The prompt for this month’s contest was “A World Without Fear.”
Anne Sturtevant took first place with “Desperate Measures.”
by Anne Sturtevant
They said it was a whole new world. They said we would be giants in the annals of history. We would be the very first human to travel to another world. They said it would be a new world of wonder and exploration, but something went wrong.
“We have determined that the 5th planet in the system is compatible with human life.” The small man in a white coat said, his nasal voice as irritating as it was amusing. He wore thick dark glasses and his hair combed over the top of his bald skull in a fruitless attempt at hiding his rapid hair loss. Abby was certain he was actually a hired actor; no self-respecting scientist would allow himself to stoop to such an obvious parody. He kept saying something about “the Goldilocks Zone” and it was all she could do not to giggle at the thought of three anthropomorphic bears in space suits chasing a little blonde girl around the moon.
Most of the briefing went over Abby’s head; she was not coming along for her technical expertise. She didn’t have any expertise at all, actually. She was coming along because David said she was coming along, and so she sat, listening to a caricature of a scientist talk in fancy gibberish about a place she never wanted to go with people she did not want to be around.
Her first reaction to hearing that David was going on a one-way trip to a planet so far away they would not reach it in the lifetime of anyone alive now was pure unaltered joy. She would finally be free of him, of his fists, of his booming insults, of his late night rages. She would be free to live her life. Free from him. She would never again have to lie awake in bed at night and pray that he did not come home.
She struggled not to let the happiness show on her face as he continued to talk about how he had such an important role on the team, how his terraforming plans were going to bring life to this dead hunk of rock. He droned on and on about the future of humanity and his part in ensuring the survival of the race. He talked for so long, Abby began to let her mind drift away, envisioning moving back to her mother’s house, or visiting her sister. Maybe she would get a job, or make friends, the world was suddenly full of new possibilities.
“Are you even listening to me?” David’s voice intruded on her happy thoughts.
“Of course, dear.” Abby’s reply was automatic and flat.
“And you have nothing to say to me for getting this amazing opportunity for you?”
The warning glint was in his pale blue eyes. For a brief second she thought he could read her thoughts, had seen the happiness inside her heart at the thought of him leaving, but that was not it. This was about something he said.
“I just need a moment to think about it,” Abby ventured timidly.
“There is nothing to think about, you moron,” David snapped, putting his face so close to hers she felt his hot breath. “You are going with us, and that is final. There is no thinking, no deciding. This is not for you to decide.”
“Of course, David.” Abby felt her world came crashing down around her. Gone were the dreams of freedom and joy, replaced by the sick fear that she would die in space at the side of the man she had grown to hate.
Abby looked out at the screen again. It displayed the desolate planet in brilliant full color. There was not much color to see on a planet with not plants and no atmosphere. The terraforming pods functioned just as David described and already she could see the steam that would become the planet’s atmosphere puffing from the tops. Other pods wheeled away to find their programmed spots across the planet. In a matter of only weeks the first small plants would start to grow and oxygen would be introduce.
By the time the next batch of settlers arrived, this would be a living, green and blue world, just like home. She looked again at the screen, watching the numbers from the sampling units filter in. It meant very little to her, she was not the one who was supposed to know what it all meant. It was not her job. Perhaps someone from the next group would know.
Abby dropped the cables she had been clutching to her chest like a lifeline. Behind her, the final beeps and blips of the now deactivated life pods were fading into nothing. The sun was setting behind the distant ridges, and she watched its amber rays sliding further and further away. Yes, it was a world of wonder and opportunity, but it was also a world without fear. She hit the button to open the hatch. The stars looked so bright from here.
Check out our past contest prompts and winners on the Contest page.