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2023 Aurora Award Short Story Winner!

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The Adventures of Flick Gibson, Intergalactic Videographer


By Peter G. Reynolds

Full story below, 10-minute read

        “Come on, Flick. It's an easy gig.” Tripod signaled the waitress, who brought over two more drinks.
       “I'm really in a bind here. I need someone good. Someone who knows how to handle themselves under pressure.”
       I leaned back against the faux-leather booth. We were too far beyond the Rim for the real thing of course, and Tripod was too cheap to bring me to a place that could afford to import it. “I thought you said this was an easy gig.”
       “It is. It's just, you know, these things can get intense.”
       “Yeah. That's why I don't shoot weddings.”
       But Tripod never took no for an answer. He wasn't the only one-armed soundman I knew, but he was definitely the most persistent.
       I’m a videographer. I shoot conferences and tradeshows. Sure, sometimes I’d call myself a cinematographer to get laid. But deep down I knew I was just a shooter, a camera op, a shot jockey-more comfortable shooting workshops than weddings.
       It took four more rounds of whiskey sours, but eventually, he twisted my arm. It actually did sound like a pretty sweet gig. A princess on Noolia Prime was getting married to some prince from Noolia Alpha. Both planets had been fighting for centuries on which came first, and this union was supposed to settle all that.
       Tripod winked at the waitress, who, surprisingly, smiled back. He was a grinder, just like me. Old-school production crew. Living paycheck to paycheck out here beyond the Rim. Or at least he used to be. His clothes and coifed hair told a different story.
       “But wouldn't they want to use a local crew?” I asked.
       Tripod shook his head. “No. These fuckers are paranoid, so the wedding is being held at a neutral location and the whole peace-treaty is being brokered by the Coherence.”
       I nearly choked on my drink. “I hate that name. What happened to the Federation?”
       “New government, new name. It could have been a lot worse. I heard their second choice was the Consanguinity.”
       This time I did choke on my drink, the resulting coughing fit propelling an ice cube directly into Tripod’s good eye. Totally worth it though.

       The wedding was being held in secret, so the ceremony would be a small affair on a Feder… Coherence space station that orbited between the two planets. Once the treaty had been signed and hostilities ceased, there would be a more formal wedding on each planet. The Noolians just needed us humans to record and witness it for posterity.
       I arrived two days before the big event on a military transport. Plenty of time to scout the location. It was a rougher ride than expected, some gobbledygook about twin planet gravitational forces, and I got bounced around pretty badly despite the restraints. Luckily my video camera had a magnetize feature, great for connecting to any metal surface and getting that perfect angle. It sat securely at my feet.
       A holographic viewscreen showed just what I was flying into. Hundreds of teardrop shaped Noolian Battlecruisers hung in space around the station. It was no surprise they were called The Weeping Fleet. If this wedding didn’t go well, there would be plenty of tears shed on both sides.
       Tripod greeted me at the airlock when we docked. He was bathed in sweat. “Grab your gear and let's go. The wedding has been pushed up!”
       “What? I thought it wasn't till Thursday?”
       I swung my camera bag over my shoulder and ran to catch up with Tripod. He was already sprinting down the corridor, his footfalls echoing off the metal bulkheads.
       “Hold up a sec. What do you mean 'pushed up?”
       Tripod didn't slow down. “It's happening in a half-hour. Peace talks broke down, and they want to get this wedding done before all hell breaks loose.”
       The corridor suddenly glowed red as alarm bells started to chime.
       “What the fuck is that?” I shouted over the sound.
       “Noolian battleships moving into position.”
       “Prime or Alpha?”
       “Both. They want their prince and princess back.”
       “Then why the hell don't we give them back?”
       “They don't want to go.”
       “They're in love.”

