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Articles by Brian Jackson

A First Attempt at Science Fiction

17 April 2012

The instruments flashed red.

"You'd have to be completely, disqualifyingly insane to think I'm coming back this time. Especially after all this!"

Miles shouted in vain into the display. The dispassionate operator on the other end was taking notes.

"I told your boss that I'd take on this damnable job if he let me settle down somewhere and so you can all go to hell! You've certainly chosen hell if you're staying on Earth for another godforsaken minute!"

The operator set down his pen and looked back at Miles through the unfathomable distance spanned by the communications network.

"Frankly, Mr. Grayfield, your opinion on the matter is interesting, but the director isn't even at the facility today. If you'd like, I can pass your remarks on, but as you know, the director is extraordinarily busy given the current situation, which I might remind you, is thanks in no small part to your radical behavior."

Miles' jaw tightened imperceptibly.

"I have nothing more to say to you," said Miles. "Good day." He pressed a button and the channel blinked off.

The vehicle lurched. He wouldn't go back. He wouldn't.

Each display, in coordinated protest, warned him that the projected course was life-threatening. He dismissed them all.

The panels chimed. Another call was coming in. Miles growled. He acknowledged the call, and the front panel was replaced by the stern face of the director.

"What have you done, Miles?"

"I see the director wasn't as unreachable as they thought."

"Miles, this has to end."

"You sold me a bill of goods! What happened to the promises you made me?"

"Your actions have consequences." The director looked regretful for a moment. "There are still questions you need to answer. For your own good!"

"I've switched the telemetry back on, director."

The director looked down, unaffected.

"So you've decided upon suicide? I thought you were better than that."

Miles glanced again at the gravimetry plotted on a nearby display. The graceful curve representing engine stress turned upwards toward infinity as the predicted course neared the star at the center of the system. He fixed his eyes on the director and grinned.

"Good gentle youth, tempt not a desperate man."

Miles' vehicle was approaching the surface. From the depths to daylight would take two more minutes; from the surface into the outer sphere of the star's leaping flame would take eight. He knew that the headquarters would be tracking him no farther than that, for sure--

"Well, Miles? What do you expect me to say? That we value you too much to lose you? That your death will mean the end of our program?"

Miles was made of steel.

"Don't be so arrogant," the director said, suddenly stern again. "What we are building is bigger than one man. You can make this right, but don't think for an instant that you're making a heroic stand against us. You are replaceable."

The director's face vanished with the push of a button.

Miles stirred in his seat as he rehearsed the conversation a second time. Why couldn't they just let him retire quietly, then?

He dismissed the director's insults. The instruments told him the surface was approaching. The telemetry continued its protestations in vain.

Miles retrieved his duffel bag from under the panels, feeling the familiar shapes of books and devices he had prepared. He rose from the seat and slung the bag over one shoulder.

He took a deep breath. The ship's oil-black silhouette was seconds from emerging into open air over coastal waters. Miles counted down the seconds out loud, and gestured to the computer to begin the sequence he'd prepared. The ramp to the outside air opened...

"I do defy thy conjurations and apprehend thee for a felon here." The director stood atop a platform extended by his own spacecraft. He pointed a Smith and Wesson handgun at an astonished Miles.

"That vehicle took ten years to build. One of a kind! But it took just over a week to build the second one. Did you forget where you came from? We get faster and smarter every day."

Miles groaned inwardly.

"I was personally thankful for the telemetry. It would have been troublesome to come looking for you," the director gloated.

The director's side arm gave a loud report.

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