Friday Flash: Kathryn’s Child

This week, T.S. Bazelli’s “Author Aerobics” challenge is on internal monologues.  Here it is:

This week’s challenge: Write a piece of fiction (1000 words or less) that includes moments of internal dialogue. The theme: “fireworks”.

Well, after two straight epic-fantasy stories and a contemporary fantasy story, last week I decided I’d put up something a little more sci-fi for my next short story.  And thus, this story.  At first, I didn’t have any particular purpose to this story, but as I wrote it, I decided I wanted to set it in the space opera-themed world I had created several years ago that I called, at the time, “The Alchemist” (and that I don’t currently call anything, yet).  How this story fits in with that setting, I’m unsure.  Several elements in this story didn’t appear in my original write-ups.  Anyway, I’ll get out of the way, now, and let you read.  It’s a tiny bit shorter than what I’ve been doing lately – only 1,066 words – and I’m calling it:

Kathryn’s Child

By: Stephen A. Watkins, Jr.

“Time for the fireworks to begin.”  Kathryn gazed through the wide window at the tiny red, yellow and brown orb suspended in a sea of blackness beneath her.   In the distance, a pale red light glimmered, the shell of a dying star.  Doctor Vanwick shuffled his feet on the deck beside her.

“If this test is successful, then we will at last be able to throw off the yoke of the Faeori Dominion.”

Kathryn cocked her head and gave Vanwick a quizzical look.  He always did have a penchant for wordy speech.  Especially when he was nervous.  Sometimes it was endearing.  But today, it struck Kathryn the wrong way.

They were in relative solitude on the deck of the Unconquered Spirit, though at the far end of the viewing gallery a small army of engineers and technicians busied themselves with the final preparations for the test.  It wasn’t really necessary for Kathryn to be here – nor Vanwick, for that matter – but she wanted to see the test for herself.  The fate of the Freehold States, no, the fate of humanity, rested on their work here today.  And yet… Kathryn was unsettled.

Kathryn said nothing, and turned to look one last time at the lifeless rock framed by the window.  The image darkened, almost imperceptibly, until the light of the distant red dwarf had nearly vanished. 

“Attention,” a cool, melodic voice flooded the gallery, “all hands to emergency quarters.  Testing will commence in fifteen seconds.”  The engineers at the far end of the gallery broke into an excited buzz.   Kathryn could make out what they were saying, but filtered the noise out.  She was focused.  Her child was about to be born: the work of her hands.  The ship’s voice announced the ten-second mark, then nine, eight, seven.  Kathryn flexed her fist.  She felt a bead of sweat trickled down her brow, and her back.  Her tongue was dry.  Why was she so nervous?  She brushed a strand hair, nearly black with only a hint of gray, from her face as the countdown reached zero.

There was silence in space as a tiny speck, insignificant in the vastness of space, hurled itself toward the dead planet below. 

“Shiva One is away.” The ship’s voice was a cold anticlimax to this momentous moment.

Long, empty minutes passed.  Kathryn struggled to remember something she’d learned in a comparative mythology class in her youth.  That was ages before she’d joined the Freehold States, when she’d been on the fast-track in the Technocrat Confederacy.  In those days, mythology had been an idle pursuit, frowned upon by the Academe. 

“It’ll be a while before the reaction begins.”  Vanwick wiped his own brow with a white cloth.  Why did he insist on pointing out what Kathryn already knew?  It would agitate her if she wasn’t already so worried about what was, or wasn’t, happening down on the planet.  The corners of her mouth twisted downward only slightly, but she was determined not to let the man get to her.  She kept her hands clasped behind her, resisting the urge to tap the control panel before her to bring up readings from the surface of the planet.  If the test was successful, the readings were irrelevant.  If it wasn’t, there would be time enough to analyze what went wrong later.  Of course the test would be successful.   There was no question.  Another minute passed without any visible signs from the planet.

“What was that you said about fireworks?” Vanwick asked.  Kathryn shot him a withering glare before returning her attention to the planet.

And then she saw it.  A faint glow here and there on the surface.  Angry red fault lines spread out, pulsing, beating, as the heart of the planet heaved.  The cracks radiated, the dim red light growing brighter, to orange, to yellow and flaring to white.   The red orb shuddered, pieces falling into each other, cracks growing wider, whole sections of the planet falling inward as fire and light spewed from the core.

