This is the launch of the Greater Fort Worth Writers 2013 Round Robin, a sci-fi/dystopian story launched by member Matthew Bryant. Please check back regularly as we update the story with new installments from members.
No one dared to draw a breath. The ascent from take-off would push the massive station through the stratosphere in a handful of minutes. Dozens of rockets propelled the egg-shaped shuttle up into the chaotic dark clouds, threatening to open a new funnel at any moment. As long as it cleared the worst of the weather, there was hope.
The team and I watched from the observation tower. Adrenaline and excitement drained quickly once the brilliant flames of the rockets were out of sight. All around the world, similar shuttles had been launching for days. Most of them made it through the maelstrom, Mother Earth’s protest against humanity and the damage of hard-living that had stolen her beauty. The few that failed were ripped to bits by her ferocity, thrown about for miles, leaving a wake of further destruction. There were no survivors.
The majority of the cargo was people, tens of thousands of them. Each was cryogenically frozen, a memory locked in time, with only a small personal bag a piece to take with them to the new world. Every person had been chosen by a lottery, though we all knew that those with the most to spend had bid everything in deals kept under dirty tables to ensure a proverbial Golden Ticket. Those without such wealth were left behind, now flooding the gates and barely kept at bay by the numerous defenses set in place.
As for the launch specialists, my team and I weren’t abandoned completely. Once the station had cleared the atmosphere, we had been instructed to report to an underground launch bay half a day’s journey from the shuttle launch. From there, we would piggy-back on the main station. With the launch past the point of no return and out of our control, it’s where we need to head to now. But with chaos on the streets, and Armageddon in the skies, it’s not a journey we’re looking forward to.
I take off my headset and let out a deep breath, wishing it would do more to calm my nerves. Fingers dig deep into the skin of my face and massage around the dry eyes there, deprived of decent rest for weeks now and in desperate need of a break. “That’s it, boys,” I call out to my team. “Hit the kill switch and shut ’em down.”
The rest of the team looks as wary as I feel, trembling limbs moving in slow motion. Some just sent family and friends away, expressions of melancholy joy on their faces. There’s still a chance that they will see them again, but that chance is slim and growing smaller by the minute.
Screens all dark, we grab our gear and head towards the stairs, spiraling down some fifteen stories to ground level. I’m all too ready to be far away from the height of the tower, that kind of exposure to the elements is just asking for trouble.
Henry is waiting for us down in the garage. He looks up with a grimace. “Those defenses aren’t going to hold out much longer. Mob must think there’s another ship here.”
“Is there a clear way out?” I ask.
Large shoulders rise, then slump, followed by a slow shake of the head. “Nothing that simple.”
“Well just run them over!”
“Carl!” I shout, infuriated by his request. “I know this is hard on you, it’s hard on all of us. But we can’t lose our humanity and certainly can’t forget that those are people out there. Our people. Driven to desperation by fear and anger.”
“What do you propose, sir?” Henry asks, the large man looking awkward in his discomfort as he shuffles his balance from leg to leg like a kid trying to hold in the call of nature.
I sigh. I’d already planned for this, of course. I just didn’t like the course of action, but it was the best one the situation presented. “Is the rover gassed?” I ask, inquiring about the old, six-wheeled all-terrain vehicle we’d used a number of times exploring the surface of Mars, collecting data to confirm whether or not it would be habitable.
“It is, but…”
“I’ll take it, set up a distraction and draw the crowd from the gates. We’ll set launch time for twenty-four hours from departure, giving myself time to catch up. Anybody who wants to come with me is welcome, but…” I choke, my throat closing with emotion before I can continue.
“But there are risks involved,” Caleb finishes for me. “Consider me aboard.” I smile gratefully at the young man, remembering his embarrassment when he was discovered attempting to smuggle his girlfriend aboard the station. Once he’d admitted her pregnancy, the rest of the team and I pulled strings to ensure she was granted passage. It was highly against protocol, but nothing worse than the bribes the government had been taking.
“I’ll go too,” says Joe, a middle-aged man who’d lost his wife to the storms, but seen his kids grow into adults and launch only minutes ago. Like me, he’d been with the program from the beginning, sacrificing good wages for an opportunity of a future.
“I don’t much like the idea,” Henry mutters, “But I’m just here to follow orders.” He walks to a lockbox mounted on the wall and opens it up, grabbing a ring of keys and tossing them to me. The tag attached is marked with the number 5.
“Fair enough.” I wave Joe and Caleb to follow and head towards bay five. “Give us about a ten minute head start, then you guys should be free to leave and begin the countdown. With a little luck, we’ll see you at rendezvous in a day and be one step closer to our new home.”
“Good luck,” he calls after me, already forming the rest of the team into a slumped and defeated line behind him.
“You too, buddy. You too.”
Caleb and Joe fall in line beside me as we walk through the garage. “You know what you’re getting yourself into?” asks Caleb.
“Not a clue.” We get to the rover and pile inside. The motor roars into life, then settles to a dull hum. In front of us, the bay door creaks open, spilling pale gray light inside the warehouse.
About Matthew Bryant
I have been writing for over 10 years now. Finished a few novels, burned all but one and roasted vienna sausages over the flames… then fed the sausages to starving neighborhood cats (who were the only animals who’d eat the damn things) The cats created a cult of sorts around my persona and erected a giant monolith in my honor.
That is until city ordinances forced it to be torn down for its phallic representation… I guess I shouldn’t have put a pair of shaggy hedges around it. But before it could be removed, it was seen from space. Aliens don’t really exist, but a pair of angels came down in a starship, chopped off my hands and replaced them with feet. Now I type all toes, but it’s helped me to decipher forgotten fairy tales. Apparently there were 1007 Nights.
Inspired by the dark forces that brought a creeping madness in those old tomes, I write science-fiction thrillers, horror, urban fairy tales, and utter nonsense (See above)
Favorite authors include Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, James Rollins, and Robert Metzger.
Favorite musicians to listen to while writing are Celldweller, Blue Stahli, and The Luna Sequence.
Buy Matthew Bryant’s debut novel, Towers on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.