Word Count: 590
Rapid syllables of Karshaqi rattled in Wendell’s earpiece. It was a dialect he wasn’t completely familiar with, but he could pick out enough words to get the gist. It was a good thing too, because the translation computer was struggling with it. Wendell looked at the pad of paper in his hands.
KARSHAQI ATTACK AT 0700 SOL.
He checked the clock on the NavDeck. 0700 was about three and a half hours away. He slowly backed his ScoutRunner away from the Cruiser that he’d been ghosting and drifted deeper into the nebula. At this low speed, the particulate matter wouldn’t damage his ship.
A tiny blinking light flashed on the NavDeck: SOFTWARE UPDATES AVAILABLE. He hit the snooze button on the alert and continued drifting. His ship was tiny, barely enough room for him, his food, his notepads, and his scant reserve of fuel.
Once he was out of sight of the Karshaqi Cruiser, he punched in his destination coordinates. He needed to get back to the HomeShip to warn them as quickly as possible. Maximum velocity was determined by fuel consumption, which was determined by the number of vectors he’d have to use. The regular route was to go around the nebula, which would take him three hours just to get in radio range. That would leave the HomeShip with barely any time to prepare for an attack. They’d have visual on the Karshaqi fleet by then.
There was an alternative: he could go through the nebula. He’d have to go slower because of the particulate matter—and he’d have to map out a route that stuck to the least dense clouds--but it could also shave an hour or two off of his time, if he could find the right path. That would give the HomeShip enough time to bounce their superlight drive and get the hell out of there.
Wendell called up his Nebular Map and spent a few minutes plotting.
“There,” he said. It was a circuitous path, which would cut down his max speed considerably, but it would save him about forty-five minutes. It would have to do. He punched the coordinates and engaged the autopilot on the NavDeck.
The ScoutRunner sped off into the cloud of gas and dust.
SOFTWARE UPDATES AVAILABLE, the light flashed again.
“Not now,” he said, hitting snooze. He flew in silence for nearly two hours.
“APPROACHING TRANSMISSION RANGE,” sang the computer alert.
“Right,” said Wendell, fiddling with dials, going over his message in his head.
“PROXIMITY WARNING,” said the computer.
Ahead of him, Wendell could see a wall of dust blocking his path. It wasn’t supposed to be there. His breath caught in his throat. The dust was surely thick enough to breach the hull at his current velocity. He checked his fuel. He could slow down to a stop, but that was about it. He’d still be outside transmission range, and he’d be dead in the water.
SOFTWARE UPDATES AVAILABLE.
Wendell double-clicked the notification and looked at the list of updates that had downloaded. There, line 71, was the culprit: Nebular Map. His map was out of date. And that meant he was going to die.
There was only one option, really. He pressed his notepad to the glass, fired up the transmitter, and punched the accelerator, speeding towards the cloud. Maybe enough of the ship would survive to keep transmitting. Maybe they’d see his notepad.
Whether he lived or died, the mission was a success if, and only if, the message got through.
Edited by Carolyn Abram.
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