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Science Fiction Adventure Thriller

The impact drove the breath from her and for some moments the only thing she was capable of doing was gaping. Her body clawed for breath and her fingernails tore in the dirt below her until she was able to take her first, ragged breath. 


She lay there, taking rasping, greedy gulps of air for a minute or so more. Behind her, the light in the middle of the Gate dwindled to a spark and then, without any fanfare, winked out of existence. 


Alisha’s lungs gradually realised that there was nothing hindering them anymore and her body calmed. Her ankle throbbed in time to her heartbeat but she made no effort to get up, safe in the knowledge that there would be nobody following her through till the portal had recharged. As it could take anywhere between a few days and a week, she knew that she had time. 


The stars littering the sky above her were different; the patterns and lines she was so used to seeing were warped or changed entirely. There would be time to figure out the new sky in the weeks and months ahead of her though so, for now, she simply admired them. So different yet still possessing the same ethereal beauty. Unfortunately, their allure would have to wait; she had work to do. 


“Get up, Haleson,” she told herself sternly. She rocked herself up into a sitting position and looked around. Her bags were scattered in the clearing but they were mostly intact. One had exploded on impact but it appeared to be one containing clothing and that was easily collected. Her arrival had been very different to previous times - no calm stepping through from dimension to dimension.


There was a rustling in the bushes and Alisha vaulted to her feet, drawing a blade from her belt in one smooth motion. A long-toothed rodent darted out from between the blue-tinged leaves chasing an insect and, after a moment of alert scanning of the environment, she relaxed her combat stance. There shouldn’t be any trouble in this area but there was always the chance that predators would come to investigate the Gate’s energy signature. Animals here were surprisingly sensitive to it and the spike caused by her arrival had drawn curious eyes in the past. 


It wasn’t far from the Gate to the shelter that she’d spent months preparing - just shy of half a day’s walk. Her trips back and forth had been under the cover of scientific exploration and, while she had indeed managed to harvest countless samples and bioscan great swathes of terrain, she’d also managed to create a fairly well-stocked and secure shelter in an extensive cave system. She’d been careful to bring back data from areas around it but none that were too close. Consequently, those hunting her would have no prior knowledge of the land or the dangers that would await them should they made it through. 


She’d known that CrathCorp would figure her plan out eventually but, still, she could have done with a little more time to prepare. Alisha thought regretfully of the lab equipment she’d been hoping to smuggle on the next trip. She thought too of the half-finished calculations that had given her away. She’d need to try to remember them later. Still, she’d been lucky to get the generator materials finished last trip - at least there would be electricity when it was assembled. The requisitions officer had been suspicious in the first few trips (he’d argued that duvets from home were non-essential) but had become accustomed to Alisha’s strange packing choices. There had been perks to the trust and respect her position had afforded her.


Her ankle flared with pain at every step she took. Two hours before reaching the caves, she had to stop to bandage it. The blood wasn’t gushing but any evidence she left could be used to track her and a bloody trail would be laughably easy to follow. It seemed that one of the bullets fired at her as she leapt from the platform into the swirling blue abyss had grazed her. She supposed she had been lucky that it hadn’t been more of a direct hit; her medical supplies here weren’t terrible but she didn’t have the expertise to perform surgery on herself.


She’d had worse injuries in her life though and, tightening the gauze, she continued her hike. It took her a little longer to traverse the pitfalls leading to it - including sinkholes lightly covered with foliage and strings of poisonous vines that she’d hoisted between trees - than usual. Her extra luggage, both hastily assembled from what she had nearby in her lab and pre-packed carefully for this exact scenario, slowed her down more than the damaged ankle. 


The first view of her haven relaxed her though. There was no sign that it had been disturbed in the three weeks she’d been absent and she slid to the ground in front of it in relief. There was a complicated route from the mouth of the cave to her inner sanctum that required some amount of focus and she needed a moment before attempting it. 


Voices echoed in her head as she replayed the hours leading up to her mad dash to this dimension. Sounds of betrayal from those who considered her friend, outrage from those who had employed her for information she’d withheld and fear from those who had been in her way. Alisha sighed heavily. She wasn’t proud of the things she’d done to reach this point but it had been necessary. They had made it necessary. 


She allowed herself a moment to reflect on the losses she’d inflicted and suffered and then steeled herself. 


Entering the caves was something not to be attempted if fatigued or distracted. She’d dedicated a significant amount of time making sure that the entrance to her would-be home was secure and a wrong step would activate a rockfall that would block off the tunnel and probably crush the trespasser. Human trespassers. Noxious smelling plants surrounded the mouth of the cave and repelled animal visitors, which is how Alisha had found it in the first place. Back home on Earth, these leaves could be synthesised into a powerful anesthetic and she had been looking for a larger supply. What she’d found, though, had been much more valuable. 


