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Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge – A Space Opera

September 15, 2015 Leave a comment

Chuck Wendig has issued a Flash Fiction Challenge, and I thought I would give it a go. As he often points out on his blog, practice, practice, practice.

Zero lay on his back in the airshaft, trying to keep his breathing slow and deep. Digging that microchip out had hurt more than he’d expected, but not half as much as inserting the replacement. The pain and lack of air was making him light headed. They had turned off the fans hours ago to force him out and the air was getting stale. And it wasn’t as if he could crack a window; they were in short supply on galactic battle cruisers. He was beginning to think cutting off internal sensors might have been a mistake. Sure, they couldn’t track him, but he’d never subscribed to the death before dishonour crap. He was more a live to fight another day, kind of guy.

His closed his eyes and mentally checked his link to the mainframe. Yep, it was still up and so was the hidden subroutine he had started once he realised he had missed his rendezvous. Plan B had never been attractive and he wanted to reassess the potential downside again before committing.

‘Computer, do you have the results of subroutine beta three?’
The computer pinged an affirmative.
‘Well what are they?’ he asked. The damned computer always got difficult if he didn’t use her proper designation.
A female voice purred in his ear, despite his request for a neutral gender. ’30 percent chance of success. Possibility of death 18 percent. Possibility of injury and recapture 47 percent. Unknown outcome 5 percent.’
Shit, it wasn’t the 47 percent that bothered him, or even the 18 percent, it was that pesky 5 percent. For some reason he always ended up in the 5 percent.

Screw it. For a 30 percent chance of getting off this gilded prison barge he would risk it. He rolled over onto hands and knees and began crawling as quietly as possible through the network of air ducts. If he ever got back onto his own ship he was having that baby overhauled so there were no vents bigger than a hand span. The last thing he wanted was people roaming about his ship undetected.

He tapped back into the mainframe and hacked into the video feeds in the main dock. He knew they had suspended all regular outgoing ships but they couldn’t stop the diplomatic delegations from departing. There couldn’t be a hint from the Council he had escaped their control.

Three ships were waiting to depart. The ship from the Brennan franchise was out. They were carbon monoxide breathers. He would be dead before they uncoupled the clamps. The second ship was too obvious as it was heading for the Free Trading quadrant. Zero frowned and refocused the video feed onto the third ship. If he remembered correctly there had been an alliance from the Outer Rim. None of the members were rich enough to support their own fleet so they were travelling in a third party vessel. He didn’t know the markings, but the delegates had been air breathers so it should be safe enough. All he had to do was get aboard.

He felt a subtle vibration and a soft breeze which told him the virus he had installed had finally broken through their firewalls and the air was back on. Thank whatever deity was watching because if it had taken much longer he wouldn’t had had to bother with finding a way off this crate. They would have found him then, eventually. He remembered one time a sand crawler had slipped into his ship undetected and died in one of the hidden storage cubes. The smell had lingered for weeks.

Two hours later he had crawled his way to the air ducts above the slave quarters. Practically the only change the Empress had implemented since her ascending to her father’s throne had been outlawing slavery. Zero was convinced it had been a financial rather than humanitarian decision. Apparently it was expensive housing all of those extra bodies.

There was no video into the private quarters, so he had to listen at each room until he found one that seemed to have only one occupant. He waited another few minutes before cracking the vent and peered inside. A female. That was no good. He continued on. At the third attempt he spotted a male about his size. He scooted around until his feet were pointing at the vent, gave it a good kick and jumped into the room before the vent casing had hit the floor. The slave shrieked and leapt across the small room for the door. Before he could make it, Zero had him by the back of his tunic.

‘Calm down.’
The man struggled for a moment but as he twisted he caught sight of Zero’s uniform and slumped in his hold, whimpering. Zero let him go and he fell to his knees, then prostrated himself.
Zero tisked. ‘All right, that’s enough. Get up.’
The man peered fearfully at Zero from his prostrate position but didn’t move.
This got old so fast. ‘Where are your clothes?’
The slave pointed a trembling finger at a bag sitting beside the bunk.
Zero picked it up, opened it and rummaged through the contents. ‘Is this all you have?’
‘Yes Lord, Her Imperial Highness, Greatest of all Empresses issues each of her loyal servants with an extra outfit.’
Zero shook out the cheap pants and shirt. ‘Oh well, it will have to do.’
‘It is all I have,’ murmured the prostrate man.
‘Yes, well I guess I only need one outfit.’ Zero quickly stripped out of his uniform and donned the clothes. ‘Do you have shoes?’
‘Just the pair I am wearing.’
Zero wrinkled his nose at the idea of wearing someone else’s shoes. Oh well, needs must. He had already modified the manifest to the Outer Rim alliance’s ship so he had to look the part.

Zero shuffled forward until he was in the middle of the pack of ex slaves queuing up to board their ship. He tried not to think about the possibility the chip he had so painstakingly inserted was faulty as he held out his arm to be scanned. The wand beeped and he was waved on board. Keeping his gaze down as befitting an ex slave, he followed the woman in front of him. After he felt the clamps release, signifying they had left the docking bay Zero could hardly contain his glee as he queued up with the rest of the slaves waiting for room assignments. They were each offered a datapad and shown where to place their thumb print. When it was Zero’s turn he goggled at the screen proclaiming him the property of the ship and crew until his debt incurred for transport had been discharged. Seven years for a three week flight? Unbelievable. He looked around his new prison with dismay. Goodbye frying pan, hello fire.

