An Honest Answer, a short story

A quick explanation before we get into the story. I decided to post this because I think we all need a diversion right now. It is part of a writing challenge I’m doing this month. We were told to get someone to tell us a true story, and then write that story in such a way that changed absolutely everything but kept the core of the story. So here is mine. Can anyone guess what the original story was?

Captain Carole stood in the hangar bay of the enormous space station she called home, staring at her small craft. Granted, it was only precise to call this place home when she wasn’t on the move, which she often was. Still. A lady needs some place to keep her things.

The problem was the anti-grav lift. A tiny fracture had grown, all unnoticed, over time. Or, she thought it was an overuse fracture. For all she knew, some unexpected bang had caused the minute break. It didn’t really matter, though. At the end of the day, it made the lift completely useless until the self-repairing nanobots were done with it, and that was going to take at least a week.

In the meantime, she had the drive crystal to replace. The very heavy drive crystal. Though Carole looked a good deal younger than she was, and no one seemed to believe her actual age, she just couldn’t lift something as heavy as that crystal, no matter how independantly minded she might be.

And until she replaced the crystal, she couldn’t leave. She might make it to her destination at the distant Denys Outpost, but she’d never make it back again on that old drive crystal.

Captain Carole’s musings were interrupted by footsteps, and she turned to see a young, short man emerging from the inter-station travel pods. When he spotted her, he gave her a friendly sort of nod.

“And how are you today, Ma’am?” he asked.

The polite thing to do, of course, was to say that she was doing just fine, thank you, and let him go about his business. It was the acceptable thing to do. Even in these advanced days of interstellar travel, polite social fictions hadn’t died.

On impulse, Carole gave a rueful half-smile, running a hand through her short hair. “Honestly? Not so great.”

All she expected from this was some offer of sympathy before the man stroede onwards to his own destination. Instead, he stopped, cocking his head.

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

Such a simple question. She wondered for a moment if he was just being polite, but there was such an earnest look in his soft, brown eyes.

“Oh. Well. It’s the drive crystal. I need to replace it. But my anti-grav lift is busted, there’s no available ones to be borrowed or rented, and there’s just no way I can move the replacement from where it’s waiting over there to the engine casing.” She gestured off across the bay to where the large crystal sat, right where it had been delivered.

The young man smiled. “I can get it for you, Ma’am.” He gestured for her to step back, an all too common occurance these days, as spacers could bring back who-knew-what strain of disease from worlds, so strangers just tended to stay two meters apart at all times.

Carole stepped back, and found herself blinking back tears of gratitude. The man vanished, and reappeared toting the huge crystal in his arms. He hadn’t even grabbed one of the manual, rolling dollies that were available.

“Goodness. You must be strong, to carry that all on your own,” the captain said, still blinking back tears.

“I’m in the space marines, Ma’am,” the man, who Carole realized was even shorter than her own petite frame. “Just waiting to be deployed. The daily exercise regime is intense.” In moments, he had stepped aboard her ship and deposited the new crystal in its bracket, where her own vessel’s machinery could lift it into place. When he emerged with the old crystal in his arms, though, a tear actually did escape Carole’s blinking eyes. That was just going above and beyond.

Once the crystal had been taken to the reclamation zone, the marine turned back to Captain Carole. “Anything else I can do?”

Shaking her head, Carole smiled. “No, no. Thank you so much. I’d give you a hug if I could.”

Grinning, the young man merely offered her a jaunty salute, despite her lack of military rank. “Just happy to help, Captain. You have a good day, now.”

The fellow turned to head off, and Carole boarded her ship. It was time to head out to Denys Outpost. Sometimes, an honest answer got you kindness. She’d remember that, and pay it forward.

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