Updates! Geek & Sundry Inkshares Contest

Hello everyone!

I am super excited to announce that I have entered Of Wood & Stone into the Geek & Sundry’s Fantasy contest on Inkshares.  While it’s a bit of a long shot,  I’m really proud of the work I’ve put into the novel so far and if nothing else hope to pick up a new reader or two.  So, if you want to read the revised chapter one and catch a glimpse at chapter two, follow the link below. (Also, you know, maybe vote for me?)


Of Wood & Stone – Chapter 1 – The Lighthouse

Chapter 1 – The Lighthouse

The old car chugged along down the slightly overgrown gravel road that led from the main road along the sea up to the lighthouse.  Eliza had been disappointed when her mother had insisted they could not stop in the little seaside town like they often did on the trips to her grandfather’s lighthouse during the summer.  This trip was different she knew.  For one, her father had not come with them.  He’d given Eliza a new slingshot to practice with while she was away but told her he was going to have to miss this trip.The other difference was that her mother had cried during the drive.  Grandpa was sick and her mother was worried.

Eliza looked out the window as the tall evergreen trees passed by.  The lighthouse sat up on the cliffs overlooking the sleepy fishing village.  That meant they had to drive through the town and up into the forest to reach it.  Eliza always loved the way the salty mist off the ocean mixed with the dense smell of the evergreen trees.

Without looking she reached out a hand searching for her trusty adventurer’s backpack that sat next to her in the back seat.  She always kept it ready, just in case.  You never knew when an adventure would sneak up and find you.  Eliza wanted to always be ready.  In her other hand she still held her new slingshot.  She turned away from the window to take a closer look.

Her father had carved the whole thing from a single piece of antler.  The handle and arms were carved intricately with spirals and pictograms of animals.  Her father had told her it was infused with magic and Eliza believed him.  Something so beautiful had to have at least a little intrinsic magic right?  

“The woods are deep and dark Eliza,” he’d said.  “You’ll have to practice everyday so that you become a crack shot.  That way you can keep your mother safe while she looks after your grandfather.  Do you understand?”  She clutched the slingshot tightly to her chest.  If her father had made it then it would most certainly keep her safe.

Finally they emerged from the forest out onto a large grassy opening as the road sloped up towards the top of the cliffs where the lighthouse sat, sending out it’s light across the sea.  The forest stopped just a few feet short of the short metal and wood fence that her grandpa had built to keep the goats from wandering too far away from their shed adjacent to the main building.  As the car came to a stop in front of the whitewashed house built against the tall stone lighthouse, her Grandpa came out the front door followed by a yappy scruffy looking little sheep dog.

“Skadi!” Eliza shouted as she hopped out of the car.  The little dog yapped then ran into Eliza.  The dog leapt at her and Eliza caught it in midair sending both of them tumbling back into the dirt laughing and barking.

“Great, we just got here and already she’s going to be filthy.” Eliza’s mother said to Grandpa as they unloaded the trunk of the car.  “I’ve got it Dad, you should be inside resting, not out here in the cold.”

“Bah!” The tall barrel chested old man exclaimed. “I’m not dead yet and even if I were I wouldn’t let you carry all of this luggage inside on your own.  I’d spirit it in!” He chuckled at his own joke.

“Look Skadi.” Eliza said holding out her slingshot for the dog to sniff.  “Papa made it for me.  I’m going to use it to protect us.”  The dog snapped at her, trying to get a bite out of the bone tool.  Eliza yanked it out of reach just in time, popping the dog on the nose for trying. “No Skadi, this is not for dogs.”  Eliza turned her attention to the adults.  “Mama can I go down to the pasture and shoot things?”

Eliza’s mother looked at the sun off on the horizon, before too long it would be dipping back down behind the treetop.  “You can play for an hour, but I don’t want you late for dinner.  You’d better come when I call now or you’ll be doing chores all day tomorrow. Do you hear me little miss?”

“Yes Mama!” Eliza shouted over her shoulder, already running back down the gravel road at a breakneck pace.  Skadi was running right after her keeping up despite having much, much shorter legs.

Down in the lower pastures, the short squat sheep watched the pair as Eliza would set up four cans along the crumbling stone wall that once marked the edge of the pasture.  Grandpa had long ago cut back the forest with the help of the men of the village.  She would load one of her cat’s-eye marbles into the sling, take aim, and fire!  Three out of four times the tin can would flip off into space with a very satisfying tin-y ping which caused Skadi to bark.

It wasn’t too long before Eliza heard Mama calling for her.  “Dinner must be ready.” she told the Swedish vallhund who just cocked his head sideways at her before smiling a big tongued smile.  They began the much slower climb up the hill to the lighthouse as the shadows of the forest began to cover the lower pasture in shadow as the sun fell behind the tall dark trees.

