Another piece I had a lot of trouble editing down, and one I definitely want to revisit and give a good solid edit/rewrite on a weekend when I can spare more than two hours to pull the piece together. The character of Cam changed a lot in my head as I wrote the piece. At first, I’d pictured him as a young man with a cool head on his shoulders, but as I got farther into the piece, it made more sense for him to be a grizzled veteran. Overall, while I like the idea behind the piece, I’m not sure I did a good enough job connecting the reader to the character of Cam. I think when I do revisit this short story, I’ll trim out some of the action and focus more on building the character and his relationships with people back home. I could be trying to do too much with so few words, but I think the challenge will be fun, and it will definitely end up being a piece that’s out of my usual wheelhouse. Anyway here’s Day 9:
Prompt: “Third Terra was going the way of First.”
Cam slammed into the wall as another tremor shook the station. They were ten minutes apart now and becoming increasingly frequent. Scrambling to his feet, Cam banked left down another hall, shielding his ears from the blaring sirens. Reaching the control room, Cam clicked the door shut behind him and rushed to the terminal. If only for a moment, he appreciated being free of the sirens’ howls and strobing red lights.
“Show me Third Terra.” He ordered the computer, half a century on the job keeping him calm despite the situation.
A hologram snapped to life showing a scaled down version of the once blue planet. “Shit.” Cam watched as more rifts opened up along the planet’s surface spewing kiloliters of superheated nickel-iron alloy. Third Terra was going the way of First. And Second, where he was currently stationed, would soon follow suit.
“Fuck the Company!” The numbers they’d demanded had been aggressive so the mining practices had followed suit. Core Fracking was dangerous enough when the process wasn’t rushed, but when equipment was installed without being shielded from Solar Flares and, more importantly, CMEs, it was plain reckless. The equipment could fail, force too much pressure into the planet’s core, and literally tear it apart. But the Company had been making money hand over fist so Cam’s protests had fallen on deaf ears—when they could find ears at all.
For a moment, Cam’s mind wandered to his wife and daughter. They’d begged him not to go. The Terras were far, and he was soon to be a grandfather. But the money had been good, and the installations supposedly secure. I should have listened!
A second tremor shook Cam back to the present. “Show me a map,” Cam barked, still managing control of his emotions. The state of Third Terra had squashed his hopes of saving Second. He needed off the planet. Fast. Internalizing the displays, Cam took off at a sprint, towards the nearest hangar.
The hallway was eerie. Cam had relegated the sirens to background noise, but the periodic red light fought to unnerve him. Washing over the walls in waves, the lights made it hard for Cam’s eyes to focus on anything farther than a few feet away giving him tiny pangs of claustrophobia. Another tremor tore through the station. Five minutes apart. Cam centered himself. Get to the hangar. Get in an escape pod. Get off the planet. Breaking breaking the plan into its simplest pieces eased his nerves.
Rounding the corner, Cam burst into the hangar bay on B3. “Wait!” Cam skidded to a stop on the slick metal floors, waving his arms furiously above his head. “Wait!” He screamed louder, trying to get anyone on the pod to notice him, but the sirens drowned out his voice.
Cam felt his heart beat its way down into the pit of his stomach as he watched the last escape pod travel up the docking elevator and out of sight. I’m going to die here. The thought echoed in Cam’s mind as he stared at the empty hangar bay.
“Uh…I’m not sure if anyone else is still out there…,” the intercom cracked to life, “we’ve got space for two more on B2. We’ll be waiting for five minutes.”
Cam started moving immediately. It would be hard to make it to B2 in time without the elevators, but he didn’t dare chance getting stuck in a tiny metal box when another tremor hit the installation. Cam hung a sharp left and tore down the hallway. Panting for breath as he reached the end of it, Cam jerked the door to the stairwell open. He stumbled up the stairs, cursing his age with every step.
Finally spotting the door to B2, Cam’s knees struck hard metal edges as another tremor brought him to the ground. Flailing for the railing, Cam stopped himself from falling down the entire flight. Three minutes apart! Cam hauled himself to his feet and scrambled up the last few steps.
Cam tore onto B2. His lungs burned, his legs ached, and he could feel blood running down both of his shins, but he couldn’t stop now.
Cam reached the B2 hangar as another tremor rattled the installation. Just barely managing to keep his balance, Cam sprinted towards the pod, redoubling his efforts when he saw someone already climbing up the short ladder. Reaching the ladder’s base, Cam clamored into the pod behind the man.
“Thanks for waiting.” Cam panted.
The pilot gave Cam a stressed glance. “In under the wire.” He eased the pod to life. “Now let’s get out of here.”
“Wait!” A man beside Cam pointed out the pod door.
A man, barely half Cam’s age, was sprinting towards the pod as fast as his legs could carry him.
“Close the door!” Someone behind Cam panicked.
“We can’t just leave him!” Another shouted.
“There’s no room.” A third voice responded. “We had space for two and two came.”
“Three came!” The second voice spat back. “Hey!” He spoke to the pilot, “We’ve got room for one more, right?”
The pilot shook his head, “We’re over capacity as things stand.”
Silence settled in the pod, broken only by the cry of the sirens in the hangar bay.
“I’ll go,” a man even younger than the one in the hangar got up to leave.
Cam put an arm out to stop him. “I’ll go.”
Descending the ladder despite the young man’s protests, Cam reached the base of the ladder at the same time as the man in the hangar bay. He brushed past Cam and started his ascent.
Cam took a knee as another tremor shook him from his feet. For a moment, he thought of his wife, daughter, and the grandson he’d never meet. Then, he watched as the pod entered the docking elevator and climbed towards the surface.