Short Stories

Below is a short sci-fi story I wrote. Please give me your feedback.

The Long Commute

By Cody Kimmel

John Spencer packed the magazine he was reading quickly into his briefcase and stood up. The old woman he sacrificed his seat for gave him a grateful nod as her tired body plopped down. This was the first time in five years John had taken the bus to work, and this was the last stop before the long commute into Earth.

Naturally, John was disappointed he lost his seat prior to the to five hour ride in, but he felt noble giving up his seat for an old woman. He was the first one in a row of probably 15 people to offer his seat, so he knew the rest of the bus noticed. That made him happy.

The old woman was an immigrant. Quite a few of them had boarded Space Bus 323E at the last stop. The immigrants were first transported to the moon in 2058 as part of the “humane” solution to the illegal immigration problem, a bill proposed by the New Democratic Party. In exchange for labor both on the planet and on the moon, the immigrants were allowed temporary work visas and government provided housing. The bill technically applied only to those undocumented immigrants already living in the country, with preference given to those with American born children, but the immigrants took advantage of it, and more and more kept coming.

The space bus took a sudden dip. People clattered in their seats, for a brief second terrified, but then recomposed themselves. “It was probably nothing,” they all thought. It was a group denial, one that existed throughout history often when groups are threatened with an eminent danger. It was the same phrase uttered by countless German families during the Great 20th century war as their Jewish neighbors were stolen from their homes in the middle of the night. John Spencer glanced quickly down the aisle at the round hatch, but quickly put it out of his mind.

John tried to keep his cool, and as the space bus got back on course, he sighed a brief but desperate sigh. There hadn’t been a space bus crash since Space Bus 620, and that was over thirty years ago. The moon population had been reassured that all the kinks had been fixed and a space bus was safer than any flying object ever invented by man. But there was always that quiet fear in the back every commuters mind.

John began to look around more. The moon had become much more diverse since he and his family had originally moved there. The United States was becoming overrun and over crowded. Although many of the cities had built extensive suburbs, destroying most of the countryside, and built towering downtown condos and government housing, America still couldn’t hold everybody. Mother nature took care of the overpopulation problem in China, India, and parts of Europe by means of plagues, fires, hurricanes, floods, and wars. The population of the world was first managed by the Great World War of 2023, which killed 23% of the world’s population in a matter of nine months. Even though the United States and its allies claimed victory, very little was gained from the war.

It was shortly after the war ended that a few developers proposed living on the moon. John was only 20 then and had not yet met his wife. He remembered the slogan, “To the moon we go!” It was written on every billboard, painted on every downtown condo, and calling to every young and adventurous heart in America. In 2030, the first moon community was completed, and John, now with his wife and a baby on the way, decided to take the plunge and move to the moon. The suburbs on the earth were overcrowded and rundown, so the moon became the new elite suburb for those young adventurous families of mean.

John often times compared his journey to live on the moon to the old American settlers, moving West with the promise of land and fortune. He liked to believe that his life would somehow someday be remembered as historically important, which is why yesterday he announced his candidacy for the governor of the newly founded state of the Moon.

He suspected that a few people recognized him when he got on. He tried to smile at as many people on the bus as he could without looking overreaching. The only reason he was on the bus at all that day was to meet with some important government people on Earth.

Even though the space bus was moving 18.6 million miles per hour, from a distance it looked like a tiny leaf floating between rocks, drifting in slow motion against the flickering background of minnows flashing deep in the dark lake. It was silent as it sped through space, a tiny particle of white sand dropped into an endless shoreline. Beautiful and infinitely meaningless.

John glanced to his right and saw himself in the newspaper. The article was titled, “Moon pioneer runs for governor” and quoted bits and pieces of his interview:

“Mr. Spencer, what do you hope to accomplish if elected mayor?”

“Thank you for asking Ms. Dawson. If elected I hope to lead my fellow Moonites into the future with the character and historical boldness inherent in us Moonites. We may be a diverse group, but we share a courageous curiosity that has helped us brave this new frontier. I hope to improve the living conditions of our temporary workers while maintaining the lifestyle of those who have been with us from the beginning. We are writing history and I will fight to make our legacy a great one. To the moon we went!”

John was very proud of his interview and delighted that it got published. He wondered if his wife had seen it, and if she had, if she had cut it out and put it on the food expander. A young woman standing next to him brushed his arm and asked, “Are you John Spencer?”

“Yes I am, and who might you be?”

“My name is Cheryl, Cheryl Clark. I really enjoyed you’re speech yesterday, it made me feel like what we’re doing up here is special.”

“Why thank you Cheryl, and what is it that you do on the Moon?” John was smiling the way politicians usually smile.

Cheryl answered, “I’m just up on the moon because my family was tired of the big cities. I’m heading back to the planet now to finish my college semester and see my boyfriend.”

“Well I’m glad you’re up here braving the New Frontier with us. It was great meeting you Cheryl.” She smiled a big genuine smile and put her earpieces back in.

The man in front of John and Cheryl looked back at John and nodded. John smiled back. John figured the man recognized him, but couldn’t speak English. John knew that the immigrant population of the moon was an important swing vote and as a result he was hoping to help champion a few of their causes. Deep down though, he resented them for coming. It was his moon, his adventure, his escape from war, from overcrowding, from shanty towns and immigrants. He knew they were mostly people in search of a better life, but he couldn’t find it in him to give them any more than patronizing lip service and care.

