Friday, October 18, 2013

Prompt: Sleepless on Signal Point

Aaron squatted against the tube ring and pushed away, launching himself smoothly down the center of the tube, hands flat above his head. Halfway across, he twisted his hips, then torso, then shoulders, so he spun and slowed until he reached the opposite entry ring, gently bumping it with his hands. He sighed. Seven years of practice, and he still couldn’t get it quite right. He wanted to drift to a stop millimeters *before* he reached ring.

Climbing into the systems center, he began his rounds, carefully checking each system, running diagnostics and reviewing the logs. There was no rush. There was no change. There never was. But he had nothing better to do, so he did his job the right way every day.

When he reached the NeoWise station, he settled into the comfortable lounge chair, pressure molded to fit him perfectly. He pulled the liq tube out of its cap and tucked it into his mouth. He’d filled the system with pineapple juice and gin. At three mils a draw, he could suck on it for the whole hour he’d be in the chair, reviewing the vids, without getting so much as a buzz on.

Twenty minutes in, an asteroid shower sparked through the sun’s distant light, reflecting gold and silver across their thimble-sized backsides. Aaron grinned. Benny would have liked that, he thought.

No, he reprimanded himself firmly. Stop that.

It had taken five psych evaluations to get into the Signal Point Outpost Station program. They’d dinged him every time they found out about Cindy and Benny. Finally, he’d learned how to *not* talk about it. As if that kept it from being the most present thought of every waking moment. But he passed and he got off-Earth, which he’d hoped would help. It didn’t.

The edge of the solar system wasn’t far enough away to keep the dreams at bay. Dreams of them living. Dreams of them dying. Every new sight, every new experience made him wish he could share it with his son. Wish he could tell his wife while they cuddled on the couch with a couple of glasses of wine after Benny went to bed. Wish he’d been there. Been driving. Maybe he would have braked a little faster, swerved a little harder. Gotten out of the way.

The Signal program was recruiting the second generation of “volunteers”. Twenty years, all told. Full pay saved while you were gone, and retirement with full pay and benefits for the rest of your miserable life back on Earth. Twenty years on your own, flying across the solar system to a Signal Point Outpost, manning the station, then returning when your replacement arrived. After the accident, after the funerals, alone in space sounded just fine to Aaron.

Why manned outposts? This had been the single greatest debate of the 70s. They’d spent billions on unmanned orbital stations to monitor incoming traffic. Asteroids, of course, as the numbers steadily increased in the first half of the century. Including the couple of “planetkillers” – Aaron almost smiled at the old-fashioned term – that forced the world to get its act together in space.

It was the craft wreckage that did it. When the alien ship crashed into the Pluto 7 station, the world erupted in chaos. The station hadn’t recognized it as any different from an asteroid. The answer? Human monitoring. Out there, not back on Earth, where the signal would be too old to make a difference. Aaron wasn’t convinced *he* could make that much of a difference, if it came to that, but he hadn’t cared about the mission, just about getting away from Earth.

He didn’t really miss much. Sushi maybe. Pizza and cold beer in the summer. Cindy’s neighborhood-famous lasagna. What he missed most wasn’t there anymore, so it didn’t matter.

Stop it, idiot! Get back to work!

Did he see it because he refocused, or had it caught his subconscious attention and forced him to refocus? It didn’t matter. He watched the silver metal reflecting sunlight like the tiny asteroids had. He choked on the liq tube and spat it out, dribbling pineapple juice and gin into the zero-g…

Dogs in house
Time writing:
~45 minutes
October word count:


  1. Prompt: Sleepless on Signal Point

    The wind was chill. Dagmara pulled her cloak tighter and leaned against the unlit beacon. It was currently covered by a waterproof tarp, protecting the wood against the night damp. The kindling inside would have to be replaced tomorrow anyway; in winter it just couldn’t stay dry enough.

    She didn’t need to be up. Omar was at his post in the tower, scanning the horizon for a signal – a horizon that had been dark for more than a decade. She would be taking the early morning shift; she should be sleeping.

    But she couldn’t sleep. She was filled with a restless energy, unlike anything she had felt since those horrible few weeks after their parents had died. Back then, she was filled with the desire to fix the injustice of it all – immediately. It had not happened immediately, but those responsible had eventually faced justice.

    But tonight there was nothing to explain her agitation. She wished her mother still lived. She at times intimated that there was more to tending the beacon than just watching the distant hills, but had never elaborated. And now the chance for that was past. And why was Dagmara now remembering those incidents – tail ends of tiny rituals half-seen by a younger self playing tag with Omar, mysterious sentences never followed upon?

    The back of her neck prickled. She turned to look behind her, at the western hills. Was that a flame?

    Time writing: 18 minutes

    1. Lovely! I would definitely read more of this!