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Bedtime Stories

by Lauren Triola 7 months ago in Sci Fi
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Daily Flash Fiction Challenge: Story #19

Bedtime Stories
Photo by Nong Vang on Unsplash

My mother’s bedtime stories were my favorite growing up. She had created this vast, detailed world of the future where her characters had adventures. There was always a little girl with my name—Lena—who would save the day. It was a world of spaceships, aliens, and technologies that seemed so much like magic. I wanted to live in that world.

My mother would get wistful sometimes, describing a new adventure. She would focus on an object in the story—a holobook Lena loved, a particular flavor of candy, a hover bike—to a degree more than was required by the plot she was weaving. I never quite understood why.

I would ask questions, like who invented the first interstellar spaceship, or who was the first person to live on Mars. She always had an answer, although some were more thought out than others. Sometimes it seemed like she was trying to remember an idea she’d had before, as if she had once known the answer but couldn’t think of what it was.

But there was one aspect of this world she’d created that she never wanted to talk about. These amazing inventions all came after something she only ever referred to as the Cataclysm. She would mention it on occasion because there were characters who were influenced by it, or those who studied it. Professor Fitzjames, a frequent feature of the stories, was working on a theory of how to travel back to prevent it (“The tricky thing,” he told Lena in one story, “is getting back to the future.”). The Cataclysm was a shadow that hung over this world my mother had created.

There was only one time when she slipped up and said something about it. She later regretted it, telling me that it wasn’t part of the story. She had grown tired while speaking of Lena’s latest adventure to a museum, where Lena saw on display a photograph retrieved from a camera at the site of the impact.

“Impact?” I asked.

My mother yawned. “Yes. When Farley’s nuclear ramjet took off, it failed before it reached orbit and fell back to earth, exploding and causing nuclear winter…” She blinked and her face went pale. “No, no, no, that’s not…that’s not what it was. It…uh…it was—”

“You said the exhibit had objects from before the Cataclysm. Was the impact what caused—”

“Did I ever tell you about the time Professor Fitzjames dropped his glasses in the toilet?”

She never spoke of it again. When I asked her about it, she refused to answer. I didn’t understand. Why was this the one thing she didn’t want me to know about?

When she died in a car accident during my first semester in college, she took the answer with her.

Going through her things with my father and sister was difficult. She had kept so much from my childhood, but she had nothing from her own. No pictures, no trinkets. She’d said her parents had died before she’d met my father, and she didn’t have any other family. Looking through her photo albums, it was as if she’d appeared one day, fully formed as an adult. No childhood, no past.

She’d led a quiet life. She always said she didn’t want to step on any butterflies. Like with many things she said, I didn’t understand.

Now, I’m staring at the TV. I heard months ago about a company working on the fastest spacecraft ever invented. It was going to make it to Mars in a week. It required far more power than the missions before it. It would have its own fusion reactor powering it.

The company’s name, FarReach, was one I’d seen in papers before, a corporation founded by someone who wanted to change the world but always cut corners. I could never remember the founder’s name.

But he’s on the TV now. I see his name in the caption. Eric Farley. His nuclear-powered ship stands tall behind him. It launches in five minutes.

I know it won’t break orbit.

I know what will happen next.

I understand now. I understand it all.

Sci Fi

About the author

Lauren Triola

I'm mostly a fiction author who loves Sci-Fi and Fantasy, but I also love history and archaeology. I'm especially obsessed with the Franklin Expedition. Occasionally I write poetry too. You can find me at my blog or on Twitter.

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