Flash Fiction: The Mission

I’m taking a break from the University 411 Posts today before I get “fresher’s fatigue”. (News flash, your lecturers are exhausted by the first week of university too. And I’m not even teaching this year, but already I feel sympathy tiredness from everyone facing another year of covid teaching.)

my artistic representation of “fresher’s fatigue” using my kid as a model

In any case, I want to keep up posting everyday because I’m on a streak! I need my streak badge. So today instead of posting university/student tips, I’ve dug into my folder to pull out an unpublished story. (Constructive criticism welcomed).

It’s unpublished because flash fiction is HARD to write. 1000 words to introduce characters, plot, and a satisfying resolution?? But if you’re an aspiring writer (whether fiction or non-fiction), it’s a good way to practice your craft and hone your skills. Flash fiction makes you focus on each and very word, as you make sure that every letter and punctuation mark is both effective and necessary. Or, in other words, it makes you cut down on the waffle. (This introduction could probably benefit with some hacking and pruning. I’m meandering all over the place.) So, without further ado, here’s my first attempt at flash fiction.

The Mission

A sharp alarm woke Elena. She’d been having an eerie dream. Intensely green hills… and a bright light, pulsing in the corner of her eye.
“ELENA! WAKE UP!” Francesca’s shout shook her fully awake.
“What happened??” She charged into the cockpit. Francesca was crouched over the controls. Elena’s breath caught as she took in the view of the planet zooming in on them. Blues and greens peaked out of the rolling masses of clouds.
“Is that the planet? We’re coming in too fast!”
Francesca didn’t reply as the landscape came hurtling towards them.

Six days. Six days of hiking up and down these god-forsaken hills. Captains Elena Norton and Francesca Bellini have been in worse conditions, of course. They had a mission to complete so for six days they trudged up one hill and down another until they began to see the outlines of a ruin. Over the past few days, a feeling of unease had grown. The green hills reminded Elena of her dream. But, she couldn’t quite remember what happened….
“It’s a shame we won’t be able to tell anyone about this mission,” she said instead. “Our ancestors destroyed so much of this planet. It still needs to heal. We can’t let— Do you see something moving in those ruins?”
“It’s probably just an animal,” Francesca said. “Come on. Let’s get in and out quick.”
They had their orders: land on the island, get in the building and destroy the machine inside.
“Do you know what the big deal is with this machine?” Elena asked as they headed to the run.
“It’s dangerous, of course.”
“On an abandoned planet? Lightyears away from our nearest civilization? Didn’t you think it was weird that they thought it was so dangerous out here in the isolation? And how is it still running? You’ve heard the rumours, right?”
“You mean the Quantum Machine? It’s a myth!”
The Quantum Machine. A device created by theoretical physicists to predict the future. Although, some say that it didn’t simply predict the future; that the act of observing the future made it crystallize into reality.
Elena opened her mouth to answer, but then froze. There was a sound…. “Do you hear a humming?”
“It’s probably the machine running.” Francesca switched on her flashlight while Elena pulled out the map of the building.
“It should be around the next bend.”
They stopped short at the doorway. There was a bright light. It pulsed slowly out of the corner of her eye. The humming crescendoed.
Together they crept toward the opening and peered in.
The room was filled with humanoids. Hundreds of them. Skin stretched tight over twisted grey limbs. They were humming, from the back of the throat, gathered around the device in the middle.
In the centre of the room was… a computer screen. A normal looking, antiquated computer screen. A big, squat, mammoth device. A cursor blinked in the corner. Was this it? The dangerous machine they’ve been sent to destroy? This old hunk of metal?
Behind the computer was a small platform. Overhanging it was a swaying lamp, pulsing white light. The lamp swung back and forth over the platform, in a perfect pendulum.
Looking at the light, Elena felt a sense of dread. The light pulsed as it continued its arc over the platform.
The occupants hadn’t noticed them yet. They were focused on the screen. And the words typing across it.
following the bright light in sky 6 days and 6 nights green hills green hills the captains norton and bellini will come to end
“Come on,” Francesca said. “The mission. If we move fast, we can get in and destroy the machine before these… creatures notice us.”
Elena shook her head, panicked. “This isn’t right. We need to get out of here. We shouldn’t be here.” She turned to run.
Too late, they both realised the hum had died down. Francesca’s voice cut through the room.
Before they could move, the creatures rushed toward them.
“NO!” Elena struggled in vain. Dozens of strong hands gripped them, pushing them into the centre of the platform.
The light swung toward them.

Elena opened her eyes. She was sprawled on a dusty floor. A bright light swung an arc behind them, casting shadows. Back and forth.
She could see Francesca haul herself up from the floor, could hear her coughing from the dust.
The room was empty. The creatures were gone.
Francesca had already moved toward the computer screen, her face surprised. “It’s broken!”
The computer screen was broken; an empty window with it’s innards hanging out. Dust lay in a thick film across it. The room looked as if it had been untouched for eons. Except for the swaying lamp on the platform, nothing moved.
Francesca looked around the room with a baffled look on her face. After a moment she said, “Well I guess. We can leave… Mission over.”
But the feeling of dread hadn’t left Elena. Instead, it continued to grow. “No…” she shook her head in denial. “We have to go back.” She looked at the light swinging back and forth over the platform. “This isn’t right. We have to go back.”
“Elena, what are you talking about?”
But Elena was already back on the platform. As the lamp swung toward her, she dove into the light.

Francesca stood framed in the open doorway.
They were back at the doorway.
But… how?
The occupants hadn’t noticed them yet. So focused were they on the computer screen. And the words typing across it.
Following the bright light in sky 6 days and 6 nights green hills green hills the captains norton and bellini will come to end
Francesca looked back at Elena as she started to tremble.
“Come on,” she whispered. “The mission.”
Elena shook her head in denial.
Run? Or stay and complete the mission?
The choice was clear.

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