By the time they reached the house, a few of the brighter stars had began to wink out over the sea.  Eliza looked back behind her and smiled as the western sun blazed a bright ruby gold.  Skadi ran inside as she opened the front door and Eliza followed.  She took off her gloves and boots in the stone floored entry way, making sure to hang up her coat and scarf on the same peg.  She was halfway down the hall before she realized she was still wearing her red hat with the puff ball on top.  She ran back to the entryway and hung that up on the same peg as well.  She turned and walked down the hall towards the kitchen.

Grandpa was already sitting at the well-worn wooden table in the white tiled kitchen.  He sat in his usual spot in the corner next to the wall with a good view of the side door and the bluish-grey sea beyond.  Moma said that Grandpa had been a sailor when she was a very little girl.  He’d taken the job at the lighthouse because he’d missed Moma so much, but he never forgot about the sea either.

“There’s my brave little soldier.” He said with a chuckle as Eliza rounded the corner and entered the kitchen.  He saluted her and Eliza returned the gesture.  “Kill anything we can eat?” He asked with a wide toothy smile.

Eliza giggled, “No Grandpa! I only shoot cans.  And bad guys.” she added.

“Sit down Eliza.” Moma said placing a large white casserole dish full of fish and vegetables on the center of the table.  To Eliza it smelt awful and she turned her nose up in disgust.  “Hush now you silly girl!  You love fish and potatoes. Did you clean you hands?”

“Yes,” Eliza lied.  Her mother wasn’t buying it for a second.

“Go wash up and come back hungry.  I’ll be sure Grandpa saves you all the peas.” She teased.  Eliza stalked off to the hall bathroom defeated.


They ate their meal over much conversation.  Eliza did not understand a lot of it, she mostly just pushed her peas around on her plate trying to decide what arrangement made it seem like she’d eaten the most vegetables. “He’s a good man Anna, give him time, he’ll come around.  It wasn’t always easy for your mother and I you know.”

“Yes dad, but you were out at sea, not on a business trip.”

“I don’t really see the difference dear.”

Eliza looked up from her plate, satisfied that she’d hidden enough peas and eaten enough carrots to satisfy her mother.  “May I be excused?” she asked.

Her mother turned to her, inspecting her plate like a drill sergeant on dress parade.  Finally, Moma nodded. “Clean your plate off into the garbage and be sure to run some water over it.  You can leave it in the sink, I’ll do dishes tonight.”

“Thank you for dinner, Moma.” Eliza said with a toothy grin before doing as she was instructed.  The girl turned back to the table. “Grandpa, can I look out your telescope?”

Wisely Grandpa looked to his daughter who just smiled and nodded. “Sure puppet!  Bundle up and get it all set, I’ll be up in a few minutes to look with you.”  The old man said and patted Eliza on the head.


With the sun down the night air was chilly and on the lighthouse’s widow’s walk the sea wind whipped around the tall tower.  The salty air buffeted Eliza, trying desperately to sneak in under her cap or down her sleeves to give her goosebumps.  She had the ornate brass telescope all set up before the familiar sound of clomp clomp clack came ringing up from the metal stairway.  She turned to see Grandpa climbing up the last few steps using the railing to steady himself and his cane to help hold him upright.  For as long as Eliza had known Grandpa he’d always used a cane but he never seemed to actually need it.  Now though, Eliza noticed how he held it.

“Are you alright Grandpa?” she asked concerned.

“Yes, yes child.  Your Grandpa is just tired, that’s all. I think your mother packed a bunch of rocks in those suitcases you brought instead of clothes.” he joked.  The old man made his way over to the railing and sat down on the wooden chair Eliza had brought from inside for him.  Hanging the cane on the guardrail, Grandpa reached into his coat and pulled out a long necked pipe made of bright red mahogany.  He packed it with a musty, cinnamon smelling tobacco and lit it using a box of matches he always kept in his breast pocket.  Flicking his wrist to extinguish the matches flame, he removed the pipe and looked up at the starry night sky.  “Now then, show me what you see Eliza.”

“I can see Orion the hunter,” Eliza said pointing with one mittened hand.  “That’s his belt there.”

“Good good.  Do you see his quarry?  What of the big bear and the little bear?” Grandpa asked toking on his pipe.

“There, and there.” she said pointing.  She squatted down beside the old man and looked through the telescope.  “I think I found Mars Grandpa.”  

The old man just patted her head and stared out over the sea.

The two of them stayed out there a while in relative silence.  Eliza looking up at the night sky through the lens of the antique telescope and Grandpa looking out across the sea through the lens of years living along the coast.  Grandpa was as much a man of the sea as he was a man of the hills and forest that surrounded his lighthouse home.  Even up here so high above the waves they could still hear the call of the sea as the tide rolled in, crashing against the base of the cliffs.

“Do you know the story of this lighthouse Eliza, dear?”  Grandpa eventually asked, breaking the silence.

The girl looked up into the blue-grey eyes of her grandfather, looking away from the telescope.  This sounded like the type of setup that meant Grandpa was about to tell a very excellent story.  The only thing Eliza loved more than adventures, were Grandpa’s stories of adventures.  She shook her head no.

