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Story 3

Paul Lamarre

Paul Lamarre was in the Navy during Operation Desert Storm serving as a Nuclear Machinist mate or ďNukeĒ as they called them. He served on the nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser USS MISSISSIPPI. He lives in Midlothian, TX with his wife and three children.

He currently works as Supply Chain manager for a global plastics company.

You can reach Paul at pglamarre@att.net.

My job can get very stressful at times. I work a lot of hours and never really get a break or even a little vacation. I wanted to write a story about someone like myself, or worse, who has a stressful job and is finally forced to go on an exciting vacation. That vacation is so much fun that he comes back a different man. I hope this is portrayed in my story.

-- Paul Lamarre

Join us in welcoming Paul to 4StarStories. This is his first appearance, but hopefully not his last.

We've all had our bad experiences, but this truly is The Vacation from Hell.

 

 

 

 

 

Domalon-a-Ding-Dong

By Paul Lamarre

"Youíd think after centuries of air and space port security I could at least get through a scanner with my shoes on," I purposely said aloud.

The security guard scowled as he inspected my old, comfortable shoes. At one point, I thought he was going to take a sniff. If I had known that, Iíd have worn older socks.

"Andrew, you need to relax before they throw you in a cell." Brenda smiled.

Brenda was my best friend and the love of my life. The one who agreed it was tough to live in a world of boneheads. The only one who realized the hell I went through at work on a daily basis. She knew about my co-workers whom I had to idiot-proof things for, the shipping department who could never make the simplest decisions without calling me first, and the delivery boy who was obsessed with jet bike flybys every morning in vain attempts to make me spill coffee on myself. Most of all, Brenda was the one that suggested this "fabulous" vacation to the ice planet Nobolia, and denied me sex until after I returned.

"I was right to make you go on this vacation. Donít worry. The company can get by without you for a long weekend," she said.

"No, we need to call this off," I pleaded. "Theyíll mess things up, and Iíll have three times the work when I return." My motivations werenít entirely work related, and she immediately noticed.

"Take a cold shower when you get to your hotel. That will help." She grinned and blew me a kiss.

"Thatís a myth you know. It doesnít work. All I end up doing is thinking about you in the shower with me. It makes it worse." My feeble, puppy dog face failed miserably. "Besides, Nobolia is all ice. How much relaxing could I possibly do there?"

"Your itinerary is all set. Just follow it. Youíll come back a different man, I promise. Iíll be right here when you return. If youíre in a better mood, and not so stressed out, Iíll consider something fun." Her soft lips touched my cheek. "Iíll make it worth the wait," she whispered, knowing that would make it worse. She grinned, waved and walked off with that sexy walk. I froze in my tracks to stare.

I was amazed she stayed with me. She was beyond gorgeous. Long, wavy brown hair flowed down to her shoulders. Bright, ice blue eyes highlighted a flawless face. The curves of her body swayed to a light rhythm every time she walked. She was an unstressed wedding cake designer, and I was an overworked, stressed out vice-president of planetary logistics.

She seemed to get younger every day, where I on the other hand seemed to get older with every call from the office. A grey hair formed every time my data pad beeped with a new message.

I was still in good shape. Clean cut with a touch of silver in my dark brown hair. It was still thick and real, a rare thing for a man of 22nd century earth. Brenda always said she liked it that my hair wasnít purchased. Sometimes she touched it a little too much.

I repacked my carry-on from the disarrayed pile left by security and headed to gate 531A. The boarding process had just begun as I walked up to the boarding bridge. The interstellar cruiser floated just beyond the tethered passageway. A row of large windows lined the tunnel. The humongous red and white ship filled the foreword glass. The earth slowly rotated far below. Looking at a height like this outside on earth would be terrifying, I thought. Extreme heights were never my thing.

I tore my eyes away from the extreme blackness beyond the planet, and headed towards the entrance. It was a small hatch and even at 5í6", I had to duck.

A sharp smell of leather overwhelmed me as I stepped forward. Synthetic animal skins had come a long way over the past hundred years, but were still extremely expensive. Now I knew where the interstellar transport union spent all the high-priced ticket revenue. An attendant greeted me with a fake smile.

