Here’s another great story from my Champions: “The Orb”

The Circle of Champions, the winners of my monthly writing contests, bring forth another great Sci Fi story collaboration. Today, we reveal Part 5, the conclusion of the story!

The Orb

A Circle of Champions collaboration story

Jim Hamilton, who won my October Contest, took on the challenge of writing a story in five parts with two other champions, Katherine Shaw and S. Songweaver. Each writer wrote a segment of 500 words or less and handed it off to the next writer, pass-the-baton style. Jim started the story below and wrote Parts 3 and 5.

And now . . . the complete story!

The Orb

Part 1 by Jim Hamilton

It was five o’clock on a Saturday morning when Elizabeth and Robert Tanwell were rudely awakened by a pounding on their front door.

“Who the hell can that be at this hour?” asked Betty. She nudged her husband. “Go see who it is, Bobby.”

“I will, honey,” he said, getting out of bed and drawing on his bathrobe. “Wait here, I’ll be right back.”

As Bobby descended the stairs, the pounding continued. “I’m coming!” he yelled, as loudly as he could. When he reached the door, he peered through the peephole and was surprised to see a policeman and a man in a dark gray suit staring back at him. He unlocked the deadbolt and opened the door. “Good morning, officers, what can I do for you?”

The middle-aged gentleman in the suit regarded Bobby with piercing eyes. “Are you Robert Marris Tanwell?”

“Yes, sir, that would be me.”

Holding up several folded sheets of paper, he handed Bobby one of them. “You are hereby under arrest for felony theft, including breaking and entering a government facility.” He handed Bobby another set of papers. “This is a warrant allowing us to search the premises for any evidence involved in the afore-mentioned crime.” He handed Bobby the last of the papers. “And this is a warrant authorizing the freezing of any assets you may have.” He nodded at the uniformed policeman. “Officer Wilmington here will take you into custody.”

The officer spoke up. “Please step out of the house and face the street, sir.”

“I haven’t done anything wrong!”

Dazed, Bobby complied and became aware of the numerous vehicles that lined his driveway. Within seconds, a menacing-looking, riot-gear-clad squad rushed past him into the house. As the officer brought Bobby’s arms behind him and fastened them with handcuffs, Bobby swore he could hear Betty screaming over the policeman’s words.

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.” He turned Bobby around to face him. “Do you understand these rights as I have explained them?”

“I haven’t done anything wrong!” Bobby protested. He looked at his house, searching for Betty. “What about my wife?”

The officer repeated, “Do you understand these rights as I have explained them?”

“Yes, yes, I do.” Bobby shook his head, “I think I want a lawyer now.”

Without replying, the policeman led Bobby to a marked SUV and opened the rear door. “Watch your head.”

Before climbing in, Bobby turned once more toward the house, hoping to catch a glimpse of Betty, but there was still no sign of her. As the door closed behind him, he wondered what he had gotten himself into. One thing he knew for sure, it had to be something to do with that alien artifact he had found in his backyard two weeks ago.

Part 2 by Katherine Shaw

Bobby’s heart hammered in his chest as he sat sandwiched between two stern-faced officers, both of them staring forwards as the SUV jostled them in their seats. No one had spoken to him since they had set off, ignoring his anxious questions until he finally gave up and succumbed to their silence. With nothing to distract his whirring thoughts, Bobby’s panic only grew.

They hadn’t told anyone about the artifact, had they? No, definitely not. It was in his office, in its box, while they figured out what the hell they were going to do with it.

The journey was taking much longer than Bobby had anticipated. He’d had no time to properly dress or put on his watch, but the rising sun told him it must be nearly six. Surely the police station is much closer than this? Unless . . .

A dull ache spread across his tightening chest. Are they going to kill me?

Finally, the car slowed, and the crunch of gravel under the wheels suggested they had reached their destination. Bobby braced himself for the worst as the officer to his left stepped out of the car and signaled for him to follow.

He was led into a stark, featureless building with no obvious signage or markings, and the inside was equally devoid of identity. The walls were painted a humorless gray, and the expressionless staff members walking the corridors were dressed in plain, dark suits. He could have been anywhere, which only frightened Bobby more.

The leading officer stopped partway down a corridor and motioned for Bobby to enter a room to his right. It didn’t take a genius to recognize it as an interrogation room. He shuffled to the lone chair in the center of the room and sat, his hands clasped tightly on his lap. After several long minutes, a new officer entered. He was tall and thin, all angles and corners. His eyes were like cold steel.

