TEN YEARS HENCE (2)
Strange, how a bang on your head tends to remove all semblance of hangover and grogginess from the night before. Probably because it removes all semblance of everything else as well.
My splintered senses soon resolved something of their former state. My first view was of a tattooed arm. Mine. And then of the soil and the puddle under my nose. I retched.
Slowly, and not half as painfully as I'd feared, I stood - to discover I was in a proverbial monsoon ditch...
What of Verdun Road?
My pockets verified my fears. Rolled! But why moved, and how long ago? At least I now had a good excuse for being adrift!
Then another thought struck me. I had a tattoo on my forearm where no tattoo had been before. Me, I didn't like tattoos; the art's fine, but not on me, thanks very much. But, serves me right, for getting too drunk to know or care.
As I ran I couldn't help but be annoyed at my so-called oppos who'd led if not pushed me into a tattooist's emporium.
The ship wasn't where I'd left it.
Panic didn't set in straight off. I knew the Aphelion couldn't be far; she was staying two weeks before jollying on to Centaurus and Deep Space exercises. Must have re-parked, a new pad... Or she's been called out on a Subsunk... The thought of the gigantic submarine oilers and merchantmen made me ill. But only a Type 92 Spaceship would be powerful enough to raise any sunken craft... Anyway, nothing serious. I wondered how much adrift I was - no watch, rolled, you see.
The Patrol bods - they'd have the answers. Best report to them.
Sure enough, there was a Patrolman, with the traditional white belt and gaiters (uniform regulations move slowly in the Senior Service) outside the Reg. Office. He was wearing a pocket radio-transceiver on his blanco'd belt; with the mentality of Regs - the dropouts from other branches - I reckoned that little box was probably his brain: remote control Regulator. Perhaps we should call them Robbies...
I sauntered up to him, pretty confident my story was watertight. A strange look splashed in his eyes: jaw-dropping open mouth, paling complexion. Then I too whiffed the remains of my earlier gastronomic upheaval.
Like the good Reg he was, he speedily collected himself. ‘Where's your ship, sailor?’
No cap, no ship-tally.
I fished for my Identity Card. To remind myself again, no ID. It was gradually sinking in, this negative-possessions bit. ‘Sorry, mate - rolled. No ID. I'm off the Aphelion, and I see she's not in at the moment...’
He grabbed his walkie-talkie and jabbered into it amidst static and gobbledegook. Our comms with other worlds was better reception than this!
At Patrol HQ they eschewed the flashy-looking computer terminals and delved into a filing cabinet, cast anchor at a dusty index card marked Aphelion. I glanced beneath the crook of the RPO's arm, at the label in front of the drawer. I was getting more than a little worried now.
The grimy old label spelled out DESERTERS...
… to be continued tomorrow…
Originally published in Nova SF, 1993. Copyright Nik Morton, 2014