Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
Space, the never-ending frontier, the long night, the sea of stars. That last one should have given us a warning. Look what we did to the seas of Earth: filled them with our discards to the point where we nearly choked the planet.
“Ping ping ping, Reiter.”
“Close formation, no movement.”
Saldi hums the first few bars of a death rite from Chal-Dy-Mer, her homeworld.
“What are the words that go with that?”
She pauses for a moment, lips moving as she translates.
“It loses a lot, along with the rhyme and meter, but put roughly, it’s ‘let them who scavenge from graves, be taken in their stead, that the number of evil hearts be reduced, and life be better for it.’”
“I could get behind the idea. Shall we?”
We switch to manoeuvring thrusters and sidle up to the trio. A quick look confirms our suspicions: these freespace burials have been looted. The coffins have been stripped of panels; corpses broken in the haste to remove anything that might be of value.
That would be my guess, too.
“Agreed. Two-suit team on umbilicals cracked them open. One tore the coffins apart, the other smashed through the bodies. I’d guess they chucked it all into a haulage sack and got wound back in. Done and gone really fast.”
“No point in looking for identification. I’ll get samples for the Book.”
The Great Book of Remembrance: a huge database containing DNA samples from every cadaver found drifting, along with any names or identifying marks remaining.
We’ve been blundering around out here for nearly five hundred years. Our dead have been recognised navigational hazards for the last three hundred. The sheer arrogance of casually punting corpses into space caught our neighbours, the Cheteny and the Klact, by surprise. Took them a while to work out a currently spacefaring race was being so inconsiderate. When they found out we also let our lost ships stay lost, they pointedly enquired if we were going to pay them to clean up after us.
Starside Recovery Division was created soon after that. Spacers can call us to come and deal with any debris they come across. We’ll either handle it directly or refer it to the owning race. Our clearing up is done with as much reverence as we can spare, and always guarantees the sanctity of any cadaver enclosures and their contents.
Strippers make a living by scavenging from the dead. Stripships turn that ghoulish activity into a business in relics and scrap. Frequently, a stripship will support their own crew as well as acting as a hub for a mob of independent strippers.
“Where’s the nearest sun?”
I check the navigational archives.
“A month at sublight. We’ll need to burn them.”
Our preferred way to let cadavers go is to send them into a star. I like to think that fits with the intent of the original burials. However, when doing so would mean sending what amounts to an unmonitored missile on a long journey, we use ship armaments to vaporise the remains instead.
“Sad but true. I’ll back us off. You ready the beamers.”
Saldi leaves us slowly drifting away from the sombre cluster. I bring the dorsal battery to bear and task the starboard side anti-meteor quadmounts with catching any scatter.
She and I chorus the SRD saining for the dead.
“Now we lay thy bodies down, that thine souls may find surcease should it have been denied them. Requiescat in pace.”
Blinding energy beams make the remains coruscate, then disintegrate. The long night resumes.
If you enjoy my stories on here, you might like to try some of my books.
They’re available as ebooks for all devices, as paperbacks, and as OpenDyslexic font paperbacks. You can find details of the ones currently available on my publishing site – http://www.lothp.co.uk/index.html (you’ll find direct links to the main Amazon sites there).
While the current global troubles persist, my ebooks (in formats for all devices) are currently at ‘buyer sets the price’ from Smashwords – https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/JMMiles
Agreed; this is one of the good ones.
It never ceases to amaze me how my stories are received: sometimes ones I think worthy pass without notice, while ones I consider only good enough are lauded.
Just proves that all a writer can do is write the stories. The readers are the only judges of whether they’re good or not.
A wonderful flash fiction. Wildly imaginative yet believable. Poignant and well-written.
Thank you for the high praise.