One Last Chance

Space by !wvalentew (Deviantart)

The alarms jerked Andrey from a deep slumber. He swam in thick memories, disoriented, the insistent drilling of the alarm dragging him to consciousness. He woke, lost, having let something slip away, something he had thought important while still asleep.

He pushed the lid of his sleeping capsule open and stumbled into the narrow hall. What had Natalia done this time? A few steps brought him to the cockpit, a cramped den of controls and displays. His sister sat in the only chair, her fingers tapping frantically, trying to make the warnings on the screens go away. There was no visual display; the designers of the ship had decided, rightly so, Andrey thought, that numbers were more exact than pictures.

“What is that? What’s happened?” he demanded.

“We found it.” She entered a few quick commands, bringing the relevant figures to the screen. “The lost planet-ship.”

Andrey scanned the data disbelievingly. “This is impossible.”

“You never believed the stories. A manufactured planet, the exodus of an entire people. The size, the technological readings—it’s there. We’ve found it.”

“And we’re being drawn toward it.”

“It wasn’t there five minutes ago.” She finally tore her eyes from the screen to look at him. “It wasn’t there. It just appeared.”

“Out of nowhere,” Andrey said skeptically. “You were looking for it.” Natalia had always gravitated to the romantic. He didn’t press her, though. He was absorbing the data as quickly as it passed across the screen. The size of the power readings, the transmission spikes, the fluctuations of space around the planet—it was inconceivable.

“I didn’t wake you from stasis to lecture me. If we don’t do something soon, we’ll crash into it.”

“Maybe it’s a tractor b—”

“There’s no life forms. It’s a dead artifact. We’re stuck in its gravity well. The readings…”

“I see it.” He entered a quick calculation. “It’s exerting the force of a star.” He crunched a few more numbers. “And it’s increasing.”

His sister’s hand rested on his. “Is there anything we can do?”

He heard the emotion in her voice after the fact, his quick-fingered computations delaying his understanding. At this proximity, escape was a slim hope, if not an impossibility. Glancing at her, he decided to try anyway.

“Move,” he commanded, pushing her out of the chair before she had time to obey. He had been on deep-space missions before. Natalia’s presence on this trip had made the hell of isolation bearable. He couldn’t let this be the end.

Numbers traversed the screen in a blur as he plugged in fuel reserves, cargo weight, rotation, and waste ejection into the ever-changing mix of coordinates, gravitational pull, approach angle, and…. Andrey double-checked the readings. If he read the figures correctly, temporal disruptions wracked the planet-ship. Natalia had said that it had appeared from nowhere. Perhaps it had appeared from some when else.

Even for Andrey, who preferred numbers to humans, the permutations were overwhelming. He had no time and only one chance, one chance in a million, with no guide except his own instincts. Rapidly typing in commands for the main engine, side thrusters, and weapon systems—using them together to attempt an exit—he passed over dozens of combinations he knew instinctively wouldn’t work. He inspected his guess. It was as good as any and felt better than many.

“Will we make it?” Natalia asked.

Andrey grabbed her hand. “We’ll see.” He punched the execute button. “Hold on.”

The ship jerked, the inertia dampeners offline so Andrey had more power to work with. His sister fell forward. He caught her and held her close to keep her head from cracking open on a console. Together they watched the monitor, the readings schizophrenic as they twisted through space. Then they steadied. They were falling toward the planet-ship again and gaining speed.

Natalia squeezed his hand. “You tried.”

“I—”

“I saw things I never dreamed of,” she said, turning to smile at him. It was a sad smile, and Andrey hugged her awkwardly. “At least you’re not alone,” she added with a laugh.

His eyes returned to the display, his mind still processing, looking for some option. The temporal readings were chaotic. Maybe he could…. Then he saw the proximity readings. Impact was imminent. No time.

No time—

The alarms jerked Andrey from a deep slumber. He swam in thick memories, disoriented, the insistent drilling of the alarm dragging him to consciousness. He woke, lost, having let something slip away, something he had thought important while still asleep.

One chance in a million

He shook the thought away and pushed open the door to his sleeping capsule. What had Natalia done this time?

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