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The following flash fiction piece was written for the latest Terrible Minds Writing Challenge, in which we were given several titles to choose from and write a story to fit that title. Here’s “Still Turnstiles at Station 6.”

 

“For the last fifty years, we’ve been the main entry point for immigrants. Station 6 has welcomed offworlders since the colonies first opened to the general population. However, with the completion of construction on a new series of landing zones via Phobos and Deimos, Station 6 will be transferring operations to these new lunar facilities, and begin shutting down. This shutdown will be gradual, taking place over the next solar cycle. We are proud to have been your Gateway to Mars.”

“How many people are losing their jobs because of this?”

“None. Every Station 6 employee is being offered transfer to operations on the lunar stations. Thanks to an incredible amount of cooperation from the colonial governors on both Phobos and Deimos, funding has been secured to ensure the employment of every single person here continues as long as they desire to keep doing their jobs.”

“What will become of Station 6, then?”

“We’ll begin the process of decommissioning her once the transition to lunar operations is complete. We expect that to take place over the next five to ten years. The oversight council has been working very hard to establish a full schedule. We are talking about taking multiple reactors offline, safely removing the fuel, disposing of it properly, and so on. It’s not something that can happen overnight. On the plus side, the process of decommissioning Station 6 will add an additional thousand jobs to the workforce within the next year. We’re very positive that the shift to the Phobos and Deimos stations will be a much-needed boost for Martian colonists.”

“And once the site is cleared?”

“We’ve been in talks to turn it into an orbiting museum. It would be an ideal site to showcase the history of humanity’s move from Earth. The early rovers from the old NASA operations have small museums near the locations where they ceased to function. It makes sense that Station 6 should hold the same place in our history. For now, though the lines here will slow, and the good folks on our staff will be here until the turnstiles are still.”

“Well, that certainly sounds like an ambitious plan, but I like the sound of it. We’ll be following this story as it develops. For Tharsis 7 News, I’m Ayana Cole.”

 

This one’s for Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds Writing Challenge. Our instructions were to write a sci-fi story about a dragon, only not necessarily a mythical one. It’s a short piece, well under the 2,000 word limit, but it was something that came to mind immediately after reading the challenge prompt.

“The Dragon”

 

“Are we starting?”

“Yes ma’am. We’re recording right now. You can start wherever you like.”

“I was there that day. They said that there’d been nothing like it since the old calendar, since the bombings on Earth. I never saw footage of those, but I’ve heard statistics. It amaze me still to realize that we used to live in such numbers that the loss of a couple hundred would be considered relatively insignificant. That that could’ve been the better option. I don’t know what exactly this new weapon was. Just the name all of the news outlets on the colony gave it. The dragon.”

***

“Yes, she was the first one to call it that on the intrasystem media. I asked her about it afterward. She said it seemed like a good fit. Something so destructive that it couldn’t possibly be real. She was never the same after that day. Nightmares kept her from sleeping, and eventually she just… she couldn’t stop seeing them.”

***

“What do you remember most about that day?”

“The smell. I’ll never forget the smell. Melting metal, charred flesh. I can’t eat barbecue anymore. The masks could only filter out so much, and we didn’t have them for the first wave. And the heat. Even when we got the bunker gear, we couldn’t stay on site for too long. Dozens of folks were dropping just from the heat.”

“You were with the first responders?”

“We all were. There weren’t enough of us. We didn’t have adequate supplies, or enough people. How can you plan for a disaster on that sort of scale when there’s been nothing like it used for centuries?”

“Had you ever seen footage of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?”

“Once, when I was a kid. They told us that no one had ever done anything on that sort of a destructive scale since. People kept pointing to those two bombs as one of the worst things that humanity ever did to itself. I wish they’d been right, that we’d never come up with anything worse.”

“You said supplies were inadequate too. Would you like to elaborate?”

“Well, there was no way we’d ever have the rescue equipment or the medical supplies to treat burns of that intensity on that large of a site. No colony would. The governors would never allow the funding for recovery for a disaster that they couldn’t foresee, and half of them are too young to have learned about the bombings back on Earth. They’d dismiss them out of hand and say that we should be prepped for real emergencies. Loss of atmosphere, gravity failure. Things that you expect to happen on an orbiting colony. Not the heat, not a fire so sudden and massive that it burns through 85% of your oxygen supply in a matter of seconds. Not some lunatic trying to hurt or kill everyone. We were damn lucky we didn’t lose the whole colony.”

