Three Eight Two (Part One)

By Andrew Dunn

sfgenrePart One:

Climb on board. Find a comfortable spot. Settle in, sling a line hard off the reel, and then wait for the thump. It was one of Ehsan’s favourite pastimes when he was back home in Marjand.

The old trawler still heeled over hard to one side, the way she had before Ehsan’s last trip, and not much different than the way she’d been left there long before graffiti and rust took hold. The trawler had been left there for fate to have its way; its master’s fate had been to ply far-flung cities for work building monolithic steel and glass skyscrapers that gleamed in the sun and glittered in neon and strobe kaleidoscopes at night. Abandoned without a master, the trawler would have gradually taken on water and slipped beneath the surface, forgotten in her grave — if they hadn’t drained the lake.

They did drain it, though, using its waters to quench the world’s insatiable thirst for fresh, cheap fuel-grade hydrogen. The trawler was left naked on the dry lakebed with dozens like it. Growing up, the old boat’s decks became one of Ehsan’s favourite places to cast a line, and then wait for the tattletale thump when his hook struck sun-baked earth.

Sometimes Ehsan’s hook landed silent, its line pulled so taut his fishing pole bowed under the strain. There was more to catch out there on the dry lakebed than hardened ground.

Ehsan thought it was fitting that after they drained the lake dry, old boats were left to die at one end as a new spaceport came to life miles away on the opposite shore. Ehsan and other young men from Marjand watched from the decks of trawlers immersed in their yesterdays, a daily ritual of space machines thundering off to their tomorrows. Each launch washed in the harsh colours of flame giant-sized depictions of yesterday’s khans and warriors affixed to launch towers.

Ehsan’s life and future with his bride Zara were inextricably bound to those machines that soared high atop columns of fire, and sullied cerulean skies with grey-white trails of exhaust.

The spacecraft were a lifeblood that sustained their village, Marjand, a shadow of what it had once been. The weight of past and future, uncomfortably intertwined, weighed heavy on Ehsan. 

Ehsan heaved his pole back, then gave it a sling and pop, just like his father taught him, just like grandfathers taught fathers the same lesson ancestors handed down to successors, long before there was a spaceport, back when Marjand was both a fortress and refuge. It was a simple but vital rite of passage that, once mastered, taught young men to provide for their brides, children, and widowed mothers living there on the vast arid plain. The lesson was timeless — the instinctive need for survival never changed no matter how much everything else did.

Ehsan’s line shimmered in the midday heat as it paid out from its reel. Ehsan waited to see if the hook would strike hard ground and cough up a wisp of dust for the wind to have its way with.

There was no resounding thump though, and no reassuring quiver that reverberated back through line and pole, into his hands. Ehsan had caught something, reeling it in could be tricky if not impossible depending on who was on the other end of the line.

Like the soul of that ancient warrior — a distant ancestor — Ehsan’s hook once ensnared. Ehsan was sure he had been a surly sort in life, an acolyte of the rites of war and conquest that plied the lake’s waters for sustenance and thundered off on horseback when Marjand’s garrison called. The warrior’s soul fought hard against Ehsan’s line, bending his pole until it nearly snapped in two. Ehsan was relieved when the warrior’s lost soul finally broke free and drifted away.

Other times the catch happened so effortlessly it was though a disembodied loner or downtrodden soul longed for capture. Most had been trawler masters, deckhands, and depending on their vintage, sailmakers or diesel mechanics. Ehsan heaved them up and over the old boat’s gunwales and then led them inside the rusting hulk, through dilapidated passageways and gutted spaces, until they found a comfortable spot. There the souls would sit for a while and share, if for no other reason than to feel close again to those that were still corporeal as they had once been.

Their forlorn nature matched the melancholy Ehsan felt when it was his turn to ride a column of fire beyond Earth’s bounds. The stories they told lessened that feeling and gave Ehsan a sense of connection to fathers, grandfathers, and a lineage that once ruled the steppes around Marjand.

Ehsan knew that but for his own place in time, he could have been a warrior or khan charged with the defence of Marjand and the steppes by rifle or sword. Ehsan absorbed all they wished to share for as long as they could stay. There were schedules to keep on both sides of eternity. Ehsan dutifully led those lost souls back on deck when it was time for them to go and watched them drift out of sight as countdowns echoed across the expansive, dry basin. Each countdown was computer-generated; the language was always foreign. The voice was always precise too — a mere microsecond of error on Earth could doom a quick run up to the moon, longer voyage to Mars, or one of the rare but well-paying expeditions into the asteroid belt.

