Back in 2009 I published my very first short story in M-BRANE ezine. It's now a free short story you can pick up anywhere ebooks are sold. And, what I never told anyone, is that originally SEVENTY was the prologue for a longer series. I never finished the series, but I wanted to share the opening with you, just so you'd know there is a happy ending for the crew of SEVENTY. If you haven't read SEVENTY yet, feel free to go pick up a copy and then come back to read this.
This takes place several hundred years after the events in SEVENTY
Blue lightning arched through red clouds boiling on the horizon. The sun hung low of the, a reminder of the day to come, a reminder of searing heat and the outposts dwindling water supply. I pulled another shirt off of the line and risked a peek at the dark horizon.
The distant galaxies were too faint to be seen, and there were no near stars. We were the last outposts, the last human refuge before nothingness. I didn’t care, I was looking for the ice ship. Every year it was a race. The original colonists were left with a single vessel to conduct basic observations and experiments. When the domes failed that single ship moved my ancestors to the outpost monitoring the storm world. And now that one ship collected ice from the rings further out from the sun to give us the water we needed to survive.
I didn’t expect them today, or tomorrow, or soon. We still had six months worth of water left, if nothing went wrong. We could survive that.
Taking the last shirt off the line I waved to my neighbor. The gray haired matron was the eldest of her small clan and the only one I knew on sight. The rest she kept cloistered inside their dome, safe from the radiation of the sun. I didn’t have anyone protecting me. I didn’t have anyone to protect. My only brother left after his wife and son died. My parents died years before that in a rationing scare, we’d survived while they wasted away from dehydration.
On instinct I checked the water levels as I walked inside, all the monitors showed the tank three-quarters full. Good enough for now. I turned on the radio as I dumped clean linens on my make-shift bed and debated hanging my last few wet things on the line.
“Good morning everyone! This is Joe and Jo! Twenty-three minutes to full sunrise and it’s already one hundred and ten outside. Looks like it’ll be a hot one!” Joe yelled through the radio.
His wife, Jo, came on with a higher pitched but equally enthusiastic tone. “Hiya folks! Are you all ready for the day? Is your laundry in? Your dishes washed? Great! Because we have a full load of fun for you!”
I tossed my last suits into my basket and walked back outside, they were mostly dry and if I pulled them in before an hour was up nothing would burn.
Coming back I sealed the door behind me as the Hilda’s Children’s Chorus sang the wake up song. The radio chimed and the family in charge of monitoring water gave their daily report. Everything was fine, water levels were great, consumption was slightly up in the greenhouse because of the new seedlings being at “that stage” but things were expected to level out in about seventeen days.
The radio chimed again and Jo cut in. “That was great kids! I’m glad to hear you so perky on this hot, hot, day!”
“And thank you to the Dugroot clan for watching our water supplies. It’s a grave responsibility and for the last eight generations the Dugroot’s have proven they’re willing to sacrifice to see the rising generation watered,” Joe said, giving the word “grave” extra emphasis.
“Now that we’ve had the good news, let’s try some bad news!” Jo enthused.
“Over to you, Jessa!” Joe said.
The radio chimed as I slid into my usual seat and pulled my microphone close. I smiled just like my brother taught me and started talking. “It’s a wonderful morning over here at the Far Out Skywatch and let me tall you, folks, there is nothing to see. Not a blessed blip on the radar screen. We are well and truly alone. But that’s the bad news, let’s try some good news!”
“You have good news?” Jo cut in from the radios main control panel.
“Believe it or not, Jo, I do! Last dark we got a call from the ice ship, their doing well and they sent their letters home.” I pulled out my notepad and started dictating, “Johnny sends May his love and says he hopes to be home in time for the baby. Trounce says hiya to Ma and his brother. Matthew wants to let his clan know he’s learning piloting and catching now and making them proud. And young Egglebert who’s on his first tour sends to say hiya to all the folks at home, the view is great, and he’s loving everything, and then the captain cut him off.” I paused, imaging the clans gathered around the radio for our communal morning show laughing.
“The good Captain Tryer says to tell y’all that the ships fuel is at eighty-seven percent and they’re catching extra ice with the new nets that we rigged last season. Everything is in good working order, food supplies and morale are high. They expect to spend another twelve weeks catching and hope to bring home extra water this season.
“That’s all I got, folks. This is Far Out Skywatch, if something happens I’ll let you know!”
Jo and Joe took over as I switched off my radio. As I folded clothes and bathed Jo and Joe prattled on, telling jokes, discussing books, and asking questions of the various clans.
As they started the “To Hot to Talk” song I pulled on my shoes to get the last of the laundry off the line. I laughed at the stale jokes. There were only seventeen families that had survived the past two hundred plus years of hardships, eventually we’d run out of things to say. But Jo and Joe kept morale high while we waited each season for crops to grow in our dimly lit gardens and the ship to return with ice all the while praying to some deity none of us knew that one day the nations that had sent our forefathers out would come back to rescue us.
I paused by the sealed door and touched the little calendar that my father had left, eighty-eight. Eighty-eight season until inbreeding, faulty technology, or lack of food killed us. The first refugees to arrive at the outpost had calculated how long they thought we could survive and made the calendar. By now most people had thrown theirs away in despair, but I kept our, carefully removing one number each season, wondering in my ancestors who had carved the 324 pieces of wood ever imagined that we would still be on this planet when the wood ran out.
The radio chimed. I looked over my shoulder, frowning, I really needed to get my laundry in before the temperatures soared, but it was rude to keep someone waiting. The radio chimed again. With a shrug I walked over to the radio station my finger tracing down the line of lights to see who was trying to contact me.
Red four. Who was red four?
I hit the red light and my radar screen lit up green and black. I blinked as the radar blipped.
What did that mean? My brother had taught me maintenance but he never mentioned blips.
I hustled to the back room where we kept the ancestors books, diaries, and valuables tucked away for a future generation of refugees. I dragged my finger across the titles, trying to read fast enough to find the book I wanted in a hurry. There, written in Geek, a technicians manual for the radar array.
I pulled it down and scanned for a picture that matched my blipping radar. I found it a quarter of the way through the book. The caption read, “Long Distance Array Radar Reading An Incoming Vessel.”
My heart stuttered as I skimmed the chapter. The black and green radar was the long distance, deep-space, radar, entirely different from the familiar red land-tracker that followed the ice ship landing.
I ran back to my radio and slammed my palm on the call button. “Hiya, folks, this is Far Out Skywatch and, um, according to the technicians manual I’m reading the deep-space array has been activated by a, a” I sucked in a long breath and spat out, “by an incoming hyperspace vessel that isn’t broadcasting the pre-programmed security clearance.”
“Folks, we have visitors.”