Welcome to another free read Wednesday!
I’m so glad to be back after the rough week I had. My dog suffered a stroke and I’d spent several days caring for her as she recovered, constantly worried that this “would be it.” Thankfully, she made an amazing recovery, and the old girl will be with us for a while longer. Now I can get back into the swing of things.
We’re back for the most recent addition to my new story, presented through the flash fiction group Wednesday Briefers.
Each week, the contributing members write a chapter/story with a maximum of 1000 words, trying to get the most out of the word limit. For me, it helps keep me writing when my schedule gets tight. Win/win!
Is the sensor array working after Arad’s near-disastrous spacewalk?
Missed the first installment and want to start at the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1
Without another thought, Arad bounced out of bed and headed out into the hallway, not waiting for Roku to follow. A new energy rush suffused his body, drowning the previous melancholy. It shoved the spacewalk mishap’s list of events out from under the microscope and into a glaring spotlight.
Bare feet slapped the metal floor with increasing speed the closer Arad came to the bridge. His heart thumped with the rising tension. Now with the question out in the air, could he bear the answer? No path inside the ship took long, but getting to the front of the Ansariland and the command controls appeared endless. Anxiety extended the corridors into a trek through dry desert.
He should have broken into Tank’s liquor stash.
Familiar the bridge may have been, yet he crossed the threshold with wary steps. A life full of near-misses and near-escapes could only be pushed so far. The ship was his, but he found himself praying to it, begging for to grant him this small privilege.
Sliding into the navigator’s seat, a sick vibration unsteadied Arad’s hands, even as he began tapping at the monitor. Finding the path through the menus took little effort. He’d ran this program so many times since the jump to no benefit. Would he actually get a different result this time?
*** INITIALIZE SENSOR GRID – Y/N? ***
Arad licked his lips and swallowed, hands hovering over the control. The chance of the system being fixed seemed so remote, but in all likelihood, the initial problem hadn’t appeared to be a complicated one. Luck was fickle, and he’d danced on its razor’s edge for oh so many years.
“No time like the present.” Holding his breath, he pressed an index finger to the screen.
*** SENSOR GRID INITIALIZATION IN PROGRESS ***
For once, Roku’s natural feline stealthiness didn’t hide his entrance to the bridge. “Any news so far?”
“Too early to tell.”
Roku settled close, peering over Arad’s shoulder. His firm chest pressed against Arad’s shoulder blade. “How long should this take?”
“I don’t know. It hasn’t worked since the Ansariland became mine.”
“What will we do if it doesn’t work?”
Exhaling, Arad shuddered. “I’m not sure.”
Excruciating minutes passed, ended by an electronic chime.
*** SENSOR GRID ACTIVE ***
Arad stifled a gasp to hide any premature excitement. The next prompt did not help.
*** INITIALIZE SUB-SYSTEMS – Y/N? ***
Without another word, Arad chose yes. According to every schematic he could lay his hands on, communications was integrated with the sensors in a way that disabling one had shut down the other, and there was no way to disentangle them. Since the jump, the Ansariland had no way to send out or gather any information coming in. Arad wanted the strangle the idiot engineer responsible for the design and its flaws. Probably someone who had never set foot inside a spacecraft or held a wrench in their lives.
Admittedly, being adrift with no prying eyes had been a godsend at first, but once Roku woke, everything changed. All the stakes were new, and the survival game needed new strategy.
*** COMMUNICATIONS SUB-SYSTEM ACTIVE ***
Roku leaned closer, pushing Arad’s back off the seat. “Is it working?”
Arad swiped the windows to fill the screen, allowing the data to flicker through intermittent static. “It’s a little sketchy, and there’s still gaps in the sensor range—”
A gentle, happy chuckle floated out of Roku. “But it’s working.”
“We can see what’s out there again, right?”
“Yeah, but it’s hardly perfect—”
Sincere reverence and wonder coated Roku’s voice. “But you did it.”
The honest compliment made Arad wince. “I guess.” Years of skating by on sheer dumb luck and sly maneuvers had turned this success into something awkward and unfamiliar. His inner monologue wouldn’t shut up about how a loser from Grey District didn’t deserve this kind of praise. Not for plugging in a loose circuit board.
“Arad, stop!” Roku grabbed Arad by the shoulders and gave him a shake. “You went outside and risked your life for us. Before this, we were floating blind with no longterm hope of survival. We have a chance now. A real chance. You did it!”
Eyes alight, and grinning, Roku shifted his hands down to Arad’s waist, and tossed him in the air, smacking Arad into the ceiling with a dull thud of skull on metal.
Smile flashing into shock, Roku gathered Arad close, stroking his head with panicked, but delicate caresses.“Oh, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“That’s gonna leave a mark.” Covering the throbbing point with one hand, Arad didn’t fight Roku’s attentions. The more contact, the less he paid attention to the ache. “I’ll be okay. It’s just my head.”
“I didn’t mean to do that. I promise.”
“I believe you. For the future, I don’t think the ceiling’s high enough for that kind of celebration.”
Arad laughed and the concern filling Roku’s expression became warm and giving. While he had stopped checking Arad for injuries, he had yet to lower Arad’s feet to the floor. “You’re amazing…”
Arad’s brain stalled trying to remember the last time anyone said such sweet words to him without expecting anything in return. Slugs weren’t accustomed to kindness. Promises from men like Davis were the most they could hope for. Until today.
The sight of Roku’s earnest smile made Arad’s eyes mist. Maybe shards of splintered bone had shredded his grey matter. There had to be an explanation. Something in Roku’s rapt focus drew Arad in, made the nightmares and memory loss seem unimportant, replacing all their trials and suffering with a feeling he hadn’t known in ages. Hope. Palpable and rich between them, they shared it, and it sang of the potential future. The sensation flooded Arad as he reached out and cradled Roku’s head between his palms.
Roku’s raspy whisper thickened. “Arad, what… what are you doing?”
“Shh… now’s not the time for talking.” Leaning forward, Arad covered Roku’s lips with his own.
Want to start from the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1
Be sure to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!