My LTFC literary entry: Small Choices.
edit : Here's a link to the full story.
edit : Here's a link to a PDF download
(just the first eight chapters so far.)
Here's a quick synopsis,
So then, just as it always did, it came down to a decision.
In a barbarous time, amidst the brewing of a second galactic war, lovers Hraden and Taiya discover that Hraden's mining hauler, Sofie, holds a terrible secret that would soon cast them into a tempestuous whirlwind of lies, betrayal and corruption. Forced to undertake a great, unsought quest, the young couple makes a desperate attempt to save themselves, their friends, and ultimately all of humanity from an inevitable destruction. Their story tells of their perilous adventures, their trials and hardships, and their unimaginable sacrifices as they struggle to master their fears and come to terms with what, and who, Sofie is.
As Hraden stared into the depths, he imagined he felt a chill wind steal over him, raising goosebumps on his skin and sending shivers down his spine. It was a strange turn of phrase, not merely because there was no wind in space, but also because the air cooling systems in his old, decrepit ship had barely ever functioned. All the same, the expression seemed accurate - especially to someone like him, who had never set foot upon a planet's surface, and never felt a breeze at all. He hunched forwards and drew his jacket just a little closer to his neck as he stared out his cockpit's center window, into the darkness of the asteroid's hollow center.
Why would an asteroid have a hollow center to begin with?
he wondered. The miner, on edge as he was, began carefully examining the walls of the shallow shaft he'd uncovered. They lacked the smooth curves oft created by a miner's energetic transfer beam - rather, it looked as if it had been blasted out, or perhaps even mined by hand. But who would spend the time to mine an asteroid by hand?
And most importantly... who would hide two dozen human corpses inside after doing so?
The little mining hauler remained motionless as Hraden, in a mixture of horror and macabre fascination, observed the tangled forms, floating as they were before his fin-mounted floodlights. Their genders were indiscernible, their bodies nothing more than shriveled flesh stretched across bony frames, wearing otherwise untarnished Odgen military uniforms. Although fellow Odgenians, Hraden found their faces unrecognizable, but he doubted he would've known any of them anyway.
Hraden sat silently as the minutes stretched slowly onwards, pondering the mystery of the foreboding scene. The biggest question on his mind was, why hide bodies in an asteroid field? People left exposed in space dry out and freeze - it was taught even to young children, as a warning against leaving airlocks ajar or unsealed - anyone
would know it.
After a good while, he straightened up in his chair and put his craft in careful reverse, the thrusters on the front of his ship lighting up the asteroid's interior - and the faces of the dead - with a faint blue glow. He couldn't afford wasting so much precious time gawking at what seemed so clearly to be a crime scene, and getting involved in something like this was the last thing he wanted. What deterred him from staying wasn't so much the prospect of interrogation or being treated as a suspect as it was fear of the authorities grounding his ship. They would be sure to lock his ship down, and possibly even imprison him to keep him from fleeing - it would ruin him. He was a miner, and if he didn't bring back ore, he couldn't make a living, he couldn't rent his dock, and he couldn't keep his ship.
And yet, before he turned his ship back towards the void, Hraden's conscience compelled him to at least mark the site, hoping that perhaps it would give their families some closure. Reaching forwards, he tapped a few buttons near the top of his console. With a bright flash of yellow light, a steel beacon spike fired from beneath his left wing, embedding itself deep within the asteroid's outer shell, the back end pulsing a metallic blue. The warm, charitable feeling it gave him soon faded from his thoughts as his ship spun and started back into the permeating orange glow of the Termang asteroid field, his course set for Odgen station.
Partly because he felt a little peckish, and partly to get his mind off things, Hraden reached over behind his chair and pulled a D-ration from his lunch bag, biting into a corner of the brownish-gray bar. A few quick flips of switches on his pilot's chair, and soothing music soon washed over him, gently rinsing the horrors he'd borne witness to from his mind. Chewing slowly, he leaned back into the soft leather, closing his eyes and letting the ration's wrapper fall forgotten to the floor... yet the discomforted frown still refused to leave his lips.
Hraden intended to arrive at the market little earlier than the other miners, while the cash pool for the day was still high and Sturgium ore was still in high demand. His cargo hold wasn't quite full, and he was anything but an experienced miner, but he'd learned that if you wanted to get ahead, you had to play the system a little. Most Odgenians would find someone of this mindset disagreeable. If you mentioned Odgen to almost any traveled individual in the star cluster, it would immediately bring to their mind an image of a rough, homespun figure - dark eyes, light skin, and brown hair. Such a well-traveled individual might also helpfully add that Odgenians are known for being hard workers that value tradition and the security of their comfort zones above all else.
