A blaze of colours hurtled out of the void towards the orbital station. The light of the dying star consumed everything in its path, no less grim for all its beauty.
Em gripped the controls of the Lightning Run, ready to trigger the engines at a moment’s notice.
“You said we’d be gone before the supernova started,” she shouted into the back of the ship.
“And we almost are,” Rid called back. “Just couldn’t let this stuff go to waste.”
There was a clatter as Rid and Holben dragged another crate into the cargo compartment. They’d been out all day, gathering valuables people had left behind in their rush to get away. As Rid said, there was always a profit in disaster, and he hated to let profit go to waste.
“We have to go,” Em snapped. Just looking at the approaching destruction was giving her heart palpitations. This was worse than flying scout missions during the war, worse than the rescue work on Elvrey Prime. Then, life had been uncertain. Now she could watch death coming.
“Almost ready,” Rid shouted.
Em sighed in relief. She couldn’t stand to wait here a minute longer with that terrible light hurtling towards them.
She glanced at the monitors at the back of the pilot’s cabin, the ones plugged into the station’s security systems. On one screen she saw Rid and Holben picking up their last crate. On another she saw people running, a dozen of them racing along a corridor to the shuttle’s docking strut.
Why were they still here?
“All aboard,” Rid shouted.
There was a hiss and a clang as the cargo doors slammed shut.
“Wait!” Em stared at the monitors, then back at the wave of destruction rippling through space. “Open the doors again.”
“Are you crazy?” Rid appeared at her shoulder. “We have to get out of here.”
“There are people.” She pointed at the monitor. “They’ll die if we leave them.”
“Do you want to join them?”
“I want to save them.”
“You can’t. We’re out of time and out of space. You’re the pilot, get us going.”
The light of the oncoming supernova washed out Rid’s skin, leaving his face skull white.
“We can ditch the cargo and make space for them.”
“The cargo we risked our lives for? No way.” Rid laid a hand on her shoulder. “Get flying.”
“I won’t go without them.” Em forced herself to let go of the controls and lay her trembling hands in her lap.
Rid took a step back. For a moment she thought that he’d accepted her demand. Then she felt the cold metal of a gun barrel against the back of her head.
“Fly,” Rid growled. “Now.”
Em looked down at her hands. They had stopped trembling. Outside the window, the light was so beautiful, she could almost forget what it represented.
“No,” she said. “And I know you can’t fly this thing worth shit.”
She felt a trembling again, not from her but from the gun pressed against her head.
“Dammit Em, don’t make me do this.”
“No-one’s making you do anything, but you’re running out of time to choose.” She pointed at the supernova. “Not long now.”
The gun pressed harder against her head. Rid’s ragged breath seemed to fill the cabin, a strange and rasping soundtrack to the view outside.
“Argh.” Rid whipped the gun away and stomped back into the cargo space. “Holben, open her up. We’re ditching this shit.”
Another voice rose in protest, but the cargo doors hissed open. On the monitors, Em saw the desperate refugees rush up to Rid and Holben. Together, they flung out crates of precious loot to make space for everyone on board.
The light was getting brighter. Not long now. Would they make it out in time?
“All aboard,” Rid shouted. “We’ve even kept two of the crates.”
The doors clanged shut. Em released the docking clamps and fired manoeuvring thrusters. Bright light washed across the cabin and then the supernova disappeared from view as they turned to face away from it.
The supernova was almost on them as she powered up the main engines. The whole ship seemed to hum as they hung for a moment between safety and oblivion.
Em hit the engines and prayed.
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Lies We Will Tell Ourselves
A spin doctor forced to deal with aliens who loathe lies.
A squad of soldiers torn apart by the fiction in their midst.
A hunting submarine with its dead captain strapped to the prow, the crew promising that one day they’ll revive him.
We all tell lies to get through the day, some of them to ourselves, some to other people. Now read the extraordinary lies of the future in these nine short science fiction stories.
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