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
"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
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
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
"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.
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"Get ready now," said Beket. "We should be over the
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
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
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
"Those fine teeth are razor sharp, donít you dare
touch!" Beket yelled.
I was a little irritated that he thought I was that
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
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
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
"That was too close," Beket said and wiped sweat from
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
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
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