Short Story: Sci-Fi Jabberwocky
Wednesday, 9th August 2017
A scene written for the Oxford University 'Writing Fiction' course. The brief was to rework Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky into a science fiction setting.
In the service ducts running over their heads, the skeleton crew of the Brillig could hear another of the TOVE units slam against the insulating wall and fall back in a buzzing, twitching lump of fried metal as the ship’s ancient wiring claimed another victim.
“No idea why we’re wasting so much energy on repairing those circuits,” Captain Seacole called cheerfully from the flight deck. “The last ship didn’t even make it past the Jubjub. If we actually find the Jabberwock, what the Brillig needs is a nice rich pepper seasoning and a fresh serviette.”
“Last ship didn’t have a Vorpal sword.”
“Lucky them. That means they also didn’t have Vorpal’s idea of a usage manual.”
Captain Downing looked down at said manual. The pieces of the weapon were mostly together, although the trigger mechanism appeared to be missing an attachment. She sighed and went back through the boxes. “You saw what this thing can do to to the hull of a Class IV Destroyer. The Jabberwock is many things, but it is flesh and blood, and able to withstand the pressure of space, it is not.”
“So far as we know.”
The thing was, nobody really knew what the Jabberwock was. The biolab was a wreck by the time the distress call was answered, and the security footage not only trashed but partially dissolved, with mome raths already hanging from the remains in their silk cocoons. The glass-sided rath breeding tank was, of course, the first thing to go.
What they knew, they inferred from what was left behind. The bite marks suggested a jaw measurement of at least two feet, with enough power behind it to snap a search craft in half. And then there were the claws, which were evidently nimble enough to rip out the circuitry of the one door that stood a chance of holding. From the latter, they presumed a certain level of intelligence, too.
Her eyes alighted on a particular paragraph in the manual, and her heart sank. For once, the crazy moon language of Vorpal Inc. couldn’t be interpreted fourteen different ways.
“Before take-off,” she said, quietly.
“Eh?” shouted Seacole.
“The Vorpal sword is placed in position… before take-off. With connections the Brillig doesn’t have.”
A gleam caught her eye, and she snatched up the missing part of the trigger mechanism. Snapping it in place, she checked the readings. Two hours to landing. Two hours between the Jabberwock’s last estimated position and civilisation. Only one option.
“I’m going to rejig this thing into a handheld,” she said.
Seacole was unusually silent for a moment. “It weighs more than you do.”
“You have another plan?”
Downing put down the weapon gently and went to check for supplies. The ship had been emptied of almost everything to keep the weight down, but the commander was the paranoid type, and there had to be emergency equipment fit for repurposing.
Back at the flight deck, she could hear Seacole break into his favourite song. It was the Harvest Space Corps anthem, but with all of the words changed to “We’re all going to diiiiiieeeee”, over and over and over.