This month’s Pictonaut Challenge is Sci Fi, in honour of the release of Mass Effect 3. That’s a computer game, for those not in the know, and to be brutally honest it is of little significance in my life. My gaming habits are restricted to endless Tetris and getting stuck on Monkey Island, with a bit of Wii Bowling/MarioKart for luck. Mass Effect 3, meanwhile, ‘plunges you into an all-out galactic war to take Earth back from a nearly unstoppable foe.’ No coloured blocks or weak puns, then.

Still, as the Kony 2012 campaign has demonstrated, you don’t have to know anything about a subject to wade in and wax lyrical about it… So here’s my one. You will note this is early in the month, which is to encourage other folk to join in this time round. I even looked up some hints for writing SF shorts to help you out, although I have roundly ignored most of them.

The sky was on fire for the last time.

Flames of orange and yellow and red – well, you probably remember the colour fire used to be – chewed hungrily on the atmosphere, drinking our oxygen supply and teasing the last wisps of air from our lungs.  It almost certainly looked magnificent – the most glorious sunset that’s ever been – but all I could see was a mass of colour and light that made my pores open wider than egg cups and my retinas perspire.

As far as we knew then we were the only people left alive, although one glance at Aislinn, staring straight into the heart of the blaze, face motionless beneath her helmet, made me realise what a tenuous description that was.  We were not alive, I knew then, we merely existed.  It all made our last ditch attempt to save the planet seem even more futile – who were we rescuing it for?

Still, like Ted said, the end of existence is no time for philosophy – it’s a time for action.  After all, you might never get another chance.

The last scientist – whose name was something very normal, like Steve or Ken, but I can’t remember and it doesn’t really matter now – stood calmly in front of us, acting like all he had to do was type a few numbers onto the screen and the whole thing would be over.  I might even have been taken in by the nonchalance of his body language had it not been for the faces of my colleagues. Both of them were religious, even after everything that had gone on, and they were sure the end was nigh.

Their pessimism was infectious.

One of the six planets – I think it was Orion II but I was never very good at recognising them close up – rolled past on the right, gently bumping us on its way into the heart of the sun.  We all stuck our arms out involuntarily to keep our balance, watched as it was pulled forward into nothingness.  There wasn’t even an explosion, it was simply gone.  Maybe the wall of heat became a little more unbearable, or maybe it didn’t, but either way there was one planet left and that was ours.

I lifted the collar of my flak jacket, more from habit than any hope of circulating air, then from the corner of my eye I saw the screen go dark.  The last scientist crumpled to the deck and his daughter, who had been watching so silently we kept forgetting she was there, looked at him calmly and threw herself over the side.

She didn’t give us any time to react, but I don’t know that we would have anyway.  It was her choice, and the honourable one.  We all pledged no surrender to The Sun and this was the only way to keep it now; even Aislinn didn’t seem to judge her harshly. No one ran to look over the side, to see her robes floating out behind her as she fell through the hot blackness or her lips frozen in a silent scream.  We wanted to afford her some dignity in death.

The last scientist was now lying completely flat on the deck, the same pose he’d been in the first time we met a few short hours before.  There was no eccentricity or hope to the position now, though.  He had merely given up. 

The last of the planets disappeared without ceremony or sound.  I had hoped it would at least be afforded the courtesy of a crackle as it winked out of existence, but there was nothing.  The only things left in the universe were us and The Sun.

The ship drifted closer and blue light began to crackle on the deck.  The body of the last scientist contorted weirdly as his robes began to burn, an acrid plastic smell filled our nostrils, and we knew the melting had begun.  I turned away, but the other two watched, impassive, as his eyes dripped out of his skull and the flesh from his bones.

We were so close by the time he was gone, I felt I could have reached out and touched it.  I half expected to hear the black voice again, vibrating through my frontal cortex and wrapping itself around my thoughts, filling them with heat and madness – but The Sun was far beyond the point of chit chat.  It was ready to end everything.

Pulses of electrical current flared up through the crumbling framework of the ship, glowing blue and beautiful and brief, before they were extinguished by the final solar flare.

Then there was dark, and cold, and nothing.

 And yet in the depths of the nothing, the outline of a consciousness floated.  It was hazy and ill-defined but definitely present; unsure where to go now, pale lips frozen in the outline of a silent scream. 

The sky was scorched beyond recognition, but somehow pieces of the time before remained, travelling aimlessly through the darkness.  For the first time, without the pressure of other people, or planets, or The Sun, they were free to go in any direction.

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