NaNo21

[NaNo21] Update 1

Here we are on Day 3! I’m a bit behind but not horribly so, and I can blame [most of] that on the act that my laptop ran into some difficulties. As in, the darn thing wouldn’t boot up. Turns out, the internal hard drive actually needs to be seated and connected for the computer to see it. Who knew?

As for writing, I’m getting into the groove and it’s so nice to be able to start putting the words down for this thing after working on the planning! Here’s an excerpt that I thought came out pretty well.


Faline narrowed her eyes again. The expression was less than playful this time. “Lex. You need rest. We need you.” She nodded toward the massed refugee housing. “I need your help.”

“I’m here, Faline.” She gave a faint shrug. “I’m here.”

“Are you?”

Lex spread her arms. “You see me, don’t you?”

“I see something. A husk, maybe. You know this matters, right? Everyone says the world is ending, and maybe it is. But even if it is, even if the Distortion breaks past the pylons tomorrow and swallows us all, this matters.”

“Of course it does. I never said it didn’t.” The words hissed through Complexity’s teeth. “I’m here, Faline. I’m here because these people shouldn’t have to spend their last days in any more agony than the rest of us. But me being and more or less sleep deprived isn’t going to change a thing.”

Faline scowled. “And what if these aren’t their last days? What if we survive this?”

Complexity laughed. It was a dark, angry sound. “We’re not going to survive this. No one wants to say it out loud, not yet. But everyone knows. All we can do is to try to make it as painless as we can before the end finally comes.”

For a moment, Faline didn’t say a thing. She stood there, emotion hanging from her like a cloak, but she didn’t say a word. When she finally did, the words came out quiet, so low that Lex was surprised she heard them.

“We’re still alive. We’re not done yet. You hear me, Jones? We’re not done yet.”

Fiction, Fiction (Short)

Candle in the Window

When we discovered Redfall Gap, hope and excitement ran high, and while most paid lip service to caution and cold wisdom, it was hard to lend too much focus to the dangers and unknowns. And when the probes sent back their first readings, confirming that this glittering, undulating anomaly was just as much a passage to another galaxy as we had imagined, wariness seemed like an unnecessary precaution.

We knew better, of course. Every one of us had seen enough things go wrong when they should have gone right that thoroughness and triple checking were worked into our bones. And we also knew that no matter how much care you put into anything, there’s no such thing as a guarantee. Not really.

So when my best friend volunteered to pilot the ship for the first manned expedition, I met the announcement with mingled envy and dread as well as giddy exultation. If I couldn’t go myself, this was at least the next best thing.

And she deserved it. She, who’d been a pilot longer than I’d been a scientist. She, who’d dreamed of taking the best ships to the strangest places since we were both kids. She, who knew the risks and laughed at them while I followed a more careful path.

If anyone had the skills and experience to be prepared for this, it was her. And her handpicked crew of three.

Preparations took a month. More tests. More readings. More specialized equipment for the Distant Horizon, the vessel that would take them through. More training. More time for this mad venture to become normal. More time to deafen us to the nervous mutterings in the backs of all our minds.

Launch Day came. The Horizon detached from its dock on Platform One, our tiny station home. She brought up power and glided towards the Gap and all the unknown beyond it. Away from us.

And then they entered and were gone.

We received one message, reporting safe passage and transmitting their initial scans from the other side. We received a second six hours later, and a third six hours after that.

Then, nothing.

The next scheduled check-in passed in silence. And the one after that. And every one following.

Our optimism faded like a dream, replaced by sickened knots in the pits of our stomachs. I told myself that she knew what she was doing, that there were a thousand ultimately harmless reasons they might have missed their check-ins. We checked our arrays and our systems. We tested our sensors and our communications rigs.

We geared up another probe and sent it through the Gap, just in case. It went through safe and sound, its connection never faltered. But it found no trace of the Horizon.

Some talked about outfitting a second ship, though we knew it would never happen. You don’t throw good money after bad. You don’t send a second ship when you don’t know what silenced the first. So all we could do was to find some way to make it safe enough to try again.

