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 Iain Pattison 

Birmingham-based Iain Pattison is one of the UK’s experts in the craft of writing and seIling short stories. He is the author of the best-seller Cracking the Short Story Market.


A prolific short story writer and competition winner, his work has been widely published on both sides of the Atlantic, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and appeared in a raft of popular magazines including Woman, Woman’s Own, Take A Break, Chat, Woman’s Weekly, My Weekly, Writers Forum, Acclaim Magazine, and The New Writer.


His varied output covers everything from horror to humour, romance to traditional twist-ender coffee break tales. And when he’s not busy penning quirky tales, he’s a busy competition judge and creative writing tutor.


Iain is also the author of the Quintessentially Quirky Tales humour series. Check out the latest, An Ugly Way To Go, at


The internal alarm splutters as it gives up, emergency lights dipping to a flicker.

The on-board computer is diverting what’s left of the power, trying to keep life support limping on for a few more minutes.

          But I’m too relieved that the brain-slicing electronic screech has finally stopped to worry that our lives have come one step closer to ending.

          “You okay, Nathan?” I mutter, every word a struggle because of the gashes round my mouth.

          My cargo tech groans in reply. He’s critically injured, but at least he’s still breathing; still conscious. He’s a fighter.

          So is Leila, the ship’s navigations officer, but I haven’t heard a sound from her for a while. Badly charred, she was cursing and yelling earlier. Now her silence is more chilling than her pitiful cries.  Everyone else is dead – or close to it.

          I stumble about, every movement agony. I was farthest from the blast and was able to activate the fire suppressant systems before the fireball engulfed the entire ship. But I’m badly beat up, steely pain stabbing in my chest, bleeding skull throbbing relentlessly.

          Dragging myself the five excruciating feet to Nathan, I gently lift his head. He’s a mess - blood, burns, bruises and terror distorting his youthful, handsome face.

          “Christ I’m so cold, Matt,” he gasps. “Why is it so cold? I’m freezing.”

          He coughs hard, bubbles foaming on his raw lips. 

          “But, at least the pain’s stopped,” he adds hoarsely. “That’s something. That’s good isn’t it? The morphine must be working. I’ve gone numb. The pain’s disappeared.” 

          I squeeze his arm reassuringly, my heart breaking. The morphine’s effects should have worn off ages ago. Something else has dulled the feeling in Nathan’s limbs.

          A quick glance tells me all I need to know. Both his legs are crushed flat by wreckage, uniform crimson from the knees down. It’s amazing he hasn’t bled to death already.

          I seethe in rage and frustration - it’s just not fair. I’ve been on the Galactic Carrier’s inter-colony freight run for more than 20 years without serious harm but it’s the rookie’s first time out. And it will be his last. Even if we somehow survive this nightmare, Nathan will never walk again.

          He grabs my lapel.

“We’re going to die here - aren’t we, Matt?” he wheezes. “We’re screwed. All of us. Oh shit. We’re not going to get out of this.”

          Attempting a lop-sided grin, I promise: “It’s going to be okay, kid. Help’s on the way, you’ll see. We’re going to make it.”

          I hope it sounds convincing because it’s a lie. Our only chance is if someone has heard our distress signal and is close enough to reach us in less than an hour.  And the odds of that are … astronomical.

          I pray for a miracle to a God I’ve long abandoned; pray for one of the salvage tugs in the sector to come in the nick of time. Sure, we’d lose all rights on our valuable, volatile cargo - what’s left of it - and probably the ship itself, but we’d be saved.

          Yeah, I tell myself frantically. The tugs will come. We’re a precious commodity; worth a fortune to the reclamation crews. They should already be racing each other to our location. It’s the law of the space routes - first on the scene takes all the spoils.

          I break off my religious revival to check on Nathan. His eyes have closed. There’s a pulse, but weak.

          And then I hear it. A faint thump. On the outside of the hull. It can’t be! For a moment or two there is silence and I’m convinced that it was my desperate imagination playing tricks.

          Yet there it is again - another thud. Much louder. There’s someone out there. We’re going to be rescued! My God, it’s really happening!

          I’m sobbing now, laughing like a lunatic, tugging at Nathan, trying to rouse him.

          “It’s a salvage ship,” I yell. “Wake up, wake up, Nath. We’re saved. They’ve come. I told you … I told you they’d come.”

          There’s a hissing noise as the airlock seal forms and cabin pressure equalises between our two vessels. And our wonderful saviours appear - four figures in spacesuits and helmets, carrying two large medi-boxes, their light beams cutting through the smoke and darkness.

          I recognise the logo of an outfit out of Antaris Four. I know them - had a drink with the raucous roughnecks on my last shore leave just weeks ago.

          “I can’t tell you guys how good you look,” I babble as they examine our unconscious injured. “I’m going to kiss every one of your ugly, wonderful mugs!”

          They’re methodical, checking everyone with handheld medical scanners, muttering among themselves.

           I’m more deliriously happy than I can ever remember. But there’s something niggling. Why are they still wearing their helmets? 

          “Hey, the air’s good,” I explain, but they ignore me and my unease builds.

          One of the group has taken out a laser scalpel and is starting to cut through Leila’s tunic. What the hell are they playing at? They should be moving us into their sickbay, not attempting botched First Aid here.

          And what’s with the medi-boxes? Through my pain I realise that the containers with their bright red crosses are far too big for First Aid kits.

          Then it dawns on me… and my bowels  loosen.

          I’m struggling to believe my horrified eyes as the intruders carefully remove Leila’s still beating heart and pack it in ice, moving on to Nathan - taking his kidneys, liver, lungs…

          I’m screaming uncontrollably, sanity slipping away, my petrified shrieking a sickening parody of the ship’s alarm.

          Then they turn to me with the blazing scalpel.

          Now I understand what the law of the space routes truly means. The team haven’t come to help - they’ve come to harvest.

          We’re not casualties.

          We’re not human beings.        

          We’re just a commodity to be cut up and sold on.

              We’re salvage!   


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