"Right this way, Mr. Thomas," She said and motioned to a black reclining chair along the aisle.

Brenda knew I hated window seats, I thought. She knows me so well.

The cushioning molded to my back, comforting every spot as I wriggled. The seats were set up in two rows of two with a good-sized aisle separating the groups. A steward entered the coach cabin through a silk curtain. He stopped at each row and spoke with the passengers one by one.

"Ready?" he asked, just before engaging a hypo-shot of slipknox-3. The small hand unit hissed and then popped. The passenger instantly passed out. Some of the larger passengers took two shots.

Slipknox-3 was an airline money saving idea and the only drug approved for this purpose. Force passengers to sleep the entire trip, and you donít have to feed or wait on them. Thatís perfect, especially during a thirty-seven hour trip like mine.

Slipknox-3 worked on 99% of travelers. Unfortunately, stress and/or caffeine addiction hindered the effect on that other one percent. It was my turn.

"Ready, Mr. Thomas?" he asked.

I nodded.

First shotÖ, nothing.

"Oh, we have a tough guy here," he chuckled.

I gave him a "get on with it" grin.

Second shot, nothing.

"Is this supposed to do something?" It didnít hurt the first time but the guy managed to land the identical spot the second time.

He gave me a "shut up" grin.

Third shotÖ, same spot, more pain, but again nothing.

He threw a video tablet and a couple of movie chips in my lap, then shifted to the woman beside me. She dropped in one shot.

"Thatís it?" I was about to stand up and give him a shot.

"Nope." He scowled. "Tell me when youíre done. Youíll probably need a few more video chips before we get to Nobolia. You really need this vacation donít you?"

My foot itched for a butt to kick.

I felt no movement until we made the hyper-jump. The attendant counted down from three to one and then my kidneys felt like they were dancing on my wisdom teeth. The sensation dissipated quickly, but the weirdest part was that the event left a bean-type taste in my mouth.

The attendant was pissed at me for being awake, and he wasnít afraid to show it. The transport industry had a special rule. Attendants could sleep if all passengers slept. Since I couldnít sleep, he was stuck with me. I could have sworn he was going to slit my throat the third time I asked for another video.

"Is anyone else awake?" I cringed, ready to dodge a hit.

"Only us, even the captain is sleeping. Normally everything would be on auto, but not this time." He scowled, threw the video chip at my chest, stomped off and disappeared behind the curtain.

#

We landed, everyone else woke up, and the attendants herded us out of the ship like cattle. I headed straight to the baggage claim. I was the only one who had had three horribly bland meals during the trip. I guess those nutrient rich hypo-shots while sleeping wasnít enough to fill everyone else up. I was nearly trampled by all the other passengers rushing the little cafť near the docking tunnel.

The change in gravity hit me as soon as I stepped off the ship. I was actually lighter. It was as if I had always carried a person on my shoulders, and they suddenly jumped off. My feet never left the ground, but I still bounced with every step. The tension in my shoulders eased, and I took a long deep breath. The extremely cold air burned inside my lungs. It took a few huffs to get used to it. I followed a trail of foggy little breath-clouds from the people before me and headed to the area marked "Ground Transportation".

A row of small, linked buses lined the curb right outside the baggage carousel. The buses hovered in mid air about a half meter above a thick steel beam. A sign, glowing red neon, hung above the buses. It flashed "Rail to Sled Port 3." An attendant pointed towards me then jerked her arm towards the sign. Like the good calf, I followed directions and climbed up into a bus. It was small and cramped but the ride was so smooth and fast, I hardly noticed the movement.

I had originally booked an Anti-grav jumper flight from the spaceport on the capitol island Nobol to the resort island of Lunga, but Brenda changed that. Getting from island to island was one of the planetís biggest and best attractions, sheíd said, and I would miss it by taking a jumper. I had to ride the sleds, just had to.

The old-fashioned looking sled port was rustic but very clean. The sleds themselves were very different than I had imagined. I had thought they were like hover-cars, but was very wrong. They looked more like silver beer cans with pointed noses rather than hover-cars. I placed my bag behind one of the back two red leather bucket seats, and waited.

