January 10, 2019
This week's Flash Fiction Friday challenge was based on a random photo. Mine was from PapaPiper, on Flickr. This is a very warm and restful photo, evoking in me feelings of beauty and peace and of contentment, of celebrating the end of a year and thinking ahead to Spring. So, of course, I had to change it up a bit. I had fun with this idea. This could be a longer piece, maybe even a novel.
Limit was 1000 words, I'm about 950.
“Why do I have to die too?” Steph couldn’t see why her life had to end along with everyone else’s. The Ending. They just all went along with it, they believed it was for the best. She threw herself down on her bed and glared at the ceiling.
Decades of pollution had driven almost everyone from Earth. An interstellar ship, one of dozens, had landed the colonists onto Haven while everyone was in deep sleep. As their base, the craft included solar cells to power it indefinitely, basic replicators, an in-vitro lab, and a small group of robot servants to help humanity make a fresh start. The lab, complete with artificial wombs, was a necessity, as something in Earth’s environment had left the women all unable to bear children. But, everyone had survived, the days were almost 24 hours, the air was breathable, and the planet’s life forms compatible. They had timed it right too, landing in the middle of a beautiful summer.
A summer that never seemed to end. Their measurements soon showed that Haven’s tilt, plus an occluding planet, meant the ‘year’ would swing from a hot, but bearable mid-30s to a frigid 80 below. That cold would have been survivable except for the length of the year. It was decades long, 84 Earth years long. They would all age only seven years for every long month. The power reserves would never keep them warm through that long dark winter, so at the end of October they took a chance. All would re-use the deep sleep pods.
At revival, in March, they discovered they had lost half their members. The survivors were mostly in their 50s now, and would not live past the summer. As planned, they triggered the lab, the artificial wombs were implanted, and a new generation born. The next winter not only were the losses over 80 percent, but the energy drain meant they also almost lost the in-vitro lab.
Their race could not survive this way, so they reached a hard decision. At the end of October they set the lab to automatic, added ‘nanny‘ to the robots’ mandate, and then life ended for everyone. The colonists were still in their in their mid-fifties. Fall would now be a time for reflection, for giving thanks, but also for The Ending, a new tradition of a peaceful but necessary assisted death.
It was three ‘years’ later when Steph’s mother, the colony’s Governor for that year, became pregnant. Her mother had sensed changes in her body and dared to hope. One quiet evening in late May, Hannah used her admin access key to change a regular medi-bot checkup into a fertilization procedure, using a stored sperm from last summer. To her overwhelming delight, it worked. Not everyone was as happy as she was, though. Only her status as Governor saved her child from immediate abortion. In return, Hannah had to agree to respect The Ending for her child, an agreement made with hope in her heart for yet another miracle.
Some saw this physical change in Hannah, and perhaps others, as a threat to tradition. Others cheered for the possibilities this heralded. Both sides admitted, though, that it would be cruel to have to end their own children’s lives too. While everyone delighted in seeing Stephanie as a cute baby, precocious toddler, and even now as an angst-filled teenager, they all were saddened to know her life must end with theirs. No more off-schedule pregnancies would be allowed.
The debate carried on though, at every town hall.
“Why don’t we move,” said Hannah. “Down south, into the hills. We know there is mild volcanic activity there, so we would find both warmth and a source of geothermal energy.”
But the lab was part of the ship, so moving would mean a commitment to leave it behind, hoping they would find a better home farther south. Nobody wanted to take that risk.
Except for her daughter.
Steph had kept quiet, but she had a plan. The Ending was just one month away. She’d be almost 30, and she firmly intended to live much longer than that. She’d always been an active child, but now she trained even harder, building up her stamina. She haunted the online library too, searching out books on agriculture, hunting, shelters, anything that was survival related. The challenge was to cover her tracks while doing all this, and to keep her new optimism out of her attitude. Moping young woman seemed to work for her. With just a two weeks left, she too felt changes in her own cycle, as her mother had described. One night, in late October, full of hope, she stole her mother’s key and ran a fertilization routine on herself. Perhaps she had the mutation too.
The day before The Ending, Steph begged off celebrations for some quiet time. She waited until festivities were well underway, then slipped off to the maintenance shed. She loaded a power sled with the supplies she’d accumulated, including a basic replicator, geothermal generator, and one small but sturdy robot, programmed with not only survival skills but also a full medical program. Last to go on was a small container of embryos. She assumed three weeks would get her far enough into the volcanic regions for survival, and then she’d see what spring would bring. Or whom, as she intended to text back regularly.
It was dark by the time she guided the sled to the south gate. It was locked.
As she peered up at the camera, there was a click, and the gate swung open.
The speaker crackled. “Love you, hun. Good luck.”
She blew a kiss. “Love you too, thanks for being a great mom.”
I liked it and want to find out what happens next.
Posted by: Barbara Zarboni | January 11, 2019 at 01:10 PM
If you expanded this out, it would be good... you could give us more of the world from the point of view of Stephanie and her mom, threading the history of Haven throughout the story more naturally.
I don't think you started in the right place here, Mike. The actual story starts either when Stephanie's mom breaks the cycle or when Stephanie decides she's not going to die along with everyone else.... the rest is backstory, history. It's important setting, but like all setting, it should be layered in carefully.
Still, it's a great nugget!
Another interesting thing would be to wonder why these people don't go underground...
Posted by: Eden Mabee | January 11, 2019 at 02:30 PM
I really enjoyed this too. I agree with you that this has the potential to grow into a much longer piece. I want to know what happened back at base - did anyone survive The Ending? What kind of environment did Stephanie find? Was she able to generate new life from the embryos she took?
This is an exciting beginning to a story about one new world that struggled and ultimately failed(?), but there is a foreseeable future for another group(?) that could find a way to survive in that unusual and harsh atmosphere.
Will Stephanie make it to a warmer climate? How long will it take for the next generation to join her? Will she become the 'ruler' of that terrain? You've begun a wonderful avalanche of possibilities. Please do let it continue to gather and build on its way down to its final destination, whatever, and wherever, that may be.
Posted by: Joyce Juzwik | January 11, 2019 at 08:15 PM
Thanks to all for your comments.
I've done a few stories on this idea, including the dystopian Earth that drove the escape to Haven. I agree this particular story needs a better starting point in itself, but this also could be a much longer novel. Or a series - pre-Haven, then Haven, then Haven after the exodus.
Posted by: Ravens | September 19, 2019 at 11:52 AM