“But you kept trying, despite being understaffed and under-supplied?”

“We had to. 12 hour shifts and then some, to start. You know how critical the first hours are in a recovery effort. More people died, but we kept trying. We had to, damn it. We had to know that we were doing our best. It was the only way we could keep going.”

***

“I don’t think anyone could have predicted it. My understanding is that the work on the project was so compartmentalized that no one team could’ve put together a solid idea of the whole. Different groups of engineers and scientists working on components on different planets and colonies. No communications other than what was absolutely necessary would’ve been allowed. Tell one team they’re working on one project under one code name. Take their work and have an unaffiliated group start working on it from there under a different code name. Never let the right hand know what the left is doing, you know.”

“Hence why there couldn’t be a contingency in place.”

“Exactly. No one knew what The Dragon was capable of. Just that it was a dangerous weapon.”

“And someone set it off in the middle of a civilian population center.”

“Yes.”

“Do you believe the attack itself was premeditated?”

“We’re done here.”

***

“How many people died?”

“In the initial burst? Estimates say over half a million. The Dragon’s Breath, the mishmash of various ailments people caught in the aftermath is still killing people. Nearly double that.”

“Do you honestly believe it was an accident that the weapon was discharged on the colony?”

“I’d like to believe that, but the investigation is ongoing.”

“Thank you for your time.”

Today’s entry is a response to the latest Terrible Minds Writing Challenge, and comes to you courtesy of the wonderful Chuck Wendig. We were instructed to choose a word from each of two columns of ten words. These two words would give us our title for a thousand-word story. From there, we were free to choose genre, setting, etc. so long as the title was composed of those two randomly selected words. It is with great pleasure that I present to you “The Apocalypse Mechanism.”

“The Apocalypse Mechanism”

I found myself hypnotized by the button. It sat there all day, just peeking up at me from beneath its warning label-emblazoned plastic cover. The labels said “Do Not Push”. The button seemed to say the exact opposite, but I knew what would happen if I pressed it. Hell, the alarm system would engage the second the cover was flipped open
(I wanted to push it)

and that couldn’t even be accomplished without two keys, only one of which was ever in my possession at any given time.

So I stared at it. Me versus the button. The greatest showdown never to be broadcast live on television, though one documentary maker had come down to film my little chamber about a year and a half after I started. Our little chamber, I suppose. Marco and I took turns. I don’t know if he stared at the button the way I did
(I wanted to push it)

like I was looking deep into the eyes of the lover I could never have. We never talked about it. He only spoke Italian, and I only spoke English. He had the other key. I wore mine around my neck. I think he did too, but again, we didn’t exactly have the best of conversations, or any conversations, for that matter. Language barriers and whatnot. Pretty sure the guys upstairs planned it that way, but there’s no way for me to know for certain.

The chair was pretty comfortable, so I guess you could say it was a cushy job. I mean, how many gigs can you find where you get paid a shit-ton of money to sit in a big chair and wait patiently for nothing to happen? Not many. This one was one of a kind, too. It was an armchair, too, not a desk chair or anything like that. Designed for me and me alone. There was a matching one opposite mine, made for Marco, and we never sat in each other’s. We wouldn’t have been comfortable. That was the way it was designed. I asked once what would happen if one of us had been killed, and the only response I’d gotten was an offhand comment about having to draft a plan for a new chair.

The button was green. That really threw me off the first time I sat in that chair. I’d been expecting red when they gave me the breakdown of the job. It just seemed logical that a button that could end the world would be red, you know? Nope. Green. Big and friendly, almost a neon green, like it was telling you “Don’t Panic” or something. Like it wanted to be pushed. I’m fairly certain it did, because then it would’ve been all over, but when I mentioned that to the staff psychologist, he said I was just projecting.

The button was only part of it, of course. The room wasn’t built to house anything, it was everything. The whole complex I worked in was the device, and the room with my little chair and my big friendly “Do Not Push” button
(oh, gods I wanted to push it)

was only a little chamber, a tiny fraction of the thing they called “The Apocalypse Mechanism.” Designed by the most brilliant minds on the planet, top to bottom, including my chair. I can’t call them the best minds, because if the best minds had been around at that point, it wouldn’t have come to the building of that damned thing. The best minds would have been able to come up with something better, a plan that wouldn’t involve Earth being sacrificed.

