In an attempt to prepare for the impending NaNoWriMo, I’ll be trying to write a short story, inspired by a randomly generated first line, each day. Here is my first one (written in 2 x 25 minutes). It’s rough (no edits!), but I’m happy to hear comments.
by Edwin H Rydberg
It was the trip of a lifetime, until the sound of the pirates’ grappling hooks fusing against the chitomond alloy shell resonated through the ballroom. What had been an amazing party to end all parties, on an amazing trip to end all trips, suddenly became a panicked free-for-all on what looked like it might really be their final trip. As the terrified shrieks of other guests deafened him as they filled the space inside the ship, Russ L. Freeman grabbed his wife Shaera’s arm and guided her in the opposite direction to the fleeing hordes.
As one might expect, most people were attempting to rush back to their quarters. Most were rich and the reflex to save said riches was undoubtedly overwhelming. In addition, they’d been promised that, ‘in the event of an emergency, your room will double as a lifepod’. That was certainly true, just as it was true of the flotation devices on planetary aircraft. However, in the majority of situations, Russ was certain that he’d take his chance trying to salvage something of the ship, rather than risk freezing waters or pirate infested spaceways.
Especially in pirate-infested spaceways. After all, space was huge. It wasn’t like a rescue ship would appear before the oxygen in the rooms was used up. It wasn’t as if there weren’t dozens of light-years between stops on the cruise. And it wasn’t as if pirates would destroy a perfectly good ship. Even if it wasn’t functional, salvage of this quality was hard to come by in the depths of space. That much was obvious from a glance out the spaceports.
As they sped through the corridors leading back toward the functional parts of the ship — those sections few guests ever visit, such as engineering, propulsion, life-support… the kitchen — Russ noted the view out the various ports they passed. Close to a dozen pirate ships buzzed around their cruiser, like bloodthirsty insects ready to feed. Each ship was small. Tiny even. A one or two seater cobbled together from precisely the salvage they were hoping to score from the cruise ship. Once aboard, they’d disable tracking hardware, then fire up the engines and guide the ship back to whatever pirate port they hailed from. Their own vessels would clamp to the surface like remoras on sharks, refueling off the ambient energy leakage until they were able to divvy up the spoils of their catch, using some to upgrade their ships. Much of the rest would be sold as scrap.
As for the poor, hapless guests in their lifepod rooms? The lucky ones would be captures, robbed, and given the choice to join them. The unlucky ones would drift forever, lost in space oblivious to what had happened after their twelve hours of life-support was exhausted and they gently suffocated before freezing solid. Their corpses would drift the spaceways forever an anonymous, lost testament to the harsh reality of space travel.
Russ was determined that would not be his or Shaera’s fate, so they ran faster through the corridors. Narrow, wide, crawling through Jeffries tubes or sprinting side by side down the passages to the immense galley where robotic assistants delivered food prepared by automated tools, they ran as if their life depended on it. Because it very likely did.
There was only one thing that could stop the pirates from taking this ship. Self-destruction. It they managed to trigger the self-destruct mechanism, it was send a warning to all ships in a four light minute radius. The pirates would scatter because their alternative — being caught in an anti-proton explosion — would result in their ships being vapourized.
It had seem like they’d run forever, but they ran on. Russ began hearing sounds behind him. At first he thought it paranoia, after all, how could the pirates have anticipated their move? They should be taking their time rounding up pods and causually working toward the propulsion systems. But on a long stretch of straight corridor, he caught a glimpse of a radiation-deformed figure hobbling along in pursuit.
“Faster,” he urged on Shaera.
“I’m not sure I can keep going, Russ,” she answered. “We’re near lifesupport, what if I shut down forward decks and try to stall their encroachment?”
She as slowing noticably so, reluctantly, Russ agreed. “Barricade yourself inside and I’ll come for you once they’ve cleared off.”
After a quick kiss, they parted ways and he attempted to make enough noise to draw the attention of the pursuers, giving Shaera every chance of safety and escape.
Finally, he entered Engineering, a heavy metal door clanging shut behind him. The ladders and colour-coded piping that snaked overhead and around, forming walls and ceiling, were a stark contrast to the rich veneer coating the rest of the ship. It almost felt like he had x-ray vision and could see through the walls into their innards.
Shaking himself free of the thought, Russ zig-zagged through the maze of corridors in engineering as he heard the door once again open and close behind him.
“You’re trapped,” a gruff voice yelled from behind him.
He ignored it and continued with his search. He was looking for the command and control of the energy systems. Once there he could trigger and overload. Then, when the pirates had fled, he could safely cancel it and return the ship to the nearest port.
But his search was getting more difficult. Breath was coming shallower now and his vision was blurring. He glanced back, through the piping and caught a glimpse of the pirate wearing an oxygen mask.
Why would he have that on? But his thinking was becoming fuzzy.
Turning another corner, and finally he came to the control computer. But now he could barely see display. The interface looked old, primitive. Damn engineers didn’t like the fancy voice activated stuff or neural interfaces. Always had to build sturdy, archaic, impossible to use operating systems.
He staggered, grabbing hold of a post while trying to focus on the screen.
“Too late,” the gruff voice said from behind him.
He turned to see it wasn’t alone. There was another pirate, along with Shaera!
“If you hurt her, you monsters…,” he let the threat hang in the air.
“Hurt me? You twit, they’re working with me. Why do you think you’re having so much trouble seeing, breathing? I turned off lifesupport in Engineering.”
As she talked, she had the two pirates disconnect the computer system and smash the screen.
“But I was trying to save you, save us.”
“I’m so sick of you always trying to save me. Dragging me here or there on a crazy whim. Do you ever ask my opinion or am I just the helpless doll to you? Did you know there’s an engineering override on the bridge? Your plan would never have worked, but I knew you’d try the most convoluted thing possible. Instead, this entire attack, these pirates, they’re working for me. I hatched this entire plan just to get rid of you. And to get rich, but that was just a fortunate aside to the main plan.”
“Good-bye Russ. You were fun for a while, but I’m moving on now. Moving up.” She turned, with the two pirates and headed back to the thick metal door.
“Good. Bye. Russ.”
He watch the trio leave, the heavy door clanging shut behind them. Then he slid to the floor and sat there, eye’s staring after them, as the cold slowly took his last breath.