Flash Fiction Story 012: "Homecoming Deferred"

Even though it was about to be directly responsible for the cessation of my life functions, the X1029 Space Fighter is designed with a plethora of redundancies. 

Two auxiliary oxygen tanks are on stand by at any given time. If one of those fails, it’s straight to a Procyanan Spaceport for repairs. Regulations are there for a reason. 

The ship also came complete with enough battery cells to power seven X1029s through fourteen separate round trips from Alpha Centauri back to the homeworld. Save for a cascade power failure, the lights would stay on and the computer would still hum. 

The craft can also make its normal cruising speed, and maintain standard orbit around most class seven planets if three out of five distortion engines went off line.

Which made the cascade power failure, followed by the complete failure of four distortion engines, all the more alarming. Ozone filled the cockpit as the main porthole window flashed blue-white, then complete black repeatedly for several unnerving minutes. With a thud that probably damaged even more of the ship’s systems, everything around me and the crew became suddenly silent.

Pain radiated through my left elbow, but I ignored it. All previous intelligence indicates that the planet has a breathable atmosphere. Information on the culture and technology of the natives has always been sketchy. With any luck, I would survive this brief detour. I had two upper appendages, and a cranial structure that—while odd looking among my people on Procyon IV—would serve to only make me look somewhat “pin-headed” among the people of Earth. I’d be able to blend in, I keep telling myself. I reached out with my good arm and opened the cockpit hatch, and staggered out of the ship. I needed to be prepared for anything.

A row of their primitive dwellings dotted one of their thoroughfares. Each abode had a primitive land vehicle in front of it, and the tableau inspired a grim realization within me. I had crashed in a populated area. This was less than ideal. The ship crashed in some sort of artificial miniaturized lake adjoining one of the dwellings. Made of concrete and covered for the native’s cold season, it at least would have given me some time to cover my vehicle before it was discovered.

Time was not on my side. If I were to avoid being captured by the natives, I would have to get moving and blend in among the populace. It shouldn’t be hard. Just before it lost all power, my positional transponder indicated that this was not a major Metrozone, but instead one of the human’s smaller settlements.

Damn it.

The moment I put the words “it shouldn’t be that hard” in my log, I had tempted the wrath of The Great Celestial. By the time I had decided I wouldn’t be overrun by a local swarm, I had sealed my doom. Apparently, I had landed among these Earth people during a high holy festival. 

As I emerged onto a main thoroughfare outside of the residential area, people milled about in large crowds. They held banners and flags. Many of them played raucous, tinny music. Still more were dressed in some manner of uniform. My initial briefing on the people of Earth indicated that they dressed with no common theme to their wardrobe, but here many appeared to be adorned in variations on the same outfit. Was this some sort of military exercise? That possibility seemed far fetched; even the children wore the bright orange uniform. Surely a creature would not be conscripted into the planet’s military before they reached fifteen cycles. It boggled the mind.

I wish the translation filter had not been damaged in the crash; I might have been able to make sense out of all of this, but their writing and symbology meant little to me. They were excited; that was about all my observations could support. 

My cover was paramount, and yet a lack of understanding is often fatal. I stopped one of the humans and—with the limited amount of Earth language training I had received—attempted to communicate with it.

“Quel genre de célébration est-ce?” I shouted at the creature to make sure I was heard over the reverie.

The creature looked at me with a mixture of blank incomprehension and discomfort. Leave it to me to find the one person who doesn’t speak the planet’s native language. After it worked through enough of its confusion it made these noises in response: “Yall arnt frum roun dese parts our ya.”

Wanting to avoid losing my cover, and still wanting to get some information about what this all meant, I opted instead to flail my arms towards the festivities in a gesture I hoped indicated inquisitiveness.

The native’s confusion only deepened. It once again expatiated this time offering to following nonsensical string. “Gawd dang eeet boy eignt yoo eva bin too homecomin’.”

Its words raised an octave at the end. In whatever half-formed pidgin this creature used to get through its day, it appeared to be asking a question. I tried to form a smile and shrug, feeling that amiable ignorance would invite the least continued scrutiny. It shook its head and ran off, screaming this final battle cry:

“FOOOOOOOOOOOTBALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!”

It then joined a group of its brethren huddled around a contained fire committed to the activity of immolating shards of meat. My stomach turned. They were either cannibals or carnivores, and I couldn’t immediately decide which was worse.

With no more—and perhaps less, if that’s possible—information about my situation than when I started, I continued to try to walk among the crowd. I can only hope that this message reaches the homeworld soon. If these humans carry about like this every day, I am fairly certain I will not survive long.

 Art by Eris O'Reilly

Art by Eris O'Reilly