Don’t Be Too Quick To Kill Him
I woke up just before the sky began to lighten on my sixth day on the planet Hoth, also known as hell. Maybe it was hell, for all I knew. Time would tell. It was the cool of the day, probably no hotter than the mid nineties.
“Arn. Wake up,” I said as I touched his arm. He responded instantly.
“Let’s get a big drink and head out to the field before the siren blows so we will get there before the goon shows up.”
“Sure thing Tammy, but don’t be too quick to kill him. Let’s wait to see what he wants and not jump to any conclusions,” Arn replied as he quickly stood up.
We got our drinks from the community water barrel and headed to the field, to the spot where we had finished the previous day.
“Since the rows of plants run from the direction of our tree toward the mountains and since the goon always comes from the direction of the shack, work a couple of rows past me Arn. Face the direction the goon will be coming from so you can see him coming. I’ll work about fifty feet to your right, with my back to him.
“When he comes, he’ll probably go directly to you. He’d have to go out of his way to go to me first. I’ll listen to what he says. If we’re in deep shit with him he’ll never know what happened until the moment I snap his neck. If I can’t hear what he’s saying, just sneeze and I’ll do the same thing.”
“Tammy, I think you’re overreacting to this. Let’s just play it low key,” Arn said.
“Agreed, until he makes the wrong move. If he lays his hand on you, or points his gun at you, then it’s “goodbye goon’”.
“You don’t think he’d hear you running toward him?” Arn asked.
“As soon as he passes me, I’ll slip off my shoes. He won’t hear a thing, until he hears his neck snap.”
We didn’t have to wait long after we started working. Arn cleared his throat slightly. “The goon is coming.”
I lowered my head and tried to disappear into the top of my shirt.
Come Here Woman
As Arn predicted, the goon walked directly to Arn. I heard every word the two of them said.
“What’s this I hear about this woman having a contagious disease?” he asked Arn.
“Ah, the worker gossip. They’ve got big imaginations and make up stories. At the end of the day she sometimes gets a little rash on her arms and neck. It goes away before dark. Just a harmless heat rash. Nothing contagious. If they want to think it’s contagious, that keeps them away from us so we can do our work and get a good night’s sleep so we can work harder the next day.
“Come here woman,” Arn said motioning to me.
I stood, and slowly made my way to Arn and the goon, unsure of what Arn had in mind.
“Roll up you sleeves and unbutton the top buttons on your shirt so we can show the officer that you don’t have any disease,” Arn directed me.
I did as Arn directed, careful not to unbutton too many buttons.
Arn pulled my sleeves a little higher and opened my shirt a little more, also being careful not to give the goon too much to look at.
“See. Nothing. Clear as can be. Now you know what you heard was greatly exaggerated.”
“Damn! You’re right. Buncha old women gossips! She can stay. We need every able body we have in the field.”
The goon turned and headed back toward the shack. We didn’t see him again until four days later.
“Come here woman?” I asked pointedly.
“Sorry about that Tammy. I didn’t want to say your name, and didn’t want to make him think we’re friends. The less he knows, the better. Arn replied softly.
“You pulled open my shirt for the goon, Arn!”
“Yeah and if you noticed I didn’t show him much more than your neck. Don’t worry. He’ll never see more. If he tries, I’ll be the one to break his neck.”
“You’d do that Arn?” I said, my attitude instantly softening.
“If he touches you I would.”
The Mystery That Is Tammy
The rest of the day passed without incident. As usual, we didn’t talk while we worked. We kept our mouths shut to keep them moist. I rolled my lips slightly inward to keep my lips from drying out and cracking.
As we headed back to our tree, we talked again.
“Would you really have killed him Tammy?”
“In an instant if he’d laid a hand on you or had tried to haul me off. That ain’t gonna happen. No way.”
“How many people have you killed?” Arn asked.
“None that I can remember. I just had to be ready to kill to protect myself and my mission if necessary.”
