3 comments

Science Fiction Fantasy Horror

Samantha Wringley truly thought she’d landed her dream job. She’d graduated at the top of her class with a double major in electrical and mechanical engineering and had been aggressively courted by numerous universities to carry on with her master’s degrees. Several large corporations had also offered to not only hire her, but cover all the costs of her post-graduate education. However, Sam was tired of academia and ready for a new direction, and ‘What could be more exciting than becoming a citizen crew member of the TSC, the Transnational Space Community?’ she thought.


Her trip from Miami, Florida to Fortaleza, Brazil had taken longer than expected; she’d been granted free passage on a cargo ship carrying what she assumed were trade goods for the space colonists. During the two-day journey, she’d watched videos and read up on everything she could find about the two space colonies at Lagrange-points L4 and L5. These megalopolises in space were essentially autonomous without the absolute need for regular shipments of critical supplies or components from Earth. However there were quite a few things in demand on Earth that were only producible in zero gravity, so commerce thrived. The massive cities consisted of rotating cylinders with citizens living in simulated gravity on the interior surfaces; however, if citizen crew members travelled to the axis of a tubular city, they would find themselves weightless.


‘How wonderful,’ she fantasized, ‘to look up through the simulated clouds, and to be able to see your neighbors on the other side of the cylinder…or spend your off-time at the zero-G gymnasiums.’


With images of the man-made civilizations still tantalizing her imagination, she finally stepped off the cargo ship and was met by a representative of the TSC. He was clean-shaven and wore his white hair in a crew-cut. The short sleeves of his company coveralls exposed his muscular arms and his forearm tattoos revealed his naval service; one was a stretched mermaid and the other was the sea snake of the Gadsden naval jack.


“Hello, Miss Wringley, my name is Ryan Taylor, but you can call me Buck. I’m here to escort you to the space elevator near Fortaleza, and on the climb into orbit; I will be overseeing your training for your first-year assignment.”


Sam crinkled her sharp but dainty nose, “Year?”


Buck smiled knowingly, “Yes, Miss Wringley…a whole year…”


Before he could finish, he was interrupted; a golf cart drove up and a sailor casually heaved two suitcases onto the concrete beside her. Kerplunk…kerplop.


Buck cleared his throat and continued, “Your bags I assume…well you’ll only need the smaller one. You can keep your personal affects and your…” he paused when he noticed the red strap of a laced bra peeking out beneath her white V-neck blouse. Buck pushed the impure thoughts from his salty old mariner’s mind and continued, “…your delicates. However you won’t need any other clothing items, as you will be provided with company-issued uniforms.”


Sam pushed back her long blond tresses and wrinkled her nose again. “Uniforms? Like that one?” she asked, pointing to Buck’s. “I hope I won’t have to cut my hair like you too,” she added.


Buck let out a guffaw, “Ha! No, that won’t be necessary. I only wear a buzz-cut to hide my age…but listen here…I have come up with a nickname for you.”


Sam rolled her striking hazel green eyes, “Dare I ask?”


“Miss Wrinkly!” he laughed.


Once again her nose furrowed, “What?”


Buck pointed at her face, “No wait, not Wrinkly…Wrinkles.”


Sam now wore a full frown, “My name is Wringley, not Wrinkly, or Wrinkles…if you want to shorten it, just call me Sam.”


Buck picked up the larger of Sam’s two bags and said, “Okay, Wrinkles…I mean Sam…follow me.”


Sam shook her head, hoping she’d not made the wrong decision.


**********


The space elevator was a gigantic cylinder, ‘Four or maybe five stories in height,’ Sam thought as she watched two equally enormous cargo containers shaped like half-cylinders mate up and attach themselves to opposite sides of the elevator, thus making it an even bigger metal tube. A narrow tether made of macro-scale single-crystal graphene reached straight up through the clouds to infinity.


Buck triggered a sliding entry door and stepped aside, “After you Miss Wrink…I mean Wringley.”


“How long is the elevator ride?” she asked. “Your nickname game is going to get old real fast.”


“I’m sorry, Sam, but to answer your question, it’s a climb, not a ride, and it’ll take about two weeks to reach geostationary orbit. Once there, we’ll drop our cargo pods, pickup any that are on the platform, and secure them for the return to Earth. Then, I will disembark and you’ll take over.”


Samantha put her hands on the hips of her standard TSC coveralls and hesitated at the elevator’s threshold, “You mean, I’m not going to be a citizen crew member on one of the space stations? I’m going to be a glorified elevator operator?” Her wrinkles were showing.


