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Adventure Fiction Science Fiction

“Houston. This is Starfinder. Captain Jay Thomas here. We…uhh…we’ve got a problem here.” 


Well, not quite silence, seeing as the back half of my ship is gone, along with my first mate. Cooper, my only friend on this side of the galaxy, is now lost, most of my supplies have been destroyed, and Starfinder, the one thing keeping me alive out here, has been rendered a burning, screeching, almost useless hunk of metal. But the radio has certainly never been quieter. 

“Houston, I repeat, this is Starfinder. Major problem; please advise.” 

Nothing. I turn and glance over my shoulder again. Yep, the whole cargo bay is gone, and only the forcefield that activated less than a second after the whole stern of my ship went AWOL keeps my skin from freezing and my eyes from popping out of my head.  

“Houston, you haven’t stopped talking at me since I left the sector, and now you’re giving me the cold shoulder? Real mature.” 

Ground control had said that moving into uncharted territory without backup was a dangerous move, but that had never stopped me before. I had discovered and set foot on more alien planets than any other captain in the fleet, and I certainly hadn’t managed that by following rules made up by some dim-witted desk jockey who hadn't even left orbit in 25 years. 

“Houston…” I try one last time, holding my finger down on the telecom button to my left. “Houston, come in.”  

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I look down at my control panel and realize that I’m still gripping what is undoubtedly a useless steering column. I let it go and stretch the fingers of my right hand. I’d been holding on tight. I watch a small bolt float gently in the air in front of my eyes and bounce harmlessly off the side of what was left of my cockpit. The gravity replicator is down. I’d probably be floating somewhere around wherever Cooper is now if I weren’t strapped so tightly to my seat.

Poor Coop; he hated space. He’d hated it from the moment we did our first space walk simulation at the academy. While the rest of our classmates and I had been joyfully floating around in a frighteningly realistic recreation of the vacuum of space, Coop had held onto the ground for dear life until he lost his grip and floated towards the ceiling, violently filling his helmet with puke. He had vowed never to feel the icy grip of real space, but even he couldn’t keep that promise when I had begged him to come on my next mission with me. 

“First contact,” he’d said, his eyes bulging out of his head. “No way…”  

“I need a navigator, dude.” When he didn’t say anything, I continued, “Let’s make history together!” 

Coop had carefully looked me over for what seemed like an eternity before he replied. 

“Fine. But no spacesuits!”

No spacesuits. Again, I look over my shoulder to where the cargo bay used to be. No spacesuits isn’t going to be a problem anymore. I take a quick look around my cockpit, making a mental list of what few supplies I have left. A first-aid kit under my seat, complete with a small, portable breathing apparatus. Not good for space, but if I manage to get to a planet or a moon with an unbreathable atmosphere I will have about two hours to check out the place before I suffocate. A tool kit: mostly just screwdrivers and wrenches, with a laser welder and duct tape, nothing that’s going to fix this ship. And two small freeze-dried dinner pouches. Coop and I were just about to eat dinner when the asteroid struck. He’d gone to get the salt.

“Computer, what’s the structural integrity of the ship looking like?” 

A small light flickers on the dash of the control panel as a mechanical voice speaks back to me through two small speakers above my head. Thankfully they are still in working order. 

“The forcefield is operating at 90 percent capacity, oxygen depletion is negligible. Left engine is non-operational…”

“Obviously…” I say under my breath. The computer continues.

“Right engine is non-operational. The hull of the ship has sustained extensive damage. Left and right cruising boosters are leaking fuel, but are 50 percent operational. Navigation systems remain online.” 

The cruising boosters; that might just be my ticket out of here. 

“Computer,” I ask again, “What is the closest planet with an atmosphere? Preferably something I can breathe.” 

“The closest known planet to your location is Reuben-8. The atmosphere is 89 percent nitrogen, seven percent hydrogen, and…” 

“Next!” I yell out, now looking down at my ship’s dash, trying to figure out just how much fuel I have left before I permanently turn into a floating piece of debris.

“The second closest planet is Charles-1. Its atmosphere is 65 percent oxygen, 23 percent carbon dioxide, and 11 percent hydrogen.” 

Oxygen at 65 percent is a bit rich for my blood, but beggars can’t be choosers. 

“What’s the sun? Is it in the habitable zone?” 

“Charles-1 lies just outside of the current habitable zone of its Red Dwarf star.” 

“Good enough for me. Chart a course and use the cruise boosters to point us in the right direction. Fire them every 15 minutes to keep us on track. How long until we get there at that rate?” 

“With remaining fuel reserves we will fall into the orbit of Charles-1 in just over 30 hours,” the computer replies. 

“Yeesh,” I say, looking down at my navigation panel again. “Looks like the best chance we’ve got. Punch it.” 

