By Adam Aresty
Word of advice: do not get a parking ticket on Mars.
It happened to me, and RedSec tracked me halfway across the solar system. I was planet-side for Tharsis Fest and made the mistake of landing on the south slope of Olympus Mons. Forget the twenty-thousand others parked there with me, I was the only one who didn’t read the signs around the pit of Karzok crater. “No Parking During Time-Slip,” it read. Those 39.5 minutes when Earth and Mars were out of sync. I was too anxious to get to the party to care about time gaps. Ah, who am I kidding? The moment we touched down in the dust, I was several beers deep and probably couldn’t tell the sidereal watch on my wrist from the grav-boots on my feet, if you know what I mean…
I’d been seeing Lorraine for a few months by that point, and we’d splurged on the tickets. We were there to have fun, not to calculate heliocentric longitude… Well, the fest was as great as I’d expected, but just thinking about the whole ordeal, and what happened next, still bums me out.
The headache was an after-effect of weighing a fraction of what I was used to in the gravity well of Earth. But I remember every boot fall landing like a thousand boulders in my brain as Lorraine and I trekked back through a sandstorm to find the digital notice on my cockpit glass. We were fighting about something stupid, a telling sign of things to come. Looking back, I’m surprised that RedSec didn’t boot my mass drives. If they had, that’s where this story would end.
Instead, I tossed the notice into my glove compartment where it stayed as Lorraine and I continued on to Ganymede and then to Luna, where we unfortunately broke up. She said I was forgetful, and that all I thought about was where I was headed next. Some crap about it being about the journey, not the destination. So I pulled out my map of the solar system to remind her. We’d been marking it with green waypoints at all the spots we visited together. Lorraine had been excited about filling those waypoints in with me… now she said they were more important to me than she was. “You can’t set foot on every asteroid in the damn belt,” she said.
Things Lorraine also said: that I never stopped to notice the comets passing through our trajectory, that I played way too much Asteroid Command, and she even cited my lack of appreciation for the eclipse of Venus, even though I saw footage of it afterward on the news feeds. I told her that if she wanted to stay on Luna, that was fine. My window was about to close for the Great Slingshot around the sun… and I had already spent good money on the tickets. If she wanted, I could find someone to take her’s―
At this point, she walked out of our hostel, slamming the door behind her. We’d been sharing a room with six others. Glen, the ganja dealer from Callisto, snapped up her ticket.
The Slingshot was everything I’d hoped it to be. I’ll never forget our approach of the sun, experiencing time-dilation, and coming around to see Mercury jumping in and out of my vision. It put a lot of things into perspective. The only downside was the two weeks of nausea and diarrhea during the hardest G pull. Thankfully, Glen brought along three hydroponic tanks, and his weed helped a bunch. After we completed the gravity assist, Glen told me about a polar bear challenge on Uranus. Swim in the icy depths of the liquid nitrogen oceans? I said heck yeah, we were going to make it!
We stopped on Mars to refuel and set the nav computer to chart a way through the asteroid belt. Glen said he was going to doze while I went into the station for a post slingshot shower (much needed!) When I came back out, there was a RedSec cruiser parked behind my rocket, and they were taking Glen away in handcuffs. How had things escalated so quickly?
“Sure, the tabs of acid are mine, but it’s not my rocket, man,” he was pleading.
I admit, I liked Glen and he’d proved to be a fine companion in space, but he wasn’t the brightest afterburner in the fleet. As I hid behind a pillar and let them place him in the back of the cruiser, I found myself hoping that they hadn’t had time to confiscate his hydro yet…
I knew that the next thing they’d do would be to impound my ship, so I waited until I thought they were preoccupied to cross the landing pad and fire her up. I was wrong, they spotted my ignition sequence immediately… but hey, I had to give it a shot, right?
RedSec chased me off the surface, hailing my coms to inform me that fleeing now counted as resisting arrest and would result in my license being revoked as well as prison time. Suddenly, the image of the ticket from the time slip on Mars jumped into my head. My ship must have pinged the authorities the moment I returned planet-side. I cursed Lorraine for being right as I fished the parking ticket out of my glove compartment. The ticket blinked that it had accrued interest by 768% and needed to be paid in full.
“Come on guys, you see my bank account. I spent all my credits on the gravity assist, otherwise I’d slip a little your way, and we could all go home happy.”
They radioed back that the ganja plants in my hold would also count against me. “Surrender now!”
I thought I could reason with RedSec, but these two tight-faced officers who stopped me were either on the wrong end of a long deploy, or they’d had some gnarly burritos for lunch. They were not going to let me off the hook. In hindsight, I had just under one Earth-year to check that damn glove compartment. I told Lorraine that I always wanted to see the asteroid belt, so here was my chance, right?
My rocket leapt from one craggy asteroid surface to the next, the RedSec hardasses always right behind me. I wound up having to push deep into the field, my hull pelted with space rocks, the signal array torn right off the port side. The RedSec cruiser must’ve been dealt similar damage, because they lost their ladar lock on me. Nonetheless, they kept it tight and maintained visual. I didn’t think I’d make it out alive, but my computer alerted me to a collision between two massive shards ahead. Suffice it to say, I made it through just as that door was closing. The RedSec cruiser was crushed between the asteroids and obliterated in the shockwave. It was an impressive sight… but then it hit me that I’d just killed Glen, who was sitting in handcuffs in the back of the cruiser!
