Scott Coon, Lost Helix
Publisher: Dancing Lemur Press
Date: June 2, 2020
Length: 268 pp
ISBN: 9781939844682; 9781939844699
Lost Helix is the key...
Stuck on an asteroid mining facility, DJ dreams of writing music. His dad is a corporate hacker and his best friend Paul intends to escape to become a settler in a planet-wide land rush, but neither interests DJ.
When his dad goes missing, DJ finds a file containing evidence of a secret war of industrial sabotage, a file encrypted by his dad using DJ's song Lost Helix. Caught in a crossfire of lies, DJ must find his father and the mother he never knew.
When the mining company sends Agent Coreman after DJ and his guitar, DJ and Paul escape the facility and make a run for civilization. Will DJ discover the truth before Coreman catches him?
* * *
After the system kids finished their celebration, DJ waited while Paul changed. Then they headed to DJ's empty apartment for an unsupervised night of violent video games. As the elevator whooshed them toward residential level nine, Paul made an announcement. “I've decided not to wait. I have the money, and I don't need their worthless diploma in the mining arts. After the championship, I'm bouncing out of this human habit trail.”
For the first time in their lives, Paul's pipedream felt real. He could feel it already.
He tightened his jaw. “Have you even figured out how you're going to get off the station? They bring our food in by drones, and the shuttles are locked down. Did you come up with something else?”
Paul grinned from ear to ear. “Oh, don't you worry about that. Unlike school, I've been studying for this. There are more ways off this station than you think. It's more a matter of choice at this point. I'll be sending you a holo from New Greene.”
New Greene. DJ couldn't imagine a place like New Greene, where you could go outside without a pressure suit and walk around under a sky. It would be strange. It would also be strange to be here without Paul. Paul was right. His dad was right. DJ needed to figure something out before Black Mountain figured it out for him. He didn't want to be a miner, but he didn't want to be a farmer, either. But how could he become anything else?
He didn't know.
DJ managed a meager smile. “I hope I get that message, but I don't want to see your body floating outside my window.”
Paul snorted. “You'll never see my body floating outside your window. I'd aim my body at the corporate center and try to smash in an executive's window, all big and flashy the way I like it. You should come with me.”
DJ jerked his head back. “What? Smashing through a window?”
Paul smacked DJ's shoulder. “No, jack-knob, to New Greene! What do you have keeping you here? Not like you have any plans or a girlfriend or money or friends, besides me, really, or...”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Even if we don't die getting there, you can't tell me what I'd do for a living. Even if I had the money for a lander, I don't want to be a farmer. I mean, the ride in would be fun but...” He pictured Paul falling out of the sky in one of those landers, riding his ugly metal box down onto unspoiled prairie, unfolding it into a homestead, and plowing the surrounding plains into farmland. What DJ didn't see was himself.
Before Paul could answer, the elevator doors opened and there stood Brian Hochstein. As his gaze met DJ's, Hochstein's mouth dropped open.
DJ furrowed his brow. “What are you doing here? Is my dad home, too?”
Hochstein's looked away. “I...My mission was canceled. Derik...Your dad...He...”
DJ looked past Hochstein to where Mrs. Schumer stood in the hallway in her flowered Mumu. Behind Mrs. Schumer, her current crop of babysitting jobs peered out from behind her. DJ's own apartment door stood wide open. What the hell was going on? He pushed past Hochstein and stomped down the hallway. Paul and Hochstein followed.
Inside, DJ found Agent Coreman overseeing two technicians as they hunched over holographic screens projected from interface nubs plugged into the apartment's walls. The techs copied everything in the apartment's computers to stacks of data chips for later analysis.
Coreman didn't turn to see who stood behind him before saying, “I told you to go home, Brian.”
DJ dropped a heavy foot, ringing the metal floor like a bell. “What the hell is going on?”
Coreman turned. A momentary expression of surprise appeared but vanished behind his well-practiced public relations mask. “DJ, it's good to see you, son. I wish it weren't under these circumstances.”
Hochstein put his hand on DJ's shoulder. “Your dad went on his job. He hasn't checked in, and we can't find his transponder signal. We don't know where he is.”
