This is the last of the regular season Play with the Prose challenges, and appropriately, it’s to write a story about a goodbye in 300 words or fewer.
|The last of the 127 scientists and their families had evacuated the research base and entered the austere star cruiser as the dispassionate, disembodied voice of AnTON, the base sentinel, intoned, “Eleven minutes until impact. All personnel have been accounted for and are on board.” Captain Sharperson closed the airlock to the Segel Glätten behind her, her young daughter Saffre’s hand held tightly in her own.
The approaching coronal mass ejection from the star Gliese 33, a bloated red giant, was more massive than anything they’d predicted. Not only was its radiation far greater than a human could survive, but the stream of electrons and protons would irreplaceably damage any electronics in its path — a path that included Advanced Research Outpost Tau/Omicron.
The pilot was already completing his flight preparations as the captain entered the control room, pointing her daughter to one of the strap-down seats along the back. “Captain, we’re flight-ready, but AnTON isn’t cutting us loose!”
“Eight minutes to impact. Evacuation procedure three-alpha completed.”
The captain ran her fingers through her hair. “Then why are we still docked, AnTON? We need to go NOW!”
“I am still awaiting verbal settlement.”
The captain glanced over at the pilot, who shrugged his shoulders and gestured frantically at the ship chronometer. Captain Sharperson stared furiously at the control panel. “What settlement? For God’s sake, AnTON, our procedures are complete – launch the Segel Glätten!” Only silence answered her. “WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR, AnTON?!”
Saffre came up from behind the captain and held her tightly around the leg. Trembling, she whispered, “Goodbye, AnTON.”
At that moment, a tremor shook the Segel Glätten as the release locks opened up, and the base’s autopilot slowly spun the star cruiser around and into an escape vector.
Did I go out with a bang, or a whimper? RESULTS
The judges’ comments:
K: Although AnTON is just an artificial intelligence, this story is loaded with suspense and humanity. It’s a high concept that could be unintentionally comical if told with less care, but I found myself well engaged with this one. In the past few years I’ve finally become something of a sci-fi fan, and I think it’s related to the solid genre stories I get here. GOLD
P: What does AnTON stand for (other than “cheap way for Pete to like your submission”… it was only last week I professed my approval of the name). I didn’t entirely feel the tension that I maybe should have with the imminent destruction of the vessel, but the denouement (The AI just wants to be acknowledged) was very nice. SILVER
- This story gives nods to Jack McDevitt’s Priscilla Hutchins novels and Arthur C. Clarke’s 2010: Odyssey Two.
- Segel Glätten? “Smooth Sailing” in German
- What does AnTON stand for? Nothing — it was a cheap way for Pete to like my submission. 😉
The end of the regular season: STANDINGS
I can’t be upset with a solid fourth place, good enough to reach the playoffs. I’m particularly pleased that only once didn’t I medal, something that only New Guy, the top place finisher, and I accomplished.
What’s next? Post season, baby! Now we get to separate the men from the…well, me. Time to get writing!