This is my entry for 2016’s Sci-Fi London Flash Fiction 48-hour challenge.
I’m an avid sci-fi reader, but have only just started to consider writing my own stuff.
This was my first attempt. Sci-Fi London gave me a title (in this case Solo Pilot) and an optional scientific idea to use. In my case, it was a rather difficult idea of the Earth breaking free from its orbit around the Sun. Word count is set to 1,500 words. Here was my attempt, unfortunately I wasn’t shortlisted but I still had lots of fun and plenty to learn from.
“What am I supposed to do then, shake his hand?”
“Don’t be so fucking sarcastic,” Lel replied, stifling a giggle. “But our lonely spaceman’s been asleep for longer than a Vabiosari’s mating hibernation so try not to scare him too much.”
“Yeah, and he’s probably just as horny,” came Erka’s voice, echoing out of the crew hatch that led to the EVA room below.
“Shut it,” smirked Lel.
It was a good haul alright. Their first haul. Lel’s boss would be impressed if they managed to pull off a perfect reanimation.
She turned her attention back to the shuttle’s monitors and made a second attempt at hitching her craft’s docking tunnel to their bounty. She was trying to make contact with what appeared to be the life raft’s access hatch, but nothing this species did ever really made much utilitarian or scientific sense to her, so the rectangle-shaped outline could well have just been an aesthetic pattern sprayed on by the owner himself.
Down below, Erka pulled on her grav slips as the smart-suit finished wrapping her in a bubble of extra-vehicular life — a precaution, in case the docking went south.
“Look, let’s just try and get him back here before we wake him up,” said Lel, now speaking into a comms mic routed directly to Erka’s suit. “Your face would be the last thing I’d want to wake up to, on second thoughts.”
Erka grinned and looked down through the viewplate between her feet. The broad side of the life raft was veering closer at a rate of two or three strides per second, she reckoned, with the letters A U L painted onto the side of the raft reflecting back under their shuttle’s beamlights. Just a few moments before, the entirety of the raft’s livery was visible: M RAUL INDUSTRIES.
That’s how they knew who was inside.
A clanking vibrated through the craft. “It’s hitched,” crackled Lel’s voice over the mic. “Go get him, girl!”
The docking tunnel pressurised, inflating. Erka dived through the hatch into the pristine white umbilical concertina, leaving the artificially induced gravity of the shuttle. She drifted down the twenty or so strides towards the rectangle Lel had, correctly, worked out was the raft’s access point. Despite the atmospheric pressure that now filled the tunnel, it was quiet away from the hisses and hums of her own craft. Erka revelled in escaping the cramped confines at last. She could hear herself blink.
Michael J. Raul was one of the backwater planet’s most prolific entrepreneurs, Lel’s civilisation had learned. Raul, like a handful of others who could afford to, used his wealth and space technology to launch himself off-world a few months after the planet’s scientists had realised what was happening.
Erka was enveloped in a flurry of dust motes as she cracked open the raft’s access hatch and the atmosphere adjusted, albeit very briefly. Her suit instantly remedied the temporary lack of visibility, and she let out a long whistle.
“What!?” asked Lel. “What’s happened?”
“Jeez,” answered Erka. “Talk about getting trapped up your own backside, this guy loved himself.”
“What can you see?”
“A fucking megalomaniac,” she chuckled.
Erka was confronted with a mosaic of picture prints and lens photographs of Raul himself. From the floor to ceiling and to the arch leaning over Raul’s sleep pod, the interior was slathered in photographs from all stages of Raul’s life. Raul with what looked like relatives; Raul with parents; Raul with domesticated pets; Raul with children; Raul with numerous heads of states; Raul as a young boy, holding a model rocket.
Lel’s civilization, and a few other interested higher societies, had been impressed at the rate of scientific advancement that had occurred recently on the planet. As the doomsday event struck, unbeknown to everyone, breakthrough cryosleep research that was very much still in the research phase had turned out to be a key technology that would aid the privatised space elite flee the planet.
They headed in all directions in the hope that one day they’d be awoken. But their cryosleep tech constraints meant that most of these ships, essentially life rafts, could only accommodate one human; one human who hung onto the slither of hope that had come from the signals sent by Lel’s people soon after the Event had started. Raul and those like him went ahead with a last ditch effort at self-preservation.
“Hey, Lel, you really have to come down and see this later. He’s only gone and covered the cabin with photographs of himself.”
“What, why?” said Lel.
“No idea, maybe he was worried whoever found him wouldn’t know who he was. The penultimate, self-obsessed exhibition of a life-long narcissist before climbing into the pod.”
Erka gave her best attempt at a curtsy in the direction of most of the photos. “Your majesty,” she mouthed.
“Ha! How’s the pod looking though?”
“Yeah, it’s fine. Lights green, the same pod design as all the others,” Erka said.
Up in the shuttle’s control, Lel could read the life sensors a little better now that the raft’s door was open, giving her computer a way in past the radiation-resistant exterior.
“Yep. Confirmed. He’s not dead, that’s for sure. All go on my side.”
They had been too late to help. A destructive and ultimately fatal shift in the planet’s inner mantle core had created catastrophic mayhem, pitching Earth off its 23.5 degree tilt and knocking it out of orbit. With rotation slowing and Earth falling out of its habitable zone around the local star, a complete ice age hit in less than one of the planet’s total orbits.
While they had started monitoring the planet long before Lel’s birth, first contact had not yet been made, and with the disaster catching all parties off guard, they had been too far away to send timely rescue. But the radio signals did get through, informing Earth’s inhabitants to their galactic neighbours. Many interpreted the signals as God. Raul knew it wasn’t.
Erka bounced over towards Raul’s cryosleep pod, wafting away the odd photograph or trinket that hovered in her path.
The ochre, horizontal coffin-like cabinet came into full view. Erka lifted herself up over the pod from its bottom end, coming up parallel to the letterbox window where his head would be.
“Let’s take a look then, I…woah.”
Erka’s eyes froze open.
“Get down here. This isn’t Raul.”
The pod’s cover whined open, dragging her long, auburn hair up in the zero gravity; hair that was entwined with a solid gold ring threaded on a necklace around her neck.
Lel’s eyes moved down, then back up to meet Erka’s as they hung either side of the pod.
Erka was welling up, tears forming but not falling, trapped in a reservoir she couldn’t see clearly through.
Lel, mouth agape, turned slowly back to look along the body of the woman who was not Raul.
The naked bump that was the woman’s stomach kicked.