“It all began long before you, long before me, and even long before your great-great-great-grandfather.” Grandpa started.  Eliza knew the start of a good story when she heard one and sat down cross legged on the walkway.

“Back in those days, giants and elves and fairies were a common occurrence.  So common in fact that they started to be a nuisance for the people of the village down there by the sea.  Every fortnight or so it seemed some sea giant would come lumbering ashore in the dead of night, lose his way, and come stomping through the village kicking over houses and just generally making a real mess of things.  The chieftain back in those days was a real smart man.  He asked everyone in the village if they knew a way to keep the giants from stomping ashore where they lived.

Everyone had an opinion on how best to go about this of course but no one seemed to be able to agree on the best course of action.  That is, until a young girl came forward.  She said when she awoke in the middle of the night, she would light the very stump of a candle so that she could navigate her way through the darkened house.  ‘What if,’ she asked, ‘we lit a candle for the giants?  That way they could see their way and wouldn’t need to step on our town?’  The townsfolk discussed this idea and soon everyone agreed, they needed to create a light so that the giants would not accidentally come stomping through their town to and from the sea.”

Grandpa took a long drag on his pipe and blew little smoke rings as best he could with the sea breeze blowing like it was at this height.  Eliza patiently waited for him to continue his story.

“The wise old chief came up with a solution.  The village would gather trees and pile them up on the grassy cliff that overlooked the village.  They selected one of their own to live atop the hill and tend the flame ensuring that every night as the sun set, a blaze would go up on top of that hill and guide the giants away from the  village and towards the forest beyond.  Since then, someone in your Grandma’s family has always tended this lighthouse.  Making sure that no more giants walk into the village and stomp all over things.”  He finished with a chuckle and a warm smile.

“I like that story Grandpa.” Eliza said once it was clear the story had ended.  “I think I could be like that little girl.  Saving the whole village.”

A cold gust of wind blew just then, freezing both Eliza and Grandpa to the bone.  The young girl sneezed, but Grandpa began to cough.  A dry raspy cough that sounded very bad to Eliza.  Grandpa didn’t stop coughing. Moma must have heard from inside because she soon appeared, chiding Grandpa for not going to bed and staying outside in the cold.  While Moma never said anything to Eliza directly, she could tell Moma was mad.

Moma threw a large quilt over Grandpa and helped him back inside the lighthouse.  She called for Eliza to grab Grandpa’s cane and bring it in after them.  The girl did and followed Moma and Grandpa down the circular metal staircase back toward Grandpa’s large room on the second story.  He continued to cough that scary cough as they descended.

Momma took him inside his bedroom and put him down to bed.  Eliza noticed she looked worried when she left the room and closed the door behind her.  Grandpa lay still coughing inside.  “Is Grandpa ok?” Eliza asked, trying to fight back tears as she worried for the old man.

“Yes Eliza,” Momma sighed.  She looked very tired just then.”He just needs to sleep.  I’m going to go make him some peppermint tea.  Would you like some?”

“Yes, please.” Eliza answered, taking off her mitten and rubbing at her eyes.  She watched as Momma descended the rest of the stairs towards the kitchen.  Eliza then turned and ran to her favorite place in the lighthouse, tears welling up in her eyes, stinging.

The study was on the second story and sat next to Grandpa’s room, both sharing the same view of the sea.  As Eliza entered, the room was dark except for the bit of moonlight that flooded in through the big bay window where the wooden reading bench sat.  Grandpa always kept a couple of pillows and blankets there since it was a prime napping location.  Tonight Eliza dove under them and sobbed.  Grandpa was sick and Momma was unhappy.  Eliza wanted to protect them but she did not know how.  As she cried, she looked out over the sea.  That always seemed to calm her down.  Out in the distance she could see white flashes as a storm rolled inland.

She didn’t remember falling asleep, but she did.


Eliza awoke with a start to the sound of booming thunder and flashing lightning.  On the end table beside her sat a now cold cup of peppermint tea.  She gave it a sip to test it, but found the flavor was not as good cold. There was another boom, but this time she hadn’t noticed the telltale flash of the storm.  Then another boom without a flash.  How could there be thunder without lightning? she wondered.  Climbing out from under the blankets Eliza turned to the window one last time before she headed to her room.

That’s when she saw it.  Rising up out of the waves was some sort of terrible monster.  No, not a monster.  As it grew taller and closer to shore, she began to notice vaguely human characteristics.  The creature was massive, and yet, somehow human and covered in seaweed. “A giant.” Eliza said, her own voice catching in her throat.

It was in that very instance that Eliza knew exactly what she needed to do.  She needed to go see a giant up close.  Then she would have a story Grandpa would have to listen to!  Taking off down the stairs to the first level to her bedroom, Eliza ran through her mental checklist.  

