Last week, Chuck Wendig over at Terribleminds.com issued a flash fiction challenge. He provided ten story titles and we (me) were told to pick one and write 1000 words. I chose the title; The Apocalypse Ticket. Below is my completed entry. This story is different than anything else I have ever written and while it isn’t perfect (I wrote it in a day) I am very proud of it because I finished it. I’ve shared it here and on the Stories page of this blog. I hope you enjoy it.
Until Next time,
The Apocalypse Ticket
The Wyvern’s crew sat and watched the holo screens as the job lottery opened for the day. Jobs in junking and space cleanup weren’t as bountiful as they had been before the creation of the Galactic Hegemony. Too many job disputes had ended in blood so to minimize fighting, the lottery system had been established.
Most jobs went to the large corporations who then freelanced them out to small outfits like the Wyvern while taking a cut of the profits. The whole thing was a mess but work meant money and money meant food, water and clean air for another month.
Jackson scanned the faces of his crew. They were hungry, tired and angry, same as they always were and he felt like he was failing them. Same as he always did.
“You bid too low,” Bea complained as the choice metal scavenging jobs got parceled out first.
“We’re broke,” Jackson said, “I bid everything we have.”
No one spoke for a minute as they all felt the same worry. If their bid didn’t get them a job, they’d get it back minus the entry fee, leaving them worse off than when they started. Suddenly their name disappeared from the queue and everyone cheered. They had been selected for a job.
“What is it?” Harlan asked from his spot on the floor.
“Don’t know yet. We’re waiting for the ticket to upload.”
Please don’t be the mines. Anything but the mines. Jackson prayed as he opened the job agreement.
“I can’t go back there,” Bea said, “ I’m sorry but I just can’t.”
She was staring at Sullivan’s seat. He had been gone for 7 months but it still felt like yesterday. Voices sprang up around the room, the message consistent with Bea’s. Jackson swallowed hard as he realized he had spoken aloud.
“It’s not the mines.” he said.
It was worse. For a moment he considered rejecting the job, and casting a net for another one but that meant a second entry fee and they had barely afforded the first.
“Demolition cleaning.” he said.
It was a lucrative job, the contract would pay well and extra credit could be made from salvage if they were able to make a site claim fast enough. A collective whoop went up from the crew but Jackson couldn’t share in their joy. He signed the agreement and input the coordinates into the ship’s navigation system. The job began right away and he didn’t want to waste time, if they were late they wouldn’t get paid.
“Where is it?” Bea asked as she strapped into her seat.
“Does it matter?” Harlan asked.
Yes. Jackson thought.
“No I suppose not,” Bea said.
“We want to get paid we go where they send us. Easy as that.” Jackson said with a conviction he didn’t feel.
The trip to the job site was fast. Once they got within range Jackson knew he would have to say something to them but he couldn’t find the words.
Earth, the big blue marble they all once called home filled their screens.
“Look, everyone-” Jackson started.
They all started talking at once. Bea’s face crumpled in on itself as she began to cry.
“Holy Shit,” Harlan shouted, “Are you insane? Why didn’t you tell us?”
“Absolutely not,” Anya said.
It was the first time she had spoken all day. She came up beside Jackson and flicked the screens off. Her slender hands gripped the arms of his chair as she leaned into his space, their noses almost touching.
“Get us out of here,” She said calmly.
He met her stare and tried to see what she was feeling but she was a brick wall.
“I can’t. We’re already on the hook. We bail on this job and we owe the fee to Acqui Corp.”
“Damn it Jackson!” Harlan said, “Why the hell did you agree to this?”
Jackson pushed Anya aside and turned toward his Second in Command.
“What choice did I have?” he yelled back, “We work or we starve. Besides they’re blowing it up whether we’re here or not.”
Chaos filled the room as Harlan swore, Josiah prayed and a stream of sobs came from Bea in the corner. Anya went to comfort her and Jackson reluctantly flipped the screens back on. A hail call blinked in the lower right corner. It was the demolition leader, Cal Brennon. The Wyvern and Brennon’s crew had worked together before. Jackson briefly wondered how Brennon, a fellow earthling, was handling the situation. With a short hard sigh, Jackson answered the hail.
“Macnamara here.” he said.
“ The demolition will begin momentarily.” Brennon said grimly, “We’ll be handling the large mass, you’re on after us. Once we give you the all clear, your crew can move in.”
Brennon signed off without another word. A countdown clock appeared in the center of the screen, the red numbers rapidly spinning through Earth’s final minutes. With a swipe of his hand, Jackson minimized the counter sending it to the upper corner of the screen and revealing the Earth once more.
Jackson stood then, his eyes glued to the screen. Anya came up beside him with Bea in tow. They were holding hands and on impulse Jackson seized Anya’s free hand in his own. She squeezed tightly betraying the calm on her face. Harlan and Josiah joined them until everyone stood before the main screen.
As the countdown reached zero, and the Earth caught fire,Jackson became aware of a dull roar filling his ears. He was screaming and his crew had joined him. Hand in hand they let their pain out. They screamed for the home they lost, for the people they would never be again. On screen the real work of the demolition got underway and another hail call chimed over the speakers.
Out of breath, Jackson wiped his eyes and turned to face his crew.
“Time to go to work.”