SUMMARY: In a dangerous place, a man whose name nobody knows waits for something he can't identify ... yet.
RATING: R for language and themes (gen fic).
WARNINGS: This is a very alternate universe. Adult themes and adult language.
DISCLAIMER: Don't own 'em. Never will.
NOTES: The second of two "stick around for the credits" scenes for Part Five. A bridge, if you will, into our story's next arc. Links to all chapters of the Distress Call universe can be found here.
The man who calls himself Frankie Magellan tips his chair back -- farther, farther, so carefully, until the top slat rests against the wall and his toes just barely touch the floor. If he thinks about it, he could say the balancing act is a metaphor for his job, his life, but he doesn't want to think about it and takes another drag off his cigarette instead. The smoke is smooth in the back of his throat -- a heady blend of prime tobac and hempweed, it's a rare touch of sweetness in this hell-lost quadrant. He rests his right hand on his thigh and taps out a tuneless syncopation as he looks around at his shop. He never did move that dusty mirror the last tenant left standing in the corner. The flyspecked glass makes him look as if he's got the cinder-pox, but he ignores that and allows his gaze to linger.
Frankie Magellan needs a haircut, and he doesn't plan to get one. Around this place, respectable men wear it shorter, and these dark, loose curls make the station-cops think he must be dealing in whores or bluepowder. That's on top of their suspicion that his brown eyes and olive-skinned face could mean he's in league with the devil. Some of them really believe that, and others know better but spread the fear like fertilizer, a load of shit that feeds the thorny hedges of the State.
At other planets, other orbit stations where things are less fucked, his appearance is an asset. Broad shoulders filling out a sober homespun tunic, a Free Trader's badge shining a dull silver on his chest, he looks every bit the man he claims to be. These voluminous sateen breeches are all the fashion now, tucked into unadorned, worn leather boots. People see what they want to, a hero, a lover, a crook, although Frankie hasn't changed. The same face as always, and aside from the trousers, pretty much the same clothes he wore a year ago when he was Henry Hudson, and the two years before that, when he was known as Tommy Coronado. He likes the old explorers' names -- they help to keep him focused, even as his real name recedes further into the past. He takes another pull on his cigarette just as a sudden burst of noise from the vidscreen on the counter attracts his attention. When he sees what's happening, Frankie sighs out a long cloud of blue smoke.
He'd been watching the weather, listening to Freem Reynolds' soothing voice drone on and on, first with the planetary conditions, down below, and then the "orbit station outlook." Why they even bother to broadcast that, Frankie will never know, because it's always the same here under the Main Dock Station Dome. It would only change if the air transfers failed or the Dome cracked, and if that happened, good old Freem would be just as dead as everyone else. But Freem Reynolds' intonations about sunshine and barometric pressure have been summarily interrupted -- the scenery on view has switched from the bright vistas of Prager Park to the teeming mob crowding Clocktower Square. Frankie had forgotten about the date. First Wednesday of the month, which means there's an execution.
He watches dispassionately as the condemned man is brought forth; the roar of the crowd blasts through the tiny speakers and he mutes the sound. Nothing to hear anyway, just a reading of the charges and the playing of the Ministry of Security anthem. A banner starts a slow crawl across the bottom of the screen -- capital crime, murdered his wife, sure and swift justice of the state. The raised wooden deck gives everyone a clear view as the uniformed guards push the victim to his knees.
Frankie looks away; with all the speeches and propaganda, it'll be a good thirty minutes before the killing is done, and the hard-wired little vidscreen can't be turned off until the spectacle ends. He can see the crowd baying for bloodshed, their mouths open in silent black Os -- and all he wants is to get far from the stench of this rancid shithole planet. More specifically, away from its State; the planet itself is a jewel of groves and thick grasses, blooming gardens and open water. None of it is enough to entice Frankie to go back down there, to walk again in the shaded forests, the leaf-filtered light between the trees. Down there, in overgrown clearings and fields long gone to seed, he saw for himself the sunken outlines of cottages, some burnt to the ground, some ripped down timber by brick. Side roads and cart paths lead nowhere, place names are erased from the maps. Human and vampire alike, this regime killed, still does kill, and innocence or guilt has never mattered.
If he told these things to any fellow Traders, they'd laugh at him and ask why the hell he's still here, then. Why, if he's miserable and business is lousy and the cops keep wanting to look at his teeth? When he could've been halfway across the galaxy by now? And he couldn't tell them the truth, that he's caught like a fish in a gill-net, held fast by something he can't see or even properly name. Suffocating but unable to move, because ... well, he won't know the because, the thing he's waiting for, until it happens.
It'll happen, though, and soon.
He squints at the vidscreen again; the chair legs thump decisively as he sits upright and reaches for the scarf he keeps handy for just these occasions. Those condemned by the State may not be allowed a hood or blindfold, but Frankie Magellan is still very much alive, and the feather-light mourning cowl from Santangel Host serves his purposes well enough. With a well-practiced flick of the wrist, he sends the bit of aged black silk floating through the air, settling over the vidscreen like the wings of a moth.
Having put the circus out of sight, he turns his attention to the boxes beneath the display case, taking out a small item that reminds him he's free. He could be anywhere at all, he has an escape route, and he's staying here by choice for just a few more days.
When he finally stands up, his knees pop and the blue sateen breeches billow out in rippling waves. He slips his ticket out into one of the cargo pockets, where its weight -- the weight of a sleeping chikkidee or a tiny harrowhawk -- nestles against his leg. He won't use it, but it's there if he needs it.
The man who calls himself Frankie Magellan looks around one more time. From underneath the edges of the black silk mourning cowl, rays of brightness dance across the counter as the execution proceeds. He picks up his own hat, which is also black -- a crumpled half-dome of stiff fabric, called a f'dora, like the pants, back in style. He'll get away for a few hours, go to the Last Light Pub on the outer ring of the station. It's the closest thing to beauty in this place -- the rotation carries everything on that side through the waning sun of the station's day, and the golden light comes in through its scratched and dusty old Novaglas panels.
He can talk there, while he sips some of the local moonglow, picking up rumors like the detective he is. Hints and allegations, silent confessions, information to buy and sell, and maybe, if he's lucky, something to set him on the hunting trail again. Just as soon as it happens -- whatever it is he's waiting for -- and he can get off this station for good.