Picture: The Fighting Temeraire, tugged to her last berth to be broken up – Joseph Mallord William Turner – 1838 (Public domain).
My brief was as follows:
Genre: Science Fiction
Location: A protest
Object: An anchor
Time limit: 2 days
Word Count: 1,000 words
Anchor Bay Tombs
Somewhere on the Caspian Sea – 75 years after The Long Death.
The morning alarm rings and I quickly turn it off. Yov stirs, but he doesn’t wake. Last night’s spiked drink should keep him asleep. I touch the silver anchor pendant around my neck for luck, slide out of the bed and tip-toe over the marble floor. The old palace overlooks Anchor Bay and I can hear the sounds of the Bay Protests through the windows.
I take Yov’s gun from the bedside table, find his discarded uniform on the floor and take his keys. I move delicately to the massive and ancient, leather-coated safe and open it. It wails a rusty scream as it opens.
“What are you doing, Marija?” I look at Yov. His eyes are dark yellow scleras around black irises. His skin is raw and tight on his right cheek after his recent graft. His left cheek is flaxen and poisoned. “What’s that noise?” he asks, looking to the window.
“They’re trying to open the tombs,” I say.
“They don’t open. We don’t know what they’re made of.”
“The artefact is the key.”
“The artefact is just a dead block.”
“We don’t believe that.”
“We? Marija, I thought you were a whore, not a revolutionary.”
“The artefact is the key,” I repeat.
Yov sighs, turns to grab his gun, but his hand lands on the empty bedside table. He turns to face the mussel of his own gun in my hand.
“If you fire that, my guards will be in the room in seconds.”
“They’re distracted by the protest.”
“Marija, look at you. Your skin is almost perfect. One tiny graft on your neck when you forgot to apply your cream properly. Don’t throw it away. How many 15-year-olds can afford skin like yours?”
“It won’t matter when we open the tombs.”
“They won’t open!”
I pull the trigger. The bang makes my ears sting. Yov topples over in his bed. I keep the mussel pointed at the door, but no guards arrive.
I put on my robe and slide the gun and the artefact into my bag. It feels dense and vaguely alive.
The palace corridors are empty. The guards really are distracted. I slide out of the palace via one of the staff staircases. As soon as I pass through the double door I feel the atmospheric sting on my face. I forgot to apply my creams. I check my bag for my mask, no luck. But I can’t go back.
In the square between the bay and the palace is an upturned anchor, standing like a crucifix, with a spacesuit from The Arc hanging from it.
The protest is a mess. 500, maybe 800 people gathered at the far side of the square, blocking the entrance to the Bay, chanting, “Open the tombs”. The police are buying their time, waiting for it to die out. They think the tombs are impenetrable, they’re not worried about another protest. I slip past the police and through the crowd.
The tombs are kept on a platform on the promenade, overlooking Anchor Bay. On the shore, the rotting Arc lays like a beached whale. A generational ship that crashed into the sea decades ago. On the side of it is the insignia, an anchor with a solar system spinning around it. Nobody understands why aliens would send us a ship full of tombs, but today we may find out why.
My boyfriend Kazimir, and a few others are waiting by the tombs. He sees me and kisses me. His lips are rough, and while he’s only 14, half of his face has been grafted, the other half is dark-brown with rot.
“Did you get the artefact?”
“What happened to Yov?” I open my bag showing him the gun. “You’ve got skin irritation, haven’t you applied your creams?”
“I left them at the palace.”
“Marija, you can’t repair the damage once it’s done.”
“It won’t matter if we open the tombs.”
I give him the artefact. “We know what it is,” he says. “It’s a timer. The dial is just moving very slowly. Nobody noticed.”
“How do you know?”
“The engravings inside The Arc, we’ve been misreading them.”
Kazimir and another guy I don’t recognise, twist the artefact. The tombs light up. Their metal forms separate, revealing a previously unseen seam. In each tomb is a perfectly preserved body with flawless skin. Skins of different colours, but all flawless.
“They’re perfect,” says Kazimir. “Why did they send us flawless corpses?”
“They’re waking up,” I say.
Coughing and holding their faces, the bodies rise and climb out of their tombs.
“They’re prophets,” says Kazimer.
“They can’t breathe properly,” I say.
I try to help one of them, but he stumbles away from me fearfully and speaks to his colleague, “It was supposed to be unpopulated. Where is the ship, where are the suits? I’m suffocating.”
“They’re speaking the old tongues,” I say.
Kazimer grabs the arm of one and points, “Ship,” he says clumsily in the old tongue, “clothes,” he says, pointing at the upturned anchor and the hanging spacesuit. The man pushes him away, terror warping his baby face. “Animals!” I think he shouts.
“There’s more stuff in the tombs…” I say. It can’t be.
“Anything to help them breathe?” asks Kazimer. The risen are huddling around one or two of the tombs.
I hand Kazimer some photographs and documents. “The ship is from Earth. These aren’t tombs, it’s a seeding ship, from before the Long Death. It must’ve crashed back onto Earth.”
“Why are they scared of us?”
“Look at our faces, Kazimer. We’re monsters.”
“They’ve got weapons!” someone shouts, but it’s cut short by the rattle of gunfire. There is no screaming, the attack is too fast. Blood coats the stone platform. It only takes seconds.
I look at Kazimir as I am dying. He looks guilty, but he shouldn’t. They’re going to have to deal with the world they left us with.