The A to Z Challenge – X is for, well, you figure it out

There was an X marked on a star map, a place where someone said was a liveable planet, designated M.  None of us knew why it was designated M when on the map it was an X, maybe we’d find out when we got there.

But that was a part of the confusion that surrounded this mission.  What kicked it off was an imminent threat of an ELE, otherwise known as an extinction life event, when an approaching meteor was on track to collide with our planet in eighteen months’ time.

Of course, none of these predictions ever came true, but this time someone had pressed the panic button, and the mission, which had been slated for two years’ time, was brought forward.

I was just one of 10 astronauts pressed into service ahead of time, brought together in haste, of different temperaments, attitudes, and ideals.  It was not the most cohesive group, but the thinking was, in a crisis we would all pull together.

I had my doubts.

But I wasn’t in charge of anything, just an engineer that essential was there to keep everything running, one of three who were specifically there to keep everything running.

The rest all had designated roles, from mission commander down, but everyone had to know everyone else’s job, just in case.  Mission commander or 2IC were the two jobs I never wanted, so long as there was someone in front of me in the pecking order.

And, having the role I had, I was there, every hour of every day, working with the scientists and engineers and constructors, so I could know every nut and bolt on the ship.

Then, our time on earth was up, and we were blasted into space, on our way to the moon base where the spacecraft we were to make the voyage to X, or M, in.  It had been built on earth, deconstructed, sent into space, and rebuilt at the moon base, as had others before it, with varying degrees of success.

That record, one out of four a success weighed on our minds heavily.  Well, on the record, it didn’t bother me all that much because I’d seen it put back together, and the team had done a brilliant job

We had a final inspection, the moon base commander signed the clear for take-off form, and without any formal acknowledgment or ceremony, we launched.


The voyage to M, or X, was to take the better part of five months, and there was no need for all of the crew to be available all the time.

It had been decided that only one crew member was needed at any one time to look after the systems, that were designed to run themselves.

That one person was also assisted by the mission robot, or Android, a very life-like almost person who was for all intents and purposes a human.  Except it could hold in storage every schematic, every piece of data about the ship, the mission, if not everything we knew about space and the galaxy.

There had been a debate about whether to build a computer or an Android, and the Android won.  Personally, I liked the Android, whose name was official David, reputedly an acronym, but while he and I were alone on the final shift before arriving at the X on the map, I shortened it to Davy

One of David’s principal jobs was to monitor the crew while in stasis, to bring them out, and put them in.  Soon he would have to bring them all out, once we arrived.  Once there, individual missions were organized, and it would be left to David and me to maintain the main ship, so we could get back home to report on the feasibility of life being preserved elsewhere in the galaxy if we lost earth.

It would be terrible if M was not viable.

How are our sleepyheads,” I asked, the start of the new day’s routine?


They could have programmed a dozen different responses than just nominal.

“You could say fine, Davy.”

“My name is David.  Do you need me to explain the significance of my name again?”

“No.  You’ve already told me.  You need to lighten up, Davy.  Everything is not about exactness or correctness.  There is more than just black and white, there are various shades of grey.  Do you know what grey is Davy?”

“A color of paint once used to cover the hulls of sea-going naval ships, hence the term battleship grey.  It’s one of many examples.  Would you like more?”

“No, Davy.  How are the ship’s systems?”

“Nominal.”  Then a few seconds later, he added, “except for a power glitch in the stasis room.”

“Is it serious?”

“No.  But it could lead to…”

A red light started blinking on the panel in front of me, indicating a problem with the connection of life support to one of the stasis pods, that of the mission commander.

“On my way, Davy.  You have the bridge.”

The stasis room was at the end of the living quarters and crew recreation and dining area.  It was, with no one in it a largely empty, very quiet space.

The ship was designed to have nearly five hundred people on board, the deck below, completely given over to passenger quarters, and it was envisaged that this ship and a dozen or so others would form the first fleet of colonists bound for a new world.

Below that deck was the cargo hold where all the materials to build a space station, or rather, the infrastructure in the new world.  It was a huge leap for mankind, like the pilgrims going to America, or the convicts to Australia.

Except, for now, there were ten of us in a large empty cavernous ship.  Just imagine if there were five hundred stasis pods.

I crossed quickly to the pod and checked all the systems.  On the parent in front, there was no alarm, and nothing other than, as Davy would say system nominal.

That means we had a glitch on the bridge. 

I started on my way back, heard a noise, then stopped.

Had the pod just opened and was the Commander awake.

I turned to see a boy, about ten or twelve years of age standing by the pod, peering in.  His hand was touching the Perspex window, and the panel was going crazy.

“Who are you,” I asked, somewhere between shock and surprise.

“I come from the planet where your ship is heading towards.”

“That’s not possible.”

“I assure you it is.  You see me as a boy, not unlike your people, actually a rendition of the person inside this capsule.  This is not my true form.  I have been sent to ascertain your intentions.”

“My intention at this moment is to prevent this person from dying.  It might help if you didn’t touch the pod.  I suspect you are generating some electrical charge…” or he was pure electrical or other energy.

OK, now I was beyond shock and curiosity.  It was pure fear.

“You always wanted to travel in space.”  A statement, not a question.  The exact thought I had at that exact moment.

Oh, God, he could read minds.

“That is rather remarkable sir, how do you create a child version of the commander?”

Davy had come down to check on me, standing orders if we didn’t report back in an emergency.

“A robot.  You are indeed more civilized than we expected.”

“You know about us?”

“Of you, not by experience.  Your world is about to suffer a catastrophic event, but, then if it wasn’t going to be a meteor, you were managing to destroy it yourselves.  You come to see if this was a place you could send people if or when your planet became uninhabitable.”

I had to stop thinking.  Too late to ease my way into the conversation.

To the robot, the boy said, “I’m borrowing this person.  I assume you can run this ship?”

“Better than the humans can, yes.”

“Then we’ll be back soon.”

With that, one second I was standing on the deck of the ship, hurtling through space, then next I was standing in a field with trees, grass, blue sky, a gentle breeze, and sunshine, and yet none of it felt real.

“It is a world created to make you feel at ease. Now, tell me.  What is the real reason you people are coming here?”

© Charles Heath 2022

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