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Categories: Blog Entry Tags: ,

Choices

September 11, 2015 Leave a comment

Here is a flash fiction story I submitted to Fireside Fiction, but they weren’t impressed.

“She’s coming.” The wind whispered to Maggie, slipping under the door and rattling the windows.  She looked up from her workbench where she was grinding a concoction of herbs and gazed blankly around the inside of her cottage, hoping she had misheard. Perhaps it was a tricksy mouse scuttling across the floor, making fun of her. But the room was empty of mice. The huge kitchen hearth stood centre stage on the back wall, her work area where she was standing to the right of the hearth contained a jumble of benches and shelves holding an endless arrangement of jars, bunches of dried herbs, piles of raw minerals and assorted junk. To the left was a tidy seating area comprising two chairs on either side of a low table.  A small bed rested against the far wall, neatly made up with a colourful plaid blanket. There was nowhere for mice to hide.

“She’s coming.” The wind taunted louder, a swirl of smoke and sparks belching from the fireplace.

Maggie put down her mortar and hurried over to the hearth, stamping on the tiny embers. “Nobody is coming,” she scolded the impertinent wind.

Another gust of wind sent smoke billowing across the room. “You called her,” sighed the wind.

Maggie shook her head, and jiggled the flue to shut out the wind and the smoke and the summons. She returned to her workbench and picked up the mortar and pestle and ground and ground and ground the herbs, muttering to the obstreperous wind.  “Nobody is coming. I was angry, that’s all. It wasn’t a proper calling. Grief shouldn’t count”. The wind laughed.

#

The rabbit hopped a few steps into the clearing and paused. The paw on its rear leg was badly mangled, the leg trailing in the dirt hindered its progress. The fur on the lower part of the leg was matted with blood and pus, picking up dirt and dried grass as it moved deeper into the clearing. It hopped hesitantly forward for a few more steps then paused again, looking around dully.

Maggie knelt down in front of it and reaching out cradled it gently between her bony, work worn hands. It blinked, but barely twitched as she picked it up, cradled it against her scrawny chest and stood. She carried the wounded rabbit across the meadow that fronted her small cottage, shouldered open the door and ducked through the low doorway.

Maggie tutted to herself as she shoved aside a collection of bottles and gently placed the rabbit in the space provided.  Keeping one hand on its back as a precaution in-case it tried to escape, her other hand hovered over the group of bottles, until identifying the correct one she picked it up, shook it a few times and put it back down again. She fumbled the stopper out of the bottle and waved it under the nose of the passive rabbit.

It’s nose twitched, it made an aborted attempt to jerk away and then slowly slumped over.  Maggie quickly replaced the stopper. It wouldn’t do to get a whiff of that particular concoction. She hurried over to the hearth and picked up the kettle simmering gently beside the fire, brought it back over to her table and poured some water into a shallow bowl. Putting the kettle on the floor, she picked up a cloth, dipped it into the water and began to clean the wound.

#

The wind rustled a warning just before her cottage door was flung open and crashed against the wall. Maggie continued dabbing at the rabbit’s leg.
“That’s my kill,” said a female voice.
Maggie looked over at the stocky young female standing in her doorway, legs braced apart and arms akimbo, a bow slung over one shoulder and a hunting knife strapped to her thigh.“Oh no dear, he’s not dead yet.”
The girl strutted into the room. “My trap, my rabbit.”
“But he wasn’t in a trap,” said Maggie, reasonably.
The girl made a move to reach around Maggie for the rabbit. “I tracked him here.”
Maggie grabbed her hand and bore it down to the table, away from her charge. “My cottage, my rabbit.”
The girl wrenched her hand away. “Do you know who I…”
“Oh yes.” Maggie tilted her head slightly, “Well I know who your father is, which is rather more to the point.”
The girl flushed. “You can’t take what’s not yours. I hunt these woods. What I catch is mine.”
“Think of it as a trade. You took something of mine. I take something of yours.” Maggie glanced at the array of bottles on her table. “I had thought to take something else.”
Looking around the Spartan room, the girl sneered. “As if I would take anything of yours.”
Maggie continued talking, as if the girl hadn’t spoken. “I had a cat you know. A marvellous mouser, but she would wander out into the woods, even though I warned her. She also thought she knew best.” Maggie shook her head and glanced at the girl’s bow. “One day she came home with a most terrible hole in her side.”
The girl swallowed, looking a little uneasy. “Well it wasn’t me. I kill what I aim at.”
Maggie stroked the rabbit. “Is that so?”
The girl took a step forward, hand dropping to her knife. “Give me my kill.”
Maggie bent back over the rabbit. “No.”
The girl turned on her heels, stomping out of the cottage. “You’ll regret this.”
“Perhaps, but choices must be made,” said Maggie to the sleeping rabbit.

#

“They’re coming.” The wind whipped through the tree branches above Maggie’s head. She resettled the pack on her back. “They’re here,” cried the wind.
The rabbit stuck his head out the top of the pack and twitched his nose inquisitively. Maggie glanced back once at her cottage as the flames shot skywards with a roar, almost drowning out the screams. The rabbit ducked back down.
“They’re gone, sobbed the wind.

Categories: Blog Entry, Story