Acts of Life
a brand new space opera novel by Merita King
Jake Elloway yawned as wakefulness embraced him. With a groan he threw back the sheet, he swung his legs to the floor, frowning as he realised something was wrapped uncomfortably around his left foot. A smile spread across his face as he snickered and saw the pink lace panties. She could not have been more than twenty-two and was just as he liked them; blonde, large breasted and so crazy about him that she would do anything he asked.
“Hank old buddy,” he said aloud to the empty room, “your attention to your duties is beyond reproach. Thanks man.” Hank was his Personal Assistant, and Jake decided he deserved a bonus in his next paycheck.
Being a famous vidicom movie star may have its drawbacks but it has its benefits too and Jake indulged in them all as often as he could. Hank knew all about those little extra duties that could not be found on his contract and helped ensure his employer was able to live his privileged lifestyle to the full. Henry Davenport, or Hank as his friends called him, did all the things a vidicom movie star’s personal assistant would do and he was the Elloway family’s most trusted employee. Jake knew he relied on Hank to a huge degree but he was generous and made sure he compensated him well for his devotion to duty.
The girl selected for him last night was perfect and he would be very grateful as usual. She gave him a good time and there was no need to fetch his ever-willing Assistant to escort her out for nearly three hours. That was almost a record; Jake’s dalliances with his specially selected fans normally lasted around and hour and a half, two hours at the most before Hank would discreetly escort them to a waiting car with a signed photograph for their trouble. Hers were the perfect lips for a blowjob, Jake decided and he had not been wrong. He would remember the sight of those red lips around his penis for a long time to come.
With one practised movement, he tossed the panties into the laundry basket and headed to the bathroom to shower. Today was his last meeting before taking off for three months character research and he did not like to be late where business was concerned. He enjoyed a good reputation within the film industry as someone who always turns up on time and gets the job done and he felt no compulsion to change that now. Besides, the Entertainment Council were to have their annual meeting in a few weeks to give their final votes and Jake knew he needed to court their affections. The success of all celebrities and entertainers depends upon their votes and he knew if he wanted to continue his climb up the rankings, he could not afford to piss anyone in the business off by being late for a meeting.
He thought back over the past year as he washed himself and could not think of anything he had done that might cast a cloud over his chances with the Entertainment Council. They vote once a year and discuss how each celebrity has performed, both as an entertainer but also in their personal lives. Any social mishaps or public misconduct would lose him a vote and he could slide down the rankings. Jake wasn’t about to give up his position on the leader board just yet so although he liked to indulge himself from time to time, he always made sure he did so discreetly. Although not in a position of leadership, he was up there in the top five percent and worked hard at his job to maintain his position and he always hoped to climb further.
Hank was waiting for him in the kitchen, sipping china tea and continually checking his watch. He smiled as Jake entered and poured him some coffee.
“Morning Jake,” he smiled. “Did you umm, sleep okay?”
“Hank old buddy,” Jake grinned, “I owe ya one. Thanks man.”
“You’re welcome,” he grinned. “Now what’s it to be this morning, French toast or croissants?”
“Croissants please. Have you packed everything?”
“Everything is done Jake, don’t worry. You can check your bags yourself if it’ll help you to stop worrying.”
“No it’s okay, I trust you buddy. I’m still not totally keen on this y’know.”
“I know but there’s much more to it than just researching for your next role. Think how the Entertainment Council will view what you’re doing; the attention to detail you’re showing by going to all this trouble just for a role in a movie will bring dividends at next year’s voting.”
“Yeah I know,” Jake sighed. “It’s just the thought of three whole months locked up in some greasy trash can with a bunch of equally greasy labourers. I just hope there’s at least one nice looking chick amongst them.”
“There are a couple actually,” Hank smiled. “I spoke to some guy last night who assured me that a couple of the women on board are easy on the eye.”
“Well that’s a bonus. Let’s hope they’re movie fans too huh?”
“Indeed. Now eat up, we have to be off in twenty minutes. I’ll go tell Matt to bring the car around.”
Shib looked at the sensor readout and nodded. He was pleased that his calculations were correct and the shuttle did have enough power to get them to Tellizon 4 but he was a little worried about how his companions would survive the landing. He wondered whether to tell them or not and decided that honesty is always the best policy.