A man sat down next to me and nodded hello. "Ever done this before?"

"Nope," I replied.

"Me neither, but Iíve heard itís exciting."

He sat back as black vinyl straps rolled over his shoulders, locking into place with a click. I copied letting the same thing happen. The belts were snug at first but quickly adjusted to my size. A driver jumped into the single front seat. The sled wobbled hard and almost tipped over. Even when he was sitting down, his head was above the front seat. Just like every other native Nobolian, he was tall and skinny. Most other Nobolians had pale skin with very little hair, but this man had a bushy black beard and thick shiny hair that looked as if it hadnít been combed in years. I assumed he was a transplant. He looked back and smiled.

"Ready to roll?" he asked. "Friends call me Klyde, so you can call me Klyde." The belts rolled over his shoulders, but he shook them off. A red light glared and he punched the override. "I canít drive with those damn belts on." He slammed a lever forward and we burst from the docking station.

"Ya see, the planet Nobolia has only three large islands. Each is E-QUI-DIS-TANT to each other." He drew out "equidistant". "Can you believe they call it the galactic ice rink?" He waved his arms up, releasing the controls. We lurched hard left. "Thatís not doing the planet justice," he said, "lots more to do here than just skating." He balanced the craft and slammed the lever again. My chin attempted to punch through the back of my skull.

Ice boulders and large snow mounds shot past. The sled maneuvered through the slalom with fluid motions; we leaned into every turn. White clouds shot across pale blue skies as we rolled back and forth across the ice.

"Wow," Klyde yelled. "Did you see the size of the tusks on that skeet?"

I forced my head around but saw noting. Klydeís arm shot past my face as he pointed aft. "Did ya see it?" The sled jerked to the right, landing on its side but still moving at the same speed. The sounds of ice grinding against metal echoed throughout the sled.

"Whoops." He leveled out again. "Sleds are designed to roll. Wanna see it tumble? We can even ride upside down."

"NO! NO! NO!" the man next to me yelled but was too late. It took everything I had not to scream as Klyde jerked us into a roll.

Ice rushed past only centimeters below the tops of our heads. The metallic glass sparked at every slight bounce. The sled reverberated with tiny cracking sounds. I knew my forehead was about to be smeared across the ice. I was seconds from screaming when Klyde jerked the controls again, making us roll four times before leveling off. His schoolboy chuckles were just a bit louder than the violent breaths of the man next to me.

"Least ya didnít yak." He laughed. "Last lady did -- took me hours to get the damn seat clean."

"Are we there yet?" I asked.

"Almost. By the way, did ya see the skeet? Tusks must have been a meter long." He drew his hand out about a meter from his face while raising his upper lip, exposing his buckteeth. The other hand remained on the controls, thank God.

"Skeet? Whatís a skeet?"

"Itís like a hippo on earth, only furry with long thick tusks. Kind of like what youíd get if a hippo banged a walrus." Every breath of his giant laugh rocked the sled. He slapped his hand hard on the controls. "Theyíre grumpy and mean and attack just about anything."

"What a disturbing visual, thanks," I said. "By the way, what are those bright blue lights over there?" He followed my pointed finger forward.

"Crud, stupid balloon pilots using safety field nets. Youíll go blind if ya look at the reflection on the ice. Theyíre not supposed to use them during the day. Emitters are too strong. More and more tourists getting their eyes damaged. Theyíre working on safer field emitters but no luck yet. Big waste of money, thatís what I think. No one ever falls out of balloons--they go to damn slow."

Klyde radioed in and within minutes, the blue light was gone. It was truly hard not to look at the reflection.

"Ok, here we are." He yanked back on a lever, straining it to its limit. The belts constricted and the back end of the sled swung forward. Sliding sideways, we popped up and into a small space in perfect alignment. A nauseating wave rushed my head as the sled canopy opened. I stood up and grabbed the sled to regain my balance. The other man rolled out onto the pad like a beached whale. Attendants swarmed to his aid.

"Iíve got to do that again," I said.

