Wastes of Space Excerpt
Rake was in the middle of a righteous dream when Commander Danny showed up to ruin it. Bad enough that Danny guilt-tripped his waking hours, the bastard had to screw over his favorite sex dream too. The jerk stood at the edge of his vision and folded his arms, disappointed. Rake ignored him and got back to business.
He fell to the floor with an alien girl. They tumbled across broken furniture in a dilapidated palace. He moved with her, but his eyes were on the prize, the Princess. He’d just made eye contact with her, showing her his stuff while ramming it home to the alien. A crowd of onlookers cheered him on. Rake grinned. He just needed a few more minutes and—
Danny grabbed him by his hair. “Wake up, cadet!”
Rake’s bloodshot eyes opened to Bangkok, the end of monsoon season. He took a deep breath and shook off the remnants of the dream. “Motherfucker…I haven’t been your cadet in years.”
Rake made a face and wiped his lips. His mouth tasted like warmed over vomit, and he smelled like fermented piss. He looked around bleary-eyed. He sat at the end of an alley between a rusted dumpster and wet garbage bags. He must have passed out there the night before.
He wrinkled his nose as he brushed his puke off his shirt. Sweat made his skin slick and his clothes damp. He twitched and created ripples in the warm puddle of refuse that he’d slept in. He kicked his heels to shake liquid off his boots.
His black hair hung lank in his face. He noticed bright green highlights. He couldn’t recall doing that to his hair, but he rarely remembered anything that he did after lunch. He itched like crazy.
A tongue brushed his hand. Rake looked down. The licker was a mangy dog, skinny and starving. The dog was as desperate for food as everyone else was in this city. In this case, Rake’s vomit was on the menu for breakfast. He waved it off. “Wait until I leave.”
The act of moving made his head pound. He rubbed his temples, but a headache was firmly entrenched behind his right eye. He looked up into the smog-filled sky. The sun had already risen, so his high had worn off and a hangover had set in along with the shakes. His vision was fucked up, but there wasn’t much to see besides a thick layer of pollution and the rest of humanity. Rake didn’t care for either.
The headache brought on a wave of nausea. He curled over to his right side and heaved until his stomach emptied. He rolled to his other side and hunted for breakfast in the garbage. The dog edged close again. Rake grimaced and held his head. “Fuck off, or I might put an effort in and eat you.” It was an empty threat, he didn’t like eating dog; he found their taste unpleasant.
Rake pawed through boxes and bottles, condoms and worn out clothes. He held up his reward towards the dog. “A fucking pizza slice! Ha!” He sat back against the bare concrete walls of a half-constructed apartment complex. He stuffed the slice in his mouth and enjoyed his pizza, pretending he didn’t taste the mold and beer.
Someone screamed in the building next door. A gun went off. There was a thud and silence. He stretched and savored the moment of calm. The sky wasn’t pissing on him and he could swear he didn’t feel as shitty as he normally did. Things weren’t so bad.
Rake scratched his scalp and pawed off gunk that looked like a mixture of blood and mud. He cracked his neck and jaw. He touched his face and winced, he definitely had a black eye. Clotted blood and knife holes ruined his only shirt, but considering that he wasn’t dead and no one had dumped him naked in a dumpster, things were looking up. He smiled.
He got to his feet and heard a moan. A fellow junkie laid face down a few feet away asleep or dying, hard to tell. Rake rifled through his neighbor’s clothes. He found some of the local currency and then something even better, a syringe, loaded and ready to go. Rake grinned and it didn’t even hurt his face. He gave the man a half-salute. “Have a fucking fantastic day my friend.”
Rake wandered off to find a good spot to shoot up. He passed through a local market where vendors sold noodles and silks, and whores peddled their wares. He ignored the offended glances from the patrons; he knew he reeked.
He tripped on the uneven pavement that made up Bangkok’s streets. A knife-wielding butcher chased him away from his livestock. Rake flipped him off and spat towards his chickens. The man made to attack, but thought better of leaving his goods unattended.
Rake smirked. One of these days, he knew he’d get himself killed by needle or knife, maybe today, maybe not. He smiled at the smog-filled sky. He really didn’t care.
Ravil was thrown into a crush of bodies as her male guardian shouted, “Run!”
Ravil scrambled to her feet. She ran through an airport food court. The people around her became a blur, the sights and smells unfamiliar, the roar from incoming airplanes deafening. She raced past racks of cheap knock-offs on sale, searching for a way out of the crowd.
