Wednesday, August 10, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 15: “No Place” • by Pete Wood

INTRO: Welcome to Odin III, a grubby little mining world on the dark and dusty backside of nowhere. It’s a world where everything that’s worth having is already owned by Galactic Mining, and where people have come to squander their hopes and lives, working for the company and dreaming of striking it big. It’s also a world where some very strange and peculiar things have begun to happen, and it all started about five weeks weeks ago, in a bar called Weber’s Place, when Ray Cornwall didn’t just warp the fabric of space/time, he completely bent it…

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven | Part Eight | Part Nine | Part Ten | Part Eleven | Part Twelve | Part Thirteen | Part Fourteen

15. “No Place”

by Pete Wood

Fritz Gruber waited for his brother behind the rocket port’s chain link fence.

Constable Jenkins waved Jonas Gruber past the long line of crewmen from the interstellar freighter, Hermann Hesse. No need to check his credentials. Born and raised on Odin III, Jonas was family.

Jonas didn’t look a year older than when he’d departed fifteen years ago fresh out of high school.

The ship would be here for a week. Time to unload crates and bins of produce and clothes and other supplies. Then reload the ship with ore. All the crew would squeeze in a furlough.

Some crew headed to Weber’s Place, the only bar in town. Some gawked at the mountains or the half-mile-high trees in the foothills. A handful walked to the deli.

Jonas gave Fritz a hug. “God, it’s been too long.”

“Fifteen years,” Fritz said. “I guess I look like Dad.”

Jonas was diplomatic. “Nah. Not until you put on fifty pounds.”

“I’m working on it.”

Jonas gave him a playful punch in the arm.

“I guess you heard about Aunt Greta.”

“Yeah. I’m so sorry.”

“The deli is still here,” Fritz said.

“And Weber’s.”

“Ingrid runs it now. Her dad died a couple of years after you left.” He grabbed Jonas’ satchel.

“So, you married your favorite cheerleader,” Jonas said.

“Mary can’t wait to see you again. She took off early from the clinic. She’s made a pork roast and potatoes and we even managed to rustle up some creamed corn.”

* * *

Kurt, Fritz’s six-year-old son, peeked from behind his mother’s legs.

Jonas reached into his satchel. “I brought you a gift.” He put a half-dozen cans on the kitchen counter.

Mary picked up the cans one by one. “Peaches. Spam. Okra. We can’t take these. They cost too much.”

“Not where I’m from.”

“Thank you so much” She put the cans in the cupboard. “We’ll save these for a special occasion.”

“Did you make my room into an art studio or something?” Jonas asked.

“Nope. Your bed’s still unmade. We even left the dirty laundry,” Fritz said.

“You know, what?” Mary said. “This is a special, occasion.” She removed the peaches from the cupboard.

* * *

The three adults had done a lot of catching up over dinner. Mary ladled the last of the peaches onto Jonas’ plate. She let out a bit of profanity and jumped up. “I forgot the coffee.” She ran into the kitchen.

“Odin III can’t be warm enough for coffee,” Jonas said.

“Galactic Mining’s set up some camps on Odin II,” Fritz said. “Not a place you’d want to live. People rotate in and out. But at the poles they’ve got some crops.”

“Damn.” Jonas winked at Kurt. “Don’t talk like your uncle.”

Kurt spoke for the first time without prodding. “What did you see in outer space, Uncle Jonas?”

“All kinds of things. An ice cave a mile high. A planet where talking—I guess you’d call them cats—live atop mountains. A world with flying horses that some brave fools are trying to corral.”

Kurt’s eyes opened wide. “Flying horses?”

“Sure,” Jonas said. “Friendly. But stubborn. We still haven’t figured out how they do it. The physics isn’t quite right. Kinda like a bumble bee. But we figured out bees, didn’t we?”

Mary put mugs of coffee before the two men and a platter with cream and honey in the center of the table.

“I’ve seen horses,” Kurt said.

Jonas grinned. “But they’re not flying horses, are they?”

Kurt shook his head. “They’re boring.”

Mary ruffled her son’s hair. “No, they’re not.”

Kurt did not look convinced.

“There’s one planet where the same side always faces the sun. One side in darkness. One in light. The creatures on the two sides—”

“Jonas,” Mary interrupted. “I’m sorry. Kurt has to go to bed.” She scowled at Fritz.

