Friday, May 01, 2009

End of the Trail

(Now that "End of the Trail" has been published, I guess I'm free to let you read the whole story. It was published in My Weekly under the title of "Will There Be Ducks?" and I was really happy with the layout. I'm looking forward to my next magazine submission!

I feel the story's more touching for me now that (at least for me) BSG has finished. Don't worry, this is absolutely spoiler-free :-) All I'll say is that the finale was one of, if not the most, perfect works of television I've ever seen. Superb!)

"Mummy, will there be ducks?" Kara asked, her young voice almost drowned out by the din. She was fascinated by ducks; always asking to hear stories about them, drawing pictures and collecting as many photographs as she could beg from the grown-ups. Her favourite game was the one where she'd go running around the cargo bay yelling "quack, quack" as loudly as she could. There was even the time her birthday present list had only one thing on it, a real, living duck. She had to make do with Mr. Bill, reluctantly, but the old, patch-ridden, plush toy duck was sitting alone on her bunk, several decks above, abandoned now that she was going to see real animals for the first time in her life. She bounced on her feet, unable to keep still.

"I don’t know, Kara", her mother said, loudly, over the noise. "I hope there'll be something like a duck."

She bit her lip and gazed down at her daughter, fidgeting as much as she, the delay setting every nerve on edge.

The alarm blared, echoing back and forth from the gun-metal grey walls of the corridor. The warning beacons spun persistently, companions to the continuing klaxon. In all of Kara’s eight years, those lights and that sound had always meant one thing; the grown-ups flying into a panic, rushing to fix whatever it was that had torn or broken before their precious atmosphere leaked away into the ether. But not today, today it was heralding the end of their journey, the start of a new life away from the confines of this ship. Kara could see the wide eyes and big smiles, and hear the loud, excited conversations all around her.

The airlock hatch jumped back and Kara matched the movement, scooting behind her mother, her grip tightening in fright. It moved away from them, long unused hydraulics groaning, and swung upwards into the ceiling, finally falling silent, the alarm stopping abruptly. The corridor was suddenly filled with clashing chatter, raised up a notch by the imminent opening of the outer hatch.

She looked up at her mother, apprehension and expectation crowding onto her young features. Her mother's gaze was fixed on the hatch, but sensing Kara's gaze, she glanced down and gave a reassuring smile.

"Mummy, can I go and swim in the sea first?" Kara asked, as the question popped into her head.

"It depends how near we are, love", her mother said. "I heard the pilot say we were landing near a lake."

"And a dog, if they have dogs, can I have a dog?" Kara asked breathlessly.

"We’ll see, Kara, just be patient a little longer."

The outer hatch clanked loudly, groaning louder than the inner hatch, the mechanism struggling to lift the heavy, metal portal, Kara realising that this would be the first time in her life she had ever seen it open; that this would only be the first of many new things she'd see today.

Her mind whirled with the images she had conjured from all the stories that her parents had told her, the memories of the photographs they had shown her. Stories of vast expanses of water, more than she'd ever seen in one place before, bigger even than the swimming pool on deck twelve where she'd learnt to swim and dive. Wide open spaces larger than any of the vast cargo bays that had been her playground for so long. Air so sweet and fresh that it would drive out all memory of the tangy, metallic, recycled atmosphere that filled the ship. Sunlight warmer and brighter than any of the lights on the ship.

Those were only the things she could relate to. There was so much more of which she'd been told that she just couldn't begin to conceive of, things which she had never seen, smelt or touched. The sweet scent of a simple flower filling her nose, the sight of a majestic tree soaring up and away above her, the feel of cool, ticklish grass underfoot.

The hatch shrieked with a long, piercing screech of metal on poorly greased metal as it slid aside, as if the ship was voicing its reluctance to part with its crew. The airlock was instantly bathed in bright, eye-aching light, filling the dark, gloomy interior of the ship, warming metal that had been chilled by the years in deep space. The people gathered around the airlock said nothing, just smiling, letting the warmth of a sun soak into them after so long in the clutches of the cold, clammy hands of space.

Her mother tugged at her hand and Kara tore her gaze away from the hatch, looking up at her. The warmth falling on her face was reflected in her smile and twinkling eyes.

"Ready, Kara?" she asked. Now faced with the reality of the end of this journey, Kara's fear was rising swiftly, the new world outside filled with nothing but the unknown. Her grip tightened on her mother's hand and she moved further behind her, as if to hide from the hatch and all that lay outside. She looked around her, the dark, empty corridor stretching away on either side, leading into the depths of the ship. She knew every turn, every hiding place, every nook and cranny which had been her domain for her whole life. The lure of the dark was so strong, the safety and security of the ship beckoning to her.

Her hand slipped from her mother’s, people buffeting her back and forth as she squeezed between them, their excitement washing over her, every voice filled with optimism, expectation, hope as they moved past her. She slipped back towards the darkness, towards the familiar smells, sights and noises of the ship.

Her mother found her a short while later, sitting in the gloom of cargo bay three, legs pulled up to her chest, arms folded around them, chin resting on her knees, Mr. Bill leaning lop-sided against her.

"It’s alright, Kara, you don’t have to be scared", she said, softly, sliding down to the cold metal floor beside her. She cuddled Kara to her side. The teary-eyed girl gazed at her.

"Do I have to leave, mummy?" she asked, quietly. Her mother leant down and kissed her hair.

"You mustn’t be frightened, love", she said. "What is out there is so much more than this place can ever be. Think of all the things you’re going to see, a new home waiting for you to explore."

She paused.

"I was as young as you when I left my home", she said. Her eyes filled with tears as she remembered the last time she'd seen it, when she was a little girl as young as Kara. Her house, with the neatly tended garden, her bedroom window with the teddy bear curtains and looming over it all, a dark sky filled with thousands of fiery meteorites. Her father had been preparing for months, ever since the comet had been discovered on its unswerving collision course, knowing full well that the plan to destroy it would still result in disaster, ignoring the multitude that had called him insane. They'd made it into space with barely a moment to spare and once there, the forty thousand souls who'd listened to him watched as their world burned and died.

She jumped as Kara threw her arms around her neck, hugging her tightly. Together they stood up, walking hand in hand back to the airlock, Mr. Bill held tight against her.

Silhouetted in the sunshine, they looked at one another.

"Ready, mummy?" Kara asked, finally. Her mother nodded and together they walked into the light, Kara's voice echoing one last time around the ship.

"I hope there are ducks."