Here’s another great ending from the first May finalist

During the month of June, I’m sharing the finalist stories from the May Contest. Today’s featured finalist is Jeremy Wilson.

You may recall that Jeremy was the April Contest winner. As one of my Champions, he cannot win the contest again this calendar year. But if he had not already been a Champion, he could have won the contest with this great story ending filled with action, intrigue and an elegant loop effect.

I started the story below. See how Jeremy starts after the red line and takes us to a surprise ending.

Mayday

By Jeremy Wilson and Matthew Cross

Mayday, Mayday, Mayday! Halcyon 5 Space Control, this is United Polity Ship 999Q2-292-383-858-112, courier class. I have multiple air and fuel leaks following a collision with unknown debris—just dust probably—checking scanners now, mmmm, the immediate danger appears to have cleared, but I’ve cut engines to conserve fuel and prevent an explosion. Here are my coordinates. [Series of beeps, clicks and static sound.]

I’m listening to the Mayday from the cockpit of the Scrappy Doo, a merchant scrapper. Don’t ask about the name. It was Mom’s idea, and after she passed, it seemed disrespectful to change the name.

The shipboard comp is automatically recording this message and storing away the coordinates. I recognize the coordinate prefixes. The Polity courier is in my quadrant of the Belt, the vast ring of asteroids that forms the outer limits of the Halcyon system. But that covers a lot of space. After all, the Belt’s diameter is wider than the rest of the solar system inside of it.

I’m the only one on board, but even so my air’s gonna run out in less than 8 hours. Even if I blew all the fuel—if I wanted to risk an explosion—I’d be at least 200 hours out from Halcyon 5. I need a priority pickup under authority of the Polity Navy.

Eight hours of air. It’s every spacer’s nightmare. Without a rescue, you know the hour and the method of your death. And suffocation is a bad way to go.

I’m watching my own scanners as I listen. When you’re in the Belt, you have to be on constant watch. Courier-112’s case proves the point. A small shower of pebbles or even just a patch of dust can perforate a hull and turn it into a sieve. Doesn’t matter whether you fly into it or it flies into you.

The population of the Belt is sizable–mostly miners and scrappers like me. But we’re spread out over so much space you can go years without seeing anyone unless you intend to. So I’m certain someone else will answer the Mayday call. But that’s because I forgot about the family’s luck.

I open my eyes and check my scanners again. That’s when I see the blinking red comm light. My stomach drops.

Reluctantly, I lean forward and reach slowly for the comm switch. Click.

Scrappy Doo. This is Halcyon 8 Perimeter and Belt Space Control. This is a priority comm.”

It’s not that I don’t want to help. But I have my own problems. I just loaded up the Doo five days ago with supplies on credit and I need to gather some scrap to pay back Fram. He’s an old friend of Mom’s and the only outfitter who will give me credit. Since Mom died almost a year ago I’ve been living hand to mouth.

And I’ve got a lead on a good haul that could square me with Fram for good. Maybe even give me a small cushion. So I don’t need distractions.

“This is Scrappy Doo,” I mumble.

“Did you receive Mayday UPS Courier-112?”

They know I did. You would have to bore into the middle of a planet not to receive a Mayday. Even the wilds of the Belt are filled with boosts to carry emergency messages.

“Affirmative.”

In my head, I’m repeating a mantra. Not me, not me, not me . . .

“You are the closest ship to Courier-112. Your ship reports you have adequate fuel to reach the Courier and reach orbit at Halcyon 8.”

My head thumps on the control panel. I bought all that fuel on credit. And now they want me to burn it all in a rescue mission for a lousy UPS courier with one passenger?

But what can I do? Space Control and my ship already made the automated electronic handshake. They know my position, my vector, my fuel levels. Control has all the data shown on my control panel and faster comps to spin it up into any simulation they want.

That’s why I’m sitting cross-legged in the pilot’s seat with my crossed fingers tucked under my thighs, hoping I won’t be close enough to help.

I’m also biting my lip, but that’s just because everybody gets nervous when you hear a Mayday. It makes your heart jump into your throat.

If I don’t render aid, then I’ll lose the Scrappy Doo the first time I make port. They’ll impound the Doo and throw me in the brig.

“This is Scrappy Doo.” I hear some chuckles in the background from Control. I grit my teeth but then smile. With Fram as my only friend, I can’t afford enemies. I smile because you can hear the difference over comms. “I’m changing course to render aid.”

