This short story is the third in a series inspired while writing my science fiction novel. I enjoy exploring what other characters in my world would be doing both during and post apocalypse. I’m looking forward to launching my novel in Spring 2018. In the meantime, you can read my short stories for free. Please do share, tweet and talk about my work. I look forward to your feedback.
Today’s story, The Ship, goes along with “Einstein’s Wrong” on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen by Steve Jablonsky.
In the dark, they move like a troop of furtive monkeys, scampering across the dirt trail, pausing only once they’ve regained the shelter of the ferns and acacias. Overhead, the sky grumbles, lightening shuddering through the clouds, ominously silent at this distance. One more thing gone wrong with the world.
The troop might be a family. A girl, and her brother, a man, a woman and a child. The man and woman might be husband and wife. The child might be theirs, but one can’t be sure. No introductions have been made. They travel in frantic, determined silence.
They dart from cover to cover, clutching their bags. Their clothes have taken on the drab brown of cloth gone too long without a washing. No rain from the irritable clouds. No water falling from the skies. Not any more.
The troop comes to the edge of the jungle. Above restless brown palm leaves rattle. Below their feet the prickly devil’s grass forms a tan yellow mat stretching down a slight rise and right up to the edge of the trench, lined with concrete and brick, just over 15 meters deep. Poised above the trench, like an expectant mother, the ship, Ecstasia, waits. Her crews toil non-stop, making final adjustments, last minute recalibration. They impregnate her with hopes for a future they will not see.
“There’s no guard on the trench,” the woman whispers, staring down the silent trench. Out of all the lighted field, it alone remains dark, lying in the shadow of the ship, a valley of death.
“Like I said,” the man says. “Why guard the flame trench? Who would put themselves under a rocketship?” He steps out of the shelter of the jungle.
“Wait!” cries the woman.
“What?” the man asks. His nostrils flare, tensed on the balls of his feet, ready to sprint for his life.
The girl had laid her hand on the woman’s arm. Now she tips her chin and they all follow her gaze. Trucks. The last of the official government trucks and their attendant fleet of armored vehicles, each with its own be-goggled gunner.
The workers retreat, form a solemn corridor as the trucks disgorge their cargo. Small carts, white and covered. Some contain vials: others, petri dishes, their tiny cultures blissful in the knowledge that they, among all the colonies of bifidobacterium animalis, for example, have been deemed most worthy. Every slide, every tube and vial, every dish and container, each little sample had been poked and prodded, tested to within a milimeter of its life and finally awarded a future. Or at least, the chance at one.
Each cart is logged as its pet scientist rolls it reverently up to Ecstasia’s main hatch. Each scientist turns away, shoulders slumped or shaking. Each takes his or her place with the others. A few faces are still hopeful, eyes bright with half-mad tears. They are seized with a gambler’s certainty: Today will be their lucky day.
From the cover of the jungle the troop waits. They are too far away to hear the brief pronouncements of the severe woman who emerges from one of the armored cars. A few of the scientist weep with joy and relief as they join her, boarding Ecstasia. Most are nobly resigned and turn away. Some are stunned. They weren’t chosen? After everything they gave up, abandoning homes and families to work until this eleventh hour?
Dawn is breaking, sullen red gleams like blood on Ecstasia’s flanks. She does not seem to mind. Her belly is filled with the world’s children. They sleep in their vials, nothing more than genes now, microscopic blueprints set adrift like messages in a bottle. They may never find a place to unpack their little packets of DNA and be again. All they have now is a chance, a tiny, fragile hope.
The trucks pack up. The soldiers drag a few scientists away, but most leave on their own. Some part of humanity may live on because of their sacrifice. Maybe it’s enough for them. It’s not enough for the troop. As the last of the trucks rumble away, they break cover. They dash across the field, the sharp grasses tearing at them. In the light of early morning, they cast long and obvious shadows. There are no guards watching the trench. The ones on the road don’t see them because they are watching the retreating trucks, lest someone lose their nerve and try to come back.
The troop makes it into the trench.
“I hope they didn’t find the ladder,” the boy says. His sister nods agreement, “I hope…”