So there is a competition run by the Australian Writers’ Centre called “Furious Fiction“, which is a 55-hour event each month that asks writers to put forth their best 500-word writing to a set of specific criteria.
The below example is my entry to the April competition, in which entries needed to meet the following criteria:
- The title of the story had to be THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM.
- The story had to feature the words “busted”, “emerged” and “key”.
- The story had to end with “the clock struck four”.
They also, obviously, suggested that you try to stay relatively close to the spirit of the titular saying.
I was actually pretty happy with this piece, but this was my first try at really short writing like this so it was a bit of a struggle, and I didn’t expect much to come of it. Having said that, I tricked my Year 9 students into reading it, planting it within an anthology of their writing, and they liked it.
I suppose as long as I have their approval, what more do I need?
The Elephant in the Room
“Look Malcolm, I think it’s time that we addressed the –“ Jen was cut off by the Operations Commander, who had torn his eyes away from the glowing screens when she had spoken.
“If anything, this is actually a better outcome,” Malcolm said, staring at the other worried-looking faces dotting the room, “and with the thrust systems the way they are –“
“You mean completely busted?” said Jen.
Malcolm continued unphased, “with the thrust systems the way they are I think we should just take what we can get.”
At this there was silence. In the end, there was very little that the others could do. They had all seen Malcolm key in the coordinate override when they realised that the ship that was meant to be on an intercept course to land on Europa would instead continue on into the much larger gravitational well that held 53 moons in orbit if they didn’t intervene.
Realistically, all they could do is try to appeal to his sense of human dignity. And it was for this reason that they all looked so hopeless.
“Listen,” Malcolm said, turning to face them. Everyone in the room could feel an ‘inspirational’ speech coming on, which they all knew they didn’t have time for, “this is a numbers game – we all know that – and we all know when the primary thrusters go, there isn’t much we can do.”
“That is why we have secondary thrust Mal,” said Jen, “that is why we have contingencies.”
“And in a situation like this, secondaries only have a seventy percent chance of working, if that,” Malcolm wasn’t letting up, “if we continue with my plan, then we are certain to get some valuable data about the atmos and the core.”
“So you’re saying a bit of data is worth more than a ten-year mission?”
“We can send another mission Jen – the funding won’t dry up, not now that it’s emerged that we have to find a way off this dump.”
“But Mal we still have time, if we burn before o-four-hundred we might just–“
“Mal there are people on that ship!”
“We can get more people, and we can get a new ship” said Mal, barely finishing his sentence before Jen and the others had left the room.
* * * * *
The crew had been woken two days ago, and the excitement amongst the fifteen of them was palpable. For them, it had only felt like a three-week trip, and while the cryo-sleep couldn’t stop their aging, it had certainly made interplanetary travel much easier.
So, the fifteen first settlers of the Outer System watched the ice-moon, shining by the light of the distant sun, approach from the viewing bay and thought of home – both old and new. As the ship drew near, the crew braced for a thrust that never came, and watched their new home sail past while in the Command Centre, Malcolm stood alone, smiling as the clock struck four.