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Tag: Autumn 2017 story

At the End of Time

The spaceship swam through the endless darkness in total silence. It had been a lifetime ago since space had first welcomed the commander. It had folded itself around him like a mother’s embrace, welcoming a lost child. He loved the velvety darkness of space, the stars and planets lightening up that darkness. All of it welcomed him home like Earth never had.

His crew was dreaming now, tucked away in their sleep chambers. Taken care of through machinery and kept alive and at peace until their arrival on the home planet in fifteen years’ time.

The commander had programmed his artificial caretaker to wake him. He was too aware that the decision not to dream away the journey but to wake and watch the silence of space was risking his life. He was shortening his life but he could not resist, he felt the pull and he gave into it and he was ageing before his time.

What was time anyway other than a collection of seconds, hours, days, and years? Now, at the end of time he felt only old bones, he wanted to lose himself in the endless beauty of the stars.

He thought about these things after he had woken up. He left his chamber, got dressed and floated in zero gravity through the empty ship to the observation platform. His doctor had prescribed tablets to stop his body giving up on life. In fact, he had recommended retirement but the commander had only smiled and left with the prescription in his hand.

The tablets were back in his locker, untouched. He had reached the observation chamber, feeling like he had reached the end of time. He entered and there it was outside the vast windows, his home. He smiled and started to undress, he wanted to meet the gentle darkness of space like a new-born. He drank in the celestial lights and smiled. His heartbeat slowing in his chest.

With his last breath, the commander let himself float up and space welcomed him like a lost son. His time was over.

When the ship arrived, the commander was nowhere to be found.

He had gone home.


Flash Fiction by Antonia Echefu
Picture: warp speed by Toby Lewis under CC BY 2.0
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The Fish

Wincing slightly with arthritic joints, she bent down close to the water and released the goldfish.

She had bought the fish on the way back from the hospital mortuary, being drawn to the pet store with a sudden desire to buy a puppy. Bill had always loved dogs. She got distracted though. The fish had been in a tank on its own. “Isolation tank” the sign had said.

Isolation.

She identified with the fish. Old. Alone.

A tear slid down her cheek, remembering her husband’s final words just hours before. A weak, skeletal frame in the hospital bed, Bill gathered the last of his strength to whisper through dry, barely-moving lips, “I’ll soon be free, Betty”.

Betty reflected on these words afterwards, while she drove to the lake, their favourite secluded spot together. Bill had been right. He would be free. Free from the last four years of pain and suffering. Free from the anguish of breathing with sandpaper lungs. Bill was unconfined by illness at last. While Betty watched the life drift away from his exhausted body, she realised that although he was gone, he was also liberated. Free to float effortlessly in endless peace. She felt comforted.

She dabbed a handkerchief to her cheek, looking down into the vast expanse of crystal water.

The fish paused, looking outwards towards the openness. With hope in her heart, Betty saw it flick its bright gold tail and quickly glide away, disappearing into the unknown, gone but free, for eternity.


Flash Fiction by Emily Field
Picture: Lippy by Benson Kua under CC BY-SA 2.0
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Escape Artist

The first day that he stopped remembering, he felt sublime, and each morning thereafter was as fresh and wondrous as when he was first born. Gone were the lingering doubts about his choices, the struggles over which love and loss was his greatest, the internal movies of horrors committed in his name, on his watch, by his hands. Instead, he retained all the linguistic skills and charm that had rendered him invaluable when he was a pioneer and the ability to recall only that day’s events.

Each night, when he entered his second round of REM, his slate was wiped nearly clean. It allowed him to amble down the street, smile at neighbors, and blithely ignore the shame and hate found in the eyes of those he passed. He was disarmed and disarming. He had calculated our weaknesses well. After all, who could hurt such an innocent?

It was his last act before the rebels came—the great escape.

But she remembered. She had suffered and buried her family. She had lost hope and tended to her lovers broken. And she was as patient as she was beautiful.

She captivated the commander who did not remember, this Houdini of hate, and became his companion. She learned his habits. She trained herself to sleep in short shifts to catch his descent into oblivion. She tracked and planned and hid speakers near his bed. These would softly play old news from the frontlines, growing louder with international reports of atrocities he had ordered, and ending silently with his distress as the memories returned and burrowed into his brain, overriding the early hour cleanse.

Each night the same, and each day he would remember more and walk outside less. He would ask for an upgrade, beg for medication, and seek the solace of her skin, until it was too much. Until he found his own way to the rifle and a less elegant, more final escape.


Flash Fiction by Heather Bourbeau
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Death Watch

Silas sank down at the kitchen table and carefully placed the box in front of him. His finger joints shone like iris bulbs, papery skin tan and stretched as though it might tear.

“Ain’t a bomb, old man,” he said to the empty room. “Might as well be,” he replied to himself, before shaking his head. “Si, you’re definitely losin’ it,” he said, staring at the box. “Doubt you’ll outlive this here’s perdiction if you’re done talkin’ to yerself already.”

He tapped his neatly rounded nails on the cherry print oilcloth. Then he reached for the box.

The watch was pretty plain as watches go. The strap was black plastic, which seemed fitting, the black anyhow. The face was round with three rows of numbers. One of those digital screens. LCD, Silas recalled the young man at Sears calling it.

“Tick tock,” he said, touching the shiny face with a tar-brown fingertip.

The watch was called ‘Tikker.’ The colorful print on the box read: ‘The Happiness Watch.’ He’d had to fill out a questionnaire in the store—his age, medical history, lifestyle habits and the like.