There was another dip in the space bus, but this one lasted longer. John knew that if they couldn’t recalibrate the space bus and get back on track they would burn up and disintegrate re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere. A slow quiet panic began to set in. John looked at the faces around him. There was a grave confusion in their eyes. The group denial from the first dip seemed to have vanished as they slowly began to realize that this long commute might be their last.

Again, John glanced at the hatch in the front of the bus. This time, he noticed he wasn’t alone. After the SB620 crash, there was a public outcry for safety measures being installed on future space buses. As a result, the engineers attached an escape pod, accessible by a hatch in the front of the bus. The engineers were confident they would never be needed. The pod themselves could only hold two people, so they were really seen as a joke by most commuters. It was as ridiculous as a two-man escape raft on an ocean liner. But there were no more crashes. So the escape pod stayed ridiculous and out of site. At least until now.

Another dip. This time a red light began flashing along the roof. John had never read the words on the hatch before: “THIS HATCH TO BE OPENED ONLY IN THE THREAT OF IMMANENT DESTRUCTION. CAPACITY 2.” One of the men sitting near the hatch lept to his feet and lunged toward it, only to be stopped by one of the immigrants standing on the other side. Fists were met by other fists and in an instant, a fight had broken out. It took John and three other people to break up the brawl. Realizing that the bus needed a leader, John keenly stepped to the front and said, “The worst thing we can do right now is panic. I know that we are all afraid, but let’s try to be reasonable. There has not been a space bus accident in thirty years. These lights are probably just warnings that something may be wrong, there’s no reason to think that we are in immanent danger.” As he said the last two words, his throat caught and he remembered what was written on the hatch.

A woman in the back raised her hand and spoke up, “I have two kids waiting for me at home, their father died three years ago and I am all that they have left for support. Please let me go through the hatch.”

The end of her request was cut off by a man.“I have a pregnant wife and five kids, I need to be on the hatch.”

Then another, “I’m supposed to be married in five days, I have so much life I’m supposed to live …”

“Voy al mundo para la medicina…”

“Why should you get on the hatch? I deserve it just as much as you do.”

By now, nobody was really listening to each other. Everyone was shouting their argument, pleading their case to the deaf majority all desperate to save their lives. It took John five minutes to calm everyone down enough to speak. “Hey! Hey! Shut up! Please! We can’t all go on the escape pod, nor am I convinced that we need to yet, but in the slight event that two of us need to escape, we need to come to a reasonable solution.” There was a young immigrant girl sitting with her mother beside him. Fortunately, she was the only child on this particular commute. “I nominate this little girl to be one of the individuals allowed through the Hatch.” Everyone wanted to protest. When death is in scope, humans often times lose their humanity. The god of self seems most evident when the end is near. Nobody spoke up, and the mother of the child let out a cry of relief. John felt like he had done something good, and when the space bus redirected itself, this story alone would be enough to win him every election for the rest of his life.

One of the more belligerent men in the back yelled out, “So who else?” The space bus dipped again, this time an alarm started to sound in sync with the roof lights.

John’s political face fell. This can’t be how it ends, he thought. I am an important man, a man who will lead the historic race of Moonites into the future. I have a wife and three kids and a moon house with an automatic kitchen and five moon cars and a window looking over the moon plains. I am a natural born American who is going to be remembered as a hero. My life is too important, my life is too important… “My life is too important to end this way!” His thoughts became a shout.

Everyone was startled by his sudden change in demeanor. “As many of you probably already know, I am running for governor of the moon. I have dedicated my life to the betterment of the moon. I believe that I am an invaluable part of its future. I can help tell your story. I will adopt this sweet girl into my family and raise her. I have the means.”

By the time John finished, the belligerent man from the back had had enough and punched John square in the face. If Cheryl hadn’t intervened, the man would have probably killed him. Through all of this Cheryl had remained silent. She didn’t scream out her reason to live, nor did she shout with rage at the overwhelming selfishness flooding the rest of the bus. She simply watched.

After breaking up the fight, Cheryl had everyone’s attention. An eerie silence crept through the hull of SB323E. With a sudden flash in Cheryl’s eye, she spoke, “I am about to die. Though I am young, I have lived a good life. Many of you are also about to die. Whether you have lived well or lived poorly, everyone on this bus knew this day would eventually come. So let’s stop acting so surprised. If we can save the girl, let’s save the girl. And then let’s face death with courage.” No one spoke after her. Everyone watched as the girl walked towards the hatch, a mixture of courage and fear fighting through the tears of everyone’s face. John, who was secretly hoping to jump through the hatch, or maybe “accidentally fall” helped open the hatch at the front of the bus.

John was in shock. There was no escape pod waiting on the other side. There was just a stainless steel patch with an inscription reading, “Escape Pod 323E has been recalled for repairs to be re-installed at a date TBD.”

John looked up at Cheryl with tears in his eyes, and then, in less than a second, everything came apart.

Ÿ         Ÿ         Ÿ

Heidi Spencer turned on the news that evening, expecting her husband to be calling from New York any minute. She froze as she heard the reporter begin.

“Breaking News. Space Bus 323E disintegrated upon entering the Earth’s atmosphere today. This is the first space bus accident since 2032. Among the passengers were 286 temporary workers and 55 American citizens, including gubernatorial candidate John Spencer. All passengers are assumed dead and as a result of the disintegration, the causes of this tragic accident may never be known.

Heidi’s coffee cup fell on her pristine black floors, scattering and spreading like stars from universes, travelling against the black emptiness of space.

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