Wednesday Write-In #29

This week’s prompt words are:

‘I do’  ::  crockery  ::  surreal  ::  torch  ::  capsule

Carina Nebula Image:

Carina Nebula

Mission Day

I used to call them ‘crystal time’ moments when I was a kid, you know, those events in your life which seem important, even as you’re living through them. The ones you’re sure you’ll keep in your mind, in their entirety, frozen. A capsule of your personal history, held in amber.

Mission Day had definitely been a capsule moment.

‘Lieutenant Owens,’ the voice of my Commander had boomed. ‘Do you understand the ramifications of the task to which you have committed yourself?’

‘Sir,’ I’d said. ‘I do, sir.’

The truth was, I’d had no idea. They’d wanted a man to fly, one-way, toward an anomaly our ‘scopes had barely been able to pick up, somewhere near the Cloud. It was the best part of a parsec away, and so I knew when I accepted the job that it was ‘Goodbye, Home Planet’. It didn’t really bum me out too much. Since Mireille, the girl I’d held a torch for since we were embryos in neighbouring tanks, had blown me off in favour of a moon-rock salesman (‘at least he has a stable income!’ she’d wailed), there hadn’t been much keeping me here.

Besides gravity, of course.

Just my little joke.

It wasn’t until I’d reached deep space before I could really check out what they’d sent up with me. I couldn’t believe it when I saw they’d kitted me out with old-fashioned crockery, linen tablecloths, actual knives and forks – Goddammit, even a wine carafe! It was almost surreal, this vision of domestic bliss as I hurtled through eternity. I was touched, actually. It was like a final farewell from my buddies on the base, a message to take care. Anyway, I knew I only had a week to enjoy all this stuff before it was time to put myself on ice for the rest of the trip, so I made sure to have a good time. I ate the steak they’d included in my rations (the last fresh meat I’d eat in the living history of my planet, I told myself, which was sort of mind-blowing), and drank the morsel of wine from my fancy carafe. I toasted my planet, Mireille, and the machine that would keep me alive until mission’s end.

And then, my last transmission home. My final orders received. It was time. I said goodbye. They wished me well, and told me I was a patriot. I felt like nothing of the sort.

I lay in the suspension chamber, my mind whirring faster than the mechanism beside my left arm, the one which would put me under. Everything looked fine; the buttons flashed in the correct sequence. The needle entered my vein as it had done in the run-through, back home. The first touch of the freezing liquid stole my breath, as I expected.

But the pain – now, that took me by surprise.

It entered my body at the wrist, and travelled up my forearm. Stupidly, I called for help. I called for help in space, can you believe it?

‘There’ll be no pain,’ the doctor had said back home, her dark eyes soothing. Those had been her exact words. I remembered. ‘The mechanism’s been tested rigorously. You’ll be just fine. It’ll be like falling asleep.’

So much for that. The pain was in my biceps now. My arm felt like it was aflame. I couldn’t undo my straps quickly enough to shut the machine off. On it pumped, my body failing a little more with every second.

My brain reeled. I felt like I’d been turned on my head and set right-side up again, like a doll in the hands of a huge, angry child.

Then, finally, the agony reached my heart.

It stopped.

25 thoughts on “Wednesday Write-In #29

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Thanks, Kate! Hope you didn’t turn blue…

      P.S. Am working on my swords/sandals/Titanic/family feud piece. As you can imagine, it’s difficult. 😀 As soon as I have some sort of shape on it, I’ll be in touch.

  1. sarahgracelogan

    This is really interesting. I love sci-fi, and I like the subtle way you introduce it. I too thought the last few paragraphs were great, really tense, though for that reason the image of the doll jarred me. It felt too aware, too reflective to communicate someone in panic – in pain and potentially about to die – fundamentally out of all reach of help. Powerful stuff though, congrats!

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Thanks! I love sci-fi too, but I don’t really have a background in science. My touches and nods towards the genre are deliberately light for fear of making a fool of myself. 🙂

      I guess I used the doll image because, to me, a doll is completely at the mercy of others; if there is a consciousness within its human-seeming form, it has no means of expression or communication. Well, unless we’re talking about Chucky, or something similar. 🙂

      Thank you for your thoughts. I’m really glad you liked the piece.

      1. sarahgracelogan

        Oh no I totally understand why you used the image of the doll, it made perfect sense, but I think with your choice to write from a first person pov, the thought felt like the author intruding, if you see what I mean?

      2. SJ O'Hart Post author

        I hadn’t thought of it like that – you’re right, of course. It seems too self-aware for that particular moment, maybe.

        Thanks for the great feedback! It’s brilliant to get another take on something I’ve written. 🙂

  2. Anthony Martin

    Good climax — I’m reminded of the PICC line I had as a young one, as well as the scene in the matrix when the mirror melts onto Neo’s hand and then creeps up his arm and down into his throat.

