Thursday, April 18, 2013

Prompt: Start worrying. Letter follows.

“Hello. I’m your brother’s girlfriend. Please don’t tell him I’m contacting you. He’s in trouble, and I don’t know who else to try. He’s here with me in …”

Solar freaking flare. You have got to be freaking kidding me. I kicked the console with my free foot and smacked my hand on the comm panel. There was no one to hear me anyway, so I yelled at the top of my lungs. It didn’t make me feel any better. Pushing away from the console, I shot over to the tube and pulled my way along the rungs to the mess. It was, indeed, a mess, since I hadn’t cleaned up the coffee that exploded out of my mug this morning. Now coffee drops floated all over the room. Great. Just freaking great. Could this day get any better? No wait, I didn’t say that!

The alarm sounded and the red light started flashing. I felt a hysterical edge to the energy rush that propelled me back to the command console. False alarm, though, or at least I wasn’t about to become a permanent solar satellite. The flare had fried the comm relay, which meant I’d have to go out and fix it before I could receive the rest of that lovely message. I cut the alarm and pushed into the chair, hooking my foot on the console bar to hold me in place.

I wished I thought she was kidding, or scamming me. Well, she might be scamming me. There hadn’t been time to ask me for money yet. But the sad truth was that she wasn’t the first, and she probably wouldn’t be the last at least partly-kind-hearted girl who’d gotten sucked into my brother’s drama. He had a talent for attracting both winners and losers, and it wasn’t always immediately apparent which I was dealing with. But when they contacted me, it was never good news. No one had ever planned a surprise party for him.

Another solar flare. I left the console and headed back to the mess. I’d be more productive cleaning up coffee globules. I knew some folks sucked them out of the air, but I figured they had bounced around quite a bit and, eww. I pulled out the vacuum hose and sucked them up that way. It was really kind of entertaining and proved distracting for all of fifteen minutes.

But I was still thinking about Ben. And our parents. They had been heading home from checking out colleges. He was the only survivor of the twenty-three car pileup. I was already in the Asteroid Mining Program, and I couldn’t get back to Earth for the funeral. Ben had to do it all by himself, poor kid. He did such a good job taking care of everything, and I didn’t think I had any other options at the time, so I didn’t see when the cracks first started to appear in his façade. His grades slipped that fall, but we talked about it a lot – we talked about everything every day. The company at least gave me an unlimited comm account to keep in touch with him since the two of us were the only family we had. He was going to work with a tutor and he talked with his teachers about redoing some work over the Christmas holiday to bring his grades up.

His girlfriend called me New Year’s Eve. Ben was drunk and high and out of control. That was the first time. Her parents helped. They got him into a 28-day program and took him home when he was done. He lived with them for two months. Until he suddenly was out on his ear. By then, I had learned to listen between the lines of all of our conversations. I never did figure out what had happened. I figured maybe it was the new girlfriend, but who really knew. Maybe not even Ben.

I finished cleaning the mess and checked the flares. Still launching out, and I figured I had at least two more hours before I could get outside and fix the comm. So I went to hydroponics to see what I could harvest for supper. I pulled carrots and spinach and basil, then found some ripe raspberries. Dinner was looking up. I carried them in my tunic back to the mess – I never remembered to take a bag. After rinsing and stowing them for later, I headed for my bunk and dropped down into the hammock sack where I floated without moving around too much. It took getting used to. I missed having a pillow under my head, but it was too much hassle here.

Ben just never could seem to really find his way. He’d have a good job and a good girlfriend for awhile, then I wouldn’t hear from him for a few weeks, or maybe a couple of months, and then he’d turn up somewhere else. Sometimes, I’d get a call from a concerned girlfriend. Sometimes they wanted money to help him, but I had learned the hard way and never sent anything. I always told them to get him into a rehab center and let him go. Sometimes they were crappy girlfriends, using his charm and good nature, using him up. Sometimes they even got him hooked on something new. I knew he had at least two kids somewhere, but I figured they were better off without him, too.

I never really gave up on Ben. I just figured that was the way he was. I didn’t feel sorry for him, either. Well, when he was in bad shape, I did, but he did a lot of cool things, too. He travelled all over and lived in interesting places. He did the best when he was living in rehab. Too bad they always let him out.

The flares were dying down. They went through pretty predictable cycles, just like Ben. Strong start, weak finish. I watched the last few on the monitor over my hammock, then climbed out and went back to run systems checks on the console. Lucky me, the only hit this time was to the comm unit outside. The mining systems hadn’t even been interrupted, and another load was coming up already.

I suited up and headed out to replace the comm. When I got back, I’d have plenty of time to listen to the message waiting for me. I already knew what my answer would be. I hoped she would take my advice.

Dogs in house:
Houdini, Brindle, Bacon

Mannheim Steamroller, Saving the Wildlife

Time writing:
35 minutes

April word count:


  1. Prompt: Start worrying. Letter follows.

    Frank balled the telegraph in his fist. Very funny, Bill, he thought with venom.

    'Start worrying STOP Letter follows STOP'

    It was either another joke in poor taste, like the time he had sent their sister into hysterics claiming something had gone wrong with her wedding cake, or Frank should truly be worried about Dad. "Damn you, Bill."

    He stepped outside. The clanking of the harvest machinery sounded off to the left, rising up from a dip in the field like some giant metallic monster lying in wait. The horseless carriage that had delivered the telegraph was nearly to the end of the drive, off to deliver the remainder of its urgent messages from the London office, Frank assumed.

    The harvest would be done tomorrow at the latest, and the foreman was a competent man. The farm did not need Frank right now. He spun on his heel and stalked to his study. He pulled out his sword-cane, stuck his revolver in his belt, and tugged down the ready-packed travel bag from the top of the curio. There was no need to await a letter. Either Dad and Bill needed him on the continent, or Bill needed Frank to let him know that these sorts of histrionics would no longer be tolerated. Actually, that latter was true in any case.

    1. Nicely done! Good world building in brief strokes like "horseless carriage", London, and harvest. Nice touch w/the machinery "monster", though otherwise this isn't necessarily a "genre" piece.

      I can see Frank getting across the ocean, finding Bill, and punching his lights out. Then we find out what's going on! I hope it's an adventure that brings the brothers closer in the end!

      And funny that we both had dysfunctional brothers. That wasn't in the prompt! :)

  2. Nice characterisation! I was a bit confused about how far in the past the parents death was, at first, but I figured out it had been quite a lot of time fairly soon.

    1. Hmm, reading over it, I see your point. I'm not sure it bothers me, but I could probably fix it pretty easily with a time marker such as "Ten years ago, they had been heading home..." Thanks for the comment!