Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

We’d been down for a long while before Commander Bramson came up with the idea of linking to the orbiter, getting it to swing into low orbit and tractor beam us off this damn rock. I objected on the grounds that humans can’t extract oxygen from vacuum; the orbiter couldn’t enter atmosphere thick enough to breathe.

“Sure, the ship’s beat up, kid. But the crew section is solid.”

“How the hell can anyone verify that? Our diagnostics and scanners were mangled when the control module got flattened!”

“That’s not the attitude we need. You go ‘bout your duties and leave the serious stuff to us.”

As I leave, Kristin grabs my arm and drags me behind a cargo pod.

“Will you stop kicking off at him? He’s not going to listen, even if you’re right. Always has to be his idea. You know that.”

I know that. But, Bramson’s last ‘bright’ idea planted us in a cliff face that collapsed on us after the ship fell out of it. Which is why I don’t trust his latest piece of inspiration.

Everyone else works like maniacs, morale improved by Bramson’s conviction. Meanwhile, Kristen, Tommy, and I hide what supplies we can as rationing has been abandoned. The pair of them trust me, which, in some ways, scares me more than the situation we’re in.

The moment comes and they all pile in, then peer out at the three of us.

Bramson steps back out: “Come on, Kristen. I know he’s a pretty boy but don’t you let your needs set you on a path to ruin. Tommy! Lars ain’t right. You come here, right now.”

Tommy shakes his head vigorously. Kristen calls Bramson so many names so fast he actually steps back.

“I see you’ve been learning manners from him. Okay, you’ve made your choice. Live with it.”

He steps inside and shuts the hatch. We backpedal quickly as the tractor beam fills the air with pinpricks of light.

I watch it rise through the monocular and well, damn, it looks like Bramson was right. There are no trails of leaking atmosphere. I’m just wondering how to apologise to Kristen and Tommy’s when the crew section pops. It was airtight, but with its reinforcing removed to lighten the load, it wasn’t strong enough to contain the atmosphere.

We stand under a beautiful clear sky, watching the awful result.

As the shock releases us, the monocular beeps: it’s uplink acknowledging the orbiter’s loss-of-life check. The crash and fall out of the cliff hadn’t killed anyone, so as far as the orbiter was concerned, all was well – which caused our problem. But, with a sudden loss of life and confirmed survivors, the orbiter’s rescue beacon will have assistance here within a week.

Kristen turns to me: “Did you know about this?”

“I hadn’t thought it that far through.”

She nods: “Good. Keep that in mind because, in an absence of heroes, the debrief panel are going to be looking for culprits.”

Tommy raises his hand: “Bramson did it. Left us behind.”

We look at Tommy.

“Not strictly true, Tommy.” Kristen smiles at him.

Tommy looks at the sky, then back at us: “Lars disagreed. That’s only insubordination.”

“Tommy, it’s -”

“Irrelevant, Lars. Wasn’t mutiny, so nothing justifies him abandoning Kristen and me. It’s clear dereliction of duty. Throw in crashing the ship in the first place and Bramson will be found incompetent.”

Kristen claps her hands: “Lars saved us!”

“By accident.”

Tommy stares at me: “Accident, luck, whatever. You’re good by us.”