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MIDNIGHT AT THE TRAWLER STRIP

 
There was something out in the darkness watching them.

And them not knowing it; two prison guards on perimeter duty in the middle of the night. East fence. Where the only view were mountains stretching up in front of them nice and black, between the roots of rock and themselves only flat dusty ground that kicked up a storm if you so much as wriggled your toes on it.

Six straight hours of this, before any relief break. It was punishment duty, Rekanda knew it. Not official punishment duty, but you sure as heck only got East fence if you’d managed to fall out of favour with the top brass. The perimeter fence on your back, nowhere to sit down. Mosquitoes everywhere, flying at your face, trying to climb into your ears. Man, thought mosquitoes needed water nearby or something.

Rekanda had been in the force long enough to know he was getting clowned on; he’d gotten lucky and managed to get transferred from Efika Police Central three turns ago to the cushy prison circuit, intending to wind down his lastset before retirement. Right now that felt a long way off.

The reason he stood here hopped from one foot to the other, scratching his arms and his neck beneath his tunic. Rekanda watched him, probationer Terry, scratching all over like he had some disease or something. He’d only been bitten once.

“Scratching like that’ll only make it worse,” he warned.

The kid ignored him, what a surprise, carried on scratching all the way down to his knees, trying to catch the mosquito out with a full bloodied assault.

Terry was two inches taller than Rekanda’s six foot, built big but getting out of shape fast, Rekanda noticed, his uniform growing tight around the trunk. Developing a nice pair of titties too. But all that weren’t the kid’s biggest problem. It was his attitude.

He understood kids thought they knew it all, he’d been one and got the t-shirt to prove it. But this one…geez. The arrogance of him was astonishing.

Terry stood up, all worn out, and gave Rekanda his look. Nice and straight, open stance, chin right up looking down his nose. The ‘yeah I heard ya, and chose to ignore ya –now I’m staring at ya right in the eye and what’re ya gonna do about it?’ look.

Rekanda stared back, flexed his hand on the handle of his semi-auto rifle, leaving his finger resting on the trigger afterwards. Just the pair of them out here –nobody else guarding Eastside. Nobody to see. Sure, there was the watchtower behind them, but the eyes would be checking the main gate, checking the vehicle entrance with the traffic hut with its armoured bullet/venom glass. Definitely not checking the two poor shmucks stood in a dust bowl to the east, staring at the mountains aimlessly while mosquitoes crept inside their uniforms and made themselves nice and fat. They were both armed out here, but the difference his rifle was drawn up across his chest –the kid’s hung down by his side, not even held properly.

So now what you staring at? Rekanda thought.

Terry smiled and shrugged, turned away.

This was it, all the time. The kid Terry trying to prove himself a man every opportunity he got. His mirror telling him, ‘yeah you’re big, you’re it, ain’t no man gonna be touching you,’ but something inside his soul niggling away, needing proof.

Probation lasts two turns, then comes assessment day and if all goes well hopefully you’re a fully-fledged Axis Prison Guard. Rekanda was pretty sure the kid believed he had it in the bag already, three months in. But he hadn’t handed a single report in on time to date, had a black mark against his name for raising his hand to a fellow probationer in the canteen. A row over a carton of chocolate milk. Didn’t listen to a word he, Terry’s trainer, said to him. Truth was the kid was getting chucked out come mid-way assessment.

But dragging his name down too, making him look bad.

Rekanda watched the kid’s back as he wandered around aimlessly, kicking a stone angrily to disturb the dust.

Or he might even go missing before that, if he ain’t careful, Rekanda thought.

He let his eyes drift upwards, not up the black mountains but left, into the distant cloudy sky above Trawler Strip. He watched holographic neons pulse against the cloud cover. Advertising Zan Miga’s logo and Syrup Tech’s new lemon-flavoured caffeine pop.

“When I get confirmed,” Terry said, “you can forget about me being out here. Can’t wait.”

Rekanda thinking that he sure could do with a Citri-Quench right about now. The night so hot. Or better still, a nice bottle of ice-cold beer. If he had the yoghurt to pay for it.

Waste of my talents being out here, staring at a black wall.” Terry hoisted his rifle and shrugged his shoulders irritably –still under attack behind his tunic and armoured vest.

Fill your boots, friend, Rekanda thought, cheering on the mosquito. He wandered if he could find someone could mount it for him for his wall.

