Thursday, 19 August 2010

FFF#39 CONTAINMENT


How quickly time flies - and Friday Flash Fiction is with us again!(even though this is only Thursday......)

After a brief vacation Cormac Brown has returned and set us the task of creating a story from an opening sentence supplied (way back when!) by one of our FFF cohorts, Randal Graves.

An extra challenge was to write in a different genre from our usual output!

To that end, I've opted for a Sci-fi element - I hope it works for you!



CONTAINMENT


She knew time was running out, fast, but opening that door was Pandora's Box all over again and Langley’s skin was already turning a peculiar shade. Or maybe it was just the artificial light in the airlock. Either way, she needed to get him out of there.

Veronica ‘Ronnie’ Hope cursed him silently under her breath as she struggled with the manual over-ride. The noise of her laboured breathing rasped through her headset as a welcome distraction from Langley’s slurred rendition of “ten green bottles” which was now almost like listening to a monotonous loop-tape.

“Mullarkey?” she called out.

“Yes, ma’am?” came the reply through her headset.

“How’re the gauges running?”

There was a mild static hiss and the faint noise of Mullarkey’s voice humming an indiscriminate song absent-mindedly. Ronnie closed her eyes as she continued to pump back and forwards on the compression handle, gradually bringing down the atmosphere in the airlock to a viable level as she asked herself why, perhaps for the millionth time, she had agreed to assume control of the station.

After Captain Brakes had called a halt to his own career by deciding to exit the station without his suit it had been a rollercoaster ride. The madness that had prompted his swift and final departure seemed to have spread in varying degrees to the rest of the crew. Now, with the material that Brakes had retrieved from the Primary Quadrant safely isolated, she had to try and preserve what was left of the fourteen-man crew – Langley, Mullarkey and herself.

“Mullarkey?” she called again. Man, it was hard just keeping him on task. “Mullarkey, what are you doing?”

The static popped on and off in her ears.

“Hey, Ronnie, the pressure’s falling in four and five, but six thru nine are looking good.”

“What about one to three? And that’s Captain Ronnie, to you!” She pumped the handle again, back and forwards, waiting for Mullarkey to report.

Curiously, the insanity that infected the original presiding officer-in-charge had spread like wildfire amongst the crew but did not seem to affect the three females. She was now the last surviving woman, courtesy of Lt. Miller taking out Maj.Christa Blake in his bid to blow apart one of the labs.

Sherri LeRoy, her fellow Scientific Investigation Officer, had died when a lower ranking officer, in one of his more psychotic episodes, had mistaken her for his ex-wife. Having waited until her husband was safely out of Earth’s orbit, she’d filed for divorce taking the kids, his car and his dog, along with the proceeds from the sale of the house, and set up home with one of his best friends.

Rage and elevated hysteria had seen him ransack the armoury and let fly with his pent up fantasies after four years of ruminating on those facts; well, maybe only the last six months, since they’d been awake – Ronnie Hope didn’t recall anything, not even dreams, during the long flight of induced sleep that had brought them to the farther reaches of Earth’s new territory within this particular galaxy.

“Mullarkey?” She hissed her impatience. “MULLARKEY!” Her arms were beginning to tire of the constant backwards, forwards, motion but the dial on the airlock was moving closer towards equilibrium.

The crackling static signal announced Mullarkey’s presence.

“Here, boss.” The static was interrupted by sniggers. Soft and slow at first, then louder.

“Cut that out!” she yelled back. The last thing she needed was him going ape-shit on her right now. The effects of the crystals Ray Brakes had brought back to the station seemed to trigger some sort of mental collapse, a number of the affected crew members becoming violent whilst others dissolved into increasingly infantile behaviour.

Ronnie wasn’t entirely sure which end of the spectrum she’d prefer Mullarkey to lodge in but clearly he was on the downward spiral to senility. She needed him to keep sane for just long enough to get Langley out of the airlock.

‘And what then?’ a voice in her mind had questioned. Before she could think up an answer for herself, the airlock slid open with an almost silent ‘phhhhhuttt’.
She reached inwards and grasped the man’s boot and dragged him out of the way. His dead weight told her he was no longer a problem.

“Mullarkey, I need you to blow the outer hatch on Bay 16.”

Silence greeted her request.

“Mullarkey?”

Static whispered through her headset and a descant of humming, interspersed with manic laughter.

“MULLARKEY! For the love of all that’s decent, answer me!”

The static hiss grew louder in her ears.

“BLOW – THE – HATCH!!!” she shrieked. “NOW!” A wild panic threatened to break out like the sweat that was dripping down her face. A pause of silence that seemed to last an eternity ended in a blinding flash and she found herself thrown outwards into the debris of boulders and rocks.

The imploding vacuum threatened to drag her back into the mausoleum she had created. She wondered briefly how long Mullarkey would survive, the last representative of his species marooned on this distant outpost of Earth’s empire, the madness finally contained and isolated. Pandora’s Box had been breached and now only Ronnie Hope remained.

A few spatters of static noise still filtered through her headset as she forced herself to release the catches on her helmet ready to embrace eternity, preferring a quick death to a slow suffocation.

Just as the final images of the space station presented themselves in her brain she saw the faces at the next airlock; Ray Brakes, Mullarkey and – Christa?

The figures frantically gestured towards her and a voice of clarity broke through the static. In one final, lucid moment she heard Mullarkey’s voice through the receiver in her helmet.

“I tried to stop her sir, but she just seemed to go mad. She’d been in the lab working on those samples you brought back….”

Her fingers clad in their heavy gloves reached for the release clasps and Ronnie began to giggle; a sound that started in her throat and never reached her mouth.

11 comments:

  1. Sue, you created a great character in Ronnie. From the opening when you gave us her nickname, I felt connected to her. The story itself was fantastic and the final few paragraphs I had to read twice to make sure I caught the switch-up!!

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  2. The subtle and often minor difference between sanity and insanity is well covered by this fine piece.

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  3. A beautiful twist and nicely done.

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  4. Very cool twist. Nice job on the new genre!

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  5. Aha! This was a great new twist, you do sci fi very well, loved the ending, do it again, please?

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  6. Thanks for all the comments, folks.

    I wasn't sure I could pull it off - I didn't start the story with the intent of having Ronnie turn out to be the one insane but it just sorta came out that way. I suppose there's always that unspoken idea in the back of my mind - is my take on 'reality' actually sane........!

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  7. And here I thought alien life was all scantily-clad green babes from Orion. I could see this as a swanky Twilight Zone episode.

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  8. Very well done! Solid from begining to end! I think you handled Sci Fi very well. Would you consider writing more?

    Doc

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  9. Sue - Apologies for my lateness. had a certain Mr Bury up here for a few days. Anyway, I think you may have found your "genre". You pulled that off very well indeed. Try some more, please. :-)

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  10. oooo noooo! Dunno if I can do Sci-fi again :-(

    Gald you had a good time with Sir Bury, tho' Dave! :-)

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