The Long Dark to Io – a flash science fiction story

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science-fiction-1677542_128010 October

I’m writing this for you as you sleep, curled up in a blanket in my lap, the heart of all my hopes and fears. We’re sat between layers of the starship’s superstructure, the hidden space the coyote promised us. It’s hot and stuffy but surprisingly clean, and I think the engine noise has lulled you to sleep.

Your mother didn’t make it. I think that’s why I’ve started writing this. That terrible moment as she fell from the gantry, the sound as she hit the side and…

Oh God, I don’t want to die. I don’t want that pain. I don’t want to be nothing. I don’t want to leave you on your own.

If there’s another accident, or customs catch me when we reach Io, then this is for you. So that you know who I was.


14 October

The coyote lied to us. People come through here every day, to get from the engine rooms to the stores. Every time, I squeeze us into the narrow darkness closest to the engine housing. I give you my finger to suck on and hope that will keep you quiet. I feel the metal scorching my skin, and pray that it doesn’t get bad enough for them to smell it burning before they’re gone.

This is bad.


17 October

Please don’t die.

Please don’t die.

Please don’t die.

I couldn’t bear it.

I’m sure you have a fever now, that it’s not just the heat in here. You cried so much at first, and now you’re terrifyingly silent. Is it the water I’m syphoning out of the systems for your milk? Is it something in the air? Is it this heat?

I would give anything to get you ice and medicine. But I can’t get anything. Can’t go looking for a doctor or a pharmacist. If we’re caught, we will be sent back to Earth. I can’t have that for you. You deserve the life I didn’t have.


18 October

You’ve stopped eating.

I wish your mother was here. She would know what to do.

I miss her so much. At first I clutched you close when I cried, a warm reminder of her. Something I love as deeply and as painfully as I loved her.

But now your skin is as hot as the engine housing, and I don’t dare hold you close in case I make it worse.

There is no choice any more. I have to ask for help.


18 October, again

The engineer jumped when I spoke to him from the shadows. I saw confusion and fear in his eyes. I have seen that fear too often.

But I was desperate. I held you out towards him, knowing we didn’t share a language. I grabbed his hand and placed it against your cheek, so that he could feel your sickness.

He yanked his hand from mine, snapped something I didn’t understand. Then he ran away.

They will be coming for us. I’m so sorry. You won’t be going to Io. You will grow up amid the poverty and the pollution like I did. Your mother will have died for nothing. My heart is breaking, but if you were to die then it would crumble to dust.


19 October

I panicked when I heard them coming. I nestled as deeply as I could into a crevice in the darkness, clutching you beside me, your breath barely a whisper. I would have cried, but I was too dried out from the heat. I just wanted a few more moments with you.

Flashlight beams danced across the walls as they approached. I pictured grim security men dragging us apart. I wanted them to take you to safety, but I couldn’t bear the thought of them taking you from me. I’m so sorry. I was selfish, lost and alone.

After all those days living in gloom, the flashlight hurt my eyes when it hit them. I couldn’t even see those people as they spoke to me, their voices soft. Then they turned away the flashlight beams. I saw the engineer I had approached, and beside him a woman in a white jumpsuit.

Reluctantly, I handed you over and crawled out of my hole.

The woman unwrapped you and examined you. She dripped something into your mouth and wrapped you in a cool, damp blanket. She handed you and a bottle to the engineer, who sat smiling and cooing as he fed you.

Then she gave me water and tended my burns.

After that, I cried.


23 October

We are lying on a pile of blankets while a fan blows cool air across us. If anyone comes by we have to switch the fan off, in case they are not Kobi, the engineer, or Jan the doctor. You are smiling again, crying again, clutching my finger like you will never let go.

Today you laughed.

We are still hidden, but we have friends.

We are going to make it to Io.

I love you. I always will.

* * *


When I wrote this story, I hadn’t realised that I would be posting it in such an emotionally charged week. I guess we live in emotionally charged times. Regardless, it’s important to remember the humanity in the others around us and the struggles they go through.

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