Town Without Pity

8 03 2012

Flash Fiction Challenge made by Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds:

Go to Your Favorite Music Player. Dig out your digital music collection.
Maybe this is iTunes or Spotify, or use Pandora if you’d rather go that way.
Hit SHUFFLE, then “Play.”
Translation: pull up a random song.
The title to this song is the title to your story.
Use the song for inspiration, too, if you feel so inclined.
Word count is the full-bore double-barrel 1000 words, as usual.

iTunes provided my with “Town Without Pity” by Gene Pitney and this story ended up at 982 words (according to Open Office). I really have no idea how it ended up being as sappy as it is, but as usual, my characters took over and decided what was going to happen. Me, I wanted the whole thing to be cruel and nasty, but I guess Dmitri and Elisa had other ideas. Anyway, here you go…

 
Town Without Pity

The sun had just crested the horizon when it started. It was subtle at first, just a flicker of a light here, the rattle of a misaligned fan blade there. Nothing out of the ordinary, really. Little things that happened every day in a place like Orwell. Business as usual.

A business that was keeping Dmitri busy this morning as all those little malfunctions were piling up. “You know this ain’t right, Ellie,” he said as he called up the latest failure message on his smart sheet, frowning over at his colleague, who was looking unconcerned.

“It’s just coincidence, Dem,” Elisa said with a shrug as she looked at the list on her own smart sheet, making adjustments to prioritise the jobs in order of urgency. “Besides, the place is getting old and run-down. Things just need a little bit of extra TLC ’till the next drop arrives.”

“In five months, El. That’s a lot of love for a guy like me,” he said, then gave a wince at the wording, quickly changing the topic back to shop talk. “What I mean is, this isn’t just the usual wear and tear. It’s like…” He paused, looking around the workshop and the shelves that were starting to look much too empty.

“Like what?” she prompted with the raised brow of a sceptic, knowing what was coming.

He shook his head and flashed her a slight smile along with a gesture of dismissal. “Never mind. Just a silly old man’s fantasies.” No use admitting to the ever pragmatic Elisa what he really thought was going on here, although she had probably guessed. He’d talked with her about it often enough, after all. “Just forget I said anything. Let’s get back to work, eh?”

It got progressively worse by the hour. It wasn’t just minor things going wrong now; lights were going out in entire sectors, and stayed out. Life support in one area failed completely for a full fifteen minutes and the airlock in the garage opened and closed by itself, letting in a fine layer of red Martian dust. It was only pure luck that no one had been in there at the time.

A team of cartographers were the first to die. The two had returned from an week-long expedition along the southern rim of the Valles Marineris, and as they transferred from their rover to the base, the airlock had malfunctioned, venting in the thin Martian air instead of human breathable air. By the time Dmitri and his people had gotten the inner door opened, Carol and Josh were beyond rescue.

“It’s only the beginning,” said Dmitri, convinced now that this was the end of the first town on Mars. Sitting on the floor of the workshop, his back against the wall, he felt tears coming to his eyes as he looked up at the dusty dome above. “We can try and stop it, Ellie, but in the end…” He turned his gaze toward her where she was crouching in front of her. “In the end, the dust will win.”

The dust got into everything. It jammed up anything and everything with moving parts. Even in the most airtight and clean parts of the base, eventually, the dust would find its way, one tiny particle at a time. It got into your lungs, your eyes, your ears and nose. Crept into your mind and your soul and played havoc with your health.

Relentless. That was the word for it. The dust was relentless and that was why it would win in the end.

“Dem?”

Elisa’s voice brought him back from his reverie and he looked at her with vision blurred from the tears that had filled his eyes. She sounded worried, scared that he’d finally gone and lost his mind completely. But there was something else there, in her eyes. Compassion. Love.

He saw it then. And he wondered how long it had been there. How long she had loved him without telling him? More tears came to his eyes. Tears of regret, of time wasted. “Why, Ellie?” he asked as he leaned forward, gently putting a hand on her cheek. “Why didn’t you just tell me?”

She leaned into his hand, cheek soft against his old and roughened palm. Her eyes closed and she lifted her own hand to cover his as a tear fell down the other cheek. “There was never time,” she whispered and he knew it was a lie. For whatever reason, the always pragmatic and honest Elisa had kept this one secret to herself for longer than Dmitri dared to think of. And now it was too late.

He came forward, wrapped her in his arms, holding her tight. Said nothing, for there were no words to be said.

“Dem?” she asked quietly, after a while, pushing back a little to look at him. “Why didn’t you?”

He blinked, not quite sure what she meant. Then, a few moments later, it hit him. Why hadn’t he told her that he loved her? “I…” he started, but had no good explanation. Not even their superior-subordinate relationship was a good enough excuse. Not now. But he had always known that he loved her. He had just managed to lock it away in a hidden part of his mind for reasons he couldn’t fathom now.

“I love you, Elisa,” he said and heard the sound of sirens going off somewhere else in the base as he spoke. He gave her a gentle kiss and held her again. “I always have. And I always will.”

As the sun lowered beyond the horizon and darkness fell, the dust swept into the open airlocks of Orwell Base – mankind’s first town on Mars – and quickly obliterated any sign that there had ever been an artificial construction here.

The dust ruled on Mars. And the dust was as patient as time itself.

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4 responses

11 03 2012
Louise Sorensen

Town Without Pity.
Great story. So realistic. Loved it.

11 03 2012
C. Rasmussen

Thank you! 🙂

14 03 2012
Missus Tribble

Very poignant. Love it!

17 03 2012
C. Rasmussen

Thank you, MT! And thank you for reading. I appreciate that very much.

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