"Iíve never seen such a big smile on a passenger before." Klyde laughed and slapped me hard on the back. He pointed towards a row of rail buses. "Later," he said and walked off.

My itinerary for tomorrow included balloon rides and domalon feeding, another brilliant Brenda suggestion. The rail buses took me to the hotel and I checked in.

#

The sweet aroma of fresh-brewed coffee filled the hotel room, a perfect wake-up call for a not-so-bad nightís sleep. I downed the entire pot, while admiring the large breakfast already set out at a table near the door.

My itinerary beeped an appointment on my data pad, interrupting a pleasant breakfast. The air balloon launching station was only a short rail bus ride from the hotel, so I headed out.

The long, grey and silver platforms came into view, allowing a first look at the funky-shaped balloons. They were a lot smaller than hot air balloons on Earth. Thin and very high stalks shot up from the basket into the top ball. The baskets were different as well. Each was about four meters in diameter with a one-meter opening in the center. Purple cloth seats encircled the opening, which allowed passengers to look straight down. The rail was light brown hardwood, making them look like church pews. A small winch and hook hung above the hole, just below the flame blower.

The seat fabric softened as I sat. I leaned back, spreading both arms out along the rail. The polished wood was cold against my fingers. Five other baskets hovered in a straight line along the long, grey launch platform, each towering balloon a different shade of silvery blue. Four other people soon joined me. The last man in closed the short door, locked it and introduced himself as Beket. He jumped up in the control seat, pulled down on a cord and flames shot into the towering balloon.

Up close, the fabric of the balloon was a metallic texture in a hexagonal pattern. The small sections flickered as sunlight reflected off the shiny surfaces.

"Planetary ice fields are up to one kilometer thick in some spots. Water depths below ice have been measured at 1000 KM in certain areas," Beket said.

It was hard to comprehend water that deep. "Thatís some deep water," I didnít realize I said it aloud.

Beket laughed as if he had heard that comment a million times. "Domalons are the most famous indigenous Nobolian animals. They live in the oceans under the ice, spending the majority of their time down deep. They rise up for a special meal at least once a day. Skeet rats are their main food source. Skeets, as the locals call them, wander the icy surface searching for food, which is an algae that grows in bunches along the thinner areas of the ice fields."

"How do domalons get to the rats?" A very attractive woman sitting three people down asked.

"Great question," said Beket. "Domalons crash through the ice and grab the wandering Skeet rats. Itís a fantastic sight." Beket winked, stopped the speech and concentrated on his navigation pad.

Kilometers and kilometers of endless, shiny ice rolled under our six-balloon tour group. Sun and clouds reflected on the surface creating a magical mural on a glassy canvas.

"How are you controlling direction?" I asked. "There doesnít seem to be much wind."

"Watch," He pointed upwards.

The squares of the checkerboard pattern shifted angles. The large forward section turned black, and the surrounding areas remained silver. The balloon shifted gently aft. I could hardly tell until I noticed the ice change direction.

"Solar sail?" I said.

"Thatís right." Beket smiled. "But not really a sail so to speak, the fabric is a hyper-sensitive. We get a heavy solar-ray activity out on the fields, either straight from the sun or bouncing of the ice. Itís a perfect set-up."

"This planet amazes me more and more each hour." I wasnít lying. The planet was fabulous. Brenda was right again. "That was a kind of small course change. Can you change direction faster?"

"Yes," he said. Beket seemed a bit annoyed but I really wanted to know. "We always travel in groups of six or more. Each balloon has a heavy-beam generator aboard. We can bounce lasers of each other and create faster course corrections."

"Incredible." I leaned back and could not restrain a smile.

Beket returned to his piloting. "Weíre heading to an area of thinner ice. I hope we can draw some domalons up. They have a sweet tooth for something in addition to skeets." He pulled out a grey-colored roll of something I did not recognize. "Nobolian kelp." He raised it above his shoulders, bracing it with both hands and struggling to keep it lifted. "This kelp only grows on ridges along the shores of the three islands. Still under the ice, but just close enough to the surface to get enough sun. Domalons just love it. Some have even thrown themselves upon coastal ledges to get it. They die, stuck with mouths full of kelp."

