Like Sharks in a Harbor (Flash Fiction)

Woong counted no less than four alarms when he poked his head into the observation deck. He could pick apart each one: proximity, emergency, something blocking the cargo doors.

But the last one, a sort of angry beeping that sounded important had the sound of authority, like it wasn’t supposed to be ignored.

He didn’t know what it was, and he definitely didn’t have time to figure it out. Woong had to find the system that controlled the cargo door, disengage whatever safety protocols this freighter had in place, and get the door to open.

The short range crackled in his ear, “Woong! How’s it going in there?”

“Found the obs, it’s clear. I’m looking for the door controls now.”

“Nice. Know what you’re looking for?”

Woong scratched his head, his eyes darting from one appliance to the next. The room was poorly lit, except for the hypnotic glare from monitors, and the light from the giant window that looked down into the main cargo bay.  “I’m looking for a computer right next to an override, but I don’t-”

His eyes fell upon a massive lever covered in a clean, white, plastic grip. The lever was labelled ‘EMERGENCY USE ONLY’.

Woong sniffed cooly, “Yeah, I got it.” He tried to sound like a professional, but inside his excitement was so thick he felt the urge to vomit. Woong sat down at the console nearest the lever and plugged away at the computer. As the youngest and newest member of the crew, Woong got a lot of flak, but his inexperience in the field was countered by his aptitude for IT. A few minutes later (and after a few interruptions from his short range), Woong called it in.

“The door is ready, tell me when you want it open.”

“Patience, newbie.”

Woong frowned at the nickname, and thumbed the short range to reply, “Hey, you’re not the one risking his ass so you guys can steal a shit load of rocks.” Woong stood up and peered into the Cargo bay, where a gang of rough-looking types had commandeered a few forklifts. A string of bodies littered the cargo bay, some still in the throes of death. His stomach churned.

The voice crackled back over the short range, “Ship’s full of grunts, kid. They don’t fight. Just make sure you shoot them if you see them. Do not let them live. We’ve made that mistake before.”

A soft, high pitched sound cut past the symphony of alarms and caught Woong’s attention. Woong stood up and walked to the corner of the room, searching for the source of the sound. Something clanged, Woong heard a cry, and a thin old man tumbled out of a closet. The old man put his hands in front of his face.

“Please! Don’t kill me! Please, I’ll do anything-” the old man babbled while Woong struggled to pull his weapon out of its holster.

Woong tried to point the weapon at the old man, but his hands were so jittery that it slipped out of his hands. He lurched after the weapon, grabbed it, pointed it back at the old man (who was now sobbing so hard that snot ran down his mustache), and asked the first question he could think of.

“Who are you?!” It was a pointless question, and he wanted to kick himself for asking it at all.

“I-I-I- I’m Jim,” the old man glanced up, fear mixed with confusion. He wiped his face with a sleeve.

Woong took a deep breath, but his hands wouldn’t stop shaking. He looked over his shoulder at the short range, then snapped back to Jim.

“Go, get out of here. Hurry.”

The old man scrambled to get up, spluttering out ‘thank you’s and ‘I’ll never forget’s, but just before he ran out the door, Woong shouted, “Wait!”

The old man stopped, barely turning, and held his breath.

“Tell me,” Woong’s voice cracked. He cleared his throat, “Tell me what this alarm is for.”

“Oh. Oh. Oh, that one is proximity, that one-”

“No, no! This last one,” Woong demanded, pointing at a green light that blinked in time with ‘the alarm that sounded like it shouldn’t be ignored’.

The old man’s eyes bulged.

“Eh-ev-ev-” he stuttered.

“Speak it!”

“Evacuate because there’s been a contamination.”

“Contam- what? What are you talking about?”

He gestured toward the window, “The minerals, they’re glowy. Can’t be moved wrong, or else they…” The thin elder shook his head vigorously, “You know.”

“Well, uh, Jim,” Woong scratched an imaginary itch on his ear, “How bad is it?”

The thin elder shook his head again, this time much slower, “It looks like the sharks came to the wrong harbor. Bad meat, you know?”

“Woong, are you there? Open the cargo bay! OPEN THE CARGO B-”

The short range hissed, and for a moment Woong thought he heard screaming. He holstered his weapon and slumped down into a chair.

“What can we do?”

The old man paused at the door, staring hard at Woong.

“Come with me. We will escape, together.”

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Image courtesy of Elias Levy via Flickr Creative Commons

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