I wrote today’s story using yesterday’s prompt (yeah, well) — write a story in a timed 30 minutes. So, the result is below and it is… a story with a beginning, middle, and end, if nothing else.
“This is the cargo ship Elantra IV. Mars Landing Control, do you read me?”
There was the ever present hiss and crackle of the radio, but nothing more.
The cockpit of the cargo ship was not overly large, nor did it have to be. A bank of monitors and displays sat in the middle of the space, in front of a large chair that held further controls on its arms.
Captain Millie Jones hit the button again. “Mars Landing Control,” she began, before going through her standard greeting.
The thing that she liked the most about the Moon-Mars cargo run was it’s solitary nature. The trip was simply not long enough to justify more than one crew member. Of course, it meant that her title of “Captain” was largely imaginary. Sure, she acted as captain, but she was also acted as first officer, comms, cook, repair, and anything else that arose.
This was not a career path that she had foreseen for herself. She had fallen into it through an unexpected facility with all things mechanical. At first, she had shied away from piloting a spacecraft, because she associated it with being in too-close proximity with others for too-long periods of time.
Then someone mentioned cargo ships run by a single person and the rest was history.
“Joshua,” she said in exasperation. She knew Josh would be the one at Mars Landing and it was not like him to not respond quickly.
In fact that routine, the clear plan followed at all times, was another part of what she liked about the the cargo run. It was straightforward. There was a plan and, as long as one followed it, there would be no surprises. There were no people to mess things up, to change things.
Millie knew that most people disliked change, but she utterly loathed it.
There were no surprises on this route. She went through her neatly arranged checklists and happily ticked off the boxes one by one. By the time she reached the end, the Elantra was in pre-landing orbit around Mars. And in reverse back to the Moon.
She supposed that some people would find this boring. She revelled in the lack of ambiguity.
Why was there no response? What was going on at Landing Control? A small shiver of fear ran through her.
It was probably nothing, but her mind immediately jumped to a major decompression incident. That was probably the worst case scenario and one of the most unlikely. It was possible, of course, anything was possible. Even a small piece of meteor could lead to decompression.
Of course, all parts of the colony had been built in distinct units that could shut themselves off from the others in case of emergency. But those overrides could fail, couldn’t they? Anything could fail.
Millie had witnessed a launch pad explosion of an unpersonned cargo ship some time back and the image was seared into her brain. The initial popping sound, the small bit of smoke and flame that was followed so quickly by blazing fire. That had been a cracked seal.
Two hundred years on and a cracked seal could still spell disaster.
She swallowed, hit the button for comms, and tried again. “This is Captain Millie Jones of the cargo ship Elantra IV. Mars, do you read me?”
In a sealed environment, such as the Martian colony, disease could spread easily, too. Who knew what novel bacteria or viruses they might find in their explorations. Of course, anything being brought into the environment was supposed to be properly contained, but everyone knew that was not foolproof. How could it be? Humans were notoriously fallible.
Or maybe it was just the Landing Control module that was in trouble. Maybe something had happened to Joshua and he was unable to communicate. A leak of some toxic aerosol, a failure of the environmental controls. The list of possible catastrophic problems was endless.
Millie was close to hyperventilating now.
She slowly took a deep breath and fought to control the rising tide of anxiety she could feel in her gut.
She shifted in her seat and let her eyes roam the control panels. Nothing she was detecting on the planet’s surface offered any indication that there was something wrong.
That should have reassured her, but it did not.
The monitors could only display predictable things.
She shook her head. Even though she knew her mind was going off in ridiculous directions, she felt powerless to stop it.
Another breath. In and out.
She thought about the happy place her therapist told her was the key to controlling these flights of fancy. It was her apartment, which was probably a little odd, but she didn’t care. It was small and neat and perfectly her. And she could go there and snuggle with her cat Elon and forget about everything else out in the solar system.
Solar flares. Unfriendly aliens. Meteors barrelling towards them.
All of it.
Elon. Think of Elon and his soft silver-grey fur and the loudness of his purrs and the way that he looked directly into her eyes as he pushed a device off the table and onto the hard tile surface below.
She shifted in her chair and looked at the displays once again. She took a deep breath. She was fine, this would be fine. She had oxygen and fuel enough to get back to the Moon, if need be. There was no danger to her.
That was the most important thing. (Or, at least, the most important for her.)
She flicked the switch one more time.
“Mars Landing Control,” she began, “this is cargo ship Elantra IV requesting permission to begin landing procedures.
“Cargo ship Elantra, this is Mars Landing. You are cleared for landing at Landing Station B. Proceed to lower orbit.”
As if nothing were wrong.