Kurt hugged his uncle good night and his mother took him upstairs.

Jonas let out a heavy sigh. “Yeah, I’ve seen some pretty amazing things. We’re taking the ore to Methuselah III. I’ve always wanted to see this natural rock bridge three miles up.” He didn’t sound as enthusiastic as he had when talking to Kurt. “They have mountains higher than the Himalayas. And the creatures up there are…” He paused for a few seconds. “Yeah, I get to travel.”

“I’m sure you see some real shitholes too, Jonas.”

“I guess. It’s all worth it.”

Fritz cleared his throat. “Look, Jonas, Mary and I would appreciate it if you didn’t talk about your travels in front of Kurt.”

“Sure. I’m sorry.” Jonas put cream in his coffee.

“We want him to appreciate life here. We don’t want him to leave.”

“I understand.” He paused. “Look, it’s none of my business, but you can’t force him to stay here.”

“You’re right,” Fritz said. “It is none of your business.”

“He’s going to have to make up his own mind someday.”

Fritz glared at his brother. “Yeah, Mary and I have never thought of that.”

“You’re right. I’m sorry.”

“No, you have a point, Jonas. Kurt might want to go into space and leave his sister to take care of us by herself.”

“You’re expecting a daughter?”

“Yep.” Fritz took a long sip of coffee.

Jonas smiled. “That’s great.”

“She’ll be in high school the first time you see her.”

“I’m sorry, Fritz. I haven’t abandoned you completely. I send you money. A lot of money.”

“Greta didn’t need money in the end.” He paused for a minute or so. “Damn, Jonas, Grandpa cried sometimes about Earth, because everybody he knew was dead. I worry about you.”

“The dilation was really bad back then,” Jonas said. “It’s better now. It’s the price you pay, I guess.”

“You really think it’s going to be any easier on Kurt if he signs up to crew a freighter and comes back and we’re still alive, but ten years older? Or if he sees his sister’s kids for the first time when they’re going through puberty?” Fritz snapped.

“I don’t know,” Jonas said.

Fritz exhaled. “Is it worth it, Jonas?”

“I try not to think about it.”

“You’re going to have to think about it someday.”

“You think I don’t know that?”

“Eventually Kurt might be older than you.”

“I won’t talk about my travels in front of your son,” Jonas said.

Fritz pushed his chair back and stood up. “Let me set up your bed upstairs in your old room.”

Jonas’ voice broke a little. “I’ve seen other crew members get hit hard with the dilation. Some don’t care. Some just get drunk every night. Nobody talks about it. I didn’t think it would get to me. But you look like Dad.”

“We’re still brothers, Jonas.”

Fritz and Jonas stayed up talking until long past midnight.

* * *

Fritz took a week’s vacation. He and Jonas made the most of their time together. They hiked in the mountains, spent quiet evenings at home, attended mass and took in a bluegrass concert downtown. Jonas reconnected with old friends as best he could.

They didn’t talk about a life exploring on a freighter.

A week later Fritz watched the freighter depart. He never tired of takeoffs and savoring the vapor trails slowly dissipating.

Jonas stared up at the sky. “I don’t get to see a lot of ships blast off.”

“I’m glad you stayed,” Fritz said.


Pete Wood
is an attorney from Raleigh, North Carolina, where he lives with his kind and very patient wife. His first appearance in our pages was “Mission Accomplished” in the now out-of-print August 2012 issue. After publishing a lot of stories with us he graduated to becoming a regular contributor to Asimov’s, but he’s still kind enough to send us things we can publish from time to time, and we’re always happy to get them.

For the past year or so Pete has been in the process of evolving into a fiction editor, God help him, first with The Pete Wood Challenge, then with Dawn of Time, and now with The Odin Chronicles, a 30-chapter shared world saga that will be running here every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the next ten weeks, and that features the creative work of Roxana Arama, Gustavo Bondoni, Travis Burnham, Paul Celmer, Jenna Hanchey, Carol Scheina, Jonathan Sherwood, and of course, Pete Wood. We suspect that Pete’s real love is theater, though, as with the print version of The Odin Chronicles now mostly finished he’s off working on the audio version, which looks to be an even bigger production that his short movie, Quantum Doughnut — which you can stream, if you follow the foregoing link.

Coming Friday: Episode 16 of The Odin Chronicles, “Dreams of Another World,” by Jenna Hanchey.



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