Two years ago my wife and I were flying through a nebula. Sensors didn’t indicate anything harmful scanning it at a distance. A few minutes after entering, something interacted with our engines and put them offline. I spent two days in the engine room trying to figure out what the filters may have missed while my wife was continuously trying to reach anyone that may be within hailing frequencies. If I didn’t fix the ship soon we weren’t going to have enough fuel and energy reserves to make the trip back home.
On the morning of the third day we finally had someone answer our distress call. The radio crackled with an unknown language and our translator couldn’t make it out. We weren’t sure they understood the nature of our distress call but we gave them our location and hoped for the best. About two hours later, we were greeted with their purple green ship on our port side and we went to wait by the hatch. When we opened the door we saw three menacing reptilian-looking creatures with laser rifles and before I could reach for my pistol, one of them shot at my wife. I saw her fall to my left and quickly started to shoot back with my pistol. I hit two of them in the face before the third one hit me in the shoulder. I ran towards the third and slammed my body in his chest with all my weight. By the time we both hit the floor I had shot him in the chest. I looked back at the first two to make sure they weren’t getting up and ran to my wife. She had a gaping hole right under the stomach on the left side, and it probably hit her liver. She was breathing but unconscious.
I grabbed our med kit and tried to seal her wound as much as I could, but there was a lot of internal damage. I knew we didn’t have the medical equipment for me to save her on our ship. I grabbed my pistol again and headed through the alien door. I searched all the rooms and couldn’t find evidence of any other aliens on board. I couldn’t read anything on the doors but I was able to find what looked like a med bay. The room had two medical tables, several advanced med kits, and five pods. I went back to get my wife and put her into one of the pods. I activated a life support function and hoped that it was automated enough that it would keep her alive without manual adjustments.
I ran to the front of the ship and realized that their engine room was also their bridge. I figured I could fly their ship out of the nebula since their engine obviously was able to navigate through it. It was probably a combination of my adrenaline and not being able to read the controls, but instead of activating manual flight I turned on some kind of autopilot. I wasn’t sure where the ship was heading, and none of the controls were responding to my commands. After a few minutes, I realized that the ship was getting ready to land on a planet right outside the nebula.
Thankfully the ship landed fairly well on its own, even with my own ship still docked. I used the sensors on my ship to check if the air was breathable. However, the sensors didn’t detect any signs of civilization. I reactivated the distress signal and went back to the alien ship. I checked on my wife and she appeared to be breathing. I took my time to do a full inventory of the medical equipment and was able to do a better job fixing her wounds on one of the medical tables, but it was hard to tell if that would save her life. I put her back into the pod and reactivated the life-support. I would have given anything to be back home right now with our own medical technology.
I spend the next few days trying to figure out the alien language on the ship. As far as I could tell, once the autopilot was activated, the bridge and engine functions went under security lock. Even if I understood all the coding, it would be near impossible to break that lock.
After two weeks, I realized there were even fewer chances that our distress signal would be answered. Our ship was on its last energy reserves, and I was not any closer to breaking the security lock on the alien ship. I decided to take apart the alien engine and see if I could transfer some of their energy to my ship. I found out they were using some kind of perpetual motion machine that was continuously renewing their energy cells. Theoretically, their ship could run forever without needing refueling. If we weren’t in a dire situation, I actually would have taken the time to really admire their technology. I gutted our ship of any extra cables and linked their engines to our ship so I could keep the distress signal going and replicate food.
Almost two years have passed. My wife still sleeps in the pod. No one has answered our distress messages. I figured our signal wasn’t strong enough to pass through the nebula that was this close to the planet. I’ve spent the last two years trying to learn as much as I could about their language to try to break their security lock, but every attempt has failed. I was starting to go crazy alone, starting to lose hope, starting to feel like nothing was going to save us.
Then one day, there was a loud beeping on the alien ship’s bridge. I heard a slight variation in the noise from the engine. When I investigated, I noticed that the perpetual motion machine inside the engine began to slow down. I was wrong about the engine being able to produce its own energy forever. It must have activated a fail-safe recovery mode in the ship’s system because all of a sudden, all the panels I was unable to use with the lock-down came to life. I quickly ran to the flight panel and activated manual flight mode. I had taught myself enough of their language and learned enough about their engine to be confident I could fly the ship home.
When the ship lifted through the atmosphere and I saw the stars, I broke down in tears. I quickly forgot how close I came to giving up over the last two years and plotted a course home to save my wife.
(c) Marc Noël 2016
(Official contest entry for semi-finals of Arvanaut Idol short story contest January 29, 2016)