A small, hissing sound begins to fill the cockpit, and after a few seconds of terror, the boosters kick on, their power pushing me back into my seat. The nose of the dilapidated Starfinder lifts up and drifts to the left. Ahead of me, a sun in the distance. Thank god for the sunshield view screen. If I’d been looking at that through glass, my retinas would already have been fried. 

“Boosters engaged in five…four…three…two…one.” The computer counts down, and the ship begins to move. I watch the emptiness before me for a minute before I flick off the view screen and plunge myself into semi-darkness, the lights of the control panel in front of me and the stars shining through the forcefield behind me glowing like thousands of tiny little nightlights. After a minute or two of adjusting to the darkness, I reach out and snag the two floating freeze-dried dinners Coop had grabbed for us just before the crash. Braised short rib with fingerling potatoes for me and a steak, medium well with mushrooms, for him. Astronaut food has come a long way. I let go of the short rib and watch it drift slowly away as I rip off the corner of the steak and mushrooms, the one I had wanted before an ill-fated game of rock, paper, scissors. I grab a bottle of water that is jammed between a console and the arm of my chair and squeeze out a spherical orb that floats in front of me. I carefully coax the orb into position, line it up, and catch it in the bag. Then I carefully fold over the edges of the bag and give it a vigorous shake, feeling the contents swell in size as heat radiates from its sides. After a couple of more minutes, when the bag seems just about ready to burst, I hold it as far away from my face as I can and unfold the edges. 

Steam pours from the bag and gently tickles my fingers. I know from experience you don’t dive right into one of these meals unless you never want to feel the roof of your mouth again, so as I wait for it to cool I return my attention to the navigation screen. Looking back through the log I find the planet that Coop and I had been heading to before disaster struck: Gambino-2, an oxygen-rich planet with a large civilization of humanoid inhabitants and technology only a few years behind us. They had been chosen to be the first extraterrestrials with whom humanity would make contact; that is, until I decided to duck into sector 8 for a little shortcut and got blasted out of the sky. Man, Gambino-2 doesn’t even know what they are missing. 

I grab my dinner and, realizing that my fork has most certainly floated away, I reach into the bag and pull out a piece of steak with my fingers. A soggy, gray mushroom clings to it desperately as I try to shake it off back into the bag, but instead it just floats away towards the view screen. I pop the steak in my mouth and start to chew, but it mostly dissolves like a paste. Okay, so maybe it hasn’t improved that much. I eat slowly, not only because it doesn’t taste that good but also because I don’t have much more food than this, and I might want to save the short rib for the landing party. I mostly avoid the mushrooms, telling myself I should save them for breakfast. 

After a while, I turn my chair around and stare out the missing end of my ship into the infinite blackness of space. Even when it was trying to kill me I still couldn’t help but marvel at it, just as I did when I was a kid. I can’t see the constellations from here, but I can still picture them perfectly even though it has been so long since I have been home. Again, my thoughts turn to Cooper, and I slowly drift off to sleep. 

When I wake up it is to screaming alarm bells and bright flashing lights behind me. My eyes snap open and I realize I am still facing the wide-open back end of my ship. Still lost in the stars. I spin my chair around and look down at the navigational screen. 

“Computer,” I yell, “Report.” 

“Oxygen levels dangerously low. Booster fuel empty. Collision imminent.” 

“Collision imminent?” I scream. “Turn on the view screen!” 

The view screen springs to life, bringing me face to face with a giant planet. I can see blue water and beyond that the green of a vast forest, stretching as far as eyes can see. 

“Prepare for impact,” I yell to my crewless ship. “Computer, put the forcefield at 100 percent, anything to soften the blow.”

I grab the steering column, and despite that it is attached to very little anymore I pull it up as hard as I can, trying desperately to level out what little remains of Starfinder. 

“Come on… Come on…” 

We’re through the atmosphere now, somehow not burning up in the process. The giant forest is growing closer. Suddenly I can hear the tops of the trees grazing along the bottom of the ship. 

“HOLD ON TIGHT!” I yell for nobody except myself. 

“Jay? Jay!” 

My mother is yelling from the back porch. She has the best timing. I turn in my seat and poke my head out of the old refrigerator box where I’d spent most of the day exploring the galaxy.

“Yeah?” I call back.

“Come and get washed up for dinner, it’s almost on the table.” 


I climb out of the box and walk towards the back of the house where my mother is waiting, holding the screen door open for me. 

“I hope you didn’t fill up on that disgusting camping food you boys like,” she says, playfully smiling at me as I walk by her. “Where’s Coop?” She scans the backyard. “I thought he was staying for pizza.”

“He was, but his mom came and dragged him home,” I reply. 

“Something about his room looking like an asteroid hit it.”

February 07, 2023 20:18

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1 comment

Mark Gagnon
01:47 Feb 16, 2023

According to Reedsy, I'm supposed to critique your story so here goes. I really liked how you kept the main character's identity hidden until the end. Using his food to tie him to the real world worked well. Overall, nicely done.


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