       I ran after Tripod through a maze of corridors and anti-grav lifts. Within minutes I was utterly lost. My breathing labored. My heart pounded in my ears. 
       “You...never...said...there’” I managed between strained inhales.
       Tripod ignored me, probably too busy following some invisible map on his ocular server. One of the advantages of implants.
       “Get ready, Flick. We might have to roll the second we get in there. Maybe the second before.”
       Without breaking stride, I pulled my video camera from my bag. I didn't even need to look at the controls to get it set up. Space stations tend to have universal lighting, so a practiced eye told me the white balance and exposure. I considered going a little artsy with a shallow depth of field but thought screw it, better to get everything in focus for these guys. Within 30 seconds, it was on my shoulder, and I was ready to roll.
       Full auto is for amateurs. Go manual or go home, I always say.
       The alarms eventually subsided as we reached the stations’ chapel. The first thing I noticed was the bride, groom and entire wedding party were only 30 centimetres tall. They immediately reminded me of the garden gnomes my grandfather had guarding his tomatoes on Betelgeuse V; although those were less intergalactic-war-mongery.
       Yes, I probably should have read the brief Tripod sent, but who has the time? It’s a wedding. How different could it be?
       Tripod dropped to his knees and began a complex series of twists and turns with his hand. I thought he might be having a stroke, so I grabbed him by the arm and hauled him to his feet. It was only then that I noticed the priest, the Coherence Ambassador; in fact, all the humans in the room were also on their knees.
       “Sorry, folks. Didn't have a chance to read the brief.”
       From the Noolians' reaction, you would have thought I mocked their god, their traditions and the size of their male's sexual organs.
       Turns out, I kind of did.
       The Noolian princess burst into tears and ran from the chapel. Her father roared with anger and ordered his guards to bar the doors, trapping everyone inside.
       “Infidels! You shall all pay for ruining this most auspicious day. Your actions have insulted the honour of two families, destroyed a fragile peace and threatened the lives of innocent millions. For that, you all shall die!”
       Tripod stared at me and mouthed, “You faxing idiot.” Or at least that’s what it looked like.
       The Coherence Ambassador crawled forward on his knees and with an elaborate hand gesture said, “I'm terribly sorry, your Worship. On behalf of the Coherence, let me offer my sincerest apology.”
       The Noolian pulled out a small device from his tunic and fired. The Ambassador vanished in a puff of static, leaving only his expression of disbelief hanging in the air.
       “Apology accepted, Ambassador.”
       He then turned to look directly at me. “Any other apologies?”
       I shook my head. This is why I don't shoot weddings.
       That may have been the last thought to ever cross my mind, if the room hadn't suddenly shaken violently, knocking everyone to the floor.
       “Tripod! Let's get out…”
       But Tripod didn't need any encouragement. He was already on his feet and running for the door. Camera in-hand, I followed as quickly as I could. Twelve Noolian honour guards tried to stop the soundman, but they were only 30 centimetres tall. He grabbed the first and threw him at the others who, save one, went down in a heap. I knocked the last one down as I passed, picking up our spare.
       We ran down the corridor while an emergency message repeated endlessly.
       “Attention please. Attention. Damage detected in sections Alpha and Gamma. It is highly recommended that all crew evacuate the station immediately. I repeat…”
       The corridor shook again as we got to the grav-lift. Tripod punched the button so violently I thought the panel might break.
       “So, do I invoice you or the Noolians directly?”
       “What?!” Tripod looked like a vein was about to pop in his head.
       “Who do I invoice? I like to get that admin stuff done right after, so I don't have to wait. Kill it and bill it as they say.”
       “Can we discuss this after?”
       “Hmm… You know, I'll just invoice the Coherence. The Noolians will probably be in the middle of a civil war, and who knows if you'll make it out.”
       Tripod continued to press the down button rapidly. “Oh, I'll make it. If only to make sure you're blacklisted from any legitimate gig in the sector.”
       “Blacklisted? For what?”
       The doors whooshed open and we got in. Tripod turned to me, but was staring into the middle distance, eyes moving back and forth. I pushed his nose with my finger, breaking his concentration.  “Well, don’t keep me in suspense, what’s happening?”
       Tripod blinked several times and his ocular implant projected the newsfeeds in front of us. It was crazy. Hundreds of overlapping reports from outlets across the sector. The peace talks were over. Both sides condemning the other for sabotaging them.
       He switched to a live cast. The instantly familiar face of gelatinous reporter Zev Zaron filled the screen. “Sources close to the throne report that the bride and groom are missing and presumed dead.”
       “Why would the Noolians kill them?” I asked, my eyebrows frozen in place high on my brow.
       “Not the Noolians. It was…” Tripod waved a finger at the screen of newsfeeds. “Fucking pay portal. Hang on a sec. More finger waving. “Shit. They're blaming the Coherence. A plot to plunge the system into civil war so they can stabilize the region.”
       Another explosion and the grav-lift stopped. Emergency lights came on, and together we pried the doors open, halfway between floors. I crouched for the lower level, but Tripod hopped up to the higher one.
       “This way. Map says escape pods are in Section H, Level 27. Come on!”
       We didn't pass anyone. It looks like the crew had the good sense to get out at the first warning. The power was intermittent, and it took both of us to pry some of the doors open along the way. Finally, I saw the sign: ESCAPE PODS.
       The corridor, which curved to the shape of the station's outer hull, was lined on one side with round metal doors. Each door had a small window and an LED panel that glowed red. I ran to the first one and looked in the window but found nothing but stars. I checked the second. Same thing. Tripod and I ran like madmen, checking each door. All glowed red. Then, about a hundred metres from the entrance, we found one. The LED panel glowed green and inside the window was a pod.
       Tripod tapped on the panel, and the pod door opened.
       “Flick, check to see if there's anyone's coming. We don't want to leave someone behind.”
       I quickly checked around the curve of the corridor. There was no one. I turned back around just as the pod doors closed, Tripod staring at me through the glass from the inside.
       I banged on the doors, “What the hell? Tripod, let me in!”
       He shook his head. “Next time READ THE FUCKING BRIEF.”
       He pulled the release lever down, and the pod ejected into space.