“Gentlemen?” he called.
“Yeah buddy,” Nef replied.
“We’re approaching the Tellizon system now and we do have enough power in the cells to reach the fourth planet.”
“That’s fantastic.” The group sighed with relief and grinned at each other.
“However,” Shib continued, “we don’t have enough to control our landing.”
“Oh shit,” Crib hissed.
“What?” Jake exclaimed. “You mean we’re gonna crash after coming all this way? What the fuck?”
“Our power will run out approximately two thirds the way into our landing manoeuvre, which will mean we have to glide our way in and our landing won’t be the most comfortable.”
“How long do we have?” Manlee asked.
“Forty six minutes,” Shib replied.
“Okay everyone, lock down,” Nef yelled and the group leapt up, leaving Jake sitting there wondering what was going on.
“What can I do?”
“We have to lock down everything that isn’t already bolted down,” Crib called. “Anything loose could take off your head when we touch down so either tie it down, lock it up, stuff it somewhere or sit on it. Whatever works for ya buddy, just use your initiative.”
“Oh shit,” Jake hissed as he too, leapt up. “Okay, yeah.” He looked around and saw several boxes at the back of the shuttle, stacked together. He ran over, grabbed one, and looked around for somewhere to put it. He was about to despair when he saw the door to the toilet standing open. He stacked the boxes in the toilet cubicle, along with the ten emergency space suits he found stuffed into a corner, the boxes of emergency ration packs and a toolbox full of tools. He checked and double checked the rear section for anything loose and found nothing more so he shut the toilet cubicle door and went to join the others.
“Everything clear down the back Jake?” Ace asked and he nodded.
“Yeah, I stuffed everything into the toilet so y’all are gonna have to piss ya pants,” he replied. Everyone looked round at him and one by one, started to laugh.
Manlee came rushing over and handed everyone a small package.
“Here ya go guys; I found these under a seat.”
Jake took one and turned it over in his hands. It was roughly six inches square and wrapped in some kind of clear film.
“What;s this?” he asked.
“It’s a crash collar,” Nef replied. “Open it up and unfold it.” Jake found what looked like a twelve-inch-by-twelve-inch inflatable cushion three inches thick, with two stiff, three-inch wide bands attached to one side.
“You blow it up by pulling out that plug there,” he said as he pointed to a small nipple in one corner, which Jake pulled and watched as the cushion immediately inflated.
“Then you put the two bands around your neck,” Nef continued as he demonstrated, “with the cushion at the back of your head. Once we’re strapped into our seats, these will ensure that your head and neck are stabilised so that the movement of the crashing shuttle doesn’t cause your head to rock back and forth enough to damage your neck.”
“Oh I see,” he nodded. “Neat, thanks. I may have two broken legs and a shattered pelvis but at least I won’t have a crick in my neck.” Guffaws once again filled the shuttle and this time, Manlee was amongst them.
“I would urge you all to buckle up now gentlemen,” Shib called and the group leapt back into their seats and strapped themselves in. Jake struggled with his until Nef came to his aid, before strapping his backpack to a bulkhead and jumping back into his own seat.
“I’m trying to ensure we land as near as possible to one of the scientific outposts but as we will be gliding in, I cannot be accurate as to exactly how far away we will be.”
“We trust you buddy,” Ace yelled as the shuttle gave a lurch and Jake went white.
“It’s okay Jake,” Manlee said from the next seat. “It’s just the natural turbulence of re-entry. Once we’re through the outer atmosphere things will calm down.”
Jake looked at Manlee as much as the crash collar would allow and tried to smile but he was terrified and it showed.
“It didn’t jump around this much when Shib flew me up to the Mayan Queen,” he remarked.
“We are going a hundred times the speed now Jake,” Shib called. “And it is essential that I lower our speed considerably if we are to have a chance of survival. To do this I have to turn the ship’s nose up slightly so that we’re effectively in the belly flop posture. This is extremely un-aerodynamic which is the cause of the turbulence. Once we’re down further I can get the nose down a little and things will calm down, trust me.”
“Okay,” Jake hissed. “I choose to trust you buddy.”
