Space Opera: Flash Fiction Challenge

This weeks Flash Fiction Challenge from terribleminds: 1000 words of Space Opera.

It is mid-morning on Jump Gate Control Base Homestead, located on Nyssa-4, the fourth planet of Homestead’s star system.  The planet is a rock, not quite the size of Homestead, and incapable of supporting life.  It is bad for colonization, but perfect for a Jump Gate base.  It is close enough to the star to make good use of solar power.  Nyssa-4 is close enough to Homestead to be practical for Jump Gate traffic and the occasional shore leave, but far enough away to not be a danger to Homestead should there be an accident with the gate or a ship coming through it.

Lt. Controller Pall Boro is two hours and three cups of coffee into his ten-hour shift at the gate monitor console.  Jump Gate Control didn’t skimp when it came to supplying bases with necessities, such as coffee, but Pall couldn’t help but think the coffee tasted a bit off due to the recycled water, even if the coffee itself did come from the better growers in the Free World League.

“We make due,” Pall thinks.  He checks the duty calendar on his console and takes solace in the fact he only has three weeks left on his two month duty rotation until he can return to his home on Murdo for his month off-duty.

Pall is picking a piece of lint off of the sleeve of his royal blue duty jumpsuit when the advanced arrival signal materializes on the main holomonitor of his console.  The name and a three-dimensional model of the arriving ship take up the majority of the console, while various status reports scroll on the secondary monitors to either side.

“Control Commander Arris, FWL freighter Dependable arriving at Jump Gate on schedule.  All conditions favorable,” Pall announces.  “ETA, three minutes.”

“Thank  you, Mr. Boro,” Commander Janny Arris says.  “Keep me updated on Dependable’s progress.”  She turns her attention back to her own console, reviewing duty logs from the previous shift, updates from Jump Gate Control, headlines from Homestead and other local planets and the mess hall’s menu for the night.

“Aye, Commander,” Pall says.  He runs a scan on the area in front of the Jump Gate to be sure it was clear of debris or traffic that could damage the ship as it slid out of the gate.  He requests an update of the local space weather from the base’s satellites.  All conditions continue to be favorable.

As the six satellites that would form the Jump Gate adjust their position to accommodate the size of Dependable, Pall turns his attention to the model on his holomonitor.  Dependable is one of the newer, external carry variants the League’s shipyards were constructing.  The aft section resembles a stack of three boxes, increasing in size from top to bottom.  The top section houses the bridge and crew quarters.  The middle section is the living area for the passengers and crew, as well as quarters for the passengers.  The bottom section houses the engines and engineering.  From the bottom and middle sections, four massive cylindrical structures protrude.  Various cargo containers and non-jump capable ships are attached.  When Dependable reaches a destination, passengers and crew would access the containers and ships through the cylindrical super structures.  Once the new arrivals detached from the super structure, Dependable could depart for its next destination.

The six satellites are in position.  A timer on a secondary monitor counts down to the one minute mark.  “Control Commander Arris, one minute until Dependable’s arrival.  All conditions satisfactory.”

“Thank you, Mr. Boro.”

“It’s show time,” Pall thought.  After all of the departures and arrivals he has seen in his years in Jump Gate Control, he never ceases to be amazed by the sight.

The six satellites begin to glow with a nuclear charged light as each one forms two beams of energy connecting it to its two adjacent satellites, forming a glowing white hexagon against the black back drop of space.  The interior of the hexagon shimmers blue with Dependable’s arrival.  The bow of the super structure begins to slide out of the gate, while the rest of the freighter, still on the other side of the gate, seems to stretch into infinity.  From Pall’s angle of view, below the gate on Nyssa-4, the arrival is an optical illusion.  A ship appearing through a hoop from the emptiness of space.

The Dependable continues it’s exit from the gate until it has completely arrived.  The gate closes as the satellites power down.

“Control Commander Arris, the Dependable has arrived.”

She can hear the excitement in his voice.  “Thank you, Mr. Boro.  It never gets old, does it?”

“Never, sir.”

The model on Pall’s console flashes red.  “Commander, we have a distress call from Dependable.”

“Mr. Rodriguez, hail the Dependable, all frequencies.  Flight Master, alert all pilots and bay crews.  I want all rescue, repair, and fighter squadrons ready to launch as soon as we find out what’s going on.  Mr. Boro, continue all scans in the Dependable’s immediate area.  If a neutrino farts, I want to know about it.”

“Aye, Commander,” all three officers respond in unison.


 

The explosion rocks the bridge of the Dependable just after the helmsman announces the freighter is clear of the jump gate.

“What the hell was that?” Captain Klein says as he regains his seat on the pedestal, surrounded by his bridge crew at their stations.

“Multiple reports of an explosion on the recreation level, near the dining area,” the First Mate reports from Klein’s right.

“Rescue-Med and Fire Suppression crews in route, Cap’n,” the Security Chief reports from Klein’s left.

