Stranded by James Archuleta
The little space ship rattled as it entered the atmosphere. Alarms blared insistently.
“Come on, come on, please . . .”
The pilot was a black ant trying to pull out of free fall.
“This is Brandy to the Colony Ship Antrepid,” she repeated, “I’ve been shot out of battle. My computers are damaged . . . is anyone receiving this?”
There was no reply. Brandy cursed.
She angled the ship so that it wasn’t pointed nose-first towards the planet, but belly-first, to help kill her speed. Soon the turbulence let up as she passed through the atmosphere, and the ship plummeted for miles.
Readings of the planet flashed on screen: frigid temperatures, no oxygen, no organic life. Brandy attached the helmet to her space suit.
“Annnd parachute…please work.”
As she pressed some buttons on the controls, the chute billowed out like a jellyfish and nearly snapped off with the ship’s high resistance. Eventually the terrain came up close. Brandy swerved around some rocky spires, and she angled the ship as best she could for a landing.
The impact crushed the hull inwards, and the ship sailed forward, over the ground. It landed again, and spun and skidded for what seemed like a great distance before it came to a stop. The parachute deflated across the ground, and white smoke rose in tendrils from the ship. When everything was finally still, Brandy gasped. She had landed the ship, and she was alive.
The whole vehicle was tilted on its side, and Brandy fell from her seat when she unfastened her restraints. The exit hatch was crushed and wouldn’t budge, even against the powerful kicks Brandy gave with her boot. Eventually she blasted it with her laser gun, and the door flew off the ship and out onto the alien terrain. Ice crystals formed on the sides of Brandy’s helmet and in the creases of her space suit.
Right, she remembered. It’s cold.
The ant poked her head out and looked around. The strange sun was remote and eerie, and the barren ground was dusted with ice. Nearby, the same spires of rock that Brandy had swerved around jutted up towards the sky.
Up there, in space, a large fleet of spider ships had attacked the ants’ Colony Ship. Spiders are mortal enemies with ants: arachnids and insects have a blood grudge with each other that’s lasted longer than anyone can remember. When the enemy ships attacked, Brandy and several other ants had run to their cruisers and swarmed out to retaliate. Eventually, one of the blasts from battle had thrown her damaged ship off towards the planet they had been passing at the time. Now she was in this glorious mess.
Brandy hopped down from her vehicle and appraised the damage. The ship was nothing more than a heap of scrap metal, totaled beyond repair. All she had now was her laser gun and her space suit, both of which could only keep her alive for so long.
“This is Brandy to the Antrepid,” she reported into her helmet’s transmitter. “Can anyone hear me?”
After a while, a reply came through, but it was filled with static.
Yes! thought Brandy, anyway. Contact!
“Antrepid, I’ve got to get a better signal, hold on.”
Brandy ran to the rocky spires nearby. She scurried up and up the rock face until she spotted a little cave, which she climbed to and stood on its ledge. She looked to the sky.
“Antrepid, this is Brandy. Can you hear me, Antrepid?”
“You are not a roach,” a voice told her. It wasn’t a transmission, though, it came from the cave behind her. With a yell, the ant spun around and pointed her gun, aiming in different directions, as the cave was shallow, and it appeared empty.
Then she looked down….
A little ball with eyes stared up at her. Brandy screamed and pointed her gun at it.
“Who are you?” she cried. “What are you? Identify yourself!”
The ball seemed unphased by Brandy’s excitement.
“I,” it replied, “Am IMPOR: an Independent Multipurpose Planetary Operations Robot. I was engineered by roaches, who are superior to every living species.”
The robot was simple in design: as round as a pinhead and white as a pearl, with six little jointed legs at the base of its body, made of steel. Its eyes were large blue lenses, and there were two metal antennae sticking out from its head.
“Roaches?” Brandy asked. “There are roaches on this planet? My scanners showed no signs of life.”
“Your scanners were correct; the roaches deposited me here three years ago, as a sentinel. They were only here to drop me off, and then they left, to deliver the other robots. Several planets in the Milky Way have IMPOR units.”
Brandy lowered her gun. “Why?”
“Surveillance, for one thing. Roaches are forward-thinking. Roaches are superior to every living species.”
“Please stop saying that. Listen, IMPOR, my cruiser is destroyed and I have to get back to my Colony Ship. Can you help me?”
The robot seemed to process the request. “I will send a distress signal to the ship, with your coordinates.”
“Yes! Thank you, strange little robot! Looks like I owe one to the roaches.”
Some time later, a ship could be seen from the cave, growing larger as it descended from the sky. Brandy’s momentary glee, though, was crushed by what she saw.
The vessel was not an ant ship, but the S.S. Alptraum, an arachnid cruiser.
“OH GEEZ!” Brandy backed into the shadows, pushing IMPOR against the wall. “It’s the enemy!”
The ship coasted low over the frosted ground. It was an angular vessel, and was entirely black.
“No use in hiding,” came a projected voice; “We know you’re here, ant pilot. We’ll attach your lifeless body to the nose of our ship as an emblem for all ants to see! You will be made an example of arachnid force!”
“That is not the ship IMPOR sent for,” muttered the robot.
“Well, it must’ve picked up on our signal, it’s come down for us!”
“It has come down for you,” said the robot.
Just then, a transmission came through. “Brandy, this is Gordon, can you hear me?”
Brandy turned aside, distracted by the voice.
“Gordon! Yes. Gordon, I’m stranded on the barren planet, the one near the battle!”
“I know, I’m almost there, I’ve already breached the atmosphere. We’ve got a problem though, the spiders got your signal, too.”
Brandy peeked outside the cave. A shuttle from the Antrepid was descending: a triangular vessel, all gunmetal gray, with two stubby wings.