“Affirmative Scrappy Doo. We’ve fed your ship the coordinates for the optimum intercept. We’re also sending a priority UPS Medical Transport to rendezvous with you near the rim of the Belt. Thank you for your service and we’ll try to get you back on your course as soon as possible.”

Even without checking my comp, I know this trip is going to use up half my fuel. If speed is not a factor, you burn the most fuel just changing course. One turn to meet the courier and one to head to the rendezvous point with the med transport . . . I just shake my head.

I paste on a fake smile.

“Control, have you confirmed the identity of Courier, umm . . .” I’ve already forgotten the courier ship’s designation. I check a monitor. “UPS Courier-112? I’m solo crew and I have minimal weapons capability.”

I can’t keep all the quaver out of my voice. It’s actually worse than it sounds. My shields are only rated for space debris and minor port collisions. And the ‘defensive lasers’ that came standard with this scrapper model are really just part of the array of cutting tools for scrapping. Sure, they’re strong, but the aiming and target-tracking programs are a joke, and the combat display features on my monitors are clearly an afterthought.

So, I’m not completely defenseless. But any well-armed pirate . . . Let’s just say the thought makes me damp under the arms.

“No worries, Scrappy Doo, we’ve confirmed the identity of the UPS courier. It’s the real deal.” There’s some chatter in the background. “That courier has some special Navy designations, too. They’re classified, but let’s just say the passenger is somebody important.”

A VIP, huh? Maybe there’s an upside here, as long as he and I both survive this.

They can’t save me from pirates, just hunt them down if I’m killed. I’m so relieved.

“We’ll live monitor your progress until rendezvous. I’m also sending your ship a boost code. Your ship’s automated beacon will warn all other ships that you are under Mayday orders and protected by Control and Polity Navy authority.”

Oh, goody, I think. Control is millions of kloms away. They can’t save me from pirates, just hunt them down if I’m killed. I’m so relieved.

“Thank you, Control. Changing course to respond to Mayday UPS Courier-112.”

The comp says six hours to intercept, including deceleration to match speed and direction of the courier. That’s good. The courier reported he had less than 8 hours of air, which is not a precise number. But air consumption is not a precise measurement, no matter what the engineers say, and add a tiny, undetected leak or two and it’s anyone’s guess.

If the courier is conscious when I arrive and the ship’s hatch is not damaged, then bringing him aboard will take no time at all. If he’s trapped in a can leaking fuel, that will get tricky. 

I spend the first hour checking Control’s intercept calculations. Of course, they’re right, but it’s a good math exercise to run. How often do you get a chance to run real space math and check it against a Control calculation? If you want to pilot a ship, you gotta know your math. Calculations also calm and center the mind.

That task done, I try and take a nap. It’s hopeless, of course. I’m nervous for the courier. I’m terrified for me.

So I do some more math. I plug myself back into the comp and run air, water and food calculations for two people aboard the Doo. AOK.

I run rescue simulations, practicing some extractions with each of my cutting tools. The first run throughs are pretty smooth. Control didn’t send me much for specs on the courier, so I send a message to request those. I get back a set of generic specs on Polity courier ships. I send again, asking for Courier-112’s specs from its own computer. The terse message back says those are classified.

Classified? They want me to run a rescue and not give me the specs? That sounds like the old joke about “military intelligence” being an oxymoron.

“A bunch of morons,” I say to myself.

I spend the rest of the trip checking equipment again and again. And then I check it again.

Before I’m in visual sight of Courier-112, I hail it. The ships already made their electronic handshake. Something in the codes from Control must have authorized the courier ship to do that much. But the courier ship won’t tell me anything about passengers or bio signs. It’s classified, I’m sure.

After three explosions, my hands are shaking.

The courier’s pilot is not responding to my hails, either.

I add fuel leaks to the rescue simulations. Big mistake. After three explosions, my hands are shaking. I unstrap and float to the back to the equipment storage.

Until I was close, I didn’t want him to use up any air talking. I could have just texted, of course. But to tell the truth, I put it off until now because I didn’t want any bad news.

When I reach visual range, it doesn’t look so bad. Courier-112 looks to be in a single piece. It’s riding straight, not spinning out of control, gliding smoothly on course. I let go of the breath I’d been holding in.

The Doo and I go through the docking sequence together. The Doo aligns with Courier-112 and I make the final small adjustments visually. I feel the slight vibration as the ships connect. Textbook docking!

I slump back in my seat, relieved. Ships only make this kind of docking maneuver in cases of rescue or combat. I’d only done it once before with Mom at my side.