The cave system was vast and sprawling. It had a natural spring in one of the caverns that was clear and sweet. One chamber had an unseen heat source that kept it warm all day long and another was so large that Alisha could have fit the entire CrathCorp building inside with room to spare. It was deep underground, too, so although there was quite a lot of walking involved, it was as secure as she could have hoped. The only thing it was missing was a food source. And Alisha’s friends and family. The ache of loss was a physical weight for her. 


Months of trips meant that Alisha had been able to begin the process of domesticating her shelter and the sight of her workbench was welcome as she turned the corner into the first ‘room’. She dropped her bags and fished out the new battery from a backpack. Inserting it into her computer brought the display to life and she perched on a rocky ledge to properly examine the image. 


A perfectly rendered model of the Gate hovered above the projector node, spinning slowly. Dark stone, arranged in concentric circles, encased the hollow void in the centre. As Alisha watched, the computer created a perfect rendition of the portal singing to life, blue light filling the space. It grew brighter and brighter until it spat out the single passenger that could travel through at any one time before fading away to leave only stone once more. Alisha had an advantage in that her pursuers could only come through individually and none knew the terrain like she did. But she knew who they would send and the small advantage she had seemed insignificant in the face of that. 


The quickest the portal had ever recharged was three days and it had sometimes needed a full week. As she’d spent half a day already, she had to move quickly. If she was going to find a way to disable the Gate, she had to figure it out in less than two days or risk having to deal with those sent to apprehend her. 


Her team had been told that they were investigating and exploring this world for scientific gain and she had certainly seen her fair share of benefits from the world. Medicines had been found here that had cured many on Earth and Alisha herself had found the natural resource that had been the key to a major advance in renewable energy. However, it hadn’t taken her long to discover CrathCorp’s contract with the government, where they planned to use this as an off-world internment camp. It was a perfect spot, free from the laws that dictated prisoner rights and the prying eyes of Earth’s media. The horrors that they had planned were beyond what Alisha had realised mankind were capable of. The manager who had confided in her with pride and excitement at their company’s ingenuity was lying on his office floor now, sightless eyes clouded over. He’d tried to stop her entering the Gate room. 


She knew that disabling the portal from this side was the only way to ensure its permanent closure and she’d resigned herself to her life of exile but, when she allowed herself a quiet moment, the promise of endless loneliness left a bitter taste in her mouth. 


The hours trickled away and she took breaks only for the essentials. Enough food to fuel her, short bursts of sleep to refresh and the necessary comfort breaks only. 


It was at the end of the second day that she figured it out. Equations, some started on Earth and some newly discovered, were scrawled on the walls in chalk: a graffiti testament to her intelligence. A quietly triumphant laugh escaped her, the first sound she had made since arriving. Alisha stretched and listened to the pop of joints releasing from hours of inaction. Checking the timer, she was pleased to find that she had nearly eighteen hours left before the portal was likely to become live again. Enough time to rest then. 


She deliberated for a moment and then made her way to the heated cavern. Inside, she’d fashioned a bed out of a heather-like plant and topped it with a faded comforter that she’d first had on her bed as a girl back in Bristol. She set an alarm for two hours and settled in but found that her brain wouldn’t quiet. 


Locking the portal would stop CrathCorp. She knew they would try to undo it but Alisha was one of the top scientists in the world; she was confident that she’d be able to keep it closed. But locking it would also isolate her for the rest of life. She would never again hold her baby niece or poke fun at her father’s inability to pronounce ‘hors d’oeuvres’. She would be trapped here, her survival dependent on her wits and the few pieces of technology she’d managed to squirrel away. A tear escaped her and she wiped it away furiously. These decisions had been made already. There hadn’t even been much of a choice. How could she choose any other way? What was one life against the many that CrathCorp were planning on destroying? 


Alisha lent over and flicked the switch on the nightlight that she’d had since she was eight years old. Smuggling it in had been a mess of excuses but she was glad she’d done it. Running the batteries was a luxury that she probably couldn’t afford but she needed the comfort. Above her, speckled on the ceiling of the place that she would call home shone hundreds of stars. She recalled her mother pointing out the constellations on her bedroom ceiling all those years ago and she remembered how different the stars outside the cave were. 


In two hours, she would get up and make her way to the Gate. In ten hours, she would seal it for good. In ten hours and fifteen minutes, she would stand in the clearing, overshadowed by imposing stone circles, and know that she was completely and irreversibly alone. 


But for now she looked at the stars from home, wrapped in her childhood duvet and remembered the soothing sound of her mother’s voice. 

