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What was, a few seconds ago, a sea of brightly colored streaks on his window was now replaced with a gargantuan ball of red fire burning brighter than anything else on his visual field.

His breathing was quick, shallow, and deliberate, and his hands were trembling like an earthquake-laden field. His cockpit was in chaos. High-pitched sounds were coming from everywhere, and the whole compartment was bathed in red flashing lights. Loud, creaking sounds emanated time and again from his battered Speed-class Starship, like a giant monster wincing in pain.

Looking at the battered screens in his cockpit, he saw that almost every gauge on his board was on red; his unexpected skirmish with the enemy was way too much for his ship to handle. His shields were depleted, his comms were unfixable, and his radars were either dead or barely functioning. His plutonium core was alive but severely damaged, and a huge, gaping hole replaced two of his ship's three reactor engines. His last remaining engine had collapsed from the strain of travelling near light-speed. Apparently, his ship's anti-inertia were still working, as it dampened the ship's sudden loss of velocity; that momentum going forward would have been the end of him.

His escape maneuver worked, but his body was still pumped with adrenaline. This time, though, it was because of something else: he was still dying.

Right in front of him was a red dwarf star, a gigantic, luminescent ball of light and hydrogen. Under normal circumstances, this would have been no cause for concern; it might have even been a great sight-seeing expedition. Stars are wonderful creations, he thought, and they represent a beautiful paradox: they create life by destroying themselves. But stuck on some unknown part of space with a barely-functioning ship, he's certain that star will eat him up alive.

"Heather, navs. Tell me where I am." There was fear in his voice, and he had to focus for it to not break.

A woman's voice, melodious but noticeably synthetic, answers after a few seconds. "Location, Sector…zzz…forty-four point fifty-one A…zzzzzzz… in deep space. Degrading orbit…zzz… around zzzed star T’Nebas Sol, diameter zzz one million thirty thousand and twelve zzz…kilometers.”

Right”. No craft dared entered deep space for fear of the strong magnetic and gravitational pulls of black holes abundant in the area. He remembered his lesson in pilot training: in deep space, no life exists – just rocks, stars, and total blackness in between. He was probably the only living thing within light years, he thought. “How long can life support maintain room temp?”

“…zzz… 36 minutes before fatal…zzz…temperature levels.” The AI’s voice was out of place in the pandemonium inside his compartment.

All right. Transfer power from life support to nano workers. Fix the ship’s last engine.”

Unable to perform action. Plutonium…zzz…core severely damaged…z…Power levelzzz critical. Lifezzz support given priority. Override allocation?"

"No, I don't mean to die that quickly. Crap."

Not that fixing his engine would have saved his life, anyways. There was still the matter of the enemy ships tracking him. He barely managed to escape and was only on warp for a few seconds, which meant it'd be easy to track him. Give it a few minutes, he thought, and the Insectoids' ships would have covered his whole radar like the swarm species that they naturally are.

He tried to figure out his options. There was no way for him to escape his orbit around T’Nebas Sol, no way to repair his remaining engine, no way to transfer energy from his life support to his AI’s nano workers without instantly killing himself, no way to fix his comms, and he’s way out of range to contact home. His ship’s stock of intelligent long-range missiles was untouched, but it was useless to him now. It’d be sure death for him.

Not good.

When he woke up this morning, he never really thought he was going to die, let alone like this. After receiving his mission’s brief, he agreed with his supervisor’s assessment: this was going to be an easy one. He was to go on Sector 43.33-B, a few dozen light years away from their planetary port; on the sector, near the Kinston asteroid belt, he was to run his short- and medium-range scans. He was supposed to look for a small Insectoid fleet on the belt, and leave right after confirmation. It was supposed to be easy.

But it wasn’t.

The high-pitched beeping on his cockpit had transformed into full-on sirens screaming under the silence of space. It was a badly conducted orchestra, a barrage of music that never changed its pitch or tone and just kept repeating over and over. Outside, T’Nebas Sol was still very much visible, its light flooding his cockpit along with the flashing lights of several bulbs on his dashboard and ceiling. His compartment's light filter tempered the star's light; he wondered what it would be like to take those off.

He felt his heart thumping on his chest, his hands shaking, and his forehead covered with cold sweat. But he needed to relax. His life support won’t last forever, he thought, but at least he could make it last a little longer if he slowed his breathing down.

Heather, disable alarms.” His voice was croaky, and he realized his little escape maneuver had made him thirsty.

Creden…zzz…trials needed to zzzz disable alarmzzz…

Credentials, name, Lanos Stormguard, pilot number 64S7 dash 46G dash G.”

zzz…dentials accepted...zzz… alarms disabled.”

His cockpit went quiet, and white light replaced the red-washed bulbs that were flashing just a few seconds ago. The star, now on his port side, still casted a slight reddish glow into his cockpit that was dimmed by the light inside the ship. He never thought that was how death would look like.