“Where is it, Tanwell”? His voice was as sharp as his features.

“I’m sorry, what—“

“Do not play dumb with me. We’ve seen the tapes.”

“Tapes? What tapes?” Panic roiled in Bobby’s stomach. “Will someone tell me what’s going on? I haven’t done anything!”

The officer’s mouth twisted into a smirk and Bobby’s panic froze into ice cold dread. “They say a picture is worth a thousand words, Mr. Tanwell, but what about several minutes of film?”

He held up a small remote and pushed a button. The nearest wall opened up to reveal a large, black screen which came to life at the officer’s touch. It showed a security tape from some sort of museum or archive, dated the night before.

What does this have to do with . . . ?

Bobby’s eyes bulged as a figure walked into the shot. A recognizable but impossible figure. It was him. Bobby himself!

“No! It can’t be! I’ve never—“

The words caught in his throat as he saw his doppelgänger punch into a glass case to retrieve an item from within. He didn’t even flinch, simply pocketed the object, turned and walked back out of the shot. The tape flickered and looped around, showing Bobby over and over again. But it wasn’t Bobby; it couldn’t be. 

Part 3 by Jim Hamilton

Bobby had a sinking feeling in his gut. He didn’t remember this place or breaking into it, but now
that he thought about it, this explained where the meteorite must have come from. And that nasty
gash on the back of my hand
, he thought to himself.

He glanced at his bandage as the officer spoke. “Isn’t that where you hurt your hand?”

Bobby paled as he looked back up again. “I . . . I think so, but I don’t remember it, I swear!”

The officer smirked as he said, “Let me guess—you’re taking Ambien?”

Bobby shook his head. “No, nothing like that, but I’ve had several blackouts recently where I don’t
remember what happened.” He pointed at the screen. “That must be one of them.”

“Blackouts? Seriously?” The officer laughed. “Do you really expect me to believe that?”

Bobby nodded vigorously. “It’s the truth, officer. It all started with an alien artifact that fell into
my backyard.”

The officer laughed again. “Oh, now you’re bringing aliens into it?”

“I’m serious! Two weeks ago, my wife and I heard a loud thump coming from the backyard.
When we went to see what it was. There was a dull silver sphere, about the size of a golf ball, embedded in the dirt. From the very beginning, we both felt . . . I don’t know, drawn to it. I picked it up and we brought it back into the house.”

“Maybe a large ball bearing fell from a plane?”

“That’s what we thought. However, when we went to bed, it was on our coffee table. When we
woke up, we found it in our microwave. It was glowing brightly enough to hurt your eyes to look
at it.”

“How did it get in the microwave?”

“I don’t know.”

Bobby shook his head, knowing it sounded insane. “One of us must have moved it,
but neither of us remember doing so.”

He paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts. “Since then, we found it in the sink, filled with water. Then it moved to a large wooden box. Next it was nestled into some kind of sawdust and fertilizer. Then a light coating of sand was added. Last night, I found what looked like a meteorite in the box next to it.” He pointed at the video that was still looping. “One that I . . . apparently stole from this place.”

“Do you honestly expect me to believe that cockamamie story?”

“Yes! Because it’s the truth! I went to the store last night to get groceries and when I got home,
the meteorite was in one of the grocery bags and my right hand was bandaged.” He rubbed his
temples. “I remember shopping and coming home, but I don’t remember anything else.”

“As we speak, we’re searching your house. Care to tell me what we’ll find?”

Bobby nodded. “The box is on my desk.” He smiled. “However, I don’t think that your meteorite
is actually a meteorite.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because, when I went to bed, it had cracked open and green goo was oozing out.”

Part 4 by S. Songweaver

“Green goo?” The officer raised an eyebrow; it sounded absurd.

“Yes, green goo,” Bobby insisted. “Actually, not unlike the stuff that’s coming out of the door behind you.”

The officer didn’t budge, his steely, cold eyes fixed on Bobby. “You really think I’ll fall for that?”

“I mean, it’s nothing to fall for, sir.” Bobby said, frowning at the green sludge squeezing through the crack of the interrogation room’s door.

The man in front of him scowled and turned. “What the . . . ?” he managed before his face was accosted by the green mush sliding up his nostrils and into his mouth.