“Yourself and your mission?”
“Uh, that was a strange thing to say, wasn’t it? Something about a black airplane flashed through my mind. I was on a mission. I don’t know what mission, or what that was all about.”
“O.k. I agree that is strange. You have no idea what that has to do with your life before here?”
“No, I don’t know. But something else just popped up. I was armed to the teeth. Both I and the plane were armed to the teeth. I don’t know why.”
Arn gave me a strange look, like he didn’t know if he should believe me, then shrugged his shoulders.
“I guess there’s even more to the mystery we call Tammy than I suspected.”
“What’s that supposed to mean, Arn?”
“My turn to say I don’t know what it’s supposed to mean. I guess it means I’ve seen a side of you that I wasn’t expecting. You were ready to snuff the goon and now you’re telling me you were on some mission armed to the teeth? Maybe that’s how you got here. Of course you don’t know.”
We walked over to the shack to get our daily ration of slime soup. Prune Face scowled when she saw us, but gave us our ladles of soup.
As we walked back to our tree, Arn whispered, “Did you see that look she gave us?”
“Yeah. What was that all about?”
“I think the goon checked in with her yesterday near the end of his shift. She told him about the contagious thing. After he left us this morning he probably headed back to the shack and said something nasty to her.”
We ate in silence, stowed our bowls, headed over to the community water barrel for our last drink of the day and then back to our patch of dry grass by the tree where we would sleep.
As usual, we laid down next to each other, rolled over on our sides to face each other and talked in whispers until we fell asleep.
The Mystery That Was Gramps
“Arn, you said we’re the youngest people on the planet. How do you know that?”
“I’m pretty sure everyone I’ve seen at this settlement is older than me, and the goon who Gramps set up to sorta look out for me told me he thinks I am probably the youngest person on the planet.”
“Arn, I’m twenty three and you look like you’re about the same age as me. You said the women on this planet aren’t having babies. Does that mean they don’t have sex, or is it because they’re sterile?”
“Gramps said they’re sterile. Years of exposure to the poison all around us has made them sterile.”
“Looking at the condition of the stuff in the ruins and what you’re telling me about how long it’s been since the women have had babies, I’m guessing it’s been over twenty years, probably more like twenty five or thirty years since the planet went out of control.”
“Gramps thought it had been about twenty five years.”
“How long has it been since Gramps disappeared, Arn?”
“About a year and a half, Tammy.”
“How did Gramps know all the stuff he seemed to know?”
“I really don’t know. When he was here, I just assumed it was because he was older. But since he’s gone I’ve had time to think about it and it doesn’t seem to make sense. None of the other workers seem to know anywhere near as much as Gramps knew. Maybe the goons do, but there was absolutely no evidence that Gramps was ever one of them.”
“You didn’t think his explanation about giving a box of stuff to a goon was suspicious?” I asked.
“No, not really. I never suspected him of lying to me, and have no reason to think some goon owed him a favor from the past. The four or five years I knew Gramps he worked alongside me and I don’t think he ever had contact with any goon except with the one I told you about.”
Was Gramps the last person to work alongside you, Arn?”
“Not exactly. Gramps and I worked the same section of the field you and I are working. The day he wasn’t there when I woke up, the field goon came by and demanded to know where he was. I said he was here when I went to sleep and gone when I woke up. Of course, I never heard a thing. The goon brought some other guy down here a few days later to work this end. We agreed how we would divide up the work. After that we each did our own thing and kept to ourselves, and didn’t work together.”
“You said he disappeared too? When?”
“A couple of days before you appeared Tammy. I didn’t hear him or Gramps leave or you arrive. I can’t explain that. I hear everything, like I told you.”
“I’m falling asleep, Arn. I need my sleep.”
Preparing for Tomorrow’s Big Shock
I had no idea how much I needed my sleep that night to be ready for the following day, the day that would stretch into three days, the day I still consider to be the most shocking day of my life.