But that was easier said than done. We’d done everything we could think of before we sent the Horizon through—now we had to find new things, new holes, new possibilities when we had already exhausted every obvious avenue. And we had to do it with grief hanging over us instead of thrilled excitement.

We tried. Hard. But the exploration corps that funded our project lost interest once the Horizon vanished. After three weeks, they informed us apologetically that they were not in a position to continue paying for a dormant expedition. We were welcome to keep the platform and the equipment; it was ours. They just couldn’t justify the cost of additional supplies and living stipends.

After that, everything shut down. The support staff left. The techs left. Physicists, astronomers, engineers—everyone went in a steady stream that turned into a flood, until finally only four of us remained. We crept around the emptied platform like ghosts, stretching our rations, funding ourselves out of our own savings, scraping all we could from what we had and dragging it out until there was nothing left.

Then we gave up too, with nothing gained for all our begged and borrowed time.

We’d boosted all our sensors, all our comms, cobbling them together from bits and pieces we stole from things we counted less important. We accomplished technological feats. Our station’s eyes and ears reached farther then they ever had before with fewer needs. Maybe it wasn’t an elegant system or the most resilient, but the vast distances its signals crossed was something we could be proud of.

For all the good it did. We found nothing. No stray transmissions. No sensor ghosts. No drifting hulls. Nothing that gave us the slightest indication that the Horizon was there at all, or ever had been. If we hadn’t had the logs from those three precious check-ins, we might have convinced ourselves that they’d never happened at all. And I might have found some other way to explain the loss of my best friend.

After that, we abandoned the station too, out of hope and out of ideas, sixteen weeks, four days, and three hours from the time the Horizon went missing. We left a comm buoy behind on the far side of the Gap, programmed to broadcast its message on repeat: Platform One to research vessel Distant Horizon, all attempts to contact you have failed. We have run out of supplies and are forced to abandon station. We haven’t forgotten about you. We’ll be back in one year to come looking for you again. Message recorded 2619.04.13.14.30. End of recording.

And that was that. The best we could do, useless as it was. And no matter how I tried to avoid it, I knew our project had collapsed with a sigh and a whimper. I knew my best friend was gone forever.

We loaded the few supplies we still had on the one remaining jumpship. We checked the sensors one last time, more out of habit than hope. Then, finding nothing, we left.

Afterwards, we didn’t stay in contact. Or I didn’t. The others might have, but I, in my sorrow, kept to myself. I found some job on some station and used it to feed myself and put a bed beneath my bones. I made acquaintances, never friends. I let my pain grow dull. Numb. I forced myself to heal, or maybe just to scar. Either way the bleeding stopped.

And all the while I kept track of the days, the weeks, the months.

The year passed. I shook myself from my fog of unmanaged grief long enough to hire a jumpship and to contact the others. One I couldn’t find. Another couldn’t take the time to make the trip. The third promised to meet me at the same station we had all set out from together so long ago, and we could go the final leg together.

In the end, we reached the silent, abandoned station two days before the time we’d promised. But that was alright. We could wait. And while we waited, we took comfort in each other’s presence. We barely spoke; there was nothing to say. Instead, we spent the time restarting all the platform’s systems. To our mild surprise, only the link to the probe had gone down, battered by some stray asteroid and unnoticed by the cannibalized systems. It took less than a day to complete the handful of repairs.

I was the one to bring them back online. My hand hesitated above the command-board, wavering as buried emotions came hurtling back, ripping through the cloud I’d wrapped myself in. For a moment, my fears spun all around me. I knew better than to hope. This was more for closure than for rescue. More for us than them.

Something like shame washed over me. We’d spent all this time and all these resources on something that couldn’t be. It was idiotic.

But we’d promised.

And so my hand keyed the commands and started all the systems. They came up, one by one, humming, chirping, reaching out to see the universe. And there it was, the probe we’d left behind with our message for the Horizon. Now the message was for us.

Distant Horizon to Platform One: we ran into a little trouble, but we’re alright. Took some damage and had to find a place to land. Found a way to get your message from the ground. Coordinates are 152.777.459 from point of entry. Watch that gravity well a few hours in. That’s what got us. Looking forward to coming home. Message recorded 2619.07.21.19.37. End of recording.