July 21, 2020 02:52

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36 comments

Jonathan Blaauw
07:43 Jul 21, 2020

You have done it again!! I find sci-fi so difficult to do in short stories because it requires a lot of backstory for which there usually isn’t time/space. Or so I thought. But you’ve pulled it off expertly, explaining what needs explaining along the way, all the while enveloping the reader in the plight of the protagonist. And that is where the strength of your story lies, I feel: Alisha. You’ve given little bits here and there that really bring her out as a character and makes the conclusion quite sad. But hopeful, also, because she’s doin...

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Elle Clark
09:21 Jul 21, 2020

As always, Jonathon, your comments give me life. I think this needs quite a bit of editing but the faster you put stories up, the faster they get published so I just wanted something up. I’ve been messing with it already this morning, trying to flesh out bits I’d neglected but your comment gives me hope that it’s not as terrible as I’d thought it was! I’m trying to push myself to try different genres and different viewpoints (though I stuck with my minimal dialogue comfort zone again!) to try and improve as a writer. I don’t think I’ve writt...

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Jonathan Blaauw
15:00 Jul 21, 2020

I do sometimes wish I could offer more constructive feedback. Like suggest a fix here, a change there. But I’ve just read it again and I can’t see a single thing to point out. Bear in mind I’m coming from purely a reader’s perspective. I have no formal writing training, but by this stage of my life, I know what I good story looks like. Or feels like, actually. And yours feels good (if that makes sense?) I particularly love the contrast of the stars. The description of the alien stars is Lovecraftesque in the beginning, and then her roof s...

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Elle Clark
20:19 Jul 21, 2020

Constructive feedback is always welcome and please feel free to point things out that you see but there’s something to be said for picking up on the good, too! I don’t know about you but I’m very heavily critical of my own writing and sometimes it’s nice to have someone point out that it’s not terrible. If you get time, I just posted another (two in one week, my goodness). Also, let me know when yours goes up - I’ve been checking but I haven’t seen anything yet!

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Jonathan Blaauw
05:00 Jul 22, 2020

I agree 100% I think we’re our own harshest critics and that is so often my biggest downfall. So its always nice to have the good pointed out. Especially if there is nothing but good, like in this story. But improving is also important, so if ever I see something to point out I won’t hesitate, but with your writing, that seems rather unlikely. My story is in the final editing phase, should be fit for human consumption sometime today (we hope). Off to read your other one now.

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Sarah Kaderbek
12:34 Jul 25, 2020

You definitely have a knack for sci-fi! This was so poignant, and your descriptions are just lovely! Too often, sci-fi is used as an excuse for absurdity, but done well, it’s the most philosophical of genres. No overarching critiques from me, just a couple of jarring details. This is definitely a “me thing,” but I got really thrown off by “CrathCorp” because a) I couldn’t figure out how it ought to be pronounced and so b) it sounded made up, which was jarring in a short story in which you’re mostly focused on bug picture and don’t in...

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Elle Clark
13:26 Jul 25, 2020

This is so useful- thank you! I love critique so much. What would your suggestions be for the company name? I feel like a name is important for the story so it’s not just abstract? What would you do if it were you? I’ll change the fish thing to something more generic too- I agree that it’s a little jarring. I thought that as I was writing it but gave a metaphorical shrug and decided to come back to it (then forgot). Thank you so much for the critique!

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Batool Hussain
04:51 Jul 21, 2020

Excellent! This story is beyond perfection. Wow! Mind checking out my new story and sharing your views on it? Thanks. P.s: I love the fact how so many people I follow have decided to write a story on the very same prompt as you(including me;)

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Elle Clark
09:22 Jul 21, 2020

Thanks Batool! I’ll check yours out when I get a chance 😊

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Rayhan Hidayat
19:05 Oct 17, 2020

Don’t mind me, just looking for inspiration 😙 Obviously there’s no point in a critique, so I’ll list the things I like: >How poignant this is >The detail crammed into every sentence, whether it was setting, backstory or worldbuilding >The fact that it works despite an absence of dialogue

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Elle Clark
21:15 Oct 19, 2020

Haha, you’re so sweet. Thank you for a lovely comment, as always!

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Rayhan Hidayat
11:20 Oct 20, 2020

Always a pleasure 😉 Just commented on your new story, it was utterly terrifying

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Yolanda Wu
00:38 Sep 20, 2020

I just keep finding myself back on your page to read more of your stories. Your writing is captivating, immersive and honestly addicting. I don't usually read science fiction, but your story managed to keep me hooked with every line. Right from the beginning, your descriptions pulled me in and I could see and feel everything so vividly. I love all the detail you pack into it, and I found myself going deeper and deeper into Alisha's world. And that ending was perfect. No wonder it was shortlisted. By the way, I have another story out, it's ...

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Elle Clark
07:05 Sep 20, 2020

That’s such a lovely thing to say - thank you so much! Looking forward to reading your new one!

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Josh C
09:03 Sep 11, 2020

I know I'm way way late on this story, but wow! What a read. Really hooked me from the beginning, and I loved how everything unravelled.

