B. Morris Allen

C B B – 410 words

The lifeboat jerked and lurched as it followed a standard evasive action program. Occasionally, the air crackled as the path of a ground-based energy weapon passed nearby. Increasingly often, shells also passed or buffeted the boat with explosions. It was only a matter of time, he knew.

Finally, he was proven right. With a burst of sound and light, the boat was flung across the sky. The retaining straps cut into his shoulders as he was tumbled madly around. When the boat finally stabilized, it was in a lopsided glide that threatened to become a stall. He reached quickly for the manual controls, only to find that they had vanished, along with much of control panel. The fact that the boat was in the air at all was a miracle.

The autopilot still functioned, he realized. But the red lights on what remained of the control panel suggested this would not be the case much longer. Time to cut his losses, then. As the boat dipped and swayed over sharp rocks, he forced his hand past jagged metal edges to pull a release lever. With a jolt, explosive catches fired, sending his command chair up and through hull panels that failed to release, but still broke away as designed.

The reaction shoved down the nose of the boat, pushing it hard against an outcropping. Dangling now from a thin parachute, still seated in his chair, he watched the lifeboat fall. Blood flowed in a rapid stream from a badly torn hand, and he pulled it quickly against his belly, gasping with pain. The movement shifted his balance, and the chute slid over a saddle between spires as behind him a thunder of fire exploded.

Later, he trudged painfully across sharp rocks in his flight boots. His injured hand, though bandaged and treated, was swollen already. Poisoned, no doubt, by the planetoid’s toxic atmosphere. He wouldn’t hold out long without treatment, and there was little of that to be had. His air filters wouldn’t last long in any case. He steered by memory, keeping the thinning plume of black smoke behind him.

Eventually, he forced himself slowly up a final hill. Before him at last lay a flattish plain. At its center, an abstract sculpture of shattered planes fell suddenly as the remains of the base gave way to gravity. Nothing else moved within it, and with a sardonic laugh, he settled him self against a rock to await the end.