Author : Bob Newbell, Featured Writer

Captain Saylor walked on to the bridge of the Starship Endymion. The huge, panoramic windows showed innumerable stars streaking past the vessel. Saylor leaned over Lieutenant Shah’s shoulder and looked at the velocity readout on his control panel. The ship was traveling at nearly 500 times the speed of light.

“How long until we reach Epsilon Indi, Shah?” Saylor asked.

“Two hours, eleven minutes, sir,” came the reply.

Unless we run into another Cygnian ship, thought Saylor. The Endymion had recently encountered a Cygnian battlecruiser in orbit around Alpha Centauri A. The warship had threatened to bombard the cities of the Alpha Centaurians, a race of remarkably humanoid women. The Endymion had arrived just in time to defend the nearly helpless inhabitants. After forcing the Cygnian ship to fall out of orbit, Saylor and his crew had been left with little choice but to land the Endymion on Alpha Centauri A and engage the Cygnians in hand-to-hand, or rather hand-to-tentacle, combat. After a ferocious battle, the Cygnians were defeated.

Saylor smiled as he recalled the “gratitude” expressed by the women of Alpha Centauri A. “Now that’s my idea of a first contact mission,” he thought aloud.

“Sir?” asked Shah who had not distinctly heard Saylor’s words.

“Oh, nothing, Lieutenant. Just recalling our recent–”

Saylor never finished his sentence. Klaxons started ringing throughout the ship.

“Report!” commanded Saylor.

“Cygnian battlecruiser approaching dead ahead, sir!” said Shah. “Sensors show their particle canon are armed.”

“Arm our canon!” Saylor ordered. “Target their primary reactor. Be prepared to fire as soon as they get within weapons range!”

“Jeff?” came a faint voice from nowhere in particular.

“Ten seconds to weapons range!” said Shah.

“Bring us out of hyperdrive and prepare to fire in 3…2…1…”

“C’mon, Jeff, wake up.”

Suddenly, the bridge of the Endymion contracted to a small corridor. Saylor was lying on a bunk with his head nestled in a large helmet with cables coming out the top and feeding into a panel on the wall.

Saylor sighed with annoyance. “What it is?”

“Solar storm,” said Burroughs, his fellow astronaut. NASA’s proton detectors back home are lighting up like a Christmas tree. We’ve got about an hour until the hard stuff hits us. We need to get in the shelter. Don’t wanna travel eight months to get to Mars and then arrive with radiation sickness.”

Burroughs gestured with his head at the helmet-like apparatus. “Were you doin’ a good one? I was an old west gunslinger the other night.”

“Old space opera,” said Saylor. “Hot space babes, faster-than-light travel, evil aliens, that sorta thing.”

Burroughs laughed. “You’re on a spaceship and you used the Dreamcaster to imagine you’re on a spaceship?”

“A starship,” Saylor corrected. “Not a couple of canisters spinning on a tether. Filet mignon, not protein bars. Huge windows, not a couple of small portholes. No spending half the time fixing mechanical and computer problems. No cabin fever. And no solar storms.”

“It sounds a lot better than real space exploration,” said Burroughs with a smile. “But if you want to survive to get back to your implausible alien women and impossibly fast and comfortable starship, you’ll need to survive this storm. Shah and Nakamura are already in their shelter. Let’s get our end of the tether ready.”

Saylor stood up, looked around at the banal and ugly interior of his spaceship, and helped Burroughs move supplies into the tiny ship’s closet-like storm shelter.

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