1. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Winner Wreybies Short Story Contest 36: Narrator With One Week To Live

    Discussion in 'Bi-Weekly Short Story Contest Archives' started by Gannon, Jan 26, 2009.

    Stranded

    The system continued to ignore me. It was over-tasked with the reploting of stars that no longer answered to any of its internal charts. Either the data was corrupted or the universe was corrupted.

    Lost.

    My finger hovered over the enter key yet again. I had programmed a purge routine which would clear the core memory. The system would run faster and use less energy without continually trying to reference charts that were meaningless. I wrote that program on the second day after I awoke and had let my finger hover over the enter key for more times than I could count.

    Lost.

    The charts were useless. They served me no purpose. They would not lead me home. I pressed the enter key and a cold sweat broke painfully on my back.

    Truly lost.

    The cabin dimmed momentarily. The screen refreshed with an anticlimactic lack of sound, but was asking for a prompt. This was more than it had done in the three days since I was wakened from hibernation. I began to query.

    >GRAVITATION DISTORTION?

    >YES. (No big deal.)

    >HULL INTEGRITY?

    >OPTIMAL. (Good, good.)

    >POWER PLANT?

    >UNSTABLE. (Shit!)

    >LIFE SUPPORT?

    >MINIMAL. (Fuck!)

    There was no chair to lean into. There was nowhere to prop my elbow that I might cup my forehead in my hand. There was no gravity to hold me decently to the floor that I might sob and let this panic leach from my body. Only in science fiction do space ships have chairs, tables, beds, large open spaces and magic gravity. The real economics of space travel do not permit for any of that.

    >LIFE SUPPORT DURATION AT PRESENT CONSUMPTION?

    >160 HOURS.

    I began to laugh at what looked like my system’s poor attempt at comedy. The core purge must have screwed with the internal clock. I checked it against the external chronometer. They matched.

    The giggling would not stop. It started to well up from hidden pockets and strange places. I glanced again at the internal clock and scanned over to the date which was obviously, absurdly wrong. Again I checked it against the external chronometer and again they matched. My laughter became a small moment of insanity and there was a sense of blissful relief in the idea that I might just go mad before I died and be spared the reality of suffocating to death in this tin can.

    >142 HOURS OF LIFE SUPPORT REMAINING.

    I made a list of everything which could be powered down. The list was short. In a small intersystem ship there is very little that is not essential. The only lighting within the tiny cabin now came from the system panels and indicator lights. It was as if I floated free in space and the stars were red, blue, green, and white. The system screen was like a pale square moon.

    The cabin was beginning to smell.

    >120 HOURS OF LIFE SUPPORT REMAINING.

    I cold not return myself to hibernation. The process was complicated, lengthy, and not something with which I was at all familiar even if I had had the resources or the facilities. The system was designed to auto-thaw only one of us prior to planetary approach so that the ship could be retrieved with the help of an onboard pilot. Jenson and Marks remained in hibernation and I envied them their sleep. By a stroke of good fortune, the hibernation system was not within my power to disconnect or deactivate in order to save more power. I would never have to know if I was capable of murder to extend my own life. For this small blessing, I was thankful.

    >97 HOURS OF LIFE SUPPORT REMAINING.

    I had never married. I had loved and been loved, but never committed to anyone in an official way. The faces of past lovers floated through my mind, both women and men, never picky in that respect. Flashes of beautiful women of all colors with silken hair and breasts both round and high. Strongly muscled men wrestled playfully with me under the sheets as we laughed like boys and kissed like men.

    I had never had children, but never really regretted not being a father. I had been a beloved son and a favored uncle. I had magically produced candies for my nieces and nephews from pockets that seemed to have no bottom.

    I had been a good son. My parents were well cared for and lived in ease on Earth on a small ranch outside of Louisville. My mother was a plump woman who was generous with the baked goods in which she took so much pride. My father was a gentle man with a kind face. They had both been active in assuring that my interests were catered to and that I should feel special and smart and that whatever I wanted was within my reach if I just tried. I loved them dearly and had been perplexed at the angst my childhood friends showed to their families.

    >70 HOURS OF LIFE SUPPORT REMAINING.

    >MAGNETIC ANOMALY DETECTED.

    The pale glow of the system screen was suddenly eclipsed by a blinding light through the small port. At this point I was quite unsure If I had actually seen the flash of light or not. So much of my perception had been internalized as I reflected on my past and masturbated to memories made more vivid by the lack of external input. I floated myself over to the system screen and ran a new scan at precious cost to the power remaining.

    >MAGNETIC ANOMALY DETECTED.