I sat for a second, stunned. My cheeks went numb. My hands tingled. My heart beat faster than it should have, and I couldn’t breathe. But only for a moment. Then I ran for my companion. We had work to do.

Originally published as part of the 2021 Tenth Anniversary Writing Contest on shortfictionbreak.com.

Fiction, Fiction (Short)

The Derelict

SHIP LOG >> 2348.10.25.15.43.15
entry by VOSS, AMELIE (CAPTAIN)

We found the derelict exactly where Crand told us to look for it. Always nice when the client is telling the truth. I’m sending Wolfe and Perez in to do the initial sweep, and we’ll go in for the real work tomorrow. It’s a big ship, but we should be able to clear it out of anything worthwhile in two, three days at the most. Add in four days to get back to Epsilon, and that comes out to a week before we pull in the best haul we’ve had in years. Assuming Crand holds up his end of the bargain. But what the hey. I’m feeling optimistic. Might as well enjoy the feeling until someone proves me wrong.

SHIP LOG >> 2348.10.26.06.18.40
entry by VOSS, AMELIE (CAPTAIN)

Early start today. Initial sweep found the cargo bays intact, and it looks like the ship itself is in decent shape. No bodies, but it looks like a few of their escape pods were launched. Don’t know who would have picked them up this far out, but that’s not our problem. I’m just glad we don’t have to worry about the gore. Plus, with everything they left behind, this is a really good haul. Even if Crand tries to hold out on us, we’re going home rich from this one. Our biggest problem is going to be how we fit it all in our own hold.

ADDENDUM >> 2348.10.26.11.37.46

Haul is going well. The six of us have been doing this long enough that we’re nothing if not efficient. But we’ve also been doing this long enough that we’ve heard every ghost story out there, and they’re all set on a ship exactly like this one. The crew is hiding it, but I know they’re jumpy. Hopefully the feeling wears off with time. Because it looks like it’s going to take us the full three days.

ADDENDUM >> 2348.10.26.17.22.32

There was… an incident. Wolfe was in the hold prepping the salvage. She was working alone, so we’ve only got her word on what happened. Problem is, she’s saying there was a ghost. Not in so many words. The woman is too steady-minded for that. But she may as well have spelled it straight out for the affect it’s had on the rest of the crew. And on me, though I have to hide it. Because if Wolfe thought she saw a ghost, my first instinct is to believe that she saw a ghost.

What she actually said was that she thinks there’s still some crew onboard, because someone jumped her in the hold. And we can’t really argue with that, because she’s got the bruises to prove it. Apparently it happened when she started prying open one of the secure boxes to see if it was worth our time. She said the temperature dropped by ten degrees and someone came out of nowhere to clock her across the back of the skull. By the time she got back up she was alone, and the box had slammed back shut.

Avery tried to suggest that it was just a malfunction in the ventilation system, but he couldn’t get the words out. Not with Wolfe sitting there with a bleeding head wound. I sent them both back to the Hyena to get her patched up while the rest of us shut things down for the night. I’d been planning on working later, but I didn’t need to get my crew any more spooked than they already were. We’ll get an early start tomorrow to make up for lost time.

SHIP LOG >> 2348.10.27.07.44.11
entry by VOSS, AMELIE (CAPTAIN)

Wolfe said she isn’t going back to the ship. She said she’d coordinate things from the Hyena, but she won’t step foot on the derelict again. She never said so, but I could tell the woman was terrified, which worried me more than anything else. With the new day I’d convinced myself that the “ghost” was the product of a dark hold and a quiet, unfamiliar ship. It was harder to stick to that story when I could see the fear in Wolfe’s eyes. I’d never known her to be scared of anything.

I told her she could stay behind.

CREW LOG >> 2348.10.27.08.13.01
entry by WOLFE, REBEKKAH

I didn’t think she was going to let me stay on the Hyena. I know they don’t believe me, and I don’t blame them. But I know we scanned for biological signatures when we arrived and didn’t find any. And I saw the logs from the derelict. The last one was dated more than five years ago. There’s no survivors on that ship, and I don’t like where that leaves us. And if Avery tries to tell me it was the ventilation system going wonky, I’ll show him wonky. Idiot. At least he knows how to patch someone up.