Lanos stared at T'Nebas Sol for a few seconds, its brilliance rendering the stars behind it invisible. His tired body and mind found it hard to relax in the face of impending doom. He knew he had had a good life - he went to great schools, had the best tutors, met so many friends, tried out so many things. He was directionless, but he was young, and no one really knew what'll happen with their life when they were young, he thought. His father wanted him to be a space engineer like him, and his mother wanted him to be a xenobiologist like her, but he never really wanted to be any of these things. He never knew what he wanted to be, in fact.

Then the war with the Insectoids broke out. Everyone was conscripted, and after initial training, Lanos joined pilot school and found his calling there. Flying out in space, he thought, was the most freeing experience he had ever had. To him, there was something pure and beautiful about flying, something that he can never explain in a thousand lifetimes. He liked it, and he was good with it, and he found meaning in it, and that was enough. Dying while doing something he liked wasn’t such a bad death, he rationalized.

Glancing at his cockpit's dashboard, he saw three taped pictures of his family and friends. His parents were hugging him in one photo while their dog Úlon was sitting on his lap, also giving his best smile to the camera. His best friends Ohio, Mila, Ja'acob, and Yuumi were on the next one. The third was his pilot training graduation photo, where everyone was a brother or a sister, willing to die beside him in battle.

His life was short, he thought, but it was good because of these people. They loved him and cared for him. And he will never leave them so unexpectedly just like that.

Heather, voice recorder, please.”

Voizzz recorder activated. Recording.”

He cleared his throat before speaking. “This is Lanos Stormguard, pilot number 64S7 dash 46G dash G. I am a reconnaissance pilot for the Alvars of the planet Alva. If you’re hearing this, I’m dead.” He felt weird saying that; he chuckled.

The circumstances of my passing doesn’t matter; this isn’t what this recording is about. I haven’t got the chance to say goodbye to my family and friends. These should be my last words. If found, please surrender to Alvar Command on the port planet of Seníl, on sector two nine point zero three A.”

A faint beeping sound emanated from his cockpit, followed by a flashing red light near one of his few remaining radars. He ignored it. “To my mom and dad, sorry I won’t be going back home. You gave me the best life I could possibly have. I love you, and thanks for everything.”

To Ohio, Ja’acob, Mila, and Yuumi, thank you for the friendship. I had so much fun with you guys. I would have wished for one more drunken night, but I’m afraid you’ll have to do it without me.” He thought he felt the inside of his cockpit get warmer. He didn’t know if it was just him, or if it was from his ship inching closer to T’Nebas Sol.

To my dog, Úlon. Goodbye buddy. I would have given anything just to hug you one last time.” He felt warm tears crawl down his cheeks; he took a deep breath to compose himself. "End recording".

The newly tripped alarm on his cockpit was now pinging faster. One of his radars was picking up a bogey in warp speed. "Heather, rig three of my long-range missiles and convert them to transmitters. Just override the memory of the missiles’ locators, and put my recording in there instead.”

The AI took a few seconds to reply. “Task…zzz…complete. Anything you want to zzz with the rigged long-range missiles?”

Aim all of them to Seníl.”

Newer alarms were set off, bathing his little space with a new wave of red flashing lights. “Seníl izzz out of…zzz…missile’s range. Projectile…zzzz…lose fuel thirty-six percent into itzzz trajectory.”

Do it anyway.” The sounds from his dashboard were getting louder.

Three elongated metallic objects with red, painted heads and fiery tails emerged from one of his ship’s wings a few moments later. They all zoomed away into the blackness of space, away from the sun he was slowly descending to.

He had no idea whether those transmission missiles would ever be found. Maybe they’d get tangled on some asteroid belt and get destroyed on the way. Or maybe they’d crash land on some desolate planet devoid of life. They may not even make it past this star system. But for him, it was important that he tried. For the sake of his family and friends, he tried.

Staring at his battered dashboard, to the star in front of him, and to the darkness beyond, Lanos' memories came rushing back to him. He remembered his childhood playing holographic chess with his mom and going jetpack racing with his dad. He remembered the day they adopted Úlon, and how happy he felt. School came, along with its friendships, fears, and heartbreaks; it all came back to him, too. He remembered his first kiss, his first love, his first drink. He remembered his first day of high school, high first day of college, his first day of pilot training. Memories zoomed past all over him, all the happiness and all the sadness, all the heartbreaks and frustrations and love. He saw it all, and his heart was filled with calm and joy.

The cacophony of noise inside his cockpit reached its climax just as a couple of ships pinged on his radar. “Heather, what do we have here?”

“Insectoid ships deteczzz out of warp speed…zzz…Currently eight of them…zzz…quickly increasing.”

“Light them up for me. And hey, Heather? Thanks a lot.”

"My pleasure, captain."

Three more came, and five, and more, but he was ready for it. The first volley of missiles fired from his ship as his radars were slowly flooded with blinking lights.

* * * *


Christian Jerome is a psychology graduate and a hobbyist writer. Trying to rekindle his childhood love of writing and reading books, he is now trying his hand in producing short works of fiction. He likes writing about science fiction, thrillers, mysteries, crimes, and human behavior. He currently resides in Manila, Philippines, where he’s trying to figure out how he wants his life to look like.


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