Today I am posting my second writing prompt session using Pitchstorm. (Check out the first writing prompt session for an explanation.) As before, I have not edited this beyond fixing a few spellings.
Character: A stoic family of pioneers
Plot: flees from a tribe of cannibals.
Notes: We want some really cool 3D scenes for this. What can we make pop out at the crowd?
The Resulting Short Fiction
They said, once upon a time, that there was prosperity to be found in the stars. “Go up, young one, go up,” was the clichéd catchphrase of several generations. Then the reports started coming back. No precious minerals, no sexy aliens to trade with, nothing but empty space and empty planets, most of which couldn’t even support life.
The lives of the pioneers of interstellar colonization were harsh, boring, and the kind of long that made the pioneers wish for a nasty, brutish and short life. The whole idea of colonizing other worlds became first passe, and then a forgotten joke.
Until it happened.
Some said it was the economy at fault. Some said it was a groundless, rose-colored fantasy of the “glorious” past of the 1980s. Others said the human race was just a toxin, bound to poison its host eventually.
Whatever the case, the Earth was dying, even more so than it had been for all these millennia. The near-death escape of the 2020s so often described by her grandparents looked like paradise by the time Evangeline decided it was time to take her family and leave the planet.
So she and her wife packed up their most important belongings, did their best to explain to the children, and they bought the best interstellar ship they could afford.
It was roughly the equivalent of a rusted-out 1920s jalopy with a flat tire.
The ship shook so hard on take-off that they all thought they were about to die in a gigantic fireball. But somehow they escaped the grimy Earth’s few remaining shreds of atmosphere, and sluggishly made a few orbits before crawling their way up to escape velocity and hurtling out towards the stars.
Evangeline set a course towards Alpha Centauri, where there was supposed to be a massive space station built during the last outward wave of colonists. If there was anywhere they could go for help and direction, it would be there. Once the computer was safely guiding the ship, Evangeline tucked the children into bed and turned on their stasis pods, then went to join her wife so they, too, could go into stasis for the long journey to the Earth’s nearest star.
“Did we really do the right thing?” Tracy asked in a tremulous voice as Evangeline laid down beside her.
“What choice did we have?” Evangeline shook her head.
“We could have waited and boarded the next commercial flight,” Tracy said. “What if something goes wrong while we’re all in stasis?”
“We’d never have been able to afford a ticket. Commercial flights are for the rich.” Evangeline sighed. “We’re just going to have to hope the computer can handle it, or at least manage to wake us up before anything goes permanently awry.”
Tracy didn’t seem to like that answer, but she didn’t argue. There wouldn’t have been any point in it, even if she had argued. Even if they turned around and went back to Earth, no one would have given them any money for the broken-down old ship that had cost their whole savings. They’d be even more trapped than they had been before.
Evangeline gave Tracy a kiss, then turned on the stasis pod, drifting off to a comfortable sleep beside her beautiful wife.
A vague, droning sound in the distant recesses.
Dim light flashing somewhere outside consciousness.
A voice, indistinguishable, faint. Alarmed.
It wasn’t until the shaking started that Evangeline managed to rouse herself from her years-long slumber. The low light and the muffled sounds did nothing to help her orient herself. “Tracy…?” All she could think of was her family. Where were they? Were they safe? Was she safe?
“Evangeline?” Tracy’s voice in her ear filled Evangeline with a pleasant warmth, despite the fear in the voice. “What’s going on? Why did the computer wake us? Are we there?”
The memories of their flight from the dying Earth suddenly flooded through Evangeline’s consciousness, and she scowled, shaking her head. “I don’t think so.” Cautiously, she felt along the walls, looking for the light switch. She couldn’t find it. “How do I turn the lights on in this bloody contraption?” she demanded.
The lights came on, full brightness, causing Evangeline to wince, covering her eyes.
Tracy recovered from the light sooner, and soon Evangeline could hear her moving out of the stasis pod, and over to the nearest computer terminal. “We’re in the middle of nowhere,” she said. “I can’t tell from these read-outs if we just haven’t gotten there yet, or if we got knocked off course.”
Evangeline managed to pry her hand away from her eyes, and followed her wife over to the computer. “I think we’re a little off-course, but not too badly. Not sure, though.” Her crash course on interstellar navigation hadn’t really covered things like emergencies.
“At least there’s another ship we can ask for directions,” Tracy said, then bit her lip. “Unless they’re the reason we’re off-course.”
