Author : Christina Richard
The walls of our Ford Starblazer convulsed as we broke the atmosphere of the tiny blue planet and hurtled through the gray haze of clouds, down towards a sprawling, rocky plane. Outside, there was a violent noise of metal ripping away from the body of our ship. Next to me, Harris’s teeth slammed together inside his skull, his eyes bright and narrow, his knuckles white peaks of bone on the controls as he fought like hell to keep us right-side up. Volcanic rock, reddish black and gaping with craters, grimaced, waiting for us.
“Here we go,” said Harris. Harris’s military training as a warship pilot was one of the only reasons I was still alive, but I closed my eyes anyway and felt the stomach-emptying plunge of our landing toss my bones around like a handful of pickup sticks. Somehow, Harris never seemed afraid, and maybe that was one of the reasons I kept flying with him, even after Williams and Carson were incinerated. That, and neither of us could afford a better ship.
When Harris said we could make it to a blue planet near enough to land on, I thought he read the map wrong again; why hadn’t the Pan-Asian Alliance sold it to the senior executive of some fuel company yet? Most of the blue planets had been turned into private resorts and were surrounded by battle-quality drones that wasted precious resources to incinerate drifters like us. People who could afford to breathe real oxygen and drink real water on the shore of some space beach under the light of two or three glorious suns did not like to be reminded that we were out here, floating amongst the asteroids, just hoping we had enough scrap metal to trade in for another day’s supply of fuel. We were always asking for air to breathe, water to drink, and hell, maybe even some real food, and they hated us because of it.
As we emerged, a burnt, brackish smell rose from the ship. Underneath me, my knees buckled, and I fell to the ground. My hands sank into dark silt. Harris was massaging his shoulder, and I saw him biting his lip through the plastic screen of the helmet that pumped low-grade, synthetic oxygen into his lungs. He looked up to the sky, which was the color of a storm. A thick cloud drifted past a mountaintop, uncovering the sliver of a moon.
I heard the sharp click of Harris removing his helmet. He tucked it under his arm, his shoulders sagged as he inhaled, and a shiver of pleasure rushed down his spine. His laughter echoed into the deserted, rocky plane we stood on. “I can breathe!” He said.
With less than an eighth of a tank remaining, we had found this place, a tiny, blue planet, mostly ocean with an emerald of land in the middle.
It seemed too good to be true; at any moment, drones could emerge from behind the mountains, their missiles targeting us before we even heard the metallic hum of their engines. I put my hands on either side of my helmet and felt my chest tighten, wondering if I dared.