Literary Yard

Search for meaning

By W. K. Rathburg

Command, this is Palma Fesco.

Of Search and Rescue?

The same. I find myself in a pickle. I need help.

What do you mean?

I’m stuck under a ventilation shaft.


It collapsed. In the Veldor Sector.  Smoke and dust everywhere. Electrical sparks shoot over me. It’s hard to see anything.

We’ll send the Search and Rescue Squad.

Hurry! I don’t think…

I drop the digicom. It falls into the mass of rubble.

This module will disengage in 60 minutes. Please exit the area.

A computer voice speaks above the din of the sparking electronics and grating metal. The voice is mellow, like that of my mother’s sister.  Aunt Glorthea’s voice could always keep people calm during times of great stress.

This module will disengage in 50 minutes. Find the nearest safety pod.

I wasn’t alone in the ventilation shaft when it collapsed. Elvina was with me. There were others. We were walking up the internal stairs of the shaft.  checking for obstructions and accumulated dust and dirt. After a slight shift in the stairs, all hell broke loose. A large section of the shaft’s wall pulled away from the ship. The internal struts gave way. Explosions and ship-quakes followed. I fell with the stairway. Fortunately, I not be crushed by the falling girders. Above me, a light bar dangled, held by the thinnest of wires. Another jolt and the lights fell, landing on my legs. Elvina clung to a handrail next to an escape door.

 This module will disengage in 40 minutes. Walk quickly and quietly to the safety pods.

I hear the escape door open, the voices of rescuers. I hear Elvina’s voice, arguing, telling them I am down here. I try to yell but make only a tortured squawk. The door closes, and I hear the latch screech into position. Elvina is gone.

 This module will disengage in 30 minutes. Help those who need help to get to the pods.

Aunt Glorthea speaks again, always cool as a cucumber. She counts down the time before the twisted ventilation shaft separates from the Nibbana. The designers of this traveling intergalactic city planned for orderly exits. They envisioned quiet lines of people walking to the safety pods. I can move the toes of my left foot, but debris pins my legs to the steel deck.

This module will disengage in 20 minutes. All remaining personnel proceed to the safety pods.

I hear people inside the shaft shoving and trampling each other to get to the pods. Some I imagine are crying hysterically or dead. Some, like me, are trapped under the collapsed wreckage. Is no one viewing the safety cameras?

In the dim light of the exit signs, I look about me. The dust is finally settling, I’m able to see more around me. Not much to see, debris, twisted metal– abject destruction.

This module will disengage in 10 minutes. Please proceed quickly away from this sector.

I’m not in pain. I suspect I’m in shock and numb. Half of my body is crushed. The prospect of dying alone is terrifying. The not knowing is the worst thing for me. Was the Nibbana attacked? Did it crash? Was it a malfunction? Does it even matter?

It is good to know the search and rescue teams I had trained have instituted the procedures. “Step Three-Search Mode, Step Four-The Rescue Operation.” The next step is disheartening – Closure. There are usually bodies to bury. There will be none today. The wreckage will disengage from the Nibbana. It will float away to be blasted into a million pieces by a sonic explosion.

Ten seconds remaining.

I must have blacked out.


Oh great, Aunt Glorthea’s starts to count every second.




This is not how I imagined it would be. At least not yet.



I consider screaming, but what good would that do? Who would hear? It’s too late.


I would much rather die with a warm fuzzy memory. I try to conjure up something pleasant.



Memories come fast and furious.

I see my childhood. Playing at a beach, sand, dunes, Earth. Living in the Bio-Plex on Mars. My first day of school. Being made fun of in 5th grade for having been born on Earth. At age thirteen my first kiss with Binda Palnat. Winning a pie-eating contest at the Nibbana Summer Fair. Riding the rides with my friends at Moonbase One Amusement Park after high school. Learning to play poker with the boys at Kremkee Engineering College. Failing a final at Kremkee Engineering College. I stayed up all night playing poker. I won the big pot. The beaming looks on my parents’ faces when I graduated from KEM. Receiving the call from my mother telling me my father had died. The look of sorrow my mother had at his funeral. My first day at work on a trader as an engineer. Meeting the second officer on the trader. Receiving praise from the trader’s captain for repairing the damaged cargo hold. A call from Aunt Glorthea that my mother had died. My date on the observation deck of Galactic Tower with the pretty second officer. Sitting alone in my room on the trader, thinking of my parents, and crying. Seeing the second officer with another guy, drinks in hands. Transferring to the Nibbana. Being named the operations director of Search and Rescue Squad on the Nibbana. Meeting Elvina. Relaxing with my new coworkers. Making a fool of myself at a party in front of Elvina. Walking up the internal stairs of the ventilation shaft with Elvina. Kissing Elvina in the shaft amidst the accumulated dust and dirt. Elvina kissing me back. An explosion. Being pinned beneath tons of rubble. Feeling a sense of helplessness. Listening to Aunt Glorthea’s voice. Complete silence. A bright light. Mother and Father holding me tightly in their arms. Aunt Glorthea standing with them, arms open.


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