Jase's adventure in space
Hand over hand, Jase scaled the harness straps until he swung first one leg then another over the seat’s side and drag himself in. As he untangled the straps, the acceleration ended as the rattling, roaring, crackling engines dwindled into silence.
Was he in space already? Jase’s panicked scramble seemed to last a lifetime but had been only minutes. Over the comms, a voice announced: “Boosters away. Prepare to initiate final burn.”
With a shudder, the Stardust rolled onto her side as the engines burst, once more, into their fiery tenor. The sudden acceleration tumbled Jase from his seat and for an instant, his grip on the harness straps held. He stared through the windshield at a sky gone suddenly black.
He felt the bubble of falling twist inside his guts as his grip failed and the seat fell quickly away. Then the hard, dull impact and a bright, sudden flash as the lights went out.
“Dwoop, Dwoop, Dwoop.”
Darkness faded to gray. Gray dimmed to dull red.
“Dwoop, Dwoop, Dwoop.”
Jase woke to the terrifying realization he was falling. His arms darted out and grasped ... nothing. For an instant, his breath caught as he closed his eyes awaiting impact.
When nothing happened, he opened them. The view of the pilot’s seat and the darkness beyond the windscreen swept slowly past as he rotated once more to face the rear of the ship. He wasn’t falling at all. He was weightless.
Jase checked the watch strapped to the suit. He’d been unconscious for nearly five hours?
“Dwoop, Dwoop, Dwoop.”
And where was that damn alarm coming from? Heart pounding, Jase cocked his head and considered the fleet of blue plastic splinters twisting in the air around him. Reaching out, he grabbed one. A piece of crate? Jase shot a glance to the rear of the ship. Sure enough, two of the crates had been crushed leaving behind a Jase shaped indention.
“Dwoop, Dwoop, Dwoop.”
Whatever his plans, the first order of business was turning off that alarm. Planting his feet against the crates, Jase eyed the cockpit and sprang. Halfway across, he realized his mistake. Too much force. Arms pinwheeling, he slammed into the windshield, half afraid it might shatter beneath him and dump him into space. Fortunately, he only bounded off the glass, ricocheting along the controls before becoming wedged in the narrow gap between the control panel and windscreen. Feeling like a fool, Jase snaked his way out and somewhere along the line managed to turn off the alarm with his awkward struggles. Breathless and beaded with sweat, he pushed himself free and swung into the pilot’s seat.
Jase clicked on his mic.
“Houston? Is anyone there?”
Static fizzled in his ear.
“Hello? This is Jase Hildebrand aboard the Stardust.” He glanced out the window wondering how he’d provide his location among the star-studded majesty glittering beyond the glass. The blue orb of his homeworld drifted below, and its cloud swirled moon above. He admired the view for a long while before it occurred to him no one had answered. In his briefing, he was told they would be in constant communication. If he’d been out for five hours, they might think he was dead.
“This is Jase Hildebrand,” he called again. “Can anyone hear me?”
A brief crackle over the speakers was his only reply.
“Houston, this is the Stardust. Is anybody there?”
Jase pushed off from his seat rotating slowly as he surveyed the interior. Other than some spinning debris from his encounter with the crates, everything seemed in order. He tried the radio once more.
“This is the Stardust, Houston, do you read?”
Another crackle in his headset, this time with a smattering of words. “Lord Hilde......on track …. radar contact...jammed...”
“I can hear you, Houston. What did you say?”
For minutes, Jase repeated his plea. His only answer was the crackle of static. He considered the meaning of the disjointed message. ‘On track’, sounded good. And ‘radar contact’ had to be good too. But ‘jammed’? That didn’t sound so hot. Could it be one of the controls was jammed? Jase examined the flight controls hoping he hadn’t damaged anything as he’d floundered about the cockpit. After a thorough check, it seemed nothing was broken. Besides, the ship was progressing smoothly towards her destination. He glanced around the interior and shrugged. At least it felt smooth. No, it had to be the communications. Maybe something with them was jammed. He didn’t know if starships used dishes to gather their signals, but a malfunctioning disk explained the Stardust’s communications problem.
With nothing left but to wait, Jase slipped off his helmet and gloves. He’d grown somewhat accustomed to the constant ‘butterflies-in-the-stomach’ feeling of weightlessness, and, for the moment, he’d been spared the indignity of puking.
