Tonight’s flash is a bit different. The image I chose gave me something to work towards rather than the starting point for the story, and by the time I got there, I used it as a passing image without any real description. Which is too bad. It’s a beautiful image.
Thirty-five minutes and forty-six seconds to come up with this 882-word flash piece. To me, on the post-writing read through, it seems like it’s over very, very quickly without getting much of a chance to do more than startle the reader. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. Playing with the saucer cliché, I briefly thought about using the planet itself as a monster instead, but it felt like it would be forced. What I did felt more fluid and natural as I wrote it, but I should probably let you be the judge.
Stay safe and be well, everyone.
Silence in Orbit
“This is survey ship Pytheas Prime signalling Marakesh Station. Requesting docking procedure. Over.”
It was the fifth time Nelas had signaled the brightly lit station in geosynchronous orbit above the backwater water world below. That was three more times than he’d ever had to signal any station anywhere, no matter how off the beaten path he guided Pytheas looking for interesting new places.
A hand on his shoulder made him flinch but the motion didn’t reach his hands on the controls. Maneuvering thrusters continued to bring them in closer to the station. Barely a kilometer out now, he could pick out individual ports by the lights shining through them from inside.
“Still nothing, eh?”
“No, ma’am. Silent on every wavelength and my lass two attempts have been across the entire spectrum in use at this end of the Coalition.”
A shift of motion stirred the air around him, tickling his nose with the very disingenuous scent of lilac. He wondered if it was on purpose. No way did the skipper want any member of the crew, of whatever gender, thinking of her that way. “Well, put something on loop and start trying to raise the science station on the planet. Somebody must know what’s going on.”
He flipped through files to pull up the system read out. The primary science station was on the biggest island of one of the scattered volcanic archipelagos that were the only land area on the planet below. Science Station Bolotov. Administrator of record Sergei Ivanovsky, but that was nearly four years ago objective. He wondered if they could get a database update while they took on supplies. “Yes, ma’am.” He fiddled with the comm controls and sent something like a tight beam to the island station. “Science Station Bolotov, this is survey ship Pytheas Prime requesting contact. Over.”
He waited for a slow count of thirty before getting ready to try again and was just sucking in the breath to do so when a small screen to his right flashed to life. On it, an extreme close up of a wild-eyed man in desperate need of a hair transplant snarled at him. “Survey Ship who? Never mind, I don’t care. Why are you here? Didn’t you see the warning buoys? Get away now while you still can. If it isn’t already too late.”
The captain leaned over Nelas’ shoulder. “The is Captain Harlowe of the Survey Ship Pytheas Prime. We’re looking for docking privileges at the station in orbit above you. They didn’t respond, so you were the next logical choice. We’re just looking to resupply and have plenty of credits.” Which wasn’t completely true, but they wouldn’t have to negotiate too hard.
The man leaned away from the camera pickup and then moved in even closer so Nelas lost sight of his hairline. “Aren’t you listening? Turn your engines to maximum and go. It’s too late for us, too late for the station. The station is gone. You should go before it gets you.”
“Gone?” The Captain looked up at the main screen and Nelas followed the gaze. He could still see the station. Glancing back down at the board, it was returning a lidar image. It was still there, just not answering. Looking up again, he met a confused look from the Captain but then in the corner of his eye, the main screen rippled and the shining image of the station was replaced by drifting debris.
“Flip us over and burn hard, Nelas. Get us back out to the limit.” She shook her head. “I don’t understand. Bolotov Station, can you give us any more information to work with?”
Jets firing, to rotate the ship, Nelas pushed the throttle on the main jets to maximum. The debris field disappeared, moving out of frame in favour of distant, stationary stars as acceleration pushed him deeper into his seat. Harlowe didn’t seem to notice either.
“Information? Use your damned scanners! There’s an alien ship sitting over top of us trying to decide the best way to press the island back into the ocean and it’s tiny compared to whatever blew up the station. They never saw it coming. Just go!”
“What did they never see—”
And then the screen shimmered again and the stars disappeared. In their place, a huge saucer, just like out of an ancient movie, but fifty or a hundred times bigger than Pytheas. “Um, I think probably that, ma’am.”
Harlowe looked up. Her breath huffed out and she shook her head. “Well, shit. I wonder how they did that.”
Just which ‘that’ she meant, he’d never get the chance to find out. Nelas watched as a huge door in the top of the saucer slid open to belch out a few dozen missiles. Pytheas had two point-defense lasers designed for slow-moving space junk. They didn’t have a chance. “I guess we didn’t see it coming, either.”
The captain didn’t say anything, just dropping her hand back onto his shoulder and giving it a squeeze as she watched the missiles coming right at them.
On the small screen, the man was yelling something incoherent, and Nelas decided that silence might be better for the last few seconds of their lives. He cut the transmission off to wait for the end.