She’d need her adventurer’s backpack, of course.  Slingshot and pouch of glass marbles, you never could be too safe when it came to personal defense.  Hat, mittens, scarf, the night would be pretty chilly what with the storm and all.  Lastly she grabbed her jacket and laced up her hiking boots before opening the door wide, ready for adventure.


As Eliza ran down the hill towards the lower pasture she could see the giant off in the distance making it’s way for the tall treeline of the forest.  The goats and sheep of the lower pasture seemed to care little about the giant, they simply huddled together in the boat shed trying their best not to be rained on.  Several times running down the slick grassy slope of the hill Eliza nearly tripped and tumbled down the hill.  Somehow though she managed to stay upright and as the land leveled out into the lower pasture, the girl did not stop her hurried pace.  She ran past the huddled animals and in one fluid motion vaulted over the small stone wall.  The only obstacle to give her pause on her dash after the giant was the barbwired fence just a few hundred feet from the treeline.  This Eliza had to climb over at one of the wooden posts and make sure to take care not to get snagged on one of the metal barbs.  Once over, she ran headlong into the woods.

The Last Man on the Moon

Petar watched the viewing monitors while he sipped his morning coffee.  The whole circular room that was the old commissary had been lined with screens that were fed live video from the launch pad’s tower.  It always gave Petar the sense that he was a giant, striding across the barren surface of the moon.  Nowadays, he’d be a very old giant.  He leaned back stretching as he waited for his coffee to cool.  He could hear several pops and cracks as he did so.

He wiped away the crumbs of this morning’s pre-packaged danish and ran a rough hand through his somewhat unshaven beard.  His standard issue blue jumpsuit was a bit worn but he loved it.  Even with his forced retirement, Petar in his heart was a company man.  He still wore his four-star pin given to him two years ago.  All the guys had surprised him in this very room with a cake that read “40 Years of Dis-service.”  Even gruff Petar had chuckled at that one.

The Orbit Liner was in clear view this morning from the commissary viewing screens.  It was the closest it would be to the moon on its journey around the solar system.  The massive ship took up most of the monitors on the starboard side of the room.  Since this side of the station sat in the shadow of a large crater, the white hull of the Liner reflected the sun’s rays like a white hot beacon of progress.

Petar smiled watching the marvel of human engineering lazily make it’s way across the station’s monitors. He imagined that this must have been what it was like for ancient mariners to see a whale pass by their ships in the night.  It also brought back the creeping mixture of nostalgia and fear that he’d been suppressing for months now.  A growing anxiety of saying goodbye to the past and fear of the future.  He shook his head, trying to keep those thoughts at bay and stay positive, for just a bit longer.

Petar stood there for awhile watching the Orbit Liner pass.  He remembered six years back, seeing the ship cruise by on its maiden voyage.  The whole lot of Warehouse 32 had been up in the commissary that day, cheering the old girl on her way.  Even the eternally grumpy Operations Manager had cracked a smile seeing the marvel of man and machine off into space.  Petar knew he was running behind this morning but the shuttle could wait.  This would be their last pick-up of the day and he would be their only cargo.  They could keep the engines running a bit longer to give an old man time to say his goodbyes.

If Petar had not made some bad investments as a younger man, he probably would have retired when the rumors first began that the company was finally shuttering the moon.  Sure, it had once been the keystone in man’s growing network of colonies across the system, but those days were nearly half a century in the past now.  Petar used to brag that everything humans touched in space ran through his warehouses in one way or another.  “Without me, you’d all still be stuck on that stuffy old rock!” he used to brag.  

Of course, they weren’t really his warehouses.  Back then Petar had only been a young shift manager: bright, ambitious, and filled with the optimism of a company man.  Sometimes when Petar thought back on those early days, he winced.  He was ashamed of how he had squandered away his youth.  

Slowly, Petar made his way towards the far end of the commissary.  He let his eyes linger over every little thing.  It would be the last time anyone stepped foot inside the old building for quite a while and he felt somewhat responsible for it.  Like someone ought to at least remember it for a little while longer.  A mental memorial to a time-back-when and a lifestyle now defunct.  Eventually though, he crossed the threshold into the kitchen.  

Along the curved countertop the station’s cooks once used to prep the crew’s meals, sat nearly a dozen coffee and tea makers; though Petar had only bothered to keep one of them turned on and powered up.  Inside sat half a pot of fresh Instafe, happily percolating its bitter brown liquid.  Beside the machine sat a dinged up red vacuum-sealed thermos.  Petar took the pot off the heating unit and poured the rest of the pot into his thermos.  He set the empty carafe into a nearby sink, not bothering to wash it out.  One last act of civil disobedience.  With another sigh, he switched off the coffee-maker, walked over to the big breaker box, and powered down the commissaries monitors.  As he turned right and began to walk down the stairs, the circular room lay dark and silent.