She skidded to a stop in front of a gift shop as two Hunters looked up from perusing watches. The pair sniffed the air, purred, and smiled in unison, showing off sharp teeth. Ravil held in a scream and turned the other direction. Her feet slipped on the tile. Gloved hands brushed her shoulders. She closed her eyes and waited for pain.
Sirana smashed a flaming fist into the first Hunter. “Ravil, go!”
Ravil ran blindly. A blast of heat hit her back. A hiss and Sirana’s cry of agony followed. Ravil looked back, she couldn’t help it.
The Hunter that lived had Sirana by the throat. It looked at its dead burnt partner. The Hunter growled and snapped Sirana’s neck. It dropped her body, sniffed the air, and turned its eyes to Ravil.
Ravil’s pupils dilated. The space between the Hunter and her undulated, a living, moving force. She reached her hand out. The air around her body shimmered.
Ravil’s other guardian grabbed her and threw her over his shoulder. “None of that!”
“Calpsan! But Sirana!”
“Mourn later, Ravil!” Calpsan pushed through the crowd, but their progress wasn’t fast enough. He closed his eyes and the people around him were hit with a wave of panic. The crowd parted, confused and anxious. He sprinted through the gap, spotting the exit out to the street. Screams followed as the Hunter clawed through humans, pushing them out of the way in pursuit of its prey.
Ravil watched it near. She searched the crowd for help. She did not understand the language here well, but she had picked enough of it up to get by. She saw a stand of posters and got an idea. She threw her hand out. “Movie star!” She pointed her finger at the Hunter. “Big name movie star!”
People stopped and turned to the Hunter. They ran towards it without thinking, trying to figure out who it could be under the dark sunglasses, black suit, and cotton gloves.
Calpsan darted outside and set Ravil down on her feet. He scanned the taxis that swarmed the street like flies and dragged her to the closest one. He tossed her in the back seat and jumped in after. “Go!”
The taxi driver hit the gas and the car zoomed away from the curb. Calpsan pulled Ravil’s hat down, shadowing her pink eyes and white hair. He stared out the back of the taxi, but the Hunter was nowhere in sight.
He shuddered and waved his hand towards the driver. “You want to take us to a confusing place, a place crowded and hard to navigate. It will make you happy to do this. You also have no desire to listen to us talk or remember us when you are done.” The driver smiled, dull-eyed. Calpsan closed his eyes and went limp in the seat.
Ravil slipped her small hand in his. Already petite, she looked childlike in her overlarge clothes. “Calpsan?”
He looked over and rubbed her palm. “She died doing her duty, Ravil.”
“But.” She shuddered. “You two…”
Calpsan squeezed her hand. “I will find you someone else, Ravil, before I go, it is a promise.”
She jumped on him. “I don’t want to be alone here!”
He aged as she watched. “I know, but I cannot remain.” His hands shook. “I am sorry, without Sirana I cannot continue.”
Ravil hugged him and sobbed into his shirt. “They will find me Calpsan, they will take me back.”
He lifted her chin up so that he could gaze into her eyes. “No one is going to find you.”
She shook her head. “They will!”
Calpsan took off her hat and smoothed back her white hair. “They are not searching for a Navigator, Ravil. They are hunting for my kind. You should be pleased that you are a rarity and such an asset.”
She pointed to the Asians that biked through the streets outside their taxi. “I do not blend in here! We should not have left the Europe place.”
“The Ampyr have many more agents there, and this place breathes anonymity.” He pinched her pale cheek. “You will be able to hide.”
“But what if they find me still?”
“Then I will find a killer to defend you.” He nodded to himself. “A person to replace Sirana in strength and me in sense, someone to see you safe until you can be recovered by the Resistance.” As he formulated the desire, he searched outwards, letting the emotions and wants of the people in the city flood his senses. He scanned the population. “I will find you the best in this place.”
She wiped her eyes. “I don’t care about this person! I don’t want you to die! I didn’t want Sirana or Paulos to die! I want you to stay with me!”
Calpsan shushed her. “You do not have a choice. I do not have a choice. Death comes to everyone, Ravilaea.”
Ravil sat back in her seat and folded her arms, pouting. “Death is stupid.”
Calpsan smiled briefly, wrinkles formed around his eyes. “You will grow up and realize that death is inevitable, but it can have meaning.”
She kicked the back of the driver’s seat. “I am a grown up! I have seen more, experienced more than most.”
He shook his head. “You are innocent, remain that way. Perhaps I can find someone to show that to you.”
Ravil looked up. “Show me what?”
“A life free of worries, if only for a time.” He patted her hand. “Now take a chance to rest, I must concentrate on finding this person.” He closed his eyes.
