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Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge – A Space Opera

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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