Captain says it’ll take us two more days to finish up here, and she’s usually right about that sort of thing. I wish she wasn’t. It’s going to be a tough two days. I could make it go faster if I joined them over there again, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. Maybe tomorrow. If nothing happens today.

ADDENDUM >> 2348.10.27.13.01.18

I hate being this jumpy. I hate being scared. Eight years in the black and nothing’s ever made me wild like this before. It’s been hours since I’ve heard from the rest of them, and my mind is bent on supplying me with mental images of all the worst scenarios. Sudden, catastrophic life support failure. Toxic miasma inside some compartment we hadn’t opened yet. Undetected hull breach. Ghosts.

At least I’m not worried about getting jumped by something here on the Hyena. Small blessings. I’d comm them and check, but I don’t need them thinking I’m more anxious than they already do. It’s only been a couple of hours. They’re not even overdue. It’s just that I’ve run out of ways to organize the hold to make sure we can fit everything.

ADDENDUM >> 2348.10.27.15.14.51

Still nothing from the others. I tried comming them ten minutes ago but the system spat out a connection error, which means that either their comms are off or the signal’s blocked by something. The latter makes sense if they’re somewhere deep in the ship. That’s probably what it is. No need to panic.

ADDENDUM >> 2348.10.27.16.52.14

It’s been six and a half hours since I’ve heard from the others. I’m trying their comms every ten minutes now, and nothing’s going through. I can’t even get a connection. The Captain said she’d check in by 1700 at the latest. That’s eight minutes away. I can hope, but I already know it’s not going to happen. I don’t know why they haven’t checked in. I’m worried.

ADDENDUM >> 2348.10.27.17.31.03

They’re officially half an hour overdue. Something happened. I still can’t get through. I think I need to go looking for them.

ADDENDUM >> 2348.10.27.18.12.30

I can’t do this. I got as far as the airlock and I froze up. Couldn’t get myself to put one foot in front of the other. Because as soon as I tried the wound on the back of my skull screamed and throbbed and my mouth went dry and my hands tingled. No feeling but blind terror. If my legs had worked I would have run, but my knees were so weak I just stumbled away. If they need help it’s going to have to come from someone other than me.

ADDENDUM >> 2348.10.27.19.04.55

They’re still not back. I still haven’t gotten the comms to go through. Right after I froze up I went up to the cockpit and did a scan for bio signs. The good news was that they all showed up, Our scanners aren’t good enough to do any kind of pinpoint work, but at least I know they’re alive. That’s good enough, right?

ADDENDUM >> 2348.10.27.19.13.21

I have to go find them. I have to try. I don’t know if I can, but it’s not going to happen if I stay here sitting on my butt. Time to suck it up.

SHIP LOG >> 2348.10.28.12.00.00
entry by AUTOMATED

SHIP NOT PLACED IN STANDBY MODE: DEFAULTING TO AUTOMATED LOGS>> NO BIO SIGNS DETECTED ON BOARD>> ALL SYSTEMS OPERATIONAL>> SIX BIO SIGNS DETECTED ON LINKED SHIP>> LINKED SHIP LIFE SUPPORT SYSTEM OPERATIONAL, ALL OTHER SYSTEMS IN FAILURE

SHIP LOG>> 2348.10.29.12.00.00
entry by AUTOMATED

SHIP NOT PLACED IN STANDBY MODE: DEFAULTING TO AUTOMATED LOGS>> NO BIO SIGNS DETECTED ON BOARD>> ALL SYSTEMS OPERATIONAL>> EIGHT BIO SIGNS DETECTED ON LINKED SHIP>> LINKED SHIP LIFE SUPPORT SYSTEM OPERATIONAL, ALL OTHER SYSTEMS IN FAILURE

SHIP LOG>> 2348.10.30.12.00.00
entry by AUTOMATED

SHIP NOT PLACED IN STANDBY MODE: DEFAULTING TO AUTOMATED LOGS>> NO BIO SIGNS DETECTED ON BOARD>> ALL SYSTEMS OPERATIONAL>> NO BIO SIGNS DETECTED ON LINKED SHIP>> ALL LINKED SHIP SYSTEMS IN FAILURE

