Saturday, April 25, 2009

Writer's Round Table Assignment

A couple of fellow Pikers have invited me to participate in a "Writer's Round Table". Each week, we receive an assignment to stretch our writing muscles. When complete, we send it to each of the other writers in the group who critique it for us. Then we meet online and chat about it. The first assignment was: Write a passage of up to 600 words beginning with the sentence, "The sky was dark and ominous." Here is what I came up with. 

The sky was dark and ominous over the blasted wasteland of the alien planet. Zeniff adjusted the respirator hose attached to the facepiece of his helmet and trudged on. The rusty mining droid followed doggedly, its worn treads puffing up clouds of orange dust in the sandy soil. As soon as Zeniff let go of the hose, it flopped right back in place where it kept banging against his chest. Zeniff was far too exhausted to be angry, and kept doggedly pushing it back out of the way. The failing light worried him. Night time on a desert planet was not the best time to be out and about. Besides the drastic temperature drop, there was the potential for violent wind storms. Every so often, between efforts to push the respirator hose back into place, Zeniff would stop and scan the sky in a slow circle. But the heads-up display remained blank. Nobody had noticed that he was missing just yet. He was not yet expected on the moon base, as it was a twelve hour trip. Nobody could have noticed his shuttle falling from the sky, as he was on the opposite side of the planet when the power plant failed. The failure was so sudden and complete that even the comm equipment had been useless. Only the emergency chutes had saved him from cratering into the sandy orange soil a few seconds later. Even so, the clunky space vehicle had no aerodynamic properties whatsoever, and when the anti-grav engines failed, it simply fell like a rock.

Even with the huge parachutes clawing madly at the thin atmosphere he had been sure something in him broke when the ship hit the ground.

The rusty droid had somehow survived the fall as well, despite being strapped to an external cargo rack for its return journey to the mining colony on the moon. As Zeniff surveyed the crashed vehicle, the droid had come to life and started following him. He tried to shut it down, and order it to stop, but its control panel was smashed, and apparently its comm link as well. So it resorted to its basic programming, which was to follow its human overseer until directed to begin extracting the precious minerals from the soil. Zeniff chose to ignore it as he set off in the direction indicated by his global positioning indicator. Now, except for when he stopped to scan the horizons for any sign of life, he forgot that it was there. He knew he would have to stop soon, but he held out hope of finding some kind of terrain feature for shelter against the night storms. The environmental controls on his suit seemed to be in order, at least for now and had plenty of energy to last until the sun returned. But the thought of hurricane force winds driving the coarse orange sand against the thin fabric of his suit made him shudder. He decided his search for shelter would have to stop however when he almost walked right into a deep crater. He cursed himself as a fool for leaving the scene of the crash, at least he might have used the ship itself for shelter. At the time he had not thought he had flown that far, and that he would be able to see the colony after only an hour or two of walking. He stopped and turned on the light on top of his helmet. He wanted to use the light sparingly, in order to save as much battery power as possible for more critical things like the respirator and the environmental controls. The crater was not deep, but tumbling into it blindly would have definitely ended poorly for him. He thought he saw a slope he could get down on the far side, and turning off his light edged his way towards it. When he reached it, he found that it was indeed a gentle slope down to the bottom of the crater. He followed it down, having forgotten completely about the mining droid behind him. At the bottom of the crater, the darkness was complete. Just as he was reaching up to turn on his helmet light for a brief survey, a bright light surrounded him. He screamed and jumped, the sound echoing loudly inside his helmet. He spun around and saw the droid a few feet away, its work lights on and illuminating the crater nicely. Zeniff bent over to catch his breath and wait for his heart to return to a normal pace. He looked gratefully at the droid. At least he wouldn’t have to drain his suit’s reserves for a little light while he waited out the coming day. 

© 2009 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

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