I hope you enjoy this sci-fi flash fiction, chosen by Wattpad for its 'Quickies List'.
'Senior Pilot Markson, prepare for immediate evacuation.'
The control centre’s electronic voice (aka Betsy) resonated with firm command. Markson stared, eyes blank, back rigid, as the space transport’s control panel volunteered a lurid display of flashing lights for his consideration.
‘No can do,’ he yelled at the invisible presence. ‘This. Is. Fixable.’
The flickering lights notched up from fast to frantic. Betsy, the Company’s epitome of implacable efficiency, continued her update.
‘The warp core has gone into overdrive. It is in need of service or else the ship will no longer be able to perform in an appropriate way.’
That was Betsy speak for the ship was going to be blown to smithereens, and, by implication, he too would cease to exist unless he obeyed. The voice now oozed patience and understanding of the difficulties which the human was undergoing.
‘I’m not leaving!’ Markson retorted, grinding his teeth.
Irate beyond measure, his hands twitched as he desperately stabbed here and there at various buttons in a wild effort to find a solution. In dismay he banged his hand down on the largest green light which he noticed with dread was beginning to fade.
‘I apologize, Senior Pilot Markson, but overriding the ship’s programs is no longer possible.’ Smooth sympathy dripped from the honeyed voice.
‘Damn the Company,’ he muttered in resentful frustration. ‘Those bastards should have known this old piece of junk couldn’t last more than a one way journey.’
Markson was furious. This was supposed to be a regular run - six months out to a mining planet in Outer Centauri, pick up the ore, and six months for the return. He was three months into the second leg, and had only taken the job out of desperation. Payment would be delayed until he returned to headquarters – and who knew how long that would take? Recovery of Personnel from abandoned or, as in this case soon to be non-existent, space ships was never high on the Company’s list of must do’s.
The blast of a siren rent the air then ceased.
‘I am truly sorry for the distress this warning may cause you, Senior Pilot Markson, but I have no alternative. You have ten minutes before the warp drive implodes and this Jumbo Model 315689B space transport ship will no longer be a viable environment for human habitation.’
The meek remorseful tone had no effect on Markson, whose fingers continued a manic dance across the control board. Without warning, every single light on the panel, and on the bridge, went out except one large red light which pulsed eerily in time to the intermittent keening siren. Markson sat in a cheerless crimson gloom as tortured metal from various parts of the ship shrieked with ear-splitting volume.
‘Damn them and damn them to eternity,’ he cursed as the floor started to vibrate underneath him.
‘I do apologize for any upset this ship is causing you.’ The voice trembled with docile submissiveness. ‘The Company will generously compensate you for any inconvenience you may experience during this incident.’
Markson slumped in his chair, resigned to his fate, as the automatic escape pod walls rose out of the floor recesses either side of him, enclosing him in a slim metal ovoid.
‘I have informed Central Control of your situation and the process of recovering your pod has been initiated.’ Betsy’s voice had returned to a more business like mode overlaid with a hint of motherly concern for his comfort.’ ‘Your location signal is activated. And the cryogenic function of your life preservation vessel will start to operate 30 seconds after you are clear of the ship, and will maintain your current physical state of health until you are Retrieved.’
Markson didn’t reply. Unlike some pilots, who during long journeys through the vastness of space, began to relate with affection to their intangible companions, he never made the mistake of thinking his ship’s communication system was a real person.
A hissing sound indicated the opening of the ejection route via a panel in the ceiling, and the pod shot out, squeezing him back into his seat.
‘Good bye Senior Pilot Markson.’
Betsy’s farewell, laden with regret and sorrow, were the last words he heard as the anaesthetic delivered from his armrest rendered him unconscious. The pod sped away into the endless space of stars.
To all story lovers out there, good reading, and to those of you who write, good writing.
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