Fiction Fragment Friday

Once again I have two stories for you this week. I have been sick most of the week, but early on I wrote to the writing prompt image I’m including on this post. I was inspired to write the first story, but as I saw more replies coming in I decided to write a second entry. I feel the first is both better written and a better story. The second I think is a bit more predictable and while I was trying to have a punch it didn’t quite land. Sometimes it is best to stick with your initial instincts.

This was a very strong week for these image prompts and I ended up writing something four out of the five days of the week despite being sick. I believe some of them were fairly strong stories. I find that seeing others posting their stories really drives me to up my quality of writing and bring something better than I might have otherwise. It is also fascinating to see how the same image can generate such vastly different stories. It is for that reason that I’m going to share both of the entries I wrote to this prompt even though I feel one is far superior to the other.

The subway tunnels were dead just like everything else in the city.  Over five years ago a previously unknown contagion was released into the air killing all mammalian life.  Fungus and vines quickly reclaimed much of the infrastructure with no humans around for maintenance.  My scout team is the first that has been allowed into the city since the disaster.  The world cannot prevent future occurrences if we don’t know how it happened.  That is my team’s mission.

  “Central, this is Scout Team One.  Are you seeing this?”  Our protective suits have cameras on them feeding live streams back to headquarters.  We have a support team watching our every move ready to research anything we might find.  In this case I am in a subway station and staring at a single globe shaped light fixture attached to the stairs leading up.  All the other globes have long ago shattered.  Above the stairs is a clock displaying 11:55pm in red letters.    

“Scout Team One, this is Central.  Your feed is coming through clear.”

“Any idea how this is possible?  The city’s power grid has been down for over five years, but I’m staring at a light and a clock.  Where is the power coming from?”

“Unknown Scout Team One.  Please investigate.”

I bite back my instinctual sarcastic response.  The line is being recorded and I know that what we are doing here will be reviewed by teams all over the world.  It is best to be professional when you are cementing your place in the history books.

I motion for my team to spread out as I approach the lone light.  They will look for any other signs of power or tracks to indicate someone or thing has been down here.  I examine the other lighting fixtures as I approach the working one.  They are shattered and appear to have broken from the inside out.  We believe there was a large power surge around the time of the contagion that caused many light fixtures in the city to explode.

As I hold my hand over the light, I find that it is not warm.  I can’t be sure if this is the case or if my protective suit is shielding me from the heat.  Either way I can touch the globe without burning myself.  I twist the whole unit to the left trying to remove it from the bulb.  Instead of coming loose I hear a clicking sound and it resists further movement.  There behind the light a block of concrete wall slides back and to the side revealing a doorway.

“Scout Team One converge on my location.  Await further instructions until I verify it is safe.”  I get generic responses of confirmation back over my radio.  I kept this communication local because I know that Central would have told me to send in someone more expendable than myself.  I don’t believe anyone is expendable.

My eyes are blinded by the bright lights as I enter the hidden room.  There are simple robotic vacuums and maintenance machines keeping this room spotless.  It is a laboratory of some sort with test tubes, computers, and high-tech machinery I do not recognize.  What I do recognize is a small fusion power reactor.  I only recognize it because fusion reactors have been in the news the last few months as they are only now viable.  It should not exist in a location that has not been accessed in over five years.

“Central can anyone back there tell me what I’m looking at here?”  I look around for a few more moments waiting for an answer that does not come.  “Central are you there?”  The radio silence was deafening, but I couldn’t tell if the issue was at Central or if radio signals were being blocked in the lab.  I stepped out into the hall and tested to be sure.  “Central please respond.”

Just when I’m getting ready to give up on Central, I finally get a response.  The voice on the other end is panicked and lacks any form of protocol.  “We’re being raided by government agents with guns.  I’m cutting your feeds so you can record locally.  Sorry, but you’re on your own.”

I look around at my team and see through their helmets that all of them are worried.  We are on our own and may not even have the support personal to assist with decontamination waiting for us.  “I don’t know what’s going on back at Central, but they’re not going to bury this information.  Document everything in this lab and then we’re going to broadcast it to the world.”

The clock says 11:55pm.  Five minutes to midnight is an awfully strange time to be waiting for a subway train.  With the shape this station is in I don’t know if I should trust any train that pulls up.  How did I get here?  For some reason I can’t remember walking down those stairs or stepping off a train.  Everything in my head is muddled and the dust in the air stings my eyes.

The platform shakes as a train speeds into the station.  The doors creek as they open and I can barely make out ripped seats inside through the flickering lights.  It actually looks dirtier than this station.  Without thinking my feet start to move forward and I am resigned that I am going to step aboard this death trap.

A stranger in a black trench coat and fedora puts his hand on my chest and holds me back.  “You don’t want that one.  It’s a southbound train.”

“It’s where I belong,” I say without understanding why.  I feel drawn to the train but terrified as well.

“Doesn’t have to be.”  He points up the stairs at a single light that is not shattered.  “It’s only 11:55, nothings set in stone until midnight, and it looks like you got one more shot.”

The doors to the train slam shut with a loud smacking sound just as the train pulls out of the station.  I have missed it and part of me is grateful for that.  I look around and the stranger is gone.  I don’t remember how he got there to begin with.  The clock reads 11:55pm as I step under it to walk up the stairs towards the light.  One more chance to get it right or I will have to take that southbound train.