Even after so many countdowns, the daily ritual remained an aberration, almost an intrusion, that resounded in uncomfortable parallel with the clarion call from minarets on that timeless plain. The countdowns reminded Ehsan that, like the lost souls, he couldn’t err in his departure either.

***

Ehsan took a spot in a queue outside a low building that sat squat alongside disused railroad tracks on the village’s edge. The word ‘Reception’ appeared in peeling black over the entrance — a block-lettered version in English and another in the calligraphy of his native script.

Soldiers from the Interior Ministry, dispatched from a day’s drive or more away, loitered aimlessly, their rifles slung haphazardly across chests or over shoulders. Leaving always began in a queue and under their watch outside the building. It was necessary but never easy, there wasn’t much work for young men in Marjand anymore.

Casting lines from derelict trawlers would never bring money home for Ehsan’s widowed mother or his love Zara, living as they did in a collection of rooms over a small shop that sold spices, candy, and phone cards. So, when the call went out as it often did for young men to hire on for a six-month hitch mining the moon’s interior for precious water, Ehsan trekked through dark, dusty streets with dozens of other young men, all hoping to be chosen.

It had been little different for previous generations whose trawler masters gave up the lake to build skyscrapers, or warriors who gave up rifle and sword to work oil fields. Fathers taught sons that a young man’s duty was to provide for his family.

Ehsan stepped out of pre-dawn darkness into the Reception Hall where tables and benches sat in rows underneath stark light cast from buzzing fluorescent bulbs overhead. There were forms to complete. Ehsan thought about Zara as he filled in blocks that would make sure remittances for his work would make it back home to her. Then, there was the form that would make sure Zara and his mother would both receive a year’s worth of his wages if something catastrophic happened on Earth or the moon.

Zara hadn’t stirred when he left. Ehsan was careful not to wake her as he made his way from their bedroom to the street below. He was sure she’d feigned sleep with her dark hair strewn across the pillow and eyes firmly closed, wanting to embrace him but at the same time not wanting to show a hint of emotion that might weaken his resolve. Ehsan regretted that he hadn’t taken Zara in his arms one more time, knowing it might have been the last time he would ever be able to hold her close.

Ehsan completed the forms and handed them to a nondescript official from the spaceport. The official squinted over the pages through thick glasses, nodding occasionally, and then said, “Dengdai”, ‘Wait’, as he motioned toward a newly forming queue. Ehsan nodded and took his place in line.

His session with a medic was quick and perfunctory. Temperature, blood pressure, and respiration rate were all within parameters expected of a man Ehsan’s age. The medic then began asking questions designed to assess a man’s resilience for work on the moon.

Some men used the questions as an opportunity to confide and whisper second thoughts about leaving, or their lack of nerve for work in the mines. Others would conceal their fear behind exaggerated enthusiasm for the trip. Ehsan knew to keep his answers brief and dispassionate so as not to stoke the medic’s curiosity. The medic alone decided which young men would be able to cope with a barren lunar world, where there was no day or night but instead time divided between periods spent below ground in the mines and above in cramped quarters.

The soldiers casually made their way into the hall as the nondescript official stood and prepared to read the list of names, in no particular order, of those chosen to work the mines. Tension in the air was palpable. The soldiers were there to maintain order, but it was rare for a young man to become unruly as they all came to terms with what their lives would be like over the next six months, whether thousands of miles away from Earth, or left behind and struggling to get survive in Marjand.

Those that were chosen exited through large doors on one side of the building to board a waiting bus. Those staying behind gave their email addresses and mobile numbers to the official — an ineffectual gesture. Ehsan knew of no one that had ever been contacted to work the mines after the list of names had been read aloud.

“Ehsan. Three Eight Two,” the official called out, substituting Ehsan’s birth name for a production number.

Three Eight Two would be the number stencilled on Ehsan’s bunk and locker, and what foremen would use to identify him when they gave out work assignments. The number would be used to track his hydration and food consumption. If Ehsan managed to exceed production goals, Three Eight Two would be allotted time to chat with Zara over video from the moon, though Ehsan had never seen many rewarded with a video chat session for their work in the mines.