The haze of ganja cleared in the cockpit, and the realization of what I’d done set it. I parked on the largest rock I could find and let my thoughts settle. Poor Glen. The unpaid parking ticket was small fries compared to I did to him. Plus, resisting arrest, whatever else they’d try to pin on me… and oh yeah, killing two cops! This wasn’t going to end well for me, not if I stuck around. Continued good times skipping carefree around the system would be pretty difficult with my signal pinging every law enforcement agency I came within radio contact of. I’d barely be able to survive, much less make it to the polar bear swim…
I decided to turn myself in. It was time to face the consequences. I didn’t like the way it sounded, but the truth was I had no other choice. With my array down, I had to consult the nav computer’s map for the closest RedSec base. I burned a course in that direction.
Upon landing, I marched right into the main office with my parking ticket. There was a portly young officer sitting at a desk, slouched over a gaming console with bags under his eyes, looking dead tired. “What?” was how he addressed me, barely looking away from the portable screen. His badge said his name was Miles.
I casually glanced at his portal. Miles was playing Asteroid Command.
“Ah, level 23,” I said. I couldn’t help myself.
Miles paused, his avatar was disintegrated, and he looked up at me. “It’s impossible to beat. I’ve been having nightmares about it…” I knew those nightmares all too well.
“There’s a trick, of course.” I told Miles the trick, guided him through the level looking over his shoulder, and slapped him a high five when he beat it. “Don’t even get me started on level 24,” I said. After a pause, he asked me why I’d landed on the base. I paused for a moment, and then told him my story, that I was really here to report the deaths of two RedSec officers and a guy named Glen, whose last name escaped me due to the fact that he’d never told me it.
I handed Miles my parking ticket, which had all of the information he’d need on it. He eyed the price (with interest) at the top. With a smirk, he entered the ticket number into his terminal, and I waited for all the other charges to reflect in his eyes. He nodded in confirmation. “Yeah, looks like you’re pretty screwed,” said Miles. I began grinding my teeth. He looked deeper into his screen. “Let me ask you something,” he said. “What if I told you this was your lucky night?” I didn’t understand, and Miles enlightened me.
“Tonight happens to be my last night on duty. Yeah, they had a goodbye party for me, and everything. Man, working for RedSec is such a grind. And I only joined up because my father was lieutenant at this base. The other guys here, they think I’m some Daddy’s boy. They’ll never show me any respect. So, I quit. Just last week. I’ve always wanted to do a slingshot tour, and I finally have enough saved up for tickets to this year’s Tharsis Fest… There’s just more to this system than a desk job, and I’m ready to see it all…” In an instant I saw myself sitting where Miles was, thinking those same things not long ago.
“Wuh-what do you mean?”
“I mean, man, that this is your lucky night. Any other night, one of my fellow hardass compatriots would lock you right up, throw you in front of a judge tomorrow morning. What I’m saying is, that might not be necessary.”
I told Miles that people had died, that I couldn’t just walk free.
“We’re living in a vacuum,” he said. “People die all the time. Why should you have to suffer any more for it?”
Miles clearly had it out for RedSec. He highlighted my case file and hit the big fat DELETE button. He smirked up at me, wiping his hands. “I won’t give them the satisfaction,” he said.
I scowled at Miles. I wanted to scream at him. Instead, I called out to one of his supervising officers as he walked by the desk. This all seemed off, Miles being a portly pipsqueak version of myself and his flippant attitude suddenly working in my favor…
The other officer silently scorned Miles as he attempted to look up my ticket number, keyboard clacking. Several negative tones were sounded on the console, and the second officer winked at me. “Yeah, no record here, sir. Consider this your lucky night.” Then he trotted off, leaving Miles satisfied in his desk chair.
“I’m giving you the chance of a lifetime,” he said. And I knew the little shit was right.
I backed away from the desk as Miles went back to his console, booting up Asteroid Command, ready to wile away his last few hours as a RedSec officer on the mind-numbing trickery of level 24. I was baffled.
“Oh, hey,” I turned back to him before I reached the airlock. “You must’ve done a scan of my ship when I came in… those hydro tanks I got? They’re yours. Least I could do.”
After I met Miles on the landing pad and helped him wheel the ganja into the hold of his rocket, I walked back to where my ship was parked, thinking of what to do next. For the first time in as long as I could remember, I didn’t have a waypoint to enter. I didn’t seem to need one.
As I fired up the engines and lifted off into the vacuum, my proximity warning alerted me to a solid object passing nearby. I watched a tiny comet zip across my field of vision, wondering where it was headed.
Adam Aresty is an award-winning author and screenwriter. His novella Recovery was published in 2013 by Kraken Press. He is the writer of the 2015 horror comedy Stung, that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. Adam’s novella, The Communication Room was published in 2016 by Strange Fictions Press. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife Holly. More of his work can be found online at adamaresty.com.