“You’ve done it again, Kelly.”
Startled, Kelly looked up from the magazine he was reading.
Pettigrew stood at the door of the cockpit, arms crossed. “Every time you have been on watch this week, you’ve managed to get us off course.” He reached over and grabbed the magazine from Kelly’s greasy hands. “What the hell has got you so distracted?”
Kelly started to protest, but it was too late. “It’s nothing, just…a magazine I picked up when we were docked at New Mercury.”
Pettigrew thumbed through the dog-eared pages. It had only been five days since their stopover at New Mercury, but Kelly had clearly read it cover to cover several times over. With months at a time between ports, most crewmen considered any new reading material a lifeline to stave off the boredom, but this magazine was more worn than most after five days; it looked like it had been been through the wash and then some. And there weren’t even any naked pictures! He tossed it back to Kelly. “Well, stop reading and look to your station. We’re drifting towards a supernova, and Cap’n will be pissed if she has to burn another wormhole just to fix your stupid mistake.”
Kelly’s eyes grew wide at the mention of a supernova, and he began to busy himself with the computers at the helm.
Pettigrew snickered and went below.
Kelly had never meant to end up in space. When he was young, while all the other children were playing Cops & Aliens, he had dreamed of staying on Earth and opening his own ice cream shop. He loved ice cream — the real kind, not the stuff they feed you in space.
But before Kelly was old enough to tell anyone about his dream, Da had gotten a promotion and shipped off to Cerberus to oversee the uranium mines. And then Ma had gotten sick and died before Da’s first message even made it back home. Da had sent for him immediately, but the trip from Earth to Cerberus took longer than expected, and by the time he saw Da again, Kelly had grown into a young man. Da had been able to tell right away that Kelly would never make it on the inside of a mine, so he had immediately signed Kelly up to be an engineer on a Runner — mid-sized ships that delivered goods from one planet to another. “You can go anywhere in the universe, m’boy,” he’d said, thumping Kelly on the back. “Who wants to stay on a dingy ol’ planet, anyhow?”
Kelly never was able to tell his da that he hated space.
A warning light flashed on the console in front of him. Kelly sighed and moved his hand to the controls to pull the ship out of light speed. With luck and a little bit of finesse, he could do it slowly enough not to wake the Cap’n.
He really didn’t want to wake the Cap’n.
He moved the throttle ever so gently, but halfway down, the lever stopped. He gave it a little more pressure, but it didn’t budge. He crouched under the console to investigate the problem.
Kelly jerked to attention so quickly that he banged his head on the console. He winced.
A short, stocky girl stood a few inches away, her short hair sticking every which way and her face bright red with anger.
“C-c-cap’n Rowan,” Kelly stammered. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“Well of course you didn’t mean to wake me, idiot,” Cap’n Rowan sneered. “What in the Seven Sisters of Pleiades do you think you are doing to my ship?”
“I’m not an idiot,” Kelly objected. “I just–”
“No, you’re right. You’re a moron. A scab that keeps growing back. I took you on against my better judgment because your daddy owns the biggest mining business in ten systems, but you don’t seem to have any of your daddy’s sense, do you?” Her face started to turn purple, and she poked him in the chest repeatedly for emphasis.
“I-I-I, there was gum–”
“I don’t give a flying turd what your excuse is this time. You’ve fallen asleep at the helm more times than I can count, and now Pettigrew tells me that you’ve gotten distracted again reading some stupid magazine.” She leaned down and picked up the magazine. “What is this rag, anyhow?”
Cap’n Rowan’s eyebrows furrowed as she looked at the cover. “Gelato Companion? What kind of a pervert are you, Kelly?” She leafed through the pages quickly. “Chrissake, there’s not even any naked pictures!”
She stopped with a sudden realization. “Oh my god. This is something you really love, isn’t it, Kelly?” she said slowly.
“I’m so sorry.” Her voice got sickeningly sweet. “If I had known, I wouldn’t have treated you this way. I would have just done this.” She carried the well-worn magazine to the trash bin and threw it in. With a push of a button, it was incinerated.
Stifling back tears, Kelly busied himself with the controls at the console. But Cap’n Rowan was back in his face. No matter which way he turned, the little woman was inches away. “Aww, are you going to cry? Is the pansy-ass gelato-eating crybaby going to cry? Do your fracking job, Kelly. Get us to where we need to go. Because as soon as we get there, I’m throwing your ass off the ship.”
Something in him snapped. He knew he wouldn’t see his da again, but he didn’t care. The supernova loomed large on the monitor, and he suddenly wanted nothing more than to be somewhere, anywhere, away from space. He reached down to the throttle and pushed it as high as he could go. Faster than light speed, straight into the supernova.
She was still shouting at him, but he didn’t hear her anymore. Everything was moving so slowly. Pettigrew running in, diving for the wormhole switch; Cap’n Rowan looking scared, for once. And then light. And heat. So much heat.
And then cold.
drift into trouble
My challenge went out to Angela Alvarez, who posted her awesome response here.