Writer’s note: So, here’s the deal. I’ve noticed myself been getting a little fatigued with my current still-to-be-named-sci-fi story. I’ve been struggling each week to get through to my next plot point and have lost interest in where the characters are right now. Not good.
To give my writing experience a boost, I decided to grab a writing prompt from this subreddit. The prompt below had been posted about 6 hours before I checked in, which I found to be particularly fortunate as someone who’s interested in writing sci-fi type stories. What follows is approximately half of the short story that it inspired. It was awesome. I should definitely have the rest next week. And then maybe I’ll be ready to dive back into the brothel on Kennet.
Fun side note: I didn’t put a lot of effort into my character names. Shmee happens to be named after one of my cats.
“It’s so bright.” She whispered.
“Well, what were you expecting?” Shmee’s older sister continued to gaze at the blue and green surface that loomed before them. She blew at one of her braids floating in front of her face.
“I don’t know. I just didn’t think a planet could be so bright. The stars are bright, and, you know, really bright when you get close enough and it becomes ‘the sun,’ but a planet’s just dirt and water right? God, it’s making my eyes water.”
Shmee gripped at the thick edge of the large, reinforced window protecting them from the ever present vacuum and rotated herself away from the view. She kept her long, colt’s legs tucked under and rigid to keep from losing control of her movement and floating away from the wall. The blue light of the planet lit up the viewing deck in a way that was very unnatural to her 11 year old eyes. She took comfort in the hum of engine vibrating though the skin of the ship to her fingers. Shmee had never known a time without that presence, having been born en route to this new world.
“Perdie… what’s it like?”
The teenager didn’t break her gaze.
“Dude, stop asking me stuff. I was barely 5 when we left. I don’t remember anything.” She gently kicked off the wall to float backward through the empty viewing room.
“You used to.”
“It’s not even the same planet. How should I know?”
Shmee kicked off the wall as well; expertly aiming for the center of the hatchway just as her sister pulled herself through with a backstroke.
The once familiar hallway now seemed ominous and shadowed after the blaring vision of the planet. Shmee knew things would change once they arrived. How could they not? Her parents, her friend’s parents, all they could do was talk about what to expect when they arrived. It was their mission after all. But She didn’t expect it to change how she saw her home.
“Perdie? What do you think Mama’s doing right now?”
The older girl sighed as she grabbed at the handle next to their hatch and dragged herself in head first, her legs held out stiffly behind her to avoid bumping the frame. “I don’t know. Setting up our rooms in the habitat? Or….”
Shmee swung into their home in a slow acrobatic arc, diving feet first through the center to the beds strapped against the back wall.
“Probably running the computers through the landing sequence again so they’ll be super ready next month.”
“I wish we were down there now.”
“Well, if you had completed all your hours on the hamster wheel like you were supposed to, WE would.”
Shmee flinched at the irritation in her sister’s words. It was her fault her sister hadn’t been able to go down with the first and second waves. Now all that were left were a few stragglers like her who hadn’t acclimated to the planet’s gravity… and their guardians if they were too young or sick to be alone. The “hamster wheel” was an exercise platform connected end to end in a circle. Once properly strapped in, Shmee would have to endure the artificial gravity generated by spinning her against the floor with centrifugal force. If that wasn’t bad enough, once she got past the dizziness and stomach lurching, she was expected to push herself to a standing position and do exercises!
“I’m sorry! I’ll get them done before next month.”
“You better.” Perdie shrugged into the straps of her bed sack hanging from the wall. “You haven’t even lasted more than 5 minutes on there. It’s for your own good, you know.”
“I know.” Shmee sighed as she folded her legs up and zipped herself into bed.
“Just go to sleep.”
She had been fast asleep and dreaming when something woke her. Something wrong. Shmee’s heart was racing and she didn’t know why.
Shmee looked over and could barely make out the silhouette of her sister curled way from her in her own bed sack, her braid pigtails standing out before her head like antennae.
What was it? She looked around the room which her entire life had been dimly lit by undeviating lights embedded in the wall yet suddenly seemed so alien. She realized the cool light she was now seeing was the faint glow of the planet filtering in from the open hatch of the observation deck into the hall. Her heart was pounding in her ears. Instinctively, she slid out a hand to the wall for the familiar vibration to comfort her-
“Perdie!” She hissed. “Perdie, wake up! The engine is off!”
“The engine is off! The engine is off!” Shmee’s began to scream the words shrilly with panic.
