Instead of a typical blog post, I decided to write some flash fiction this week. Hooray! It’s been a while since I flexed my fiction muscles, so spending an afternoon on this piece was great practice for me, even if it’s only about a thousand words long.
I’d be interested to hear any comments you might have about this flash—whether positive or constructive—as I might try to publish it later. (I’ll have to research some flash fiction publications first.)
Now, without further ado, my mini story…
The bodies in the back of the shuttle couldn’t see Earth rising to meet them, a bluish orb half buried in the dark loam of space. But Jan could. She stared at the planet on her view screen, afraid to blink. Her hands moved across the controls making adjustments, firing jets, nudging the shuttle into a gradual dive.
She should let the autopilot do this. The spontaneous dance of neurons and synapses in her head could never match the precision of computer calculations. Having a pilot aboard was just a precaution, anyway—a failsafe in case the computer took an unscheduled vacation.
But Jan didn’t care about that. The steering column gave her something to hold on to, something for her fingers to fret with. Distraction. Keep the shuttle on course. Look at the clouds, the oceans, the continents so many thousands of miles away.
Don’t think about the bodies in the back.
Don’t think about the label on the third and final bag. The label with her cousin’s name on it. Erica Warner. Cause of death: asphyxiation. At the bottom of an airless crater, a rover lying on its back like a dead bug beside her.
No. Don’t think about that.
Remember the pill bugs she and Erica used to kick back and forth with their pink-painted fingernails on Grandma’s back patio, a mini soccer game with a living ball. Remember going on a double date to the observatory, their bored boyfriends slumped on a bench while she and Erica jockeyed with other stargazers for precious telescope time. Remember the fixer-upper house, little more than a hut, that she and Erica lived in and worked on all through grad school, letting their academic frustrations flow out through a hammer, a paintbrush, a rake.
Selling the house to help finance their research projects until the next grant came in.
Getting twin phone calls from NASA, congratulating them both on their acceptance to the moon base program.
Holding a homesick Erica as she cried through her first night on the moon, a newlywed dealing with her first lengthy separation from her husband.
The memories glinted in Jan’s mind like stars. She stared at them wide-eyed, their light lancing through her mind, her heart, like cosmic rays. It hurt. But it was better than thinking about the alternative. The shuttle’s cargo. The sleepers that couldn’t be put to rest properly on the moon with no family to lay them down, no oxygen to help their bodies turn back to dust.
Family! Think about family.
Dad called her and Erica the Space Sisters.
Scientists with twin souls.
Curiosity and creativity.
Pioneers on the lunar frontier.
To the moon or bust.
Two Space Sisters made it there.
But only one was coming back.
Jan’s lungs shuddered in her chest as she swallowed a sob. She didn’t want her tears floating around the cockpit, bubbles of saltwater waiting to short out the controls.
Be strong. Think about the bottle of zin waiting for her in the cupboard in her apartment on Earth. The moon base was dry in more ways than one. The stakes were too high to risk a buzz, a mistake. A terminal accident.
The driver of the rover had dope in his system.
The base chief’s search of his bunkroom turned up a drug capsule and a vaporizer disguised as a pipette. The driver probably thought he was smuggling in a treat, a tiny reward for a hardworking scientist.
Now he was lying in bag number one, his two colleagues strapped down beside him.
One miscalculation. And over the rim of the crater they went.
Jan jabbed the autopilot button. The system beeped, confirming the computer’s grip on the controls. She unbuckled her harness, pushed herself into the air, scrambled over the back of her seat to the door. She didn’t open it. Just gripped the rail next to it as tightly as she could. She couldn’t trust herself to pilot the shuttle until she calmed down.
Earth was bigger now.
The hazy curve of the planet filled the bottom of the view screen. Weather systems swirled on the surface, patches of brown and green peeking through here and there. Somewhere on those patches lived nine billion people. How many would die and be buried by the time she landed an hour or so from now?
Jan didn’t know. And she didn’t care, except in the most abstract sense. She didn’t know those billions. She couldn’t do anything for them or their families.
But she could still do something for Erica. One last thing.
Jan took another deep breath, steady this time. Felt her scientist’s focus engage, laser straight. She had a task to complete.
She slipped back into her seat, buckled herself in. She disengaged the autopilot. Sent a comm to mission control letting them know she was beginning her final approach.
Jan wasn’t going to let her cousin’s last journey end in disaster, like the rover expedition had.
Erica’s final expedition would be this one. The one taken in a shuttle. The one Jan would guide safely, gently down to Earth.