This story is called The Real Deadwood, submitted by Cathy Illes for our sci fi writing prompt. Thanks to Cathy for this cliffhanger of a tale!
For an asteroid, it was pretty big. Stephanie thought it would be smaller, like a sort of candy, round and brief, compared to the size of a planet. She was thinking that asteroid meant pocket sized.
The Deadwood Asteroid was loomed large as the smaller aircraft scooted Stephanie and her family into the radius of the gravitation and atmosphere of what was now a small planetoid. Stephanie hadn’t been to many planets and when the asteriod filled the screen it looked as big coming up as her home planet had looked small when they left its radius to jump to Hyperdrive. Stephanie’s Mom had explained to her that they were travelling so fast that things came up and went away very fast.
Stephanie’s Dad, Martin, and his wife, Mrs. Tanya Belling, and his business associates who were in the stamping game. That’s what Martin and his friends all called their business, that ‘stamping game’. What they meant by that had nothing to do with their feet, it was about selling stamps for marking wood for export. That’s all they sold and Martin Belling travelled all over Alpha Quadrant selling it. It was while he was tramping and stamping all over the place that he found a brochure for the Deadwood Asteroid.
He couldn’t believe what a great idea it was and he put the brochure of paper that was folded into three into his breast pocket along with his pens and elastic bands and other odds and ends that made it in there and made Tanya fuss over him when she saw how his nicely ironed shirt was all stretched and messed up from having whatever he found put into his pockets. He did the same thing with his suit jackets and his pants. The Belling household was known for having bowls of matchbooks and other oddities from all over the galaxy spread all over the house.
The brochure said, ‘a realistic but safe and educational tour of Old Earth’s Wild West.’. Tanya had liked the part that said ‘safe’, and Martin had liked that part that said ‘realistic’. They both concurred that ‘educational’ would be good for Stephanie but Stephanie was only really interested in getting off Diploid for once and seeing something other than her own boring planet.
Tanya didn’t like travelling off-world. She showed Martin and Stephanie pictures of the Ionic Cascades on their home planet of Diploid. It was fifty miles of rapids ending in a vertical drop of over three hundred feet. It sounded like more fun that it was because nobody actually touched the water, they all just took hover chairs over the water. Stephanie put the pictures on the Holo and little three dimensional families squealed in joy over what must be imagined as the sheer wonder of being splashed by the rapids that they bobbed over irregularly.
Finally the part that said, ‘safe’, convinced Tanya that it would be fine for them all to take a ship out and take the tour that the Holo brochure assured them was ‘as much fun as a bucking bronco and as peaceful as a summer day’.
They disembarked on Deadwood and it didn’t seem nearly as much fun as a bucking bronco although it was very hot. It was dusty, and not just compared to the humid atmosphere on Diploid. A tumbleweed tumbled by and Martin followed it into a box canyon between a News Holo/Paper Box (NHPB) and an old pole with a couple dozen wanted posters in various states of disintegration.
He poked the tumbleweed and then smiled at it as though it was the greatest discovery of all time. He broke off a piece and put it in his breast pocket with a satisfied grin and then started a new inspection of the post. Stephanie and Tanya exchanged a look and rolled their eyes and Stephanie began to worry that ‘safe’ was just a code for very very boring.
The ship they had come in on took off with a roar as soon as everyone was out and the luggage was unloaded. That was another thing about Deadwood, anything technological didn’t work on it for long. Even the Holo-paper box didn’t work very often so as often or not it would dispense a piece of two dimensional paper instead of a proper holo-story. Martin liked that sort of thing. He thought things from the past were a ‘novelty’ and that was strange to Stephanie, because her Personal Device had informed her that ‘novelty’ meant something new. Dads could be difficult that way and very confusing. It was best just not to think about it and let him muck up his shirt with tumbleweeds and call the oldest things ‘new’. It seemed to make him happy.
Tanya told Martin that they were going to explore, and Martin nodded in the way that meant that maybe he had heard and maybe not but it was pointless to try to make him hear anything when he was reading new/old Wanted posters and grinning like an idiot. Tanya and Stephanie giggled and took their bags up from where they had been dropped and walked them over to the hotel where the tour guide had made reservations for them. It was called ‘Miss Kitty’s’ and there was a wooden sign out front that showed a blonde girl wearing a big hat and lifting up a long frilly dress so that you could see her stockings that were striped with chipped paint to be white and red. She was kicking her one leg up and wearing little tiny red high heels that had faded to nearly pink from the sun and the dust.