    I looked out of the port and saw nothing. I continued to look and noticed that there was a large area of too much nothing. An area of complete blackness moved slowly aft of the ship and then was gone from my view.

    There was a metallic clang against the ship aft of the hibernation section. The clang became a soft scraping up the flank of the ship, behind the navigation console, behind the the system screen, up the forward section of the ship. I shoved my face into the port again to see if the patch of blackness would reappear. The void creeped from the right side of the viewport and soon blotted out every star. The beam of light again blasted into the port with a tactile, physical presence. It was the last thing I remembered.


    * * *​

    There was gravity. It felt like more than one G, but after so long in free fall, there really was no way to compare. I was pressed against the bulkhead near the forward section of the compartment, stiff and uncomfortable, but not in any real pain. The air was stifling and stale and stunk of my own urine. I managed to get myself up to the port which my newly revived sense of balance reported to me was now facing down.

    Confusion.

    Outer space can be many colors other than black, but rarely is it brown. I hunkered down in order to get the best view possible given the port’s strange position and could just make out the faint line line that marked where a brown wall met a darker brown floor. I was inside of a room.

    >LIFE SUPPORT REMAINING AT PRESENT CONSUMPTION?

    >45 HOURS. (Unconscious for more than a day.)

    >EXTERIOR PRESSURE?

    >18 PSI. (Pressure!)

    There was pressure out there. I pressed my face to the port again just in time to see something leave the field of view. I pulled back instinctively. I lowered my head in order to get another look without actually putting my face to the thick glass. Shadows of movement from something that was just outside the field of view.

    And then, a foot.

    A large, round, elephantine foot wearing what was, except for the bizarre shape, obviously a boot. White upper with a sole almost the same color as the floor outside of the port window. The foot lifted out of view again and I caught a glimpse of it’s tread. Yes, a boot, looking very much what a boot would look like if elephants were capable of making them.

    Now, two feet and... a hand? A gloved hand. The three middle fingers were knuckles to the floor with the same tread as the boots. The outer two fingers were held off the floor with no treads. The hand was twice, maybe three times the size of my own, gloved in pristine white fabric which proved to be very elastic as the fingers splayed widely. I watched as the hand lifted and it gave the incongruous impression of delicacy as large as it was.

    I brought my face closer and the hand dropped again into view, then another hand.

    Then a masked face.

    We both drew back at the same instant, each surprised and shocked. What a face! From what I could I see in the instant we were face to face and from behind the mask it was wearing, it looked like a cross between a horse and a gorilla. Long, long lashes around dark horse eyes. I was hyperventilating. I ducked my head slowly down again.

    Large liquid eyes framed by heavy lashes and a white mask that looked medical in nature. One hand still knuckled the floor but the other was gesturing in an all to human manner. Long fingers slowly curled and uncurled in an unmistakable beckoning to come closer. The large eyes blinked slowly and it was clear that the creature was behaving in a manner not to induce fear. Every gesture was slow and deliberate, smooth and calm.

    Three deep breaths and I brought my face to the glass again.

    It stopped waving me closer and ever so slowly turned its hand around to show me its palm, fingers splayed wide. I began to cry for reasons I would not understand until much later. It was saying hello and my heart was breaking at this simple, very human gesture.

    Here is my hand. See? It is empty. I mean you no harm.

    A part of me that had never had a voice, never had reason to speak until now came to the front of my consciousness and took control. I placed my hand, open and wide upon the port glass to show that I too was without weapon. I too meant no harm.

    The creature blinked more quickly in recognition that communication had just taken place. Moments later it lifted up and walked away.

    >19 HOURS OF LIFE SUPPORT REMAINING.

    Less than a day left. Much to my surprise, I was not panicking. The bizarre face had left me with a sense of reassurance. I played the scene over and over in my mind. The creature was large. Much larger than me. Most of it had been out of view, but from the size of the feet, hands, and face, it had to be big.

    Tap, tap, tap.

    It took me a moment to realize that I had actually heard the sound of tapping. I went over to the port and saw the large white gloved hand. It moved out of view and then the feet and hands were back again where they had been during our last and only communique.

    One hand lifted and pointed one of the large middle fingers at me and then both hands came together, side by side, palms down, and then separated one from the other until they were facing palm to palm about a foot apart. The creature repeated the two gestures over and over again. The meaning was childishly clear.

    You. Open.

    You open up.

    You open up the ship.

    I need you to open up the ship.


    I tapped the glass and the creature stopped making the gesture, its eyes intent on me. I pointed at myself slowly, and mimicked the same gesture of opening. The creature made a quick gesture, tapping the ground several times with its knuckles. It blinked very quickly. Its excitement was clear.