“They’re probably the reason we’re awake, at any rate.” Evangeline tried a few of the other menu options on the computer screen, and found that the other ship’s main drive was disabled, and that it was sending out a distress call. Also that the computer was in the process of docking with it automatically.
“I guess we should wake the children and see if we can help,” Tracy said sadly.
“They’re probably all dead,” Evangeline countered with a grim chuckle. “That distress signal’s been going for fifty years. “But they might have something we can salvage. If they’re dead, they don’t need it, right?”
“I don’t think we can take much on this tiny ship.”
“Probably not,” Evangeline agreed, “but let’s see what they’ve got. Maybe they died so fast they couldn’t evacuate to their nice, shiny lifeboats. From the looks of it, this was a luxury vessel when it left Earth.” And everyone knew that the lifeboats on those fancy starliners of the last generation of attempted colonization were the sports cars of spaceships…
The children were excited to wake up again, but their excitement dwindled when they heard they hadn’t yet arrived at the space station. Milly was thrilled by the prospect of exploring the dead spaceliner, but Timmy whined that he wanted to go back to bed and leave it alone before any aliens jumped out of the corpses of the crew. To demonstrate what he feared was going to happen, he held his hand under his shirt, and then suddenly thrust it out the neck hole in his mothers’ faces.
“There aren’t any aliens living in corpses,” Evangeline sighed. “We’ve obviously let you watch too many silly fantasy movies. Space is just empty and dead. You know that. No aliens or fairies here.”
“Maybe we can fix what’s wrong with the ship and travel in style,” Milly suggested, with a dreamy smile. “Ooh, ooh, or we could become pirates!”
“No one’s going to become a pirate, and none of us know how to fix antique spaceships. Just put your space suit on and stop talking nonsense,” Evangeline said sternly. She hated having to play lawmaker, but who else was going to do it? Tracy was never going to be the hard one.
The family was suited up and in the airlock before the computer had quite finished docking. “Remember, no matter what, we stick together,” Evangeline reminded them as the two airlocks began the complicated process of matching pressures. “No wandering off, even for a moment. If you see something you want to investigate, you tell the rest of us, and we all go together.”
“No need to tell me,” Timmy said, shuddering. “Splitting up is always how they die.”
“No talk of dying, please,” Tracy moaned. “It’s bad juju.”
“It’s movie theater candy?” Milly asked, turning to look at her. “How’s that work?”
“Not jujubes, juju!” Evangeline snapped. “It’s an old saying.”
“What’s it mean?”
Evangeline shrugged. “No clue. Eyes forward. We’re almost in.”
Indeed, the airlock door was in the slow process of sliding open, and they were soon making their slow way into the airlock of the other ship. Despite the elegant and sleek exterior, the interior of the once luxury vehicle was absolutely filthy. As they left the airlock and stepped into the unfamiliar hallway, Evangeline’s eyes were greeted by walls covered in grime, and floors littered with vines and dead leaves.
A display lit up on the glass of her spacesuit’s helmet. “Looks like the air is basically breathable, but there are a lot of odd things in it.” She tapped the other side of the glass, as if that would make the readings clear up. “Lots of ‘pollen,’ whatever that is, and other plant detritus. We haven’t been tested for any of these things, so we’d better leave our helmets on.” She scowled. “How in the world have they managed to get such a high amount of oxygen in this air? I think we’d be left light-headed if we breathed it. Earth hasn’t got anywhere near this much.”
“Maybe it’s just because there’s no pollutants?” Tracy suggested. “We had to bring along regular atmospheric air, after all. I think if you buy it tanked, it’s much more pure.”
Evangeline shrugged, and had another look at the read-outs hovering seemingly in the air before her eyes. “It looks like there are actually life readings. This way,” she added, turning to the right down the corridor.
The further they walked down the corridor, the more Evangeline wished she had some kind of defensive…well, anything really. She’d have settled for a large hunk of dead tree she could use as a shield. Though she’d have preferred one of those super-fancy real shields made from those ultra-light, ultra-strong polymers blending plastic and metal in some impossible science that she hadn’t a hope of understanding.
The corridors continued to be filled with plant garbage, and the further they went along, the more they saw less easily identifiable forms of garbage, including the occasional bone, even if it was too hidden by vines and leaves to identify what kind of animal it came from. Evangeline hoped desperately that they were chicken or pig bones left behind by messy humans, not human bones left behind by messy plants that had been made sentient and mobile by excessive genetic enhancements and/or cosmic radiation.