The relief doesn’t last long. I still can’t raise a response from the courier’s pilot. I try everything, including the comms built into the Doo’s docking arms connected to the courier.

I’m going to have to go outside. Vac, vac, vac!

I hear Mom’s voice in my head. “Never hurry. Think it through. Make a plan. It’s only the spacers that lose their heads and rush around that get hurt.”

Instead of unlatching, I check my monitors. First, assess the situation. I had set a countdown clock based on 8 hours of air. If the courier’s estimate was good, he should have plenty of air left. But he could still be injured. Unconscious.

I went through my options. Legally, I could report this to Control and stay in my seat. The duty to render aid on a Mayday does not extend to space walks. Legally, all I had to do was wait here until the courier’s pilot climbed aboard or death was confirmed. I could even earn a small commission just giving the ship a push in the right direction for a Halcyon recovery crew.

I run through all my options twice, but the truth is, I’m a spacer. And in space, a spacer renders aid. Because this could happen to anyone. Mom would agree.

I send Control a quick update, half hoping they’ll tell me to sit tight. I get no response. That happens in the Belt. Dead patches run throughout. With shaking hands, I unlatch and climb into my suit. I move slowly and deliberately. I think through every action.

Before I know it, I’m opening the hatch of Courier-112. So far, Control and the ship’s own comp have been so secretive, I half expect red lights and sirens when I pull the inset lever to reveal the wheel. Instead, the wheel begins to turn itself. The pilot told the ship to let me in. That doesn’t mean he’s conscious, I remind myself. He could have set the sequence before passing out.

The hatch opens, revealing the clear film of a gel seal. A courier ship is too small for a separate decompression chamber. Only the seal separates the cabin’s oxygen and open space. Through the film, I see the top of the pilot’s head. He’s wearing a suit and helmet as well. He does not move.

I push my helmet through the film and connect to his helmet.

Both our reflective faceshields open automatically at the connection, leaving clear panes for us to see through. Our suits have synched their own comms.

His eyes are closed. A shock runs through me. I’m too late, I think.

Then he opens his eyes. He has dull blue eyes, almost gray. He smiles slightly as his eyes focus in on mine. Then his pupils open wider as he examines my face.

“You’re just a kid!”

“Yeah, well, I’m the kid that’s saving your hide.”

“Negative, it’s too late for that,” he says. He looks down.

I see a detail I missed before. Small threads of red extend from the chest of his suit, wiggling in the thin air. Blood. The suit sealed itself, of course. Just two small holes, but they’re high on the chest.

And then I see the bubbles of red in the corners of his mouth.

“Are you alone?” he asks.

What a creepy question. That’s my first thought. But it’s an important one. A fair question, I guess.

“Yes, I’m the solo captain-pilot of the Scrappy Doo.”

I see confusion in his eyes.

“I’m a scrapper.”

“Negative,” he says. “Now you’re UPS Courier-112. Get this to Halcyon 5.”

He raises his hand to me, holding a black slip of plastic. A data chip, no doubt.

“Halcyon 8?” I say weakly.

“Negative,” he mumbles, “Halcyon 5. It’s . . . “ He gasps and I hear burbling sounds. “. . . urgent.”


His eyelids flutter shut as he slips back into unconsciousness. Before my brain can even process what’s happening, the slow beeping of his heartbeat in my earpiece turns into a solid tone.

Terror seizes me . . .

A blast of garbled static brings me back to myself. Something in the courier ship must be causing interference. I pull my helmet back through the film, into the vac.

Scrappy Doo, this is Halcyon 8 Control. We received your last update. What is your status?”

I pause. Even with dead patches in the Belt, Control should have been live monitoring everything and should already know the status of the courier and his ship.

Unless . . .

With a sudden moment of panic, I remember that there is no Perimeter and Space Control on Halcyon 8. Mom would’ve scolded me for missing that.

“Standby please,” I manage weakly.

That would explain why they wouldn’t give me the specs for the courier ship. They couldn’t. So they told me it was “classified.”

They didn’t know where the courier ship was until it blasted its Mayday and they needed someone to get to the courier before the Navy could. Scrappers are easier to deal with than Rim Frigates.

“Control, the, um . . . courier is unconscious but stable. Hull integrity seems to be holding. I’ve supplemented his oxygen and set his autopilot to rendezvous with the med ship at the designated coordinates. If it’s alright with you, I’d like to be on my way. My creditors don’t usually accept acts of goodwill as payment.” I force an uneasy chuckle.

“Affirmative, Scrappy Doo. Thank you for your service.”

