January 27, 2020

Free Fiction Friday: Helium Party Part 2

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Those crazy space clowns at the Sons of Silliness are at it again, in a solar system spanning tale of mis-adventure. Welcome to chapter 2 of our Free Fiction Friday offering of Helium Party. Be sure to start back on chapter 1, or you can simply read the tale and others like it in their entirety.

Helium Party

by

David Dickinson

Chapter 2

“The story’s always first, you know how it is,” I replied, and let it hang at that. You know how it is with us fearless-girl-reporter types.

“Yeah, we know alright…”

I would sometimes try to appeal to their sense of “clownish pride,” asking them how they always seem to come through for their clients with even the most outlandish requests and parties, but to no avail. I knew that the central clubhouse storage depot had to hold the answer.

It wasn’t hard to lift the code from Isotope as he made his daily rounds; he used the same tired P-O-L-L-Y E-S-T-E-R password on every access point… and let’s just say that the security around the Citizens of Silliness clubhouse wasn’t really their strong suit. Perhaps it stems from a bizarre facet of the “Clowning Code,” or maybe it’s just the idea they seem to maintain that no one would take them seriously long enough to be a threat. I was soon to find out that this sort of underestimation had gotten them a long way in this universe.

I lifted the heavy latch and pushed the hatchway open. I stopped every time it creaked, not sure whether slowing it down would merely draw out the agonizing sounds echoing down the corridor or dampen them. At this time of morning, the Citizens would all be blissfully asleep, dreaming whatever it is clowns dream of.

I turned on a red light headlamp and shined it upward. A definite chill passed through my body, a radiating cold that saps a person down to the marrow. Huge, dripping tanks hung high overhead. Condensation formed in rivulets and splashed down on my cheek. Like everything else in their world, the tanks were stamped PROPERTY OF THE CITIZENS OF SILLINESS, keeping with their obsessive penchant to spread their brand logo.

I began to holo-record. Such tanks could only be used for…

“I see the nosy reporter lady has found our secret stash…” I whirled around to confront Crunchy, Lanky, and Isotope.

“You’re hoarding helium,” I said incredulously.

“Folks want th’ He; and we give it to ‘em.” Crunchy replied simply, almost biting off the stem of his corncob pipe as he spoke.

I’d raised the question with them before.

Helium was a modern rarity, common in the universe, but scarce on Earth. Crunchy would brush off my questions concerning use of the outlawed gas, tell me to stop “clowning around” and leave the nuclear physics lesson for Tinker or Isotope. But I could always tell that the topic touched a nerve with him. And if it bothered Crunchy, it was a cause for concern with all clowns, in the Guild or no. Helium is made easily enough via nuclear fusion; the problem is getting at the stuff, which is generally locked up in the atmospheres of gas giant planets or in the searing hearts of stars. On Earth, helium is the by-product of alpha decay in the Earth’s crust, but once it makes a brief stop at your local birthday party, it’s lost to space forever. Crunchy once told me that one of the biggest red letter events in clowning history was in May 1903, when the town of Dexter, Nebraska attempted to light a gas geyser laced with helium. “And the worst mistake any Terran government ever made was to release the National Strategic Helium Reserve in 1996,” Crunchy would say, looking Earthward with open remorse. This was obviously a matter of great political and even emotional importance to him. “Blasted 21st century clowns ruined it for the rest of us.”

“What about the helium-3 on the Moon?” I’d asked him, hoping to get him wound up on the subject just a bit further.

“Not the same stuff,” He’d say, dismissing the idea as a novice mistake.  “Fusion mining’s got that all locked up, anyway.”

I knew that to be true. Helium-3 fusion had given Earth a source of cheap energy for the past century. Once energy production began, the Earth governments had banned the use of helium by any clowning organization and officially, the Clowning Guild outlawed the practice of exploiting new sources of helium in the solar system.

But there were still places in the solar system to go after helium, if someone was crazy, or silly enough, to go after it…

“The Guild and the knobs in the Terran Government can’t see past their own doorsteps,” Crunchy would go on with his usual diatribe… it would take one of his ritual chocolate binges to calm him down later on. “But like I said, the kids planet-side wants the helium, and the Citizens of Silliness gives it to ‘em.”

Despite the fact that I had hit on something big, I knew better than to transmit my story to the editor just yet. I finally had the trust of the Citizens, and that’s not an easy commodity to come by. The Inner Solar System governments needed the Clowning Guild, and the people and the kids wanted the clowns, and the clowns needed the helium, possession of which is considered a Class I felony. But here in their lunar clubhouse, the Citizens of Silliness had their own stockpile for the coming… what? Clown-apocalypse? I suddenly understood the implications of the jack-in-the-box barriers and clown-faced cannons I saw lining the rim of the crater.

But all this took a turn for the worse during the next sleep cycle.

The attack came at lunar dawn. Not that day and night have a great deal of value in the underground clubhouse of the Citizens of Silliness, but I’m sure that the attack was calculated to come at the clubhouse from out of the Sun, when their surface-side sensors were temporarily blinded. A lunar “day” is about four weeks long, and such an opportunity comes around about once a  month.

The sound of Jack-in-the-Box sentries was the first thing that rousted me out of slumber. My first thought was that this was one of Crunchy’s endless drills, a late night formation to inspect ruffled collars and what not.  That illusion was shattered as I saw the purple smoke roll down the corridor and Isotope fly past me, attempting to run in floppy shoes in the low lunar gravity.

“The Killing Jokers have breached the perimeter!” He shouted as he vanished into the mist. “Will the silliness never end?” I said to no one in particular as I thought it best to don my disused excursion suit. The possibility of decompression was remote, but at least it would protect me from whatever the foul mist was permeating the corridors…

To be continued…

Read Helium Party and other works of original fiction by Dave Dickinson online.

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