Ravil watched his brown hair fade to gray. “I want someone who does not need others. A person who will not go if their loved one dies. I want someone who has lost and still lives.”
Calpsan winced. “A good requirement I think. I am sorry, Ravil”
“I didn’t mean it!” She hugged him.
“I know you didn’t. Regardless, it is a good idea, someone on their own, a person not held down with ties to others. You need someone that will flee with you if the need arises.”
“Who would flee with me?” Ravil choked back a sob. “These Wasters know nothing about anything!”
“These creatures are driven by a constant flight from boredom, when has your life been boring?”
“Never. I want boring!”
Calpsan nodded as his joints began to ache. He pulled out a syringe and stabbed his thigh. His aging halted. “Eventually, you’ll get your wish.”
Ravil looked at the syringe. “Do you have more?”
He shook his head. “Only one, but I will have enough time to see you right.” Calpsan patted her head. “Now nap, Ravil.”
He waved his hand in front of her face. “You desire a nap more than anything right now.”
Ravil’s eyes grew heavy; she blinked against the sleep. “Not fair.”
“Life is never fair, especially not for one like you. Remember that.”
Rake bucked on the ground of an empty warehouse. A syringe slipped through his fingers and hit the concrete. His pulse went erratic, pressure strained his heart. He stared at the ceiling and struggled to breathe. “Fu—fucking…”
A wave of adrenaline pumped through his blood. He drove his heels into the concrete and pushed his body across the ground. He slammed his head into the floor. Spit dribbled out between clenched teeth, his muscles spasmed. Rake shoved his hand into his mouth and bit down on his palm to keep from breaking his teeth against each other.
The wave passed and his muscles relaxed. He sucked in air. “Fucking stims!” He coughed and rolled to his stomach, feeling the worst had passed. Blood dripped out his nose, but his pulse slowed. Rake jumped to his feet, his hands shook, his legs twitched. He glared at his limbs. “Behave!”
He thumped his chest, angry at his heart, which pounded as if he had run a marathon. He rubbed his temples. No fix, no food, and he still stank. Rake made a face and stalked towards the warehouse door. Pain drove him to his knees.
He struggled to stand. “Get up you weak bitch! Get up, Rake!” He closed his eyes and charged for the doors, ignoring the shortness of breath that left him dizzy. He slammed into the boxes he’d originally moved to block the entrance.
Rake knew he should thank everyone else’s gods that he had not shot up with something worse, but he was pissed off at himself for not checking it in the first place. He’d just been so in need. “Idiot! Stupid, Rake.”
The sound of his voice drove him on. He shoved the last of the boxes out of the way and stomped into the humid afternoon air. The alley should have been sunny, but the buildings were tall and the smog thick, so it was dark already. He rubbed blood off his upper lip and stumbled away from the warehouse.
A woman beckoned him and he waved her off. A man held his hand out with something for sale. Rake shoved him away. A child ran up with its hands out for money. Rake held his sides. “Fuck off!” He said the equivalent in Mandarin.
His vision doubled, but his tremors slowed. His body ached and he scratched at his arms to relieve the pain. As he came down from the stims, withdrawals of another kind set in. He bit his cheek as cold sweats made him chill in the heat.
He got his bearings; he knew where he was at least. He slipped his hand inside his pocket and pulled out his switchblade, no reason to advertise he was a target. He forced a wide smile; he hoped he looked too poor or too crazy to be worth the effort.
Rake kept it up for several blocks. He joined into a market and kept his eyes in front of him and his knife in sight. He drove his fingernails into his palm to take his mind off his headache. His skin ached as if dull spikes hammered through it from the inside out. Every sound too loud, the smells too much. Rake’s world throbbed. He needed to get high fast.
Rake scanned the crowd, watched how people stayed away from him. He sniffed the air; he needed a bath. He wouldn’t be able to turn a trick in this state, not without getting cleaned up or at least smelling better. He wouldn’t even fuck himself right now.
His eyes caught on a flashing light, the neon red sign of the joint he was looking for. He hobbled towards it, hoping his legs would get him there before they decided to give out. He fell on the unmarked backdoor. He slammed his forehead against it. “Open!”
An elderly Asian woman answered. She looked at him and clucked her tongue. She grabbed his arm and pulled him inside. “Rake, you are getting my door and floor filthy.”
“Sor…sorry. I need…”
“I know what you need. You have money?”
Rake fumbled for the bills he had stolen earlier, he shoved the entire wad at her. “Drugs, bath, food. Whatever I don’t have the money for I’ll work off.” He flashed a smile. “You know I can earn it.”
