Helios 12 – Short fiction from a prompt

sun  An aching beep pushed its way into her mind dragging her from the depths of sleep with a slow insistence. She opened her eyes and stared at the small blinking set of numbers that told her it was six o’clock in the morning earth time.  She glared at it, wishing–not for the first time–that she could destroy the blinking numbers with her mind.  When nothing happened aside from the incessant beep-blink-beep-blink repetition, she sighed and pushed her arm from beneath the warm blanket and flicked a switch.  A small light popped on at the same instant as the beeping stopped and the ceiling of her sleeping chamber became gradually brighter, giving the appearance of a curtain being drawn back from a window on a Sunny day.

She blinked a few times, trying to get the tiny floating clouds out of her vision as she yawned and arched the muscles of her back like a cat.  She scratched her head and looked hazily at the cheerily white ceiling before swinging her heavy legs over the edge of her bunk.  Her feet hit the cold metal of the floor with a hollow thud.  The cool steel felt good on the soles of her feet and she drummed her tiny toes, each digit making a small thud as they impacted.  She reached for her glasses on the rack next to her bunk and slid them onto her face.  Her eyes widened as she smelled the coffee that was automatically being brewed in the lab just outside of her sleeping chamber.  It wasn’t real coffee, just that synthetic crap that would keep her awake and taste like warmed up death, but for some reason it smelled exactly like real coffee.

“I swear they focused more on the smell of the shit than the taste.”

That’s what the last tech had said when she had shown up to replace him.  Griggs she thought his name was.  Anton Griggs.

She poured a cup of the pitch black reek and took a sip.  It was strong enough to kill an elephant, she was sure of that much, but it did the trick at waking her up.  She walked over to the long row of machines that lined the lab wall.  Most of this place was some sort of machine running some sort of diagnostic.  She was a solar scientist, and this was Helios 12, a solar orbiter outfitted with any number of gadgets used to study solar activity.  It was one of three craft orbiting the Sun, the others were the Pan-Asiatic United Front’s (PAUF) and the European Union’s ships.  Her ship was the newest and the most advanced, the North American Union had sent it up in 2062 just after the ice caps had finished melting and the Sun had shown no signs of slowing down its activity.  That was ten years ago now and the radiation hadn’t gotten any worse.  It hadn’t gotten any better, but it seemed to have stabilized.

She pressed the “View Screen” button on each of the machines and a holographic screen blinked into view showing her various readouts from the six hours she had slept.  She would come around the Sun and come into contact with Earth in a few hours, she would have to be sure that the info packets were ready to be transmitted as soon as she did.  She had been on the far side of the Sun, in a slow orbit, for almost a month, and had been out of contact with Earth for the whole span.  Occasionally she would be in contact range with one of the other solar stations, and she would have talked to them, but it was prohibited.  Tensions were high, and the last thing anyone wanted was a temper to go into overdrive on the far side of the Sun.

She finished going through each set of readings, compressing them and readying them for photon transmission when a familiar beep began to sound from one of the control panels.  Any moment Earth would be visible through her view wall.  She walked over to the wall and quickly punched in a few buttons that would open the view wall filter just enough to allow some light in.  She wasn’t sure about her orientation but she found herself staring directly at the corona and punched in a command on the control surface to bring her to an angle in which she could see the Earth as it came into view.  A bright white sheen still obscured her vision slightly but she squinted against it.  She took off her glasses and squinted at the white hot sky, vaguely wondering if it was already on it’s way.

A set of red dots in a triangular pattern started to swing out from the edge of the Sun’s disk.  The Earth would be a brilliant blue twinkle in the center of the dots.  As all three came into view she squinted harder.  She put her glasses back on, and rubbed her eyes, thinking there may be more of the clouds swimming through her vision causing her to be unable to see the bright blue twinkle.

“View Screen – Coronal Disk to one hundred percent opacity.”

The screen darkened in the place that the Sun had been blindingly white just a moment before.  Still no blue twinkle.  She jogged over to the navigation screen, her heart punching against her ribcage like a mallet against a drum, and punched a few buttons bringing up another holo-screen.  It showed her Venus, which was behind her, and Mercury which was on the opposite side of the Sun, and it showed the blue dot where Earth should have been.  Her computer was fine but the damned dot was nowhere to be seen.

She opened up her receiver and listened to the low undulating tones of the Sun’s radioactivity.  This close it was impossible to filter out all of the noise the Sun threw off.  As soon as she was clear of the coronal disk she should have begun receiving messages from the transport ship which should be coming to replace her with another technician.  She had another week, but it should have been well underway and transmitting a steady stream of communications to her to insure that their rendezvous would go as scheduled.

She pressed the firm rubber cups of the headset against her ears so hard she heard the fragile cartilage of her ear shifting and crackling under the strain.  The only sound she heard over her blood pumping through her skull and the crackling of her ears was the ever present undulating hum of the Sun.

She started to turn her scanners to the place where the Earth was supposed to be, one by one each of them registered the same thing.  Nothing.  Hours passed and her panic was in full force now.  The fingers of her left hands were raw and bleeding from her nervous chewing.  Her hair was knotted from spinning the dark brown strands between her frantic fingers. Every muscle in her small frame felt corded and ready to snap.  She had no idea what was happening.

