Where the Stone Falls

by Luke Rounda

I. Ellison's Noise ("The Madifesto")

After vaping the closest thing to a best friend I can remember with a stolen secret weapon, I must have blacked out from the shock.

No, not the emotional shock. The uncontrollable fusion reaction from his dying ship that sewed the surrounding asteroids together into the ultimate modern art piece.

Lots of weird stuff happens when you make a fusion drive cough a bit too hard: first, Jason Kain disintegrates like a marshmallow would at the core of a sun; then, Jason Kain's ship crumples and fuses into a radioactive husk; then, I black out, while my ship goes for a ribcage-compressing tour of the asteroids, pinball style, courtesy of MaDCaP's fine AutoShield™ technology.

Tilt. I come to a bit later with a headache. When my spinning lifeboat isn't facing the dying starship Poseidon, space is a pinstripe suit of vacuum and starlight. My headache is mostly induced by the sensation of tumbling backwards at high velocity, and aggravated as soon as I open my eyes by the occasional strobe of exploding rainbows in the distance, as bright even through my eyelids as that damned Three Star Smash.

I still don't know whether or not the Alien supercruiser bothered to go to guns on the old king of the sea, or if she just skewered Poseidon through the midsection at a quarter C with her nose. Either way, the military's attempt at securing chaos and putting in a space lane is going up like a million Hiroshimas right in front of me. The darkness makes it gorgeous and surreal to watch. My own personal supernova.

Admiral Harlow's, actually. I can't start going around taking credit from the boss, now can I? Hope he enjoyed it. As far as these things go, it isn't a bad way to go out: to be remembered by the select few military comptrollers in the Mining and Drilling Combine and Protectorate possessing "Deep Black" clearance… for as long as their memories last, anyway.

The prevailing space marine dogma has always been based around "don't ask, don't tell." What people don't know won't hurt them… that's our job.

Don't ask, don't tell. Deny. It flat out will not/is not/did not happen. Denial is an ugly thing. More so if there's something personal to deny. Like Nomad Ellison's freedom to move freely about the colonies just trying to eke out a pension.

Of course, that would never be how the 'casts would play it:

"Admiral kills ship full of colonies' finest, self in godforsaken asteroid belt you've never heard of."

Quite a tragic ring to it. The kind journalists love. But where corporate money and politics meet, tragedy is simply not an option. Especially for the radical bits of the colonial militia that want to X the Aliens prejudicially and immediately. (Of course, this is despite overriding public opinion and scientific evidence to support that doing so would result in lots of bodybags spread across dozens of colonized star systems in the path of the beasts' seeming migration pattern.)

No one supports a good old genocide anymore, so the inbreds and psychos turned to xenocide instead to fill the void. The problem with this is that declaring total war on an entire species requires absolutely murderous dedication. Way too many tax dollars wasted on obliterating something that, to the majority of the population, is little more than a passing, but ugly curiosity that sometimes needs to be swept lethally under a rug by local pest control, be it a militia taskforce or some angry farmer with an armed gunboat.

It's those poor, misguided dirt merchants I have to feel sorriest for. It's hard growing anything edible out here, but at least the precipitation level is always high with militant brainwashing muddying everything up.

The militia "divide and conquer" propaganda always makes sure to include something about "defending your home" against the beasts, who are always committing some horrible crime against humanity. A Super Saucer takes out a transit tug, and now no one in Orion's Belt gets fresh cheese in for another month.

… Kill them! Herd them like cattle away from the supply lines!

The thing is, there's a clear difference between quelling a plague of locusts and smashing a hornet's nest.

But some boys just never grow out of that phase as children when smashing a hornet's nest sounds like a top notch idea, and when the bugs sting them, they always blame the kid who said, "Hey, you might get stung."

So, of course, the headline will read: "Dangerous stoner fugitive provokes Alien swarm, murders 5,000 patriots."

Or some reasonable facsimile.

Newscasts are like lip gloss, puckered lips against bureaucrats and politicans' pasty asses, feeding the known galaxy the correct corporate-sanctioned misinformation. It's all a damned rumor mill, Colonial Broadcast News. Like a giggling schoolgirl bitch that just won't shut up.

Sigma Delta conveniently vanished without a trace from MaDCaP's hit list, to mirror their press release: "It is no longer of any interest to the company."

Yeah? All those little foxholes filled with experimental weaponry carved out of the bigger rocks beg to differ.

But there's no yellow tape around Sigma Delta, no one screaming bloody murder except the pissed-off delivery boys who were promised a smoother joyride through Never Never Land. As far as the masses are concerned, the only crime committed here was the crime of inconvenience.

