Update: The three winners were announced today and, while I wasn’t one of them, you should all go and read the winning entries!
- Be no more than 1,000 words
- Genre: Science-Fiction
- Theme: “Future Food”
I’ve never tried this sort of word limit before in my writing so it was a fun challenge. There are some takeaway notes after my entry, which follows:
Roman Alexander woke to the subtle vibrations the ship made constantly. It was reassuring, since he had been pulled out of sleep while dreaming about something horrible. He couldn’t remember what it was, but the knot in his throat and the foreboding emptiness in his gut told him he was better off awake.
He swung his legs over the edge of his bunk and hopped down. Even after all these years in space, he never got used to the frigid cold that shot up through his bare feet when they hit the metal deck. The other bunks in his cabin were empty.
Roman dressed in standard issue flight coveralls and left the empty cabin behind. Everything in space was manufactured to keep the crew at their peaks. The issued clothing all contained a thin inner layer which acted on its own depending on what the wearer’s body required. If they got too hot, the clothing would wick away sweat. Too cold, it would expand slightly to provide extra warmth. Their boots would increase padding to areas of the foot under considerable stress. Their food was modified with additives which managed the rate of absorption into the body. In this way, those in charge could ensure maximum productivity, since they could control how quickly — or not — their crew would get hungry.
Roman made his way through the labyrinth of corridors, decks, stairwells and hatches by memory. He spent the entire stroll to the mess hall yawning, stretching and rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He was too busy adjusting the lay of his coveralls to notice the red smear on the mess hall hatch as he pulled it open and stepped through.
A thick, greasy smell of copper lingering in the air slapped him out of his groggy state and sent a jolt of panic through his body. Before him was a scene of absolute carnage. He saw the bodies of his four other cabin mates slumped at their usual table, their faces and heads misshapen and unrecognizable. The legs of two crew members stuck out from behind a counter. He stepped carefully around the mess hall, trying to make sense of what happened. He wasn’t close to the dead, so there was no emotional pain. Instead, his thoughts went immediately to self preservation. He knew that this must have happened recently, otherwise the maintenance servos would have taken the bodies to the incinerator and scrubbed the surfaces clean. To do so, they would lock down the mess hall for an unknown amount of time.
Roman went to the food preparation area, behind the serving counter, knowing he needed to grab as much food as possible before they locked down the room. Once a room was in lock down, there was no telling when it would open again. He picked up a cafeteria tray just as the warning lights filled the room, with spinning orange light. This announced that the maintenance servos were due to arrive. He had one minute. Maybe two.
He loaded up the tray with a bowl and filled it with Slop, their tasteless meal staple. It was beige in color, smelled like adhesive paste with a slimy consistency. Everybody hated Slop, but calories were calories. He stuffed fistfuls of experimental nutrient biscuits — little hard, round condensed meals — into his coverall pockets. The biscuits always were his favorite. Nobody else would touch them, though. The hatch opening behind him and the mechanical buzz of the servos entering the room, Roman hefted up a box of water rations under his arm and hurried out of the room. Just as he exited into the corridor outside the mess hall, the hatch slammed shut .
Roman took his scraps back to his cabin and locked the door. He sat down at the one small table and shoved a spoonful of Slop into his mouth. He immediately regretted the decision. As he struggled to swallow, he felt himself choking. The Slop seemed to stick to the inside of his throat and it felt as though an unseen force was squeezing it with all of its might. He began to claw at his own neck in desperation.
In the entombing emptiness of space, in a metal frigate floating through nothingness, Roman Alexander lunged upright in his bunk, gasping for air. He grabbed at his throat and, after what felt like an eternity, his lungs began to fill with air. He had been dreaming. He was alright.
Roman pushed aside the privacy curtain of his bunk and said, “Lights,” to nobody in particular. After a moment, the bright overhead lights of his cabin flickered to life. It was when he brought his hands up to his face to rub his eyes that he knew something was wrong — his hands were covered in dried blood. Sitting on the edge of his bunk, alone in the cabin, he inspected his hands. The blood had clearly been there for some time. Under one of his fingernails he found a hair. The color of sun-baked straw. Roman had black hair.
He would have sat there for a long time, if it hadn’t been for the pounding on the other side of his cabin hatch. Four heavy knocks then a thin line of flame and sparks began to shoot into his cabin, tracing a line around the locked hatch. Roman hopped down from his bunk and picked up a heavy mechanic’s wrench from the small table. There was blood in the crevices of the wrench, along with hair and bits of tissue matter.
“Lights,” he said, quietly.
After the lights went out, he could feel the warmth of the sparks as they fell to the metal floor and faded into darkness. There, in the icy blackness of his cabin, he grinned a menacing grin and waited for his guests to finish cutting their way into his territory. He took another bite of a biscuit.
“Damn,” he thought, “I love these things.“
When I found out about this contest, I only had two days left before the submission deadline. The concept came to mind almost immediately but I really, really struggled with reducing my original word count (coming in at around 1,600 words) to within the 1,000 limit. It was a good exercise in being very choosy with words and evaluating a the value of some words over others, to convey a specific idea.
Overall, I’m happy with my short, short story. I may expand on the plot at some point down the road and, being my first attempt at science-fiction, I don’t think I did half bad. I’m excited to read some of the other submissions to see what others came up with.