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Authors: RS McCoy

The Killing Jar

BOOK: The Killing Jar
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THE KILLING JAR

 

RS MCCOY

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

 

Copyright © 2016 by RS McCoy

www.rsmccoyauthor.com

Cover
Art by Kit Foster Design

© 2015 *
http://www.kitfosterdesign.com/

Edited by Traci Roe

 

All rights reserved. Except as permitted by the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database, retrieval system, or torrent web service, without the prior written permission of the author.

For my boys

 

 

JACKSON

LRF-PS-100

AUGUST 6, 2232

 

Jackson lowered his tablet to his lap and scratched the idle itch at the back of his neck. It never quite seemed to fade. His eyes remained on the screen, the satellite image of Perkins-196, their most recent find.

Could this be it? At long last, could this be the one?

The holographic projection of the report hovered over his desk. While the spinning scarlet giant rotated on the left, base-level stats scrolled across the right.
SIZE: 1.15X EARTH. GRAVITY: MANAGEABLE. RADIATION: 79%. SURFACE TEMP: 22.7 °C. SURFACE STRUCTURE: MOSTLY AQUATIC. ORBIT: 290 DAYS. DISTANCE: 60 LIGHTYEARS.

On and on he read, growing ever more hopeful, careful to restrain himself. They had been close so many times.

“Dr. Parr?” Aida interrupted his thoughts from the circular doorway. She bit her lip as she waited for his feedback on her report. As always, her onyx hair was pulled back into a sleek bun, a fashionable white coat draped over her indigo jumpsuit. She was the perfect Scholar.

Jackson sighed. “I tell you, Dr. Perkins, I think you really have something here. We gave up looking at that system fifty years ago. But if one-nine-six has maintained this orbit, it’s certainly a viable option.”

Aida was young, twenty-eight, but more than that, she was enthusiastic, hungry. This report was nothing if not evidence of that.

Fifteen years her senior, Jackson felt ancient by comparison. His dark hair already showed specs of grey. He was drained, through and through.

Aida was good enough to pretend she didn’t notice. “I did have some concerns over the asteroid concentration in the area. My calculations predict sizeable impact three to five times each millennium. That could make the planet quite unstable. You’ll see I noted it here,” she said as she approached and used her fingertip to swipe to the bottom-most section of her report.

“Yes, I see. You do excellent work for us, my dear.” As the Lead Planetary Systems Specialist, Dr. Jackson Parr was required to review each viable exoplanet his trio of researchers found, but he had never had reason to doubt any of them, especially Aida. Jackson always thought she would be the one to find their Goldilocks planet, the one in a billion that could be their future home away from Earth.

He sighed at the thought that perhaps he’d just witnessed her report on that very world.

Jackson skimmed the rest of her report as she stood beside him, but he couldn’t find anything that would remotely deter more intense investigation. “It seems you’ve found us another promising exoplanet. Give Robotics the go ahead to take the initial probe data. Oxygen content. Luminosity. Mineral composition. The works.”

“Thank you, Dr. Parr.” Aida’s tone was measured and even, though he knew her well enough to know when she held back her excitement.

“We’ll all be thanking you one day, Aida.”

A flush of pink filled her copper cheeks. “Thank you, sir.” She darted away before he could say another word, leaving him alone in his office. He sank into his chair with the weight of decades.

When had he become so tired?

Like all Scholars, Jackson thrived his research, he thrived on his contribution to science, and here at the Lunar Research Facility, he and his team contributed in real and measurable ways. They would play a major role in saving the human race.

Since when was that not enough?

He rubbed the itch on his neck as he scrolled through the other reports from the week, though nothing struck his interest. Niemeyer-99 was too close to a red dwarf with impending implosion within 50,000 years. Hill-124 was an ice planet with a Nitrogen atmosphere. They could terraform it easily enough, but it would take a century—a century they simply didn’t have.

Perkins-196. It was the best option they’d had in a long time, years even. More than anything, Jackson was relieved to think he might get a break. Another six months of research on the planet, and then it would be out of his hands. He would have played his part in preserving his species. Robotics would send a probe to collect surface data. Planetary Colonies would set up a preliminary colony and monitor the test subjects. Nuclear research would analyze radioactive parameters.

Already the weight of so much work, so much data, pressed on his chest until he had to work to breathe.

Maybe he could take a few months off. He was hardly in line to retire anytime soon, but maybe he could work something out.

He needed some time to get away from the stress of it. Maybe it was the LRF. The simulated gravity, the artificial rotation of the moon’s core, the synthetic lights. Humans weren’t meant to live in space. Maybe he just needed to get his feet back on Earth where humans belonged.

But no, the Earth was a cesspool of pollution and rot, radioactivity and starvation. So effectively had the human race destroyed the surface, it would only support life for another nine or ten decades. He would likely never go back.

