Every Friday Kurt is publishing a bit of flash fiction. This week...
Word Count: 598
Gavin stared in horror at the family that floated outside the starship. He’d seen the error in his calculation half a second too late, unable to do anything but watch as mother, father, and two daughters materialized in the vacuum of space, only to be boiled by radiation, frozen, asphyxiated, and explosively decompressed, in no particular order. Thirty seconds ago they’d been eager to embark on their new lives as intergalactic colonists. Now they were very, very dead.
Gavin’s hands shook. He had another family in the queue, waiting on him, but he couldn’t move.
“That was your first time losing someone, wasn’t it?” said someone over his shoulder. Gavin looked back and saw a gentle-looking woman. “Can you follow me please?” she asked. Gavin followed her to a room off the main center floor, away from the other workers. They sat across from each other, Gavin wanted to protest, apologize, explain, get back to his queue, but he couldn’t find the words.
“It’s okay, Gavin,” said the woman. “It’ll be okay.”
“Due respect, Miss—“
“Call me Marla,” said the woman.
“Due respect, Marla, but how could you possibly know about it?”
Marla smiled. “It’s my job to know about it,” she said. “And to know about you, as well. You have an impeccable record—“
“I did,” said Gavin, “until a few minutes ago.”
“It’s still very good. Near-perfect. Certainly well above the threshold—“
“They’re dead,” said Gavin. “The man… his little girls.”
“They knew the risks,” said Marla.
“I transposed a couple of digits on their coordinates. Did they understand the risk of me swapping numbers around in my head?”
“They understood the risks,” said Marla, her voice still gentle but with sterner tones. “One of those risks is human error.”
“It’s a stupid thing to die for,” said Gavin.
“Any worse than dying of starvation? Or being eaten by some wild animal? Or catching some disease? Their chances were slim to begin with.”
“Still, they would have had—“
“No,” said Marla. “You need to listen to me. Everyone makes mistakes.”
“I didn’t used—“
“Everyone. Everyone makes mistakes. And when we make mistakes, people die, and that’s unfortunate, but it’s way it is.”
“But it’s my fault. They’re dead and it’s my fault,” said Gavin.
“Yes it is,” said Marla, “but you’ve got to forgive yourself anyway. You do good work here, and you can continue doing good work.”
Gavin shuddered. He wanted to rage, he wanted to cry out. He could barely breath under the weight of his guilt. “I don’t think I can do this,” he said.
“You can,” said Marla. “We need you. The migration effort needs you.”
“I can’t just… cope with this.”
“You can,” said Marla.
Marla closed her eyes. “Honestly?” she asked. “You want to know?”
“This one will stay with you. But you’ll recover and even go for a while without any more slip-ups, and then one day you’ll make another mistake. That one will be easier to handle. And the next even easier. After a while you’ll be just as jaded as everyone else here. But for now, you still think of them as people. You still care. And for as long as you still care, that’s when we’ll get the best out of you.”
“It’ll be okay. Really, it will. Take the afternoon, rent a movie, have some comfort food—no alcohol, mind you—get a good night’s sleep, and be ready in the morning.”
Gavin nodded. Then he went to his desk and collect his things. Tomorrow would be another day.