29.7.06

Sunday Scribblings: A Story About Two Cents

This week’s prompt for Sunday Scribblings is ‘My Two Cents’. My first thoughts were, ‘What are cents?’ and ‘What are you doing with them?’ In this story there are two cents. One was made up by me, the other by the characters. What are they doing with them? Well, flipping them, of course.

I wanted to write a story where two people were flipping a coin to make a life or death decision, but I didn't want to make it a bleak story - I wanted more of a mellow Houston we have a problem kind of vibe. Anyway, here are my two cents. Sounds overpriced to me...

My Two Cents

Smoke hangs in the air and the lights are dim, flickering slightly. I push off from the hatch and coast over to Mina by the window. She is curled around a clipboard, poring over a smeary, sweat-dampened piece of paper, a chewed ball-point pen between her teeth.

“We’re dead, aren’t we?” I say, trying to read her expression.

She takes the pen out of her mouth and tucks it into the breast pocket of her company-issue jumpsuit, zipping it closed. “Sort of. And sort of not, as well.” She looks at the sheet of paper in my hand. “They got back to us finally? What does it say?”

“Um…” I hold the paper up to the light. “‘Callisto Flight Control have been notified of your predicament. A rescue mission has been dispatched, further information enclosed.’ I’ve looked at it. They won’t reach us for about two or three months. ‘At this time we advise that you take no action that is not necessary to your immediate safety. Conserve oxygen. Recall that in the high carbon dioxide, low oxygen environment you are experiencing, your judgement is likely to be impaired. Think carefully before performing any action. Further instructions will be forthcoming as we evaluate potential solutions. Be assured that many men and women are working hard to ensure that you will…’ Blah, blah, blah.”

Mina says, “Oh.”

I look at the smudged, meandering numbers on her piece of paper. “Give me the good news then.”

She makes a little smile. It is a smile of determination, I think. It is certainly not a smile that reaches her eyes. “If we go on as we are now, assuming that the back-up environmental systems can clear out all the smoke and debris without wearing out, then there is simply not enough oxygen for us to survive for more than about thirty days.”

“Nice.”

Mina wipes the sheen of sweat from her forehead with a sleeve. “Would you kill me?” she asks.

“You what?”

“Without me, you might live long enough to greet the rescue team.”

“Unless any of the ship’s systems fail, in which case I’d be screwed. If we’re going to be ‘without’ anyone, it should be me.”

She pushes the clipboard away. It tumbles slowly. “I don’t know the first thing about flying this thing.”

“You don’t have to. It flies itself. I’m just a back-up system, for if the computer fails. Just like you’re a back-up system for if the mechanics fail. Which they have, you might remember.” I manage to splutter the last words out, before erupting into a coughing fit. The air is acrid and hot. Forcing it into my lungs is a constant, conscious effort - a tiring distraction. This is hardly the ideal environment for a life-or-death debate.

Mina waits for me to catch my breath, plunging her fingers into short hair that ripples as if underwater. “Look, telling you was just a courtesy,” she says quietly. “I could very well just have thrown myself out the airlock or eaten all the painkillers or-”

I cut her off. “Mina, you fucking dare.”

But she keeps talking. “I was kind of hoping that you could help me. I don’t want to be in pain, or only half do the job.”

“If you’re turning it into maths, then it should be me. The ship can make it without me, and you might be able to fix anything else that goes wrong. But without you, if the back-ups wear out before the air is cleared, if the electrics fail, then I’m screwed.”

“Let’s draw straws then,” she says, seemingly on a whim.

“Or flip a coin.”

“Do you have a coin?”

I unzip my pocket and retrieve a small golden disc. “One Lunar Cent.”

Mina laughs. “Bull. It’s a joke.”

I send it coasting slowly over to her. She snatches at it and examines it closely. “One Lunar Cent,” she reads, carefully.

“Still legal tender, I think. But it’s worth much more than one cent to a collector.”

“Which one’s heads and which one’s tails? I mean, the astronaut has a head, somewhere in his ancient space suit, but the other side is Earth’s moon.”

“The moon is tails by default.”

She sends the coin back with a gentle nudge. As it spins, it glitters in the light. “Who the hell is Neil Armstrong?”

“Some guy in a space suit, on Earth’s moon. How should I know?” I catch the coin between thumb and forefinger.

“Heads or tails?” Mina asks, as if we were flipping to see who gets which side of a tennis court, and not for our lives.

“Um…” I think about it carefully. Stupid really, since it’s up to chance anyway. “I’ll take Neil.”