Ehsan boarded the waiting bus. Thirty-six were on board, not counting the driver and a couple of soldiers that dozed off as the bus groaned away from the hall and jostled over rutted ground. The spaceport always hired in groups of thirty-six, but most trips never left Earth with that number – two or three were usually removed from the roster before launch. The drone of the bus’s engine lulled Ehsan to sleep.

***

To be continued in part two next month...

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About the Author

Andrew Dunn

andrew dunn 200Andrew writes science-fiction and fantasy from the state of Maryland on the eastern coast of the United States, often drawing ideas from jogs through forest trails at sunrise or a tasty beer at sunset. 

Andrew writes each story with the goal of giving readers something they will enjoy, without relying on the typical, predictable, or cliche'. His work has previously appeared in AntipodeanSF, 365 Tomorrows, and soon Daily Science Fiction

When Andrew isn't writing chances are he's playing guitar or bass, exploring abandoned places, or spending quality time with a bulldog. Andrew hopes you enjoy this story, and he will continue to try and write stories that you'll love to read! 

 

In The Next Issue...

Coming In Issue 289

Company Man
By James R. Coffey

Dusk Patrol
By Kevin J. Phyland

Martian Food
By Robbie Sheerin

Sociology 101, Lesson Six
By KJ Hannah Greenberg

Superman
By Elizabeth Broadbent

The Eternity Library
By Chris Gladstone

The Sparrow Maker
By Tee Linden

Three Eight Two (Part Two)
By Andrew Dunn

Turning on the Light
By John Bohr

What I have to say about the supersize oceans of the exoplanet C59034
By Ranju Mamachan

Winter's Sky
By Callan J Mulligan

Scifaiku
By PS Cottier

The AntipodeanSF Radio Show

AntiSF's Production Crew

nuke conflux 2017 200Ion Newcombe is the editor and publisher of AntipodeanSF, Australia’s longest running online speculative fiction magazine, regularly issued since January 1998, and conceived back around November 2007. He has been a zealous reader and occasional writer of SF since his childhood in the 1960s, and even sold a few stories here and there back in the '90s.

“Nuke”, who it turns out loves editing more than writing, lives in the New South Wales North Coast holiday destination of Nambucca Heads, where he is self-employed in IT training, computer support, desktop publishing, editing, writing, and website implementation. He is also the resident tech-head, skeptic, and board member of community radio station 2NVR, where he produces a number of shows including The AntipodeanSF Radio Show.

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mark web 200Mark Webb's midlife crisis came in the form of attempting to write speculative fiction at a very slow pace. His wife maintains this is a good outcome considering the more expensive and cliched alternatives. Evidence of Mark's attempts to procrastinate in his writing, including general musings and reviews of books he has been reading, can be found at www.markwebb.name.

One of Mark’s very best forms of writing procrastination is to produce the eBook series for AntipodeanSF, which he has been doing since issue 175.

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AntiSF & The ASFF

AntipodeanSF supports the ASFF

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Please consider joining the Australian Science Fiction Foundation, a prime supporter and promoter of speculative fiction down-under.

<https://asff.org.au>

AntipodeanSF September 2022

ISSUE 288

Speculative Fiction
Downside-Up
ISSN 1442-0686

Online Since Feb 1998

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AntiSF's Narration Team

garry dean narratorGarry Dean lives on the Mid Coast of New South Wales Australia, and has been a fan of SF for most of his natural life. Being vision impaired, he makes good use of voice recognition and text to speech in order to write. Many of his stories have appeared in AntipodeanSF over the years, and his love of all things audio led him to join the narration team in 2017.

You can read examples of Garry's fiction on his website <https://garrydean.wordpress.com>

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mark english 100Mark is an astrophysicist and space scientist who worked on the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn. Following this he worked in computer consultancy, engineering, and high energy research (with a stint at the JET Fusion Torus).

All this science hasn't damped his love of fantasy and science fiction. It has, however, ruined his enjoyment of rainbows, colourful flames on romantic log fires, and rings around the moon. He has previously been published in Stupefying Stories Showcase, Everyday Fiction, Escape Pod, Perihelion and also on AntipodeanSF where he is part of the narration team.

