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The Sudden Dark

Chapter One: The Man Outside The Airlock

By Kieren WestwoodPublished 2 years ago 5 min read
The Sudden Dark
Photo by Christian Lue on Unsplash

Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say.

You can see them though. Romer could, anyway. She leaned into the monitor, the better to see the flickering image of an open-mouthed, wild eyed scream. The alarms were firing, red light filling the monitoring room.

Whoever he was, he was running out of time.

Every two seconds the striplights above him passed over in a wave, illuminating that awful scream, before passing on down the tunnel behind him.

All the while, the wave drew ever closer.

The doors behind Romer hissed open, she heard the footsteps but didn't really register them, she wasn't about to get distracted.

'I saw the alarm. Romer? What are you doing? Hit the shutoff!'

'Max, shh,' Romer said, without turning around.

The man in the tunnel was moving now, staggering backwards towards the blast doors. He'd finally stopped screaming. Romer flicked to the next camera along.

She and Max stared at the monitor in silence, just empty tunnel, until the man came into view again, stumbling into the wall before turning and beginning to run in earnest.

'He doesn't have time Romer. Get it over with,' Max said. He reached for the shutoff switch and Romer grasped him by his wrist.

The fleeing man had almost reached the doors, beyond them, the airlock. He was scrambling up the caged metal stairs as they watched, static.

The wave of lights flickered to a stop, like a bullet tumbling as it falls to the ground.

'It's knocked the lights out. It's right on us Romer. He's out of time.'

The proximity alarms were at their deepest red now, and blaring.

They watched as the lone man lost his footing in the dim light, hitting hard and hauling himself back up.

'We're going to lose camera feed if it gets much closer.'

'Shh,' Romer said.

They listened. A dull creeping of bass. A sound they could feel rather than hear. The desk in front of Romer began to rattle, the monitor vibrated in position. Romer could feel it in her temples.

'It's right on us!' Max reached past her and hit the shutoff switch.

The monitors went black, The alarm fell quiet. Sitting in the sudden dark, Romer looked out of the window over the station and watched as the lights faded and the groundships trundled to a halt.

They waited.

The lights came back first, flickering for a moment before hitting full intensity. The air began to move again, fresh and cold.

No more vibration, the bass was gone, everything was normal.

The monitors began to flicker to life.

'He was right there, Max. If you'd have given him a second he would have made it.'

'When I came in your were already ten seconds over threshhold. I just saved your job, not to mention the station. If you're not capable of making the decision then you shou-'

'Shut up a sec,' Romer said. The main monitor in front of her had finally come back online.

He was dead. No surprises there. Lying back across the stairs as though he'd stretched out for a nap in the sunshine. The wave had probably rendered him immobile even before the whole tunnel depressurised.

Romer turned away from the screen.

'Well I'm sorry, but it's really not our fault. What was he even doing down there? We had three hours notice for this wave. All the ships are grounded, what's a pilot doing there anyway? Where did he think he was going?'

Max was already processing his guilt. Romer knew better than to think he believed his own 'it's not our fault' line. Besides, there was something more troubling about the man in the tunnel, other than just being dead.

'Max, look at him.'

Max stayed away, standing by the window overlooking the station. Romer followed his gaze, movement was building back up out there, the mechanics of station life ticking back to speed.

'I saw. I know what happened Romer, but we had no choice, it's-'

'No, Max. Look at him. He isn't a pilot.'

Max tore himself way from the window and leaned down to look at Romer's monitor again.

'Well he's got a pilot's jumpsuit on Romer.'

'Not that. Look at his face.'

'Oh God. Archer.'

'Is it definitely him?' Romer said, though she knew.

'There are only seventeen thousand people on this station Romer. I think it's fairly unlikely Archer's got a perfect doppelganger among them, isn't it?' Max was already working up to a frenzy of panic, Romer could see his hands shaking.

'We need to call this in.'





CASUALTY: Archer McKaw.






Overseer Morrow: Welcome all. Your attendance is appreciated, mandatory though it is for some. We are of course here to discuss the deployment of one of our EMP Array weapons on Wednesday, which although neutralised the oncoming wave, cannot be called a success due to the fact that a young man lost his life in the midst of it. You will no doubt notice the presence of our Grand Captain here today. I extend a warm welcome to you Captain and offer our wholly insufficient condolences for the loss of your son. Captain McKaw would like to open proceedings with a statement of her own. I will now give way.

Captain Estelle McKaw: Good afternoon to all of you. I appreciate the opportunity to speak here. Council, as always, I am indebted to you. To the witnesses, no doubt my presence is of great concern to you. Whether it ought to be or not really depends on the evidence you provide.

Before we get to that, let me say this. Firstly, the purpose of this meeting and this investigation, is to determine the legality and plausible use of one of our weapons, and not to determine the reason my son was below ground at the launch tunnels. That, we may never know, we will have to make our peace with that.

You may expect that I'm here because I'm angry. Angry that my son died, that two engineers chose death for my son. While that's true, please know that anger is not what drives me. It's there, as would be a festering ailment. A sickening ache in the back of your mind as you go about your day, though you go about it still.

What drives me is the manner of his death.

Hitting the EMP is procedure and is done for the preservation of the station, or at least it would appear that way, again evidence is to be considered.

However when exactly that EMP was deployed, that is what drives me.

I attended the scene of my son's death. I saw his body.

I haven't watched the footage. I couldn't bear to watch my son's final moments, though I have been assured that Archer would never have made it to the airlock before the wave hit him. That, I'm told, was plain to see.

So my question then, to our colleagues, our trained engineers, our servants of the station, is just how long did you allow my son to suffer for, before you provided the mercy of death?

Sci Fi

About the Creator

Kieren Westwood

Kieren Westwood is writer of short fiction and novels usually focussed on the meeting point of literary and crime fiction. He also shares writing experience and flash fiction on his YouTube channel.

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