Thursday, April 4, 2013

Prompt: The Last Human Voice You’ll Ever Hear

The atmosphere was thick with chlorine gas, glowing a sickly green in the distant sunlight. Tricky navigating, and I wasn’t about to rely on the navsat systems under the circumstances. I figured I was the most highly motivated system to get out of here alive.

“…you. Bartam 5, do you copy?” My radio crackled to life. I’d about given up on it.

I kept my eyes on the view and tapped the comm panel. “Bartam 5, copy. Coming down now. Atmo’s like pea soup. Give me some good news, Houston. Bartam over.” Static, silence, static. Same old song. No other station. I left it open just in case and headed for a break in the cloud cover.

If I could get through the gas clouds, there was supposed to be a layer of plus-four atmosphere on the ground. Hard on the body, but it wouldn’t kill me. As long as I could get a system scrub every 72 hours or so. First I had to get through the chlorine, and then the minefields. Yes, someone beat us to this little galactic resort paradise and mined the g-d atmosphere when they left. Guess they planned on coming back. Frankly, I couldn’t see the appeal.

Well, other than the g-d fortune in P4 minerals, of course. And the diamonds. Four times the atmospheric pressure meant intensified mineral development. The scientists back home wet themselves every time a new rock was delivered. We were all getting filthy stinking rich in the process. Even a lowly flyboy like me. Although right at the moment, it looked like rich and dead might be my next classification.

I broke through the gas clouds right on top of a concussion mine. The blast bounced me along the cover like a lucky pinball strike, but I managed to level out and get low enough to stabilize. The g-d mines didn’t register on the navsat, of course. Another reason I had to fly solo. I coasted for a moment and let my eyes adjust to the thick, clear air. There was another mine. And another. Gotcha, little tick-tocks. Now my eyes and brain had keyed in, I could see them everywhere. Still not a cakewalk, but I felt a little more confident that I could reach the ground in one piece.

“…coming…don’t…surface... Bartam 5, do you copy? Jestic 8 is coming. Don’t go atmo. They have strict orders. No surface retrieval. Bartam 5, do you copy?”

“Too little, too late, Houston. Ship damage required escape. Three good pods got out and I took rover. Rendezvous at Shangrila. Don’t abandon us, Houston. Tell Jestic 8 this beach party will need more beer in 72 hours, Houston. Bartam 5 over.”

“Houston” was the core space station, of course. Officially it was SS4, but spacers are nothing if not nostalgic. I liked to imagine they still worked in a big room with lots of vid screens and slide rules on their desks just in case.

“Don’t…punk, Bartam 5. No contact…pods. Abort…juice…out? Houston over.”

Did I have enough juice to get out? I shook my head. If they could see the shape of this rover, they’d know why I hadn’t brought anyone else with me. I figured it was a suicide run, but better a dead man’s chance than staying on board the ship. I kept dodging mines as I made my descent and headed for our rendezvous point.

But where were the other pods? They should be setting up the shelter at Shangrila already. We had been a little creative naming the key features of this God-forsaken planet. Shangrila was the relatively stable southern tip of the larger continent. In the four months we’d been out here, it hadn’t shown any more geological disturbance than a couple of earthquakes. No tidal wave submersion, no volcanic activity. We’d decided it was our best option for setting up an emergency shelter station until Houston sent in a rescue squad.

My radio had returned to static, but I tried to answer anyway. Who knew what was getting out? “We ran out of options, Houston. Send Jestic to rescue us at Shangrila. Bartam 5 over.”

There, I could see Shangrila on the horizon. I grinned and ducked under another mine. I was too cocky. The second concussion blast took out port engine. I flipped and started to nosedive, but I pulled it out and banked into a spiral descent. I’d be lucky if I got to land, not to mention within 3 days hike of Shangrila at this point. My chances of survival just took another nosedive from scratch to nil.

“He called me a g-d punk. That can’t be the last conversation I have. They’ll put it on my epitaph. Okay, then, punk. Land this piece of junk in one piece. Let’s get this party started.”

I gritted my teeth and stretched out the downward spiral, leaning forward like I could push the rover myself. I had to get it all the way to Shangrila, or we wouldn’t have enough equipment for the emergency shelter. I had to believe the others were still coming down in one piece. I didn’t want to be alone on this rock.

TBC (maybe)

Dogs in house:
Houdini, Maize, Malachi

Yo Yo Ma, Simply Baroque

Time writing:
45 minutes

April word count:


  1. Prompt: The Last Human Voice You’ll Ever Hear

    It's a strange sensation, the floating chill as you enter cold sleep. The doctor's voice comes in through a small grill in the capsule, saying something, which you hope isn't too important, because instead of listening to her you're wondering if it's the last human voice you'll ever hear. Your fingers go first -- probably your toes, too, but you don’t suddenly think about picking something up or scratching your chin with your toes and then suddenly realise you can't. As the paralysis creeps up your limbs, there is a moment of panic: wait, did you really sign up for this?

    And the doctor's voice drones on, and you listen, and she's saying to relax and that it's almost over and soon--to you--you'll meet her counterpart on the far side of the galaxy. Then the cold reaches your torso and you're so tired and, yes, relaxing does sound like a good idea. And you go to sleep.

    I was on fire. I sat up, a body full of pins and needles, and waited for the burning sensation to subside. For a moment that stretched uncomfortably long, I couldn't recall anything of myself: where I was, what I was doing, _who_ I was. Then bits surfaced, less like a memory and more like a recording narrating my life, telling me about my most recent past.

    Cold sleep. I swung my legs off the--table? shelf?--upon which I sat. The room was smooth, a sort of dark green marble pattern, with what might be called furniture exuding from the walls or floor as if grown there. Or, no, more as if the room had been hewn out of a solid block, to leave behind these useful protuberances. I tried to push my memory back further, to get my internal narrator to tell me who I expected to meet upon waking or where I expected to be.

    A portion of the wall wavered and a figure stepped in. I first thought woman, then had to reassess, and concluded I was not sure. In any case, she was tall and bald with shimmering black skin, iridescent like fire obsidian. I reflexively lifted a hand and regarded my own matte, medium brown flesh, double-checking my vague memory-sense of my own appearance. No, I did not look like her. And I was fairly sure I had never met anyone who did. Nor, did I think, had I expected to.

    She smiled, recognisable, but something was a bit odd about the way her mouth stretched in her face. "So, where have you come from?" she asked. Except she didn't speak: her smile remained unmoving, and the words seemed vocalised from the same internal narrator who had told me about cold sleep. I began to wonder if that narrator had been correct about hearing my last human voice.

  2. Oh, I like this! Quick setup w/"cold sleep" and "far side of the galaxy". Nice description of the cold creeping (and the fingers/toes issue). Love the contrast between the cold and "I was on fire". Good rough sketch of the mental state and the physical room. Very nice sketch of the doctor and contrast with own skin. Definitely have a story here!