"One Sun for a Hundred Years of Life"
In the green glow of emergency chemical light strips, Al Parsons crouched behind a shipment container in the underbelly of his ship. The solar receptors were damaged in transit and now the whole ship had gone dark. "No receptors, no power," Al thought to himself with a smirk. Above him, there were massive crashing noises but he had to force himself to ignore them and fix the problem at hand. He pried open the emergency restart shaft, it led deep into the internal workings of the Harvester-Class ship. Al jumped in without hesitation. Swinging onto a ladder, he grabbed the underside of the shaft and closed it as he descended. He reached the first maintenance level, disembarking into a greenish hall that seemed to endlessly stretch out to the left and right. Al ran full speed to his left, not knowing what to expect. "It could’ve been an asteroid. If it was I’m screwed." The only sound in the hall was his breathing, labored and in fast tempo with his feet. "If it’s just a short, I just might make it out of this." He ran for ten minutes before he reached the damaged area of the ship, there was no visible external damage. Al wiped sweat from his brow and took a few slow, deep breaths. "The air is getting stale, the oxygen levels are low." He found the nearest ladder and descended quickly. The second level housed the electronics. His footsteps echoed eerily as he accessed the supercomputer required to process data from the receptors. An echo reached him from the hall, faint sounds like voices. They’re in the maintenance shaft. Al checked the power to the computer, and found no visible damage.
“Thank the Sun,” he whispered breathlessly. Al ran back out to the nearest ladder, descending finally to the Wiring wing of the ship's reactor to the solar receptors. He peered at the chart posted by the door, scanning it closely until he found what he was looking for. He could hear the voices getting louder in the hall outside. Sweat began to gather at the base of his neck, dripping down his back slowly. He threw himself into the sea of different types of wiring. He saw the issue. It was so glaringly obvious that he couldn’t have missed it if he tried. A plug the size of his head laid on the ground, and he cursed as he picked it up. “For Sun's sake.” He picked up the plug under his arm. The weight of it was astounding. "How the hell did this get unplugged?" He practically charged at the socket, plugging it in with a sharp buzz that cut through the air like lightning.
Al shifted to stay on his feet. The ship beneath him seemed to growl as its receptors came back online. He smiled and made a dash for the hall. The maintenance lights were blinding and he blinked repeatedly, trying to summon sight back to them. He found a charge station on the wall, feeling the station unfold to reveal precious energy cells. He took five energy cells, depositing each one into the rifle on his hip. No receptors, no power, no weapons. He could feel solar energy flowing around him, into his suit. He ran twice as fast as before with the boost from his suit, pulling an emergency broadcast alarm on his way towards the cockpit.
An explosion burst through the ceiling just ahead of Al. He slowed his run to a complete stop, drawing his rifle. He waited, looking down the barrel of his Smoker Five-T, or the lightning gun, as Al called it. He waited until he saw antennae poking through the hole in the walkway above. He primed the multi-target sights and clicked the trigger once for every set of antennae he saw. Fifteen times, the lightning rolled from the barrel of his S5T erupting from the rifle as one burst and splitting into fifteen bolts with a deafening crack. Fifteen bodies fell from the walkway above, into the hall. Al jumped over to them to examine the marauders who had embarked on his ship. They stood on two legs but had faces and skin like insects. Armor covered many of them, but had done nothing to shield them from the lightning. “Hmm, too bad you weren’t a lightning bug. What the hell do I do about these pirates?" He emerged from the maintenance levels with a single focused bound. The transparent walls showed a healthy galaxy, full of stars and several planets. He didn’t have time to count them before a nearby door opened, and a set of goggles peaked out before getting a bolt between the eyes. He hoped that the bugs hadn’t gotten into the computer hub.
“Lara, status on primary receptors and damage, earpiece only.” The computers voice echoed in his ear comfortingly.
“Receptors nearly ready to fire. Damage minimal. They seem to be after the ship. They have begun trying to reach my central terminal, but their technology has prevented them from making any discernable progress.” She spoke in a matter-of-fact and soothing voice.
“They’re just scavengers. They won’t even know what hit them when I start the Harvest protocol.” He smirked. Glancing outside, he could see their ship, tethered haphazardly to his own. He did some quick math in his head, measuring the engine of the enemy ship that could spoil this year’s harvest. The computer read his thoughts and chimed in.
“Would you like to know the specs of the engine, Al?” Al started to sprint toward the front of the ship, door after door opened for him as he thought it.
“What are our options as far as disabling their ship? I want to bring that thing home with me, as much as I’d like to destroy it, I think the engine might be perfect for a project I’ve been working on.” Al sprinted in his power suit. His steps were automated. He felt none of the fatigue he had begun to feel when he was running with no power. He thought instead of his son and daughter back home.
“Building a speeder for the family?” The computer chimed in again. He shook the thoughts of family from his head. He was about to reply when the computer gave him an update. “Their ship could be disabled using a magnetized EMP Grenade. There are enemies in the next room, Al.” Al stopped his sprinting and looked at his wrist. A schematic for the ship sprung from the suit as a heads up display. He glanced at the map portion, highlighting it with his thoughts. He focused on the next room, switching to radar viewing mode. Then he addressed the computer verbally.
“Computer, when the door opens, kill the lights to this room and the next. Then give me full night vision to my visor. Confirm order.” He made sure to switch the sights on his rifle to the target finder setting and listened to the computer repeat his orders to him. When it had finished, he took a couple deep breaths. “There’s twenty of them. They don’t know I’m coming. They’re mine.” The visor on his suit stretched forward like a hood from the back, covering his head entirely but allowing him to see in the dark without giving away his position. He moved soundlessly toward the door, and the rooms went pitch black.
