©2011 by David J Rust
850-word Flash fiction
Anastasia Dermott looked through the portal window. Her heart raced; palms, sweating. Her fingers clenched in and out of fists. For a moment she thought about cycling the air lock, flushing herself out into space, and letting it all be over.
"Those who can, do; those who can't, teach; those who can only do what their told, clean up."
A cruel comment, made years ago and miles away. She knew custodians didn't embody such an insult but feared, in her case, that it did. How long had her life been in this pattern? She looked at the half-finished, home-made charm bracelet she'd created in Freshman year. Its luck never materialized. Two years after first affixing it to her wrist she was cleaning the University rather than attending it.
The floor beneath her feet shook as it had for the past two days. It was about to get worse. The computer in the tertiary bridge had told her.
She left her room and walked towards the observation deck. It was past time; she should have done this a week ago. Her fear of being discovered, though, was weaker than her fear of not doing what the computer requested.
Anastasia paused outside the sealed-off portal that led to the command portion of the ship. Like rubbernecking at a car crash, she peered through the scratched window. Power had been cut on the other side. Frayed wires and scorched panels hung from where the micro-meteorite swarm had pulverized its way through the hull. She hated that she looked; that she always looked. After two years, she still hadn't figured out why she, alone, had survived. There had to be a reason. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time during lift-off, the comedy of errors that was her life couldn't be serving a greater purpose. Yet, she found it hard to imagine herself being merely the "statistical outlier" the computer assured her she was.
"Aero-braking initiated". The computer's calm voice sounded like those used in thousands of science fiction films. "Command staff to tertiary bridge."
"Command staff". The computer called her that. As the only person not in hibernation, the computer had classified her as "command".
She paused for several heartbeats before replying, "On my way." It wasn't too late; she could still use the air lock.
The main bridge had been destroyed along with the command crew. The botanists, civil engineers, landscape technicians, chemists, and the rest had -for the most part- been spared. As their experimental ship shot through the warp gate leaving Earth, they'd survived not knowing about the disaster that had left them leaderless. The command crew had prepped the plans for what to do upon arriving at their new, planetary home. They, alone, had the implants in their brains educating them with what information the robotic, lead probes were sending back.
She had no such implants. That didn't prevent the computer from attempting to teach Anastasia everything it could to fulfill the mission.
"Teach someone else; open up a cryo-tube."
"Hibernation," it had said, "cannot be interrupted prior to planet-fall."
The vast starship shuddered down its vast length. Anastasia gripped a nearby railing as the rotating center of the vast ship slowed and locked into place. The simulation of gravity was gone.
The mistake that got her caught on board when so many millions more wanted passage on the Earth-escaping craft had been one in a billion. And, now, she was light years from home being relied upon by the sleeping cargo of humanity awaiting a new morning.
Distant telemetry of native flora, fauna, bacteria, and germs had been streaming back since before they left. New discoveries were being made all the time. Dutifully, the computer had relayed its findings. She'd balked at the task but done her best; she'd studied what the colonists would need to know the instant they set foot on the alien world but...
She didn't want the responsibility. In her mind's eye she saw herself in a sandbox as a little girl hurling a toy spaceship into the street rather than share it with her little brother. Would abandoning her life be any less selfish? Anastasia clenched her eyes shut and tried to route her fear into something better … more noble; something akin to the thrill of adventure. She pulled herself through the zero-G corridor and entered the tertiary bridge.
Nova Terra, a giant blue ball half again the mass of Earth, hung in the blackness of space beyond the observation window.
It was a drier world than home; wilder, too. But they had to tame it.
"Are you ready, Captain?" the computer asked.
She swallowed hard and tried not to think of all the mistakes -all her missed opportunities- and, instead, tried to believe she was the right person in the right place at the right time. There was a whole new future out there. For better or for worse, this was the one roll of the dice upon which everything rested. She pushed her fear back into the pit of her stomach and swallowed, again.
"Yes, computer," she said, still afraid. "I'm ready to start over." And she was.
David J Rust (aka Sylvan)