Silas snorted. According to this ‘happy’ watch his death was due to occur in 00 years: 03 months: 27 days: 15 hours: 48 minutes: 35, 34, 33 seconds and counting. His life expectancy was shot. What the hell did he need with a death watch? Competition?

Stiffly, he rose from the table with the watch strapped to his desiccated wrist. The backdoor was open and an oblong of sunlight lay splayed across the floor, still as a corpse.

Silas struck a match and fumbled a cigarette between two gnarly fingers.

“Yeah, tick tock indeed,” he said to himself as he took a drag and held it for as long as he could. The smoke burned his lungs and he coughed. The coughing dissolved into laughter when he fought to catch his breath.

“Ought to measure my days in cigarettes,” he cackled to the cactus in the yard.

He looked back down at the watch. Three minutes already gone. “Race you,” he said to the death watch and took another drag on his Marlboro.


Flash Fiction by Gillian Webster
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Undo

He came into her office without even knocking; just slapped his palm to the frame after barging his way past the other juniors returning from lunch. She sensed rage pulsing like heat from his rigid body on the other side of her desk.

She didn’t look up, noting that the digits on her screen clock said she had one minute remaining of her own. She held up a hand asking him to wait. Sixty seconds.

Of course, he hadn’t. Waited. He was one of those hotheads fresh from a disappointing 2:2 and he’d got to have his say. Right now. She’d wished she’d had more time to fully appraise both their positions, but, well—he was here now. And he was already launching his first missile: workers’ rights.

She had to get the last paragraph right on this e-mail; to get it out of the way; wanted to finish and click ‘Send’ but needed to word it differently. She couldn’t do it with him hovering above her. He was well into zero-hour contracts now. She clicked ‘Undo’, watching the lines fall like dropped stitches from her screen. She’d return to it after he’d left. She raised her head to face the onslaught.

But he’d gone. More than gone; there was no evidence of his ever having been there. Outside, the hum of the office was the same as before, and some of the workers were returning from their lunch hours. Again.

She checked her email on the screen. She’d got to the last paragraph, wanted to get it out of the way, but needed to word it slightly differently, when there was a thump of palm against doorframe and angry footsteps banging towards her desk. She hadn’t looked up.

He came into her office without even knocking.


Flash Fiction by Deborah Riccio
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Post Discovery Stress Disorder

For decades we have known that technology distorts our body clocks. We have become biological brownfields, processing space for the invertebrate species housed in our brains. As we abandon our habitats, make our bodies contain something like a space station instead of the twentieth-century disparate clocks we inherited along with the black dog that bites at our memories. This body is tuned to work in space, to go somewhere.

We have sounded the functioning of memory so that in future planetary wildlife will not serve merely as the warning heartbeat or punctured lung that alerts us too late to weak survival zones. With their fableplans to mine life on stars, planets and moons, politicians overgeneralised in-space building, choosing between soldiers or technology as the key driver for human colonisation of the galaxy. Our clocks could not keep up.

We need an altered way to adjust to the rhythms of derelict destinations. Anxiety time takes a severe toll on up to seventy-five percent of all who experience exo-terrestrial living. Millions have conditions dangerous to treat in low gravity environments. Although we carefully orchestrate operation schedules to mirror our retrograde circadian routines, organ knell development is slow. Our investigations of the solar animals have yielded some success with self-charging livers and we are hopeful that as clocks fall out of consequence we will be able to take advantage of the fast track processes demonstrated by NASA’s sync species, replacing soft tissue with tensile-strength units.

We have recorded 406 stillbirths in space, one in every three. When movements decrease we know now that the central timepiece has died. The world made sounds in anger as it died too.

We will embrace the conservation benefits of eating and sleeping regularly to combat habitual post-discovery stress disorder. Commercial entities from slimming enterprises to architectural practices, neuro-reality labs to amusement arcades will create more effective treatments for the territories beyond Charon. And with a permanent station in orbit around Earth the civility servants will take responsibility for transmitting our reports to the drones. The anxious power we now hold will only last if we can cure cancer, infections and ageing.

If we can cure death.


Flash Fiction by Sarah Gillett
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Station Central

The air conditioning huffs. Palms stick to the leather steering wheel; zero one fifty. I’ve passed the same junction on this grid-like network at least once before.

The city is alive. The Overground rumbles, blue sparks cascading onto the asphalt. I’m trying to find the terminal, make the connection. I crank the window. The smell that filters in reminds me of an amusement-park dodgem ride. I can feel the excitement, hear delighted screams.

A figure wearing a red cape cycles past, fabric brushing the wing mirror. Powerful limbs pump the pedals. They sail past the stalled traffic and weave expertly ahead.

There are thousands of others in their cells-on-wheels, engines humming; worker-bees swarming. Fuel tipped to the max.

The road clears. I surge ahead and recognise the exit to Station Central that curves to the left and back, banking high above the river. Dozens of bridges decorated with strings of light cross the dark water like rungs on an infinite ladder.

The glow on the approach to the terminal is dazzling. There’s a shrill blast from the departure whistle. I taste salt on my lip. Push the accelerator to the floor.

A red-caped marauder is careering towards me, silhouetted against the yellow glare; a sun-spot, growing larger second by second. They sit astride a snarling machine, whining through the gears.

I swerve, control the skid and race to catch myself, before the next loop. The air conditioning huffs . . .


Flash Fiction by Dee McInnes
Picture: IMGP1586 by Matt Buck under CC BY-SA 2.0
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