When did this begin, this suffocating need to return to his dying homeworld? Nostalgia flared up but he hadn’t expected it. Scholars hardly doted on romantic ideals such as home, but still, his heart was heavy to think he would never go back. A part of him felt like he needed to see it one more time.

Maybe he would, when this was all over.

He would go, he decided. He could afford it. When his work was done, he would have time. It would be his reward, a retirement present to himself. He would think of some justification.

Jackson pulled up Aida’s report and reviewed the preliminary data for the planet that might save them all.
STAR: CIGNUS. PLANETS IN SYSTEM: NINE. ORBIT PARAMETERS: ELLIPTICAL.
Near the end of the report, above the comments section, the rarely-used constellation section caught his eye. Constellations were rudimentary, even in the centuries that valued them. The information was included in their reports more as a tradition than because they served an actual purpose. But for some reason, Jackson noticed this one:
MONOCEROS.

The itch at the back of his neck tingled like needles.

It pressed almost painfully until he couldn’t help but scratch, to rub his fingers across his skin. But they offered no relief. The stinging grew until he dropped his tablet and clawed at his flesh, desperate to quiet the pain. He cried out in agony, eyes wide with panic. Clawing and tearing with no relief. Dr. Jackson Parr died with a scream on his lips.

 

 

 

MABLE

BRICK STREET, CHICAGO, NORTH AMERICA

AUGUST 7, 2232

 

Mable held the strange device next to Mitt’s drawing in her hand. Nothing would be worse than returning home with the wrong item. She might as well not go back at all.

Sure enough, each component was the same, each wire the right color. This was it. She tucked both the drawing and the conducer into her black canvas bag and headed back out the door. No use in idling. She might need the extra seconds later.

High-ankle combat boots strode down the stairs. Careful blue eyes kept watch on the perimeter, on the metal door at each floor as she descended, always ready for a Collector to emerge. Mable was always ready to run.

At last, she arrived on the ground floor and pushed out onto the street. Light replaced the dark.

Mable’s hawk eyes scanned the alley. A scavenger has to be diligent.

Sensing no movement, she let the door fall shut with a click and hurried along, keeping to the building’s shadow.

Two blocks.

That’s all she had left before the access port to her subterranean city. Mable moved quickly along the empty street, the morning simulators filling the city with the first traces of light. Far above, she could make out the glint of glass and metal, the artificial sky the only barrier between her and the haze. It was beautiful as long as she didn’t think about it too hard.

The balding man at the fabric store gave her a disapproving eye as she entered. He was hardly the first to do so. Her look was harsh, even for someone of her status. Dyed-black hair under a worn black hat, tattoos peeking out from the edges of her sleeves and collar of her tank-top. She had stark metal piercings in her lips, eyebrows, and ears.

They kept others at a distance, the way she liked it.

“What do you want?” he asked from behind the counter, careful to give all the ice her kind deserved.

“A yard of blue cotton and a spindle of red ribbon.”

The man nodded and looked about, vigilant for any observers. Beneath the counter, he reached for something. A moment later, a narrow slit between wall panels visibly widened to just over a foot, enough for the slim teenager to slip into the underworld.

A moment later, the dark swallowed her.

This close to the surface, the tunnels were uncomfortably cool, prompting goosebumps until she stopped and pulled her thick, over-sized jacket from her bag. In two hours, the gently sloping tunnels would take her back to the Root, deep enough within the Earth to feel the warmth of its core.

Of all the underground cities she’d known, the Root was almost her favorite.

The labyrinthine tunnels were completely concealed. No lights or signs existed. They were a security measure, so only those who knew their way could find the hidden city. Only Mable’s hand gently drifting along the stone wall kept her from colliding into it.

Mable loved the tunnels. They were quiet, peaceful, free. She walked fast enough to get her back to Hadley before too long but slow enough to enjoy her time alone. It was the only chance she got these days.

By the time she reached Ryker, her eyes hadn’t adjusted even remotely. She couldn’t see in the absence of light, not like the Dark Ones.

“Who goes there?” the bear of a man shouted from his illuminated watch position along the tunnel wall. If he wanted, he only had to press the comm hidden in his pocket to signal an intruder. The walls to the city would lock shut seconds later. Thankfully, Mable—and her item—were more than welcome.

“It’s just me,” she shouted over the several hundred foot distance.

“Who dat? My Mable girl?” With effort, Ryker pushed his bulk onto his feet, a task Mable knew was excruciating to his tired knees.

“Hallo, Ryk.” Mable jogged to her old friend and threw her arms as far as she could around his massive frame only to be lifted from the ground. A thick-bearded kiss landed on her cheek. “Doubted me, did ya?”

“Nein, course no. My Mable girl always pulls through.” Ryker’s Root accent was so thick, it had taken her months to be able to understand him.

Mable smiled. No one could get to the surface and back as well as she could, and they were finally starting to notice. She was that much closer to securing her place in the Root.

