This story is by Erik Porter and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Reid touched down outside the diner. He slipped from his new Zephyr G-92 through the escape hatch rather than lowering the ramp. It seemed like a cooler way to exit.
His grandpa’s love for retro culture brought them to this 1950s themed diner whenever they got together. Today was Reid’s first time returning alone to the place that reminded him of his special bond with Gramps.
When Reid’s grandpa began his career in galaxy expansion, he led the development of the Agraria-658 sector to supply real food to most of the galaxy. Once humans could reach the galaxy’s edge in days, not light-years, galaxy expansion exploded as did Grandpa’s wealth. He always told Reid, “Right place, right time.”
The once-thriving Agraria-658 had long since accepted its obsolescence. Expansion moved outward and people evolved to consume fabricated, chemical sustenance. Forgotten by most, the residents barely survived as the sector morphed into a niche destination for anyone seeking natural food.
Reid slid into the same red, vinyl booth where he and Gramps had shared many meals and even more stories. Gramps treated him like an equal rather than a grandson, offering advice and listening when Reid needed someone’s ear.
Tonight he would celebrate Gramps. After all his grandpa had given him, it was the least he could do to honor his memory.
Reid’s gut tightened. He had another reason for coming. He locked eyes with a woman behind the counter. Reid returned her smile and grabbed a menu from between the napkin holder and ketchup bottle.
Lena. He sighed. You’ve got my back, Gramps? He closed his eyes and held his breath.
Reid almost choked exhaling. “Thanks, coffee would be great.”
She filled his mug, and Reid leaned in. “It’s great seeing you again, Lena.”
Lena squinted, “Do I know you?”
Reid’s face fell. “You don’t recognize me?”
“Sorry, lots of people come through here.” She gave Reid a slight smile. “So what can I get you?”
“Spinach and Swiss omelet, salsa on the side with bacon, half-crisp, please.”
Lena scrunched her face. “I know that order, but you’re not…?”
“I’m his grandson? Remember me now?” Reid spread his arms to let her take him in.
“Randy? Rob? R…”
“Reid, right.” Lena’s tone softened. “How is your grandpa?”
Reid lowered his chin, looking into the black hole that was his coffee. “He passed away a few months ago.”
Lena reached for Reid’s shoulder then pulled back. “I’m so sorry. He was a wonderful, kind man.”
“So…” Reid started.
“Right, let me get your order in.”
He watched Lena enter the kitchen, then his eyes drifted to the parking lot. Three guys in jeans and leather jackets emerged from a cruiser with more patchwork than his grandma’s quilt. The biggest punk pulled a comb from his back pocket and ran it through his hair. For a second Reid thought he was watching one of those 1950s movies Gramps loved.
Lena returned to refill his coffee.
Reid inhaled. “So, what are you doing after your shift?”
Lena almost spilled the coffee.
“Thought we could go out, talk more about Gramps.”
The punk and his buddies flopped down in the booth behind Reid. He noticed Lena’s eyes dart toward the new customers.
Reid motioned out the window. “I’ve got a sweet new ride, thanks to him.”
“Hey, Sweetie,” The punk in the next booth beckoned her with his finger. “You gonna take our order, or just flirt with him?” His buddies chuckled.
Lena sidestepped to the next table. “What can I get you guys?” Reid heard her voice tremble.
“Super-stacks around, bacon and sausage.”
Lena started toward the kitchen.
Reid stopped her. “Could you add a glass of OJ? Probably not as good as on Gilese-876 but I’ll give it a shot.”
Lena gasped. “You’ve been to Gilese-876? Did you see the upside-down falls?”
Reid nodded. “I’ve been traveling the galaxy since Gramps passed.” Reid waved her in and whispered, “He left me a fortune.”
“Your grandpa? No way! Generous tipper, but I always felt guilty taking them.”
“He made a fortune during the galaxy expansion and now…” Reid pointed both thumbs at his chest and winked.
Lena’s smile flattened. “I need to put in their order.” She disappeared into the kitchen.
“Buddy?” The punk tapped Reid’s shoulder. “You gonna use your ketchup?”
Reid handed him the bottle.
“That your ride?” The punk pointed out the window. “What’d she set you back?”
