I had heard the phrase, “Not if you were the last man on Earth” at least a dozen times in my 27 years. I thought maybe if I went into space, I’d never have to hear it again. But I guess I was wrong. Shit luck, if there ever was such a thing, that’s what I’ve got. Dan Drake, at your service. I was supposed to fly the Vanguard Mark II solo, but the Elan Corps saw fit to send Suzette Connors along for the ride. Believe you me, I’m not too happy with the decision. Especially since she just modified the phrase to “Not if you were the last man in SPACE, Dan Drake.”
Even with “Fly Me to the Moon” blasting in my helmet, I can still hear Suzette’s shrill voice over the comm. Sorry Frank, we’ll go to the moon later. I switch it off and stare at my reflection in Suzette’s helmet. Her words are buzzing but I’m lost in the static. I don’t know that I can suffer through eight months of this routine. Constant second guessing and backseat flying seems to be her life’s work. She’s good at it, too. Suzette is the kind of gal I left Earth just to avoid. It’s not that she’s hard on the eyes, but she reminds me of those lab rats you see on TV specials, always running through a maze. Sweet, annoying Suzette and I, traversing the cold, empty star fields together. Maybe I’ll get lucky and we’ll crash into a black hole. My luck, even that wouldn’t shut her up.
The Expansion Initiative of ’77 launched three manned ships, each for different trajectories into uncharted space. I was chosen over several other candidates, mostly likely for my lack of attachments or family. I had just the temperament needed to be locked into deep space solitude for the long stretch. What they didn’t tell me was that each person would be assigned a partner. This mission feels more like a social experiment than an exploration of new frontiers. But we’re here now, barreling toward the unknown, that shrill voice of hers continually buzzing.
Tomorrow we land on an as-of-yet unnamed planet. Suzette will have no less than three designations for it before our boots hit the surface. Alright, Frankie, sing my mind out of here.
As we enter the unknown planet’s atmosphere, Suzette pipes down for a second, taking in the sight of her for the first time. I log all the necessary data to the computer and turn to Suzette, signaling her to extend the landing gear. As predicted, she has the planet named before we even touch down.
“The atmosphere casts a cerulean hue over the southern hemisphere. It reminds me of the oceans charted on Batrox. They probably share similar compositions. I’ll list it as Matrox, since it’s likely a distant cousin of the original. Sound good, Dan?”
“They may as well have sent me into space by myself, for all the help you are.”
“I should be so lucky. But then who would you talk to?”
Suzette flashes me a smile that’s full of clenched teeth. She’s beginning to realize I’m not the dashing mystery man she was pining for. My ability to fake simple human interaction is waning. If I’m extremely lucky, we’ll settle into an understanding of comfortable silences. Otherwise, we’ll both get nasty. She continues her needling as I nod along indifferently. I hush her complaints, trying to remember that when this hatch opens, I’ll be the first man to step foot on this planet. It’s a pretty crazy idea to wrap your head around.
The first phase of our mission consists of planting sensors along a perimeter around the ship, which takes about an hour. Once the grid is operational, we expand outward, collecting rock samples and charting geographical data. This type of work is extremely dull, so I pass the time by looking for a satellite that supposedly crashed here over twenty years ago. I seriously doubt that we’d ever find it, but it keeps my mind off of particle dust.
Suzette points toward a ridge to the northwest, the perfect spot for a wider view of the landscape. Blue dust clouds spark around my boots as I trudge along. Gravity here is nearly double what it is on Earth, but our fancy space suits are rigged to compensate for it. Despite the expensive technology, each step feels heavier and slower than the last. A haze envelops my brain, followed by shaky hands and a sweaty brow. My stomach twists into knots.
Suzette must be feeling it too, having fallen behind a few paces. We keep pushing forward to the ship. I get that “we’re being watched” feeling, but by what? It’s reasonable to assume there could be life here, even if we found nothing on the scanners. Before settling on an answer, the ground makes a sudden, violent shift, leaving me breathless on the flat of my back. I’m momentarily distracted by green clouds floating in the sky above. That sight is quickly obscured by a foul bastard of a creature, who now holds Suzette’s neck in a death grip. If Suzette is alarmed, she’s hiding it well. She reaches out to me as the creature points a crude looking weapon at her head. I shake off the cobwebs, slowly rising to my feet. My 2028 pistol is unholstered and level with what I’d assume is the creature’s eyes. I hone my sights on a kill shot, finger on the trigger. Before I can pull, I’m assaulted by a voice screaming in my skull. The creature is pushing his way into my brain, and somehow I can make sense of his language. From what I can make of the one-way conversation, the alien is demanding that I drop the gun and come along quietly. Suzette and I are to be studied, if he has his way. I think for a moment about what cards I have to play.
There’s only one clear choice: I pull the trigger, blasting Suzette right in the midsection. Her eyes flare with horror as her body goes limp in the alien’s arms. His gun lowers for just a moment, but mine stays steady. I stare at the creature, waiting for him to make a move.
That alien just stands there, stunned. I don’t need telepathy to know that he wasn’t expecting me to shoot my own partner. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise when I shoot him, too.
The 2028 burns a hole right through what I would assume is his shoulder. It’s enough to drop the ugly bastard, and then I’m on him, pressing the warm barrel against his head.
More telepathic screams erupt in my skull, but I’m not easing off. His eyes widen, taking in the cold glare behind my visor.
“You drew on your own kind? I don’t understand…”
“What are you going on about?”
“Your satellite! It contained a wealth of information on your race. Music, historical records, films – many examples of your culture were contained within.”
“So you watched a few home movies and thought you could roll over on us?”
“The data was a bore to sift through. Your music was unlistenable, your minds small. We didn’t want your primitive race on our planet.”
If there’s one thing I don’t tolerate, it’s condescension. The 2028’s barrel collides with his skull. When the alien comes to, he’ll know just who the true predator of the galaxy is.
There’s a bit of information we conveniently leave out of those satellites. Mankind treads wherever it wants, smashing whatever gets in our way. If there is solid ground, we’ll plant our flags in it.
I scoop up a limp Suzette and make our way back to the Vanguard. We have all the data we need and I have no interest in finding a satellite. No sense in pressing our luck with the locals.
Twenty-three minutes later the planet Matron is shrinking into the rearview, while Suzette finally wakes up in the sickbay bed.
“You shot me…”
“I knew you were socially bankrupt, but I didn’t think you’d also be cruel.”
“Would you have rather been stunned by me, or shot dead by that alien? Or I could’ve left you to be their science experiment, poked and prodded at for as long as you could hold out.”
“I’ll settle for neither!”
“Do you know why they picked me for this job, Suzette?”
“Because you’re a cold-blooded asshole?”
“Yes. Exactly. If I was even the slightest bit emotional in that situation, I would’ve hesitated. Then what kind of mess would we be in?”
“If you’re expecting a thank you, don’t hold your breath.”
Suzette sat fuming, for a long while. I enjoyed the quiet time. She was hard headed and stubborn, but she knew that I did the right thing. After the anger had faded, she leaned her head on my shoulder, drawing her arm around mine.
Maybe I won’t be the last bachelor in space after all.