Illegal Aliens: The Science Fiction Collection Copyright © 2017 Toby Bain
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Welcome to Illegal Aliens: The Science Fiction Collection. Thanks in advance for taking the time out of your day to read this offering.
This is a collection of six science fiction short stories and probably the last for a while. Writing science fiction short stories takes a lot out of me. In the not too distant future the focus will be on novels. Why only six stories you may ask? Well, funny story. Well, not so funny actually. I had 14 stories slated for this collection but after a process of elimination and getting rather impatient, I decided to put the ones I thought were worthy of the collection. The other eight stories are on the back burner for a time to be determined.
Please note, as an indie writer I have a very small team of proofreaders and editors. They are great, but there may well be the odd mistake. However, there does come a time when you just have to publish. The great thing about eBooks is that nothing is set in stone. Mistakes can be corrected, stories edited. Therefore, if you come across anything, let me know and I will make appropriate corrections. These may not happen overnight so please be patient. Did I mention we’re a small team?
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Game of Life
Nominate. Play. Die.
The motto of the Seventh Sector of the United Sectors of America. The states formerly known as Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida. Kentucky, Arkansas and South Carolina, had become a single collective. However, the Seventh Sector is known by a rather more sinister nickname: the Vengeance Sector.
Ronald Tusk tore his invitation into little pieces, flushed it down the toilet. However, ‘invitation’ wasn’t really the right word. Directive was more like it. Ronald Tusk had been directed to play the Game of Life.
Tusk checked his face and clothing in the mirror. For the first time in years he had washed and dressed himself, foregoing the robotic devices that had saved plenty of time over the years but would do him little good now. He snarled at himself in the mirror, tried to invoke his inner warrior, his inner David ‘Jumbo’ Flores.
‘You’re a scary as a puppy dog,’ he told his reflection. ‘Then again,’ he added, ‘each of us have our skills. Some people were cut out for combat, others to make bucket loads of money.’
A knock on the door broke his concentration.
Jevons had arrived, delivering his daily dose of plum brandy. The old man gave his usual greeting and took the empty bottles, scurrying out the suite as if the misfortune bestowed upon Ronald Tusk might be infectious.
A week ago most folks would have killed to trade places with Ronald Tusk. Before becoming better known as a contestant in the Game of Life, Tusk was a businessman. Technically, he is still a businessman. Not for long. He is scheduled to be sliced limb from limb like a kebab in 12 hours. Until then, he tells himself he’s still one of the most influential men in the Seventh Sector. Tells himself he still owns every Seventh Sector franchise of Tusk Mechanics – dealerships selling used draught exhausts for aircars – those glorious flying machines with retractable tires suitable also for the open road. He is therefore very rich. Rich enough to live in the highest building in the sector, looking down on the hordes scratching a living whichever way they can. Too valuable to be nominated for the Game of Life. Too valuable to die in less than 12 hours.
The letter, made of regenerative materials, reappeared in his hands. Just as it had the hundred or so times he’d destroyed it in the past week. It mocked him, told him there was no getting away from his destiny. In 12 hours his fate rested with the other Seventh Sector nominees playing the Game of Life.
Nominate. Play. Die.
The simple concept behind the Game of Life is why it had become so popular in the Seventh Sector and throughout the country. The population of the United Sectors has soared to a billion and a half, with seemingly no end in sight. The only booming industries are mechanics, drug and alcohol production, law enforcement and the medical profession.
If you are unemployed in the Seventh Sector you draw welfare and go back to whatever zone you crawled out from. Nothing was fun anymore. The world was going to shit and, as usual, America was at the forefront of this unenviable trend.
The Game of Life is often dubbed the Game of Equality. For all his accomplishments, Ronald Tusk, a man with fingers in as many pies as he can manage, will be just another victim, fated to die because of malicious acquaintances. A week is supposed to be a long time in business. For Ronald Tusk it had flown by like a snap of his fingers. He leaves the unopened six-pack of plum brandy outside the door with a note for the concierge. Now he is on his way to hospital for one last rendezvous. The last request of a dying man.
Ronald Tusk’s life-changing event happened seven days ago. It came as a discreet knock on the door that most of the 125 million residents of the Seventh sector would not have the misfortune to get.
The door to his penthouse suite opened up to the frowning face of an old man with a letter. It was Jevons, the concierge and general lackey. This should have been the first clue. Most physical mail was rendered obsolete through the electronic telegraph system. Therefore, the sight of the silver tray, upon which the letter stood, should have raised suspicions. However, Ronald Tusk thought himself untouchable, just like 125 million others. The Game of Life was like the Akrilla virus: it happened to others.
The concierge quickly slipped the letter into Tusk’s hand and waited and waited. It was a power game he loved to play. After the prolonged moment of deliberate contemplation – adopted whenever he was about to give credits away for nothing – Tusk held out the palm of his hand. In that palm was a data chip, protected by a smooth layer of indestructible synthetic skin.
