Friday Fictioneers – Outpost

This week, I’m afraid I ended up with 188 words. I just couldn’t cut enough to reach 100 words without removing too much information for the background situation to make sense. Well, failed experiments provide data too – in this case, that complex backstories take longer to explain. Who’d’a thunk it?

Feedback would be appreciated! Here’s the current Friday Fictioneers photo:


I look out at Mars. Cold, dry, barren. Milewski climbs up into Observation from Mainstation underground. “Any tumbleweeds today?”

“I’m on duty, Milewski.”

“Okay. Whatever.” Milewski doesn’t understand discipline. “Man, I’m sick of being cooped up. I say we trash the experiment.”

“There’s no provision for a retrieval mission yet.”

“Retrieval mission? From where?”

“Mars, of course.”

“Jim, you’ve cracked. That’s Arizona out there. Earth. All we have to do is open the door and walk out. Sure, it aborts the self-contained environment, but failure’s an experimental result too. You don’t really think we’re on Mars, do you?” She crosses to the door. I have to stop her.

“Milewski, look!” I hold the protocols shoulder-high, release. “Would earth gravity let things fall that slow?”

“It’s paper, Jim. Air resistance.” She’s at the air lock, entering codes. She’s opening the door.

“If you’re suicidal, at least spare the rest of us!” She shakes her head sadly, but seals the inner door. Sirens. She’s out in the killing oxygen-free cold.

It’s been two days. I keep hallucinating that Milewski and a bunch of cops are outside the viewport, grinning and beckoning.

* * *

(My story for today was inspired by experiments in self-sustaining closed ecologies like Biosphere-2.)

39 responses to “Friday Fictioneers – Outpost

  1. Wow, really great. I was left wondering right up to the end which one of them was hallucinating. And you portrayed his character so well, being by-the-book, that it just added to the tension. Excellent!

  2. I agree with Brian…you had me wondering! Very well done!

  3. Very well written. I love how you never truly know who is suffering from psychosis until that last paragraph. Poor Jim.

    Thank you for commenting on mine: “Last Cigarette”

  4. Oh! Very nice twist!!! I’m left wondering if he ever leaves…

  5. Good work, Sharon. Your detailed description of the lab and the use of scientific terminologies immerses the reader in that environment.
    I’m not surprised Jim cracked, though. Long periods of isolation can do that to a person.

    • Thank you! I’ve done my time in the techy world, so it wasn’t that alien – um, so to speak 😉 And yes, definitely Jim is suffering from a more advanced case of the stress that Milewski complains about.

      I like yours – you get a lot done in such a small space.

  6. I like the ending and hopefully they can get him some stress-free rest, Nicely done. Thank you for stopping by and reading mine. for everyone else

  7. Holy cow — see and there I was wondering which one of them had gone stir crazy, cause it could have been either, in that Twilight Zone vein of thought. NICE!

    • You’re so right – it could have been either one! (For that matter, Milewski isn’t being completely responsible or reliable when she walks out. She’s just got a better sense of her limits than poor Jim.)

      Glad you liked it, and glad I came across your blog!

  8. Awesome duality. I read it as though they are actually on Mars, and Jim was correct to stay inside, but his longing for Earth made his subconscious hallucinate about cops and Milewski coming back. The idea that no one came back made me think they are still on Mars.

    Or, maybe Milewski and a bunch of cops are indeed at the door, and Jim simply thinks they are hallucinations, because he believes he is on Mars. Either way, it works!

    • And that IS how Jim reads the situation! Otherwise he’d be yelling down the stairs / ladder to the underground level to tell the other experimenters that the environment has been compromised and they might as well all stop the test now. He’s convinced that poor Milewski’s frozen, suffocated body is lying just outside the shelter.

      Fortunately, he is wrong. But I meant to leave that twinge of uncertainty in your mind. Glad you like it!

  9. rochellewisoff

    I was thinking of a particular Twilight Zone myself. The pilot, actually. A man finds himself in a town with no people. He wakes to find himself in an isolated capsule…an experiment to see what it would do to a man to be alone in a small space in outer space. Well done, Sharon.

  10. Poor Jim, locked up with a heartless woman. “It’s life Jim, but not as we know it.” And the 88 extra words? Whose counting. Good stuff.

    • Yep, that cruel Milewski! Hmmm – are we sure she hasn’t gone native / Martian and decided to trick Jim into joining her and the other Martians in life as we don’t know it?? (Yes, we are sure.) Glad you enjoyed it.

  11. It took me three reads to get it Sharon, the environment of science fiction isn’t in my experience at all, but once I got to the human I enjoyed it!

    • Thanks for sticking with it until it made sense! Actually, there have been a few attempts here on earth to set up a sealed environment and have people live there for extended periods (several years) – one did end with arguing over who was in charge of the experiment and breaching the sealed area, so you could consider this (near) historical fiction instead of SF if you prefer. 😉

      And the human part is what matters in any kind of story, whether the background situation involves hunting mammoths or repairing starships. I’m glad you like it.

  12. The extra words were worth it, I think. Really enjoyable, tense read.

    Thanks for stopping by me already.

  13. This is very strong, kept me guessing to the and beyond! And what does the wordcount matter when the work is this good?

    • Oh, thank you! As for the wordcount – I like these short-short writing challenges, Friday Fictioneers and Julia’s 100 Word Challenge, as an exercise in finding and removing words and phrases that aren’t earning their place in the story. So I normally make a point of getting as close as possible to 100 words (most of my pieces start out about 200 words long in the first draft) – but this time the story didn’t feel clear or complete when I tried to make it any shorter.

      And I’m thrilled that so many people were kept guessing! The Official Ending is that Milewski’s right; Jim has lost touch with reality (maybe understandably – they’ve been playacting for months or years that they really were on Mars); and sometime fairly soon Jim will be forcibly removed from the experimental station.

  14. I’m still confused. Way to go. I think the Sailor on me want to see some kind of punishment for the other character breaking protocol. I think you should totally continue with this story. one just to confuse the reader some more and two because it sound really interesting to live in a self contained biosphere. I’m here:

    • Well – as you noticed, the story really isn’t over. I’m sure there will be consequences for Milewski (for instance, if she wants to keep working on this kind of research she may find it hard to persuade another project to take a chance on her), and there might be legal consequences (probably a civil suit) if she can’t persuade people she was justified in breaking the self-contained system. (The longer Jim holds out and the more disturbed he is when he’s removed, the more likely it is that Milewski will have a good case that she did what had to be done. If he had looked out the window when the cops first arrived, smacked his forehead, and said to himself “you idiot, what were you thinking, of course it’s an experiment! Might as well open the doors now” then Milewski would really be in trouble – the project would have been ruined by her impulsiveness.)

      I’m midway through one novel at the moment, and I have a backlog of story ideas to work on, but I think you’re right – this should go on the list. Thanks! On the other hand, I don’t think I can keep the “who’s delusional?” uneasiness going for the length of a novel. Maybe I could use that at the beginning by starting the story with everyone in the self-contained complex – then most of the story would focus on what happens after Milewski breaks the seal. Hmmm. And I could continue the “who’s wrong” theme with inquiries into what went wrong with the project…this is starting to take shape. Thanks!

      And I like your story – a much more concise and really scary piece of science fiction.

  15. I love the comedy aspect too. Don’t deny that in your characters. I smiled through this piece, nice.

  16. Hi Sharon,
    I love the great balance between the two points of view, both apparently reasonable but not at all compatible. Very nice suspense!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s