Bobby panicked and jumped up from his chair as the officer slumped and fell forward onto the floor.

A few moments passed before he gathered enough bravery to nudge the man with his feet. “Sir?”

“Sir . . . ? Are you . . . OK?”

The man stirred, causing Bobby to jump back.

“Mr. Tanwell, you are safe.” The officer broke into a broad smile.

Bobby gulped.

“We have to get you out of here.” The man’s voice sounded squeaky; it was different than before. His eyes were glazed, like he didn’t quite know how to operate them.

“Uhh . . . ”

“Don’t worry, we might be alien, but we come in pieces,” the officer offered, making a Star Trek-style sign with his fingers.

Confused, Bobby managed, “Are you the orb thing that’s been controlling my wife?”

“Yes, terribly sorry about that.” The officer gathered himself off the floor, seeming like he was learning how to walk again. He looked down at his arms like they were new to him. “We needed something from the museum and this facility. I promise we’ll get you home safe, and you won’t remember a thing. Nor will the people here.”

The man made a hiccup noise as he walked into the door. “Right, primitive technology,” it reminded itself, finding the doorknob. “Follow me, Mr. Tanwell. We shall meet up with your wife. My mates are with her now.”

Bobby hesitantly looked at the officer and the open door, then back at the chair that he had been seated in just moments before. “This is a weird dream. I’m dreaming and I’m going to wake up soon.” He pinched himself. No dice.

“Hurry, Mr. Tanwell, we are on a line-dead.”

The man gestured for Bobby to go.

“You mean deadline,” Bobby corrected, following the officer out of the room and down the hall.

“No, I mean line-dead. My connection to the others was terminated when I came to get you. And until we meet up with them again, I can’t restore my live connection. If we don’t meet up at the checkpoint, I might miss them, and my ship will leave without me,” the officer replied, rushing past the security doors. “I just want to go home, Mr. Tanwell. I hope you can relate.”

Bobby frowned. It was as much as he could relate to a clump of green goo, he supposed.

“Your planet is terribly primitive, and we never, ever wanted to end up here again,” the officer added. “We were supposed to go to Andromeda, but my mates insisted on exploring something new. This is the last time I let them drive.”

At that moment, Bobby realized he might have a lot more in common with the strange alien sludge than he had thought.

Part 5 by Jim Hamilton

As he followed his former interrogator through the door and along the same unremarkable hallways, he asked, “You said that Betty—my wife—is okay?”

“Yes, Mr. Tanwell. We just need to collect the rest of us and get to the checkpoint.” He turned his head and smiled. “You can call me Zed, by the way.”

They arrived at the entrance where another man in a suit waited for them. Bobby watched as the new guy handed Zed an orb that looked like the one that had landed in Bobby’s backyard.

“Good job, men!” The man collapsed on the floor and, in only a couple of seconds, green goo oozed out of his pores and disappeared up Zed’s leg. Bobby was surprised by how fast it moved. Zed opened the outer door and walked over to a black SUV, apparently waiting for them. “This is where I turn us over to Harriman, here, who’ll drive us back to your house.” He passed the orb to the driver and green goo flowed down his arm and up the sleeve of Harriman.

“Get in, Mr. Tanwell,” said the driver, as the interrogator collapsed in a heap on the ground.

Bobby ran around to the passenger side and hopped in. He was glad to see that this Harriman knew how to drive as they sped down the gravel road and turned onto a highway. As they rode along, Harriman explained things to Bobby.

“I’m sure that you’re confused and have a lot of questions.”

“That’s a bit of an understatement,” replied Bobby.

“We come from a galaxy, far, far away. Our ship crashed here several hundred years ago and has lain in a museum all that time.”

“That’s the meteorite I stole?”

“Yes. And while we were waiting for a rescue probe, we kept tabs on your development.” Harriman laughed. “Your species is quite amusing.”

“Is the orb we found your rescue probe?”

“Yes. Actually, it’s the second one. The first one collided with one of your weather balloons and was taken to this facility for study.”

“And the green goo?”

“Actually, the ‘goo’, as you call it, is actually a colloidal environment that protects our silicon bodies from oxidizing and seizing up.”

“Silicon? Like nanobots or something?”

