Captain Barber’s body floated out into the dark sea of stars. We bound his body in the Earth flag, a traditional captain burial by intergalactic shipping company standards. It was only a courtesy, though, as the captain was not himself when we killed him.
This galactic sector we were flying through was called the Dead Zone, because no one ever came out of it. The whole sector was uncharted, but not for lack of trying.
“Ok, Captain,” Morales said. “We’re headed back out the way we came.”
It took a moment to register that Morales was talking to me. After all, I was Skipper up until a half hour ago. He was waiting for my second order as Captain.
“Mo, I’m making you Skipper,” I said. “You can keep the job if we live through this.”
Captain Barber had steered us into the Dead Zone to cut time off our delivery and increase our pay. My plan to get out of the Dead Zone was very scientific — head back the same way we’d came. No one made it out of the Dead Zone, though there was no proof no one had ever just tried turning around. If that worked, our shipment would be late. But we’d be alive.
“Mo, how far in did he take us?” I asked after a few days on our new course. “It seems we should be reaching the point of entry soon.”
“Hard to tell, Cap. Since we’ve turned around, the ship’s navigation has been giving weird readings. It’s like we’re spinning in a circle.”
Just then, the interior lights and electronics flickered and the artificial gravity system failed. Everything went weightless.
“Oh, it just gets better and better,” I said as I grabbed onto the back of Morales’ chair, and pushed myself towards the Captain chair and strapped in. I punched the ship’s intercom button and ordered the crew to check the shipment containers and confirm they’re secure.
“What do we have left in our fuel reserves?” I asked Morales.
“Plenty,” Mo replied. “We had enough to make it around the Dead Zone, let alone through it.”
“Then punch it. Full speed.”
“Instrumental failures, Mo. Eventually the Zone is going to kill the ship, I just know it. When the engines die, I want to still be hauling ass out of here on sheer momentum.”
Before Morales reached the throttle, the electronics flickered again and the engines sputtered and died.
“Fuck,” we both said in unison.
The ship glided in silence. The lights still flickering, staying off for a handful of seconds at a time, drenching us in uneasy darkness. The only dim source of light came through the windows, from distant stars.
After weighing our options, I began using the air thrusters to turn the ship sideways. I was trying to point our escape pods towards the direction we entered the Zone. Maybe we could shoot ourselves out. It was all I could think up.
“Hold up, Cap,” Morales said. “That’s a ship, right?”
He was pointing to the nav screens, sure enough there was a blip on the edge of the radar. Though it disappeared when the lights flickered out once more, the electronics were failing.
My hand shot towards the radio mic to send an SOS, crossing my fingers the radio system hadn’t failed.
“This is Captain Vasquez, of the cargo ship MWG Jupiter. We’ve been stranded in the Dead Zone, our previous Captain drove us in here. We need a miracle, or we’re dead. Please, tell me you can hear me.”
“Hear you loud and clear,” a voice said back through some static interference. “Wow that’s horrible luck, what happened to your old Captain?”
My heart leapt about five beats. I beamed at Morales.
“He went mad once we found out what he’d done. He said he wanted to go down with the ship. The crew and I didn’t share the same sentiment. Things got violent, and he went down before the ship did.”
“Interesting!” The voice replied, there was less static now and the man on the other end sounded familiar.
“May I ask who I’m talking to?” I said.
“Sure Skip, you don’t recognize my voice? This is Captain Barber, of the MWG Jupiter. I’d like to thank you for the head’s up, I think I’ll steer us clear of the Dead Zone after all. Rumor is, no one makes it out of the Dead Zone.”
The radio cut out. We stared at each other in stunned silence, left alone with dead static.
Written for Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge: Stolen Titles (Stephen King Edition). This was written while vacationing in Iceland, on my iPhone, please excuse typos, increased brevity and lack of editing.