So, as an exercise in… I’m not really sure what… I proposed writing a short story where certain elements were suggested by others. These elements included: Title, first line, last line, genre and the main character’s profession. While I had originally hoped to get bits and pieces from many people, by instructions lacked clarity and I got everything suggested to be by one person. So, I will do two versions, the one where all of the elements came from one person and one where the elements are a jumble of many discordant elements. I’ll do the easy one first:
Title: When Things Go Odd (Sci Fi)
“There must be some way out of here,” Parker Fuller said to him.
“Said the joker to the thief,” Enos Jones replied under his breath and gave the steel bulkhead a shove.
“What did you say?” Fuller asked. He was young, impatient and had been born with great handicap of having no sense of humor. Fortunately, Enos had an excess.
“Death,” he said with a straight face and pulled out a black satchel, pulled at the silver zipper and slowly unclasped the bag’s teeth. He smiled a wide, wicked smile at Fuller when he pulled out the long sharp instrument from within.
“You wouldn’t?” Fuller said, putting his hand over his face, which exposed a lot of vital areas.
Enos sighed at the folly of youth.
“I wouldn’t what?” He said, rising. “I wouldn’t…” He pointed his instrument at the quivering young man. He was small, thin and frail. “… use my electro-drill to try to burn through the wall?”
Fuller kept his hands above his face; he didn’t appear relieved, though he should. If the young fool had been stuck with anyone other than Enos Jones, ship’s mechanic, they likely would be in a world of trouble. “World of trouble.” The phrase amused Jones.
“Stop shilly-shallying around and grab my goggles,” Jones said the harsh words with good humor. “I don’t know how thick the bulkhead is here and things get bad for us if I go blind before I get through.”
That sent the young man scurrying around. He wasn’t a bad kid, just a dumb one. For instance, he hadn’t even thought to ask Enos where the goggles could be found. Enos imagined he’d get to that presently. In the mean time Enos could look at the door and wonder if his electro-drill would work.
Rule of thumb had bulkheads being three feet thick. His drill probably had enough juice to get through that much, if he had remembered to charge it before he left, which Enos couldn’t say for sure. Of course, if he struck a power or oxygen line then things would get real interesting, real quick.
“I can’t find any goggles,” Fuller said from behind him.
“They’re in the satchel,” Enos told him. “Better grab the flask that’s in there, too. And grab a swallow for yourself. It’ll do you good.”
“What’s in it?” Fuller asked. Such a cautious boy.
“Irish Whiskey,” Enos replied.
“We aren’t supposed to drink on duty,” the boy quoted regs. Boys were good at quoting regs. Also at being a pain in the…
“We aren’t supposed to be in a room without any door, either,” Enos pointed out and gestured around with the electro-drill. “When things go odd, son, a man makes his own regs.”
Fuller handed him the goggles and flask, without taking Enos up on his offer.
“I’m not your son,” the kid sounded petulant.
“Just as well,” Enos said as he took a long pull and warmed himself up. It was damned cold. But that was space for you. “It would be a shame to have my inheritor die with me. Now shut up for a second and let me work.”
Enos flicked the trigger and a long blue light emanated from the electro-drill. It was a quick start-up, a good sign that there was plenty of fuel in there. Enos got to work. The light gray paneling on the wall sparked and darkened. This would not be quick work.
“What do you think happened?” Fuller asked.
“If I knew I wouldn’t be here,” Enos answered. The heat from the electro-drill was causing sweat to bead up on his brow. Dehydration might be a problem, too. Best not to mention that to the boy. “And I’ve never been one to speculate on things I don’t know nothing about.”
That quieted Fuller. For a brief while all Enos could hear was the hum of the drill, the slow drip of melting bulkhead and the beating of his own heart. But after a spell, Fuller opened his yapper again.
“Maybe it’s a prank,” Fuller said.
“Not a very good one,” Enos said.
“Maybe it’s an experiment,” Fuller suggested.
“Experiments have a point, son,” Enos answered. “What would they be studying? The effectiveness of my electro-drill?”
“It could be psychological.”
“Son, scientists don’t need any more experiments to tell them that two people don’t like being locked up in a strange room.”
“But we’re in space.”
“I’m not sure that makes a big difference,” Enos replied. He turned off the drill and looked at the bulkhead. Six, maybe seven inches. And he was sore. He removed his goggles.
Fuller was standing flush against he other wall, a good fifteen feet away. There wasn’t much else in the room between them. Two pillows. Enos’ satchel. A small red box. A dim light pulsed overhead.
“Here,” Enos said and offered the drill to Fuller. “Your turn.”
Fuller looked at him as if he were crazy.
“I don’t know how.”
“You’ve been watching me for long enough,” Enos pointed out. “And it ain’t fancy. You point and click. If you hear the hiss go high-pitched on you, you stop clicking because you’re probably hitting wire.”
“Wire?” panic was in Fuller’s voice.
“Or a gas line,” Enos shrugged his shoulder. “But if it’s a gas line we’ll be dead quick enough that you won’t have time to react. Best to hope it’s a wire. Then we just use the light. It ain’t that great anyway.”
“What about life support?” Fuller asked.
Enos was wondering when the boy was going to get to that. You go up in a ship often enough you get used to the sounds. All the sounds. The rotors moving, air circulating. There hadn’t been any sounds like that when Enos had woke up in the room.
“I don’t think there is any,” Enos pointed out.
“Now, you see why I didn’t tell you,” Enos said. “All panicking does is use up the air we have. I figure, between you, me and the drill we got at least six hours. Drill will get through in a little less than that time.”