“Chief, remind the crews to work quickly, but keep their heads up,” Klein says.  “Where there’s  one explosion, there could be more.  And get me a visual.

“First Mate, alert Sick Bay they may have customers coming.  They can use the exercise area for triage, if needed.”

A second explosion rumbles through the deck.  A third quickly follows.

“Where’s my visual?” Klein barks.

“On screen, Cap’n,” the Chief reports.

“Captain, Jump Gate Control is hailing us.”

“As if I don’t have enough… put it through to my station, Ears,” Klein tells the Communications Officer.

A screen on Klein’s console blinks open, filling a quarter of the monitor with the image of a female, her brown hair tightly pulled back.

“This is Lt. Sasha Rodriguez of Terran Confederacy Jump Gate Control Base Homestead, hailing the Free World’s League freighter Dependable.  Do you need assistance?”

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Flash Fiction Challenge: Ryan Healey

Part Two of Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge, “Pick a Character and Go, Go, Go,” dropped last Friday.  Thanks to Kira Jessup for creating Ryan Healey and sharing.

I’m sitting on my bench.  It’s been two weeks since the woman in white came, changed her mind, and left.  Or maybe two days, or two years; it’s hard to tell.  Time passes differently for ghosts.  All I know is saving her wasn’t the act to free me from the bench.

I smell the salt air as the ocean crashes on the rocks below the cliff.  I hear the sea birds chattering as they dive for one last meal before nesting for the night.  The Sun fades and the Moon takes over.

A drunken rendition of “Freebird” draws my attention to my next visitor.  He staggers along the path towards my bench, a shoe untied and one shirt tail waving in the night breeze.  He sips from a brown paper bag between lyrics.

The pull starts with a light tingle of electricity, all over my form.  A wave of vertigo follows, so violent I could empty the contents of my stomach over my boots, provided I had contents… or a stomach.  My world settles and there is no doubt my tipsy visitor is my next project.

He’s near the bench, facing me, swaying in a wind only he can feel.

“Hey, buddy, I hope you’re ready for a show,” he says.

“You have a long way to go to beat your singing.”

“Heh, smartass.  Dontchu worry about a thing.  It’ll be over in a minute.”

He sways to his right and shuffles toward the low fence a few yards before the cliff.  I join him, leaning next to him on the fence.

“So what brings you here to entertain me tonight?” I ask.

“Stupid job.  Ten years I gave them.  Helped through some tough times, and after ten years, what thanks do I get?  They fire me.  Fuggin boss.  He’s probably just makin’ room for that creep nephew of his.”

“Man, that’s a bad break.  I hear you, but it’s just a job.  It’s not worth a belly flop onto the rocks below.”

“Pah, it ain’t the job.  It’s her.  I have to go home and tell Carli, and when I do, she’s gonna leave.”

Now we’re getting somewhere.  I hope he’s the one.

“I didn’t want to go home,” he says.  “I couldn’t face Carli, not right after getting canned, but I had to go somewhere.”

“And the bar seemed like the next best idea.”

“Ya, it did, smartass.  And after a while, it seemed best not to go home at all.”

He hikes a leg onto the fence and tries to haul himself over.  He loses his balance near the top and falls in a heap on his original side of the fence.  I can’t stop an involuntary chuckle.

“Screw you,” he says.

“Buddy, there are other jobs out there, but I think we’ll cross gymnast off of that list.”

“Screw you.”

“And cat burglar.  We should probably cross cat burglar off the list, also.”

He looks up at me in anger at first, and he begins to laugh.

“You’re right, I guess,” he says.  “You got all the answers, smartass.  Let’s see you get over the fence.”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

I step a few paces away and begin a slow trot towards the fence.  I get to the spot where I should jump, and instead, I somersault through, and stick the landing.

His laughter stops.  He lies frozen for a moment, staring in disbelief.

“You’re a ghost,” he says.

“That’s one way to put it, I suppose.  Lost soul is another.  Corporeally challenged?  That one has a nice ring to it, let’s stick with corporeally challenged.”

“Wait a minute.  Ya, I thought you were familiar.  You’re that Healey kid that went over the cliff when I was a teenager twenty years ago.  You were all over the papers, ya, I knew it.”

It is my turn for disbelief.  Twenty years?  Damn, I’ve been dead for that long?  I also don’t realize how long I have been standing here quiet.

“So,” he says, “This is your punishment?”

I snap out of it.  “Huh?  What do you mean?”

“Your punishment,” he says, standing up.  “You killed yourself, and now you’re doomed to haunt the cliff, stopping others for all eternity.”

“Doomed is kind of a strong word,” I’m starting to feel like myself again, “And I don’t know about eternity.  That seems a bit extreme.”

“Oh.  You have a release date?”

“No, not exactly.  More of a release quota.”

“Quota?” he asks.