Harriman nodded. “Close enough. There’s trillions of us in this goo. We can control anyone that touches the orb, like you and your wife did.” He gestured to himself. “Or Officer Harriman here. He was the first to enter your office and was drawn to the orb. Once we controlled him, he passed the orb around to the rest of those present.”

Bobby saw that they were nearing his neighborhood. “So, where is this checkpoint?”

“It’s actually in your backyard. They’re all waiting for us.” He held up the orb. “We’re no longer line-dead. Physical contact with the orbs allows us to communicate.”

He turned into Bobby’s driveway, still filled with other black SUVs. Bobby and Harriman made their way to the backyard where a dozen enforcement officers welcomed them.

“Bobby!” exclaimed Betty, as she ran to give him a hug. “I was so worried about you!”

He hugged her back, his body flooded with relief at seeing his wife alive and well. “I’m okay. They told me you were safe, but I had to see for myself.”

One of the FBI agents called out, pointing at the sky. They all looked up and spotted a silver ball descending to where the probe had originally landed.

Bobby eyed the small sphere. “That’s it? That’s your rescue ship?”

Harriman laughed. “We’re microscopic. We don’t need a lot of room.”

Bobby and Betty watched in fascination as a large hole opened in the sphere and the goo flowed from Harriman and others into it. One-by-one, the various officers collapsed on the ground until only Harriman was left. He deposited the two smaller probes into the hole and it sealed itself.

“In a few more seconds, we’ll be gone,” he said, turning back to Bobby. “None of you will remember anything, and the videos have all been erased.” He smiled. “We want to thank you for your valuable assistance and apologize for any inconvenience we may have caused.”

With that, Harriman collapsed and the silvery ball shot up into the atmosphere. Bobby and Betty barely had time to lock eyes in bewildered amusement before their vision faded to black, and their bodies collapsed from under them.

Later, they groggily awoke. They were alone, the only sound being the cool early evening air stirring the shrubbery around them. 

“Why are we lying out here in the yard?” asked Betty.

“I don’t know,” answered Bobby. “But I had the strangest dream about aliens.”


“Yes. Aliens.” He pulled out the notebook he always kept with him and began furiously scribbling. “It’s a great idea for my next novel, and I want to get it all down before I forget it!” 

Bobby smiled and looked up at the darkening sky. “This one’s going to be a real corker!”

And, indeed, this pass-the-baton story was a corker! Thanks to Jim Hamilton, Katherine Shaw, and S. Songweaver for sharing this fun Sci Fi story.

If you enjoyed “The Orb,” please leave some kind comments for Jim, Katherine and S. below.

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Here’s another great ending from the first May finalist

During the month of June, I’m sharing the finalist stories from the May Contest. Today’s featured finalist is Jeremy Wilson.

You may recall that Jeremy was the April Contest winner. As one of my Champions, he cannot win the contest again this calendar year. But if he had not already been a Champion, he could have won the contest with this great story ending filled with action, intrigue and an elegant loop effect.

I started the story below. See how Jeremy starts after the red line and takes us to a surprise ending.


By Jeremy Wilson and Matthew Cross

Mayday, Mayday, Mayday! Halcyon 5 Space Control, this is United Polity Ship 999Q2-292-383-858-112, courier class. I have multiple air and fuel leaks following a collision with unknown debris—just dust probably—checking scanners now, mmmm, the immediate danger appears to have cleared, but I’ve cut engines to conserve fuel and prevent an explosion. Here are my coordinates. [Series of beeps, clicks and static sound.]

I’m listening to the Mayday from the cockpit of the Scrappy Doo, a merchant scrapper. Don’t ask about the name. It was Mom’s idea, and after she passed, it seemed disrespectful to change the name.

The shipboard comp is automatically recording this message and storing away the coordinates. I recognize the coordinate prefixes. The Polity courier is in my quadrant of the Belt, the vast ring of asteroids that forms the outer limits of the Halcyon system. But that covers a lot of space. After all, the Belt’s diameter is wider than the rest of the solar system inside of it.

I’m the only one on board, but even so my air’s gonna run out in less than 8 hours. Even if I blew all the fuel—if I wanted to risk an explosion—I’d be at least 200 hours out from Halcyon 5. I need a priority pickup under authority of the Polity Navy.

Eight hours of air. It’s every spacer’s nightmare. Without a rescue, you know the hour and the method of your death. And suffocation is a bad way to go.