Soon enough, part of the answer came to greet them. The life signs were moving towards them, and on rounding a bend, Evangeline and her family found themselves staring, bewildered, at a group of the most bizarre creatures they had ever seen. They were human, as far as Evangeline could tell, but they looked like they were in the process of devolving into something else. They had huge shaggy bits of hair crawling down from their faces — Evangeline was pretty sure that was what was known as a ‘beard,’ though she had never seen one in person before, and never seen such aggressive ones in pictures or movies — and the hair on their heads was every bit as wild and uncontrolled, and looked as if it had never been washed or even brushed. (Evangeline didn’t doubt that it also smelled as if it had never been washed, but thankfully her spacesuit prevented her from smelling anything.) Rather than spacesuits, these things before them wore ragged garments made from some flimsy-looking type of…actually, Evangeline couldn’t even begin to guess what they were made of. Particularly thin synthetic leather, maybe?
“Looks like we’s got us some more visitors,” the one in front said, with a wide grin that exposed only a few teeth, brown and stained. “Jebidiah, you go on an’ see to them folks’ ship,” he added, turning to one of his fellow hairy creatures.
The other one grinned, too, revealing more teeth, which were stained more of a yellow than a brown, but looked no less disturbing. “Yes, Paw,” he said, before setting off at a lope along the corridor back towards their ship.
“Our ship doesn’t need any tending to,” Tracy said, her voice trembling slightly. “We came to see if we could help.”
Evangeline nodded, setting a hand on her wife’s arm. “We got your distress signal,” she added.
“Oh, that thing?” The one identified as ‘Paw’ laughed. “Not ours. Folks who owned this ship set that off.” His grin widened, making Timmy start to whimper. “C’mon, we’ll show you ‘round. Go on and make yerselves to home.”
Paw began leading them down the corridor, with his fellows crowding around beside and behind them, preventing them from fleeing back to their ship. As they walked, Paw began talking about how long it had been since they had last had visitors, and how hungry they were for company, especially of “them soft lady-types,” and so on. After a while, they came into an open area filled with living plants. “This is where we grows our food,” he said. “Got taters, mostly, with some corn and squash and black-eyed peas. What all you brought to grow?”
“Um, we don’t have anything that grows,” Tracy said. “There isn’t much left growing on Earth…”
“Shame, shame,” Paw sighed, shaking his head. “Garden could use some fresh seed.”
“We wants meat more anyhow, Paw,” one of the others said.
“Well, now, that’s true,” Paw agreed, turning to look not at the one who had spoken, but at Evangeline and her family. “You gals go on and take those helmets off. Let us get a good peep at ya.”
“According to our read-outs, this air is likely to affect us negatively,” Evangeline said firmly. “Our helmets are staying on. And if you don’t need help, we’ll be going back to our ship and heading on our way. It’s still a long flight to Alpha Centauri.”
For some reason, that made the things surrounding them laugh in a disturbing manner. Evangeline had a sinking feeling she knew why, but she couldn’t bring herself to say it out loud.
Milly was not so timid. “What happened to the other people who answered the distress call?” she asked. “What happened to the people who set it off in the first place?”
“Oh, them, they died,” Paw chortled. “Most of ‘em dead when we gots here, I’ll have ya know. Not us what done ‘em in.” He grinned, licking his lips. “As to them other folks, well, Jack there, he was one oncet, wasn’t ya, Jack?”
He gestured to an older man who sat on a bench nearby, carving something out of bone. “Yeah,” he said, in a sad voice. “I had the finest cruiser in the galaxy, good crew, the works. But this life ain’t so bad, either.” He didn’t sound one bit like he meant that, not to Evangeline’s ears.
“And the rest of them?” Milly insisted. “What did you do with the rest of them?”
“Oh, depends,” Paw replied, with a wink. “We allus needs more breeding stock.” He leaned closer, peering into Tracy’s helmet with a wide, near-toothless smile. “You’d like breedin’ with us.”
Tracy shook her head, fear creeping into her eyes. “I’m a married woman!”
“An’ your husband ain’t come into space wit’ you?” Paw exclaimed, sounding shocked. “Deserves what he gets, then, don’t he?”
“You leave my wife alone,” Evangeline said, pushing Paw away from her. “She doesn’t want to ‘breed’ with you or anyone else. Neither do I, and anyone who touches my children dies.”
“Ain’t no one gonna want to breed with you,” one of the other men guffawed, looking at Evangeline. “You so brown, you look like you already been cooked.” He shook his head. “Them kids, too.” A disturbing grin covered his face, revealing that his teeth had been sharpened. “Fine by me. Kids have such tender young flesh.”