“Danke, Ryk. See you next time.” She waved and continued past his security checkpoint and into the heart of the city.

The putrid aroma of sauerkraut hit her first, but soon enough, sautéed ginger, pressed mint, and baked sweet breads filled the air. The smells of home, or at least this home.

The busy commotion of the morning market carried on all about her. Dark Ones and surface defectors mingled with uneasy peace.

She wove through the crowds and rows of tables. When she found the narrow booth of sweet pastries, she smiled and said, “Hallo, good morn.” As often as she could manage, Mable visited Luc’s pastry booth and treated herself to one of his homemade goodies. “How’s Peyton?”

Luc looked up. His skin was stark white and his eyes like pools of ink. When he saw her, he smiled. “She’s a handful. Obsessed with some kid from the Arbor.” He chuckled and shook his scaled head. “I heard you were on a job for Katherine.”

Mable squinted, unsure of what to say. Officially, she was on business for the council. Still, it wasn’t a lie.

“Something like that.” She winked.

Luc nodded and asked, “What’ll it be today?”

“Two hammentashen, please. Apricot, if you have it.” Mable fetched a coin from her bag and intended to hand it to him, but he only shook his head and held out the flaky fruit pastries.

Not sure why she hadn’t been asked to pay for her meal, Mable left her coin on the table. In the Root, nothing was free.

As she ate, Mable moved toward the Hive, a series of rooms and offices that clung to the ceiling like an inverted anthill more than one hundred feet up in the massive cavern.

Her eyes were still locked on its strange blue light when a pair of familiar arms snaked around her waist.

“You’re back!” Hadley yelled into Mable’s ear.

Mable pulled the girl close enough to smell the lavender on her hair. She kissed the top of her head as they walked. “There you are. I was just on my way to see you.”

“No you weren’t. Don’t lie!” Hadley laughed her contagious laugh. “I knew you’d come eventually.”

“Yeah, I would have. Just gotta drop this at the Hive.”

“So you got it then? Damn, that’s like six in a row. Can I go with you next time? Maybe you should let someone else have a turn.” Hadley smiled wickedly and popped a stolen bite of pastry into her mouth. Even with cheeks stuffed full of food, the fifteen-year old was too pretty for her own good.

“Someone’s gotta make sure we get to stay here,” Mable reminded her.

“I can help, too.”

“We’ve gone over this. It’s too dangerous.” Mable tried to take a bite of pastry but found Hadley had already consumed over half of the first and was pulling at the second.

“Then why do you do it? What am I supposed to do when you don’t come back one day?” Hadley pushed out her lip and pouted before she took yet another bite of Mable’s breakfast. “Damn, Luc knows how to make a fucking pastry!”

“Watch your mouth.” Mable glared with a smile.

Hadley scoffed. “You know I have a mom right?”

“Don’t start,” Mable groaned. “Neither of us will ever see our families again. We can never go back. You know that.” She hated it, hated to remind the vibrant girl of what she had lost, but there was no other way. Reminiscing over a past long gone would do her no good.

Hadley’s smile disappeared.

Mable handed her a chunk of pastry but Hadley only held it in her hands, her eyes distant.

At last, she licked a bit of yellow filling from her lip and said, “I know. You’re right. As always. That’s why we make our own. I’m your family. I won’t abandon you.”

“I know, angel. I know.” Mable squeezed her tight and felt Hadley’s chin on her head. They embraced for a good long moment before she said, “I gotta run. I’ll catch you later.”

“Oh, Rowen was looking for you earlier.”

“Probably just a match. Will you tell him I’ll be over in an hour or two? I need to take this to Katherine first.” She patted the black bag over her shoulder.

“To Katherine? Aren’t you supposed to give it to the council? I mean, that’s why Mitt gave you the specs for it, right?”

“Yeah, but if I give it to Katherine, she gets to look good to the council.”

“And you look good to Katherine,” Hadley finished for her. “Makes sense.”

“I’m glad you approve.” Mable laughed as she handed over the last bite. She’d get something from Rowen later. There was nothing Mable could do to resist the girl.

The two teens parted ways as Mable headed up the steep, narrow path that had been carved into the stone wall centuries before. When she arrived at the top, two Dark Ones flanked the door to Katherine’s office, their scaled skin and hairless heads indicative of their strange, subterranean race.

While the office was located at the rear of the Hive, everyone knew who really held power over the city.

“Come in, Ms. Wilkinson,” her icy voice called from the consuming darkness.

Mable stood frozen in place. “I brought you the conducer. Mitt said it would fix the water purification system. I thought—”

“You thought right. Please,
come in
.” This time, Katherine turned on the lights, washing the room in too-bright light before Mable’s eyes could adjust. When they did, the woman’s piercing, black eyes stared back at her.

 

BOOK: The Killing Jar
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