Shipwrecked (a story)

This was the first story I had published in Antipodean SF, in issue 163 (January 2012). I originally wrote Shipwrecked for an 800 word writing competition in mid 2011, but didn’t finish it by the deadline. When I first decided to submit to Antipodean SF, I polished and cut it back to 500 words then sent it in. I still remember the excitement of getting the acceptance from Nuke and the interesting experience of working through editorial notes on my work.

The story itself came from the unoriginal thought that if there are alien civilisations out there, why haven’t they contacted us? Perhaps they’ve been warned away…


Danic sat humming mindless, tension-relieving tri-harmonies. Being chosen as Advocate for Intervention was an honour, but as the years rolled on the Breenic seemed further away than ever from deciding how they would interact with humanity. Direct contact had been ruled out almost as soon as they arrived. The most advanced civilisations on the planet still sailed their seas in wooden boats. No, the Breenic had too much experience in inadvertently ruining civilisations to act in haste.

In their long voyage amongst the stars, the Breenic had refined their methods for dealing with primitive natives like humanity. They could leave behind technological marvels that would reveal themselves when the human race sufficiently matured. Alternatively, if humans were deemed too great a threat — well, aggressive races had met a premature end before. But never before had the Breenic been so divided on the fate of a civilisation. For every observed act of tyranny, there was one of benevolence. For every brutal impulse, a creation of stunning beauty. They could foresee the human race adding to galactic art and culture. They could also imagine them unleashing a firestorm of destruction. The Consensus was torn.

Even by their long-lived standards the Breenic had dallied here, and many were eager to begin the journey again. Without Intervention, their best scientists predicted that humanity was centuries away from slipping the bonds of their solar system. Danic felt his opportunity to convince the Consensus evaporating. Influenced perhaps by the antics of the race he had spent the past decade investigating, he decided to risk all in one final, desperate roll of the dice.

He suggested a test.

His fellow Advocates were intrigued. They knew that such a test was the only way Danic could sway the Consensus, but they also knew it would bring quick resolution. And quick resolution was what the Breenic now yearned for.

Once decided, it was the effort of a moment to shipwreck one of those quaint wooden ships. Marooned with little hope of rescue, the behaviour of the stranded humans would decide the watching Breenic.

Danic watched with mounting hope as the valiant commander headed off on a perilous journey to summon help, and revelled in the courage with which the remaining crew faced their fate.

But that hope soon melted like ice exposed to the searing light of an approaching star. Bravery twisted into ruthlessness. Power corrupted, and soon acts of stunningly savage barbarism left the Breenic reeling. Only some small acts of courage and sympathy for the suffering of the abused prevented the Breenic bringing humanity’s creeping evolution to an abrupt stop.

Mourning lost potential, the Sol system was marked on interstellar charts with signs that warned, “here be dragons”. As the fleet moved on and Danic prepared for the big sleep, he looked back at the slowly fading light of Earth — marooned and set adrift from all other intelligent life — and hoped that the fate of that shipwrecked crew did not represent, for humanity, prophecy.


‘Shipwrecked’ was originally published in Antipodean SF, in issue 163 (January 2012). It is also available in the free collection of my published flash fiction and short stories A Flash in the Pan?

Creative Commons License

This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.

Author: mark

A writer of speculative fiction and all round good egg. Well, mostly good. OK, sometimes good.

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