“What? What!?” Perdie began to struggle out of the zipped up blanket and straps.
“The walls are quiet! The humming’s stopped!”
“That’s impossible!” She snapped, “There are like a million fail-safes. There would be alarms, flashing lights, backup generators?” Shmee could hear the fear in her voice. The both stared helplessly into the darkened room.
“What do we do?” Shmee asked.
“We… uh,” Perdie finally released herself from the bed and floated away from the wall as her mind raced, “We should suit up, then find the others. Doctor Souchong will know what to do.”
They dove for the suits waiting, outspread behind simple, touch panels in the ceiling in case of emergencies. Shmee’s suit had the tale tell accordion expanders in the limbs and midsection to allow for a child’s growth spurts between emergencies. Perdie’s adult suit had sleeker design to allow for more maneuverability. Both were sterile white with neon green reflectors to indicate they were civilian children. Once Perdie had double checked Shmee’s air was flowing and locked on her helmet, they pushed from the nearest surfaces to the hatch.
The air rushing through the helmet helped buffer the silence in the hall. The ship was dead; really dead. The gauge on Shmee’s wrist told her that the temperature was already dropping as the engine’s remaining warmth siphoned off into the vacuum of space.
“Doctor Souchong?” Perdie’s voice emitted through a speaker at the base of her helmet.
There was no reply as they neared his hatch. The hallway suddenly plunged into even deeper shadow. Shmee gasped and spun herself around to see what was blocking their light, but there was nothing in the hatchway at the end of the hall.
“We must be moving behind the planet… to the nighttime side.” Perdie reached up and switched on the helmet’s flashlight. Shmee switched hers on as well before following her to the Doctor’s hatch.
Peaking in, there beams lit up the dull, metal panels that lined the walls until they spotted the Doctor. He was wrapped up in his bedding like a corpse prepared for burial, his long, white beard, tied off in segments, floated in front of him.
Shmee swallowed hard. “Doctor… Souchong?”
The man snorted, flipping the tail of his beard over his head and scrunching up his face.
“Doctor Souchong! Wake up!” Perdie pulled herself through the hatch.
“Huh? Wha? What is this?” The old man cringed in the beams of light focused on him and he struggled to pull out an arm to protect his face.
“Doctor Souchong! Doctor Souchong!” Shmee yelled. “Wake up! The ship’s engine’s stopped running!”
“What? Lakshmi? What are you saying?”
Shmee was gripping him by the shoulders, her flashlight focused on his high forehead.
“The engine’s off!”
“Get off of him, Shmee!” Perdie shoved her little sister’s shoulder, causing one hand to lose its grip, and the girl swung away like a door on its hinge. She bounced off the wall beside the Doctor and steadied herself. She was too embarrassed at her childish display to snap back. Mama was always scolding her for always literally clinging to the nearest person. It was cute when she was little, but she was too big for that habit.
“Look, Doctor Souchong, we just woke up and all the lights were off, and there’s no hum from the engine anymore.”
The two girls floated silently to give the old man a chance to listen for himself.
“Well, I’ll be damned.” He whispered, “That’s… that’s impossible.”
“What should we do?” Perdie asked.
“Well, er… you have the right idea. I’ll suit up and see what’s going on down on the flight deck. You girls find Romero and tell him to check the engine.”
“Okay!” Shmee kicked off the wall back to the hatch.
“Then wake everyone else up!”
“Okay!” Perdie called back after she had pushed herself toward the hatch as well.
“Tell them to suit up and fall back to the escape pod… on my orders.”
Both girls had already disappeared into the hallway, leaving him to grope for the emergency panel in darkness.
The rest were easier to wake up, and no one needed further instruction once the escape pods were mentioned. Once Frank Ramero was in his suit, he called Perdie and Shmee to him.
“Girls! I may need more hands with the engine.”
“You think we can help?” Perdie asked skeptically.
The young engineer shrugged, holding his helmet in one hand and smoothing out his wild, black hair with the other as he drifted aimlessly in the hall. “Everyone is too old or sick. Now come on, there’s no time!”
“I’m coming, too!” Shmee prepared to kick off the floor of the hallway.
“No!” Perdie pinned her down by the shoulder. “You go to the escape pod with everyone else.”
“What? No! I’m staying with you!”
“Go!” Perdie used her little sister as leverage to push herself away, down the hall. She looked back, “I’m not kidding! I better see you bulked in when I get there!”