SHIP LOG>> 2348.10.31.04.32.19
entry by UNKOWN

01001000 01000101 01001100 01010000 01001000 01000101 01001100 01010000 01001000 01000101 01001100 01010000 01001000 01000101 01001100 01010000 01001001 01001110 01010100 01010010 01010101 01000100 01000101 01010010 01001000 01000101 01001100 01010000 01001000 01000101 01001100 01010000 01001000 01000101 01001100 01010000 01001000 01000101 01001100 01010000 01001000 01000101 01001100 01010000

SHIP LOG>> 2348.10.31.18.52.13
entry by VOSS, AMELIE (CAPTAIN)

Never again. I don’t know how we got out. Wolfe came in after us when we didn’t come back, but she’s not the one who got us out, because she was just as stuck as the rest of us. The doors just opened up again and we ran for it. Don’t know why. Don’t care why. And I don’t care how much Crand is paying, it’s not worth dying on some cursed ghost ship. He’ll have to make do with what we already grabbed. I gave the order to blow the derelict. No one else needs to deal with that thing. Hopefully the client doesn’t mind too. Too bad if he does.

SHIP LOG>> 2348.10.31.11.59.59
entry by UNKNOWN

01001101 01111001 00100000 01110011 01101000 01101001 01110000 00100000 01101110 01101111 01110111 00101110 00100000 01000110 01110010 01100101 01100101 01100100 01101111 01101101 00101110 00100000 01000110 01110010 01100101 01100101 01100100 01101111 01101101 00101110 00100000 01000110 01110010 01100101 01100101 01100100 01101111 01101101 00101110

Fiction

The Monster in the Park

Something a little different this week! My sister and I have still been exchanging writing prompts (albeit at a slower rate than in July), and this is a recent result from a musical prompt.


They had forgotten about the portal. The thin space at the valley, the one that had started all this horror. They’d known it wasn’t sealed. But sealed or not, it hadn’t been the one belching out monsters and bleeding them into the world for the past three weeks, and they had ignored it in favor of greater threats. And so there was no one to blame. Not really. Which didn’t change the fact that there was now something more terrible there than anything else that crept and prowled in from the other doors to Elsewhere.

Siana was only there because that was where they were going to take the wounded. It was supposed to be a safe place at the eye of the storm, an island of peace in the rising chaos. It was supposed to be somewhere they could, if they were very, very lucky, save a handful of lives. Instead, it became a jagged opening into depths of Elsewhere itself, and the thing that stood silhouetted against the weird light of the rift was like every monster that had ever tormented her in her worst nightmares.

It was huge. Ugly. Terrifying, and yet magnificent. It—he—stood fifteen feet tall from the soles of his two massive feet to the plated crown of his head, and thick battle armor covered every inch of him. His eyes, cold blue and baleful, stared down at her. Why he chose to take notice of her she never knew.

She had no choice. It would make no difference, she was certain, save that it let her keep her honor. Her pride. She lifted her gun, only a handgun, and fired.

Fiction

Emergency Medical Werewolves

Hey guys! So, my schedule at work has me working 24 hour shifts on the ambulance. It’s “just” interfacility transports, but I still find it pretty awesome. That being said, the hours do get funky. So maybe we can blame the following on a late night, sleep deprived brainstorm. Because I think that’s actually pretty accurate. I hope you find it as amusing as I do!

Look. Just hear me out. Because if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Werewolves would make fantastic EMTs.

Wait! Stop! Quit backing away slowly and just listen! Ah, shoot– and put down that little silver figurine you keep on your desk! You don’t need it! What are you…? Yip! Quit throwing things! That’s completely uncalled for.

Alright, look. I’ll stay here on this side of the room, you stay there on that side of the room, and we can talk about this like civilized people. At least one of us is? Now that’s just mean. You’ll give me two minutes? Great! That’s all I need.