The shuttle shot down through the outer atmosphere of Tellizon 4, the belly of the craft soon becoming white-hot and the turbulence rougher with each passing second. Jake was convinced that they were going to break up any second and although not a religious man in any sense of the word, he prayed for deliverance. All at once, they broke through the cloud layer and into the bluest sky any of them had ever seen and as Shib brought the nose down and the turbulence disappeared, the engines died. The shuttle glided silently down and those in the nearest seats to the cockpit craned their necks to see out of the windows. Thick forest met their eyes and Ace wished he had not bothered to look. He turned away and gulped.
“What?” Jake asked when he noticed him pale. “What did you see?”
“It’s thick forest down there,” he replied.
“Oh shit,” Nef exclaimed and closed his eyes.”
“So I guess that’s a bad thing huh?” Jake asked, his eyes darting from Ace to Nef and back again.
“It’s certainly not the best thing we could’ve hoped for,” Nef replied.
“Why not? Won’t the trees help to break our fall or something?”
“Unfortunately not,” Manlee cut in. “The first moment we hit a tree, the momentum will flip us over and we’ll end up cartwheeling down through the trees. This is probably gonna hurt guys.”
“But won’t they just break under our weight?”
“This shuttle is too small and at the speed we’re travelling, any sudden change of balance will have a massive effect on the whole craft.”
“For fuck’s sake,” Jake hissed. “This movie better break the box office records or I’m gonna be seriously pissed.”
“What’s the movie called Jake?” Manlee asked. “You never told us.”
“Acts of Life,” he replied. “It’s a play on words y’see. Facts of life to acts of life. It’s about this man going through a traumatic experience, but it’s also about him facing up to his life and how he gets to know himself, the real guy within and how that changes him into a better person. Up to then he’s been something he’s not, hiding behind a mask designed to keep the real person hidden away from sight and it’s all about how he finds himself again, the real person. So instead of acting someone he’s not, he becomes his true self. Y’see? Acts of Life.”
“That’s a nice title,” Ace said and Crib nodded. “Clever.”
“Thanks,” Jake smiled. “Actually I thought of it myself.”
“That shows insight Jake,” Manlee said. Before Jake could reply, there was an almighty bang, the shuttle lurched violently up at the rear, and everyone found themselves momentarily upside down as the craft cartwheeled twice through the air. Shib fought with the emergency glide controls and managed to right the shuttle moments before it hit the ground belly down with a bone wrenching crunch and slid several hundred yards; coming to rest facing back the way they’d come.
Tinnias nodded to the two men standing at each side of the main entrance and Jake went into automatic celebrity mode. The smile appeared with its legendary speed just as the doors opened and the crowd exploded into cheers. Cameras flashed and arms waved photographs and all manner of bits of paper and from everywhere, Jake’s name boomed from hundreds of mouths. After all the hell of Tellizon 4 and the terrors that lurked within its beautiful but deadly forest, this was something Jake knew how to do and he felt right at home. He descended the steps and approached a waiting crowd of media news broadcasters, each of whom held a microphone towards him.
“Thank you for coming friends,” he grinned.
“Are you okay Jake?” someone called.
“I’m absolutely fine, thank you.”
“Can you tell us what happened?” another voice asked.
“I can’t give you details about that at this time. The Law Enforcement Agency have taken complete control of the situation and they will issue statements as and when they feel it right to do so.”
“How is life aboard the space ship?” a female voice called.
“I’ve settled in very well and made some great friends, some of whom I will most definitely keep in contact with in the future.”
“Are they working you hard?” another, older female voice enquired.
“It is hard work but I’m enjoying it and the company of my new buddies makes it all the more fun.”
“Will this experience make it into a movie Jake?” a man’s voice asked.
“You never know,” Jake grinned. “Watch this space as they say.”
“We’re sure glad you’re okay Jake,” another female called.
“Thank you, I’m glad to be in one piece.”
“Have you been in touch with your family?”
“Yes I’ve called them and assured them I’m well and put their minds at rest. Hi Mom, Pop,” he grinned at the nearest news camera and waved. The crowd went nuts and Jake smiled and nodded his thanks as he set off towards the nearest crowd of eager fans to sign a few photos and get a few kisses.
Maria edged her way through the crowd and almost made it right to the front. When Jake appeared, she waved and called along with the others and decided to get to know the woman next to her.