Buck mimicked her stance, “Now you’ve insulted me, young lady. I’ve been doing this job for twenty years!”


“Twenty? Why?”


“Yes twenty; does my white hair betray me? I spent my first twenty employable years in the navy, so I must really look old to you if you think I’ve been doing this job for any more than twenty years.”


“No, I didn’t mean it like that…I was just surprised that you’ve been at it that long. You must really like it.” Sam tried her best to not start their two-week trip on a sour note.


“I did like it, Sam, but I’m retiring.”


“At least you’re getting to spend your retirement on L4 or L5…I’m jealous.” Sam was glad that someone who’d spent their life hauling containers up and down a freight elevator would finally get to take the next giant leap.


Buck frowned, “To be honest, I would’ve loved to retire sooner; however, this is the first opening in over ten years.”


Sam entered the compartment and the door closed behind Buck as he followed her inside. “I read that the population of the two colonies is kept stable by balancing the birth and death rates, but I can’t believe that nobody up there would want to return home at some point…either that or nobody has died in ten years,” Sam speculated.


“Don’t you worry, Sam, you won’t have to keep this job forever. There’s plenty of ground-based jobs in the TSC, but just remember…they’ve put you up here because they see something special in you. There are five other elevators located around the earth at the equator, and climber operators are next in line when Space Ops has an opening. Essentially they’ve moved you to the top of the list with only five people ahead of you. It shouldn’t be long now, they’re sure to have a few openings soon…nobody lives forever,” Buck reassured his apprentice.


Buck gave her a quick tour of her quarters, the mess hall, the recreation area, and the control center. He showed her how to unlock the armory and how to activate the medical beds if necessary. He also explained the intricacies of the life support systems and climber controls, as well as how to join the life support systems to the cargo containers if they happened to be carrying any passengers or animals. Although, he told her that live animals were “rare” and he hadn’t had a passenger in over ten years.


**********


The two-week trek to the top flew by, and Sam learned something new every day. She was no longer frightened of the jarring movements of the climber, since the higher up it went, the more subtle the shudders and lurches became. The first half of the trip was slow going, but the higher they ascended the faster they could travel; at this point they were well above Earth’s cloud layer and nearly weightless; she adored it; it was fantastic!


At geostationary orbit, the vessel reached the platform where its cargo pods were discharged; the central elevator was then rotated 180 degrees and it picked up the two containers that were already there waiting to be delivered to the surface. The elevator’s graphene cable continued out into space where Sam knew it was attached to a massive counterweight, but sadly she saw no transport shuttles.


“There’s no shuttle here for you…do I just leave you here?” she asked Buck.


“Yes, Wrinkles, I’ll be just fine; life support and food will last weeks. Besides, they know I’m here, so I’ll probably board a shuttle sooner than a day or two.”


Sam wondered if she’d miss Buck’s stupid nickname game before she reached the bottom.


**********


Two weeks up, and two weeks down, was one month. Ten and a half months was nearly a year, and she hadn’t shipped up or down one solitary passenger, let alone gotten word of any looming “promotion” to Space Ops. Sure, the trips were lonely, but the privacy was growing on her, she was halfway done with her master’s degree in electrical engineering by taking classes remotely. ‘So much for getting away from academia,’ she mused.


At the geostationary platform she once again unburdened the elevator of its cargo containers, but this time there were no pods at 180 degrees to take their place for the trip down. ‘Strange,’ Sam thought to herself, but only for a moment, for she saw a vessel that looked very similar to her climber, but this hauler had rocket engines at its base…and it was coming in fast!


“Oh my God,” Sam yelled. “Buck never prepared me for this kind of emergency!”


She tried desperately to contact the shuttle pilot on her communications array, “Climber to incoming hauler…you have to slow down...and your pitch is off by at least five degrees! Get your nose down!”


There was no reply.


“Hauler pilot, if you hear me, acknowledge!”


Nothing, but the ship had fired several reverse boosters so perhaps the pilot had heard her. She continued to relay instructions, “Still too fast, and you’re nose is too low now. Bring it up a couple degrees.”


The erratic flight path of the careening vessel suddenly ended as it impacted with the platform; one of its cargo containers detached and spun off into a wobbly orbit, but miraculously the pilot seemingly secured the second container to its place on the platform.