‘Ten dollars for Jevons,’ said Tusk. The lackey laid his small palm over Tusk’s. Ten dollars of credit exchanged, said a synthetic female voice, activated by Tusk’s auditory system and linked to his credit chip. The old man wheeled away, too proud to say thanks. Not that anyone did these days.
‘Where’s my plum brandy?’ asked Tusk. The old man was half way down the corridor. With some difficulty, Jevons turned his body and held up three fingers to signify the number of minutes until his return. ‘You’ve been delivering here for years, Jevons. You should know better.’
As far as he knew, Jevons and the apartment block came as a package. Every day during his ten years of residency Jevons had delivered six bottles of plum brandy to his door. In that time he’d seen the price rise from $1,000 a bottle to $5,000. The average wage was $2,000 a month.
Three minutes later Ronald Tusk’s daily delivery of plum brandy was in his hands. Jevons, as was their ritual, dutifully waited at the penthouse door for the empty bottles. Tusk handed them over. It was an unwritten understanding. Over the years, Tusk had given the old man around 10,000 empty bottles of plum brandy. That was over $200,000 dollars in redemption credits at the recycling plant. In all that time, Jevons hadn’t so much as said thanks or raised a smile.
A robot would have been more efficient. Many times Tusk had lobbied the management to make the change, only for other residents to outvote him. As usual, Tusk planted the crate of plum brandy beside the couch. Only this time he sat down, toying with the letter Jevons had delivered.
He heard a noise, the soft clinking of glass on glass. He dropped the letter on the table and marched to the door. Outside his suite, Jevons was siphoning off the dregs of the plum brandy bottles into a plastic beaker.
Tusk had never thought to offer the man even a drop of the stuff. A TV show once estimated that each drop of plum brandy was worth a quarter of a dollar in credits. How many credits had Jevons siphoned off over the years? Would he drink it or sell it?
Tusk rolled his eyes in disgust and closed the door. He went into the shower, where an automated program cleaned and dried every inch of his body. The same program dressed him and made light work of washing-up, cleaning and general tidying throughout the apartment.
It was as he was about to leave that an alarm gave a shrill sound. On the table, the letter was pulsating like an emergency vehicle. Tusk grabbed it, stepped out of the apartment into the airlift. Automatic recognition scanners greeted him warmly, and then a hydraulic burst of air shot him skywards, spitting him out onto the roof into the path of the latest dual-seater aircar, its doors open dutifully. He jumped inside, set a course verbally for an ailing franchise in Tampa Bay (the states may have gone but the cities remained) and laid back in his cushioned seat, musing at how wonderful it was to be Ronald Tusk. Then, in an afterthought, he felt the letter in his grip and opened it.
His jaw dropped when the automatic audio program inside kicked in.
Congratulations Ronald. This is Hipster Joggins, host of the Game of Life. You are duly invited to participate in the pinnacle of Seventh Sector entertainment – the Game of Life. Your slot is scheduled for 23^rd^ July at 19:00 Eastern Time. This may come as a shock so I will give you a few seconds to compose yourself.
Hipster Joggins gave a split second before joyfully adding:
As you probably have plenty of questions about this once in lifetime opportunity, we direct you to our website – where you will find all the details you need to know, such as mortality rates, average length of in-game time before death, and all the hints and tips you need. We urge you to read carefully the section on prolonging the game, as audience satisfaction isn’t to be taken lightly.
Please note, according to Seventh Sector law, attendance at the Game4Life Studios on the allotted time and date is mandatory. Immunity can only be granted under exceptional circumstances. Of which you don’t qualify.
Once again Ronald, well done. See you at the game.
For the first time of many, he tore into the letter and tossed it into the vehicle’s waste disposal unit, where 1600lbs of pressure ground it into pulp.
‘I gather congratulations are in order, sir,’ said Alf –the voice of the vehicle. ‘It’s a rare privilege to be chosen for the Game of Life. A rare privilege indeed. How will you celebrate?’
‘I think slashing my throat is quite appropriate,’ Tusk replied, his head a whirlwind of thoughts. Then he added, ‘On second thoughts let’s pay a visit to a certain TV studio.’
‘That’s downtown Miami sir and quite a distance from Tampa Bay. May I suggest we go to downtown Miami after you have visited the franchise in Tampa Bay? It’ll save time given we’re almost there.’
‘I have a week to live Alf. I don’t need to save time, I need to buy time.’
‘Very good, sir.’
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Nominate. Play. Die. That’s the motto of the Game of Life, the most popular entertainment show in the United Sectors of America. The game used to be fun for Ronald Tusk, until something untoward happened: he got an ‘invite’ to play. Under the spectre of certain death, and with just a week to use his influence to extricate himself from the game, a desperate Tusk risks everything to free himself and find out who betrayed him. With time running out, he realises the game exposes not only a broken society but the harsh truths of modern life. Can Tusk save himself from the hypocrisy of knowing that the number one show in the nation is a bloodbath that everyone wants to watch but no-one wants to participate in?