This Flash Fiction story responds to Chuck Wendig’s challenge to write a story based on a trope, from a random trope generator on TVtropes.org. My trope is “Missed the Bus,” where the hero, often an Unlucky Every Dude, is relying on the bus/train/space shuttle to take him to his destination. In Fictionland, nine times out of ten he’ll arrive too late. To rub some salt in the wound, he might just get there in time to see it leave.
I couldn’t believe my luck. After years of trying: tests, interviews, more tests, physicals, scans, more tests, and more scans, I was in.
“Welcome to Cadre 143” the letter stated. I was on my way to Mars as a habitat engineer. Ever since I was a little boy, looking at the stars and planets with my cheapo telescope, I had wanted to be up there. And now it was happening, and I was on my way.
My commercial flight from Los Angeles to Denver was bumpy, but nothing to worry about. Besides, an astronaut can’t worry about bumpy rides, right? Well, okay, I’m not an astronaut, but I’ll be spending plenty of time in space on my way to the red planet – and do a hell lot more than the astronauts of old ever did. Anyway, I started to worry when the airplane started circling and the cabin attendant said we need to go into holding.
“I have a connection to make! It’s important!” I pleaded.
“Sir, this is normal. There are thunderstorms over the Denver airport. We need to hold here until they pass. If you miss your connection, there will be another, I’m sure.”
But she didn’t understand. I was on my way.
We finally landed about 30 minutes late, and I got to my connecting gate just in time to see the plane pull away, along with my future.
I pleaded with the attendant: “When is the next flight? I must get to the Cody Spaceport!”
“Sir” she said, “The next flight leaves at 3:15. You are already booked, so please take a seat in the waiting area and relax.”
“3:15? That’s too late! My orbital departure leaves at 2:00! Isn’t there a flight that leaves sooner?”
“I’m sorry Sir, no. If you’d like to file a complaint, I can provide you the forms.”
It was pointless. How do you complain about something as simple as a thunderstorm ruining your life? What would the company do if I missed this flight? They must have more orbital connectors I could catch in time to make my cadre in-processing, right?
I sat dejectedly in one of the waiting area chairs, staring out of the large plate glass windows, the waning crescent moon mocking me as it hung low on the early morning horizon.
“You’ll never make it.” It seemed to say, casting doubt like a dark shadow over my future. If I had made my connection, I would’ve been up there, on the moon, training with my cadre and prepping for the trip to Mars, within a few days. I would have been on my way.
A high-pitched droning sound snapped me out of my daydream of self-pity. The enormous explosion that followed had me diving to the floor, fully alert.
“Oh my God!” screamed the gate attendant.
A large fireball erupted not far away, near the runway.
“The airplane! It crashed!”
“What?” I said as I ran to the window for a better view.
“The airplane. The one that just left. You’re airplane…it crashed!”
All I could see was a column of thick, black, smoke rising from a mangled mass of metal, crumpled like a wad of tinfoil on the grassy expanse between the runways. Fire trucks were just now converging on the mass of burning metal, spraying fire-retardant foam from nozzles that protruded from the tops of their cabs like cannons.
The gravity of the situation started to sink in. “All of those people.” I said to myself. All of them – were gone.
Beads of sweat started to dot my forehead as I realized how close I had come to being one of them. Gone. Dead.
I couldn’t believe my luck.