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 oversized 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 being locked in the closet so I would leave him and his friends alone. Teenage brothers don't care much for elementary sisters. But never in those adolescent years did I think that he was capable of leaving me on the other side of this Godforsaken 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, Ferris...er Captain Klesia."
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. Not to mention...
"Negative First Pilot Klesia," my brother said. "You broke protocol. Your orders were to stay with your squadron in sector E983-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 Ice Heart," I said with my communicator switched off.
I could see the main ship on the opposite coastline, but since every other Infinity Spacecraft pilot had retreated, that left me on the wrong side of the enemy brigade. Now, instead of having to lose two ringers, their entire fleet was 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 mother ship simply watched from safety.
I pulled the thrusters to full throttle with all intentions of burning through every ounce of fuel before returning 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 forward momentum of being in 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.
But, since I am biased to my own abilities, I'd say I was over halfway through the Dead Sea of destroyers before twin light beams struck my ship's nose and left engine simultaneously. 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. Usually one hit and your airlock gets a hairline crack and your cockpit depressurizes and game over. Fortunately for the pilot this all happens in matter of seconds. It's quick and painless.
Descending deeper than I intended, and now slower with only one thruster, 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.
Without warning, the cockpit became frigid. 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 literally alone with the enemy ships, and my own ship was in worse condition than when I started. There was only one thing that I could do.
I hit the ejection sequence.
Ejector cockpits in small fighter space ships are a relatively new implementation. After all, the idea of ejecting out of something is to eject from something dangerous and then use a parachute to float to safety. But in space there is nowhere to float down to safety. So I ejected from something dangerous, a fledgling ship with a marred wing, to a more dangerous situation; becoming a clay pigeon on an interstellar skeet shooting range.
I'm glad that ejection cockpits on fighter space ships have more features than their predecessors. One of these features is that the cockpit is constructed of a glass-quartz composite that conceals my heat signature. My oval home looked like space junk to an enemy ship's scanner. The brilliant engineers that designed our fighters have also programmed the Infinity Spacecrafts to dismantle after the ejection has taken place.
Just seconds after the renegade mother ship gave me the galactic middle finger I did a braking barrel roll to slow down and position the bottom of my ship toward the enemy fleet and the top of my head aimed into the endless abyss. Ejection sequence complete.
Plan C or D, I can't remember at this point, worked flawlessly given the situation. And after I had floated for awhile I could no longer see any ringers; or 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. Turns out I wasn't fully rotated when I ejected; thus sending 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. I didn't 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...other stuff. 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 was damaged there was no way to know how long until I choked to death. I tried to stabilize my breathing and limit my talking.
"Seriously Ferris. Come on!"
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 'this squadron is a family' speeches from training camp? Come on, Ferris. We are family. It was all a lie. Family doesn't leave family to die. Big brothers are supposed to protect little sisters." I thought I was done.
"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 were locked 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 and then use my thrusters to slightly change my trajectory to enter that planet's gravitational pull and then parachute to the surface.
But the spinning.
I had slept roughly nineteen times at this point. I guessed it had been about fifteen days Earth time. I could barely reach rations to my mouth. It wasn't just the lack of energy. The sensory depravation that the void brings had begun to scramble my mind. And with a full rotation every ninety seconds 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.
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. Not triple checking the tether and floating off into space without anyone knowing you're gone. Being abandoned by your crew and ejecting into space.
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 was no way of knowing who owned this planet, friend or foe, but I didn't have any other options. The good news is that I was heading in its direction. The bad news is that if I used my thrusters too soon or too late, I would miss the planet completely. But the other good news is that I didn't need a direct hit. I just needed to get into the gravitational sphere surrounding the planet and it would 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 was 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 being successfully captured by the invisible planetary net, there was no resting. I would have to wait until I was through the atmosphere, assuming there was an atmosphere, and then manually deploy my parachute. 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 perfectly, albeit a little early. Well way too early. I was hovering nearly an hour. But that could have saved my life.
When I reached solid ground I landed with a hollow thump. I was relieved to find that there was nobody waiting to kill me. I was disappointed to find that there was nobody waiting to save me. There was just nobody. But there were trees.
Trees mean life. And possibly oxygen. I put my helmet on and reached outside of my glass house and tested the air with my suit.
The last time I touched organic solid ground was after I kissed my fiancé and walked down our dirt road to get into the government standard car waiting for me.
I need to 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 briefly 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 been used. The power worked brilliantly. 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 all of my supplies ready. I feel strong again. It is time to go. I need to see Kristos again. And frankly, 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 Ferris.
Signed, First Pilot E.K. Klesia
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 until the submarine hatch was discovered. The man who left the ship first was the first to enter the hatch. He read the letter.
"She's alive. We have to keep looking. Ferris, what is today's date?"
"June sixth, Kristos."
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