Posted by: derrydean | December 2, 2008

Far Reach

by Derry Dean.

The banks of lights stretched as far as she could see in both directions, broken occasionally by access paths for the automata. The only sound was the gentle hissing of the water sprays on waxy leaves, and the ever present gentle humming underfoot.

Even on a ship of six million people, there were places of solitude if you knew where to look. The hydroponics bays took up barely two percent of the volume of the Far Reach, but to Sarah they were big, and more importantly; empty enough. Row upon row on waxy leaved plants sprouted from the artsoil, in pleasingly symmetrical lines, shining from under the suspended lighting gantries. Sarah’s fingers ran gently over the artsoil. If she closed her eyes, she could be anywhere; on earth in a field under the open sky, or some exotic undiscovered planet. The effect was only spoiled when you saw the blue tinge on the soil, or the hydro arms waving silently overhead, between the cables, tubes and wires that snaked down from the cavern roof so far above.

The soft susurrus of water mist on leaves and the smell of greenery was lulling Sarah to sleep, and as she was beginning to feel her eyelids droop she became aware of a new sound. A repetitive thudding was getting steadily louder as she was dropping into unconsciousness. Almost too late she realised the footsteps were getting closer to her; standard Mil issue boots on metal plate decking, and very close!

Scrambling to her feet, Sarah banged her elbow painfully on the lighting rig hanging at waist height, setting it rocking conspicuously.  Hurriedly she set one hand on it whilst brushing the remains of the damp bluish artsoil from the seat of her work overalls.

The footsteps had stopped only a few meters away, and as she bent to retrieve her task slate she heard a voice call out.

“Miss Hopcraft? Miss Sarah Hopcraft?” There was no mistaking the clipped tones of a Mil officer, and glancing around Sarah spotted a figure in blue standing at the edge of the planting bay, looking in her direction.

Picking her way through the plants, Sarah felt a fluttering as she saw the uniform of a lieutenant on the officer’s lanky frame.

“That’s me.”

The officer nodded once, and hesitated. His dark features creased in a slight frown as his gaze darted over Sarah’s soiled brown overalls and mussed hair. Sarah felt a flush creep into her cheeks and stammered as she tried to cover her embarrassment and smoothing her jawline length hair.

“What have I- that is, what is, why are you here, sir?”

The lieutenant nodded, and looked away from her as he took off his cap. The lights shone upwards, reflected from the metal deck, and set his eyes into deep shadow. Sarah was not tall, and looking up at him reminded her of the scary faces the children would pull at night shining torches at themselves as they told stories of the ghosts and monsters that haunted the passages of the Far Reach.

“Miss Hopcraft, I’m sorry to tell you that your brother Aaron Hopcraft was killed today whilst breaking up an asteroid. He- It was an accident, and you were on his file of next of kin, so I was ordered to tell you personally rather than wave you…”

Sarah had stopped listening now. The fluttering in her stomach had turned into a ball of cold lead. Aaron? But how? She had seen him at breakfast only a few hours ago complaining about work, about his EVA suit, about Bonners.

“I’ve been ordered to escort you to your home. Your time off has been authorised. I have a cart. Please follow me.” Abruptly he rammed his hat back on his head and spun on his heel without waiting for an answer from the small woman.

Sarah stared blankly at the officer’s narrow back as he strode down the access path to the ground cart just visible above the waving leaves of the hydroponics. There must be some mistake, she thought. Tonight Aaron would come in, dropping his things everywhere and hooking one leg over the arm of the chair as he sat down. She would tell him about this horrible mistake, and they would both complain about the Mil bureaucracy, before Aaron went out to the bar with Aleena and the boys.

Woodenly she sat on the rear facing bench of the cart as the officer took his place behind the wheel. Starting the electric engine, the lieutenant half turned in his seat.

“My name’s Kessel, by the way.”

Sarah didn’t answer. The cart pulled off and turned onto the wider path that ran the kilometre down the cavern to the lift tube entrance, picking up speed.

“It’s about ten minutes to the main tube from here. Well, you know that, you work here.”

Sarah reached out and ran her fingers along the wet leaves as they sped past, water splashing from her fingertips onto the path behind them and receding into the distance. She sensed Kessel half turning in his seat again.

“We’ll be releasing your brother’s ashes to you later today to do with as you wish.”

The cart pulled away from the plants slightly, out of Sarah’s reach. She dropped her hand back into her lap.



  1. This is the beginning of a short story I wrote, funnily enough, just before Rama One was proposed. I’d appreciate any comments on it.

  2. […] Please excuse the pun, but I think we’re all ready to get started. I hope you enjoy our very first submission, and look forward to seeing many more around […]

  3. Sounds like a great start, I’m interested to read more. I’d have to see more to comment on bigger-picture things, but I love your wording and sense of style, especially your descriptions of the hydroponics bay. Words like susurrus just aren’t used enough.

  4. Sounds great, so far. I’d love to see the rest.

  5. Good expression. Would be nice if this is part of a larger story.

  6. Nice start. Would like to read more. As yyzed76 said, it’s hard to comment on specifics without reading more. But it’s a nice setup for a bigger story.

  7. Great start, and very well written.

  8. I like it. Please continue.

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