I wrote this flash fiction for the February Sci-fi Microstory Contest. The theme was the loneliness and isolation of space, and an object from the Earth that holds sentimental value had to be included. It had to be no longer than 750 words.
Stars all around me. So many. Emptiness. Eternity…
No! I’ve got to keep my shit together and do what I must. You’ll all see!
I’m pointing my finger. Have I been speaking aloud?
I jump at the unfamiliar voice.
Minsk? The word… there’s something warm about it. Something grey, and green and blue.
I look around. The ship. Right.
“You forgot again.”
“You named me Minsk, after your city.”
Minsk! I know it, and yet… What is this feeling in my stomach and why is my chest so tight?
Faces. People dragging me. A boy. It hurts! I squeeze my head between my palms. Everything is spinning. There is a shrill sound piercing my ears.
“You are screaming.”
“Turn to your right and open the cabinet. I’ve printed a mild weed brownie, just like your grandma used to make. It’ll calm you down.”
The brownie smells… wrong. Printed food always does. I take a bite. It’s like brownie-flavored, brownie-textured cardboard, nothing like my grandma’s. But Minsk recreates all the molecules right, and that’s what I need. The problem is, it’ll be an hour before it works, and it feels like I’m falling apart, losing pieces of myself I’ll never be able to find.
“It’s time to go to Hong Kong,” Minsk reminds me, and my stomach clenches.
I suit up, going through the checks absent-mindedly. Minsk has finally caught Hong Kong after all the chasing. How long has it been? I feel like there is jelly in my head.
I’m out of the ship now, trying not to throw up in my suit.
“You’re hyperventilating,” Minsk speaks through my suit com, and it’s somewhat reassuring. It guides me through a breathing exercise while I use my jet pack to get to the other ship. My heart is beating in my throat.
I try the airlock, and it doesn’t work. I take out my laser cutter that slices through tough metal like butter. I could easily cut myself in half with it.
I enter. It’s dark, so I have to use the flashlight in my helmet. It creates a shaky corridor of light surrounded by threatening blackness. I’m afraid of what I’ll see if I turn my head, so I look straight ahead. Dima has always been scared of the monsters in the shadows, and now I am, too.
I’m walking through dark, empty spaces, until… what is that? A pile of… I scream, and I’m lost for a while. When I come to, I’m sitting on the floor hugging my knees. I’m a bit calmer now. A bit detached. Must be the brownie.
I look at the pile of dead bodies. It’s not real.
“It’s real. Keep moving. You are close now.”
Right. That’s why I’m here. Hong Kong was on its way to the asteroid belt when something strange happened, killing everyone on board and the ship itself. It stopped sending signals, but there must be a recording in its memory. I’m here for it.
With Minsk’s help, I retrieve the recording and get back. I send it to Earth.
“Play it for me, Minsk,” I say, settling back into the chair.
The wall in front of me comes alive. I see people going about their business. I start nodding off when a flash of bright purple light slices into my eyes. No one moves anymore, like they’ve been paused. The air shimmers, and whirlpools of purple light storm through the ship. For a moment, everyone disappears. Then, they are all dead in a pile and nothing else happens. I chuckle. That’s what I’ve come all the way for? No answers, more questions. Was that first contact?
I’m laughing hysterically now, have been for a while. I crawl to my drawer and take a picture out. The boy on it smiles happily. Dima. My son.
Suddenly, everything’s coming back in an avalanche. How I found him bruised and dead. How they accused me. How I got life in prison. How after ten years, I was offered an opportunity to go on this mission to redeem myself. How I’d do anything to get out, but after a year alone in space I’d do anything to get back. More lonely years. How many? I look at my hand, and it’s dry, veined and wrinkled. I lost count after about ten. I lost my mind.
I press the picture to my chest and cry.
Purple light slices through my retina, and time stops.