“Oh look, there he is,” she said and the woman nodded and almost fainted, her hand over her mouth. Ilyas, listening intently through his earpiece decided Maria deserved a kiss after this for her ingenuity. “Looks like he’s gonna speak to the news cameras first though,” she continued as her companion looked disappointed. A few minutes later, she smiled and began to back her way out of the crowd towards Ilyas and Ink’s position. “He’s approaching my position now.”
“Okay Ink, this is it. See that woman over there with the little blonde kid?” Ink nodded. “Cover me but keep that trigger finger under control, I’m not into killing kids okay?”
Ilyas ran over to the woman and yanked the little blonde kid out of her arms. Scooping her up into his arms, he put his gun to her temple and started yelling for all he was worth. The crowd parted in horror as the man with the ugly scar down his face made his way through them towards where Jake was still signing autographs, unaware of what was happening. Some of the crowd started screaming, the child’s mother amongst them and within seconds the screaming replaced the cheering and Jake and Tinnias looked up. The armed guards stepped in front of Jake and started nudging him back towards the safety of the building.
“Get over here Elloway or this kid gets it,” Ilyas yelled as Ink and Maria guarded him from both sides and the rear.
Tinnias turned to the guards. “Get Jake inside quickly.”
“Elloway?” Ilyas screamed. “You want this kid getting her head blown off to be seen all over the media? You want everyone to know it was your fault this kid got murdered?” Ink and Maria kept the crowds back and Tinnias found himself in a standoff. “Get over here Jake and this kid can go back to her Mom and everyone can go about their business all peaceful like. Come on Jake; don’t make me do this. Your career couldn’t take the heat now could it?”
“Come on now,” Tinnias said as calmly as he could. “This isn’t going to get us anywhere. Put the kid down and we’ll let you get away and off Sigma before we come after you.”
Ilyas responded by shoving his gun harder into the temple of the kid who was by now screaming her head off. Ink grinned and looked at Ilyas, who nodded to him slowly. Ink looked into the crowd and picked out a pretty brunette who was standing near to where Jake was hiding behind the two armed guards, his signed picture still in her hands. The shot pierced her heart and blood spattered down the front of Jake’s crisp white shirt. Screams filled the square and those nearest to the victim tried to back away.
Jake’s mind was racing; he was terrified and just wanted to be at home amongst his family and entourage where he knew he could trust everyone. He bitterly regretted agreeing to make this trip and although Nef, Manlee, Crib, Ace and Titch were his friends, his time on board had not exactly been a picnic. Everything started off okay but he’d almost been beaten senseless by Titch, he’d somehow made Aamy and Zeke hate him, he’d annoyed the cargo bay boss Dredge by damaging several crates of cargo and gotten into trouble once by being late for his shift. Some of the others made it plain they didn’t like him just because he was a celebrity and even the gorgeous nurse Faline still wanted sex with other men. People always expected him to be as much of a hero as the characters in his movies and he knew they were disappointed to find he was not. It was embarrassing when he had to admit that he could not even fire a gun and was a burden to them on Tellizon, and Stella Bodecki had lost her life because of him. He felt like a failure and he didn’t like the way this past week or so had made him question himself. Circumstances demanded that he try to make it right and he wanted everyone to see him making it right.
He straightened his shoulders and stepped between the two armed guards towards Ilyas, the protestations of Tinnias and the guards ringing in his ears. The media cameras followed his every step and although he felt bad because he knew his parents would be seeing this, he knew he had to do it.
“Okay buddy,” he said to Ilyas. “Here I am.” He walked towards him with his arms raised. “Let the kid go, she doesn’t deserve this shit huh?”
Ink rushed towards him and locked a set of handcuffs onto him and marched him off at gunpoint. Ilyas, with Maria guarding his rear, backed off through the crowd. Kreeve set the shuttle down in the square, sending the crowd rushing away as the dust and debris blew about in turmoil from the engines. Ink steered Jake in through the hatch and locked his cuffs to a bulkhead before returning to help clear a path for Ilyas and Maria. Only when Ilyas was standing at the open hatchway did he drop the kid and rush up the ramp.
Kreeve gunned the engines and lifted off the ground to head back to base. Suddenly the shuttle lurched and everyone fell headlong.