Nobody thinks they will die alone.
Especially in an underground bomb shelter on an abandoned dwarf-planet. I doubt the people who built this concrete safe house knew they were building an over-sized coffin. Nobody thinks they are building coffins. Nobody except coffin makers of course. But not airplane designers or cruise ship manufacturers. Or space station engineers or Infinity Spacecraft ejection seat developers.
Nobody thinks their brother will leave them on the other side of the galaxy either. Especially deep in enemy territory.
Memories surface of seeing the inside of a locked closet door. It was his way of making me leave him and his friends alone. Teenage brothers don’t care much for elementary sisters. But never in those adolescent years did I think he was capable of leaving me on the other side of this damned universe.
I knew I was in trouble when I heard that brother say, “All fighters return to the ship immediately. We’re...making a tactical maneuver.”
“Yeah...I’m going to be a minute,” I replied. “I’ve got two ringers following me pretty close. If you send help I’ll be there in a jiffy, Donnie...er Captain Charleston.”
I knew he wasn’t going to send a support ship. As soon as he made the surrender command those tail between their legs pilots peeled their ships off the main line like a flock of birds playing the wind.
“Negative First Pilot Charleston,” my brother said. “You broke protocol. Your orders were to stay with your squadron in sector E98-F. You’re too deep in enemy territory. And they are sending back-up from their bases on the surrounding dwarf planets. Lose those ringers and report to the ship immediately.”
“Aye Aye Captain Cold Ass,” I said with my communicator switched off.
I could still see the main ship on the opposite coastline. But I found myself on the wrong side of the enemy brigade. My situation escalated. Their entire fleet focused on the only foreign ship still deployed.
One hundred and fifty-eight vs. one. It was a death sentence. Or a quasi rite of passage while the mothership watched from safety.
I pulled the thrusters to full throttle with no intention of having enough fuel to return to the ship. I’d use my momentum to glide the rest of the way. I planned to make a large arch under the enemy fleet as fast as I could. Something like the movement of a swing on the playground.
In space it is less comfortable to fly downward than it is to fly upward. A pilot has full view of what is above, but there is a natural blind-spot under every ship. I planned to exploit that blind-spot and be full speed past the fleet before they knew what happened.
I was halfway through the Dead Sea of destroyers before twin light beams struck my ship’s nose and left engine. Control HUD; disabled. Power-assisted maneuvering; disabled. Left thruster; disabled. And the big winner: communications; disabled.
Real fighting in space is not like it was in those old timey space movies. Those ships used to take serious damage and still be able to escape at light-speed. I am lucky to be alive after two hits. Most of the time it only takes one hit and your airlock gets a hairline crack and your cockpit depressurizes. This all happens in matter of seconds. It’s quick and painless.
I was descending deeper and slower than I intended. I had a clear line of sight to the Infinity Mothership. I shifted my eyes toward the picture of Kristos and grasped the engagement ring hanging from my neck. I was close. I’m coming home.
The cockpit became frigid without warning. A burst of light like open curtains after a restless night flashed for a half-second. That was the first time I wished those ringers had better aim. The ship was gone. Mother had abandoned me. As if the odds of my survival were impossible before, now I was alone with the enemy ships. My ship was in worse condition than when I started. There was only one thing I could do.
I did a braking barrel roll to slow down just seconds after the renegade mothership gave me the galactic middle finger. This gave me time to position the bottom of my ship toward the enemy fleet and the top of my head toward the endless abyss. Ejection sequence complete.
Ejector cockpits in small fighter space ships are a new implementation. After all, the idea of ejecting out of something is to eject from something dangerous and use a parachute to float to safety. But in space there is nowhere to float to safety. So I ejected from a fledgling ship with a marred wing and became a clay pigeon on an interstellar skeet shooting range.
Ejector cockpits are constructed of a glass-quartz composite. This conceals my heat signature. My oval home looked like space junk to a ship’s scanner. After I had floated for awhile I could no longer see any ringers. I couldn’t see anything. The adrenaline wore off. I fell into an exhaustion induced sleep.
It didn’t last long.
The problem with space is that once you start moving you don’t stop moving. This includes a cock-eyed three hundred and sixty degree slow turn every ninety seconds or so. I guess I wasn’t completely rotated when I ejected. This sent me hurtling through space inside a bowling ball on an infinite alley. And when I say hurtling I actually mean hurling.
After the third bout of motion sickness there wasn’t any lunch left to lose. I passed out from exhaustion again.
A fist of mid-digested space lunch woke me with an uppercut to the face.
I felt better. I took the opportunity to turn on the auxiliary glolamp and clean up a little. Who knows know how long I’d be living in this shot glass apartment and my mom always taught me not to leave my space puke floating around.
I managed to get most of it into one sock. I used the other sock for the shit.
I did have rations. Two days of food and five days of water. The only way I could define a day was by checking my watch. I tried to not eat as long as I could. My main concern was my oxygen supply. Since my HUD refused to function there was no way to know how long until I choked to death. I tried to stabilize my breathing and limit my talking.