“That’s Gordon,” Brandy muttered. “Help is coming.”
“How will you and your friend avoid the spider ship?” asked the robot.
A horrendous crash filled the air – Gordon’s shuttle had opened fire. The spiders were shooting back.
“Prepare to be crushed from existence!” came the enemy voice.
The two ships soared around each other. Several spiders leaped out into the air, all of them wearing eight-legged space suits and jetpacks. They surrounded the little ant ship and fired laser rifles.
From the ledge of her cave, Brandy sighed and took her gun from its holster.
“You ever go into battle, IMPOR?”
“I am equipped with automatic weapons, and have been programmed to slay arachnids, who are the scum of the universe.”
“That’ll do, I suppose. Now we’ve got to find a way to…”
IMPOR rose into the air as effortlessly as a winged insect. Its antennae spun like a turbine and kept it airborne.
“You can fly!”
“Yes. Take a hold of my legs.”
The little robot carried Brandy to the battle scene. They zipped around the flying spiders, who were still firing lasers at Gordon’s ship, and it was like passing through a gauntlet.
“Gordon, open the platform! I’m coming in with a flying robot!”
“You’re doing what? Hey, I see you. Brandy watch out!”
Brandy slammed into one of the spiders and lost her grip on IMPOR. The spider plummeted under Brandy’s added weight, but the jet pack fought gravity and sent them flying forward, off-balance and out of control.
“Arrgh! Get off me!”
“Die, you abomination!”
As they flew around sporadically, the other spiders continued firing at the ship, and lasers singed the air all around. After a moment Brandy gasped loudly: she, and the spider she was clinging to, were heading straight for another jetpack spider, at full speed. She let go of her spider, and it flew forward without her. It crashed into the other spider, and there was a small explosion from the colliding jet packs.
Without her own jet pack, Brandy could only go in one direction when she let go.
“IMPOR!” she cried, as she fell.
The robot stopped shooting at spiders and flew down to Brandy. She grabbed its legs, and the two of them skimmed across the ground before rising back towards the madness.
Brandy’s friend Gordon sent a transmission, from inside the ship. “Brandy, we’ve gotta get back to the Colony Ship, it’s still under attack. Hop in, let’s get out of here!”
IMPOR carried Brandy back up into the fray. Gordon’s ship was just ahead, but the flying spiders were still attacking it. IMPOR fired lasers at some of the spiders’ jet packs, which made them explode.
“Nice work,” said Gordon, over transmission. “I opened the hatch for you guys.”
“I see it,” called Brandy. “We’re almost there.”
There was a jolt and a loud crash as IMPOR was hit, and it went spinning out of control. Brandy still held onto its legs, and the two of them missed the open hatch and slammed into the side of the ship.
With five of her legs, Brandy clung to the the edge of the ship, and with the other, she held IMPOR’s limp body like a handbag.
“Brandy!” Gordon cried.
“They shot the robot!” she said. “I think it’s broken. Gordon, I’m too far from the hatch, I’ll have to crawl along the ship.”
At that moment, a spider flew over to Brandy and aimed its laser gun at her.
“Prepare to be crushed from exist –”
“No!” Brandy screamed.
Without thinking, she leaped into open space and slammed the broken robot down upon the spider. The impact broke its helmet and knocked the creature unconscious. The jets turned off, and the three odd figures fell together in a heap. The ground wasn’t too far away.
“Gordon…” Brandy said as she – they – fell, “Gordon, I think this is as far as I go.”
“No!” she heard him yell.
Brandy saw the rocks coming up at her. This was it, then: she was going to die on an alien planet, far from everyone she knew. She was going to die right next to a spider. She didn’t even process saying goodbye to Gordon, but a couple of memories came to mind as she saw the final gap close between her and the ground.
* * *
For a moment, there was nothing. Blackness. It wasn’t quiet, though; Brandy could hear the screams of spiders, the sound of lasers firing, the roar of space ship engines. When she finally realized that it was only dark because her eyes were closed, Brandy opened them and looked around. She was staring at the rocky ground, maybe one or two body-lengths away. She was in the air. She was floating there, as if she were back in the vastness of space.
“I have successfully rebooted,” said a familiar voice.
As it hovered in the air with its spinning antennae, the robot held onto Brandy by the back of her space suit, keeping her just above the ground.
“You caught me! IMPOR, you saved my life!”
“I recall being shot,” the robot explained. “My system crashed, but my shell is resistant to laser damage. I was engineered by roaches, after all.”
“And I couldn’t be happier for that right now!” Brandy cried. She laughed. “Let’s get up to that shuttle, IMPOR!”
The robot lifted Brandy through the air, higher and higher, gaining speed as it went.
“Roacheees!” it shouted.
Gordon’s elated cries came pouring over transmission as he saw Brandy and her robot coming back. There was still a crossfire going on, but the two of them flew around the flying spiders, up, down, and around, and this time they entered the hatch with all the neatness and skill of a swooping bird.
“Ha!” cried Gordon, “YOU DID IT! I had to wait until you were inside the ship to do this, but prepare for fireworks, Brandy!”
Gordon fired an energy wave from the ant shuttle. It rippled out in all directions, in a visible wave, and it incinerated all of the spiders with jet packs that were attacking Gordon’s ship. The energy wave crashed into the black spider ship, the Alptraum, and sent it soaring back through the air, malfunctioning.
“Well, come on, Brandy!” Gordon called from the controls seat, “Get over here and hug me! And strap in, we’re going back into space.”
Brandy removed her helmet, and she looked at the robot. “IMPOR, I…cannot thank you enough for your help. You really saved me back there.”
The robot closed his eyes, as if in a bow. “I am at your service,” it replied.
Featured photo by Joshua Gresham on Unsplash