Back in December, I sent off the story below to a Flash Fiction competition, the winning 20 entries of which would be published in an anthology entitled "Thieves and Scoundrels". The stories all had to be 1,000 words or less and had to be SciFi, Horror or Fantasy.
This is the same competition that Don't Feed the Pixies entered and wrote about here. He was not successful and, gues what? Neither was I.
Anyhoo, here's the one they didn't want....
Nature Abhors a Vacuum
Hello, Padre. Is it that time already? My, how time flies when you're having fun. Sorry, that's just my little joke. The condemned man can have a little joke, can't he, Padre?
No? Oh, well.
I know I'm supposed to confess all right about now and seek redemption or something, but I have to tell you Padre, I'm not about to do that. I've lied, cheated, stolen, fornicated and murdered my way around the Ninety Worlds all my life, and if that slimeball Soleki hadn't ratted me out, I'd still be out there doing it right now.
I won't lie to you, Padre, I've done nothing good with my life - and I don't regret it.
That's not what you wanted to hear, is it? That's not how the script goes. Well I'm sorry to disappoint you, Padre, but I've loved every minute of my life!
Okay, I can see you're not buying the bravado and the bullshit, that's very perceptive of you.
There is one thing I did – a theft, actually - that I would undo if I could. Just one, mind, I'm not going soft or anything just because it's my last day.
I just need someone to know this one thing before I go. It's the least I can do.
I once worked aboard Premier Spaceways' holiday ship, Vivace.
Ah, I see you remember what happened aboard that ship. Well, that's the thing, Padre, the authorities never did work out what caused all those deaths, but I know.
It was me.
Don't look so shocked, I never killed those people, they died just the way the Tri-Dee news reported it. It was my fault is all I'm saying.
I was flat broke and in debt up to my eyeballs with all the wrong people. Back then, I had a lousy poker face, an addiction to gambling, and a misplaced belief in my own luck – a most unfortunate combination, I'm sure you'll agree.
Anyway, there was a pair of plasticrete overshoes or an involuntary stroll out of an airlock sans spacesuit in my near future when Temple Jai offered me enough money to get clear and, like a fool, I jumped at it.
Jai said the device was harmless, just some piece of alien tech-junk he'd picked up offworld. I should have known better than to believe anything Temple Jai said, the rat-bastard. I heard he once sold two of his own mothers just for beer money.
Anyway, all I had to do was get a job on a certain ship, using the fake ID Jai gave me, and take this little thing aboard with me. Each day, I was to hide it in a different passenger's cabin, then at the end of the trip, give it back to him. That was all.
It sounded like easy money.
Did I ask him what the device was? Of course I did, but he point-blank refused to tell me and threatened to call off the deal if I didn't shut my yap.
It was a funny-looking thing, about the size and shape of an egg, but very heavy with a kind of translucent pearly shell. The innards - what you could see of them through the shell – were always slowly swirling around. There was a hint of wiring in there too if you looked real close, and a couple of button-like studs on the outside that you could press with your finger.
Maybe that's where it all went wrong. Maybe I fiddled with the thing a bit, I don't remember for sure anymore. Or maybe Temple Jai knew exactly what the thing did and didn't give a shit - I wouldn't put it past him. He's dead now though, so I guess we'll never know.
We were about a week out from Lumiere when the killings began. One morning, Mrs Soraya Ahmed stabbed her husband to death over breakfast. Sarr T'kel bludgeoned his new Sarra to a pulp the next day, then the day after that, Ikk 'ut set fire to the cabin it was sharing with its mates, killing all eight of them.
Now, I'm no genius, but even I managed to work it out. All the passengers that were doing the killing and those that died were ones in whose cabin I had hidden the egg-thing. Now, I've done some killing in my time, but only people who crossed me, only people who deserved it. Killing strangers for no reason has never been my bag, so you better believe I quickly put the egg-thing back into its box and hid it in the ship's hold, well away from people.
There were fifteen more deaths after that, all from the rest of the cabins where I had hidden the egg-thing before I realised what was going on. The captain put us back to port immediately and there was a massive investigation, but no-one ever figured out what had happened.
I heard they had to scrap the Vivace not long after that: no-one wanted to travel in a boat where so many newlyweds met such a tragic end.
You see, Padre, that was the saddest part. As luck - or Temple Jai, maybe - would have it, I'd been assigned to work on the deck where all the honeymoon suites were - where the love was strongest and freshest.
The egg-thing was some kind of syphon: it just drank up all that love, every last drop. Temple Jai had an eager market for that rarest of commodity and stood to get very rich selling the love I stole for him.
The thing is, Padre, nature abhors a vacuum. When all that love got sucked out of those people, something else rushed in to fill the void, something as fierce and strong as the love had been – except it was the exact opposite of that love.
So there it is - the one thing I ever regret stealing.
You can tell the guards I'm ready to go now.