Flash Fiction: Those Before


The moderator of the Moderator Selected Writing Exercises on The Writer’s Discussion Group on Google+ came up with another great prompt. Only rule for this challenge was a 600-word limit.

(Photo prompt from the exercise. No commercial use intended.)

Hope you enjoy!


Those Before

“Launch on ten-minute hold.”

Commander Liam Payne groaned silently, resting his head against the high-backed seat. He was anxious to go. Through his com, he heard chatter regarding a navigation system update, but he ignored it. He needed to clear his mind, so he could focus on the task in front of him. Closing his eyes, he laid his gloved hands on his thighs, as his relaxation trainer taught him, and concentrated on his breathing.

A lump under his palm distracted him, and he pulled a shiny object from his flight suit pocket. Liam held the crystal prism to the light emitted from the instrument panel, watching the pale rainbow hues scatter from the small pyramid. His breathing exercises forgotten, his thoughts drifted to the moment his father gave him the prism.

He’d grown up in a family of achievers. His mother was a highly decorated military officer. His father, Evan Payne was the preeminent optics physicist on Earth, who when he wasn’t at the university was sequestered in his home lab. With his mother serving aboard ship, a lonely Liam sat for hours watching his father work.

At ten years of age, Liam tested at genius level for math and science, and his father was convinced he would become a physicist. When he turned eighteen, his decision to attend the military academy shocked and disappointed his father, while delighting his mother. Until then, his father doted on him.

He received the prism when he was seven after asking about the print of a man wearing knee britches, white stockings, his grey hair, long and wavy hanging in the lab. Liam recalled their conversation.

“Dad, who is this man?”

His father peered through his transparent computer screen, “That’s Sir Isaac Newton. He’s the reason I’m doing the work I do today.” Reaching into a drawer, he withdrew a small object and joined his son.

“Liam, this is a prism, the same object Newton is holding up to a beam of sunlight in the portrait. He conducted some of the first research on light, and created the field of optics. From his work, and those who followed, lasers were eventually developed.”

“Lasers like you make, Dad?”

“Not exactly, the ones we’re developing use gases we discovered in the atmosphere of Jupiter, the most powerful lasers ever created.” He closed his son’s small hand around the crystal prism. “Keep this with you to remind you there was a time when science was in its infancy. I do not think we have grown far from those days, but we owe what we know now to the curiosity of those who came before us.”

Liam graduated from the academy with a degree in optical physics, and a commission as a pilot, pleasing both his parents. Immediately tapped for a secret program, he was surprised during briefing to discover his father was the leader of the team who developed the Io laser, the most powerful weapon ever created.

Five years later, he sat seventh in line for launch, the six fighters’ ahead of him escorting his ship outfitted with the Io laser to the rendezvous point. There they would join the fleet, in battle against the Dovan, a slaver race intent on the invasion of Earth and destroy their ships.

He listened as the countdown to launch commenced, then the voice of his mother, admiral of the fleet wishing them success. As his ship catapulted from the flight bay, Liam tucked the prism into his pocket.

“Thanks, Sir Isaac, we couldn’t defend Earth without you.”


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