The FFF prompt this week was to write about a journey. Maybe on a train. I decided to re-use a character from an earlier story, and see where her journey would take her. I had trouble with this. Firstly, it's on another planet, so the temptation was to add lots of scientific back story. Secondly, I covered too much ground, so to speak, trying to follow a complete story structure—just truncated. "This happened, and then that, and then that" - too much. And thirdly, I was in Toronto for several days, visiting my girlfriend. But, these little stories are meant to be explorations, experiments. Next time, I'll keep this article in mind, from The Guardian.
Here's my story. 983 words.
Steph had timed her escape carefully. Everyone else would be celebrating the approach of The Ending, except her. She had no intention of dying—not yet. She was only half their age, conceived illegally in the middle of the decades long summer of their new home. An unexpected birth, to a race long reliant on a lab with artificial wombs. Most of the colony welcomed the newborn, but they knew her life would be short, as the long winter was fast approaching. Nobody would survive the endless night of sub-zero temperatures. A choice had been made, generations ago, to both celebrate and end their lives in the fall, at The Ending. The next spring a new generation would start, born and nurtured in the labs.
Steph touched her own abdomen as she hurried along the corridor. Maybe she was continuing this genetic throwback.
She’d driven her little train, a crawler and supply wagons, for only six hours when the first flakes had started to fall. It was too soon.
“Not yet,” she said. We’ve only come 50 kilometres, not even to South Post.”
Steph had plotted a journey of several thousand kilometres, deep into the volcanic regions to the south. There she would find shelter and a source of geothermal energy for the conversion unit. And survive until spring, with her child. Once the next generation saw her success, she hoped that more would take the risk and follow.
She wrenched the wheel straight. “Come on little buddy, stay on the road.”
The crawler was self driving, if need be, but definitely found snow challenging. She flicked on the lights. The days were already only a few hours long, but hopefully this was a freak storm. Otherwise she’d have to turn around and face defeat. And an early death.
Steph pushed through the night to South Post. She was hoping to sneak past before dawn—assuming the colony had not radioed ahead to warn them. But as she approached, she could see through the blowing snow that every light was on. And it looked like the Miller’s, Frank and Anne, were waiting outside. Likely to take her into custody. Just let them try.
Steph pulled on her boots, shrugged into her parka, and stepped outside.
“So, I guess you heard?” she said.
Frank nodded. “Yup.”
“You can’t stop me, I’ll just keep on driving no matter what.”
Anne smiled. “Oh hun, we wouldn’t try to stop you. You always were ready for adventures, this is your next one. No, we want to join you, if you’ll have us.”
“Really?” Steph sighed in relief. Frank and Anne had set up South Post on their own, combining his mechanical skills with her farming expertise. She had brough lots of ‘how-to’ manuals, but these two were the real thing.
“And we have our own crawler and wagons,” said Frank. “With a few upgrades I figured out.”
“We can be packed and out of here in an hour,” said Anne. “I’m betting this snow will have stopped by then.”
And it did. The weak winter sun was enough to melt it all, and even dry up the track. Days turned into weeks as the little convoy pushed south. Steph was impatient to get to their new home, though, and kept nudging up their speed, even as the terrain turned rocky.
Unfortunately, her crawler wasn’t built for such a rough track, and one morning it just wouldn’t start.
Despite Franks repair skills, they were reduced to one vehicle. The days were getting shorter and colder, with the occasional flurry of snow. And the reduced light made it harder each day to recharge the power cells.
“We’ll never make it,” said Steph. “And now I’ve ruined your lives too.”
“Nonsense,” said Anne. “You inspired us, but this was our choice. We’ll all survive this, all four of us.” She smiled at Steph’s surprise. “Yes, I know you’re expecting. I’ve spent my life minding our farm animals, remember.”
Steph‘s relief was short lived, as news reached them that the colony had still not performed The Ending. Some wanted to follow her train, despite being already weeks behind. Some wanted to keep the status quo. Some even wanted to program into the lab screening for what they now saw as a genetic abnormality in some women. And her mother was talking about somehow trying to stay alive until spring.
“They can’t follow,” said Steph. “They’re too far behind. And they can’t survive until winter. They will just have to end their lives and trust that we’ll have good news for the next generation. But next spring, if we survive, will anyone want to take the risk?”
Frank smiled. “There may be another plan. Call your mother back, ask her about the power cell tweaks that I passed on.”
Her mother was still experimenting, but thought that they would be able to power a handful of sleep pods over the winter.
“A few of us will chance it,” she said. “If we survive, we will guide the next generation, provide some continuity. Hopefully, some of them will want to move.”
“Great news mom,” she said. “Frank has been monitoring temperatures. He thinks they are on the rise. Give us a week.”
Two days later they saw their first hot springs. The road was rough, but Frank’s crawler continued to drag them and their supplies into the low hills. It was Anne that called for a halt.
“We already passed a few likely looking caves, and there is still enough flat ground here for us to start farming in the spring. And Frank will be able to tap this volcanic warmth for our energy cells. What do you say, oh fearless leader?”
Steph chuckled. “I wouldn’t say fearless. But, yes, let’s set up and then contact the colony. I need to tell my mom she’ll be a grandma.”