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Beyond the Flag

By Howevolution All Rights Reserved ©


Short Story

Warning: Oxygen level critical. Twenty minutes remaining.

Matt slowly opened his eyes, the robotic female voice penetrating his ears and mind. He blinked several times and squinted through his helmet’s cracked visor. 

At first, all he could see was black. Then, almost mockingly, his eyes began to reveal the truth. 

Debris floated around him everywhere. Some of it was still in huge chunks while the rest were minuscule bits of metal gliding along lazily. The silence of the void he was in seemed extremely abnormal and, for a moment, it frightened him so that he began breathing harder until he remembered the robotic voice’s words.

Matt tried moving with little success. His body was unfathomably stiff, keeping his mobility a disturbing secret. He tried rotating his head and a shooting pain surged upward from his toes to the tips of his eyelashes, causing him to call out in silent agony. His eyes flitted down to his gloved hands, which were reminiscent of a mannequin's. He attempted to wiggle his fingers.

His hands didn’t move.

Fear threatened to swallow him once again and Matt shut his eyes tightly, trying his absolute best not to let insanity have its sickening way with him.

Warning: Oxygen level critical. Fifteen minutes remaining. 

With his eyes closed, Matt’s mind suddenly began replaying ephemeral memories as he struggled to recall how he got into his current situation. 

“We are now less than fifty lightyears from our destination, Captain.” A young man no older than eighteen turned to face Matt, smiling broadly. 

Matt nodded and smiled in turn.“Thank you, Mr. Smith.” He rose from his chair in the center of the bridge and unconsciously fingered the tiny American flag sewn on the left side of his chest.“I am making my way to the away room now to prepare to fly down there. I’m going alone. This is a simple enough task. Besides, if things get dangerous, you’ll all be safer here.” Matt smiled warmly at the crew surrounding him before turning and nodding to a tall, broad shouldered man standing on his right.“You have the con, Mr. Chambers.”

With that, Matt strode past his first officer and made his way to the elevator. Within seconds he had arrived at the away room and felt a shock of surprise to see a woman standing there, her arms folded.

“Alone?” she asked rhetorically. “You’re going alone?”

“Yes,” Matt answered anyway, walking over to a closet that opened with a touch of his palm. An impressive blue, red and white suit stood before him; the glass visor seemingly peering right through him.

“You can’t go alone! What if something happens to you?” The woman grabbed Matt’s arm and turned him to face her, her olive eyes full of genuine concern.

Matt blinked a few times and then placed his hands firmly on her shoulders. “Nothing’s going to happen to me. This is an easy mission, Katie. What’s so hard about going down to an abandoned planet and shoving a flag in the dirt?”

“Don’t get so cocky, Captain.” Katie tried to frown but she couldn’t help letting a small smile dance across her face.

“You should keep that look. The smile. It works for you,” Matt said.

A loud ding sounded throughout the away room as a familiar voice echoed, “We are within range, Captain. You are free to enter the pod and launch.”

“Thank you, Mr. Chambers.” Matt grinned at the ceiling before looking back at Katie. “I’ve got to go now. I’ll be back before you know it. And then we can head home.”

Another ghost of a smile touched her lips as she whispered. “And then we can have the wedding?”

Matt gave her a gentle squeeze. “Of course.”

Katie’s smile had now broken free and spread across her entire face, lighting up her complexion as she leaned up towards Matt. She kissed him hard. “Safe travels, Captain,” she whispered.

“Thank you, Miss Pierson.”

After releasing her and watching her leave, Matt donned the spacesuit as quickly as possible and walked to the far end of the away room, where the wall opened up to reveal a small ship with nothing but a few seats and controls. 

Entering, Matt made himself comfy and flipped switches and turned knobs, preparing for launch.

“Launching now, Mr. Chambers,” Matt said authoritatively before punching a large red button on his right.

“Very good, Captain.”

The engine began to roar as the pod came to life and Matt felt a smile of his own as he rocketed away from his ship; the pod zooming through the void.

“Captain!” the voice of Chambers came abruptly and high pitched, as though he was frightened.

“Yes, Commander?”

“The Russians! There are three Russian Warbirds coming toward the ship! We have no idea where they came from! They’re closing quickly and preparing to fire. Their weapons are locked and we have no time to respond with proper–”

“Mr. Chambers? Mr. Chambers?! GEORGE!” Matt hollered as static filled his ears. 

Swiveling in his seat, Matt whipped around just in time to see a massive orange fireball where his ship had just been. And it was coming closer. 

His eyes widening with terror, Matt flipped a switch underneath the dashboard and felt himself shoot up through a porthole in the pod, entering pure space as he escalated through the emptiness, away from the explosion. 

The blinding orange light forced his eyes shut and for a few moments, it was as though nothing was happening. Then Matt felt a searing pain to the back of his neck and something struck his helmet before his world went black.

Opening his eyes, Matt felt a single tear slide down his cheek as the memory receded. 

Warning: Oxygen level critical. Five minutes remaining. 

Matt swallowed hard and closed his eyes again, softly this time. This wasn’t what space was for. There was never supposed to be war here. They were explorers. 

Matt felt his mind wander, now to a place with palm trees and a sunset. And a woman in a white dress.

Warning: Oxygen level critical. One minute remaining. 

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