looking walkie-talkie. “We’ll pick you up.”
Travis noticed the holster and gunbelt alongside the radio and what he presumed was a loaded handgun.
“Got it. We should be done before sunset.”
“Sounds real good, Chief.” Dees didn’t wait for a reply, prompting the horses to pull them away and then back into town.
When they were out of earshot, Travis remarked, “What a charmer.”
“You said it, Travis. I wish you’d been here with us yesterday. That son of a bitch…”
“Shut your piehole, Sanchez. We don’t have to like them. We just have to do our jobs. Their money is just as good as anyone else’s. Okay, here’s your assignments.”
Travis and Kiara were teamed with Sanchez. Travis needed the other tech’s help to pull and replace the processors and Kiara would handle testing the power and networking arrays. When they got to the right level and accessed the communications wing, they found unexpected company. Three colony men. In the heated maintenance corridors, they’d shed their outer clothing revealing woolen shirts, denim trousers, and high, steel-toed boots. They still wore their gunbelts.
“I thought we told you yesterday that we’d handle the repairs.” Tony Sanchez was the lead on this project and probably had to deal with these guys yesterday.
Kiara grabbed Travis’ arm and whispered, “Watch out for the tall guy on the left. His name is Lewis and he’s bad news.”
“Don’t get your panties in a wad, Sanchez. We just want to watch and make sure everything gets fixed up right. I mean, we’re paying you and all, so you work for us.”
“This is Capria Inc’s property, Lewis. You only lease it and screwing with it like you did five months ago should have voided your warranty.”
Travis put his hand on Sanchez’s shoulder hoping he’d take the hint and calm down.
“You ain’t gonna void shit, wetback.”
Kiara felt her husband squeeze her arm and when she looked at him, he mouthed, “What the hell is a wetback?”
She shook her head quickly. This was no time for a history lesson.
“Just please stay out of our hair and let us get this finished. We’ve got a lot of work to get through.”
By all means, Sanchez.” Lewis emphasized the last word and waved his arm dramatically as if ushering the team in. The other two colonists laughed and one playfully punched Lewis in the shoulder.
“Let’s get this over with.” Sanchez nodded to his two teammates and they each moved to the affected areas of the communications bay.
“Hey white boy, what’s your name?” Travis had just finished pulling the first burned out processor, which had been especially difficult since the locking clamps had been partly melted when it blew.
“Name’s Bridges. Travis Bridges. Who are you?” Travis grunted as he lifted the processor free and then set it on the work platform.
“Tommy Skagen. You and that Chief Spencer are just about the only two white folk we’ve seen this trip.”
“Does it matter?” Travis used a multimeter to check each of the connections inside the processor gate making sure they still were running the correct voltage.
“We think so.”
“As long as we do our jobs, who cares who and what we are? Like Lewis said, you’re paying us for a service. That’s all that matters.”
“Hey, I’m just trying to make conversation. I mean, you’ve got your life and we’ve got ours. Who knows? Maybe if you tried ours you might even like it.”
Travis finished the first of the three circuit panels and started testing the next one. “I doubt it.”
“Why do you say that, Bridges? You ain’t tried it yet. We’re not bad folks you know.”
“I don’t think my wife would enjoy it here.”
“Well, why not?
Travis looked up at him and his expression was one of genuine puzzlement. “Because that’s her over there running control tests on the power panel.
Skagen swiveled his head toward Kiara, then back at Travis, and then did another double-take. “What? You married one of those?”
He said it loud enough for everyone in the bay to hear including Kiara who looked up just for a moment and then made herself go back to work.
Travis stood up and tried to sound calm. “She’s my wife, Skagen. You don’t need to be concerned about it.” Hoping that would end it, Travis got back on his knees and continued to test the second circuit panel while grinding his teeth. He couldn’t wait for this day to be over with. They all deserved a bonus for putting up with these yokels.
