They called the ship a Widowmaker, a relic of a time when the black of space was scarred by the war and the machines that made it possible. There were no windows save at the top and few doors; little was done to make the metal monstrosity look like anything other than the heavily armed coffin it was. It towered over the edge of the city, and Fire Chief Jaime Olmos felt cold and clammy every time he had to drive beneath its shadow. He had argued with the city about taking it down and scrapping it. But no one saw the tower of metal-encased kindling on insufficient struts, a danger to the community around it. They only saw a tourist offering, a landmark.
“We can’t tear down such a monument of our rich heritage in space.” Olmos was told. “That ship represents heroism.”
Olmos had served on a Widowmaker, back when both of them were considered space-worthy. He sadly shook his head at the connection of such a ship and heroism. “I pray there isn’t a fire,” he said, and walked out of city hall with his shoulders slumped, his head down.
The night the rusting hulk’s innards did catch fire, every truck was called to surround it. The ship’s supports were already bending due to heat, and it would only be a matter of time before the colossus toppled onto the buildings surrounding it. The fire had already burst the viewport windows, and a jet of flame like a angry beast tore across the starry sky.
“Same as it ever was,” Olmos thought to himself, and ordered two men to the upper levels of the ship to either contain the fire or give it a way out. The men’s shadows danced violently in the flickering light.
They did not return. One of them, Cheeverly, who loved his garden of exotic flowers as much as he loved his motorcycle, called on the radio saying he was lost, his voice distorted by his oxygen mask that shuddered as it ran out of air.
Olmos sent in two more men, confident he could count on Jacobson. Jacobson may have been a prankster off duty, but he was as serious as they got once in uniform. He reminded Olmos of his old messmate, Hopi, back in the war. Jacobson didn’t get a chance to radio back. Despite Olmos screaming into his receiver, there was no response. “Hopi died in a Widowmaker, too,” Olmos said.
The ship was winning, the damn monstrosity taking his men two by two. Olmos turned his back to the gangplank. Fifteen firefighters were crowded in front of him, tense with adrenaline, the heat of their eyes competing with the flames at his back.
“No more,” Olmos said.
No one said anything for one second, and then two. And then the roar of the fire was overmatched by the roar of men. “They’re still up there, god-dammit!” they howled, surging forward, a mass of rage. “They’re still in there!”
Olmos pushed his hands into the chests of the men, sending each one that came too close to the ground. “Listen to me!” he bellowed. “You listen to me! We’ve already lost four. We’re not going to lose any more.”
Olmos watched as his men contracted, their shoulders slumping, their heads bowing. They seemed so much smaller, their twisting shadows seem all-encompassing, devouring the men as they walked away.
The fire was contained, leaving nothing but a blackened husk, a monstrous, smoking skeleton, so immense it blotted out the coming dawn.
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