Samantha breathed a sigh of relief, but then waited for what seemed like an eternity for the shuttle to disengage. She assumed it would immediately attempt to recover the renegade container, but instead, she watched as the shuttle floated away with its main engines offline. Directional thruster jets randomly engaged around the hauler, quickly sending it on a rolling journey into nowhere.


For a long while, Sam debated what to do next. Searching through the computer’s training materials for irregularities, she eventually found the answer. She recovered one of the two pods she’d just delivered and then docked with the single pod haphazardly delivered by the now distant hauler. This was to keep the climber properly balanced for the trip down. Once engaged, she reviewed the manifest and saw that there were no passengers. However the life support systems were engaged on the container, so she decided to keep them online…just in case. Only then did she activate the climber controls and start her descent.


Two minutes, ten minutes, twenty...she stalled no longer and floated down to the entrance to the pod. The airlock hissed and the bay door opened inward. The cargo hold was stacked from floor to ceiling with refrigerator-sized containers. Slumped against an opened one was a man wearing a frayed and shabby TSC uniform. The pilot? Long white hair covered his face. There were three slashes across his chest and several puncture wounds on his right leg; all of them oozed blood that had created balls of syrup floating and sometimes collecting on the waffled metal floor. She pulled aside his greasy hair and was shocked when the man greeted her weakly before dropping off into unconsciousness. “Wrinkles…”


**********


Two days, four days, five…they were nearly halfway home, climbing down the tether before Buck awoke. Sam had hooked him up to the medical bed and did her best to follow the instructions to stabilize his numerous injuries.


“Wrinkles? Where are you?” Buck called to her.


She was up in the control center and her face appeared on the screen next to his bed. “Welcome back, Buck. I’m here; I’ll be down in a minute.”


Buck Taylor grabbed the monitor and pulled himself up to it; the stress on his face and in his voice was tangible. “Eject the pods! Jettison them! NOW!”


“What? Why?”


“Just do it! DO IT NOW!“ Buck hollered. “For ten years we’ve been hauling passengers! The colonies are compromised! BOTH of them! I wasn’t approved to retire in space…I was supposed to return to Earth…I lied! I stowed away in a cargo pod. I had to KNOW!”


Sam didn’t argue, but immediately she began the protocols to abandon her cargo. While she worked she had to hear more, “Buck, I’m going as fast as I can. You said passengers…what passengers?”


“Humanoid aliens…they look like us…mostly…but they have…they have retractable pitchfork claws…they must’ve somehow infiltrated the colonies and assumed control. All of the colonists are dead! I saw them! ALL OF THEM! They were just floating in the ruble of the cylinders…dead bodies drifting in space!”


“Floating? How? I thought the colonies had artificial gravity?” Sam’s fingers danced on the control panel.


“They stopped rotating…these creatures don’t need an atmosphere to survive…don’t ask me how, but…but…” Buck choked on his words.


“There! That’s it! They’re away!” Sam relayed.


Buck curled up in the fetal position on his bed and lamented, “For the last ten years we’ve been bringing them to our planet! Once on the surface they probably quickly took over ground operations. They must have…they must have an army by now. The pods are ejected, but we must be ready to flee when we reach the bottom!”


The door to the medical bay slid open, but the being standing in the opening wasn’t Sam. Two sets of razor-sharp obsidian tridents extended from its knuckles and with a guttural growl it said, “IF you reach the bottom, human.


Buck closed his eyes, ready for the sleep of death, but it never came. Three shots echoed in the climber and the alien invader sprawled out across the sterile floor; sickly yellow blood oozed from the triple entry and exit wounds. Sam had smartly accessed the armory before coming down.


Wrinkles ran to Buck’s bedside and hugged him. “So we have a week to put together a plan, eh? You’re not retiring today, Mister Ryan Taylor.”


Buck smiled in her embrace, “Thanks, Miss Samantha Wringley.”

September 03, 2021 01:34

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

3 comments

Blue Green
19:18 Sep 09, 2021

Great story! I liked your descriptions, and the relationship you build up between the two characters. The spinning cylindrical colonies reminded me of Clarke's "Rendevous with Rama". Nice twist at the end! Well written, nothing stood out as ungrammatical or jarring. The only thing I spotted was the incorrect spelling of "rubble". Nice work!

Reply

David Brown
19:52 Sep 09, 2021

Thanks! Good eye. My latest story continues the action after they reach “ground floor” :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
David Brown
22:48 Sep 03, 2021

“The space elevator will be built about 50 years after everyone stops laughing.” Arthur C. Clarke

Reply

Show 0 replies