DJ's heart plummeted to his stomach.
“I'm sorry we have to be here,” Coreman said, but his words were a distant echo to DJ's ears. “Because of the sensitive nature of the systems that Agent Fletcher worked on, we have to audit the apartment's files. It's standard procedure.”
DJ fought to keep his knees from buckling.
Hochstein squeezed DJ's shoulder. “Your dad is quite resourceful. I wouldn't be surprised if he turned up tomorrow, limping his shuttle into one of our stations.”
DJ glared at the agents. “Are you even looking for him?”
No one answered.
Paul shoved his way in from the hallway, with his fists quivering at his sides. “You jack-knobs! You just want your precious company files. You're not even looking for Mr. Fletcher, are you? Is the Return-On-Investment not big enough to bother to save his life?”
One of the techs informed Coreman that they were done. Hearing that, Paul ordered, “Everyone get out of DJ's apartment now.”
On his way out, one of the techs bumped DJ's Rigozy off its stand, but Paul caught it before it hit the floor. Paul glowered at the tech until he exited the apartment. Finally, the agents and techs had retreated with their data, leaving them alone in the empty apartment.
Tears streaked down DJ's face. “I can't believe them. Mr. Hochstein is Dad's best... He was supposed to be my dad's best friend. But no one is even looking for him. No one!”
Shoulders squared, Paul planted himself in front of DJ. “No. Someone is looking for him.”
DJ's brows twisted. “Who?”
DJ wiped his face, giving himself a moment to grasp Paul's suggestion. “And how are we supposed to do that?”
“Where was he going?”
“I never know where he's going.” DJ sighed. “It changes half the time anyway.”
Paul snapped his fingers and said, “What about the shuttle logs? I bet you could get into them.”
DJ shrugged. “I could get into the shuttle logs, but not from here.” He sat on the couch and brought up the computer interface on his HV.
“What are you doing?”
“They care more about their files than my dad,” DJ snarled, “so I'm finding out what they cared so much about...”
He wrote and ran an audit program that would list the apartment's files by size and date. As it ran, he started writing another, a more analytical program, but the first program completed before he could, filling the air with an esoteric matrix. DJ stopped typing. “I think I already found something.”
“Look.” DJ enlarged a grid of colored blocks tagged with dates, sizes, and other details.
Paul cocked his head. “And I'm looking at...?”
“This block here.” DJ zoomed in. “This was a big, old file. You can tell by...uh...never mind. It's complicated. But whatever that file was, it was here at least five days ago or it would've been purged in the clean.”
Paul shrugged. “I barely passed keyboarding, so whatever you say, buddy.”
DJ leaned back on the couch and stared off into his own thoughts. “Someone deleted a big file that was at least twelve years old. And it was hidden inside a maze of folders.”
Paul dropped beside DJ on the couch. “You think it was them?”
DJ rubbed his eyes. “I don't know. It could have been them or my dad.”
“Can you get the file back?”
“No. Those jerks deleted the whole restore folder. There had to have been something in there or they wouldn't have done it.” DJ drove his fingers through his hair. Was this file anything at all? Or was it nothing?
It didn't feel like nothing.
Paul sat up. “Okay, what's next? How do we find your dad?”
If DJ wanted to find his dad, he needed to start from the beginning of his dad's last assignment. “Do you know anything about the shuttle bay modules?”
Paul answered with his silly grin.
About the author
Scott Coon has enjoyed success as a science fiction short story writer, winning accolades and publishing over a dozen works in various magazines. Formally a U.S. Army Intelligence Analyst and currently a software developer, Scott brings his technical experience into his work, along with a sense of spectacle.
Scott's first published story, “Firewall,” appeared in Nth Degree Magazine in 2006. His short "Enduring Winter" was a finalist in the Writers of the Future Awards, won Second Place in the New England SciFi Writers Assn Contest 2016, and was published in Bewildering Stories, Issue 849, March 2020.
Scott hosts Writers of Sherman Oaks Critique Group meetings and National Novel Writing Month write-in events. See his website for links to his published short stories and his papers on the art and business of writing: www.ScottCoonSciFi.com.
Copyright © 2020 by Scott Coon