He placed the kelp down and rolled it out in one long strip. With a thud, it banged against the side of the basket preventing it from unrolling completely. The smell of days-old rotten eggs soaked in seawater filled the air. The ice-cold breeze didnít have enough gusts to blow it out of the basket. The rancid stench clogged my windpipe. I guessed the kelp strip to be about six meters long and about a half meter wide. Beket connected one end to the winch-hook, letting the other end drop down through the center basket hole. The massive grey ribbon dangled over the ice. The other five balloons copied.

"Get ready now," said Beket. "We should be over the spot soon."

I peered over the edge of the basket. Shadows sleeked across the ice just under the surface.

"Here they come!" Beket yelled and pointed at the lead balloon.

The wind died for a second. A stifling silence and then a loud, echoing crack vibrated the ice for kilometers in every direction. It reverberated through the static air. I jumped out of my socks as ice exploded under the lead balloon. A gigantic creature emerged, shooting straight up at the basket full of tourists.

Dark blue from nose to tail, the humongous beast made a thick line connecting ice to basket. Blade-like spines lined the entire length of its back. Flat snouts, that were disproportionate to the rest of its long cylindrical body, poked out in front. I had seen ancient footage of whales on earth but nothing like this. Sections of cracked ice fell to the surface, shattering into smaller pieces. The dislodged chunks glided on the tensionless surface, scattering in every direction.

The domalonís giant mouth opened wide, gulping the hanging kelp in one swift bite. The balloon jerked downward and then recoiled when the kelp broke free. Like a slick human high diver, the creature performed a graceful back flip, completing the task with a dive back down through the hole it had just created. Astounding that a creature that size could be so graceful. It was showing off, I could feel it.

Beket gave me a stiff elbow to the side. I was about to smack him when he pointed downward. Tourists from the balloon closest to us screamed and pointed our way. The woman next to me yelled and clutched my leg in a death-grip claw. I decided to look down instead of slapping her.

A giant mouth raced straight up at us. It opened so wide I was positive it would swallow the entire basket. The other passengers attempted to jump back but their seatbelts locked them down. The claw woman nearly pushed me into the massive jaws. Several rows of fine teeth gleamed in the sunlight. I could almost reach out and touch it.

"Those fine teeth are razor sharp, donít you dare touch!" Beket yelled.

I was a little irritated that he thought I was that stupid.

The amazing creature snatched the kelp. It did its flip, and the air under the basket rumbled as the massive length rolled by. The slimy blue spines glided past as small splashes of water sprayed upwards. The spikes didnít look so blade-like at this distance. The domalon disappeared into the frozen depths with hardly a splash. Never in my life had I seen anything so miraculous. We watched three other jumps under other balloons. The group circled the spot for hours.

"This is a hot spot," said Beket. "Skeets are very active here. So as you can see, domalons come here to pig out and party."

It didnít take long for another domalon to jump at our bait. The beastís head burst through the ice. My first instinct was to back off.

The domalon bit, jerking the winch but the hook didnít let go. The resistance denied the domalon the graceful flip. It pulled down towards the surface. Everyone screamed as the basket tilted. With lightning reflexes, Beket grabbed the winch, released the hook and the kelp broke free just before the basket hit the ice. Flames shot out, lifting us up with a jolt. I noticed that the lady across the center hole from me had her belt unlocked. I quickly released mine and grabbed her arm. It was just in time because she fell forward almost out the center hole. I pulled her across and threw her on the seat. The balloon jerked again as flames moved us higher. Next thing I knew I was falling and grasping for the edge. I didnít understand the gravity of things until my tailbone slammed against the solid ice. My back and head followed through, but I rolled to the side just enough to lessen the blow. Clutching the back of my head, I slid across the wet ice. Needles pierced my skull as I came to a shivering halt. My back ached. Shooting pains traveled up my spine, merging with the needling sensation already in my head. If we had been any higher, I would have definitely broken my neck.

I rolled to my stomach and laid flat with arms and legs spread wide, just like Beket instructed us to do in the unlikely case we fell over-- unlikely my ass. Then Klydeís voice came to mind. "Skeet rats attack everything."