“I didn’t mean no harm. It’s just…well I know you ship folk are different, but I didn’t reckon on how different. I mean…” Skagen leaned down and whispered, “I mean do you like her kind because she’s good in…”
“Don’t say another word, Skagen. Just drop it, okay?” Travis had turned to look at the other man without realizing he was holding the probe of his meter like a weapon.
Skagen stood up and scratched his head. “Well, okay I guess. I was just curious, that’s all.”
“I’d appreciate it if you’d just let it go, Skagen. I’ve still got to finish testing here and install the replacement unit and then do the same five more times.”
Travis hadn’t noticed Sanchez approaching them until he spoke, “Is there a problem here?”
“Just talking with this here fellow, Sanchez. Didn’t mean no harm.”
“I’m sure you realize we’re really busy. If you slow us down, we might have to work into tomorrow and the Colony Council won’t appreciate the overtime fees.”
At that, Skagen looked sheepish. “Didn’t rightly think about that.” Then he leaned over Travis. “Good talkin’ with you, fella. Sorry for the bother.” He stood back up, grinned, nodded at Sanchez, and then walked off, probably looking for his pal Lewis.
“It’s okay. Skagen is probably the nicest one of the lot. Kind of a blockhead but he’s not mean like Lewis.”
“Are you able to keep Lewis off of us, especially…” He nodded in Kiara’s direction.
“Yeah. I notified Spencer about the situation and since Dees is on the Council and doesn’t want us around any longer than necessary, he called him off.”
“Good. Just let me finish testing the last panel, then I’ll need your help installing the first processor.”
“You’ve got it, Travis.”
“Oh, and see how Kiara’s doing. After that idiot mouthed off about our being married…”
“Way ahead of you. Be back in five.”
“Thank fucking everything we’re done with this shithole.”
Travis was rubbing Kiara’s shoulders as Sanchez put away the last of his tools.
“Amen to that, Sister.”
Kiara reached back and slapped one of his hands as they both laughed. Two weeks ago, they’d watched some centuries old movie with the most ridiculous dialogue and Travis had been teasing her about it ever since.
“Alright you two. Pick up your equipment and let’s meet up with Spencer and the rest at the entrance.” They’d already carried the old processors and other damaged equipment to the entrance and loaded it all on a wagon that would take it back to the shuttle. It would be recycled once on board ship. All they had to do now was get themselves and their gear up top.
They were the last ones up. “Glad to see you three finally made it. Ready to leave?”
“Are we ever, Chief.”
“Yeah, me too, Sanchez. Okay. We’ve got about an hour of daylight left but it’s still cold outside so make sure your weather gear is all buttoned up.”
He used his key card to open the bunker doors but when they all stepped outside, in addition to the waiting wagon, it looked like the whole town had turned out for their departure, even tiny children.
“What’s this, Dees? The farewell committee?”
“Folks been curious about your people, Spencer. Figured there’d be no harm in them having a look.”
“Look, Mama. That lady’s black.”
The little girl couldn’t have been more than five. Her mother grabbed her arm which had been pointing at Kiara and quickly pushed it down to her side.
There was a general murmuring and Spencer’s team suddenly knew what the animals in Earth’s long outlawed zoos and circuses felt like.
“Well tell them to take a good long look, Dees. We’re leaving.” Spencer turned to his comrades. “Get in the wagon. Time to return to the ship.”
Silently, Sanchez, Kiara, Travis, Chen, Hamam, Motyka, Oduya, and Ng got in followed by Chief Spencer.
“Hang on, folks.” This time Dees didn’t get the horse team moving for a few seconds, probably so everyone could gawk at the aliens.
“Bye-bye.” A little boy maybe three years old smiled and waved his arms at them but then was quickly stifled by his mother.
“Alright then. Get up there.” Dees prompted the horses and the wagon lurched forward. Looking back, the maintenance team watched the colonists of Metzger slowly recede in the distance. Travis spotted Skagen grinning and giving them the “thumbs up” sign. Then Lewis hit him in the shoulder and it wasn’t playful.
Travis looked down at his boots and shook his head. “I’m sorry, honey. I didn’t realize…”
“Just be quiet, Travis.”