       I bolted down the corridor looking for another pod, but row after row had all been launched.
       Then in the distance, two people were running down the corridor towards me. They were either impossibly far away or running incredibly slowly. Then I saw the most beautiful thing in the world: a glowing green LED panel. I swear if I could marry it, I would have.
       Fun fact: Turns out on Hogan’s World, it’s actually legal to marry an LED panel, but not an LCD for some reason.
       I got to the escape pod door and looked down the corridor. The people were moving too slowly. I couldn’t wait for them. I placed my video camera on the floor and started to key in the code.
       Then the bulkhead imploded.
       It wasn't a large hole, and it was over a hundred metres away, but that's the thing about the vacuum of space, it doesn't need much. The sound was like a hurricane as oxygen from the station poured into space. I was pulled off my feet and began sliding towards my untimely death.
       They say when death approaches, time slows and your life flashes before your eyes. Well, in that moment, time did slow, to around 1 frame per second, and my life did flash before my eyes. It wasn’t a particularly impressive life, but there was one constant that had seen me though it all. She had clothed me, fed me, and put a roof over my head. She was the only one in my life I could truly count on.
       My video camera.
       My camera instantly secured itself to the floor. I hung on to it with everything I had. I heard a scream and saw the two people sliding along the floor towards me, holding each other in what was surely a final embrace. I reached out my hand, knowing they would probably pull me to my own death.
       A tiny hand grabbed my finger. It was the nearlyweds! Clinging on for dear life.
       The bride, or was it the groom? I don't want to sound like a speciesist, but it was kind of difficult to tell them apart. In any case, one of them climbed over me and tapped on the LED panel. The door opened and the two of them jumped inside.
       I hooked my legs under the door and shouted, “Demagnetize”, and both myself and my camera fell into the pod. The door closed automatically. I pulled the handle and ejected us into space.

       The three of us sat there, tumbling through the great void. There was nothing we could do. I activated the holo-feed, and we watched helplessly as Noolia Prime and Noolia Alpha declared war on each other. They deployed their battleships around each other’s planet, weapons fully charged. The Coherence wasn't any help. They ordered all their ships and citizens out of the system.
       “We have to do something.” said (the bride?). “Our worlds are tearing each other apart.”
       “But what can we do?” said (the groom?). “We're trapped in this escape pod.”
       The two Noolians hugged each other fiercely, their large heads gently caressing each other in a way that made me feel uncomfortable, like I was intruding on a very private moment. I was about to look away when their heads began to glow, first one, then the other. Dimly to start, but growing in intensity, like an idea was being conceived and nurtured between them. Then they both shouted in unison, words giving birth to their idea.
       Then their enthusiasm dimmed and so did their glow. “But there's no priest, no sacred wine, no hand dance of the C'Tal. How can we get married?”
       I cleared my throat. “I think I can help you with two of those things.”
       The alcohol wasn't a problem, and they didn't have the option of being fussy. I was onequarter alcoholic on my mother's side, and my flask was never empty or too far away. I unscrewed the cap and poured a little in it.
       Next was the priest. A quick call to Wed-A-Tron solved that problem. Five years and I still had their stupid jingle in my head. If you want to get married right away, call Wed-A-Tron without delay!
       The last part was a little more challenging. The hand dance of C'Tal was a series of incredibly complex gestures that I had to learn. Tradition stated that everyone present at the ceremony had to participate, and that it was the Noolian bride's duty to instruct them. She was a patient teacher.
       I secured my camera to one of the pod's seats and set up the shot. I decided, in the end, to go with a shallow depth of field. It was a wedding, after all. There was also a sweet lens flare coming through the window. I wasn't sure if it was from the Noolian sun or phase disrupter cannons–but I thought it best not to think about it.
       The rushed version of the ceremony took about 15 minutes, which I recorded and did a fast in-camera edit. I then transmitted it on a wide, subspace band, using both the prince and princess's communication codes. Then the waiting began.
       It didn't take long. The news feeds were the first to report on it. Then came a message from both royal families calling for a cease-fire.
       “We've done it!” the newlyweds said in unison, holding each other in a passionate embrace.
       I smiled.
       “But there's just one thing,” said the bride.
       “What's that?” asked the groom.
       “I don't like how my hair looked in the video. Can we reshoot it, Mr. Gibson?”
       Sigh. This is why I don't shoot weddings.

The End

I hope you enjoyed the story.


Peter G. Reynolds is filmmaker and cinematographer by day and a writer by night. In addition to science fiction and fantasy short stories, Peter has also written Lost Hallway: Where Do Lost Things Go, a children’s picture book, and Stitches in Time Travel, a middle-grade novella. He’s been called Canada’s Dr. Seuss and can currently be heard on the children’s short story podcast, Musings and Other Nonsense, which he writes and hosts.

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