Excerpt: Another Sunset

Nathan Pierce stopped short as he walked into the lounge car. The car and the sumptuous furnishings were lit in a ruddy glow as the sun set behind the train. He walked over to the bar, and poured a glass of water, marveling at the sight. He took a breath, and inhaled a whiff of pipe tobacco. He looked around, seeing smoke wafting up from a chair in the corner.

“Excuse me, who are you? This car is reserved for officers, and as far as I know, I’m the only officer on this train.”

A man peered around the edge of the chair back. He said, gruffly, “The only officer? What am I then, a mess cook?”

“I.. I .. I’m sorry sir. I didn’t know you were an officer as well. I thought…”

“Yes, I get it, you thought you were the only one. Well, technically you are. I’m no longer an officer. I’m retired.” He held out a hand. “Retired General Benedict Atwood.” Gingerly, Nathan shook General Atwood’s hand.

“I’m Lieutenant Nathan Pierce, sir.”

“You don’t need to call me sir. I told you, I’m retired. Have a seat, Pierce. But first, pour yourself a real drink.”

“I don’t drink.”

“You’ll drink if I tell you to drink, son.” Atwood rose, and walked over to the bar, leaning on an elaborately carved cane. He poured a glass of Bourbon and took it over to Nathan Pierce. “Here. Drink this.” He sat down again in the seat. Nathan sat down in the chair next to him.

“Beautiful, isn’t it.” Atwood said, looking out the window at the sunset.

“It is. The landscape may not be much to look at, but the sunrises and sunsets on this planet are magnificent.” He looked over at General Atwood. His short white hair seemed to be on fire in the orange glow. A deep scar cut across his face from his left ear to his chin, standing out in the harsh light.

“Never miss an opportunity to watch a sunrise or sunset, young man. In our line of work, you never know if you’ll get to see another one.” He looked at Nathan Pierce, appraising the younger man. “You’re new to command, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am. How can you tell.”

Atwood chuckled. “After serving for sixty years, I can tell. You still have the stink of OCS about you.”

“I just graduated last week. I’ve been given command of an Engineering Platoon. We’re on our way to Fort Bracken with supplies. We’re to help strengthen the fort’s defenses.”

“From what I can understand, they need it. That area has seen a lot of activity lately. The Stihlz have been moving in that direction. You’ll probably see some combat before long.”

“I certainly hope not. We’re engineers, not fighters.”

“If you’re in this army, you’re fighters. You may be trained as engineers, but you will do what is required of you, whether it be building or fighting.”

“I’ve never been in combat, “ Nathan whispered.

“On this planet, there’s no such thing as a noncombatant. Get used to it.”

The door opened, Nathan Pierce’s staff sergeant entered the car. “Sir, the cook wants me to tell you that your dinner is ready. Would you like to eat in the dining car, or should I have them bring it to you?”

“Have them bring it to the lounge car, please.”

The sergeant turned to leave, but stopped as General Atwood bellowed. “Wait a moment, Sergeant!” He turned to Lieutenant Pierce. “Please? You’re an officer now. This man is a subordinate. You give orders to subordinates, not requests.”

“But sir, I…”

“But nothing. If you want to lead, you need to learn to give orders.”

Nathan looked between the two men. He cleared his throat. “Sergeant Cobb, have my dinner brought to the lounge car.”

“Very good sir.” The sergeant turned to leave, and Nathan thought he saw the hint of a smile on the man’s face.

Benedict Atwood turned his chair slightly to face Nathan. “These men are soldiers, Lieutenant. They have been trained to take orders from officers.”

“I’m just trying to be polite, sir.”

“No. Don’t try to be polite. Lead your men, give them orders. They’re in the army, and they know what to expect from their superior officers. You get to know your men. You respect your men. But you need to be firm with them. Give them orders, not requests.”

“But what if I give them the wrong orders?”