“Of course, come.” She gestured and he followed. The hall was dark with one solitary bulb at the end. She knocked on the door. A burly man eyed them both. He recognized Rake and let them pass.
The lowest levels of the gambling house were for those that worked there. Some practiced cards, others made food. The woman took him to the bedrooms. Girls giggled as he passed, some said hello. Rake ignored them, his thoughts locked on one thing. He slumped down on the first bed she led him to.
The elderly woman held up a syringe. He grabbed for it, she pulled her hand back. “One only, Rake. If you work, you need to be sensible, no blackouts again.”
“I am the epit—epit—epitome.” He flinched against the pain. “Of sensible.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Then you can shower, you can eat leftovers, and then work the tables.” She handed him the syringe and helped him out of his coat. She raised an eyebrow at the state of his body. “You get in fight again?”
“Probably.” He managed to smile. “I lived.”
She tightened a belt around his upper arm. “You should quit, we would hire you fulltime at tables.”
“What fun would tha—that be?” Rake watched her tap on his vein. “I am fr—free.”
“Free to die in alley.”
“My choice.” Rake closed his eyes as she stuck his arm.
The woman shook her head as his body relaxed. “You remember where showers are?” He nodded, smiling. She got up from the bed. “We open in an hour. They may be occupied, not saving them for you.”
He nodded. “I’m not shy.”
“Eh.” She frowned and walked out, her voice trailing after, “See kitchen for food.” She left him to himself.
Rake saw stars behind his eyelids, space, and the calm silence. He didn’t care about anything else, nothing but this here and now. His hand lifted off the bed, reaching for what would have been controls in his cockpit, his muscle memory perfect from years of training. Where would he soar tonight?
“Jupiter,” he slurred and smiled. “Or further, into the empty.” He pointed and in his mind, he saw the space between his solar system and everything else. He drifted off to a semi-sleep of euphoria.
People moved and time passed. Rake stayed still, locked in place. Girls readied themselves, put makeup on, and gossiped. A few checked in on him, washed his brow. One left him a fortune cookie, and another draped a blanket over his body. Life continued as he stayed numb in stasis.
Rake rested, nestled in a cocoon of soft cotton, of pleasant sensations, an escape from everything that plagued him. But even that safe haven without memories had to end. His eyelids fluttered. His breaths grew deeper and his heartbeat strong. His eyes flicked open.
Rake rolled off the bed and to his feet in one smooth motion, relaxed and rejuvenated. He yawned and stretched. He snatched up the fortune cookie and grinned. He broke it open and popped both of the pieces in his mouth. He read the handwritten fortune and pocketed the paper. “Thank you, wise cookie.”
He sauntered out of the basement and followed his nose upstairs to the kitchens. The cooks waved him out. Rake wouldn’t leave. “If the health department ever came to this part of the city they’d shut you down anyways! Gimme a plate of something!” His stomach rumbled to punctuate his point.
The cooks handed him a tureen of leavings from lunch, and a fork. Rake grabbed a bottle of wine and left them alone. He wolfed the noodles down, a mixture of Thai and Chinese food. He popped the top off his bottle and washed down the grease.
He hummed and carried the tureen and bottle with him. He walked up a flight of concrete steps towards the top floor. He passed by curtains and hangings, beads hit him in the face but he ignored them, his body still blissfully numb.
Rake set the tureen down in a hall and headed for the showers. He put his ear to the door and pulled out his knife. He pushed the door open, no reaction. He jumped in and looked around. He dropped to the floor and stared under the toilet stalls. Empty, no one showering, mugging, or fucking.
The showers were nothing more than a set of three metal hoses that hung from wall hooks. There were no dividers or doors to maintain privacy. Rake stripped off his clothes and threw the pieces near a drain. He flicked on the first shower and set it to wash his things. The other he turned on hot and stepped under the spray. He leaned his forehead on the tile and let the water run across his skin. He drank straight from his bottle.
Ravil looped her arm around Calpsan’s. She tripped on the ends of her new pants. She grabbed at the fabric with one hand and followed. Despite his limp and age, Calpsan’s long legs moved him faster than her short ones. She ran to keep up. “You have that little time left, that we must run into this slum?”
Calpsan stopped and looked at her, his face lined with deep wrinkles. “Speak with a lower voice; you are passing as a boy, Ravil.”
Ravil blushed and spoke in a whisper instead, “Sorry, Calpsan.”
He gazed at the market. “It is not safe for you on your own.” He gestured towards the building they neared. “We find your guard there.”