He crept into the room, staying close to the walls, listening to the creatures murmuring in a strange language of high pitch frequencies and whiny noises that he didn’t recognize at all. He found a small alcove and counted the targets again, looking down the sights of his rifle, it highlighted them right between the eyes. He confirmed in his thoughts the next few actions and just as he was about to give the signal, the lights returned.
Searing light tore through his eyes with no warning at all. One of the bugs had found the emergency light valve. Tears gathered in Al’s eyes as he put bolt after bolt through sixteen of the twenty bugs. Only four had gotten to cover. He didn’t have time for this. He needed to start the harvest and get home. He was sick of this ship and sick of these pirates. “I’m getting too damn old for this.” Plasma rounds flew past him with sickening, melting sounds where they landed. “I just want to go home.” He fired back blindly, his back to a large supply crate. He sighed and brought up the schematic to the ship again. He saw his path to the cockpit, but then he saw something he did not expect: a particularly large group of enemies heading straight for the same room. “Shit,” he cursed under his breath. He was running out of time.
“Computer, lights off again.” The computer obliged and as his night vision hood reached forward over his eyes, he ran to his right, flanking the four bugs that were left. The first two lined up perfectly. He put a bolt through both of them with one shot. The third threw itself at him, crimson teeth gnashing, wings sprouting from its back. He shot it through the chest. The bug’s corpse plowed into him hard, knocking him backward. He used the suit's boot boosters to turn the stumble into a recovery. He was at the door and turned around to search for the fourth scavenger. He could see no sign of it, the bug was gone, and he scoffed. “Coward.” He turned to face the door, deactivating the night vision. “Lights.” The lights flickered on, and he blinked the room back to focus. Green, goggled eyes met his, taking up all of his vision. Then the thing spoke in a voice that could scarcely be called such a thing.
“Die.” Al looked down. The pirate had put a plasma dagger through his abdomen. His own dagger sprung from the suit's wrist app, and he buried it in the bug’s neck with a squishing crunch.
“You first.” He spat, glancing at the ship schematic again. He looked down at the dagger in his side, he pulled it out and the suit automatically went to work on a diagnosis, updating him as he ran into the next room: the first control room. He was close now, but the schematic showed that the bugs would beat him if he didn’t hurry. “Okay, boosters and LG.” The suit's low gravity feature allowed him to effectively fly through the third control room to the second, shooting primer switches on his way. The primer switches glowed with the charge he gave them, engaging the power receptor switches for the big drop. “Almost there.” He was gasping. The suit gave him an update on his status.
“You’ve lost little blood, but without a MedPod, you’ll die from internal bleeding before you reach home.” The voice was cold and without empathy or understanding, but he had a mission to finish. He rocketed toward the first control room.
“Just one set of primers left, and then it’s done.” He burst through the door, blasting lightning into the primers. They clicked upward, ready for the final charge. “Computer PA.” The computer interjected.
“Al, activating the PA will..."
“Just do it.” He heard the ship's PA system switch on with an old-fashioned bell ring. The door to the cockpit opened with four pressurized locks, designed to keep anything living out, and anything inside alive. He made sure the room was secure and sat breathing laboriously at the helm. The blast door in front of the viewing glass was shut. He opened it with the flick of a switch. The blast door parted in a jagged pattern of locks and mechanisms to reveal a huge and beautifully orange sun.
“ATTENTION, ALL UNWELCOME GUESTS! YOU SHOULD NEVER HAVE COME TO THE HARVEST, AS YOUR INSIDES BOIL AND YOU EACH DIE A SLOW AND AGONIZING DEATH, REFLECT ON WHY YOU EVER CAME TO..." He paused to glance at the star map. “THE ORION-CYGNUS SECTOR OF THE MILKY WAY, YOU BASTARDS!” He shut off the PA and thought about his children back home, and the fact that whether he made it through the harvest or not, his children would see more birthdays because he took the trip. Five large breaker switches emerged from the ground beneath him.
Al Parsons started the five steps to begin the sequence the ship was built for. He hit the first switch. He heard the primers in the next room drop with an electric buzz that shifted cogs deep within the ship on levels he had never even seen. He thought about his wife, and all the people on his dark, little planet.
He started the second sequence. The ship's solar receptors jutted out at the turn of that switch. They readied themselves for transfer, each one capable of powering a planet. The Harvest would provide a lifetime of sun to one planet. All he needed to do was hit the other three breakers. He watched as the ship began to shift outside, the receptors stretching toward the power source they would be harvesting.
The third switch was difficult. He was losing strength. The computer buzzed in his ear.
“Would you like me to automate the sequence, Al? At this point, I can take it from here,” Al replied curtly.
“No, I need to do this.” He pulled down the fourth breaker, and the ship shifted drastically. Blast doors and armor locked the ship into position, preparing it for the influx of energy it was about to get. The only things left exposed were the receptors. They glowed warmly as the blast door closed on the cockpit window. He thought about the solar system he would be taking the life from, if there was any in it at all. But it was a fleeting thought. His thoughts returned to his family as he flipped the last switch down.
The room got as hot as a sauna as the Harvest began. The receptors used the halls and walkways to disperse their heat. The pirates who had invaded the Harvester fried in their own skins until their bodies exploded abruptly. The ship did its work, inhaling the energy from the sun and absorbing it into its reactors with a commotion only Al could hear. He laid there, thinking about nothing but his family, holding onto his consciousness with a death grip and slow breaths. He smiled.
Light years out into the same solar system, the Paulson family stands outside on their porch. They’re laughing together as the dog chases flies and yips curiously at the sun. A barbeque sizzles with bacon-wrapped hot links and a wind plays across the grass with the afternoon’s warmth. They have no idea that this will be their last summer, and as their world is plunged into darkness, like so many others before them, Al Parsons dreams of his children and the smiles he will see in the sun once again.