The other men started laughing, deep belly laughs. Evangeline took the opportunity, and shoved Paw as hard as she could. He fell under her blow, leaving them a path of escape. “Follow me!” she shouted, and leapt over the prone man. Tracy and the children followed, and they were dashing down a corridor before all the laughter had stopped.
They hadn’t turned the first corner before they heard angry shouts, and cries for weapons. “Everyone keep up!” Evangeline shouted.
“We’re doomed,” Timmy moaned. “They’re gonna eat us!”
“Not if I can help it!” Of course, Evangeline knew there wasn’t really a lot she could do about it, but…well, this was a big ship. There must be places to hide, and there couldn’t be that many of them. If they could just find a weapon, they could defend themselves, maybe fight their way back to their ship…
“What do you think they do to the ships that come here?” Milly asked. “Could they still be on board?”
“Let’s hope so,” Evangeline agreed. “Computer, bring up schematics of this ship!” She wasn’t entirely certain that was possible, but thankfully, a very rough diagram of the ship did indeed come up on the screen in front of her face. It showed them headed towards the back of the ship, their own ship halfway to the front, and lifeboat pods at the front of the ship. “We need to get to their lifeboats,” she suggested. “Those should be faster than our ship…”
Cautiously, she began to steer them towards the front of the ship. With every turn they took, Evangeline saw their pursuers fall a bit further behind in the pursuit, and soon she saw their energy readings splitting up, searching in different directions for them.
Some of those energy readings had split off early enough that they lay in the path of the escaping family. In fact, one of them was so close that Evangeline slowed them to a walk, realizing the foe was just around the next bend, not fifty yards away. “Anyone have any idea what we can use as a weapon?” she whispered.
“Can’t we just punch?” Milly suggested.
“I doubt it,” Evangeline sighed.
“I’ll handle it,” Tracy promised, with a warm smile. She walked confidently up towards the corner, and when the enemy came around it, she laid him out with a kick to the head. “I wasn’t kickboxing champion of New Detroit for nothing, you know!” She said, with a light giggle.
Evangeline smiled. “Remind me to give you an extra deep kiss when we get out of this,” she said, as she and the children approached her beautiful wife.
“You would need reminding?” Tracy asked, in that false pouty way that was so adorable.
While her mothers were flirting with each other like a pair of horny teenagers, Milly bent down and picked up the knife the man had been carrying. “Looks like it’s made of bone,” she said. “Eew, gross, is this someone’s leg?”
“Try not to think about it, sweetie,” Tracy said. “We might need it.”
Evangeline nodded. “For now, let’s get running again.”
They ran on and on, and the life sign readings mostly became further and further away, except for the one that had gone straight to the lifepod docks. That one must have been the leader, surely. The only one smart enough to realize where they were headed. Many of the others were now milling about their ship, clearly expecting them to be stupid enough to go to the most obvious place in their flight.
The one life form in front of them on the ship was in the nearest lifepod dock, so Evangeline had them bypass that one and go to the next one. Inside, they found the scrapped remains of half a dozen different ships. In the next lifepod dock, they found a shrine surrounded by gravestones. The center of the shrine appeared at first glance to be a scrapheap, but on further examination, Evangeline realized it had to be a very primitive spacecraft.
“That’s the ship they came here in,” a man’s voice said from behind them. They all spun around, and Milly brandished the bone knife at him. Looking utterly uncowed by the twelve year old girl’s bravado, Jack smiled ruefully. “I’m not going to hurt you,” he said. “I didn’t want to stay here, you know. They tricked me into sharing a meal with them, not telling me I was eating my own co-pilot. After that…how could I have returned to human society again?” He held up an item. “Here, catch.” He tossed it to Evangeline. “Key to my ship. She’ll get you wherever you want to go. These guys don’t have any working ships but yours. And that thing’ll never catch up to mine. She’s in the hangar on the end.” He pointed back towards the lifepod dock he had been in earlier.
“Why didn’t they take your ship apart they way they did the others?” Evangeline asked suspiciously. There was such a thing as too easy…
“Couldn’t. She’s too tough for their primitive tools.” Jack laughed. “Best ship in the galaxy, I told you.”
“Were you a pirate?” Milly asked eagerly.
“Well, I dabbled a bit.” Jack grinned raggedly. “The warrants for my arrest should have long since expired; I don’t think you’ll get in trouble for showing up in my ship.”
So he wasn’t staying out of guilt at eating a friend. He was hiding from the law. By joining a band of cannibals. Well, of course.