Petar made his way through the vacant dormitories. He occasionally checked to make sure all the lights were off and the systems shut down in each of the wings.  His orders were to power down everything but the absolute mission critical systems.  Even then, he was instructed to leave the oxygen and other vital systems set to low.  He poked his head into the last cloister of dorms on the right and grabbed the duffel bag that contained his clothes.  Everything else he owned had been shipped out parcel nearly a month before hand.  Company policy.  He took one last look around, and switched off the lights.

The base had originally been founded as a way to generate and harvest Helium 3.  The dormitories were really the only structure left of that original mission.  They had been built in the pre-existing lava tubes found a few hundred meters below the dusty lunar surface.  A few months spent widening and shoring up the existing structures and you had a safe zone you could seal off from the surface, shielded from radiation, and ready to be pumped full of breathable air.  Petar ran his hand along the walls, smoothed nearly to the point of glass.  He thought about how many countless human lives had been spent trying to achieve this dream: man, living in space.  And he wondered if any of those people in the past would begrudge him his position.  Petar was the last man on the moon.  He was taking the last shuttle off this rock.  He was shuttering the base and heading back to Earth.  Back to where it all began.

The 86 year-old had to pause and have a seat on one of the benches carved into the hallway that lead to the tram station.  Overcome by his emotions, Petar wept.




It was the last tram from Station 32, through the Armstrong complex.  After this trip the tram would dock at the Docking Station and power down for an indeterminable amount of time.  Petar rode in the front of the tram, his duffle bag on the seat beside him.  He sipped on another cup of coffee poured from the old thermos to ease his nerves.  He had replaced the normal, company approved, non-descript ambient music with a selection of his own classic rock and roll albums.  This would have been highly illegal, if it weren’t for the fact that Petar was the only person on the tram.  One person wasn’t considered a public performance as far as he could tell.

As the tramcar zipped through the near-vacuum tube track, Petar reached into his pant’s pocket and pulled out his old brick of a tablet.  His daughter had bought it for him to keep in touch when she and her family left for work on Io. He mostly used the thing for chatting and watching his old movies.  He pulled up a few videos of his granddaughter and couldn’t help but smile.  Maybe he could finally go out and visit them.  He would have plenty of time now.  He closed the videos and pulled up the warehouse command software, there was still some work to be done.

The hand-sized tactile feedback device let him interact with the net. The station’s Mind had been shipped off a little over a month ago so Earth’s internet field was too far to access but he could still log into the Mesh. It was much slower than true internet but as long as he wasn’t trying to pull down libraries it was manageable. Petar closed his eyes and listened to the music, feeling his way through old memories.  His hands did all the dirty work.  Outside the tram, the warehouse was shutting itself down section by section, at the command of Petar’s touch.

As he finally pulled into the launch pad’s station, two very young, very professional pilots were there to greet him.  Even though they probably made three times what Petar made, they still bowed and shook his hand, called him sir.  

“It’s a pleasure sir.”  One of the pilots said after shaking his hand.  “I hope I don’t offend you here, but, uh…”

“Well you see,” his friend continued, “company policy staights we have to get verbal confirmation that you completed your job before we can take off.  Did you complete your tasks, sir?”

Petar looked away from the shining launch bay where the newly commissioned corporate shuttle sat, illuminated in its hangar.  Instead, he turned and looked back, past the tram, at the dark and empty void that had once been humanity’s greatest achievement.  The goal of a hundred different dreamers and the amalgamation of a thousand lifetimes worth of work, now dark, now lifeless.

“Last man on the moon,” Petar replied, “make sure to turn the lights off when he’s done.”

The Orbit Liner

Shelby sat in the handstitched leather bucket seat looking over the Q1 financial reports published early that cycle.  The reports were still generated and pushed to the network on Earth Mean Time which meant that Shelby was still asleep in his suite onboard the Orbit Liner when the numbers went live.  He thought about it for a minute.  If it weren’t for the half-dozen little clocks he kept on his multiple displays he would be lost in his own time zone.  

Must have been… yes, we’d have been passing through the asteroid belt during the upload.

That accounted for the further delay in transmission.  Pulling down data was always spotty until you got on the other side of the belt and neared the closer relays around Jupiter.  

The current report was highlighting the impact closing the last of Luna’s warehousing facilities would have on Earth exports this quarter, but emphasized the savings freeing up capital would bring in the long run.  Could be a hit for Earth-based exports.  Shelby thought.  It’s probably for the best in the long run. He hated to see those facilities closed, even if he knew it was only for silly nostalgia of the legacy SpacExpress business.  

A waiter dressed in an elaborate red vest and pinstripe slacks walked over to where the older businessman sat.  He carried a glass of expensive amber liquor in a laser-etched crystal glass that was shaped to look like a tulip upon a silver platter.  Inside the clear glass was three fingers of Old World Scotch and a single globe of chemically pure H2O.  The waiter set the glass down next to Shelby and the business man tipped him with a flick of the wrist, wanting to finish this last page before turning his attention elsewhere.  

