Lifeboat: Part 1

Part One: Hercules Falls

It was hard to say goodbye to her, with the air force men trying to push an oxygen mask into his face. She kept repeating the same checks over and over, cramming him with information he already knew. He laced his fingers through the black webbing on the side of the cabin to steady himself. He reached for her with his other hand, but she wouldn’t come forward. “Listen to me.” She was still rattling through the check-list. He could barely hear her over the engine noise, anyway.
“Listen, Ashley. There’s room for two in that thing.”
Her left hand was pressed against her hip to cover up the fact that it was shaking. He wanted to grab hold of it, more than anything. Damn these air force people.
“We’ve been through that,” Ashley said, truly locking eyes with him for the first time. “Constraints on the life support system. It’s only good for one.”
“I’m no good without you,” he said, but she didn’t hear him. She had turned to face the rear.
The giant clamshell door boomed on its hinges. A border of white light cracked in. “Jesus H,” moaned an airman standing by the door. “They’ve found us.”
The door blew away from the airframe, became a dark playing card toppling away into the twilight. He felt hot air grate against his cheek. The whole Mornington peninsula was laid out beneath them, and it was smouldering, from Frankston in the north to Rosebud in the south. There was a molten orange glow further north, behind the cover of smoky clouds. Everywhere he looked were clusters, swarms, strings of them. The world was awash with their fire. Even the ocean seethed with them. So pretty…

They had first been discovered on a comet fragment that had crashed into a dam in Ukraine. They spread rapidly across Europe and the Americas, filling the night sky with their strange luminosity. People ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed, took pictures, brought their kids outside so they could get a better view of these otherworldly fireflies.
And then they started eating.
They attacked any and all organic material, turned animal and plant alike into burnt-out carbonised husks. At first there were coordinated efforts, quarantine attempts, desperate measures to stop them from reproducing. Only after the destruction of that great carbon sink, the Amazon basin, when half the world was under a pall of smoke, did people start looking for contingency measures.
Alan Di Stasio, 31, from Kiama, no living relatives, was one such measure.

They converged into a rope, and took the airman by invading his nose and ears. He collapsed sideways against the webbing and just crumbled. The softer tissues became a ribbon of dust, while the indigestible core sagged to the deck as a hot liquefied lump.
Alan was staring.
He heard a grating noise, and realised it was the heel of his boot scraping the deck as he was dragged backwards. “Sir, you have to go. Right now.”
The bullet-like pod was all lit up in red. Next to the air force roundel, with its bounding kangaroo, somebody had slapped a sticker proclaiming: Made in Australia. The government had fled to Casey station weeks ago. The prevailing scientific belief was that Antarctica would be too cold for the fireflies to breed. They had been wrong before.
“Ashley!”
Somehow he got past the air force men and seized her left hand. It wasn’t shaking any more. A weird look of granulated horror came over her. He thought he heard her say something about burning, but was deafened by an explosion from outside. Something had got into one of the engines. Her face cracked into fine fragments and floated away. He was left holding the husk of her hand, but even that was crumbling. Her essence leaked away between his fingers, no matter how tightly he tried to hold her.
Ashley…
Just Ash…

The interior of the pod was like a steel drum, so that it amplified the sounds from outside. Frantic radio chatter, screams, useless gunfire, and above all, the whine of four mutilated engines. He heard straining metal. The straps of his harness cut deeper into his legs and chest as the aircraft neared the end of its death dive. In a moment it would slap into the bay, scattering Ashley’s dust on a sluggish tide.
The world was over.
Exit reality, enter something else. Alan activated the pod.

Lifeboat: Part 1

AndrewJP

Burnie, Australia

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Artist's Description

A story about a sole survivor fleeing to a parallel universe when his world is on the brink of destruction. I’ve been meaning to write this for a while now, but haven’t had the time (or the patience.) As always, any suggestions, comments, gripes are welcome :)

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