He looked up at Spencer. Of course Dees and the other man could hear them. Better wait until they were safely back onboard the shuttle. He looked at the iron-gray sky and then at the sun just about to touch the mountain tops on the western horizon. They wanted to live this way. They liked to live this way. The corporations depended on the colony worlds. They needed human civilization to spread out to the habitable planets and provide needed goods in exchange for maintenance services. Travis had been doing this for over ten years ship’s time and today’s job was the most soul draining.
He took Kiara’s hand and she smiled at him. Soon they’d be home and Metzger’s would only be an unpleasant memory. How did they ever get like this? The mission briefing said this was a third-generation colony. What had the originals been like and where had they come from to result in such a primitive group of people?
Travis knew the answer. It didn’t matter. They were being paid. It was just another job. Get in, do the job, and get out. That’s how you survive contacting all of the radical differences of the various colonies. He knew Metzger was xenophobic but he hadn’t realized what that meant. Then again, he was as intolerant of them as they were of him. He couldn’t wait to get back to quarters and take a shower. He felt dirty just being around people like Lewis and Dees.
“…6:00 in the morning yawning and laying down next to you…”
“Come here, Kiara.”
They had showered together and were now snuggling nude under the blankets. He started gently kissing her neck, a precursor of many passions yet to come.
“Travis, could you just hold me for a while? I think I need that more.”
“Sure, Kiara. Sure.”
He knew she wasn’t crying this time but he could feel her trembling. No matter what Spencer said, this time it wasn’t just another job. It left a mark and it would be a long time healing.
I wrote this for Lyrical Fiction Friday hosted at The Next Chapter. The idea is to take the posted song lyric or other lyrics from the same song as the inspiration for crafting a poem, short story, or other creative work. The lyric for February 22 is “…6:00 in the morning yawning and laying down next to you…”
This is the very last Lyrical Fiction Friday Marquessa is going to host since she has other writing priorities. I wanted to try writing something special and not just some sort of sappy romance. To that end, I started reading some of her blog posts and landed on “You Married One Those?” #race #racism #blackhistorymonth which is a commentary about racism and interracial couples.
As a white person (caucasian, what do I call myself anyway?), I’m hesitant to address Black History Month largely because I don’t have an African-American lived experience to draw on. Would any commentaries or observations on my part be considered valid or relevant? I might actually do more harm than good.
I’ve noticed the immense popularity of the recent movie The Black Panther, a character who first appeared in “The Fantastic Four” comic book in 1966 (yes, I used to have a copy when I was a kid). I’ve yet to see the movie but again, would reviewing it be the right thing to do?
In spite of all I just said, I have written what I consider to be some relevant stories (besides this one). The most recent one is The Man Over The Far Side Of The Moon which is the tale of a fictional first African-American astronaut in space as a member of an equally fictional Apollo 18 moon mission. It’s gotten pretty much zero attention from my readers.
Nearly a year-and-a-half ago, I wrote Dreaming of Arabia Terra which is thematically similar to the other story and loosely based on real-life African-American Air Force officer and astronaut Ed Dwight.
Over a year ago, I wrote Life in Homestead about a man creating his own isolationist world in the Colorado mountains. Though not specifically about race, I thought it was a related tale.
Especially for that last story and I hope the current one, I wanted not to paint anyone as “angel good” or “devil bad” but rather as human beings living in radically different worlds that temporarily collide. I probably didn’t succeed very well, but I felt I had to speak to the issues somehow.
I imagine I could be “flamed” for having the audacity to craft a fictional tale based on my personal views of race or other differences. It’s happened before.
I’ll just leave this here and hope someone will be interested in a discussion.
Oh, I named the colony after Tom Metzger who according to Wikipedia:
…is an American white supremacist, skinhead leader and former Klansman. He founded White Aryan Resistance (WAR). He was a Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. Metzger has voiced strong opposition to immigration to the United States.
I suppose if someone with his attitudes were to found a colony on another planet, it might look something like the one I created for today’s story.