For far too long I’ve been procrastinating about writing my own stories. The usual reason is that I’m too busy writing stuff for other people, and while this is somewhat true, it’s still just an excuse.
“Those reasons why you can’t are just excuses. There is always a way. No excuses, get it done.” Those words are mine, tweeted a few days ago. I think it’s time I started following my own advice for a change. So, though I’m not usually one for all the New Year’s resolutions malarkey, this year I have resolved to write a lot more for myself.
Those who know me know that I have been toying with the idea of releasing a short story collection, called Flotsam. It’s that which I’ll concentrate on, while also, from time to time, adding more words to A Negative Bind.
So, as a treat (I’m not sure “treat” is the correct word…), here’s the beginning of a short sci-fi/horror story which will be included in Flotsam.
All Our Tomorrows
“We’re comin’ in too fast!” Benny wailed.
“Well yeah, no shit, Sherlock. Why’d you think that would be then?” Cal surveyed the ruined console in front of him. Sparks spluttered in dark recesses – recesses where dials and readouts were supposed to be. Heading indicator, velocity readout, life support and system updates, fairly useful things like that. Acrid smoke drifted in the cockpit, redolent of burnt ozone and melted plasteel.
Benny clambered out of the navigator’s chair in the rear of the cabin, coughing in the smoky atmosphere, and made his way forward, finally dropping heavily into the co-pilot’s seat next to Cal.
“Can’t you do summet, Cal? You’re the pilot, like, so can’t you do that flying shit you do?”
Cal grimaced and took a deep breath, immediately regretting it as a coughing fit followed. He looked over at Benny, wiping his streaming eyes as he did so.
“No, Benny, I can’t do that flying shit that I do, ’cause we ain’t flying, we’re fuckin’ crashing.” His voice was calm, reasonable, but the look in Cal’s eyes revealed that all was not sweetness and light with the Captain at this particular moment in time. Benny flinched as Cal’s hand settled on his shoulder, squeezing it painfully.
“And we’re crashing, Benny, ’cause we somehow managed to fly into a fuckin’ asteroid. Now, you’re the navigator, so why the fuck didn’t you do your navigating shit and navigate us around that fucker?”
Benny’s shoulder cracked audibly, and painfully, as the Captain’s hand squeezed harder still. Cal had paid a backstreet TechMech back on Khollos IV to replace the servo-motors in his worn out cybot arm with illegal Pluton powered ones, and he had revelled in showing off his mech aided strength ever since. At least he can’t blame me for losin’ his arm, Benny thought as he gritted his teeth against the pain. That was his own damn fool fault.
“C’mon Cal, it weren’t my fault, I was busy…”
“You were busy jerkin’ off to Cylerion porn, that’s what you were doing!” The spacecraft lurched alarmingly, and Cal released his grip. Benny gingerly rubbed his shoulder, convinced that something was broken. The lights clicked off, then back on again. A muted alarm began to wail somewhere behind them, and a soft, feminine voice politely advised them that they should evacuate the ship immediately. A single red light blinked on and off above their heads.
“Shit!” Cal flicked a switch, flinching as it sparked and hissed, belching more smoke at him. “Double shit!”
Benny suddenly felt claustrophobic. The view screens were no longer working, damaged in the collision, and the cockpit now felt exceedingly small. He looked around fearfully, panic slowly slipping its icy tendrils into his stomach.
“Cal? Captain? What…?”
Cal fixed him with a despairing look. “Mr. French, I believe that now would be a good time to make for the emergency pod. And then, maybe, pray.”
Benny didn’t need telling twice – he was out of his seat and on his way before the Captain had finished speaking.
* * * *
The two men sat on the ridge of a tall dune as the twin suns reached their zenith in the sky above. Cal surveyed the distant desert through the viewscope while Benny sipped tepid water from his aqua-pack. Three days had passed since their unexpected arrival on this world, their stricken cargo craft breaking up as it entered the atmosphere.
They had nearly roasted in the oven of their emergency pod as it too blazed a trail through the ozone. Gravity had taken over and they hurtled towards the ground, panic rising between them until, with a sudden jolt, the large ‘chute deployed, slowing their descent to a slightly less terrifying speed. Through the small view port the terrain below could be seen – sandy desert from horizon to horizon.
“There’s definitely something there in the far distance,” Cal said, still looking through the viewscope. “I can’t quite make it out, it’s like a dirty smudge on the horizon.”
Not in a talkative frame of mind, Benny grunted by way of reply. Their relationship, strained at the best of times, had rapidly declined since the crash. He gingerly touched his left eye, wincing as his fingertips brushed over it. The swelling had started to reduce, but the pain lingered. He had escaped uninjured from the emergency pod, only to walk straight into Cal’s fist, with the full power of his cybot arm behind it. He was out before he’d hit the floor, and so missed Cal’s venomous tirade against him and second rate navigators in general.
Cal lowered the viewscope and looked at Benny. “A grunt? Is that all? Don’t you have anything useful to say?”
Benny took another sip, rinsed his mouth, and spat the water out, aware he was wasting precious fluid but not caring. “You can’t make it out, even with the viewscope. If you can’t see what it is, then what the hell am I supposed to say, Captain? I’ve only got me two eyes, and one of them is swolled near shut.”
“Okay, fair point. But do you have any idea what it could be?” Cal unhooked the tube to his own aqua-pack and took a long sip, grimacing as the brackish water reached his mouth.
Benny scratched his head where his scalp was beginning to peel. He’d never been any good in the sun, his pale skin easily burnt even in the mildest of summers. So two suns glaring down on him from a cloudless sky was downright unfair, in his opinion.
“Well? Anything?” Patience wasn’t one of Cal’s strong points.
Benny met his gaze. “It could be smoke.”
Cal’s eyes lit up. “Smoke! Yeah, exactly what I was thinking! When I was a kid the factories of Newchester looked like that, ‘specially from a distance. And if there’s smoke, then there must be people!” He was on his feet, scanning the horizon with his scope again.
To Benny, the presence of smoke, if that’s what it was, didn’t necessarily mean people. It could be due to any number of things. They had no idea what, if anything, lived on this god forsaken planet. The newest star charts referred to it only as AR159C – Possible Oxygenated Atmosphere – Unexplored.
“We need to check it out. It’ll mean a long hike for us, but we can do it.” Cal slipped the viewscope back into its case and slung it over his shoulder. “We don’t have much of an option anyway, seeing as you broke the emergency radio.”
Benny lunged to his feet. “What d’ya mean, I broke the radio? The friggin’ thing ain’t worked since we left Khollos IV, ’cause you were too tight to get it serviced. That, and everything else on that bag of bolts you called a ship. The Federation should’ve grounded you years ago! Don’t you go blaming me for shit you caused just to save a few Creds!”
Cal was walking away, heading to their small camp by the emergency pod at the base of the dune. He stopped, and turned to look at Benny. His eyes were glazed, no sign of emotion in them whatsoever. Benny closed his mouth with an audible click and stepped back a pace.
“I’m the Captain. Your Captain, Mr. French. What I say, goes. So if I say you broke the radio, then you broke the damn radio, okay? Good.” Cal turned and continued down the steep slope, sliding on the loose sand that sucked hungrily at his heavy boots. “Come along now. We need to make preparations.”
Benny stood and stared after his retreating Captain. Cal had always been on the wrong side of stable, and it looked very much as if he was losing control. Benny thought Cal becoming unstable, out here on this friggin’ never ending beach, would be a bad thing. A very bad thing indeed.
As always, that shallot.