Reading Time: 5 minutes
Davis surfaced slowly. The previous day’s trauma had knocked him deep into a dreamless slumber he felt reluctant to exit. His eyelids clung together, sticky with dust from the cave, and he levered himself onto one elbow before prying them open enough to survey the cavern. Light poured from the entrance, casting his shadow across Chisholm’s empty bag.
“Good morning!” Davis shouted, relaxing and reclining again. Silence. “Hey Chiz!” He tried louder. “What’s for breakfast?!”
At some point Davis just had to go ahead and leave; he couldn’t wait there forever running fantasies through his head while watching the fungus grow. Chisholm had vanished. Walked away, fallen into a hole, been eaten by algae, abducted by aliens – Davis didn’t know what the hell happened except Chisholm wasn’t around anymore. Just Davis and the ship. He’d immediately searched the cavern. No passages, no other exits, and no Chisholm. He spent the first day waiting, calling, exploring the area, and checking the tug repeatedly. It had to be some kind of prank. Chisholm was testing him, proving his metal, or tempering it, or some other stupid, patronizing lesson from the god-damned master. Fine. Davis could wait him out.
“Olly olly in come free!” Chisholm, I’m gonna smack you so hard…“This isn’t funny, Chiz!”
The next morning, after a restless sleep interrupted repeatedly by the conviction that his friend was standing just out of view deeper in the cave, Davis cleaned up their bedding and packed everything into the tug. He gorged on emergency rations, his nerves felt stretched to the limit and devouring the biscuits and meat paste calmed him until he consumed over half of the supply.
After that, Davis really began to tweak. What was he supposed to do? He barely knew how to pilot a speeder, let alone Meredith’s old tug. The food would run out in less than a day and then what? Was he supposed to gnaw lichen off the rocks? Where on this barren world could Chisholm be?! He spent the rest of the morning ripping his throat screaming.
“Come on Chiz! Come out, enough is enough!” He searched in a widening spiral from the cave entrance. The terrain was rough, he slipped over boulders and into pits blanketed in wet algae. “Make a sound! Any sound and I can come help you!”
When he lost sight of the ship he panicked and stumbled his way back, twisting an ankle a few steps into an ill-advised sprint over the final 100 meters.
“Chisholm! Where the hell are you?!”
His ankle throbbing and desperation surging, Davis then began to panic about radiation from the nearby star. I’m gonna die here! I’ve been running around like a crazy fool frying myself, looking for a man who’s probably already gone! I’m literally poisoning myself, and for what? Damn you Chiz! Chisholm said it was safer underground, so Davis huddled in the cave trying to decide what he should do as the afternoon faded into evening. Occasionally he yelled toward the cavern entrance, but gave that up too. If Chisholm was lost somewhere on that rock, he’d surely perished already.
Its batteries fully charged, the ship nagged at him from the surface. Eventually, with no other real option, Davis made his way back to the tug, buckled into the pilot’s chair, and struggled to remember the takeoff sequence.
Davis nearly wept as the ship needled to the next gravity well. His eyes didn’t dampen for Chisholm, but for Chisholm’s absence. Davis was homeless, his entire world destroyed and abandoned, and he was completely alone, the closest thing to family or friend having disappeared out of a cavern on a desolate rock he couldn’t even properly call a planet. Davis realized that he was clueless, but finding his humility didn’t help. The recognition of his own ignorance only increased his desolation.
The twisting snap of pressure from needling – the ship passing through a fold in space/time – jolted him from his sorrow and he automatically surveyed the instrument panel. A mid-sized star with several planets, a couple of gas giants and some stones. Water graced two of them, one with a temperature that might yield an atmosphere. Davis set a course for the smaller, more promising of the rocks and sat back to wait for more data. He felt lucky to have made it this far. Chisholm had already programmed in the sewing route, hopping from one massive object to another by needling through the folds caused by their gravity, so Davis only really needed to press the ‘Go’ button.
He prayed his luck would hold, at least long enough not to cook himself entering the atmosphere or explode on impact as he tried to land the little tin can for the first time.
“Atru!” Davis screamed his prayer. “Tell me a way!” Then cursed. “Jesus H!”
His body was squeezed tight as he leaned his entire weight back against the flight stick. All he could see through the scorched and battered windshield was a roiling sea moving toward him at an astonishing rate. Davis knew no tactic apart from pulling as hard as he could on the stick. The roar of the descent deafened him, the friction of the air, the engines. Davis blinked. Engines. He strained forward, reaching for the panel. Off!
The noise still shattered his skull, even without the jets’ rumble, but the stick eased against his weight and the trajectory arced fractionally more as the ship hurtled toward the watery surface.
“Come on, come on, come on, come on.” Davis chanted as the tug swooped lower. He leaned back, closed his eyes, and pulled, waiting for the inevitable impact.
Seconds ticked by. He held tight. The roar continued. Eventually, he let himself peek through a squint. The ocean rushed beneath him, almost as if the tug were a boat on the water. He was sailing parallel with the surface.
“Woo hoo!” Davis cried.
The impact knocked the wind out his lungs and the ship jolted and spun upward. Like a rock skipped across a pond, the tug flew forward spinning and ricocheted off the sea once more. The second impact whipped Davis forward and the world went dark.
Davis woke with a start and yanked hard against the belts strapping him to the seat. His mouth filled with sand as he gasped for air. The pilot’s seat had blown out or ejected and somehow landed his face in a beach that hadn’t existed when Davis was last conscious.
Davis unhooked the straps and wriggled out from under the overturned seat. The ocean was still there, but he stood on the shore of a sizable coastline. He surveyed the scene and spotted the twisted wreckage of the tug on a grass covered dune.
He was alive. He was homeless, he was alone, he had no clue where he was, how he had survived, or what he would do next. But he was alive.
Davis crumpled to his knees and sobbed.