It’s a tough spot to find oneself in — stuck under a collapsed ventilation shaft, smoke filling your lungs, sparks shooting over your eyes, that irritating klaxon blasting once a second into your ears.
“60 seconds remaining,” the computer voice says above the din of burning electronics and crashing metal. It’s funny how mellow her voice is. It makes me wonder if she were designed that way in order to keep people calm during times of great stress.
“50 seconds remaining.”
There she goes again. Calm as a cucumber counting down how much time is left before the ship blows up. The ship’s designers probably envisioned a nice orderly exit to the escape pods. Lines of people walking lock-step quickly, but quietly, to the launch deck, while the ship floated still and silent in space.
“40 seconds remaining.”
Instead, the whole ship was falling apart and most of the people inside were shoving and trampling each other to get to the pods, or crying hysterically in the fetal position, or dead. Or, like me, trapped under a collapsed ventilation shaft.
“30 seconds remaining.”
I wasn’t the only one in the cargo hold when it collapsed. Wilhelm was there with me. We were moving ore-barrels during an uneventful shift when suddenly all hell broke loose. Explosions and ship-quakes. Barrels tumbled, boxes fell, and a large section of the ship wall collapsed right next to me. I managed to miss getting crushed by that, but immediately afterward the ventilation shaft hit me, landing on my legs and pulverizing them into meat. I blacked out, and the next thing I know Wilhelm was shaking me, waking me up.
“20 seconds remaining.” the computer says now.
Wilhelm isn’t here anymore. He stayed for a minute, trying to pull me out, but then the calm computer voice announced, “Self-destruct initiated.”
He stood up, looked at me, looked at the exit, looked back at me, shrugged, and took off. It hurt, though I can’t say I blame him. Looking at the size of the debris locking me down, there wouldn’t even be much hope with ten Wilhems here.
I’m not too proud to say that the prospect of dying alone isn’t very appealing. Almost as bad as not knowing what was going on out there. Were we being attacked? Did we crash? Was it a ship malfunction? At this point, does it even matter?
“10 seconds remaining.”
I wasn’t in pain. I was in shock and numb from half of my body being crushed.
Oh great, she’s starting to count every second. I guess that means things are getting real.
My whole life isn’t flashing through my head. At least not yet. Maybe if I give it another second or two.
Really, nothing? I guess I’ll die alone with only my crushed limbs for company.
I contemplate screaming, but what good would that do? I would much rather die with a good memory to make me all warm and fuzzy.
I try to conjure up something nice, but the klaxon keeps distracting me.
Suddenly, memories come flooding into my brain. Oh, here we go!
I see my childhood. My first day of school in Moon Base Sigma. Being made fun of for my big ears in 5th grade. My first kiss with cute Tisha Palmer at thirteen. Winning a pie-eating contest during a junior field trip. My vacation with my friends to Mercury One after high school. Failing a midterm in Jupiter Tech because I was up all night playing poker. Getting a vid-call from my mother telling me that my father had died of a heart-attack. The look on my Mother’s face at his funeral. The look on her face when I finally graduated a year later. My first day at work on a warp-ship, thinking how my father would have loved to have been there. Going on a date with a pretty ensign I met after she nearly knocked me down in the hall trying to get to her post on time. Getting yelled at by my boss because of damaged cargo in Hold 7 that was clearly not my fault. Getting a vid-call that my Mother had died in a ship-crash on the way to visit her sister. My second date with the pretty ensign where we had a great conversation on the observation deck. Sitting alone in my room, thinking of my parents and crying. Seeing the pretty ensign with another guy on the observation deck, drinks in hands. Putting in for a transfer to another ship. Shooting the breeze with my new coworkers, including Wilhelm, before my first shift. Getting super-drunk at a party off a bottle of Synth-Tea that someone had snuck aboard. Moving ore-barrels with Wilhelm in a cargo hold. An explosion, dust and pain and fear and claustrophobia. Being abandoned by Wilhelm. Listening to that calm computer voice and wondering if this was the end. Complete silence, bright light, and the sensation of my Mother and Father pulling me into their arms.
P. R. O’Leary writes dark tales tinged with humor and humorous tales tinged with darkness. When he’s not writing, he enjoys running long distances and going to film festivals. You can find his work online and you can find him at his geodesic dome in central New Jersey.