Here it is.
The winner of the 2021 WM1K!
Before I announce the winner, I want to say thank you to everyone who submitted and to all of you that are still writing, keep up the good work and send your story in when you can!
This years WM1K seemed a little harder than past races.
The prompts were Crime, Hard or Soft Sci-Fi, Birthday and Stimulus.
I hope you all enjoy the WM1K stories and I will be posting them daily as I get them.
Get ready for next months race, the WM1500! More news on that later.
And without any further ado, the winner of the 2021 WM1K is Jeff White and his amazing story Absence!
by Jeff White
Dead. Dead on her birthday. Damn.
The body had been untouched. She was laid out on the bathroom floor of the space station, where she had fallen. Blood leaked from behind one of her ears. Her left eye was half open, glassy and lifeless. Her right eye was squeezed closed, having seen enough of the world.
She was wearing a red party dress, but didn’t seem to be in much of a mood for partying.
Sam looked around the bathroom. For some reason, one faucet was running full blast, gushing hot water into the sink, steam into the air. There was cracked white ceramic in a dizzying pattern on the tile floor. Toilet lids, he thought. Busted up toilet tank lids. Sam shook his head. What a weird idea, to recreate a 1920s bathroom on a 2091 space station. Clearly, it was intended to impress the elites from planetside. Keep them comfortable. No zero-g toilets for them.
He cocked an eye to the junior detective, the first one to have arrived on the scene. He indicated the water, the ceramic.
“The station experienced a power failure,” the young man said. “Lost gravity for 14 minutes.”
“What time was that?”
“1440 hours, station time. About two hours ago.”
Sam looked again at the body.
“I think it was probably just an accident, sir,” said the junior detective.
Sam had a skeptical look on his face. In his world, there were no accidents.
“I mean, look. There’s water everywhere. She could have just slipped.”
Sam nodded. “Or fallen from some height when the power was reinstated.”
The junior detective nodded, eager to have his hypothesis confirmed.
But Sam knew, knew it within his little hardboiled black heart, that she had been killed.
Because she was a spacer.
Because this was her birthday.
“She was a crazy girl, all right,” said Rihanna. She leaned on the bar, speaking in hushed tones so that the other customers wouldn’t hear. “Batshit crazy, some would say.” She became thoughtful. “I’d like to say that she was my friend, but I don’t suppose she had any friends, really. She lived only for The Stimulus.”
Spacer life was damned hard. Sam knew that much. They’d inhabit those cramped ships day after day, week after week, month after month. He’d been in one of those ships once himself, for about an hour and a half. He’d been a junior detective then, and didn’t have as many options as he had now. He wasn’t going to go into another spacer ship for this case. Not if he could help it. It was dark in there, unrelentingly dark except for occasional bleary red lamps that barely illuminated the endless rat-maze corridors. It smelled like dirty socks and sardines. Working as a spacer was 12 hours on, 12 hours off, day after day. No days off, because the ship was too small to carry that many bodies.
“Was she bad off?”
“Bad I guess as anyone.” Rihanna shrugged. “Stim takes us all over eventually. There aren’t any mild cases.” Rihanna herself was one of the few who escaped the spacer life without dying of it. Somehow, she had found a way to make some money on the side, buy out her contract after only 4 years. She was silent on the question of whether she still stimmed, but she must have cut down some, at least, to function as a bartender on the station.
Stim, Sam knew, was the perfect drug for spacers. It didn’t make you mean or crazy. Mean or crazy on those cramped ships got everyone killed. No profit in that. Stim just let you sort of become absent for a while. Not somewhere else, exactly, just not on the ship, with all the other spacers, breathing the same stale air. It brought a moment of peace from the smell, from the constant groaning of metal on metal. From boredom. From the pervasive fact that out in space, there is no front door. No escape.
One could either sleep during their time off, or they could stim. Most stimmed.
“She have any enemies?”
“Nah. No more than most. We all ate away at each other all the time, of course, but we learned to get on. She got on better than most.”
“Why was she on the station? It was her birthday. She could have gone anywhere.”
“Now that, I don’t know,” Rihanna said. “She told me that she was burning to get planetside. See some guy she used to know. But if she was gonna do that, she should have been gone hours before the power outage.”
“Yeah. In the early days, she would pine for this guy. I don’t remember his name. I do remember that he was blonde. She was always talking about him. We all have someone we miss, of course. Our moms or boyfriends or whoever. At least until we hook up with someone on the ship.”
Or ‘til we find the stim, she left out. They both understood.
“Is this guy around? Were they going to meet here?”
“I don’t think so. She said she was going to surprise him planetside.”
Birthdays were the one perk that spacers were allowed. One day a year, the ship would doc for longer than it took to unload cargo, load new cargo. It was written right into the contract:
- 10 years’ service agreement,
- a large stipend to be paid at the end of those 10 years (and ONLY at the end of those 10 years…many stipends went unpaid, because most didn’t survive for the full period of the contract)
- free room and board
- 1 day off for your birthday.
For that birthday, you’d receive a card with sufficient funds to travel anywhere within reach, feed/clothe/pamper yourself as you saw fit, and 24 hours away from the ship. Also written into the contract was that that birthday had no relationship to the day you were born: it was one day per year, to be determined by the flight plan.
All spacers, Sam knew, looked forward to their birthdays. At least, they did for the first year or two. But however good that day might be, it wasn’t long before they were back on the ship. Back to the grind. Grinding away, or being ground away. By the third or fourth year, most spacers spent their birthday on a station, maybe in a bar, maybe just in a quiet room where they didn’t have to hear anyone else breathing.
Birthdays were for suckers.
“I still think it was just an accident,” said the junior detective. He was sitting behind Sam’s desk, looking pretty comfortable. Sam was annoyed, but didn’t show it.
“She was a spacer,” Sam said. “She was killed.”
The junior detective made a derisive exhalation. “Look,” he said. He counted off on his fingers. “She was in the bar. She was drinking. She needed to go to the bathroom. She either slipped on the wet floor, or was caught in the sudden loss of gravity and slammed to the floor.”
“She was a spacer,” Sam said again.
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Spacers would know how to deal with no gravity, number one. But more than that, spacers don’t like open water. A spacer wouldn’t use a one of these old-timey toilets, one of those sinks, one of those faucets. Those all depend on gravity to keep the water contained. Spacers had a natural fear of water, unless it’s in a plastic bag or a squeeze bottle. They don’t even take showers, for god’s sake.”
The junior detective frowned, shook his head, as if he was being given irrelevant information.
A lesser detective than Sam would have sighed. He spoke slowly: “She would have used the zero-g toilet.”
Comprehension dawned. The junior detective sat up a little.
“Let’s bring in Riahanna for questioning.”
The junior detective stood up, started putting on his belt. Gun, handcuffs.
“What makes you think it was her?”
Sam had a stoic look on his face. Unreadable. “Let’s see if we can figure out how she bought off her spacer contract early. Maybe she was in the habit of using other people’s birthday money.