Staring into the heavens, his sleepless nights and worrisome days weighed heavy. Despite a throbbing headache from the crash, Jase’s eyelids began to flutter and he slept. When he woke, it was with a start, the feeling of falling clenching at his gut. He hadn’t meant to sleep, but there was nothing for it now. Pushing off the ceiling, Jase drifted to the windshield. He stared out and for a moment mistook the great blue orb as Earth. Then he picked out Luna’s vast Northern plains spotted with crater lakes, and the dark green lands surrounding the cloud covered Moscoviense sea. It all seemed so close. Jase checked his watch hardly able to believe the time. He’d been asleep for twelve hours! No wonder he was so close, he was almost there.
Jase wondered if he’d know when to take control of the ship or if... The, ‘oh, crap’ of sudden realization hit him. He’d forgotten about the package.
Kicking away from the window, he swam across the room to his chair. Reaching beneath, he discovered the neatly folded paper pouch hidden beneath. When Jase crinkled open the package, a nickel-plated derringer and four gleaming cartridges rotated into the air. Tucked inside with them, he found the navigation plate.
Despite the need to hurry, Jase moved slowly plucking first one bullet out of the air then the next. He loaded the derringer and stuck it in the zippered pocket at his thigh. He stuffed the navigation plate next to it.
It was then he noticed the writing on the inside of the paper wrapping, a note from his mom.
My Dearest Jase,
Please take care. Don’t be too brave or too foolish. Texas needs her king. So does the king’s mother. I’ll pray to the Goddess every night for your safe return.
There are important details your Aunt wanted me to pass on.
First, remember to insert the program plate as soon as possible. She also advised that you stay in your seat for as much of the trip as you can stand, especially as you near Luna. There will be course changes which could bounce you around if you’re not strapped in.
We weren’t able to discover your destination though we discovered more about The Oracle. The Oracle is a person and you are to show them the ring. From what your Aunt can gather, The Oracle lives on an island in the Smythii sea. Once you find it, look to its center for the Cat’s Eye. We’re not sure what that means, but your Aunt thinks it a clue as to The Oracle’s hideout.
You are a good man, Jase Hildebrand. I’m proud to call you my son. Come back to me soon.
Despite himself, Jase blinked away the emotion pooled in his eyes. Okay, enough foolishness. Time to get down to business. Clumsily, Jase shoved off his seat and drifted to the flight console. Finding the slot for the navigation card was easy. The original program card jutted out of the panel right above the flight stick. The problem was, he couldn’t figure how to get it out. Finally, he located the card’s eject button on the underside of the flight panel halfway between the pilot and co-pilot. Why in God’s name, they put it there, he couldn’t imagine. Jase pressed the stud, and with an audible ‘click’ the old card floated out.
As Jase inserted the new flight plans, he heard a muffled clank vibrate from the rear of the ship. He guessed the engines would be firing up soon. Which meant he needed to be strapped in pretty damn quick. Jase rubbed at the lump on the back of his head not relishing the idea of another lesson on the conservation of momentum. Glancing around, he wondered where his helmet and gloves had floated off to?
After corralling his wayward gear, Jase found his way to the pilot’s seat and buckled in. How long until the engines fired? Another loud clank and the scraping sound of metal on metal had Jase glancing towards the hatch. Was the noise coming from outside? He shook his head and laughed. Next thing you knew and he’d be scaring himself with images of brain-sucking space squids
The ship boomed and jolted sideways as if something big had bumped the Stardust’s hull. There was no mistaking it. Someone or something was outside. Jase leaned against the harness straps as the interior lights flashed suddenly red and the shipboard sirens took up their irritating cry.
Jase stared in gap jawed amazement as the wheel on the outer hatch spun. With a screech of escaping air, the door gaped open. A couple of centimeters at first, then a couple more. A metal bar wriggled inside and levered the opening wider. Air howled around the opening misting into streamers before being sucked into the void. “Dwoop, Dwoop, dwoop, dwoop, dwoop.” It seemed even the sound was being sucked into space. Jase’s suit plumped as the vacuum deepened, growing stiff and balloonish on his arms.
