Daniel Warner is a ghost writer by day and a comic book writer by night.
He is based in Orlando, Florida, where he is studying screenwriting.
Things had been going fine for a while. Plenty of guests, most stopping by to grab some lunch on their way to other destinations. Most people were headed to Earth, which was a delight this time of yeah, but some adrenaline junkies were determined to get to Mars before it got fully terraformed. Jack had never been.
There was enough to do at the diner, and since he’d upgraded the kitchen to robots a few months back, he had plenty of time on his hands. The biggest issue was the impending space route relocation. For the past twenty years, the diner had been prosperous thanks to all the cargo ships going from Venus to Mars via route F, and private ships via route H. Jack’s space platform was floating right between the two routes. Now that Mars was almost done, the Federation wanted to combine them, building one mega highway. With malls and other attractions along the way. They wanted the diner gone, but Jack wasn’t going to just walk away.
The little bell over the door jingled, bringing Jack back to reality. With a smile on his face, he stepped towards the guest.
They kissed. Sally was a regular, and they were a little more than friends. As always, her beat-up ship was outside, but Sally herself was different, somehow off.
“What do you have there?” Jack asked, looking at a little tin box in Sally’s hands.
“No idea, hon. Found it at your doorstep.”
“Huh.” He saw a tiny note on the box that read To: A Stellar Diner!
Sally handed him the box and sat in the same booth she always did, the one in the corner that gave them privacy. “Alright, let’s go! I’ll have the usual, please!”
Jack’s watch recognized the order and sent it to the kitchen, and Jack went behind the counter to open the box. He noticed Sally was withdrawn, no jokes or funny stories from the road. Stress, perhaps. Jack couldn’t blame her. The space route thing had everyone on the edge.
Jack popped open the box open and saw nothing but a tiny info-chip on the bottom. He glanced up at Sally, then back down, and inserted the chip into his watch. It was old tech, something people used to send each other back when direct transmissions weren’t secure.
The watch gave a slight vibration, and text appeared on its screen:
They’re making me do it, Jack.
Jack’s face went hot. He raised his eyes and saw Sally already getting up from her booth, something metallic in her hand. Jack didn’t wait to find out what it was. He turned around and leaped towards the kitchen, as Sally’s first shot shattered the glass countertop. Another shot landed on the kitchen door just above his head.
Jack shut the door and locked it, suddenly frozen. How could Sally be–
“Open the door, Jack!” she demanded from the other side of the door. “I have to do this! They’ll kill me!”
Jack took a few steps back, and then heard several more shots, as Sally was trying to destroy the lock. And she would do it sooner, rather than later.
“Block the door!” Jack commanded one of the kitchen bots.
He really had to run. Going upstairs would be pointless, and even though he had a gun in his safe, he had no time to get it. There was only the back door.
Jack stormed out of it, hoping Sally would still be occupied inside. Jack’s ship was out front, in the corner of the lot, so he would have to circle the diner. Left, or right? A fifty-fifty chance of Sally meeting him halfway around the building. He went left, and that proved to be a wise choice.
He heard Sally break into his room on the second floor. That was good. But what wasn’t good was the sight of Jack’s ship with its hood smoking.
Son of a bitch…
Sally’s truck was the only option now, but how would he get in? Jack ran to the driver’s door and pulled the handle. Locked, of course. It was an older model, Jack new, but not old enough to be mechanical. He tapped on his watch, scrolling through recordings. He played one: Open the door!
The door popped, and Jack climbed in. It truck was electronic, but had only a primitive voice-recognition system.
Jack played another recording: Alright, let’s go!
The engine started, but right at that moment, the driver’s door flew open, and he saw Sally aiming the gun at him. On reflex, he slapped the muzzle, and when the gun went off, it hit the windshield, cracking it.
Jack jumped at Sally, knocking the gun out of her hands and throwing her to the ground.
“How could you?” he said.
“They made me. You know they’ll do anything, they’ll kill my family!”
Jack picked up the gun with a shaking hand. He raised it and shot her in the leg.
Jack dropped the gun and turned around, tears stuck in his eyes.
The truck first hovered, and then took off, speeding away from the platform. Was the Federation really that desperate to get rid of him? Jack didn’t care. He got their message.
Perhaps, he would finally go to see Mars, after all.