Comet Man Marina J. Lostetter
I DON’T CARE WHAT GENETIC SUB-GROUP YOU’RE FROM, by comet is a lousy way to travel. And no, I don’t mean this touristy shite where they put glass huts on iceballs so rich-kids can ‘rough it’ and still get all the interplanetary TV they want. I mean real, true-to-physics, grab hold with your gene-modified hooks and hope the torque doesn’t rip your spider-silk-enhanced tendons apart travel. With oxygen bladders full and organic pressure-layer holding fast, I caught my ride to the Jovian mines.
It wasn’t about the ‘big bucks’ the mining recruiter had touted, or the chance to ‘see the system.’ For me, Jupiter was a way to start over–to pretend that distance was the reason Tiffer and I didn’t talk anymore. I wanted to be someplace where there were no family members–if they weren’t there, they couldn’t leave.
Once the rock and ice pummeling began, I hunkered down on the comet and prepared to hibernate for the next however-many months it was to the mines. Sleep came easier than I expected. Guess it’s not hard to pass out when there’s nothing to do for, you know, ever.
But no bliss is meant to last.
“Hey, dude, why the long face?”
At first, I thought it was a dream–my nosy unconsciousness interfering with my beauty sleep. Unfortunately, no.
“Yo-yo, what’s happening comet dude?”
“Excuse me?” I thought.
“Whoa, far out, you do have tele-modifiers. Awsomedicular, man.”
I opened my eyes and scanned the edge where ice-splatter met dark space. Nothing towards the front of my crap-taxi, but the tail… Ah, shite.
I’d picked up a solar-surfer.
“This is a private comet if you don’t mind,” I said.
“Free universe, man. I don’t see a deed.” He swooped back and forth on the comet’s tail, his single, plank-like foot maintaining a firm plow. Bio-sails, thinner than tissue paper, spread out behind him like a pair of soap-bubble wings.
They reminded me of my son’s water membranes.
I crossed my hooks and wiggled my rear-end against an icicle that’d been jabbing me. Maybe I can give the doofus a quick brush off. “Look, isn’t there some other comet you could tail? This one’s dinky, doesn’t even have a scientist’s name slapped on it.”
He shook his head, dreadlock-like fleshy growths bouncing in front of his pressure-sealed eyes. “Too many other guys and gals straining for a ride on the Big Tail. Need me some peace.”
“Need me some peace,” I insisted.
“Yeah, alright, I can take an F-you.” He twisted his hips, ready to sail off into space.
Maybe it was the way the rays caught his profile, or the brazen health of youth in his movements–but for an instant, there was something about him that reminded me of Tiffer, my son.
“Wait.” I stopped him with an imploring hook. “Maybe company’s not so bad.”
“Cool-dillio,” he said, easing back into the surf.
We settled into uncomfortable, rocks-in-my-back-and-ice-up-my-nose silence. I’d almost fallen back asleep, nearly forgotten about my old life for a few blessed minutes when he opened his big tele-modified mind again.
“So, where’s the fam, comet man?”
“My unit? My wife left me a few years ago, and my son…We’ve grown apart.”
The surfer picked up on my double meaning. “Rough. Genetic modification’s a bitch like that,” he agreed, giving me a sympathetic bob of the head. “I remember when I got my first space modifiers. My dad raised me on volcanic mods, so…yeah. Where’d your kid go?”
“Earth’s oceans,” I said reluctantly. This was why I wanted the mining job–the help wanted ad guaranteed no questions asked. “Wants to commune with nature–get back to unconscious evolution or whatever.” I was sure he blamed me for his mother’s absence, and that was the real reason he’d taken the dive.
“Yeah, know how that is. Came to surfin’ early, ditched my dad right out of school. Wish I hadn’t, though.”
The surfer kneeled down, maintaining his slice but bringing his full focus to me. “Dad was sick and didn’t tell me. Thought the best thing he could do for me was give me space. He had died before I got back from my first full orbit. Sometimes we young dudes don’t really know what we need ‘til it’s gone. That why you’re out here? Giving him his space?”
My chest knotted.
I was. I thought Tiff needed to grieve in his own way, that his changing his mods meant he didn’t want me around…
“Do you think he needs me?”
“Sons always need their fathers.”
“I don’t want to be on this comet,” I admitted. After a pause, I gave his bio-sails a long, hard stare. “Those fairy wings work for two?”
“I don’t suppose you’re headed back to Earth anytime soon?”
He held out a long, slender hand. “Hop on, comet man.”
Originally published in Penumbra E-Mag, 2013. Reprinted here by permission of the author.
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