Fuller stared at Enos as if he had grown a second head. He looked so convinced, Enos checked himself. Nope, just the one.
“You should have told me,” Fuller’s voice was dull.
“So you could, what? Talk about it?”
“You should have told me.”
Enos couldn’t imagine every being that young. Or stupid. He took a deep breath.
“Fine, you want to know everything we need to worry about? Worry about this, then. We could be drilling out into empty space.”
“But you walked straight to it…”
“I looked around. All four walls are the same. I have enough juice in the drill, and enough time, to go through one wall. I picked. But it’s not as if I had a reason to pick the way I did. Heck, all four damned walls could open up to space for all I know. Now, are you just going to sit there, or are you going to drill.”
Fuller turned towards the wall, flicked the switch on the drill and started cutting.
“Good boy,” Enos said and when he was sure Fuller was focused on the task, grabbed the little red box. It had been beneath his pillow when he had woken up. He had opened it, viewed its contents, before the boy had woken. Now he pulled them out again. One red pill. One blue pill. Enos took them out of the box and thrust them in his pocket.
He tried to think of a happy time, he tried to think of a happy song that he could sing, but he didn’t have the energy and didn’t want to use up the air anyway. He tried to do everything except wonder about how he got here and who had done it to him. It didn’t really matter. Not as long as they were on the inside. When they got out–if they got out–that would be the time to worry about that. He would shock the boy with his fervor. But not now. Now he just wanted to sleep, so he did.
He woke with a jolt and a stinging sensation at his back that might have been cramps.
“I think I hear a hiss,” Fuller called out and the hum of the drill extinguished.
Enos shook the cobwebs from his brain and ambled across the room. Fuller handed him the drill. Enos took a look at the wall. Either the boy had done a good job or he’d been asleep for a long time. They were nearly through.
“I don’t hear a hiss,” Enos said. “Either from air coming in or air going out.”
“I heard it,” Fuller insisted.
Enos didn’t say anything more. He put his hand to the hole the drill had created. It was circular, six inches in diameter. Enos put his hand to the bottom of the hole and pulled away at the corroded metal. It came off like cardboard in his hand. Within a few minutes he had cleared away a hole long enough for him to crouch in. He put his ear against the wall, hoping for sound. Anything would do; Enos had never been particular. But there was nothing. He thrust his head against the metal and made a dull thunk sound. He did it over and over. There was no response from the other side.
“How long was I asleep?” Enos asked Fuller as he returned to the room and straightened out his back.
“A couple of hours, maybe,” Fuller answered. “It’s hard to say. Time doesn’t seem to move.”
“It doesn’t, does it?” Enos asked with a smile. “Well I don’t hear anything. In fact, I don’t know I’ve ever heard so much nothing before in my life.”
Fuller didn’t respond, just moved to the opposite wall, slid his back down against the wall and sat.
“I’ve had better companionship,” Enos pointed out and then went back to the hole and turned on the drill.
Truth was, Enos couldn’t think of any good reason why anyone would choose to stick him with the kid. They had nothing in common, not even enmity. He was just some recruit making his first trip to the outer system, useless as anything but ballast. Someone who wouldn’t be missed. Enos had been on the crew for years.
Minutes went by and Enos drilled. The drill pushed a circle through the bulkhead and Enos pulled out the debris. And then, just when his mind was about to go numb there was a pitchiness to the sound of the drill beam, as if it was hitting something not metal and then a scream from behind him.
Enos released the drill’s trigger and traveled on his hands and knees back to Fuller.
The kid was dead. He was sitting just where Enos had left him, only now there was a circular burn in his chest about six inches in diameter. Enos pushed the body to the side and stared at the wall behind it. There was a six-inch hole in it. Enos crouched down and stared through it and saw–through a dark tunnel–a room with a dim light and a man crouching beside a young man’s body.
“Son of a bitch,” Enos said and turned away from the hole. “That ain’t right. That ain’t right.”
The smell of burnt flesh hit him then and Enos grabbed his flask, opened it and held it up to his nose so that all he could smell was whiskey.
“Sorry, kid,” Enos said. He pulled out the blue pill and the red pill from his pocket.
“I don’t remember which is which,” Enos mumbled. “I don’t remember.”
He put the pills back in his pocket. Took a look at Fuller. Kid didn’t deserve to go like that. Nobody deserved to go like that.
Enos closed his eyes, pulled out a pill and drunk it down.
He opened his eyes, sat beside Fuller, put his hand on the kid’s head, brushed the hair gently.
The world got fuzzy. That might be the pill. That might be a lack of air. That might be a lot of things.
“You know what, Fuller,” Enos said with a laugh. “I’ve always wondered what my last words might be. Always thought I’d be saying them to a beautiful blonde, you know?”
Enos heaved a heavy sigh and fell asleep.
When he woke up he found himself in a dimly lit room. A kid named Fuller was asleep not more than a handful of feet from him. He had only a pillow himself. No, he had more than that. He had his satchel. And there was a small red box. He opened it. Inside there was a blue pill and a red pill. It reminded him of Alice in Wonderland. He closed the box, took a quick survey of the room. Four walls, each exactly like the other. No hum of life-support. Damn. He hoped that satchel had a electro-drill in it. Hoped he had remembered to fill it up with juice.
The kid stirred and Enos sighed. Somewhere in his mind he had a vision of himself killing the boy, but that couldn’t be right. He would never do that and it was creepy to think about it. He shook his head, surveyed the room and decided right then what he had to do.
“Not sure how I ended up in this place,” he said, “but I know what I can do to try to get out.”
“What was that?” the kid called out to him and Enos answered in a soothing tone.
“Not sure how I ended up in this place.”