The hatch swung open and a helmeted face peered in. The figure wore a patched and worn spacesuit, the helmet painted to resemble a death’s head. Beyond the intruder, three other figures drifted at the door’s edge. Beyond them, floated a ship. As Jase watched, the intruder pulled himself in then slid back the painted visor. He grinned at Jase through a scruffy black beard.
Jase didn’t need a history lesson or a rehash of last year’s smash vid, “Blood Star Pirates” to know he was in trouble. Digging into his pocket, he drew out the derringer. The pistol was so tiny, he could hardly grip it in his gloved hands. He glanced back and saw another figure emerge beside the first. Thinner and with curves. He couldn’t see her face, but there was no mistaking the intruder for a woman. Jase thought for an instant, a woman might have more compassion. Those thoughts vanished as she drew a blade and shoved off towards him.
Gripping the minuscule weapon in his palm was out of the question. His gloves were simply too stiff. Jase pinched the pistol’s grip between his finger and thumb. With his other hand, he drew back the hammer.
A quick glance showed the woman halfway to him. Her bearded cohort still clung to the hatch. In that instant, the bearded pirate caught Jase’s eye. He smiled and slashed a finger across his throat.
Lost between the folds of Jase’s gloved hand, the woman never suspected he held a weapon as he twisted in his seat and took careful aim. He let her close to within a couple of meters before reaching around with his free hand and pressing the trigger.
The derringer went off with a silent muffled flash, the recoil a hard slap in his palm. Unable to maintain his grip, the pistol flew from his hand and ricocheted off his faceplate before spinning out of sight. At the same instant, the woman jerked back. Her blade tumbled from her grip as crimson drops appeared at her neck. Jase ducked as she shot past and slammed into the windshield. When he looked up, the bearded intruder was no longer smiling.
Jase struggled to free himself from the harness. He didn’t relish his chances going up against a space pirate, but by the Goddess, he’d go down swinging. As the first strap clicked free, a low rumble rose through his seat. It vibrated through his bones and rattled his teeth. With a force like a punch, Jase was thrown back in his chair as the main engines fired.
Jase gave a whoop as the Stardust shot forward, his elation lasting only an instant as the ship twisted sharply into an unexpected turn. For a moment, she seemed to break free, throwing Jase back into his seat with a vibrating rumble of acceleration. When he looked up, the bearded pirate was clinging to the outside windshield. Jase wasn’t sure who was more surprised, the pirate or him. First Luna swung past the windshield, then the Earth. Luna, Earth, Luna. Earth… Faster and faster.
Then he saw it. A ship bigger than anything he’d ever imagined. It glittered like a steel jewel in Luna’s reflected glow; a structure more massive than the ancient skyscrapers in the forbidden sectors of old Houston, a structure more massive than anything Jase imagined people could build. The craft swelled in his viewport as they neared, the metallic glitter of her hull resolving into a patchwork of steel plates and jutting odd angles.
Unsure if it would have any effect, Jase grabbed the flight stick and shoved it to the right. The Stardust veered suddenly, rebounding off the metal behemoth and zipping into space. With a jolt, Jase was crushed against his harness as the Stardust was catapulted into another turn.
A cable must be attached to the ship, Jase thought. It was the only explanation. He wrapped his hand around the throttle, then looking up, noticed the pirate outside the window was gone. Good riddance, he thought, jamming the throttle forward. The engines roared through the seat taking on a throaty tone as Luna whipped past his windshield. Then the Stardust arched over and the pirate vessel filled the screen.
Jase yanked back on the flight stick as the Stardust impacted the larger craft with a bone-jarring crack. Stars flashed across his vision and the coppery taste of blood filled Jase’s mouth. When he raised his head, he saw the nose of the Stardust was gone along with a chunk of the ceiling and most of the right wall. He was spinning; Luna, space, Luna, space. With each rotation, the moon’s aquamarine oceans and cloud freckled surface grew closer.
He was going to die.
Lopez gets his way, after all, Jase mused.
Outside, the atmosphere’s reaching fingers gripped noisily at the Stardust’s broken frame slowing her spin so she nosed towards the sea. To his surprise, Jase’s chair began descending into the floor. He found himself in a tiny room illuminated by a pulsing red glow. Looking up, he saw it was a number counting down from 5…4…3…2…1
With a sudden jolt, his escape-pod was jettisoned from the flaming body of the Stardust and tossed to the fates.