Layover on the Way to the Stars – a science fiction short story

Stars floating in space.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Hi mum, it’s Angie. I’m recording this one later than usual, hoping I can get it into a civilian data beam back to Earth. I meant to record it at the jump gate terminal outside of Centauri, but I got distracted, and you’ll never guess who by – cousin Dioni!

I should probably tell you about the terminal first. This place is amazing. There are shuttles heading to every system you’ve ever heard of, and a bunch you haven’t. The terminal has all these different habitat zones for different species, but they’re separated by glass, so that you can see each other. There are even speakers with translation systems in the glass. I had a long chat over coffee with a guy who has tentacles for a head. I say over coffee, he was inhaling purple stimulant smoke while I had coffee. He was as fascinated to hear about Earth as I was about his home world. It was intense!

But I know you, and I know you’re going to care more about Dioni than some alien, even if she did have fifty-seven eyes. The alien had the eyes, that is. The only new body mod Dioni’s got is a recording tattoo, and she said not to tell Aunt Stella, because of her Views, so forget I told you that.

Anyway, Dioni’s running one of the restaurants in the human zone here, one of those Metaphor Burger franchises. You know the ones, where the ingredients are meant to symbolise a philosophical concept or a work of art. OK, maybe you don’t know, but it’s a whole thing. Dioni says she stopped here to do a few shifts and earn more money on her way to that colony in the Regamium system she was going to join. Only it turned out that the franchise holder was leaving, and Dioni had an opportunity to take his place. The old manager showed her this data about the insane profits you can make selling burgers to travellers, and she figured, why not give it a go. She used her travel money to buy him out, figuring she could triple her money in six months, then head on to the colony like Aunt Stella wanted her to.

Ooh, and just as Dioni was telling me this, a guy with three heads came in, and then an actor out of… You know what, you won’t know the show, and it doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that Dioni has these amazing customers with stories from all over the galaxy. My mind was blown.

Where was I? Oh, yeah, well it turns out that it’s not so easy to leave this franchise Dioni’s bought into. She hadn’t paid attention to how much of a cut the company takes when she signed the contract, so she hasn’t earned what she expected, even though the place is buzzing. And there’s another big fee when you leave, which is half repayable if you leave everything in good condition, but you’ve got to have the money in the first place, and most of what Dioni earns goes on rent and visits to the alien habitats, so she can’t afford it. The whole past three years, she’s been stuck here, telling Aunt Stella that she got to Regamium so that Aunt Stella wouldn’t worry. Isn’t that wild?

Um, you’d better not tell Aunt Stella that part either. Or any of this, now I think about it. Please. But you can tell her that I saw a genuine Centauri fishman, because he stopped by right then to invite Dioni to a party.

Anyway, Dioni talked about how she couldn’t leave, and she wasn’t getting to Regamium any time soon, and it was all so sad. But then I thought, mum’s always telling me how I should help people in need, why don’t I help Dioni? She was so excited to leave Earth and go to Regamium, she should get to do that. So I offered to lend her some of the money you gave me. I hope that’s all right. I figured you’d approve, seeing as how she’s family.

Dioni couldn’t answer at first. She spotted this customer down the bar who she’d forgotten, and then she had to take a call, and sort something out with one of her staff. I wasn’t going to get an answer before my shuttle, but I said hey, I’ll delay, rebooking doesn’t cost too much. And then Dioni stopped what she was doing, and she said she didn’t want the money. Can you believe that? She said it was really kind, but she got herself into this mess, she had to get herself out. She’s so much more responsible than she used to be.

Then a ship from the Far Stars came in, and all these pioneers arrived on their month off, and they all knew Dioni. I sat and listened to their stories for hours, and Dioni listened too while she worked, and it was amazing, the places they’d been and the things they’d seen. Then I had to get my shuttle, because sure I’d delayed it, but that job’s still waiting for me on Signus.

It’s sad that Dioni never got to Regamium. If Aunt Stella ever finds out, she’ll be really disappointed. So maybe don’t tell her any of this. Can you do that?

Hm. Maybe I just won’t send this. Not for a while, at least. Not until Dioni gets to Regamium.

