Intercosmic - Chapter 20 - Rocket Karts

I don’t care much for pets but I saw a pitiful looking Bosaela and gave it some of my leftover food from the fight. Since then, it’s been following me around. I don’t really mind, Bosaela are dogs that generate a lot of body heat but no waste. They’re pretty common in places like Enceladus since most dogs have issues with the cold even in artificial climates. They aren’t exactly the best-looking dogs either, almost like a leathery retriever with four eyes. Still, the warmth is nice, but it looks sickly.

I never had any pets growing up, but I’m not sure I could keep this dog. I’m not even sure I still have my apartment back on Earth, I haven’t paid rent in months. I didn’t have anything super important in there anyway. I’ll miss my collection of vintage CDs most of all. Those are hard to find beyond The Solar System.

“Aye mut,” an older man in a tattered coat calls out. “Aye mut,” he calls again in my direction.

At first, I think he’s calling me, but the dog scurries off towards the man. I guess I won’t be getting a pet after all. For now, I just need to figure out where the rocket karts are. I thought Enceladus was just a tourist trap, but once you get off the designated path, this place is really seedy.

The glistening and incredible ice palaces all vanish, replaced by brick roads and lifeless steel buildings. This is the part they never want you to see, the place where all the smiling employees go home to. Far from the heated pools and casinos. I feel more at home here than I did in the casino. People flaunting wealth and gloating about status. I never had any of that, so I could just be jealous, but it also never seemed like something I would do, even if I had it.

There’s a commotion on the other side of the street, two men yelling at each other. The bigger man dressed in a heavy coat pushes the smaller. An adult, but still sporting a buzz cut dyed gold and much too scrawny for his height. A shuttle likely bringing workers back home from the casino blocks my view as it drives past. When I can see again the smaller man is on the ground being kicked. It’s none of my business, but I can’t stand to see that guy get his face kicked in.

“Hey, what’s the deal,” I call out as I approach.

“Toto sa vás netýka,” the bigger man calls out. I activate the translator on my wrist comp and plug in an ear bud. “Choď preč or the same will happen to you,” the translator kicks in.

“Yeah, you couldn’t do that to me,” I interrupt him. “What did he do?”

“He owes me money; he’s been working all day and didn’t bring a single dime but he doesn’t have any of my product,” the fat man continues to yell over the other.

“What product,” I ask knowing it’ll probably be some kind of drug. 

“Stop he’s going to hurt you,” the man calls from the ground.

“He couldn’t if he tried,” I respond.

“What,” the large man yells in shock.

“How much does he ow you,” I ask.

“You aren’t going to pay it so move,” he tries to push past me but I don’t move.

“You can either let me pay, or just forget about it.

“3,250 credits, I want it all,” the man yells.

“Fine, but then you never even look at this dude again. His debt is owed to me,” that’s about a fourth of what I won on the fight.

“I don’t have the money to pay you back,” the smaller guy says from the ground.

I just ignore him. “Give me your banking code and I’ll make the transfer.”

It takes about thirty seconds for the transfer to complete. The larger man lectures me about paying debts for strangers and how the other guy is no good. I’m not really interested in hearing it. It’s money I didn’t have before, and there’s more left. No big deal. I help the smaller guy up from the ground, and even with the heavy coat, I can tell he’s taken some beatings.

“I’m Efrem, nice to meet you.”

“I don’t have the money to pay you back,” he starts to pick dirt from his hair.

“Didn’t ask you for money. We can start with a name.”

“I’m Renan.”

“Alright Renan, you want to go rocket karting?”

“What?”

“The rocket karts, I was on the way there when I saw you being mauled. Do you want to go with me?”

“Sure, why not?”

Renan found the building housing the rocket karts with no problem. I didn’t believe him at first because it looks run down and nothing like the advertisements, but he knows the area. Inside isn’t much better. The course looks like it has seen better days and there’s only one working kart. Any hopes of racing I had are gone out of the window. Still, I’m going to drive a rocket kart. I take a seat in the kart, and hit the power switch. It vibrates as the engine slowly hums to life and lifts it from the ground.

“Aren’t you too old to be giggling about a rocket kart,” Renan shouts over the engine sounds.

“I’m only twenty-nine,” I shout back.

I don’t hear what he says afterwards, I’ve already pressed the pedal and taken off. The old machine shakes as it rounds the corners and every so often it loses a little power. I’m not steering as much as I thought as the magnets lining the course keep me from going too far off the path. Still, this is the kind of adrenaline I felt when in combat, real combat. Not some tweaking splicer or man overpowering someone stronger. The mix of excitement and glee finally calms as slow back into the resting position. It’d be so much more fun racing other people, but for now, this will do.

“You should take a ride,” I give Renan a small shove.

“I don’t get as much childish pleasure from things as you.”

“You should, because one day you’re being a stick in the mud, then you get blown up. After that you realize how terrible the world is and everyone else is having more fun than you. So, get in the kart.”

As he takes off, I realize I had snapped back to my marine days with him, he’s not a solider, and I shouldn’t speak to him like one. I’m still a marine, even if I’ve spent the last three months trying to be anything else. It’s been hammered into me since I was barely old enough to be called and adult, and I can’t push it out.