So! Werewolves as EMTs. First, the obvious. Ambulances run all night long. Werewolves are great at night! We– ah– they do their best work when the moon is up and the sun is not, so no need to worry about them not being awake.

Second, werewolves are strong. Great for lifting gurneys and moving patients. Also great for general emergency situations. Need something moved out of the way so you can get to someone who might be injured? They got you! Can’t find a jack to help change that flat tire? Just have your friendly neighborhood werewolf lift the car for you! Need an imposing presence so that no one gets in your way while you’re patching someone together long enough to get them to the hospital? No one wants to fight a werewolf.

Okay, so that last one may have more to do with teeth and claws than strength, but the point stands.

Third, rumor has it that the weirdest stuff happens when the full moon is out. So why not harness the weirdness (look, even I’ll admit werewolves are a little weird) and have it work in your favor? If your partner’s a werewolf, you’ll get that fuzzy advantage any night, but especially when the moon is full– when you just might happen to need it the most.

Fourth, ‘wolves are naturally familiar with using something like a siren to communicate with their surroundings. Because basically, a siren is just a howl that tells everyone where you are and to get out of the way.

Fifth, werewolves are great team players. Comes with being the sort of creature that thrives in a pack. Plus, all those scary stories you hear about werewolves being “bloodthirsty monsters” are from the ones that aren’t socialized and don’t have a pack. I can already guarantee that any ‘wolf that wants to be an EMT is going to be the type that is well socialized, and they’ll form a pack with their partner anyway. Problem solved!

And– what’s that? My two minutes are up? Okay, cool. That’s all I needed to say. Will you at least think about it? Great!

Wait, who are you calling? The local paranormal detectives? Ah, heck, those guys are mean. Fine! I’m leaving! I’m going! Just think about it?

Yip!

Fiction, Fiction (Short)

We Said Goodbye

The whisper of my breath filled my helmet. Its odor mixed with the smell of my sweat and complete exhaustion. The faint fog of it clung to the inside of the face shield, dimming my view, though not so much that I could pretend that the scorched control panel in front of me would ever function again. I stared at it anyway and delayed making the comm back to the ship. Maybe if I didn’t say anything it would stop being true.

My comm chirped in my ear anyway, and I sighed. So much for that idea. “Go ahead,” I answered.

My husband’s voice came crackling over the connection. “What’s the bad news, Alice?

“The gate’s shot,” I said. “Doesn’t look like we’re making it home for dinner.”

Or ever. But we both knew that.

Copy,” he said, and then went quiet.

And we mourned.

We’d known it would happen, that it was the only likely outcome. We’d run the scenarios. We’d looked at every other possibility when the wormhole opened, anything that could save our galaxy without stranding us in this one. We’d tried a dozen different things, only to have them fail one way or another— because the theory wasn’t sound, because the tech just couldn’t handle it, because time ran out. The fact that the radiation from the other side was harmless until it reacted with the radiation from our own galaxy didn’t mean a thing. It was a quirk of nature, but deadly all the same. And in the end, this was our only option: fly through ourselves and set things right.

Close the gate. Save the galaxy.

Get back through if you can. But that’s not the primary objective.

I closed my eyes and let myself hang there, floating in the vacuum at the end of my tether while the greater part of myself insisted that there must be a way out, if only we kept on looking. It offered up all the cliches: we’d come so far, we’d done so much, it couldn’t end this way.

But that’s only true in a certain kind of story.

My comm chirped again, and I opened my eyes. The control panel was still there, still destroyed. The gate pylon was still inert, still damaged far beyond our means to repair. The expanse of a foreign galaxy still stretched out infinitely in every direction, and I couldn’t bring myself to look at it.

Alice.

I shook my head, as if that was enough to clear it. It worked well enough. “I’m here.”

I’m ready to bring you back inside. Whenever you’re ready.

“Copy that. I’m ready now.” A pause, and then I added my quiet thanks.

It didn’t take long to haul me in at the end of the tether. The fastenings on the belt of my suit pulled taut and the pylon sank away and out of reach. I watched it and only it until my feet touched down on the airlock floor; the strange stars would cause me too much pain.