She had a small emergency ship attached to the hull of the station that would launch and guide her–by auto-pilot–back to Earth, but if she couldn’t find Earth, where would it send her?

Just as the tears had begun to roll over her freckled cheeks she heard a hiss and a pop of the radio springing to life.

“Helios 12 this is Cosmos, do  you read?”  It was a heavy Asian accent coming through the speakers.

“Helios 12, this is Cosmos, do you read?  Over.”  It repeated two more times.

“Cosmos, this is Helios 12, I read you.  What is your status over?”  She did her best to hold her fear in check as she spoke, but her voice broke on the last over, and the tears were flowing down her cheeks again.

“Thank God, Helios 12!  I’ve been trying to contact you for hours now.  Please tell me that you have Earth in your scopes.  I was supposed to transmit a week ago, but I don’t seem to be getting any response. Over.”  The voice was male, and it sounded just as harried as she felt, cracking under the weight of his own terror.  At least she wasn’t alone.

“Cosmos, I have nothing on my scopes either.  I came around the disk three hours and 46 minutes ago, and I have received nothing.  What the hell is going on out there?”

The radio was silent aside from the low hum from the Sun.  A few minutes passed with no response. She sat forward in her sweat soaked chair trying to push air into her lungs. At this point all she wanted to do was curl herself into a ball and sob.

“Cosmos are you there?”  Her voice sang with panic again.

“I copy Helios.” There was a long pause but the radio channel stayed open. MaYbe could hear his subtly ragged breathing in her ears. His voice cracked when he spoke again. “My name is Ming-húa. Over.”

“My name is Anne.”

The low hum rang through her ship.  She sat in silence as tears ran over her cheeks and landed heavily on her uniform.  She looked again at the place where the bright twinkling planet she called home should be, and saw only empty space. Empty space framed by three red dots.

This was this weeks prompt from the Master Class (click here for link)

“She took off her glasses and squinted at the white hot sky, vaguely wondering if it was already on it’s way.”

In a new twist to challenge you this week, this line must go in the middle of your story, but not within either the first two or last two paragraphs.


6 thoughts on “Helios 12 – Short fiction from a prompt

  1. Frightening scenario. I was happy that she will not end up alone. Nice job of building that dread and fear. I’m involved with the story. Fascinating idea of tempers flaring on the far side of the sun, and talk is prohibited. I’d definitely read more to find out where you’re going with it. This next comment is strictly my own personal feeling, and won’t stand for all females. I thought there were too many tears and rolling into a ball and sobbing. Anne is obviously a tough cookie to have chosen this line of work. If this happened to me I would be afraid, definitely, but I would first be pissed off, and exhaust all possibilities before I succumbed to tears. Speaking for myself I like to read about capable, take charge women who don’t burst into tears. Minor point. The plot is certainly engaging.

    • First, thanks for stopping by, and I really do appreciate the comments. Secondly, I fully understand your reaction. I was really careful about how to handle this situation of her emotions running ragged. She doesn’t roll any tears until several hours after realizing the Earth is not where it should be. by the time we actually see her start to cry she’s already been going through a whole other range of anxieties i.e. twisting and breaking her hair and chewing her fingernails and cuticles (both things my girlfriend does when she is panicky). I also made sure to have the male voice crack as though he is crying as well. As a man, I think after about 2 minutes of not being able to find earth i am a whimpering pile of humanity on the floor. After having me say this, and if you wouldn’t mind going back, do you still think she seems weak? That is an honest question and I only ask for that second glance because I was very worried about how she would come across and I absolutely wanted her to maintain strength in the face of abject horror, but in the end we all succumb I think. Please let me know because input like this is infinitely valuable.

      Also, I would ask if the main character were male would his early tears seem so odd?

    • Also, i reread your comment and the option of going through anger first. Maybe its because I have little to no temper, so anger would be far down my list of emotions to go through. Granted the character is not me and that might be a misstep for me as a writer, but the idea of anger in this situation never even scratched the surface for me. She’s confused, thinks the equipment is messed up, starts to panic REALLY starts to panic, enters full terror mode, then starts to feel helpless and scared and starts to cry, then goes numb and just wants to escape from it all.

      • Hi Chuck. I was worried that my comment might have been too much. But that’s what I most like about this group. It’s one of the few places where concrit is welcome. Please feel free to dissect anything I write, as well. I don’t see your character as weak. I see her as an intelligent, hard-working woman. I think if you look at the 5 stages of grief you could take it from there. Because that’s what she’d go through – grief – at the loss of her home and everyone she loved. They are, in order: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. In this piece she skipped over the anger and bargaining.. that’s all I meant. I’d be a sobbing mess on the floor as well – eventually.

  2. I don’t think either character was weak, in fact the tears didn’t even register with me as stand out odd. I really grasped the male character’s fear and anguish too. You do a great job with creating visuals that make your stories play out like movies in my head.

    I do agree with Steph a bit though. Anger is a very powerful emotion, and your story would read that much better if you sprinkled some anger in it. I would cry and do all of those things she did, but I would also get angry. Anger is a good emotion, cleansing, when just. In her situation, anger would be justified.

    And yes, if the MC was male, his early tears would seem odd without some other emotion there at the same time.

    Thanks for linking up with the Master Class this week. I really enjoyed this ride around the sun.

  3. Pingback: Master Class 2013: Man & Cat | My Write Side

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