I unceremoniously stash the data chip in a small pocket on my suit and set the courier’s autopilot with a ten minute delay to give me time to get back to the Scrappy Doo.

That should buy me some time; I just hope it’s enough. As soon as I’m back aboard my ship, I disengage all automatic comm protocols and plot a direct course to Halcyon 5, running the engines as hot as I dare.

By some miracle, it takes them nearly a week to catch up to me.

The first blast hits somewhere on the aft section, causing an explosion behind me. A red-hot piece of the Doo cuts across my leg before imbedding itself in the nav computer.

I start getting dizzy. Something must be leaking. Or I’m losing blood.

Another blast knocks out my port stabilizer, sending the Doo into a slow spiral.

“Ruh-roh,” I say aloud. I giggle.

The pain in my leg snaps me back into reality.

With the nav computer gone, I’m flying blind, so I point the ship toward the bright ball of gas that is Halcyon Prime and struggle to regain control.

As my vision goes dark, I can just make out the twinkle of Halcyon 5 as it passes in front of its star.

I blast one final desperate plea into the void:

“Mayday, Mayday, Mayday! Halcyon 5 Space Control, this is UPS Courier 112 . . . “


If you enjoyed Jeremy Wilson’s prize-winning ending, please make sure and share some kind comments below.

And if you have not already read the original contest-winning story, read it here!

Be stellar! 🚀✨

Matthew Cross

Another great ending to the April Contest

The May Contest is still underway. You still have until May 15 to write an ending to my story “Mayday” and enter.

In the meantime, all this week I’m sharing the finalist stories from the April Contest. Today’s featured finalist is Ruxandra Niculescu.

Rux took a different approach than most writers in the contest, which I love. Our clever cat burglar finds a surprise at the bottom of the slider tube and a nefarious plot!

Can the clever cat burglar talk her way out of a scrape? Photo by Soroush Golpoor.

If you have not read the original story beginning, read it here first!

If you have already read the story beginning or the winning version of the story with a beginning and ending, then you’re ready to read this different ending by Rux. Remember, in our story, the bold cat burglar has broken into the Lasones’ penthouse suite, nabbed the lavalier from the safe, and hidden it inside her catsuit, hanging from a hook on her necklace.

In my pack, I have a party dress that slides easily over my catsuit. I also have a cat mask. A little inside joke. But the costume serves a practical purpose. It hides my real features from cameras, whether they be security cameras or cameras carried by partiers. After all, I’m still on parole and I can’t be seen at this party.

I also have five mailer pouches in my pack. When I reach the party outside, all I have to do is find five of my plants wearing orange vests. There should be ten people wearing orange vests, so five should be easy to find. Then all I have to do is hand off my envelopes and make my exit.

The slider tube is in M. Lasone’s smaller closet behind a parquet door. I type in the code, step in, and glide down the brightly lit tube for 16 floors.

by Ruxandra Niculescu

The pillows at the bottom of the chute are softer than expected. Rich people.

Straightening my party dress, I assess the safe room. It looks like a Renaissance painter took psychedelics. Ready to be out of here, I’m almost to the door when a chain rattles and I freeze. The noise repeats and I turn, eyes straining to see past the barriers imposed by the mask. I dare not take it off. I can still feign being an errant party goer, lost on the way to the bathroom.

“Finally made it?” The muffled question comes from a dark corner and I step back toward the door.

“This isn’t the bathroom? Those drinks went right through me,” I lie, adding a giggle that would be the envy of any girl on campus.

“They know you have it.” A girl in a ruffled crimson red dress steps forward. The cascade of cloth leaves one shoulder bare, complementing her cinnamon skin. She’s wearing an elaborate phoenix mask.

“I’m just looking for the bathroom.” I stall, my hand fumbling, finally finding the latch. I turn to make my escape.

“They wanted you to take the lavalier.” I have one foot out the door. This could be a trap. Scratch that. It probably is a trap. But curiosity always was my weakness. Cat burglar. Heh.

I turn to look over my shoulder, and the phoenix nods, lifting her hands to brush a feather away. It’s only then I see the manacles chaining her wrists together.

“It’s an insurance scam,” she continues. I’m sure her voice is familiar. “The Lasones have been watching you all along, ever since your capture. I’m shocked you didn’t see through it, honestly.” There’s a hint of derision in her tone and my temper flares.

“What are you talking about?”

Silently, she lifts her hands up, removing the mask and revealing the unmistakable features of Marcy, the daughter of the very people I came here to rob. “I’m the one that’s been feeding you the info,” she finishes. “My repayment for a job well done is being shipped off-world to a convent colony.”