In the split second between the throbbing in my head, I thought of something else. How could a domalon tell the difference between a human and a skeet rat under a meter or more of ice?

"Man over! Skeets, four o-clock," Beket yelled. "Get him up now!"

Brilliant flashes of red light illuminated the sky. Five of the six balloons unloaded a barrage of laser light on Beketís balloon.

Three skeets came into range.

They were rugged, awkward, and very big. My muscles began to tighten and my stomach turned as they headed right my way. I slid away from them as fast as I could, but they moved over the ice with ease. Their size and stature hid their true agility. They spread out to encircle me. My pants were suddenly getting very warm.

The ground shook and cracked beneath one of the skeets. A mist of seawater and flying ice shards expanded in every direction. I ducked my head, covering it with my hands, hoping to avoid impalement by the flying projectiles.

Again, the surface shook and exploded in front of me. A white misty cloud of snow and crystals spewed out. The mist cleared. The one remaining skeet ran away fast, but his escape attempt was futile. A giant head burst through the ice and gulped up the rat in one swift bite. The head disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.

Something tickled my back. I was startled and turned over. A rope ladder dangled from the balloon. Thank God. I grabbed it, holding on as tight as possible. The passengers pulled up as the balloon lifted higher. Flames burst from the blower. I wished I were closer so I could get some of that damn heat. My hands were so numb, I could hardly hold on.

Screams echoed from the other balloons. Almost to the bottom of the basket, I reached out for a hand. The first attempt failed and I fell backwards, getting both legs caught in the rope ladder. I looked down. A domalon rose from the ice. Absolute fear strengthened my abs. Sit-ups were not my specialty but this one was awesome. I grabbed the rope ladder and pulled hard, away from the approaching, massive mouth.

The creature slowed and closed its mouth. I knew my ass was going to be chewed, but it must have realized I wasnít kelp. I was lucky. I probably had the scent of rotten eggs soaked in seawater due to the load I just dropped in my pants.

My new best friends strained hard, pulling the ladder with all their might, red faces glowed against the blue-sky background. They heaved one last desperate tug as I rushed up through the hole. Beket immediately threw a thermal blanket around my shoulders. Body-heat slowly returned and pulsed through my skin. Everyone sat back and took deep breaths, filling the air with vapor clouds.

"That was too close," Beket said and wiped sweat from his brow.

I shook all over, mostly from the cold. A tear froze on my check. Beket noticed. He patted me on the back and then returned to the controls.

For the first time ever, I was happy just to be alive.

The sun set over the horizon and orange, red, and yellow sunrays colored the ice. Rainbows formed everywhere. I could have sworn Iíd seen the view in a painting or something, pure frickín magic.

It was over. We landed gently on the platform. I stayed in the basket allowing everyone else to leave first. Whether from exhaustion or embarrassment, I couldnít move. Passengers from the other balloons eventually came over to check up on me.

"That domalon looked like it kissed your butt," one man with a strong drawl said. "I hate to laugh but it did look kind of funny." His wife slapped him.

I could think of something else that could kiss my butt right now. I held those words in and gave him a simple grin.

After purchasing a holo-vid of the day, I headed back to the hotel. Brenda would never believe this unless I showed her. Unfortunately, there was no recording of my little extra excursion on the surface.

That night I slept like a baby.

I spent two more days on Nobolia, mostly relaxing and ice skating on the endless rinks of the world. I always asked if domalons could break through in these areas. People mostly laughed and said domalons never went after humans. They had no clue.

On my last day, I headed back to the main island to catch my flight home. Klyde actually let me drive the sled once. I thought I was going fast, but Klyde slept the whole way.

On the flight home, it only took one shot to put me out. Thirty-seven hours later, I was back on Earth. Brenda was there at the terminal to meet me, just as she had promised. Her face glowed with a big smile and I told her everything.

"You know," I said, "I really needed that vacation."

She smiled a beautiful I-told-ya-so, then leaned in to whisper. "No sleeping tonight, if ya know what I mean."

END

 

 

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