Finally taking a break from a solar system’s worth of financial data, he lifted the glass and sipped on the single malt scotch.  As he raised his gaze up from his lap, the financial reports became opaque, and then disappeared all together. Reclining in the leather seat, Shelby relaxed in the Liner’s luxurious viewing cabin.  He let his eyes wander across the room.  

It was relatively early on Sol time but Shelby was old school.  He was Martian born and raised and intended to keep his internal clock just the way it was set on the day he was born, thank you very much.  Still, if you could afford to drink alcohol made on Earth in millennium old distilleries people rarely told you it was to early to start.  He regarded the expensive mixture in his hand and gave the amber beverage a slight swirl, enjoying the clink the ice made against the glass.

One of these days the company will make you give it up though. That persistent voice inside his head piped in.  Shelby knew he shouldn’t be drinking. The alcohol would doom his liver and he would soon need to replace his already aging second.  He didn’t care though.  He could afford the two weeks leave he’d need to recover from the surgery.  He was a company man who lived on company money and for now, Shelby was worth more than a new liver transplant and a couple of weeks vacation time to heal up.

His eyes drifted to the back of the room, furthest away from the bar where a large grand piano sat vacant.  Windows were both a danger and an engineering pain for out-of-orbit vessels. The lower levels typically only had round port holes measuring less than a foot in diameter, but up here in the luxury suites the entire starboard wall was made of a nearly unbreakable clear polymer that was designed to self-repair if damaged.  Outside, the massiveness of Saturn loomed into view.

There was a slight but pleasant chime in Shelby’s ear as his augmented visual displays minimized and the Orbit Liner’s four concentric rings logo appeared in the middle of Shelby’s vision.

“Greetings valued passengers!” The pre-programmed message from the navigational computer began inside his ear.  It was odd that the program was set up as a neural message even though the ship broadcasted it vessel wide.  It continued, “We would like to inform you that the Orbital Liner has passed out of Photonic Laser Thruster Gamma’s range and will soon align itself with PLT Delta’s array.  For those of you leaving the vessel to board shuttles bound for the Titan, Phoebe, Prometheus & Pandora colonies, the shuttles will depart in T-minus 75 minutes.  Please be aboard the appropriate vessel in the docking bay before then.  Thank you, and may you have a pleasant voyage.”

The message ended in the same chiming as it had began; only this time the notes descended in tone.  Shelby switched the channel over to Classical Compositions of the Masters and went back to his scotch.  He’d boarded the vessel while it had been making the transfer just outside of Mars and would be travelling another few days as the ship made it’s way back towards Earth.

Space: A Short Story

Adam’s head was slow, grey, foggy.  That kind of mental molasses that you have to work through after awakening from a deep sleep or a fevered dream.  The sucking whoosh of air hoses and the cacophony of sirens helped lead him out of slumber and into the panicked crisis of waking reality.

Warning, Unit 2442 de-pressurizing.  Suspended animation ceased.  Immediate resurrection procedure activated, said the slightly feminine computerized voice.  She repeated the message.  Warning, Unit 2442…

As best he could in his hazy condition, Adam opened his suspended animation bay and climbed out on to the ship’s cold metallic grate.  He groped around along the wall until he found the large green “All-Clear” button.  He pressed it and silenced the alarms.  A cheerful bell tone alerted the ship that everything was now, in fact, just fine.  

Except that it wasn’t.  Adam was awake, halfway through a four year journey.

That realization had yet to cross Adam’s mind yet though; he was still reeling from the nauseousness often attributed with long distance suspended animation.  Under ordinary circumstances the “resurrection process,” as it was called, would have been done very gradually, starting roughly fifteen days before the ship would enter the orbit of it’s destination.  The life support systems would begin thinning the chemical cocktail that slowed the body to a near death state and gradually replace it with much need salts and sugars to jump start the bodily systems.

Adam’s body did not get that luxury however and his stomach almost immediately tried to expel the mixture.  The result was a splattering of bluish-white vomit across the floor.  His head spinning, his stomach revolting, Adam leaned against the cool metallic wall of the spacecraft and sank to his knees, passing back into a half delirious state.

It must have been a few hours later (or at least felt that way since there wasn’t any real way to tell time inside the life-support bay) when Adam came to.  He still felt nauseous but at least the need to puke had passed.  Looking around at the rows upon rows of glass coffins stacked upright next to each other in perfect polyhedral symmetry; his was the only side out of alignment in this perfect human chrysalis.  Only then did the severity of his situation dawn on Adam.  It was at this point that the tiny voices of panic and terror began to resonate in the back of his mind.