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carolyn eccles 100

Carolyn's work spans devising, performance, theatre-in-education and a collaborative visual art practice.

She tours children's works to schools nationally with School Performance Tours, is a member of the Bathurst physical theatre ensemble Lingua Franca and one half of darkroom — a visual arts practice with videographer Sean O'Keeffe.

(Photo by Jeremy Belinfante) 

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marg essex 200Margaret lives the good life on a small piece of rural New South Wales Australia, with an amazing man, a couple of pets, and several rambunctious wombats.

She feels so lucky to be a part of the AntiSF team.

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sarah pratt 200Sarah Pratt is an avid fiction writer and a Marketing Consultant.

She is currently working on her first novel but loves diving into short stories to bring a little lightness, intrigue or humour to the day.

Her work has appeared in Sponge Magazine and The Commuting Book.

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ed erringtonEd lives with his wife plus a magical assortment of native animals in tropical North Queensland.

His efforts at wallaby wrangling are without parallel — at least in this universe.

He enjoys reading and writing science-fiction stories set within intriguing, yet plausible contexts, and invite readers’ “willing suspension of disbelief.”

He believes stories might also contain an element of humour — however small — to enrich the plot and/or heighten the drama.

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pixie willo 100Pixie is a voice actor, cabaret performer & slam poet From the Blue Mountains in NSW.

She enjoys writing short fiction, plays for radio and stage as well as her own brand of weird poetry.

She hosts the 'Off-Beet Poetry Slam' held bi-monthly in Katoomba.

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lauriebell 2 200Laurie Bell lives in Melbourne, Australia. She was that girl you found with her nose always buried in a book. She has been writing ever since she was a little girl and first picked up a pen. From books to short stories, radio plays to snippets of ideas and reading them aloud to anyone who will listen.

She is the author of The Butterfly Stone and The Tiger's Eye (YA/Fantasy) White Fire (Sci-Fi) and The Good, the Bad and the Undecided (a unique collection of short stories set during the events of White Fire/Sci-Fi). 

You can read more of her work on her blog <www.solothefirst.wordpress.com> Look for her on Facebook <www.facebook.com/WriterLaurieBell/> or Twitter: <@LaurienotLori>

Rambles, writing and amusing musings

Smile! laugh out loud! enjoy the following

<www.solothefirst.wordpress.com>

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timonthy gwyn 100Timothy Gwyn is a professional pilot in Canada, where he flies to remote communities. During a lull in his flying career, he was a radio announcer for three years, and he is also an author.

In addition to short stories at AntipodeanSF and NewMyths.com, his SF novel is available internationally in print and ebook formats. "Avians" draws on his love of alternative aviation to tell the tale of a girl who runs away from home to join a cadre of glider pilots on a world without metal or fossil fuels.

On Twitter, he is @timothygwyn, and his blogs are at <timothygwyn.com>.

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alistair lloyd 200Alistair Lloyd is a Melbourne based writer and narrator who has been consuming good quality science fiction and fantasy most of his life.

You may find him on Twitter as <@mr_al> and online at <alistairlloyd.com>.

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The AntipodeanSF Radio Show

AntiSF Radio Show

antipod-show-50The AntipodeanSF Radio Show delivers audio from the pages of this magazine.

The weekly program features the stories from recently published issues, usually narrated by the authors themselves.

Listen to the latest episode now:

The AntipodeanSF Radio Show is also broadcast on community radio, 2NVR, 105.9FM every Saturday evening at 8:30pm.

You can find every broadcast episode online here: http://antisf.libsyn.com 

The Contributors

rodney sykes 200Rodney grew up in country South Australia and later in Adelaide but now lives and works in Melbourne.

He works principally as an IT consultant and dabbles in creative writing in his spare time.

He enjoys writing poetry as well flash fiction and often reads his work at the Melbourne Writers Group meetings.

Rodney is currently unpublished but hopes to change that in the near future.

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jared bernard 200Jared Bernard’s fiction has appeared in Morpheus Tales, and his non-fiction has appeared in The Conversation, Natural History, History Today, and American Forests among others. As a PhD candidate studying insects, he has also published in scientific journals.