I’m watching my own scanners as I listen. When you’re in the Belt, you have to be on constant watch. Courier-112’s case proves the point. A small shower of pebbles or even just a patch of dust can perforate a hull and turn it into a sieve. Doesn’t matter whether you fly into it or it flies into you.

The population of the Belt is sizable–mostly miners and scrappers like me. But we’re spread out over so much space you can go years without seeing anyone unless you intend to. So I’m certain someone else will answer the Mayday call. But that’s because I forgot about the family’s luck.

I open my eyes and check my scanners again. That’s when I see the blinking red comm light. My stomach drops.

Reluctantly, I lean forward and reach slowly for the comm switch. Click.

Scrappy Doo. This is Halcyon 8 Perimeter and Belt Space Control. This is a priority comm.”

It’s not that I don’t want to help. But I have my own problems. I just loaded up the Doo five days ago with supplies on credit and I need to gather some scrap to pay back Fram. He’s an old friend of Mom’s and the only outfitter who will give me credit. Since Mom died almost a year ago I’ve been living hand to mouth.

And I’ve got a lead on a good haul that could square me with Fram for good. Maybe even give me a small cushion. So I don’t need distractions.

“This is Scrappy Doo,” I mumble.

“Did you receive Mayday UPS Courier-112?”

They know I did. You would have to bore into the middle of a planet not to receive a Mayday. Even the wilds of the Belt are filled with boosts to carry emergency messages.


In my head, I’m repeating a mantra. Not me, not me, not me . . .

“You are the closest ship to Courier-112. Your ship reports you have adequate fuel to reach the Courier and reach orbit at Halcyon 8.”

My head thumps on the control panel. I bought all that fuel on credit. And now they want me to burn it all in a rescue mission for a lousy UPS courier with one passenger?

But what can I do? Space Control and my ship already made the automated electronic handshake. They know my position, my vector, my fuel levels. Control has all the data shown on my control panel and faster comps to spin it up into any simulation they want.

That’s why I’m sitting cross-legged in the pilot’s seat with my crossed fingers tucked under my thighs, hoping I won’t be close enough to help.

I’m also biting my lip, but that’s just because everybody gets nervous when you hear a Mayday. It makes your heart jump into your throat.

If I don’t render aid, then I’ll lose the Scrappy Doo the first time I make port. They’ll impound the Doo and throw me in the brig.

“This is Scrappy Doo.” I hear some chuckles in the background from Control. I grit my teeth but then smile. With Fram as my only friend, I can’t afford enemies. I smile because you can hear the difference over comms. “I’m changing course to render aid.”

“Affirmative Scrappy Doo. We’ve fed your ship the coordinates for the optimum intercept. We’re also sending a priority UPS Medical Transport to rendezvous with you near the rim of the Belt. Thank you for your service and we’ll try to get you back on your course as soon as possible.”

Even without checking my comp, I know this trip is going to use up half my fuel. If speed is not a factor, you burn the most fuel just changing course. One turn to meet the courier and one to head to the rendezvous point with the med transport . . . I just shake my head.

I paste on a fake smile.

“Control, have you confirmed the identity of Courier, umm . . .” I’ve already forgotten the courier ship’s designation. I check a monitor. “UPS Courier-112? I’m solo crew and I have minimal weapons capability.”

I can’t keep all the quaver out of my voice. It’s actually worse than it sounds. My shields are only rated for space debris and minor port collisions. And the ‘defensive lasers’ that came standard with this scrapper model are really just part of the array of cutting tools for scrapping. Sure, they’re strong, but the aiming and target-tracking programs are a joke, and the combat display features on my monitors are clearly an afterthought.

So, I’m not completely defenseless. But any well-armed pirate . . . Let’s just say the thought makes me damp under the arms.

“No worries, Scrappy Doo, we’ve confirmed the identity of the UPS courier. It’s the real deal.” There’s some chatter in the background. “That courier has some special Navy designations, too. They’re classified, but let’s just say the passenger is somebody important.”

A VIP, huh? Maybe there’s an upside here, as long as he and I both survive this.

They can’t save me from pirates, just hunt them down if I’m killed. I’m so relieved.

“We’ll live monitor your progress until rendezvous. I’m also sending your ship a boost code. Your ship’s automated beacon will warn all other ships that you are under Mayday orders and protected by Control and Polity Navy authority.”

