Science Fiction Short Story June Prompt
|Heinrich tipped carefully through the old pipes, some dusted with rust beneath as they reflected soft, bright beam of his flashlight. They were steel, but old steel, and not fully immune to the humidity. He could have removed his helmet - high partner Lina would have, and she'd likely chide him for his fears when he returned to her. But whether it was the darkness, the cracked glass, or all of the ghosts he imagined wandering the derelict, Heinrich kept his spacesuit on.
The station was huge. Sprawling panels still reported the amount of oxygen in the air and pleated requests for maintenance and upgrades, but they had been ignored for the decades since the colony failed. The stories that might have explained why were unclear - hundreds of children and young mothers had escaped, but precious few of the latter had been among the scientists and engineers maintaining the station's critical systems. And, unfortunately, the kind of rare elements that allowed interstellar travel were too precious to make returning to Delta Rhondrium IV practical. It had been a blessing that its founders had scrimped enough together to provide a lifeboat at all, despite how many lives had been lost. But why - that was the question none had been able to answer. They just said that all the systems had begun to fail, and the captain had launched the lifeboat remotely, even before it was full.
But Heinrich saw little evidence of such a cataclysm here, as he worked through the greenhouse toward the central control rooms. The layered glass enclosures and the walls were strangely blackened, but mostly intact. He was surrounded by vegetation: green beans, beets, grapes, corn, and wheat. They were separated by station, but despite the rotten and blackened plant matter beneath his boots, remained alive and open to the stars. In a few hours, they would even see the sunrise as the huge wheel of a station slowly turned. The greenhouse sections were enormous, filling the entire outer ring, and the solar panels were still operational, despite some degradation. None of it made sense.
That was when the light came - in a sudden blinding flash that might have taken Heinrich's eyes permanently if his polarized helmet hadn't protected them. He wouldn't have noticed, of course, if the conductive elements of his suit hadn't protected the electric bolt from stopping his heart and crisping his skin. Heinrich, winded, tried to stand, tried to make out the world through his watery eyes. "My God," he whispered. "Lightning."
And so it was - lightning inside the station had flattened him on his back, and only his suit had saved his life. Heinrich gritted his teeth against the pain as he stood, and tried to make out a way through the blazing fire that surrounded him. But as he turned his head from left to right, new bolts of light erupted from the air in all directions, turning the greenhouse into a blazing hell. It was so strange: those plants had taken months or years to grow - why did the lightning suddenly come now? Perhaps he was just lucky. Maybe even lucky enough to live to tell the tale.