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Elle Clark
09:27 Sep 11, 2020

Thank you!

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20:14 Aug 17, 2020

Great stuff! The two things I appreciated most about it were... a) Anti-authoritarianism. Almost all of my writings, whether fiction, article, essay or script have an anti-authoritarian element. It seems that now more than ever, people need to wake up to the truth that authority is brutality that gets meaner the larger it grows. So keep writing against The Man! b) The thing about the father's pronunciation really drove home what I could already tell, which is that you have an innate sense of your character that runs deep, which is of great...

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Elle Clark
21:01 Aug 17, 2020

Thank you! Yeah, I do feel like maybe ‘think about who you listen to and what their values are’ is a good message to include. Thank you so much for a lovely comment!

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Shreya S
08:22 Aug 17, 2020

Sci-fi! I loved this one too! You know I think the both of you talked about it sometime before, but I also think if you wrote an actual book it would be really good. There’s this flow in your stories, as in, when I’m reading I’m actually confused in the middle because I’m wondering, how is this story going to end? What I’m trying to say is that until the very end when you round off the story with a perfect ending, it really actually feels like the start of a book. So I’m reading and I don’t want it to end. I would gladly read maybe some othe...

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Elle Clark
08:39 Aug 17, 2020

Well that’s really lovely to say! I definitely don’t have the time or patience for a longer story though! Maybe in a few years when I have more time. But thank you! If I do ever write one, I’ll let you know!

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Shreya S
08:41 Aug 17, 2020

Haha okay sure, maybe one day!

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Barbara Eustace
16:36 Aug 02, 2020

Laura, what a lovely and well put together story. I like sci-fi, so loved reading this. Like Jonathan, I too often find it difficult to write in a concise manner. One little thing I noticed at the end. She's going to stand in a clearing overshadowed by a stone circle. Maybe she won't be quite alone after all.

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Elle Clark
16:45 Aug 02, 2020

What a beautifully hopeful note! I hadn’t even clocked that, if I’m honest, but you’re right. Somebody or something built it... Thank you for taking the time to read and comment!

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Deidra Lovegren
21:19 Aug 01, 2020

Could Netflix just make this into a series already?! Excellent pacing. Ready for this to be continued!

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Elle Clark
21:23 Aug 01, 2020

Ha! Can you even imagine? Thank you!

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Claire Tennant
00:58 Jul 29, 2020

Laura this story does not lack energy I'm not a big fan of Sci-Fi, but I saw Alisha as a combination of James Bond (though he is too selfish) and the cold-hearted Ziva from NCIS. Regardless I could picture the cave, her pain, her sacrifice, and just a hint of the earthly powers that don't mind using human sacrifice as a means to an end I also liked the fragile Alisha the need for comfort images of her childhood. Your word pictures are excellent

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Elle Clark
06:13 Jul 29, 2020

Thank you so much! Thank you as well for reading and commenting on so many! It made my morning to wake up and see that you’d read a few 😊

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Slater Garcia
19:52 Jul 27, 2020

I got big LV426 vibes from this with traces of We Can Remember it For You Wholesale! Very neat story. Don't know if you intended this or not, but you wrote the protagonist so well it actually makes you question her utilitarian values at the end because you don't want her to suffer. If so, that's a very cool head-trick.

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Elle Clark
20:28 Jul 27, 2020

Well thank you! I was hoping that people would be torn about the choice she’s making so I’m glad it worked for you. Thank you for reading and commenting!

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Roshna Rusiniya
08:33 Jul 27, 2020

This was very well-written. Sci- Fi in my opinion is not so easy to write and I am scared to even try. But you have done an amazing job here. I also admire those who post multiple stories for the weekly prompts. I did it once and it was exasperating. So very well done there!

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Elle Clark
10:18 Jul 27, 2020

Thank you, Roshna! I had a bit of extra time last week but I think one a week might be my standard! People like Zilla who regularly do four or five are so impressive.

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Roshna Rusiniya
15:54 Jul 27, 2020

You are welcome :)

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Russell Norman
10:51 Oct 07, 2021

Reading your back catalogue and loving every one of them. Not surprised this story was shortlisted.

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Elle Clark
09:44 Oct 08, 2021

Aw, thanks!

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Dhananjay Sharma
09:23 Sep 21, 2020

Beautifully constructed. Simply amazing. https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/contests/59/submissions/34852/ give a read to mine. also I would love to interact with you and discuss writing as a profession provided we could share contact details.

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Elle Clark
10:02 Sep 21, 2020

Please stop posting these copy and pasted comments on people's profiles - especially mine. This comments seems like a particularly creepy one. I sincerely hope that you aren't asking the younger members of the site to give you their details in exchange for a promise of a boost in the publishing world.

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