I tell you what, though, she’s great at putting on a brave face for the customers, even though she’s stuck there. I’ve never seen anyone smile so much.


If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.


Lies We Will Tell Ourselves

Lies - High Resolution

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.

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is available now from all major ebook stores.

The Long Dark to Io – a flash science fiction story

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.

If you’d like to read more of my stories, please consider signing up to my mailing list. You’ll get a free e-book and more flash fiction straight to your inbox every Friday.

Last Sunset – a science fiction flash story

Sunset by 白士 李 via Flickr Creative Commons
Sunset by 白士 李 via Flickr Creative Commons

I could hear Haowey breathing around me, feel the flesh of her port side pulse beneath my hand. Staring through the portal in the front of her command deck, the surface of Mars rolled past beneath us – red sands, green forests, the lilac of shallow seas. Together we sang the Song of Renewal, my voice a tiny fragment of Haowey’s sonorous, wordless boom, a voice from the whales that lay far back in my starship’s genetic past. Our hearts beat together, our voices rose together, and together we watched the sun sink toward the horizon, a bright disk of hope against the void of space.

If I could have been anywhere else, I would have been. I was weary to the bone. The war might not have battered my body as it had Haowey’s, but my soul was soiled with the horrors I had seen. Now it was over, I wanted solid ground beneath my feet. No more stars. No more darkness. No more reminders of what we had seen and done.

But this was Haowey’s last wish. How could I refuse her that?

She shuddered, the deck lurching beneath my feet. Her voice trembled, fading almost to nothing. I kept the song going for her, but a blackness was descending upon me.

Perhaps what I needed was not ground beneath my feet. Perhaps what I needed was the same fate now claiming Haowey – an end to all of this. All the guilt, all the grief, all the memories.

Looking at the helmet hanging from my belt, I wondered if I would have the will to don it when the time came.

I had always assumed that life still lay ahead of me, if I made it through the war. Yet I faced a choice.

The sun touched the horizon. Bright beams scattered across the upper atmosphere. I thought that Haowey fell silent in appreciation of the sight, as she had above the many other planets she had carried me to. But the deck shuddered again, and a rattle like the falling of skulls filled the command deck.

Haowey’s final breath.

Tears ran down my cheeks.

I knew enough ship biology to know that she still lived. I had ten minutes before the final spark would fade from her synapses; before the muscles of airlocks and cargo doors would lose their strength, voiding the atmosphere and me with it.

I welcomed it. My closest companion was dying around me. I had fulfilled my duty, and wished only for peace. What better way to find that than together?

The sun was halfway below the horizon as I unbuckled my helmet and cast it aside. My view through the portal blurred, and I tried to wipe the tears from my eyes, only to realise that I was cried dry. It was not my tears that broke the last light of day into flared fragments.

Haowey was weeping.

“It’s OK.” I patted the tender spot where the portal joined her wall. “You’ll be at rest soon. We both will.”

Her eyes still ran. With the last morsel of air in her vocal chamber, she sang the ending verse of the Song of Renewal. Though her rendition was wordless, still the lyrics echoed in my mind.

“Live on, my love. A new dawn awaits us.”

“I can’t,” I whispered. “There is too much darkness. How can I face that?”

Haowey was silent, her flesh cold and still. The final line of the Song came unbidden to me, one last message from a dying friend.

“Live on for me.”

A breeze stirred the command deck. The first of the air locks had opened. Haowey was venting.

Not Haowey. Haowey’s corpse.

With a lump in my throat, I picked up my helmet and stared at my reflection in the visor, a pale, distorted image of human being. The breeze became a gust, became a storm, became a gale that snatched at my spacesuit and hurled me from my feet.

I kissed the deck, one last tear running from dry eyes, and pulled the helmet on. The fleeing atmosphere snatched me up and hurled me into space.

In the distance, a retrieval ship appeared over the horizon, as the last crescent of sunlight disappeared.

* * *


If you enjoyed this story then you might also like Lies We Will Tell Ourselves, my collection of short science fiction stories, available now on Amazon.