Chuck Wendig’s first Flash Fiction Challenge of 2014 was not an easy one, at least for me. I had a feeling that I probably should pass, but I was too excited about the difficulty I knew it would pose for me, so I caved. The random number generator decided my title, and it took most of the week of brainstorming to finally come up with an idea. Executing it took longer than I had hoped, so I’m actually a day late in getting this up. I like the concept of this story, but I think I came up short in making it a good story. Feedback is very appreciated!
The room was silent, last night’s find already a distant memory in the minds of the few who witnessed it. Jackson sat in the same place he did eight hours ago, his back now hunched over the control panel. His eyes were still glued to the tiny screen before him, but the crowd around his station had dispersed long ago. Still, he hung on to every morsel of hope the machine fed him.
He pushed a small stick slightly to the left and waited. It took a minute, but eventually the camera view swung left. Jackson swore under his breath. He nudged the stick right, sighing in relief a moment later as the camera finally pointed at its intended target. It didn’t look like much, only a square blob in the distance, but in his mind it was something much bigger. He pushed the stick forward and waited, forcing himself to breathe.
The door behind him opened and a small head peaked into the room. “You’re still here?” Anna didn’t hide her disapproval. Her brother was always pushing himself too far when it came to these kinds of missions. He didn’t care about repopulating the planet, which was the ultimate goal; he only wanted to learn about the population that killed the planet in the first place. “Go home. Get some sleep. She’ll still be there when you get back.” Jackson stared at his screen and didn’t reply.
Anna sighed and sat down, carefully positioning herself behind Jackson so he couldn’t see her roll her eyes every time he got excited about a new blob on the screen, but also making sure she had a good view. Just because she didn’t think Jackson should care so much about the past, didn’t mean she didn’t care about it at all. Jackson’s earlier find would be the talk of the colony for months to come, and she was just as excited about it as he was, even if she didn’t show it. Yawning loudly, she propped her feet up on a nearby table and leaned back in her chair. “What do you think you’ll find next, a toe nail?”
He grunted. She shook her head. “Jackson, I doubt that anything bigger even survived the war, so you’re just wasting your time.” She yawned again.
“I found the crown, didn’t I?”
She rolled her eyes. “You got lucky. Besides, you need to let that thing recharge, you’ve been running it ragged-“
Jackson leaned forward as a faint beeping sound began chirping. “He’s close.”
“’He’? Now the rover has a gender? Don’t tell me you’ve named it, too.” Anna put her feet back on the floor and leaned over her brother’s shoulder as she spoke.
“Columbus.” He spoke softly, forcing Anna to lean in even more.
“Yeah, as in Christopher Columbus.” His face hovered inches from the small screen as he controlled the rover with his fingertips, directing it toward the object on the screen.
“God, you’re obsessed with that place. They started the war that destroyed the planet, you do know this?” Ignoring his sister once again, Jackson squinted, then leaned forward and breathed onto the screen. He leaned back and cleaned the screen with his sleeve and leaned back in. He moved the rover forward once more and waited, his sister leaning in as far as she could.
Jackson sighed and leaned back. “That’s not it.” Despair filled his voice, and Anna felt a pang of sympathy for her brother for the first time since this mission began.
“Jackson, she’s not going to walk off while you get some rest. Her legs aren’t attached anymore. Hell, they were blown to bits centuries ago!”
“I’m not looking for her legs; I’m looking for her torch.” He rubbed his eyes and looked at his sister for the first time that evening.
“Why are you so obsessed with these people?” She threw her hands into the air. “They’re the ones who fired the first missile. They started that damn war! If they hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t be here sifting through their remains!”
“You’re forgetting that our colony was the first one on Mars, and it was American. They may have destroyed their world, but they gave us a new one first. They are our past, Anna, and we owe our past some thanks for thinking of their future.” He sighed and rubbed his eyes.
“Their future before or after sending the entire world into a nuclear war that destroyed the planet in less than a decade? Thanks guys! We love our home consisting of red dirt and rocks!” She rolled her eyes again.
Jackson was once again focused on the small screen. His fingers moved the stick to the left and then forward, only pulling back when the rover was sitting before a large, triangular mass. Behind him, Anna leaned in again.
Jackson pushed a handful of seemingly random buttons on his control panel before placing his hand on the steering mechanism again. This time, when he moved the stick, a small arm on the front of the rover responded. Columbus picked at the dirt and debris surrounding the mass slowly, Jackson moving the stick ever so slightly in order to uncover what lay beneath. Finally, Jackson pressed another sequence of buttons and pulled back on the stick. The rover backed away from the mass. Jackson barely breathed. “I think I found it!”
Anna squinted, unable to make out what the mass on the screen was. She shook her head in confusion.
“He has just enough power to shine his light for a minute.” Jackson pushed another button and waited. After a moment, the small screen was illuminated as the rover’s lights shined on the mass, giving more than enough light for Anna to finally see. Sitting upright, buried halfway in debris, sat Lady Liberty’s torch. Anna’s jaw dropped. For the first time in her life, she felt the warmth of hope for the stricken planet her race once thrived upon. She hugged her brother’s shoulders as they stared at the image in silence. Anna nodded to herself as she let the image sink in. Yes, thinking of the future is what saved humankind, and now it was their turn to return the favor.