There wasn’t time. The life signals were beginning to head their way, fast. “Thanks,” Evangeline said, then looked at her wife and children. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
The others nodded, and they ran the short distance to the dock where Jack’s ship was waiting. It was truly a sleek and beautiful craft, painted hot rod red, with gold accents, and massive weapons. It was the kind of ship that showed no sign of any join between the armor plates, had no visible welds or screws or anything else an amateur could open. Hell, it didn’t even show any sign of a way on board.
“How do we get on?” Timmy whined.
Evangeline looked at the key fob that Jack had thrown her. There were a lot of buttons on it. A lot of buttons. If she had to try every single one of them, they’d all end up in the bellies of those disgusting men. “It’s got to be one of the big buttons,” she muttered aloud. There were three: red, blue and green. Red was surely a bad thing. Probably activated the weapons or the self-destruct. She tried the blue one. A blue shield flashed around the ship momentarily. A force shield…? But had she just turned it on or off? Trying the green button made a ramp lower out of the ship.
Timmy started running for the ramp, and bounced right off the shield, making his sister laugh at him.
Evangeline hastily pushed the blue button again while Tracy helped Timmy back to his feet. Then they all ran aboard the ship, and Evangeline pushed the green button again to close the ramp.
The controls were numerous and complicated, but a friendly on-board computer with a very sultry voice helped them take off without a hitch. “Let’s blow that ship up so they can’t kill anyone else,” Milly suggested.
“That’s not right,” Tracy sighed. “We can’t take the law into our own hands. And it wouldn’t be a very nice reward to Jack for helping us if we killed him.”
“Yeah,” Evangeline agreed. “We’ll tell the authorities on the space station at Alpha Centauri when we get there. They can handle it.”
Milly was a little disappointed that they weren’t going to go in for a life of space piracy, but she relented soon enough. Evangeline asked the computer about stasis pods for the journey to Alpha Centauri, but the computer laughed.
“This ship is not equipped with stasis pods,” it told her. “Instead, we are equipped with hyperspatial inertia wave riders. We will arrive at the Alpha Centauri solar system in half an hour. Which space station did you wish to dock with?”
“Er…we didn’t know there was more than one.” Evangeline looked over at Tracy, who just shrugged. “I guess whichever one is most appropriate for a family emigrating from Earth to go to as a first step into the new universe.”
“Understood. We will arrive at Alpha Centauri Station One in thirty-three minutes and fifteen seconds,” the computer said. “May I do anything to help make your journey more pleasurable in the mean time?”
“Er, we’ll just explore the ship between now and then, thanks,” Evangeline said.
It didn’t actually take them the full half hour, but Evangeline was grateful for the relaxed pace. By the time they arrived at the space station, they had all finally calmed down from their near-death experience, though the armed contingent of guards awaiting them when they disembarked brought their heart rates right back up.
“Where is the owner of this ship?” one of the uniformed men asked, looking at them suspiciously.
“He’s back on a derelict half-way between here and Earth,” Evangeline said, before explaining everything they had been through. By the time she was finished, all the guards had put their weapons away.
“Thank you for informing us of this hazard,” the leader of the guards said, saluting her. “We will send a patrol ship to deal with the cannibals. And his generosity in helping you escape will be taken into consideration when the fugitive is brought to trial,” he added, with a wry smile. Then he gestured to one of his underlings. “Take these four to the nearest registry office,” he said. “They will need to be registered as galactic citizens.” He pulled a device off his belt, and began tapping buttons on it. “They are to be compensated for the hazard they suffered, and for the loss of their spacecraft. The receipt is number 546,314,823.”
“What about this ship?” Milly asked. “I like it.”
“As the property of a wanted fugitive, it is impounded until further note. Following the criminal’s trials, it may be returned to him or placed for sale at public auction, depending on the results of the trial.”
‘Thank you for your help,” Tracy said, smiling at the man and shushing Milly’s complaints. “We’ll be going now.”
The officer saluted again, and the four of them headed out of the space port, following the guard to the registry office. Evangeline was curious to learn just how far the human race had spread through the stars, and wondered why no one on Earth knew that the colonization had been so successful after all…
Yep. There’s a lot that went wrong there. (And I only managed the one thing to fit the “Notes” part of the prompt, but who really cares about that?) Still, considering I got a prompt that was 100% outside of my comfort zone, I think I did…kinda…sorta…okay…ish? If you squint real hard?
Didn’t help that the “character” prompt immediately said The Oregon Trail to me (not so much the real one as the computer game from the 1980s), which was not something I could easily work with on short notice, and as to the plot…ack. Just ack. I should take that card out of the deck so I can never encounter it again.