“Ya, a quota.  After so many saves, I get released.”

“Oh.  How many?”

“That’s the tricky part.  I don’t know”

“But there is a number?”

“Yes, predetermined by some sadistic, cosmic lottery.”  Even I think that sounds crazy.

“And who told you that?” he asks.

Leave it to me to be the ghost that gets freaked out by the living.  “What do you mean?”

“Somebody had to tell you about the quota.  The ghost you replaced, maybe?”

“What ghost?  There was nobody here when I died.”

“That’s odd,” he says.  “It’s been a while for you, but you couldn’t be the first person to think of this place for a suicide.  I thought there might have been somebody else, and you helped him fill his quota so he could be released.”

“No… There was no one here.”

We’re both quiet in thought.  Seconds pass that feel like years, and for all I know they are.  We look at each other, dead in the eyes, as we both come to a grim realization.  He’s brave enough, or strong enough, to put it in words.

“Maybe there was.”

Shut up.  “Excuse me?” I ask.

“Maybe someone was here.  They just didn’t stop you.”

“And why not?”

He doesn’t want to answer.  I did just lash out at him more harshly than I intended, so I’m not surprised.  He kicks a foot in the grass, looking everywhere except in my direction.  Finally, he takes a deep breath and meets my stare with an expression of sadness and resolve.

“There is no quota,” he says.  “You had to die so the ghost here before you could be released.  You took his place.”

“That’s crazy.”  I know it isn’t.

He says nothing, just shrugs his shoulders.

“You don’t know that’s true.”

“You’re right,” he says.  “Do you know it’s false?”

He’s got me there.  It’s my turn to kick at the grass and look around aimlessly.  Another round of silence passes, broken only by the crashing of the waves.

“I’m sorry, Healey,” he says.  He turns toward the path back to town.

“I never did catch your name,” I call to his back.

He looks over his shoulder without breaking stride.  “I’m Jeff.  With a ‘J’”

“Well, Jeff with a ‘J,’ didn’t you come all this way to finish something?”

He stops.  After a short beat, he turns, and with an expression of pity this time, he says, “Ya.  Ya I did.”

“Well?”

“All things considered, I think I’ll take my chances with Carli.”

He returns to his path, and is soon out of sight.

I feel the tingling of the pull again, only now it feels sharper and stronger.  Instead of vertigo, I feel a rending and twisting sensation, as if someone is reaching down my throat, grabbing an ankle, and yanking me inside-out through my mouth.

The night is darker than it had been.  The crashing of the waves sound like barrels of broken glass poured on concrete.


Days pass.  I guess.  I don’t know.  The Sun rises and sets, but it never gets brighter than twilight.  Just me, I guess.  The living who walk along my path seem to be enjoying the weather.

Jeff with a ‘J’ comes around every now and then.  Carli is with him.  I try to talk to him, but, he can’t hear me.  Or he’s good at ignoring me.

The Sun sets.  No stars, only a dim Moon to light the deep dark of my night.

A woman passes through me and sits on my bench.  Her hair is darker than the blond I remember, with a few strands of grey.  Her eyes don’t sparkle like they used to, and they are bloodshot and puffy from crying.  I know her.  Fiona, my girlfriend at the time of my fall.  She looks to the Moon.

“I’m sorry, Ryan,” she isn’t speaking.  I think I’m hearing her thoughts.  “We were both mad.  I didn’t think I’d upset you that much.  If I thought you were going to kill yourself, I never would have let you walk out.”

“I didn’t jump.”  She can’t hear me.

With all of my will, I shout, “I didn’t,” over and over, all with the same result.

“I tried to carry on,” she thinks.  “It wasn’t the same.  I would hear something funny, or finish some project, and I would want to tell you, but, you weren’t there.  The empty never left.  It just got bearable.  I met other guys.  Eventually, they would do something  to remind me of you.  The empty would come back, and I would find some way to drive them away.  I almost ruined Jim’s life as bad as yours.”

Fi, that’s not what happened.  I did walk out, but I just went for a walk.  I tried to cool off.  I was going to come back.  I could never stay mad at you, Fi.  I saw a flower growing, just past the fence, and I wanted to bring it to you.  I went to pick the flower and part of the cliff crumbled.  I lost balance and felt the Earth disappear beneath me.  My last living thought was of you.  So much more I want to tell her, all drifting unheard into the universe.

Fiona stands and tosses her phone under the bench, “I just want the empty to stop.”  She walks toward the fence.

Fi, don’t do this.  You’ve got it all wrong.  She swings herself over the fence as I chase her through it, trying to grab her, trying to make her stop.  She passes through my efforts.

“Oh, Ryan.  I hope I get to see you again after.”

You won’t, Fi, I don’t think that’s how this works.  If I could actually scream, it would hurt.  You don’t understand, Fi, PLEASE STOP.

Fiona takes a step further than the cliff edge.

And I am replaced.