“Then you give them wrong orders. It’s their job to follow your orders as best they can. If you have doubts, or if you need advice, that’s what your sergeant is there for. It’s okay to ask him for advice. He may very well have more experience in the military than you do. But never forget, you hold a higher rank. Work with him, but don’t ever forget who is in charge of your platoon, Lieutenant.”

Flash Fiction Friday: We 7 Go On

This will be a new, and hopefully regular feature on this blog. Flash Fiction Friday. Every Friday, I’ll be posting a short story or poem. This week, I’m posting a short story called “We 7 Go On”. Enjoy.

The door wouldn’t open for some time, and I was scared. I wasn’t necessarily scared of what I would find outside this room. I just didn’t know if I was prepared for it.

Nervously, I paced back and forth while my new bride sat on the couch watching. I cast a glance towards the door. I imagined how our ancestors had once looked anxiously towards the door of the spaceship Cronus, as they landed on the surface of this world that they had named “Hestia”. It had not been an easy trip, and those that made it had been glad to find a home.

On the voyage here, a computer malfunction had shut down almost all of the life support. Hundreds of the people chosen to settle this planet had died within hours. Around one hundred settlers remained. They were woken from suspended animation to make a decision about the remainder of the voyage.

The report on the remaining life support was that the system could only sustain twenty people for the rest of the trip. The one hundred had to make a decision as to which twenty would go on. After removing the bodies of those who had died instantly, and placing them in the biorecycler, twenty were chosen to go back into suspended animation for the rest of the trip; the remaining settlers sacrificed themselves so that the twenty could go on.

Another disaster occurred when a meteorite impact struck the ship, destroying most of the cargo, including vital terraforming supplies. The ship limped on with the twenty colonists sleeping away for the rest of the journey.

Finally, the Cronus arrived at its destination. The ship landed on a dry, barren plain. The colonists were brought out of suspended animation, and discovered what had happened to the cargo. Very few supplies remained to them. They had only enough food for a few months and very few resources for transforming the hostile landscape into something more habitable.

They activated some of the robots that had survived the trip and sent them out to explore the land. The ones that returned reported that there was no sign of plants or animals for many miles in all directions. A decision had to be made.

With no terraforming supplies, no resources, and food running low, it was decided that some of the remaining colonists would have to sacrifice themselves in the biorecycling unit to produce enough supplies for at least a few to establish a home, and to survive.

Seven of the colonists were chosen to go on, while the other thirteen walked into the biorecycler, their bodies rendered into their component elements, and reconstituted as resources for growing food, and for making a habitable colony.

Parts of the ship were dismantled, and used to create shelter and tools. The seven remaining settlers set about creating a place to live and establishing themselves on this planet.

I looked out the window, looking out over the park. Across the park were the remains of the Cronus. The ship and the biorecyler had been turned into a memorial and shrine, honoring those who had sacrificed themselves so that the colony could survive.

A crowd had started to gather in the park. Some milled about nervously. Others stood by themselves, lost in thought. A bell tolled from a nearby tower. Many of the citizens in the park below turned towards the remains of the Cronus. As they made their way towards the memorial, the window turned opaque.

My wife started weeping, so I went across the room and sat down next to her, putting my arm around her. I felt some fear myself, but at the same time, a sense of hope. I imagined that the other two couples sequestered in rooms on either side of ours were going through the same thing.

After a while, my wife drifted off to sleep. I got up and paced the room, waiting. After a couple of hours, it seemed like days, the bell rang again. The room flooded with light as the window became clear again and the door opened. A robot stepped inside. “It’s time, sir.”

I took my wife’s hand as she rose from the couch and walked out the door. On either side, two other couples emerged from their rooms. A single male emerged from his room down the hall.

Silently the seven of us walked towards the building’s exit. The door opened, and we emerged into bright sunlight. The park and the streets were now deserted except for a few robots going about their duties.

I looked across the park towards the Cronus. Just as many of this world’s original colonists had done, thousands of people had walked into the biorecycling unit of the ship, sacrificing themselves in honor of those had gone before. They gave up their lives so that we 7 could go on.

#flashfictionfriday #scifi #scienceficton