“Okay, moon for me then. Flip away.” She grabs a rail by the window and pulls herself back against the wall. Her face is twisted by a smirking smile that, even after all these months alone with her, I find very difficult to read.

I place the coin on the junction between my thumb and forefinger, and flick it into the air.

It goes straight up, hits an angular panel above me, and rebounds at the same speed but in a different direction, flying off, out the hatch and down the corridor. It disappears from view, striking something with a metallic clink.

Mina covers her mouth and laughs. “What was that you were saying about impaired judgement?”

I feel myself blushing with embarrassment. “Yeah, okay, flipping a coin without gravity, not the best idea I ever had.”

“Shall we start the habitat ring spinning, risking the whole electrical system, so you can flip your little coin properly?” Mina teases.

“Yes, let’s do that,” I retort sarcastically. There has been no other person in my life, man or woman, who I have felt as strongly towards - both loved and hated - as incandescently as Mina. After well over half a year alone with her, we have become as intimate as anyone could do, trapped together between these cramped metal walls. Even in the moments when the worst sides of both of our personalities have been rubbing together painfully, we have been forced to get through it. Where could you go? Out the airlock? As pretentious as it sounds, there really is no escape from one another but death.

We both sold a year of our lives to the company, in return for a life on an icy moon with an incredible view. But I don’t think either of us reckoned on the price we’d end up paying to one another. When we get there (if we do) I’m not sure which emotion is stronger - the desire to escape her or the fear of losing the most significant relationship of my life.

Silence has fallen, save for the gurgling sound of the air vents straining to suck up the smoke. Mina grabs my sleeve and pulls me over to the window. It’s only a little porthole, thick and surrounded by huge bolts. A token gesture for the sanity of the crew. You can’t see much with the lights on, but Jupiter is just about visible, shrouded in ghostly reflections, still tiny and far away.

“Let’s not do this,” she says. “Let’s not either of us… You know.”

I nod.

“We’ll let nature flip a coin,” she says. “And we’ll let the people on Callisto try and catch it before it lands. We might both make it, or both die. Or maybe just one of us, if it works out that way, naturally. In the meantime, let’s try and get some sleep. We’ll use less oxygen.”

She pushes off the wall towards the hatch, spinning around to smile at me. I’m never sure if I like the way that she can be positively positive about just about anything, however horrible. “What do you think nature’s coin is like?” she asks. “Do you think it has a nice Lunar Cent like yours?”

I follow after her. “I don’t have a nice Lunar Cent right now. I have to find it before it gets sucked up with the rest of the debris. Anyway, I expect nature’s coin, even if it’s worth more than a cent, is nowhere near as nice as mine. It’s some dirt encrusted, irradiated piece of space junk. Very organic looking, but a hazard for fast moving spacecraft. We‘re probably going to hit it ourselves.”

Mina grabs my hand and squeezes it, laughing.

“I really hate you sometimes,” I tell her, grinning.

“I love you too,” she replies.

13 comments:

zhoen said...

You have seen the beginning of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, right?

paris parfait said...

This is a fascinating take on the writing prompt. Well done, you!

susanna said...

I do so enjoy your quirky sense of humour, Pacian! :)

Michelle said...

I was hoping that you would leave it at this! What a fun(well, kinda) approach to the prompt. I enjoy your stories.

Heather said...

I like this. You end it at just the right point, leaving us with a grin.

Pacian said...

You have seen the beginning of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, right?

o_O No.

But I have now read the synopsis here.

boliyou said...

This is great! Thanks for your comment on my blog. I'm glad we found each other.

"There has been no other person in my life, man or woman, who I have felt as strongly towards - both loved and hated - as incandescently as Mina" - terrific line.

wendylou who? said...

i envy your imagination..and ability to create scenes. I tend to repeat them,or copy them like a drunk kindergartener with a crayon... well done

Madeleine said...

what a fascinating story. and fantstic creative imagination.
great twist on this prompt. i love the way these SS make us pull things out of the depths of minds.

lovely

Catherine said...

We're dead, aren't we?" "Sort of. And sort of not." Are these Schrodinger's two cats?
I really enjoyed reading this - great fun.

Geosomin said...

I like how you can take a moment filled with tension and add humor to it. Again, I enjoyed it. Thanks!

Bug said...

Great post! I was drawn in immediately to the story. And what a great dilemma. Talk about high stakes! (and thanks for the post on my blog!)

briliantdonkey said...

very nicely done. I just wanted to pop in and say that I enjoyed where you went with this weeks Sunday Scribblings prompt. Thank you for the enjoyable and very imaginative read!

Rob