There’s something very British about the tone of this #SFSwap entry – @afrohorses has very much gone full on with the psychological connotations of @sasooli’s setting, and there’s a horrible inevitability to the story in more ways than one. As a procedural note, I’ve also decided to start putting the prompts at the ends of the stories, just to avoid spoilers. Let RULES STALIN know if you think this is a good idea or not.


STORY NUMBER: 8

PROMPT PROVIDER: @Sasooli

AUTHOR: @afrohorses

TITLE: Untitled


 

​The engines ignited. Had they been anywhere else, the roar would have been deafening. Six seconds was the maximum they could allow at this point, but the force of it was enough to make Paul clutch a sick bag expectantly. He stared at the read-outs on the monitors in front of him, and the results opened a pit inside of him. There was no change.

​“Can we stop these now?” asked James, the only other person who cared enough to be present on the bridge.

​“Why?” said Paul. “Do you have something better to do?”

​“It’s just becoming an inconvenience now. Nothing changes.”

​“It’s your life, man,” said Paul, “How can that ever be an inconvenience?”

James shrugged, a bitter smile creeping unbidden across his lips. He placed both hands on the monitor before him and pulled himself up. “Just give it a rest already,” he muttered as he slinked towards the exit hatch.

“You’ll thank me one day!” yelled Paul to James’ back. He read the readings from the monitor aloud as he scribbled down today’s calibrations for reference tomorrow. He slapped the leather-bound notebook onto the desk. The name Persephone was embossed on the cover. It was nothing special, every other notebook on the colony. Six more times. They could try six more times that would be it. Energy, fuel, anything like that, they had plenty of. What was lacking was the most important resource of all. Time.

He leaned back in his chair, making an effort to try and relax his shoulders. In front of him, all that could be seen from the front window was Hades. It was a preposterously huge gas giant in frontier space, and someone, somewhere, had decided that this would be a suitable place to establish a colony on the moon.  In panicked moments, he had tried to find out who had made the decision, so at the very least he could send an abusive message, detailing the lives of everyone on board, just so they knew the results of that decision. No such luck on that front. Messages could only be sent and received every couple of months. He had already missed his opportunity.

In six days, possibly less than that but hopefully more, the Persephone would be pulled into the atmosphere of Hades. Heat death, radiation poisoning, being crushed alive, or probably all at once, is all that was waiting for them. Six days. In as many weeks, a rescue vessel would be within range. Hades loomed ahead. It had become closer every day. Looming. Beckoning. Laughing. He rubbed at his eyes as he pulled himself out of the chair.

He left the bridge and wandered the corridors of the colony. Initially, this habit felt like a good idea, taking up people watching to take his mind away from the inevitable. As the days passed, it only served to remind him of the situation. Apathy had swept the entire colony. There were little more than one hundred people stationed here, and he felt like the only one who had any drive to survive. There were walking corpses everywhere. Paul had become haggard and worn, but even then, he was a shining example of youthful virility compared to most of the other crew members. If someone felt considerate, they might describe him as rugged, but he felt frayed.

As he continued wandering, he passed by one of his colleagues, Sharon, sat on the floor. Back when they lived, before they merely existed, he thought there was a future for them. That feeling was merely a hollow echo now. “Evening Paul,” she said, glancing up from a book. “Affairs all in order?”

​“No,” he replied, irked by the question. “I don’t really intend for them to be either.”

​She pursed her lips and went back to reading. He glanced at the cover. It was her diary. Happier times. Asking if affairs were in order had become the de facto greeting now. Everyone was expecting death. There was little else to do beside contemplate it, “make arrangements,” that kind of thing. As far as Paul was concerned, it had become synonymous with giving up. He hated the idea. If he was to go, he thought, he would take control of his own destiny. Paul turned on his heel. He had become renewed with a terrible purpose. His communicator buzzed, it was James, “Paul, you’re not going to believe this but-“ he was cut off by Paul flicking the OFF switch.

​He made his way through the corridors, gradually descending into the bowels of the colony. He arrived at the waste disposal facility. Nobody was here. Why would they be? He pulled a spacesuit from a locker, giggling to himself as he tried to keep second thoughts at bay. He knew the direction that waste was expelled. It was in the other direction, and that was enough. They were all doomed anyway. He quickly made his way to the control panel and set a timer. Six seconds. He wouldn’t be making notes of any progress this time. He would have enough time to climb into the chute. These suits were made for dealing with heavy duty materials and repair work, so he was sure it would hold. He pressed the button to start the system and ran into the chute. He curled himself up into a ball, aware of the force involved.

​The chute erupted into a red glow of warning lights, and the doors slowly opened up to the empty nothingness outside. He didn’t feel the movement, but was aware of himself moving forward. It looked faster than it felt, with the walls of the chute rushing by, but then it felt slow. Space enveloped him. It was all there was ahead of him.

​He tried to turn himself around, to see Hades finally shrinking behind him instead of coming ever closer. He craned his neck, and what he saw was so much worse.

​The rescue vessel was ahead of schedule.


 

PROMPTA colony on a moon whose orbit is slowly shrinking into the atmosphere of the gas giant it orbits