Oh, goody, I think. Control is millions of kloms away. They can’t save me from pirates, just hunt them down if I’m killed. I’m so relieved.

“Thank you, Control. Changing course to respond to Mayday UPS Courier-112.”

The comp says six hours to intercept, including deceleration to match speed and direction of the courier. That’s good. The courier reported he had less than 8 hours of air, which is not a precise number. But air consumption is not a precise measurement, no matter what the engineers say, and add a tiny, undetected leak or two and it’s anyone’s guess.

If the courier is conscious when I arrive and the ship’s hatch is not damaged, then bringing him aboard will take no time at all. If he’s trapped in a can leaking fuel, that will get tricky. 

I spend the first hour checking Control’s intercept calculations. Of course, they’re right, but it’s a good math exercise to run. How often do you get a chance to run real space math and check it against a Control calculation? If you want to pilot a ship, you gotta know your math. Calculations also calm and center the mind.

That task done, I try and take a nap. It’s hopeless, of course. I’m nervous for the courier. I’m terrified for me.

So I do some more math. I plug myself back into the comp and run air, water and food calculations for two people aboard the Doo. AOK.

I run rescue simulations, practicing some extractions with each of my cutting tools. The first run throughs are pretty smooth. Control didn’t send me much for specs on the courier, so I send a message to request those. I get back a set of generic specs on Polity courier ships. I send again, asking for Courier-112’s specs from its own computer. The terse message back says those are classified.

Classified? They want me to run a rescue and not give me the specs? That sounds like the old joke about “military intelligence” being an oxymoron.

“A bunch of morons,” I say to myself.

I spend the rest of the trip checking equipment again and again. And then I check it again.

Before I’m in visual sight of Courier-112, I hail it. The ships already made their electronic handshake. Something in the codes from Control must have authorized the courier ship to do that much. But the courier ship won’t tell me anything about passengers or bio signs. It’s classified, I’m sure.

After three explosions, my hands are shaking.

The courier’s pilot is not responding to my hails, either.

I add fuel leaks to the rescue simulations. Big mistake. After three explosions, my hands are shaking. I unstrap and float to the back to the equipment storage.

Until I was close, I didn’t want him to use up any air talking. I could have just texted, of course. But to tell the truth, I put it off until now because I didn’t want any bad news.

When I reach visual range, it doesn’t look so bad. Courier-112 looks to be in a single piece. It’s riding straight, not spinning out of control, gliding smoothly on course. I let go of the breath I’d been holding in.

The Doo and I go through the docking sequence together. The Doo aligns with Courier-112 and I make the final small adjustments visually. I feel the slight vibration as the ships connect. Textbook docking!

I slump back in my seat, relieved. Ships only make this kind of docking maneuver in cases of rescue or combat. I’d only done it once before with Mom at my side.

The relief doesn’t last long. I still can’t raise a response from the courier’s pilot. I try everything, including the comms built into the Doo’s docking arms connected to the courier.

I’m going to have to go outside. Vac, vac, vac!

I hear Mom’s voice in my head. “Never hurry. Think it through. Make a plan. It’s only the spacers that lose their heads and rush around that get hurt.”

Instead of unlatching, I check my monitors. First, assess the situation. I had set a countdown clock based on 8 hours of air. If the courier’s estimate was good, he should have plenty of air left. But he could still be injured. Unconscious.

I went through my options. Legally, I could report this to Control and stay in my seat. The duty to render aid on a Mayday does not extend to space walks. Legally, all I had to do was wait here until the courier’s pilot climbed aboard or death was confirmed. I could even earn a small commission just giving the ship a push in the right direction for a Halcyon recovery crew.

I run through all my options twice, but the truth is, I’m a spacer. And in space, a spacer renders aid. Because this could happen to anyone. Mom would agree.

I send Control a quick update, half hoping they’ll tell me to sit tight. I get no response. That happens in the Belt. Dead patches run throughout. With shaking hands, I unlatch and climb into my suit. I move slowly and deliberately. I think through every action.

Before I know it, I’m opening the hatch of Courier-112. So far, Control and the ship’s own comp have been so secretive, I half expect red lights and sirens when I pull the inset lever to reveal the wheel. Instead, the wheel begins to turn itself. The pilot told the ship to let me in. That doesn’t mean he’s conscious, I remind myself. He could have set the sequence before passing out.