“Okay, you were right. It was fun,” Renan returns from his trip around the course.

Outside the air is just as cold as ever and it seems as if things have begun to shut down for the night. Time for me to head back to my hotel. I hope Renan is fine. At least one guy is off his back, but someone like him tends to attract predators. He tries to act tough, but he’s gullible and too trusting. No other reason for him to just go karting with me when he doesn’t know me at all.

“Thanks for going karting with me, I’m going to head back to my hotel. Could you point me in the right direction?”

“Hey, this is crazy, but can I stay with you tonight,” suddenly Renan has dropped the tough act.

“Why? Aren’t you from around here?”

“No, I was staying with the guy you paid off.”

“I thought he said you owed him for product,” I’m confused now.

“No, your translator must have been broken. He said I was his product.”

“What,” I’m confused by the situation now.

“I’ll explain on the way if I can stay with you tonight.”

“You’re not going to call him so you guys can rob me in the middle of the night, right?”

“I hated him; I’d never do that.”

Along the way to my hotel Renan told me a story I could hardly believe. He had run away from Mars and survived on Enceladus by working as an escort. 3,000 credits give or take a few hundred, and he was yours for the night. He thought it would provide a great living but he seemed to only attract old men as customers. Earlier tonight the man had purchased Renan’s time and was upset that he refused sex. He didn’t always refuse sex with customers, but it was his right to do so. The man gave him a bad vibe, and I suppose he justified in thinking that. For someone who insisted I didn’t get involved, he’s lucky I did interfere.

It seems like no matter where I go or how amazing a place is, there’s always a dark side just lurking underneath. Renan is only twenty-five and he’s selling his time and sometimes body just to survive on this planet. When I was twenty-five, I had already been on over a dozen combat missions. Doesn’t matter where you go, in any star system, our societies tend to eat our youth alive and tell us we’re all failures if we aren’t incredibly successful by thirty.

“Here it is, my lovely hotel room,” I usher him in as the door slides up.

“Didn’t spring for the luxury room I see,” he’s only half joking.

“Old habits die hard. I didn’t get many luxuries as a marine, don’t really need them now.”

“I didn’t know you were a marine; I bet you’ve some stories. I mean, considering the robot arm and all,” he taps my prosthetic.

“I’ll tell you about it over room service.”

“You order, I’m going to take a shower.”

Pizza, it never goes out of style, one of humanities greatest exports. I search the TV for something to watch as I wait for it to arrive. Human TV isn’t all that exciting. It isn’t really great for much but local news, almost everything else can be streamed anywhere in the galaxy. I wish I had access to more of my music, but that isn’t an option either. I settle on a show about the rising number of humans that can use psionics and their place in society. Most notable is that the armed forces are looking for ways to integrate. I don’t envy the kids that are going to take that ride. I almost find myself falling asleep before room service knocks at the door.

The first bite is always painful as the cheese burns my mouth. I know I should let it cool, but I can’t help myself. I use my tongue to tear the skin from the roof of my mouth as Renan finally leaves the bathroom wearing nothing but a towel. His ochre skin is covered with bruises around his ribs and smooth abdomen.

“What are you looking at,” he asks.

“Your hair isn’t gold anymore,” I respond with some delay.

“Just temporary. Do you have some clothes I can borrow? I don’t have anything.”

“Yeah, but your ribs are bruised.”

“I figured that might be the case, they’re kind of tender to touch. Won’t stop me from wearing clothes, although yours might be a little big.”

“Let me see your ribs,” I approach him.

“They’re not that bad.”

“Does this hurt,” I rub my hands across his sides, soft and warm.

“Yeah, a little.”

“I don’t think anything is broken. I’ll get some ice to put on them.”

“You already saved me twice tonight, I can handle some bruises. It’s not the first time.”

“Hopefully, it’ll be the last. I’ll get the ice.”

“You just want to play doctor,” He takes a seat on the bed.

“Yeah, I like to play doctor,” I grab the ice bucket and head for the door.

What am I doing? Was this my plan the whole night? Playing hero to sleep with a guy, and I barely know anything about him. I don’t know why he ran away; I don’t even have a last name for him. It isn’t like he knows my name or why I ran away either. Am I just using the fact that I paid that guy off to take advantage of him? No, I didn’t even mention that. He might feel guilty. No, I’m a good-looking guy, incredible shape, there’s no reason for him to take pity on me. When was the last time I had sex? When was the last time I had sex with a guy?

I step into the vending room and fill the bucket with ice before grabbing another bag to make an ice pack. This is a sleezy hotel, I knew it when I booked the room, a condom vending machine isn’t unexpected, but it’s a sign that I didn’t need right now. I’ve never felt guilty about sex before but I’m hesitating. The hesitation doesn’t stop me from grabbing a few condoms and some lube, nor does it stop me from returning to my room. I only pause when I see Renan stretched across the bed.

“I’m going to take a shower,” I pass him the ice and keep moving.

“I thought we were going to play doctor,” he jokes.

“Maybe later, doctors have to sterilize before procedures.”

“I’ll be waiting. I think I could use a massage too. Since you had me on the dangerous rocket kart, I’m all banged up. You’re going to have to fix that.”

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