Gray, my husband, pulled open the door and met me as soon as the airlock finished cycling. I leaned into his chest, let his arms wrap around me, let him hold me. I breathed in his scent, the last remnants of his deodorant and his sweat and the unique smell that only belonged to him.

“I don’t want to be stuck here,” I whispered, though the words hardly made it past the knot that had grown in my throat. “I don’t want this to be the end.”

“It’s not,” he murmured, his lips pressed against my hair. “It’s not.”

It was a platitude. An empty, hopeless platitude. A flash of rage passed through my brain, all violence and panic and gut-deep wrath. I stiffened, chewing on the words of a dozen different diatribes that rose up from my chest. Only the simplest came out.

“It is. It is.” I pushed away. “The pylon’s dead. The control is dead. Our galaxy is ten million light years away, and even if our ship could cross that distance, we’d be eons dead before it brought us home. And so would everyone we’ve ever loved. We knew it when we volunteered. We knew it and we came anyway.”

“So we find another way,” said Gray.

“There is no other way!” I choked out the words and hissed them past my teeth. “That’s why we said goodbye.”

We both retreated to our own ends of our little ship, our fifty yard prison, me to the engine room, him to the bridge. I drowned myself in a dozen mindless repairs, all the little things that wear apart with everyday use, all the things our mission had stressed to a breaking point. The work was simple, and my hands knew their tasks. Each problem was the sort of thing I’d solved a thousand times before. Each thing fixed was a salve to my thrashing mind, though only when I kept my fears at bay. I didn’t worry how Gray spent his hours.

A day passed. Another followed. We came together at meals— sometimes— but didn’t speak. We slept in the same room, but not with each other. He wanted us to talk, but I had no words to say anything that mattered.

We stayed at the pylon longer than we needed to, until I’d fixed everything on the ship that I could possibly fix and a few more things besides. We might have never moved, but while the ship’s stores were well-stocked, they would not last forever. Better we move on now, while the choice was ours to make and not desperation’s.

Find a planet. Refill our stocks of food and water and medicine and fuel, whatever we could find. Keep floating on.

I saved the location of the pylon into the computer before we left. I wasn’t sure why. The thing hadn’t shown any indication that it would or could return to life. But it seemed the thing to do.

Or maybe I just couldn’t bring myself to let it slip away forever.

In a week, the worst of my grief dulled to a different, deeper sort of pain. A resignation. Or a sort of healing, if a twisted, tender scar is healing. But I began to speak again, and chose to forgive or forget my husband’s well-meant hope and optimism. It hardly seemed important now, as the pylon fell farther and farther behind, and our daily life revolved more and more around survival and less and less around thoughts of getting home.

We found planets and moons and asteroids that held what we needed. Sometimes it was just scraps, the barest bits to keep us going. Sometimes it was more, or almost everything. Sometimes when we sat together on the bridge and the scan came back with its promises of life and riches we would exchange a look.

“We could stay,” I might say. “Scuttle the ship, make a home.”

And Gray might think, might ponder, might muse. “Maybe the next planet. The sunlight here is wrong.”

And so we wouldn’t. We would land and fill our stores, and then we’d leave and fly back to the endless stars. And we’d whispers to each other that we still might find some way back to our other home, safe in the knowledge that it could never happen.

Until it did, on a rocky moon that should have only offered us a little fuel, but showed us an ancient, alien colony instead. A colony like the one we’d found in our first galaxy. A colony that held the tech that we’d been studying when the wormhole opened and the whole of creation began to crumble.

We stared down at it through the viewport, as if our naked eyes could see the empty buildings. Three years had passed. A thousand days. Grief and terror had faded and given way to mere exhaustion and routine. And then somewhere, somehow, exhaustion had yielded to curiosity and the giddiness that came with the knowledge that an entire galaxy was at our fingertips, all full of things no one had ever seen. And there was nothing at all to stand between us and a million new discoveries but our own decisions.

“You were right,” I said. “There is a way.”

Gray remained quiet for a long, long while. “I guess there is,” he said. “But we said goodbye.”