Inside it was loud. There were girls on a stage wearing dresses that showed a lot more than the girl on the sign and they were kicking and singing on stage while a man with an enormously long, oiled mustache played a piano loudly while a monkey turned the handle of an organ at his side. The room was smokey and crowded with people drinking and hooting and playing cards. Stephanie noticed that Tanya didn’t like it much and that there were a lot of people who were men drinking all by themselves or with other men. The women who weren’t dressed ‘authentically’ looked bored and prudish in comparison.
The room was crowded and small and even though they hadn’t packed many things, their suitcases clogged up the room. There was a double bed that was lower to the ground than Stephanie was used to and it was on plain, square, wooden legs and painted white. There was a tiny little cot that pulled out from under it and was barely off the ground. This was for Stephanie and when it was out there wasn’t even room to get around the suitcases to get to the washroom that had only a little shower in it, a regular old fashioned flush toiled and a pedastal sink in it. Everything was painted neatly in pale blue or white. They could still hear the music and the thump thwomp of the type of stamping business that is done with feet.
Stephanie looked out the window. Martin was nowhere to be seen.
“Can we explore, Mom?”
“I guess so, but how about if we do it after Mommy has a nap. I’m tired out from all the travel.”
Stephanie didn’t argue but she didn’t agree either. Tanya had dark circles under her eyes and Stephanie could bet that they were only in part from the space travel and Hyperdrive and an even bigger part from having to forgo the luxury of the Ionian Cascades for this ‘novelty’ room.
Stephanie only waited until she heard her mother’s breathing change to slip quietly out the door. One thing she knew was that if she was going to be bored out of her mind on a brand new exciting asteroid she wanted to see that boredom up close and see if maybe there wasn’t a bit of fun tucked up in it after all.
She didn’t like Miss Kitty’s much more than Tanya had and she snuck like a little ghost around the perimeter of people and out the front door. She walked along the wooden sidewalks and looked at the false fronted buildings from different angles and around corners. Finally she came to an area that was fenced off with rickety, unpainted boards and a large worn-down sign that said, ‘Danger, actual Deadwood ahead. NO TOUR ACCESS.’
Stephanie looked behind her. There was no one around to see her push on a badly attached board and slip through into the real town of Deadwood.
On this side of the fence the town was a lot dirtier than the other side had been. People scurried into stores, some of them looking evil faced and squinting like they were bugs who weren’t used to being out in the light. A lot of them had big old scars and some of them limped.
Stephanie walked until she came to a store labeled simply, ‘General Store’. There were jars of candy and other goods in the window. She went in.
There was an old woman behind the counter. She wore a black dress that went from a tiny line of frills right under her jaw down a tight bodice on her skinny frame and into a large, black hoop skirt. One arm was dressed in black all the way to her wrist and the other arm was pinned up and empty of any appendage. Stephanie had never seen anyone scarred up, let alone armless. There were a million and one ways to fix things like that in the rest of the GAGA.
Stephanie gulped, this is what her Dad had wanted to see? Suddenly the interest that he had for tumbleweeds and wanted signs seemed far from innocent.
She ducked out of the store before the old lady could even finish asking her if she wanted anything and turned to go back to the fence. This was far more real than she liked and she wished that they weren’t going to have to stay here for another nine whole days.
She bumped into the waist of a man smoking a cigar that was nearly the size of her wrist. He grinned at her, and it wasn’t a nice grin at all. He had a gold tooth that winked at her in the summer sun.
“Sorry,” Stephanie muttered and then looked up in alarm when the man grabbed her by the arm.
“Well, aren’t you just so,” He muttered around his cigar. The stink of it and his body odour made Stephanie feel faint.
“I’ve gotta go…”
“You sure do, honey, you sure do. And you best go with me quiet like or I might decide that you ain’t worth the trouble of keeping alive all the way out of town.”
Stephanie looked aound wildly. A weasel faced man saw the confrontation from across the street and the small girl’s wild look and quickened his step to run into the nearest building. The streets were deserted and the man picked her up like a sack of flour in the ‘general store’.
They were outside the city and he put her on top of his horse and swung up behind her without removing his nearly spent cigar from his mouth. There was nobody around and Stephanie started to sob. The man cuffed her gently upside the head and her teeth bit down on her tongue. She could taste the copper of blood.
“Sweetheart, I’m hoping you had a nice vacation because now you’re home, and you’ll make a fine little wife with a bit of training.”
Stephanie started to wail but there was no one around to hear and over the clatter of the horse’s hooves all she could hear was the man with the golden tooth laughing at her around his stub of a cigar.