I promised that there was more with the "building worlds" theme to share! This is a story by an extremely talented friend of mine, Steve R. Smith. Steve is a computer expert by trade and a writer by passion. He is one of the staff members at 365 Tomorrows, a site that offers a new science fiction short story every day of the year. The features are micro stories, to be exact. We call them "flash fiction"; they are only 1,000 words long at most. Many are even shorter than that. What's impressive is that talented writers like Steve can create fantastic, believable worlds in this short amount of words.
I am pleased to offer you one of his stories here. I'd also like to encourage you to check 365 Tomorrows out. It takes about five minutes apiece to read each story; the perfect break for your work day!
*republished here by permission from the author.
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To Sleep Alone
by Steve R. Smith*
Nathan hated fighting with Claire. It was inevitable; they'd been awake and otherwise alone with the ship, tending to its needs, granting their minds a temporary reprieve from the long sleep. If you spent a few months alone with only your partner hurtling through deep space, you'd find things to disagree on too.
He never meant to argue, she was just so pig-headed sometimes. Before he knew it a rolled eye and sharp comment became a tennis match of barked recriminations and rebuttals, and the inevitable storming off to opposite ends of the ship.
He watched her from his perch in the observation deck as she moved among the rows of plants in the greenery below. The outer hull plates were transparent now, the ship having rolled towards a star similar enough to Sol, so close as to provide light, yet distant enough not to scorch the delicate plant-life. He studied her as she stripped to the waist and soaked up the sun's rays herself.
It was his captivation with the sheer beauty of her that afforded him the best possible view as a cluster of meteoroids lacerated the hull, tearing through the weakened greenery hull-plates like hot knives through fresh snow.
Nathan screamed at Claire's upturned panicked face before the defense systems hardened the hull, opaquing his view and hers.
Nathan ran. He barely heard the warning messages describing the breach, and the steps being taken to contain it. He threw himself headfirst down the vertical shaft towards the core channel, grabbing the lower rungs of the ladder as he exited and with jarring force flipping himself to land feet first on the floor below. Sprinting to the greenery doors, he found them sealed tight.
He could only watch through the window of the door, pounding with flattened palms until his hands stung while mechanical spiders attached plate and injected alloy to repair the damaged hull inside.
On the ground, scant metres from where he stood helpless, a maintenance droid methodically held and sliced the scaffolding and shattered structure that had Claire pinned to the deck. Carefully removed pieces were set aside as it busied itself with freeing her. While it carved, a surgical droid scanned, glued and stitched the broken pieces of her body as they became accessible. It's hands flitting in and around the cutters and clenched claws of the much heavier machine towering over it.
By the time the atmosphere was stabilized, and the doors opened, Nathans hands were numb and Claire was fully exposed on the floor. Her body was a latticework of suture lines and micropore patches, and while her chest raised and lowered, he could see the labour of her breathing. The surgeon stood still, its chest a billboard of vitals, its work done save for the occasional jolting of Claire's heart back to motion. Nathan could see she was struggling, the muscle repaired but the shock to her system too great.
"You can't leave me here, you can't leave this all to me." His voice caught in his throat, tears rising unbidden.
"You can't quit, I need your help, I can't do this by myself." There was a too long moment of silence until the surgeon reminded her heart to keep beating.
Nathan felt his anger rising. "This is just like you, storming away from anything that seems too hard." He found himself yelling without meaning to.
In his mind he saw Claire at their last argument, balled up fists and the fire of purpose in her eyes.
Nathan dropped to his knees, gently placed his cheek against hers and whispered, "I don't want to live without you. I love you. Please don't go."
His tears fell warm against her skin, the only sound the now steady beating of her heart.
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