For the most part, Hraden matched up to these expectations. The primary difference was: he hated
Odgen. He hated the confinement of its worn, grimy corridors, and he hated the slumlike conditions created by cramming two million people - far beyond standard population limits - into such a station. Most of all, he hated how people were so accustomed to and accepting of their situation. None of them had even the slightest
desire to look to the stars. None of them wanted to explore beyond their borders. Not a single one among them - at least, not any that he'd met - wanted out. They were comfortable with their imprisonment - and when it came right down to it, that's what it was: a prison. While all were free to leave, few of them were rich enough to afford the means, and even those fortunate enough to own ships - such as himself - would find themselves shunned and disrespected wherever they went. Odgenians were known far less for their intelligence than they were for their old folk tales and myths, even to the extent that they were looked upon as whimsical and superstitious.
Much to his annoyance, it wasn't long before Hraden found that despite how much as he tried to forget it, his mind continued returning to the puzzle he'd unearthed earlier that day. Why would
someone bury their victims in an asteroid field? Even the Jormagnun mafia, planetborn as they were, knew better. The best way to dispose of an incriminating corpse was to send its coffin into the nearest star, chuck it into a wormhole, or even leave it drifting in deep space. The universe is vast - far more vast than any planetborn seemed to realize - one would only need to kick the body out an airlock and leave. The chances of anyone ever finding it would be practically zero. Even if someone did, the chance of it being traced to you in particular was even lower. After all... in a galaxy where sentients numbered in the trillions, in a universe that was theoretically infinite, how could you find the guilty party among so many?
His thoughts were gently interrupted by a voice sounding in the cabin - the soft, feminine tones of his ship's AI: "Thirty minutes to Odgen Station." It was helpful and unobtrusive, yet it still pulled Hraden from his musings enough for him to open his eyes and look around.
The Termang asteroid cluster's dusty orange hue filled his darkened cockpit with a dim, ambient glow. While outsiders always seemed to find it beautiful or menacing, to Hraden it was as familiar and unworthy of note as the hairs on his arm. Rather, its familiarity and comfort helped him think.
With a sigh, he leaned forwards, elbows on his knees, and rested his chin in his hands in mild irritation. No sooner had he, though, than his AI spoke once more. "Craft detected on intersect trajectory, ETA two minutes."
Termang was hardly a popular ground for pirates, so Hraden wasn't worried in the slightest - he was in fact rather uninterested - but there were rules on protocol he couldn't ignore. "Highlight," he ordered his computer aloud, and a small blue circle flashed into existence with a soft chime on the viewscreen to his left. Unfortunately, a quick glance in that direction informed him that something was wrong - though he could barely see the ship from this distance, he could definitely make out red plasma flashes.
Complicating matters further, his comm system crackled to life, a voice shouting in desperation: "Someone, anyone, please! I'm an Odgen miner, I'm under attack by Scathecrow pirates! My starboard engine's failing, my targeting system's busted, shields are gone! Please, if you can hear me, I need help!! Please, anyone!!! I'm in trouble and I need help!"
So then, just as it always did, it came down to a decision: Should he charge into a fight where he would almost certainly be outnumbered, and attempt to save his fellow miner, or should he use the time he had to get away?
The longer he'd lived, the more he'd realized that these small choices are what make life what it is. They're pivotal points in the flow of time - everything hinges around them - your choices are what limit what you're capable of. He'd made a major choice seventeen years before at the tender age of nine, when he'd told his father that he wasn't going to follow in his footsteps as a hull repairman. He'd made another nine years after that, when his father had disowned him for refusing to leave his girlfriend, and yet another four years after later when he'd traded his apartment and life savings for the old, broken down trash heap he'd turned back into a ship through weeks of careful work. It always came down to a decision.
Even so... even despite his twenty-six years of experience, Hraden didn't understand - he didn't realize - what a critical decision he was making when he banked his hauler hard left to intercept the allied craft. As he spurred the throttle to the maximum with a flick of his wrist, subsequently feeling himself forced deep into the leather of his chair by the vehicle's acceleration, he was setting events in motion that would change the course of history not just for a single hapless miner, not just for a few random pirates, but for the entire galaxy.
As the gap closed between him and the enemy, circling like buzzards around their prey, a dark storm menaced on the horizon... yet even if he'd known, Hraden wouldn't have cared. He was desperate for adventure - desperate to escape to the stars beyond the social prison that entrapped him.
He wanted to explore.