Still, the minds we had left were brilliant. They had taken good care of them in the facilities back in Russia. Neat little rows of jars, cleanly labeled, and so on and so forth. I’d actually gotten a tour of the place a few years before I got my button-watching job. A cold set of shelves, but like I said, they held the most brilliant minds left on Earth. They put them to use, and away we went, letting them design the mechanism that would allow us to hide our tracks completely.

Marco and I each worked on ten hour shifts. Ten hours on, ten hours off. Since we were underground, it didn’t really matter much to us that we didn’t see daylight. What was left to see on the surface anyway? Nothing I hadn’t seen before. Nothing I wanted to see again. Ten hours sitting, waiting for the word that it was time to wake the other, time to use the keys, time to release the plastic cover, time to push the big green button.

It would mean that the world would end. Earth would be destroyed, and the home of the human race would be lost to history forever. Marco and I would have no choice but to stay behind, of course. As far as I knew, he was just like me. No family, nothing left. No reason for us to be on the ships that would be setting course for the colony worlds far from our solar system. My button was the trigger. I held one of the two keys that would prevent anyone or anything from taking our home and using its resources against us. The Apocalypse Mechanism. The ultimate in scorched earth tactics.

I stared at the button for a lot of my shifts. I could have read, I suppose, or listened to music, but I couldn’t help myself. I knew that I’d have to push it one day. I could feel that from day one, so I stared at the button. I stared at it for five years, ten hours at a time.

Until now. Until the alerts. Too many ships still orbiting, trying to leave. Too many people still in range. No way to protect them now. No choice. I call Marco. We draw out our keys, unlock the cover.
(I don’t want to)

We push it together.

Here’s my entry for Trifecta Week 97. We were asked to use the word “ass” in a postpositive sense. Having fun with that one yet? It means that I got to write a story with “dumb-ass” as a key word. It’s short (333 words, so long-ish for Trifecta) and a little silly, but here, nonetheless, is “Stranded.”

“You know, sir,” Nolan said, finally finding his voice. “Dumb-ass over there has a point. If we don’t get back in the next three hours, the ship will leave without us.”

“Yeah,” Beckett chimed in. “Because he’s the one who set the auto-pilot before leading us out on some wild-pteranodon chase.”

“I want a pteranodon,” Shyle murmured, continuing his doodle in the sand.

“Not the point, Shy. Also, Beckett? Weird expression. Don’t use it around Shyle again. You know how he gets. And Nolan?”

“Yessir?”

“You’re right. I hate to say it, but Harker’s right too. We’ve got to get in high gear if we’re going to make it back to the ship. Harker. How far off course are we? Never mind. Don’t talk. Beckett, ping the ship. Get us a route plotted, double time.”

“On it, sir.”

“Nolan?”

“Commander?”

“I don’t care if it’s true or not. Don’t call Harker a dumb-ass. He’s still a part of the team.”

“But he was wrong! There was nothing out here. Not a scrap of salvage. Nothing worth even making the trip, not to mention the risk of getting stranded.”

“Hey guys?” Beckett called. “I’ve got a course to the ship, but you’re not going to like it.”

“Why not?”

“Well, sir, take a look. According to Harker, we’ve now got under three hours to make it back to override the autopilot, right?”

“Yes. Why?”

“Because according to the beacon, the ship is currently ten klicks farther than our original touchdown point. Which means either we’ve gone way past what our suit gauges say we’ve traveled, or…”

“Or someone’s moved the ship. Damn. Where’s a pteranodon when we need speed?”

“Said I couldn’t have one,” Shyle mumbled.

“Keep drawing, Shy. Where’s that leave us, Beckett?”

“In a word, sir? Screwed.”

“How screwed, scale of 1-10.”

“Shut up, Nolan. Go sit with Harker.”

“Uh, Commander?”

“What, Nolan?”

“Harker’s gone, sir.”

“Beckett?”

“Ship’s gone too.”

“Crafty son of a bitch…”

“Yes sir.”

“What now, Commander?”

“Hope for pteranodons.”

Douglas Adams would have been 61 years old today. He passed away on May 11th, 2001, two days before I turned fourteen, and he has been incredible influence on me. I first encountered Douglas Adams when I was browsing my uncle’s science fiction and fantasy book collection, and a seemingly innocuous little book called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy caught my eye. If I had only known then what I was getting myself into. 

