Friday Flash Fiction: How to Get Off This Rock

Most of the Friday Flash Fiction photo prompts have been—how should I put this—a bit naughty. Now, I like a cute guy as much as the next person does, so I’m not complaining. This one, on the other hand:

Artistic rendering of a futuristic city with spaceships taking off

Oh, this is right up my alley.

How to Get Off This Rock

Daniel came to the spaceport looking for his mother. Now he’s just looking for a way out: out of the spaceport, off the planet, out of the system. He’ll take whatever he can get.

He took whatever he could get when he came here, which was a job in a diner. Tella, the Brunai owner, took sympathy on him counting out coins for breakfast the third time that first week. He didn’t tell her, but she guessed that those breakfasts were the only food he allowed himself most days. That is, unless he found a corner store selling past-its-sell-by provisions or, he’s ashamed to admit now, something on a market stall shelf while the proprietor looked the other way.

Now, at least, he has a cot in a room, an honest job cleaning, running the dish disinfector and occasionally taking orders at the counter when Tella and Hermione are swamped with serving tables.

Tella’s is the only place in the spaceport where pilots can get “authentic Brunai cuisine.” Even after six months, Daniel has yet to try any. It’s taken him that long to save a tenth of what a ticket off Earth will cost him. And that’ll only get him to Mars, or maybe Europa, if he’s lucky. An FTL to the closest systems, that’ll require another job once he gets to Europa.

It’ll also require knowing for sure which one his mother headed to, but that goal is growing hazier the more time passes. He’s almost eighteen now, too old to keep chasing after a woman who maybe doesn’t want him to follow.

He shakes his head and leans harder against the counter, scrubbing at a dried-on stain from one of the Brunai dishes; something in the sauce makes them hard to get off once they’ve crusted over. It’s one of the reasons Daniel hasn’t tried any of them. He wonders what that sauce would do to his guts.

“It’s an acquired taste, but it won’t kill you” is what Hermione tells him. The cook, another Brunai—Daniel only knows him as Chef, it’s the only thing Tella calls him—sometimes tries out new recipes on Tella and Hermione, only offering Daniel a sample to watch him grimace and shake his head no. It usually makes Chef and Tella laugh wide enough that he can their second row of teeth.

What if she didn’t leave of her own free will? This is the question that elbows its way to the front of Daniel’s mind in moments like this, when he’s just repeating the same manual task over and over, like scrubbing the counter, or mopping the floor, or unloading the disinfector. That’s maybe the only problem with this job: it gives him too much time to think. The last time he saw her, before he went to school, she was dressed in her best outfit, the gray suit with the trousers pleated sharp as knives, for an interview. She didn’t come home that night, or any night after that.

“Order up!” Chef yells. Daniel folds his rag and looks across the diner. Hermione’s taking an order. Tella has at least seven plates balanced on her arms.

“Get that, will ya?” she asks as she passes the counter on her way from one table to the other.

“Sure.” Daniel runs his hands under the ultracleaner and picks up the plate—a Brunai dish, one he hasn’t seen before—and ferries it out to a table where a man, a human, is waiting.

You can check out previous Friday Flash Fiction stories here.

So, it’s probably kind of mean to leave it hanging right there, but honestly, that’s all I’ve got. Still, I’m left with all kinds of questions: what happened to Daniel’s mom? Why is his father not in the picture? Who’s the human with the taste for Brunai cuisine? What are the Brunai like, apart from having shark-like teeth?

I don’t know the answers. Maybe I should keep writing and find out. What do you think?