November Challenge: Day 7

Here it is, the end of the first week. 7 days and I’m still going strong. Today marks the last day I’ll be doing simple free writes. Tomorrow I’m going to start working on past ideas that I’ve had for stories, things I’ve jotted down in my notebooks late at night or right after jumping out of the shower. Things that I really think are good ideas that I never could force myself to sit down and expand on. Well, the point of this exercise is to LEARN to force myself to sit down and write.

Today’s writing was….a challenge. I had an anxiety attack about four minutes in and had to wait until my pills calmed me down. Even when I did I still hated what I was writing. So, today is the first day I stopped writing one thing and switched. I’m glad I did, because I rather like the second bit I wrote. It’s pretty short but it’s fun. I’m going to alter the post a little and put what I wrote second first and what I wrote first second. That way you can read the good bit first. I’ll still post the second bit, just so you know I actually wrote 2,000 words today, but I won’t take it personally if you don’t read it.

November Writing Challenge: Day 7 (Untitled)
By, E. W. Morrow
Word Count: 2024

They say that, in space, no one can hear you scream. It’s a lie. While it’s true that sound cannot travel through the  void, fear can. And there are things hiding behind the black that you do not want to taste your fear.

In fact, there are quite a few myths about space. But much like time, truth is relative. Like the one about space being cold. Most of space is, it’s true, but not all of it. Get close enough to a star and you’ll be boiled alive. It is surprising how close is “close”. 150 million kilometers out and you’d suffer severe burns within minutes. Without the atmosphere of a planet to shield you from the worst of a star’s ultraviolet rays you would find that space can be very warm indeed. Even if you were 200 million kilometers out, and were vented out an airlock by a mutinous crew working a third stretch on a distance freighting job out to the zero-g dockyards by the system’s asteroid belt, you still wouldn’t freeze. Your body would radiate heat very slowly and it would take hours for your body temperature to drop low enough for hypothermia to set in. Hours you wouldn’t have.

And then there’s the myth that a human’s blood would boil due to the pressure change. The sensation would not be comfortable, might even cause some serious damage, but it wouldn’t end your life immediately. Ten minutes after the bulk freighter that had previously been under your direct command had sped off at a significant fraction of light speed you’d still be clinging on even if you wished you weren’t. But as you watched the ship recede into the darkness until it was just a speck of light in the distance, another star shrinking and shrinking until it was gone, you’d remember that you didn’t have ten minutes.

And then there’s the myth about there being nothing to breath in space. That one is completely true.

Former Captain Grace Keppler did not have waste her time contemplating these facts. She was still young, as far as the standards of star captains was concerned, and took pride in maintaining a rigorous regimen of physical activity. As such, her respiratory system was in peak condition. She estimated that she had another minute before she blacked out due to lack of oxygen. Probably less.

It wasn’t her fault that the company had ordered additional runs for all crews. Once the layoffs had begun it was inevitable, and Grace thought that the men should be grateful to still have a job. But they’d grumbled that they were working extra hours for almost no extra wages. Morale was low, and fights broke out so often in the mess hall that Keppler had been forced to revoke the men’s alcohol rations as a precaution. Men’s, that was the problem. Forty-seven crew members and each and every one of them was a man. Female captains were not common in the industry, but they sure as shit weren’t unheard of. But a woman taking something away from them, anything at all, had been the last straw.

A group of men, illicit, self-distilled alcohol coursing through their veins, had ambushed her as she’d made her evening rounds. Her second in command must have been on their side, willingly or not, because when they’d thrown her into the airlock she had been alone. No one from the crew had been man enough to step up in her defense. When she’d shouted that last line at the leering, drunken faces of her persecutors, she’d thought, and hoped, that they’d kill her then and there. But they didn’t, and the airlock hatch had slid shut with a hiss. They’d crowded around the observation window to watch as they vented the airlock into space.

The former captain hadn’t thought of herself as a captain since that exact moment. A captain without a ship was an oxymoron. But she still possessed the qualities of a true captain. And one of those qualities was the ability to stay calm under pressure. Grace took stock of her options. It was a very short list. She could either die slowly, or die less slowly. Those were the only two options she saw. She had no air, no space suit, no distress beacon, and no time to use any of them even if she could. There hadn’t even been any garbage in the airlock, something she could grasp for impotently while she waited for death. So she did the only thing she could think of.

She screamed. All the fear and rage inside of her was released soundlessly into the void.

Something heard.

As the last of her air escaped her lungs, Grace felt something brush against her mind. It wasn’t painful, but it wasn’t entirely gentle either. If she’d had any left her breath would have caught in her throat. Words that were not words dripped off the presence like cold drops of water off an icicle.

Fear….Anger…..Why?
Grace did not know how to respond, but she didn’t need to. The non-words slipped through her brain, sparking cold flecks of energy as they went. Recent memories of the mutiny played across her mind in an instant as she tried to find a way to answer whatever it was that hadn’t really spoken. Thought proved sufficient.

Betrayal….

Yes, Grace thought.

Wonderful….

No, Grace thought, more emphatically than before.

Yes…..Let us show you…..