The hatch opens, revealing the clear film of a gel seal. A courier ship is too small for a separate decompression chamber. Only the seal separates the cabin’s oxygen and open space. Through the film, I see the top of the pilot’s head. He’s wearing a suit and helmet as well. He does not move.

I push my helmet through the film and connect to his helmet.

Both our reflective faceshields open automatically at the connection, leaving clear panes for us to see through. Our suits have synched their own comms.

His eyes are closed. A shock runs through me. I’m too late, I think.

Then he opens his eyes. He has dull blue eyes, almost gray. He smiles slightly as his eyes focus in on mine. Then his pupils open wider as he examines my face.

“You’re just a kid!”

“Yeah, well, I’m the kid that’s saving your hide.”

“Negative, it’s too late for that,” he says. He looks down.

I see a detail I missed before. Small threads of red extend from the chest of his suit, wiggling in the thin air. Blood. The suit sealed itself, of course. Just two small holes, but they’re high on the chest.

And then I see the bubbles of red in the corners of his mouth.

“Are you alone?” he asks.

What a creepy question. That’s my first thought. But it’s an important one. A fair question, I guess.

“Yes, I’m the solo captain-pilot of the Scrappy Doo.”

I see confusion in his eyes.

“I’m a scrapper.”

“Negative,” he says. “Now you’re UPS Courier-112. Get this to Halcyon 5.”

He raises his hand to me, holding a black slip of plastic. A data chip, no doubt.

“Halcyon 8?” I say weakly.

“Negative,” he mumbles, “Halcyon 5. It’s . . . “ He gasps and I hear burbling sounds. “. . . urgent.”

His eyelids flutter shut as he slips back into unconsciousness. Before my brain can even process what’s happening, the slow beeping of his heartbeat in my earpiece turns into a solid tone.

Terror seizes me . . .

A blast of garbled static brings me back to myself. Something in the courier ship must be causing interference. I pull my helmet back through the film, into the vac.

Scrappy Doo, this is Halcyon 8 Control. We received your last update. What is your status?”

I pause. Even with dead patches in the Belt, Control should have been live monitoring everything and should already know the status of the courier and his ship.

Unless . . .

With a sudden moment of panic, I remember that there is no Perimeter and Space Control on Halcyon 8. Mom would’ve scolded me for missing that.

“Standby please,” I manage weakly.

That would explain why they wouldn’t give me the specs for the courier ship. They couldn’t. So they told me it was “classified.”

They didn’t know where the courier ship was until it blasted its Mayday and they needed someone to get to the courier before the Navy could. Scrappers are easier to deal with than Rim Frigates.

“Control, the, um . . . courier is unconscious but stable. Hull integrity seems to be holding. I’ve supplemented his oxygen and set his autopilot to rendezvous with the med ship at the designated coordinates. If it’s alright with you, I’d like to be on my way. My creditors don’t usually accept acts of goodwill as payment.” I force an uneasy chuckle.

“Affirmative, Scrappy Doo. Thank you for your service.”

I unceremoniously stash the data chip in a small pocket on my suit and set the courier’s autopilot with a ten minute delay to give me time to get back to the Scrappy Doo.

That should buy me some time; I just hope it’s enough. As soon as I’m back aboard my ship, I disengage all automatic comm protocols and plot a direct course to Halcyon 5, running the engines as hot as I dare.

By some miracle, it takes them nearly a week to catch up to me.

The first blast hits somewhere on the aft section, causing an explosion behind me. A red-hot piece of the Doo cuts across my leg before imbedding itself in the nav computer.

I start getting dizzy. Something must be leaking. Or I’m losing blood.

Another blast knocks out my port stabilizer, sending the Doo into a slow spiral.

“Ruh-roh,” I say aloud. I giggle.

The pain in my leg snaps me back into reality.

With the nav computer gone, I’m flying blind, so I point the ship toward the bright ball of gas that is Halcyon Prime and struggle to regain control.

As my vision goes dark, I can just make out the twinkle of Halcyon 5 as it passes in front of its star.

I blast one final desperate plea into the void:

“Mayday, Mayday, Mayday! Halcyon 5 Space Control, this is UPS Courier 112 . . . “

If you enjoyed Jeremy Wilson’s prize-winning ending, please make sure and share some kind comments below.

And if you have not already read the original contest-winning story, read it here!

Be stellar! 🚀✨

Matthew Cross