The craft glided gently to a stop exactly as programmed. Commander “Skeeter” Caster removed his helmet and smiled at the camera mounted over the control dash, happy that the first test of their hyper transonic-warp engine had worked.
“Sagebrush One to Groom Lake, I’m outside of our solar system, and it took less than 78 seconds, 77-point-7 seconds to be precise,” the Commander said. “I’d call that a success.”
Groom Lake was once known as Area 51, but that was years ago, and now the Sierra Nevada Space Agency, a private corporation, owned the property, using it to launch spacecraft. Skeeter had started with the company as a lowly flunky five years before the agency won its first federal contract, and now he was their lead test pilot.
After a minute of staring out into the darkest void he had ever seen, the test pilot looked back at the camera and said, “Okay, let’s get this baby turned around so we can come home.”
Skeeter pushed a couple of buttons on the dash, and the craft jumped to life, swinging to its portside with a violent shutter. Before the ship could line its nose up for home, half-a-dozen buzzers sounded, and several lights flashed on the dashboard and the side panels.
“Uh, Sagebrush One to Groom Lake, jus’ had a wicked shimmy as I started Charlie two-seven thruster,” he stated as calmly as he could.
As the ship continued to rotate to its left, he pulled his helmet back on and began the process of responding to the flashing bus lights and turning off the alarms that accompanied them.
“What the…” Skeeter began, “Groom Lake, I have a ‘collision imminent’ alarm that is refusing to turn off. And there is nothing out here to run into.”
As he said that, he saw the glass of the forward screen begin to cobweb. If it disintegrated completely, Skeeter knew he had made a one-way trip into nothingness, and no one would be coming to save his ass.
While betraying his fright, he said, “Groom Lake, we have a structural failure. The forward screen is fracturing, and I don’t think it will hold much longer. Please tell my wife that I love her and that…”
“That is it,” the Centers Director said into the hotline, “All communication ceased, and we have not been unable to reach Sagebrush One for the past 15-minutes. I don’t want to say it, but I know everyone’s thinking it.”
There was a long pause before the Director spoke again, “Yes, sir. I’ll notify the team.”
Andrea Caster was at the kitchen sink when the cat hissed, then jumped from the window sill of the breakfast nook and dashed into one of the bedrooms.
“It’s only a cloud crossing over the sun, you silly cat,” she laughed.
Then Wiley, their Doberman, began to bark as if he were in a panic. Andrea decided to investigate and stepped outside onto the back patio.
Above her floated a gigantic object, motionless and noiseless. It was so large that it blocked out the sun.
Behind her, she heard the telephone ringing, so she returned inside and answered it.
“Wait, what are you saying?” she asked her mother-in-law, who was on the other end of the line crying. “No, that can’t be. It was a test flight, that’s all.”
The front doorbell rang, and Andrea dropped the phone.
She knew it to be true. Her husband was dead.
Still, Wiley continued to bark. But jus’ as sudden his barked turned to a whimper, the kind of whimper he made when Skeeter arrived home.
Andrea rushed to the door and threw it open. There stood to solemn-faced men in suits and a youthful-looking priest.
“No, no, no,” she screamed.
“May we come in?” the priest asked.
Andrea stepped back, still screaming. They entered.
Suddenly the backdoor opened and banged shut. Andrea and the three men looked, only to see Commander “Skeeter” Caster standing in the dining area with a dazed expression on his face.
The shadow disappeared, and the sun was shining bright again.