“Why?” I blurt incredulously. I thought my sentence was bad.

“Oh, tricking you into stealing the lavalier was how I avoided a much worse fate. But I’m not interested in joining a convent. I’m interested in revenge.” I look at her dubiously, though she can’t see behind my mask.

“Why should I believe you?” I drop the façade and she shrugs. Her eyes burn with an anger I feel smoldering inside myself.

“Because we want the same thing. I need your help and you need mine. Trust me. This time, they don’t plan on having you go through the court system.” There’s something about the way she says it that makes me shudder. In that moment, I make a decision. We may be from two different worlds, but maybe if we work together . . .

“Ok.” I step forward, pulling out my spare lockpick. “Let’s get you out of here.”


Ruxandra Niculescu is the author of Balancing Wonderland and other fantastical tales. You can follow her on Twitter at @CallMeRux and see more of her writing at ruxtheauthor.com . Please send her some congratulations in the comments below and let her know what you liked about her story.

1 more great story ending from the October finalist

Image: Large, white farmhouse in a field. Text: Almost Home--Win a prize if you write the best finish to my story--Matthew Cross Flash Fiction Collaboration Contest. matthewcrosswrites.com

While we’re waiting on the November Contest winner to be chosen, I wanted to share one more story ending from the October Contest. You may remember that Jim Hamilton won the October Contest, but this finalist gave him a run for the prize. She wrote an excellent story ending, and I almost chose her as the winner.

So she is very deserving to be the one and only finalist for October, and we hope to see more of her writing soon!

The one and only October Contest Finalist is Shanel Wilson!

Shanel is a Sci Fi writer finishing her first novel about near-future space colonization. You can follow her on Twitter at @shanelaileenw. Please send her some congratulations and let her know what you liked about her story.

In the meantime, please enjoy Shanel’s story ending below.

If you have not read the original story beginning, read it here first!

If you have already read the story beginning or the winning version of the story with a beginning and ending, then you’re ready to read this different ending by Shanel. Remember, in our story, Cass had escaped Mars with an infection of the Vere, crash landed on Earth at the family homestead and made it inside the farmhouse:

I peek out the window and I finally see them.  Just two tiny triangles, but one is already veering off to the left.  I think maybe it’s headed to another farm, but it just keeps going down at a diagonal until it crashes in a field of wind turbines.  The lead ship comes straight ahead, following my smoke plume.

by Shanel Wilson

I only have a few minutes until the lead ship discovers my wreck and lands. I push off from the sink beneath the window and fall back against the barn-wood table. Dad’s favorite coffee mug sits in front of his favorite chair. I giggle again. I never knew why he loved that cartoon cow so much.

“Would you like me to play your next message, Cass?” the house system cheerfully breaks in.

“Fine,” I say, wincing as I use a table and nearby wall to support myself.

Dad’s voice sounds like a ghost of the voice I know so well. Even if it has been since his last birthday that I spoke to him.

“Cass, don’t come home. It’s too late . . .” his voice trails off.

“End of message. Would you like to send a reply?” says the house system.

My heavy breathing is my response. So, they might not be OK. The room starts to spin. A red, spinning swirl of childhood. I have to get to the basement. I concentrate on the door leading to the hallway. My arms are starting to give out from trying to carry all my weight.

Move! The voice in the back of my brain is back. I’m working on it, me! I think to myself.

I summon the last bit of strength I have left and launch through the door. I crash into the opposite wall. I grip the wall and drag myself along. Only a few more feet to the control panel.

A whirling sound drifts in through the open front door. I must have forgotten to close it. Not that doors are a problem for them. I could use all the advantages I could get at this point.

I reach the control panel. The keypad is gone and in its place is a retinal scanner. Dad’s latest upgrade, I could only assume. I use my filthy, gloved hand to try and clean my facemask enough for the scanner to see my bloodshot eye.

“Incomplete scan. Try again.”

I bang my head against the wall next to the scanner. The whirling is getting louder and closer. Sweat is dripping down my face. If this is the end, by the Vere or by them, I might as well smell my dusty house one last time. My home.

I clumsily unhook my helmet and toss it to the floorboards. I take a deep breath in. My cloudy excuse for a brain is flooded with memories of early mornings and days in the fields. I try and shake the cloud away long enough for the scanner to do its job.

Click.

The door opens and I tumble in. I am Home.


Please post your comments below. I’m sure Shanel would love to hear some kind words.

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross