Ziggy’s Story is a short fiction piece written for the Brilliant Flash Fiction science fiction contest. You can read the winners online. The longer prequel to Ziggy’s Story was submitted to the Arizona State University 2016 climate fiction short story contest. Results from that contest will be posted in April, so you’ll be able to read the prequel this spring.
“Ziggy’s story is born in glory.” That’s what she said every morning. Her voice is my earliest memory; my mother singing “born in glory, born in glory, Ziggy’s story is born in glory.”
I still don’t know where the song came from. I think she just made it up; rhyming nonsense for a young boy’s entertainment. I don’t think my mother knew I’d be hearing those words for the rest of life, whenever I close my eyes and my mind drifts to faraway places. The irony of it tickles me as I sit at my inglorious desk, trapped by powers beyond my control.
Tap tap tap on my tab… I’m like a lot of the other youth in Scotland these days. I’m posting online about a funny new game I found called Oort and Back. My mom used to take me to the Glasgow Science Centre when I was younger, and I still dream about outer space. I might even get a chance to go to space one day. The US and Russia just launched the shuttle Providence, their joint effort to send the first settlers to Mars. A few friends mentioned that recruiters for future missions came to their school. They start training astronauts at 12 years old now. The age of recruitment gets younger every year.
Waiting for class to be over is a special kind of torture. My teacher knows I’m on my personal tab beneath my desk, but she doesn’t care – so are at least twenty of the other students in my class. We’re supposed to be working on a short essay called our “Dreams and Goals” but most people finished early and are just waiting to turn it in when the bell rings. Plus it’s the first day of school, so everyone gets a bit of slack. I just wrote “Go to space. Don’t die.” because I think it’s funny. It’s a test, because the teacher didn’t give us a words requirements. If I get a passing grade it’ll make my life easier this term… I look up at the clock: 2:59pm. One minute to bell!
A voice speaks over the intercom “Students, your attention please. Recruiters are here from the ISA. If you are interested in trying out, please WALK to the gymnasium after class.” My eyes go wide. I hurry to turn in my assignment and run down the hall to the gymnasium before the bell even rings. At least a hundred other students are running too! We’ve all heard you have the best chance to be selected if you’re first in line. We’ve also heard about the exams, that everyone who tries out needs to sign a non-disclosure statement. Students that are caught talking about the exams are automatically expelled. Some have even disappeared completely…
I get to the gymnasium, huffing and puffing, with fifteen or so other kids ahead of me in line. I’m so nervous. My mom would have wanted me to go to space. She always used to tell me to “live my dreams.” Time passes slowly as students are admitted to the gym one by one. Nobody comes back out… but maybe they leave by another exit. Finally it’s my turn. A teacher motions for me to enter and I do. Inside is a man at a desk. He asks if my parents are alive. I’m surprised but answer no. He motions to an area to his left. As I walk toward it I get very sleepy. Hands grab me and hold me up as I fall unconscious.
I have been awake for far too long now. There were no tests, no questions, no tasks or feats that needed to be performed. There was only a long deep sleep, and then Mars. The infernally hot, blindingly red, and tortuously sandy world outside these biodome walls. Inside there was chaos. Food and water was delivered by an automated drone but it stopped working after a few years. The other kids all fought because there wasn’t enough food for everyone. I tried to avoid the violence, but the space is so small…
Now I’m all alone. I just sit here, looking out at the Martian dunes. Is anybody out there, can anybody help me? I want to escape this purgatory, but I haven’t eaten in decades and I am still alive.
Am I immortal? Will I ever die?
I close me eyes once more, and hear a whisper through the walls: “Ziggy was born in glory, born in glory…”