In an instant that stretched for an eternity Grace realized what this thing was saying. As realization dawned, she heard the sound of laughter in her head. It was like the howling of a blizzard across an endless tundra.

Where?

Grace turned her gaze to the pin-prick of light that was the bulk freighter’s engines a minute’s travel time away. Grace felt the presence retreat for a moment. The tiny speck in the distance, distinguishable from the surrounding stars only by it’s size and color, suddenly went super nova. A near perfect sphere of plasma bloomed and collapsed in less than a few seconds. The presence returned.

Wonderful….yes?

…Yes Grace was forced to admit. When the method of communication was simple thought, lying was impossible, even on a subconscious level. Another laugh.

Join us?

The question hit Grace like a hammer. She had a third option. Die slowly (now impossible), die less slowly (still very possible), or…..Live forever? She asked.

There is no forever…..when there is…..no time…..

Grace took a fraction of a second to think this over. When you only have seconds to live, a fraction of a second is a very long time indeed. Like the truth, time is relative. And so, it seemed, was death. This thing could destroy her, that much was clear. It could take her to a place where time did not exist and make her suffer an instant of pain forever. Or, it could set her free. The choice was easy.

Yes.

Grace Keppler never thought of herself as a Captain again. She never thought of herself as herself ever again. She was them, and they were her. Forever, and ever, and never.

_______________________________________________

The bell above the door clanged rather than tinkled when the door hit it, and ever face in the diner stared at her as she entered. Amber kept her head down she made her way to a booth in the far corner of the diner. Somehow the dull, stupid gaze of the the townsfolk still managed to be penetrating. Hostile. Hungry, even. When she slipped in to the booth, with it’s cracked leather facing and lumpy cushions, she felt the eyes linger on her. Then, slowly, the patrons returned their attention to their meals. The murmur of conversation picked up again a few moments later. It was too quiet for her to hear clearly, but Amber got the distinct impression that she was now the topic of each one.

The cause of the not so subtle animosity towards her was a mystery to Amber. Pickett’s Rest was a small town nestled deep in the foothills of the Ozarks. It’s population was an aging one, mostly miners who had retired from the local quarries years ago. These days the town’s economy was mostly non-existent, comprised mainly of various shops and diners of the mom-and-pop variety. As far as Amber could tell everyone got on by buying things from everyone else. A closed system.

Maybe that was it. She was a stranger, upsetting the balance of their secluded little world. She tried to remain as unobtrusive as possible. Simple clothing, long hair pulled back in a pony tail rather than curled or crimped, very little makeup, and even driving 5 mph under the speed limit had not so much earned her a single ounce of acceptance. Grudging tolerance, yes, but acceptance, no. Still, a few more days and she could leave.

Amber had never had an unkind word to say about her parents. They were good people. They’d been a little strict with her as she’d grown up, but never stifling. But now she silently cursed them for putting her in this situation.

The bell above the door clanged again and Amber sensed rather than saw all eyes in the room turn to look at it again. When she peeked around the corner of the booth she saw exactly who she had been expecting to see. A balding man with an ample stomach stood in the doorway, wiping his glasses with on his paisley tie. He had his suit jacket slung over his left forearm and was trying to juggle the glasses and his briefcase in his right hand. Then he put his glasses back on and inspected the lenses, wrinkling his nose and peeling back his lips in concentration. She had to remind herself that, while the man might not have a high level of social intelligence, he was a damn fine lawyer. She waved her hand in what she hoped was the least obtrusive way possible while still achieving the desired affect. When the man didn’t notice her she stuck her hand out a bit farther and waved it a bit wider. Finally, he saw her and made his way over.

“Miss Langley, good afternoon,” he huffed as he sank into his seat. Amber wondered how far he’d had to walk uphill to get to the diner.

“Mr. Howe, good to see you again.”

“Yes, well, I wish it were under better circumstances.” He gave a nervous but genuine smile of concern as he said this. “I’ve found that the easiest way to deal with situations such as these is to simply get the boring stuff over as quickly as possible.”

“Yes, I agree.”

“Very well. Now, as I’m sure you know the fire left very little in the way of personal affects behind. The house was nearly completely destroyed before fire crews could be called in. Your grandparent’s did, however, own quite a large plot of land.”

“How large?” Amber asked.

“Roughly forty acres. Now, most of that land was just sparse woodland. Possibly a few small caves here and there…”

“Caves?” Amber interrupted.

“Yes. I’m told this area is mostly limestone. Karst topography, I believe it’s called. It is not irrational to believe that there may be one or two caves in the area. Probably very small, too small to admit any large animals like, for instance, humans. Probably bats and rodents.”

“Oh,”

“And, of course, this brings me to my next point. Because of terrain, I’m afraid that the land is not worth very much. However, if you and your family still have no intention of putting the land to any use…”

“We don’t,” Amber said quickly. “Trust me, we don’t.”

“Then I think it would be best to put it on the market as soon as possible.”

“What about the house?” Amber asked.

“What remains of it, you mean?”

“Yes.”

“Well, it may depreciate the value of the property, that is true, but I would be able to advise you to spend any money on clearing the remains. The return on investment would be minimal at best, and non-existent at worst.”

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