Today's #fridayflash was actually a short story I wrote a long time ago. I've decided to break the story into three parts, so here is part one. Part II will be up next Friday (February 22), and Part III will be up the Friday (March 1) after.
Part I, S.S. Argonaut
The asteroid field dotted the horizon. Dust-sized particles increased in size to rocks, boulders, and small moons. The S.S. Argonaut flew toward them at an extraordinary rate, despite the thrust of backburners in a wild attempt to slow us down. The universal debris appeared god-thrown into our path.
Alarms wailed like a banshee’s shriek. Lights dimmed and brightened in a more silent warning, but effective nonetheless. I blinked a few times, attempting to dislodge the vision filling the window. The asteroids remained, expanding in the area each time my eyelids closed.
My fingers tightened around the control stick, knuckles turning white from my death grip. Autopilot bleeped in my ears, desiring to engage, but I couldn’t allow it. The engines and this spaceship couldn’t weave through this chaos with a machine’s guidance.
I clenched my teeth, narrowly missing the first house-sized meteor.
“Lieutenant Jackson, I need you to stand down.”
The captain’s voice broke through my concentration. The ship skidded against one asteroid. Sparks ignited from metal and rock, but disappeared in the cold vacuum of deep space.
“Sir, I’m afraid I can’t. We have to keep the S.S. Argonaut flying.” We might not be heading toward the infamous Golden Fleece, but we were traveling toward a new galaxy, a new life for our people. I couldn’t betray our objective.
“The crew is using the escape pods. The ship isn’t slowing. There’s no way any of us can fly to safety beyond this asteroid belt.” The captain leaned closer. His breath brushed against my neck. “There’s an escape pod left with your name on it. Let me take command of my ship. Think of your family.”
I eased us around another boulder. A numb certainty flowed through me like I fell into an ice bath. The captain was correct. The ship wasn’t ceasing its rapid speed. Nothing I did affected it. Perhaps it was faulty all along. The fact we were using the escape pods surprised me, though. Was my wife and children already on one? Who was flying it?
“Is the situation really that dire, sir?” I prayed I had misheard.
“Yes, it is.” His firm hand rested on my shoulder. “Be with your family. Go.”
I unbuckled and stood from my seat. The captain slid in behind me, taking control of the ship.
“What about you, sir?” I tensed when we dodged another meteor.
“Captain goes down with the ship. Haven’t you read those old Earth books, Jackson?” His light tone downplayed his fear, but I saw it. The way he grasped the controls and pressed buttons. The grim line his lips settled into.
“Perhaps we can try autopilot again.”
“No use.” He turned, casting a quick glance at me before focusing on the horrifying display before us. “I order you to go and save yourself and your family, Jackson. Don’t make me tell you again.”
If I closed my eyes, Bethany’s face appeared before me. I imagined her smiling that crooked grin she liked to give me. A mischievous gleam in her dark eyes. Instead, fear and worry permeated the image. I had to go to her.
“Take care, sir.” I pressed my hand over my heart, feeling its thudding beat underneath my uniform. I hesitated a few seconds longer before exiting the bridge.
If I thought the horizon contained chaos, I was wrong. Red lights flared with each siren’s cry. People sprinted down the corridors, carrying bundles and children. Screams pierced the air. Sickly smoke drifted in a haze.
An electronic voice repeated calmly, “Everyone please report to the escape hatch in Sector E.”
I had left chaos for doomsday.