Kathryn’s heart beat in time with the heaving of the planet, racing, the blood in her veins searing her.  Vanwick’s eyes grew wide.

“My God…” he whispered.

The whole planet became a pure-white ball of glowing energy, and then the whole window was filled with the radiance, even through the polarized imaging layers.  The Unconquered Spirit shuddered, suddenly, rocked by the force of the explosion, the lights of the vessel flickering.  The technicians and engineers ran back to their stations, checking the hull integrity and the power core.

Kathryn had considered several times, throughout her work on the Shiva project, the ramifications of what she was doing.  She knew there would be no turning back, after this.  She knew this secret would not long remain solely in the hands of the Freehold States.  Nor would it long remain in the hands of humanity.  What she did, this day, changed everything.  And yet, knowing that, she had thrown herself fully into this cause.  She could not regret that.  There were worse things, in the vast unknown, than the Faeori Dominion.  Worse things even than the Oorm, and the Technocrat Confederacy.  In that moment, as the dead planet flared to life, a newborn star, a light in the heavens, Kathryn knew that she was one of them.

And then, finally, her mind caught that memory from the comparative mythology class.  She turned to face the man who had helped her bring her vision into reality, the anger and annoyance she felt earlier now consumed by the pure white fire.

“There is a legend,” she said, softly, “of long ago, during a great and terrible war. The Free People were fighting against the Two Tyrants.  And then, when all hope was lost, a hero came forth.  He invoked an ancient religious text, and the force of his words granted him the power of the atom, to destroy the enemies of the Free People.  He spoke, and atomic fire destroyed the Two Tyrants.”

Vanwick looked confused.  “A religious text?  What does that have to do with elementary particle physics?  What did he say?”

Kathryn looked back toward the safely-dimmed elemental fire brightening the infinity of space.  “’If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one.  Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’”

The End.

22 thoughts on “Friday Flash: Kathryn’s Child

  1. Hmmmm…how very melodramatic.

    The internal dialogue was well-worked-in, so much so that I couldn’t even remember recognizing any. But I’m pretty sure it was there. 🙂

  2. Great to see you tackling sci fi! I enjoyed this story, especially the touches of mythology, and naming the weapon after Shiva.

    I was a little confused about what happened to the planet after the explosion. “elemental fire brightening the infinity of space.” Was the planet still intact but burning? Or were you talking about the stars? A minor thing. Maybe it was just me being distracted 🙂

  3. I noticed the first internal monologue (I think struck stuck out for me), but the rest of them flowed smoothly and painted an interesting picture of the characters, particularly Kathryn. Although, I got thrown by the comment about her child being born. It made me think of Star Trek 2(?) and the image of regeneration over that planet. I liked the use of Shiva and mythology playing into this and always enjoy when someone takes things like the Oppenheimer quote and works them into other pieces.

  4. Two “children” in one day, birth and death at once. Nice duality and good world building. I like how you reduced history to mythology as well. And the internal monologues worked fine for me, didn’t feel too stilted or tacked-on. Nice work.

  5. I’ve not read much sci-fi, Stephen, but to me that’s top-notch stuff. Really vivid descriptions and great ‘negative’ energy between Katryn and Dr. Vanwick. I really liked that tie-in with Shiva, the destroyer.

    • Thanks! I’m glad that my story, being one of the few bits of sci-fi you’ve read, struck you positively. For Kathryn and Vanwick, I was definitely going for the sense of that kind of relationship you have with someon you’ve worked with for a long time, so you feel like you know them so well…

      Shiva – or Trinity, for that matter – is the kind of name you end up with when you put a physicist in charge of a project who’s familiar with mythology.

  6. Good story, well told. I particularly liked the passage, “There were worse things, in the vast unknown… Kathryn knew that she was one of them.” What Hell hath she released – destroyer of worlds indeed.

    • Thanks. You got to the heart of the story – the point I was trying to make about the internal anxiety doing something like what she’s done causes her. Whatever her purpose for doing it becomes overshadowed by the terror of what she’s unleashed.

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