A Short Novel of Long Odds
by J. Daniel Sawyer
The Bad End of Beer
We wanted to find the line. That perfect balance point between batshit insanity and sublime god-like power. That’s the goal of any sportsman, isn’t it? Growing the biggest pair of brass balls you can, then dangling them in the universe’s face, and daring it to kick you harder than a jack-ass right when you can least afford it.
I mean, sure, I tried the whole banzai skydiving thing–and let me tell you, as crazy as that is over Earth with its cushy atmosphere, it’s a thousand times crazier over Mars. Yeah, you don’t fall as fast, but then the atmosphere is about 1/10th as thick. Space diving’s got nothing on leaping head-first out of a ten-click high Zepplin a good six seconds after someone else kicked your parachute out, then catching up to it, putting it on, and deploying it before you go all splatzo.
So yeah, I knew all about going right up to the edge. You don’t get more about pushing the limit than me. But you know what? The universe never kicked me in the balls. No way no sir. All this crazy stuff I’ve been doing since I was old enough to chuck my old man out an airlock for being a dip shit? Well, came a time when I realized it didn’t add up to a damn thing. You can’t push the edge when your equipment is all so good that only brain failure will net you an existence failure.
You get what I’m saying, right? I was born too late, that’s what. Gurgle Tippler, the first guy who jumped out of a space station and landed in the New Mexico desert, he was on to something. Ditto for that French guy who did the first deep SCUBA dives, or the freedivers who used to go fishing sixty yards down and kill themselves with the bends just to get something killer on their spears. Those guys were on tosomething. Life right there, putting themselves on the line to prove the whole universe that, sure, mama, you might win the battle when we die, but you’ve already lost the goddamn war, because this little wormy race ain’t never gonna lie down in the face of the impossible.
But the chick who was Tippler’s first customer when he set up the business teaching other people? Tourist, that’s what. Same with all the people that paid to go down with Cousteau’s son. Absolute stinkin’ poseur, every last one of ’em.
So, yeah. Everest? Done that. Olympus Mons? Don’t make me yawn—anyone with a breather can do it, the grade’s hardly ever more than ten percent. Really long walk. It’s not about how high you go, it’s about how impossible it is to get there. If you take an elevator up the Sears Tower you’re not even a tenth the climber as the guy that crawls up the sides, even if he’s cheating with gecko gloves and rope, right?
Right. Now that we’ve got that straight, I was telling Jeff the same thing at this space-jumper bar on Tippler station–yeah, named after the same Tippler–in orbit around Ceres. The surface of Ceres was too crowded with tourists, so the IOC shuttled all us athlete types up to the little spinner where the miners live. I’d just got back from a foot-orbit competition, and I won, too. Managed twenty-five orbits of that little rock from a hundred-yard dash launch before I had to touch down. Gold medal in the System Championships, with the Olympics in my sights. Jeff pulled the bronze, edged out by a station-born Russian who had longer legs–beat him by three centimeters. He was buying the drinks.
“So you’re saying,” said Jeff, “the problem is we’re just too damn good. I mean, you and me, right?”
I fingered the medal around my neck. “Sure,” I said, “but I mean a species. Humani-bloody-ity.” Okay, so I was a little drunk. Ten to one Columbus was drunk too when he decided to take that little summer cruise. “I mean, hell, we just jumped around a planetoid. You know, for fun. And what if one of us jumped too high and overshot the orbit? Well, we had those jet packs to bring us down, right? And if that failed, well, hey, they’ll just come find us, right?” I tottered to my feet and raised my glass “We’ve gone and leapt our last Everest! We’ve kicked our last ass! All we got now is the safe and boring shit. Here’s to the end of the world!”
I think I just about fell over at that point. Jeff just about caught me—by “just about” I mean that he did catch me, but then some yob who was annoyed at the way I was shouted loud enough for me to hear over the crowd:
“Hey boys, look at this! Suave Rob holds his drink like a seven year old girl!”
Which made me twist and lurch in his general direction, out of Jeff’s grip, and into a tumble that should’ve got me at least a nine-point-five in any gymnastic event, and wound up with me smashing nose-first onto the edge of this fullerine table light enough for a gnat to flip over. Only reason I didn’t flip it over was the four guys bigger and meaner looking than me were leaning on the other side. My nose took the brunt, but the booze made me all spongy, so I just pushed off again and scrambled up the empty chair and tromped onto the table.
“Now, which one ya said that I drink like a girl?”
One of the hulks who was in front of me about half the time, cause of how I was swaying, stood up.
“So,” I narrowed my eyes at him. I think I was looking down at him, but mostly I’m telling this from what Jeff told me after, since I’ve only got his memory to go by. “You think I hit like a girl too?”
“Yeah? What if I do? What are you gonna do about it? Smash me with your medal?”
I punched him in the nose. Only memory I got from that fight that’s clear, that satisfying crunch. Well, almost the only memory. I remember this next bit too.
“Bet you think I piss like a girl too, huh?” I fumbled open the back-lever clasps on my trousers, peeled the whole breech down, grabbed my crotch split-finger style on either side of the crease, and yanked up and out. “Sorry bout the blood. Let me wash that up for you.” I cocked my hips back–don’t ask how I didn’t fall over, I got no idea–pushed the one part of me that’s still female forward, and let fly right on his face.
I found out about the rest when I woke up seven hours later with bruises on my solarplexus and the hangover from hell, staring up at the bottom of a hard, flat cot that looked it had been hung on the bulkhead with bookshelf brackets, then decorated by the kind of graffiti artists that normally frequent men’s bathrooms. Turning my head, I found out that someone had decided that my ear could use some rearranging. I winced like, well, like a girl, I’ll admit it, or like a little boy—like someone who hadn’t grown a pain threshold yet at any rate—and that drew a “Goddamn, dude, are you finally awake?” from the bunk above me.
“If that’s what you call it, god…” I tried rolling over the rest of the way. Before I got all the way over I heard:
“Don’t stand up too fast!”
But I heard it too late. Instead of popping up to sitting, I smacked my head on the underside of the bunk above me and went tumbling to a slow sprawl against the floor. I hadn’t been queasy before I sat up, now my inner ears were doing the samba trying to catch up with my body.
“Ugh, don’t tell me,” I said, “The security office is up near the hub.”
“Three down from dead center.”
I flipped over and stayed laying on the floor. Jeff stuck his head out over the edge of the second bunk.
“You look like hell.”
“Mmm.” I reached up and touched my face, managing not to move anything other than my arm. The side of my eye–and pretty much all around it–burned like my fingers were on fire. “I gave up makeup when I was eight and figured out I wasn’t really a girl. I like to check every so often and make sure it still doesn’t fit. What happened?”
He filled me in. When he got to the point where the guy whose face I washed cracked me across the skull with his chair, someone from the next cell called out “Cheeerist Jaysus, won’t you two shut up? Some of us are trying to sleep in here!”
Jeff shouted “Sorry” before I had a chance to find a piece of my mind to throw at the cuss, so I laid back on the floor—comfortable as any bed in gravity this low—and closed my eyes and pretended I was space-diving. Low gravity normally doesn’t get me down, and I never get drop sick, but I normally don’t drink enough for five hangovers and then beat my head against furniture before I jump out an airlock either. A man’s doing all right when his body obeys him, even when it doesn’t want to, right?
End of Sample.
Copyright 2012 J. Daniel Sawyer, All Rights Reserved