Tuesday 29 March 2022

The Wish

Darkness. Silence. Then a faint sliver of light of light forms and illuminates a padded curved wall. Dust motes dance in the sliver as it expands and sweeps gently across the padding. The expanding arc of light moves further and touches a motionless hand. As it expands the reflection from the white padding gradually shows that the wall describes a short tube about four feet wide and seven long. In one wall a bank of instruments lies below a square porthole from which the light streams.

The light sweeps onward and crosses the face of a young man. The look of innocence. Secure sleep contrasting with the ugly gash on his cheek around which dried blood has formed. As the light moves across his face, a faint frown appears and this head moves dreamily to one side. Passing over his face the light falls on his shoulder and onto the badge there. The gold lettering "Interstellar Brigade" and the twin lightning bolts cause a brief flash of coloured reflection on his face,

The illuminating beam crawls away from the man and begins to contract as it moves slowly up the other wall. Eventually it shrinks to a thin line and darkness returns.

The darkness seems complete, but a small red light begins to flash on the instrument panel. A faint hum and hiss enters but ends quickly. A slight shudder shakes the young man and a deep sigh escapes his lips. He screws up his eyes and flexes his hands. He blinks and lifts his head slowly.

Understanding floods into him and his eyes open wide. Panic contorts his features as a cry of fear bursts from his throat. He tosses his head back and pushes against the wall. His heart pounds and adrenalin begins to surge into his system. In panic he grips the instrument panel and pulls himself to the porthole.

Blackness. And a faint smear of light to his left. Stretching around he presses his face against the surface and strains to see in that direction. As he watches a curved green blue line appears and as it expands he finds himself looking down of the surface of a planet.

Letting go of the panel he moves backward in the zero gravity. As he touches the wall, velcro strips on his torn flight suit cling to the padding. Bringing his breathing under control, he looks at the instruments. They seem unfamiliar to him and his brow furrows. A large button marked "General Information" attracts his attention. He presses it firmly.

"Welcome to Delta Systems escape pod number 5", the soft ladies voice began. "As you may be aware, the craft you were travelling in experienced some difficulties. To protect you fully in the case of such an emergency, Delta Systems has developed this escape pod to provide you with a means of survival while a rescue ship arrives. The automatic systems have revived you from your sleep as we are approached by that ship. This pod has air for two hours normal use, but don't worry. You will shortly be docking with the rescue ship and be provided with all your needs. Thank you for flying Delta Systems."

Silence returned. The shock of the mans face melted as a smile swept across it. He threw back his head and laughed. Tears welled up in his eyes as the laughter swelled in him. His laughter changed and he started to cry. Wailing and sniffing as the light from the star streamed back through the porthole and ran obliviously past him as the pod rolled gently around.

He floated stationary for a long time, looking through the porthole as the vista below moved past him. He could see the weather patterns on the planet and watched the onset of evening on the surface. 

"You bastards", he said softly and looked down at the badge on his arm. Reaching across himself he ripped it off in one violent motion.

"Interstellar Brigade", he spat out. "Mercenaries, idiots, cheapskates For god's sake a commercial escape pod! It was supposed to be a military ship not a pleasure cruise!"

He tried to throw the badge away, but it just floated gently to the end of the pod and drifted in the air.

"A rescue ship..", he parodied the womans voice. "There's no rescue ship! I'm stuck in a pod with no guidance system in orbit above a probably empty planet with no food, no radio and precious little air!"

His breath became ragged and his anger rose. "You bastards!", he shouted, banging his fists against the panel. He raged on, "You unbelievable bastards! How could you let men go out in a ship like that? How could you put this kind of shit on board? A commercial pod? Was it going cheap?"

His stopped and closed his eyes. "Money", he muttered. "You got paid and you didn't care." His lip curled and he felt the anger again, "I bet you're in a bar aren't you? When I get out of this I'm gunna..." A wave of nausea rose and he choked it back.

A dry whimper forced itself from his lips. "I'm going to die." He wrapped his arms around himself and squeezed his eyes tight. "Get a grip", he muttered through clenched teeth. Feeling control returning. He opened his eyes and took a deep breath,

He thought about how he had arrived at this point. His outrage at the United Planets approach to the war. His joining up. Feeling superior about convincing the little group in that bar that he was experienced. Showing his talent with the computer. Decided that going with the mercenaries could make a difference. His doubts when he saw the crew and the ship. "Nutcases and adventurers, but I'll make it." Watching the air lock close, shutting off the last views of his homeland.

He felt sadness overtake him as he thought of his parents. They would never know what had happened to him. He tried to breathe deeply but couldn't. The air was running out.

He looked down at the planet below and thought of dying slowly gasping for breath. He reached a decision.

"If I'm going to die, it's going to be on my terms!" And he started to pull at the edge of the instrument panel. It was not firmly held and snapped away after a short struggle. With the panel exposed, he examined the wires behind it. The colour coding told him what he needed, Gripping one he pulled it away from the panel and tore some shielding off with his teeth. Taking the bare wire he stretched it across to a contact. There was a crack and spark as the electricity flowed.

He found himself being pushed back against one wall as a shudder and faint roar indicated that an attitude jet had fired. The gentle movement caused the view of the planet to slow and finally begin spinning  in the opposite direction. The spin grew faster and he could no longer look out of the porthole as it was making his head spin. He leaned back and waited. Already he could feel the temperature rising.

"So be it. A meaningless life. A meaningless death", he whispered.

On the surface of the planet two figures moved carefully through the dark. They wore animal skins and moved with a surety born of intimacy with nature. As they approached the camp fire, the smaller one, a young girl stopped and gazed skywards.

The mother stopped also and turned. "What is it?", she queried.

"Look mother!" The girl cried and as the woman cast here eyes skyward a fiery streak of gold light burst high overhead. The woman turned back to the child. "A good omen!" The child smiled.

"Go on", the mother continued.

"Make a wish."