“Look at it,” Terry went on, gesturing to the mountains, his adolescent anger growing in him like a flash boil. “What we doin’ out here, huh? Don’t see why I should have to put up with this. I told Leeswax yesterday at dinner you were a waste-guy. Tried to tell me you were good. I said, you can have him then.”

Rekanda’s attention, up with the clouds and the blonde model projection somewhere as she beamed her smile as radiant as the stars, suddenly snapped into focus.

Rekanda said, “Say what?”

“You heard me, like you can even doubt it. Why else I gotta be out here, except I gotta look after some old man. Wipe the spit from around his gob for him.”

“You really think us being out here is down to me?” Rekanda felt his eyes almost popping out of his head. Man, this kid was a lost cause. “Son, you’re delusional.”

“End of the day,” the kid went on, “there’s no other reason I can see makes any sense. The way I see it, one of us needs to disappear. This partnership’s done.”

Rekanda watched Terry give him the look, and turn his back on him again.

Alarm bells now ringing in Rekanda’s mind. Was the kid for real? Maybe. Threats being bandied about already after just three months together. He was right about one thing –one of them needed to disappear. No way the trumped-up little squirt was gonna make his wife a widow, rob his little girl of her father.

He checked his rifle, took the safety off silently. Could he get two shots off before the watchtower shone its beam over, called in the backup?

You bet he could. Why not? Wait for the kid to turn around and pop one right in that fat mouth. Fire the kid’s rifle over the fence –say the kid took a shot at him first, call it self-defence. Just flipped out, Captain; dunno what came over him. Acting crazy, like he did in the canteen that time. Heard most boys nowadays have got ADHD anyway. I blame the parents.

“I said to Leeswax when I first started here, I said there ain’t no place in this job for old men. Compulsory retirement should be brought forward. As soon as you’re physically unable to carry out your duty anyway. You’re a risk, man. Let’s face it, what can you do now if we’re attacked? Can you still even throw a punch? You don’t work weights at the gym I would’ve seen you. Na, bet you’re struggling to even carry that rifle there in this heat.”

The kid had wondering around again waving his arms like a performer walking a stage, he’d come full circle now and found himself facing Rekanda. Facing the rifle muzzle pointing straight between the eyes, and finally the kid shut his trap. That smug look froze for a second and then turned into wide eyed surprise.

“Once again, kid, wrong.”

Right then Terry’s shadow circled around him the way it would when you stand at the edge of a road in pitch darkness and a car passes by. Rekanda watched as Terry’s shadow swung around him counter-clockwise and into his own. A short sharp flash of white and then dizziness, deep pain just below his ears, and Rekanda lowered his rifle.

Terry watched Rekanda’s head roll back a moment, and then it came forward and Terry couldn’t make out what he was seeing. It looked in the gloom like the old coot had got himself a big bag of tomato sauce, filled it to the brim then took a big bite out of it. The stuff was all over him, from the nose down. So Terry decided to flick on his rifle light and aim the little beam into the old codger’s face.

The first thing he noticed was how white Rekanda’s top teeth were at the front. The second was Rekanda’s jaw was missing. There was a black hole above his neck, and a tongue going round and round trying to feel the roof of his mouth, maybe trying to keep in the air.

“That’s sick,” Terry said, suitably impressed. “Is that…makeup?”

Rekanda made a gargling sound and toppled backwards, as straight as a bolt. He hit the ground and dust went everywhere, Terry charging through it, his rifle beam lighting the swirls and eddies in the smoke like ink drifting through water.

“Hey, knock it off, old man!”

Hands on his back, his ballistic vest stripped away and hurtling forwards, past Rekanda, unable to stop, toes barely touching the ground. Towards the perimeter fence, the yellow and black sign clipped to the cris-crossed metal reading: DANGER ELECTRIFIED FENCE. His helmet ripped from his head, cool air hitting his brow. Stumbling, dropping his rifle, but still held up, his one hundred kilos still hurtling towards the fence like he weighed nothing. The same fence that had only the other day fried a stray puppy he’d thrown at it, turned the yelping little thing extra crispy in all of ten seconds. Made by Reezer Industries, you didn’t mess with it. Reezer didn’t mess around, they were deadly serious when it came to making this kinda stuff.

“Stop,” Terry shrieked, “you can’t do this!”

A cold voice right in his ear, “Once again, kid, wrong.”

Probationer Terry hit the fence at forty milos an hour. Sparks danced and spat into the night, Reezer’s trademark Y-SUN logo smirking away while it was lit up with orange and green flashes.

 

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