The Gloriously Cunning Plan
Second Lieutenant Sanders hovered in perfect equilibrium between oblivion and suffering. He longed to let go and allow the breaking waves of pain to drag him back into a sea of blissful unconsciousness. But a nagging sense of some important task left undone wouldn’t let him rest. That, and the bloody distracting siren that someone insisted on blasting into his eardrums.
One eye opened as a lifetime’s experience of eyelid manipulation had led him to believe it would. The other was… sticky. Gummy — clearly refusing to toggle as required. Already feeling put upon, Sanders tried not to take this additional injustice personally.
Activating muscles that protested being press-ganged into service, he raised a hand to paw at his face. He smeared enough blood away to restore minimal function. The harsh artificial light of the shuttle pod’s interior clashed in headache-inducing splendour with the flickering flames of the uncontrolled fires that burned in the console. Meanwhile, the smell of burning plastic assaulted his nose as thoroughly as the light ambushed his eyes.
Time to leave.
Sanders rose, his body reeling like a tired scarecrow left too long to the mercy of crows. He stumbled forward and collapsed his weight onto the door control, executing a clumsy escape from the increasingly smoky confines of the forward cabin.
One glance at the outside of the shuttle confirmed what his injuries had led him to suspect — it hadn’t been an easy flight from the Odyssey.
The Odyssey! The mayday call from the military freighter. The Captain’s decision to respond. The many, many enemy ships that surrounded them. The gloriously cunning plan of the Captain, that relied on…
…that relied on Sanders getting to the bridge of this run down freighter. The blurry clock icon in his peripheral HUD painted the time in crimson neon across his vision. Sanders focused. Three minutes to go. If the missiles weren’t fired at exactly the right time and in exactly the right pattern the plan would fail, ensuring the destruction of the Odyssey and the almost certain capture of the freighter. But Sanders had served two tours with the Captain. He had seen enough rabbits pulled out of enough hats to feed a small army.
External communications were jammed, and internal communications unresponsive. Sanders raced down grey corridors filled with flickering lights, alarms, and barely repressed panic. These freighters didn’t exactly attract the best of the best. No security stopped him as he burst onto the main bridge with barely 20 seconds remaining.
‘Captain, I’m Lieutenant Sanders from the Odyssey‘, he barked. ‘We need a full spread of missiles, attack pattern delta-epilson-five to coordinates 165 by 234. On my mark…’
The frazzled freighter Captain looked up at Sanders, his expression bemused. ‘No can do. All class seven freighters had their missiles confiscated as a part of the last efficiency dividend process’, he said.
Sanders sighed and slumped to the ground as the forward screen flashed. It was awash with light from the exploding Odyssey.
Bloody bureaucracy, Sanders thought, and waited patiently for the oblivion he once again hoped would follow.
‘The Gloriously Cunning Plan’ was originally published in Antipodean SF, in issue 165 (March 2012). It is also available in the free collection of my published flash fiction and short stories A Flash in the Pan?. See my bibliography for more details about my published work.
This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.