Racing the Clock


A science fiction story in Red Scythe by Gary Bloom

Characters: Scott West, Ruddell Sled, Tudor Lom, Hyde Fellows

"Scott West?"

"Yep, Scott West."

"Listen," Hyde said with an exasperated sigh. He pointed to the lone figure working quickly on the mess hall's one screen. "When I ask who that is, you don't tell me Scott West."

"Okay," Tudor shrugged, "but that guy right there, the one with the goggles, he's Scott West."

"The guy's some kid from Mars. Self-proclaimed super tech, or something," Ruddell said, stepping over to the monitor. "He sprung himself on Hardbarger down in a bar in the Musicians Quartet. Said he wanted to prove he belonged with The Red Scythe. Told the boss he'd do anything, just name it, and he'd go above and beyond to prove himself."

"Odd," Hyde answered after a moment of thought, "but I guess that makes sense. If this kid is dumb enough to tangle with the boss, that's his thing. What's the deal with the monitors? And why's it look like he's standing in the wind?"

Tudor Lom stepped closer to the screen and shook his head. Turning around, he looked at Ruddell Sled and smirked. The pilot clearly knew something else.

"Hardbarger took the kid to the hangar and shot up the control pad and stepped out. Locked the door from the outside, then cracked open the external bay door. Game's simple: open the door and get into the hallway, you're a Red Scythe. Take took long to open it, you're a corpse. Goggles keep his eyes glued inside his head while the wind's sucking out, I guess." He chuckled. "Can't say the boss doesn't have a sense of humor."

"Uh, yeah, here's the thing," Hyde said, still looking at the screen, and raising a finger. "There seems to be some sort of glitch in the feed. It's right," he pointed sharply, "there!"

"Whoah, hang on," Ruddell said, slipping forward, "Fellows might actually be right. What the hell was that?"

"Just did it again," Hyde said, his face tightening up.

"Looks like the kid might have a sense of humor of his own," Tudor answered, a smile slowly spreading across his face. "That's pretty funny."

"Yeah, maybe. Maybe not. Come on."

Hyde Fellows stalked out of the mess, a curious Ruddell Sled, and an amused Tudor Lom in tow. He hustled over to the hangar entry and pulled up short. Thinking for the briefest moment, the pilot punched free the release and let the door open wide.

"No! Wait a minute," Sled tried to stop him, but it was too late.

The gesture was also unnecessary. Not a hair stirred on Hyde's head as he walked slowly into the hangar. The other two men followed suspiciously, their boots ringing on the deck. The small bay, part titanium, part natural asteroid formation, was filled with the Red Scythe's ships, but nothing else. They were the only three humans - alive or otherwise. Thinking quickly, Sled pulled out his smart phone and dialed another pilot he'd seen in the mess.

"Hey, what's showing on the screen? Really? Amazing. Thanks." He put it away and turned to the other two men. "Screen still has the kid frantically trying to bust out of this place. It's on a loop. Which means there's no telling how long he's been gone. And no telling where he is now."

"You know," Hyde nodded thoughtfully, "if I were this guy, I bet I know where he is. Come on."

The trio ducked out of the hangar one by one and headed back down the hall. Walking quickly through the halls, they turned down the hall that led to Hardbarger's suite. Separate from the rest of the crew, it held his living quarters and his office. The three men slowed to a halt as they approached the office door. It was slightly open, a sliver of light creeping out into the hall. They exchanged glances for a moment before Ruddell shoved past and into the room. He'd expected an expletive laced outburst upon entry, but didn't realize it would spill from his own lips.

"What in the hell is going on in here?"

In the most bizarre scene imaginable, Hardbarger was fast asleep, draped sideways over an armchair. Drool had drawn a line down his left cheek and dripped onto the floor. Sitting in the large leather chair, feet up on the desk and crossed at the ankles, was Scott West. The dark goggles were now perched atop his head, dark brown hair wildly mussed.

"Yeah, so, I kind of tranked him when I came in. Got him out of the big chair and into that one. Figured it'd be good to see me sitting here when he woke up."

"You tranked him," Ruddell said in utter disbelief.

"Yeah. Uncle's a buffalo farmer on Mars. We grow em kinda big. Snagged a few from home. Never know when they can come in handy."

"And," Hyde scoffed, "you're stupid enough to think it'd be a good idea for him to see you sitting in the chair when he woke up?"

"Not stupid, old man," West argued, pulling his feet off the desk. "It's called confidence. You should try it some time."

"Old man?" He turned to Ruddell, irate. "Did he just call me old man? Old man!"

"Yeah," Tudor chuckled darkly, sliding past the two other men. "Come on kid, let's get you out of this chair. The boss, he'll probably shove you out an airlock if you're sitting here alone. Doesn't take too kind to public embarrassment. Come on," he draped an arm over the young man's shoulder and steered him towards the door, "you earned yourself one of my steaks."

"You guys snag that from my uncle?"

"Yeah," Tudor's voice drifted around the corner as the unlikely pair headed down the hall, "probably."

"Cool!"

"How in the hell does that little punk call me old? He can't even fly! Talk to me about confidence. I'm a pilot. I'm the best pilot here! For crying out loud, I'm not old!"

"Hyde, man, you really have to let that go. He's just-"

Behind them they heard a snort and a mumble. Wise enough to realize their position, and possible punishment, both men snapped their lips shut and turned for the hall. On his way out, Ruddell Sled thought just quickly enough to grab the door handle and slam it shut behind them. From outside they heard the unmistakable sounds of an incredibly angry Hardbarger.

"Wh-what the," snort. "H-how did," cough, snort. "Where the hell's that kid?!?"