I was instantly enthralled by Adams’ writing style, the seamless blending of standard sci-fi with a healthy does of dry British wit. It was the best kind of escape, and all I needed was to know where my towel was at any given time. I don’t remember how long it took me to read Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect’s first adventure. There was a lot of laughter. There may even have been tears (brought on by too much laughter). Now, many years and several sequels later, I’m still just as much a  fan of a brilliant series. Happy birthday, Mr. Adams. You are greatly missed. 

And here’s number 3 in my latest series, pieces inspired by Cowboy Bebop episode titles. This one’s called “Honky Tonk Women.”

 

 

“Do you really think that life will be that different out there? I mean, we’ve got it pretty good here, all things considered. The bar is even starting to turn a profit.”

“I don’t know. I want it to be better, but I don’t know. All I know is that they’ve offered me the job in Valentine.”

“Abby, you know we can’t afford to go to Mars!”

“They’ve offered to pay my way. Full coverage of relocation. Not just me, actually. Both of us.”

“Us?”

“You know I can’t imagine going anywhere without you. How long have we been together now?”

“Two years, next Thursday.”

“Exactly. What better way to celebrate our anniversary? We can even go out for a fancy dinner, steak, or sushi, or something, maybe go see a show. When was the last time we went out? It’ll be my treat, Emily.”

“But you always pay for dinner…”

“No buts, missy.”

“Fine. But on one condition.”

“To dinner, or to my taking the job in Valentine?”

“To your taking the job, I guess.”

“Okay.”

“Well…are you going to tell them about me? About us?”

“They already know, Em. I had to put someone down as my beneficiary if something happens to me. I sure as hell wasn’t going to leave anything to my parents after what they said to you.”

“You’re…but…why?”

“Because I love you, you big dork.”

“I love you too, Abby.”

“So, they’ve offered us relocation expenses, including a ride on the TPE next week. Our stuff will be sent along as freight, so we don’t have to worry about having some jackass movers meet us there. We’ve already got a lease ready to sign for an apartment in central Valentine, just down the street from the library. They want me to start as soon as we can get there.”

“Oh my God…”

“I know. We’re going to be set, hun.”

“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

“They just got back to me yesterday. I wanted to surprise you with the news, but you were at work, and I didn’t want to tell the whole bar. It’s not like you could’ve heard me over that godawful country crap they play in there.”

“What are we going to do about it?”

“The bar? Sell it! Hasn’t James been talking to you about converting part of it into a hookah place anyway? Let him have the whole building. Start a new one on Mars! You can call it ‘The Mars Bar’ or some other lame pun like you love so much.”

“You know me way too well…”

“I thought that was the idea.”

“So, you’ve got a new job that’s going to take care of both of us.”

“Yup.”

“It sounds like they thought of everything.”

“There’s no other library like it in the solar system. They said they wanted the best people to work for them, and they picked me, so here we are.”

“So, when do we leave?”

“How quickly can you pack?”

“I don’t even know what to say.”

“Say you’ll come with me to Mars, and we’ll be able to live our dreams together.”

“I’ll go.”

Each month, the wonderful Sonia M. over at doingthewritething presents her fellow bloggers with a writing challenge, usually to create a piece of microfiction that fits within a particular word limit and based on a simple prompt. It’s a great way to connect with other writers, and it can only help to boost your creativity. Isaac Asimov even wrote under similar limits, once crafting a short piece of fiction designed to fit on the back of a postcard. The man was a genius, but I digress.

This month, Sonia’s challenge for us was “First Impressions and Famous Last Words.” We were allowed to write any genre, but we were limited to one hundred words and told to create either the opening or closing lines to a story. Here’s my contribution.

*     *     *     *     *     *

The explosion shook me off my feet, hurling me into the bulkhead. The airtight doors around me began to seal, red hazard lights flashing as artificial atmosphere vented. I scrambled for my emergency oxygen mask, knowing that precious seconds would make the difference between living and dying. As soon as I was breathing normally, I looked around again, pleased that my training had saved me but terrified of what could’ve caused such a catastrophic failure in the compartment. My communicator was still attached to my belt, but it had been damaged in my fall. No signal. I was truly alone.

*     *     *     *     *     *

Was it the first or last hundred words of a story? I don’t know. I like that it could be either one.