She eyed the neon light and garish paint. “What is it?”
Calpsan smiled. “A place of ill repute.”
Her eyes went wide. “Why do we go there? I don’t want to go in it!”
“He is there.”
“He! But you said men here prey on children!”
He put a finger to her lips. “Your voice, Ravil.” He led her across the street. “Not this one, Ravil, not with one like you. He will guard you as long as you have use for him.”
“How do you know this?”
“I have locked in on his temperament. He has traits that we will be able to exploit, do not worry. I will see to him before we part ways.”
“But what if something happens to him, what then?”
“Then you run. You use your gift and flee. Damn them if anyone sees you, they will never be able to capture you.”
“We don’t even know that I can.” She frowned and looked to the smog-filled sky. “And where would I go anyways?”
“Your gift will come naturally when you need it to.” He tugged on her hand. “You’re afraid; do you wish me to calm you?”
“No.” Ravil shook her head. “I wish my wits about me for this encounter.” She gazed up at him. “No one will replace you, Calpsan.”
Calpsan spit out a shed tooth. “Your loyalties are fierce. Hold onto that fire, Ravil, you will need it.”
They eyed the stairs together. Ravil took a deep breath and fixed the hat that covered her ice white hair from view. She pulled her hoodie over it, shadowing her face. “All right, let’s get this over with.”
“That’s my boy.” Calpsan tapped his nose and winked. He hopped up the stairs with surprising agility. Ravil stumbled after him, banging her knees every other step. She practically swam in her new clothes; too big so as to mask her feminine features. The bulky shirt also hid two knives strapped to her slim hips.
Calpsan opened the door and smoke poured out of the building, a mixture of grease and cigarettes. Ravil leaned away from the smell. He gave her no chance to complain; he interlaced their fingers and pulled her along. He sensed the premises and found the feelings of the one he looked for.
A woman stepped in their way. “How can we help you?”
Calpsan gazed past her. “Towards the back, a cleaning area.”
She nodded. “The showers.” She held her hand out to collect payment.
Calpsan glanced at the chalkboard of prices. He paid for both himself and Ravil and she let them pass by unhindered. They walked past tables, men ate or engaged in cards; none looked up at the man and child. Ravil kept her head down, trusting him to lead her.
Calpsan knew exactly where he headed. He stopped at the bathroom door and listened. Ravil examined the writing on it, but she did not know the language. He pushed open the door and pulled her in.
Steam filled the room. It was warm, hotter than outside, but it smelled of soap and clean things. Ravil relaxed. Then she saw him, a man wearing nothing but soap bubbles and scars. Her eyes slid down his neck, to his chest, his sculpted stomach. She averted her eyes and turned red.
Rake assessed them in seconds. He put his hands on his hips, his lips curved into a smile. “Hi.”
Calpsan nodded to the man. “Good day.”
Rake nodded back. “Watch or fuck?”
Calpsan struggled to understand Rake’s accented English. “Watch?”
Rake shrugged. “You pay for you both.” He turned away and gave his hair a third rinse. He hummed and ignored them.
Calpsan threw coins at Rake’s clothes. He nudged Ravil to a wooden bench. “Come on then.”
She sat and stared at her feet, mortified.
Calpsan squeezed her fingers and spoke softly, though the sound of the water drowned them out. “Stop that.”
Ravil shook her head. “He’s…he’s…”
“Naked, yes I know.” Calpsan looked around. “We are in a shower room.”
“Why can we not wait outside?” She covered her eyes. “Why must we stay here?”
Calpsan frowned. “I do not have much time left. I need to observe him and so do you.” He pulled her hands away from her face. “Ravil, you are supposed to be a boy, not a shy girl. Pretend you’ve seen men naked before.”
Ravil swallowed hard. “Is he still facing away?”
Ravil looked back to Rake. She tried to keep her thoughts clinical. He had nice feet, muscular legs, good for running. He moved from foot to foot quickly, good reflexes. He was strong, well built, a fighter.
She watched soap slide down his calves and into the drain. Her eyes caught on a scar that ended at his ankle. Long and jagged; the scar curved around towards the front of his thigh and she lost track of it. She skipped over his midsection and stared at his back. Bruises covered his skin and shared space with scars and cuts. Some looked new, others old and healed. He had barely a patch of skin free from damage.
Calpsan followed her gaze. “He fights and lives through it. He is a survivor.”
Rake moved along with the music that came in from the door. He half turned and noticed them watching. He flashed a disarming smile, his teeth straight and even. “Any requests?”