The sky was never dark here. Even when the sun went down, the three moons reflected enough light back to their planet to keep the sky well lit at all times. At her dad’s last post, she could at least sneak out under cover of darkness. Here on this back-water pit of a planet she had very little chance of successfully escaping the house for even an hour without someone seeing her.
Deleah Ront was named after her grandmother, an often arrested unionizer of mines and interstellar transportation outfits. She was named for a rule breaker, a rebel rouser, a person that would not sit still when told to be silent. How could her father expect her to obey the local curfew laws? It would be an insult to her namesake’s memory.
She would not be held to a simple curfew rule this night. A new friend at a new school, the only sort of friend she knew how to make, had just finished modifying an outmoded Walker. “It is now the fastest quad-ped, tri seat cabin, half story Walker in this entire Arm. We’re taking it out to the Ranch after curfew to see if we can stampede the herd. You need to come with us!” The friend said before devolving into a series of shrieks and shouts.
“Sure, yeah, I’ll just hop out when my folks hit the ol’ slumber sacks,” Deleah said, instantly regretting the use of the phrase ‘slumber sack’.
Agreeing was the easy part. Disabling the home’s perimeter monitors, stopping her implanted tracking chip, scrambling the Gauntlet Gen6 wrist mounted personal electronic assistant and creeping silently by the family’s pet Dogg (‘Double the G; Double the fun!’ the company’s slogan said; she was pretty creeped out by the Dogg’s spinning tail mechanics) were the difficult portions.
She could disable the computers with ease. She figured out the parental control passwords when she was six years old and realized early to never let her mother or father know that she knew. The result was many a late night of unfettered Galaxy Net browsing. She saw so much that could not be unseen. It took half an hour for her to bring down all the systems that kept her in place, kept her tracked; kept her safe.
She sneaked by the Dogg, which she named ZeroG, with an offering of a protein compound that was meant to help the creature’s bio-mechanics move smoothly. All it really did was render whatever containment jar held it unusable by anything with a nose.
She walked out of the house and with the reflected light of the moons shining down, darted to the rendezvous point arranged by her new friends.
The Ranch was an oasis among the swamp and creeping vines of the rest of the planet. Here, there were tall trees, long grass and sand pits the bison herd could roll around in. She took in the fence, the evergreen trees and the pleasantness of a place so vibrantly green. The air itself felt different at the Ranch; instead of feeling like she was breathing through a sopping wet sponge it was as though she was breathing through a simply damp sponge. A most welcome change.
The thundering sound of mechanical feet hitting hard ground filled her ears. She turned to see a gorgeous copper painted, four footed three chair cabin Walker. She couldn’t help but whistle in awe of the machine.
The cabin’s canopy hissed open and two of her new friends peaked their heads out.
“Deleah! There’s a ladder on the driver side, climb on up. We’re going to freak out some buffalo!” the friend at the pilot controls, Elia, said.
Bison thought Deleah. She climbed into the cabin and took the unoccupied chair behind the others. The control board glowed a soft blue, highlighting dials and switches that hopefully made sense to her friends.
“Ready for this?” the pilot said through a devilish smile. The Walker was sent into a run. The four legs hit the ground in a hypnotic rhythm. Deleah watched trees shake from their trunks to their tops as the whipped by the cabin’s view.
“There’s the herd!” the passenger side friend said. Deleah had already forgotten her name.
Elia maneuvered the Walker over the fence and chased down the herd. Deleah knew, as the girls began laughing like maniacs together, this was one of those moments that would make an embarrassing story later in life. She didn’t care though. She was smiling with new friends from a new school; this was a rarity.
The herd came into view and the Walker approached fast.
“Why don’t they run?” Deleah asked.
“They don’t know what fear is,” Elia said.
“But they will soon fear the name of Tilly,” the passenger friend said. Tilly! Deleah was quite relieved.
“Do you see that thing?” Deleah squinted her eyes at something unidentifiable in the middle of the herd.
As she spoke the unknown beast leaped into the sky with force and speed she had never seen before. The girls screamed as the animal landed on the canopy. It was hairless, winged and looked more human than bison. Its face pressed against the canopy’s glass and shrieked at the girls. It had fangs dripping with drool and blood from whatever it had been eating.
“Get us out of here!” Tilly screamed.
“Pop the canopy open, fling it off!” Deleah said.
Elia turned the Walker around and pushed it as fast as it could move. It truly was the fastest Walker in the Arm. As the speeds picked up and winds against the canopy grew stronger, the flying beast let loose its grip and gave one last shriek to let the Walker know not to return to its hunting grounds.
The girls drove for miles before stopping.
“Wow. That was crazy,” Elia said, catching her breath.
“The lab is getting into some weird stuff these days,” Tilly said. She started laughing as the stress of the moment left her.
“Wait, what? What lab?” Deleah questioned.
“The lab that every single adult on the planet works for? You know what your parents do for work right?” Elia scoffed.
“My dad’s an accountant for goodness sake,” Deleah said.
“Oh my goodness, you are still using the cover information,” Tilly said, shocked.
“That is so cute,” Elia said. She did not mean to sound sarcastic.
“What are you talking about?” Deleah asked.
“This planet, Srio’s backwater base, is home to a lab where our parents conjure up crazy weapons. And now apparently bio-weapons.” Elia explained.
“That thing would cause me to run away,” Tilly added.
Deleah could not believe what she was hearing. “They can’t be doing that. That would make them… Are our parents bad guys?”
“Our parents are filthy rich and we have a planet as a playground. I don’t really care which direction their moral compass points,” Tilly said. Deleah was discovering she did not like Tilly.
“There’s nothing we can do about it, Deleah. One day we may get off this planet and we won’t have to think about it. For now, we get to customize Walkers and play in perpetual light.” Elia said after giving Tilly a cruel glance.
“There’s always something we can do. We have to stop this. We have to try,” Deleah said.
Deleah sat in the cabin, bathed moonlight, and for the first time felt like she was living up to her grandmother’s name.