Reid grinned. “It wasn’t cheap. Top of the line!”
“Only the best man!”
Lena returned with two floating trays.
“Men’s room?” the punk asked.
Lena pointed. He got out of the booth while one buddy slid from the other side.
Lena placed Reid’s food in front of him.
“Like I remember.”
“You ever seen the upside-down falls?”
“Only virtually. ‘Everywhere you want to go without leaving home’” she said, quoting a popular ad slogan. “Not really in my budget,” she said modeling her waitress uniform.
“I can take you anywhere you can imagine. You deserve to see the galaxy.”
“How could you know that?” She enunciated, “You…don’t…even…know…me.”
Dishes crashed, Lena spun, and Reid rose from his seat. The punk stood on the counter. Patrons scurried toward the exit.
“No one’s goin’ anywhere.” He raised a disintegration gun, blasting a hole clear through the ceiling. The patrons froze.
One buddy blocked the front door.
“Listen up. Nanobyte’s gonna request a transfer from your Galaxy Global Credit account. You approve it, no one gets hurt.”
The punk’s smallest buddy stood tapping a device and moved toward the patrons near the door.
One man’s pocket chimed. Looking at his own device, he screamed, “I’m not approving this!”
The punk raised his gun and disintegrated the man’s leg from the knee down. The man dropped his device, grasped the cauterized stump, and writhed about the floor. Nanobyte handed the man’s device back to him. Wincing, the man tapped the screen. Reid imagined the man’s bank account being drained like the blood had from his face.
Watching his device, Nanobyte gave the punk a thumbs up. The guy guarding the door dragged the one-legged man outside. Nanobyte worked his way from customer to customer, each one allowed to leave once relieved of their financial burden.
The punk sauntered toward Reid. Lena trembled.
“Saving the best for last.” The lead punk waved his gun at Reid.
“Not on your life!”
The punk grabbed Lena and wrapped his arm around her torso. Pushing the gun into her temple, “How about hers?”
Reid stood on the booth’s seat. “Don’t!”
One goon jumped into the next booth and pushed him down by his shoulders.
“If you don’t want to see your girlfriend…”
Lena winced. The punk jammed the muzzle harder into her temple. Her eyes said, “Don’t do it”.
“Let her go,” Reid gritted his teeth.
“Not until your transfer’s done.”
Reid acknowledged the transfer on his device.
“Let her go.”
Nanobyte’s eyes widened, doubling in size. “One hundred fifteen million, man!”
The punk laughed. “That’s some tip!” Lena remained locked in his arm as he slipped the gun into his waistband.
Reid shoved the guy holding him. Lunging for the punk, he made his move too soon. The punk brought the gun full circle, knocking Reid to the ground. He stood on Reid’s forearm.
“We’re taking your ride, too,” were the last words Reid heard before the leather boot hammered his skull.
* * *
Reid’s head pounded. He fluttered his eyelids, trying to bring his surroundings into focus. He could tell the room was small but everything was still a blur. He brought his hands to his head, surprised he wasn’t shackled.
Bright light flooded the room. Reid clamped his eyes shut, covering them with his hands. Someone entered the room, but he couldn’t bring himself to open his eyes.
“My hero’s awake.”
“Lena?” Reid tried to sit up. The pain forced him down. “You okay?”
“Don’t try to get up.” She placed a hand on his chest. “Take these.” She pressed two pills into his mouth and the pain eased.
“They didn’t hurt you, did they?”
“No.” She held his hand. “They took your ship.”
“I don’t care about that.”
“And your credits.”
“Guess I’m gonna need a job.”
“Do you know how to cook?”
* * *
“Order up!” Reid hit the bell sliding an omelet under the heat lamps.
Lena grabbed it.
“Three weeks, I think I’m due for a vacation,” Reid said
“Are you ready to see the upside-down falls?”
Lena groaned. “Not another virtual tour.”
“I mean for real.”
“Right, I know how much you make.”
Reid leaned in close. “Gramps may have left his money to a cocky, asshole but not an idiot.”
Lena pulled away.
“Honestly, you wouldn’t think I’d keep it all in one account.”
Lena slugged him. “You’ve been holding out on me.”
“Just wanted to make sure you loved me for me, not my credits.” He pulled her close and kissed her.