This is a story for a Terribleminds Flash Fiction Challenge.

The challenge was to use three random elements to write a story.
These are the elements I got:

Subgenre: Conspiracy Fiction
Setting: An underwater alien ship
Must Feature: One or several time-travelers

Tom had a secret, and his neck hurt.

Also, he didn’t know what the secret was.

His back hurt too, but that wasn’t the secret. Those around him on the vessel could deduce this from the way he kept shifting uncomfortably in his seat. A 2 meter frame was not built for long hours of travel folded into a tight seat. Especially not when the seat had been built by the less than vertically enhanced Monterati. He shifted again trying to find a comfortable position.

He failed and sighed.

Three years in Atella Prime and he’d never had the fortune to travel on one of the long sleek craft before. Tickets were way too pricey for someone like him.The ship was a marvel though. Everything was curved and glistening. The walls were seamless, the lighting ambient, the portholes so clear it felt like nothing held back the green press of ocean beyond them. The small ear flapped people certainly knew their business when it came to putting together an amazing vehicle. He only wished he travelled in different circumstances now and could enjoy the trip.

He was not enjoying it at all.

Someone sat down beside him.

He jumped and twisted his head in a way his neck didn’t appreciate. He was expecting to see black. He saw white instead.

The figure was a woman in some sort of jumpsuit. She was smiling at him in spite of what he was sure had to be a more than slightly crazed expression on his face.

“Hello, Tom,” she said.

Tom swallowed and licked his lips. Maybe they didn’t all wear black.

“Uh, hello,” he said.

“Tom, you don’t know me, but I’ve got to cut to the chase. We don’t have much time,” she said.

He swallowed again. Docking wasn’t for another two hours.

“Background. You’re Tom Silty. Age 23. You work in a maintenance crew on deck three of Atella Prime. You live in bloc 4, second level, room 15.”

Alarm bells were banging the inside of his forehead. He wanted to run but there was no where to go.
“Three days ago, your crew found a bottle. A bottle with a message inside. Two days ago your crew member Hank Thompson disappeared. Yesterday Bill Wellin didn’t show up for work. This morning you saw figures in black waiting outside your apartment bloc, put two and two together, and jumped on the next ship off globe. How I’m doing so far?”

The temperature in the cabin seemed to have gone up dramatically in the space of a few sentences. Wild unspoken fears were one thing. Even if they led him to dump all of his savings into a ticket he couldn’t afford, but this was the cold slap of reality across his stubbly cheek.

“I’ll take that look as a ‘doing pretty well, please continue.’ I know you read that message, Tom. I need to know what it contained.”

He could still picture the shimmering glyphs in the flickering light of the maintenance shaft.

Maybe she was bluffing, he should keep his mouth shut and not say anything.

“It was gibberish,” he heard himself say. So much for that idea.

She blinked.

“It was just a few lines, they didn’t make any sense,” he said weakly.

“I’d like to hear them anyway,” she said.

“Why?” he asked rather more hotly than he probably should have.

“Because you’re going to die soon,” she replied flatly.

Tom’s brain depressurized. This was it. How was this happening to him? How had his boring life in maintenance led to such a completely impossible situation. He certainly shouldn’t have wished for a more exciting life, that was for sure.

“I’m not going to kill you, Tom, but in seven minutes the ship is going suffer a critical failure of its port engine. The hull will breach and the ship will go down. There will be no survivors. The message in that bottle will go down with you unless you tell me what you read.”

The panic gauge ratcheted up another notch before logic jammed the gears.

“What will it matter? You’ll die to.”

“I’ve got a way out. The message, Tom, please.”

Confusion pinged back and forth between his ears.

“Then take me with you.”

“Doesn’t work that way, Tom. I only came here for the message. I can’t take anything else back with me.” She bit off the last word like it had slipped out.

Tom’s eyes went wide as sanity crumbled with reality around him.

“Look I’m sorry, Tom. I really am. I can’t save you, or these other people. Their deaths are on the heads of those darkly dressed fellows you saw on Prime. That’s already in motion and I can’t stop it. If you’ll tell me I can take that message back. We think it will do some good, and will probably save a lot of lives. Maybe stop a war even.

“I don’t have time to explain it all, but will you tell me? Time’s running short.”

Her eyes never left his face, but something on her jumpsuit lit up over her heart. It looked suspiciously like a warning signal. A drop of sweat ran down her cheek.

Tom swallowed again. This was insane. This couldn’t be happening. Not to boring him.

Somehow it was though. Somehow he believed her. This didn’t make any sense but he did.

He told her. He repeated every stupid, nonsense word.

She frowned as he spoke, but smiled as he finished.

“Thank you, Tom,” she said. “More than you know.”

She vanished. Just like that. It didn’t really phase Tom, not after everything else. He actually laughed.

His neck still hurt, but he didn’t have a secret any more. Somehow that felt better than it should. He felt lighter. His mind drifted.

Somewhere far away he heard the sound of rushing water. He hoped what he’d told her did make a difference.