“Damn it Donnie. Damn you.”
I have never been good with limitations.
“What did I do to you? How could you leave one of your people to die? What about all those damn ‘this squadron is a family’ speeches from training camp? Shit Donnie, we are family. It was all a damned lie. Family doesn’t leave family to die. Big brothers protect little sisters.” I thought that was all.
“And just when I found someone who loves me. Someone who chooses to forget my past. Someone who would do anything for me.”
My eyes focused on the photo of my first love.
“I need that. I need you. I’m coming home Kristos.”
I kissed the photo paper and switched off the glolamp.
The new plan was to wait until I had visuals on a planet. Then use my thrusters to adjust my trajectory to enter that planet’s gravitational pull and parachute to the surface.
But the spinning.
I had slept roughly nineteen times at this point. It had been about fifteen days Earth time. The rations felt like dumbbells as I brought them to my mouth. It wasn’t just the lack of energy. The spinning and sensory deprivation that the void brings had begun to scramble my mind.
I had done over fourteen thousand rotations since I last saw any form of life. I knew that I could use the thrusters to stop the spinning, but the reward was not worth the risk of running out of fuel.
At least I wasn’t just floating through this void in just a space suit. The cockpit seemed to expand as I learned to use the space. I had a decent range of motion in the top half of my body. And I could scratch my nose if I got an itch or clean the vomit off of my mouth.
Or wipe the tears from my eyes.
Sometimes I had Earth dreams and sometimes I had Space dreams. Even the most mundane dreams, like picking out a car, are rejuvenating. Being able to put feet on the ground and walk and talk to Kristos is like fantasy. Dreams about leaves falling and rain soaking through clothes is pure bliss. There is no weather in space. There are no seasons. There are only nightmares.
The space dreams are nightmares.
Encountering an enemy ship and the blasters malfunction. Coming into the airlock but forgetting the correct sequence to seal it tight. Forgetting to triple check the tether and floating off into space. Having your crew leave you and ejecting into the void.
That one is the worst. And most frequent.
But when I woke up on the sixteenth or seventeenth day, the space dreams stopped.
From my glass shack there is no way of knowing who owns this planet, friend or foe, but I don’t have any other options. The good news is that I am heading in its direction. The bad news is that if I use my thrusters too soon or too late, I will miss the planet completely. But the other good news is that I don’t need a direct hit. I just need to get into the gravitational sphere surrounding the planet and it will pull me in. I guessed it would take about a day to get to the planet.
Correction: it took 39 hours before I was close enough to make my maneuver. With no heads up display, there was no way of knowing how fast I was going. There is no way I could risk sleeping too long and missing my opportunity.
It’s not difficult to get caught inside of a planet’s gravitational pull. It’s something like gym class. If you show up, you pass. You just have to make sure you’re there, and the gravity will do the rest.
Even after the invisible planetary net captured me there was no resting. I would have to wait until I was through the atmosphere and then self deploy my parachute. That is assuming there is an atmosphere. Then I had to make sure I was safe. Then I had to find shelter. Then I could rest.
I passed through the atmosphere without any problems. There were no fires inside the cabin or alarms going off. The cockpit was designed for re-entry. And my parachute deployed as planned, albeit a little early. Well, way too early. I was hovering for over an hour. But that could have saved my life.
When I reached solid ground I landed with a hollow thump. The lack of a welcoming party was both relieving and disappointing. Nobody tried to kill me. Nobody tried to save me either. There was just nobody. But there were trees.
Trees mean life. And oxygen. I put my helmet on and reached outside of my glass house and tested the air with my suit. Eureka!
Next order of business; sleep.
That thump. What did I land on?
My life support chamber had come to a sliding stop in an open field. I had agitated the dirt on my landing, and there was a large slab of concrete exposed in my wake. It didn’t take long for me to search around and find a metal submarine hatch.
Every step down the ladder brought more darkness; like the Sun was on a dimmer switch. I stumbled around on the floor before finding something soft. I fell asleep without hesitation.
When I woke, I thought I should cover the exposed concrete just in case someone did come upon my ship. I also grabbed my helmet and used it’s light to navigate the bomb shelter. It appeared that this shelter had never housed an occupant. The rations were in order and the power came on without hesitation. I ate and slept and recovered for a few weeks until I regained my strength.
Then I decided to write this letter. I’m leaving this bunker to start my trip back to Earth. My birthday is coming up on the third. That is my target departure date if I can get my supplies ready. I feel strong again. It is time to go. I need to see Kristos again. And, I don’t want to wait around here and make coffin builders out of the fine people who made this bomb shelter.
I’m coming to see you Kristos. And even you Donnie.
First Pilot Kate Charleston
A ship had tracked the ejected cockpit as it floated across the galaxy. The ship landed and a man not in uniform sprinted toward the grounded cockpit. He found nothing. The search party surveyed the entire area. A first officer found the submarine hatch. The man who left the ship first was also the first to enter the hatch. He read the letter.
“She’s alive. We have to keep looking. Donnie, what is today’s date?”
“June sixth, Kristos."