He fell down to his hands and knees and crawled toward the base of his now defunct stasis chamber.  He found a loose hose and attempted to reattach it to the pod.  Eventually he got the piece slipped on and it stayed in place.  Adam sighed with relief.  That had been a close call.  If he’d not been able to repair his pod then he would have been forced to ride the rest of the 700 some-odd days until their ship reached its destination in complete isolation.  Adam would be surrounded by nearly a quarter of a million humans and not a soul to talk to for over two years.  That’s how people went mad.  A trip like that might make a man search for ways to check out early…

Adam grimaced and shook his head trying to clear out such morbid thoughts.  Slowly rising to his feet, he steadied himself against the large lid of the chamber.  It was sturdy and made of the latest polymers and carbon alloys.  Light weight, but nearly indestructible.  He turned himself around and slid back into the reclined position of the pod. Lying on his back with his face towards the lid, Adam felt up his left arm for the point at which the nurses had installed an IV receiver before take-off.  He found the small metal hole just to the left of the main vein running up his arm.  The fingers of his right hand felt for the chord of the stasis pod’s internal circulatory system.  Finding the thin tubing he pulled it towards his hand, sliding it upwards towards where the needle attached to the injector hung limply.  Holding the syringe-like ending with his free hand he gave the device a quick shake.  A few drops of liquid spilled out into the air. Good, he thought, the fluid is still flowing correctly.  He slid the needle into the receiver on his arm and within seconds felt the hot burning as the stasis fluids flowed back into his veins.

Plugged in, Adam reached for the lid of his pod and shut the door.  Once more his reality was bathed in darkness.

And Adam stayed in darkness.  Waiting, patiently, for that moment when his waking consciousness would end and his body would once more slip into slumber for the remainder of his trip.  He felt nauseous again as the blackness enveloped him and Adam slept.

When he awoke the second time there was no clamor of claxons, no flashing lights.  In fact, only the opposite.  There was now an oppression of silence and a terrible emptiness.  The first thought racing through Adam’s mind as he awoke was simply, I’m dead.

In a panic Adam kicked his legs flinging the pod’s door open wide.  As the colder air from outside the pod entered, Adam’s eyes adjusted to the dim blue light that the ship’s electronics emitted.  He hadn’t gone back into hibernation, he’d merely gone to sleep.  I might as well be dead, his brain clarified.

Panic grew in the pit of Adam’s stomach mixing with the drugs there already causing him to be sick yet again.  The nutrients in the blue soup fed by the pods would sustain a sleeping human for years but it was hardly a meal.  Hunger gnawed at Adam as he fought to keep the liquids inside him this time.

He got up out of the pod and walked around the steel-like grating that served as a walkway for his row.  The chilly air of the ship’s chamber felt calming to him.  Deep breaths Adam.  He thought. Don’t panic. There must be a contingency plan in case something like this happens.

In the cool dim light of the other stasis pods Adam searched for something, anything that would suggest what his next move should be.  He found nothing.  Only metal, and wires, and empty space.  The rest of the ship had been sealed off to conserve power since no humans were needed to pilot the vessel.  Even this room, possibly the most important cargo hold aboard the ship, was kept barely warmer than a winter day and lit by nothing but external sources.  The entire ship was designed to get them to their destination safely, but cheaply.  After all, everyone on board would be asleep for the full four year journey, right?  

Adam returned to his half-open pod tired and defeated.  His stomach still ached for some morsel of food.  He hadn’t found any.  If i plug back in, he thought, I won’t starve.  I’ll still be hungry but I’ll survive.  My stomach will think it’s starving while my body will be getting the nutrients it needs to keep going.  Adam felt alone.  Adam felt helplessness sinking in.  Adam began to cry, and eventually, Adam fell asleep.

Over the next several wake/sleep cycles exhaustion kept Adam from getting out of his dysfunctional pod.  The groggy hours he was awake were filled with a spiralling half-drugged depression. It wasn’t until around his seventh time awake that his muscles began to grow sore from lack of movement.  In stasis the muscles were routinely worked by small electric pulses to keep in shape.  When Adam’s pod ran the resurrection cycle, that process stopped.  If he wanted to still be able to walk by the time this ordeal was over he’d have to get up and move around himself.

Unplugging the IV from his arm he pushed himself off the sterile white padding of the pod using the door as support.  He’d stopped bothering to close his pod door shortly after giving up hope that the stasis chamber would work again in-flight.  Now he just left it open leaving himself exposed to the cool air.

Maybe I’ll catch a cold. He thought to himself, leaning on the guard rail to support his weakening legs.  He looked out across the empty space at the vaguely human shapes sleeping in their functioning pods.  Adam felt jealous and sad seeing them just lying there.  He wished his pod worked.  He wished he wasn’t alone.

Maybe I’ll catch pneumonia and just pass away, quietly, in my sleep. He thought with an unintended smile.  When Adam realized he was smiling, he shook his head and felt a renewed wave of fear wash over him.  Why was the thought of dying making me smile? he asked himself.  Almost as a response, his stomach growled.  Adam returned to his pod and tried to get some sleep.