    Understanding!

    I tapped the glass again until I had its attention. Its body still swayed with excitement. I pointed at myself and then breathed in and out against the glass, fogging it. I prayed that it understood my concern for breathing an atmosphere that would not be lethal.

    It quickly moved away from my view and then returned holding a very ordinary, if large, piece of what looked like glossy paper. The figures drawn on the sheet were meaningless. It pulled the paper away from my view and looked in at me waiting for a response.

    There was nothing I could do. There was no gesture I could think of that would be a clear indicator that I had understood nothing on the sheet. Up until now, the small amount of communication had been the mimicking of actual physical movements. A nod of agreement or a head-shake of negation was arbitrary and not even universal among humans. I decided to do nothing, hoping that the creature would take a lack of response as a lack of comprehension.

    The creature tapped the floor twice with one set of knuckles and quickly departed. Just as quickly it returned with a blank sheet and a kind of long stylus. It drew two slightly overlapping circles. Then, very deliberately, it slowly drew a line away from the two circles. At the other end of the line it drew three overlapping circles and then filled in the center circle connecting the other two.

    Two into three.

    Two of the same into two of the same with one different... and dark.

    Sweet Jesus! Two joined oxygen atoms converted into two oxygen and one carbon. O2 into CO2. Aerobic respiration. It understood what I needed. I had no idea how it knew, but it knew what I needed to breathe.

    I mimicked the same bouncy tap gesture with my knuckles to the floor that I had seen it preform when it was exited. The creature did the same dance in return with renewed exuberance. It even added a small spin and something that looked like a gargantuan somersault.

    Tears flowed freely from eyes and I began to sob.

    Joy.

    There was no mistaking that the creature was expressing joy. Only joy could bring about the kind of motion which would take attention away from self preservation in order to indulge in the inner beauty of dancing. Laughter started to filter through my tears and I felt lightheaded. It wanted to help me. It mattered to it that I understood and it was overjoyed that I had.

    I tapped the glass to get its attention. It put its face much closer this time and I was slightly startled. I pointed a finger at it and then pointed away. I hoped it understood that I meant for it to move away from the ship. The emergency egress would open via explosive bolts. The hatch would fly away and I did not want it to be injured. I repeated the gesture and the creature tapped the floor twice. I watched it move away to the other end of the room in the very direction I had pointed. I turned to the system screen and typed in the order for emergency egress. A ten second countdown displayed on the screen. I put my hands over my ears.

    The explosive bolts fired less dramatically then I had expected. The hatch flew away and landed outside of my view. The air in the compartment suddenly became easier to breathe and the stench of urine and of my own unwashed body dissipated and was replaced by an organic but not unpleasant smell.

    It smelled like a forest would smell after a heavy rain.

    I waited for courage to fill me. The creature outside of the ship had given me every reason to believe that it only meant to help me, yet still fear of the unknown made my feet into lead. With a dizziness that threatened to drop me, I stuck my head out of the now open hatch.

    The creature beckoned me out with the same gesture it had used in our first communication. It waited patiently as I managed to squirm out of the small hatch and drop to the floor outside.

    It took a few slow steps towards me. I pressed my back against the ship in fear. It stopped moving and waited for me to show some sign of calm. I willed myself away from the ship and made disobedient feet move in the direction of the creature.

    It seemed an eternity when we finally met in the middle of the room. It extended one large hand toward me, palm facing out, fingers spread and waiting for me to come closer.

    I took the last few steps between us and watched my hand come up, as if it belonged to someone else, and touch that huge palm.

    Two beings, a universe apart, coming together in an act of compassion and true humanity. I thought of my mother and father back on earth and what they would think of this moment, and I was sure that they would care more that I showed good manners to this very human non-human for the act of kindness it had paid me.

    “Thank you. You have saved me.”
     
  2. garmar69
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    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Congrats! Well deserved win. :)
     
  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Awww! :p Thanks Garm.
     
  4. Mello
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    Mello Member

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    yep when i saw this one I knew I had no chance :D just too cool

    congrats, keep it up.
     
  5. wonderxwhy
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    wonderxwhy Member

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    I'm with Mello.
    This one is amazing. Totally blew mine out of the water.
    Congratulations :)
     
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    *blushes fiercely*

    Thanks you guys! :D
     
  7. Doug J
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    Doug J Active Member

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    Very nice work Wreybies! Congrats.

    But I have one question - and it's a real stupid one. Who asks the last question? From the quotation marks - I'm assuming it's the creature. And that's a great ending - the whole story holds together so well. Nicely done.
     

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