Jared’s debut literary/speculative fiction novel, Killing Juggernaut <https://www.killingjuggernaut.com>, predicts a dire future in which the fates of an ecologist, a teenager, and an astronomer are linked by humanity’s last-ditch effort to save itself from environmental devastation.

“Tantalise” is a mini companion story to Killing Juggernaut.

fulvio gatti 200Fulvio Gatti is an Italian speculative fiction writer been writing and publishing in his native tongue for 25 years.

He has been writing in English for the global market since 2018, and his stories can be found in pro magazines, like Galaxy’s Edge, magazines and anthologies published in US, UK, Italy, and Australia.

He’s been a student of Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta’s Superstars Writing Seminars and he is part of David Farland’s Apex Writing Group. He’s also been a panelist at Worlcon/Discon III, among other international events.

He lives with his wife on the wine hills of the Northwestern Italy, where he works as a local reporter and event organizer.

Website: <https://www.fulviogatti.it>

chuck mckenzie 200Chuck McKenzie was born in 1970, and still spends much of his time there.

He also runs the YouTube channel 'A Touch of the Terrors', where — as 'Uncle Charles' — he performs readings of his favourite horror tales in a manner that makes most ham actors look like Gielgud.

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michael j leach 200Michael J. Leach <@m_jleach> is a writer and academic who lives in Bendigo on unceded Dja Dja Wurrung Country.

Michael enjoys writing about science. His science poems reside in Meniscus, Rabbit, Cordite, Consilience, Science Write Now, the 2021 Hippocrates Prize Anthology (The Hippocrates Press, 2021), and elsewhere.

He has published a sci-fi short story in Painted Words 2017 (Bendigo TAFE, 2017) and penned two science-themed plays performed by Bendigo Theatre Company.

Michael’s poetry collections include Chronicity (Melbourne Poets Union, 2020) and Natural Philosophies (Recent Work Press, forthcoming in November 2022).

You can read more about Michael’s work on his website: <https://mleach11.wixsite.com/writing>

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greg foyster 200Greg Foyster is a writer, illustrator and author of the memoir Changing Gears, currently living on Wadawurrung country at Geelong.

His stories and cartoons have appeared in The Age, The Saturday Paper, ABC, Meanjin, Eureka Street and others.

His fiction has appeared in Overland, The Big Issue, Aurealis and AntipodeanSF.

Website: <www.gregfoyster.com>

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andrew dunn 200Andrew writes science-fiction and fantasy from the state of Maryland on the eastern coast of the United States, often drawing ideas from jogs through forest trails at sunrise or a tasty beer at sunset. 

Andrew writes each story with the goal of giving readers something they will enjoy, without relying on the typical, predictable, or cliche'. His work has previously appeared in AntipodeanSF, 365 Tomorrows, and soon Daily Science Fiction

When Andrew isn't writing chances are he's playing guitar or bass, exploring abandoned places, or spending quality time with a bulldog. Andrew hopes you enjoy this story, and he will continue to try and write stories that you'll love to read! 

salvatore difalco 200Salvatore Difalco is the author of two story collections, Black Rabbit (Anvil) and The Mountie At Niagara Falls (Anvil).

He currently lives in Toronto Canada.

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Harris Tobias lives and writes in Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of two novels: The Greer Agency & A Felony of Birds. He has written dozens of short stories many of which are available on line at <quantummuse.com>. He is the author of many children’s books including At The Robot ZooMoonRivet Saves His Skin and An Alphabet Book of Bugs available in print from CreateSpace and as ebooks for Nook & Kindle. You can find links to his writings here: <harristobias-fiction.blogspot.com>

ps cottier 200PS Cottier is a poet who lives in Canberra, with a particular interest in speculative poetry.

She has been published widely at home and in Canada, England, New Zealand and the USA.

Two of her horror poems were finalists in the Australian Shadows Awards for 2020. Her latest books are Monstrous, which is a volume of speculative poems, and Utterly, which is non-genre.

PS Cottier is the Poetry Editor at The Canberra Times and blogs at <https://pscottier.com>

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kj hannah greenberg 200KJ Hannah Greenberg has been playing with words for an awfully long time. Initially a rhetoric professor and a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, she shed her academic laurels to romp around with a prickle of imaginary hedgehogs.

Thereafter, she's been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than three dozen books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals.

Find out more at her website: <http://kjhannahgreenberg.net/>.