Number Two in my series of microfiction stories inspired by Cowboy Bebop episode titles, this is Stray Dog Strut. Some influence comes from the same source as the poem I posted. It’s also set in the same universe as the other story in this series, Asteroid Blues, and my earlier piece, Trans-Planetary Express. Reading any of the other stories is non-critical to understanding, but you will see further references to them as time goes by.

Stray Dog Strut

My name is Dog. Well, it is now. It’s not a real name, I suppose, but it’s one that I go by out here. I’ve gone by a lot of names in my life, so Dog is as good as any.

I used to work for the Express back in the day. That was right after things really calmed down in the colonies on Deimos. With half of the other moon blown to hell, tourism dropped off big time. The layoffs hit everyone hard, but people in my line of work usually found something to do, whether it’s private security or public military service. But not me.

Things just never seemed to go my way after I lost my job with the Express. Without the cash for a ride home, I was stuck on Mars. They’d built the planet into an ecumenopolis after the terraforming, and they called the city Valentine, like it would have any connotation for the illiterate masses flooding in from Earth and Luna, or the few surviving Phobian refugees. I don’t like it here, but I don’t have a lot of options at the moment. I’m keeping my head up, though. I knew a guy who let it get to him. Last I heard, he was on Phobos at the time of the blast, and might’ve even been involved. No thanks. Not my bag, not anymore. I got out of that lifestyle years ago, and the Express hired me.

The new transports are faster and nicer than the Express was, even in her glory days, but they lack the sentimental quality she had. Now it’s all surgical steel, emotionless smooth bulkheads, spartan quarters. They’re more expensive and not as nice. The TPE, now she had everything. She was a spaceliner, though, built for affordable luxury travel from Earth to Mars. I’m sure that I could find work on one, if I really tried, but I need to get myself cleaned up before I try.

Out here, I’m what they call a stray, so going by this name is all the better for me to fit in until I feel like the time is right. Maybe I will get back to Earth eventually, but here, I’m a person who can accomplish things for the rest of the strays. Valentine’s beautiful, but not without its flaws. There are others out here who depend on guys like me. We look after each other. Besides, it’s Earth. From what I’ve head, it’s almost back down to 2023 in terms of population, so that’s a good indicator that things are looking up, despite the exodus to the colonies. They’re talking about building Io up into a global city too, so I’ve got no desire to move further outward again.

My great-great grandpa owned a little piece of land back home. Should still be family around somewhere. Maybe I’ll try my hand at farming. It’d do me good to get out of the cities for a while. Anyway, I should get on my way. I’ve still got to find a place to bed down for the night. Good luck to ya, son. Thanks for listening.

 

One of my fellow wordpress bloggers recently “liked” one of my posts on here, and so I decided to look at her blog to see what she had to say. I was fascinated when her blog contained this. You see, Joanna is a fan of my favorite anime series of all time, Cowboy Bebop. She also happens to be a writing blogger, and she has given me great inspiration. She’s working on a series of short fiction pieces based on the titles of the episodes that make up the series. Please note that this series will not attempt to directly reference Bebop or its universe in anything other than the titles. This isn’t supposed to turn into fan-fic. This is #1 in what will hopefully be a 25-26 piece series of original microfiction. Here I present “Asteroid Blues” for your reading pleasure.

Asteroid Blues:

You don’t expect the depression. It sneaks up on you in a place like this. You can do whatever you want to try to find a way around it, or a way to fight it. Doesn’t do you a damn bit of good. I’ve seen it a lot, so much so, in fact, that I didn’t recognize the symptoms in myself until after I’d seen to half of the crew being sent off. I just dismissed the signs, telling myself that it couldn’t happen to me. I was the strong one. I was in denial.

The Kuiper Belt is no place to make a living. The corporations set up the mining facilities and a few of the basic necessities, then they left. Now we’re here, sucking out ice to transport back to Earth. I’m sick of it. I’m tired of having nothing better to do when I’m done with work than going out and drinking. I’m tired of being so far away from my wife.

I know that I can get better. I just can’t shake the feeling that something big is about to go down. Something. My last memory of Earth was walking to my car, getting ready to leave for this job. It was the first real week of spring, and she was standing on the porch in a cotton dress, waving goodbye to me and whispering “I love you” in the breeze.

Why does that sit in the front of my mind, six months later? Because she’s gone…I got word today. The accident took her. Now there’s no reason to go back. Her funeral was a week ago, and I just found out. Guess I should leave the damn bar and go home, but I don’t really know what I’d be going back to. Maybe just one more beer…