Hyperspace lives up to its name, but it ain't magic. Not the way we can use it, anyway. Slamming into a space rock at non-physical speeds will kill you before you throw that lever down... perhaps literally, if you want to get all quantum philosophical about it.

Hyperspace couriers would have been overjoyed to have a hole right through the center of that whole mess of rocks, what some of us stoners like to call the "Greek Tragedy" – from Alpha Omicron to Sigma Delta to Psi Omega, it's all leftovers from a little old Alien get-together, a mind-bogglingly huge expanse of chewed-up minerals that block transit for gold-diggers, businessmen, various forms of colonial royalty, and delusional Saganite tourists everywhere.

We could have saved hours not having to plot a path all the way around. Profits would have skyrocketed for everybody... especially me and my asteroid casino founded on company cashout and hazard pay.

I miss that last paycheck just as much as I thought I would a year ago.

Right back then, tangoing with my left-side wing pylon—and doing just fine without it, really—I was looking for a good escape route.

I picked my way back out the way I came in. Quick stops at refueling and repair depots nestled in the bellies of the bigger stones helped tape my ribboned boat back into working order. While I was there, the database set up by my ex-employers allowed me to find a good place to run to.

I knew how fucked I already was. Being a stoner, it helps to put being on the run in perspective. I have to think that every single rock I didn't completely vape just spun off in ten different directions to become ten different catastrophic navigational hazards, light-years away from whatever belt I was tying off. Where the stone falls, no one can predict, but one thing's for sure: it doesn't take much more than a pebble to stop most boats these days.

People are the same. We take a hit or two and spin off in different directions. End up light years apart. But people are different, too: some of them, it takes a whole hell of a lot more than a hit or two to stop them completely.

I looked up Quick. Apparently, as far as the military knew, he was still alive and working the hydrogen mines with the Proxies.

So I spent a couple sweat- and paranoia-soaked weeks kiting back Upspin from outpost to orbital to camper, not shaving, wishing every time I walked down a crowded promenade that I had the cred to afford a clinical fingerpainting from the freelance surgeons in masks selling their craft to the desperate and foolhardy.

The shockwave from Poseidon didn't catch up with me until the last leg of the trip. Then one day, my boat was juiced up, and I was tanked up on stims, celebrating the apparent obliviousness of everyone, and suddenly it was assassins everywhere. Crawled out of the floor like heatseeking roaches.

"Oh, hey, everyone. I'm Nomad Ellison, and I'm worth more than you."

I made it to space. An overdose of luck and confusion kept everyone busy figuring out the "incident" which left the street shops on the main drag cut up with blaster fire. As for the barn doors, they weren't quite up to code to begin with, and they really suck now. Ask my boat's gun.

These guys probably figured that they could jump me together, overwhelm with numbers, and split the creds later. Standard operating procedure when you can't decide if you want to tackle alone someone supposedly responsible for the destruction of a starcruiser.

For all their planning, though, they picked a place to gang me that happened to be right in the middle of a debris field. Whatever else they say about us stoners, the fact remains: no one has the nerve to fly faster or more recklessly through a bunch of rocks.

To say nothing of the reflexes.

And that was it. The last stop I had to make before settling in to my new home, a peaceful retirement launchpad for thieves and murderers, religious psychos and cultists. Proxima: for those of us too intelligent to revisit Earth.

There are also initiatives (hatched mostly from Earth-based interests, predictably) to "clear out" the Proxies and open the system up to holographied museum tours and such. Luckily, it will never happen. Earthers are lazy, shut-in slobs that never bother to unplug except to eat and shit, so what they'd want with museums interrupting their virtual reality masturbation time is beyond me.

Plus, this place is basically hell compared to even the worst orbital motel.

Society figures that if we want to dive nose first in here, it's easier and much cheaper than prison, anyway. Bounty hunters—the chickenshit ones—don't like it much, but that's life. Even if they venture this far back towards Sol going after their mark, there are dozens of holes to check, looking for one rat in particular.

But there's still fear of the real psychotics hunting the criminals into exhaustion. The only hunters that would go to that much trouble are driven entirely by greed, and greed is the most powerful in the entire spectrum of human emotion.

Yes, I live in fear. I'm not afraid to admit that. Frankly, I was surprised Quick survived as long as he did out here in the mines, and even though I haven't seen any hint of assassins lurking around watching me, the question mark noose hangs there in the air.

Oh well. If I die here, I'm already infamous, at least. A household name of ill-repute. Such a thing is more highly regarded out here than being a nameless asteroid smashing idiot that literally smashed into an asteroid, even if the two probably feel about the same.

Doesn't mean I have a deathwish. I never wanted to go slumming again, but that's where the stone falls. Fame, it's a motherfucker.