    I’m not sure of the simile that Sara mentioned above. I didn’t really notice it during my first reading.

    Nice work!

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Thanks! The story actually grew out of one of my own childhood experiences with a PICC line, believe it or not. So I’m particularly pleased you felt that way when you read it.

      Thanks for your comment – really appreciate it. 🙂

  3. Elaine Peters

    I like the sort of chatty style and humouous touches in the first half then the horror of the second. Maybe instead of doll it could be puppet – as in being manipulated. I really liked it although I am not a sci-fi fan.

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Thank you! Yes, I think I probably did mean to say ‘puppet’ instead of ‘doll’. That gets across my meaning a bit more clearly. I’ll make a note of it for the rewrite! 🙂

      Thanks a lot for your comment.

  4. aanderand

    Wow! I was totally taken in by the first half and left white knuckled by the second half. Super surprised that you wrote a sci-fi piece but I think you have a talent for it.
    I have, for sometime, thought of writing something about what it is like to get chemo therapy. I had to look up what a PICC line was but I have had lots of those. But, most of my chemo came via a port put in my chest. For not having it done, you captured the feeling very well, I really started sweating reading it. Thank god, my heart didn’t stop in the end but once the drug was all through my body, I would be cold, very cold. A week later the side effects would start and last about ten days. Then a week off and do it again. This routine lasted for six months.

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Chemotherapy is dreadful. I’ve seen people I love dearly go through it, and it’s hard to remember that it’s designed to make them better sometimes. I hope you’re in good health these days.

      I’ve never (thank God) had chemotherapy, but I have had general anaesthetic administered through a PICC line – at least, I’m pretty sure that’s what it was. When I was a little girl, I had an operation and the anaesthesia was given through the back of my left hand, as I describe it in the story. I felt a horrendous pain start in my hand, then in my arm, then into my chest. I hadn’t even got a chance to get the words ‘Stop! It hurts!’ out of my mouth before I was knocked out. It was terrifying. So, I channelled that into the story. I’m glad you thought it worked! Thanks a lot for your comment.

  5. Emmaleene Leahy

    Love the way you drew the reader in at the start and yanked up the tension at the end. Well constructed and filled with lots of very well-chosen imagery ( I like “her dark eyes soothing” because of these he is oblivious to the danger and almost surprised by it, instead of understanding the ramifications like he claimed at the start. The voice of the narrator carries the story along nicely, the chatty tone works really well. I love the abrupt ending-really effective. Well done.

  6. Elaine McKay

    ‘Crystal time’ is such a great description. Really liked the opening; it reminded me of how I used to think as a kid. There are so many subtle moments in this ‘neighbouring tanks’, for example, that create this sci- fi world. I agree with the others that the tension is created well in the final part. How awful for him to be so out of control. Really claustrophobic. Well done.

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Thank you so much for your comment. I’ve had the idea of ‘crystal time’ in my head since I was a kid, too – moments, frozen forever in my memory, like a tableau.

      I’m really glad you liked the piece. I enjoyed writing it. 🙂

  7. patrickprinsloo

    Great story. I really liked the conversational style. Not sure whether he dies or goes into the frozen limbo that was planned. Maybe the dark-eyed doctor lied to him about the pain.

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Thank you! The uncertainty you describe – is he dead? Is he frozen? Where is he narrating his story from? – is all part of the feel I wanted to create with this story. Thanks for picking up on it, and for your lovely comment.

  8. Rebecca Clarke

    Wow, this is great! I loved it. The world you’ve made is surreal, and I love the way the story turned into a tragedy when I was thinking it was an adventure. Awesome. I liked the idea of a capsule moment. I wonder if he’s actually died though, or if this is part of being ‘on ice’. The reason I think this is because at the start you say that Mission Day was a capsule moment, so it makes me think there are more beyond this one.
    I loved the ‘Besides gravity, of course.’ joke 😀

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Thanks! I’m really pleased you liked the story. The reference to the capsule moment at the beginning is there deliberately, of course, to make the reader wonder exactly what you’re wondering – is he dead, or is this a memory, or is he frozen? I didn’t want to come down too heavily on one interpretation because I like the idea of the reader having their own take on what happened to the protagonist, and where he is now.

      Thanks for liking my cheesy joke, too. 🙂

  9. anna3101

    I really enjoyed that story, it’s a pity it was so short – I would like to read more. I’m reading some Sci-Fi right now, and although normally I’m no fan of the genre, I somehow really like both the book I’m reading now and this story of yours. They are great.

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Thank you! I guess the stories have to be ‘blog-friendly’ in terms of length, so they can’t be much longer than 800-1000 words. Sorry about that. 🙂

      What’s the Sci-Fi book you’re reading?

      1. anna3101

        It’s actually series, they are called Area 51 by Robert Doherty. I don’t normally read science fiction without some nice solid love line but this thing got me hooked on 🙂

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