There is a long story about ‘Black Fiction’ that I could tell before sharing this scene. I got my BA in a school that didn’t exactly have a large Black population, and I knew the one other Black guy in the Creative Writing program. Considering we both wanted to review the Book of the Five Rings, and he masks a British accent, we don’t exactly live up to media representations of Black people. Still, they say you should write what you know, and I’ve spent about 28 years of my life being Black. So I’ve always wondered what kind of story that makes. My life doesn’t create the kind of amazing ‘ethnic’ fiction that people want to read, I know that, and I accept that. Still, that isn’t something you can just let go of.
There is a bit of self-censorship early on here, to save those who are easily shocked.
Cred (Short Fiction Excerpt)
Michael barely felt the impact. It was the smell that got to him first. It wasn’t terrible, just different, strong, like an exotic dining room.
A display panel was the first light that welcomed him to station 112. It thanked him for using the service, then the door to the station lander opened with a succession of mechanical clicks. Light poured in, and Michael found himself in the center of a busy landing pad.
His lander, which only had the purpose of rocketing him from orbit around station 112 into the landing bay, was now a useless hunk of metal and parts. It had enough space for two people, or a person and their luggage, as was the case with him. On most worlds or stations, the lander company’s representatives on world would pick up the pieces later, refit it, and use it again.
This lander would never see space again unless it was as debris.
“What you gonna do with that?” Asked a man as Michael stepped out with his luggage.
He had a twitch at the corner of his mouth, and Michael could see the yellow green glow of a grill behind his lips. His eyes were hidden behind visor shades, with lights pulsating in a pattern from the center to the sides.
“All yours,” Michael said.
The guy ran his hands over each other, and lifted his chin, “You sure? No reneging, you get me?”
Michael just walked past him. The guy snapped his fingers, and a few other nearby men joined in, tools at the ready, dismantling the lander.
This was a landing pad that didn’t see a lot of use. The center was clear of anything heavy or slow to move, just people talking, trading, some leaning against some boxes. Near the edge was where Michael could see deals happening, stands with goods to sell, and men not unlike his friend in the shades talking over large crates.
Michael walked through the room, following a worked path in the tile toward the exit. He could feel eyes on him. Everyone took their look, sizing him up, figuring out what they could take. He had heard enough about One-Twelve to know he had to be on guard. Still, if he kept his head up, he didn’t think he had to worry. He was an unknown quantity, which meant he could be dangerous prey.
“Look at you, cuz.”
Michael turned and saw a guy with short black braids tied at the back. He was wearing black shades, and leaning against a beat up mini-car. He was in a blue jumpsuit that looked like it had seen years of grease stains, and just as many attempts to wash it clean.
“Devon?” Michael asked, daring to put a little hope in his voice.
Devon stood up and walked over with a relaxed step, “Little Michael, look at you.”
He put a hand out, and Michael switched his bag to his left shoulder before he took hold. He was pulled in for a hug, then Devon slid his fingers from Michael’s grip and snapped dramatically.
“Wow, little Michael turned into a big man, can’t believe you came back.”
Michael looked away, looked over the street in front of them. It was set up like any of a hundred other stations, the ceiling right above, and row after row of square structures dressed up to hide the fact that any of them could have been a store, a storehouse, or an apartment building.
Except, One-Twelve was colorful. Michael had seen colorful stations before, with buildings painted beautiful designs, the ceiling painted to look like a summer day. They tried to take that edge off of living in deep space. This was a different color. It was the rust in the dull patterned ‘sky’, and the neon sign in a window next to a boarded up store.
“I had to,” Michael said, looking back down to Devon, “You know?”
“Fuuuck no,” Devon said with a smile, “Look at you, in your stuffy slacks, pressed color under there, you look like a bot.”
Michael rolled his eyes, “What?”
“Yeah, like a n****bot, programmed to file taxes and keep a triple-A credit score.”
All Michael could do was smile, he expected the hazing. That’s what you got when you left, and tried to come back. It was the only way to make up for lost decades, to pretend he didn’t come from a different world now, hadn’t gone native.
“I’mma call you Cred,” Devon said, pointing two fingers at Michael’s chest.
“Man come on,” Michael said, “What’s all that, little D?”
“Fuck you, I’m big D now,” Devon said as he opened the door of the mini-car, “Now get in the car, Cred. Lets get out here before they lock the shit down.”
He said it like it was nothing, but Michael knew the threat was real. He didn’t want to be caught in the street, especially when he was new here. He went to the opposite side, put his bag in the small space behind the seat, and squeezed into the car. With the door closed, Devon pressed a button, and an electric whir kicked up. He turned the car around almost on the spot, and then headed down the main avenue.
“We going to see her right away?” Michael asked.
“Too late tonight,” Devon said, “I’ll put you up at my spot, handle it all in the morning.”
That was fine, Michael was in no rush. “Alright. Thanks for coming for me though.”
“Like I’mma leave family sitting on the corner like that,” Devon said. They pulled up to a stop, and Devon pulled out vape, and hit it. Then he held it out for Michael.
Michael shook his head no.
“Same old little Michael under there, huh Cred?” Devon said with a smoke filled laugh.
“I guess,” Michael said, watching the street signal.
The sidewalks seemed busy for a station. They were packed with characters, more color. There were mothers taking a break from their conversation to yell at their kids, gangs of teenagers in too many layers of jumpsuits and jackets, women in animal print skirts that left nothing to the imagination.
“Just like home,” Michael whispered.
Devon coughed, and let out a plume of odor, “You can say it, its a mess. But this is how they do us, Cred. This is oppression they can’t hide.”
Michael looked at Devon, and his cousin smiled at him with more cheer than any man he had ever met before.
“Right,” Michael nodded, “I hear you.”