The next few wake/sleep cycles all passed about the same.  Adam would wake up groggy from the chemical soup he’d been injected with via the IV.  His stomach would ache from lack of actual food and nauseous from those same life sustaining chemicals. Light-headed he would slowly get to his feet and walk as best he could using the cold industrial steel railings for support.  As he walked, Adam would stop at several of the pods on his row. Each time he’d wipe away the slight condensation that had accumulated on the fiberglass lids and stare inside at its sleeping occupant.

Were they aware of him?  Did they know that only a few feet away a man was living out a nightmare scenario on a trip he had spent his whole life waiting for?  Of course not!  While Adam withered away in almost constant agony they all slept on in a chemically induced dream world of modern technology and the aspirations of all mankind.  Only Adam had to suffer.  

He added bitterness to the mental list of his daily routines.

I could just end it all.  Find a way to open a vein or slip through the airlock.  Worst comes to worst I could always just not plug back in and ACTUALLY starve to death instead of just feeling like I am all the time.  By around the 31st wake/sleep cycle Adam had begun to have this conversation with himself.  It was a sort of desperate mental poker game with his sanity on one side, and his final exit on the other.  He wasn’t actually serious about it, not yet anyways.  It was more just something for him to think about in the hours and hours he had to himself.

“Of course if I did go through with it I’d probably be somewhat famous.” Adam spoke aloud in a raspy voice. “The first person to commit suicide in space.” His voice echoed slightly in the hold bouncing off the flat fiberglass doors of the other pods.  “Thousands of people and only me to talk to.”  He chuckled to himself about that.  “Thousands of people and little ol’ lonely me.”  He plugged the IV back in and curled up into a ball in the cramped pod, crying himself back to sleep.

“Suicide is painless.” Adam said aloud suddenly, he was on another one of his walks.  “That was the M*A*S*H theme song.”  He had decided the best way to keep his sanity was to go over everything he could remember, methodically and precisely.  A sort of brain exercise for when he was exercising his body.  Today was theme songs to classic old American TV shows.  “‘I’ll Be There For You’ was Friends.  Let’s see, there was that one show based on those fantasy novels… that was just an instrumental though I think.  Let’s not count that one.”  Adam continued to rattle off as many as he could remember while he walked the nearly 250 foot circular catwalk of his pod’s row.  He’d tried climbing up and down the ladders to the other levels but eventually had decided since they were all pretty much the same, it didn’t make much sense to walk anywhere but on his level.

“Oh, hi Linda,” he said, stopping in front of a pod eight down from his own.  According to the nameplate at the base of the pod it belonged to a Linda Lopez.  The alliteration in her name amused Adam.  He imagined Linda had a good sense of humor.  A little corny but hey, sometimes that was ok with Adam.  

“Hey Linda, do you remember the name of the theme song to Cheers?” he said, addressing the sleeping woman.  “Where everybody knows your name was how the first little bit went, but I don’t think that was the title of the song.  Do you remember?” he said pausing for an answer that would not come.  “Oh, am I putting you on the spot?  Maybe you’re right, maybe that is the title of the song too.  Thanks Linda.” He patted the stasis pod then continued on his circuitous loop.

Coming up on nearly a year of being awake in the cold, dark, captivity of the spacecraft had left Adam’s body weak and his mind nearly broken.  He had begun to see things in the darkness and was now openly conversing with them.  He woke up more and more now either breathless or screaming.  He still couldn’t end it though.  It wasn’t out of a need to go on, or a burning desire to live and keep struggling through this hardship.  The answer was much more basic than that.  He hadn’t found anything to do the job quickly anywhere inside the cargo hold.  The only option left to him was starvation and he had just been too frightened to attempt it.  

He lay there thinking over again and again what he had done wrong with his life that he had been chosen to suffer through such a fate.  That had to be why it was just him; why he had been chosen.  He’d committed some cardinal sin and had been sentenced to suffering in this everlasting purgatory.  It was the only logical explanation Adam could come up with as he walked in an endless circle around the hundred or so pods on his level.  All working, all pristine, except his.  Except for the sinner’s.  When he finally made his way back to his pod, he collapsed inside, completely worn out.  The hospital white padding had long since yellowed and was now worn so thin that bits of metal and hard plastic shown through when Adam wasn’t lying inside.  

He reached for the IV to plug himself back in for the night.  You could not do it, came an all too unfamiliar voice.  You could leave it out, just for tonight.  See how you felt in the morning.  “No, it will hurt.” Adam whispered to the darkness.  How do you know?  You haven’t even tried.  

Adam paused, considering the voice’s point.  He hadn’t tried not plugging it in.  Not yet anyways.  How did he know it would hurt?  He probably wouldn’t feel nauseous anymore.  And maybe the headaches would go away too.  Maybe, just maybe, he’d fall asleep and never wake up again.  Staring off into the inky black space of the center of the cargo hold Adam thought about this.  About all of this, and tears welled up in the corners of his eyes.  He didn’t bawl like he used to, this was just a simple, little cry.

And then he plugged the IV in and fell asleep.  He’d have plenty of time later to decide.  There was all of next year still ahead of him, after all.