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beyond the last star   a bird in hand

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[ Read more about author Christopher B Jorgensen ]

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After causing a deadly rocket crash on an alien moon, it's up to Tom to save his beautiful captain from the creatures that dwell within.

It's Not a Romantic Thing, Really

by Christopher B Jorgensen

Slumped against the cave wall, Tom scratched his fat chin, gently smoothed his disheveled uniform, and let out a displeased sigh. He felt fairly certain his brain had stopped working. The best solution, he figured, was to think his way back into normalcy and, with luck, eventually rediscover the art of concentration.

In the meantime he decided to let Janet fight off the hordes of angry insectoids that surrounded them. As far as he was concerned, he lacked the training for this and needed a moment to digest the situation. That and the ham sandwich he had about an hour ago. It just wasn't sitting right. Too much mayo or something.

Janet heroically fended off the creatures the best she clearly could. He had long admired her handiness with a ray-gun. At one point, in fact, he had felt romantic inclinations toward her. Of course, those days had long since passed.

Or had they? At the time he found it hard to remember.

"Tom," she said, "my energy pack’s running low! I can’t hold them off much longer!"

His eyes meandered about as he shuffled his feet. A few shots charred the rock around him.

"I need your pack!" she cried out. "Please. It’s our only chance!"

He puckered his lips for a moment, then blinked. "No, no," he said, voice trailing off, "I can’t see that helping anything."

A laser blast singed her flowing, red hair.

"They’re terrible aims! Quickly, I can take them out before they close in!"

Suddenly, Tom had an epiphany, though his eyes remained glazed. "Oh, I get it. You’re upset that John in Engineering had to die, not me."

She ducked behind a rock, exasperated. "What?!"

He chuckled blankly. "All it took was a simple rocket crash. I understand now."

After one last shot, her energy pack blared out its "empty" tone.

He closed one eye, stuck his arm straight out, and slowly twisted his wrist left to right. "One minute you’re soaring through the cosmos, and the next—"

A shot struck his forehead, knocking him cold.


A slight smirk had been frozen on Tom’s face for hours. Though he couldn’t be entirely sure, he theorized he hadn’t blinked since being locked in a giant, cylindrical cage and hoisted over a smoldering lava pit by child-sized insect men.

"I betcha’ they’re waiting for their Grand Goombah Lunar to arrive or something," he said, squinting as he strained to think. "That seems appropriate for bug people. You know, with their queens and colonies and all."

Janet had been staring outside the cage the entire time. She didn’t respond.

He continued, "Otherwise, I figure they would’ve eaten us or something by now. Something like that, you know, eating our flesh..."

"Will you shut up?" she snapped as she spun around to face him. "I’m trying come up with an escape plan."

He crawled to her side and looked out as well. "I used to make plans once. Like escape plans. Before the rocket crashed."

He sighed. "Too bad my camera got all burned up. Great view from up here. Bug people. Huh. Who would’ve thunk it."

Tom slid onto his back. Some time past. Most of which consisted of lazily staring at the ceiling. His mind wandered without focus or reason, merely content to be.

"Wish things could’ve worked out between you and me, Janet. Wish pretty-boy John hadn’t been around, mucking things up.... Maybe if I wore a fancy orange suit like those guys out there. Not this blue, wrinkled thing."

She refused to speak. Slowly, his observations grew beyond the insectoids’ little hats and onto bigger things.

"Probably could short circuit my energy pack, cause an explosion, burn a hole in the bars for us to jump out," he said finally.

He sat up for a brief second as though his mind had caught up to the situation and was willing to participate, then flopped his head backward again.

"No, no good. They’ll just swarm us once we’re out."

The insectoids began to click loudly. Tom assumed the Grand Goombah Lunar was set to arrive. Instead he watched the cave walls ascend about him.

"Floor’s getting kinda’ hot. Not too comfortable to lie on," he noted, getting off the floor.

Janet grabbed his face and pressed their foreheads together. "Listen to me..."

"Ouch! My welt!" Tom moaned.

She continued, "We can use your energy pack to charge mine halfway. We short circuit it and let it explode on the bars. It might be enough to push through They never took your gun —probably since you never used it. We jump out the hole and you use your remaining energy to shoot our way out. Got it?"

He looked down at his gun, still connected by a thick cord to the energy pack on the back of his suit. "Better than melting..." He saw this as an opportunity to show his suave side, "...blue eyes."

She groaned. He couldn’t quite assess whether her struggle to pull off her energy pack or his charms had caused it. He tried his rational side instead. "I’m a horrible aim. We should switch packs."

"Too late," she said as she snapped the two packs’ energy ports together. "Can’t reattach mine."

Sweat dripped down her cheeks while they waited for the charge to transfer. Finally, she shoved her pack between two bars. "Okay, get back!"

She leapt to the opposite side of the cage. Tom cowered behind her. The energy pack began to vibrate and smoke. Noxious fumes filled Tom’s nostrils, causing him to sneeze repeatedly on Janet's neck. A loud squeal erupted from its cap. The two plugged their ears. This was it!

Then nothing.

"The heat!” she coughed. “It’s added too much resistance between the ports! It won’t overload!"

She scrambled to grab it, but the cage abruptly stopped. The resultant jerk caused the pack to slip through the bars and into the lava.

It reminded Tom of his days as a professional goose wrestler. Then inspiration hit. "I-I have an idea! Janet! I have an idea!"

She stared at him, clearly confused.

He jumped up and down. "Make the cage swing!"

She stood hesitantly.

"Swing!" he yelled. "Low gravity! Remember?"

She started to sway back and forth. The cage gradually matched her motion.

Tom pushed his arm through the bars and pointed his gun at the chain above. He began to fire wildly upward. The cage’s momentum steadily increased. Clicks roared out the insectoids below. The cage resumed its descent.

The molten rock's fumes thickened as they dropped, steadily blurring his vision. On the plus side, he thought he felt a blink.

"Doesn’t make sense," Janet coughed, "why didn’t they kill us before if they wanted us dead?"

He continued firing, more aimless with each shot. "Changed their minds, I guess!"

A shot struck. The chain creaked and bent. Janet thrust her body to the rising side of the cage. The chain split, hurtling the cage over the pit and atop several insectoids. Their gooey blood squished and stuck to the cage bars. Inside, Tom and Janet tossed about like dolls. His ray-gun momentarily became pinned outside the bars against the ground. A second later, it snapped off its cord, which immediately began to spark at the tip.

Finally, they barreled into a thick stalagmite. They crumpled to the ground. Tom looked over to Janet. At first, her eyes remained closed.

He nudged her side. "Janet."

Her eyes flashed open. "We stuck?"

"Yes," he said, "...but not for long!"

He quickly dislodged his energy pack from his back and plopped it forward. "Get back!"

He jammed the dangling cord into the pack’s charge port—short-circuiting the device—and shoved it into the small gap between the bars and stalagmite.

"Are you insane?!" Janet screamed. "It’ll send us straight back into—"

The pack exploded, thrusting them back toward the lava pit, crushing multiple pursuing insectoids along the way.

They hit a rock. Briefly, the cage leapt up into the air. Janet tumbled out of the blast hole. The cage smacked the ground. Tom banged about erratically. His body twisted and crunched in various contortions. The hot metal scalded his bruised skin as he bounced from bar to bar. He began to lose consciousness. The whirlwind fear from the rocket crash overtook him. His mind began to merge those memories with his present condition. Was he still in the rocket? Still crashing?


Copyright © by Christopher B Jorgensen . All rights reserved unless specified otherwise above.

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