A Short Ride by Brandon Scott

For Dylan Alexander, whose fire rises ever higher.

“Hold on, don’t buckle it that way.”

“Why?” he said.

“Because it’s itchy. Do it the other way.”

“It won’t stay then. It won’t hold you in. You want to go all splat?”

Charlie Buck frowned and fidgeted again in his seat, tugging on the edge of the crisscrossing body strap. His brother, Samar Buck, tried again to push the metal buckle into the connecting piece, only to have it slide out again at the last second.

“Stop. Moving,” Samar said and grabbed Charlie’s pale, thin arms, his fingers wrapping the entire length of the wrists. “We need to go soon, and you are not helping.”

“I want mommy with us,” Charlie answered. “You don’t even know how to fly.”

“A time for everything, Small Fry,” Samar said.

“No, not a time for this. Not without mommy.”

Samar sighed. “Fine. Okay. I see your point.”

He walked a step back and looked over the entire structure, the vehicle. The pointed tips and the stubby wings. His brother sat as the lone occupant in the back end of the ship, facing away from the front. A large glass shield hinged open allowing entrance.

“I see how you could doubt me. It is spooky.”

“Yeah uh,” Charlie said. “It is spooky. And dangerous. Spooky danger.”

Samar held up his hands in a placating gesture. “But what if mommy can’t come and fly for us?”

“And why not?” Charlie whined. “Why do you want to go without her? You don’t like mommy now?”

Samar turned around and stared at the rest of the city, the towering skyscrapers touching the cloud layer. Samar’s eyes were not good enough to see all of them, but the dots swarming that same skyline filled his heart with ice.

“I love mommy,” Samar said, his voice cracking. He breathed hard for a second. “Enough to do what she needs done.”

“You sound like one of those stupid future brains on the television.”

Not so stupid actually, thought Samar, but didn’t say it. All he did was force a smile he hoped his brother would find calming.

And like all smiles of that nature, it only kind of worked. Charlie’s eyes narrowed.

“No, not like them,” Samar said. “I just know she wants us to do something.”

“Did she tell you?”

Samar resisted the urge to look back at the city, even as a nearly imperceptible vibration shook his feet. His stomach tightened.

“Yes, she did. So did dad.”

“Dad? When did you talk to dad?”

“A long time ago.”

Charlie folded his arms. “You didn’t talk to mommy. She didn’t say nothing. You just want to fly the ship.”

“I swear…” Samar said, running his hands through his hair. “Sometimes… here, fine, let me let you out.”

“Thank you,” Charlie said, loosening his arms. He leaned back in his chair and turned up his nose, waiting. I wonder what character in the vids he got that mannerism from, Samar thought to himself. I wonder how much of everyone we will hold onto in the same way.

Standing up on his tiptoes, Samar offered out an arm for Charlie to take. Charlie squirmed, undoing the buckle fully and rising out of his seat. “So, where do we go now? Is mommy at home?”

“In a way, yes,” Samar said, and in one motion he shoved down his brother with a hand, while the other wrapped the buckle into place. Charlie tried to move out of the way with a cry of alarm, but a thumping hit shot him back into the seat.

Heart hammering from both what he knew he had to do and the sudden and violent combination of motions, Samar leaped into the cockpit and sealed the air insulating glass shield.

Charlie found none of this agreeable. He howled, forgoing words for the moment, and thrashed in his seat.

“Shut up will you…sore loser,” Samar said and tried to recall an exact sequence of button presses and lever throws. The ship hovered up a few hundred feet on one side before leveling out with a frantic dial turn.

“Well, that worked.”

“You’re leaving mommy behind,” cried out Charlie, pushing against his restraints. He peered down at the shipyard and the nearby buildings.

“I’m leaving way more than that,” Samar said, and with bristling tear ducts, he shot the ship even farther into the sky.

Below, almost like a special effect, the tiny buildings puffed into fire and smoke. One of the specks, not so speck-like now–more like a grasshopper the size of an elephant–scurried in the wreckage, antennas flicking, searching.

Samar took a moment to buckle himself and let out a steadying breath.

“Bug, bug, bug!” said Charlie, each time his words growing more high-pitched, and the monitor on the dash showed an enlarging blip. Samar yanked hard on the controls, and the ship spun.

The harnesses kept them in their seats, even as their stomachs sloshed with displeasure. A huge brown blur moved past them, and the sound, similar to a wood chipper taking an entire log, vibrated their teeth.

“Charlie,” Samar said, trying to keep his voice level, “You know that video game with the shooting?”

“Which one?” came the panicked reply.

“The one with the gray aliens?”

“Yes!”

“Good,” Samar said and slammed a button. Behind him, and in front of Charlie’s view, came a red targeting symbol, and a joystick popped out for use.

Samar did not bother to explain any more of what he needed and sent the ship going straight up toward the clouds. He heard the eventual sound of plasma bolts streaming out of their canons.

He hoped his little brother was hitting something. But all he focused on was getting the ship to climb higher.

“Whoa oh whoa,” his brother said, and the wood chipper sound stopped. The monitor showed eighteen farther away blips though, and Samar punched it harder to go up past the atmosphere.

A red heat hung around the ship’s hull as friction increased. The air was thinning though, and the spontaneous fires died out almost as quick as they appeared.

I hope they can’t come up into space without a ship, Samar thought.

When the monitor showed the blips receding, Samar placed his hand over his heart and tilted his head forward, his body feeling heavy.

“What about mommy?” Charlie said.

“This still?” Samar said, and then he heard the sniffling. Samar’s mouth became a hard, thin line until he finally spoke. “Mommy told me to go somewhere, Small Fry. She told me to take you. Because she could not come with.”

“Why can’t she come?”

“The ship only holds two.”

“What about another ship?”

“Yeah,” Samar said. “That was a lie. You are too clever, huh?”

“Where is mommy!? Why are you lying?”

“Look…” Samar said, trailing off. He kept his back to his brother, the openness of space instead being his view. A few stars and planets rotating out in the distance. “Look, she told me to take you to this other planet. Told me because of the icky, nasty bugs, for us to go while the adults clean it all up.”

By any means, he added in his head. If there are even means left.

“Will she meet us once we’re done?”

“Yeah. Of course she will.” Samar let out a humorless chuckle that made him hurt inside. “She will meet us eventually. Heaven willing.”

“Okay…okay. You’re not lying this time?”

“No,” Samar said. “No, of course I’m not lying. We will see her again.”

“Pinkie promise?”

Samar tensed his shoulders. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the extended digit, ready for his to interlock with it.

He turned his shoulder, and behind the seat cushion, out of Charlie’s view, his forearm shook. But he stiffened it and held out an extended finger. Charlie’s pinkie wrapped around his, and they shook their hands.

“Okay,” Charlie said. “Okay,” he repeated.

“Okay,” Samar agreed.

“So… where is this planet?” Charlie said, leaning forward out toward the glass. He tapped on it and pointed out one of the larger celestial masses. Its twin hurricanes were even visible from where they sat. “Is it that one?”

Samar looked back around to his dashboard and called up a virtual keyboard. He tapped on the air, and after a few tries found the correct spelling of the planet his mother mentioned. An estimated travel time displayed next to a diagram of the planet, and Samar read it twice to confirm he was not seeing things.

He placed a hand over his mouth and slid it down past his chin.

“Three days without water?” he whispered to himself. “Two weeks without food?”

“What was that?”

“Nothing,” Samar said. “Nothing at all. It’s a short trip. A short trip to a new place.”

“And then we’ll see mommy?”

“Yeah, I think we just might.”

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