And so we left the ruins to themselves, staying only long enough to refill our stores of fuel and choose our next coordinates. By habit, I almost saved the location of the tiny moon to the computer before we left, but a thought stopped my hand. Gray saw me and shook his head, and I let the void swallow the coordinates instead. The galaxy was bigger without them.


Originally published as part of the 2020 Fall Writing Contest on shortfictionbreak.com.

Fiction (Excerpts)

[Excerpt] The Easy Job

At the best of times, I am not the most patient of people. This was not the best of times. I was cold, wet, and hungry. I was tired– exhausted, even. I had watched a weekend that was supposed to be a welcome shred of rest go from bad to worse to something so unfathomably, irredeemably ridiculous that I could feel the hysteric laughter bubbling up the back of my throat. If someone said I looked like I was at the end of my rope, I would inform them that my rope had snapped sometime last week. Or I’d just cut to the chase and bite their head off.


Sometimes it’s just fun to write Miranda. Okay, scratch that. It’s usually a whole lot of fun to write Miranda. And the bit above is no exception. There’s a certain catharsis to getting inside her head when she’s about ready to start (or finish?) a fight, and if you said that might reveal more about me than anything else, I’d smile and shrug and admit that you’re probably right. And then I’d remind you that that’s half of what makes it so much fun.

Fiction (Excerpts)

[Excerpt] The Personal Job

“See if I let you go investigate anything on your own ever again,” I muttered. “‘I’ll be careful,’ you said. ‘It’s nothing,’ you said.” My mutter became a growl as I lost my footing on the steep slope and half fell, half slid a few feet down. Somehow, I stopped myself before tumbling off the edge and down the rest of the way to the canyon floor below.

Tanner wasn’t around to hear my rant, but that wasn’t about to stop me. With all the practice I was getting, once I finally got to deliver it to my brother’s face it was bound to be a rant to end all rants. It would remain unparalleled for all eternity. It would be the platonic ideal of a rant. Or at least one that would make him think twice about getting himself captured while gallivanting around without backup.

I tried not to think too hard about the fact that I was doing more or less the same thing.


Hey, look! An excerpt! This is one of the stories I’ve been looking forward to writing, mostly because it puts Tanner and Miranda in a situation that I haven’t played with much: on their own. But the question remains… do they get into more trouble when they’re together or when they don’t have each other to hold them back?

Fiction (Excerpts)

[Excerpt] The Fail-secure Door

I knew it the second the door slid shut. It wasn’t going to slide back open as easily, and I had three hours before Tanner got back. Assuming everything went right. Judging by our track record from the last couple days, that meant it would probably be more like five, and then he wouldn’t be able to get the door open anyway.

I growled out an emphatic oath.

Granted, it wasn’t as bad as it could be. The emergency lights were still giving off their vaguely neon glow. Stuck though I was, at least it wasn’t like no one knew where I was, and I had food–or at least a couple of protein bars–in my backpack, as well as enough water that dehydration wouldn’t be a problem.

And given that this was the bridge of a military-type ship, I supposed that having a door fail secure on me because I got careless and snipped the wrong wire was probably the most benign thing that could have happened. Well. Aside from nothing, of course.

I groaned softly as I looked around the room. Five hours. About thirty cubic meters. We had said we would need to go over the area with a fine-toothed comb. Looks like I was going to get a chance to do just that.

So much for fobbing that particular task off on my unsuspecting brother.

Fiction (Excerpts)

[Excerpt] Tanner and Miranda

All things considered, the Duster Gang’s hideout was one of the best ones I’d seen. For one thing, they hadn’t set up shop in the Outlands, and I appreciated the change of scenery. For another, the panoramic view of the valley was truly impressive, and made moreso by the clear and cloudless sky: unless I missed my guess, that smudge off to the southwest was Coville itself. But the best part was the water.

There was a whole pool of it in the deepest part of the cave: cold, sweet water. As soon as Tanner and I saw that, it made sense how the eight scruffy miscreants we had tied up and disarmed in the mouth of the cave had been able to run their cattle rustling outfit for as long as they had. It was one thing to have enough water for a handful of people. It was another entirely to be able to keep twenty or thirty head of stolen cattle in good condition while you waited for a chance to sell them off.